Coffee Clicks: best of the week {Volume 1}

April 17, 2015

I’m thinking of starting a new feature where I round up my favorite clicks from the week behind us and throw them up for your hungry eyes instead of just clicking “like” on Facebook and moving on…but that means they have to be really, really good clicks. Worth your time and my energy curating them into a tidy little list.

(Also, who am I kidding, Dave just got home from a 4 day business trip and when daddy is gone the kids can smell my maternal fear and did you know that fear causes insomnia in toddlers? No?)

Lucky you.

So this list…it won’t be all blogs, some of the links might even lead to – gasp – scholarly articles. But you know what? I know you can handle them. And I commit that by sharing them here I hereby testify that they are worth the 5-20 minute investment of your time to ingest. Especially the longer one. (Because I really, really wouldn’t post it if I didn’t feel strongly that every parent and non parent and human in America needed to put their eyeballs on it.)

Without further ado:

1. This is the longest piece I’ll share, hands down, but it’s a critically important read. And it describes my undergrad environment (at CU Boulder) to a T. Parents, if you think your “good kid” who’s away at college isn’t getting involved in some terrifying stuff, or at the very least standing witness to it in their dorm/sorority/frat, you probably have another think coming.

(disclaimer: not all college students are behaving like animals, and not all colleges are complicit in their behavior. Some are working very, very hard to foster an environment that goes so far as to encourage virtue in their student body. And of course everywhere, even on the darkest campuses, there are FOCUS missionaries and Newman Center’s fighting for your children’s lives. But overall, this is a very, very apt representation of what college is like for a large majority of co-eds across the US.)

2. Remember the worldwide push for “safe” sex and access to free contraception and abortion on demand and all that fun and essential business? Well, here’s one unforeseen consequence that many European countries are pulling their heads out of their … sand hills and beginning to panic over. I’m curious to see how long it takes them to realize they cannot only encourage procreative copulation but also marriage and a traditional family structure to go along with the fruitful success of their efforts? (Because somebody’s got to raise those babies to become hardworking patriots, no?)

3. (and 4). Did you hear about the passionate crew of enthusiastic and “prominent, faithful catholics” who are presumably better catechized and more deeply converted of heart than San Francisco’s Archbishop? Well, undeterred by pesky little details like the fact that a full page ad in their lame local newspaper is probably not landing on Pope Francis’ desk every morning (silly narcissists, nobody outside the Bay Area reads the Chronicle) these brave evangelists are calling for their local shepherd to be ousted by their universal shepherd because, um, nobody explained the inner workings of the Church’s ecclesial structure to them, I guess?

And also temper tantrums! Because we’re vewy, vewy frustrated by our stodgy old Church (which we actually stopped attending regularly back in the 70’s. Except at Christmas time.)

5. A fluffy, lighthearted click to warm the cockles of your heart and kick your weekend off on a high note. (This mom has actually got better pipes than Miley, in my estimation.)

A happy weekend to one and all. May your thoughts be deep, your sleep be unbroken, and your morning coffees endlessly hot and refilled.coffeeclicks

10 reasons having kids super-close in age is actually pretty cool

April 15, 2015

I have a full house of the preschool variety. It attracts the occasional raised eyebrow at the grocery store and a fair number of comments about full hands, but I would venture to say that most of the feedback I get in public, in person, is positive.

And that’s what keeps me hopeful for the end of the upcoming summer, when baby number 4 hits the scene and renders us an official spectacle, because the double stroller with the standing board attachment will officially be maxed out, and even the Costco cart is going to be really, really heavy to push.

But despite the daily inconveniences and hardships of life with other human beings around (ain’t it the truth, no matter the ages/numbers?) there are a few reasons I can think of that make having kids close in age a really sweet deal.

1. You’re already not sleeping, so…efficiency!

It’s true. The baby might be waking up to nurse, or waking you up while still in utero multiple times per night, but the 2 year old isn’t exactly guaranteeing you a solid 8 hours anyway, even on a good night. And the 4 year old cock a doodle doos at sunrise, anyhow, so you might as well leverage your evenings. I cannot even fathom experiencing a solid 3-4 years of “normal” sleep in between kids, only to have my world rocked anew by the horror that is nighttime with a newborn. And what you don’t know, you can’t miss!

2. They might all be in diapers, but you can probably get away with squeezing everybody into the same size.

Size 4 for the preschooler? Check. Size 4 for the 1-year-old? Hey, if the jumbo pack fits, buy it.

3. Dinner time is usually over in under 15 minutes. Flat.

Have you ever set down a plate of food for a litter of puppies/kittens? (I’ll wait while you click over to Youtube for a minute.)

Also, thinking of chicken nuggets? Again? Go for it. This is one easy to please crowd, as long the entree is breaded.

4. Plastic dishes can be thrown into the sink at no additional hassle to you, and without fear of breakage.

Clear the table, little darlings. Yep, just launch it on into the sink from 2 feet below, try to bounce the sippy cup off the faucet while you’re at it.

5. Sharing clothes.

Super efficient, super green, and a super great way to confuse the neighbors on genders and ages. The art of the hand-me-down is alive and well in the closely-spaced family unit. Now pass me that threadbare Spiderman T and we can head out.

6. Confusing distant/older friends and relatives

“Oh, isn’t that sweet, look how big little … wait, which child is that?”

(Did you have another one this past year, or is there a reason the 4 year old is still sitting in a highchair in those Facebook pictures?)

7. Dog piling on Daddy after work only rarely results in actual chiropractic injuries

(He’s still young(ish) and spry, and they’re still ligthweights.)

8. They can all share a single room, if not a single bed.

Why bother with the formalities of assigning an entire twin-matresses’ worth of real estate to each child when they’re all going to lie in a tangled pile of blankets in the center of the floor and call it their sleeping fort?

9. Pretty much nobody can even pronounce their own full name yet, and so it’s hilarious to hear them talk.

I especially like to watch them pepper the doorkeeper at Costco with seemingly random bullet points of information like birthdates, home addresses, and what the Easter bunny brought their cousins.

(Are all these small people speaking in the same English dialect? I’m just going to nervously hand out Dumdums and nod with this frozen smile on my face until they leave…)

10. You can hold your entire family in your lap at the same time.

Priceless. (And occasionally damp.)

Wedding cake, Christianity, and a bottle of port

April 13, 2015

Today I’m thrilled to be featuring Bonnie Engstrom from “A Knotted Life” with a sane, sensible and perfectly-suitable-to-social media conversation on that pesky concept of religious freedom and what it means to discriminate against a person (no good) versus a person’s actions (completely and utterly essential to daily living.) Bonnie writes from Central Illinois about life with her 5 small fries, one of whom is an honest-to-goodness alleged miracle whose story figures prominanantly in Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for canonization.

Take it away, Bonnie.

For the record, I want to live in a country where there is a difference between an event and a person.

I believe people should be able to understand that saying “no” to an event is not the same as saying “no” to a person. Even more so, I wish our society understood that we can disagree about things – even incredibly large things like religion – and still be genuinely kind and respectful to one another.

I do not think it makes you a bad person or a good Christian if you turn down providing a service for an event you personally disagree with. I do think it is absolutely ludicrous that so many people in this nation think it does.

I have met bakers and photographers for whom their small business is a passion. It is a part of who they are and they pour themselves into that work. I get it when those people have a firm belief and conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman, forever and they don’t want to bake a cake for a polygamous marriage, a gay wedding, a divorce party…

What I don’t get is how people don’t see that the same law that protects those bakers and photographers (and so forth) is the exact same law that will allow:

– a photographer to say to a member of the KKK, “I will not photograph your upcoming rally.”

– a protestant to say to me, “I’m sorry, I don’t bake cakes for first communions. When you need a graduation cake, though, I’d be happy to help.”

– a gay event planner to say, “I do bar and bat mitzvahs, house-warming parties, bridal and baby showers, graduation parties, anniversary parties, and birthday parties. I’m sorry, I do not do anti-gay marriage rallies.”

Again, if you personally have no qualms about those things and will bake a cake for anyone or anything because it’s just a cake and it pays the bills – fine. I’ve got no problem with that. But why is it so wrong for a person to legally be protected so they can say ‘No’ to situations that they believe are truly wrong? I am sincerely confused about this and I’ve noticed that just asking questions or stating a differing opinion is enough to write someone off as a bigot.

I am not a bigot, I just have a different definition of sex, marriage, gender, and family than some. A really basic run-down of what I believe:

– Sex is for marriage only because sex is incredibly and specifically intimate, meaningful, communicative, and fun.

– Contraceptives (the pill, condoms, vasectomies, tubal ligations, withdrawl, etc) should not be used for birth control because God designed marriage and sex to create families because families, life, and love are awesome.

– If a couple needs to not get pregnant they can use natural family planning, because nfp does not prevent or destroy our bodies from doing what God fearfully and wonderfully made our bodies to do.

– Men and women are different but they have equal dignity, and this is true from the very moment of their conception all the way to their death.

– Marriage is for one man and one woman and the only thing that can end a valid marriage is death.

There was a time when I didn’t really believe these things, mostly because I didn’t really know these things, and I definitely didn’t know that the above list was what the Catholic Church taught.

In fact, as I learned more about my faith I was both elated and annoyed. Annoyed that I had never had these things explained to me. Elated that there was so much consistency from teaching to teaching, unlike pretty much every other denomination I knew. (If you want to learn more about these things, I encourage you to read the Catechism and this grouping of articles.)

The consistency, the beauty, and the truth of the Church’s teachings on sex, family, gender, and marriage does not mean that it’s always easy to live out. Of course individuals may find any and all of these teachings to be easy or difficult to embrace depending on their personal crosses, family influence, inclinations, virtues, and temptations. However, even if individuals struggle to embrace and live out these teachings it doesn’t mean the teachings are not true or that it’s okay to not try.

Christ is not a warm fuzzy, a fluffy bunny who exists to make us feel good and let us do whatever makes us happy because God is love and “religion should open your heart not close your mind.” Our hearts definitely should be open and ready to love but our minds should be closed on some things. There is a true right and wrong and if we don’t acknowledge that we are dooming ourselves and our children for Hell.

If you don’t believe that you are worshiping a god you have created.

Christ has asked us to pick up our crosses and to follow Him. This is not about comfort and being happy – this is about redemptive suffering and everlasting joy.

Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’ I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I would go a step further and say I especially don’t recommend Catholicism.

Please do not misunderstand: I am not saying “shape up or ship out.” The Catholic faith is true and beautiful and for everyone.

I want you to be Catholic and I want you to fully embrace and live out its teachings and culture. I want you to know and love and serve not fluffy bunny Jesus but God as He truly is: Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, who cares for and loves you deeply, fully, and passionately. I am certain that if you do, though you will certainly still have burdens, you will also have immeasurable joy.

CS Port

Name that bump

April 11, 2015

Just kidding, I’m not stooping low enough to consider harnessing the power of social media to name my unborn child.

(Unless, you know, somebody comes up with an amaaaaaazing suggestion. Wink.)

We’re due (no, I’m due. I’m the one getting enormous) in early August with baby quattro, and I can’t remember that we’ve ever had more trouble not just coming up with a name, but even offering each other suggestions that make it onto the “I’ll take that into consideration” list.

Nada.

Well, not entirely true. We’ve got like 3 girl names and one boy name that we tolerate, but in what combination? Who can say. I’ll whisper them in your virtual ear because I’m not a big name sharer, or at least I didn’t think I was, but then I went and ran out of beloved names before running out of beloved children. So.

Here are the official entries on the “I don’t completely hate that” list; (it’s a short one, be forewarned):

For a lady baby:

  • Francesca (for Frances of Rome, Francis of Assisi, and dear Papa Francesco)
  • Rose (for Rose of Lima, my Confirmation saint. And because her godfather is a native Peruvian from Lima, so how can we not?)
  • Zelie (Dave will never let me get away with this one but I’ve loved it for years and now she’s gone and is getting herself canonized the same year our baby is due. COME ON. And yes, I’m aware there is going to be a Catholic ghetto baby boom of little Z’s running around as a result. But I still love.)
  • Elizabeth (my sister’s name, and my best friend’s. I’m not in love with any particular St. Elizabeth, but I could cultivate a devotion to the Son of God’s Aunt, I suppose.)
  • Grace (A little popular, but it’s just such a sweet name. And it looks pretty next to Genevieve.)

And for a little gent:

  • Luke (meh. I’m fading on this one. But I’ve loved the name since I first saw Star Wars at age 12, and what child doesn’t want that kind of honor associated with his moniker? Plus, the Gospel of St. Luke is my fav.)
  • Benedict (we love our retired Papa)
  • Reid (family name on my side, Dave hates it, probably not a real contender)
  • Anthony (we love St. Anthony of Padua, our boys have an inexplicable devotion to him all their own, but I just don’t love the name. Daddy is a bigger fan than me. I’d consider Antonio because Italy, but then I’d punch myself for giving some poor kid the name Antonio Uebbing for life.)

And that’s it. See? It’s not much. I think the girl’s names are a much more realistic list of actual contenders at this point, which means we’re probably definitely having a boy.

Any thoughts?

Oh, and here are the exterior children’s names, for reference. (I’m kind of big on sibling names sounding nice together.)

  • Joseph Kolbe
  • John Paul Francis (born a whole year before the election of the current pope, I might add. Points for us.)
  • Genevieve Therese

When it doesn’t look easy, because it’s not

April 9, 2015

I had the delicious and unexpected treat of going out for a (single) glass of wine (don’t worry, it’s very European) with my best friend a few nights ago, and as she sighed and I sighed and we both laughed deliriously over stupid things that probably weren’t even funny, the stress and pace of the post-holiday fallout of parenting small children hopped up on Peeps and red dye #5 began to fade into the background.

She looked seriously into her glass of chardonnay, frowning as she confided a struggle,

“Our [son’s occupational] therapist is Catholic, and she talks about it sometimes, but she always makes these comments about how crazy my life seems, and how she couldn’t do it. Last week she mentioned that she’d known a sister in law who’d “tried NFP” but that it just didn’t work for them. I feel so much pressure every time she comes to our house, and even though she’s super sweet,  it seems like she’s constantly judging our lifestyle and commenting on hard it all is.”

She looked up at me meaningfully; “it is really hard. But I don’t want to show her that we’re those crazy people having all the kids and not able to deal with it. Because we are dealing with it, it’s just hard.”

And she was right.

It is hard. One of the least compelling arguments in the “pro NFP” camp, from my experience, is the wide eyed blissful assurance that marriage “the way God intended” is a beautiful symphony of tandem charting and gentle caresses during times of abstinence during predictably regular cycles.

Oh, how many young (and not so young) couples have come upon the stark reality that sex is complicated, that marriage is difficult, and that children are a lot of work…and felt somehow betrayed by a lack of warning or foresight?

The solution, of course, offered by the culture is to detach the prissy morals and norms from sex, and to make children an optional add-on once there’s plenty of money and plenty of time to go around. And to limit the damage to 2 or 3, tops, because my gosh, they are they a lot of freaking work.

And they are a lot of work.

But I would propose that so is anything worth doing. And while it’s folly to drag a battalion of 4 or 5 kids through the grocery store  in search of milk and bananas, it’s fine to announce that you’re training for your latest ultramaraton/sprint triathlon/charity bike race and that it takes up approximately 12-25 hours of free time each week. People will defer to you with utmost respect because of your enviable self discipline and commitment.

These same people will think nothing of lauding a 65 hour work week in a promising career, because that’s the kind of determination it takes to get somewhere, after all.

But if you choose to spend time and energy investing in a family? Forming children?

Utter madness. And what’s more, don’t you know what causes that? (wink, wink)

It’s a matter of where we collectively place our values. Work, status, personal achievement: by all means. 

Family, children, self sacrifice: not so much. And better you than me.

That’s part of what makes it tough to have even a single child in this culture tough: they’re commodities at best, liabilities at worst.

And so we who go a bit further than the norm can, and should, I think, expect to raise some eyebrows. And while it’s well and good to make an effort to show a little joy and a little satisfaction in the path we’ve chosen, I think it’s important to be transparent in the suffering, too. Not in the “woe is me, give me state funded childcare and public sympathy or else I perish” way, but in a simple acknowledgement to a stranger or well meaning (or not) healthcare worker that yes, it is an awful lot of work, and yes I am tired, and yes we are stretched to our limitsbut we’ve been called to this vocation, and we’re embracing it even in the difficulty.

It’s okay to say that it’s hard. It’s okay to acknowledge that parenting is deeply taxing, and that marriage is an effort of frequently heroic proportions (especially on my husband’s part), and that it is worth it.

I very stupidly communicated this to my sweet friend by nodding sagely into my wine glass and gravely reciting “some people are worth melting for,” because Olaf was right and sometimes self immolation is the ultimate expression of love. Even if that made us both laugh the high pitched, slightly frantic laughter of people who have not slept properly for many months.

But he was right. Some people are worth melting for, and sometimes the effort ends up being the reward in itself, because nothing is so beautiful or so transformative as sacrificial love.

(Plus, you might get your own storm cloud.)

tickle2

How we #NFP: A guest post from Haley Stewart

April 8, 2015

I’m delighted to have Haley Stewart from the blog Carrots for Michaelmas here today. Haley is a convert living in Florida with her ultra marathoner husband and 3 adorable babies, plus chickens. Here’s her take on how they currently #NFP. Enjoy!

———–

I get frequent questions about and requests for updates on how we do Natural Family Planning. It’s ok, I really don’t mind. That’s what I get for running a long series on NFP. Because while you can read about statistics and methods all day, sometimes it helps just to hear about a real person’s experience.

Does our experience look like everyone else’s? No. There’s definitely a spectrum and we fall somewhere in the middle. While we’ve never had difficulty conceiving, using NFP to postpone pregnancy has been relatively easy and “successful.”

Since we have not struggled with infertility, we haven’t experienced the same challenges as friends who use NFP to increase their likelihood of conceiving or to help them learn more about why they are suffering from infertility, subfertility, or multiple miscarriages.

We also haven’t faced the same challenges as friends who have been trained in multiple methods of NFP but have still struggled to space pregnancies. So while it’s been pretty smooth sailing for us, I know it’s far more difficult for others.

So our experience is just that–our experience. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can share what things look like for us.

I’m not here to defend our family planning decisions and I won’t be debating with anyone in the comments about what qualifies as serious reasons to child space and what doesn’t. But I think sharing our experience will help give others a sense of what life looks like with NFP–something that I really appreciated hearing about as we were coming around to this facet of Catholic faith.

So here’s some background:

It wasn’t until after our 3rd baby was born that we actually learned a method of NFP. (Baby #1 was an unexpected blessing before we converted to Catholicism and babies 2 and 3 were conceived during a “whatever happens is great!” season of life.)

While all three pregnancies were difficult in the morning sickness department. Pregnancy 3 was by far the worst. Vomiting through all 9 months. Constant nausea and faintness. And finally, needing to take some heavy duty meds so that I could keep water down and regain some of the weight I lost during the first trimester.

It was hard. Caring for a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old when I couldn’t get out of bed was rough on us all and I felt discouraged to the point of being mildly depressed because my physical state so deeply affects my emotional/mental state. Was it worth it? Of course. Beyond worth it. Gwen has brought such joy to her siblings and she is our delight. I look at her everyday and think, “I would do it all over again for you. I would do anything to have met you.” Because I’m pretty sure life is a thousand times better because she’s in it. I’m serious folks, she’s one fantastic kid.

photo 2-32

But after her birth, Daniel and I discerned that my body and my mind needed a break from pregnancy. While in my ideal world, ecological breastfeedingwould work for me like it does for many women to naturally space my pregnancies in the two years apart range, that’s not the world I live it. My fertility returns sometime between months 4-6 postpartum.  Yes, I follow all the ecobreastfeeding rules. But it’s just how my body works. So, it was time to choose a method of NFP to learn.

For many folks, NFP is made more overwhelming by the complications of wonky postpartum/breastfeeding cycles. How am I going to learn my fertility signs when my postpartum body is giving me nothing close to a regular cycle?–is something I hear a lot. Well, it really is possible, although trickier than learning NFP when you’re not postpartum.

Friends of mine have had great luck learning Creighton and Billingspostpartum, but we opted for Marquette because I was drawn to the black and whiteness of using the Clear Blue Fertility Monitor and because there are no NFP instructors locally (argh!) and it was nice being able to learn a method from the Marquette website. (While the monitor was created to help women wanting to conceive figure out ovulation and peak fertility, Marquette method also uses it to pinpoint those days in order to postpone pregnancy.)

I found Marquette to be pretty easy to learn and it took away anxiety during the postpartum days. And on the Marquette site you can ask a doctor a question and he will look at your chart and reply. Except for one extended season of abstinence during my 3rd month postpartum while my body was revving up and my fertility was returning, the seasons of abstinence really weren’t that bad. I mean, sure, abstinence is never something we’re real excited about but it hasn’t been impossible or miserable by any stretch of the imagination.

After following the monitor for a few months, I’m now able to discern some of my fertility symptoms that always manifest just before the monitor shows me that the hormone surge preceding ovulation is occurring. So it’s been helpful to have the monitor’s confirmation as I’m learning.

At this point, I would be interested to learn Creighton or Billings so that I’m less dependent on the monitor and I think those methods would also decrease the number of days that require abstinence for us which would be a yay.

I’ll also say that while following the Marquette postpartum/breastfeeding protocol has been working great for us, I do have a good friend who conceived while trying to postpone pregnancy using this method, so don’t misunderstand that I’m touting this method as the 100% successful method. It’s actually more like 97-99% correct use, 88-89% typical use.

Marquette Method NFP: A Personal Experience

The downside of the method is that there’s a hefty upfront cost of purchasing the monitor and a continued monthly cost for test sticks. But now that my cycles are closer to normal, a box of test sticks lasts me about three months. Anyhow, I thought I’d throw that out there since the method could be cost-prohibitive depending on your current budget.

I honestly would have preferred to spend that money being coached in a method like Creighton, but I would have had to do all my classes over Skype since there are no local instructors. One of my close friends is in the Creighton training program (yay!) so I plan to get trained by her when she completes her certification. P.S. if you want to support NFP,  you can contribute to her brand new training fund (it is monumentally expensive to go through the training process) so that she can serve families in our region. A local NFP instructor is SO desperately needed.

Our youngest, Gwen, will be two years old in May. Having these months to recover my health, improve my diet, take supplements, and get back into shape (as well as get a chance to breathe mentally and emotionally) have been a huge blessing to our family. Having the energy to strengthen my relationships with my two oldest kids after being physically distant for a few months due to the nausea/vomiting has also meant the world to me.

While we joyfully hope for more Stewart babies in the future, postponing another pregnancy for the past few months has given us the space to recover and recharge. So I am very grateful for a natural method of child spacing that honors my body, sexuality, and fertility and empowers me with information about how my body works.

Anyhow, that’s what NFP looks like for our family right now. I can’t say how long we’ll be postponing pregnancy because we kind of take it one month at a time. And were we to get pregnant today, the news would be met with joy, not disappointment. So, prayerful discernment continues. And I’ve got my monitor to help me figure out what my body is doing in the mean time.

 

The Digital Evangelization

April 7, 2015

A few years ago, before blogging was big and long before I was mommy, I started up a little webpage  on a free blogging site and began tapping away some of my deep thoughts, shallow thoughts, reflections on my deepening conversion as a Christian, and musings on current events.

It was an emergent communication form for sure, and I think I was thrilled to see 10 or 15 readers start following along, interacting through comments and emails and forming a kind of virtual community of like-minded (and not so like-minded) individuals. It was like a digital town well of sorts, where people who might never bump into each other otherwise were suddenly interacting and sharing ideas.

Fast forward nearly a decade and the blogosphere is now most certainly a thing. It’s a place that buzzes with activity and influence 24 hours a day, and the reach is global. Cultures intermingle, religion and politics touch (and often clash) and conversations that might otherwise never happen, for better or for worse, are begun.

Blogs humanize the internet in a way that no other medium can touch. And there’s an opportunity there.

I could never have dreamed that my professional identity would one day be summed up by the slightly diminutive expression “mommy blogger,” but here we are. And here I am, joining forces with Catholic News Agency to bring fresh content and unique voices into the virtual public square.

The Catholic Church is frequently misunderstood and often misrepresented for her teachings on the dignity of human life, the complementarity of the sexes, and the sanctity of marriage.

And when it comes to the Church’s esteem for and comprehensive understanding of the dignity of women, the culture can’t. even. All it can do is think in terms of status and external accomplishments. The “boy’s club” of an all-male priesthood doesn’t sit well with a society that tends to measure human worth in terms of visibility and titles.

Meanwhile we’ve managed to denigrate motherhood to a mere aspirational afterthought — a temporary role to play at — once the career is locked down and the MBA is wrapped up. Not that a women can’t do it all, but that she really must focus on the important things, like career, status, and financial security, before launching into the world of self immolation and suffering that is pregnancy + diapers.

At least that’s what you’d understand from watching our movies, reading our magazines, and observing how our media portrays the role of “mother.” (Don’t even get me started on wife.)

There’s so much more, though. And it’s nothing that can be explained, it’s something that has to be demonstrated, to be lived. My contribution to the society I inhabit is twofold: I must give both my children and my lived example as mother, as provider, as a fiercely competent and critically necessary culture builder to the world at large. 

And the internet is helping me do that. It’s both a means of connection and desperately needed camaraderie and an outlet for sharing the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Christian life with a world in desperate need of Good News.

On the days I’m drowning in diapers and dirty laundry and somebody is sick and I can’t leave the house, I can still trade emails with Haley about her latest reflections on liturgical living and the connection between the culture and great literature, or lack thereof.

I can check in with Bonnie to see what new ideas she’s come up for fostering actual community and relationships in her own neighborhood, and read about her son’s miraculous role in the ongoing cause for Ven. Fulton Sheen’s canonization.

While I’m waiting in the preschool pickup lot I can check in on Jen Fulwiler’s radio schedule for the upcoming week and see what kind of fascinating guests she might be featuring, or read excerpts from her spiritual memoir on my iPhone.

I can pop in on my favourite Canadian and see the plans Christy has for her family’s curriculum for the week, and read her latest musings on the difficulties of raising a larger Catholic family in a small parish with few to no other children in attendance.

I can read up on my favorite pro life OB/GYN resident’s wife, Grace, stylishly holding down her little fort and wielding some serious social media clout while managing 5 pregnancies in as many years, and with a smile on her face.

In other words, I can connect with other women who are like me — even though we’re separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones and would probably never have met “in real life.”

They may not live on my block – or even in my country – but we are sisters, bonded by a common Faith and a shared mission. And while our lives might look completely different, our end game is the same: Heaven.

Don’t discount the mommy blog. It’s a powerful tool for evangelization, and it’s (usually) a refreshing oasis on an Internet crowded with lots of less than inspiring stuff.

And it’s real

There are Catholic families out there waging war in a culture that says their lives are meaningless; women making heroic efforts to provide for the temporal and spiritual needs of their families despite the persistent message that doing so is a waste of our potential, beneath our dignity, not worth the gift of our lives. 

We think otherwise. The Church teaches otherwise, and always has. 

I hope you’ll stop by and hear more about it. I’ll be here with my trusty laptop and my cup of coffee, advancing into this new mission field marked by likes and hashtags.

Because the Gospel needs spreading, and the digital continent awaits.

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He moved me

April 1, 2015

10 years ago on a cold spring evening in early April an old man died in his bed a half a world away, and a selfish, frequently drunken 22-year old college student fell to her knees in her dingy living room.

Eyes glued to the tv screen, I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing on the television screen and the corresponding ache in my chest for a man I’d never met and for a religion I barely practiced.

I was never the same again.

I spent most of April 2nd in a daze, missing all my classes and breaking into real tears periodically. Eventually the news coverage coming out of Rome lost its pull on me and I ventured from the couch to the front door, destination unknown.

Within a half a dozen blocks I found myself in front of the Catholic church I sometimes attended on weekends, still drawn to participation in the Mass even when the vigil had been spent blacked out drunk with 20,000 of my closest friends on Pearl Street.

I pushed on the heavy bronzed door and was surprised when it yielded to me. It was around noon, and the church was unlocked and completely empty save for an elderly woman sitting near the altar and a younger guy with camera equipment standing off to one side of the sanctuary.

At the end of the aisle someone had erected a makeshift shrine; a single votive candle burned beneath an easel holding the papal portrait of John Paul II. There were a few potted flowers, leftover Easter decor still dotted the stairway surrounding the altar.

Propelled almost unconsciously, I found myself at the front of the church and dropping to my knees in front of his picture. I noticed the red light burning in a lantern hung in my periphery, and I looked past the image in front of me to the tabernacle behind the altar. I knew He was there, too.

I dropped my head into my hand and wept. I had absolutely no explanation for the intensity of my reaction, given the attention I’d given to my Catholic faith for the past 4 years. College had effectively paganized me, at least in practice, and I was Catholic in name only. I knew this, of course, but that morning for the first time it caused me both deep, reflective sorrow and inspired the hope that maybe I could turn things around.

I looked up at the sound of a camera clicking away and the young guy with the equipment shrugged his shoulders and asked sheepishly if I’d consent to having the images used in the paper. The next morning I saw myself under the fold on the front page of the Denver Post. Not many people have a picture of themselves on the day their conversion began in earnest, and even though it’s grainy, black and white, and not terribly flattering, it’s something I treasure. It’s proof that I was there, and now I’m here.

More than that, it captures the essence of my relationship with JPII: penitent prodigal meets spiritual father. Fireworks ensue. Lifelong friendship is cemented.

Later that same month I withdrew from all my college courses and stopped going out to bars every night. As my phone stopped ringing and my friends drifted away, I spent long weekend nights listening to CDs of famous Catholic speakers (Scott Hahn, anyone?) and gradually began to come alive to the mysteries and depth of the Faith.

By early May I had an acceptance letter in my hands from Franciscan University of Steubenville. I would transfer there at the summer’s end and spend the next 3 years in a kind of spiritual, emotional and physical rehab, piecing back together the real Jenny.

Through it all, St. John Paul II (who I never doubted was directly interceding for little old me) became one of my closest friends.

I couldn’t have dreamt it on April 2nd, 2005, but on Divine Mercy Sunday in the year 2011, I stood in St. Peter’s Square with a million other pilgrims, my 7-month-old son pressed uncomfortably close to my chest in a baby carrier, squeezed by Italians on every side, and listened as Pope Benedict gave him to the Universal Church as a “Blessed.”

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If that wasn’t sufficiently awesome, three years later I returned to that same square, this time with two more sweet babies in tow and my husband by my side, and we distractedly wrestled toddlers through the long ceremony and misting Roman rain while Pope St. John Paul II was elevated to the altar and proclaimed “Sanctus.”

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I smiled because I’d known for years that this day would come, and I cried because I never dreamt I would be there to witness it.

St. John Paul II, I love you. And I owe, quite simply, everything to your intercession. Please never stop praying for me.

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“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” Pope St. John Paul II

It was never about the cake

March 31, 2015

“Indiana has passed a law which balances religious freedom for citizens, groups and businesses, with the state’s “compelling interests” in requiring everybody to obey this or that particular law which might burden religion.  It is not a remarkable law. The same language was passed federally by a bipartisan Congress in 1993 and signed by President Clinton. About 31 states have such a law either by statute or state constitutional interpretation.” – Helen Alvare, from an email to her WSFT supporters.

Probably you’ve heard once or fifteen times in the past 48 hours how the state of Indiana is trying to time travel back into the Middle Ages and start hunting down practicing homosexuals and publicly flogging them in the town square for their sins of the flesh.At least that’s the narrative our progressive mainstream media is broadcasting via every available channel, be they legitimate news sources or floundering, illogical op-eds by the very openly homosexual CEO’s of very wealthy corporations who are therefore allowed to have  bigger and more important opinions than the average citizen.

And this, y’all? This is crazy.This is the best example of how public opinion – cultivated public opinion carefully crafted and executed by liberal think tanks, billion dollar corporations, and academicians, is becoming the highest power in the land.

In short: laws need not be based in reason or reality, but must instead conform to popular public displays of outrage and emotion.

But there’s a catch.

Some people – let’s call them Christians to simplify the discussion, believe that sex is sacred and, as God revealed in Scripture, is reserved for the exclusive marital relationship between one man and one woman.

Now, Christians believe this to be true because it is true, speaking from a natural law perspective.

God doesn’t make arbitrary thou shalt nots: if He says not to do it, it’s because it’s objectively wrong. So murder. Lying. Stealing. Adultery (translation: sexual involvement with someone other than your spouse).

Do some Christians (and lots of other people) do these things anyway? Of course. Because human nature and original sin and lots and lots of falling down and repenting and getting back up.

But now we have this prevailing cultural trend of not only tolerating a formerly forbidden and immoral behavior – homosexuality – but of openly embracing and celebrating it.

And I’m not speaking here of the person struggling with (or openly celebrating, as is more and more often the case) the disordered behavior and deviant attractions, but the very act of engaging in homosexual behavior. That’s what we’re being compelled to clap and cheer for.

And this bill in Indiana? All it is is the reiteration of an existing 20 year old federal law that 31 other states have some identical version of on the books that pledges protection for those individuals and businesses who don’t choose to jump up and down and cheer.

Does it say that you can discriminate against someone because you disagree with their lifestyle? No. Foolishness.

All it offers is the chance for businesses and individuals who are being compelled by prevailing public opinion and an increasingly invasive federal government to protect themselves from directly violating their own consciences by participating in immoral acts.

Because unless the gay couple coming to ask for a wedding cake is planning on entering into some kind of lifelong platonic union of mutual celibacy, that’s exactly what forcing someone to cater a gay “wedding” is doing: coercing their participation in the public celebration of immoral behavior: homosexuality.

That’s all this law is: an explicit protection for religious citizens who fear (and rightly so) the creeping encroachment of coercive government policies that directly contradict both reality and their deeply held moral beliefs.

But you won’t hear that in the media. Because the gay agenda is powerful, purposeful, and intent upon winning hearts and minds, by force if necessary.

It was never about the wedding cake in the first place. It was always about – and will continue to be about – the systematic redefinition of our collective moral code. 

House Tour + Insta-gratification

March 24, 2015

It’s been a good long while since I posted an old school straight-up mommy blogger style post. And I’m sorry for that!

I’m still trying to find the right balance to keep you, my faithful old friends, satisfied and entertained without traumatizing my new audience at CNA. Because let’s be honest, I’m not going to radically alter my voice or content, but some trauma you have to ease into.

The new blog is almost up and running, the design is going to be beautiful, and I can’t wait to show it to you. In the meantime, I’m still “here,” and so I figured why not post a little fluff to pass the time?

Oh, also, I finally embraced the modern world and joined Instagram yesterday. Welcome to the 90’s, Mr. Banks. (And you all were right: it’s the most fun of all social media.)

So something that I really, really love (because I’m a creeper?) is seeing other people’s homes. I’m a would be decorating junkie and an HGTV addict, so there’s nothing more fun to me than seeing somebody else’s style/space and being able to envision them more accurately in their natural habitat when I’m reading their words. (If you’re trying to decide if you’re disturbed or flattered, go with flattered: I want to see your living room.)

Anyway, do you want to see my house? It’s been enjoying a little TLC while I KonMari’d the crap out of my wardrobe/kitchen/bookshelves/decor, and I’m much happier with the way it looks now as opposed to 2 weeks ago. Much.

It’s still not perfect, you know, because it’s a work in progress. But it makes me happy to coax it along; I get a rush of satisfaction from finding a new spot for a tired piece of furniture or a neglected vase. Cheapest of thrills.

So, here you go, a virtual tour of casa del coffee:

First up, the living room/front entry way.

I just bought gorgeous (and cheap!) long white curtains at IKEA and I’m dying to get them up around that bay window. I have aspirations of hanging them high and wide and framing the gorgeousness of all that natural light that floods into the front of our southern facing house. And since we have a blackout shade we can close at night for privacy and light control, I was free to go with my heart and choose impractical ineffective and oh-so-lovely white.
The oriental rug was a wedding gift and, while beautiful and expensive, is totally not my taste, but it’s here and it’s lovely and so I work around it and let it do most of the heavy lifting in terms of pattern/color in this room.
Next up, the family room. The blankest of blank canvases right now because I just spent an afternoon “quieting the space” ala Myquillyn and now it’s sitting pretty and plain and waiting for the right touches, not just putting up with whatever I happened to have on hand the weekend we moved in. Not that there’s anything wrong with going ahead and throwing something up on the walls, but after a year of not quite right, I’m happy to let it sit semi-undone for a bit while I figure it out.
(I should have disclaimed this sooner, but me + my iPhone 4 are do not a professional photographer make, and I’m not really that skilled on the layout end of things, either, in terms of uploading images. So if this looks like the work of an amateur, at least I’m transparent.)
Most of our stuff is thrifted, and here’s the big fat caveat with that: it takes multiple visits to multiple thrift stores over multiple weeks and months to arrive at a “finished” product, at least for me it does. So even though I’ve found some amazing stuff over the past year and a half since we moved in here, it did take lots of time and patience to get there. Not thrifted: the white china platter (wedding gift), the leather couch (our first repatriation purchase upon arrival Stateside, American Furniture Warehouse), and the round framed mirror (Walmart. Shudder.) Everything else: Goodwill/Saver’s/Homegoods/mom and dad’s hand me downs.
Next: the opposite of a gourmet kitchen. But whatev, it’s a decent-ish size and I have a huge pantry, and my husband is really gifted in the charism of doing dinner dishes before bed. So I’ve got no complaints. Wait, no, I do have one; the heinous “white” linoleum hanging onto the beleaguered floor for dear life. At least it’s not carpet?
Heading down the hall we find ourselves in the master bedroom. It’s big enough to fit our king sized bed (the luxury!) but not really big enough to fit anything else, and that’s fine by me. I keep it as visually uncluttered as possible because I feel 100% less stressed when it’s clean and calm.

(How do I get such amazing shots? I’m telling you, it’s the 2 year old camera phone and the steady caffeinated hand. #gifted #blessed)

Oh, I forgot, here’s a shot of the basement which contains two semi finished guest rooms, an avocado green full bath with some missing ceiling tiles, and a laundry room and play room.
That stairwell, my friends, is the reason there’s zero toy clutter on the main floor. (That and I’m ruthless with the donations. Ruthless.)
Moving on to the nursery wing.
How cool is the boys’ dresser? It weighs 200 lbs and our landlords didn’t want to bother taking it with, so we inherited it. Legend has it the original owner/saint decopauger is now happily tucked away in a convent somewhere, none the wiser that her lovely original piece now primarily houses Pull Ups and filthy pajama pants.
And my favorite space in the whole house? (Well, at least until this past weekend’s decluttering fest); Genevieve’s room.
We don’t have a dining room because we’re not fancy like that. Actually, it’s because I opportunistically transformed the space into my gym/home office while nobody was paying attention. I’m sure if we were trying to fit teenaged boys around our kitchen table we might need this space, but for now I’m super super lucky I can use it this way. Nothing fancy, but it’s a happy place that lets me get my work done.
And finally, some random shots of the front porch and our front yard, where the children frolic as I survey my kingdom from behind the storm door or the bay window. I’m sure the neighbors can’t handle how hands on my parenting is.

Okay one last shot: Evie can stand! If anyone is still hanging on after this endless stream of blurry cellphone pics, you deserve to see something cute.
What about you? Up for showing a little behind the scenes of your home? Maybe you could throw a little something together and drop a link down below? I’m all eyes, because the only thing better than Pinterest is personalized Pinterest, you know?