In Which…

Deedee is not in the picture because she is taking the picture.

Christmas 2019 Happens!

Yes, we are really that thrilled about it. But first, let’s take it back to the Saturday before Christmas, where our last Family Friday left off. (I like putting it that way. It makes it sound like our lives are an adventure story series with a storyline and arc and character development and all that. Which, of course, they are, but we the actors are not usually privy to the script.)

It was a stay-at-home kind of Saturday, so we made pumpkin spice muffins. Mostly because Daddy wanted to bake something sweet(ish) and Mommy wanted to make space in the cupboard.

The cousins came over so Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne could go on a date. Things got a little crazy…

After that we decided to make pizza.

G’Pa P’s original secret sauce recipe!? (Only slightly modified!)

Oh yeah! This is happening.

I must say, this was one of the best pizza doughs we have ever made.

Pizza dough is something of an art, at least as much as it is a science.

You can control all the factors, but it will still surprise you. In fact, it is best not to try to control too much, but to leave it room to surprise you, often quite pleasantly, as happened this time.

You can add exactly the same amount of everything every time, mix it at exactly the same speed, for exactly the same length of time, in the same temperature and humidity conditions and it will still come out slightly different every time.

This is because Pizza is not just a food. It is a mystical experience that transcends the laws of the physical universe.

I started writing a book about it once, and then I lost it in a terrible computer crash. Maybe someday I will return to that project and hold forth for a few hundred pages upon the Theology of Fine Pizza.

I know y’all are holding your breaths for that one.

Our Christmas cookie game was pretty weak this year. In fact, it was almost non-existent. I say almost because we did throw one weak play right at the very end. We opened the book of “Lost Recipes of America” to a random cookie page, and made the cookies on that page. A type of molasses cookie called “Joe Froggers,” with an interesting back story that I will not share due to copyrights and such, and also the fact that it is getting past our bedtime.

5 1/2 dozen molasses cookies. They turned out quite delicious, for those of us who like molasses.

It used up most of the last of our rum, but no one is drinking it these days so no great loss there.

The girls helped by playing outside and eating the last of the pumpkin muffins (they went quick!) and drinking hot cocoa.

Then Christmas Eve came around. We knew it was a-coming, but it still kind of hit us out of nowhere. We kind of winged it (wung it?) the whole two days, to be honest. Deedee and Papa and Gigi joined us for the Christmas Eve Children’s Mass and carol service. Afterwards we cam home to eat a light supper and watch the girls’ shenanigans.

The girls didn’t wait to get out of their Church dresses before moving Mary and Joseph to the stable. Then we wrapped Baby Jesus in a flowery muslin bookmark and placed him in the manger.

Then we got into jammies, before summoning the shepherds. We thought that was only fair, to give Mama Mary at least a few minutes of rest before a bunch of shepherds and their sheep stopped by to visit.

Especially the way Big Sissy arranges them.

It was a quiet evening for the grownups, and an energetic one for the girls.

They were very spinny in Daddy’s computer chair.

They were bouncing off the walls until 9:30, almost. Which, considering that we try to have them in bed by 7:30 most nights, is pretty late. We did get them to take one sitting-still picture with Gigi.

So then it was Christmas Morning, and the usual chaos ensued.

Then it was up to Deedee and Papa’s house for Christmas 2.0. Of course they received too many presents for us to take pictures of them all, and it would be boring reading anyway. Plus, it’s not the point of Christmas anyway. Suffice to say, many and marvelous were the gifts.

At the breakfast table Big Sissy was bouncing up and down and demanding “When are we going to open presents? When am I going to get my presents? Can open presents now?”

So we told her: “Getting presents is not the most important part of Christmas, kiddo. Do you know what is the most important part of Christmas?”

Her answer: “Getting presents?”

I see we are going to have to rethink our Christmasing strategy for next year. Of course it is perfectly natural for a four-year-old to think about getting presents more than anything else. However, it is a bit unreasonable of us to say that Jesus’ Birthday is the most important part of Christmas, and then spend 50% of the day on presents, and not expect her to get that wrong.

So next year we will probably focus more on them giving than on receiving, though right now we have no idea what that will look like.

But that’s all for now, and time for us to go to bed. Pray for us! God Bless.

Merry Christmas (because it goes until Epiphany), Happy Feast of the Holy Family (because that is tomorrow!) and Happy New Year! (Because it’s probably going to be pretty intense).

God Bless!

Yesterday Papa Murphy had a deal for a free pepperoni or cheese pizza with purchase of a qualifying large or family sized pizza. Basically two larges for $26-ish. Kathleen forwarded me the email containing the deal early in the morning while I was doing Korean class. By afternoon we still had not figured out what we were going to do for supper, but we both decided we were not hungry enough to warrant two large pizzas. So I looked around the refrigerator, and scanned the kitchen and pulled out some ingredients, and my new cast-iron pizza pan I got for Father’s day, but haven’t used yet.

We were going to make “Watcha Got Pizza.”

These days we can’t pull out a pan in the kitchen without Ellie coming running from wherever she is in the house yelling, “Cooking? Cooking? Help! Help!” Perhaps because of that, Evie has started to ask to help to and actually get excited about cooking.

We started with the dough, as always. This time I wanted to try something new, and a little sweeter than a typical pizza dough.

  • 1 1/4 cups white all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 TBS yeast

Evie mixed the molasses in the boiling water until it was all dissolved, and then I added the milk. I added the yeast while Evie stirred it very gently to soften it, and then we set it aside to activate. Ellie dumped the cups of flour into the mixing bowl as I measured them, and then we added the activated yeast and mixed with a spatula until it was read to knead. At this point Evie took over the dough, carefully kneading and folding it, while Ellie greased the pizza pan…

with butter.

And we set the dough aside to rise on the pan, and prepped the toppings.

  • Olive oil
  • One large apple, diced.
  • Two aidel’s sausages, (bacon, mushroom, swiss flavor) diced
  • 1/2 leftover onion, diced
  • 2 TBS brown sugar
  • sliced havarti
  • shredded mozzarella

Evie and Ellie provided quality control on the ingredients as I diced them (Evie convinced her little sister to try a large bite of onion, as a true older sibling should). Then they helped me put the onions in the Oklahoma skillet which I had preheated and oiled with the olive oil.

Evie is so pleased that she can use the little dough roller.

I sautéed the onions for about five minutes, maybe more. I was going for a slightly sweeter pallet so I wanted them well caramelized. I then threw in the brown sugar and apple, and continued to sauté until the apple started to get just a little soft around the edges (don’t want it too soft or it will turn to applesauce when the pizza bakes).

It was at this point that I saw that Ellie had traded her roller for her fists…

But I was busy adding ingredients so I just said, “Gentle touch, Ellie,” and kept sautéing.

A quick turn to brown the sausage and the topping was ready.

And Ellie had torn four large gaps in our dough. Evie was devastated, but we were able to patch it back together tolerably well.

Then we preheated the oven to 425 while waiting for Mommy to get home. We baked the pizza without the cheese for 7:30, and then topped with Havarti…

And filled in the gaps with mozzarella.

And another 7:30 minutes, and we were done.

Buon Appetite!

Over the last 90 days (ending on Easter) I have been undertaking the Exodus 90 disciplines for the second year. My brother and our friend Ronnie also did it this year. We had a larger group last year, and we met up more frequently. This year it was only us and we did not meet up at all, except for some family hangouts on Sundays.

During Exodus 90 I read a few books on my kindle relating to the alleged visions at Medjugorje, as well as listening to an audible book about the Fatima apparitions. I have also been working intensely on praying the Rosary, and writing down thoughts on how to teach our kids how to say the Rosary.

Finally, I have been fasting in reparation for my sins and the sins of others.

Just as importantly, I have been working in family practice, which brings me face to face with humanity in all its beauty, frailty, joy, stupidity and evil on a daily basis. I will be talking diet and exercise strategies with a 50-year-old pastor one minute, and trying to convince a sixteen-year-old boy that he should not kill himself in the very next appointment. It is a frontline posting in the spiritual war that we are all born into whether we like it or not. Many times over the last few weeks I have remembered the saying of Jesus: “This kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.”

I have learned several things from the experience, probably the most important of which is that I really have a very shallow and superficial relationship with Jesus and with His mother. Being the kind of person who likes to read and think and approach things through the mind, I have been reading and listening to audible books about Mary in the Scriptures, and about Our Lady of Guadalupe. As I said, I have been trying to pray the Rosary, more frequently and fervently.

But I have also come to have a greater appreciation for the importance of the home and family life Kathleen and I are trying to build here. We had some family over for Easter dinner and one of them paid us the compliment of saying we had a “very peaceful home.” There are some who think that is an extra, a privilege, or even an unfair advantage over the thousands, or even millions, who do not have the ability to live in peace and emotional security like our children do. I myself am prone to that thought, to feeling guilty at how well off we are when so many other people are less fortunate.

A few nights ago, it was probably a Thursday or Friday night based on how tired Kathleen and I were, we were trying to put the girls to bed, and they were having none of it. They still had tons of energy. It took an hour to get them even to want to lie still enough to snuggle. Then Ellie was in a clingy mood, and didn’t want to be put in her crib while she was still awake. Time was dragging on, and it was pushing closer and closer to 9:00, with laundry and work preparations still remaining to be done, and the knowledge weighed on me that we would probably be up with a snotty baby at least once, and that the jolt of the alarm was creeping inexorably closer and closer. I impatiently wondered why Ellie needed to be held right then. Why couldn’t she just go to sleep in her crib by herself?

For a brief second a picture flashed into my brain that I had seen on a news story or a facebook blurb or something like that. It was a picture of a little boy, probably two or three years old, who had been brought to a refugee hospital in Aleppo at the height of the civil war. I have seen the “thousand yard stare” many times in my life. I’ve probably worn it at least a couple times. But this picture was the first time I had ever seen it on a child’s face. It was a face that was worn, haggard, with huge eyes, completely catatonic, staring vacantly into nowhere.

I realized that holding our children when they need to be held is not an imposition, or an interruption. It is our most serious business, our most critical mission. Nor is it a privilege, or an unfair advantage for children to grow up valued, loved or emotionally secure, or to be read to at an early age. It is not a privilege, it is their birthright, as it is the birthright of every child ever born, to have a mother and a father who love them, and who model for them what real love is. The tragedy is not that some children get to enjoy a measure of this, but that many children do not.

I saw a little patient today, a sweet little boy with severe developmental delays and physical disabilities. His grandmother remarked in passing that we, the medical providers, had held him longer in the short office visit than his father had in his entire life.

I may not be able to love all the children of the world, but I can certainly love my own. I can offer everything I do from the moment the alarm goes off until the moment my eyes close (for the first time) at night as a sacrifice, as an act of charity and obedience, for all the other children that I cannot reach.

Right now it is Easter week. I am not sure how official it is, but I have been taught to think of Easter week as one long intentional celebration of the Resurrection. That means no fasting or abstaining. Instead, I plan on making pumpernickel bread and having bacon sandwiches on Friday this week, in gratitude for the glorious gift of bacon. This looks forward to the life of the world to come when God will “wipe away every tear from every eye.” It recalls that Jesus has risen, He is truly alive, and that He is with us always even to the end of the world. As He Himself said, “No one can fast when the Bridegroom is present.”

But He also followed that up with, “But someday the bridegroom will be taken from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15.)

We exist in the already and the not yet. So for one week out of the year, the week of Easter, we do not fast in celebration of the resurrection. But next week, Adam and Ronnie and I will take up fasting again. We will certainly not be doing all the Exodus 90 disciplines (cold showers are out!) But we all agreed that fasting seemed both the most essential and the most rewarding and we will be maintaining that to some varying extent.

Fasting is not a mental exercise, a spiritual workout. It is not about mind-over-matter or developing “self-discipline,” although it does those things. Fasting is an act of preparation for the Eucharist, first and foremost. It is a way of meditating with our body on “Every word that comes forth from the Mouth of God,” which is the “Word become Flesh, and dwelling among us,” “the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Secondly, fasting is an act of spiritual warfare. It is a defensive action that strengthens us against temptation. It is also an offensive action which, when offered for another, or offered directly to Jesus in union with His own salvific suffering (Colossians 1:24), is a fast acceptable to the Lord, able “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.”

Pray, do penance, go to confession, Celebrate the Eucharist, Love your Family. You will be helping to save the world.

We need to addend the last Family Friday. That is, we need to clear up a misunderstanding. In Last week’s Family Friday we made the rather audacious claim that Family life gives you the opportunity to practice all the works of mercy on a daily basis. As a refresher, those are:

Kathleen pointed out that, while 13 of the 14 are correct, we do not actually bury the dead on a daily basis around here. So we retract that statement…

We do actually berry the living on a regular basis, though!


Hee hee hee

Anyway, if you are silly enough to be interrupting your Easter to read this blog, you probably have no clue why it is so delayed. Suffice to say there is a big thing going on in the Catholic World right now. Pretty much the biggest thing of the year. It’s called Easter, or more precisely, the Easter Triduum. You should check it out.

In any event, we’ll hurry this up, and get you back to it.

Last Saturday the weather was gray, but tolerable most of the day. We spent the morning shopping together as a family. Evie was bouncing up and down in her carseat singing, “Yay! It’s a Mommy and Daddy day! It’s a Mommy and Daddy day!” That says something about our lives when she is excited about Saturday morning shopping because it means she can spend time with Mommy and Daddy both at the same time.

We dropped a bunch of money on food, and then even more on plants for our growing garden. It rained cats and dogs in the afternoon, but we still managed to get the plants in the ground. And the planting box is finally finished!

We took the picture from the house because it was raining.

Of course Daddy had to make a second trip to the store to pick up more equipment for more projects as they came up. Fortunately Evie came along to help.

We had to lock Evie and Ellie in the “redneck playpen” for a few minutes while we were finishing up on the front lawn, so they wouldn’t scatter and flow down the driveway into the cul-de-sac.

It’s okay, though. They loved it long enough that they were still happy when we finished our work. That’s all we could possibly hope for from a playpen. But we did work right through the afternoon when we would have been prepping supper. So Pho it was.

Ellie eats all the meat, Evie eats all the noodles. Between them they can about kill a kid’s bowl of Pho.

All that outdoorsing can make a baby girl tired!

Then on Sunday we went up to Enumclaw and visited Dude before her surgery (which she came through with flying colors later this week.) Then we went to the Swiss park to take part in their Easter Egg hunt.

Ellie likes the swings better than finding eggs.

And we went to visit Grandma Betty.

And they entertained us with song all the way home.

Ellie is getting so big now, instead of using her high chair with a tray, she sits in her high chair at the big table like a big girl!

This is good because it makes it easier for her to feed Mommy!

Mommy and Evie painted Eggs on Wednesday.

The weather was finally nice enough to get the hammock up! (Briefly, then it rained).

It’s not everyone that has a baby bear in their garden.

We like to walk around the house in the evenings and look at our plants. This one in particular is a favorite. It’s a “hardy kiwi” that Ellie and Daddy planted a few weeks ago. Ellie decided to test its hardiness by stepping on it, sitting on it, and burying it. Initially all the leaves fell off and it looked like a dry twig, but now, as you can see…

Leaf buds!

Hardy. As Advertised. That’s what we like to see around here, plants with a will to live! It will do well. (The ones without a will to live tend not to last very long).

Guess who can write her own name!

That’s all for this week, folks. Happy Easter!

May God grant that the Blessings of the Risen Christ descend upon you, and rise up within you, and remain for ever and ever!

Hee hee hee!

It’s good to Family. It is also good to Friday.

Sometimes I look at the blog roll-up, and wonder what happened to my blogging. There is no variety in our blog titles. They all have the same name!

I used to be writing something thoughtful, topical, and (I hoped, at least) thought provoking, every day or so. I talked about topics, philosophy, martial arts, etc. Now all I talk about is Family Friday, and that only once a week if I’m lucky.

(Could be worse).

But the truth is, it’s good. It’s important, far more important than anything I used to write about.

There is a wonderful interview with Cardinal Carlo Caffara, Archbishop of Bologna, head of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family under Saint John Paul, in which he relates a letter he received from Sister Lucia, the Fatima visionary. In it she says:
the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid, because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issuehowever, Our Lady has already crushed its head.”

And that is really the point of Family Friday. It is not just to keep Grandma Ann apprised of the West Coast shenanigans (although that is an important part of it).

Family Friday is first and foremost a fundamentally faith-filled phenomenon.

😀 (I don’t care for alliterated “f”s, but I couldn’t resist.

It is a witness. We try to be honest about the rough parts: deployments, work, tiredness…

We spare you most of the details of Evie’s stubbornness and Ellie’s ventures into two-year-old-ness.

She can be stubborn, and she doesn’t pay attention. Ellie also can be stubborn, but she always pays attention.

This is the neat table…

But we hope that by writing Family Friday as close to every Friday as we can, we can witness that in spite of everything, (and even in some ways because of everything) Family is possible and worthwhile.

“You know you love it!”

It is worth all of the loss of independence, time, energy and young-ness that we have given up, and all that we continue to give up. But it’s a mistake to think that we spend much time “giving things up.” There is sacrifice, but it’s hard even to call it sacrifice, because it’s just so much fun!

They keep us busy, and everything has meaning and value, because of them. People who live for themselves, and are self-determined don’t know what they are missing. You don’t live until you live for someone else.

I would never even try to make a pie like this for myself.

You have the chance to hit virtually every corporal and spiritual work of mercy multiple times, every single day.

Feed the hungry, anybody?

and then when you get up early to make a breakfast of delicious breakfast biscuits, you can enjoy hearing them complain that they don’t like biscuits, “because I don’t like the ham.”

More of Kathleen’s amazing barbecue sauce, now with a pint and a half of hot and spicy BBQ sauce (Ryan is the only one who eats spicy).

We have been busy with the usual busyness this week. Ryan has been working at his Family Medicine Preceptorship. He usually runs late and gets home tired, but it’s a great learning experience.

Kathleen is rocking the commute and running the vascular lab at her job in Olympia. Except that the power steering went out on the truck during her commute, but was fine the next morning when Ryan drove it. So now we are driving it around waiting for it to break again, so that’s fun.

We like to live on the edge. Which is why we let four-year-olds paint…

And 18-months-old bake.

Ellie also helped Daddy try his hand at great-grandpa Ted’s world famous pumpernickel recipe. She watched it bake and made sure it got hot correctly.

And we have become host to a pair of brush-tailed rats that have begun stealing our bird seed.

Sometime next month if Ryan has time he will commence a proper feud. If not he may just shoot them and eat them. Squirrel is pretty tasty, and by then they should have some good eating on them.

That’s all for this week, folks. Pray for families. If you don’t have anything urgent going on right now, consider becoming families. It’s a trip! And it makes God smile.

And now for some well-earned slumber. Good night, and God Bless!

Happy Friday, Y’all!

Let me just say, last weekend was delightful. Neither Mommy nor Daddy had to work, and we had nowhere we had to go except shopping (can’t have everything, right?) and the weather was beautiful.

We made latkas out of leftover mashed potatoes and topped them with fried bacon, apple and onion. Yes. It was as delicious as it sounds.

Ellie’s favorite drawer to play in. She likes to sort through it while Mommy and Daddy are cooking.

Then we went out to buy food, and came home for lunch and naps. Well, one nap, at least. Ellie took a nap. Mommy made some lentil soup to can for Lent. Daddy doesn’t believe in naps and Evie is too big for naps, so we went out to color with chalk.

The shadow of the truck suggested an Idea to Daddy…

“Daddy! I’m riding an Elephant!”

We also collaborated on a dragon. Evie drew the fire around the head and the butt…

Apparently this dragon has been hitting the extra spicy salsa.

When Ellie woke up from her nap we had popsicles and bubbles on the deck.

It was Ellie’s first time chasing bubbles, as she was too little last summer. She was entranced by them. It always amazes me how much magic there is in a little water with soap and sugar in it.

Then Daddy and the Girls went for a ruckmarch. Mommy couldn’t go because she was busy tending the pressure canner. We did not want it to blow up in our absence, so we thought it best someone stay behind to regulate its temp and pressure.

Since Evie took the trouble to carry that rock almost the whole ruckmarch, she had more than earned the right to paint it when we got back.

And we closed out the day with a nice, relaxing supper, a bath (which became relaxing when the Washing of the Hair was over), and some books before bed.

Pressure canning soup is a long process, but worth it.

By bed time Kathleen had added an additional three quarts to the stash.

On Sunday we had our old friend and pastor, Fr. Peter over for dinner, along with our friends Ronny and Amanda and their son RJ. Fr. Peter was our former pastor at St. Frances Cabrini, founder of the young adult group where Ryan and Kathleen met, and the priest who officiated our wedding. Ronny was a member of that young adult group. Now Fr. Peter is a pastor up in the great white north, up near Alaska or Marysville or some such benighted wilderness. Ronny is married and has a son.

Time flies, doesn’t it?

Being good hosts and bad bloggers, we have no pictures from the evening except this one of Evie helping to make the pizzas.

And these ones of Kathleen making the mincemeat pie.

Even Ellie is big enough to help make pizzas now.

Let’s see, what else did we do? Ryan is having fun in the ER. Lots of interesting patients, and great stories I can’t tell because of HIPAA. Some happy, some funny, some sad, but that’s the ER.

The beard helps to reassure the patients.

Daddy had the day off on Tuesday due to the way the ER schedule played out, so he and Ellie had a busy day running errands after we dropped Evie off at school. Our travels finally took us to the Camp McChord Commissary and Px where we had lunch. Ellie thoroughly enjoyed the popeye’s gourmet Cajun fries.

Ellie saw the coin-operated merry-go-round and asked very politely if she could “up! up!” So Daddy set her on the merry-go-round horse. He happened to have some quarters so he dropped them in, thinking she would think that was awesome.

Turns out she was not expecting it to move. She didn’t quite fall off, but she lost her grip with one hand and Daddy had to stabilize her, and then she had a patiently puzzled rather than an excitedly joyous face the whole time.

Plus the darn thing didn’t even play any music, which I thought was a bit cheap. $0.50 and you don’t even get a synthesized calliope?

A brand new box of sidewalk chalk arrived on Tuesday, and we couldn’t wait to try out the new colors.

We went out for dinner with Deedee and Papa on the spur of the moment, which, when you think about it, is pretty amazing. A lot of people cannot afford the time or the money to do that, but we can. It is an amazing gift, one that demands to be shared.

One other little adventure, we ordered a box of worms for our compost pile. Evie and Daddy had fun dumping them into the compost before we went to school.

Evie’s comment: “Oh! They’re so cute!”

At this point we are not sure how they are going to do, whether the moisture balance is right, whether we have enough paper and such in there to keep them satisfied. It’s an experiment. One of these days we’ll move far enough out of the city to have a proper composter, i.e. a pen full of pigs or chickens.

That’s all for this week folks! Have a great weekend. God Bless!

One of these days we seriously are going to make Family Friday a bi-weekly or even monthly thing. It seems like every Friday we are too busy Familying to Friday, which is only a problem if you insist upon Family Friday-ing. Take, for instance, last Friday.

We had a great time with our MC friends at a music ministry session with singer-songwriter Andrea McDonald. Of course Evie stole the show with a song that she made up on the spot.

We partied late into the night until Ellie was sleep drunk and could no longer even stand upright.

Sleepy time!

That is, we stayed out almost until eight-o-clock!

I know, crazy right!

It had been a fun week, albeit busy, with Mommy at work and Daddy trying to knock out four months honey-do before restarting school. We had made time for a lot of together time…

We made a shelf!

We had even made it up to Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne’s house for a little welcome-home-hey-how-you-been-long-time-no-see party.

We had a good time, and my how Edmund and Annarose have grown! Edmund is super tall and trimmed down, and quite the dapper dresser. Annarose has gone mobile with the world’s fastest commando crawl. Edmund objects to this development, because it means that she can now intrude upon his playing, but, c’est la vie!

We went out for a family favorite meal…

Pho at Pho Tai in Lakewood. Evie loves the noodles, and Ellie demolish two gyoza, a pile of noodles and a few ounces of Daddy’s grilled chicken and rice.

By Thursday we were all set up for a great family weekend going clamming at the Ocean. Deedee and Papa picked up Evie early from school so they could get to the beach before the tide went out and get clamming right away.

Meanwhile, Daddy and Ellie trekked down to Olympia and picked Mommy up from work before heading out to the ocean. Ellie liked Mommy’s work. It has lots of stairs.

We got to the beach in the cold and wet and scraped about in the sand for an hour or so until the tide came in above the clam beds. All in all we got 25 clams before we headed to our vacation house for the night.

There we got in jammies and made hot cocoa. Evie was so excited to find that her room had bunkbeds that she couldn’t sleep for ever and ever amen. First she wanted to sleep on the top bunk. Then she wanted Papa to sleep on the top bunk. When he declined she thought Mommy should do it. But Mommy also declined, so she tried to recruit Daddy. As a last resort she even tried to convince us to put Ellie up there. It just broke her little heart to think of that lovely top bunk not being slept in. It seemed like such a waste.

Of course, then the weekend took a turn for the… unexpected. Somewhere around midnight (Evie was still not asleep) Ellie started puking. She puked over and over again until she was dry-heaving, and then she dry heaved off and on until about 4 AM before going back to sleep.

(Parenting pro tip: whenever possible, schedule your stomach bugs for weekends when you are away at a vacation rental. Then you don’t have to wash your towels and sheets, you just turn them in and get new ones! You’re welcome.)

So instead of going out in the morning for sightseeing or what have you we were recovering, watching Christmas movies, playing brainteasers while waiting for the baby clothes to wash, and playing board games while the kids napped.

By and by it was time for the clamming to begin again, and it was here that the plot once again took an unexpected twist when we discovered that both Papa’s and Daddy’s boots had been stolen right off our front step. Since we declined to go clamming barefoot on a Washington beach in December, that effectively kiboshed that clamming expedition, and we had to be satisfied with our previous haul of twenty-five. Instead we went bowling and Daddy tried to teach Evie how to play pool.

The fun continued after we got home, when Evie jumped on the puke-your-guts-out-all-night bandwagon on Sunday night (Mommy had to work on Monday). So Christmas Eve was a messy affair, and Deedee and Papa were having similar issues, so we had to cancel our Christmas Eve get-together.

Then of course Daddy was queasy in the tummy all day Christmas Eve into Christmas morning, and Mommy was queasy all Christmas day and into the next morning.

We are not that great at taking family photos.

And the day after Christmas Mommy felt better and went back to work and… Ellie got sick. She had a bad case of the runny-nose which caused her to sleep poorly, which in turn caused everyone else to sleep poorly, except Evie.

Ellie is pretty cheerful about it, though. Here, for instance, is a picture perfectly encapsulating the difference between Evie and Ellie.

Evie pines for the snack that might have been (chocolate). Ellie enjoys the snack that is (grapes and oranges).

Yesterday we made pizza while Mommy was at work. Evie measured and counted all the scoops of flour and poured them in the mixer all by herself. Ellie helped make press out the dough for her first time ever. She actually did pretty well about not tearing holes in the dough, and it blew her mind when she could see her hand print.

And now we come to the climax of our post, our week, and (hopefully) our year… drum roll please!

Evie had to go to the ER. She was riding her tricycle down the driveway and turned too sharply and upset herself. We took her to the ER for some x-rays and turns out she has broken her first bone!

She picked a good bone for her first break. A clavicle. Not particularly dangerous, and they tend to heal really fast and really well, especially in little kids. And she has a sling with doggies on it!

And that’s all for this week, folks. We feel like the moral of this week has been, “keep your head up, things could always get worse.”

Or perhaps, “When life hands you something yucky, like snot, do something cool with it…

Blow snot bubbles.”

I recently heard a soldier say, “Ugh, I never want to have kids. Babies are SO GROSS! All they do is drool and poop all over everything.”

I have heard other (female) soldiers say that they never want kids because “when you get pregnant your legs swell up and you feel like a whale.”

One male soldier told me, “I would make a terrible dad, but I make a great uncle. Being an uncle is the best, you enjoy the cuteness and the fun and then give them right back to the parents.”

I cannot deny the facts of these accusations (with some careful caveats about the uncle comments). Indeed, I would go farther and say that they grossly (hee hee! see what I did there?) understate the case. For instance, just a day after that adorable picture (above) of the newborn sleeping Ellie was taken, this picture of the two-year-old nauseous Evie was taken…

Immediately after this picture she puked on Kathleen and Ellie, right as Ellie was starting to breastfeed. The interlocuter mentioned above had understated his case because as Kathleen pointed out, “He totally forgot about vomit. Until you’ve flown across the country with a toddler with the two-bucket disease…”

Drool? Meh. That’s nothing. Just good clean saliva and wonderfully exfoliative, especially in the teething phase. Poop? Usually pretty well contained, and exclusively breastfed poop even has a delightfully earthy scent to it, never, alas, to be equaled by the poops of subsequent diets. It’s the snot that gets you, especially when the baby likes to wipe it off with her hand, and then wipe her hand off on you. The snotty faceplant is another favorite.

But vomit is king, when it comes to bodily fluids. It is sudden, it is copious, it is uncontained. It bursts forth with a magnificent freedom, untrammeled by social norms or constraining receptacles. It inspires imitation by the weak-of-stomach (we call them “sympathetic pukers”).

The pregnancy issues are even graver, and definitely understated. While it is a sociological fact that 90% of people think pregnant ladies are cute with a pregnancy-specific form of cuteness (a.k.a. “the glow”)…

It is equally a sociological fact that 99.99% of pregnant ladies do not think that they specifically are cute. Leg swelling, tiredness, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, hemorrhoids, weight gain… all of these are potentially real accoutrements of pregnancy. Nor should we stop there. It is a disservice not to mention the actual serious potential outcomes, e.g. pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, previa, abruptio, breech, C-section, hemorrhage, miscarriage, nuchal cord, post-natal depression, to name a few. Nor do the problems stop with child birth, as anyone who has struggled with milk supply and failure to thrive can tell you. Everything from the stomach bug to seizures to teenage rebellion is on the cards for you if you decide to have kids, or if you have kids as an unintended result of your decisions (which is not the same thing).

As for the uncle thing, I can’t deny it is true, but I do deny it is manly. I won’t get into that discussion right now, but I’ll let Jim Wendler sum it up.

The truth is that, yes, kids are gross. The truth is that kids are also adorable.

You might say that the purpose of children’s cuteness is to help their parents get past the grossness. It is also true that the purpose of children’s grossness is to help parents get past the cuteness.

The truth is that, yes, having kids hurts. It takes the spring out of your step, the shape out of your waist, the clean out of your house, the hours out of your day, and the money out of your bank. The truth is also that having kids heals you, if you let it. It puts wonder into the world, purpose into your pudge, life into your deadness, meaning into your time, and rescues your money from useless places like savings accounts and stock options.

Family is an invitation to enter a love that can kill your prejudice. I am using the term “prejudice” in a slightly broader sense than its narrow, modern, intersectional political sense, to mean simply any personal preference that I hold onto. (I am also distinguishing a preference from a conviction, for obvious reasons). There is nothing wrong with having a preference, for without it we would have no desire or drive. But there is everything wrong with holding a preference, because then it becomes a prejudice and limits us, even if it is for something as relatively trivial as rice over potatoes. The kind of person who insists upon rice rather than allowing for potatoes remains a person who limits himself to one kind of starch. Worse, he runs the risk of becoming the kind of person who demands that the entire world bend to his prejudice and take away its damn potatoes and give him rice! (Change that to mac-and-cheese or crusts cut off the sandwich and you have pretty much every toddler ever.)

You may be the kind of person who insists upon not getting puked on. Kids are your gateway to broadening your horizons.

Kids will kill your prejudice, if you have any capacity whatsoever for letting go of it. I am not talking about putting on a wry face and simply putting up with not getting your way. I am talking about loving another human being so much that you no longer even really have a way. There is an ecstasy of love (I use the word “ecstasy” in its strictest possible definition, i.e. “to stand outside oneself”) that comes once in a while when you truly love someone else so much that you forget yourself. I do not meant that you sacrifice yourself, I mean that you simply no longer exist in your own mind. That little part of you that is always keeping an eye on your thoughts, your options, your feelings, your reactions, your wants… it just stops. You don’t even realize it has stopped until later, because you aren’t looking at yourself anymore. The very fact of noticing that it has stopped means, by definition, that it has started back up again. You may not even have realized that in that moment of total absorption in someone else’s need or pain or pleasure, that you yourself were more deliriously and wholly alive than you have ever been before, even in war. It is the fullest moment of your life not simply despite the fact that you were not aware of it, but specifically because you were not aware of it.

It is the closest experience I have ever had to heaven on earth.

One of the best examples of this I have ever seen was Kathleen when Evie was in the hospital with seizures. Kathleen is ordinarily the kind of person who has a prejudice for 10-12 hours of sleep uninterrupted sleep per night. It is important to her, but has often been denied by the realities of family life, never more so than when Evie was admitted to Mary-Bridge. Kathleen did not sleep for two days. She did not valiantly struggle to keep herself awake. She just didn’t sleep. Her entire being was focused on Evie and her needs and the thought of sleeping through this never occurred to her. She didn’t even realize she hadn’t slept until the next day.

This is the kind of self-forgetfulness that only comes from love. When you love in a family, the opportunity for it comes a hundred times a day. Hardly once or twice in a year, outside the honeymoon phase, will you experience that ecstasy of utter absorption in the other. It is useless and self-defeating to try to experience it. It must come as an unsought gift, or not at all, and anyway, this isn’t about using your wife and kids to manufacture some kind of transcendent experience. It is about living for your wife and kids in every mundane experience. That is how you can practice it every day, a hundred times a day, without ever knowing you are doing so.

The refusal to have kids because they are gross, or bothersome, or expensive, is pusillanimous. It is the same as refusing to get married because you don’t want to share your bathroom sink (is it possible to be any more small-souled than that?!) It is like saying, “No thanks, I don’t want to hike up to the top of a mountain, and experience fresh-air and healthful activity and human interaction. Netflix sounds like a lot less trouble.”

The only thing in the world worth living for is love. I pity those who are not willing to sell everything they think they own to purchase it.

In one of Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent posts he explores the problem of rage that is currently dividing and consuming our nation. This is an excerpt (which I originally read in his book on Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing) that has given me pause many times before this.

In my book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing I explore the roots of our emotions and suggest that our adult emotions are rooted in the earliest experiences of our lives. Here’s an example: I was once asked to help a fifteen year old boy who had suddenly become irrationally angry and rebellious. He had been a sweet looking kid, sang in the church choir and had been delightful. At fifteen he became a “Goth”. Black hair, black leathers, eye make up…the works. He also started stealing cars. We asked him why he did so. He didn’t know. We asked if he knew that he would go to jail. He did, but didn’t care. He was in a tailspin, and there was no rational explanation. He said he was mad at his Mom and Dad and found external reasons, but they were all groundless.

In an attempt to discover the roots of his rage we asked him mother about his early years. She said he was adopted, and that he was conceived in the back seat of a car when his mother was fifteen. She carried him for nine months in an attitude of rage, frustration, rebellion and hatred. The other priest I was working with realized that in some strange way the boy was acting out not just his own rage, but the rage and rebellion of his mother. He was working through and acting out (according to the priest’s theory) the disturbing circumstances that lay at the very foundation of his personality

The first experiences of life take place while we are still in a sub-linguistic and sub-rational existence. For the infant, and certainly for the unborn child, life is nothing but a stream of emotional and instinctive stimuli and reactions. We exist in those pre-rational and pre-linguistic years in an emotional and instinctive soup, and the reason this is important is that just as in these early years our mind and body is forming, so our emotional life and emotional resources are forming.

This is why God ordains that we are conceived in a moment of self giving and beautiful love between a man and a woman, and that this conception takes place within the sacrament of marriage so it is also blessed and inspired by God. Likewise, the first nine months in the womb are to be a time of peace, health, love and happiness for mother and child. As the child receives nourishment from the mother, so he also receives love, confidence and peace. These contribute to a healthy and confident child. If the atmosphere is also one of spiritual nurture, prayer and worship, then the child’s spiritual life also receives a healthy and confident foundation.

I happen to agree that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic period of formation in the life of a child is of incredible importance in the shaping of that child’s later emotional resources. I know, for instance, from my studies in neuroscience, that metagenetic mechanisms preferentially select more or less functional stress reaction pathways (cortisol and its related enzymes, to name one specific mechanism).

Now, I want to avoid the appearance that I am suggesting anything remotely deterministic. I am positing that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic experience of every human influences their subsequent development in profound ways. Nor do I wish to suggest that these alterations are necessarily unmanageable or cannot be overcome by better later life environment, training and decisions (c.f “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” as well as numerous more scholarly researches on the role of neuroplasticity in overcoming negative behavioral and cognitive patterns.)

I also want it to be understood that a stress-free environment for a child, even if such a thing were possible in this world, would most likely be just as bad as, if not worse than, an environment filled with fear and neglect. Stress in the right types and amounts provides an adaptive function in nature, especially in human nature. Just as bones that are not stressed in childhood are weak and brittle, so are personalities that are never stressed. Problem solving is developed as a response to stress, and is absolutely essential to functional existence in society.

Nor, finally, do I want to suggest that these modern insights into some (likely only a fraction) of the possible mechanisms for this reality represent any real increase in knowledge. We have ALWAYS know that it was bad for children and babies to be in fear for their lives, to be treated with neglect, contempt or abuse, or even to be simply unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We have always known that the role of the family is to provide a stable, nurturing, and challenging environment for children to develop stable, nurturing and challenging selves. These three qualities are prerequisites for learning to love, and love is the only goal worthy of a human person.

It does, however, cause us to think and to re-evaluate what is most important in our lives. The only thing that matters is teaching children how to love, or providing a space for other people to teach their children how to love. It puts my own profession into perspective, at any rate, or rather professions (i.e. warfare and medicine). My warfare is pointless self-aggrandizement and thrill seeking if it does not help someone, in America or Afghanistan or wherever, live at peace and raise their children free of warfare. My medicine is meaningless unless the people I treat are real people instead of Medical Record Numbers or lists of signs, symptoms and diagnoses. My task is not to make them live longer but to help them live well.

And of course, both of those professions are meaningless if I am not there for my own family, within the limitations of doing my duty to others. It means that my ability to protect another man family’s right to raise their children in peace flows directly from my family’s sacrifice of peaceful time with me at home. Whether it is crippled or empowered by that sacrifice remains to be seen.

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis, with which I will close:

The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. (Mere Christianity)


Recently I had the terrible duty of attending the funeral of a fellow Special Forces solder. He was an acquaintance of mine, we had gone to Thailand together once and done a few drills together, but other than that I didn’t know him very well.

Funerals like this are the only reason I keep my Army Service Uniform ready at all times.

This is the third time in the last two years I have attended a funeral for a Special Forces soldier. Each time it gets harder. It also seems like each time the soldier is a little bit closer to me.

This one was especially hard because of his family. When I went to pay my respects at the coffin, there he was lying there in his service uniform with all his tabs and ribbons, and amidst all the regalia was a folded piece of paper with childish scrawl on it that said, “I love you Daddy.”

I could barely keep it together the rest of the day.

When I was in the Q-course I naively looked forward to the day when I would graduate and life would be easier. No more forced marches, never-ending testing, constant scrutiny. I looked forward to the time when I would have, in some sense, “made it.” As C. S. Lewis would say, I had not yet learned that usually the reward for doing one good deed is to be given the opportunity to do another, even harder one.

I learned when I got to the team that I had not made it. I was still doing forced marches (this time on skis, not what I expected, but not that bad. In fact, it became kind of fun). The worse problem was that I was still under scrutiny, I was still being tested until I had earned my place on the team. Even that was not a permanent thing. As they say, “You’re only as good as your last f— up.” Whatever reputation I had was not a made thing, but something I had to live up to every day until, eventually, living it became part of my persona, and then my personality. Even then, the job wasn’t easier, it was harder, because more was riding on my performance than ever before. In the Q course if I failed it affected no one but myself. On the team my failure could cost the life of a teammate or an innocent civilian. This was why team life was so much harder than the Q course.

I left active duty because I did not want to be gone nine months out of every year any more. I stayed in the guard because we were starting a family and needed the insurance. These days I live at home with my family and go to school, most of the time. I workout and train continuously because I still need to maintain some readiness, but it is not my full time job anymore, until I get called up. Then it all becomes real again.

The physical hardship is no harder to deal with than it has ever been, even if I don’t recover from injuries as quickly as I used to. Even so, the job is costlier now. I never worried too much about getting killed in combat because that was the job I had set out to do and there was no one who depended on me. Therefore, I never prayed for physical protection for myself in combat or training. I never prayed that my life would be spared, because there was no one relying on me to live. Now there is. I don’t want my daughters to grow up without me, and I don’t want Kathleen to have to try to fill my place and do the job I promised her I would do.

This means that continuing to be Special Forces now calls for real courage and trust. It takes no courage to face IEDs when you don’t particularly care whether you live or die. It takes very little trust to continue doing a job when the consequences for failure only affect yourself.

Now my family rides on my success or failure, my life or death.

There is no way to face that except by trusting in God. I must fix firmly in my mind that He loves Kathleen and Evie and Ellie far more than I ever could. I do not rely on Him to help me take care of them. I accept that I am one part of His providential care for them that spans eternity. I will live to care for them as long as He chooses to use me for that purpose, but even when I am no longer the instrument He wishes to use, that purpose will still hold. He will never abandon them or forsake them.

Again to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, “Whether He means us to live or to die, Jesus will be our good Lord.”

I pray that this upcoming deployment remains peaceful and that diplomatic solutions can be found for our differences. If there is war, however, I am even willing to pray that I make it out alive, for my family’s sake.