Category Archives: life happens

What Was Lost

Six months ago we moved again. It was one of our most abrupt moves, executed in two and a half weeks from job offer to arrival. A combination of career choice and national economic factors have caused our family to move four times in five years. We were so fortunate that each new home brought with it new dear friends and church communities. Minnesota was one of those special places for our family, and as much as we love our new Iowa home, leaving was hard.  

I bought a beautiful wine glass at a thrift shop today. Then in the evening after the children went to bed, I opened a bottle of red that our new pastor brought over as a welcoming gift. I poured a drink for myself into the generous bowl and appreciated the elegance of the liquid in the glass.

I met April indirectly like we do these days. Michael was at a philosophy function she was attending with her husband and through them I managed to get her email address. I probably would have let the relationship develop more organically but I was seven weeks away from delivering my third baby and hundreds of miles away from even the most minor acquaintance. We had just moved to town and I didn’t know what I would do when the time came to go to the hospital. I was desperately seeking friendship.

A week or so later I waddled over to April’s house and we had tea while my boys were in school and three of her four children ran or rolled about. Her baby was only seven weeks old. I couldn’t get over how slim April already was and how together and serene she seemed.

The weeks leading up to my due date we would sometimes chat briefly on the phone. We talked rapidly and had numerous distractions in the background. We were both sorting laundry and preparing dinner while we tried to fit a 20-minute conversation into the five minutes we truly had. After my due date came and went, I told April of my despair and fear about my impending induction, and she was one of the most comforting voices I hear that week. It was then she offered to come over in the middle of the night if my uterus cooperated and decided to have a baby before my induction.

“It’s not a problem! I’ll just bring the baby and I can stay until your boys wake up and then they can just come over here,” she said reassuringly.

I felt deeply appreciative of her willingness to offer concrete help (and not “let me know if you need anything!” help) despite the fact that we would only be neighbors for the year of Michael’s fellowship. She gave generously and wholeheartedly and did so during a time when she had every reason not to.

After Henry was born, she sent over homemade vegetable soup and hallah bread and cookies within three days of my being home. I tore hunks of the bread off and wrapped them in sandwich bags to eat during the middle of night nursing sessions, sending sleep-deprived, inarticulate prayers of thanks in her direction while I stuffed my face.

We checked in with each other every other week or so via phone throughout the dark winter months. She had a health scare. I worked at overcoming my own self-centeredness by praying daily for her healing. We were all so sick – horrible viruses and pneumonia and lingering colds. For months she was a voice over the phone line that I would connect with occasionally from a non-communicable distance.

But then like the eye of the storm, we were all healthy on Epiphany so we gathered our seven children and ourselves for a celebratory tea party on a cold Friday afternoon.

Wisemen Worship

Spring came. About once a week the boys and I would walk up the street to knock on the door to see if April, her girls and baby James were available to play for an hour or so before it was time to head home to make dinner. We would talk about food since we both loved to cook. We would chat about our children; our struggles and frustrations with trying to find the best way to smooth out the rough edges of their most trying personality traits.

Inevitably we would talk about our faith. April was one of the few devout Catholics I’d ever known and I loved asking questions and learning about the church calendar and feast days and the saints and seeing what a Catholic home looked like. It was deeply refreshing to talk about something meaningful and interesting with another adult during a time when most of life revolved around little people.

Once school was out for the summer, we met at the pool with our brood and shared red and blue slushies from the gas station and occasionally our better working window air conditioning units during unseasonably hot days. One afternoon I tentatively offered April a “teeny-tiny gin and tonic” and hoped she wouldn’t think I was one of those women from the headlines who have drunken afternoon playdates. She said yes so enthusiastically like it was the best idea ever, which was one of the reasons I liked her so much.

She had tears in her eyes when I told her we were moving. We only had a week to pack our house before we left, but she and I carved out time to walk around the block to the Ole Store for a glass of wine after the kids were down for the night. We talked and talked and only left when they closed, then talked a bit more on the street in front of the Fellowship House while the ridiculous Minnesota mosquitoes bit us.

The night before we left, they had us all over for a family dinner. We shared delicious food and a pitcher of fresh margaritas and told stories of the people we were before we were the caretakers of small people while simultaneously wiping little faces and sopping up messes.

And when we left their house for the last time, April embraced our shared faith and joy in good refreshments for comfort in our parting. “We can look forward to drinking wine together in heaven!” she said.

It was one of those rare friendships where we brought out the best in each other. We were truthful and honest in a way that encouraged the other toward something better in ourselves; something nobler than what our rebellious hearts and tired bodies often felt. It was a friendship built on proximity as close neighbors who shared the same street, yet came to recognize a sisterhood grounded primarily in our faith.

It’s been a week since we left. I watched the wine falling into my glass and, for the first time since we arrived in our new home, in our new neighborhood, in our new town and state, allowed myself to think about what was lost. And wept.

For April. And Robyn. And Abby. I miss you guys.  


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Filed under faith and things like it, life happens, Minnesota Nice


We’re in Texas for a family funeral this week. Exactly two years ago when I was training for my first 10K, I would get up as early as 5:00am to avoid running in the grueling Texas heat. I tend to run the same routes so I can compare my times thus each run took me by the same house where each morning I would see the same elderly couple. Texans of a certain age have a habit of sitting out in their garages or carports early in the morning before it gets too hot; drinking coffee, eating breakfast or simply taking the air. This tradition seems to be leftover from a time before central-air conditioning.

I started running again in February after a six month pregnancy/new baby leave, and Monday morning laced up my running shoes to do a 4-miler in my husband’s small Texas hometown. About three miles in I paused my podcast and my stopwatch, and walked up the driveway to say hello. His wife was inside cleaning up after breakfast, but the coffee carafe and two cups were still on the TV tray. Wearing new denim overalls and a short sleeve cotton tshirt, Mr. W and I exchanged greetings, notes on whom we were kin to and comments about the weather. He was one of those elderly men who seems to sweeten rather than sour with age. His short cropped hair was white and his soft plumpness was like Henry’s on the waning side of life. With his fingers laced over his stomach, he told me how he is living 6 miles from where he was born and how his wife almost died from a blood clot a few months ago.

“I’m 85 years old and it was the only time I’ve ever been scared in my life,” he told me solemnly.

This is one of the reason I love to run.


Filed under culturific, dialogue, life happens, run white girl run

A Moment

Henry is a month old today and I remembered that the day John was a month old, we flew into Denmark for a six week visit while Michael was there on a research grant.

I found the transition to motherhood to be rather difficult. It didn’t help that I birthed a nine pound baby without drugs, started to hemorrhage and was well on my way to passing out, then went home and treated myself almost as if this never happened and started frantically preparing to take our newborn to a foreign county. Michael left two weeks after John was born and I spent the next 15 days shaking with chills and sweats from the fatigue, not napping and, by the time I arrived in Copenhagen, had slept exactly 45 minutes during the previous 36 hour period.

After pushing myself to my very limit, I finally let go and started experiencing what I only somewhat jokingly called “Mama Zen,” where I just went with the flow of nursing, sleeping and life in this strange country started falling into place. Encouraged by all the topless women, I learned how not to freak out about nursing in public. I stopped worrying so much about schedules and naptimes and life fell into a new pattern – a new normal.

One day was especially memorable for its sheer normalcy with tiny tastes of serendipity. It rained a lot while we were in Copenhagen, but this particular week was sunny and relatively warm. That Friday I gave up sight-seeing, cooking and all the small tasks I taken on since our arrival and John and I spent hours in Kongens Have – The King’s Garden – the grounds around an ancient Danish castle. I packed a simple lunch: slice of cheese, piece of bread, an apple, water. We nursed, played, snuggled, napped, and walked around soaking in the sunshine. It was so peaceful and unhurried and I felt I finally had time to completely revel in this baby who despite my distraction had always seemed startlingly familiar. With few exceptions, even in those early days, I felt like I got him.

Then sitting under a young tree nursing John in the late afternoon sunshine, when the high school students were just starting to arrive carrying crates of cheep beer, Michael was suddenly there and dropped this old clunky bike he was borrowing to the grass and joined us. He didn’t know for sure that we would be there, but had a hunch and took a detour on the way back from the research center and discovered where we had planted ourselves on that 100+ acre park.

It was this moment that I thought I’d always remember: that place at that time when the three of us found each other.

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Christmas Music!

Time has not exactly stood still lately but rather has simultaneously stood still and sped up at an alarming rate. Some of my family is coming in for Henry’s baptism at our church’s Thanksgiving service on Wednesday and staying through Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t until my Mom and I went to the Mall of America this weekend and there were silver Christmas decorations everywhere that it sunk into my sleep deprived self that Christmas is coming.

And, like Nordstroms, I’m celebrating one holiday at a time BUT I thinking strongly about beginning my Christmas preparation with one of the 100 $5 Amazon Christmas albums (found here).

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Filed under culturific, life happens, two thumbs up

Photo Friday

From October 2011

Henry Brodie Tilley
October 28, 2011
9 pounds, 1 ounce
21 1/2 inches


Filed under brother bears, life happens, Photo Friday

11 Week 5K

Last year during my training for the Bluegrass 10K, I ran the Lion’s Run for Sight 5K as a training run. That was the one where I left my crying, bleeding child in the dust to try to make my time. A year later, John still remembers the incident perfectly. In fact, he came to the door of the bathroom this morning to recount the tragic tale and request that I hold his hand this year.

Our kids were born unable to speak English, but are fluent in guilt.

Coming up the hill for the final half mile. John and James were very excited to run with me. From March 2011

Back in February, I was ramping my mileage back up to train for the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon when I injured my knee dancing to Lady Gaga with a bunch of college girls at a Zumba class. During my month of recovery, I swam and checked each week to see if my knee had healed and discovered I am pregnant with our third child. Thus my expectations for beating my 29:00 5K personal record while 11 weeks pregnant were pretty low.

The very end of the story is I ran with John around the track – at one point stopping completely while he caught up with me – and still managed to finish the race 40 seconds faster than last year (33:37) and placed second in my age group. (Though I strongly suspect there were only two people in my age group. I wouldn’t be too surprised if most of them are carb-loading right now for the half marathon tomorrow. But, whatever. SECOND PLACE in my massive age group field.)

And then I ate the best sandwich ever created – the Jimmy John’s California Club on seven grain bread – and called it good.


Filed under life happens, run white girl run

Summer Harvest

James’s Green Beans
Originally uploaded by ShotSnaps

A little over a week ago I took a class on canning and freezing offered by our local county extension office. Growing up I spent a good deal of my summers on my grandparent’s farm and remember the work that went into canning and freezing produce from my grandmother’s large garden. My brother, cousin and I would spend what felt like our entire day (it was probably more like an hour or two) snapping bucket after bucket of green beans. Just as we finally got to the bottom of one bucket, Grandmother would come in from the garden and dump an even bigger batch into our pail. We would moan and groan, and Grandmother would just grin at us as she headed back out to the garden to do the truly backbreaking part of harvesting green beans.

Tomatoes, corn, pickled beets, lima beans, peas, green beans and many other things would be blanched, peeled, shucked, snapped, canned and frozen in Grandmother’s sweltering un-air-conditioned kitchen.

My situation now is a little different. While my mother kept a suburban garden while I was growing up, it never produced enough to go through the canning production my Grandmother’s required. We did make and can strawberry jam in the spring and homemade apple sauce in the fall, but my personal experience with canning and freezing is very limited. Thus the class.

Yesterday I made an attempt at freezer canning green beans. The boys helped and were so excited to help me wash, blanch and fill the jars. They each got to fill their own special jar with green beans. I wrote their name on the lid so when we eat them in a month or two, they’ll know they are “their” green beans. They were also insistent that Mom and Dad needed their own jars of green beans too. And so we do.

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Filed under family matters, life happens