7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 34): He’s Not Afraid to Climb the Roof, But I’m Afraid to Ride a Bike

Seven Quick Takes Friday


Wait, what did I say about posting every day this week? Because yesterday came and went, and as far as I know, I didn’t post a thing. (Shhh…)

For those of you visiting from 7QT, here are links to Monday’s (late) 7QT post, Tuesday’s post on a man who saved 669 children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of WWII, and Wednesday’s post on my 12-week sono and thoughts about mothering all boys.

There’s more to come – I promise.


If there’s one subject that I’ll spend hours writing on and still not get it right enough to publish, it’s racism. That was my problem yesterday, and it’s been my problem many times before. Can’t… quite… get… up… the… nerve!


After a kind of foggy/dreamy Wednesday because I was living inside my head, trying (to no avail) to get that racism post right, I took a break yesterday. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and Brennan had taken off work to tackle a project (see below), so we all spent more time outside than usual. I made a stab at weeding the jungle behind our house, the baby sat in his stroller (poor guy – I don’t trust him to roam free), the boys busied themselves with sidewalk chalk and sand, and Brennan went about his work…


… which kind of terrifies me.

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Do you see the chimney at the top of that photo? Well, there are some pieces of (wooden) siding just next to it that are rotting because there used to be a leak in the roof. We had the roof replaced a couple of years ago (THAT was a PROJECT), so the leak is no longer an issue, but the rotted siding still needs to be replaced. (Or at least that’s how I understand the situation.)

Anyway, Brennan is a worker-bee kind of a guy who would rather do just about any home-repair job himself rather than pay someone else to do it. So here we are. He bought scaffolding (which he plans to use in the future to paint the entire exterior of the house), a harness and other safety equipment (thank goodness), and replacement siding, etc.

Now he’s off to the races. Yesterday he erected the scaffolding and secured it to the house. I believe today he’ll be building some sort of a platform to reach the roof. Then, hopefully, he’ll be able to complete the actual siding work.

Please pray that he does it all safely!


As I said above, we all – including both boys – spent more time outside yesterday than usual. For one child, “more than usual” ended up being a couple of hours, maybe. For the other – my lover of the great outdoors, his Daddy’s helper and shadow – “more” meant all day. It was so sweet to see: He followed Brennan back and forth between the house and the garage, he helped me weed the garden, he drew “storms” all over the brick patio, he played in the grass next to the scaffolding while Brennan worked to build it, and he even ate his lunch on a picnic blanket with a perfect view of the thing.

I love that child.

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Since I’ve got a whole “link to an article and write some commentary on it” thing going this week, I thought I ought to include at least one such piece in this 7QT. A light one, with a little personal story rather than commentary. So here’s a Wall Street Journal article on adults who never learned how to ride a bike.

Alas, I fit into this category.

In my case it wasn’t the whole “kids don’t spend much time outside anymore because of cable and videogames” thing – I spent plenty of time outside. It’s just that my outdoors time was mostly spent loading my favorite possessions into a little red wagon, trekking through the neighbor’s yard as if across the prairies, and then building forts behind his forsythia bush.

For me, it was that we lived on a pretty busy rural road, so we didn’t have a ready-made place to practice. And I needed ready-made, because I was a huge wimp about it. My brother grew up in the same house and on the same road I did, obviously, but once our dad had taught him the basics in the back yard, he took off with it. Soon enough, Eric was riding through the yards and the little streets behind our house. Later, he got into triathlons and long-distance cycling.

(Yes, he and I are very different.) When our dad taught me the basics of bicycle riding in the backyard, that’s where I stayed. To this day, I can make a bike go, but I can’t safely make it turn or stop. If I’m lucky, I’ll do a continuous loop of big, wide circles in the grass.

But really, I can only think of one time in my life when my inability to ride a bike was anything near problematic. And that would be on the campus of Stanford University in the fall of 2000. My senior year of college, I was dating a guy who had just started a master’s program at Stanford. I flew out to visit him a couple of times (which felt like a BIG DEAL) and found, to my dismay, that riding bikes around campus was the thing. My boyfriend had borrowed a bike for me to use, and he clearly intended for us to spend much of the weekend seeing the sights on two wheels.

“But I don’t know how to ride a bike.”

“What do you mean, you ‘don’t know how to ride a bike?’”

“I mean, I don’t know how to ride a bike. I never really learned. I can make one go, but that’s it – I don’t know how to control it.”

He was flummoxed and incredulous and determined that we were going to ride bikes anyway. (Clue #47 that he was not the right guy for me.) So I got on that bike and white-knuckled it across campus. I honestly don’t know how I made it. I know I was terrified, especially whenever we were near roads. I also know I was shaky and wobbly and just about at the end of my rope. On the return from our lunch (or whatever kind of outing it was), my luck ran out: I first ran into a (parked) car, throwing the bike out of the way to avoid damaging the vehicle. A few minutes later, I ran full-on into a bush. At that point, I snapped.

I do not know how to ride a bike. I will not do something I am uncomfortable with.” (Death stare in his direction. Clue #48.)

Fun fact: Just before I was due to fly out to Stanford the second time, the boyfriend dumped me. As I had already purchased the ticket (and had very little money at the time), I informed him that I would still be coming. One night I prepared he and his roommates a delicious home-made dinner that caused the roommates to gush that I was a princess and that the (ex)boyfriend should marry me at once. 😉 The other night, I made him take me out to an expensive dinner. It was overlooking the Pacific and incredibly elegant and I ordered whatever. I. wanted.


Back to my life in the here and now. (And can I just tell you, when I think back on that boyfriend, how very, very grateful I am to have ended up with Brennan?)

I forgot to include sono pictures in Wednesday’s post! So here’s our little cutie #4:

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Have a very happy weekend, everyone! Don’t forget to stop over to Kelly’s to check out all the rest of the Quick Takes!

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What To Do With An Annoying Husband

I went to my cousin’s bridal shower on Saturday. (Congratulations, Jaime!)

In my typical fashion, I did that thing where I get all excited about making something fancy for a special party, so I overestimate my abilities and I underestimate the time needed to pull it off. Accordingly, I spent a flustered Saturday running around like a madwoman, trying to fit in all the normal stuff, plus grocery shopping, making myself presentable for the party, and constructing 48 beautiful little tartlets filled with feta/spinach/pine nuts and tapenade/artichoke/pancetta/parmesan/arugula. (Yum.)

No time for an artfully-arranged photo before serving the tartlets: these babies are leftovers.

No time for an artfully-arranged photo before serving the tartlets: these babies are leftovers.

The boys were bouncing off the walls, my husband was managing them, and both he and my mother-in-law were enlisted to help me with the food. I was scurrying around, so consumed with the tasks at hand that I hardly made eye contact with anybody. (Because who has time for eye contact when you have stuff! to! get! done!?) I’m sure I was a peach.

Somehow, I got everything mostly put together and (thunderstorm notwithstanding) arrived at the shower a mere 20 minutes late.

But that’s beside the point. (And I promise I have one.)

At the shower, there were these notecards on which guests were asked to write messages to the bride. You might be familiar with the idea: on the envelope, the guest writes an event in the bride’s future and on the card, she writes a message for the bride to read when the event comes to pass. (Incidentally, when they did the same activity at my bridal shower, a bunch of the envelopes read “When you have your first daughter.”)



Anyway, on to my point.

On my envelope, I wrote, “When you get annoyed with your husband.”

Now, I certainly don’t think I’m the ideal person to be giving marriage advice. Brennan and I have only been married for five years. And ours is probably not the marriage most starry-eyed engaged couples are dreaming of: We’re not all that romantic. We’re probably pretty boring, even.

But we work. We’re content. We’re happy. And we’re getting better at our marriage every year.

A significant reason for this, I think, is that seemingly small thing: how we deal with being annoyed with one another.

When we were first married, all of my husband’s little idiosyncrasies drove me nuts. The dirty dishes on the counter, the socks on the floor, the cabinet doors left wide open, his absolute conviction that he is always right. And I could tell that he was annoyed with me too: my OCD tendencies, my procrastination, my perfectionism, that little sticking noise I make in my throat when I breathe.

So for the first several months of our marriage, there was this cloud of gloom hanging over many of our interactions. I was annoyed. He was annoyed. Sometimes it was all I could think about. Why did he spread those things across the kitchen counter? Doesn’t he realize I just spent an hour cleaning it off? He’s so inconsiderate! He doesn’t even notice that this bothers me! He wouldn’t care anyway! He must not love me! Waaaahhh!

(In my defense, I was pregnant at the time.)

Ultimately, the gloom built to the point where I couldn’t take it any longer. Our annoyances had left us each feeling self-righteous. And my annoyance with his annoyance with me (got that?) left me feeling hurt. So I prayed about it. And we talked it through. We realized that we needed to stop letting ourselves become so annoyed. After all, when we’re annoyed by something another person does, the other person isn’t the only one responsible for the situation. We’re responsible too. We have a say in what we let get to us.

Over time, we have decided to choose our relationship over our individual selves. We’ve decided to remind ourselves that annoyance can build on itself, growing into something darker and more damaging. And we’ve decided to recognize that words said in annoyance, frustration, and anger can act as chisels, chipping away at a marriage, bit by (seemingly insignificant) bit.

Now every time Brennan does something that gets to me — every time I feel that hot, prickly annoyance welling up in my chest — I ask myself which is more important to me: my relationship with my husband or my own feeling of being wronged. I no longer find it acceptable to dwell on the situation; I’ve got to either deal with it head-on or walk away. I can find a kind and constructive way to ask that Brennan do something differently, or I can stop letting that something bother me.

And it goes the other way too. There was a time when a day like Saturday — a day in which I’m running around like crazy, trying to do too much — would have really bothered my husband. Maybe it bothered him yet; I’m sure I was indeed pretty annoying to be around. But there was no palpable tension over it: he was so kind. There was simply him, stepping back or stepping in as needed and me, quietly pushing to get it all done.

I now try, and I think Brennan does too, to react, to act, to think, in ways that will build up my marriage. What a difference this has made. For all the talk of honeymoon periods, my husband and I are far more happy and relaxed in our marriage now than we were back then. I hope that Jaime and Dustin — and other engaged couples — will be able to say the same.

So, what to do with an annoying husband? Love him. Be kind to him. You’ll never regret those responses. And hopefully your love and kindness will encourage your husband to respond just as charitably to his annoying wife.


P.S. I know, I know, I know I made a little pledge to post every other day for the next two weeks. But I’m making a small adjustment to the thing. Rather than every other day precisely, I’m doing seven posts in fourteen days. Given my propensity to fall asleep at the computer, I’ve got to be somewhat flexible with deadlines. (And though I missed posting on Sunday, I’ve already written three posts in the first four days. So that’s not bad!)

Better With Bees

Hello there! Welcome back to this sporadically-kept-up little blog.

Last week we suffered a great disappointment in the Walsh household:



Those are bees. Tens of thousands of poor little dead bees.

Oh, what a gloomy day it was.

After 18 long months of being bee-less thanks to one household move and one improperly-applied mite treatment, we were all eagerly awaiting the delivery of two new packages of bees. They’d arrive too late to give us hope of a honey harvest this year, but still, once they arrived we’d be beekeepers again. (And by “we” I mean “Brennan.”)

So it was with good cheer that Brennan took off work that Wednesday morning, one eye on the driveway and another on the door. The bees were supposed to arrive by 10:30. He waited and we waited and… no bees. Afternoon calls to UPS and the apiary revealed the sad news: our bees’ truck had suffered a major delay when one package was punctured and (you guessed it) thousands of bees convinced their driver to pull over and call for help. One long, hot day later and the damage was done: 75 packages of bees (nearly a million of the little gals) were lost.

Our own two packages were to be delayed by just one day, but we knew it wasn’t looking good for the critters. Sure enough:



Poor little dead queens.

Dead, dead.

But! One last-day-of-preschool, a few celebratory ice creams, one evening stroll by the water, and a couple of long days later…




This is the spot where his father proposed to me six years and three boys ago. Mushy, mush, mush...

This is the spot where his father proposed to me six years and three boys ago. Mushy, mush, mush…




Poor, neglected third baby gets most of his bottles this way.

Poor, neglected third baby gets most of his bottles this way.

We got another shot at the deal. This morning, Brennan once again took off work and kept an eager eye on the driveway. Thankfully, he was not to be disappointed again. Some 20,000 of the little ladies arrived safe and sound.


He's spraying them down with sugar water.

He’s spraying them down with sugar water.



Not only were they alive, but they were nice and docile, which is a great sign. They looked healthy and seemed to have accepted their new queens. (That is, they were working hard to “rescue” them from their cages. Brennan decided to help.)


He had no problem placing the bees in their hives, so as far as we know, the operation was a success this time around. Let’s hope so, not only for the sake of those precious little things, but also for the happiness of my hubby. (And our wannabe-beekeeper little boys.)

"I wanna hold a queen dead bee!"

“I wanna hold a queen dead bee!”


Keep your fingers crossed. We’d like to keep adding to the following collection. Life is better with bees.


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SOTG, Mommy Triumphs, Personhood For Animals, Feminism, And More: 7 Quick Takes Friday(ish) (Vol. 28)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!—1—

Yes, I’m more than a little late to the 7 Quick Takes Friday game this week. Right now my free time seems to come in five to fifteen minute spurts. And my two-handed free time comes about once every six hours. (I know, I know… such is life with two preschoolers and a newborn. I know.)

As I mentioned in my {phfr} post the other day, this week I received a certain little book in the mail, one the Catholic blogosphere is all kinds of excited about – “Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness And Accidentally Found It” written by none other than Ms. 7 Quick Takes Friday / Ms. Conversion Diary herself – Jennifer Fulwiler.

Anyone who reads Conversion Diary regularly will know that Jen has put an incredible amount of work into this book (SOTG). And let me tell you, even from just the first few chapters, it shows. I’ve been enjoying Conversion Diary for several years now, so I suppose I’m not the most unbiased reader. But seriously, this book, which tells Jen’s atheist-to-Catholic conversion story (and, um, how she “passionately sought happiness and accidentally found it”) is so well written. It’s captivating – the kind of book you don’t want to put down.

Except that, given the two preschoolers and the newborn, you kind of have to. Which is why it will take me longer to finish this book than any page-turner I’ve ever read before.

Also. Jen’s running all sorts of contests right now to celebrate her book’s launch. A couple of them involve taking pictures of the book – one is for “the most epic selfie” with SOTG, the other is for a picture of it in the weirdest place. I don’t have a chance in either category. I’m way too self-conscious to try for an epic selfie, and I’m sure that other folks have way weirder places to take book pictures than I do. All I can think of is to take pictures of my book on a big pile of laundry, or a counter covered in dishes, or like this:


Are you calling me weird?


Speaking of the two preschoolers and the newborn, let me tell you about a triumph I had the other day. At the grocery store. (Anybody who’s not currently a mommy to small children may as well just jump right over this take – I won’t blame you for being uninterested in the minute triumphs of life with littles.)

We were smack dab in the middle of a very busy day, just finishing up at the barber’s shop (both boys taken care of!), and everyone – especially the baby – was getting hungry. But we needed just a few things at the grocery store. So I took a gamble and decided to risk it. We walked straight into the store without stopping to stow the stroller in our van. Which left me with a conundrum: how to get a three-year-old, a two-year-old, a newborn, a stroller, and a load of groceries (too heavy for the stroller) through the store by myself?

Answer: You’re not by yourself! Put the littles to work! My three-year-old pushed the cart (a small one, but still!) by himself, with just a little help on the turns. My two-year-old pushed the stroller with some guidance from me.

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Our little caravan must have made quite the sight, because people kept stopping to stare. “How old are they?” a few of them asked, looking bemused.

But the boys did great! They didn’t crash into anything or run over any toes, or even fight or take items off the shelves. I was quite the proud little mother hen. Especially when we returned to the car and I thanked the boys for being such good helpers. “Anytime, Mommy,” my older son told me. “You just wet me know when you need me.”


After developing something of an aversion to it at the end of my pregnancy (why? I have no idea), I’ve fallen back into my old NPR habit. So you can expect me to resume sprinkling random NPR-gleaned tidbits into my 7 Quick Takes. This week, I’ve got two:

First, for the amazing and courageous amidst the horrible. Last week, Fresh Air aired an interview with Tyler Hicks, a New York Times photographer who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of the 2013 mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

I found the interview to be more moving than I expected, especially the story behind the photograph of a mother and her two young children. The image shows them lying quiet and still, on the floor next to a counter covered in cups and saucers.

Of course Hicks had no way of knowing what became of the three. Shortly after he was awarded the Pulitzer, however, the woman made contact with him. She’d seen coverage of the prize and recognized herself amongst the photos.

It turns out that she and her children – a 10-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy – had spent five hours lying on that floor. Five hours of fear and the most incredible stress. The woman had spent the entire time talking and singing to her children, focused on keeping them calm and still and quiet.

I have a two-year-old boy.


Two-year-old boys are busy. They are not known for their ability to remain still and quiet. I have no idea how I’d get through that situation with him (and another child to boot!). No idea. Just thinking about it makes me sick. What an incredible mother. And what awful, horrific circumstances she found herself in.


This past Monday, the Diane Rehm Show aired a discussion on efforts to grant legal rights – indeed, personhood – to animals. At first I was puzzled to hear that Robert Destro, Catholic University law professor and director of their Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion, would be one of those participating in the discussion. Then, ahh, yes – it came to me:

Legal rights – personhood – for animals. Animals that are deemed sufficiently sophisticated on a cognitive level. A personhood that is based on intelligence, on ability, rather than on humanity. What a dangerous thing, to attach personhood to a set of cognitive criteria, to maintain that being a person is somehow distinct from being human.

Yes, this (false) person/human distinction calls to mind the debate on abortion. But it also begs us to consider those who have already been born. Newborns, perhaps even older infants, wouldn’t meet the criteria discussed for personhood. Neither would some people with cognitive disabilities. Do we really want to live in a society that grants legal personhood in such a way that a chimpanzee would qualify, but my four-week old would not?

Definitely a person.

Definitely a person.


I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist before, but I might just start doing so. Because Simcha Fisher is right, as usual:

Yes, some evil people call themselves feminists, and do dreadful things in the name of feminism. So what?  People do dreadful things in the name of democracy, and people do dreadful things in the name of beauty. People do dreadful things in the name of Christ our savior. That doesn’t mean we abandon the name. That means we rescue it, we rectify the misuse.


You know one of the things I love about my husband? In the evenings when he’s playing around with our boys, he captures them and holds them tight and when the little one yells, “Wet me det down! I wan det down!” He responds, “Oh, you want to get down? Okay!” and then forces the kid into a little disco dance, complete with music and hand motions.

Oh. My. Goodness. It’s hilarious. Sometimes it can be so entertaining to have small children (and good daddies) around.


It’s also entertaining to have good grandpas around. And my boys have the best:



Happy weekend, everyone! Don’t forget to stop over to Jen’s to check out all the other Quick Takes!

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 8): St. Nicholas Day, Toilet Hate, and SNOW


I started writing this post as a 7 Quick Takes Friday, so I was all set to open with a “Happy St. Nicholas Day!” but, um… see numbers two and three. The day was fun, but it pretty much sucked the life out of me.

Anyway, it took my boys a few minutes to remember/discover their goodie-filled shoes Friday morning, but when they did, their delight was, well, delightful. The little one ran up to me with a look of glee and a shout of “Wa-pop!” and the big one with a “Wook what Nickwas bwingt!” Totally worth the effort it took to remember the whole deal.



We celebrated the good saint’s feast by hosting a little St. Nicholas Day party for friends. Except it didn’t end up being so “little” after all: we had 18 kiddos (two four-year-olds and SIXTEEN three-and-under’s), plus nine adults. I meant for the party to actually be St. Nicholas-focused: I bought materials to make these cute little St. Nicholas ornaments, I thought I’d do some sort of reading or lesson on who St. Nicholas was, and I planned to print off some St. Nicholas coloring pages for the kiddies to work on.

Also, my friends and I had decided to make the party a cookie swap.

But… did I fulfill those expectations? No way. Neither the ornaments nor the cookies were made, the lesson was not planned, and the coloring pages were not printed. One friend did bring this cute St. Nicholas book, which I read aloud to the swarming mass of children. But, you know: 18 children. Surrounded by toys. And each other. Very little attention was paid to me and my feeble narration, I assure you.

Whatever. For once I was dressed and made-up before my guests arrived. The house was clean-ish and arranged for the party before it even started. And I actually had the food ready (pretty much) on time. Also, we had no injuries, no broken toys, no spills, and no major fights. So the party totally goes down as a win in my book.


The only real hitch was this little guy:


He’s been like a big, flashing neon sign of hyped-up emotions lately. When our guests arrived, he was so EXCITED he ran around the house screaming and roaring, throwing himself on the floor once per lap to flail his limbs and scream some more.

When things didn’t go his way, he was so DISTRAUGHT he sobbed and carried on like he was experiencing an actual trauma. Not like his mother had just told him that no, he couldn’t go outside to play while he had dozens of guests in the house. Especially since it was raining.

Then of course when people started to leave, he became HYSTERICAL. He screamed and sobbed and sniveled, wet-faced and shaking, begging for hugs and kisses from the departing children. Those poor kids. No one wants to hug and kiss someone who looks like that. Still, a few of the kind souls obliged him.

After everyone left, my little guy calmed down considerably. He was really quite lovely. For about five hours. Then it was back to the grind.


Speaking of the grind, I have a potty training question for you experienced parents out there. Or, maybe it’s not so much a potty training question, because (other than nighttime) my three-year-old son is already potty trained. It’s just that he hates going to the bathroom if it’s not his idea. With a passion.

The child actually potty trained pretty easily. (I attribute this to waiting so long – more than 2.5 years – to work on it. By that time he was just really, really ready and it wasn’t that big of a deal.) He gets through most nights dry and he hasn’t had a true potty accident in weeks. And it’s common for him to just announce that he has to go and go ahead and go like it’s no big deal.

But. Almost every single time that we ask him to try to use the restroom, he fights us on it. (We ask him to go at pretty reasonable times, I promise you: when he first wakes up, when we’re about to leave the house, when it’s time for him to go to bed, or when we’ve noticed that it’s been hours since he’s gone.) We tell him that it’s okay if he doesn’t actually go, but that he has to at least try.)

Once he hears our request, he loses it: He claims he doesn’t have to go, he cries, he runs away, sometimes he throws himself on the floor. It’s lovely. But once we get him in the bathroom (sometimes we pick him up and bring him in there, sometimes he comes under threat of a time-out), he goes! He used to stop crying immediately, brighten up, and say (unprompted), “Oh, I did have to go potty! I’m sowwy, Mommy and Daddy!” But increasingly he continues to cry and claim he doesn’t have to go potty while he is actually going.

Any ideas as to what this is about or how to address it? We’re several months into this issue and it has gotten very, very old.


On to happier things. Yesterday we had our first snow of the season. (The first snow, a real snow, in a part of the country that’s not accustomed to getting much of the white stuff. So yes, this snow qualifies as happy!)

The morning was something of an adventure for us. We had planned to make the 9am mass and then head straight to a Christmas tree farm afterward to select our big, honkin’ tree. I’d packed sandwiches and snacks and everything. But as usual, we were running late. We were in the car and ready, but would have been embarrassingly late to mass, so we decided to switch the two agenda items. We went straight to the tree farm instead.


We selected one of the few remaining big ‘uns (12 feet!) as the snow began to fall at 9:30. By the time we were on our slow way 45 minutes later, the tree tied precariously to the roof of our minivan, everything was white. My Minnesota-born hubby, who is normally more than a little impatient with the local slow-snow drivers, was thankful for them this time, because of our Christmasy cargo. We munched sandwiches as we trudged through the snow, listening to Christmas music on the radio. It was really all very happy and festive.

Before mass

Before mass

We made it safely to our (rural) church and waited in the parking lot until it was almost time for the 11:30 mass. The church, which is usually filled to the gills with hundreds of people, had no more than 30 that morning. So intimate! And so revealing of wiggly, whispering, wanting-to-play-in-the-snow toddlers!

Really, it was fine. I was happy to have my whole family together at mass. (We spent most of September/October keeping one or both of the boys home because they had a series of awful colds and are too little to know how not to cough all over strangers. November was challenging because I had to cantor/sing in the choir a few weekends and Brennan doesn’t feel comfortable monitoring the boys by himself during mass.) And anyway, it was so lovely to watch that snow fall outside those tall church windows.

After mass

After mass

Still happily under the romantic spell of the swiftly-falling snow, my daring, brave Minnesotan chose to take the (unplowed?) curvy, hilly back roads home. The trip was a little stressful at times (like when we couldn’t see anything but white out the windshield), but we made it home safely. If only it hadn’t ended up taking Brennan five hours of shoveling, scraping, and snow-blowing to get the van all the way up our long, steep driveway.



While poor Brennan worked on the driveway, I took the boys out to play in the snow. Last winter was mild, so this was our two-year-old’s first opportunity. It was only the second or third for our three-year-old. Naturally, they were captivated.







So was I.





Have a great week everyone! Stay warm!

A Tale of Two Soldiers

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?

How We Met

Grace of Camp Patton has been telling the story of how she met her husband and decided to turn it into a little “how we met” link-up. (So go check them out!) I have entirely too little time to be doing this right now, but…

Today is my wedding anniversary, and I did post this little piece yesterday in honor of my husband, and (it being just past midnight) I have just been drinking this glass of wine, and my husband did walk in with these lovely roses a few hours ago…


So, all the stars seem to be aligned. I can’t resist. Now is the time for me to write about how Brennan and I met. (In a quickish amount of time, hopefully.)

To put it most simply (and I already mentioned this in my earlier piece), we met on eHarmony. Brennan and I had both been single for quite a long time. He (as always) was very pragmatic in his decision to join – it was just no big deal. I, on the other hand, had anguished over whether to try eHarmony or something like it. I just couldn’t imagine having to tell my family that I’d met someone online. The horror.

Eventually, though, I got over myself and decided to give it a shot. (To give credit where it’s due, I only got over myself when a friend of mine, someone whom I admired, became engaged to a really wonderful man she’d met on eHarmony. Kathleen, I’m looking at you. Thank you.)

By this time, I was in my late twenties and I had almost always been single. I’d had a couple of very quick, not very meaningful relationships looong before and another that went on (and off) for a couple of years, but was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. More recently, I’d had a couple of guy friends who were maybe-more-than-friends (maybe?) but nothing ever seemed to progress. So I didn’t exactly have high hopes for this internet thing.

But, whaddy’a know? In the slew of guys I was matched with when I opened my account, there was this one who mentioned something about bees. Everybody else was saying how they liked to keep in shape or hang out with friends – one guy even went on and on about how much he loved his iPhone. But the bees… I was intrigued. We progressed through the million-and-one eHarmony steps (me waiting with baited breath each morning to see the response that would be waiting), until we finally spoke on the phone. And he was so nice and talking to him was so easy… it wasn’t long before we set our first date.

Brennan and I decided on the county fair – a fun place to walk around and see some sights; public enough for me to run away if I needed to. (I can be quite practical too, you know.) I did warn him, though: “The fair would be fun, but we’re liable to run into some of my family there. If you have a problem with that, we can go somewhere else.” But he didn’t – not at all. And it’s a good thing, because we did indeed run into some of my family – my great-uncle, a couple of my aunts, a few of my cousins… I think we hit ten of them in all.

But Brennan was such a great sport about it! And we had so much to talk about. It was easy and comfortable… and I was so happy. He was too; later he told me that he knew that very evening that I was the one for him. (Blush.)

Within the next couple of weeks, we went out a few more times, including one impromptu and very cozy weeknight date at a coffeehouse concert in my little city. The next day Brennan left for a family wedding back in his home state of Minnesota. Oh, how I missed him. I was trying not to call and bug him, but when I found out that I had the opportunity to go to a big, fancy dinner through my work – and I could bring a date – I had to call to see if he wanted to join me. He did – no question. When we went to said big, fancy dinner a couple of weeks later, Brennan introduced himself to our fellow guests as my boyfriend. It was hard for me to hide my excitement.

I won’t go on in any more detail. The basics are that a year later, we were engaged. Nine months after that, we were married. Eleven months later, we had our first child. After another fifteen months, we had our second. The time has FLOWN.

And today – exactly four years since we were married and just shy of six years since our first date – I am still amazed by how quickly my life changed. In June of 2007 I was 28 years old, long single, and (though yes, I was still hoping and trying to meet “the one”) just starting to come to terms with the idea that I might never marry. By August, my future husband knew that I was “the one” for him. Soon after, I knew it too.

The whole thing happened so easily and naturally and comfortably. (I think I might have typed the words “easy” or “easily” 13 times so far in this post.) After years of angsting over the whole business of meeting my hypothetical future husband, all of a sudden everything just fell into place. Like it was no big deal. How. Amazing. And what a blessing.

So… that is my own story. But maybe I can be so bold as to suggest that it might hold a little glimmer of hope for some of the long-single ladies out there. I’m not going to tell you “Don’t worry; it will happen.” (Because I hated when people told me that: They didn’t know what the heck would or wouldn’t happen in my life.) But I will tell you that you just never know. Whatever your life ends up looking like later, it will most definitely be different from how it looks right now. You just never know; change could happen soon. And it could happen quickly.

Wedding Pic 10

Five Favorites (Vol. 2): Anniversary Edition


Linking up with Hallie for this week’s Five Favorites! Be sure to check out the rest!

(Updated to add that I’m also linking this post to Jenna’s “I Pray I Don’t Forget: What I Love About My Husband” at A Mama Collective. Check out those stories too!)

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Five Favorites to my excellent husband, Brennan. So here’s some background on our relationship, Five of my Favorite things about B, and some of my favorite photos from our wedding. (Randomly placed and more than five, because I needed to break up the looong intro in #1.)

— 1 —

Brennan is interested in things – so many things.

Wedding Pic 1

In passing, this may seem pretty inconsequential: “Umm, big deal, Julie. Everybody’s interested in something. Even lots of somethings.” So let me back up for a minute and give you a little background on what lead up to our relationship. It should give more meaning to this and some of the other Favorites. Or maybe I just like to provide more information than anyone could possibly care about. One of the two.

Wedding Pic 2

Anyway, I was single for what felt like a looong time before I met Brennan. And I mean single single, not dating-but-not-yet-married “single.” Other than three very brief relationships in my early twenties, I was alone and lonely, day-dreaming of my ideal man. (Does that sound a little pathetic? Sorry. It was what it was.) Toward the end of my twenties I had the blessed insight that I needed to adjust my outlook on single life and my approach to maybe/hopefully finding the man with whom I could share a future. All-in-all, it’s a longer topic for another day. But the pertinent part is that I refined the list of qualities I hoped to find in my future husband. I realized that, most of all, I wanted to find a man who was good and kind, moral, responsible, hardworking – and interested in the world around him. I knew that I could never marry a man who didn’t have those values. And I figured that if my husband had an interest in the world, a hunger to learn and do, then our life together would be an open horizon – something to be explored.

Wedding Pic 3

We walked to the church, which was super fun,
except for how worried I was about the hem of my dress.

When I met Brennan, everything fell into place very quickly. Good? Kind? Moral? Responsible? Hardworking? Check, check, check, check… and check. But the clincher was really that he was interested in so many things. He caught my eye on eHarmony (yep, that’s how we met) because he said he loved bees.

Bees? Who loves bees? My beekeeper of a hubby, that’s who. A few years before, Brennan had gotten to talking with a co-worker who kept bees as a hobby. B thought it was interesting, so he started to read up on it. He read and read and researched… and the next thing he knew, he was putting together hive boxes and picking up packages of buzzing bees from unhappy postal workers.

Wedding Pic 4

We gave out little jars of Brennan’s honey as favors.

Brennan has done the same thing with other hobbies: skiing, target shooting, cooking, home improvement, etc. On the house front, he’s taught himself how to do all sorts of useful things: woodworking, plumbing, mechanics, painting, even pest control. Brennan identifies something he wants to know how to do and he just figures it out. There doesn’t seem to be a “What if?” with Brennan – just a “How?”

Likewise, Brennan has cultivated his interests in history, architecture, and politics by reading and reading and reading… The man loves the internet. And good nonfiction. And audio books that he can soak up on his commute to and from work.

Brennan didn’t grow up doing any of the above; he wasn’t influenced by beekeeper or carpenter or plumber or historian or architect or politician parents. He just happened upon something (many things) that interested him, he had an open mind, and he decided to pursue the new activities and ideas. With gusto. I love that. I can’t wait to see what will be inspiring my husband in ten or twenty years.

— 2 —

Brennan gets stuff done.

Wedding Pic 5

Just as I love how Brennan is active in pursuing his many interests, I also love that he takes the initiative to just go ahead and do what needs to be done – even if it’s tedious or unpleasant. Me? I’m the procrastinating type. The type who avoids the things I find intimidating or disagreeable. But, big or small, Brennan does what needs to be done. Hours upon hours of schoolwork while also working full time? He does it. Paying the bills, going to the doctor, cleaning the bathroom? He does it. Doing preventative maintenance on our very old house? He does it. And not just that – he does it well, without a fuss, and with very few complaints. What a great example to set for our boys. (And, er… for me too.)

— 3 —

Brennan is a loving father and a patient teacher to our boys.

Wedding Pic 6

On one of our first dates, Brennan and I visited an arboretum. Walking through the trees, Brennan spotted an insect hovering near some leaves. Very gently, he pointed it out to me, studied it a bit, and explained what it was doing. In that moment I thought to myself, “Wow. What a wonderful father he’ll be.” And he is. Brennan had very little experience with children before our boys were born, but he jumped in with both feet – doing all kinds of tedious tasks, showering the boys with hugs and kisses, playing all their wild games, teaching them about the world around them, and showing them great patience and a powerful love.

— 4 —

Brennan is a kind and supportive husband.

Wedding Pic 7

This cake tasted so good that our guests gobbled it up before we could even get pieces ourselves!

I love staying home with my boys, but I am a social person by nature and I need to be around other adults. I need some mental stimulation and I need a bit of a break from the constant demands that come with having two very active young boys. I also need to feel like I’m giving something to my community. Brennan understands this, he supports me in my efforts to do things outside of the home, and he has never once complained about it. And it’s no small thing on his part: I serve on the board of a historic home an hour away from our house and I sing in our church’s choir. Both require my presence at times that necessitate B leaving work early. Sometimes hours early, meaning he has to make up those lost hours on another day. But Brennan says that if I really want to do something, I should do it.

— 5 —

Brennan has high standards.

Wedding Pic 8

Gotta love the tiny spectators.

Brennan has high standards about lots of things – work, behavior, food, coffee and chocolate, goods and services that we buy – but let me feel flattered for a minute that he also had high standards when it came to finding the person he wanted to marry. When he was doing the eHarmony thing, going out on first date after first date, Brennan’s buddies at work started to give him a hard time. They’d joke about how he rarely made it to a second date. “What’s wrong with her this time?” was their standard question. One friend told him “everyone settles.” But my Brennan? He answered, “Not me.” He shared my conviction that it was better to be single than to be with the wrong person.

Perhaps this last Favorite sounds a bit self-gratifying. Certainly I’m glad that my husband didn’t “settle” for me. But more than that, I admire a person who will hold out and work hard for what he or she really wants. Too often these days, people expect instant gratification – in relationships, in their homes and careers, in their spare time. But Brennan couldn’t be farther from that. To achieve the kind of life he wants, Brennan works hard, he makes smart decisions, he sacrifices, and he is patient. He sets high standards for himself and he keeps to them.

I am so thankful that this man came into my life. I am grateful for all his hard work and careful planning. I am glad to have his love and his good company. I feel blessed to be building a life with him. Happy anniversary, Brennan. I love you.

Wedding Pic 9

All photos are credited to Gordon Eisner.