Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Will You Do Differently This Year?

That was the question posed in one of my (it's Carol writing here) favorite little magazines this month (Real Simple. You know, the one with the alluring subtitle: Life Made Easier) Who doesn't desire a little life made easier? I've been a subscriber since its inception and seem to learn something simple or profound (or both) in each issue. About life. About relationships. About how to organize my wrapping paper or streamline the mitten basket.

This time (January 2010), it was the reader who responded to the query "What will you do differently this year" with a very Happy Couplesque statement: "I'm going to put my husband first."

She explains: "We each work two jobs and have a family, volunteer and social commitments, so we're exhausted at the end of the day. He deserves the best of me - not what's left over after I'm done with everything else."

Our spouses DO deserve the best of us. The first of us. The most of us. She's so smart, isn't she?!

I'm going to follow her lead and try to put my hubby first. It wont' be easy and I'm not one to make New Year resolutions (more inclined toward moment to moment resolutions since those give me greater odds at succeeding!) But today ... and the next 364 days ... I'm going to resolve to put my spouse of 18 years (and 18 days, to be exact) before everything else.

Wish me luck.

How about you? Want to try too?

Happy(Couple) New Year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fun Mail Rule

Last night, I (Anna) came home to three unopened envelopes on the counter. Did Brent get home, retrieve the mail, and then not open any of it? Nope, that was not the case. Those three unopened envelopes were intentionally left for me. He was simply following our fun mail rule we've developed over time. And this rule is particularly important during the holiday season, when we receive an abundance of "fun mail" in the form of holiday cards. Allow me to explain.

Fun mail consists of letters, invitations, thank you notes, and packages. I guess you could think of it as all the mail that doesn't require us to write a check after opening. Who doesn't love opening fun mail? It's usually attractive. Colorful. Hand-addressed, even? All of these traits make fun mail pretty much irresistibly inviting. Which was why it became a point of contention in our house earlier in our marriage. Since Brent usually gets the mail from the mailbox, he used to open all of it, including the fun mail (sometimes addressed only to ME!). It didn't take him long to learn that I like opening my own fun mail. But the problem still existed because he would open all the fun mail addressed to both of us. Eventually, we arrived at this conclusion: Whoever has known the sender of the fun mail best (or sometimes longest) is the designated opener. For example, today we received one card from my friend from graduate school and two others from my college roommates. So, Brent knew to leave them on the counter where I would see them and open them with excitement! Sometimes, though, he still "sneaks" opening one of mine ("you get way more than I do!").

Rules. They get such a bad rap, don't they? We tend to think of them as restrictive. But really, I think they're quite freeing! Mutually developed rules are, in my opinion, one of the keys to relational satisfaction.

P.S. Send me fun mail!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Happy Anniversary! (But do I have to watch?)

Today is our 18th wedding anniversary! (Carol and Brian, married December 13th, 1991)

Yes, we are a happy couple because - no question - we keep working on it every day. We also don't let the 13th of December pass by without our loving little ritual: A review of our very poor quality but highly valuable (to just us) wedding video. We are, as I type, sitting on the sofa together, devouring a bowl of popcorn and recalling the evening with great fondness. Our kids joined us for about 20 minutes total of tonight's viewing until my son declared "Okay, I've seen enough" and our daughter kindly and sweetly uttered "Do I have to watch this anymore?" Secretly, I know they enjoy the warmth and security of seeing their parents still in love after 18 years even though they don't equally enjoy the blurry and quite raw footage of their wedding mass and reception. To us, the video is rather perfect: a documenting of the day we donned our best attire, danced the night away, and decided that we'd forever work - moment by moment - to appreciate the little and precious moments together. Are we always successful at doing so? Heck no. But we keep trying. And tonight - hurray for marriage and popcorn - is one of those moments we sure are enjoying.

Kids, time for bed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ritual Sneak Peek

Yes, it's ritual I can't shake: the annual (it begins in about February the year before) creation of the Bruess' holiday card. I don't actually begin making the card that many months in advance. But I sure begin thinking about it.

Indeed, I try to rationalize all the thought and effort, despite often unsuccessful & unimpressive outcomes: it's the only time of year we get to connect with far away friends and send/receive real mail! It's an expression of my formerly-artistic self (B.A. in Art from St. Norbert College, yes I was believe it or not). It's a ritual, for goodness sakes. And ritual connects people. Gives us peace of mind. Makes for strong communities and families. Ah ... how my mind likes to busily make sense of these silly (no, important) little things in life.

So ... here's a sneak peek at our rather silly and unimpressive card for 2009. The final layout (imagine a combination mall-photo-booth-Brady-Bunch-grid) isn't quite ready for publication. But stay tuned.

Okay, isn't my dog Fred the cutest dude ever?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Celebrating Disaster

At a particularly delightful breakfast this morning (at Moose and Sadie's downtown Minneapolis, check it out!), one couple told me (Anna) about their recently developed ritual of connection. One that is definitely worth sharing with our faithful blog readers. One that I'll definitely be adopting in my own relationship. It's that inspiring. They call it, "Celebrating Disasters." This couple has had a series of challenging events this fall, including a stolen car, frustrating home renovations, and the usual work struggles. After feeling down about all these problems, they decided to make a change. Rather than complaining and becoming bitter about these issues, they choose to celebrate them. How? With a fabulous dinner. Dancing. Anything fun. With this kind of attitude, this couple is in for a great life together.

Why is it that we typically only celebrate the exciting, uplifting, and positive moments in our relational lives? It's certainly easier, isn't it? But by not celebrating our challenging times, we might be missing out on some of the greatest opportunities for growth. Instead of dreading, sulking, and complaining, maybe we should start celebrating? When we've got someone to share these moments with, they might not be so bad after all. Right?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mothers and Daughters

Every year, my friends from high school and I have a mother-daughter holiday event. We get dressed up and enjoy a fancy tea together, this year at the St. Paul Hotel. Look how cute my petite mom looks while I look like a house! We look forward to this time together all year. My highlight this year, though, was when our moms admitted to their "bad mom" moments. For instance, one mom recalled when her daughter claimed she had to go to the bathroom while they were out shopping. The mother insisted, "you just went!" and made her wait a bit longer. When they finally got to the bathroom, the mom realized the extent of her daughter's desperation to make it to the toilet. She felt horrible, and of course, more than twenty years later, still feels remorseful about it. The most reassuring part, however, was that most of us daughters didn't even remember the "bad" things they were certain would have a negative lasting impression on us. After they told us the "bad" stories, they asked us to tell them one of our favorite mom moments to make them feel better. My favorite thing? I remember laughing all the time with my mom. I also remember feeling oh-so-loved in that always-hugged-and-kissed kind of way. All things I hope to pass on to my own little one.

Thanks, moms and friends, for another amazing holiday tea experience!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Date Plans

How adorable is this? My (Anna's) techy hubby has our "ical" calendars synchronized so when one person adds an event, we both automatically see it. While scheduling some interviews for my dissertation, I came across a new "event" added by my sweet hubby. To my surprise, I spotted "movie date night with hunny" on my calendar. We rarely go to movies in the theater. To save money, we try to have our movie nights "in" rather than "out." But we're going to splurge a little. Maybe we'll even do dinner out beforehand? Another thing we try to cut back on. Come to think of it, we better schedule all our movie nights "out" before we need a babysitter in order to do so!

DO surprise your spouse.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Seriously Funny Blog

My (Anna's) friend from my master's program, Najla, has the most hilarious blog.

Like many moms, Najla has many roles and responsibilities. She works full time, is writing her dissertation, and on top of that she has 4 children. Unlike most moms, all of her children are boys. Are you beginning to imagine the kind of stories she might share on her blog? And she doesn't hold back, I promise.

She claims to write the blog, "Because blogging about living with five men is cheaper than my other options." And it will have you cracking up. Today's entry, for instance, is about her six year old sticking up his middle finger, without knowing the meaning of this gesture. And there are dozens more where that came from! For a chuckle or two (or ten), check it out:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The First Marriage

New York Times Magazine has a feature story on the Obamas' marriage. Naturally, I (Anna) had to check it out. What does this happy couple DO?

The cover of the magazine states that their marriage is, "an ongoing negotiation." Regardless of your political ideas, I think most of us in relationships would agree with that statement. Relational partners are constantly (re)negotiating all kinds of things: Who takes the dog out? Who makes the coffee in the morning? Will we have kids? When? Who will drive the kids to piano lessons? How open will we be with others about our relationship? How will we show our appreciation and affection?

When you really think about it, we spend most of our time negotiating in relationships. Thank goodness! Because if something isn't going the way you want it to ("I despise taking the dog out in the cold weather! Can we rotate?"), why let it continue? Imagine doing all of these negotiations in the White House. No thanks! It's hard enough as it is, don't you think?

In the article, Michelle Obama is quoted as saying that the image of a perfect marriage, "is the last thing we want to project . . . It's unfair to the institution of marriage, and it's unfair to young people who are trying to build something, to project this perfection that doesn't exist."

Right on, First Lady. No marriage is perfect. All marriages are ongoing negotiations. And it's all up to us!

P.S. I want her arms.

Monday, October 26, 2009

... and meanwhile

... while Anna was out bargain-maternity-shopping, I was home arguing with my loving husband (truly, he's a rock star husband) of 17 years about walking in the house with (wet) shoes on, folding underwear (vs. tossing them in a pile), what we will (and, more often shouldn't) let our teen and pre-teen children wear to church, and why I (note, I didn't say "we") think it crucial to frequently wipe the itsy-tiny-bits of soggy (yet annoying) splatters of lunch, breakfast and snacks off the backsplash (no, a backsplash wasn't designed to DISPLAY the splash). Ew.

Ah, happy marriage. It's in the DOing. Everyday. Every year. At every stage (pre-kids, kids, dogs, no kids, in-laws, laws, rules ... all that and everything in between).

Whatever your stage, do it with a smile.

(insert happy smile here)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Shopping Day

Today, I (Anna) was lucky enough to be taken on a shopping spree, courtesy of my mom (thanks, Mom!). I simply had to share these shopping tips with expectant moms in the Twin Cities. We were on a mission to get me some warm maternity clothes and a few nice things for work and the holidays. But who wants to spend a whole bunch of money on brand new, expensive clothes to wear for just a few months? Not me. Or my mom. So we went to 3 consignment shops. I had never really shopped for used items before. But my-oh-my, if you don't shop consignment yet, these stores might change your mind.

First, we went to Bellies to Babies, where we sipped on sparkling water and bought $6 (cute) shirts! A winning combination.

Second, we went to Nu Look, which isn't exclusively a maternity consignment store, but they had a great selection of clothes for everyone. As a bonus, I even got a cute jacket for when I'm not-so-pregnant.

And third, we went to Nine Maternity, an adorable store with all kinds of stylish ensembles.

Winter, here we come! I'm ready now. If you love a good bargain like I do, you must stop in these stores.

After finding all these great deals, we went to Crafty Planet (Carol's favorite spot!) to look for baby material for a quilt to be created by both my mom and Brent's mom. We bad a blast. But I was ready for a nap after all that successful shopping!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 Questions of an Expectant Mother

Here I (Anna) am, 23 weeks pregnant. The baby is happily bouncing around as I type, which always makes me pause and smile. I can't believe how fast it's going (although I realize I might be changing my tune when I'm nearing 40 weeks). I find myself caught in the classic "dialectical tension," as we call it in communication, of feeling torn between clinging to the predictability of my life as I know it and the novelty of what's to come in a few months. I'm concurrently frightened and ecstatic! Below are the questions that keep popping up in my mind--as they might for all expecting parents--about my upcoming new role as mother:

1. Will I still love my work? Right now I adore conducting research and teaching. I actually look forward to doing my work. Will my "work" become more of a "job" when I become a mother?

2. Will my husband and I struggle to find our joint "parenting style?" Or will we agree on most ways to parent?

3. Will I experience the love that everyone describes they have for their children?

4. Will my view of the world change? My thoughts on politics? Religion?

5. Will I still like my regular television shows like How I Met Your Mother and Gossip Girl? It just doesn't seem "momish" to watch these shows. Which leads to question 6...

6. Will I finally feel like a "grownup?"

7. I intend to remain connected with all the amazing friends I've made through the years. Will it be harder than I think it will be? Will they accept me as a mother?

8. Will my baby be as fun(ny), smart, and cute as my nephews? I'm wondering if it's even possible!

9. How will I ever survive without sleep?

10. Will my husband and I still laugh multiple times a day? Will we practice what Carol and I preach by maintaining or adapting our meaningful rituals?

I won't know the answer to these questions until February and beyond. For now, though, I'll keep pondering them, trying to remain present in the uncertainty (and excitement!) a change like this brings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Marriage "Short List"

Anna and I sat in the office the other day brainstorming -- motivated by the request of someone with whom we're working on a marriage-related media project -- what we believe are the key signs a marriage is in trouble.

We then, based on the research, created a list of tips couples can follow to get back on track if they feel the wheels have pretty much fallen off altogether.

Here's what we came up with:

Warning signs your marriage is in trouble:
• You go out of your way to make sure you don’t have to spend time alone together
(e.g., the thought of having to go on a “date night” without other friends along is dreadful)
• You stop having sex. Ever.
• There is little laughter.
• You avoid invoking the ‘inside joke.’
• You stop using the loving little nicknames.
• Your self-talk about the other person is almost entirely hateful and negative.
• "Things are not fair” thoughts/actions about the other dominate your day.
• Apathy becomes your "mode of operation" (Remember: hate is not the opposite of love, apathy is).
• You stop arguing (it’s a sign of apathy).
• Criticism comes much more naturally than complimenting.
• You enjoy putting the other down way more than lifting him or her up.

What do to if you see yourself in the above statements?
• Develop rituals of connection (rekindle old and heartwarming routines and/or develop new ones)
• Begin using loving little terms again, even if it scares you.
• Kiss (even if you don’t want to. It feels good, remember?)
• Intentionally tell the other you like something (s)he does.
• Leave a little note that says as much (what you "like" ... or even love or appreciate).
• Change it up: show up at his office and take him out for lunch; call, out of the blue; get in the car and drive (no destination required); book a flight to nowhere (just you two); walk out the door together and DO something. Anything. Together.
• Break the rules; if what you’re doing isn’t working, why keep doing it?
• Shift your self-talk (notice, in your mind, when your partner does something right instead of only what irritates you).
• Ditch friends who diss your spouse (or who diss their own spouses). Negativity begets negativity.
• Try something more positive to begin or end your day (here's a thought: greet your spouse with a smile when s/he walks in the door!)
• Fight. (it means you’re willing to work it through. Engage again. Find out what’s bugging the other person, so you can move forward).

Last but most important tip: get help. Seek a licensed marriage and family therapist to help you sort it all through. It's not a sign of weakness, rather an impressive sign of strength! Think about it: how can we be expected to fully understand, let alone fix, something that has taken years -- one little interaction at a time -- to break(down)?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rhonda Britten and What Happy Couples Do

This is Rhonda Britten, book author and founder of the Fearless Living Institute. She's also going to be the resident life coach on the upcoming season of Celebrity Fit Club. And she loves What Happy Couples Do. She also said I (Anna) was her best friend. True story. Seriously. Okay, maybe she was joking. But the words did come out of her mouth! I think that means there's some BFF potential. Here's her blog: It was great fun hearing her speak and meeting her in person. Did I mention she's from Minnesota?

Monday, September 21, 2009

"I Really Enjoyed Being With You Today"

I (Carol) learned of a delightful little ritual at an equally-delightful wedding we attended this weekend:

The priest, in an effort to create (he was highly successful!) a memorable and meaningful wedding homily, asked the bridal couple to write answers to a series of questions during the weeks before the wedding. It was apparent, from the information he then used to build his sermon, the types of inquiries he made: How did you first meet? What do you love most about this person? What is most important in your future together? What do you most adore about being with him/her?

Of course I sat up straighter (and whispered "loving little ritual," my favorite phrase) to my husband when the priest shared something Emily - the bride - had written about David, her soon-to-be husband. "I love it when he says to me, at the end of every day: 'I really enjoyed being with you today.'" She confessed: "He likely doesn't even know he makes this comment," but that when he does, it reminded her of how loving and kind he is to her.

Loving little rituals! They are the lifeblood of our relationships; they feed them with kindness and goodwill. What if we all said to one another, more often, something as simple and kind as David does to Emily? Our marriages and relationships would be much better places in which to reside, wouldn't they?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Family Event

My (Anna's) dear friend, Jessica, works at Milkweed Press. They're having an event for their children's book, Floramel and Esteban.

Come hear an enchanting tale of friendship and experience the happy sounds of a Caribbean steel band. Floramel and Esteban explores the rhythms of life on a Caribbean island and the friendship between Floramel and Esteban, a lonely cow and a lazy egret. This story is perfect for young readers (ages 7-11) and adults who are young at heart.

Author Emilie Buchwald will read and sign her book, Floramel and Esteban, and play a recording of Calypso music for all ages to enjoy. Please join us!

Saturday, September 12, 2:00 PM
Floramel and Esteban Reading & Signing
Refreshments to follow
Open Book, Target Performance Hall
1011 Washington Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55415

“Long live the artists and their encouragers; long live Floramel and Esteban!” —Debra Frasier

“Written with grace and joyful precision, Floramel and Esteban presents an unlikely pair, an unlikely musician, and an unlikely career choice in a poignant tale that will replay in your mind like a beloved melody.” —Juanita Havill, author of Grow

“Floramel and Esteban is the kind of book readers don’t often see anymore—a generous and spirited story of animals, love, island culture, friendship, and pure joy.”
—Susan Straight, author of A Million Nightingales

Friday, September 4, 2009

Come One, Come All

Come get your signed copies of What Happy Couples Do and What Happy Parents Do. We'll be there. You should be, too.

Fearless America: Setting America free one town at a time.
Thursday 9/10/09
7-9 PM (Doors open at 6:30)
The Radisson Hotel, Roseville.

Emmy-award winner, Oprah repeat guest, bestselling author, NY Times 'America's Favorite Life Coach,' Rhonda Britten, is bringing the Fearless America tour to Minnesota.
With Americans in fear over the economy, health care, housing and so much more she's decided, as a globally recognized expert on fear, to bring her fearless message to the twin cities.

Fear can be paralyzing diminishing our self-esteem and ability to make powerful decisions about our lives. She wants to support folks by showing them how fear operates, how it can be dismantled and what to do about it in any and all situations. It will be an interactive two-hours on September 10th in Roseville, MN.

If you or anyone you know are stuck, bogged down, facing hardship, please come and hear Rhonda speak and get practical tools that are immediately useful.

She looks forward to sharing 'how to be more fearless in these fearful times' with you.

Any additional info about Rhonda and the Fearless America Tour can be found at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Once A Day

What are your daily rituals and personal routines? Do you have a way of beginning or ending the day, without which you feel a bit off, empty, irritated (or all of the above)

Rituals not only build relationships, they can build structure, peace and predictability in our individual lives as well.

My 13 year old got me (Carol) thinking about daily rituals this week when he revealed his latest video-creation, a compilation of self-portraits put into motion. Once a day, for an entire year, my little cutie-patutie has been taking his own picture. Not a day did he miss: rain or shine, home or away, holiday or not. Impressive (albeit a bit oddly adorable) daily ritual, eh?

Check it out!

P.S. 2 bonus points if you can name the state on Tony's favorite sweatshirt without watching the video twice.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Look what Carol made for Baby Kudak! Have you ever seen cuter onesies? We'll have the hippest baby on the block with these hand-stitched, made from scratch, with love onesies. They make us so excited for our little love to get here. Thanks, Carol!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Telling the Parents

How to tell them? How do you tell your parents that they're about to be grandparents? That they will have a new title and a new addition to their family? This took quite a bit of deliberation. We wanted to do something original and memorable. First, we had to figure out timing. We were almost ten weeks along, and we figured we had the perfect opportunity. My parents were coming through the Twin Cities and we had them over for dinner. We arranged to see Brent's parents only a couple of days later. Then we came up with a plan: We would capture their reactions on camera. While telling my parents, Brent would take the photo. After counting to three, I would announce "we're having a baby" while Brent continued to take photo after photo of their reactions. I took the camera when we told his family. Here are the shots. Please excuse the poor iphone quality!
Me telling my parents.

My mom figured it out first.

Finally, my dad gets clued in and asks, "are you serious?"

And then we told Brent's parents. Here's Brent about to tell them. They have no idea what's about to hit them.

Still no reaction. Brent's waiting for it.

Figuring it out.

Now they believe it.

But they're still shocked!

We're so glad everyone knows now! These pics will definitely be put in the baby book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In February...

this couple (Anna and Brent) will become parents for the first time. When this picture was taken, nearly four years ago, we knew we'd like to have kids one day. And here we are. We're so thrilled! And a little frightened. Am I allowed to say that? Well, it's true. Our whole lives will change and we only have 9 months to get ready. And 3 of those months are gone already!

We're mentally preparing by reading a couple of books that my mom got for us. They came highly recommended by some other parents: The Happiest Baby on the Block by Karp and Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Simkin et al. Now we've got to physically prepare by making room for baby in our small house. Last night we were going through some drawers and found a stack of Brent's high school senior picture wallets, an old waterproof film camera, and some chords that belong to something, but we don't know what. Decluttering is good. Thankfully, babies are small. But I hear the stuff they need isn't. Uh oh. That's why we're going to try to keep it simple.

It hasn't felt very real, because at only 13 weeks, I haven't grown all that much yet. But one thing that makes it feel very real is all the items we've received from various people. A whole suitcase filled with maternity clothes from my sister-in-law, Julie, and her friend, Katie. A little outfit and frame from our friend, Michelle. A cute teddy bear from Jeff and Emily (you know them, the very smart savers from a previous post). And Carol is already making us a bunch of onesies! We're in for such a rewarding and fun adventure. Hope you're ready for more baby-related posts. I've got baby on the brain and haven't been able to talk about it for three months! Up next, how we told our friends and family...and their reactions.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Wildcats

I (Anna) love keeping things comfy. High heels? Not so much for me. I'll wear them for presentations, but most of the time I like to rock my flats. In undergrad, I had a pair of extra large men's sweatpants that I wore after making the trek to the opposite side of campus during the cold winter months. They were thick. Too long. Tattered. And you guessed it, comfortable. By the time I started my Ph.D. work in Kentucky, I decided it might be nice to have an additional pair of super thick, too long, but oh-so-comfy sweatpants. Thus, I invested in the pants I lovingly call the "Wildcats."

The pants are infamous. My family in Kentucky expected me to change into them as soon as I got home (that's Jakey and Ty Samson with me above). My friends from school thought it was hilarious when I wore them to their homes for study sessions (or to the library. Yes, I was shameless enough to wear these in public!). My friends even pretended to hate them. But I know better.

The Wildcats got me through the Kentucky ice storm of 2009.
The power went out in my house for a whole week, so I stayed with 3 different friends; the majority of this time was spent at my friend, Rachel's. Thus, the Wildcats are associated with the cold, and sometimes I miss wearing them during the warmer months. Cue Rachel (pictured above acting "disgusted" by the Wildcats), who unexpectedly sent me the cutest pair of "summer" Wildcats! They're cut-off sweatpants.
I'm in love. I've been wearing them ever since I received them. Thanks, Rayray, for thinking of me and sending these all the way to MN. This is What Happy Women Do, which happens to be the title of our forthcoming book! It's about the rituals that sustain sisterhood. The ugly Wildcats instantly remind this group of friends of how close we are and how much fun we have together. Sometimes I miss them so much it makes me ache. Long live the Wildcats. Long live the bonds of sisterhood.

What rituals do you have with your "sisters" or close friends? Tell, tell.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


... is now 2!

Who's Max? Refresh your memory by perusing our blogs from one year ago when Max - a little guy who I (Carol) have been photographing since birth- celebrated 1 year of life.

Again, who's Max? Sorry. I can't tell.

We love Max.

Happy birthday, little dude. Hope you like your photos (and being blogged about by strange authors who like curly hair and big cheeks).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Jill and Kevin

Wow. They're fun AND generous. Jill and Kevin, the couple who danced down the aisle at their wedding, are announcing their support of the Sheila Wellstone Foundation, which combats domestic violence. Now we really want to be friends with them!

Here's the story:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I've noticed a curious trend ...

... in our family (Carol's). Can we call it a ritual? I'm not quite sure yet because I'm still discerning its symbolic significance. Maybe you can help.

Each time we travel and visit people around the globe we love so much, and those people happen to own and proudly show off an adorable pet, we - despite my insistence that we will "Never!" No! No. No way!" - get one too.

Two years ago, it was Belle (the 3 lb Yorkie) who inspired us to adopt Fred. Ah, Fred. My third child and favorite furry friend.

A few weeks ago it was MoMo (the 8 inch, 13 year old leopard Gecko) who motivated us to find and welcome Tiki into our home. With Tiki - our 8 month old leopard gecko - comes a whole new ritual: buying and storing live gut-loaded crickets, monitoring the temperature of this little guy's terrarium (his origins are Pakistan, and it tends to be moist and hot there), staying up late to see if he'll come out of his hut (he's nocturnal, of course) and shamelessly spouting gecko facts about the neighborhood gatherings.

Welcome, Tiki!

Oh my. What am I doing?!

I want to believe I'm teaching my children how to care for the animals (and reptiles) of the earth. Whatever the rationale, here's a warning to our far away friends with pets: we will not be visiting you any time soon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Now This Looks Like a Happy Couple...

And a happy wedding party. Check out this video. It's worth the five minutes.

It appears as though they won't be needing any advice on how to turn up the joy in their marriage. Who said love and commitment needs to be serious all the time? They're celebrating in a way that is meaningful to them. And that, truly, is a loving thing. As one of my (Anna's) friends said on facebook, "Who are these people and can I be friends with them?" It's not entirely unlikely since they're from St. Paul, MN. Happy Couple, if you're out there reading this, we're interested in interviewing you!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's all about (unexpected) reciprocity, baby.

I can't stop thinking about the woman named Kelly who was featured on our local NBC affiliate last night (it's Carol blogging-in today).

She's young. She's healthy. And she was about to celebrate her 7th wedding anniversary. But it didn't happen because her husband - the love of her life, talented painter, best friend - was killed in a car accident.

Very sad. Super sad. The whole story just made you (okay, me) want to bawl your eyes out.

Beyond the heart-wrenching details of his death and the aftermath, what touched me the most about their story was something this young widow said during the interview. The statement came as she described what their marriage was like; what she and her husband shared; why she missed him deeply every single second of the day and night. And what she said seems to me a succinct summary of the end-game/sum-total/tell-all (tell everyone!) secret to marital and individual happiness (and is similar - don't you think? - to the point we made in the "Happy Wife, Happy Life" blog post a few weeks ago):

"I just told him all the time how lucky we were. If your goal is to make someone else happy, and their goal is to make you happy, it probably doesn't get much better than that."


What if all of us in relationships made a pact to make it our goal - every day - to make the other person happy knowing that they are doing the same for us?

So much happiness, we all might just bawl.

It's all about reciprocity, baby, without the expectation of such.

Why not give it a try? (And then, in the spirit of reciprocity, write in and tell us how it worked).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finances + Rituals=Exponential Growth

I (Anna) had lunch with my dear friend and former college roommate, Emily, yesterday. Next weekend is her and her husband's one year anniversary. What a year it's been! They bought a beautiful home. And of course, grew together in every way a couple can and should. However, I was particularly inspired by one of the details she told me about their marriage. They have bi-weekly financial meetings. At these meetings, they evaluate whether or not they have reached their bi-weekly saving goals in each spending category. Then they set new goals for the upcoming two-week period. Brilliance! Her husband, Jeff, is the type who finds balancing their checkbook and organizing their finances FUN. Fun? "Not I" said the fly. But, yes, Jeff daily logs into Quicken to micro-manage their money with all the vigor and zeal he once devoted to his high school and college basketball career. Emily said the meetings had to officially be made "bi-weekly" so finances aren't a dinner table topic each night. He's even turned my big-spending Emily into a coupon clipper! Wow. Quite a transformation if you saw the countless new "going out" tops she purchased each week in college. They were stylish as can be, but expensive nonetheless (I loved it, though, because she let me borrow one of her "old" tops every Thursday night!). Those were the days.

For most Americans these days, finances are tight. And even if they aren't, isn't this a great way of coping with one of marriage's toughest topics?! It's what we all should be doing all of the time about all issues, not just money. Emily and Jeff aren't just investing in their financial future, they're staying connected on one of the issues that couples divorce over.

Congratulations, Em and Jeff, on one year of marriage and financial gain! Now I'm off to clip some coupons.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Case of the Caprese Sandwich

Yesterday, I (Anna) was making lunch for myself and my husband, Brent. Lately we've been enjoying caprese sandwiches. Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar layered between two slices of Jewish rye bread. Delicious. We use our panini grill so the cheese sizzles as it oozes out the sides of the sandwich. Yesterday, though, we happened to only have two regular slices of bread and then two heels. As I delicately placed all the ingredients on each sandwich, I decided that I would give Brent the perfect sandwich made with the two regular slices and I would eat the sandwich comprised of the two heels. I got everything to the table, putting the "heel" sandwich at my seat and the other at Brent's. I went to pour myself a glass of milk and returned to my seat. Without looking down at the sandwich, I lifted it to my mouth for a big, juicy bite. "Wait a second," I said, "I was supposed to have the sandwich with the heels!" At the last minute, my very observant husband noticed I had the "heel" sandwich and switched with me. Neither of us wanted the other to have to eat the less desired sandwich!

This tiny but meaningful gesture changed my whole day. It also reminded me that people who keep their partner first on their minds and in their actions are so very satisfied. After that meal, I was nourished and nurtured. A very healthy combination. As Sandra Broyard says, "In the marriage that endures, there is no need for grandiosity." We couldn't agree more heartily.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tweet, Tweet

Calling all twitterers. We're officially tweeting. Twitterverse, watch out! Our twitter name is "happycouples." Follow us for frequent updates on all things Carol and Anna.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Fred Chronicles

Carol is away. And guess who is privileged enough to take care of her itty-bitty, cuddly-wuddly Yorkie, Fred? Me! And my dear hubby, too. We've been having such a blast with this fur-ball! On Friday we took him to a cookout where he saw his long-lost friend, Boulder. Everyone raved about how cute Fred was, "he's so endearing!" and "I don't even like small dogs, but this little guy is so fun and adorable!"

On Saturday, we took him to another cookout with Brent's family.

He hung out with Brent's twin cousins, Brooke and Bridget.

And became the surrogate pet of the band, TelluRide. Brent's uncle, Jeff Catton, is their manager and they are in Minnesota playing some tunes. They're extremely nice guys who played baseball in the park with the cousins and roasted marshmallows outside with us. Check out the band:

Band member, Jimmy, became a huge Fred fan. He carried him around for most the night and threatened to trade Fred for his dog at home!

Don't worry, Carol, we brought him home in one piece. He was quite tuckered out, though. Be warned. You might have to pry him away from Brent's chest!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We Love the Rain

I (Anna) spent an extended Father's day weekend in NYC visiting my brother Mike and his wife Jill. New York has seen lots of rain this past month, some of which we were able to enjoy over the weekend. As astute readers may have noticed, Carol and I fittingly dedicated our second book, What Happy Parents Do, to our own parents. On the dedication page, I thanked my parents for teaching me to love the rain.

The little phrase, "we love the rain," holds significance to me and my family on many levels. We do, quite literally, love the rain. When it storms we often step out on my parents' huge front porch to take in the the beauty of lightning and sheets of rain. This love, however, is something we have learned through experiences. One in particular.

When I was a child we took a trip to Boston and went to a baseball game. It rained "cats and dogs." So, we ended up purchasing large, blue plastic ponchos to keep dry. Rather than allowing the rain to ruin one of our favorite "American pastimes" we created a song while stomping in the puddles: "We love the rain!" (sung in a clever/unique tune, sung over and over again). As newer family members join and hear this story, they ask: "Where are all the lyrics?" My sister-in-law, Jill, and 3 year old nephew, Jacob, have attempted some very fine lyrics; we're hoping to add them to our legendary song. Soon.

On another level, we believe "loving the rain" is the equivalent to embracing life for all it offers. The good. Bad. Sad. Fun. Ugly. Tragic. Beautiful. Wet!

We love the rain, indeed.

Happy belated father's day.


It's something I (Anna) depend upon for survival. Especially while I'm working. It's 1,000% more effective than caffeine, I'll tell you that much. There's just something about the energy derived from people focused on similar goals. Synergy is one of the many reasons I adore my friends from the University of Kentucky and the experiences we shared together. And I can't help but find myself yearning for my fellow "synergists" from Kentucky. We'd find our spot in the library (one of my favorite places on earth) and work, work, work. And somehow we'd laugh, laugh, laugh our way to productivity. Check out my darling friends, Rachel and Shades, discussing a paper idea in William T. Young library.

And me. And Kelley. And my unpictured but not forgotten UK besties.

These days I'm craving synergy like I usually crave chocolate. Thank goodness for Carol! The energy she feeds me is priceless and unstoppable. I'm also reminding myself that marriages are also a perfect place to ignite some synergy. As John Gottman has found in his brilliant research on healthy and happy marriage, positivity begets more positivity. That's synergy, folks! And I'm on my way to finding more as I continue my transition back to Minneapolis.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

That's a direct quote from my buddy Tim, uttered earlier tonight. My utterly honest response? "You are one smart man, my friend."

But what I was really thinking (yes, Tim, you are an incredibly brilliant guy. But I was reflecting more broadly ...) about how happy couples seem to be those in which each person is making sure the other person is happy. First. And finally. And often. And sincerely. In big ways and mundane ways. And not all the time, but as a matter of principle. "Happy you, happy me." Doesn't that just seem right?

Lest we forget how building up another comes immediately back to us (and usually many fold), keep this in mind: it is only through interaction that we come to know and create ourselves. Our most basic sense of worth (dare we say happiness) is, as human beings, only as great as the happiness of those significant others around us. It's all one big fat exchange (of emotions, notions, and actions).

Kind of fun to consider how this works in our daily lives, eh? Like when it's time to empty the dishwasher. Or celebrate a birthday. Or adopt a dog named Ellie from the Minneapolis Humane Society.

Ellie! She was the inspiration for Tim's "happy life" comment this evening. Because my BFF Molly and her two kiddos found the most perfect little pooch for their perfect little lives today at the Humane Society. She had a powerful "take me home right now I'm so adorable and well-trained and have the biggest blackest nose and the sweetest pinkest tongue that will greet you with kisses every single day of your amazing life please take me home with you, please, please, please, I'm very perfect" quality.

Tim, we know you have said "no dog." But just one more word and I'll shut up: "In a deep and profound way, if Ellie will really make Molly happy, you know you will be happier too. And, as a bonus, all of that happiness will stir up an awesome centrifugal force of happy people in your life. And as an engineer, you know how cool centrifugal forces are: they get energy from themselves! Self-sustaining. What a beautiful thing (especially when it's about good feelings and happy couples ... and the most adorable non-shedding, already-trained, perfectly sized, rescue dog ever)."

For the rest of us, all of this raises a central/ifugal question: What have I done to make life for my partner a little happier today?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shower Season

My friend, Tara, sent me the following email:

Hi Anna.

I was just looking at my friend's baby shower pics on Facebook and look what I spotted as a gift?!?! :)

Yes, that's right. It's our own baby What Happy Parents Do being joyfully gifted to the mom-to-be. I can't help but wonder which story it is they're laughing about. I suspect "Naked Dinners."

Thanks and congratulations to Karin Kish, the guest of honor!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Check it out ... !

No Sign

My eldest turned 13 today! I'm officially the happily married mother of a teenager.

Oh my.

As the day approached, he had one simple request: "Please, mom. No front door sign."

Ah, teenagers. I LOVE em. Especially mine.

So, I decided to honor the request and recognize it for what it is: an opportunity! When one ritual ends, another can take its place.

To respect the increasing embarrassment ("my mom is sooooo annoying!") of my teenager, I began a new birthday-week-ritual this morning: a breakfast table display of his baby books coupled with all sorts of silly (embarrassing? absolutely!) little stories of when he was just a wee-one.

I think he kind of liked it; those eye-rolls are a teenager's way of saying "Thanks, mom. I love you too."


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Explode. Erupt. Enjoy.

It's spring on campus! And in my yard.

Tulips explode. Rhodedendrums erupt. Lilacs emit the aromas of ... well ... lilacs, of course. Buds burst all around and make my eyes water with joy. And allergens.

It's also a delightful time of year because classes have ended. Next week we give final exams (insert big sigh of relief). Because although I (Carol) absolutely love what I do, I also love the seasons of academia:

Start afresh.
Read a lot.
Learn more.
Discuss further.
Take a test or two.
Challenge yourself.

And then next year, do it all again.

As I wrap another year and head into summer, I've been thinking about the fall already (starting anew) while being unusually appreciative of the baby-tenderness and freshness of this spring.

One of those fresh moments came from a lesson poignantly learned by a couple (literally) of experts guest speaking in one of my courses. You can read all about it in a blog to which I contribute at the University of St. Thomas. The entry was inspired by spring in my (rock) garden. Take a peek:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stanford University = Happy Authors

As my (Carol's) husband is walking out of his office this evening, hurriedly heading home for a feast of grilled walnut burgers on a bed baby greens, he is brought to a momentary halt by a College of St. Catherine student who yells "Dr. Bruess! I have a great story for you!"

Kelsey, a junior at St. Kate's, is a bright and friendly student who I also just happen to know because she works part time at the Grand Avenue J Crew retailer where I just happen to frequent. She excitedly details her trip the week before to visit friends in California where she, of course, wanted to check out Stanford University. And where she reportedly shrieked as she saw on an eye-level and prominent display, right as you walk in the door of the Stanford bookstore, a faced-out stack of What Happy Couples Do.

"I know that woman who wrote that book! I sell her clothes!"

How cool is that? We've arrived at Stanford University's bookstore!

It's true: being on the new release table at B&N was dreamy. Being in Target and Oprah's green room remains our creme de la creme dream. But we silly academic find the bookstore of a fine institution like Stanford a very comfortable and exciting place to find our little work of love.

Happy couples at Stanford and beyond: enjoy.

And Kelsey: thanks for the shriek out!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Birthday Week Ritual Lives On

Last week was Birthday week again at the Bruess house. Gracie turned nine. The ritual of celebrating in grand style - for seven "wonderful" days - took us from a red velvet cupcake mountain on day one to our special bistro dinner with BFFs at the Mall of America's American Girl Store ("Mom, this is the greatest day ever"). Instead of telling you all about it, I thought I'd show and tell select events of our week:

Day one:Red velvet cupcake tower kick off birthday-week. Yum.

Day two - six: I'll spare you the photos of the front door sign, the bouncy balls, the gifts hidden around the house, the second batch of cupcakes, the 4-layer homemade german chocolate cake, the candles, the songs, the cards, the cash (grandmas and aunts know all about birthday week too), the breakfasts in bed ... and ... sob, sob ... the tears when the birthday girl finds out that her brother made it to swim finals but she did not. Oops. Not-so-happy-birthday moment. Oh well. You can't have it all, even during birthday week.

Fast forward to day seven: We head to "The Bistro" per the request of the birthday-week queen.

The dolls pull up to the table and order lemonade. On ice, please.

BFFs oooh and aaah over the mini-fred puppy given as a gift. Gracie names him Tiger. Fred attacks Tiger the minute we get home. Woof. Woof.

Gracie acts like she doesn't want us to sing to her in a restaurant. She is loving every second of it.

BFF's request a trip to Mexico to close out birthday week. We take them to Sears and have them try on beach wear instead. Smart.

Birthday week ends with very crabby daughter (too much fun, too little sleep?!) and a very happy mom (it's officially over now, right?)

I strongly encourage you consider initiating birthday week at your house! ... If you are strong. Tolerant. Dotting. Patient. Can bake. And decorate. And wrap boxes in 10 seconds or less. Can make big signs (for the doors and entrances). And, most importantly, can take a week off (after birthday week, to catch up on sleep and scratch the tape off the ceilings and doors). What fun it is to be nine and enjoying the beauty of ritual!