Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, liturgical living, Marriage, motherhood, reading, sin, Suffering

A liturgy of laundry

May 27, 2016

Last week in my rantings about impersonal social media and the vile temptation to permascroll, I may have insufficiency highlighted the upside. But the upside of the digital age – and there are substantial benefits – is that I do have honest to goodness friends I’ve only met once, or never, from all over the world.

Take my friend Christy, who hails from the wilds of Canada. Sure, we did meet once in real life summers long ago in Texas at Edel: ground zero. But besides that it’s been all Voxes and emails. And one, thoughtful Amazon-flung package of amazing lipstick and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. And which I would perhaps never, ever have picked up but for Christy’s urging.

I’ve found myself in tears, agonizing over this or that character’s backstory, and flipping eager pages well past an appropriate hour in the night, just to see what the girls would do next.

And, wait for it…It’s about nuns. Cloistered Benedictines in 1960’s England, to be exact. Sounds riveting, right? But oh, it is. Such poignant studies of human nature, such incisive observations on sin, on personality, on life and politics. If you can sleuth a copy on Amazon or eBay, you’d be a lucky dog with the first good read of the summer in your paws.

Speaking of summer, today’s the last day of school here, and it’s 53 degrees and raining, which means indoor children and indoor problems and I’ve got 99 of each.

I was thinking abut the good sisters of Brede while I was folding the one millionth pile of laundry for the week this morning, and I was so done.

Even after a fresh purge, spurred by this week’s conversation about decluttering and spartan living. Grumpily I folded an especially ratty t-shirt, imagining that it would probably still be a house favorite when boy #3 is old enough to have opinions about wearing something with a guinea pig dressed up as Spider Man morning noon and night. Also, it should be noted, Peru lacks any apparent licensing or copyright law. But “Spider Cuy” is a beloved wardrobe staple (thanks, Uncle Handro!) and shall remain so, I supposed, until my back goes out for good and my hands are crippled from decades of careful folding.

It doesn’t help anything that my kids are still basically incompetent at household chores, groused I. And the downward spiral descendeth. Never mind that my friend’s little boy is in the hospital awaiting his first round of chemo, or that a fellow Catholic blogger buried his tiny son this morning. I was going to be disgruntled over laundry.

But there’s so much of it. And while I can weep in solidarity and offer small, pitiful sacrifices in the hard nighttime hours of wakings and rocking and fetching water, it’s harder to see the beauty in the beast(ly) grind of housework.

While Sister Colette thrilled to the task of mending and creating rich vestments to suit the liturgical seasons, marveling over how her work kept her tied to the rhythm of that “great wheel of prayer” that is the liturgical year of the Church, I was – am – less than enthusiastic about the dishwasher I just unloaded. The freshly-mopped floor splattered with applesauce. The decomposing (I wish this were hyperbole) lunchmeat I fished out of the coach section of the mini van this morning.

But couldn’t I be just as connected, in contentment, to my daily work and the constant offering-up and offering back as a kind of prayer?

If marriage is really a vocation, and I believe that it is, then there are day to day responsibilities that aren’t just annoyingly “there” as the result of it, but maybe they’re actually for it; the means of continual sanctification and for sure mortification, by which I perfect my selfish and supremely-irritated-by-poop-on-the-floor soul.


Or maybe it’s less meta than that. But it definitely got me thinking.

“Benedictae!” the “waker of the week” would intone, rapping on the cell door and swinging it open at like 4:30 am. I doubt the sister on the receiving end of the salutation would growl “GET OUT GET BACK IN THE BASEMENT” in a terrifying rat growl in response.

Instead, no matter how exhausted, how overwhelmed, how chilly, how overburdened…she’d probably swing her legs over the side of her cot and get up. Because 4:30m am wakeup calls are part of what she signed up for.

I did not. At least, I didn’t know I did. I didn’t think a lot about sleepless nights, discipline heartbreaks, behavioral issues, traumas, and tantrums. When I was a besotted fiance planning my wedding and eagerly anticipating a Hawaiian honeymoon, I figured children would turn up within the year or so. But even after growing up in a family with 6 younger siblings, I found myself arrestingly unprepared for the ravages of sleep deprivation. And incessant touching.

I think it’s probably my fault if it’s anyone’s “fault,” per se, because I was an exquisitely selfish teenager and must have been blind to my own parent’s sufferings in this realm. But, whatever the case may be, here I find myself elbows-deep in a vocation I’m ill suited for at best, spectacularly unqualified for at worst.

And yet, it’s mine. And these kids and their tears and tantrums and smiles and sticky sticky so so so sticky fingers and their tiny souls begging for love and formation and security…are mine. And this daily litany of laundry and diapers and filthy floors and another – yes, another! – load in the dishwasher or the sink, is mine.

I don’t hear bells tolling at Nones, at Sext, at Matins. I hear screaming from the basement at 1 am. I don’t practice “The Great Silence” (AS ATTRACTIVE AS THAT SOUNDS, HINT HINT FOR NXT MOTHER’S DAY), but I can still my frantic pace for a divine mercy chaplet at 3, or for the Angelus at noon.

And I don’t lovingly lay out vestments in a candlelit sanctuary before an early morning Mass, peacefully arranging flowers and flipping open the missal to the right pages. But I pack lunches. I scrub the same disappointingly-aroma’d bathroom … at times. Which will remain unspoken. I change an astonishing number of dirty diapers in a day. And none of that need be surprising to me.

I mean, it really shouldn’t be.

And I’m really hoping this entire essay isn’t reading as some sanctimonious my vocation is love story. Because while I adore St. Therese enough to name my daughter for her, and while my vocation is, indeed, love, I’m kind of a mess still. And I’m sure Jenny in the future will look back on present day Jenny’s whining over dirty laundry (literally), she’ll maybe smile in compassion or recognition and remember how hard it is to get unselfish. Especially when the desire to do so isn’t terribly strong most days.

Ding, dong. Maybe that’s what I’ll hear when the 4 year old is in my room at 11 tonight, weaving me a tale of bedtime woes. Time to get up and serve my vocation. That’s my call to prayer.

Or maybe I’ll roll over and let daddy deal with it. The flesh is particularly weak on Friday of the last week of school.


decluttering, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, thrifting, toddlers, Uncategorized

Spotless would be great, but decluttered is good enough

May 23, 2016

Hi, my name’s Jenny and I’m a compulsive tidier-upper.

My bathrooms might have an easily distinguishable level of grime about them, but rare is the afternoon you’d walk into our home and see toys on the floor and laundry scattered across the family room floor. At least for more than an hour or two.

It’s not that it doesn’t get dirty. It’s filthy under the kitchen table, and the walls are slick with the evidence that we have 4 kids aged 5 and under, none of which are particularly domesticated as of yet. But I’ll be a goat in Joanna Gaines’ shed if my house is going to be untidy.

I think I was a minimalist before Marie Kondo was a glimmer in the NYT Bestseller List’s eye. While she grew up collecting organization magazines, I watched my mom get her A-game on with a garbage bag and full throated promises of one-way tickets to Goodwill.

(And she always delivered.)

Now that I’m grown with babies of my own, like any good country song would have it, I take their same bags of crap and worn out onesies and tchotchke toys to my own local thrift store, feeling a surge of pride as I empty another tailgate full of clutter in the name of “charitable giving” and a handy 20% coupon for my next visit. Dave affectionately refers to the thrifting life cycle as “renting from Saver’s.”

Close enough.

Over the past year, as the kids have morphed into more distinctive personalities and not so much an amorphous mass of basic biological needs (<– not a commentary on their inherent worth or fundamental human dignity, just an observation that small children are colossally inept at pretty much everything…so somebody please explain to me the difference between a fetus and a 1 year old, and why they aren’t equally eligible for handy dismissal for inconvenience. Geography isn’t a terribly compelling argument in my mind. But that seems to be the leading explanation. End tangent.) we’ve seen a growing affinity for keeping Lego creations intact for more than one afternoon, hoarding treasures in surprising places, and attempting to colonize bacterium in the downstairs bathroom in new and scientifically adventurous ways.

In other words, there is crap strewn about that I did not strew, and people mind if I move it.

I think they call this leveling up. So I now have more compassion for friends and readers who’ve said “but I can’t just take their stuff away” to the Kondo-esque advice of ridding the joy sucking detritus from one’s abode. Okay, okay, I get it now.

That being said, as these children grow and develop extensive leaf and rock collections and stuff apple cores and sucker sticks under their pillows, I’m seeing a greater necessity to cultivate the essentials, and let the “would sure be nice-es” fall by the wayside.

For me, as a mom with introverted type A tendencies who works from home and has nobody in school full time yet, that means an almost militant commitment to keeping our common areas open and airy…well, not exactly airy (looks pointedly towards diaper can) … but absent of piles and stacks.

But how?

Practical steps:

1. We’ve had a lot of success with training our otherwise basically feral children to put things away where they belong. Because they’re angels. Because I’m an amazing parent. Because they don’t have very much stuff to begin with, and everything has a home.

We have a single toy basket on our main floor, and a single book basket in the family room. They’re free to trash the family room with both to their heart’s content, and then clean the entire thing in a 2 minute fire drill. The key to this system succeeding is that they actually can clean it up, totally on their own, in 2 minutes.

I learned the hard way that having too many toys and a larger than average family could easily equal a crapped out living space. Because 10 toys out on the floor is messy, but 10 toys per kid out on the floor is like the library in the rich suburb north of us after Tuesday’s 10 o’clock preschool story hour. Looks like FAO Schwarz after a terrorism drill.

So they don’t have a ton of toys, and we rotate them out in a kind of toy library system. The trains and tracks live high up on a shelf and come down whenever they want to play with them, but they don’t live in easy reach. The hot wheels have a specific drawer they sleep in at night, and return there they do with every setting sun. The Legos live on top of the fridge, and I have a catch all spot in the kitchen I dump stragglers into throughout the day so I can rehome them at night. I figure it takes about as much energy to see and resent a Lego on the floor in the bathroom as it does to scoop it up and sequester it.

(They do not keep toys in their bedrooms. Just the stuffed animal lovies and the odd book or race car. But only the animals live there.)

2. The bigger headache has traditionally been books, which seem to be just too overwhelming to reshelve. I don’t really blame them: when I walk into the toy room and see 104 children’s tomes scattered open across the floor, I feel incapable of rectifying the situation myself.

This past winter I stopped shelving them, period, and just started keeping the daily selection upstairs in a basket in the family room and the rest dumped in no particular order into those ubiquitous canvas storage bins which fit neatly on the bookshelf. Suddenly they are able to clean them up, because dumping stuff in bins, as every mother knows, is the absolute easiest way to clean.

I’ve also committed to bringing them to the library every week or so, which has alleviated the guilt of donating unwanted/worn out/twaddly books. Yes, I know, I know … smart, well-adjusted future Nobel laureates all have one thing in common, and it’s an extensive home library. But, as a confirmed dweller of suburbia with 3 excellent children’s libraries within a 2 mile radius of our house, I’ve let myself off the hook. Why not let them hang onto the bulk of our books, and I’ll build up a little collection of true favorites and classics at home?

3. Their wardrobes are continually and scrupulously edited. Is something ill-fitting? Worth saving for a younger sibling? Best donated to our local Gabriel House or a cousin? I have a constant outgoing bag in our front hall closet for donations. I pull something out almost every time I’m doing laundry, and it helps keep their wardrobes manageable for me, the sole launderess. When they are running their own loads of whites and colors one day (soon, I hope!) they can have a dozen t-shirts a piece. But for now, they have like 5.

The other big factor is shoe containment. We’ve perfected a system of 2 pairs up, 2 pairs down for the big boys. They keep their mass shoes and school shoes downstairs in their closet (1 pair of each per kid) and their play shoes and sandals upstairs in the front closet on an IKEA shoe rack. In the winter, the sandals get swapped out for boots. They know where to put their shoes when they come in, and when they forget (which is 90% of the time), there’s relatively low drama when I point to the closet and remind them. The babies’ shoes live in their rooms, and they also own 3-4 pairs apiece. I do not save shoes unless I love them and they’re in great shape, because they’re so cheap at garage sales and thrift stores, and because my kids wear them hard, and generally they’re not in inheritable shape, baby shoes notwithstanding. Also, my kids are barefoot a lot, much to grandma’s dismay.

Finally, I’ve had to relax and admit to myself that nothing bad is going to happen if things look trashed at 1:30 in the afternoon. It is trashed, because 5 people are sharing space and trying to build a life together here during the daylight hours. I’ve tried to relax and look past (waaaaaaaay past, in the case of the bathrooms) the normal wear and tear of daily living.

And knowing that I can pick up the house (with a little help from my little friends) in 20 minutes after dinner, I don’t sweat the messes, the piles, and the puddles that accumulate throughout the day.

We’re in this together, me and these kids, and we’re getting better and better at putting the pieces back together before bedtime, even if the sink is piled real, real high.


About Me, Evangelization, relativism, social media

Antisocial media: the isolation of over-connectedness

May 19, 2016

I spend a lot of time online. Too much time, truth be told. I’m considering taking a serious social media hiatus this summer, with a house full of children and a backyard filled with wading pools.

And maybe this time I won’t come back.

I don’t mean I’d stop blogging. Just that I’d stop with the other stuff. The posting and cultivating an online presence. The consuming of news culled from anonymous “relationships” on Twitter, the ingestion of a never-ending stream of content and beauty, captivating though it may be, from a thousand different sources on Instagram. And the everything on Facebook, that deepest-seated enemy of human productivity. (At least for this early adapter.)

I don’t think the human mind was much designed for endless scrolling. And it’s making me stupid.

Stupid, and discontented.

I know that’s a crazy thing to say given that I am, in fact, a writer who depends upon the internet to promulgate her work. The irony is not lost on me.

But the internet, increasing, is becoming less of a tool for me and more of a master. I’m stuck in Q1 with inboxes from multiple platforms overflowing, demanding daily attention, and then, tired from so much reacting, I sit and I scroll, mindlessly consuming and consuming and consuming until suddenly, it’s 10 pm and I’ve read some fascinating things about artisanal cheese-making and travel tips for the summer season but I’ve also seen a lot of pictures of weird celebrity awards show couture and pictures of Scandinavian living room furniture groupings. And bohemian paint colors.

So poor me, I work online and the online world is working me over. Boo hoo, right?

Here’s the thing; I believe that God has called me to the work I’m doing now in this little space, telling truths and distilling teachings and connecting cultural dots…and I also believe He is calling me to something bigger and, for me, much, much more challenging.

And it’s my neighborhood.

It’s the real world.

It’s my friend across the street who has given me bags and bags of adorable girl’s clothing and sippy cups over the years, and has never heard a word from me about Jesus.

It’s the guy at Costco who compliments me on my kids’ behavior, despite the number of them, and who gets a vague half smile and a half answer when he presses, wanting to know if we’re “done” now.

It’s the girl in my mom’s group at church who is really hurting, who doesn’t have a dozen girlfriends and sisters at her beck and call and is hungry for real fellowship with a living, breathing human person.

Those are all areas where I’m so much more comfortable hiding behind a screen.

I frequently field comments along the lines of “I’d never be brave enough to say/write that…” but the truth is, it’s easy to be brave online. Just like, I imagine, it’s easy to be truly horrible online.

The cost is modest. The stakes are low. And while it takes a certain thickness of skin to speak truth to darkness, it takes a far thicker skin to say it in person, in love, to someone in real relationship with you.

I love the online community I’ve found in the Catholic blogosphere and through connecting with other women. And some of those relationships are undeniably real, though limited in their depth and scope. But the ones that have grown and developed have involved taking further steps: phone calls, voxes, in-person meet ups while traveling. Participating in a deeper way in each other’s lives. So while they may have been planted in social media, they’ve bloomed in reality.

Social media has an ability to bring people together. But it also has a chilling segregating effect, enabling little intellectual ghettos, little echo chambers, to coexist almost entirely unbeknownst to one another, helping to foster the illusion that everyone else is like me, everyone else understands this.

And we who live under the dictatorship of relativism are hard pressed to find common ground, with all truths being subjective and all options being equally valid, to converse in a truly productive fashion with those who hold differing opinions.

If we disagree mildly, it’s inconvenient. If we disagree strenuously, we turn away from one another in disgust, branding the Other a bigot, a hater, a whatever-phobic.

There is no room for relationship. We’re all so utterly detached from one another, thanks to our screens and our self-imposed lines of segregation drawn across our newsfeeds and curated, click by click, by our own preferences and points of view.

When I encounter my neighbor, smiling awkwardly from behind her own garbage can as we drag our blue beasts to the curb, we exchange bland small talk about the weather, the downed tree limbs from the recent storm, the impending end of the school year. I don’t know what she thinks about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts, or who she’s going to vote for in November, or whether or not she’s considering taking her kids on a mission trip to Malaysia or if her marriage is in trouble. I don’t even know how old she is, to be honest.

And we scurry back inside, comfortably at ease from the up-closeness that breeds such a particularly American kind of discomfort. It’s the same reason I don’t know a thing about the girl who makes my favorite cappuccino down the street at Peets, but in Italy, at All Brother’s Bar outside St. Peter’s Square, I had Tonio’s email address and knew his children’s names. He would take Joey in his arms and bounce him behind the counter as he pulled shot after shot of sweet black gold, filling orders and calling out greetings to his patrons while bouncing a blonde toddler on his hip.

I want that kind of life again.

(I want that kind of coffee again, while we’re on the subject.)

I want the kind of forced closeness and relationship that seemed to come so effortlessly and so inevitably in Italy, where my language skills were so limited, but my relationship skills were challenged and strengthened just by grocery shopping.

And I don’t want to romanticize things because boy, we had our struggles there, and I would have given a dozen friendly baristas for one close mommy friend or a sister down the block in Rome. But there was something utterly communal, in the deepest sense of the word, about how we lived there.

And I want to live that way again.

And I think I can…or at least, I think I can make a go at it. I’m sure we’ll never find another Tonio, not in suburban Colorado anyhow. But I think I can slam the laptop shut for the bulk of the daytime hours and wander out into my neighborhood with my phone holstered safely in my bag or, better yet, left to charge alone on the counter. Maybe I can walk the 15 endless feet that separate our two driveways and invite Steph over for a glass of wine on the porch. (The introvert in me recoils in terror)

Maybe I can answer in the most powerful way possible the question of what’s wrong with this crazy world we’re living in? with the one thing that’s ever really changed the world: a sincere gift of self.

social media


A little less grainy

May 16, 2016

So we’ve been trying this new thing in our house for about 5 weeks now, and since it’s Monday and who doesn’t like to read about bizarre diet attempts on a Monday, I’ll regale you fine people with the preliminary results.

Let me back up for a bit to April. I’d been feeling pretty rough despite not being actively pregnant or nursing very often, maybe only 3-5 times most days. (He has since weaned completely. Tiny, conflicted violins.)

But my body felt like I was running back-to-back marathons and I could.not.get. enough sleep to satisfy the deep, unrelenting exhaustion that claimed me most afternoons by 3 pm. I’d cut way back on alcohol, had stopped drinking coffee for an entire week (I know!), then reintroduced to my current level of a single shot of espresso with breakfast (do I need to rebrand, u think?), and still felt like k-crap.

I’d also been seeing a naturopath for the last couple months and she’d recommended some dietary changes that sounded truly terrible. But! She also hinted that she thought I might be a good candidate for trying to heal what she suspected was a “leaky gut” by cutting out grains and dairy. I was confused because I thought leaky gut was something… grosser. But hearing her explain that some of the symptoms can include depression and exhaustion and exacerbated hypothyroid symptoms had me all ears.

Since I’m not crazy enough to think that I could do another Whole 30 at this juncture in time, I forced her to tell me which was worse, in her estimation. In her own words: “if you’re standing at a party looking at a platter of cheese and crackers, pick the cheese.”

So dairy isn’t great, but in her opinion, grains are far worse for leaky guts and their lesser-known sidekicks, leaky brains.

(The reasoning? Serotonin levels are controlled by both the gut and the brain, and what irritates one will also impact the other.)

I’m not going to pretend I’ve done tons of research or have a nutrition degree, but in my own anecdotal experience, I’ve seen an incredible difference in my energy levels, quality of sleep and stability of mood over the past month.

Placebo? I dunno. But I will take it. 3x’s a day, chased with a tall glass of kombucha.

The first week without grains was tough. It felt like the beginning of a Whole 30, but with the consolation (and a large consolation, I’ll concur) of cheese and honey. After about a week though, we settled into a new rhythm of eating as a family, and it’s just kind of become normal.

(As an aside: grains are, for our intents and purposes here: wheat, corn, rice, oats, and those lesser-knowns like spelt, amaranth, rye, etc. And the kids still eat some oatmeal. But we’re working on it.)

And yes, we did it as a family. I knew it was going to be tougher with the kids, at least in terms of convenience and time spent in food prep, but I also wanted to not be preparing multiple meals for different people. So we tossed out the oatmeal, (which we’ve since reintroduced), packed away the mac n cheese to the food pantry, and finished up our last loaves of Ezekiel bread.

And it’s been totally fine.

I’ve made these insanely good chocolate chip cookies twice, and a few mornings each week we make paleo pancakes (eggs+bananas+vanilla+baking soda in the blender) which they happily gobble with butter and syrup and are none the wiser, and things have been really great in the stability of toddler moods department. We’re seeing happier, calmer kids and they are eating a TON of vegetables.

So are they happier and calmer because mommy feels better? Because they’re off grains? Because they’re eating 400x’s the amount of vegetables they were before? Because in cutting out grains we’ve ditched almost all the processed food we were eating before?

Who cares.

Happily, since this is neither an official nor a scientific study, it really doesn’t matter.

And because it is working so well for our little family, I figured I’d throw it up on the blog in case someone else could benefit from giving it a go.

The best result for the kidlet set has been for our oldest, who has had chronic tummy troubles since birth. We’ve done gluten free in the past, and we figured out he was lactose intolerant about a year ago, but this combo of low grains (he’s still eating oatmeal some days) and low dairy (he can tolerate aged cheese) has him feeling better than I can ever recall. And he is a lot happier and a lot easier to get along with.

Which is sad because, the poor guy, his tummy just hurt all the time. And going potty was never easy.

Every night the litany of complaint would start up again, and no matter how many times we’d been reassured by doctors that having a kid on a regular regimen of Miralax was normal, we still couldn’t shake the feeling that no, actually, it wasn’t.

So what does a normal day’s food look like? I’ll give you some multiple choice options for each meal, because the sheer lack of options was what really felt overwhelming to me in the beginning. But there are plenty of options, truly! It just takes a little mind shift.

Breakfast: paleo pancakes, scrambled eggs, apple with peanut butter, bacon or sausage, veggie omelette, gf oatmeal (kids only)

Lunch: turkey and lettuce wraps with mustard and mayo, salad with roast turkey, blue cheese, almonds, homemade vinaigrette, roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower, grilled chicken with portobellos and onions, roasted asparagus, last night’s leftovers

Dinner: roasted veggies in avocado or olive oil, roasted salmon, curried shrimp and veggies in coconut milk, baked potatoes topped with homemake bolognese sauce, turkey and sweet potato crock pot chili, shredded Hawaiian crockpot chicken over roasted veggies, spaghetti squash with olive oil and parmesan, grilled burgers in lettuce wraps with roasted sweet potato rounds, oven chicken fajitas in lettuce wraps or on a bed of lettuce with tons of guac

Snacks: string cheese, almonds, dried fruit, cut up veggies with homemade guac, salsa and baby carrots, apples with peanut butter, potato chips, plantain chips, (<– the kids hate these, I tolerate them. Barely.) peanuts in shells (messy but beloved by kids), frozen berries, natural beef jerky, hummus, watermelon cubes

So there’s still a lot of options. It’s just a matter of thinking outside the bread box. And truly, the mental shift away from quesadillas and pb+j’s is daunting, I’ll admit it. But one unexpected bonus of this chosen way of eating is that our friends with more severe dietary restrictions and actual food allergies are now easier to entertain in our home, both because my repertoire in the kitchen is expanding, and also because little palates are developing tastes for a broader variety of foods.

So we can bring a bunch of veggies and guac to the park and everyone can actually eat them. (For the most part. I do have a little buddy with an avocado allergy, which is so sad. My heart is Mexican. And yeah, I do really, really miss tortilla chips.)

Now here’s the confessional portion of this obnoxiously-long program: this weekend I ate a cupcake at a party, and I drank a beer. Both were delicious.

And I felt like crap.

And I still feel like crap, truth be told. And yes, alcohol always tends to make me feel run down the next day, and sure, not a lot of sleep was had this past weekend (who knew priestly ordinations involved more partying than weddings?), but the effects of that little cupcake and that very delicious pint of Left Hand Milk Stout were undeniable. And as delicious as both were, neither were worth feeling this rough.

So I’m plunging back into paleo-ish meal planning with fresh resolve this week, grateful for the huge improvements we’ve seen in our family’s health, and happy that there are no grains in potato chips. Or in dark chocolate (check your labels.)

Oh, and fine, yeah, I’ve lost 6 lbs too. That part isn’t terrible, either 😉


birth story, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, euthanasia, Pope Francis, Pro Life

Is having kids “sustainable?”

May 10, 2016

(Perhaps I could have called this one “does green sex = green babies?” but older, wiser Jenny is actually a little embarrassed to have gotten that term rolling.)

A couple months back a reader messaged me with a good – and weird – question. Like the great blogger and expert time juggler that I am, I promptly never answered her message and lost it in the bowels of Facebook. But! I remembered the inquiry all these months, and I wanted to take a stab at it today.

Her trouble was with a friend of a more progressive stripe who’d been bending her ear on how profoundly “unsustainable” children are, and for this reason, that no one could possibly justify having more than 1 of them.

My reader, troubled though she was by her acquaintance’s apparent disdain for the continuation of the human race, was hard pressed for an appropriate response.

My initial response was to snort laugh through my nose. But then I sobered up, because hadn’t I just driven my gas guzzling mini van to Whole Foods just that past week in search of the cheapest organic formula this side of the internet?

Granted, I had the vehicle filled nearly to capacity and was therefore a candidate for the HOV lane. But I did see her point.

From a purely secular and ecological perspective, things have gotten so crazily out of focus that I suppose it is possible to make the case that HUMAN LIFE ITSELF IS NOT SUSTAINABLE OR RESPONSIBLE.

But what does that mean? Have we come to such a profound depth of self-loathing as a species that we’ve begun to philosophically self destruct over the very meaning and purpose of existence?

Is this the inheritance of relativism and materialistic humanism?

I think (for now) no, to the first, but yes to the second.

I don’t believe that most people are hellbent on human destruction in the name of good stewardship of creation. That rather flies in the face of the essence of creation, at any rate, does it not?

Can’t have a creation without creatures, and creatures gonna imitate their Creator.

But therein lies the bigger problem, a very real fruit of the harvest of a relativistic and materialistic worldview: people are no longer uniquely paramount in the created order, and people are no longer valued based on who they are, but instead are measured increasingly by what they do.

In plainer terms, people only have as much worth as what they can offer back to the world.

Which is why we abort babies with Down Syndrome.

Which is why elderly Canadians are waitlisted for basic medical services in the name of “conservation of resources.”

Which is why babies born out of wedlock to poor, single, black women are targeted more ruthlessly by Planned Parenthood than any other subset of humanity.

If you don’t have something readily apparent to offer in the marketplace, you may excuse yourself from society.

Babies, of course, are about the most useless of all humans. They consume endlessly. Milk, diapers, energy, affection. They produce nothing but waste, quite literally. And so, by the standards outlined above, they are in no way “sustainable.”

Crazy thing is, they’re also who every one of us once was. 

It is a foolish bias for the here and now that drives an adult population to utterly devalue the past and the future for the sake of the almighty present.

If there’s one way to easily sum up most of our cultural woes in the year 2016, selfishness might be it.

My body, my free time, my best life now; my convenience and my prosperity and my mental health and my infinite disposable income and leisure.

Children threaten all of those, sometimes terminally. And so children have become one of the enemies of the hip new economy of self realization and fun.

For fear of missing out, we’ve traded away the one thing that really matters: relationship with the other, and that uniquely human capacity to love exponentially into the future, willing the good for a society that does not yet exist, but which will one day utterly replace your own.

(Presumably, that society will still be comprised of people, not just dogs and iPhones.)

Relationships are tricky, though. And they’re often costly. They’re unpredictable and the benefits do not, emphatically, always outweigh the costs.

But if new life coming into this sad, old world isn’t the very essence of what we’re doing here…then what else matters?

Yolo, indeed. Emphasis on the “you.”

But if it does matter? If the future is not some faceless wasteland of McDonald’s wrappers and water bottles and overcrowded parking lots with double parked hovercrafts, but a continuation of the human story? Then it matters very much indeed what we’re spending our time and money and yes, our non-renewable resources into.

Investments wisely made yield dividends into the future.

I could go into the myriad ways that children can be “sustainable” and “green” because hand me downs, carpools, shared toy economies and limited carbon footprints from expensive air travel. But those essays already exist, and the more fundamental problem in my mind isn’t demonstrating whether having a small or medium or large family can be super socially conscious, but rather the fact that the question itself is being raised: are human beings themselves, sustainable?

Without an eternal worldview and an end game sunk deep into immortality, I don’t know how one answers that question.

Which is perhaps precisely why we’re asking it in the first place.

Lose sight of the Creator, lose sight of the dignity of the creature. And the rest of creation, along with it. Which is what Pope Francis has been telling us all along.


Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, Marriage, motherhood, Parenting, politics

All things are passing away

May 4, 2016

America has a political hangover this morning. And I probably would have been partaking in the social media grousing myself, had I not woken to a text message alerting me to a tragedy closer to home and far more important. A family we know is being asked to walk a way of the cross that takes my motherly breath away, and as I sat this morning, unshowered and uncoffeed, tears blurring the screen as I struggled to understand what I was reading, the idiocy and the acrimony of the past 8 months of political chatter faded into the background.

I hope that’s where it stays.

No matter what flawed and potentially felonious human being mounts the Presidential throne next January, it won’t change the brokenness of this world. Nobody can save us from the pain, the suffering, the incompleteness of this life. No matter their party affiliation.

Help us, Jesus. You’re our only hope. (And It feels right acknowledging that on May 4th.)

I have been coming out of the tunnel of early motherhood these past few weeks. I can see it here and there, in moments of rare solitude or sibling contentment, when I’m for once sitting and observing my children at play, not wiping or directing or yelling or shoveling.

And it is so sweet.

And it’s fleeting. Every long, hot afternoon in the finally-defrosted backyard, spent packing mud pies and shredding grass and breaking plastic baseball bats against the fence. (Our yard is an aesthetic dream, let me tell you.) Each fathomless post-nap and pre-Daddy arrival hour spent refereeing and rescuing and reiterating basic rules of human decency…it’s all temporary.

The days are friggin long and the years are bitterly short.

That won’t look good on a coffee mug, but it’s truer, at least for me.

Even while I’m pulling out my metaphorical hair trying to coax charity and obedience out of my little band of brothers and their renegade flight risk of a sister, I’m grieving the transformation of fat baby cheeks into more sculpted toddler features.

A preschooler displays a sudden flash of empathy and I glimpse the man he might one day become.

My daughter hands me a slobbered apple carcass to dispose of and tosses a casual “I love you, Mommy.” my way, and I almost have to shut my mind to the intensity of the moment, it can be so overwhelming.

It’s bittersweet, because I want to walk the line of authenticity with my friends and my sisters and with you all, because motherhood is hard. But it is also so beautiful.

It is beautiful to have your heart torn open for another person, to give yourself entirely in service of a creature with an immortal soul, equal to you in dignity (which I am constantly and shamefully forgetting) and utterly inferior to you, for the most part, in personal hygiene.

When I met my husband, death entered into my world in a more tangible way, because I knew that one day we would be parted. It was written into our very marriage vows, woven into the fabric of the happiest day of our lives.

And really, marriage is sweeter for it’s fleeting permanence, the forced acknowledgement of our own mortality in our pledge of “what remains” to each other. You can have all of me. The rest of me, in fact, until last call.

Motherhood is a little different. Motherhood bespeaks a promise of immortality, in the supernatural and even in the natural sense. My children are my legacy, emissaries of hope sent into the unknown. We are building a civilization we ourselves will not dwell in, pouring out blood and tears and sippy cups full of milk in the service of a future we cannot know.

And no matter how grim the state of the world appears, God keeps sending new life. My mom told me once when I was younger, maybe a teen, “new babies are proof that God wants the world to go on.”

And while I have no very new baby on the way, my littlest son is now 8.5 months old, rolling across the family room floor, mouthing for toys and squealing with delight as his brothers tackle his 21 pound body to the floor in a kinetic explosion that would have stopped my first-time-mom heart. And one day, God willing, he will be a man.

The future will belong to him, and I will fade into the background of his own personal drama, his epic contribution to the Story. And then I’ll be gone.

Hopefully not in the near future, and hopefully, my God how I hope, before him.

But this isn’t forever.

These sleepless nights. This frustrating season. This heartbreak. This agony. This time of uncertainty or loss, of pain, of prosperity, of confusion, of clarity…it’s all passing away.


All day I’ve turned over St. Teresa of Avila’s famous prayer in my tired brain, eyes filling up with unusual tenderness for a child in want of a drink, for a baby with an eager smile. And I’ve thought to myself, nothing outside these walls matters the way this does. And everything can – and will – disappear one day, in an instant.

Let’s not waste the time we have. Let’s not spend our hours wishing away the pain or hustling towards that next milestone.

And, looking away from the mirror for a moment, I invite you to consider doing the same.just love

Culture of Death, Evangelization, Family Life, Marriage, Pope Francis, Pornography, sin, Suffering

Lord, we need you

May 2, 2016

There are two women sitting to my right, and I’ve been trying – unsuccessfully – not to overhear them for the past half hour, sitting and working in a coffee shop.

They’ve been chatting therapy and personal growth and dating after divorce and escaping abusive marriages and widowhood and loss and…life. As we share the common space in this coffee shop, I’m failing to totally tune out the ebb and flow of their conversation, because we’re inches apart and I forgot my earbuds.

Somewhere between the story of one of their young sons’ walking upstairs and encountering daddy watching hardcore pornography on the 50-inch during his custody weekend and recognizing the “12 characteristics of an abuser,” it became suddenly and sickeningly clear to my interloping ear: they’re talking about the same man.

The divorcee and the new girlfriend are sitting at a table to my right, discussing the man they mutually loved, at different times, and the children she fled the marriage with, which the new girlfriend wonders why she never sees.

The new girlfriend is despondent because she lost her own husband to cancer at a young age and has only dated one man since – the abusive ex-husband, it turns out, of the battered former wife sharing a cappuccino with her.

This is why Amoris Laetitia is relevant, I suppose. These are the irregular situations in which people find themselves in this brave new world, unable to walk away from the mess of tangled relationships and responsibilities and brokenness.

It’s the saddest conversation I’ve ever been party to. And I’m so sorry to be hearing it. But I’m also oddly thankful to be allowed this opportunity.

The insanely composed ex-wife is walking the new girlfriend through the signs of neurotic narcissism, pointing out things to recognize when considering whether the guy in question is attempting to take control of her in an inappropriate way.

And I marvel at the courage it must require of her, of them both, really, to have this conversation, to have agreed to this meeting in the first place.

I can’t know their whole story, but the snapshot I’ve gathered in this coffee shop tells a redemption story of one woman trying to help another, and not out of malice for her abusive ex. (And I could be wrong. She could be operating out of pure vengeance, hoping to prevent him from a second – third, actually, turns out – shot at happiness. But it doesn’t strike me as the case.)

This is the strange and broken world we’ve inherited, east of Eden and post sexual revolution. Death. Divorce. Abuse. Pornography. Broken families. Broken bones. Broken hearts.

Is there any hope for any of us, truly? Can we honestly propose Christ as the tidy answer to problems which are this messy, to situations this heartbreaking?

Yes and no.

Yes, Christ is the answer. Today, yesterday, and forever.

But no, it doesn’t tidy up the tangled ends. It doesn’t wave a magic wand over the pain and the regret and unravel the snarled threads of lives converged in pain and brokenness and sin.

That’s the damnedest thing about sin, isn’t it? He forgives and makes new, but He does not undo what choices our free will have wrought. 

Redeems them, yes. But He doesn’t grant amnesia to the victims of violence, doesn’t repair the shattered window with a divine wand wave, doesn’t refill the bank account depleted by deceit.

Those pieces He leaves to us, allowing us to participate as His hands and His feet. And not so much allowing as demanding, because if not us, who? If not now, when?

I’m overhearing a corporal work of mercy in action. And I’m weeping silently and stoically on the inside at the pain both women are wrapped up in.

God, this world is a mess. And You’ve left it to us – to me and to you – to tend it.

I have no trite answer, no tidy conclusion. Just an awareness of how deep our brokenness is, and how desperately we still need a Savior, even now, in the West, with our astonishing wealth and technology.

We still need Jesus.

We can’t save ourselves.

Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Homosexuality, motherhood, Parenting, Sex, Theology of the Body, Women's Health, Women's Rights

About those bathrooms…

April 28, 2016

I read a great piece this morning on the Target situation du jour from local writer and friend who explained with great compassion and insight why she and her family would still be patronizing the Bullseye, restroom politics notwithstanding. And she took care to explain her position in such a way that I found myself nodding along and agreeing and, well, see for yourself how well thought out and nuanced it is.

I wholeheartedly concur with her assessment that the real threat implicit here is, first and foremost, the opening up of the (relative) safety of the women’s room to a host of unnecessary risks to women, who are naturally more vulnerable and more prone to violence.

And that’s why I’m angry.

Not because I hate transgendered people.

Not because I’m a backwards bigot who has never seen a cross-dresser.

And not because I want my children to live in a bubble of Stepford proportions, clad head to toe in Vineyard Vines and playing with their intentionally-curated pink Barbie houses and blue Matchbox cars. I happen to think that popular distinctions between the sexes are mostly BS, and mostly stereotypical. Playing with tools and cars does not a penis endow, nor does care for the garden or interest in the goings-on of a kitchen qualify you for membership in club uterus. But that’s a whole other post entirely.

No, I’m angry that the conversation has so completely shut out (for the most part) women’s, and particularly mother’s, concerns, and it seems to be more of the same, tired “business as usual, pretty little ladies need not bother themselves” from the mainstream media and on social media.

It strikes me as terribly dismissive – and ironic – that the legitimate concerns for the safety and privacy of roughly half the population (and Target’s bread and butter demographic) are being shoved aside to further a political agenda, on Target’s part, aimed to build their social capital as the unofficial Best Corporate Advocates for What is Currently Cool and Trending.

I think women, along with people in the trans community, are both being used in this equation.

Trans and gender-fluid individuals don’t want attention drawn to their plight the way it has been the past week, I have no doubt. The hatred and vitriol I’ve seen spewed across the internet on both sides of the issue has been breathtaking. And as someone who has written publicly about dog moms, I’ve seen it all, people.)

And on the other hand, concerned mothers are being marginalized and dismissed as hateful bigots because they don’t want creepy pretenders claiming sudden and terribly convenient gender-fluidity-for-the-sake-of-restroom-access using the toilet alongside themselves and their little, and not-so-little, girls.

How, precisely, a Target team member is to be expected to accurately vet the validity of a baseball-clad bro in gym shorts’ claim to a female mind and soul has yet to be convincingly explained to me. Because they didn’t think it through. They didn’t arrive at the logical conclusion that bad people will exploit a bad policy in order to do bad things.

The whole thing smacks of relativism and dismissive “progress” at the expense of, who else, women. Who are and will always be the perennial losers in the sexual revolution.

This move by Target? It was never about better care for people who lay claim to transgenderism. It was about making a political statement and garnering valuable corporate activism capital in the eyes of an increasingly secular marketplace and, even more so, in the echo chamber of social media and the mainstream news cycle.

And the outrage from the other side of the aisle? It was never about marking out or marginalizing or demonizing the “others.” At least not from where I’m sitting, clutching my own proverbial pearls and wondering whether or not my little girl will be safe when she’s in the restroom one day, without me there standing guard outside the stall door.

But now it’s become both of these, because we’ve lost our damn collective minds. And it’s hardly possible to order a coffee without offending someone, bumping up against a competing worldview or accidentally uttering a trigger word. 

Listen, even if we disagree 110% on matters of human sexuality, it is still possibly to have courtesy and mutual respect for one another.

And maybe, for Target and for every other retailer-cum-social engineer out there in the fray, a simpler and more authentically respectful solution to all parties involved would have been the addition of single-occupancy family/individual restroom and dressing room to their stores. (Because you know dressing rooms are coming next.)

But that wouldn’t have been nearly as splashy or, therefore, nearly as sexy.

frogs and lambs

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, Evangelization, motherhood, Parenting, Pornography, Sex, sin, Theology of the Body, toddlers

Porn proof kids and patron saints {part 3 in a series}

April 27, 2016

{Part 1}

{Part 2}

Lately I’ve been writing about — and hearing heart-wrenching accounts of —  people struggling with pornography addiction. It’s rampant in our culture in the West, and the deeper I dig into the statistics and the anecdotes, the more I’m realizing that it is very much a cross-cultural issue, and that even as the internet has transcended geographical boundaries in the best ways, it has been the vehicle for what I suspect history will look back upon as one of the most pernicious evils of our time.

And none of us are immune to it.

But it’s not hopeless.

And the very last thing we’re called to do, as parents, is throw our hands up in the air and resign ourselves to the sad inevitability of our kids and their friends becoming statistics.

So we take the practical steps. We talk to our kids early and often about what pornography is, the real cost of it, emotionally and spiritually and physicallyand we put physical and behavioral barriers in place to protect them and to safeguard the sanctity of our homes.

At the same time, we are called to be salt and light in a world grown dim and flavorless – and increasingly so, where sex is concerned. So we fill our little people’s hearts and minds with truth, goodness, and beauty, and we demonstrate for them what real love looks and feels and sounds like. And we send them out.

Christianity does not belong in a bubble. And neither do little Christian foot soldiers in training. So while do our best to make our home base a sanctuary of love and learning and growing in discipleship and virtue, we must also equip our kids to engage the outside world, bit by bit, bringing the Gospel to their friends and classmates by means of those organic, innocent child-to-child encounters that the very young are so ideally suited for.

Our kids are going to be exposed to evil in this life, but we needn’t resign ourselves to the inevitability their becoming enslaved to it.

By teaching them, using the language of Theology of the Body and the currency of virtue and the grace of the Sacraments, our kids can become little living icons of Christ in a dark and hurting world, and grow up to be the kind of men and women who change history.

St. John Paul II left a great gift to the world in his masterpiece, Theology of the Body. As his wisdom and holiness continues to be distilled into materials that kids and young adults and laypersons of every stripe can readily access, simply entrusting our kids to his heavenly protection is a powerful first step.

A famous story has been circulating on the internet for a couple years now, and it never fails to bring me to tears. Fr. Gabriele Amorth, chief exorcist for the diocese of Rome, was speaking about the effectiveness of invoking different saints during exorcisms. During one encounter, he asked the demon point blank “why do you fear the name of John Paul II so much?” and it replied “Because he pulled so many young people from my hands.”

Mic drop.

Another heavy hitter in the battle for purity, I’ve no doubt: Mother Angelica.

Though she’s only been in heaven (hey, even the Pope thinks so!) a month or so, stories are already circulating about wealthy businessmen (as in, this exact scenario played out more than once!) trolling for porn in their hotel rooms and instead happening upon the oddly captivating image of an elderly nun, sometimes sporting an eye patch, telling them who they really were, and why they deserved to be fed more than garbage.

(Those encounters, by the way, ended up culminating with conversions to Catholicism and massive financial gifts to the ministry and operations of EWTN. Because God can use any of us.)

So we entrust ourselves, and our children, to the mercy of God and the powerful intercession of His saints, and we face the problem of pornography head on, because, in the immortal words of St. Joan of Arc: “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”

Take heart, moms and dads; So were you.

(This post originally appeared at Catholic Exchange)

porn proof