Family Life, motherhood, Parenting, pregnancy

The fast-forward years

September 20, 2017

I feel like we’ve officially entered that phase of parenthood that all those well-meaning checkout line commenters have been warming about for the past 8 years or so. It did not, up to this point, “go so fast,” but I’m officially ready to punch that time-clock because yesterday I started to write a date that was at least a week in the rearview, and was genuinely shocked that an additional 7 days of life have transpired since I last looked up.

It’s the end of September. My oldest baby will reach the age of reason on Saturday (and, shockingly, has begun to act sort of … reasonable at times. Makes me clutch my chest in shock and awe).

I just clicked over to Baby Center to look at how big Cinque Bing is at 24 weeks only to find that we’re actually at 26 weeks, which is fairly reassuring since I’m starting to make third-trimesteresque huffs and puffs when I get up off the floor and was getting a little concerned for my stamina.

Now that I know I’m a fortnight out from the dawn of the final countdown, the aggressive and sudden pop of the belly and the insatiable appetite make more sense.

I got my first “any day now!” comment from a friendly barista the other week, to which I smiled vaguely and replied with a sing-songy “not as soon as you might think.” The end of pregnancy is when my 10-inch torso really shines, making strangers and friends alike very, very nervous in workout settings and in crowded public spaces. Why look 9 months pregnant for only a month when you can startle passers-by for an entire trimester? I’m sure that’s what God was thinking when He selected “walking, ticking time bomb of gestation” as my pregnancy model.

Our house is coming together too, more slowly than it might have in the past, but also more carefully and with greater attention to detail. I finished chalk painting my kitchen cabinets last night at about 9 pm (future post forthcoming) and, stepping back to admire my handiwork after I’d hung the last door, I mentally calculated that the entire project had taken some 40-odd hours from prep to finish. Yesterday at around noon, when things were looking grim indeed after a sudden and surprising suburban sandstorm swept along the freshly-lacquered door faces, I was lamenting to a friend that I was actually going to die with this paintbrush in my hand. But fast forward a couple hours and a lot of sweat and choice language later, and the thing was done.

It already feels like we’ve lived in this house forever. The past year of multiple moves and endless showings is fading into the hazy, unreliable annuls of “oh, that’s wasn’t so bad” memory, and I can already picture the bedrooms which are currently kitted out with cribs and bunkbeds strewn with stinky sports jerseys and curling irons.

Even the long days of mothering lots of little people are easing up. I hardly ever have that stiffling feeling of 4 o’clock doom these days, because by the time I look at the clock after school, Dave is only 15 minutes away and I haven’t actually started dinner yet.

It’s getting blurrier. The edges are getting softer and rounder, kind of like me.

Stuff that seemed make-it-or-break-it 6 years ago barely registers as a blip on the radar now. I have less time to fret about vaccine schedules and whether or not milestones are being met, because I’m kind of treading water keeping everyone in clean socks and lunches. The moments that I stop and play a quick game of pickup soccer in the backyard with the first grader or pull the giant baby into my lap for a little quality time with Sandra Boynton are unscripted and unrecorded and, as such, far more enjoyable.

I have to put down my to-do list and a million other nagging tasks in order to acquiesce the preschooler when she comes to me dragging her entire “family” of bedraggled, stuffed cats, begging for them to be carefully swaddled in the muslin blankets I should probably be washing and then rationing for the imminent newborn, but most of the time I laugh and put down my planner or the basket of clothes and wrap the cats.

(If you think you’ve seen something cuter than a 3-year-old pretending to nurse a swaddled Beanie Baby, you’re wrong.)

So, newer moms reading along, wondering if you’re slowly losing your minds (spoiler alert: you are), if the baby is ever going to sleep through the night, if you’re ever going to fit back into your jeans, and whether you’ll someday have more than an hour to yourself in the evenings, I’m standing about a mile down the road from where you are now, waving back at you and cupping my hands around my mouth shouting “the future is now, and it’s pretty awesome.”

And you more seasoned moms? I know I’m kind of in the eye of the storm right now, that this is simply the lull before the oncoming collision of evening activities + hormones + peer relationships + technology woes.

So I’m savoring it, falling dead with exhaustion into bed at 9 pm from the physical pursuits of mothering a 2, 3, 5 and 7-year-old plus baby on board, but relishing the evening shift where they all stay quietly and sweetly in bed for 12 solid hours.

I know these days are numbered, too. So I sit up too late with my Kindle, sipping hot tea or a cocktail and unwinding with a good book and thanking God that they’re all tucked safely under my roof, that my greatest present concerns are heartburn and ear infections and whether or not I remembered to pack everyone’s lunch.

The days are long, but the years are short – and getting shorter. And as time starts to warp into hyper speed, I’m trying to slow down and look into little, quickly-changing faces and memorize button noses and rosebud lips, peering ahead into the not-so-distant future to a time when nobody needs a peanut butter delousing after lunchtime or to be “held like a baby, mommy” after suffering a punishing blow in the playroom.

And I kind of already miss it.


(Must be the hormones.)

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks {September 15}

September 15, 2017

It’s that time of year again. The pumpkin spice errything is flowing, the temperatures are dropping (well, in theory. And only at night around here. 81 sizzling degrees for the projected high today.) I’m doing my best to limp across the second trimester finish line still utilizing as much of my non-maternity wardrobe as possible, and have finally embraced the wonder of the belly band + pretty much any bottoms that I can still shimmy into. I’m wearing maternity jeans and shorts 24/7, but I can still, at 25+ weeks, get away with surprisingly most of my non-maternity tops by using that little black stretchy band of magic, which may not sound impressive to you, but given my 5 foot 4 stature and the pertinent detail of this being my 5th pregnancy in 7 years, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

(Plus, Target’s current maternity offerings are hideous and Old Navy has stopped selling in stores.) After 2 near-misses trying my hand shopping online, I’ve pretty much given up and am resigning myself to friend’s hand-me-downs (she lent met her Blanqi! True love!) and am planning to spend all of December in Dave’s t-shirts, which should look lovely in our Christmas photos.

Before I launch you into this week’s list of assigned reading, please accept my most heartfelt thanks for the overwhelming support you poured out online (and in my inbox) after my most recent post. I’ve been so humbled reading your stories, and I’m so grateful that so many people are feeling more freedom – and finding more support – in speaking out about mental illness. I know I have some new readers as a result of how enthusiastically it has been shared, so I want to welcome you guys and invite you to scroll through the archives, especially the tab at the top of my homepage labeled “PPD,” for more resources and information.

So, without further ado, the list:


First up is this amazing story about Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest who was captured during an horrific ISIS raid more than a year ago in a nursing home facility run by the Missionaries of Charity in Yemen. 16 people were brutally murdered that day, including several religious sisters and innocent elderly residents. You may remember hearing threats back during the spring before last that Fr. Tom was going to be crucified on Good Friday in a barbaric act of terrorism which, thankfully, proved to be so much social media bluster. I dare you to read Elise Harris’ emotional recounting of Fr. Tom’s meeting with the Pope upon his release last week and not weep.


I just finished reading Jodi Picoult’s novel, “Small Great Things” and while it was a deeply disturbing read (probably even more so for a pregnant woman) I couldn’t quite turn away, and ended up tearing through it in 3 nights. It contained a decent amount of propaganda that had me rolling my eyes in places, but it also contained some profound and hard-hitting truths that were uncomfortable and necessary for me to confront as a white person raised in the “post-racial” west.  Reading this piece just a day after finishing Picoult’s book was eye-opening and uncomfortable.


When I read about so much happening now, in 2017, about eugenics and gene editing and euthanasia, I’m always blown away by how quickly we’ve lost our collective grasp on the historical memory of what actually happened during WWII. It’s easy enough to demonize Nazis because they’ve become synonymous with an evil we can still, even in this vastly divided condition, agree upon, but many people seem unwilling to acknowledge the similarities in ethical practices and world views that many moderns share. It’s not politically correct to say so, but read this and try not to squirm when thinking about the various medical “advancements” and various pieces of so-called compassionate legislation which are gaining traction.


Speaking of euthanasia. Sigh. This is why we can’t have nice things. The lay advisory board of this religious order is like the idiot older brother who gets busted by dad smoking pot and makes a dramatic scene in the living room before storming off because “you can’t tell me how to live my life, old man” before heading down to the 7-11 parking lot with his buddies to roll another joint.


Remember those persecuted Christians in the Middle East? Yeah, me neither, most of the time. It’s hard to keep all the competing narratives of doom straight amidst the constant stream of noisy, curated news narrowly focused on, well, us and our issues. Meanwhile, a genocide is underway, and barely gets mentioned even in global news coverage.


At the risk of ending on too dreary of a note, please peep this sweet write up of one of my favorite professional athletes, Philip Rivers, and his creative solution to the decision between a long commute versus uprooting his family of 10. (And try not to blanch at the price tag; remember, that’s coffee money to most NFL stars.)

Have a lovely weekend, and may your coffee be spiced with all the orangey goodness of autumn’s most desirable gourd.

mental health, motherhood, PPD, pregnancy, self care, Suffering

Motherhood + mental illness

September 13, 2017

This is a tough subject to write on, but it’s probably in my top 5 most-emailed about questions/comments, so I know it’s one people are hungry to read about.

There is a frustrating level of stigma and shame which still surrounds mental illness: the way we talk about it on a cultural level, the image of ourselves we present to the world, the words we choose to use when discussing things like medication and therapy, and a whole host of other factors.

Last month a story surfaced about Pope Francis having seen a psychoanalyst for six months during his early priesthood, and the chatter online was pretty evenly split between “good for him for being so open and modeling good mental health” and “was it okay for him to have admitted that?” (with a dash of “aha, I knew he was nuts!” thrown in just because it wouldn’t be the internet without trolls.)

I’ve been really open online about my own struggle with depression and anxiety – especially the postpartum variety – because I think one of the most important things we can do for people with mental illness is invite them into polite society, so to speak, and jettison the antiquated notion that mental illness is somehow shameful, scandalous, and necessarily furtive.

Having now been on and off (but mostly on) antidepressants for more than half my life, I can honestly say I don’t care whether someone thinks less of me for needing them, or whether they believe that depression and anxiety are even real conditions.

You might have great success using an essential oil before bed to calm your anxious nerves, and that’s fantastic! I also like a drop of lavender on my wrist and pillowcase at night, but it doesn’t stop me from popping an SSRI before bed, and nope, I don’t believe that I could easily handle things “naturally” if I just took the time to read up on it. (Because I’ve tried all the things and dabbled in all the naturopathy. Not opposed! But also not sufficient, at least in my case.)

The truth is, mental illness, much like physical illness, is both unique to the individual and also excruciatingly uniform. How depression feels in my brain might be worlds apart from how it feels in someone else’s, but the outward effects are drearily similar: dark thoughts, exhaustion, flashes of inappropriate anger and bouts of crippling sadness and despair. 

I frequently hear from women with questions about NFP, and about safely combining pregnancy + drugs. The answer to many of the NFP questions is heartbreakingly obvious: “Is avoiding pregnancy because of mental illness a grave reason?”

YES. Yes. I want to shout from the rooftops YES! And I am so, so sorry if there is nobody in your life who understands that or is willing to validate that for you.”

Nobody blinks an eye if a woman staring down chemo decides to step off the baby train for 18-24 months. But a mom struggling with a crippling mood disorder gets a raised eyebrow for wondering, in the depths of her suffering and with symptoms raging out of control, if maybe she’s actually “done” having children. 

It’s okay to not be okay.

It’s okay to be suffering and searching for answers and not totally sure when – or if – you’re going to  come up for air. 

Now, this is the part of this essay that gets (more) intensely personal, so bear with me. (My virtual living room, my prerogative.)

I am currently 6 months pregnant with baby number 5. I have had crippling postpartum depression and/or anxiety with all but one of my children, and have been on antidepressants for either all or part of each of those pregnancies, including the current internal resident.

I have fielded many, many questions over the years about the safety and wisdom of using medication while pregnant and breastfeeding, and will preface this with the same answer I give to everyone who has ever asked: it is an intensely personal decision, and one that only you can make for yourself, your baby, and your family.

(And before someone @’s me with the “aha, your body your choice!” zinger of a gotcha, let’s be clear that making a decision to treat un underlying medical condition is worlds apart from killing your baby for any reason. For further nuance pls google “intention and moral objective.”)

Now, if your husband, parents, spiritual director, etc, think you should be treating your mental illness with medication and/or professional counseling, take that advice seriously as you make a decision.  And when you decide, consider that the common good of your family is the criteria–if you don’t like being on anti-depressants or hate the thought of being vulnerable with a stranger, but your kids need a mom who is able to make dinner, the just thing to do might be to suck it up for their sake.

Mental illness is at once intensely personal and painfully corporate. And for whatever reason, it can often present a bigger target for speculation and strong opinions than most physical illnesses do. This is helpful to keep in mind when someone is confiding in you about their condition, because it can be more tempting with mental illness to offer advice and recommendations perhaps not rooted in good science and best medical practices, but in internet-derived research and personal anecdotes.

For example “I cut out gluten and now I don’t need Prozac anymore so you probably don’t either” or “Using essential oils completely cleared up my anxiety and you really should try something natural before you put toxic drugs into your body!”

True though those two statements may be for the person making them, that does not grant them a blanket status of efficacy when applied to other people’s conditions.

One person might well be able to get their blood sugar under control through diet alone, and another may need an insulin pump for life.

Every body – and brain – is different, and I personally thank God that we have multiple choice options when it comes to mental health. My life would have been very, very different 100 years ago, and not a day goes by that I am not grateful for the privilege of living in a first world country with access to life-changing medication. 

A large part of that gratitude stems from the fact that because these medications do exist, and because I have found different options that my body responds well to, I am able to continue to be open to life.

I would not have been able to continue having children without SSRIs. I say that without a hint of hyperbole or a smidgeon of exaggeration. The ability of my brain to apply this class of drug to my particular chemical makeup and smooth out the rough edges is nothing short of miraculous, and life on these meds versus life off of them is very, very different.

I’ve found at the tender age of 34 the perfect combination of diet, medication, therapy, prayer, and supplements that makes things pretty darn good. For now.

It’s a tricky thing when hormones are involved (and, increasingly, as science is demonstrating, inflammation) because they’re designed to fluctuate. So what works one month (or maybe even one part of the month) might not work as well 2 weeks later.

Pregnancy is generally a time of smoothed-outness for me, emotionally speaking. I can get by with a low dose of an SSRI (Zoloft is my doctor’s preferred pregnancy prescription and is working well for me this time) a low dose of LDN (low dose naltrexone, addresses inflammation and my autoimmune thyroid disease), a desiccated thyroid medication, progesterone supplementation, and a strictly (and I do mean strictly) gluten free diet.

I’ve also found – not that this is a biggie during pregnancy, but other times, womp womp – that I can no longer tolerate most kinds of alcohol. Single tear. Beer’s off the table for obvious reasons, but sadly, in my advancing middle age, so is wine of every color and variety. Cider is similarly catastrophic. 

Over the years I’ve engaged in a fair amount of cognitive behavioral therapy, healing prayer and deliverance, naturopathic supplementation, regular exercise, and chiropractic care. All of these things have helped tremendously. But for me, at least while I’m in my childbearing years, they haven’t been sufficient.

And that’s okay. 

I’m okay with being “not okay,” and with needing a little extra help to get through these demanding investment years of building a family.

Of course I worry about possible adverse side effects from the medicine, just like I worry about the 5 weeks I was too nauseous to choke down my prenatal vitamins, the hormones and chemicals in my tap water, the other drivers on the road with me, the bacteria in the swimming pool, and any potential unknown genetic time bombs lurking within my DNA. 

But ultimately, this baby’s health and his or her safety – as is also the case for my other children – is beyond my control. When I send them off to school each morning, it’s a trust exercise in best decisions made weighed against possible adverse outcomes.

I could breastfeed each little angel for 2 full years, avoid every vaccine or vaccinate to a full schedule, feed them an exclusively organic diet, avoid all inflammatory food groups, restrict all devices emitting harmful electromagnetic pulses, and still end up with a 4-year-old with a brain tumor one day. 

But the essence of parenting is making the best possible decisions possible for all parties involved, using the information at hand, a well-formed conscience, and a dash of common sense.

And the essence of motherhood is making a sincere gift of self without annihilating one’s self in the process. A shattered, broken down mother is not nearly so beneficial to her children as a sane, whole one. And to the extent that we can take care of ourselves in order to give the most to our families, we should.

I am a better mom when I’m on medication. And I feel no shame over that. What I do feel shame for are the months and months I’ve stubbornly tried to go it alone, gritting my teeth and yelling (so much yelling), refusing to do the thing that could help because it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t ideal, and it wasn’t what I wanted.

But sometimes it’s not about what I want. Most of the time, turns out, according to this motherhood gig.

I hope if you’re reading this and are struggling with mental illness yourself, you find a little respite here. I hope you’ll find that after reading this you feel more able to bring your fears to someone and ask for help shouldering the burden. 

Because you are not alone in your illness, and you needn’t suffer alone. And a psychological cross needn’t also be a death sentence for one’s fertility.

Other women are out there making similarly brave and difficult choices: they’re called mothers. And I want to invite them into the conversation to share their stories.

(I invite you over to the blog’s Facebook page to join the discussion and share your own experience there.)

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks {September 8th}

September 8, 2017

Happy birthday Mama Mary! I made gluten free blueberry muffins from a paper packet at 9 pm last night and my kids were not disappointed. (Although by “muffin” I mean loaf of crumbly bread-shaped substance. And as the intrepid 5-year-old was quick to point out “Mommy partied already by eating half of it last night.” Touche, son.)

This week has been a whirlwind of stupid, entertaining, and inspiring. Where to begin?


How about with the always inspirational, courteous, and courageous Archbishop Chaput. I joked on Facebook this morning (over 11k followers as of this week – thanks guys!) that I was going to retire my pen and just resign myself to reposting his essays, because the man is a genius. A humble, courageous genius with a gift for public discourse and an easy, authentic manner which makes him even more enjoyable in real life than in print. This piece is worth a careful, prayerful read. Thank you, Archbishop, for continuing to inspire us to live as authentic Christian witnesses in a culture that couldn’t care less.


Spawning Yoda memes, custom t-shirts, and an entire internet’s worth of bumper sticker material, be sure to treat yourself to the video content of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Darth Vader moment during a Senate confirmation hearing for federal circuit court judicial nominee and Notre Dame law professor Amy Barrett, a mother of 7 and a practicing Catholic and apparently, an ideal candidate for Jedi training. (Try not to get too distracted/revolted when you get to Feinstein’s self-reference to her reproductive organs. Some ladies and their one-track minds.)


Bishop Tobin draws a startling and compelling contrast between immigration and abortion, highlighting a personal concern of mine: why do so many Catholics of the more “liberal” persuasion seem able to turn a blind eye to the holocaust of abortion but are so passionately engaged in advocating for the rights of children already born? And why do some further-right believers fail to recognize the humanitarian crisis facing the children of immigrants, when they would gladly stand and fight for those same babies still in the womb? We must hold ourselves as Catholics to a consistent pro-life ethic, resisting the temptation to fall along party lines on these critically important issues. (Note: I don’t agree that ending DACA is itself the problem – The previous administration’s executive overreach is precisely what landed us in this present situation. Our immigration system is broken, and it falls to our legislative branch to address the long-standing dysfunction rather than kicking the can further down the road for some future administration – and a future generation of innocent children – to deal with.)


An oldie but a goodie from First Things (h/t to Rosie for tweeting it). It’s true, and I’ve seen it becoming more and more true as I become the mother of more and more children. Moms in day-old yoga pants frequently stop me wild-eyed in Costco and pant out a disbelieving Idontknowhowyoudoit while their own 2.1 children are falling out of the double cart in the checkout aisle, wanting to know how on earth and more to the point, how on earth I can have more than a couple kids when it’s so much work. And the answer really is: economies of scale. The more kids we have, the easier it gets. And while I won’t say our grocery bill is being helped, we get a killer tuition discount at school, I don’t really buy many more clothes for 4 kids than I did for 2, and we’re still trundling along in the same old 2004, 160k mile Honda Odyssey that we paid off in 2014. Ironically, these past 3 weeks with my big boys in school all day, the 2 and 3 year old have upped their intensity to a whole new level because NATURE ABHORS A VACUUM, and I actually find myself looking longingly at the clock at 2 pm some afternoons, ready for the big brothers to come home and be entertaining and helpful. (The IKEA experience is infinitely improved with the presence of only 2 kids tho, let the record state.)


The National Catholic Register has a fascinating piece on sociologist Mark Regnerus’ newest title: Cheap Sex. This excerpt in particular struck me as very Ben-Opy, in the best way:

We keep thinking that somehow we can change this. It cannot be changed under current conditions. Rather, think about how Christian communities, families, relationships and persons ought to live in light of it. They will need the help of each other — social and financial — to thumb their nose at the culture.

Happy weekend to you and yours, and prayers to everyone on the road and battening down the hatches in the face of Irma.

Culture of Death, Evangelization, motherhood, pregnancy, Pro Life

An open letter to the Duchess of Cambridge on the announcement of her third pregnancy

September 5, 2017

Dear Kate,

(Can I call you that? I feel like I know you since I follow your fashion account on Twitter. Or, rather, the person who stalks the fashion rags and reposts effortlessly elegant shots of you in that stunning, understated classic signature style of yours, whether you’re caught in 3 inch heels standing on a tarmac in South Africa or kneeling to reprimand an errant 3 year old in a perfectly chic blazer. But, I digress, the point of this tangent being: I admire you to the point of familiarity.)

Maybe it’s because you’re an everygirl’s princess, a lot like your late mother in law. (And while I know you’re not technically a princess yet, it’s tempting to project my childhood Disney dreams onto your gorgeous, growing family.)

I know you face a lot of scrutiny in the press, whether it’s for looking “too perfect” or for being adorably “just like the rest of us” for daring to bare an hours-fresh postpartum bump in each of your previous hospital-step photo ops. It takes guts to face a global press corp at a mere 6 hours postpartum, let alone 6 weeks. And girl, if you want to get your hair blown out before appearing on the cover of every rag and tabloid in Great Britain, power to you.

The reality is, you’ve married onto the world stage by marrying into the royal family, and you seem to shoulder the mantel of responsibility with grace. That you’ve chosen to make mental health one of the most public focuses of your personal advocacy work speaks volumes about your character; it’s not always easy or even civil to discuss mental health and the lack of care for those who suffer mental illness, especially in the public arena. But you seem no stranger to criticism.

I know that pregnancy is an enormous sacrifice, and that each of your pregnancies have been complicated by the presence of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a serious and debilitating complication that can result in hospitalization and real trauma to the mother’s body, mind, and spirit. I know there are those who have scoffed at you for subjecting yourself to another nine months of “torture” (because I’ve read the comments online) just for the sake of another little bundle of royal needs. One intrepid Twitter genius quipped “there goes the rainforest” in reaction to your joyous news, as if 3 children were some hideous burden to lay upon the shoulders of the environment. As if a human person could possibly be reduced to the sum of their projected carbon footprint. As if a family of 5 were a ghastly vestige of the past, best swept into the annuls of history as we move boldly forward in our “enlightened” view of the human person as nothing more than a collection of electrical impulses, nerves, and appetites for consumption.

But you seem to know better. While chasing around two little toddlers, you’ve probably recognized the infinite value and capacity for love and innovation contained within the spirit of a single human person. The truth that no matter how many times you open your heart up to another little soul, it is not only your body that expands to accommodate them.

It is no small thing to bring forth new life in a culture that seems to be deteriorating all around us, to whisper that humble and magnificent fiat with your very body. In a world of increasing strife and violence, it’s easy enough to give in to fear and uncertainty, perhaps choosing to play it safe or decrying the sensibility of bringing forth innocent children into a place that, frankly, we’ve made a mess of.

But you’re a mom. So you’ve had a peek behind the curtain. You know that these children of ours are worth it, and that the future belongs not to those of us who rule from on high with money, power, and prestige (though you surely posses all three) but that it actually rests securely in the hands of our little ones. Perhaps you’ve come to the same conclusion that I have: that the only real, lasting impact we stand to make on the world lies in the intellectual and moral formation of our sons and daughters, in instilling in them a love and appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty. That all the strife and suffering that exists in this weary world of ours cannot possibly be eradicated in our lifetimes, but could perhaps be in theirs.

Isn’t that always the hope? And isn’t bringing another child into the world, not in spite of but precisely because of the grim circumstances of it all, the most profoundly hope-filled thing we can do?

I know you’re going to be under the microscope for the next 9 months, even more intensely than you normally are. And I know there will be discussions on your hairstyle, on how big or small or perfectly round or disappointingly flat your belly is. I know whether you choose to convalesce for 24 hours before stepping out for photos or appear bright eyed and blown-out a mere hours after delivery, you will be scrutinized and judged by a sometimes unfeeling public.

But let mine be one small voice among many offering you congratulations, prayers for health and comfort in the face of hardship, and sincere gratitude for the courageous – yep, courageous – act of bringing forth new life in a culture that despises the light, and in a world that prefers comfort to courage.

It is no small thing to bring a new source of light into a world that loves darkness.

(And P.s. idk where you do most of your maternity shopping, but Target’s got a killer new maternity jean that you might want to check out if you ever feel like slumming it, sartorially speaking.)

Yours sincerely,

An American mum

photo credit:Twitter @RoyalFamily

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks, the reboot

September 1, 2017

Hey, it’s been a while since I did one of these! Dropping by with your list of assigned reading for the weekend, the best of what’s around the internet from the week we’re closing out, plus some lighter fare to lead you into leisure time:


First up, this rare gem from Cardinal Sarah responding to Jesuit Fr. James Martin. Not rare because of it’s content, for the man is a holy genius, and if you haven’t partaken of “God Alone” or “The Power of Silence,” get thee to Barnes and Noble, but because he keeps a notoriously low profile and op-eds aren’t his jam. But this one is worth reading and reading carefully and prayerfully.


Next up, this fascinating and brief biography of a female Catholic novelist from the 20th century whose work I’d never heard of, and whose books don’t show up at all in my library system. Could she be the next big thing? (Well, posthumously, anyhow.)


You’ve probably seen something on the news about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “hate map” (thanks, CNN) purporting to identify extremist hate groups in an effort to build a more civil and just society shout down people they disagree with and have them branded as bigots (and thus rendered anathema in polite company.) Love those dirty political machinations. Worth a good, careful read.


Have you read the recently released “Nashville Statement” of collectively held beliefs signed by dozens of well known Evangelical leaders and theologians? It is “largely consonant with Catholic thought” according to at least one Catholic ethicist, and I tend to agree, with a few reservations. Namely, that the failure to identify contraception as a major piece of the puzzle of what has radically reshaped human sexuality in the 21st century seems foolish at best and willfully ignorant at worst. Still, the statement contains echoes of JPII’s Theology of the Body and while it doesn’t go far enough, I pray it becomes a good jumping off point for further study and examination.


I’ll hit the 5 month mark shortly on my breakup with technology. Well, sort of. In case you missed it, here’s my recap of life with a dumber phone and the ways I’m still struggling to moderate social media usage and manage my constant hunger for connectivity and entertainment.


Porn is lame:

Moore (the Kansas City Royal’s GM) expressed hope that team formation program might focus on the development of players beyond the early years of their careers, into the “next part of their journey – what type of husbands [and] what types of fathers [the players may become].”

He also linked pornography to the damage it has on family life and other relationships, saying that it can lead to the domestic “abuse of women.”

How ’bout dat?

Have a wonderful weekend!

mental health, motherhood, Parenting, self care

Self care for moms in survival mode

August 30, 2017

A couple weeks ago a dear friend from college came through town on a massive cross country road trip, and I was able to steal her away for a morning of coffee and a massage. Her sister in law, a mutual friend, commented to her as she was heading out of the house to meet up that “Jenny seems really good at self care,” which made me smile when I heard it.

Because I haven’t always been.

In my younger years of mothering, I routinely confused self care with productivity, and was forever transposing peace for performance. If a baby was napping, I was painting a piece of furniture, writing a blog post, loading the dishwasher or reading an academic article. If I had 2 hours till school pickup, we were at the gym where I was simultaneously answering work emails from my phone and speed walking on the treadmill while listening to a talk radio show.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of those things, but I had less self insight then, and couldn’t figure out why even when my house was super clean and my inbox was super well-attended too, I felt super burnt out all the time. I may have killed it in the housekeeping department on a given day, but I’d be snapping at my kids by 4 pm, having nearly killed myself getting there.

Because I was spending all the pockets of “free time” in my day being a good little soldier and attending to the to-do list, I was often coming to the end of a 12 hour shift of parenting feeling frazzled, joyless, and utterly spent.

I’ve come to realize in the past 7+ years of motherhood that as an introvert with a strong personality and intense feelings, I need a lot of silence in my day. Which seems incompatible with a growing brood of 4 under 7. But, as I’ve been learning, not impossible.

Instead of rushing around the kitchen kamikaze cleaning every square inch the moment the toddler drops down for his afternoon nap, I’ve had to teach myself to slowly make lunch, to (even more) slowly eat my lunch, and to spend some time reading, writing, praying, and mentally steeling myself for the afternoon.

I may sit down to a still-dirty lunch table for 30 minutes of catch up time online, ignoring the mess that once drove me to perfectionistic distraction, reminding myself that am the master of these dishes, and that it’s more important that I be peaceful and present to my kids when we come back together than that the house looks perfect.

Maybe clutter isn’t your trigger, but we all have something that pulls at our attention, tugging at our sleeve to remain forever in Q1, sacrificing the greater good for the demanding present.

The physical clutter and chaos that comes with mothering many needn’t dictate my mood to me, however grumpy it makes me to see the sink piled high with dishes. I can delay that apparent immediate need and instead sit down for 20 minutes with a novel or my rosary, because waiting to do those dishes might mean very well presenting a calmer, saner mother to my kids for the entire afternoon.

Ironically, cleaning the house is actually a major way I practice self care, because I love cleaning. I like doing laundry, vacuuming, organizing and decorating. (And if anyone out there is a fan of cooking, grocery shopping, bathroom scrubbing or dish washing, come apply to be my sister wife.) But it has to be in moderation. I can’t clean all day and keep the house looking as if 6 people don’t inhabit it and expect to feel human by 6 pm. Not that I haven’t tried.

When hard pressed, I think most moms can name what it is that makes them tick, even if it’s not something they’re in the habit of regularly “indulging” in. And that concept is one I want to challenge you on: because self care is not indulgent, but essential. 

Most priests (and I would imagine ministers of other denominations) take Mondays off in order to recover and regroup from the intense activity of Sundays. Nobody begrudges them this; it’s a natural enough action to designate some downtime to rest, recreate, and just plain take care of the mundane business of life.

Mothers don’t get a day off in any official sense, and so it falls to us to carve out the time with intention and resolve. Repeat after me: it is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is not self-indulgent to spend time away from your children in order to recharge and recalibrate. It is not frivolous to do things just because they make you happy.

I’m not sure where this attitude of shame surrounding self love comes from, but I know for one thing: it ain’t biblical. God doesn’t command us to love our neighbor to the inverse and opposite proportion that we despise/disregard/denigrate ourselves.

Nope. He commands us to love them. As we love ourselves.

I think it’s a lingering spirit of puritanical Manichaeism that tends toward the disregard – and even tiptoes up to the edge of disgust for – the physical body, and the female body in particular. Women often come into their mothering years with a misguided concept of gift of self that is conflated with self-anihilation. And not in a sanctifying, “I unite myself totally to You Jesus,” way, but in a sadistic “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “real mothers sacrifice everything (and I mean everything) for the sake of their children” kind of way.

Including their own well being, their mental health, and perhaps even their marriages.

Most guys I know are pretty adept at reading themselves and recognizing when they need to sit down with a cold drink and a few moments of silence. They have little difficulty deciding to take a couple hours to watch a game, spend time in nature, or grab a hot shower after a long morning of physical labor. They are refreshingly unapologetic in continuing to “indulge” in things that make their heart beat faster even once marriage and fatherhood have entered into the mix: craft small batch beer brewing, guitar playing, freelance writing, playing rugby, running half marathons, and coaching soccer. And that’s just me naming a handful of things my husband and his friends do for personal fulfillment, off the top of my head.

I want to invite my fellow members of the fairer sex take a page from these guys’ books and be on the lookout for things that make your heart sing. If you’ve always wanted to learn hand-lettering, put it in the budget and sign up for an online course. If you’ve been dying to take on a Holy Hour at your parish’s perpetual adoration chapel, strategize with your better half and come up with an evening once a week where you can slip away at 8 pm for some quality time with Jesus. If you were an amazing swimmer in high school, call up the gym or YMCA down the street and inquire about their rates and open swim hours. Hoping to start a blog of your own? Find a mother’s helper from your local homeschool co-op and spend 4 hours a week alone at a coffee shop with your laptop and a hot beverage.

When I show my kids that I have other interests outside of our life together as a tight little family unit, I am not robbing them of time spent with their mother, I am teaching them that their mother is a valuable, unique, and interesting person in her own right, and that each of us have something unique to offer the world, and something particular to us that brings joy and satisfaction.

God didn’t create us to toil away in unceasing drudgery to become holy through self neglect. He isn’t frowning down on us for applying mascara or booking a massage or painting our nails or applying to an MA program. He gave us gifts to share with the world, but also to bring us joy.

It is not selfish to be happy.

It is not selfish to take a shower while someone sits in front of a show for 30 minutes. It’s not criminal to leave your toddlers for an hour a week to go for a long, satisfying run. It’s not wrong to slip out of the house with a couple girlfriends for a glass of wine or a pint of kombucha a couple evenings a month.

Let’s teach ourselves to practice good stewardship of, well, ourselves. And let’s show our sons and our daughters, in so doing, that it is healthy, natural, and joyful to be a woman who knows what brings her happiness, and who takes pleasure in pursuing it.

Some ideas for self care for moms:

  • Book a 60 minute massage (look for local recommendations for an Asian or Chinese massage place, their prices can be killer compared to a spa or salon. Think $40 instead of $90+)
  • Go for a run
  • Hire a babysitter for 2 hours during the day to run errands/write/read/stare vacantly into space at a coffee shop. Feel zero guilt while doing so. Arrange a kid swap with a friend if the budget doesn’t permit a sitter, and buy a $1 coffee at McDonalds instead of a $4 latte at Starbucks
  • Get up 20 minutes early and take a good, hot shower and blow dry your hair
  • Go grocery shopping at night and tell your husband to plan for 30 or 40 extra minutes. Take a book or your Kindle, grab a kombucha or a fancy sparkling water, and sit in the parking lot and read before or after you hit the store.
  • Try a barre, zumba, or Pilates class at your gym
  • Join a gym. Especially one with reasonable childcare. Some are surprisingly affordable! Go some days just to walk on the treadmill, have a shower in peace, or make a long distance phone call without little peeps peeping in every 5 minutes.
  • Make a Holy Hour
  • Commit to a weekly/monthly Holy Hour
  • Shut yourself in your room and pray a Rosary while your kids play outside/watch Netflix
  • Buy a book you’ve been dying to read instead of waiting the 4 weeks on the library hold list
  • sign up for a night class at your local community college
  • Get to daily Mass once a week, even if you have to stand in the back with a raucous toddler
  • Put on real clothes and makeup for no other reason than it’s Tuesday, and you feel like giving your neglected non-activewear wardrobe some airtime


It needn’t be complicated, wildly indulgent, or expensive, but it ought to be on our radars as women, as friends, and as sisters. Let’s encourage each other to take care of ourselves, and let’s help the men who love us understand that we need to practice good self care in order to provide the best possible care for others.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:26-30)

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:11)

About Me, ditching my smartphone, mindfulness, technology

Smartphone detox update: 5 months in

August 29, 2017

So, remember that impassioned resolution to ditch the tiny supercomputer in my pocket?

Surprisingly, so do I.

I am the queen of failed resolve and best intentions cast aside in a moment of stress or adversity, so I’m as surprised as anyone that this little self challenge has “stuck,” though perhaps not in the exact way I’d envisioned it initially.

If you’ve been reading along this year, you know that back in the spring, I grew dissatisfied with the way I’d been using the internet and social media (more to the point, the way I was allowing it to use me); particularly the endless vortex of time suck that was the smartphone in my hand at any given moment of the day.

No matter what I was supposed to be focusing on, whether it was the kids, bath time, a writing deadline, a walk, a simple trip to the park or library or 30 seconds stuck at a traffic light, my phone was in my hand, faithfully shielding me from the possibility of ever having to experience boredom or inefficiency.

Except you know the real story: that I was a distracted, disjointed and anxiety-ridden mess prone to losing 20 or 40 minutes of time slumped over the kitchen counter “just plugging my phone in for the night” only to look up, bleary eyed, and see that it was now 11 pm and that Instagram was pretty much exactly as I’d left it last.

Something had to give.

I made the semi dramatic move of downgrading my Samsung Galaxy something to an itty bitty Samsung something else (prepaid from Target, runs on the Verizon network) in exchange for a $35/month phone bill and the ability to still text and use GPS (< my biggest hang up to going back to true dumb phone. Directionally challenged R Us.)

So far? So good. I’ve had a couple dalliances with the devil, most notably when I misplaced my phone backstage at Red Rocks in July (hi Blythe!) and had to schlep down to Target for a replacement, which I was too lazy to immediately equip with the same self-sabbotagoing adjustments I’d made to the original. I told myself “I’m strong now, I can use this in moderation” and wouldn’t ya know it, before a day’s time had passed I was back to my old ways, sending memes to my siblings, checking non-work emails at stoplights, and reading blogs at the table during lunch time while the kids ran in circles around my chair.

After about a week of these shenanigans and fed up with my technological backsliding, I went carefully through my settings deleting and disabling all the tempting internet connectivity, dumbing down my phone to the previous model’s level. The only real problem is that 5 months ago I didn’t really know how I’d “broken” the internet on my phone, and I’d believed it to be irreversible and therefore completely foolproof, even in moments of weakest willpower. Now I know exactly how I did, so in theory I can enable the little bugger to be connected again “in an emergency,” which I’m not thrilled about because I know myself, and myself is a weak willed wuss in emergenci-ahem, moments of ill-planned-for “crises” slash boredom.

Overall, the results of ditching the smartphone have been remarkably positive. I have averaged about a book every 4 days all summer, which works out to roughly 8 books a month. Now, I’m a fast reader, but that’s at least double – if not triple – the amount of reading I’ve been doing in my entire years of mothering. And it’s not just because the kids were needier at younger ages, but because all my “leisure” time and pockets of opportunity were being sucked into the phone.

Am I reading the Odyssey and great spiritual works every moment of the day? Nope. I spent all summer ripping through the collected works of Rosemund Pilcher, which is the literary equivalent of hostess cupcakes in terms of ease of digestion and nutritional content, but at least I was reading again. And it has really helped to rebuild my flagging millennial attention span. This week I’m halfway into Graham Greene’s “The end of the affair” and I am 100% sure I could not have handled his level of writing or his style just a few months ago, so prone to wander was my inattentive subconscious.

I’m even experiencing a resurgence in my ability to read the whole article when I click on something, rather than mentally crapping out at 1000 words and idly clicking away on some other shiny link. (Is that a problem for you? I’ve become like a 9th grade level reader on the internet, and it’s kind of depressing.)

Best of all though? The time with my kids I’ve regained. And the moments of boredom I’ve been “subjected” to which have come to fruition as opportunities to pray, to connect with fleeing moments with other irl people (particularly the short kind) and, honestly, earlier bedtimes.

I’m not doing it perfectly. The first couple months in particular I way overcompensated by spending more time on the laptop. But I’m coming to a better balance and finding my social media appetite decreasing and becoming, frankly, more rightly ordered. I don’t post on Instagram anymore (the most distracting of the big 3 for me) but I still log in once a week or so to peep at friends. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook at all on the weekends, except on rare occasions. And I just find myself generally living less of my life online than before (types the selfd-disclosing blogger.)

The apps I do still have on the moderately dumb phone: WhatsApp (for friends outside the US and an obnoxious group text with my siblings); Voxer (for bi-coastal friends in different time zones with many kids and zero time for phone calls) Gmail (but only for personal email, not for work) and Maps.

And that’s it. And it works for me. The first 3 months I was totally hardcore and deleted WhatsApp and Voxer, but I found myself unable to maintain the relationships that depended on being able to connect across timezones, and so I relented that these particular apps, rather than being a distraction to my “real life” were actually major enhancers, especially when I couldn’t call a friend in real time or visit in person.

Maps is self explanatory. And Gmail may or may not stay, but was desperately necessary when we were signing and updating a billion real estate contracts a week.

So that’s the state of the smartphone update. I would like to continue to pare down on usage by initiating “checking boundaries” whereby there are hard and fast limits to when I reach for the phone and check in, just to further detach from the stupid thing. Interestingly, when I lost my phone earlier this summer at the concert, I had exactly zero panics over it. My husband was honestly more worked up about it than I was, and couldn’t believe I wasn’t freaking out (not my first misplaced tech rodeo, people). But I just wasn’t. The phone wasn’t a big deal to me, and since it was a less than $50 expense, it wasn’t a financially ruinous dilemma, either. (Update: they found the phone and returned it to me, and I was able to swap the old for the new with Target.)

Anyone else out there taken the digital detox plunge? Care to share what has worked or what has been confounding in your own experience? I’m all ears (but don’t expect prompt replies to comments ;))

About Me, Fixer Upper, house reno

New digs + downstairs tour (and the backstory of buying two houses in a single calendar year)

August 25, 2017

After an arduous journey through the hell that is the current real estate market in the Mile High City, we were thrilled to close on a house of our very own a couple weeks ago on August 11th. I haven’t talked about it in great detail here on the blog, but the reason we sold our last home, (which we only bought August 14th of last year) basically boiled down to a whole bunch of cosmetic issues turning out to be structural issues, upon further inve$tigation. Also, mold. The mold was really the last straw. We found it in the basement in the back wall of our big boy’s bedroom at the end of a long renovation process, and we decided to call the game. We had it professionally remediated, the air tested clean, and then we put the house (and the disclosure documents) on the market.

Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends and the providence of God, we were able to spend a couple weeks months living in a house north of the city while a family just our size – 3 boys and a girl – served overseas doing mission work. They assured us that we were an answered prayer, as they felt comforted knowing their house wouldn’t sit vacant in their absence. We’re still pretty sure we got the better end of the deal, however, and we’re hoping we can pay that generosity forward at some point down the road.

Since they left behind their furniture and kitchen gear, it was basically like moving into an extended stay hotel or a vacation rental. We kept all our things packed in boxes in their oversized two car garage and just brought in sheets and clothes.

While the setup of this house was ideal and the generosity of our friends unprecedented, it wasn’t without it’s imperfections. It was about an hour each way to work each day for Dave, and when school was in session, I would leave around 2:15 for pickup and sometimes get back close to 5, traffic depending. So we learned to embrace the minivan’s DVD player and the art of living out of a van (but not down by the river.) Still, I don’t care if I never see I-25 again. At least for a month or two.

It also made house hunting … interesting. Once the first trimester started to ease up, I’d spend an hour or so in the morning scanning the listings, send a handful to our realtor, and then jump in the car and see a house or four before hightailing it back north to beat rush hour and/or scoop up the big kids from school. We saw about 70% of the houses with all 4 kids in tow, which was really, really fun for our realtor, St. Brendan. We walked through close to 80 houses in a couple month’s time, and we were under contract seven (7!) frapping times before locking down a very Biblical home run with our current abode. I was beginning to despair that my desperate artificial deadline which I beseeched the Lord with was ever going to be met. (I pleaded with Him: “don’t let me have to make that drive again this school year; not even once.”)

Well, against all odds, mere hours after our 6th contract fell through (#foundationissues), our home came on the market. It was listed as an estate being dissolved by the adult children of the deceased owner, who took impeccable care of it and very much embraced the 70’s whence it was built. So the windows and AC and water heater and all the serious business had been updated, but the gold shag carpet (in.the.bathrooms), yellow linoleum and faux wood panelling game was strong. (Is still strong, linoleum-wise. Embracing my inner Kendra Tierney.)

We saw the house 2 hours after it hit the market, on a Thursday afternoon, wrote an offer that night, and had a signed contract before the end of the day on Friday. We got it for slightly under asking but still a bit more than we’d been hoping to pay, but it’s in our ideal neighborhood, close to my sisters, and 10 minutes from our parish and 20 from school. Plus, at 2,900 sq feet including an unfinished basement, we’re not about to bust out of it any time soon. In fact, I plan to be buried here because after 8 moves in 7 years of marriage, we’re loading another Uhaul only if my casket’s inside.

I know some people thought we were morons for trying to buy a house in this market (and I got a few lovely comments on social media to that effect. People be classy.) But we both felt that God had more for us. And after 6 months of almost continuous respiratory and GI illness in our old house, we figured out that the mold was actually making us really, really sick. Me and the two big boys, in particular. Within a week of moving into our friend’s home in the spring, every single one of us had a complete return to health. It was actually kind of disturbing, in retrospect, because it made us realize how sick we’d really been, and for how long.

Our new house tested mercifully mold and moisture free, and the basement being unfinished was actually a bonus to us, because we could be diligent in our investigation of any possible moisture incursion and rest easy that no below-grade drywall was hiding a dirty secret.

Once we closed earlier in the month, we had a little over a week until school started, and so we rolled up our sleeves, called in our sibling and parent crew, and got to work. (Well, they got to work. I made a lot of runs to Starbucks and Chipotle and wrangled a lot of kids for a lot of long nights solo.) My husband, his father, and his brothers tore out all the carpeting downstairs, took down a hunting lodge worth of faux wood paneling, beams, and bookshelves (trust me, it wasn’t charming or paint-able) and tiled two bathroom floors. I ripped down two room’s worth of wallpaper, painted the kitchen and family room (low voc and with a mask, fear not) and cleaned. We still have a ways to go (trim, moulding, some more paint) but overall it looks like a new house. I wish I’d saved the listing pics for before shots, but I was too busy ripping carpet up the hour after we got the keys to think about snapping evidence shots. So all I have for you is some after-ish shots today. Think of them more as “work in progress” shots.

We ended up moving in Saturday, August 19th, 2 days before school began, almost the literal 11th hour of my imaginary deadline with God. Nicely played, Lord.

The downstairs has a large living room, a formal dining room (which I love because of the size of our family/extended family) a half bath powder room, a family room with a fire place and great sliders out to the backyard, and a smallish galley style kitchen with a breakfast nook. I’ll probably end up putting a small table there for a homework center/grocery bag drop zone, but right now it’s where we’re eating our meals off a folding table while a girlfriend’s talented hubby builds us a custom farmhouse table + bench set. (Local Denver readers, stay tuned for details.)

Without further ado, please enjoy some adequate cellphone snaps and the reminder that lifestyle blogger I am not. And thanks for all the prayers along the long, bumpy ride. (And thanks to our wonderful community for all the muscle and all the meals the past week. We’ll never ask for moving help again, and we owe you a Saturday or 10 in return.)

Front yard and exterior. We’re on a super quiet street and all our neighbors are in their 60’s. Introvert’s dream.

Kitchen. Definitely the weakest link, but hey, new appliances. (And I don’t really like to cook anyway.)

Grainy view of the entryway/stairwell from the front door


It’s hard to convey the scale of the yard. It’s enormous and there is sooooo much grass. Dream come true.

40 foot Blue Spruce. I foresee decking this out with about 1,000 Christmas lights in a few short months.

Blurry fireplace vibes. Gas insert means minimal actual heat but also (high fives here) minimal actual mess. I’m all about them shortcuts.

Dining room with freshly installed hickory floor. Not crazy about the color or the board widths, but the price was right. We can afford to do one room a year in hardwood I think, provided nobody needs braces in the near future. 😉

View from the living room, through the kitchen into the family room.

Blurry little half bath. Imagine painted cabinets and Evie having a place to do her makeup, brother-free, in about 10 years. Plus a place for my guests to feign belief that my boys don’t pee all over the floor. Yellow linoleum covers a multitude of sins.

Living room with new grey carpet and childhood detritus.

Brooding shot of the living room from the other angle (have I mentioned that my dumbed down smartphone is no iPhone when it comes to pixels?)

Stay tuned for the vv exciting upstairs tour coming soon to a blog post near you, and happy Friday.


Gosh it’s quiet today

August 22, 2017






(well, two if we’re counting bebe on board.)

If you need me I’ll be at Starbucks all day staring off into space and stroking my 2-year-old’s head/unpacking the house. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Happy back to school week, internets.