7 Quick Takes about rattlesnakes, books, and holidays that should be more fun than they are

November 1, 2013 | 52 comments

— 1 —

Happy All Saints Day! In theory, Halloween and All Saints Day are some of my favorite days of the year. I love how Halloween brings neighborhoods together and you get to mingle with people who live near you whom you might not otherwise meet. I love the candy, the costumes (well, most of them), the cool weather, and the festive spirit. I love that the next day is one of prayer and holiness, going to Mass, and sometimes attending events where children dress as amazing servants of Christ who have gone before us.

And then the actual days roll around. And I realize that we need Halloween costumes and saints costumes (which I have yet to figure out how to combine because it takes brain cells I do not have) and we forgot to get candy and bags of candy now cost $10 and I have to fit in dinner with trick-or-treating and there aren’t any saints who were known for wearing shorts and t-shirts and I have to find a way to get six young children to Mass and gaaaaaaaaahhh!!!

At this particular point in my life, the “actually liking”-to-“wanting to like” ratio of Halloween and All Saints Day celebrations is very, very low.

— 2 —

I had visions of delighting the kids by dressing up as a Minecraft character or Strawberry Shortcake for Halloween. Instead:


I was a blogger. Again.

It’s all I got, internet.

— 3 —

My dad wrote a book! It’s called The Last Mission, and he’s been working on it for years (I guess we have some sort of gene for that?). It’s a Tom Clancy-style military thriller about a Special Forces team that must undertake a clandestine mission to take out an oil refinery in the jungles of South America during the Cold War.

My dad was a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) and demolitions instructor in Special Forces during the Vietnam era, he’s an engineer, and he grew up in Mexico, so he’s pretty much the perfect person to write a book with this plot. He’s also really big on accuracy in fiction. Like, we would be watching the final scene in Star Wars as a family, my mom and I breathless and on the edge of our seats as we watched Luke Skywalker race toward the Death Star and heard the explosions of laser rays that crashed near the hero. And I’d look over at my dad who would say under his breath, “There’s no noise in space.” So I assure you that if you want to know precisely what it would be like to be on a secret Special Forces mission, this is your book.


My dad when he was in Special Forces, blowing things up.

A few of our friends and relatives have read it, and Joe and I keep getting emails saying, “Hey, that was actually GREAT!” He’s selling it as a $1.99 ebook on Amazon, so check it out if you’re looking for a good read!

— 4 —

Last week a neighborhood friend found a rattlesnake on a local road:


My dad’s cousin saw the picture and had a wise reply:


And to think that I was sitting here feeling all ungrateful for a house full of scorpions! Perhaps we should make this a state motto: “No matter how horrific your infestation, it could always be worse!”

— 5 —

Joe and I recently had this random inspiration that we’d love to spend a few months living in another country one day. (Okay, it wasn’t totally random. I read Design Mom and started feeling like all bloggers with six kids could use some time in a French chateau. Anyway…) We realized that there is an entire industry of companies like HomeExchange where you can arrange to trade your house with another family. Some of these places have been in business for decades and have an excellent track record of customer satisfaction.

I started wondering aloud where we might want to live, and Joe immediately said that we’d have to go to Durham, England because that’s where our (“our” meaning his and my son’s) favorite cricket team is. When I wondered aloud if perhaps there might be other locations we should consider, he looked at me like I was the type of person who would exchange houses with someone who lived near a bad cricket team.

Anyway, this is not something we’d do any time soon, if nothing else because it made me look around our house and realize that we’d have to search in war zones to find someone who would find living here to be a fair trade. But it is an interesting idea, and I keep thinking about it.

Do you know anyone who has done a home exchange thing? Did they have a good experience?

— 6 —

I’m short on time, so how about a gratuitous baby picture?


How sorry am I that I didn’t buy a matching baby banana costume? VERY.

— 7 —

THE COVER FOR MY BOOK IS FINISHED!!!!! (I saved it for the last take so I’d seem all detached, but since I’m utterly unable to speak about the subject without using caps lock I guess that gig is up.)

My publisher sent it to me yesterday. The designer, John Herreid, also did Simcha Fisher’s cover, as well as a bunch of others I like. So while I knew it would be good, I was still nervous since different folks can have such wildly different tastes with these kinds of things.

When I received the email, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes before I clicked on it. And when I looked, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It is perfect. John Herreid didn’t hit the ball out of the park, he hit it out of the stratosphere. It’s so right for the tone and content of this manuscript that I already can’t imagine my book with a different cover.

I should have the green light to share it next week, and I assure you that I’ll post it within approximately 1.75 seconds of being told that I can. I CANNOT WAIT to show it to you. Of all the agonizing delays I’ve been through in this process, this one is requiring the most heroic patience.

. . .

Happy All Saints Day! Have a good weekend!



  1. nancyo

    And I forbid rainstorms from hitting on Thursday nights and knocking out our power just as I was about to publish my Quick Takes and link it here! I’ll be posting when we get electricity…

  2. Carrie

    I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read Quick Take 5! We live about 20 mins drive from Durham County Cricket ground and my husband sometimes takes our 8yr old to matches. Our wedding reception was held at Lumley Castle just next to the ground and they hold medieval banquets there where you can dress in period costume, eat suckling pig and drink mead! I’m sorry but we’re not available for a house swap and I think you’d find our home a bit of a squeeze…just so excited to see you mention somewhere I know. X

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      That is so cool!! That area sounds amazing. I’m sold. Now I just need to convince someone over there that rattlesnakes and scorpions aren’t so bad. 🙂

      • Tammy

        My (forever) mother-in-law (even though Im a widow) has family tree connections back to the Lumley Castle which have sparked some family “delusions of grandeur”. I try to remind them that were we actual heirs to that castle, our forefathers likely wouldn’t have come across the pond to live in sod huts in Montana.

        Now Jen has a Durham connection, cool.

    • Will

      I love Durham! St. Bede the Venerable is buried in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, and I’ve been to pray at his tomb many times. The Cathedral never fails to knock my socks off.
      If you’re fan of ancient churches, like I am, you need to head to Escomb and take a look at their fantastic little 7th century Saxon church. It’s a gem.

      And finally, on house swapping, I know Paul Thurrott (from The Supersite for Windows) does home swaps and loves them. I can’t imagine doing it. I’m nosy, suspicious, and a slob. I would spend the whole time wondering if the other folks were snooping in my underwear drawers and medicine cabinets, while doing the same thing to them.

  3. Bénédicte Fuller

    Hi Jennifer, still reading your wonderful blog and enjoying every bit of it…we live in Ireland, and the thought of a house swap does cross my mind now and then. Who knows, maybe we will do it some day, and will look at Texas…In Ireland there are no scorpios, no alligators and no snakes. In fact, there is no form of animal life that could kill you. It is ALWAYS cool weatherwise, with max temp of about 25 degrees celsius, and generaly averaging 18 degrees. There is even a cricket team, but the real sport is hurling:http://www.rte.ie/sport/gaa/hurling/2013/0928/477057-clare-crowned-champions-after-eight-goal-thriller/. Oh, and the most important part, our house is in Cork, the REAL capital of Ireland, in the Rebel County, voted in the top 10 tourism destinations in the WORLD by Lonely Planet a couple of years ago. The coolest place on earth: lots of funky/Irish trad music, excellent food, beautiful sceneries, and the locals are great.
    Thank you for your very uplifting posts week after week. Take care, Bénédicte

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Many of my ancestors are from County Cork, so that is definitely high on the list of places I’d love to visit!

  4. Julie@teachainggoodeaters

    I feel exactly the same way when it comes to costumes!! This year my kids’ school also decided to have “Literacy Day,” for which they had to dress as a book character…. so, one more costume into the mix! 3 costumes per kid (only 2 of the 4 are in school right now, but still!!)

  5. CarrieC

    Can I just say you look awesome in your blogger costume?! And rattlesnakes, scorpions, and the prospect of no snow (hey, we love the stuff) are pretty much the only reasons we don’t consider moving to Texas. Well, and the fact that we’d probably never get our families to come with us.

  6. Kathleen Basi

    I just want to know HOW and WHY they put the RATTLESNAKE in the PLASTIC BAG?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Okay, now that I have that out of my system, I can speak rationally about Halloween costumes. 🙂 This is the first year I’ve dressed up in probably two decades. And I don’t know if I’ll do it again, because how can I top being Black Widow? 🙂 It’s okay just to be Mom and let the kids have their night.

    • the other Becky

      Yes, that’s what was on my mind also. Not the Halloween part, the why is the snake in a plastic bag part. With exclamation points and question marks and capital letters sufficient to convey great emotion.

    • Alice

      Yes. How do you close a ziploc bag full of rattlesnake?


    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Oh, I see. Oddly, that part just kind of made sense to me. What else are you going to do with it, ya know?

      From what I understand, the snake was deceased at the time they put it in the bag (which Joe was holding in the picture). Not sure how it got in that state.

  7. Bonnie

    Jen, I’m a big fan of kids dressing “in the spirit” of the saint. So if you have a toy hammer or toolbox your son could wear short and a t-shirt and be St. Joseph. Maybe print a picture of a lily and tape it on for good measure. My son is going to wear a Hawaiian shirt and go as St. Damien of Molokai. I think it works. And it’s so much easier!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      LOVE this idea, Bonnie. This is exactly why you need your own TV show.

  8. Julie @ Connecticut Catholic Corner

    About #4…

    It always happens when I visit your blog and you mention creepy-crawly things, for the rest of the day, I am obsessing about what MIGHT be lurking around me.

    I keep glancing under my desk to see what is around my feet. 🙂

  9. Elizabethe

    So, just thinking that a baby gorilla costume could be funny. That baby looks so happy it’s just like how happy a gorilla would be with a giant banana.

    Next time.

    I am so with you on the wanting to like and actually liking ratio. I was like carving pumpkins like “why the heck am I doing this!” I totally forgot to buy lights for the insides so we have had dark spooky carved pumpkins. I’m telling myself they are shy. My husband was scandalized when I threw out the seeds instead of roasting them. I laughed out loud when he asked why.

  10. Hopefull Pessimist

    “Like, we would be watching the final scene in Star Wars as a family, my mom and I breathless and on the edge of our seats as we watched Luke Skywalker race toward the Death Star and heard the explosions of laser rays that crashed near the hero. And I’d look over at my dad who would say under his breath, ‘There’s no noise in space.'”

    You also wouldn’t see the laser beams flashing by (if they are actually lasers), since there’s nothing for them to scatter off of. Happy All Saints Day.

  11. Monica Benninghoff

    It’s always a great consolation to know that others have highs and lows at home the same as me between expectation and reality, but it’s especially fun to share it with humor (dinner before “trick or treating” was always a catastrophe). “Be yourself” is something we all strive to do, so if you hit your stride and KNOW who are, it is the best costume around! Home truths are so liberating. Thanks for the link to your dad’s book; bought it. I LOVE Tom Clancy books and details. I’m an exception to what most women like to watch and read… (I don’t like Downton Abbey, Jane Eyre, but I LOVE action/adventure “blow ’em up” stories!) Banana, monkey, gorilla… Babies don’t need costumes… they are what they are… lovable little creatures made in the likeness and image of God. Yours is adorable! And congratulations on a fab book cover. Can’t wait to see the unveiling!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      That’s so cool that you bought the book! I’ll be sure to tell him. He’ll be excited.

  12. Tabitha

    I would love to order your Dad’s book for my FIL for Christmas. But, he’s not the ereader type. (My in-laws don’t have a computer, even!). Is there any venue where I can get a paper copy?

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Thanks so much for asking! We don’t have that available yet, but we’re working on it!

  13. Tabitha

    PS I feel the same way about costumes. My 2 year old was a cow for Halloween and will be St. Thomas Aquinas at our All Saints Festival–because one of the symbols of St. Thomas is an ox…which is almost a cow. So, he’ll be in his cow costume and announce St. Thomas Aquinas for the litany of Saints! With 7 kids, dealing with 14 costumes in a week is JUST.TOO.MUCH for me!

  14. Christine

    Your little guy is so adorable.

    no snakes in Minnesota!

  15. John G.

    Went trick or treating with my Grandkids last night – first time in years and in costume. Normal assortment of ghosts, goblins and princess outfits and one adorable Oompa Lummpa. There was one not so common couple. The older sister was Mary with baby Jesus and her little brother was a devil. I had to bite my lip not ask Mon if she had stepped on his head yet. It was nice to see part of the Holy Family out and about, Joseph must have been back home handing out candy.

  16. Julie

    The only thing that confuses me more than cohabitating with scorpions and rattlesnakes is a person actually CATCHING them.

    People – run fast in the opposite direction!!

    Jen – we are a homeschool family with 4 kids, and we’ve taken vacations through Home Exchange for 4 years. Awesome experience. Please e-mail me and I’d be happy to give you more info.

  17. Jessica Snell

    hey – I like your costume! 🙂 In that vein, yesterday one of my friends told me that she forgot about costumes till that afternoon, and so she dressed her son in his nicest suit and sent him out as “The One Percent” – “Hey,” she said, “that’s the way to REALLY scare people, right?” 😉

    • Gina

      Love it!

  18. John Herreid

    I’m so glad you liked your cover so much! Thanks so much for the compliments! The book is great and I think it’s going to sell like hot cakes.

  19. Mary

    I think that’s the one thing that people often forget in the whole Halloween vs. All Saints’ stuff. That we moms have limited time and energy and (or at least I) will get burned out if we do all the things. I’d rather do one thing and do it well then feel pulled to participate in everything. So that’s one of the reasons we just skip the trick or treating and focus on the main event. It keeps me sane 🙂

    Go, Jen’s dad! That’s great!

  20. Rakhi @ The Pitter Patter Diaries

    I completely agree with the Halloween/All Saints’ Day mashup that sneaks up on me every year. I have brilliant thoughts in my head, and then lose steam on the home stretch…well, more accurately never gather steam at all. Next year perhaps.

    Cannot wait to see the cover for the book…or read it for that matter! Perhaps your next project should be a tourist’s guide to Texas! With such catchy mottos, it will definitely be a best seller…though perhaps NOT endorsed by the Visitors and Travel Bureau. 🙂

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Can you imagine??? LOL! We could start a betting pool about when the first Cease and Desist letter from the tourism department would come in.

  21. Susan

    Here’s a costume veteran’s tip for Saint and Biblical costumes. This works for any child up to 40 inches tall and 25 inches wide. Start with an appropriate colored pillow case (king size for taller kids). Cut out holes for the child’s head and arms. Wear over an appropriate shirt. Augment as needed with a dishtowel, man’s tie, scarf, etc. You can add a sleeveless coat made of another pillowcase split up the middle. Or, you can make a scapular by opening up the sides of the pillowcase.

  22. Elizabethe

    Wait. Halloween and All Saints’ Day costumes are supposed to be DIFFERENT?!?

    I did not get that memo and I would have thrown it away if I had.

  23. jen

    #4: I was paranoid about rattlesnakes the entire time I lived in Montana. People would tell me that they didn’t cross the highway/didn’t cross the railroad tracks to where we lived. Then we found one (one that was about 4 feet long) by the church in front of our house. Yeah… totally stopped believing them after that.

  24. Clara

    Thanks for posting about your father’s book. I told my DH about it and he went right over to Amazon and bought it. The verdict so far: pretty good!

  25. Isabella Rose

    Hi Jennifer,

    I have never done a house swap, but you may want to consider doing a house “sit.” It is a little easier than a swap (IMHO), as you do not have to worry about someone else in your home.

    A house sit usually comes with a free place to stay for an extended period of time, and sometimes the owner will even put you on their insurance to use their car.

    In exchange, you may have to watch a few cats, water some plants, maybe walk a dog…it all depends. Some people just want someone in their house to watch what is contained within their four walls, and in that situation there are no pets to watch and no plants to water. Some want you to put in a lot more – it all depends. If you want more information, let me know.

    Durham is nice. I was accepted to a graduate program there, and went over to check out the school. I ended up studying at another University abroad, but it is a lovely University town and the Protestant cathedral there is spectacular.

    It would be a great place to stay if you have a car, but you could still swing it without (just something to consider if you will have kids with you and you will want to do a lot of traveling – or if you just like to be able to move faster).

    The advantage of a major hub like London is that it would give you massive public transit options all over not only England and the UK, but over to the continent as well (France, Italy, etc.).

    But if you want to relax, enjoy the local small town scenery, and venture out on occasion, Durham would probably be a nice place to stay for a bit. 🙂

  26. Amy

    I am definitely going to get your dad’s book. And I can’t wait for yours to come out. It’s already on the schedule for my book club when it does!

  27. Seth

    Patron Saint of Gravediggers- Anthony Abbott
    Morticians- Joseph Arimathea
    Ugly People- Drogo

    If you search the Patron Saints Index by patronage groups you can match nearly any costume to nearly any saint.


  28. Gina

    Um, are we siblings or something?? Because your dad sounds EXACTLY like my dad. Mine grumbled his way through “Star Wars,” too. And he’s also a Vietnam vet (though not Special Forces; helicopters were his thing).

    Great banana costume! And cute baby. 🙂

  29. Jess

    An American who follows cricket? I am so amazed!

    But why wouldn’t he be keen to house swap with someone from this fair land of Down Under, where babies are basically born knowing how to spin bowl?!

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Hey, that’s a great point — and maybe an Australian wouldn’t be as intimidated about the creepy crawlies in our house!

  30. Sue K

    Your baby should be dressed as a monkey as long as he’s hanging out with that giant banana and looking so happy.

  31. Heather

    1) THANK YOU for saying the cool stuff about halloween bringing neighborhoods together. I love that aspect too. I know it can be overwhelming and we can’t always “do it all”, but thanks for being normal about halloween.
    2) your costume is great, but you are way overdressed. And too adorable. Go throw on some pajamas and slippers, and make sure to spill your coffee on one of your sleeves.
    3)My husband reads those military thrillers ALL THE TIME! He is SO gonna read your dad’s book! I just told him about it and he’s about to make the purchase:)
    5) YOU’RE NOT MOVING TO ENGLAND. Sorry, England. She’s OURS.
    6)Love it. Next year, will you please all go as a BUNCH of BANANAS?!?! And then – to solve the All Saints Day costume problem – find out WHO is the Patron Saint of bananas. And find someone to dress as that person and accompany your family to an A.S.D. celebration!!!!!
    7) WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! I can’t wait!!!!:)

  32. Stephanie

    In our experience, house-swapping is brilliant. We took our four children to England from New Zealand on sabbatical for six months. We didn’t use a home-exchange site but put an advert in the internal staff newsletter of the university my husband was going to. A family who worked there, also with four children, liked the idea and so we swapped! We used each other’s cars and went on lots of trips. Our children were welcomed into the local Catholic schools which was a lovely experience for them. They based a lot of their topic work around the liturgical year, eg making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
    We loved the snowy winter, the bluebell woods in spring, visiting castles and literary loves eg Sherwood Forest, having a lemonade in the Eagle and Child- Lewis and Tolkien’s favourite pub… We also took advantage of the cheap airfares and went to Rome for one pound each return (true!), and visited Assisi.
    We’re going on sabbatical to Edinburgh in 2015- maybe see you there? (2 and a 1/2 hours drive from Durham…)

  33. Bonnie

    I would have LOVED to see the Top Banana holding the Baby Banana ! You should get a baby banana costume now, even though it’s after Halloween, because that picture of the two of them dressed like that would be PRICELESS!

  34. Norman

    Jennifer, your dad sounds like a good man and he writes my kind of books. God bless him. You are blessed to have such a dad. Thanks for the article.

  35. Carolyn Svellinger

    “There’s no sound in space.” After reading this sentence, I sat in contemplation for a full 5 minutes. I’ve never thought about that before, but it makes sense– not that it has to… But your dad just rocked my world. He seems like my own. My Dad is my favorite history teacher.

  36. Smoochagator

    Geez, the ROI for that banana costume has to be, like, 500,000%. It appears to be very well-made.

    I used to follow a blog by a mom whose family moved to… Italy? I think… for several months. I was bug-eyed envious about it. She’s one of those minimalist mommies that I worship, and she (GET THIS) believes in wearing REAL CLOTHES (not yoga pants) and looking like a human being every day, even though she’s a SAHM. I can’t even.

    Also, I can’t remember the name of the blog, so… sorry about that.

    AND I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THE COVER OF YOUR BOOK. I actually think it’s cruel of you to tell us that it exists when you can’t share it with us. Also also, can you tell your publisher that the people who live in your computer would really like to know a more concrete release date, plzkthnx?

  37. Smoochagator

    ALSO ALSO ALSO you look great, by the way! Surely you’ve lost all your baby weight and are kicking butt on your Texas shred fitness regimen. If not, just tell everyone you are because you look super awesome 😀

  38. Nicole

    I’ve read (and greatly enjoyed) your blog for a while now, but never commented. Our family has done two international home exchanges (through homeexchange.com), along with one in our state. Not as long as you’re contemplating (though my husband dreams of it). We did a three week exchange with a family in Denmark 6 years ago, and a four week exchange with a family in Germany 4 years ago, which also included a car exchange. Both experiences were amazing! We don’t have a fancy house or anything (we avoided inquiring about exchanges with people with elegant villas) and had plenty of interest. We’ve seen a number of listings for sizeable families, so don’t let that stop you. It’s fantastic for travelling with kids because since you’ll usually be exchanging with another family, there are toys for the kids to play with, and often a yard. When we travelled with a 1 year old, the apartment had a crib and a high chair and was baby-proofed since our exchange family also had a toddler. It was so much easier than a hotel or rental apartment with the kids, and they got much less homesick staying in a family home.

    Feel free to email me to ask any questions or just to hear more — we have absolutely loved these exchanges, and try and convince all our friends to try it 🙂

  39. Karen LH

    Thanks for the link to your father’s book. I’m always looking for ebooks for my father, and this sounds like it would be something he’d really like.

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