Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Tale of 3 Lessons Learned (of Undergarments, Salad Dressing, and Theft)

I was born with a target on my head with fine print next to it that says: "Teach me a lesson. A hard one, please."

God loves teaching me lessons.

Take for example the time that I learned about humility. After finishing a set of laundry back in college, I quickly threw on a pair of freshly washed and dried jeans, and ran out the door to church for confession. Out of the 6 churches having confession that night, I chose the most conservative one, which also looked like a cathedral inside. There was a rather long line of students waiting to receive the sacrament. We were packed together against the cold brick wall like sardines. As I was waiting patiently in my designated spot for over 45 minutes, it was finally time to inch forward. I allowed my neck to rest from its perpetual people-watching and looked downwards during a stretch. Something bright orange caught my eye.

Standing beneath me, about 2 1/2 people-lengths back, were a pair of my neon orange, green-floral printed, straight outta Victoria Secret, undergarments. Standing next to them was a crowd of conservative theology majors and pre-priests from my school. Awesome.

They had obviously fallen out of my pants-leg, since I'd washed them both together. Now to leave them there and pretend they don't belong to me? Or pick them up.

I swallowed my pride and picked them up. Ah, humility.

Then there was that lesson that I learned called balance. With a dose of humility.

While studying in Austria, we had a day to celebrate the feast of St. Therese. The school put together a fancy feast for us in the Mensa (our dining area). It was a 5-course luncheon that was delicious. The staff needed people to help serve. As they went around asking one student from each table, I buried my head in my notebook even further to try and persuade those choosing that I was in fact a studious person.

"Emily, I'd like you to serve the salads."

"But I've never been a waitre--"

"That's fine, it's easy, you can't mess it up." (Thanks for the death wish.)

So I went and found the first salad tray that I was supposed to deliver, complete with 9 plates of already-dressed fresh lettuce. I delivered the first to the safest table: the nerdy studiers. I knew that they would not even look up and acknowledge me so my lack of waiting experience would go unnoticed. *Whew!*

The next table were the "God Bless You Sister-in-Christ"ers. They were busy giving each other back rubs and saying "Bless You Sister" to notice my clumsiness either. 2 tables down.

I decided that the cool people, the "jock" table would just have to come last. I needed to get down as much experience as I could before meandering to that table. By the time that table came though, my left arm was going numb from holding a tray above my head for so long.

"Hey guys, here's the salads! Yeah, can't wait for that philosophy test later on, huh?" I managed to squeak out. Yes! This was working, I was looking cool!

I got about 3/4 of the way passing the salads down the table. I thought it'd be easy to stand at one end and just have people pass them down. As I was standing, stunning the crowd with my one-liners, I kept hearing a "uhh, excuse me" from somewhere, but it was much too faint to make out. Besides, I was in the middle of cracking a good one about our professor.

"Excuse me" I heard it again. I looked over to where the voice was coming from. It was the pre-med, jockiest-jock boy to my right.

"Excuse me, you're dripping, the uhh..." I looked down. Ohmygosh. The Italian dressing from all previously-served salads had dripped onto the tray. And the 45-degree angle that I was now holding the tray at was not keeping that dripped dressing on. There was a giant, big wet Italian-dressing stain in the lap of this boy. On his white khakis.

Balance, with a side of humility, please.

(I avoided that boy for the rest of the semester, until I finally mustered up the courage to beg for forgiveness and the chance to give him money for the pants. He accepted the apology, but not the money.)

It really should have been no surprise for me that a new lesson was about due. I mean, I hadn't had one since I fell out of the reception hall on our wedding day, during the sparklers send-off. Thank God we had a hired photographer. We've got that one to remember forever!

Early this week, I learned a new lesson. Vanity. Rather, not to be vain.

On our way home from paradise, we stopped at a hotel mid-way. It was midnight, my husband and I were both drained from the road, and our puppies needed a break from being squished in the back of a prius. We pulled off a few different exits and checked-out various hotels before settling on the brightest, closest-to-highway one. It looked safe.

We took a few things out of the car, checked in, and fell right asleep on the cardboard beds. We slept for a few hours before the dogs woke us up, ready to go. It was pouring rain, so we thought it'd be best to head out early. Jim ran one dog to the car and said he'd be back to get the other.

He came back after about 10 minutes. White as a ghost.

"Someone broke into our car."

And what did they take? The valuables? The registration?

"Your suitcase. I'm going to go call the police."

We had a shattered window, a car full of glass and water, and I was now clothes-less.

My clothes are gone! That was the suitcase with only my nicest clothes in it! My favorite pajamas that they don't sell anymore! Those tops that I bought for our honeymoon! My shorts, that are impossible to find in that size these days! My hairdryer, straightening iron!!!

They were gone. For good. The cop passively remarked "Sonufagun! Only one break in last night! A new record!"

"Can you dust for fingerprints? I mean, that straightening iron was a Chi..."

"Nah- but whut I can do for ya is write-up a report so ya can have a copy!"

"Thanks. But my JanDor shirts from the 80s--"

"Well, I gotta run, have a good rest of the day, at least!"


So there we were, in nowhere PA, windowless, a clothesless wife, in the pouring rain.

We somehow managed to get home by evening and get the window fixed the next day. But my clothes! Anyone who is built like me knows how hard it is to have to shop in children's sizes, while looking for adult's styles. All I could think about was my clothes. Each piece.

It took a few days, but I finally realized that they were just clothes. I mean, they are replaceable, I guess. Sort of. What really matters is that no one was hurt, right? This means I get to go shopping now.

I just thank God that the neon-orange underwear was tucked safe away at home.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Man you Have Become"

I am going on vacation in 4 days to the most beautiful, peaceful, most heaven-like place on earth.

A place where I grew up, my mother grew up, her mother grew up, her father honeymooned and his father bought a plot of land. A place where families have been friends for over a century. A place where my heart beats wild and my soul thrives.

I wish that I could put into words how magical this place is to me, my friends and my family. For as long as I can remember, winter was the enemy because it meant that this place was so far out of reach. People who vacation at this same spot only agree. We share our countdowns publicly on facebook now, but there was a time when there'd only be letters sent through the mail displaying our excitement of how close this place was to our grasp. We kept the cost of stamps down for this country for years.

As a child, teenager and college student, all I could do was daydream from September until June, (when I'd finally leave for this piece of paradise). I'd write stories, talk off classmates' ears, plan our endeavors with my family. In fact, my nickname in college was: "Hello-my-name-is-Emily-and-I-love-Lake-George". I couldn't contain my excitement. There'd be swimming and bonfires...grandparents and cousins...staying out late and making memories... all to look forward to.

My mind was always on Lake George.

And for some reason, for the first time in 27 years, I can't even bear to think about it.

There is a brick wall that I have subconsciously built around my heart and mind. Don't's not doesn't exist. Yes, I still had to talk to my boss and request a week off. And laundry and packing would probably be a good thing too. But I cannot allow myself to think about it. There is a growing pain inside of me, and its root is guilt.


I received a phone call the other day from my brother. His voice was shaky but strong on the other line. As always, the call started with me saying hello and asking how he was.

"Not good. I have some bad news."

As he began to speak, the blood drained from my limbs and I could feel myself going numb. Never allowing any of my own emotions to get in the way of his, I quickly chugged some water to avoid any potential lumps from forming in my throat.

"I'm going on a dangerous mission. I have 24 hours to pack. I won't be speaking to you anymore, and will only be able to speak to my wife once each month, max."

What do you say in a moment like this? Here I am, trying to decide which bathing suits to bring up to the lake with me, and all I can squeek out is: "I love you; We're praying for you; Stay safe."

The days of sharing a bunk bed with him in cabin number one are gone. His legos don't fall on top of my head in my sleep anymore. He's not the boy wearing the same "I climbed Dr. Jackson's Molar Mountain!" t-shirt day after day. We can't argue about who's night it is to hand-wash those dishes in the ice cold water. There's no hiking to the gazebo, driving up to Jabes, listening to Opa's wisdom, enjoying a day at Great Escape, having an in-depth conversation with Mr. Collins, or tubing behind Dad's Dream for him. He can't even walk into the Leiter's cabin and ask if he can have their bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm pretty certain that he won't even be yelling at us that he has "gravel up his butt" during a game of Bloody Murder.

Instead, he's sleeping on a cot in a tent, wearing a camouflage shirt day after day. He'll be eating meals called MRE's, with no dishes to wash. He'll be hiking up a desert mountain, driving in a tank, listening to his sergeants' wisdom, enjoying any day he can talk to his wife, having in-depth conversations with her, and asking himself if this was Dad's dream for him. He'll be dreaming of the days when bacon and eggs were an option. And that gravel up his butt- it's sand. And it's no longer a game.

My heart aches during his absence. There isn't a moment at any point of the day when I don't ask myself "what is Robert doing right now...will he be the same when he returns?" I feel so horribly selfish as I ask my husband, "Should we rent a boat this year, or use the money to treat ourselves to a night out?"

Last night, I received a phone call from Robert's wife. These calls are just as anticipated as Robert's calls. Usually, Julia brings me news of her own life in Germany, where she lives with her husband in another country. She generally does not know where he is, what he's doing, what he's thinking. I miss my husband terribly every morning when we both depart for work. What could possibly be going through her mind?

After Julia and I laughed on the phone for a while, it was time to go. I got off the phone, and told my own husband briefly of our conversation over dinner. The following day, Jim wrote an email to Robert. It moved me to tears, as it's written with such raw honesty and truthfulness. It was never intended to be published; it was just an email between two brothers. I asked Jim if I could repost it, as most people don't have the opportunity to read letters like this. Here it is below. If you know Robert or anyone in the military, have tissues nearby:


Its been a while since I have had a chance to write, and I know that you may not be able to check your email often as you prepare for your next order, but I thought I would write this anyways, hoping that you may get a chance before you go.

I was driving to work this morning, with the sun coming up behind the grey clouds, not really shining, but colored a deep orangish red, fog laying over the fields and pastures as I drove down the back country roads. My mind drifted, as it always does on these mornings, to the revolutionary war, and the civil war (history buff here), and what it must have been like to be a soldier back then. Waking before dawn watching the sun rise in all it majesty as a new day begins, but realizing that now that there is light the movement of not only my camp, but the camp across the field. I find myself thanking God for the freedoms I have, and the life I live thanks to those Fathers and sons that came many generations before me. But today, with a conversation Emily and I had at dinner last night about her conversation with Julia, nothing more than two sisters catching up, but the fact that you were at the center of the conversation, if for no other reason than you being the strongest of many bonds that the two of them share...You popped in top my mind.

I looked at those fields of fog differently today, and with the suns rays starting to get though those dark clouds, I realized that, like I have told you before, I am extremely proud of you and what you are doing. But this time that feeling went deeper...

Robert, you took on this calling not for yourself, or really for others, but for Julia. There was a period of a day or two leading up to that final decision that you grew up to be a man. Not just any man, but a man of virtue. You gave your life, those things that you knew, the people closest to you, and you gave them to her. You devoted yourself whole heatedly to Julia that you made a very difficult decision...which has led you to where you are now. And where you are now is putting your self in those fields, feeling the fogs as you sit against a tree, gun in hand ready to do anything for Julia...but in the process, you have unselfishly done the same for Emily, for your family, for her family, for millions of other families, for me.

I am writing this to tell you that I am not just proud of you, but I am humbled and deeply appreciative of the man you have become. You have lined your self with those unknowns who have fought for those they loved the most, but have become the reason we all share the freedoms that we have today.

I cannot give enough meaning to this statement...

I am so proud of you brotha,


We miss you brother. Just as we did the day that you last left.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Song that Started My Blog

No better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven
No other place I'd rather be
No better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven
No better place to be.

I first heard this song on the radio in 2007. The lyrics stayed with me day and night, though I'd only heard the song once. I'd wake up in the middle of the night saying to myself repeatedly "there's no better place to be." Huh? Was I dreaming again? Shouldn't it be "no place like home"??

The lyrics stuck with me so hard and for so long that I eventually forgot where I even heard the song. Then, in early 2008, I felt a strong urge to start a blog. For no reason other than sharing the joy in my life that was overwhelming as I was preparing to marry my best friend.

I tossed around potential titles of a blog for 3 weeks.. It had to be catchy, yet not over-done. I wanted it to be a direct reflection of myself. It needed to be meaningful. For some reason "Emily's world" and "I love life" didn't sound great. Plus, they were probably taken.

After 3 weeks and close to giving up on ever needing a blog, I was driving home from work. I was almost home when I switched the radio station, and there it was. That song, again! It was almost as God was speaking directly to me.

"Don't give up. Here is your title. Now share your joy."

I went home, checked availability, yes! It was mine!

The initial goal of this blog was to share my joy, a joy that increases daily! I have the most wonderful life that anyone could ever ask for.

-A husband who encourages me, makes me laugh uncontrollably, and does his best to bring me closer to heaven.

-2 great dogs that keep us entertained with their two, very distinct personalities.

-A great house that I get to call home, in an adorable neighborhood that sits on a cute lake in Virginia.

-A wonderful job that fell into my lap that has opened so many doors and opportunities for growth.

-And last but not least, incredible friends. I want to say thank you to all of you who have been so encouraging the past several months! Thanks for all the notes and messages on the blog and elsewhere that you have shared. I love when people give me feedback. It's a reminder to me where the source of my joy comes; from these amazing people in my life, given to me by a wonderful God.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Graduation Day

Sadie graduated from puppy class today. What a fun 6 weeks! Her teacher was so much fun, and made sure to make it fun for the people too. She said that Sadie was one of the best dogs she's ever had. She also told us repeatedly that Sadie would make a great service dog. Her suggestions: work in a children's hospital, a nursing home, or even a search-and-rescue dog!!!

We're proud of our little pup. She's a joy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Get Your Kicks (and Punches, Cursings and Middle Finger-Exercises) on Route 66!

[I have had this blog topic in my "what to write about" folder for over a year. And I'm finally motivated to actually write it, thanks to a few of my northern VA neighbors who I've met the past several weeks.]

It all started back in early 2007. A recent college graduate, I had finally found a job that consisted of something called a salary. The only thing was, I'd have to become a "commuter"; more specifically, a "Northern VA commuter".

This meant all kinds of life changes like buying a gas-friendly car, scoping out morning talk shows and learning to drink coffee in the morning rather than at night. I felt so important, getting up with an alarm and showering each day. As soon as I made that first morning merge onto 66 my first day at work, I felt complete. So THIS is what it was like to have a college degree! I was one of the masses, even following in my father's footsteps.

Driving on 66 each day to get into work was such an adventure. I quickly got used to tuning in to WTOP fm for the traffic reports. I'd love to call a friend or fellow-commuter to clue them in on any traffic. "Seventy-one-hundred is closed after the merge" would roll off my tongue as though I'd named the highway myself. This was wonderful.

A few months into my adventures as a "commuter", I started to notice certain oddities. A license plate that said "66 SUX". A radio DJ apologizing to his listeners who had to drive 66. My own friends asking me "How do you do it?"

I didn't feel right about letting the uncertainties slip in, but it happened anyway. Was 66 a bad place to be? Everyone seems so happy to be driving on it. Afterall, if you were driving on 66, you were probably going to work, which meant you were providing for yourself or a family. Wasn't that a good thing?

No sooner did I let the uncertainties take over than I started noticing a drastic change. It had seemed that my pride and quirky smile each morning was causing me to see the same on everyone else, even though it wasn't there. I quickly learned that 66 commuters were very angry people.

The first time I noticed it was last year. I was driving along, slightly above speed limit, with a convertible full of teenagers (clearly headed for the beach) behind me. Out of nowhere, the car abruptly pulled out and passed me, leaving mere inches from our bumpers. I slammed on my brakes and just missed a collision. As soon as I thought "whew, that's over!", they slammed on their brakes (although no car or thing in front of them), got in the other lane forcing me to pass them, and then all showed off their middle fingers at the same time. The words coming from their mouths were not clear, yet I believe they thought I was a truck, or duck? Regardless, they then proceeded to make it their goal to run me into the guard rail, which I narrowly avoided. It was insane, wreckless, and I wondered what they'd tell their daddy if they'd actually wrecked his BMW. Luckily we were all OK.

After this incident, more and more started happening to me daily. It didn't take me long to realize that driving on 66 was one of the most dangerous things anyone could do.

I have learned in the past 3 1/2 years that people want to rile you up, to make you have some sort of unhealthy reaction. They want you to scream back, to honk your horn, call them names. Because that gives them the go-ahead to do it back, and so on. As tempting as it is to yell back, I've decided that there's got to be some other way. Someone has got to break this pattern.

Last week, I was driving home. I was almost to the place where the city turns into country and all is safe again. I was doing the speed limit, had been in the same lane for 15+ miles and had cut no one off. I was slowly approaching a car who was driving in the right lane. The license plate was patriotic which instantly made me smile. "Ah, someone who loves his country would certainly love others." I looked over to see this nephew of Uncle Sam and to give him a smile. It turned out that he had a message for me too!

"@#$%^&*! YOU!!!!!" (something about a duck again).
(Middle finger exercises on both hands).

I had no idea what was wrong. So I decided to deliver my original message.

I smiled and I waved, using all 5 fingers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

27 going on 16

Today I woke up and had a very important decision to make.

To spend the day organizing various rooms of my house (namely the closets and offices), or to lay out at the pool. I decided on the latter. Organizing is supposed to take place between Labor Day and Memorial Day, anyway. Right?

To avoid the potential feelings of guilt that would probably set in as the weekend drew to a close, I decided to take a pile of dirty laundry out from the closet and place it in the laundry room. There. Done. No guilt can haunt me now.

I went straight for the bottom drawer of my dresser that housed my bathing suit collection from the past decade, give or take. I keep my swimsuits forever, or until one rips or snags. Lately I've been gearing more towards the suits in the back of the drawer...the way back. Back to the high school years, when swimsuits were not bought out of fashion, but out of comfort. I pulled out a modest tankini with a palm tree and tropical island print. I put it on and checked the mirror, making sure the suit was decent enough for the family pool, and also would not leave any harsh tan lines. I was satisfied, and smiled to myself as I realized that it was OK to wear bathing suits from circa 1999 as long as I looked older now than when I bought them.

Our neighborhood is made up primarily of children. There are approximately 5,000 children running around for each adult. To say that adults are outnumbered is an understatement. The pool committee took this into account and decided that for 15 minutes each hour, the pool would be available for "adult swim" only. So every :45, the lifeguard will blow a whistle, all children would whine, moan, take one last pee, and then exit the pool. The few adults scattered about the pool's perimeter jump in as fast as they can, their splashes taunting the children on the sides.

During "adult swim", all children ages 3-18 must remain out of the pool. Toddlers and babies are allowed to stay, well, because it's a calmer time for them to get used to the water. Children stay on the sides and test all boundaries: grab a squirt gun and shoot it at the closest adult, throw a ball in and then cry insisting that they must have it, push each other into the pool hoping to get someone in trouble. Ah, but to be the one in the pool during adult swim is the most relaxing feeling of all.

Today, there happened to be only 5 adults in the pool during adult swim. I jumped right in and soaked up all the chlorine goodness that my body could handle. This was the life. As I swam around and did a few laps, I stopped to take a breath next to the "5 feet deep" sign. Just at that moment, my ears tuned in to a brother and sister sitting on the pool's edge not 15 feet from me.

"It's just not fair!" complained brother.

"I know...I wish I was 3!" said sister.

"It's not just that, there's a 16-year old in the pool!" -brother.

"Where?!" - sister.

Yeah, where? I thought. I looked around, hoping to spot the rule-breaker and praying that the lifeguard would kick 'em out! For some reason, the other 4 adults in the pool looked to be in their mid-40's to me. Maybe the 16-year old was under water?

"Right there! By the 5 feet deep sign!" -brother

I looked around swiftly to find that sign. Then I realized, it was right next to me. No other adults around. I was the 16-year old.

I swallowed my pride, stepped out of the pool and headed home. My closets needed some attention. Specifically all items from the late 90's.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On The Spot

I am a fanatic for "call now to win!" games on the radio. I always have been.

In fact, I remember being a young girl the first time I played and got through. The song of the hour played, and I was caller 10!!

"Hi, Oldies 100, who is this?"

"Emily." - (childlike-voice)

"Emily, how old are you?"


"Sorry, you have to be over 18 to win this egg-beater. Is your mommy or daddy there?"

"No." (Mom was napping, and I knew the rule, no talking to Mom while she was napping.)

And that was the temporary end of my fun. But let me tell you, while most 18-year olds celebrate various other vices when the birthday rolls around, I was celebrating one: I could finally gamble with the radio. It was time to try my luck again, this time, with a more adult-sounding voice (sort-of).

The first contest that I won was tickets to was for an annual country concert that I had only dreamed of attending in the past. I remember arriving at school the morning that I won and faced my instant-celebrity status.

"Emily!!! I heard you on 'mzq this morning! Who are you taking? I love country!"

I took my friend Jamie. We got to watch Billy Ray Cyrus throw his sweaty towels into the crowd while singing "Achy Breaky Heart." The fun was addicting and I couldn't wait to try to win something else.

Over the years, I have called into radio stations hundreds of times, gotten through dozens, and actually won a handful. There were the VanZant tickets while driving through the middle of nowhere West VA on a road trip. (I also won a pizza too- but being I was on a trip, had to decline.) The $100 and chance to win a trip to LA to see The Who. (Didn't get that grand prize.) Tickets to Six-Flags. The best one by far though, is the most recent win.

Every morning at 7:40, one of my favorite stations plays "On the Spot". The correct caller is literally put "on the spot" and has to list 5 items from a category in 10 seconds. While the categories are generally easy, the hard part is being heard by thousands on the radio and knowing that you only have 10 seconds. A lot of people try, but few win.

I finally got my nerve and my opportunity to play "On the Spot". Normally I would have never subjected myself to such a shot of potential embarrassment. However the prize that day was going to be 2 tickets to see the Zac Brown Band play at Nationals Park this summer. You see, my husband loves Zac Brown. He was the first to love them, the first to buy their CD, the first to know each song. And because Zac Brown was touring with some guy named Dave Matthews and HIS band, well, ticket prices were not going to be affordable. I knew the only way to get my man to see his band was to win these tickets. So I called. And I got through, I was caller one. The DJ told me that the category was "entertainment" and told me to wait until 2 songs were done playing before the game would begin. Great. I had 2 songs worth of anxiety. I went through every possible scenario in my head that I may be asked:

5 primetime tv shows...5 movies playing now...5 bands coming to town...

I have to win these tickets...I have to win these tickets...not as much for the sake of the tickets, but for the sake of my humility.

Nothing that my imagination created was enough to prepare me for what the real question was.

When the DJ came back on the radio after the 2 songs, we were live.

"I've got Emily on the phone with me. Emily, are you ready to go On The Spot??"

"Sure?" I somehow managed to squeak out.

"Your category today is magazine titles. Magazine titles. Your time!"

I was in a panic. And time was ticking.

Magazine titles? As in titles of articles in magazines? Or did he say covers? Or magazines with the word "title" in their name. What is a magazine anyway?

Suddenly I found myself in a grocery store aisle about to pay for my groceries, but without first making a glance at all the headlines, a quick roll of the eyes to make sure I read everything without being seen by anyone.

"Country Weekly...People...InTouch...US Weekly....COSMO!!!!"

My enthusiastic high-pitched valley-girl scream at the end proved that it would have been far less embarrassing had I said "I give up" from the get-go.

The DJ informed me that it sounded like I was calling from a nail salon. But I won those tickets.

And much to my gratitude, as far as I know, NO ONE that I know heard me that morning.

You're welcome, Zac.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cottonelle Try-Outs

Sadie, the Model

Don't worry, we won't be attending the Cha-cha-cha! Charmin! try-outs.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pop Quiz:

Q: How do you stand out like a sore thumb/(green fish) in a church congregation?

A: Forget to wear red on Pentacost Sunday, after the priest asked you to a week earlier, and wait for the "Holy Spirit forgives you" jokes from the pulpit at the end of mass.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Introducing: Miss Sadie, an Interview

Miss Sadie

Meet Sadie, our new yellow Lab puppy. Jim has been asking for a second dog for a long time now, and the time was finally right. We checked out a few local kennels, found the perfect one and went home and puppy-proofed away. She's a perfect addition to our little family.

I was fortunate enough to catch Sadie not napping earlier today and sit down and chat with her. Here's the text version of our talk:

Me: Good morning Sadie. How has your first week as a member of the Conrad family been?

Sadie: It's only been one week?? It seems like I've been here forever.

Me: Well, yes, that is a reflection of how well you fit into our family.

Sadie: Yes. The first few days were easy for me, but a bit rough on George. He wasn't quite ready to share his place. But it only took him a short time to welcome me.

Me: Oh yeah? How did he do that?

Sadie: Well he let me play with his coveted bunny. Then I laid down on his rug next to him, and he didn't growl at me.

Me: That's sweet. What's your favorite memory of this past week?

Sadie: All the visitors! You and Daddy sure have some nice friends. Catherine, Morgan, Mama U...all they want to do is hold me. And cuddling is my favorite thing to do! It reminds me of my brothers and sisters back home in Maryland.

Me: Well you certainly are hard to resist, Miss Sadie. What are you looking forward to most as a Conrad family member?

Sadie: Swimming. I can't wait until I've received all of my shots and can go to the pool on Saturday mornings with my big brother. He told me it's over-rated, but I have webbed feet and am ready for the water!

Me: That's good. I'm sure you'll fit in well at the pool.

Sadie: I hope so. Hey Mommy, guess what?

Me: What?

Sadie: I've been awake for 10 minutes, time for another nap.

Me: Ok, thanks for stopping by Sadie.

Sadie: Zzzzzzz.....

Miss Sadie, fast asleep in the front flower bed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Divine Reunions, Part II

If it wasn't for the Divine Reunion, Part I, Reunion II would have never happened.

Ever since the big move, I've found myself longing for the depth in my friendships that they once held. The move has triggered this because its forced me to look through old boxes full of letters, photos and memories. It's inspired me to read everything handwritten, and recall each moment that every photograph captures. (Which would explain why 5 months later, I'm still unpacking.)

A number of circumstances has naturally changed the depth-level that I hold with each of my friends. I find my relationships so different from my early twenties to my mid-late twenties (and most of them are the same friends). I think from living in a dorm with 300 of your closest friends and not having a 9-5 job; to facebook not existing and now just being an "adult" in general contributes to this. And I hate it.

For some reason, years after they happen, inside jokes, if they can be recalled, are not as funny anymore. And the "remember that time...!"s are lame. And I have always been one who has been addicted to these! (May explain my similiar addiction to scrapbooking?) I love telling stories of past adventures and laughing at crazy circumstances. And no better friend have I ever been able to do this with then Demi.

Demi. Where to begin. She is the most fun/funny person that I know. She's sarcastic, witty and honest. I met Demi my freshman year of college. She was living one floor below me. I knew that it was friendship at first sight when we were at the school cafeteria. She "drank" a bowl of the fish soup, (a Franciscan lenten special), and immediately announced that she had just drank a fish tank.

Our friendship quickly blossomed and we decided that we needed to join the school's study abroad program in Austria that following Fall. Once in Europe, we became roommates, plastered our walls with Kenny Chesney paraphernalia, and began our adventures. And every day was just that. It was the best semester of my life.

Demi transferred to a school back home after that. College was never the same for me, although I did make and maintain some incredible friendships. And presently, Demi and I live about 2 hours apart. Not far at all, except now we're adults and don't travel 6 hours round-trip for Subway sandwiches anymore.

The morning of my planned Divine Reunion number one...I decided to sleep in a bit to get some extra rest for the anticpated energy it was going to take later that day to catch up another friend on my life. Since it was Sunday, this meant going to a later mass. The 11 o'clock mass. On Palm Sunday. It was packed.

Our tiny church in our small town has its own tradition on Palm Sunday. After the opening prayer, people process to the altar to be handed a palm. Jim nominated me for the job.

As I did my processing, I did my usual "stare at the babies" while passing the cry-room. One particular baby caught my eye. His face...those eyes...that smile. I could almost swear the kid was about to mutter something about a fish tank. That's when I realized...that baby was the spitting image of Demi. It had to be hers! A further peak confirmed my suspicions. Demi, my long lost Austrian roommate, was at my church.

Our disruptive reunion almost merited us getting kicked out of the cry room. Most of her family was there and we enjoyed brunch after mass. It was a wonderful reunion. She had no idea that that is where I lived, and I had none that she was traveling through the area.

And if it wasn't for Reunion I, none of this would have happened.

And if Reunion II hadn't happened, neither would our future plans for a birthday wine festival celebration.

"He knows the deepest desires of your heart." 1 Chronicles 28:9

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Robert's Letters from Home

I received so many letters from my family when I was in college. This one (circa 2001) definitely stood out when I found it in my shoebox the other day. Robert writes:

"It's weird down here without you."

When I read those words, I couldn't help but laugh to myself. It is so ironic that we are in opposite positions now. I am the one at home, he is the one away. I am the one dealing with the "weirdness" of his absence.

"The other day I set a place for you at the table and a few days before I couldn't find you."

Ok, that part put a tear in my eye. I wish that my absence had not brought him pain (or confusion?)

"I also found myself humming a song you used to play."

Robert, every day I hum that darn Safety Dance song of yours.

"Peter [
the parakeet] says fffttttssss (HI!) The bunny gives me a bite thats for you. Petey also sends a gift I do too."

The fact that he was looking for something in the house that was familiar to me was very sweet.

"P.S. The gifts are in the envelope."

The gifts.

This is an example of something I would not have to hold on to, if Facebook had been founded earlier. For some reason, I cannot see myself finding comfort while Robert is away, by just reading his social profile over and over. Not very personal. Through this letter, I can relate to his own sadness and apply it to my own, knowing that college eventually ended and I moved back home, and someday he will be back as well. Until then, thanks for the letter, brother. You'll never know how special they were to me when the pains of homesickness were sometimes overbearing. I only hope that I can start giving you the letters from home that you need to know that you are loved. Although I'm not sure that George-hair would make it past customs.

Letters from Home

I've caught myself thinking more than once in the past several weeks (shocking, I know) about networking websites and some obvious losses that society has taken as a whole. Don't get me wrong- facebook, gmail...they're all great. But because of them, we are living in such a dynamically different world than we were as little as 5 to 10 years ago. And I miss it.

I remember the days when I'd call my friends, several times a week. I'd call to chat, catch up, ask advice from, etc. And I'd get those phone calls back. But what is the point in chatting, when you have gchat? Or catching up, when you can read their statuses? And advice? Well, I could definitely still use that.

And the one I miss the most. Letter-writing. During my Junior year in high school, I had a best friend who lived in a different area code than I. Do teenagers today know what that means? She lived long distance, and I got punished/money taken from allowance if I called her and talked longer than 10 minutes each week. The obvious solution? Letter-writing. I wrote her a letter every single day that year. And she did as well. It was so beautiful. I still have that shoebox full of those letters and photos, and the last I heard, so did she.

Writing letters to friends when I was in high school and college solidified the friendships that I still have today. There is something that can be said for another person who is willing to sit down and take an hour out of their day and write to YOU. The time it takes to write a letter, the patience it takes to receive one in return, the penmanship, the white-out, the photos included, even the $0.41 sacrifice; all of these were proofs to my adolescent self that someone cared enough about me. And how fun it was to prove that I cared enough in return.

I found an old shoebox the other day. It was filled with old letters that I must have collected that were dearest to my heart. There was about 20 years worth of letters from my grandparents, now deceased. Another 20 years from my other set of grandparents. There were cards from friends and family alike. I sat there and read each one of them. Then I made a scary discovery. They stopped abruptly in late 2005.

In late 2005, I signed up for Facebook.

I don't regret using social media sites, and I will continue using them (though not as much as I have been). I want to somehow find that balance again between just "keeping up" with people, and truly showing loved ones that I care- something other than a "poke" or a "like". It will be hard, because, like I said, I already know how these people are doing, I see their statuses. Likewise, they know how/what/where/why I am doing.

All I can really say, is thank God that Facebook was not around when I was in high school / most of college. That shoebox in my closet would be empty. I wouldn't have known what my grandparents were doing in Florida. I would have never been taught that lesson about having my allowance taken away. Most importantly, I wouldn't have ever gotten a letter from my brother...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Divine Reunions, Part I

I was in an absolutely miserable state when I began high school.

I was at a new school. A school that was a 2 hour ride away (1 hour to the bus stop, 1 hour on the bus.) The high school had a total of 13 kids in it, and we were all taught in the same room. Our history and science classes all taught me things that completely contradicted my faith, and the teachers actually stood at the front of the classroom and condemned people like me. I was miserable. I had no friends, no teachers that liked me and had lost all hope for high school being anything like High School Musical. I soon became physically ill with stress.

My own misery stemmed from one thing: a fantastic, glorious 3 previous years at my old school. To have the two opposite experiences back-to-back was just unfair for my pre-pubescent, hormonal self. I cried nearly everyday. "I miss 8th grade. I miss my old friends. I miss Jennifer."

Jennifer and I were inseparable, best friends in 6th-8th grade. We sat next to each other in our classes, we were always partners, and she even made me go to my first dance. At the end of 8th grade, she moved to a small town that I had never heard of. We both went our separate ways and gradually lost touch. But I felt the pain of her absence nearly every day during the first year of high school.


Shortly after my husband and I were married, dreams started quickly developing over where to purchase our new home. We wanted the feel of a small-town. We could not afford Northern Virginia, nor were necessarily pleased by its crowds. But we didn't want to be too deep into central Virginia where we could not commute to Northern for jobs. After nearly a year of internet-researching, I told my husband:

"I want to go scenically-drive through a small town called Culpeper. It's south of here. The houses are adorable and oh-so-within budget."

"Did I mention they have incredible mountain views?"

"Let's go!"

After almost another year of house-hunting and waiting until the time was right, we moved. What an exciting moment to finally be a home-owner! The first thing that I decided to do before the ink was dried on our closing papers, was to give the house a good scrubbing from top to bottom. To get that "previous owners" feel out of the house. To make it my own home.

I grabbed my sister Julia and we ran to Walmart. (She's an expert on cleaning supplies, where I always thought windex solved everything.)
As we were perusing the cleaning aisle, I heard a familiar voice from years back. One that I had longed for so much as an adolescent:


I turned around.


The joy I felt exploding in my heart could not be described. After all of those young years of praying and pleading with God...."I'll never ask for anything again!...ever!", He finally led me to her. That tiny town that I was so attracted to, was the same tiny town that she moved to back in '97.

And guess what? She never left. In fact, she's married to a Culpeper boy and has a three year old daughter now. A daughter that is determined to beat me in Chutes & Ladders one of these days.

Why is it that years after we give up hope that God is listening, He turns around and says, "In my time, child, not yours."

It's beautiful.

(POST-EDIT): In case you were wondering, I switched high schools after 4 months of being miserable. After that, high school rocked, sort of like a musical.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I love Jim...

...And here's why. A Top 10.

(It's been a while since I've gotten all mushy-gushy.)

10. I am very prone to getting down on myself over my own out-of-my-control weaknesses. When this happens, the first thing he says is, "It's Ok, don't worry about it." Suddenly, if it doesn't bother him, it no longer bothers me.

9. He lets me have the big, comfy living room chair-and-a-half each night when we watch tv.

8. He asks me everyday if I have written a new blog yet.

7. Whenever I feel like putting on an impromptu concert of the latest song in my head, he tells me that I am American Idol material. Sometimes he even turns it into a duet.

6. He knows how close I am to my grandparents, and makes it a point to drive me the 9 hours it takes to visit them, several times a year.

5. I want to play the violin, take photography lessons, oil paint and scrapbook. He turns off the tv to listen to me play, he bought me a camera and my first lesson, he surprised me with an easel, and he's building me a scrapbooking room. He's never told me that I take too much on or that I have too many hobbies.

4. Last month I shrunk all of his sweaters. When I came clean about using the hot water on the washer and high heat on the dryer, he just laughed.

3. He traces a cross on my forehead before bed each night.

2. He cooks me dinner each day.

1. He chose me to be his wife.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"People-All-Around-the-World, Join Hands!" OR Why to Never Leave your Wife Alone at a Wine Festival.

I was in a car accident two weeks ago. Not minor, because I am currently car-less. Not major, because, well I am here. Long story short, I have a cute sedan that I get to drive around in the meantime. It gets me to and from work, has a cute horn and free satellite radio. Heaven.

If you have never had the pleasure to listen to satellite radio, know this: it is incredible. I used to think that the main attraction was "commercial-free music"- when it is really so much more. There are 50 bagillion categories and 100 times as many channels. (That's 5000 bagillion for all you non-math minors.) In my humble rental, I have the ability to program my top 15 favorite. I only have this rental for 3 weeks, so I knew the choice could not be taken lightly. With satellite radio, you don't choose your favorite radio stations based solely on music or genres, rather you go with life memories.

Do I want to remember the days of driving to Grandma & Grandpop's house in Dad's old 1979 Ford pick-up? That would be The Roadhouse, the 80's country music station.

What if i want to be taken back to that moment when I got my first walkman and would sing Ace of Base as loud as I could in my bedroom with the door locked? 90s on 9.

And how about revisiting that time when my husband first learned his hardest lesson as a newlywed to date: Never leave your wife alone at a wine festival? Well that'd be 60's on 6 of course.

So that was my first chosen preset. 60's on 6, with Mike Kelly as the afternoon DJ. It only took about 4 songs into my commute home that evening when I was taken back to that day. Back to the day that my husband rarely discusses, my friends were unfortunately absent for, and was probably the highlight of a select few privileged middle-aged mens' lives. Read on if intrigued. Stop here if you've had enough.

It was September 2008, and my 2nd favorite VA annual event was approaching. (My favorite is of course WMZQfest.) The Virginia Wine Festival. Hundreds of wineries, all-you-could drink tastings, and one entrance fee. My friends and I made plans for the event weeks in advance. We'd mapped our route, figured our plan of attack but then fell short of ever executing. You see, the morning of the wine festival, as I sat at my mirror placing every strand of hair perfectly on my head, I got the first text. Then another, and another. Everyone bailed. It had rained the night before and the ground was wet, muddy and so-not-worth-it. The truth was, the clouds were breaking and the sun was shining. We'd be drinking anyway, so I was not concerned about mud. My husband and I decided it would be worth it to go by ourselves, since the crowds would be smaller anyway.

We arrived at the festival in the early afternoon. It turned out to be a perfect September day. Skies were blue, wine was pouring. Life was perfect. That was, until my husband got a phone call. It was his office, and although it was Saturday, since the festival was right around the corner, he had to run into work and check on something.

My husband quickly bought me a smoked turkey sandwich with some extra-carby bread to soak up whatever had been recently thrown into my belly. He then instructed:

"Stay here, I'll be right back."

I'm not sure how long it took until he was out of sight, but I jumped up and made my way towards a stage where a band was about to perform. I kept my distance, cautious of the music they might be about to play. I looked around at the lack of crowd. There was a middle-aged hippy standing on a folding chair, yelling out her request. I saw a few children dancing a ring-around-the-rosie-esque ballad. Then a man came on the stage and introduced the band: The Original Rhondels. That's when all ladylike grace that I had been born with had vanished.

The music started. I was in a hypnotized trance.

People all around the world!!!! Join hands!!! Let's start a love train, a love train!

I shov
ed my way past the dozen or so people socializing in front of the stage and got to the front. I danced. I sang. I displayed my empty wine glass proudly above my head and swung around in circles.

All of your brothers over in Africa- Tell all of the folks in Israel and Egypt too-

Never has a one-woman show ever made such a spectacle. And never had a bigger fan showed up at The Original Rhondels concert before. And let me tell you, The Original Rhondels were loving every minute of it.

After a few more verses, a trombone player made his way to the front of the stage to do his solo. It was about this time when my husband had finally found a parking spot after returning from his errand. I let out a "woo!!!" to the trombone player; Jim searched the spot where he had left me. I screamed out "LOVE TRAIN!!! I SAID LOVE TRAIN!!!"; Jim looked across the field in my direction. Jim was a mere seconds away from learning his lesson.

The trombone player whipped out a washcloth. Not any washcloth, but one with the band's name proudly printed on it. He wiped it across his forehead (something I'm sure was totally hip in the 60's) and then HE THREW IT AT ME. Buzz.kill. There I was, looking guilty as ever. An empty wine glass, standing not in our "stay here" location, with a sweaty washcloth in my hands. Double.Buzz.kill. Jim didn't stop laughing the entire way home.

And neither did I, on my way home the other night from work, when "Love Train" came on 60's on 6, XM radio.

The Original Rhondels

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spring is in the Air...

I want to be ready when it arrives.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Gift of Punishment

My In-Laws gave me the best gift that I could have ever asked for. Ever.
(Besides birthing, loving, nurturing, and raising their son into the man that he is today.)

Punishing their son.

All parents have their own method of punishing their children. Their hopes are generally that their methods are beneficial while being effective. Take for instance the punishment of removing television from a young child's routine. It's beneficial for the parents because instead, the kid picks up a book. Effective, because you know there's no way in heck that child will never disobey again.

I hope for my husband's parents' sake that their efforts were effective. But were they beneficial? Absolutely.

As a child, my husband was punished by being put into an apron (at least this is how I like to imagine it), put into the kitchen, and told to cook.

Ah, what a genius idea! If I had even had the slightest glimpse into my future as a child, I would not have spent all those sleepless nights lying awake wondering: "How will I succeed at being a wife someday? It takes me nearly 3 hours to cook breakfast now? Will feeding my future husband ramon noodles merit heaven when I die? Will I spend the rest of my days in jail for failing to feed my groom?"

It didn't matter. And if I had known that, I would have slept better those 15+ years. 1,675 miles away from my sleepless self was my husband, as a child, being scolded for that practical "joke" he had played on his sister. And because of it, was cooking a feast. And more than just preparing food, he was being molded into the man who would become my husband. (And sparing me from murdering through malnutrition.) I tell you, God sure knows what He's doing when He inspires parents on how to punish His children.

And I am so grateful that my husband was a bad child.

Wouldn't you be?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

11 Things to Do on a Snowed-In Day

1. Wake up, shovel the driveway.

2. Enjoy a hearty-breakfast.
3. Take an after-breakfast nap.

4. See if it's worth going outside to relieve yourself.

5. Take in the scenery.
6. Make sure your picture is coming in clear!

7. Don't worry about the mail- it's not coming.

8. Relax, you're not going anywhere for a while.

9. Shovel for the 11th time.

10. Make a hearty dinner.

11. Enjoy that hearty dinner.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Update on the House

We got our living room furniture, at last!

Our Old Town vs. Our New Town

Speaking of PickleBob's (see previous post), let's start there.

Old town: PickleBob's
New town: Sonic (within a 20-minute drive of course.)

Old town: Mountain View Highschool
New town: Mountain Views.

Old town: 15 miles to Buffalo Wild Wings.
New town: 15 seconds to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Old town: Residents argued against Disney.
New town: Patrick Henry argued religious freedom at town courthouse.

Old town: Jiffy Lube Live!
New town: Real Jiffy Lube

Old town: Cupake Heaven
New town: Knakal's Bakery

Old town: Ponds
New town: Lake Pelham

Old town: Regal Cinemas
New town: Cute Cinemas!

More to come. Also, this spring I am going to do a pictural tour of Culpeper! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Curse (and the Blessing) of the George-Hair.

My dog sheds. A lot.

I'd always known that he sheds an abnormal amount of hair, but I never knew how it added up on a floor within a matter of hours. That is, until I was gifted with 2 stories of wall-to-wall of Brazilian Redwood floors. My, how that brown fur clashes against the red.

We've been in our new home for about 3 weeks now. It's been an adventure; a wonderful, pinch-me-I-am-dreaming adventure. But then there's the occasional con that creeps along. One internet provider to choose from. Not being able to pick up on the "Southern" lingo as fast as we thought we could. No Pickle-Bob's. The way George's perpetually shedding fur ends up on the hardwood floors, moments after they have been vacuumed and polished.

Since George is the closest thing that I have to a child at this moment, I've "happily" and "patiently" accepted his messes. I've focused all maternal instinct on keeping his trail as nonexistant as possible. If this means concentrating on cleaning only the floor 3 times a week, then that's what it means. But when the last amount of floor polish has finally dried, and I see him making his way into the living room only to scratch and shake- I can't help but scream. Yes, I have decided, that the equivalent of one quart of dog hair that I vacuum up each week is a curse in my life; one that I cannot escape from.


I got a call from my brother Robert a few days ago. His calls are special as he is a soldier stationed in Germany, and a newly wed adjusting to married life. He had called to tell me about the blessing of the George hair.

Let me back up. Since Robert left for the Army in March of '09, the discovery of a George hair on any personal item had been cause for celebration. Robert was very close to George, and we sometimes wonder if he misses his family or the dog more. Since Robert was actually slightly offended that we did not fly our dog out to California so that he could participate in his wedding ceremony, I offered the next best thing. As he was straightening his tie and lacing up his shoes that morning, I looked down on my own dress and saw it: a George hair. I handed it over to Robert. After wiping the tears away from his eyes, he quickly explained to me the significance of the colors of the fancy military pins on his chest, and that the further towards the heart they went, the more important they were. That's when he placed the hair right there, right above his heart.

So 3 weeks later, Robert had news of a blessing.

Before Robert was married, he was living with a roommate. As they were packing up their things to move, an argument ensued over the ownership of an X-Box Live headset. Clearly, according to Robert, they were his, as they were a gift from Jim and I for his birthday. The roommate argued otherwise, eventually winning them into his own possession. Always wanting justice to reign in every situation, Robert could do nothing but hope for a sign.

A few weeks went by, and Robert was babysitting for this now ex-roommate. He stumbled across the headset and began examining it for any sign that it was his: a nic, a mark, anything. That's when he found it, the sign he'd be waiting for: There, in the mouthpiece, clear as day, was the ever-distinguishable, George-hair! That was all the justice that he needed.

I will most likely head home tonight and vacuum. It has been two days afterall. But instead of cursing each and every hair that I find in my path, I'm going to laugh. What is considered a burden for me, is grown out of my favorite animal in the world, and is considered a blessing to a man serving his country overseas.

Friday, January 29, 2010

"Go Forth and Blog"

There's always a comical reaction in the media when the Pope delivers any sort of public message.

Which is why- when Pope Benedict XVI came forward last weekend and recommended that young priests become familiar with new media and ways of reaching out to youth- I sat back with my bag of popcorn and began to peruse the internet's headlines.

"Pope encourages priests to become more like Perez Hilton!!" (I don't make this stuff up, folks.)

[I don't think that's *quite* what his Holiness has in mind. But I have been known to be wrong in the past. (Once or twice.)]

The Pope's message could not have come at a better time. (The Holy Spirit is funny that way, eh.) There has never been a time in history that Americans have been more reliant on modern technology. Laptops, Blackberries, iPods, iPhones... all never further away than the back pocket. Most of us could communicate instantly with almost anyone anywhere in the world, if we desired to. The Pope knows what's goin' on.

Upon hearing his Holiness' message, I could not help but think about myself and my own blog. I absolutely love to write. When I started this blog almost two years ago, I did so to share a story, the story of my life. I intended that story to cover joys, struggles, the emotions surrounding each, and how the mysteries of the Lord's will is drawn out of our every action. I knew that I needed to get at least one message off my chest, but I was having a hard time putting it into words. And that came to me in the form of a song:

"There's no better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven--
No better place to be."

And thus my blog was born.



My husband's birthday is next week. I recently asked him what he'd like, and the first thing out of his mouth was:

"For you to blog. More."

How could a gift that's intended to be for him, be such a gift to myself? I was beyond flattered, and every insecurity towards writing "publicly" immediately vanished.

"I love what you have to say, and you have a gift for saying it."

After much struggling to put this post into words, my wonderful husband wrote this as an inspiration:

"Emily and I were talking about the Popes message challenging Priests to “proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources -- images, videos, animated features, blogs, Web sites..."

This got us thinking about Emily’s blog and what a wonderful way of sharing the Gospel to those around us that blogging can be. Should we not strive to be more holy? If the Pope is calling the Priesthood to use more modern ways to proclaim the Gospel, shouldn’t we?

By no means do I think we are all called to post a daily blog about the day's readings and Gospel. But, maybe, we can apply the message of St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all time, use words when necessary,” to this modern way of communicating.

Share your life with your friends and family who cannot be near you, let them know of your joys and your sorrows, and let them see how the Lord is working in your own life."


So here it is- my blog. My New Years Resolution and my husband's "birthday gift". I will go forth, and I will blog.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Toast to Robert, on his Wedding Day.

Robert, for as long as I can remember, you have always had to take everything one step further.

In fact, this lifestyle of yours dates all the way back to the day of your birth.
You were not just born, but you made your grand entrance on Mom’s birthday.

And as you entered into those pre-school years, you were often on stage performing with the Wee-Woozles or Haymarket Baptist, and you’d be the one exaggerating all of the hand-motions and wailing your arms to the songs; all while the audience was ignoring their own children and in stitches over your personal performance.

Playing at home or Lake George where we spent every summer was no different. How many times did you insist on playing “who-could-scream-the-loudest”, or “who-could-walk-the-furthest-into-the-neighbor’s-with-the-scary-dog’s-yard”?

And how could I forget about “The Incredible Hulk Incident”? While shopping in Walmart one day, instead of just walking past that set of “Hulk” arms on display that you could slide your own arms into and instantly look strong, you had to try them out for yourself. You slid those babies on, approached the nearest innocent employee, flexed your arms out in front of you and let out a ferocious roar, loud enough to have shoppers stop dead in their tracks.

There was even that time when I was a senior in High School and you were in 7th grade. It was one of the few years in our lives that we happened to be at the same school at the same time. I remember sitting in Latin class and hearing you sneeze from the next classroom over. Your “choo” was so loud and exaggerated, it lasted about 20 seconds. And as I recall, you were dismissed from Mr. Flook’s class for the remainder of that day.

Yes, Robert, you have always taken everything one step further.

Which is why, when you came home one afternoon years ago, and told me that you had found someone special, someone who you really really liked and you wanted to know how to impress; and was it too soon to take her out?—someone who emulated Mother Mary and gave you that overwhelming desire to become more like St. Joseph—I waited. I waited for that one step further that you were going to take it. That’s when I heard:

“Oh yeah. Did I mention she is Alessandra’s best friend and roommate?”

All joking aside, I watched your relationship with Julia blossom. From the very beginning, you knew deep down inside that she was the woman who would become your wife. Her patience made you want to become a better man. Her gratitude has made you want to work hard to provide for her. Her love of children, especially her nieces and nephews, is preparing you to become a father when it’s time. Her perseverance in schooling has you wanting to persevere as well. And your mutual willingness to sacrifice for the other has brought you both to this point.

Robert, I want to take this opportunity to thank you. Thank you for your wonderful example of a true Christian man. You spent years serving the church with the altar boy robe on, and made it through Knighthood, the highest ranking of altar boys. Again, you did not just serve, but you took it a step further. The same applies to your current vocation. You knew you had to find a job and soon, if you were going to ask Julia to be your bride. So instead of submitting a resume to and waiting, you went straight to the army recruiting office and began a daily workout routine. You were accepted into the army and made a commitment to serve your country while providing for your wife. You took it one step further.

Thank you Robert, for the brother that you are to me. It is such an honor to be your sister. Words could never repay the unconditional love that you have shown to me over the past several years. You have taken your vocation of “brother” one step further. You’ve stood by me when I needed it the most. You’re there to console me when I’m sad, as well as there to celebrate when I’m happy. And Julia, you have been like a sister to both Jim and me from the moment when Robert first brought you home. It’s been like stepping inside of your own siblings’ shoes and experiencing what it’s like to have you as a sister. You have called Robert to be the person whom he has become. And from getting to know you over the past few years, you also, take your responsibility as God’s daughter one step further. You hold your family in the highest regard. You and Robert are a true example of Christ’s love for his church.

And finally, Robert, although they cannot be with us physically today, know how truly proud Grandma and Grandpop are of you. Pray for their intercession always, for we both know that their marriage was not only a great earthly example, but a heavenly gift from God to us to emulate.

In fact, if they were here today, I know that they’d both be taking credit for your inherited gene of taking everything one step further.

To Robert and Julia: cheers.