This First Year Of Blogging: “Most” Posts and 2013 in 13 Photos

As we wrap up 2013 (Happy New Year, everyone!) and my first (calendar) year of blogging draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect a little on how it (the blogging thing, that is) has all gone.

Fortunately, two bloggers currently have link-ups that facilitate my reflection quite nicely. So, I’m game. And I’m totally going to cheat by doing both link-ups in one post. Sarah of Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a link-up of bloggers’ “Most” Posts of 2013: those with the most clicks, most comments, etc. Dwija of House Unseen, Life Unscripted is hosting one on 2013 in 13 Photos.

Below, I give you both. Plus some reflections on this first year (er… seven months — I started the blog at the tail-end of May) of blogging.

First, Sarah’s prompts:

Post With The Most Clicks

My most-viewed post, by far, was “A Crazy Good Night,” about attending Like Mother, Like Daughter’s “Crazy DC Meet-Up” this summer. I wish I could take more credit, but LMLD’s “Auntie” Leila linked to it on her blog’s Facebook page (so exciting!), which explains all the traffic.

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Digging a little deeper, my next most-viewed post can also be credited to a (much) bigger blogger than myself. Grace of Camp Patton hosted a “How We Met” link-up, which has attracted a steady stream of traffic to this post for months.

And I’m just a tad embarrassed that I’ve got to dig down to number three to find a post that doesn’t owe its popularity to another blogger. Rather, it owes its popularity to a baby. Last month’s gender reveal announcement drew plenty of curious onlookers.

Post With The Most Comments

This would be “7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 14),” in which I announced my pregnancy. People are so nice… (Insert mental image of a smiley, grateful Julie.)

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Post With The Best Picture

Oh, so many pictures… so hard to choose. I think I’ll just go with this one, which is fresh from yesterday’s post, “Oh, Boys.” It represents life in our home quite well, I think. (And when I posted it on Facebook, my brother observed that it looked like my boys had murdered a snowman.)

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Post That Was Hardest To Write

That would have to be the one that took almost a week to write and nearly a month to move past: “The Weirdest of Them All.” Spinal injury + brain cyst = hard to write. (For an update on the medical situation, check out the post’s follow-up.)

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Post That Was Your Personal Favorite

This is another tough one to choose. I think I’m going to have to go with “On Abortion: Paul Ryan and Two Simple Questions.” I like to think of this blog as a mix of family/parenting/household stuff and political thought, but in all honesty, I’ve done far more of the former than the latter. I like that this post was firmly in the meaty/political/philosophical camp. I also like that I was able to capture my thought process on this most difficult of subjects in what (I think) was a clear, logical way.

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Okay, on to the second part of this post – seven more photos from this year to round out Dwija’s “2013 in 13 Photos.” I’m going to go with more pics that represent favorite posts:

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 22): Thanksgiving Edition

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On Perspective… And Laundry

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The Glamorous Looking-Back

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The Blue-Sky Day

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That Mommy Dance

Playground Climbing

A Love That Changes You

Ring Bearer

And third, (for anyone who’s still here!) some reflections on this first year of blogging:

Because I’m something of a numbers girl, I have to report that this here post is my 73rd. When I hit 50 posts in September, I was hopeful that I could get to 100 by the end of the year. But then I got that medical news, which tripped me up for about a month. And, you know… the holidays… and life… so I didn’t get anywhere close. Still, I’m proud of 73 posts in my first calendar year. That averages to about 10 posts a month and between two and three posts per week. Not bad for someone who has never been able to keep up journal writing for longer than a week at a time.

In a particularly angsty post from August, I described my reasons for blogging. In the interest of not re-creating the wheel (and at the risk of seeming a little full of myself), I’m just going to go ahead and quote what I wrote back then:

As much as I aim to write things that other people will want to read, at the end of the day, I have to write this blog for me.

Yes, there is this and this. Yes, I’d love to attract readers and get some interesting back-and-forth going in the comment sections. Yes, I love hearing that something I’ve written has amused or touched someone. Yes, I’d like to avoid hurting or even annoying people with my writing. But These Walls is really for me. It gives me an avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas and it allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece on subjects that matter to me.

I also write this blog for my boys. Hopefully I’ll live a long life and I’ll always have strong relationships with them both. But you never know. One of my worst fears is that something should happen to prevent me from raising my sons. And almost as bad is the idea that something should happen to estrange us in their adulthood. Unfounded as those fears are, I am comforted by the idea that should they (heaven forbid) ever materialize, the words I write here give me another shot at reaching out to my boys. I like to think they would give my boys a sense of my love for them, of the way I see the world, and the values I hope to impart to them.

Besides, These Walls has got to be for me (and my boys). There’s no possible way I can please or even interest everyone else. And there’s no way I can wholly avoid annoying/offending/hurting every single person who stops by this blog. All I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind. That’s it.

I’ve been trying to keep all this in mind. “I write this blog for me… avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas… allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece. I write this blog for my boys… gives them a sense of my love for them… the way I see the world… the values I hope to impart to them.” Those phrases have become something of a mantra to me. I revisit them to keep myself on-course as I write.

I am a slow writer. I rely on multiple drafts to get things right and I’m deliberate about the words I choose. It usually takes two to three days for me to write a post. And I’ve sunk far too much time into many a half-written post that may or may not ever see the light of the internet.

But I’m okay with that. Because “all I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind.”

So, I’m feeling pretty good about this first year of blogging. By and large, I like what I wrote. I feel happier and more peaceful for having pounded it out. I need to do a better job of balancing writing time with my responsibilities to my family, but I do feel like this blogging thing is valuable enough to deserve some small part of my time. At the end of this first year, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 17)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

Well, it looks like I’ve done it again: I’ve fallen into the rut of only blogging when I have a list of miscellaneous items to post. 7 Quick Takes? {pretty, happy, funny, real}? Monday Morning Miscellany? Check, check, and check. Anything requiring more substance and focus? Nope and nope.

Sorry.

It’s just that, well, I have a schedule all-of-a-sudden. I know, I know: Most of you have bunches of kids, or kids in big-kid school, or kids Who Do Activities, or official jobs, or all-of-the-above. I only have a preschooler and a bunch of doctor’s appointments.

But still, I’ve gone from a wishy-washy “Schedule? Who needs a schedule?” mentality to an “Oh-my-gosh-I-actually-have-to-be-someplace-at-a-particular-time?” one. All-in-all, this is a good thing. I’m a happier person when I have places to go, people to see, and a bit of structure in my life. And my boys seem to be too. But it’s been taking some adjusting.

This week we had two playdates, two days of school, a sonogram, an ob appointment, a 2-year-old check-up, and the arrival of an out-of-town guest. It’s not like I wasn’t busy before the start of the school year and the onset of prenatal appointments; it’s just that life seemed a little more malleable back then. Now I’m (shocker!) relying a lot more on my calendar to get me through my week. I’m prioritizing sleep. And I’m having to plan. What a concept.

Looks like writing time will be the next thing to plan for. Because I can no longer trust that a sufficient period of available time will magically appear. And apparently, I can no longer stay awake past 11pm.

— 2 —

Speaking of the pregnancy, here are some quick updates from this week:

(1) I had my 12-week sono on Tuesday and the baby was very stubbornly uncooperative. After three tries, the doctor just kind of went with what she had. The tech said that it had been a long time since she’d had such a stubborn one at 12 weeks. Wonderful! It bodes so well, doesn’t it?

(2) Morning sickness has made a comeback – every day this week. I feel like trying to cajole the baby, like s/he can somehow put a stop to it all. But… what was I just saying about stubbornness?

(3) Last night I asked my two-year-old where Mommy’s baby was. He lifted up my shirt and gave my belly a kiss. Be still, my heart! This older-children-aware-that-they’re-getting-a-new-sibling thing is going to be so cool. My first two are just 15 months apart, so there wasn’t exactly any awareness coming from big brother back then.

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(4) Yesterday I tried on a pair of shorts that I hadn’t worn in a few weeks and I couldn’t come anywhere close to fastening them. As I haven’t gained any weight in the past month (wonder of wonders), it’s got to be that my shape is starting to change already. I’m just 13 weeks! Craziness!

(5) The other day, my three-year-old asked me if the baby was going to come out of my mouth. Fortunately, there were no follow-up questions.

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— 3 —

I’m a little freaked out by the animal presence in my house right now. No, I suppose it’s not as bad as Jen and her scorpions. But this morning my husband came upstairs from his morning workout in the basement and said, “Just so you know, I found a snake down there.” I’m sure my eyes got all bugged-out big as I looked at him, begging him to be teasing. “You’re kidding.” “No.” “Really?! How big was it?” “Very small – small enough to get caught on the glue trap.” (We have mice too.) “Why would you tell me this?! I don’t want to know this!” “Because if you see the boys playing with a ‘string’ at some point, you should know that it could be a snake.”

WHAT?

And then this afternoon, I found a bird flying around upstairs. Inside the house. I ran around closing doors and opening windows and opening doors and closing windows on all three floors of the house, squealing and jumping most of the way, until I became fairly confident that the little stinker had flown out. For now, a couple of windows remain open, and interior doors remain closed, just in case it’s still inside. When my three-year-old (who was very excited about the whole thing and presented a box that he suggested the bird could live in) gets up from his “nap,” I plan to let him look around for the bird. Surely he’ll do a more thorough job, with far more delight, than I’m capable of right now.

— 4 —

Said three-year-old is currently singing Fountains of Wayne’s “Radiation Vibe” in his crib. You can blame his father.

— 5 —

I heard a fascinating piece last week on one of my local NPR stations’ midday programs: “The McCormick Spice Guru.” According to the station’s website, “As the chief spice buyer for McCormick, Al Goetze regularly travels the globe seeking herbs and spices from farms in some of the world’s most exotic regions. Goetze joins us to talk about his job and what goes into bringing the spices to market.”

Like I said, the piece was fascinating. I think it was one of the most enjoyable hours of listening I’ve had in some time. Mr. Goetze spoke about his travels, how spices are grown, what they look like in the field, how they can be used, etc. If you have any interest at all in cooking, gardening, plants, or world travel, you should check it out.

— 6 —

Do you remember my mention of Nella in last week’s 7 Quick Takes? She posted the happiest of updates on her blog this week: her cancer is in remission! Stop on over to her place to share in her joy. And please continue to keep her in prayer. Nella still has a couple of chemo treatments left, just to be sure she’s done everything she can.

— 7 —

Our sister-in-law is visiting us this week and we’re so happy to have her with us. She’s a jewelry designer who is in town to participate in a couple of local arts and crafts fairs. Her designs can be found on her website. If you like glass beads and creative, high-quality jewelry, you should check her out!

 

Stop on over to Jen’s to see everybody else’s Quick Takes. (And to wish Jen and her hubby a happy 10 year anniversary!) Oh, and if you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, I hope you’ll do so. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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.

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

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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.

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

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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. 2)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

When I started this blog (a whole 12 days ago) to take the place of some fantasy of time-spent-in-a-bar-or-coffee-shop-talking-about-interesting-things, I knew that it was going to be challenging to find time to write. (Not as challenging as all that fantasy time away from the house, mind you.)

But, c’mon.

I think I did pretty darned well that first week (six posts!), but this week has been pathetic. And what’s really getting to me is that I haven’t even been overly busy. It would be one thing if I could chalk up my lack of writing opportunities to a bunch of outings or something. But I’ve (mostly) been home! Doing dishes and other boring stuff! It’s just that every time I sit down to write, somebody climbs up into my lap, or has to go pee-pee, or pelts me with questions, or hauls in his toys to play right next to me. Because I am never, ever so interesting as when I am looking at a computer.

(Yes, yes I know that it’s wonderful that they want to be near me, and little children need their mommies, and these years go so fast, and blah, blah, blah… But mommies need breaks, too. This one needs just a little bit of quiet every day, to think and refresh, and feel like I’ve done something productive that won’t be destroyed in the next few hours.)

— 2 —

On a more hopeful note, see this little set-up here? Water table, boys wearing nothing but t-shirts and diapers, BABY GATE to keep said boys out of the fish pond in the background… This is my Hope For The Summer. Really, I’m depending on it way more than I should be. My plan is to stick the boys in here (frequently) and enjoy all sorts of little luxuries while they’re occupied with the water fun: planning interesting new meals, cooking without someone sitting on my feet, folding laundry on the same day it’s washed, gardening, walking some laps around the house, blogging… It’s going to be wonderful. Right? RIGHT?!?

Boy at water table

— 3 —

Sorry if I’m sounding a tad desperate here. It’s just that (as indicated in #1), we’ve had one of those weeks. On Wednesday things were so rough that half-way through I gathered my boys into my lap, wrapped my arms around them, and said, “Let’s make this a better day, boys.” And my (big) little stinker answered that no, he wanted to make the day worse. As in, “Da worst day ever!”

And then he proceeded to give it a good shot. So when my husband came home that evening (blissfully, at an actually very decent hour), I told him I needed to get out of the house for a while. And I did something I hadn’t done in over a year: I went for a walk by myself. I won’t deny that I was inspired, in part, by this post from the marvelous Simcha Fisher.

Field at Evening

Beautiful view, isn’t it? This was the beginning of my walk. I love when I catch the evening light at just the right moment, when the fields and woods have a golden quality to them. And I particularly love it at this time of year, when the temperature is comfortable and the air smells like honeysuckle.

I love most things about a walk, really, it’s just that I almost never make time for them anymore. One summer when I was in college, I took an hour-long walk every evening when I got home from work. That one, simple activity helped me lose 20 pounds and get into the best shape of my life. It also helped to clear my mind and feed my soul. (I did a lot of praying while I walked.) I could use more than a little of all those things in my life right now. Weight loss? More strength? Better health? Clearer mind? Fruitful prayer? Yes, please!

But how am I supposed to fit this into my schedule of morning-to-night childcare responsibilities? My hubby usually doesn’t get home from work until dusk. And the double stroller thing is hard to do when you live in a place with super narrow sidewalks and some seriously steep, hilly streets. Can someone please send me a sweet neighbor girl to babysit a few times a week?

— 4 —

We seem to be in a season of entertaining and weddings. Last night we hosted a small dinner party (so I guess my assessment of our busy-ness this week was a tad understated in #1), two weeks ago we hosted a larger one, a week from now we’ll host the after-party for our weekend-long family reunion, and a couple of weeks after that we’ll host a teenage friend/distant relative from Germany for a few weeks. (More on that one later.) Last weekend we had my aunt’s wedding and two weeks from now we have my uncle’s. Oh, and we also have our little guy’s THIRD birthday party in the mix for June and a family trip to Minnesota in July. I’m not complaining. I enjoy being with people and I love that my husband and I are creating a hospitable home. All the activity delights me at the same time as it makes my head spin.

— 5 —

I would love to get to the point in my time-management skills (I actually have been improving in this area) where I have a few moments before guests arrive to take pictures of the set-up. I love beautiful dishes and linens and I usually make time to display everything nicely. But inevitably, I’m still preparing food (or, ahem, getting myself ready) as guests arrived. Someday I’ll get there.

— 6 —

Speaking of getting ready, lately I’ve been listening to a lovely radio show while I get ready for mass on Sunday mornings. It’s On Being, which, as its website describes, is envisioned as “a program that would draw out the intellectual and spiritual content of religion that should nourish our common life, but that is often obscured precisely when religion enters the news.”

[W]hat we cover as “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas” drives towards ancient, animating questions at the heart of the great traditions and beyond them: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world? We explore these questions in all the variety, richness, and complexity with which they find expression in contemporary lives. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.

It’s really a beautiful program. I don’t always agree with their interview subjects, but that’s kind of the point of exposing oneself to new ideas, isn’t it? Learning about someone else’s perspective, taking to heart the parts that you recognize as truth, and using the rest to exercise, if you will, your own thought process on the subject.

The tone of the program, if not always the subject matter, reminds me of a Washington Post series of the same name. (Here’s a link, but there doesn’t seem to be any content on the site right now.) It was a series of short videos of individuals who talked about their lives and explored being… whoever they were. I recall a video of a stay-at-home dad and his baby boy, a mother and her son with Down’s Syndrome, a young nun, and oh, lots and lots more. After the interview you’d find out what quality the individuals were representing: On being joyful, On being special, etc. I loved almost every single segment I saw. They were powerful, moving, thought-provoking – all sorts of good things. I wish they were still up so you could see them too!

— 7 —

To close, let me bring it back to the domestic realities that dominated this post with the following beautiful shot:

Messy kitchen

Yes, the post-dinner party dishes. You know what I’ll be doing today! Oh, and I forgot to put the wine away last night. Sigh… While I’m dealing with all that (not to mention the two toddlers who woke up THREE to FOUR hours earlier than usual!), you go check out the other Quick Takes over at Jen’s. I promise you it will be waaaay more fun than what I’ve got going on.