About Me, Catholic Spirituality, liturgical living, Marriage, motherhood

When God picks your Lent

February 10, 2016

I’m sneaking away from a feverish baby + toddler set to bang out a couple thoughts before duty crows for more Tylenol, but the irony (divine coincidence?) of spending the vigil of Mardi Gras first eating Texas sheet cake washed down with a lovely IPA and then popping out of bed to soothe fevered brows all night long was not lost on me.

Most of the time it would be.

I’m grateful for the grace inherent in this season of penance that disposes my otherwise incredibly blind and determined heart to receive the grace specific to my vocation, custom-fitted to make me holy.

Usually I resist it. Almost always.

The night wakings. The projectile vomiting. The discipline issues, the domestic quarrels, the dishes piled in the sink and the 17 different food groups collecting on the floor under the kitchen table.

Last week when I get to thinking about what I’m going to give up this year, I was kind of at a loss. I figured it would be alcohol or sugar, or that I’d make a commitment to getting up at a specific ungodly hour (my own personal hell). But nothing was sticking as “yes, this is it, this should be your focus this year.” I realized that Lent, for me, is always about self improvement, self denial, self mastery, self, self self.

Oddly enough, (and by that I mean not at all), I think focusing overly on my sacrifice of choice has really hamstrung most of my lenten practices in the past. Because it becomes just another endurance event where I pit my will against the calendar and grit my teeth and git er done.

At least it has the potential to. And frequently in the past I’ve found myself 4 Sundays deep and no closer to the One I’m trying to follow into the desert. But maybe I’d have lost some weight.

I’m not saying I shouldn’t give up chocolate or wine or sweets or Netflix or one of the many earthly comforts I cling to. By no means! But as I rolled groggily out of bed this morning still unsure of what my penance of choice would be for the 2016 heart rending season, I realized that even if I did nothing “extra,” I had a pretty sweet custom opportunity at hand to simply accept what He had for me today.

And then do it again tomorrow.

And the day after that.

Back in January I chose a “theme” for 2016, or maybe it was chosen for me: Acceptance with joy.

I think that can be adapted to Lent.

In fact, I think it’s specifically intended to be, at least for me.

Kids up all night and you feel dead? Acceptance with joy.

House trashed after hours of hardcore parenting and work and life and it’s 9:48 pm and you’re staring down a pile of dishes in the sink? Acceptance with joy.

Somebody summons you to their bedchambers in the dark of night with the horrifying sound of retching? Acceptance with joy.

Can’t add half and half to your coffee because the baby will make you repent of it with every fiber of your being if you ingest a microscopic particle of dairy? Acceptance with joy.

It sounds ridiculous because there are people who live like this every day. They calmly accept what life throws at them and handle it with grace and charity.

I’m not one of them. Especially when it comes to sleep deprivation. I don’t naturally bounce back, coffee cup in hand, from a night in the house of horrors.

I’m also not keen on my own plans being, well, let’s say rerouted by family dynamics and life with unpredictable and explosive toddlers. Wouldn’t you know though, I’ve got a house overflowing with opportunities for frustration.

Or for grace.

This year I’m choosing grace. I’m acknowledging the possibility that maybe God knows better than I do what I need from Him for Lent. And I’m open to giving over the reins and seeing where He wants to go.

A wiser and more experienced mom told me when I had my first baby “there’s a reason, aside from the physical practicalities, why pregnant and nursing women are exempt from fasting. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to sacrifice and suffer.”

Silly me, I didn’t really understand her until now.

I wanted to prove my toughness, picking this or that to make the point that I could still self deny with the best of them, meanwhile kicking and screaming (at least internally) over the slight injustices visited upon my poor stretched out body before breakfast.

So here’s hoping. That He’s got a bigger and better plan, and that it might just be intimately connected with my state in life, rather than barely achievable in spite of it. I don’t want another year of failed and half-cocked ideas about how tough I can be and how much I can accomplish.

I just want Him.

What about you guys? Lent got off to a sluggish or unexpected start in your house? I had every intention of being at 8 am Mass with the under school aged crew, but instead I’m typing this in my activewear and watching Batman eat a cheesestick through the hole in his mask while the baby sleeps off his fever.

Join the conversation over on Facebook and share what you’re doing – or not doing – this year.

Lent tv

design + style, Evangelization

Zelie and Co.

February 8, 2016

Here’s the scoop. A gaggle of Catholic mothers who are artisans have joined together to sell their goods on an instagram account called “Zelieandco” after the wonderful Saint Zelie under the blessing of her handiwork.

They offer one day flash sales every week, Tuesdays from 10CST til midnight. Their products are specially priced for Zelie customers and include free shipping.

This Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, aka February 9th, the lovely ladies of Zelie and Co are teaming up to auction their artisanal handiwork with all proceeds going to charity. And not to brag or anything, but while I love all the ladies who craft there, Nell might be my particular favorite because she’s 1. the cheerleader of the internet and 2. got baby fever? The only solution is Nell’s baby leggings.

The mission of Zelieandco, aside from getting beautiful goods into your hands, is to spread devotion to Saint Zelie and greater awareness about her amazing work as a mother and artisan. Nell’s work can be found under the “whole parenting goods” tab on her blog, Whole Parenting Family, and on instagram as @whole_parenting.

She’s offering a triple-layered organic golden horse blanket with organic cotton batting and heavy organic cotton flannel on the back, a contoured burp cloth in triple organic cotton as well and a bandit bib in the same, and organic cotton leggings in 0-6 months in light green vines. Value: $125.

nells goods

And the best part? All proceeds from Nell’s offerings in Tuesday’s sale go to a charity near and dear to my heart: Abby Johnson’s “And Then There Were None” ministry.
ZelieCharityAuction Logo
Hope you’ll stop by on Fat Tuesday and drop some cash for charity.

For your little loves

February 5, 2016

Hey, Lent is right around the corner and you know what that means, right?

Discovering fervent devotions to saints and blesseds you’d otherwise maybe not celebrate, of course. Because feast days!

(Kidding. A little bit.)

St. Valentine’s, Cyril’s and Methodius’ feast day is coming in hot in less than a fortnight, and for all you young lovers out there with a special little someone in your life, I have just the thing. (Emphasis on little.)

When we were young, my dad would give each of us a carnation or a special card for Valentine’s Day in addition to what he did for my mom. I remember this with great fondness and looked eagerly forward to the day I would have a. a daughter and b. a husband to be her daddy valentine. Now I have both.

We were down at my parent’s house close to Valentine’s day last year, and I mentioned, with wistful nostalgia, how sweet it had been for my dad to have practiced this with his girls. My dad smiled, shook his head, and said, “sweetheart, that’s a nice story, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The moral of this story is that all the crafty parenting tricks you pull in the first 10+ years of your child’s life will leave a lasting impression on them, but you will forget they ever happened.

Or, a second possible explanation: that sweet Valentine’s tradition? Completely fabricated by a mashup of Hallmark movies and repressed childhood longings, but dwelling permanently in my long term memory nevertheless.

So parents? Don’t worry too much about the stuff you’re doing – or not doing – for the holidays. It turns out your children will fabricate something on their own, and wax nostalgic over it when they’re in their thirties.

But, if you did want to get them a little something? I have an idea. And I’m giving away a free one to a lucky lad or lass, c/o Hunky Dori Boutique. Behold the cuteness: 12483469_10207973127627426_1402294954_n

So rafflecoptor on, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Oh, and if you don’t win, or don’t want to wait to find out? You can go ahead and order one for yourself, coupon code HDBCOFFEE, at a 10% discount.)

Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, motherhood, pregnancy, Theology of the Body, Women's Health, Women's Rights

Well, that escalated quickly

February 4, 2016

I mean, I guess if you’re going to break the internet, you might as well do it talking booze and birth control. Two things near and dear to my heart if ever anything were.

If anyone is coming late to the party, hai, glad you’re here, might want to pop over and get the backstory. I’ll wait.

Now that we’re all on the same page, I want to offer a few further thoughts on the situation of the federal government making an official, taxpayer-funded recommendation that women of childbearing age be either completely abstinent from alcohol (not sex, mind you, because that’s like, impossible.) or be continuously contracepting to ensure maximum protection from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Here’s a painfully obvious caveat: FAS is a terrible, preventable condition. Do not binge drink during pregnancy. Actually, I’m going to go a step further and say DO NOT BINGE DRINK EVER. IT’S TERRIBLE FOR YOU, knocked up or not.

(Do not smoke crack, either, even though one intrepid commenter helpfully pointed out it’s, like, way safer than wine. I’m still not 100% on that…)

The overwhelming response (and it was delightfully overwhelming, so thank you!) was fist bumps and high fives. And a few precious messages from my more liberal leaning and even, in one case, pro abortion female readers expressing solidarity with me on this position.

Which is awesome. Just awesome. Because how amazing if government overreach on recommending contraception is what unites women from both ends of the political spectrum in the effort to overhaul and reclaim authentic feminism?

Would be cool. Just saying.

But a few people were very, very concerned that I might be agitating for pregnancy benders. Let me be quite clear when I say, again, FAS is terrible. And you will not give your baby FAS if you drink a glass of wine at a dinner party.

But there have been studies!! I know, I know there have been. But there have been other studies, too. And none of the studies seem to be able to agree on a “safe amount” of alcohol, so it’s easier for the FDA, the CDC, and the other 3 lettered agencies out there to just slap a do not on it and call it a day. Because most women will only be pregnant for 18 perfectly planned, spaced and executed months, anyway, when they go off the pill or have their IUD removed. So it’s no big thing.

This is crazy for 2 reasons.

First, there are plenty of things that are fine in moderation and terrible in excess. I might venture so far as to say that applies to everything. And this applies to pregnant and non pregnant humans alike. And if we’re to believe that the entirety of human history up until this point was dramatically wrong, and that all of Europe is still wrong, and that one drink will doom your child to a life of misery, then…I don’t think there’s anything I can say to convince you otherwise.

Please understand, I’m not encouraging pregnant women to get lit. I’m not even saying they should drink. 

But women who either drank before they knew they were pregnant or have the occasional adult beverage during the 10 months when baby is on board do not need another thing to obsess over. They don’t. There are enough crazy things women already believe about the tenuous grasp on control they pray they have over their lives and the lives of their children. A new year’s eve champagne toast or a Guinness with dinner does not need to be on that list.

Here’s the second crazy thing about the CDC recommendation: it presupposes pregnancy as a predictable, planned, and finite occurrence in a woman’s life, occurring when and where and how she wants it. Once, maybe twice. And then never again. And we can make sure that happens.

Our culture has shifted so dramatically since the advent of the Pill that the above statement doesn’t raise an eyebrow for most modern minds, I’m guessing.

But that’s crazy.

And it’s also the very opposite of “openness to life.”

I think this is where it got weird for some people in trying to understand the outrage from Catholic women, and indeed all women who embrace their fertility and the potential for new life: not as a fearful, high-risk gamble we take once or twice, crossing our fingers and holding our breath, but as a natural extension of our maturation and growth as women and wives and mothers.

If you’re open to life, you’re probably going to spend more time being pregnant. That’s just how it works out. And even while you’re pregnant, life happens. Pregnancy isn’t a horrifying disease or debilitating (well, usually) condition. It’s a natural phase in a woman’s life. And yes, she’s more susceptible to certain ailments and no, she probably shouldn’t be skiing double black diamonds at 8 months along, but for the most part, your life kinda does just go on, just a bit heavier.

So for the government to point a finger at women, the only people capable of conceiving and bearing new life, and say to them “you need to either shut that down or shape up and teetotal,” yes, it was incredibly disturbing and incredibly demeaning.

Because the message is twofold: you’re too ignorant to understand your own (inconvenient!) body, and you’re too reckless to be trusted to behave yourself.

It’s a patronizing, deeply misogynistic message of incompetence and belittlement.

(But then, so is the push to get all women from 13 to 50 on some form of birth control. And we’ve been living that dream for 40 + years.)

I long for the day when all women, regardless of whether they believe in God or practice any religion or even like the taste of beer, recognize that in our bodies we have an intrinsic genius which is uniquely feminine, and it doesn’t need to be turned off or shut down.

It isn’t broken.

We aren’t broken.

But our culture is.

Abortion, Bioethics, Contraception, Culture of Death, motherhood, NFP, reality check, Women's Health, Women's Rights

Women, know your limits!

February 3, 2016

I’m just so thankful to be an American with a uterus today, because federal agencies have really got all the bases covered for me. (Which is a relief because who has got time to use reason? Also, science is hard. Let’s go shopping.)

The CDC issued a nuanced, thoughtful report this morning with the brilliant recommendation that card-carrying members of the x-chromosome club ought to either be using contraception throughout the entirety of their childbearing years, or teetotaling.

Thankfully, being a simple suburban housewife with little capacity to make reasonable, well-researched choices for my own health and wellbeing and that of my offspring, I can rely on my government to recommend that I pump my tricky, dangerous female body full of class one carcinogens for 3+ decades so that my children aren’t born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as the direct result of the tequila shot I took on my honeymoon or the glass of Pinot Noir I drank last week with dinner.


Silly me, I thought that part of adulthood was learning self control, temperance, and even reading the odd bit of medical and sociologic research to back my parenting and lifestyle decisions. Also, all of recorded human history before the year 2016 led me to believe that enjoying a beer during the Super Bowl was probably safe. (And might actually be good for the national birthrate. Who knew?)

But let me be quite certain I understand the issue at hand.

The Center for Disease Control, worried that all women are secretly binge drinking and endangering the lives of their unborn …. fetus …. things… has decided to issue the sweeping recommendation that actually, women have been screwing around with the odds for much too long, and the safest bet is for every woman between the onset of menstruation until the end of menopause to be either sterilized, buying stock in Trojan, or regularly ingesting class 1 carcinogens in the form of oral contraceptives if they’re going to be drinking alcohol. Ever.

I’ll go a step further and draw the logical conclusion that for those fetus things conceived while mommy was enjoying a bottle of wine with daddy, the reasonable expectation would be to abort, since the eventual human might be “defective.”

I’m guessing there’s another layer of causality we can peel back here, because according to the statistics that FAS could be responsible for ADHD and we have something like 1 in 20 children with the latter diagnosis, could it be those irresponsible, unfit females went and became mothers and caused their children’s miseries? 

Yeah, let’s definitely put that idea into women’s minds: that you are the reason your child is “imperfect.” 

And pro-lifers are the ones who get accused of telling women what to do with their bodies?

What about empowering women to understand their fertility from the ground up, and inviting them to make thoughtful, adult choices about whether and when to engage in sexual activity and how to consume – or not to consume – alcohol?

That would require, of course, seeing women as capable, competent individuals with minds of their own. So maybe better to issue fearful government bulletin.

And what about stepping back from the precipice of This!Life!Is!So!Risky! and admitting that perhaps we don’t have complete, autonomous control over every aspect of our lives, of our children’s lives, and of the ordinary risks of being on planet Earth? Maybe a little nod to all of recorded human history prior to the 20th century is in order, too? Bueller?

I’m just so sick of hearing that the benign gods of government agencies – Planned Parenthood among them – have women’s “real” best interests at heart, when of course it’s all about increasing control, all too often achieved by cranking the volume on fear.

This is propaganda, pure and simple. And it’s damned misogynistic to boot. Women can be trusted to make the right decisions with their bodies, and choosing the right means doing no harm

I’m sick to death of hearing the line “trust women” getting hijacked by the abortion special interest groups.

How about we trust women to know their own bodies? To know what’s best for their children? To rely on their own brains and consciences and adult intellects to make healthy, reasonable choices?

Women, know this: you are being manipulated at every turn by a culture that doesn’t trust our bodies or, apparently, our brains. 

It’s time to take back the mic. Authentic feminism is long overdue for a renaissance of its own.



Catholic Spirituality, Evangelization, motherhood, Parenting, Suffering, toddlers

Mercy for me, mercy for you

February 2, 2016

Let’s eat mercy in a big brown shoe…

(sorry, there’s a whole section of my brain programmed with song lyrics from the 90’s)

Today’s a snow day here in Denver. (Which means something quiiiiiite different once you’re on the other side of the school bus, turns out. But I digress.) My boys have been pawing at the backdoor since breakfast, and we finally released them into the 14 inches of fluff coating the back deck. At almost 4 and 5.5 years old, they’re finally at the point where they stay outside longer than it takes me to suit them up in their cold weather gear. Which is awesome.

The 2 year old wants to join them. Of course she does. She’s been up whining and throwing dramatic tantrums and falling gracefully face first onto the carpet since about 7 am. She doesn’t feel great, we can tell, but she’s determined that she’ll have the same fun her brothers are having.

After 20 minutes of plaintive whimpering at the back door and many more dramatic faux fainting spells, we concede the point, stuffing pajama clad legs sausage-style into hand me down black snowveralls, size 3T. They’re too big, but she’s delirious with joy. I wrestle tiny boots onto footie pajama feet, telling her we’re almost ready. She fights me like an adult catfish, writhing in anticipation of the wintery freedom that awaits her out the back door.

Finally, she’s suited up and released into the wild. She toddles into a drift that is above her waist and promptly face plants. Crying, she raises her arms for a daddy rescue. And off again, toddling to the edge of the deck and crouching down to roll into a waiting drift (only a 12 inch drop, fear not). I watch from behind the picture window in the warm, waiting house, counting down the minutes until she surrenders. She’s been out the door for 90 seconds so far and one mitten is gone.

At the 6 minute mark I look up and see her appear at the backdoor in Daddy’s arms, kicking and screaming. She has clumps of snow in her hair and stuffed up the legs of her pants, encrusted along the tops of her boots. He grins and shrugs, handing her off for a warm bath before disappearing back into the tundra.

I ask my now sobbing 2 year old if she’s ready to warm up and she shoots me a look of unadulterated rage. I peel her out of 17 layers of snow gear, shedding clumps of ice all over the family room floor, and carry her to the waiting tub. Once the water starts running she has a whole new list of demands including “fishy,” “dirty dogs,” “Princess Leia,” and “cockadoodle.” We have a weird bath culture in our home.

As the tub fills she relaxes, finally happy after a morning of high drama delivered the way only a 2 year old can – continuously. She’s laughing and singing about Star Wars, and I’m laughing to myself because she’s.so.stubborn.

And she’s just like me.

There are so many times I’ve been like “God, this is what I want and THIS IS HOW I WANT IT.” And I’ve pushed and pleaded and begged and insisted until, finally, I get what I want, and the consequences be damned.

And it’s the craziest thing, but they usually are.

And I’m not always keen to admit it, but there have been moments of grace-filled hindsight where, after He’s picked me up and brushed me off and shown me to the warm bath, I can see that while He uses all things for good for those who love Him…there are definite areas where I demanded not thy will but mine be done. And it shows.

Because usually? It’s so much more painful. So much less fulfilling. So much more likely to end in regret and remorse and potential injury.

And of course He is always there to pick me up, to brush off the snow, to welcome me back into the warm house and draw a bubble bath, allowing the steam and the soap to coax feeling back into my numbed and reddened skin. But it still hurts. Sometimes healing does. Maybe even often.

I think that’s what the Year of Mercy is about, at it’s heart: God the Father standing at the door, waiting for us to come back inside so we can be wrapped in His welcoming bath towel of healing and reconciliation.

(I mean, it’s an imperfect analogy.)

So He waits. Standing patiently in front of us, watching us flounder in deep snow, shedding mittens and exposing delicate parts of ourselves to the sting of frostbite and the punishing elements. And He won’t force us to come back inside, because free will. But He’s gonna rip that door open and catch us the second we come running back, pulling off those wet layers of sin and regret and washing us clean. And while there might be a little pain involved, the pain is not the point. It’s just the natural consequence of the rehab He’s doing on our little frozen extremities.

And because He’s God, He probably won’t even roll His eyes while picking up our pile of frozen laundry, muttering something about how He warned us we would get too cold out there and that we should have just stayed inside.

(Note to self: work on that part. ^)

And that, my friends, is how the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a little like waiting for toddlers to come in from the snow.

cross snow

Abortion, Bioethics, Contraception, Culture of Death, pregnancy, Pro Life

Zika, abortion, and contraceptive imperialism

January 29, 2016

You knew I was going to write about this, right?

I can’t help myself. My newsfeed is filling up with blustering outrage and hand wringing over the Zika virus – a heinous incurable disease with dire consequences for the most defenseless innocents – and the talking heads of the West are trotting out the same tired standard schtick about “protection” and “family planning services.”

To briefly summarize: there is a hideous mosquito-transmitted (and less frequently, sexually-transmitted) blood borne virus that has the potential to cause profound birth defects in babies who are exposed in utero. There is no known treatment or inoculation, and the recommendation for travelers abroad is to avoid conception for 30-120 (or more, sources vary) days after potential exposure.

The news for the unfortunate inhabitants of the infected lands is much more grim: 2 or 3 years of postponing baby making. A harrowing prognosis for couples and families, many of whom, unlike many of their wealthier global neighbors, take great joy in welcoming new life into their homes.

Many poverty stricken societies, in a posture which is startlingly alien to the affluent and individualistic West, are far more welcoming to and desirous of children. (And when their children – no less loved or valuable than our own – do fall ill? We throw condoms at them, more often than not, failing to address the dignity of the human person.)

A Facebook friend pointed out the hypocrisy of holding developing countries to higher standards than our own, suggesting that allowing them to use DDT, an insecticide problematic in it’s own right, but for sure a lesser of two evils, could go a long way towards eradicating the virus itself.

The problem is, we’ve become so inoculated by the drumbeat of the catastrophic (and deeply xenophobic) myth of overpopulation, the actual lives of the persons affected are often second or even third fiddle to the Very Important Goal of getting condoms in the hands of every poor indigenous savage who couldn’t possibly be capable of abstinence in the face of lethal risks. Or clandestinely spaying women in hospitals and field clinics without knowledge or consent when they are at their most vulnerable, giving birth.

If I sound angry, it’s because I am angry.

We treat our brothers and sisters in the hotter, poorer parts of the world like the animals we believe them to be, and increasingly like the animals we ourselves behave as. 

And when a gruesome virus builds to a pandemic level, we start moaning about the grim prognosis for those unfortunate, backwards countries without sufficient access to contraception and abortion.

Not about how to cure the virus. 

Not about how to stop the spread of the disease.

Not about how to kill off the particular species of mosquito transmitting it.

No, we jump straight to the real enemy: the deformed, microcephalic baby. And that must be avoided at all costs.

But if that were really true, surely the prevailing message would be a universal plea for abstinence and respect for the human body – particularly for the female body. Surely a couple wanting to avoid parenting a child with profound special needs in an impoverished environment would be advised to avoid sexual contact at all costs, lest the inevitable method failure or human error in contraceptive use result in conception.

But no. We can solve that little problem with abortion, can’t we?

Better to have dead babies in stricken wombs then living, suffering babies whose parents were not properly vetted on the risks the virus posed to their prospective progeny. 

I wish this story had a happier ending, but it doesn’t. Because at the end of the day, we’re exporting more than food and medicine to the developing world: we’re exporting an ideology. And our ideology here in the West is fundamentally rooted in the view of child-as-burden, and pregnancy as disaster.

Zika just allows us to draw clearer enemy lines.

St. Rose of Lima, Nossa Senhora Aparecida, Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

And Lord, have mercy.



Effortless hot mess

January 26, 2016

Today I thought it swell to take all 4 of my little sweethearts to Vitamin Cottage around 4pm to buy dried elderberries to make witches’ brew on my stovetop because January is not the boss of me. And because last month a friend hooked me up with a bottle of her own home-brew that cured a sinus infection without a z-pack. (And it doesn’t taste terrible. Recipe here.)

As I was pulling into the lot I miscalculated and had to recalibrate and reposition the mini for optimal car seat to shopping cart child schlepping. A bemused employee watched me back out and re-park 75 precious feet closer to the cart corral before deadpanning the following:

“Should I leave you the big cart?”

Yes my good woman, yes you should.

I gratefully buckled Evie into the top slot before wiggling and jiggling Luke’s just-the-right-size baby seat into the body of the cart. Which left 7 cubic inches of available real estate for actual groceries, which was fine, because Vitamin Cottage.

I stationed a blonde pre-schooler on either side of the cart and we set off across the parking lot. The same cart corralling employee spotted me from across the lot and yelled TODAY’S A REAL FAMLIY OUTING ISN’T IT??? And what would have been deeply off-putting to 3 years ago me just kind made today’s me chuckle.

To be fair, and in her defense, I don’t suppose many people do bring a quartet of small children to Vitamin Cottage at 4pm on a Tuesday.

But until you have, have you really lived?

The five of us, aided by a helpful teenage employee named Dustin, soon found ourselves armed with dried elderberries, surprisingly inexpensive Seventh Generation dish soap (more on that later) and a can of lactose intolerant formula for those special nights where you feel like treating the special little person in your life to something white, powdery, and completely legal. Or for when mommy goes out for more than 4 hours and doesn’t want to pump.

We had to pit stop for the potty where the cart-dwellers and I sat guard outside the ladies’ room, admiring the promotional posters and watching people come and go down the back hallway. My favorite employee popped around the corner and waved as she made her way into the office, laughing “how are you going to fit any groceries into that cart?”

At this point I could have been flustered or I could have been annoyed, but I can honestly say I was neither. I smiled and said something about it being a great budgeting tactic to have so many bodies on board you couldn’t allow for a single impulse buy.

In reality, the 5 items I had selected for purchase were piled atop the baby in his carseat, and as we doubled back to the spice aisle for some 6!dollar!cloves!, I mentally berated myself for not just going to Target and dropping another $28 on activewear and Star Wars paraphernalia. Because magical syrup wasn’t really going to keep us healthy, was it? And for this kind of money I could be the proud owner of another pair of black “running tights” and a Luke Skywalker journal.

I forked over a fistful of cash and collected my 5 items, redistributing them across the baby’s abdomen because plastic bags are immoral, and the kids and I hustled back into the parking lot. As I dug through my purse for the keys, Jared the checker loped up behind me asking if I were looking for a phone. Chagrined, I took my battered hot pink Otter Box from his proffered hand. Thanks Jared.

As I loaded kidlets back into the car one by one, I spied a really, really inexpensive bottle of dish soap that’d been stowed away behind Luke’s seat. Oops.

As I held the contraband bottle in my hands, squinting into the late afternoon Colorado sun and mentally weighing my options, I decided that going ahead and taking the soap and coming back at some indeterminate future point to pay for it was basically shoplifting, so instead I hoofed it back inside with a baby on my hip, throwing $3 at Jared and panting out an apology.

At this point Jared would be right and just in his judgment of me being a hot mess.

Back to the car, back to the buckling, and back to the house where I did indeed brew a grog of the foulest-smelling stuff I’ve sniffed since the last time I let my amazing husband make good on his offer to “make something up” for dinner, and came home to hamburger curry over green peas.

But, mixed with honey, it isn’t completely terrible.

And, we probably saved $4 making it at home. Or at least $2.75. For sure I saved $1. The punchline of all this pointless backstory is that when I first started combining kids and public places, not only was I probably not nearly as hot a mess as I am today, but I was 100% more nervous, more concerned with everyone else’s opinions of me, and more prone to judge my kids’ behavior harsh harsh harshly, because they were my little ego reflections for all the world to see.

To be clear, I probably was hotter. But I was far less a mess.

Now? We’re objectively a little trainwreckish. But it’s ok. They’re learning and I’m learning, and I think we’re probably entertaining the general public more often than not. And even if we’re not, I’m just so much less concerned with how it looks, with how I look, with who’s looking…that it’s just not an issue.

If I’m being completely honest though, I still prefer Costco. And it’s much harder to lose anything in those big ol carts.


Catholics Do What?, motherhood, Pope Francis, Women's Health

Mamas who {literally} need coffee

January 24, 2016

Sometimes – not as often as I’d like to admit, but sometimes – I think about where my food came from. About the people who raised it, about that hands that prepared it and packaged it. About the places it comes from. (Except meat. I can’t even. For which my husband will mercilessly tease me until my dying day. But I like to think that my chicken was born and raised in a sun-dappled meadow and then transfigured into a neatly vacuum sealed plastic package. Without feathers.)

When I was offered the opportunity to interview one of the American media personalities making the trek with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl trip, I was intrigued because they were going to Columbia, which is coffee land. And they were going to interview and meet with coffee farmers. And Lisa Hendey – aka CatholicMom.com – was one of my interview options. I believe they call this phenomenon natural fit, no?

Lisa was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, and her last answer in particular has lodged itself in my heart and in my brain. I think you’ll see why. Welcome, Lisa, and thank you for the beautiful and sobering glimpse into the world that produces my beloved morning cup.

Jenny: Did you feel a connection with these women in spite of you different lifestyles? Was there a natural bond between you as mothers, and did you see aspects of your own daily routine/family life reflected in what you observed?

Lisa: One of our very first meetings in Colombia was to visit a center which serves families who are essentially refugees in their own country, after having been forcibly removed from their homes and land due to the internal conflicts in that beautiful country. I sat and wept silently as I listened to a young single mother of four describe fleeing her home in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on her back. While I could absolutely never understand what that must feel like, I could absolutely relate to the sense that she, as a mother, would do absolutely anything to protect and provide for her precious children.

On many of our site visits, we met women who were so kind to prepare meals for us. With my limited Spanish, I loved popping into their kitchens, thanking them, and checking out their homes. I’m not a good cook, but there is something so universal about welcoming someone into your home and feeding them–both physically and spiritually. Their kitchens were extremely simple: a hotplate at most, and often they were actually cooking over an open flame! But the results were always delicious. I wanted to pitch in several times and help serve or do dishes, but was always hospitably denied the chores. I had to laugh, because I would have done the same in my home if I were entertaining visitors!

One day, we visited a beautiful Catholic school high in the Andes Mountains. The students there gave a presentation for us and used Powerpoint to share the work in their school which is being supported by CRS and Rice Bowl. I smiled, because there in the “audience” with us were Catholic school moms who had come (on their children’s summer vacation!) to listen to their children give their presentations. Those moments at St. Francis of Assisi school took me right back to my days as a Catholic school mom at St. Anthony’s School in Fresno! And it was such a joy to meet and chat with the moms, who had such beautiful love for their children. Their hope is for the safety, well being, bright future and spiritual development of their precious sons and daughters.

So yes, I absolutely bonded in many ways! Meeting families and being welcomed into their homes was an amazing way to get to know the country of Colombia and her people.

J: How important is it to be conscientious consumers, particularly of goods – like coffee – that are largely produced in the developing world? Did you see room for American moms in particular to partner spiritually with the women who are raising their beloved morning coffee beans, and an opportunity to live in greater solidarity by: buying fair trade/ encouraging others to do the same/ giving up a day or two of coffee a week to offset the higher cost/ praying for the woman on the other side of the cup while you’re brewing and drinking it?

L: We visited with three separate coffee producers and learned the challenges but also the joy that goes into their production of coffee. After this trip, I will never again guzzle down my beloved morning beverage without thinking of those families. Many of them have made a conscious choice NOT to grow illicit (but lucrative) coca. Instead, they make the important decision to grow coffee. But the producers we met go far beyond just growing coffee. The crops they grow are actually such high quality that they are being sold as specialty coffee around the world and earning high rankings.

We learned a great deal both about the importance of fair trade and also of the role of sustainable coffee production. Being in the Andes and walking around coffee fields, it was immensely gratifying to see the concepts that Pope Francis had so eloquently written about in Laudato Si’ being lived out before my very eyes.

I urge moms who love coffee as much as I do to visit CRS’s “Coffeelands” website (http://coffeelands.crs.org/) to learn more about the work being done in Colombia. To purchase coffee from the farms we visited, check out http://coffeelands.crs.org/buy-coffee-from-the-borderlands/.

J: What was the most surprising moment for you of the trip?

L: The most surprising moment of the trip was also the most poignant. I’ve written about it in detail at http://catholicmom.com/2016/01/15/giving-of-our-poverty-crsmedia-colombia-journal/. We went to Colombia to learn about and share the impact of CRS’s Rice Bowl program for families living in that country. Our family has loved using the Rice Bowl in our home as an important part of our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One of our outings in Colombia was a visit to the home of Maria, a beautiful young woman whose family has been served and supported by Rice Bowl donations. (see http://www.crsricebowl.org/stories-of-hope/week-1) – Maria and her parents and siblings welcomed us with open arms into their simple home–a shelter with dirt floors and tarp walls, but warm with love. Over a breakfast they prepared for us, our colleague Susan taught them about the Rice Bowl and actually gave them a Rice Bowl. I had to laugh when Maria put it together right then, at the breakfast table!

What surprised me was the story my fellow traveler Fr. Rafael Capo told me a few moments after we finished breakfast and said our goodbyes. Maria had quietly filled out the Rice Bowl and she and her family inserted their gifts and handed it to Father Rafael, asking him to carry it back to the US and donate it for them. Knowing the love and support her family had received through Rice Bowl, they too wanted to make a gift to other families being served around the world. Fr. Capo told me this story with great emotion… and I understand why. This family might be considered disadvantaged economically, but they are rich in love!

I could go on and on with more stories! Readers who are interested can follow my Colombia Journal entries at www.CatholicMom.com/colombia.


About Me, Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, school

State of the preschool: an update on a family with commitment issues

January 21, 2016

My kids are hopefully young enough to not remember having attended 3 separate schools and one failed and decidedly halfhearted attempt at home education in the past 3 years. And for like, 3 month stints at a time. I was one part ashamed, one part defiant and one part sort of impressed by my own itchy trigger finger when I found myself telling my inlaws that yes, Joey had started school again and yes, it was at an entirely new place and oh, did I forget to mention that he dropped out last fall after Luke was born and we’ve just kind of been on a Netflix/library sabbatical since October?


I don’t know what to say except that when it comes to making schooling decisions, I never thought it would be such a … fluid process. But last night when Dave was graciously setting up some kind of online password for something on my behalf, he asked me to give an answer for a potential security question: what was the name of my elementary school? At that point I realized that although we’d only moved once during those years of my childhood, I’d attended 3. Or was it 4?

So maybe it’s a firstborn phenomenon of motherly not-having-your-s-together.

At any rate, having tried our own parish school and, finding it to be a less than ideal fit in terms of distance and class size and personality (but mostly distance – the driving was killing me because of the time of day and the school zones that separate us from the church campus), we then threw our hat into the public school ring for 5 whole weeks last fall. And it was mostly fine. Except that it was a little bit more expensive than private preschool (an irony which my tax dollars are still seething over) and that I had to walk two little boys in and out of their two separate classrooms, two times a day, and while pushing a double stroller and very newly postpartum. The rest of the parents/nannies/grandparents on pickup duty mostly just blinked at me in awestruck…wonder (that’s what I decided it must have been), flattening themselves against the wall as I navigated the land barge to the ladybug room and then the ant room in turn.

Needless to say, that arrangement was ill fated. So, true to impulsive form, and after our not-ready-for-school-it-turns-out 3 year old had yet another night of tantrums and nightmares, I calmly dialed up the very, very kind director of the school and quit, cold turkey, on a Tuesday.

So for the rest of fall and well into Christmas, we settled into a not terrible rotation of trips to the library, one day per week of crafts and reading lessons with my mother’s helper (I have her 4 hours on Mondays this semester, which is probably not quite enough, but it’s better than nothing!), and an increasingly disturbing amount of Netflix in the afternoons.

After the dust and glitter around the holidays settled, we looked around and reevaluated how our non-system was serving us. It was sufficient for the survival season that is months 1-4 postpartum, but now that I’m back on my feet and Luke is mostly predictable, we decided we were up for adding a little more structure. So, over the past 3 weeks we’ve made a few key changes.

The biggest one was that our oldest started attending pre-K at a Catholic Montessori school from 8 am – 3 pm, 2 days per week, which is definitely the longest he’s been away from home.

It’s been a little up and down for him emotionally, but overall the change has been incredibly lifegiving, for all of us. It’s a good ramp up for him as he faces down the specter of full-day kindergarten next fall, and he seems to be blossoming in the Montessori environment.

It’s a beautiful thing to see his mind awakening, and it gives me so much peace in my mother’s heart to see that I don’t have to be everything to him, that I don’t have to shoulder the burden of every last detail of his development and formation. But without ceding my primary responsibility. It’s such a relief.

The other change we’ve made has been pretty radical, but the payout has been pretty incredible. About 2 weeks ago we prayerfully and, honestly, regretfully, made the decision to go screen free at home during the week, dangling the big fat promise of family movie night every Friday as the digital carrot that would placate our little media junkies.

And guess what? The first 4 days were about as terrible as you might imagine, and tracked oddly parallel with the narrative in that perennial childhood classic: The Berenstain Bear’s “No TV Week” (<— I’ve been spelling that wrong my whole life long).

There was wailing. Gnashing of teeth. Withdrawal tremors. Tears and plaintive negotiations and deep sighs. But, about 5 days into our little experiment, something shifted. The kids started turning away from me and toward each other, negotiating for wrestling matches, lego design sessions, and fort building. They started “reading” to each other and to themselves in the little corner of the living room that Joey had begged me to turn into a “home atrium,” and even though nobody can actually read yet (and I don’t care, because science!) they would all of a sudden be capable of 30 minutes of sustained, self-directed silence.

And as for me? Well, I’ve had some of my own digital delirium tremors over the past fortnight as I’ve been forced to engage flabby, atrophied motherhood muscles and build blanket forts, read chapters of books aloud, and generally engage more during the daylight hours than I thought myself capable of.

But surprisingly? It’s been really, really good. And the endless spare time I thought I’d lose by not having a show to throw at them has been recouped by me ditching Instagram and my personal FB account. Because mama can’t enforce what mama’s not willing to practice herself.

I’m not advocating for a screen blackout across the board. We still spin our CCC movies in the minivan during longer drives, and we’re still watching Broncos games on Sunday and a family movie on Fridays, (which mostly I ignore and read during, but physically attend with my body on the couch. It turns out there really are only so many times you can watch Star Wars.) and they still get whatever cartoons are playing in the kid’s club at the gym a couple times a week, but I’d estimate their total consumption has been reduced by 80%.

And the results have been pretty astonishing.

(ESSENTIAL ALL CAPS CAVEAT: if you are in survival mode, for whatever reason, don’t let this convince you that you are ruining your children and their childhood. You aren’t. We live in a tremendously individualistic and isolated society for the most part, and when there is illness, a new baby, or other high stress times in the life of a family, sometimes Netflix is the only available babysitter. I get that. I’ve been there.)

Less fighting, less whining (relatively speaking, given our demographic), less sibling violence, less parental snapping, and just a general increase in peace in the home. And honest to goodness gratitude when they do get to watch a precious few minutes of something as an unexpected treat.

I don’t think technology is evil, but I don’t think we should passively let it flow over us at the rate it has developed. I had plenty of cartoons and shows in my childhood, but I couldn’t summon them on demand, and I didn’t melt down and shriek at my parents if something less-than-amazing was offered to me, crying out that a more acceptable option be produced.

Not that, you know, any of my kids have, uh, (cough, cough) ever done anything like that.

So there you have it, the state of our union, at least for now, with a crew of inmates numbered 5 months, 2 years, 3.5 years, and 5.25 years. I might be back here to eat my words in a month or 7, but for now, it’s working.


Cute little Netflix zombies.