Father Reginald and the “Cousin-Friends”

Over the weekend of October 1, we made a happy visit to St. Louis for the long-awaited ordination of John’s college roommate, Ryan Stephen Ignatius  Reginald Wolford, OP. We also stayed with my cousins Sheila and Ryan, whom we hadn’t seen in probably four years . . . and we got to meet their darling Brendan and Maggie, whom we hadn’t seen in their whole lives.

Fr. Reginald was the first of John’s college friends that I met, a day or two after our engagement. He later came to study at ITI when John was a professor . . . so, “Let this be a lesson to you, ” I would instruct our college students. “Be nice to your college roommate, because you never know when he’ll be grading your graduate school papers.”wpid-wp-image-1560462446jpg.jpg

Fr. Reginald joined us on our first visit to Prague. He came to visit us in Wyoming. He’s a whole lot of fun and we are so happy for him. At his ordination and first Mass, he seemed wonderfully calm and full of peace. After the ordination Mass there were a few hours before the festive dinner that Fr. Reginald’s parents were hosting. We later learned that Fr. Reg had spent those first few hours as a priest hearing confessions at a local parish. Wow.

The trip to St. Louis gave us the opportunity to stay with my cousin Sheila and her husband Ryan, and to meet some “cousin-friends.” Sheila was a trauma pediatrician, so I didn’t even need to scout out an ER before leaving all my children with her and Ryan.

Little Brendan was heroic in the face of swarms of cousins he had never met invading his territory. He even dubbed us his “cousin-friends.”wpid-wp-image-687285410jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1141632643jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-297739863jpg.jpg

Out of the mouths of babes . . . John and I spent much of the weekend marveling at how much fun it is for *us* to have “cousin-friends.”

And Sheila took me back to my childhood by putting together “nests” a la Grandma Donovan, baking Aunt Mary’s pumpkin bread (which is still the best in the world) and her famous chocolate cake. The recipe for “Rocks” that was hanging on the wall of my grandparents’ kitchen all the time I was growing up, is now framed in Sheila’s kitchen. But the best part of our visit was getting to know my little cousin Sheila and her husband as grown-ups . . . and they’re just our kind of people!


Seven nice things about Green Bay

Our summer is winding down and the school year is about to begin. I’ve been wanting to take the time to record some of the delights of a summer in Green Bay.

1. Aldi

It’s gourmet. It’s cheap. It’s German. It’s the closest grocery store to our new house.wpid-wp-image-1729383073jpg.jpg

Aldi is the same store that we used to shop at when we lived in Austria (it’s called Hofer in Austria, Aldi in Germany and Wisconsin). Back then trips to Aldi could be very penitential, especially when I was pregnant, but I couldn’t give it up because the bargains were so great. Here I find that it is cheaper than Costco. And seeing those old familiar German brands is balm to my soul.

It’s also an instrument of God’s providence for us. This summer while setting up our household, we’ve found that whenever we wish for something– a shoe bag that hangs over the back of a door, or life jackets, or a little shelf that would fit in a bathroom cabinet–God has sent it to Aldi within a week. I searched Walmart, Target, Costco, the Dollar Store and elsewhere for the kind of toilet bowl brush that I wanted to no avail. The next week was toilet bowl brush week at Aldi.

We have a picnic blanket that I bought at Aldi in Austria so many years ago. It has accompanied us on many a happy picnic or Shakespeare in the park. It bit the dust this summer, but I taped it with duct tape, because who can find a valiant picnic blanket? It’s worth is above rubies.wpid-wp-image-555086746jpg.jpg

Well, guess what. It’s picnic blanket week at Aldi. Ten years and an Atlantic Ocean later.

Don’t forget your quarter for the shopping cart!

2. Booyahwpid-wp-image-434574256jpg.jpg

Every parish around here has a picnic during the summer as a fundraiser. I was intrigued to see the following type of advertisement on billboards and yard signs:

St. Mary of the Angels picnic: brats, burgers, raffle, music, booyah

Booyah? Is it the name of a local band? Does it mean “a fun time”? In other parts of the country, the word “Booyah” is the equivalent of “Ole!”. But for gringos.wpid-wp-image-510899847jpg.jpg

Well, in Green Bay, Booyah is a beef and chicken vegetable soup, brewed in enormous metal drums. That’s not garbage the man’s scooping. It’s Booyah.wpid-wp-image-1722403547jpg.jpg

You bring your plastic gallon ice cream container and you can take away a bucket of booyah for $20. The people line up for Booyah and if you don’t hurry, you won’t get any!

3. Free lunch in the park

I think Green Bay was part of a federal program to give kids nutritious lunches in the parks during the summer. Every day, Monday-Friday, a free lunch was available to anyone under the age of 18 if they simply showed up to one of 20 parks (or the library) at the right time. No paperwork, no tickets, just surprisingly tasty meals for free if you’re there at the right time. You had to eat them on site, but when the site was the park or the library it didn’t take much coaxing.

When you haven’t found the box with your dishes, or you haven’t made it grocery shopping, or your dishwasher is broken, free lunch down the block was a God-send!

4. Little bookhouse (in your soul)

We were driving to Mass on our first Sunday in Green Bay and the girls kept saying, “Free books, Mama! There’s a box that says Free Books!” wpid-wp-image-1836140405jpg.jpg

What?? It had just rained the night before. Who would leave a box of free books outside on a Sunday morning?

Then they finally showed me what they were seeing. All over the city there are little birdhouses in people’s front lawns that are filled with books, and have a label: “Leave a book, take a book.”

That’s why they don’t have any used bookstores here.

Who couldn’t love a city where they do this?

5. The Packers

I’m not a football person. But if I were to support a professional football team, you can’t do better than the Packers. 20160812_203205 20160812_220856

They’re owned by the town, not a business. John took Marietta and Joseph to a “pre-season” (don’t call it a game!) and the security in the stadium was more strict than the TSA. And it was all ordered toward ensuring a wholesome family time.

6. Catholic Culture

One reason we came here was to be back in Catholic culture, like we were in Europe.  From the teenagers walking out of Aldi with their scapulars showing, to the parish picnic yard signs that dot every neighborhood, to the outdoor Mass and Eucharistic procession at the Shrine August 15, we feel like these might be the droids we’re looking for.wpid-wp-image-240029048jpg.jpg








7. The Shrine

Wisconsin actually has three major Marian shrines. Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse is bigger and more beautiful. Our Lady Help of Christians is very impressive and old.

But Green Bay is the only one that Mary actually visited.

On August 15 for over a century there has been a procession with the statue of Mary around the grounds of the Shrine. This year our girls were able to escort the statue. They are the ones in white.wpid-wp-image-2097096925jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1401538431jpg.jpg



Resi can talk

My friend Ruth once speculated that children tend to meet physical milestones and intellectual ones at the same time. Ruth was talking about how learning to read seems to go hand-in-hand with learning to swim or ride a bike. I’ve been noticing over the last two months that as soon as Resi started walking, all kinds of other breakthroughs happened too. She finally got a decent score on the GREs and attained fluency in Latin. Just kidding.wpid-wp-image-1877841905jpg.jpg

But she is

1.Sleeping in her own crib (in the closet)
2. Feeding herself (Food that she receives from someone else’s hand may as well be poisoned. It probably is.)wpid-wp-image-55450369jpg.jpg
3.Using all toys appropriately, that is, she shoots toy guns, she pilots toy airplanes over her head, she makes a drilling sound with a toy drill. Never mind that she’s never seen a gun, an airplane, or a drill close up. She even cuddles with a baby doll, though she’s hardly ever seen a baby up close, other than that elusive one in the mirror.
4. She can talk.

She has said, “Detta,”(Marietta), for months, and “Mama” and “Dai-ee,” but rather indiscriminately. That’s okay. Most of our kids have considered “Mama” a verb meaning “Feed me” and “Daddy” a verb meaning “Let’s have fun”. But Resi is now branching out in her pursuits and entertainments. She might ask you to read her a bk, or invite you to lk out the window with her.wpid-wp-image-776484636jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1863693483jpg.jpg

She loves to drive around on a little trck but repeatedly overestimates the height of things she can mount, getting her leg stuck on swings, tables, and chairs. You might have noticed that she eschews vowels. Well, what worked for the chosen people for thousands of years is good enough for our princess.wpid-wp-image-1542492463jpg.jpg




A good Wisconsin girl, she subsists mainly on grated cheddar chz or ygrt. But she is also hopelessly addicted to “puffs,” a nutritionally void but tasty baby food that we had never heard of with the other kids. The princess, however, gets whatever she wants.wpid-20160624_073317.jpgwpid-wp-image-1661960853jpg.jpg

Once she started walking, we had to put her in shz, and she LOVES shz and will bring them to us, plop down on the floor and lift her dainty foot like Cinderella for assistance. We’re also surprised by how much she loves bracelets. Bracelets are an item of jewelry that the other women in the house have never worn much. So Resi has to improvise. No elastic hair band, decade rosary, teething ring or curtain ring is safe from her primping.

She responds with a vigorous “Yah!” to acceptable suggestions, but completely foolish and unthinkably ridiculous ones will meet with an indignant meow of a “Nooooooooo!” Sometimes she’ll be sitting by herself and I’ll overhear a “Nooooo!” that seems to be apropos of nothing. Just practicing.wpid-wp-image-867470618jpg.jpg

Overheard in the men’s room

wpid-wp-image-2067405366jpg.jpgWe were at a church picnic, and John took Tino to the bathroom. While John was indisposed, he heard another person come into the bathroom and Tino’s voice:
“You have a gun. I see that you have a gun.”wpid-wp-image-1336276655jpg.jpg

There was a silence.

John said, “Tino, are you still out there?”

He heard Tino’s voice again:
“Are you gonna catch bad guys, or are you a bad guy?”

John heard this response:
“Son, I’m gonna catch as many bad guys as I can.”wpid-wp-image-83318184jpg.jpg

He greeted the police officer as he and Tino departed the men’s room.

Resi auditions for “North by Northwest”

wpid-wp-image-1925169529jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1863693483jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-162053178jpg.jpg


When the steering wheel came out, she vocalized a fake scream: “EEEEEEEEEEE!” How did she learn to do that? She’s never seen a steering wheel come loose. We swear we’ve never shown her a *minute* of Alfred Hitchcock.

“North by Northwest” has always struck me as a collection of nightmares. You can tell that Resi was really drawing on the archetypal nightmare: she’s also not wearing any pants.

Thing of beauty joy for many long time

A week or so ago our most used appliance broke after several years of faithful service.wpid-wp-image-1819703450jpg.jpg

After I attempted to “make do” with a duct tape fix, John told me to order a new one.

I tried to resist this one. I did. But I couldn’t resist.


Even though it was almost twice as expensive as our trusty kitchen workhorse, and even though it is CERAMIC and therefore more subject to the corruption of this fallen world, I was swept off my feet by its beauty.

Why can’t Americans make sturdy functional appliances that are this lovely?


Although we suspected it was made in China, we didn’t realize that it would come with an instruction booklet that would have us rolling on the floor with laughter. I had to read the entire booklet aloud, and if I didn’t have time’s winged chariot breathing down my neck right now, I would type it out for you here. It’s too rich.

Suffice it to say that our new electric kettle is
-elegant and environment friendly appearance, it is elegant and generous
-maximum 100% well boiled
-the light turn to be off when boils
-can’t fill water beyond maximum level to avoid water spillout

Four lines on the cardboard box sum it up:

“Pottery highlights the onble quality
An elegant Chinese Blue flower design stand out omanticmood.
The stainless steel element can last for longer.
Allow each family enjoy their high quality modern life.”

While the beauty of this pot delights my eyes every time I look at it, and the instructions booklet fills me with merriment, this last line on the packaging breaks my heart. “Allow each family their high quality modern life.”

Those poor Chinese people. The Chinese don’t allow each family much of anything good. The “high quality modern life” is a phrase that resonates with emptiness. I’m going to say a prayer for the Chinese and the oppressed Church in China whenever I use this new electric kettle. Maybe Francis Xavier and Augustine Zhao Rong will extend its fragile life a little longer to keep it on my counter reminding me.

And when it inevitably meets its end, we’ll go back to the inexpensive stainless steel American one that lasts forever.

Friends take Time

# 2, Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, 7-4-16 (2)Well, we’ve been in Green Bay a little over a month now, and we’ve met lots of great families. Some of them have kids the ages or genders of our kids. Some of them turn up at all the Masses that we go to. Some of them share our love of Star Wars and the A-team. But so far, they’re all just friendly acquaintances, not friends.

A couple of weeks ago we were at a teacher training for the Catholic Schoolhouse co-op at which I will be teaching the middle school level in the fall. All the other moms had brought their kids and the house was full of fun activity. Afterward I told the kids to tell me about the friends they’d made. Joseph said, “I played with a lot of kids, but I didn’t make any friends.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“That takes a long time,” was his rueful response.

Alas, it’s true. Making friends takes a long time. It shouldn’t surprise us that in four weeks in Green Bay, we don’t have any friends to fill the hole in our hearts left by the amazing friends we had after nine years in Lander. But four weeks is a long time to live without friends.

Marietta’s friend Bernadette Holmes has tried to soothe her homesickness a little with a sweet digital photo collage.wpid-wp-image-259456329jpg.jpg

Then last week Marietta opened a package that had arrived from Bernadette. It held a box of letters, each one labeled for a different occasion: “Open this one when bored,” “Open this one when lonely,” “Open this one when you need a good book.” It will be an on-going comfort to Marietta as she makes her way through the box of letters.wpid-wp-image-1948783868jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1389594376jpg.jpg

But in another way friends are like Narnia with respect to time.
Marietta began to worry that she would never have a friend of the caliber that she had in Lander, since she’ll only be in Green Bay for a maximum of four years, while she was in Lander for nine years. But I reminded her that I’d had several friends much longer than John, but none as close as John. It is possible to become a very close friend quickly with someone whom you have known a relatively short time.

I’m also making plans to see my friend Mary Beth, who was my friend through grade school, high school, and college, but whom I haven’t seen since my wedding sixteen years ago. With very good friends, you can pick up where you left off, even after a long time apart.

It may be that part of God’s plan in moving us to a city where we don’t have any friends yet, is that he wants us to learn to be our own friends. It’s another way that a big family is a great blessing–ready-made set of friends, who know all the same references you do and share most of your preferences.

We got a taste of providing our own social life on the Fourth of July.wpid-wp-image-298902723jpg.jpg

Independence Day is the high point of the Lander year. It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced the decibel of Lander’s patriotic celebration, but the best description I’ve heard was that “It’s like being in a city under siege.” Every person lets off his own city-grade fireworks. You go out into your front yard and look around–there’s no need to attend the city’s show.  The morning parade involves the whole town–literally. We know everyone who is marching, and at the very end we would join the parade to head to the heart of town for a huge water battle between the town fire truck and the town concrete truck. Hardest of all to replace, we spent the evening with all our friends at a huge potluck, hosted in recent years by the Washuts.

We did our best to provide our own celebrations:wpid-wp-image-635427716jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-2009008059jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1180332702jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-511186465jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-2043284406jpg.jpg wpid-wp-image-1727815684jpg.jpg

We went downtown in the evening for some quite lovely fireworks along the river, where it  was not too crowded at all.

But the kids were saying all day, “Right now we’d be getting soaked at the parade.” “Right now we’d be eating fried chicken on main street.” “Right now we’d be at the Washuts, setting off explosives.”

Still, we made it through the quietest Independence Day we’ve had since 2006. We’re learning to be our own friends.

“It’s a poor family that can’t afford at least one princess.”

These were the wise words of a Benedictine sister at St. Walburga’s Abbey in Colorado. She was admiring our Miriam Therese, and I was apologetically explaining that our seventh baby is, ahem, a little spoiled. This sister, who was one of eight, quoted her mother’s maxim:

“It’s a poor family that can’t afford at least one princess.”

I love it so much that I’m going to have it framed in calligraphy to hang on the baby girl’s wall (that means you, Sarah S!). It just sums up so succinctly the riches and richness that Resi has brought us.wpid-20160626_182728.jpg

Well, June 24 marked a full year of the princess’s reign. The USCCB had transferred Resi’s birthday to Sunday, so her Daddy would have returned from teaching a course in Denver, and her Marietta would have returned from Living and Design camp. But the other kids and I were all aware all day that it was the anniversary of Resi’s birth. It started with the eerie Mass readings for the feast of the birth of John the Baptist:

“The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me a name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made of me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me.” (Is 49:1-6)wpid-20160624_073317.jpg

and “I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.”

and, “All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What then, will this child be?'”

What will you be Miriam Therese?


We celebrated her birthday as a family Sunday night with an apple cake and a taper for a candle, since we shed all our number candles during the move. Sunday also happened to be the anniversary of her baptism, which made it an especially fitting day to celebrate. It’s hard to remember what our life was like before this little girl entered it with all the joy she brings to each member of the family.

Right now she’s working on walking; she’s getting into cabinets (we’re going to have to reorganize our new kitchen–how soon I forget!); she’s enjoying the great volume and curl that the humid climate of Green Bay has bestowed on her hair, as you can see; and the day after her birthday she learned how to point to what she wants.


A more important skill for a princess I can’t imagine!

Happy anniversary, and welcome home

Today is our 16th anniversary. Our 7th anniversary was our first day of having our first house to ourselves. It was our beautiful home in Lander. Nine years later, we are winding up our first two weeks in our new house in Green Bay. Little bwpid-20160607_081537.jpgy little, it’s becoming a home.

ur two moving trucks showed up the Tuesday after we arrived. We had them for three days and were dumbfounded about how we would unload them without seven strong WCC gentlemen, and two WCC girls walking by to “inspire” them. Two strangers showed up at random times, sent by our dear Liz Verges, and that helped a little bit. But then we spent Wednesday unable to do anything because the boxes were blocked by such heavy pieces of furniture. I used the day to freak out, and then went shopping. John used the day to build shelves in the garage to put the boxes on.wpid-20160609_174533.jpg


Then, by a providential turn of events, I met someone at Mass who had heard of John, and who had a lot of menfolk in his family who were available and very generous.  Thursday we had seven strong college boys (and two agreeable dads) who unloaded both trucks over the course of three hours. Some of the pieces of furniture were so heavy that I felt sure we were about to lose our new friends. But they stayed cheerful until the end.

But nothing makes a house a home like welcoming old friends as well. Three days later we had the great joy of hosting Glenn and Ginny Arbery. It was a delight to see them and take an evening to relax together as they toil away for Wyoming Catholic College (Glenn is now the president). They also gave us the great gift of a motivation to bring our house to a functional level. Their arrival spurred us to unpack the major living areas and make them liveable. Since they are such dear friends, they will forgive me for posting a truly lousy picture of them. Truly, lousy is the only kind of photo that I take.

Ginny joked that they would return next week to give us the impetus to unpack the rest of the boxes. Utinam! wpid-20160613_080521.jpg wpid-20160613_080514.jpg

This week we’ve had the four older kids doing Totus Tuus at the Cathedral. It gives them a full day and they are meeting lots of kids. However, it has turned me into a soccer mom: driving them to the Cathedral in the morning, returning at 11 for Mass, and finally returning to pick them up at 2:30 each day. We are about a 10 minute drive, but it adds up to a lot of driving. In between trips to the Cathedral, I’ve been taking the little boys to the library and playgrounds.

Our driving life has led to my stocking the car with even more granola bars, beef jerky, and other snacks to extend our patience when we can’t be home at regular meal times.

Meanwhile, John spent this week preparing for the course he’s teaching in Denver next week. And this:



wpid-20160616_162443.jpg wpid-20160616_202442.jpg wpid-20160616_202443.jpgThe photos don’t do it justice. It’s the most amazing playfort I have ever seen.