Joyful Absurdity: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 17


Spring is my favorite time of year – there’s just so much {pretty} to be found outdoors. Everywhere you look there are pretty little discoveries, delightful surprises, reminders of what you’d forgotten during the long winter months.

These days I’m enjoying the tulips my mother-in-law planted. I’m soaking up the sounds of the fountain and the wind chimes, which drift through our open windows.

I’m watching my little boys dig in the dirt. They operate with more gentleness than I’d have guessed: rescuing worms, cradling moths in their cupped hands, mourning the deaths of ants almost too tiny to notice.

I’m rejoicing in the red buds and the beginnings of the lilac blooms. I’m eagerly awaiting my favorite: the Lilly of the Valley.





{happy, funny, real}

To be honest, life has felt a little too full around here lately. And it’s for just the silliest of reasons: My boys have been taking swim lessons.

The lessons only last a half-hour, but they require us to be up and out of the house on the two days of the week when we’re not already up and out of the house for preschool. And it is so exhausting. I seriously don’t know how you working parents do it. I don’t know how you get everybody ready and out the door five mornings of the week, every week, for years on end. And you parents of school-aged children – you too!

Until this month, I had not realized how much I appreciate gentle starts to my day. Without them, I’m finding myself more frazzled and tired, more rushed, less peaceful and productive.

I tell you this to set the stage for the following:


This isn’t a very good picture to represent my {happy, funny, real}, but as I have no documentarian recording my every move, there’s really no way I could provide you with one. Or with three, as the case may be.

You see, Wednesday was one of those rushed, not-peaceful, not-productive days. I started by dropping my oldest son off at his preschool and bringing my friend’s son home with me so she could help in the classroom. The two little boys played together, running in-and-out, in-and-out of the house. The baby napped. The boys required multiple snacks and potty breaks and attentions to their shoes. They followed me around and cuddled on my lap. They kept me very busy, though I didn’t feel like I had much time to be kept busy by them.

A friend was to come over for lunch. Mary was to come help me plan the set-up for the Catholic women bloggers’ conference I’m hosting next week, so I was trying to bake us a quiche. But little boys don’t care about quiches, do they?

No, they don’t.

So I sat with them a bit and cuddled. And when I got tired of my back bothering me, I laid down on the floor to stretch it out. “Don’t climb on me!” I said.

Futile warning.

Of course they climbed on me – all three of them. They were like ants swarming over a piece of food dropped from a picnic table. Before I knew it, I’d been pinned. I had a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 1-year-old lying on my head.

They yelled and laughed and clawed at my face. I writhed and resisted, but those boys – all 90 pounds of them – they proved formidable captors.

So I started laughing. And laughing and laughing and laughing until I cried. I couldn’t remember when anything had ever been so {funny} as this stupid situation I’d gotten myself into. All I could think of was the absurdity of the situation: Anyone who walked into the room would find a thrashing set of mom legs sticking out from under a writhing, shrieking pile of boy.

I could not get up. I could not extract myself from that pile.

So I kept laughing. I laughed harder than I had in years. I could. not. stop. What would my mother-in-law think if she came in? What would my friend think if she looked through the window and saw three boys sitting on my head? What would they think of the muffled, manic, unstoppable laughter coming through the little-boy giggles and yells?

I thought about how absurd it all was and I let go of all my pressures and my exhaustion and my deadlines and my responsibilities. I just laughed.

I think it took almost a full five minutes, but I finally wrestled my way out of the melee. My son was yelling, “Way back down, Mommy! Way back down!” But I had to get back to reality.

And at that moment, my reality looked very {real} to me indeed. My house was a wreck, my quiche was barely started, I wore disheveled clothes and no make-up, and I was due to be receiving a guest in a matter of minutes.

Mary arrived just after the blasted quiche (which took forever to bake) was finally shoved in the oven. We watched the boys play and fight and run and cry bloody murder in the backyard. I toured her around a messy, dirty house. I jumped up from our lunch at least a dozen times, trying to keep the boys “quiet” so Mary and I could “talk.”

After she left, I put the baby down for a nap and prepared to sit at my computer for what I hoped would be a quiet, restful hour.

It wasn’t. The baby woke too soon but was too tired to play. So I gave up. I sat on the sofa and held him in my arms. He dozed against my chest. I half-watched the boys’ movie, half-dozed too.

I relaxed. I let go – a different sort of letting go from the kind you do when you’re squashed under three small boys. I literally put up my feet. I rested my head on the sofa cushions and studied the curly head and soft cheeks lying just below my chin.

What a {happy} feeling.

The happiness grew as my other boys began to stir, picking their way towards us. They cuddled. They climbed behind me to play with my hair. One posed for a chain of selfies better suited to a teenaged girl.









20150422_172824More absurdity, more joy. Always more joy.

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more everyday contentment in {pretty, happy, funny, real}.


The Thing About Having A Full Plate

This past weekend, my situation was clarified for me: I have quite the full plate at the moment. It’s not full of bad things or scattered, abstract things or things that are worth wasting time worrying about. It’s full of two big, hearty, substantial portions of meat, if you will. Two portions that simply must be dealt with. Now.

Here’s the deal: I’m due to have my third baby in a little over five weeks. And like all expectant couples, my husband and I have a lot to do before the little guy arrives. Here’s our (conservative, whittled-down-to-the-bare-minimum) list, because I’m a list-maker:

  • Finish the bigger boys’ Big Boy Room.
  • Transform this mess (I’m not even exaggerating, am I?) into a nursery/guest room/laundry sorting space/catch-all room.


  • Do all that baby-readying stuff like washing baby clothes and linens, digging the baby gear out of the attic, cleaning it, etc.
  • Clean out the minivan and rearrange the seats and car seats.
  • Pack overnight bags for myself and the boys.
  • Put away the Christmas decorations. (What?! It’s only March.)
  • Deal with no fewer than a dozen boxes of papers and junk.
  • Move/construct no fewer than 20 pieces of furniture. (That job is reserved for the hubby, which would be obvious to you if you could see the way I’m waddle-limping around the house these days.)

What’s with the last two, you ask? Why would any sensible person tackle tasks like that a month before having a baby? Well, it’s because having a baby is just one of the Big Life Changes we’re preparing for right now. It’s just one of those substantial pieces of meat I was referencing.

We’re also about to welcome my mother-in-law into our home. Permanently. Brennan’s stepfather passed away in January, prompting Brennan’s mother’s need to find a new place to live. So she’s moving here, all the way from Minnesota.

While we’re aware that this new living situation will involve a tremendous adjustment for all of us, we’re confident that we’re doing the right thing. And we look forward to many wonderful things about having Hilde (pronounced “Hildy”) living with us. (First and foremost, our boys will actually get to know their grandmother! Currently, they only get to see her once a year. Also, you know how newborns want to be held at all times? Solution: Grandma!)

The original plan was for Hilde to arrive at the beginning of June. But now it looks like she’ll be here in… two-and-a-half weeks. So it’s not like we even have five whole weeks to accomplish the tasks on that list. For most of them, we’ve just got 2.5.

Two! Point! Five! To ready our home and household for two new people. With one of the primary workers partially incapacitated by third-trimester fatigue, a big huge belly, and a bum hip joint. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a full plate.

But the thing about having a full plate, I’ve found, is that it tends to do what it did for me this past weekend: clarify things. All-of-a-sudden, necessary things are made more obvious and unnecessary things fade into the background. You (or at least I) become more business-like, more matter-of-fact about what you need to do. Those tasks that have been swimming languidly along in your mind for months are suddenly lined up, alert, standing at the ready.

So, despite my fatigue (and another annoying post-nasal-drip, sore-throat thing), I’m ready to get this thing done. Yesterday afternoon, I finally finished up a task that I’d left hanging for months. A handful of more afternoons like that and we’ll be in good shape.

At this point in the game, I’ve got to believe that all this is doable. I don’t have the luxury of worrying about it or letting it overwhelm me. I’ve just got to move forward with purpose and determination… and love. We’ll get there. And we’re doing it for a good reason, for people we love.


Also, do you want to know a little bonus about having this particular kind of a full plate? I’ve been thinking so much about logistics in the past few days that I haven’t had any time at all to devote to the subject that had been lurking in my mind, making me uneasy: labor and delivery. Let’s just put that one off as long as possible, shall we?

The Audacity to Breathe: Seven Thoughts on Taking a Break (7QT, Vol. 26)

I have breaks on the brain these days. Like, taking a break. Like, having the audacity to put one’s mothering tasks on-hold for hours (or days!) at a time to stop, step back, and breathe.

As I’m finally finishing up this piece on a Friday, and as I have an oh-so-convenient seven general thoughts to share on the subject, I figured I might as well link up with Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes Friday. If you need a break, I hope you’ll find some comfort in my musings on the subject.

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!


Everybody needs a break once in a while. But sometimes that need is acute.

Back in January, I spent a long weekend alone with the boys while my husband went to Minnesota for his stepfather’s funeral. I had originally planned to fill up that time jumping from one fun outing to the next, aiming to entertain and wear out my little ones while distracting myself from the fact that their father was gone. Then we all got sick. It was just a cold, but it was our brand of cold, which left me with copious amounts of vomit to deal with. (Congestion = coughing = gagging = vomiting. In case you were wondering.)

As you might expect, those four days were a little rough. It’s no fun to be on vomit duty by yourself for days on end. All in all, we did fine. We stayed in, we watched a lot of movies, and (most importantly) we kept our expectations way low. Still, a few hours before my husband’s flight was to arrive, I had reached my limit. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was cranky. I felt like I had nothing left to give.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

And I know I’m not uncommon in my familiarity with it. Indeed, it’s probably one of the most universal feelings in modern motherhood: whether you work inside the home or outside, you’re constantly moving, working, doing, pushing, giving… And sometimes you’re just done. You’ve reached your limit. You need a break.

Then you need to figure out how to actually get one.


You yourself can be the greatest barrier to getting the breaks you need.

Lately, I’ve been very lucky in the break department. But not because I’ve been trying to do something good for myself. Rather, a random (providential?) combination of events and tasks – plus the generosity of others – have had the happy effect of giving me some time to myself.

I went to a morning retreat at church. I had my hair cut and highlighted. I did a bit of solo shopping. I went to a few doctors’ appointments and a board meeting. My parents gave my husband and me the (wonderful! amazing!) Christmas gift of a weekend at a B&B while they watched our boys.

For most of these “breaks” (yes, I realize that a doctor’s appointment probably shouldn’t be considered a “break,” but when you spend nearly every waking hour with little ones, you start to find breaks in unlikely places), I felt the need to justify my alone time to myself.

I went to the retreat because it was given for those involved in ministries. (I cantor and I’m in the choir.) I saw it as a way to deepen my involvement in my new parish. I had my hair cut and highlighted because… well… one needs to do that a few times a year, you know, if one aims to maintain a certain look. (Even if that look can be described as “Kind of taming an unruly, wavy/curly/strong-willed beast of a head of hair.”) I went shopping solo because I was already out by myself anyway, and it was more efficient, wasn’t it, for me to just pop into a couple of stores without boys to get in and out of cars and carts? I went to the doctors’ appointments because… well, that’s self-explanatory.


The new ‘do (I love when they blow-dry my hair so it looks all fancy and put-together!) with (an old — 29-week) belly shot.

I know that I shouldn’t feel like I have to justify every little escape. I know that they’re good for me, and I know that that should be enough. But it’s so hard to let go of the idea that I should always be engaged in that moving, working, doing, pushing, giving. It’s so hard to not feel guilty about leaving my boys with a friend, or choosing my own need for a break over my husband’s need to get something accomplished at work or home. It’s really, really hard to just go ahead and do something for me. Unabashedly. Because I would benefit.

I’ll bet that’s a familiar feeling to other mothers too.


When it comes down to it, you’re going to have to just look around, take a deep breath, and leap in.

Or at least that’s what my gut tells me. I’m not very good at doing it. Sure, we hire a babysitter once in a while, but it’s almost always because we’re going out to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary or going to my husband’s annual work party. Usually, any “breaks” I get are at home, in the quiet afternoons when I put on a DVD for the boys and order them to lay on the sofas. (Older son has always been a terrible napper and this is the only way I can get him to lie still for an hour. Younger son goes out like a light about 3 minutes in. Which is why I have, like, a million pictures of him asleep on the sofa.)


Or on the floor.



Sometimes the big one even falls asleep.

Jenny’s been writing lately about hiring a mother’s helper and I think that makes so much sense. I probably have unrealistic expectations, but I imagine that if I had a mother’s helper for a few hours at a time, a couple of times a week, my life would be so different – more peaceful, more organized, more all-the-wonderful-things. I’m completely with her in that I would much, much rather have someone come take care of the boys than clean for me. My brain needs quiet, child-free time much more than it needs someone to whip my bathrooms into shape.

But. That decision takes two to make, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – my husband is super helpful. He changes diapers, he cooks, he cleans, he gives just about all the baths and does bedtime nearly every night. He’s Superdad, for sure. And if I really, really insisted, I think he’d tolerate the mother’s helper thing. However, for a variety of reasons, he would not be happy about it. So right now, at this particular point in our family’s life, I don’t think it’s the right fit for us.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. Definitely check out Jenny’s posts. (Here, and especially here.) Let her, as she puts it, “bring you into the happy, light-filled place where well-rested and highly satisfied mothers dwell: the land of helpful teenagers.”

Of course there are ways other than a regular mother’s helper to get some breaks. There’s hiring a sitter or nailing down your husband (in my case, he’s got a long line of home improvement projects calling his name) to be in charge of the kids for the occasional Saturday afternoon. There’s switching off with another mom friend who’s in the same boat as you. There is – when you’re truly at your limit – trusting your gut enough to call your hubby home or a friend over so you can escape before you blow your top. (Note to my local gals: I would TOTALLY be that friend for you – call anytime.)


Even when you’ve got one right in front of you, it can be hard to let the break sink in.

Usually when I’m presented with the opportunity to take a break, I hardly know what to make of it at first. I sit down for my thrice-yearly visit to the hair salon just about shell-shocked: nervous, waiting on pins and needles for a small voice to start crying out for me. I feel like an animal newly emerged from hibernation, blinking at the bright sunlight. Without my boys, I feel like I’ve lost my bearings.

I am used to being tired. I am used to being pulled in different directions. I am used to deciphering squeals from shrieks from screams. I am used to running around, bending down, stepping over, and wrestling. I am used to feeling stressed out and annoyed and amused and joyful in a span of just a few minutes.

I am not used to quiet. I am not used to sitting still for extended periods of time. I am not used to people serving me. I am not used to choosing what I want to do.

Maybe this is just me. And (very likely) maybe I sound pathetic. But I find that it’s hard to make that adjustment from the whole moving, working, doing, pushing, giving thing to just… relaxing. Which is why I think it’s important to not let your breaks be too few and far between.

The Saturday after the aforementioned weekend-without-my-hubby, I had the good fortune to have just about the whole day to myself. I started with that retreat at church. For the first hour or so, I was antsy and distracted and (I regret to say so) too critical of the program. But as I got further into it, I began to relax enough to absorb and appreciate what I was in the middle of. By the time I got to the hair salon that afternoon, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I chatted happily with the hairdresser and didn’t feel as on-edge as I usually do when I’m there. A week later, I was able to set off on my weekend away with not a trace of guilt. It was great to get that little taste of freedom and even better to get to share it with my husband.



Your breaks aren’t just good for you – they’re good for your family too.

When I was engaged to my husband, I came to the realization that every single time I went to mass – every time I sat in God’s presence, soaked in a little silence, engaged in prayer with the people around me, and took part in the Eucharist, I loved my husband more. I’d exit the church with a little spring in my step and a little more love in my heart.

Now that I’ve got a couple of little ones in tow, I may no longer have that spring in my step when I leave mass, but I most definitely have more love for my family.

And I feel the same way every time I come back from a break. Whether it’s a date night or a solo trip to Target, I return home loving my boys even more than I did when I left the house. My chances to breathe and relax and get a little distance (read: perspective) not only refresh me, but they intensify my love for the very beings that were driving me crazy just hours before.

That’s good for me, of course, but it’s good for them too.

When I take the opportunity to get away for a bit, they get me back happier, more relaxed, and more in love with them. Win, win, win. They’ve also had a chance to enjoy someone else’s company, become a little more independent, and maybe even grow more in love with me too. Win.


It’s also important to take breaks so that they’re there for you to draw upon when you need something to cling to.

Two days after my husband and I returned from our weekend away, I wrote the following, intending it for a blog post, which I never finished:

Fresh off a weekend AWAY (seriously – a weekend away, with my husband, without children), I started Monday feeling peaceful and refreshed – energized, even. Just before the boys woke, I stole a few minutes to begin a disgustingly cheerful post on how wonderful it feels to get a break. Given that I’d begun last week by ruminating on death, I dunno… I figured I should begin this one by blogging about something… happier, more hopeful, maybe.

Then it all came crashing down.

Now, I can’t blame this one on the boys. They did wake up a little extra-tired and grumpy from an indulgent weekend at Grandma’s (love you, Mom!), but we had a little “talk” in the morning about what Mommy’s willing to put up with, and it all went pretty well, considering.

No, I got some big news on the phone. Not necessarily bad news, mind you, but BIG news. News that, if it comes to fruition, will change all of our lives. And, if it indeed comes to fruition, I will undoubtedly blog all about it. (I know, I’m a brat for mentioning “the news” without telling you what it is. I hate when people do that. Shame on me.)

Then I heard about a sad, sad story from a friend, who, like me, had a nice start to her day before her fateful phone call. And then I read about more sad, sudden events on Facebook and in my email. There seemed to be a theme: you’re rolling along nicely, happily… whistling, maybe… then, WHAM! Something hits you and you realize just how fragile your peace is.

My day proceeded accordingly: I kept swinging between loving gazes at my beautiful boys, extra softness, extra hugs, extra cuddles – and snapping, hard and fast, at their misbehavior. Because underneath all the softness, I was brittle. The aforementioned news and sadness and stress had put my nerves on edge.

I’m trying, trying, trying to cling to the peace I felt early Monday morning – to the hope and brightness and energy that my weekend, and some other recent breaks, gave me. Monday, I mostly failed. Since then, with some sleep and time and perspective under my belt, I’m doing better.

I know that many of my posts lately have been kind of dig-in-my-heels-crotchety on the parenting front. I mean, there was the whole “I do NOT treasure every moment!” one and the “Boys are NOT easy!” one. I feel like both could have been followed up with a “Gosh darn it!” and a little stamping of my feet.

But lest you think I’m a perpetual pessimistic grump or currently hovering right at my breaking point, let me assure you that these posts belie my overarching mood these days. The fact is, we’re in a pretty good place right now. We’re settled in our home, content in our marriage, and we have two children who can do things like walk themselves to the car and bring me their sippy cups when they need more milk. One can even use the potty and put on his own shoes and coat! I’m well aware that in approximately 10 weeks’ time, we’ll be back into the helplessness that is baby mode.

So really, life is good right now. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. And those breathers I mentioned: I’m soaking them up, folks. I am soaking them up.

Thank goodness I had just had those breaks. Because they shored me up for the news and the worries awaiting me. I am so grateful that I was able to face them from a place of peace and rest rather than one of exhaustion and frayed nerves.


I’m going to try to be more deliberate and unashamed about pursuing breaks. You should too.

Given some impending big changes in our family (umm… baby?), I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how our household functions, how we react to happenings in our daily lives, how we interact with each other, how I feel about it all, etc. I know that when the baby’s born, he’ll arrive bearing a massive wrench to throw at us. So I figure this is my last chance to get things in order for a while. (And I mean that in more than a physical sense.) I suppose it’s my way of nesting.

I remember the exhaustion of having a newborn. I remember the baby blues. I remember not feeling like I’d ever be able to dig out from it. But I also remember feeling like I had to do everything. Make everything work. All the time. No stopping.

This time, I want to go into the newborn period with a very different attitude – a more forgiving one. I want to be able to count it as a ‘win’ when we’ve all survived the day. I want us to be easier on each other, take a break from our other responsibilities, and just focus on the five people here in our little family.

Part of that, I know, will require me to be easier on myself, to make sure that I’m getting what I need to care for my children and love my husband. I’m going to need to be re-filled every once in a while. I’ll need some breaks.

And by gosh, I intend to get them.

Which is one of the reasons I was so intent on going to The Edel Gathering this coming July. I think it will be an amazing opportunity to meet some fabulous women. And it will be an incredible break from my daily life. I’m confident that I’ll return happier and more in love with my family than ever before.

They will benefit. But mostly, I’m doing it for me.

This is post five of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge at Conversion Diary. Stop there to check out the hundreds of other bloggers who are also participating.

The Best Possible Mugging

After my post yesterday on Crime and Punishment and Moving On, I thought the time was right to share with you one of my most (bizarrely) favorite party stories: The Best Possible Mugging. It’s my own tale of being a crime victim. And I have to preface it by saying that yes, I realize how fortunate I am that my only real experience of crime is as the victim of The Best Possible Mugging. I can’t presume to know how a victim of a more serious crime would feel. I can only relate my own experience and the impact it has had on my life.


Around ten years ago when I was living in Washington, DC (or rather, right at its border: I could see DC from my apartment complex), I lived a ten-minute walk from the nearest Metro station. My route to and from the station every day was a straight-shot, mostly along one very busy road with well-traveled sidewalks. I made that walk countless times. And there was precisely one time in my three years of living there when I was entirely alone. That evening, as I walked home from the metro after a church choir practice (oh, the irony), I saw no cars along the road and no pedestrians along the sidewalk.

Until a young man in a big, baggy, hooded sweatshirt walked towards me.

I saw him coming, but I’d been chatting on my cell phone with a friend, so I didn’t pay too much attention to the guy until he was right in front of me. “Give me your purse,” he said, showing me something tucked into his waistband, which he clearly intended for me to believe was a gun. (I have no idea whether it really was; I only saw part of it.)

My first two, nearly simultaneous, reactions were: (1) Annoyance. I thought to myself – in a very whiny, exasperated voice – “Oh, man, I don’t want to deal with this!” (Yes, even my interior dialogue is clean.) And (2) Sadness for the man who was robbing me. “You’re so young! Don’t do this to yourself!” I thought. “Don’t mess up your life like this!”

Then my practical, confident, stubborn side (maybe it’s called “adrenaline”?) kicked in. I tend to be very good in emergency situations.

Here’s how my thought process went:

First, “He didn’t ask for my phone, so I’m not going to give it to him.” I placed the phone in my pocket, leaving it on so my friend could hear what was going on.

Second, “He didn’t ask for my backpack, so I’m not giving it to him either.” Instead I told the guy, “My purse is in my backpack; I’ll get it out for you.” I took it off, set it on the ground, and knelt down to retrieve my purse.

Third, “I don’t want to give him my purse! My glasses and make-up are in there! He doesn’t want all that stuff anyway – he’d just ditch it. I’ll see if he’ll just take my wallet.” I reached into my backpack, into the purse, for my wallet.

Fourth, “I don’t want to give him my wallet! My drivers’ license and credit cards are in there! He probably doesn’t want them anyway. I’ll see if he’ll just take my cash.” So I reached into my wallet, grabbed the cash (fortunately, about fifty bucks), took it out, and handed it to him.

“This is all the money I have; you can have all my money,” I told him. He took it and walked away.

He just walked away.

That’s why I’ve always called it “The Best Possible Mugging.” It was an armed robbery and the only thing I lost was 50 bucks in cash. (Ever since, I always carry at least $20. I know some folks don’t like to carry cash in case they’re mugged, but that’s exactly why I want to do so. I’d much rather somebody get a little money from me than my credit or bank card – or worse, not believing me and getting mad.)

Like I said, all I lost was a little money (and some peace of mind). I didn’t have to replace any items or official documents or credit cards, and the guy was none the wiser as to my name or address. More importantly, I wasn’t hurt. I doubt it gets much better than that.

(By the way, I later heard from friends that the friend-with-whom-I’d-been-on-the phone during the mugging reported to everybody that, “This guy walks up to Julie with a gun, demands her purse, and she negotiates with him!” He said that I told the robber “I won’t give you my purse, but I’ll give you my money.” I’m dubious. I stand by my interior-monologue version of the story.)

I’d been strangely calm through the whole mugging, but once the guy walked away, I started to panic a little. I wondered whether he’d come back. I worried that he’d see where I was heading and know where I lived.

“Julie! Julie!” my friend was screaming on the phone. I pulled it out of my pocket and rushed toward the gate of my apartment complex. “Get inside!” he was telling me.

As I walked through the gate, I spotted a bunch of soldiers milling around outside a bus. (This is Washington, remember. You find a military presence in lots of unexpected places. These guys were housed in my complex and were gathering by their bus to report to work at some military installation around town.) As my friend shouted, “Get inside!” over and over, I thought, “Hmm… men with big guns. I think I’ll go stand with them.”

“I was just robbed,” I told them. “Like, just now – he went that way.” The kind souls called 911 and waited with me until the police arrived.

Once the police got there, I answered questions. I watched as they brought out dogs to track the man’s scent. I went with an officer to identify someone they’d caught (not the right guy). Later I met with a police sketch artist. It was all very interesting. And surreal.

And yes, it shook me up.

I took a friend’s advice to stay home from work the next day and eat ice cream. I kept the blinds closed. I looked over my shoulder a lot. Outside, I walked quickly. I walked with others whenever I could. I was careful to be home before it got too late. And I never again traveled that metro route without wondering if I’d be mugged.

Over time, though I remained cautious in that city and my next, I began to feel safe again. Or as safe as one can feel who’s had such an experience. I’ve had others, too, that stuck with me in that awful, haunting, PTSD-esque way: September 11, the Washington sniper attacks, a hit-and-run car accident (hmm… I guess that one makes me a crime victim two times over). All of them, incidentally, occurred while I lived in the Washington area. Blasted place.

I’m still very (overly?) careful while out-and-about in public places, but fortunately I don’t carry with me any more bothersome relic of my mugging. Even more fortunately, I still find humor in the fact that I was able to dig within my matryoshka doll of a bag/purse/wallet situation to grab a wad of cash. That humor has gone a long way in getting me through what, at its heart, was a scary and unsettling event. Thank you, humor! And of course, thank you, Lord, for getting me safely through the experience. I remain so. grateful.

Yet another incongruous photo. It's not even Washington, it's Germany. But it was taken around the same time as the events in this post.

Yet another incongruous photo. It’s not even Washington, it’s Germany. But it was taken around the same time as the infamous mugging.

This is post three of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge at Conversion Diary. Stop there to check out the hundreds of other bloggers who are also participating.

Christmas Review, 2013

I know that many (most?) of you have taken down your tree and moved past Christmas at this point, but I’ve been trying for days to fit in one fully Christmas-themed piece before the season officially came to a close (Happy Epiphany!) and I allllmost made it. Almost. So, whatever. I’m posting this rambling thing anyway.


Plus, here I sit (for at least part of the writing of this post), in front of a lovely fire, with my equally lovely (if crispy, because we never remember to water it) Christmas tree in the background for the last time this season. And despite the detritus of stuff strewn about our entire first floor (a result of two consecutive days of Daddy on Duty) and the vaguely bleh feeling of recovering from a stomach bug (which sent me to Labor and Delivery for a not-so-lovely few hours Friday night), I’m still feeling that warm-fuzzy Christmas feeling.


Same set-up, less messy day.

So, here’s a little review of how our family prepared for and celebrated Christmas this year, as well as some thoughts on such things in general, and on how we can maybe do ours a little better next year. (If I write about it here, I can check back on it then, right?)

But, fair warning: much of this post (especially the stuff in the middle) is probably of interest to just one person – little ol’ me. This is how I’m choosing to get it all down, to remember it for next year. If you like pictures of Christmas decorations, details about how other families do holidays, and musings on how one might do holidays better, then settle right in and enjoy. If you find such things B.O.R.I.N.G., then maybe just check on back here in a couple of days, okay?

— Advent —

We… um… didn’t do much for Advent this year.

Last year, I made a little paper candle for each day of Advent and wrote on each the name of a loved one. I taped them to our kitchen mantle and set up a small Christmas tree in our dining room, decorated with nothing but white lights. Each day, we took one of the candles off the mantle, prayed for the person named on it, and hung the candle on the tree in the dining room. I meant to do the same this year. I set up the tree and pulled out last year’s paper candles. But, intending to switch the names around a bit, I never hung them up. Fail.

Last year -- see the candles hanging from the mantle?

Last year — see the candles hanging from the mantle?

I also thought about doing that whole opening-one-children’s-Christmas-book-each-day-of-Advent thing. I even have nearly enough books. But I didn’t get around to wrapping them. Fail.

Didn’t do the advent wreath either. Pulled it out, set it on the table, and never dug out the candles. Fail.

I didn’t even do daily Advent reflections, which I’ve almost always done in the past. Fail!

So, what did we do? It wasn’t much: we brought out the nativity scenes at the start of Advent and we talked about them. For most of the month, we kept our decorations simple and our preparations quiet. We had nativity scenes (with Baby Jesus tucked away and wise men set off to the side) throughout our first floor and we had that simple little dining-room tree with white lights. We talked about Jesus’ birth and we sang Christmas carols.

You know how people display placards and memes admonishing folks to “Keep Christ in Christmas”? I’m a little turned off by them. I always want to answer, “So, do it! Take a look around at your home and your traditions and your stress level and do what you can to focus on the ‘Reason for the Season.’ You – not society at large – are in charge of how you celebrate Christmas.”

Personally (and I admit I’m at a pretty good place in my life for this – just a few years into parenthood), I’m trying to set the course for the way holidays will be celebrated in my home. If I don’t want Christmas to be about materialism, I don’t let it. If I want it to be a season of peace, that’s what I focus on. If I want to keep it about Christ, that’s what I do. I think we should orient ourselves to our goals and just go ahead and live them out the best we can. So, that’s what we did with Christmas. If the boys brought up Santa, sure, we indulged their excitement a little bit. But we didn’t make out that Christmas is about Santa and gifts. We made clear that it’s about Christ’s birth.

Next year, I’d like to have our Advent activities all planned out and ready to go before Thanksgiving. Maybe I should take things down from the attic, dust them off, and set them aside in mid-November, even. Then I could simply set them out the first Sunday of Advent and be done with all the “Ohmygosh I don’t want to go to the attic and dig into bins and deal with all that dusty stuff.” I’m particularly lazy with that sort of thing, so I should probably schedule it on my calendar now.

— Cards —

Cards were and weren’t a kind-of failure this year. On the plus side, we had family photos taken in October (October!) and I ordered the cards on December 4. (Which seems chest-puffingly early to this procrastinator.) On the negative side, the cards were delayed, then delivered to the wrong address, and so re-ordered and delivered to us just before Christmas. Also, blinded by a good Shutterfly sale and free shipping, I went a little overboard with the design. We ended up getting them done, though most arrived after Christmas day. Next year, as much as I hate to say so, we should probably order our cards before Thanksgiving. (Shudder!)



— Parties and activities —

This is where I think we struck the right balance. We did three simple, Christmasy out-of-the-house activities: we went to our parish’s Santa breakfast, we drove around one evening to look at Christmas lights, and we went to our town’s tree-lighting ceremony, where our 3-year-old sang with his preschool class. We attended our usual two family parties: one at my grandparents’ on Christmas Day, another at my parents’ on the previous weekend. We also hosted two parties and an overnight visit: a weekday, brunch-time St. Nicholas Day party for little ones, a post-Christmas open house for friends and family, and a New Year’s Eve/Day visit from my best friend and her family. The activities were nicely spread out over the month and other than pre-party house-cleanings (which are good to do in and of themselves), none were too labor intensive. I’d be perfectly happy if we did the same assortment next year.


I only get credit for the dark chocolate tart and the banana bread.

That's the sign of a good party.

Now, that’s the sign of a good party.

— Decorations —

Well… we put up a tree! A whole week before Christmas! Though I think I might not have finished decorating it until Christmas Eve. We hung our Moravian star on the porch and put candle lights in the front windows, also (ahem) on Christmas Eve. Let’s see… what else… Brennan put up a pine garland over the parlor fireplace. There were the aforementioned nativities and the dining room tree. And stockings. And the Christmas cards we received. That’s it.



Last year I decorated our mantles, which I love doing. I’m sorry I didn’t get around to it this year. Next year, if I can manage it with an 8-month-old underfoot (not to mention a 4- and 3-year-old), I’d love to do the mantles up right again. Plus the assortment of basics we pulled off this year.

Again -- last year!

Last year!

— Gifts —

I have to say, given all that not-focusing-on-Santa-and-gifts stuff, it was pretty darned fun to have a child old enough to get excited about Santa this year. Our 3-year-old had been talking about wanting a guitar for months and he was delighted to learn that he could ask Santa to bring him one. Fortunately, good ol’ Santa Claus did not disappoint. Nor did he (I think) spoil the kiddos. He brought our older boy the guitar and a cowboy costume and our younger boy a fire engine and a fireman costume. He also brought each boy a puzzle and a wooden truck. They. were. thrilled. In fact, once they saw the guitar and the fire engine, they really didn’t care about anything else.


Santa doesn’t wrap our gifts, does he wrap yours?

And it’s a good thing that Santa’s gifts (oh, and Grandma’s too) were fun, because Mommy and Daddy’s were mostly practical: namely, we gave the boys the bedding they’ll need for the big-boy beds they’ll be getting this spring. The boys gave each other a toy: tools for one, a truck for the other. And this year, in a first, I think, my ever-practical hubby (whose past gifts have included a floor mat and a bed pillow) gave me a gift that is pretty. He gave me a lovely art print for our dining room. It’s the first thing we’ve properly hung on a wall in the 1.5 years we’ve been in this house. (Everything else has been stuck on nails that were already there when we moved in, because I’m too chicken to mess with plaster walls unless I’m really, really sure about what I’m hanging.)


Isn’t she so pretty?! I want sheep…

Regarding shopping for gifts, I did most of it at the last minute. Which you would think would be a recipe for high stress. Except that it actually wasn’t, and it even lead me to a new philosophy for Christmas gift shopping. Behold: Shop for tough people (i.e. out-of-town Godchildren, my hubby, and my dad) well in advance. That is, whenever in the year I can find something that suits them. And by Thanksgiving at the latest. But shop for easy people (i.e. my boys, my nieces, and my mom) at the last-minute. Tons of cool things can be ordered easily from Amazon and lots of good sales abound in the last days before Christmas. In short, get the stressful ones over with early and save the fun ones ‘till the end.

— The Christmas Season, Proper —

I’m actually kind of glad that we didn’t get a lot accomplished this year until Christmas itself was right around the corner. I feel like my default is to feel guilty the whole first half of December that I’m not doing more, then desperate to get it all done the week before Christmas, then let down as soon as Christmas day passes. Oh, and then guilty all over again, because I’m nowhere near ready to take everything down, but Christmas is… you know… over.

Except that it’s not. It’s really not. Sure, it makes sense for retailers to start hyping Christmas in November (Earlier? Ouch!) and then pressure you to DO! MAKE! BUY! in the final weeks that lead up to December 25th. And sure, it’s natural for folks who have been immersed in that environment and that hectic pace to feel DONE with it all as soon as Christmas day ends. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not even supposed to. If I view Christmas as a religious holiday, then I should look at it from the vantage of the religious calendar: December is dominated by Advent, not Christmas. Advent is a season of preparation, reflection, and penance. Christmas arrives on the 25th and lasts for twelve days. Epiphany, the feast of the magi, comes in early January.

I feel like we kind of got the tone right this year. Next year, I want to be really purposeful about the days. We’ll still put up our Christmas tree during Advent, but we’ll never be weekend-after-Thanksgiving people. We’ll add to our decorations and shopping slowly, so that we’re ready (but not frantic!) on Christmas day itself. Next year, I want to mark each of the twelve days of Christmas somehow. Perhaps we’ll give our own Christmas gifts to the boys bit-by-bit, stretched over those twelve days. We’ll see. I also want to mark Epiphany next year, maybe with a fun little party for our (fun) little family. We’ll see on that count too. Regardless of how, exactly, we work it all out, I want to teach my boys that Christmas matters and I think that observing it fully will help to teach that lesson.


— This New Year —

I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution person, nor have I ever landed on a “word of the year.” But this year, I felt like a few things just came to me naturally, that the past few months have pointed me in their direction. So, I guess I’d better pursue them. One relates to what I wrote above: I want to be purposeful about this year’s holidays and liturgical seasons. Another is more basic and more important: I need to (sleep and therefore) rise early so that I can have some quiet prayer time for myself each day. (No, I haven’t been praying daily, which I usually blame on the ever-loving lack of quiet in this house. Unfortunately, it’s become an easy excuse.) And lastly, I have a word for 2014. One that came to me clearly, one that has been coming for some time: Generous. This year, I need to be generous, I need to learn to respond generously, both in my mind and in my actions.


So, there you have it: My look back on Advent and Christmas 2013, my look forward at what those seasons should be in the years to come, and my outlook at the beginning of 2014. May you and yours have a peaceful, healthy, joyful year ahead of you.


Five Favorites (Vol. 4): ‘Twas the Week Before Christmas


We’ve now officially got LESS THAN ONE WEEK before Christmas. And (don’t let the caps lock fool you), I’m actually not sweating it.

Sure, I’ve still got half of my shopping left to do, all of my wrapping, my tree to finish decorating, all of my other Christmas decorating to do, my cards to send out (once they arrive, that is!), my food contributions to our family parties to figure out, my own Christmas meals to plan, a snack for my son’s school party to make… and a pedicure to fit in before my gift certificate (last year’s Christmas present) expires.

So, I should totally be sweating it. (Except for the pedicure part.)

But I’m not! This year, I am – and I can’t believe I can say this without rolling my eyes – actually enjoying the run-up to Christmas and even feeling peaceful about it. Thank the Lord! (Seriously – thank you, Lord.) I definitely feel like my lack of anxiety this season has been a blessing from above and has had very little to do with my own actions. It certainly has nothing to do with my level of preparation.

Rather, I have a feeling that the following simple favorites from this week have contributed to my Christmasy peace and joy:




We’re not used to getting December snow in this part of the country, so the whole “White Christmas” thing is usually just a fantasy. (Come Christmas Day, it likely will be again: after getting up to a balmy 66 degrees on Sunday, we should enjoy a nice, cool 40 degrees on Christmas.) However, we’ve had snow covering the ground here for a week-and-a-half, and it’s done so much to put me in the Christmas mindset. It’s just so easy to get excited about Christmas when you’ve got snow-covered evergreens and hollies to look at every day.



Breakfast with Santa

On Saturday, Brennan and I took the boys to our parish’s Breakfast with Santa. It was our little family’s first and I think I might have been more excited for it than the boys were. It’s yet another one of those things that makes me pinch myself: Do I really have my own little family now? Are my boys really big enough to understand and enjoy such things? It was such a joy. The parish put on a lovely breakfast, Mrs. Claus read stories to the children, there was a craft center, they circulated a Happy Birthday to Jesus card for the kids to sign, there were some child-sized cardboard nativity figures for little ones to check out, and of course there was The Man himself. My 3-year-old happily sat on Santa’s lap, but was a little quiet and shy about telling him what he’s really hoping for (a guitar). And of course, the 2-year-old wanted nothing to do with Santa.



Our Christmas Tree

As long as it takes me to decorate a large Christmas tree, I just love doing it. There are few things that relax me as much as, one by one, unwrapping years’ worth of Christmas ornaments and finding the perfect spots for them on our tree. The memories, the lights, the smell, the (if I’m lucky) Christmas music in the background… it’s dreamy. And I have to admit, I’m a little greedy about it. I’ve been doing the whole tree by myself since I was a teenager. I don’t like to be rushed through it, so if people are just willing to leave me be, we’re all happy campers. Over the past couple of years I’ve acquired a bunch of child-friendly (mostly fabric) ornaments. This year I set them aside and let the boys go to town placing them (and removing them… and replacing them…) on the lowest branches. I expect the year will come when they’ll want to (and be able to) do more, but for now, this is the perfect arrangement for us.


Driving Around to Look at Christmas Lights

Monday night, I fed the boys their dinner at a decent hour, Brennan came home from work a little early, we got the boys suited up in their pajamas, and we all loaded into the car. We spent an hour driving around, looking at Christmas lights. It. Was. Lovely. Peering out on the ice and snow from our warm car, looking at the thousands of lights in all their joyful/beautiful/tacky glory, hearing the boys’ “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” and cries of “My side!” or “My hide!” as they spotted one decked-out house after another… It was priceless. Too often, my husband and I tend to focus on productivity in our “free” time (we’re the getting-stuff-done type on the weekends, not the doing-fun-stuff type). It was so nice to take a little break, get out of the house for an hour, and just enjoy being together.



Everyone wants to be really, really close to Baby Jesus.

Nativity Play

The other day, our sister-in-law sent a lovely little set of nativity figurines for the boys to play with. As I took them out of the box, I explained to the boys the meaning of each piece and its place in the nativity story. I moved the figures around to act out the story and I reviewed with the boys who each figure represented. They got a real kick out of it. They already had the Little People set and enjoyed it, but I don’t think I’d ever physically acted out the story with them. Now, I keep finding them playing with their nativity figurines and – maybe I’m imagining it, but – there seems to be more meaning to that play than there was before. It’s a real delight to witness.


Enjoy this last week of Advent, everyone. Good luck with your Christmas preparations and don’t forget to do a little “soaking up” of the beauty in this season. (Also, stop on over to Hallie’s for more Five Favorites!)

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment

I feel like I’ve been bombarded lately with reflections on motherhood. Some have been my own, prompted by unpleasant interactions with my boys. Others have been on blogs that I read or in pieces shared by friends on Facebook. In turn, they’ve brought me down, given me comfort, and frustrated me.

When I review them together, I take away the following lessons: Keep reflecting. Keep trying. Always aim for improvement, but don’t aim for perfection. And above all: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.


The “every moment” debate is hardly new. As soon as you have a baby, older mothers command you to “Treasure every moment! They grow up so fast!” You know they mean well and they miss having small children around, so you smile and nod. Even though you’re panicking inside: “I’m exhausted/hungry/uncomfortable/stressed out – how am I supposed to treasure this?” So you go to your good girlfriends and your favorite mommy blogs for comfort – the ones who know that there’s absolutely nothing to treasure about cleaning vomit off your child’s crib at midnight.

But increasingly, I keep seeing admonitions like “treasure every moment” and its relative, “babies don’t keep” from young mothers. From those who are in the thick of it, just like me. And I have to admit: coming from them, the message really gets under my skin. I don’t understand how those women are able to live their lives like that.

Now, I’m quite aware that our children are infinitely precious, that their lives can be fragile, and that our time as mothers to little ones is fleeting. I understand the feeling behind “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep.” And I concede that for some – those who have lost babies, or whose children have life-threatening illnesses, or who struggle with fertility issues – the messages must be especially powerful. I admire those who can keep them in the backs of their minds at all times.

But I don’t, honestly, understand how “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” can be fully lived out on a real-life, day-to-day basis.



Here’s an example of what I don’t get – some thoughts from a mother regarding her young daughter:

“What she doesn’t know is that I’d hold her every day just like this. She could ask me anytime, anywhere, and I would drop whatever I was doing to take her up into my arms and feel her warm little heart beating next to mine.”

It’s a lovely image, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I just don’t feel this way.

I know a lot of people will think I should. I know that lots of women will tell me that holding my child is more important than anything else I could do with my time. But here’s the thing (and this is where my circumstances differ from the author’s): My children aren’t the non-cuddly type for whom such requests are rare. Both of my boys ask to be hugged or held more times in a day than I could possibly count. Both of them are borderline OCD about bestowing kisses on not one, but both of my cheeks. Both of them would spend hours at my feet (like, literally at/on/between my feet) every day if I let them.



Just the other day as I was trying to prepare lunch, my two-year-old came into the kitchen with a pathetic little face and a “Hod me, Mommy.” He did it again, and again, and again – roughly once every three minutes. The first few times, I obliged him. I knelt on the floor and threw my arms around him and held him tight and told him that I loved him. I gave him kisses and I absorbed his sweetness. Then I had to peel his arms off of me, I hoisted myself into a standing position, and I shooed him away so that I could resume making our lunch.

I did it again and again and again. And then I snapped. Because the lunches still needed to be made. I was fifteen minutes into the chore and all I’d done was warm the pan and pull out the bread and cheese. I wasn’t getting anywhere shifting my increasing bulk onto and up from the floor every three minutes to cuddle with my (admittedly very cute) little guy. So I yelled for him to go, GO into the other room. And yes, I felt guilty about it.

Those “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” admonitions – they carry so much pressure. How in the world am I supposed to keep my household functioning and my children fed, clothed, and clean if I spend the whole day rocking, reading, and playing? And how in the world am I supposed to treasure every moment when I’m pulled in a hundred different directions and babies are crying and toddlers are fighting and toys are blaring and somebody’s sitting on my feet while I’m trying to make dinner?


I can’t. I just can’t.

So I choose to pop the bubble of that pressure. Instead of giving in to it, I tell myself: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.

I don’t go so far as to treat motherhood as some awful, horrible burden. Those exaggerated articles bother me much more than the sugary-sweet “I would hold my children all day if they wanted me to” posts. But still, if someone were to listen in on the litany of grumpy thoughts that run through my head while reading those young mothers’ “treasure every moment/babies don’t keep” words, they might well be appalled. And they’d probably be even more appalled to listen in on the thoughts occupying my mind during my boys’ daily crying/whining/fighting/pleading fests, which, to be honest, feel like assaults on my senses. The listener might well think I take those boys for granted, that I think more of my own needs than theirs.

But it’s just not true.

I think my children are the most beautiful people in the world. I am in love with their long eyelashes, their soft cheeks, their twinkling eyes, their love for hugs and kisses, their curiosity, their kindness, their creativity, their spunk. A hundred times a day, I see my boys pass me and I feel a pang of gratitude for their precious little lives. I accompany almost every diaper change, hand washing, and car-seat buckling with a kiss. I can barely begin to describe how intensely I love those boys.

And through any number of decisions, in small and big ways, I put their needs first. My daily life revolves around serving them. P1170404

But my boys aren’t the only ones in my home who have needs. We parents have needs too. Some are simple: my husband needs to have big, hearty, healthy, home-cooked dinners more nights than not. (Which takes a not-insubstantial amount of planning, time, and effort on my part.)

Some needs are more complicated: I have a hot temper and an easily over-stimulated, overwhelmed mind. (And let me tell you, that’s not a great combination for a mother of small boys.) I have learned that in order for me to be able to handle all the noise and fighting and demands that come with little boys, I need to have an ordered background (note: ordered, not necessarily clean). I also need to have some short pauses of quiet during my day. (And if I have to get that quiet by turning on the television, so be it.) I am infinitely better equipped to be kind and patient with my boys when those needs are met.


Telling me to forgo an ordered home and quiet personal moments in pursuit of “quality time” with my boys puts me in a hard place: It’s a choice between (a) personal sanity but supposedly neglected children and (b) stress and anger but supposedly loved children. Neither choice is acceptable.

So I choose instead to smash that “babies don’t keep” lens through which some view parenthood. I don’t think it’s accurate anyway. Parenthood is not an either/or situation. It’s an and/and/and situation.

My service to my boys is not limited to my “quality time” with them. Yes, I serve my boys when I read to them, play with them, and shower them with hugs and kisses. But I also serve my boys – and my husband – when I clean their clothes, when I prepare their meals, when I do the dishes. All of these tasks are part of my role as wife and mother. I do myself and my family a disservice when I treat some of them as unimportant.

That said, I’m never sure whether I’m striking the right balance. Sometimes I look happily around at my (rarely, I promise) clean kitchen and I spot a lonely little boy. Sometimes I put off all my chores to do fun things with my children, only to melt down later because I’m so overwhelmed by what has stacked up. Sometimes I find myself shouting “Go! GO into the other room!” too frequently.

That’s why I keep reflecting. That’s why I keep trying. I aim for improvement, but I cut myself a break by not aiming for perfection. I know that I’m not capable of it. I have my own set of struggles and inadequacies. So do my boys, and so does my husband.

By the grace of God, I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t waste time ignoring or being ashamed of those struggles and inadequacies. Rather, I should take them into account. I should factor them into our plans. For me, a large part of that is granting myself the following: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.


Tiny Conductor

Last week at my church choir practice, I was reveling in being part of a choir again. I was enjoying having to stretch my brain to achieve something. I was getting a kick out of adjusting my voice just so to fit in with everyone else’s. I was feeling competent.

Then last night, I took my two toddler sons with me.

It was a cold, rainy night. Past their bedtime. I am brilliant, let me tell you.

Yes, the two-year-old screamed and cried when we got there because he wanted to go home, to bed. (I felt like a terrific parent.) Yes, my fellow choir members kept having to fish the boys’ cars out from under chairs. Yes, the boys made a game of throwing their coats at each other as hard as they possibly could. Yes, they ultimately ended up in a rolling, writhing heap, wrestling at the choir director’s feet. Yes, I had to pry their screeching heads out of each other’s clutches.

But let’s not dwell on those mishaps. Let’s focus, instead, on the few moments when no one was screaming or throwing or wrestling. I didn’t notice it at first, distracted as I was by the two-year-old on my lap, but my older son was trying his hand at directing the choir. He was standing several feet away from our actual director, miming her motions. There was a very serious look on his face. Undoubtedly, the looks on the choir members’ faces were less so.

As the music went on, he got more and more into it. His arms started to flail. He began to jump and dance a little. Then the music really overtook him. He ran up the few steps onto the altar. With every big note we hit, he jumped down a step – still flailing his arms and dancing around. When he got to the bottom, he’d race back to the top to start all over again.

It was like watching some miniature, wild-looking orchestra conductor. If I’d just brought him in his little tux and had a crazy wig to stick on his head, the picture would have been complete. (As it was, he was wearing footie pajamas.) It was all I could do to stop myself from breaking down into a giggling, laughing, snorting mess. And I’m his mother; I’m used to his shenanigans. I don’t envy our (real) choir director at that moment. She had quite the competition.

Ring Bearer

The evening was stressful and exhausting for me. If I’d been a little more self-conscious, it would also have been embarrassing. But our director (a mother of six) and my fellow choir members couldn’t have been nicer about it. There were lots of mentions of their own children and grandchildren, there were lots of comments about how cute the boys are, and there was a reminder that, “Jesus said to let the little children come to him!” Those good people even (gasp!) said that the boys had done well.

Sure, I was bone tired by the time I got in the car to head home. Sure, I resorted to rewarding myself with a chocolate-peanut-butter sundae on the way home. (Yay for ice cream shop drive-thru’s!) Sure, I sat in the driveway until my husband returned home from work and I let him carry the boys inside and to bed.

But overall, I was left with thankfulness for the people we had just been with. And for the larger Catholic culture they represent: a culture that delights in people, in children, in new life. One that recognizes that real people are wonderfully imperfect. One that greets a couple of rowdy, excited toddlers with love and offers their worn-out mama words of comfort.

I was also left with that happy image of my boy delighting – powerfully, physically – in music. This child who makes up songs all the time, who sings loudly and proudly, even when it’s just gobbledygook coming from his mouth. This child who wants, more than anything else, a guitar for Christmas. I wonder how his love for music will factor into his life as he grows. Yet again, I wonder what kind of an adult he will become.

Given the stress I’d been under just a couple of hours before, these weren’t such bad thoughts to be ending my evening with.

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 2)

— 1 —

Well, good morning! I feel like I’ve just emerged from a tunnel, blinking at the bright light of the great outdoors. I’m worn out, bleary-eyed, and trying to get a handle on the long, long list of things I need to do so our family can function normally again. All because… we just got back from vacation. (A tad dramatic sometimes, Julie?)

It wasn’t even a very stressful vacation, it’s just that I’m coming off a few weeks’ worth of constant logistical planning, two flights with toddlers and all their associated gear, a week with my two rolling, wrestling lion cubs in a house filled with breakable things, and about four times the number of outings we’re used to having per week. Not to mention the fact that we had a houseguest with us for the two weeks prior to our own trip.

So, I’m tired. And a little loopy. Consider this fair warning, friends: Do not expect much of me for the next week or so. (Except for blogging – see number 5, below.) Talk about Recovery Mondays… I think I’m in for a good recovery week, at least.

— 2 —

Still, the stress of this year’s vacation was nothing compared to last year’s. Then, the trip itself (to Minnesota, like this year’s) was more complicated. The boys were a year younger and required, accordingly, more gear than they do now. The trip was longer, and it included a trip-within-a-trip: We started and ended the visit in the Twin Cities, but also fit in a visit to a lake “up north,” where Brennan’s family had a little mini-reunion.

But the real kicker is that, at the last-minute, we decided to put our house on the market the very day we left for our trip. So not only did we have to plan for our vacation and our vacation-within-a-vacation, but we had to clean our house from top-to-bottom, purge nearly half of our things from it, stage our furniture, etc. for photos and viewings, and conduct negotiations with our realtors and the people whose home we were trying to buy.  And we did all of this in about two weeks – possibly the most stressful weeks of my life. Only those leading up to our wedding came anywhere close. Quite literally, we had our first prospective buyer walk into the house as we were marshaling our luggage and boys out of it.


I can see the carpet! Evidence of some serious decluttering.


Do you see that glass-topped coffee table in the living room? Yeah, the glass was only for show. Normally we removed it for toddler safety and let the little ones use the table as a jungle gym. Same goes for the end tables. We had to stick those lovely lamps in the basement whenever the house wasn’t being shown or photographed.


See, Mom? No dirty clothes on the floor or anything!


If only our room always looked so restful…

— 3 —

But back to Minnesota Visit 2013. We had a very nice time, and for all my bleary-eyed exhaustion, it really was a low-key, relaxing kind of a vacation. We stayed with Brennan’s (very kind) aunt and uncle, whom our littlest guy dubbed “Mama” (Grandma) and “Dat-Dat.” We got to see Brennan’s mother and stepfather, every single one of Brennan’s eight siblings, many of their spouses, one of our boys’ cousins, a couple of Brennan’s cousins, and several of his aunts and uncles. We spent one afternoon at the Como Zoo and another at Minnehaha Falls – just a few hours at each: long enough to have a good time, short enough to avoid toddler/parent exhaustion. And we even took a break from it all in the middle of the week: I did laundry and unpacked/repacked our suitcases while the boys watched a couple of movies. I made a big ol’ mental note to repeat this little mid-week break in all future vacations. It was great to be able to relax the second half of our vacation, knowing that our stuff was under control and we’d all had a bit of rest.

— 4 —

I’ll probably write more about our trip later, but for now, here are a couple of my favorite photos:

Cool kids with their cool shades at Minnehaha Falls

Cool kids with their cool shades at Minnehaha Falls

Cute little passengers, aren't they?

Cute little passengers, aren’t they?

— 5 —

A week away from my computer left me with something of a traffic jam of ideas in my mind. Normally when I have an idea for something I’d like to write about, I type up a few thoughts on a Word document, to be revisited later. And I try to capitalize on the times when the words flow freely. Without my computer, this week was a little frustrating in that respect. As great as smartphones are for keeping up with Facebook and peeking in on my favorite blogs, they are not good outlets for the creative juices, as far as I’m concerned. So I picked up an old-fashioned pad of yellow legal paper and started to jot down some ideas. By the time we got home I had more than a dozen posts lined up. (Lined up – not written.) Which is great, except – When will I get the time to do all that writing?

Enter Jen Fulwiler’s7 Posts in 7 Days: An Epic Blogging Challenge.” There’s still the whole “When will I get the time to do all that writing?” thing, but hey, the gauntlet has been thrown down and (surprisingly enough) I’m feeling up for a challenge right now. Sooo… check back in tomorrow! And the next day! And so forth – until next Monday, when I’ll finally be released from the bonds of Jen’s challenge. Or rather, from my own stubborn personality.

— 6 —

As a post-script of sorts, here’s an explanation of my “Monday Morning Miscellany” idea. I missed a few weeks of it due to the aforementioned houseguest and out-of-town trip, but now that we’re past those things, I’m going to try to get back into it. So I suppose I should amend my ending to number 5, above. I’m committing myself to posting through next Monday. And each Monday morning thereafter. (Cringe.) Happy week to all of you!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 4)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

This has been one of those weeks when I feel like I’m behind on every front: My house is a mess; piles of (possibly damp and smelly) dirty laundry and baskets of unfolded, clean (yet probably still smelly) laundry seem to be taunting me; a rotating collection of dirty dishes has been occupying my kitchen counters; I owe a long list of emails and phone calls; I’ve been getting to bed too late and my boys have been waking up during the night (usually with their sheets soaked – seven crib sheets in three days!); and my list of interesting-looking articles to read has been growing and growing…

I guess I feel like I should be caught up on something. Like, if I’m going to neglect my house, at least my mind should be stimulated with interesting reads. Or if I’m not responding to people’s emails, it should be because I was busy eliminating the mountains of laundry and dishes.

— 2 —

Also, someone has vomited every day this week. As anybody who is friends with me on Facebook knows, my boys are prolific vomiters. Some parents deal with children who won’t sleep through the night, or are picky eaters, or throw major tantrums. Ours vomit. All the time. And it’s not because they’re sick – we’ve never been so unfortunate as to have a stomach virus visit us. (I say with trepidation, because you know that once I say it, we’ll get one.) The boys are gaggers. We have to go to ridiculous lengths to feed them food in such a way that they won’t gag and vomit. And when we get a respiratory bug with phlegm and coughing: Watch Out.

Anyway, last week I made the stupid mistake of saying to my husband, “Can you believe that we’ve gone almost a month without anybody throwing up? Maybe the boys have finally outgrown it! And even if they’ve haven’t entirely, at least #2 knows to lean over the side of his booster seat so he doesn’t get it on his clothes anymore and #1 runs to get a bowl to catch it! Win, win! I barely even have a mess to clean up anymore!”

Yeah. So on Sunday, the little one throws up on his Grandpa. (Sorry, Dad!) On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, he throws up all over himself. On Wednesday, the big one gets carsick and throws up all over himself and his car seat. Once again, I have a load of vomity clothes to deal with. And a car seat to clean.

— 3 —

But. Yesterday when I came up the driveway, I saw this:


Isn’t it lovely? And have you ever seen a hydrangea with both blue and pink blooms? When I saw the bush after a long day out with the boys, I had kind of a funny response:

Wow, that’s beautiful. I love hydrangeas. I should cut some to put in vases around the house. That little white pitcher would look really nice filled with hydrangeas and placed on the kitchen mantle. But it’s covered with junk right now. What’s the use of going through the effort of cutting and arranging flowers when the house is so messy? I should clean. Really clean. I should do a big push and get the house in great shape and put hydrangeas everywhere.

Makes sense, right? That a five-second glance at a flowering shrub would turn into enthusiasm for cleaning my house? Whatever; I don’t care where the enthusiasm came from. After a week of vomit and no sleep and peed-on sheets, I’ll take whatever enthusiasm I can get. So let’s see what I can do today: Dishes and laundry and junk, here I come! Hydrangeas, don’t fail me!

— 4 —

I have to admit that part of the reason (besides the rough recovery from a full weekend and the boys not sleeping and the vomiting) that I’ve been in a funk this week (and btw, Grace Patton had a good post this week on being in a funk) is that I spent a couple of nights staying up waaay too late writing blog posts.

I am someone who is very easily distracted; I can’t concentrate well when there’s commotion around me. (Rachel Balducci had a good post this week about needing quiet in order to write.) So starting a blog with two toddler boys in the house was a great idea, wasn’t it? With my days full of monster roars and “pwetend kitty-cats” mewing at my feet and boys who like to act, alternately, like rock stars or members of a marching band, the quiet of a late-night, everybody-is-asleep-but-me house is oh so enticing. Enter one, two, or ahem three o’clock bedtimes. With 3:30 wake-up calls from a soaking wet 20-month-old. Yes, sometimes I am brilliant.

I’m nearly a month into the blog now and I’m trying to figure out how best to fit it into my life. Right now I feel like I’m in the trying-it-on phase. I’m hoping (hoping!) that once I’ve done it for a little while and examined its impact on the rest of my life, I can find the right balance of writing time to housework time to time with the boys. In the past year or so, I’ve done a pretty decent job of establishing some general guidelines for running my home and schedule to minimize my stress. Soon I’ll need to recalculate them to account for the blog.

— 5 —

In particular, I want to make space in my schedule to take on some meaty subjects. I was decently well-pleased with how these longer, more serious posts on my background, immigration, and parental love turned out. And I’ve done a few shorter ones that fall into the same mold. But I feel like most of what I’ve been writing so far has been light and focused on my home life. And though there’s nothing wrong with that (and I very much enjoy reading such things from other bloggers!), I’d like to keep a steady pace of at least one or two more meaty posts a week.

Like I said when I started the blog, I want this space to become a comfortable place for readers to dialog on some societal/religious/political issues. I don’t have in mind a certain number of visitors I want to attract; I only hope it’s enough to generate some good discussion in the comments section. So, (hint, hint!) speak up if you have something to say! For my part, I’ll try to keep up that steady pace.

Here are a few topics I’m thinking about right now, and on which I plan to write once I’ve read up on some of those interesting articles I mentioned in #1: The worth of the individual, religious freedom, Pope Francis and the liberal/conservative split, and global poverty. I hope you’ll come back to weigh in!

— 6 —

I spent a long time Wednesday night cooking a very complicated meal for my husband. On the one hand, doing so made me feel like a very good wife, because it took FOUR hours and like a million steps and it involved a couple of his favorite dishes: Spaghetti Bolognese (as in the real deal, with carrots and mushrooms, veal/pork/beef, wine, etc.) and a dark chocolate tart with a gingersnap crust (which, to be honest, sounds fancy and tastes divine, but isn’t all that hard to make).

Father's Day Dinner, 2013But on the other hand, Wednesday night made me feel like a bad wife, because (1) dinner wasn’t ready until 10pm, which (2) meant that the boys got their standard hot dogs instead of partaking in the deliciousness, (3) the whole reason we had a fancy dinner on Wednesday was to celebrate a belated Father’s Day because I wasn’t prepared on Sunday. (I’m blaming that one on our family reunion and the celebration of our son’s birthday, both this past weekend.) And (4) one of our gifts for my husband was the oh-so-thoughtful catalog in a gift bag, so he could pick out which item he wanted. (Though I was thoughtful about which catalog it was: The Great Courses, because we’re the kind of nerds who like to listen to recordings of university lectures.)

J Coloring Card

Working on a Father’s Day card for his grandpa — also belated.

— 7 —

I’ll sweeten the end of this mildly negative Quick Takes by leaving you with some of the cute/funny/stinkerish/sweet things our big 3-year-old boy said this week:

“I’m havin’ a bad, wough day!”

After being put into time-out for yelling a nasty “No, Mommy!” at me:
“I sorry for sayin’ a bad no to you, Mommy.”

“Dere’s a bug in my back! Es eatin’ me!”
(There actually was a bug under the back of his shirt; it was not eating him.)

“Yiyons and mans and bears, oh my!”

Lunging and dancing while singing into his new toy microphone:
“I yike a wock sar!”

Pointing out the sunset:
“Yook! A boo-ful sy!”

Just after I walked away from him and his little brother, who was pretending to be a cat. I’d heard the little one scream and marched back into the room, asking big brother what he’d done.
Him: “I hit da cat.”
Me: “Do you mean you hit your brother?”
Him: “No. I hit da cat.”
Me: “Did you hit the cat that is your brother?”
Him: “Yes.”

After I gave a quick kiss to his injured thumb:
“No, not a pwetend kiss! I want a weal kiss yike diss.”
(He demonstrates.)

“I’m a man washin’ my hands.”

Him: “Mommy! Da table is waffin’ at me!”
Me: “The table is laughing at you? Why?”
Him: “Because, es funny! I bedder take a nap.”
(He lays his head down on the table.)

Dark Chocolate Tart

“Dis is a tart.”

At the playground as I was pushing him on the swings:
“You’re good. You’re a nice mommy. Sank you pushing me SO fast.”

Now be sure to go vist Jen and all the rest of the Quick Take’ers!