Fifteen years

Fifteen years ago today I woke up as Brenda Johnstone for the last time. It was a bright, clear August day in Washington State when I exchanged vows in a tiny white church with my beloved. The whole congregation was there. My family was in force. His family had a long way to travel, but came too. Some intrepid college friends made the transcontinental journey.

Man and wife.

I remember that a big beetle got caught in the lace of my mother’s wedding dress. My left knee shook through the whole service. Adam wouldn’t stop mouthing “I love you”. My brother forgot a verse of the Wedding Song (a faux pas he’ll never be allowed to forget). I insisted on Wagner’s version of Lohengrin’s Bridal March for the processional and Medelssohn’s proper recessional. But we did not have live music. We used the same version of the wedding vows my parents had used – and have claimed ever since that “I slipped Elden a $20 to add ____ to the vows.” (Usually “entertain me”) (Elden’s integrity and incorruptibility is what make that so funny.) At the buffet reception there was chocolate cake, Martinelli’s sparkling cider (it was a dry wedding) and an espresso van.

That night I fell asleep in a bug-ridden nearby bed and breakfast as Brenda Flynn, for the first time.

The college crowd

Fifteen years is a long time. If you’re thinking “I didn’t think Brenda was that old!” Well. I was 21 on that bright August day. Fifteen years, three homes, two children. Fifteen years also marks the length of time we’ve been playing once a week with the same gamers, and how long we’ve been members of our church. These are not coincidental numbers. That day fifteen years ago marks not only the beginning of my married life, but my adult life. It’s been a wonderful, joyful fifteen years.

If I had it all to do over again, I would joyfully do so.

Still newlyweds

Becoming a family

There are two socially sanctioned ways to increase the size of your family: babies and weddings. Adding babies is a lot of fun, but it’s not really a team activity. At most of the key stages, there’s two or a few people there. Also, pictures of the precise events are not, shall we say, to be encouraged.

Weddings, on the other hand, involve a team. Heck, they involve a tribe! And the moment where two people create one family is one of the most public, most photographed and most iconic in our culture.

New family!

My family just grew, this past Christmas. I thought it was growing by one – my sister-in-law Andrea. But then I met Harvey, and it became clear that it was growing by two.

We had almost a week together – my parents, my siblings and my new sibling and puppy-in-law – before we had to kick into wedding mode. The first activity was the traditional Johnstone Christmas, with the uncles and cousins and grandpa’s famous chip dip. I finally got my uncle to tell his war stories, and there were the age old arguments about which Seattle street had housed which relatives. These are the brothers and sisters by marriage in the prior generation whose relationships have lasted for over forty years. It was my oldest family – the family at whose feet I wandered when I was a kid and didn’t think much about what made a family. It was the first time I’ve been together with them in several years, and it was lovely.

Spinning yarns around the Christmas tree.

Then, the team turned to decorating cupcakes to be planets. It’s possible that way too much frosting was consumed. WAAAAAY too much frosting. It’s possible we stayed up a little too late giggling. We siblings by marriage started to get to know each other, under the influence. Also, the cupcakes and cake were delicious and way cooler than anything we could’ve bought.

Decorating. Not all that frosting made it onto the cupcakes.

Over the next few days we added in adventures – we went to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and wandered through a submarine. We watched animation techniques, had dinner together, poked through Powell’s books for an hour and made commando raids to find a better wireless router for the home castle. We talked Space Law & Insurance and then somehow gravitated to book recommendations on the long dark ride home. The week went on and Harvey went on walks, we went on hikes, puzzles got half-started, sewing and banners were created, children hid themselves in the basement and created imaginary worlds inhabited by Warrior Cats. By the time we rang in the new year, we were starting to feel gelled and connected, family-like.

The extended team

As they year ticked over to 2015, the rest of the team arrived. I’d quickly met Bobbi before, but not Joe or Susan. The wedding crew was in place, and we delved into the work with a passion. Fingernails were painted. Flowers (which were ordered but did not arrive) were purchased and crafted. Tuxes were obtained (with much angst – the flowers and the tux were the angst moments of this wedding). We were on the slopes, getting closer and closer together as we went, to the final moments of the wedding.

Group pedicures

The very best moment was the night before the wedding. None of us who had grown up in Mineral had EVER been to the Headquarters Tavern there. Given that Mineral has two churches, a general store, a bar and a post office… this seemed a lapse. We decided to cut apart an hour to go rectify said lapse the night before the wedding. It was fantastic. It’s possible there was head-banging to Bohemian Rhapsody. Some people might have reported that the dulcet tones of Sweet Caroline (so good! the bride is from Saugus) reverberated for the first time in the crawdad traps in the ceiling. It was, generally, phenomenal.

Such a sight the tavern hadn’t seen since fishing season ended

The wedding was beautiful. It was small, but lovely. I played trumpet. My mom performed the ceremony. The bride was lovely. The groom was smitten. The children (and dogs) were adorable. The two people became one family in a kiss.

Practice kiss

It was lovely. We took pictures at the Museum of Flight in Seattle and dined in the Melting Pot in Tacoma. From there, we all fragmented back to our packing and our regular lives. (Funny story about the rv we were staying in and the broken door latch… which wasn’t really all that funny until we found an unlocked window.) Our Kindles as thoroughly mixed up as any French farce could devise we parted – as a family. A new family. A larger, more joyful family, connected by frosting, puppies, submarines, Staples-runs, pedicures, Arbys, ice-crystals, Kindle-swaps and lipstick-color-arguments. Welcome to the family, Andrea & Harvey. Thanks for inviting us into yours. Welcome, Joe & Bobbie & Susan. I’m so glad we are together in this!

Team wedding

The lines between Christmas and wedding are blurry. I have two sets of pictures – the first half are here, and the second half you can find here!

Liturgically Red Winter


Three years ago, in December, I stood in the sanctuary I was raised in, confirmed in, married in. I was dressed in red, and slung my trumpet up to play “Thaxted” (from Holst’s planets). It was in celebration of a rare sacrament – a once in a life sacrament. My brother was being ordained, and the spirit of the Lord was with him as it was in Pentecost.

On January 3rd, I will stand once again in that century-old sanctuary with the view of Mt. Rainier. I will be dressed in red. I will sling my trumpet once more, and play Thaxted. It will again be for a once-in-life ceremony. My brother and his bride will become husband and wife on that day.

My l33t photography skills failed to get a single picture of them with all their eyes open, but you get the idea.
My l33t photography skills failed to get a single picture of them with all their eyes open, but you get the idea.

Guys, that’s pretty awesome. I’ve had the chance to meet my brother’s intended (who has been patient enough to put up with me calling her my “sister-in-law-elect”). She’s fantastic. I could go into details, but that would probably be bragging on my part. Let’s just say that she’s a Space Lawyer (working on becoming a Space Doctor because just one 7 year degree isn’t enough) and – best of all – she loves my brother. Also, I’m currently batting 1000 for her bringing me donuts when she comes. And there’s an extremely cute Beagle that comes into the family with the ceremony.

I’m really looking forward to spending the Holiday Interregnum with my family, in Washington State. That weekend ordination aside, we don’t all make it home for Christmas very often. (My parents, souls of gracious practicality that they are, encourage us to come home for Camp Gramp instead, which is at our convenience.) We’ll be there for about 10 days, with a mix of chillaxing, weddinging, taking off with my own husband, staying together and generally being a family. The older I get, the more I appreciate both the family of my birth, and the combined family of my married life. It seems rare to luck out on both sides!

So a little googling reveals that there’s actually a lovely wedding hymn set to Thaxted. I’ll leave you with this lovely thought:

We pledge to one another,
before the Lord above,
entire and whole and perfect,
this union of our love —
a love that will be patient,
a love that will be wise,
that will not twist with envy,
nor lose itself in lies;
a love that will not falter,
a love to hold us fast,
and bind us to each other
as long as life shall last.

We pray that God will guide us
through all the years to be,
our lives be shaped by courage,
hope and serenity.
Through joy and celebration,
through loneliness and pain,
may loyalty, compassion
and tenderness remain,
that those who share the blessing
of love that cannot cease
may walk the paths of gentleness
into the place of peace.

(Youtube for those of you who can’t immediately come up with the hymn tune…

The Garden of Marriage

A one day marriage designation given by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
A one day marriage designation given by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

This past weekend was full of the celebrations of love and marriage. On Saturday, I had a (likely!) once in a lifetime experience. Two of my dear friends announced their engagement last fall – to my delight. When they asked me if I would be willing to perform the ceremony of their wedding, I was even MORE delighted. I am ordained (as a Ruling Elder and a Deacon – for those of you who are Presbyterian Polity specialists and wanted to know. Of course, most people I know who are keenly interested in Presbyterian Polity are my family and my church – both of whom already know. I digress.) But the kind of ordination I have is to serve in specific ways (in the governance and service of a church) and they don’t count for doing weddings. So before I said yes, I asked my pastor if it was ok for me to perform a wedding. With his blessing (and letter of recommendation), it was full steam ahead!

Massachusetts has a neat program where once a year a person may petition for and recieve a license to perform exactly one wedding on one day for two people. You fill out a form between 6 months and 6 weeks ahead of time, including a letter of reference from someone whose marriage you are NOT performing. I was _very_ impressed by the Commonwealth’s handling of this: they communicated in a timely and useful way. They were clear about the requirements and steps. And they were very fast in getting my approval and letter.

Shiny certificate in hand, speech written, extremely-dfficult-to-shop-for-dress put on, I showed up at the Arabian Horse Inn in Sudbury two hours early, and with two of my three boys. Grey was the “ringleader” for the ceremony, so his presence was required. It was a stifling hot day – 93 degrees on our way in with very high humidity. We did a quick run through of the service, we lounged around, the bride and groom disappeared to get dressed and suddenly “Froggy Went a’Courtin'” was playing and a lovely pair was walking over the bridge to the service. With a deep breath I launched into the service.

It is a wonderful thing to be at the front because you can watch people’s faces as they see their son and daughter, their siblings, their dear friends joined to each other in marriage. All the faces in front of me reflected back joy from the faces of the two marriagees.I got to call my son forward to bring the rings (he actually got to carry the real things, and to keep the box afterwards). I spoke about my favorite metaphor for love in marriage – the garden. I pronounced them husband and wife. I told them to kiss each other. It was over in just the right amount of time, at which point I finally got to tear up myself.

There was joy, my friends. And then there was cheese, dinner and dancing. I even got to sign the marriage license, which is pretty cool. And Grey was PERFECTLY behaved. He made friends of the staff of the Inn, whom he talked into letting him ride on the tractor and mix the punch according to his own recipe. He was excellent.

We went home tired and satisfied that night. It was a great day.

Now all of you who know me well are wondering… where is your other son?


Six weeks ago or so I asked my friend and babysitter if she could take Thane basically all day on Saturday (given that schedule). She said she would and there was much rejoicing. I pointed out that if she wanted him at her house, that was perfectly reasonable and we could accommodate it. But then, two weeks ago while I was in Ashland, she called. “Hey, I was just calling because I’m going to be vacationing in Maine the weekend coming up.” At this point, I was lamenting in my mind and wondering what else I could do. She continued, “So I was wondering if you would mind if I brought Thane with me and kept him overnight at our beach house. You guys could come up on Sunday and go to the beach too.”


My sons took turns, the week before, being jealous of each other. “Why does Thane get to go with her for a sleepover?” “Why does Grey get to go to a wedding?” but in the end each kid went joyfully to their special event. Sunday morning – at a reasonable hour – we got dressed and drove up to Maine. After the application of some sunscreen (subpar*, as it turned out) we all hit the beach. I got to do something that has been a fantasy of mine for six years…. go to the beach with a babysitter so I can swim with my husband. We had a BLAST in the waves at York beach while my kids had a blast with the babysitter-friend, who is one of the very few people in the world capable of convincing me that she’s really enjoying taking care of my kids. We chatted together. We lounged in the beach. Adam and I played this game where he would shoot the intertube I was in into a breaker and I would launch back at him. Superb.

Then we all went out for dinner, where I got an incredibly cheap lobster and Grey got the champion for his age division at Pacman.

Pacman contestents
Pacman contestents

That lovely Sunday together as a happy family, right after that lovely Saturday together as a community celebrating love. Well… that Sunday was the 12 anniversary of the day Adam and I stood before friends and family and declared to everyone that we loved each other, and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Twelve years, my friends. Many people talk about the ups and downs of marriage. I feel like our dozen years has had many, many ups and very few downs. If tomorrow was my wedding day, I would make my vows just as (or more) enthusiastically as I did 144 months ago.

Engagement photo - 99
Engagement photo ’99. I didn’t have a wedding picture, but this was taken after we were engaged.

*I think it may not have been waterproof, since those of use who used it turned to a crispy lobster red. I’m juuuust about at the peeling stage now. Yay.