7 Quick Takes about fairy tale neuroses, Jen’s Discount Football Texting Service, and more!

November 22, 2013 | 44 comments

— 1 —

Thank you so much for your response to the book cover! It really is surreal. After the second time that I had to scrap years of hard work and start over from a blank page, I started to suspect that God had flung me into a Sisyphean cycle whose only purpose was to teach me lessons about humility and the ultimate futility of human efforts. The fact that I actually have a finished product — one that has a gorgeous cover, no less — is truly a momentous occasion, made all the more momentous by having you wonderful people to share it with!

— 2 —

If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I should start a business called Jen’s Discount Football Texting Service. I got the idea when Joe and our friend Paul Escandon took the kids camping last weekend and could only get spotty cell reception. They were deeply concerned about the outcome of the USC/Stanford game, so they asked me to text them play-by-play updates.

I can only imagine the agony those two poor men must have endured by having their only connection to this dramatic game be texts from me. I enjoyed it though!


So if anyone else is headed to an area where they’ll only have text reception during an important football game, I would like to offer the services of Jen’s Discount Football Texting Service! You can upgrade to a platinum package that includes wry commentary on commercials, and I will refund the full price if I decide to switch to watching Downton Abbey reruns when it’s tied in the fourth quarter. Also, you should know that I find the pressure that is put on kickers to be unbearable, so if the game comes down to a field goal or extra point, I may need to step away and collect myself for a while before I can text you the outcome.

Someone put this business on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. It’s a winner.

— 3 —

I am fascinated by information that is passed down through oral tradition. I once told the story of how there was a legend in my family that a great meteor shower occurred when our ancestors were on the way to Texas in their covered wagons, and I later found that it was the most likely the Leonid meteor shower of 1833. Love that stuff.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that all of the songs that I sing to the kids at night were passed down to me from my mother, who learned them from her mother, who learned them from her mother, and so on. I’m pretty sure that none of them came from hearing them in the media — all were passed down from one person to another, through oral tradition alone. So I decided to do a little research and see which song I know is the oldest:

  • Camptown Lady – 1850
  • The Farmer in the Dell – 1820
  • Frère Jacques (which I never knew is about a monk!) – 1811
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – 1806
  • Rock-a-Bye Baby – 1765
  • London Bridge Is Falling Down – 1744
  • Baa, Baa Black Sheep – 1731

The winner is Baa, Baa Black Sheep, which was first written down in the mid-1700s. It’s amazing to imagine a woman singing that song as she rocked a child two and a half centuries ago, and having those words float along, from one woman to another, all the way down to a suburban Texas bedroom in 2013.

— 4 —

I read The Princess and the Pea to my daughters the other night, and it reminded me that that story has always stressed me out. When I was a little girl I was enchanted by this tale of a girl finding love with a prince who had been holding out for just the right person, but every time I heard it I would think, What if she hadn’t complained about the pea?!

Because I totally would not have. I’m the type of person who could find a live hyena in her bed and wouldn’t say anything. So even if I were to take shelter at someone’s house and feel a little bump in their mattress, I would never breathe a word of complaint. It used to make me wonder if I was missing all sorts of life-changing opportunities from being the most non-confrontational person on the face of the planet. When I would receive the wrong change from buying candy at the corner store, I’d sometimes wonder if maybe the cashier was secretly a queen who had set up a Princess-and-the-Pea-style test, and that if I’d complained about being a penny short a prince would have burst through the Employee’s Only door and said that he’d finally found his true love.

(Which establishes that, yes, I have always been crazy.)

— 5 —

I just made it sound like it is a regular part of our evenings for me to read with the kids. I wish it were. I always assumed it would be. I want it to be. But man. In my almost-ten years of being a parent, I have yet to find a way to make reading with young children be a non-miserable activity.

Every time I say it’s story time, it’s equivalent to the World Wrestling Federation announcer dinging the bell and shouting, “LET’S GET READY TO RRRRRRRRUMBLE!” First we argue about what books to read, then we argue about who sits where, then we argue about who gets to turn the page and touch the pictures, and this usually ends up with one kid trying to yank the book from another kid’s death grip and me barely dodging a direct hit to the nose. (P.S. Thinking of buying an elaborate, hands-on pop-up book to be shared among four little girls? Do not do it unless you hate yourself.) And now my oldest daughter is at the age where she catches me when I start skimming! Misery.

I know I’m going to make Charlotte Mason roll over in her grave by saying this, but I’ve pretty much given up on trying to read to toddlers. My plan is to let them watch Dora while they’re still at the age where it makes sense to scream because your sister is looking at your part of the page, and try this reading thing again when they’re older.

— 6 —

Last year I was determined to have a prayerful, joyful Christmas season. The way that actually turned out is perfectly symbolized by the background I got for my Google Nexus:


I got this fancy, interactive wallpaper that offers all sorts of cool customization options. I uploaded an awkward selfie as a test shot for the picture on the mantle, then misspelled our last name when I was trying to change the names on the Christmas stockings. I kept saying that I was going to fix it to have a beautiful tablet background that would perfectly mirror our real life. That never happened — which did, actually, turn out to be a perfect mirror of our real life.

Just before the new year, Joe pointed out that my background still showed this weird picture of me on the fireplace, and there were two stockings with random names on them next to one that said “Fulwilet.” That tells you everything you need to know about how Christmas 2012 went for us. But I’m telling you, 2013 is going to be great!

— 7 —

I’ve been wanting to share this great video by Chris Stefanick about the North American martyrs, but I couldn’t seem to find the right time. But now, as the holiday season begins, it seems like the perfect thing to watch. I know that for many people this is a time of stress; I’ve heard from a lot of folks who are headed off to family gatherings where they might encounter loved-ones who are hostile to their beliefs. This will probably seem strange, but I think this video might be the perfect source of inspiration.



  1. Scott Alt

    I love your #4. Oral tradition has meant a lot to me in my hobby of genealogy research. One of my favorite oral traditions in my family is the story of how, as a baby, my great-great grandfather was left on a doorstep and no one ever found out who his real parents were. The only clue to his origins was that he wore wooden shoes, which made his adopted parents believe that his parents were Dutch immigrants. They gave him the name William Reason Bell—his middle name, “Reason,” was due to the fact that no one knew the reason his real parents abandoned him. His grandson (my grandfather) also had the middle name Reason.

  2. Mary

    The football text were HIlarious. The lullaby though ’twas a lovely one . Discovering that reading to my three under three is no fun for no one was a sad realization for me 🙁

  3. Michelle

    Speaking of songs that are passed down. Wait until you are 46! Lately, I have been singing, “She’ll be riding 16 horses when she comes!” I’m like wait, that doesn’t sound right??

  4. Rebekka

    I could probably take some lessons from you in sports reporting – my poor husband always gets updates like “the yellow guys scored, but it didn’t count, or something”. (Soccer.)

  5. Sarah

    I was the exact same way about reading to my kids until someone suggested reading one chapter every night from a chapter book that tells a real story rather than frufru little toddler books. So now every night after prayers and after they’ve climbed in bed (we have a bunk room that sleeps 4 of our kiddos and the toddler alternates who he “cuddles” with for story time then I move him to his crib in the nursery) I read a chapter (maybe two if the baby cooperates). We are about to finish Little House on the Prairie and we have all loved it. The kids and I all look forward to it. The key is no pictures to fight over looking at!

  6. Amelia @ One Catholic Mama

    You could totally make money off Jen’s Football Reporting Service.

    And,I’m totally non-confrontational too, bo I’m sure I’ve failed a few fairy tale tests as well.

    And, the secret to enjoying reading alout to kids is to read a book YOU LIKE (even if no pictures). Bonus points if they find it boring, because then they all go to sleep.

  7. Kierstin

    My mom’s family is from Appalachia, but I think they’re originally from Scotland. I had to watch Songcatcher in school once (the whole plot of the movie is that a music teacher discovers Appalachia is a perfectly preserved Tudor culture) and so looked into a lot of my family traditions. A lot of them are from old time Britain. Like how we say “boughten” as a form of to buy. Pretty cool.

  8. Karyn

    I have found that reading is easier if I just do it at mealtimes or while they’re coloring something for their schoolwork. It might be a chapter book or a toddler book but I get to pick it and all of the kids are seated and quiet (at least while the food’s in their mouths). My husband does a bedtime story but I almost always hear him fussing at them to sit down or to be quiet or whatever so apparently that time of day isn’t as easy. Having at mealtimes also helps me to remember to do it, as it has become a routine.

  9. julie

    Awesome and inspiring video. I wish there were tons of these about saints. Thanks.

  10. Anne McD

    Don’t forget Ring around the Rosey about the Bubonic Plauge!

    • Linebyline

      I vaguely remember hearing somewhere that this is a myth. However, I can’t remember if it turned out to be completely harmless, or if it turned out to be about something even worse.

      Dang Internet knowledge. Wears off too quickly.

  11. Laura

    Oh boy can I relate to #5! Our family is also like that with board games. Oh well…

  12. sara mcd

    What if the pea/hyena were a scorpion? Bet THAT would make you a real princess.

  13. Barbara C.

    I actually snorted with laughter over the Christmas take. LOL

  14. Smoochagator

    Loved the video! Thanks for sharing.

    Your football commentary makes me think of my NASCAR updates to my husband. I never know the answer to his questions but I can recount the entire interview with a low-ranking crew member that took place in between commercial breaks an hour ago.

  15. Mark S.

    Jen….rolled on the floor laughing. You made my week. Please keep it up!

  16. Deborah

    I loved the video. The every day type of guy in a plaid shirt talking about someone he was passionate about really drew me in. I don’t usually watch videos all the way through, but I did this one. I don’t remember hearing about this martyr. I will remember his story for a long time, its a great one. Thanks.

  17. Christine

    Your football updates are hilarious! I’ll have to recommend them to my husband, who is sad to be missing all of UCF’s games this season because we cancelled our Dish subscription and have no cable whatsoever.

    Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

  18. victoria

    A friend gave my daughter the Lauren Child Princess and the Pea, and it actually deals with your objection: the princess doesn’t complain at all (because she has excellent manners) until she bends down to pick something up and involuntarily yelps with pain. Then she admits that she doesn’t know why, but she woke up bumped and bruised all over.

  19. Patty

    Read to your kids!! Maybe find a better time of day. Maybe the ones who scream don’t get to listen until they calm down. I always read to my nap takers right after lunch, on the bed with them. It was usually only one or two kids at a time, and picture books. I read the older ones chapter books. Don’t wait! Mine are mostly grown now (the youngest two being 14 and 18) and we have so many good memories of read aloud time. Yes, sometimes someone screamed but we persevered anyway. No, I’m not a supermom with perfect kids. Ha. I just love books.

  20. Julie

    I really loved your Takes 3, 4, and 5. I love lullabyes and children’s folk songs and often find myself comforted by the thought of how many generations of women must have sung them to their children. Re: #4, The Princess and the Pea always stressed me out too — except I was kind of indignant about it. “Why is that girl getting praised for complaining?!” I could never figure it out. I knew I’d be in trouble if I complained about something so small. And #5, oh my gosh, yes. I don’t do bedtimes in our house — I’m so burnt out by the end of the day that my husband is capable of doing a much more pleasant and effective job of it than I am. And inevitably when I try to read to my boys at other times of the day, it turns into a wrestling match. Which doesn’t exactly make me want to do it very often!

  21. Jamie

    Uh, is it odd that I don’t actually even remember the real story of the Princess and the Pea? I remember how the Princess and the Bowling Ball went (from the Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales…). It made a lot more sense to me.

    I loved it when my dad read to me before bed growing up. (Interestingly enough, I always kept some sort of blow-up baseball bat or hammer next to my bed so I could bonk him on the head when he fell asleep mid-sentence.)

  22. JoAnne

    My husband grew up in St John de Brebeuf and Companions Parish in Delhi Ontario, what a remarkable video. Think I will start planning a pilgrimage to Midland! Thank you so much for this post – so much laughter and learning…

  23. Sherry

    Reading to the littles is one of my goals too. I find it works best if I pick out the books in the afternoon, and place the ones I want to read to them (according to age) on their bed. It doesn’t always work, but it works better than waiting until bedtime to start that process.

  24. munchie mommy

    Well, you’ve finally drawn me out of over a year of lurking with your video of the martyrs! I loved it. I live in Canada,only a couple of hours away from the shrine. I love visiting and have been there many times. There’s a lot of information out there about these saints for those who are interested (they were Jesuits, so they and their confreres wrote everything down :)) A good place to start is the shrine website http://www.martyrs-shrine.com/

    A couple of facts: 1)the Iriqois were in awe of the bravery of the martyrs
    2) St. Jean de Brebeuf is the author of the Huron Carol, which was originally written in the Huron language
    3) Around here they are known as the *Canadian* martyrs. Stop trying to steal our saints, you Americans! 🙂

  25. Paul

    RE: #2 – I will just add for your readers that the reason we cared so much about this Pac-12 football game is because it is the annual rivalry game between Joe and I – he being a Stanford alum and me being a USC guy. We actually tried to see if we could hang out in the camp hosts luxurious RV on the off chance that he was actually watching the prime time matchup – but he was instead watching some silly drama #stalkmuch.

    In addition, when Joe gave word of the final USC field goal (that didn’t technically end the game but in that moment I thought it did) I went running around the camp fire air-fist-pumping and spilling beer. It was glorious.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      That is backstory that even I didn’t know! This is what I miss not camping.

  26. Janet

    The secret to making reading to toddlers fun? Make the older kids do it!

  27. the other Becky

    Reading to the kids: the more you do it, the easier it will be. Take ALL the suggestions you have gotten, plus one more: think about what else you do that everybody wants to do all at once. How did you sort that out? Try that for reading time.

    I promoted reading a lot because I could sit down while I was doing it.

    If any of the older kids can read yet, make reading to a younger one a regular homeschool chore. Kills 3 or 4 birds with one stone. I guess that makes two more suggestions.

  28. Amanda

    If it’s any consolation, though Charlotte Mason known for being a big proponent of “living books” and reading, she wasn’t actually one for lots of reading to small children.

    “Away with books, and ‘reading to’–for the first five or six years of life. The endless succession of story-books, scenes, shifting like a panorama before the child’s vision, is a mental and moral dissipation; he gets nothing to grow upon, or is allowed no leisure to digest what he gets.”

    You’ve always got that to fall back on when it’s all crumbling around you — you’re just following a more authentic Charlotte Mason approach 🙂

  29. Sister Anne

    Wait! “Twinkle Twinkle” is way older than 1806 (although, I grant you that the English verses may only date to then); in 1781 or so, Mozart did an amazing “variations” on the theme that is worth your time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOXdAa-G4bo

  30. Monica

    I second Amanda’s comment.

    Jennifer, I can’t wait for the release of your first book. Consider a copy sold to me. Enjoy this time and soak in the wonder of it all.

    By the way, your Christmas take is my favorite. I can’t get over the huge picture of you over the mantle. So funny. I love it.

  31. Amy

    #2 – Cracking me up! I want to be one of your employees if you start that business!

    #3 – I never really thought about those songs and their oral tradition. The song I love to think about is the Itsy Bitsy Spider, which in my family has always been sung as, “The Eensy Weensy Spider.” I think that’s because my Grandma was from West Virginia. Now I want to look into it some more!

  32. Jennifer G.

    #6 had me in tears. Love it!

  33. Nod

    That Discount Football Texting service is hi-freakin-larious. Maybe you should also try to lip read what the coaches are saying and text that out too. What could go wrong? 😉

  34. Kelly Kaczmarczyk

    #6 had me laughing until I cried. End of story.

  35. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    #1 The book cover looks great, and I’m really looking forward to reading and reviewing your book!
    #2 Hilarious! I’m sure I would be thoroughly amused by your football commentary. I think your take on the games would probably be almost as fun as watching my mom cheer on The Ohio State Buckeyes. As a die-hard fan, she gets really into the game and makes the whole experience even more entertaining. Though, she knows what’s going on since she cheered for football in high school and has been a long-time fan of the sport.
    #3 Very cool to know that the oral tradition of singing and rocking babes with classics from a ways back is still going strong!
    #4 I would say you’ve more than made up for remaining silent about minor discomforts when traveling and visiting others through your thorough documentation of scorpion invasion at your own house. Why get all worked up over a small vegetable discomfort when you have large scary creepy crawling things to worry about?
    #6 That’s about right. Would make for a very funny Christmas card-name spelled wrong, and you the only one pictured. Just sayin’
    #7 Had heard of this saint, but not this commentator. Thanks for sharing!

  36. Hannah

    I wouldn’t have complained. It seemed kind of rude to me…someone puts you up for the night, out of the storm, and then you complain and moan about it?

  37. Dana

    congratulations on writing a book! i love #3, and totally relate to #5. I only have one–a 2 year old, and storytime is not as lovely as I’d always hoped and imagined. It mostly consists of reading the first 3 pages of every story we own and then throwing it on the floor and it makes me crazy

  38. Lynne

    Jen, I just got the chance to watch the Chris Stefanik video and was so blown away. I know the story of the N.A. martyrs, but somehow hearing him tell it, and hearing the challenge he set forth…they were words I needed for a situation I’ve been grappling with. The whole video I was holding back sobs. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  39. Nikki

    Hi there. 🙂 I just wanted to say that as someone who is certainly not a Catholic or Christian by any means that I enjoy your website and your reality show and would like to see more. It’s nice to see a Catholic that isn’t pushing their beliefs onto others, and one that seems very down to earth. Hope to read your book someday. I always am glad to find spiritual people who don’t seem “nutso”. LoL. Have a great day!

  40. CatholicCanuck

    If a children’s song is old, and English (as in from England) it might actually be a covert song about the Reformation…a lot of nursery rhymes are (like Humpty Dumpty). It’s actually very fascinating.

    With that being said, I love your blog. 🙂

  41. Anna Barber

    Hi Jen,

    I stumbled onto your blog through a couple of other links this week, not sure what the path was, but I am enjoying your posts. Great combination of thoughtful and funny. Fellow homeschooler and Charlotte Mason fan. #6 hit my funny bone in the perfect way, as did your Christmas shards and gingerbread house. I’m also married to an Extremely Competent Husband yet get myself into the craziest messes. Blessings to you and yours.
    Anna Barber, Birmingham

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