Author Archives: Julie Burns

About Julie Burns

I grew up in a middle class family in the middle of America. With a lazy-eye, a propensity for eating play-doh, and an impaired sense of fashion, I somehow survived my school years, and spent the first part of my adult life as an elementary teacher. I now stay at home with our children and tell stories about them when they're at school. I've fallen into one Christmas tree, destroyed a rice cooker, given myself a black-eye, and gotten more than a handful of bad haircuts. The ridiculous in my life continues to define my resilience. I cringe when I have to check the "Age 33-44" box, and yet I'm glad I'm still here to check it. Welcome to the Middle.


On this day, nineteen years ago, I was nervously sitting in a salon chair.  I wasn’t nervous because I was about to get married.  I was actually terrified because I was about to have my hair backcombed into an up-do.  I have an unusually sensitive scalp that does not like to be trifled with.  However, under the “You have to suffer, to be beautiful” rule, I mentally prepared myself for the pain.  It hurt.  That was the only time I cried all day.

I didn’t cry when I walked down the aisle.  I didn’t cry when I said my vows.  I didn’t even cry when I caught a glimpse of my dad tearing up as I stood on the altar facing my groom.  Don’t misunderstand.  I come from a long line of cryers and I can bawl with the best of them.  I once cried so much while watching a movie about a sad dog that my daughter still looks at me when she thinks the tears might commence and says, “Please don’t have a Hatchi moment, Mom.”  At that point in my life, I didn’t even like dogs.

Another time, I nearly hyperventilated because I was so happy to see my family at a family reunion.  No one else was having that same reaction.  So understand, by all accounts, I should have been a pool of tears mess on my wedding day.  I have looked back on that day many times and even questioned myself why I didn’t turn on the tears faucet.  However I think I know why: I was happy and confident that I had made the perfect choice.  I was surrounded by my dearest friends and family.  There was no need to be anything but happy.

Now, we all know that nineteen years of marriage takes work.  As does two years or fifty-three years of committment to one person.  Keeping true to yourself, letting go of parts of yourself, finding new parts of yourself, and sharing all that you have is work.  Some days easier work than other days.  However, the moments when we laugh so hard that someone snorts or the times when we realize that we are the only ones who truly understands how the other is feeling… make me know I would sit in that salon chair and let someone pull and tug and poke my tender head a million times.  Happy Anniversary to my one and only.

And yes, I cried just a little while I wrote this…


Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

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Sailing Lessons

This morning, my fourteen year old son returned from his 8th grade trip to our nation’s capitol.  I missed him.  Along with many other moms, we all placed our children on monstrous buses last week in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning.  It was a bit surreal to wave good-bye to him.  Armed with snacks, a good hat, one suitcase, and his phone he was joking around with his buddies and jockeying his position for the best bus seat… if that actually exists.  I stood on the middle school sidewalk making small talk with other distracted moms and tried to act like it was no big deal.  We do this weird thing, us moms: we act like embarrassing our young teenagers might tear a jagged rip in the fabric of the sail we are now using to navigate this new stage of our relationship.  Instead, we mete out our hugs, “I love yous,” and reminders carefully. We take big breaths and say things like, “Well, I’m sure they’ll have a great time!” and “It’s going to be pretty quiet around our house this next week!”  We make pretend dates to have coffee. Then we all resolutely climb into our minivans, still looking to see if we can see one more glimpse of the back of the greyhound bus as it disappears.

There’s an imaginary force field around us that prevents us from running to our children, crying and begging them to be little again — thank goodness.  In fact, we know this is only the beginning of all the good-byes yet to come.  We also know that if we actually acted on those deeply buried instincts… well, that would be weird.  We know they are supposed to grow up, to complete rites of passage, to rebel, to goof up, to push us away at times, and to… well… leave.  It’s just that it’s really painful.   And here’s the thing… just last week, I was swearing under my breath about the seemingly constant process of picking up balled-up dirty socks, water bottles, and all the randomness that seems to leave a well worn path behind him.

But today was the day.  The day I finally got to stand on that same sidewalk and feel my heart flutter a bit as the first bus pulled into the school drive.  Less than a week has lapsed. I watched as all the kids disembarked looking wrinkled, tired, hungry…. and just a bit older.  There he was – I finally spied the top of his head and just for an instant, I wanted to run and pick him up and kiss him on the cheek.  Thankfully, good sense took over, and I cooly stood back until he found his luggage. I finally nudged my way into the sea of 8th graders milling around the luggage compartment of the bus, and gave him an appropriate hug.  I missed that guy.  That sock-leaving, water bottle stashing, trail-leaving guy.

Surprisingly, our meeting was very similar to the days of picking him up from daycare: he told me a few high points from his trip, he politely asked for a sandwich, I made him something to eat and watched him gobble it up, and he’s now down for his nap.  The only difference —  in those days, I did pick him up, kiss his cheek, and even sang a song to him while I stuffed him into his jacket… and never worried about embarrassing him.  In those days, our boat was just pulling away from the dock – no need for a sail…


Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


Tell Me a Story

I’m a storyteller.  Not by accident.  I grew up listening to my parents and grandparents regale stories of celebrations, misfortune, humor, and the life they experienced.  I also grew up with The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Little House on the Prairie, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  Both of my parents read to me before naps and bedtime.  I am the youngest in my family and I cherished the moments before my nap. While my older sister was astutely impressing her Kindergarten teacher with high math and an unusually broad knowledge of… well… everything,  I was snuggled up to my mom picturing what it would really be like to live on the prairie with only the protection of a brindle bulldog named Jack… or why the man sitting on the stump of that relentlessly generous tree looked so sad at the end of the book… or if Charlie Bucket’s father actually worked at a toothpaste factory because I had never heard of such a job.

I’m actually a story listener.  Recently I finished listening to a podcast that was meted out carefully by just one episode a week.  I looked forward to every Thursday, knowing that was the day that if I could find a quiet moment, I would have the luxury of listening while more details slowly dripped out to create a full cup of story.  My son once told me that he loves soup because, “it hits all the spots.”  Well-told stories, fiction and nonfiction, fill me up and hit all the spots… much like soup.

Early this morning, I learned of the death of a close friend’s father.  I never met him.  I only knew of him through my friend’s rich stories of laughter, love, struggle, loneliness, and determination.  I wanted to know more about him.  Thanks to Google, I was able to find an incredible account of his military career and service in Korea in an article titled, “Hometown Hero.”  Several years ago, his hometown newspaper was drawn to his story and published a poignant account of how he so bravely and humbly served our country.  I looked further and found photos posted by friends and family.  Photos of stunning happiness with his bride, a proud father with his children, and true laughter with his friends. He was loved, admired, and blessed.  He leaves behind a treasury of stories.

As 2014 comes to a close and all the TV networks are replaying all the big stories of the year, the world remembers all the tragedy, happiness, and unlikely events that unfolded throughout the year.  These are, for sure, stories worth telling… but someday, I want to live in a world where the Hometown Hero gets top billing and children can hardly wait to find out if Charlie Bucket will, indeed, find the last golden ticket.



Posted by on December 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

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A bag of dirt.  A quart-sized, zip-loc bag of dirt slumped on my kitchen counter.  In another time and place, I would  have swiftly picked up the bag and threw it in the trash with no reservations.  I would not have given any thought to it’s importance.  Instead, I would have assumed that it served no purpose and that it’s best home was somewhere other than snuggled up next to my toaster.  However, after enrolling in the extended life course of raising a boy for the past thirteen years, I’ve been taught to see a bag of dirt with different eyes.  I now might see part of an animal home that has taken up residence with me without my prior approval, an integral part of a plastic army guy battle, an archeological dig, or maybe a “science” experiment involving worms and bugs.

So, before moving the bag of dirt, I thought I should consult my young teenager.  The bag had been sitting for three days.  Each time I thought to inquire, I realized he was biking with friends, meeting buddies to play basketball, or off on a boy adventure of some sort.  I moved it’s placement several times.  Now it’s by the coffee maker.  Occasionally, he will ask to make a small cup of coffee.  Maybe, he will see it and let me in on it’s secret purpose.

I started to wonder if this bag of dirt belongs to him, or if it was left here by our smaller neighbor friends that he babysits some afternoons.  Maybe, he’s planning to make a shoe-boxed size Civil War re-enactment complete with soldiers, tents, and tiny cots…but probably not.  Maybe he’s got other soil samples stashed other places that he’s going to test for phospherous or something like that.

One time, a while back, he brought in the dirt left after he’d used all the worms from a container for bait and wanted to know if he could keep it in a box and just keep adding to it.  He figured if he ever needed to bury a treasure, he’d be all set.  As I continued to ponder all the uses a young boy might have for dirt, panick began to set in.  Had all the magic of mudpies disappeared?   Did I let all the wonderment of his childhood years float beyond me without savoring any of it?  Should I burrow this bag of dirt into my under-the-bed box spilling over with finger paintings and Mother’s day cards with stapled-on stars?  Maybe this was my last chance to bottle a little whisp of childhood magic…

Just as I officially hit the “stop the world” button, and was about scout out an airtight, low-moisture, museum-like setting for the magic bag of dirt, my son entered and sat at the kitchen island.

“What’s wrong, Mom – you look scared.”

“Oh… nothing, I’m just tired (from stopping the world, of course)…hey, I was wondering what this bag of dirt is for and where should we keep it?”


“This bag of dirt, right here that I’m holding in my hand.  It’s been on the counter for three days, so I thought you must have plans for it.”

“Oh… yeah.  I just like dirt.  I got it out of where Dad is digging up a bush or something.  It looks like clay, and I… just like dirt and stuff… I guess…”

Crisis averted.  No need to stop the world.  He just likes dirt.  It’s not over… yet.



Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

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A Season, A Reason, A Lifetime


Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

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I Want to Hold Your Hand

Many will write today about last Friday’s tragic events.  Many will pray and question and cry.  If we aren’t parents ourselves, we all know at least one child.  We are not alone.  So far reaching is this grief – not just across the world.  No, this grief reaches so far into our souls that we are afraid to acknowledge it.  We have no answers, instead we are left with raw, painful grief.  Already, many are citing gun control statistics and mental health facts, and rightly so.  And yet we still are paralyzed by our sadness.

Most days,I write about what I expereience – and so often, my children are the source.  They are my deepest love, my greatest responsibility, and my inspiration to be a better person.  I recently had a thought rolling around in my head about how I was going to write about the new discovery that my eleven year old’s hand is now bigger than mine.  What a moment for a mother to realize the hand that she instinctively held back and out a bit,  always waiting for the littlier hand to reach for it to cross the parking lot, to dodge a mud puddle, or to cling to in a crowded parade… is now cradled by that once-little hand.  I was feeling melancholy and sad.  I couldn’t help but be drawn to that thought as I continue to wrestle with this deeply sad and senseless violence.  The mothers left behind will never have that moment with their children… along with so many other brilliant milestones and celebrations.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, stories will surface of heroism, forgiveness, and unbearable loss.  There will be opinions and facts, investigations and evidence.  As a nation, we will try and pick ourselves up, and send our love and prayers to Sandy Hook and Newtown.  We will know that the teachers and school personnel acted in the heroic best interest of each child, and that in doing so they may have lost their lives.  We will feel helpless.  As I think of my lonley hand and how I wish so badly that the time had not passed so quickly, I can now only look ahead to a time when that hand will hold the hand of his own child, and be tremendously thankful for every day I was blessed with to hold that hand.  In the meantime, I am comforted to know that each and every child whose time passed by too quickly here on earth, has a much bigger and greater hand to hold now.


Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Survival Skills

It’s become apparent that the tables have turned.  The winds have shifted.  Somewhere between preschool playdates and Middle School dances, my children have become their own people and have needed me less in some ways.  However, my own survival skills have been compromised it seems.  This became apparent when I found myself stuffing a bag of chips into a basket full of clean laundry and swiftly making a break for my bedroom… where I could eat bad food all by myself.  When the kids were younger, I would do this at times so that they we wouldn’t see me mowing down a half a bag of chocolate chips after a tough day.  Now I do it because if I don’t save something back for myself before I leave the house in the morning, there will be nothing left by the time I get home after school.  Nothing good, anyway.

I may spend an hour or more of a day cruising the aisles of the local super market filling my cart full of frozen broccoli, bags of apples, cheese sticks, and granola bars – all to make sure there are healthy foods in the house for our children.  But then I become disoriented and weak when I get to the cookie aisle, and just on a whim decide to throw in a package of some chocolate treat manufactured by those crafty Keebler elves. Ah yes, what a delicious treat I shall have for myself some day in the coming week!  I may even have been thinking of that particular treat during the work day or while driving home, only to arrive home, open the pantry door and be greeted by an empty, busted up tray holding a few measly crumbs. And then I see it –  the chocolaty evidence in the corners of my somewhat remorseless children’s mouths.

The same is true of tape, sharpened pencils, and postage stamps.  These are things I try to always make sure are stocked  in our office supplies.  But again, when I need tape, a stapler, or even just a notepad – no matter how many times I’ve filled my desk, it’s an Office Max ghost town when I need something.  When trying to take an important phone message in a hurry, all I can come up with is a broken purple crayon and the back of political flyer. Later when I share the message with my husband he asks if Grimace has been taking messages at our house.

No matter how many loads of laundry I do in a week,  my stack of clean clothes yields only a few pairs of underwear and one mateless sock.  The last time I went to fetch the laptop to use at school, there was no little green light blinking – only a message of “Low Battery.”  Last week, I went to grab a sweatshirt  to throw on for a walk.  I looked high and low, but couldn’t find it.  When I finally decided to just wear something else, I looked out the window and saw it riding away on the back of my son as he left on his bike for the park.  I think I get it now.  The reason children must grow up and leave their home, is merely so that their parents can continue to survive.


Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

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Runnin’ Happy

So today I discovered the meaning of true joy.  I pushed myself through the front doors of the dreaded gym and decided maybe that monthly fee should be utilized at some point.  This is not about the delights of experiencing a runner’s high. I have yet to do that.  However, I did enjoy my workout… but not nearly as much as the runner on the treadmill next to me did.

As usual, I put my “all business” face on and made a beeline to the treadmill section.  Yes, I was aware that my morning hair was putting Don King’s do to shame, but I figured if I seemed serious about burning calories, this would somehow tame the unruly rooster tails flailing around on top of my head.  I began the routine of untangling the knots out of my earphones while at the same time starting up the treadmill – a dangerous adventure, for sure.  Eventually, I coordinated my ipod and the treadmill… and my serious face, and began the workout.

About six minutes into my run, I was silently crooning along to some old Billy Joel hits and trying to read Matt Lauer’s lips while he interviewed Penny Marshall on the overhead TVs  when I noticed  some rather deliberate stomping taking place on the treadmill next to me.  I didn’t want to be obvious or rude, but I was curious about this fellow gym mate’s interesting routine.  I took a short, quick glance and noticed that the runner was as adult with Down’s Syndrome.  I thought to myself, “Wow, he’s really making every step count.”  I then politely, continued my workout looking straight forward.

Soon enough, I heard a couple of whoops and “yahoos” to my left – as I continued to worry about my crazy hair bobbing around on the top of my head. Within seconds, I noticed this gentleman’s running legs were now catching a decent amount of air as he was gripping the safety rails and lifting himself and kicking the air to the beat of his ipod music.  This was followed up by some clapping and punching of the air.  This man was truly enjoying every second of his workout!  I looked over at him again to smile in agreement with him, but his eyes were closed.  He was no doubt, feeling the rhythms of the next song and setting up for his next moves.

We ran side by side on our treadmills for the next twenty-five minutes.  His exuberance continued, and I began to care less and less about my hair.  I was struck by his bold enthusiasm and pure happiness.  Part of me wanted to yell, “Yeah, uh-huh, look at me running – in my ratty Iowa Hawkeye’s sweatshirt and crazy hair!  And my favorite song is on – this is awesome!!”  I didn’t.  I just finished up, enjoying company next to me.

I don’t think this man ever noticed that I was smiling with him and taking in his enthusiasm.  He didn’t need to.  He was completely one hundred percent content and happy all on his own.  A good lesson for me on a damp, murky, Monday morning.   I was feeling so happy, I forgot about my clown hair and marched right into the grocery store.  I was doing just fine until I caught my profile in the reflection of the glass freezer doors.  I quickly finished my shopping, and speed walked to my car… and who do you think I saw bopping along, still plugged in to his favorite tunes and singing as he walked?  That’s right… evidently I needed two lessons on contentment today.


Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

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What’s New With You?

The first day of any school year is much like going to the library. When walking through the stacks of books, it’s easy to get taken in by all of the knowledge that sits in front of you – just waiting to be sponged up, soaked in, and used wisely.  The possibilities of what could be accomplished with that knowledge is mind blowing.  Right?  It’s all just waiting for you to pick up the ball … and run with it.  Sure.  Until the second day.  Don’t get me wrong, the second day of school is just as exciting… maybe even better.  The second day of school is like the day you actually get your own library card.  Now you don’t have to just wonder about all those books staring you down and daring you to come in for a closer look.  The stacks are much less intimidating.  Now you can search for the all that piques your interest and take it all home with you!   Much like school: you have a few friends to sit by at lunch, you’ve got your locker combination tamed into submission, and heck, tomorrow is art class – who doesn’t love art class?  Still excited, right?

Now comes the third day of school.  It’s much like the moment when you unload all of the books you and your tribe just checked out.  Now the pile of novels, pictures books, and 101 Things to Do with Beads book looks a little more overwhelming than when you started.  But you still feel enthusiastic – you just have to find a place for your tower of knowledge so that you can start dinner.  So you move the “pile of possibility” to the den… you’ll get to that right after dinner, and oh, tonight is the first PTA meeting… you can start in on that novel right after you get the last load of laundry folded.  Sure.  No problem.  Kind of like day three of the new school year: You had a spelling test (no problem), a short row of math problems… and oh, yeah, the teacher said you need another composition notebook… and what was that other thing you needed… hmmm… no worries, I’m sure you’ll think of it when you get home from basketball practice.

This is how it goes year in and year out.  The excitement of “new” baits us in every September.  This year will be awesome!  This year, we’ll keep our desks tidy, and make sure our planner is signed every night. We’ll complete homework right when we get home, go to bed early, and wake up with the rooster!  Or… we might decide to keep a diary of all that we eat for dinner, so that we don’t repeat and try to keep it exciting, healthy and fresh… for a whole month!  Sometimes these ideals can take us fairly far into the school year… like to October at least.  But many times, things get hard.  Schedules get busy.  Life starts to manage us, instead of us managing our lives.  Some of it is unavoidable and unpleasant.  Some of the obstacles that get in the way of our “School Year’s Resolutions” are exciting and unscripted.  Either way, we all seem to jump the tracks at one point or another – even if just for a short while.

But this is what I love about us humans… we just keep trying!  And we don’t tend to look back as much as we look forward – which might be helpful at times, I guess.  Either way, we all look forward to a new school year for all the new friends, new teachers, new classrooms, new lunch schedules, new tennis shoes – it doesn’t matter what we look forward to most – just that it’s a new beginning.  Much like a trip to the local library – who cares if we ever figure out how to bead curtains or potholders or floor mats?  It’s just the idea that we could if we wanted to, and besides, there’s a whole section filled with books like “Make that Failed Beading Project into a Great Gift!”

It’s another year… and it’s all waiting for you.  Happy New School Year!


Posted by on September 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

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A Closer Look

He pleaded. He begged. He left post-it notes on the bathroom mirror.  He printed out how to purchase a permit, how to get there,  a list of phone numbers for more information complete with a recent review of how one mom spent a delightful day with her beloved son… at the fossil beds.  My son has been on my case for the last three months about taking him for a day of digging, climbing, and treasure hunting.  So when I asked my children last week to check their summer bucket lists – to see what we still needed to accomplish, I should not have been surprised when my tenacious eleven year old wrote: “fossil beds, fossil beds, fossil beds, I want to go to the fossil beds…. it’s the only thing I really, really want.”

I have to admit, this kind of outing does not excite me.  When I think fossil beds, I think: hot, remote, boring, digging for little bits of random nothingness.  I didn’t want to go.  And up until this week, I had successfully played an excuse game of duck and dodge.  With my feet dragging and my excuses right and ready, I filled out the appropriate paper work to purchase the holy grail of all permits: the fossil digging permit.  To my disappointment, it was rather easy to obtain this little piece of paper.  Also “lucky” for me – those darn brickyards are less than twenty minutes away from my front step.  I enlisted the help of my sister.  I knew I was going to need enthusiasm reinforcements.

Today was the day.  Before I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, my son had packed a backpack with a fossil identification guide, water bottles, small picks and hammers, and rubber boots (still not sure what their purpose was – but seemed like a fine idea to me).   With permit in hand, we began our adventure.  We had a rough map that may have been drawn by hand, two children ready to discover pterodactyl bones, and two adults displaying forced excitement. What could possibly go wrong?

After we cautiously zig-zagged our way down the river road, I wished I had not watched 20/20 episodes entitled “Tragedy in the Woods,” or Law and Order episodes featuring transient folk coming out of the woodwork to give first-hand accounts of of grizzly crimes.  By the time we reached the abandoned parking area, I could feel my heart beating in my neck and what little enthusiasm I had mustered now draining quickly.  I was just nano-seconds away from manufacturing another excuse, when my son saw the park map.  “There’s the path, Mom!  This is the place!  We made it!!”

With trepidation, we gathered our  tools, locked the car, and committed to the cause.  Fossils, here we come.  The walking path was lush with nature that actually made an arch over us.  The further we padded into the forest, the more at ease I began to feel.  We followed our little map up and around waterfalls, trickling creeks, and scenic look-outs before we came to” the promised land.”   Two excited voices yelled, “Mom, we made it!  This is it!  Let’s get going!  This is a great day for digging!”

I stared at the steep, rocky hill before me and it was obvious to my children that I did not know what to do next.  How does this happen? There comes a time in every parent’s life when it is realized that the little people that could at one time not buckle or unbuckle themselves from a seatbelt, now know more than the official un-buckler.  My kids just raced up the hill armed with their little picks, and literally dug in.  My sister and I exchanged a look, braced our knees, and began the climb upwards where we received instructions from my daughter on how to proceed.  “Mom, you have to dig and then dig some more.  You have to look really closely because the best stuff is sometimes the stuff you can’t see… and then, here, you have to brush, brush away the the little crumbs… that’s where the bestest stuff is.  Oh… and you have to be really patient… but, I know you’ll find something special.  Don’t give up.”

Lesson learned.


Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

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