advent, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

An Advent bucket list for busy (tired) Catholic families

December 7, 2017

We try to communicate the “not-yet-ness” of Advent to our kids without totally squelching the pleasant, anticipatory joy of Christmas on the near horizon, and I think we’ve achieved a moderately sane balance, though I’m sure we come across as too grinch for some and gluttonously liturgically abusive to others. Which is why the Church doesn’t actually mandate “how to Advent,” apart from encouraging voluntary penance and reflection and continued adherence to meatless Fridays (or some alternative penitential act of the believer’s own choosing). So that’s good news if you’re Elf incarnate and had your tree up on Black Friday, and it’s good news if you’re St. Benedicta of the Barren Pine Branch and no morsel of Christmas fudge shall passeth your lips until midnight on December 24th. 

It’s a big Church.

Here are a few ways we’re trying to keep the both/and of the season at hand. Maybe some ideas will jump out as possibly useful in your own little domestic church.

  1. Celebrating major December feast days and solemnities (Nicholas, Guadalupe, Immaculate Conception, Lucy, Juan Diego, etc.) by driving  around looking at Christmas lights, blasting Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate, and generally abandoning ourselves entirely to the wildly premature indulgence of secular “advent.” We try to really go all out for feast days, and this is a cheap thrill that we can probably manage to do once or twice during this year’s highly abbreviated Advent.

  2. Making blessing bags for our local homeless. We drive into Denver proper to take our kids to school, and we generally pass at least a panhandler or two going each way. Our oldest is particularly concerned when he sees anyone standing in the median with a sign, so at his urging we’ve started keeping gallon-sized ziplock bags in the trunk stocked with beef jerky, granola bars, chapstick, deodorant, gum, socks, gloves, vaseline, canned soup, (all of which are available at the Dollar Tree) and maybe a McDonald’s gift card, etc. Sometimes people are super receptive and sometimes they’d really rather not be handed anything other than cash, but we like to be able to offer something along with our prayers. Our kids get that *this* is St. Nicholas’ main gig, and it helps them connect with the historical person of the saint and not get totally bogged down in the more, ah, magical details of his life. 

  3. Go to confession as a family at least once during Advent. So far this only applies to adults in our crew, and we’re spoiled with great confession times at our parish, so we trade kids and allow each other to switch off going on subsequent Sundays – or sometimes both get in on the same day. 

  4. Bake something for the neighbors. I actually hate baking, so this is an act of penance for me. Maybe it’s a celebratory thing for you? Whatever the case, the kids get a kick out of ringing doorbells and passing out loaves of “homemade” Trader Joe’s gf pumpkin bread from a box mix. Win/win.

  5. Buy an extra toy or bag of groceries for a toy or food drive and take the cost of it out of your family’s budget for either groceries or Christmas. In years past we’ve adopted a whole family through our parish’s giving tree program, but this year, being a little tighter, we’re scaling back a bit. (Bonus: this is a really good way to cut off the “I wants” when entering any retail establishment with children this time of year, redirecting their attention and energy towards blessing someone else.)

  6. Watch a favorite Christmas movie (the original Grinch, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Nicholas: the Boy who Became Santa) with the fireplace turned on and hot cocoa or cider in hand. We try to save this as a treat for either feast days or Sundays, but I’m super pregnant and Netflix is actually mothering my children as I sit and type this list, so maybe we’ll have a few more Advent movie nights than we would typically accrue. 

  7. Slowly deck the halls. Our fake tree is already up and lit, loud and proud, but is otherwise naked. We’ll probably let them start throwing some ornaments on the branches this Sunday or next, kind of drawing out the expectant longing of Advent. We used to be super hardcore and leave the lights turned off until the week of Christmas, but then we had a seven year old whose actual nickname is Kringle, and I got too big and too tired to fight him on it. Blaze on, Christmas lights. Blaze on.

  8. Light the Advent candle every night at dinner, and singing one verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (0r forcing your family to listen to the Pentatonix version over and over and over…)

  9. Buy a coffee (or a sandwich, or an order of fries, or…) for someone in line behind you. Even more surprising when it’s just a random day in December and not actually the 24th or 25th. 

  10. Pray for the Lord to reveal a concrete and specific need of someone in your immediate (or virtual) community, and then act on it. One year I was sure that God was nudging me to send a moderate sum of money to a friend across the country and so we consulted our budget, pulled a few strings, and fired off an Amazon gift card in the determined amount. Not only was it gratefully received, but it was also apparently the exact amount this family was in need of for something. It’s fun to be involved in God’s generosity.

  11. Make a construction paper Advent chain with one link for each day of the season (and it’s fine to jump in now, just count how many days are left!) and write a fun treat/sacrifice/good deed on each link. Let kids take turns tearing one off each day and also point to its when they ask “how many more days till Christmas?” (cut up purple and pink strips of construction paper, tape together in a chain, write stuff on) <— #shescrafty 

  12. Go visit Santa/St. Nick. Be sure your kids tell him they’re praying for him when they finish the visit, and he might just shock you by bowing his head and praying a quick prayer with them before they hop down. (Local peeps: Southglenn Santa is the real deal).

  13. Bring your pastor a six pack of fancy beer/bottle of scotch/a nice red wine. They get a lot of sugar during the season, but maybe what they could really use after back to back to back liturgies and tons of hospital visits and hours in the confessional is a stiff drink. 

  14. Inquire whether there might be an elderly member at your church who is far from family and will be spending Christmas alone. Consider inviting them to go to church with you this year, or to come for a meal or dessert. Christmas can be hard for the elderly and the lonely.

  15. Pray a rosary – either alone or as a family – for someone who has lost a loved one this past year. Christmas can be a complicated time for someone who is grieving. 

  16. Make a meal – or order some takeout – for a family with a new baby. It can be tough to have a new baby during the season when everyone else is gearing up for a big party about … a new baby. Maybe offer to help the mom wrap presents, or offer to have her ship her Amazon orders straight to your house and offer your elf-ing services, complete with drop off.

  17. Pick something quiet and simple to fast from, either for all of Advent or each week. Maybe one week it’s Christmas music in the car, maybe the second week it’s chocolate. Do something that helps you internally recollect your heart even when the rest of the world is already deep into party mode.

  18. Remember that even if you don’t finish the shopping, don’t get the cards out, don’t plan the perfect menu and can’t afford the big toy, you’ve got 12 whole days – including December 25th – to celebrate Christmas. And that it’s really all about a teeny little baby, His Mother’s magnificent “yes,” and the unfathomable gift of our salvation.

Contraception, Culture of Death, current events, Marriage, Parenting, Pro Life, reality check, Sex

It’s not a fertility problem, it’s a marriage problem

December 1, 2017

I read – and shared – a piece from Medium with my Facebook readers yesterday morning. It’s about the precipitous decline of childbirths in the West – particularly in America – and especially in the year 2017.

In it the author, Lyman Stone, contemplates the impending collapse of the US fertility rate and tries to make some sense of it. He also rings a few alarm bells, launching wondering statements into the ether in an attempt to explain “why” this is happening. And also, to communicate to the reader that barring a full-stop culture-wide reversal of the trend, there is little we can actually do to recover to a baseline replacement rate of fertility.

I think he makes some compelling points, and that his data are both fascinating and confounding.

I also think we may be missing the forest for the trees.

The problem, from where I see it, hasn’t as much to do with our fertility rates as with what we have done – or what we have allowed to be done – to marriage.

Marriage has undergone a radical paradigm shift over the past decade. Sure, the roots of that shift date much further back, reaching into the origins of widely available artificial contraception and no-fault divorce, but marriage has been transformed from a commonly-agreed upon arrangement of mutual sexual fidelity between one male and female “till death do them part” has been dismantled piecemeal over the last decade at breakneck pace. And not only dismantled, but resurrected as something entirely different, styled and promulgated through the media and disseminated with breathtaking effectiveness across the digital continent.

So let me bring this back around to my thesis: people aren’t having children because people aren’t getting married. At least not “married” in the way we would have commonly recognized as marriage 100, 50, or even 25 years ago.

Let me try to explain.

Old view of marriage: (leaving religion entirely aside) Life partner/best friend + sexual attraction + desire to build a family + pledge of fidelity and financial/emotional support through thick and thin = lifetime commitment.

(Were there people who fell outside the bounds of this overgeneralization I’m making? Yes. But they were cultural outliers.)

New view of marriage: contractual arrangement ordered toward self-fulfillment/actualization, sexual desire and acquisition of maximum pleasure + material goods + financial fail-safes engaged to legally protect both parties in case of dissolution + mutually agreed upon terms of behavior/performance = finite legal arrangement hinging upon the satisfaction of both parties.

You notice in the old view of marriage, friendship – or at least partnership – and the creation of a family, built to last, were at least a part of the bundled expectations at the outset of marriage. My theory is that far fewer couples today go into marriage thinking primarily of the other, let alone the potential others, who might benefit from their committed union.

Marriage used to be ordered toward the future and toward the other. I would argue the marriage, in its present culturally understood form, is ordered primarily towards the present and the self.

And that’s not a great recipe for childbearing.

Because if marriage is primarily about me, and about my fulfillment in the present moment, then it makes almost zero sense to take the flying leap of courageous insanity necessary to procreate the next generation.

First, because the cost to me personally is so high: social, professional, financial, physical, and even sexual well-being can all take a real beating during childbearing and rearing.

Second, if I am partnered with a spouse who views our union primarily in terms of contractual benefits weighed against risks, and whose fidelity I cannot count on, I would have to be somewhat delusional to take the step to introduce a permanent fixture into our union: a child.

Until we can restore and adequately communicate an authentic vision of marriage as the fundamental building block and the primordial relationship of society, no government policy or tax break is going to make a dent in our fertility freefall.

Unless we recapture a sense of sacred duty toward the future, and an obligation to provide for someone beyond ourselves and our immediate needs, then from a purely hedonistic perspective, marriage looks completely insane, and having a child might be considered tantamount to self harm.

Are there other factors at play? Surely.

The current economic situation presumes a dual income household in most parts of the country (and given the typical consumerist expectation of standard of living), and bucking that trend by having more than 2 kids and almost by proxy, being priced out of daycare as a viable option, means being willing to suffer the cost of a radical downgrade in “experiences” and standard of living.

Like maybe being a single car family. Or not taking vacations. Or not owning a house for the first 5 or 10 or ever years of marriage. Or not bankrolling (gasp) a trip for every single offspring through a 4-year university of their choosing.

Of course, there are more dire circumstances than the absence of a college fund. And many families can and do choose to suffer those iniquities willingly out of love, or at least resignedly through gritted teeth and furrowed brows. And those couples, in my opinion, are the real heroes in this equation. Couples who don’t just forgo the annual vacation or the college fund or the organic milk, but who live a life markedly below what is considered “standard” middle class living, foregoing even basic pleasures and nearly all luxuries and likely being ridiculed while so doing.

But if the rest of us can’t get past the vision of marriage as a “me first” vehicle for self-fulfillment and happiness that may happen to include a kid or two at some nebulous point down the road, provided all the appropriate financial failsafes are in place and the milestones of adulthood in a materialistic consumer-driven society such as ours are checked off, then we’ll make little if any headway in rebalancing our precarious fertility rate.

And so, finally, why does it matter?

Why look to the future and worry about a time that doesn’t personally concern us?

Why not just leave the childbearing to the religious zealots and the immigrants and the poor, uneducated working class to pick up the slack?

In short, does it matter that people are no longer getting married and having babies?

Being 20 or 30 years old can indeed at times feel something like immortality, the inevitable physical and mental and financial slowdown of old age will one day claim us all, if we are fortunate enough to achieve it.

So even if we have no personal interest in weighing ourselves down with the baggage of a lifelong commitment and a handful of small people who share our DNA, have we stopped to consider the consequence of an aging population outnumbering the generation or two beneath it by 50 or 100 or even 200%?

The choices we make today will engineer the society we inhabit in the future. And as everyone who has ever had a mom who drilled mom-isms into their little brains can repeat in a singsong voice, “our choices have consequences.”

And a future of upside-down demographics where the culture is overwhelmingly grey and non-productive, fiscally speaking? That’s where forced – and likely plenty of voluntary, as is the duty of a good materialist – euthanasia will probably come into play.

Look to Japan to see the social and economic cost of an upside-down population where every worker is disproportionately responsible for 2 or 3 or even 4 pensioners a piece, and do the math.

On a fundamental economic level, our failure to adequately replace the dying, aging population otherwise known as all of humanity leads to a gruesome end-of-life scenario for those of us who will not or cannot invest in the next generation.

But who cares? Shrugs the pro choice, pro radical individualism, pro what-suits-me-needn’t-concern-you camp.

I suppose that remains to be seen, whether those who are so flippant about other people’s lives today maintain that perspective on their own lives one day in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, the rest of us should be getting about the business of having and raising families, despite the temptation to count the cost – and the cost is often and increasingly dear.

But when you look a little further down the road, through the mists of time, the long-term cost looks to be far, far greater.

advent, Catholic Spirituality, Family Life, feast days, liturgical living

Have yourself a very little Advent

November 29, 2017

In past years, in my enthusiasm to be liturgically aware and impart said knowledge to my offspring, I think perhaps I’ve been a little intense in the Advent department. We had a rigorous (laughs softly and stares vacantly into space) tree-decorating schedule involving the procurement of a real!fresh! evergreen on the first Sunday of Advent, followed by lights on the second Sunday, ornaments on the third, and the tree topper on the fourth, and a complicated formula for when Christmas music was appropriate on the radio (feast days, but only major feast days, you know? Also, do you hate younger me a little bit yet?)

This year, too swollen and too tired to fight inertia, the (fake) tree has been erected, entirely without my assistance, and is strung with scraggly leftover colored lights from our exterior decorating efforts of last weekend. They are too few in number to be considered appropriately festive, but sufficient to keep the kids enthralled. My attention to said tree involves mainly yelling at the two year old to stop unplugging it and trying vainly to communicate the dangers of live electricity to his toddler brain. Gone is the liturgically-nuanced schedule of only lighting the thing on feast days until Christmas truly begins.

My kids still know whether it’s a feast day or not, however, since this time of year that’s the one sure way to get “dessert:” a mouthful of mini marshmallows after dinner. Somebody pretended he was very, very devoted to St. Catherine Laboure last night around 7 pm and earnestly implored me to impart the story of the Miraculous Medal to him while stuffing his cheeks with pillows of high fructose corn syrup.

Anyone who tries to dissuade you from motivating your kids with sugar is just trying to make life unnecessarily difficult, I can assure you.

Outside, the strings of light are burning well into the evening hours, though we’re still 4 days away from the actual, well, advent of Advent. I’ve made vague threats about cutting off the constant stream of Kosi 101 Christmas classics on the minivan sound system once we’re firmly out of ordinary time, but we all know I’m bluffing, just like we all know dinner this evening is going to be rice + some frozen veggie + any defrosted meat for the 5th night in a row.

I came across this beautiful reflection by Michelle Chronister last night and exhaled a big, heavy sigh of relief, and maybe shed a tear or two. Because of course Advent is a time of preparation and mild penance: we’re awaiting the end of a pregnancy.

It’s joyful, it’s a little frustrating, it’s soon-but-not-yet, and there are moments when it’s really, really hard. When the rest of the world is spinning frantically into premature celebration – not unlike watching all of your pregnant friends give birth and still hanging out in third-trimesterville – it can be a little deflating.

Here are some things I’m doing to survive the intensely historically accurate Advent we’ll be experiencing in our home this year (minus the prenatal donkey ride).

A minimalist Advent bucket list of sorts:

  1. Confession. If I do nothing else, I’m at least going to try showing up for Mass 15 or 20 minutes early one Sunday and getting in line. Our parish has wonderfully convenient confession times, and there’s nothing better than heading into the Christmas season with a clean conscience and an invigorating infusion of grace.

  2. Decluttering + giving away excess toys and clothes. We started this on Black Friday (instead of doing any shopping, which was oddly satisfying) and the kids got really into it, though I later discovered their enthusiasm was partially motivated by a (false) belief that all donated toys would be replaced with newer and more desirable models. Whatever our personal motivations are, we’re bagging up excess as a family and making space in our home – literally – which feels very right as we await a season of more. Plus, the house already looks sparser and more subdued, scrappy Christmas lights and all. It feels good to make space and let go of excess.

  3. Small acts of charity. Whether they be for neighbors, strangers, or each other, we’re trying to focus on being generous in small things, like clearing away your brother’s dinner plate, or bringing mommy a diaper, or pulling in the neighbor’s trash can. We have the little manger filled with last year’s straw, but it’s unlikely I’ll get my act together enough to empty the thing out and refill a fresh box of straw for good deeds. It seems sufficient to wave a vaguely sausage-shaped finger at the little crèche when I catch someone being generous, doling out verbal attaboys to kids caught being good.

  4. St. Nicholas will come on the 6th, and he’ll collect our Santa letters and maybe even the bags of clothes and toys we’ve bagged up to donate, if I don’t drop them at Arc before he rolls up in his sleigh. I am hoping to emphasize charity and generosity over “I want I want I want” this year, especially as we’re planning on the leanest of gift exchanges.

  5. Koslig. Or Hygge. Whichever Scandinavian term you prefer. I’m lighting all the candles and cranking on the fireplace in the evenings and playing soft Advent carols (and okay, okay, Christmas music already, too) and pulling little people close to me on the couch even though the house is trashed and I’m so, so tired. I want to emphasize to them that waiting in expectant hope is more important than frantically rushing around the house wrapping and decorating and getting ready. Plus, I only have energy to do that like one out of every seven days. Coziness and lots of candles and blankets and pillows and a general slowing down of our usual evening routine will (hopefully) emphasize to our kids that this is a special time of year, and that anticipation can be delightful. Plus, I’m way too tired to do a Jesse tree.

That’s it. That’s our simple Advent plan this year. The presents are few and mostly purchased, the tiny diapers are stacked in a closet awaiting a little person to swaddle, and we’re settling in for a somewhat restless season of waiting, watching in the dim candlelight for the brighter light that is to come.

May it be enough.

Uncategorized

Mental health + motherhood resources

November 27, 2017

I wanted to link up a few of my pieces on motherhood and mental illness, rounded up for the convenience of anyone listening in to today’s earlier segment on the Jennifer Fulwiler show on Sirius XM where we chatted maternal mental health, postpartum in America, and some of the stigmas surrounding mental illness:

Motherhood + mental illness

Oops, it happened again

It wasn’t supposed to feel like this

The motherly art of rest 

Bringing home bebe: surviving week 1

 

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: Black Friday Edition

November 24, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Friday. We’re having an ironically woke Black Friday over here, where I run around nesting with the energy of a thousand forrest creatures and invite – nay, compel – my earthside offspring to bag up and give away books/toys/clothes they’ve outgrown or tired of. If that doesn’t kick consumerism in the teeth, I don’t know what does. (Okay, I did buy a single pair of maternity leggings. $12 bucks! Motherhood is not my favorite retailer, but for the price of 3 coffees, I’ll take a fully clothed home stretch.)

1.

Speaking of keeping one’s wits about them as the Christmas shopping season officially kicks off, this thoughtful piece on resisting the nastier side of shopping is worth the read.

2.

I loved this interview. It’s everything I’d like to say to the culture and then some, but 100 times more eloquent. Eberstadt is definitely near the top of my happy hour dream guest bucket list.

3.

A Seal Breaks Open.” What exactly is going on with this bizarre zeitgeist we find driving the present news cycle, and why is it that so many of the proffered so-called “solutions” are essentially gutless and ineffective? Could it be that we don’t truly understand why things have gotten so bad, and that sexual morality cannot simply be distilled to a watery lesson in consent?

4.

There are few things more frustrating to me then getting a few chapters deep into a new (and often well-recommended) read only to be blindsided by what is more or less (but generally more, depending upon the recency of publishing date) eye-popping print pornography. I spent a few hours last week compiling a list of the books I read in 2017 that I would actually recommend to a friend. You’re welcome.

5.

No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration’s divisive and unnecessary culture war,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket Law and lead attorney for the Little Sisters.

Yeaaaaah, it’d be great if we could stop suing nuns over birth control. Particularly sisters (read: consecrated celibate women) whose entire mission is humble service to the elderly poor (read: post-menopausal). When I think about the money and energy and resources this circus has consumed over the past several years, it makes me sick to think of how much good could have been done. Instead, millions of dollars in legal fees and ridiculous mission creep of the first degree. Let.them.serve.

6.

America – and the universal Church – has a brand new Blessed. If you aren’t already familiar with Solanus Casey, prepare to fall in love. He was beatified last week in Detroit and peep his red frames – I’m pretty sure he was the original Catholic hipster.

Hope your post-turkey coma is mild and your weekend is long.

design + style, Family Life, house reno, local talent

The dinner table

November 22, 2017

For most of our still-young marriage we’ve had a steady stream of ugly, hand-me-down tables holding court as sort of placeholders in our kitchen or dining room, marking the spot where “someday” we’d put a real farmhouse table, a beautiful piece of furniture large enough to accommodate our growing collection of backsides plus a couple guests. We’ve had the 400 pound, everyone’s-mom-has-one-somewhere-in-the-house 90’s extendable oak pedestal table painted in multiple colors, the hideous but breathtakingly play-doh resistant farmhouse table with inlaid blue 80’s ceramic tile surface, and the tiny 3-person IKEA bistro table wedged into our triangular sailboat kitchen in a 5th floor Roman walkup apartment, only useable due to the presence of double IKEA plastic high chairs flanking either end.

When we moved this past summer we only budgeted for two new pieces of furniture: a kitchen table and a set of bunk beds for our boys. I found a set of those I loved at Walmart of all places, and they were remarkably affordable (though after my saintly father spent 5+ hours assembling them, we discovered why…) but the table was a little trickier.

I knew with baby number 5 on the way and a dedicated, honest-to-goodness dining room in our new house I wanted a real table we could gather around for years to come, one we wouldn’t break or outgrow in a year or three. But then there was the small matter of not having a Pottery Barn budget or much luck at the thrift shops that have delivered up so much bounty over the years. I looked and looked and just could not find something that fit the bill, so I resigned myself mentally to spending $700(!!!) on something disposable from IKEA that fit the length requirement, and that was going to be that.

It probably seems silly that I was fixated on a stupid table, but for me it represented more than just a piece of furniture. I am pretty detached from home furnishings, truth be told. Our entire house is a mishmash of Goodwill finds and hand-me-downs from friends and Craigslist scores, and I’m pretty chill about my kids destroying each and every single piece of it, but a table was something different.

Growing up with my 6 siblings, the table was the real centerpiece of our home. We had most of our dinners together and it was the school in which we were educated in the fine art of debate (often times heated), politics, theology, philosophy, and what Katy so-and-so said in the lunch room that day. We had a huge, long table, and there was always room for at least a friend or a neighbor kid or two. We were all expected to take place in the (occasionally) robust discussion which, to be honest, sometimes included raised voices and blood pressures.

I longed for my kids to have the same experience, and I felt strongly that the thing needed to be at least 7 feet long for our purposes. Would a smaller table work? Sure, and we’ve been making it work for 7+ years. But I wanted to have a longer term solution in place so that we could start early, schooling them in the fine art of dinnertime banter. And with 5 little butts in seats, it was getting pretty cramped around a table built for 6, particularly when any of our plentiful extended family were present.

Towards the end of the summer, after our 5th? 6th? house contract had fallen through and I was beginning to doubt we’d ever actually be living in a house we’d need to furnish, I attended a baby shower for a friend and I’m telling you, when I walked into her beautiful home, I laid eyes on the most gorgeous three dimensional platform for supporting dinner plates and elbows that the world has ever seen.

I gasped and asked her where it was from. Arhaus? Pottery Barn? Crate and Barrel? DID SHE DRIVE TO WACO AND HAVE CHIP AND JOJO HAND CARVE IT THEMSELVES WHILE SINGING PRAISE AND WORSHIP SONGS?

Nope, her husband made it. And for a super reasonable amount of money. Like crummy pre-fab IKEA table money.

“He could make you one too, I’m sure.”

Dead. I was sold. I was so excited, and although our ridiculous house hunt pushed the delivery date back a few times, by September we had our very own dreamy, custom-built dining room table (and matching bench!) which comfortably seats ten for a fraction of what it would have cost in a fancy, built-overseas-in-poor-labor-conditions retail outlet. My girlfriend even texted me a couple pictures of the process as it came together in her husband’s workshop in their backyard.

I love it so much. I love that every time we sit down to a meal we’re adding to a string of linked experiences that will stretch across the next 20 years. I love that he shellacked the thing with a billion coats of polycrylic per my request and that I can clean it with diaper wipes. Man, this is living.

What I love the most though? That it was built with love, and that God answered my silly, insignificant desire for a beautiful piece of furniture to gather our family around three times a day (and to work from too, as it turns out.)

If you’re local to Colorado, I’d love to put you in touch with Ryan at Blue Nails Woodcraft (read the poem that inspired the name at the end of this post) and see about getting one of these pretties custom built for your family, too. He can go the gauntlet from sturdy and no frills to high end artisanal craftsmanship, and the thrill of custom designing your own piece of furniture is something that I imagine few people in my generation have gotten to experience.

Cheerios under table incorporated to enhance realistic feel. (Laundry pile in bay window not included with purchase.)

*For pricing and customization information, call Ryan at (720) 933-1974 or email [email protected]*

From our big ‘ol table and the whole Uebbing crew, a blessed and beautiful Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Joseph and Child Jesus

By Father Leonard Feeney

Whenever the bright blue nails would drop,
Down on the floor of his carpenter’s shop,
St. Joseph, prince of carpenter men,
Would stoop to gather them up again;

For he feared for two little sandals sweet
And very easy to pierce they were
As they pattered over the lumber there
And rode on two little sandals sweet.

But alas on a hill between earth and heaven,
One day-two nails into a cross were driven
And fastened it firm to the Sacred Feet
Where once rode two little sandals sweet.
And Christ and His Mother looked off in death,
Afar-to the valley of Nazareth

Where the carpenter shop was spread with dust
And the little blue nails all packed in rust
Slept in a box on a window sill;
And Joseph lay sleeping under the hill.

Uncategorized

The gift of ordinary time

November 21, 2017

Today marks 8 years since I walked down the aisle to find him at the end of it. Never mind that my parents’ elderly friend confusedly tried to wander in through the front doors of the church 10 seconds before my father and I made our grand entrance (RIP, Mr. Fisher) or that our caterers showed up late and failed to set the tables for the reception (thank God for our ludicrous wedding party: 18 attendants in all), or that the liquor store neglected to deliver half our order until 3 hours into the reception (mom and dad had a solid supply of Fat Tire for months. Months, I tell you.) or even that Carey Pearsall got locked in the men’s room for close to an hour or that the thermostat was broken in the reception hall.

Really, I’m over it. All but the catering piece.

And what we have now, looking back over an entire octave of married love, was well worth the logistical difficulties the day of: 4 lovely children. 5 if you count the one stubbornly stuck under my ribs, pleading for club soda and MSG. A beautiful, imperfect home that was so worth the wait. A busy, crammed to the brim life of noise and color and not a ton of sleep… but more than we’ll be getting 6 weeks from now, this I know for sure.

A year ago I have to admit, I was feeling pretty defeated by this whole marriage business.

Not our specific marriage, per se, but just the general day to day grind of the thing. We were living in a house that seemed like it was personally out to get us, parenting a bunch of kids who were too little to be particularly helpful, and battling a seemingly endless string of childhood illnesses and costly home repairs that stretched long past winter well into spring. There was nothing very wrong, but we seemed mired in domestic drudgery. And I forgot to be grateful.

I forgot that for years before I met him, I used to sometimes cry at friends’ weddings, and not for altruistic reasons.

I forgot that I begged God for years to reveal His path for me, and that once I was pretty sure of it I switched over to begging Him to reveal the person I’d walk it with.

I’d forgotten every bad first date, every heart break, every lonely night spent at the gym or Target or some terrible party I didn’t really want to be at in the first place. I’d forgotten that I fell asleep most nights with a large, essentially feral cat curled up at the end of my bed, wondering whether he’d be ushering me into my 30’s, harbinger of an inevitable lifestyle to come.

In short, I’d forgotten to fall on my knees and thank God for the remarkable way that He had answered my prayers to a T (taller than me, smarter than me, stronger than me, holier than me). Instead, I’d quickly moved on to the “next, please” phase because that’s what humans do: we long for the next item on the checklist, hoping that when the baby at last arrives, when the newborn at last sleeps through the night, when the ring is at last on the finger, when the big promotion finally comes through…all will be well.

It’s a moving target though, isn’t it? Even now I’m struggling to tamp down the longing for “the next thing,” willing the 5-6 weeks separating me from delivering this latest addition to pass in an instant, and with them, the sciatica, the hip pain, the heartburn, the tears.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful because this life is spectacularly blessed, and I know it. But isn’t it so easy to lose sight of the gift of so-called “ordinary time?”

And the 8 years we’ve been wed? Most of it has been ordinary time. Moments of breathtaking joy and beauty, but lots and lots and lots of moments of long car rides and feverish toddlers and dishes and laundry and bills and catching one another’s eyes too infrequently at the end of a long, hard day.

Most of the days have been long, and many have been good.

When I think that less than a decade has passed and that our marriage is still very much in its infancy, it boggles the mind to imagine what may transpire over the next 40 years. (Probably not 5 more kids, but at the rate we’re going, ?????)

The phenomenon of the seven year itch seems, to me, to be a miring down in the ordinary; a sort of loss of vision for the extraordinary.

A kind of loosening of the expectations and sliding of the standards. And while some of this is normal and inevitable and even good (because honeymoon shape this body ain’t), other aspects are less than ideal.

I need to remind myself in the least romantic way – like maybe even a post it note – not to take it for granted. Not to take him for granted. Not to allow myself to become so consumed by the daily grind that I forget to pause and give thanks for the bread which that labor provides, the very real sustenance by which God is sustaining us and our love, building our family and establishing a household.

So here’s to cherishing the ordinary. Here’s to the reality that the babysitter already cancelled, the gift card we were planning to use probably wouldn’t have covered both entrees, anyway, and that the little boy who is moaning about an aching neck in the next room over is probably going to be in our room at some point tonight with a temperature and a story to tell.

I love you, honey. I hope we get to do this till we’re 80. I hope you know how grateful I am that you like reading aloud and wrestling stinky little boys, and that you’re never too tired to do the dishes. Thanks for having me in sickness and in health, at 140 pounds and at, uh, more than that, and in the harrowing moments between hospital admittance and the anesthesiologist’s arrival.

Cheers, to ordinary time.

reading

A booklist that won’t make you blush

November 17, 2017

Lately I’ve been throwing my Kindle across the room in frustration (ask Dave) when I get about, mmm, 30% of the way into a book – and sometimes it’s a legitimately intriguing book! – only to get blindsided by a graphic sex scene. I’m not talking heaving bosoms and carefully laced corsets, but straight up graphic, line-by-line descriptions that read like porn scripts. Like, if these scenes were adapted to film, they’d be rated R at least, and possibly X.

I don’t check out obscure, bondage fetish literature either. This is mainstream, NYT bestseller’s list, such-and-such blogger’s book club recommendation stuff. And I look around and I think, I can’t be the only one freaked out by this.

Particularly in light of the damning cultural moment which we presently find ourselves in, I would like to move as far away from sexually compromising content as possible. But you know? Sometimes I don’t feel like reading 400 year old British literature. Or even 100 year old stuff. I don’t want to resign myself to reading subpar Christian fiction, either, which, if I may be frank, I find generally lacking in skill and imagination. Nor do I always feel compelled to read some hefty theological treatise on the Sacraments.

So, what’s a girl to do?

I’m a voracious reader, so with the help of my handy Amazon borrowing history, I thought I’d share a list of the titles I’ve read in 2017 which I would enthusiastically recommend to a friend. And if you have anything you’d like to recommend right back? Please, I’m about to have hours and hours of late night time on my hands and I’m all e-ears.

I’ve tried to break these into rough categories for your convenience, but a fancy book blogger I am not, so consider yourself warned:

Fiction lite (suitable for beach, plane ride, or mindless late-night consumption*)

  • Everything written by Rosamunde Pilcher, but especially: “The Shell Seekers,” “Winter Solstice,” and “Coming Home.”

I discovered her during my first trimester of sloth and nausea and I swear she held my hand and walked me through the long, hot summer. After the first two books I was like, “oh my gosh, I’ve discovered modern fiction that is good and not super slutty but isn’t stilted and weird and baptized by having been run through some kind of media filter that sucks all the soul of the story.” And then I discovered she wrote all her books like, 20-40 years ago and I was like, “oh.” I’m an old soul. And she’s 93 and still alive in UK, so I guess she is, too. Just go ahead and read everything she has ever written and love your life.

  • The Secret Keeper, The Lakehouse, The House at Riverton, The Distant Hours, and The Forgotten Garden: Kate Morton

I love anything Kate Morton has ever written. These novels are the perfect blend of captivating character development and sharp writing. I’d put them on par with Downton Abbey in terms of keeping you intrigued in the story line and progression of the characters lives. She occasionally delves into the split timeline/flashback technique to advance the narrative, but in my opinion, doesn’t over use it. Highly recommend.

  • Within the Walled City: Virginia Evans

Study abroad fictional memoir set in Florence, Italy. Honestly, what else do you need to know? If you love travel/food books but don’t necessarily want to read a straight up memoir, this one’s for you.

  • A Portrait of Emily Price

Sweet, quick-reading, and not too racy. Actually, not much dirt at all, if I’m remembering right. Just the kind of thing for airport reading or a late-night nursing session.

  • What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty

An enjoyable offering from this author (and rare for its relative absence of gratuitous sex n violence). The storyline splits between the past and present in a creative and captivating way.

Aspirational self improvement/business memoirs/human interest:

  • Capital Gaines – Chip Gaines

The Fixer Upper backstory, from the male perspective. Either Chip can actually write or his ghostwriter really nailed his voice, but this proved to be an engaging and enjoyable read.

  • The Magnolia Story (is my HGTV freak flag flying high enough?) – Joanna Gaines

And her side of the story, more narrowly focused on the interpersonal details and the spiritual aspects of discernment in their journey. If his is the nuts and bolts side of the story, hers is the heart and soul.

  • The Gratitude Diaries: How a year of looking on the bright side can transform your life – Janet Kaplan

In the style of Gretchen Reuben, but pleasantly less research-y (Though perhaps not quite as insightful for it).

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age – Sherry Turkel

This book is a sobering, somewhat terrifying and absolutely essential read for any human being living in the 21st century.

  • The Highly Sensitive Child – Elaine Aron

She does a good job capturing the nuances of parenting a child who is wound a little “differently,” and makes some interesting observations about human nature. The philosophy/psychology gets a little weird in places, but that’s to be expected without a firm sense of a Christian anthropology.

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World – Cal Newport

This book was a huge impetus behind my decision to scale back on my social media presence and ditch my smartphone (thought that’s not going as well as it was over the summer. Still 100% social media free on the phone though, so I’m counting that as progress.) This book is a powerfully necessary read for the modern age and very engagingly written.

  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Gripping, honest, sad, and beautiful. The author chronicles his own journey with terminal lung cancer. A medical doctor with a surprisingly philosophical and poetic soul.

  • Reading People – Anne Bogel

Bogel’s (of Modern Mrs. Darcy fame) first work, this was an engaging study in various personality inventories and delved a bit into the interpretation of personality theory. I particularly liked her section on the Myers Briggs. (Note: I skipped the chapter on the Enneagram because I’m not convinced that it is harmless).

  • Present over Perfect – Shauna Niequist

I wanted to love love this book, because that’s how I felt about her earlier work, “Bread and Wine,” but it wasn’t quite as engaging. I still gleaned some good stuff from her (occasionally relentless) introspection, particularly her observations on work/life balance and a really poignant and painful depiction of burnout as a mom.

World War II novels set somewhere in Europe:

  • In Farleigh Field – Rhys Bowen

Had a distinctive Downton Abbey vibe, which I found appealing. Dave read it first and convinced me I’d like it too, which I did.

  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky – Mark T. Sullivan

A little grittier than I’d typically tend towards, but not in an inappropriate or unwarranted way. Set in Italy, which is a nice change of pace for a genre that seems obsessively set in either Britain or France.

  • All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr

I’m pretty sure I actually read this one 2 years ago, but it is a masterpiece and was utterly worth paying full cover price for the hardback and eminently worthy of the Pulitzer it garnered Doerr. (Also, be sure to check out his earlier work, “Four Seasons in Rome” a travel memoir of his study abroad year in the Eternal City with his wife and twin baby boys.)

  • Everyone Brave is Forgiven – Chris Cleave

A little rough around the edges in parts, but a good read. Not remarkable enough to differentiate itself substantially from the other books in this genre, but a worthy addition to the list if you love WWII novels.

  • The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

Oh my gosh, how many books about WWII did I read in 2017?? I guess …a few. This one was probably second best only to “All the Light,” but quite a bit sadder, if I’m remembering correctly.

YA Lit that won’t make you want to scratch your eyes out: 

  • Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan

Mildly engaging. I wouldn’t call it un-put-down-able by any means, but it was a passable read with an interesting twist. It won a 2016 Newberry Honor.

  • Wonder – Rachel J. Palacio

This book lives up to the hype surrounding it, and I’m interested to see the film adaptation. I really appreciated how well the author captured – and maintained – the innocence of early adolescence while still addressing the brutal and nasty pieces without delving into unnecessary sexualization or precociousness of the characters. Not easy to do.

  • When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhyi Menon

Cute, engaging, not too serious and not too slutty. I dated a lot of engineers in college, for some reason, so this book kind of took me back. Plus, I just love Bollywood.

  • The Selection trilogy and The Heir – Kiera Cass

I’m embarrassed. But whatever. I read them all and if you like/d the Bachelor/ette and the Hunger Games, well, these are the books for you. Don’t judge me.

Religious/Spiritual reads:

  • Waking the Dead – John Eldredge

This guy is Catholic lite, whether or not he realizes it. He has a firmer grasp on spiritual warfare and the reality of the presence of God – and of evil – in the world, than most Catholic or Christian writers I’ve read. Take him with a grain of salt because he’s Protestant, but he has some great content on discernment and cultivating a relationship with God.

Also great:

  • Walking with God – John Eldredge
  • Fathered by God – John Eldredge

 

  • The Family that Overtook Christ – M. Raymond

Hard to find (I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited for a trial month so I could read it) but it’s a fascinating story of the family of St. Bernard of Clairvoux and the reform of the monastic orders of his time period. 2 enthusiastic thumbs up for this and his subsequent title, “Three Religious Rebels.”

  • Lord of the World – Robert Hugh Benson

I can’t emphasize enough how essential this read is to every Catholic – or every human being – who is currently alive. Rumored to be Pope Francis’ favorite novel (and one he has read half a dozen times) I’ll definitely be reading it again in another couple months.

  • The Benedict Option – Rod Dreher

Guys, just read this book. I’m still scratching my head over the infighting over this one. If you are judging the work on its own merits (which is how I believe books should be evaluated) and not dragging everything Dreher has ever written in his entire life into your calculus, it’s actually a fantastic, inspiring, and deeply practical read.

  • Out of the Ashes – Anthony Esolen

Honestly? This one’s better than Dreher’s. Esolen has a devastatingly sharp mind and a profound grasp of reality. Worth the extra brainpower it requires in terms of vocabulary and attention span (spoken as a dead tired mom).

  • Strangers in a Strange Land – Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Speaking of needing some intellectual chops to digest the content, this is one of those. I’m still making my way through the last 30% of this book, but am confident it’s not going to derail into insanity, so I recommend it with unbridled enthusiasm.

  • God or Nothing – Robert Cardinal Sarah

If you disregard all of my recommendations and take a single book from this list, let it be this one. Trust me.

  • The Christian Meaning of Human Sexuality – Paul M. Quay, S.J. (edited by Joseph Koterski, S.J)

This book is phenomenal. I’m about 2/3 of the way through it and just so deeply engaged by the material. He reminds me of a way, way more accessible JPII in terms of his grasp on married love and human sexuality. There is an updated chapter on NFP that I haven’t gotten to yet, but that alone was what convinced me that I absolutely had to get my hands on this book.

  • The Holy Spirit, Fire of Divine Love – Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen

A beautiful meditation on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, and with practical guidance on how to cultivate a relationship with Him. It’s a slim little volume that makes a great prayer time read and can be picked up and read at random. It’s one of my go-to spiritual books now, in the vein of “Imitation of Christ” or “Introduction to the Devout Life.”

Nonfiction:

  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis  J.D. Vance 

A must read for any Steubenville grad (Ohio River Valley represent). This was a sad, fascinating, simultaneously hopeful and hopeless look at generational poverty in rural America/Appalachia.

  • $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America – Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer

Self explanatory and deeply sad. I couldn’t put it down.

Fiction:

  • A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

I loved this book. I loved its weirdness, its foreign cadence (the author is Swedish), and its dark and unexpected humor. The movie fell far short of the original, but perhaps the remake will deliver. I read it first and then handed it over to a skeptical Dave with a glowing recommendation. He ended up loving it, too.

  • The Last Days of Night – Graham Moore

Historical fiction (but don’t yawn! Promise.) depicting the battle to electrify America. It’s a novelized telling of the adversarial and occasionally collaborative geniuses of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. This was another one the husband read first and passed along, and I really enjoyed it.

  • The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Can’t believe this was on my “to read” list for so many years, but glad I finally took the plunge. Dark and gritty at times but not without purpose, if that makes sense? Not a book that could be written in 2017, due to a lack of both imagination and delicacy.

Borderline recs (proceed with caution depending upon sensitivity):

  • Small Great Things – Jodi Piccoult

This was a hard read. A fair amount of graphic violence – but not unnecessary, which makes a big difference, in my book (ba dum ching). I thought certain stereotypes/literary techniques were a bit overwrought, but the author was intentionally belaboring the point to get our attention. And it worked.

  •  The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

I was super enjoying this book and then, I kid you not, it got reaaaaaaaal raunchy for about 3 minutes at the end. Like, so abruptly that I thought my Kindle had freaked out and opened another book by mistake. If you can skim past the questionable stuff that barrels out of left field in the very end, it was a charming little novel that I’d have liked to include in my”Fiction Lite” category.

  • Truly, Madly, Guilty – Liane Moriarty

I want to love her stuff, because she’s a talented writer, but she really likes to sprinkle in the raunchy sex scenes. This book almost avoids that entirely, and ends up being what I’d categorize as an engaging lite mystery thriller. Also I’m 90% sure she was raised Catholic, so she just can’t help herself with the self-effacing references to Catholic guilt.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell

I loooooved this book. I’m a sucker for self-chronicled cultural immersion documentaries, and she did a fantastic job narrating her year in Denmark. (However, there is an entire chapter you can skip right over. And you’ll know which one it is when you get there.)

  • Before We Visit the Goddess – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I can’t remember why I’m putting this one in the “recommends with reservation” category except, oh, actually, now I do remember, it’s the gay neighbor whose relationship is delved into with a bit of unnecessary detail, plus some domestic violence. But if you love India like I do, you’ll enjoy this one.

  • Sleeping Giants –  Sylvain Neuvel

This was deliciously weird sci-fi with the most intriguing plot twist. There is a smattering of dull, unnecessary raunch (extra-marital sex) but the book is too good to miss.

And there you have it: the titles that made the cut to the “yeah, you should read this” list in my literary wanderings over the past year. I’m going to leave this as a living document of sorts and plan to update it with new reads as I review them, so hopefully it becomes a helpful resource and perhaps even a good Christmas gift guide.

*not responsible for lost sleep resulting from addictive page turning nature.

 

decluttering, design + style, Family Life, large family, mental health, motherhood, Parenting

Homemaking hacks that keep me sane(ish)

November 14, 2017

I was going to write one of those perennially popular and always vaguely intriguing “day in the life” posts but there it sits, languishing in my drafts folder, because do you have any idea how much time it takes to assemble one of those bad boys? Especially if there are any pictures, which are kind of crucial to making said piece enjoyable for the reader.

En ee way, I decided that since I’m obviously too busy living my glamorous life as a severely pregnant (don’t worry, I always talk like this for the last 7 weeks or so) woman with 4 kids under the age of reason and a mildly-demanding side hustle involving the written word, it might be helpful to pass along some of my best practices gleaned from 7+ years of parenting and mostly (MOSTLY) pestering older and wiser moms for their wisdom.

I mean, why maintain a robust Facebook following if not to poll the audience with the truly pressing questions about potty training and mini van recommendations?

Why indeed.

Anyway, here are some things that are saving my life lately. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you, or maybe you’ll laugh that these are things I ACTUALLY SPEND TIME THINKING ABOUT.

The dining room table (built by an amazing and talented local friend – post coming soon) must be cleared off between meals because voila, it’s also my home office.

1. The laundry. Oh sweet mercy, the laundry. Just kidding, because I love laundry (really, I do, but don’t click away!) I think because it affords me a real, concrete sense of accomplishment when it’s caught up.

But wait, you might be thinking, it’s never caught up.

Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. Cackle. I have discovered the secret to happiness, and it’s doing laundry every single day. One or two loads (or maybe more, season and family size-necessitating) per day and then (this is clutch) folding it/delivering it as soon as it’s done.

Seems outrageous, but it means I have a couple of dirty things each night in hampers, but overall, the entire laundry situation is perpetually in process, being worn, washed, and delivered back to the respective closets in a beautiful circle of life.

It seems counterintuitive that perpetually processing laundry makes for greater mental freedom, but there you have it. I now see laundry like I see dental hygiene or running the dishwasher. I’d no more let 3 days worth of dirty dishes pile up in the sink than I’d let as many days’ outfits pile up in the hamper. Here’s a big, fat caveat though: if you have unlimited supplies of anything (aside from the strict necessities like socks and undies) you will use them. And their very presence will enable the overwhelm of your laundry system, just like, I imagine, owning 40 sets of forks and knives could prevent you from dishwashing out of necessity. So my kids operate from fairly capsuled-wardrobes, with limitless socks and undies (specific character for each child of same gender to ease sorting + all white socks for boys and colorful socks for girl) and a strictly limited selection of other options.

Each big boy has 5-7 uniform polos, 4 pairs of uniform/Mass pants, 3 pairs of jeans, and about 4 complete sets of jammies. We also have a drawer full of athletic shorts/pants for leisure wear, and they each have 3-4 long sleeve and short sleeve t-shirts in their current rotation. I will pull down new shirts of the current size from time to time and rest other shirts in order to give them some semblance of variety and not miss the window of the item of clothing actually fitting them, but at no point do they have access to their entire Star Wars t-shirt collection, nor are their summer clothes accessible during the colder months. It would (and has, in the past) make for a miserable, endless pile of work for the chief laundry officer of the house.

Once or twice a week I do sheets and bath towels, as necessary. And all our bath towels are white and bleach-able. There are 3 or 4 of higher quietly cotton pile that I secret away in the master bath for parental use, otherwise it’s fair game. I probably buy new towels ever 6-12 months and rotate the old ones out for rags or pet use.

I realized I was more or less making use of this system on my own, but added the additional linens to their own schedule as needed per the recommendation of Lindsay from “My Child, I Love You,” whose mothering skills I tip my proverbial hat to while bowing deeply at the waist. I figure if she can keep empty laundry baskets with 9? 10? kids, I have zero excuses.

I also make the kids deliver their own goods after I wash and fold it all. Because I like doing those parts, and because I don’t feel confident in their nascent sorting abilities. Soon enough though, kids. Soon enough.

2. I pack lunches as soon as we get home from school. Sometimes the kids help, sometimes I do it myself, sometimes it’s a group effort. I call for lunch boxes to exit backpacks upon arrival in the house and be delivered to the counter, where I promptly dump and clean as necessary and then re-pack and return directly to the fridge. I give them a good wash on Fridays before retiring them for their weekend rest. I try to see it like paperwork, and so I only want to touch them once. If it’s on the counter and has to be put somewhere anyway, I may as well fill it with food and put it right back into the fridge. Plus, I hate mornings.

3. Dishes. Now dishes I hate. Dishes will be the domestic duty that gets me to heaven. But. I do have some thoughts. First, I streamlined our kitchen setup down to bare necessities and all one color. Maybe that strikes you as utilitarian, and you’d be absolutely correct in saying so. It’s beautifully, wonderfully, uniformly utilitarian, and my cupboards look like an IKEA display. White and glass and nothing else. Because you know what is colorful enough? Life with 4 kids. Anyway, we have about 12 white Corelle dinner plates, bowls, and small plates, and 2 dozen mason jars for drink ware. I have a little more fun in the barware department, but still only 4 of each type of glass (red wine, white wine, champagne, and whiskey) and they all match. Some are from the Dollar Tree so trust me when I reassure you that this is not an expensive venture. We also have a single drawer with about 8 IKEA poisonous plastic kid’s plates and tumblers, and 3 sippy cups with lids. And that’s it. Oh, wait, tupperware. Again with the IKEA, about 4 matching containers with lids in 4 graduated sizes, plus half a dozen glass 1-cup rubbermaid containers for daddy lunches.

It is so pleasant (well, as pleasant as dishwashing can be) to do dishes when everything matches and is clean and free of scratches or chips. That’s where the utterly boring and utterly serviceable clean white Corelle comes in. When my kids are older and out of the house I can relax my aesthetic of prison minimalist chic, but until then, we’re gonna wash those same 12 white plates every day and we’re gonna like it.

(And when we have parties, we use paper. We’re not partying much these days, so I have zero qualms of the environmental impact of a single sleeve of high quality paper plates purchased on a bi-annual basis. If you are partying more than we are, might i suggest the even greener option of buying a second dozen of the white Corelle beauties and keeping them in the garage?)

The kids load and unload the dishwasher, and they’ve also begun clearing and wiping down the table after meals. Which leads me to my next brilliant revelation:

4. “Yes, as soon as ____”

I’ve been working this system hard all school year, and so far, so good. Here’s a live demo:

“Mom, can we watch Wild Kratts?”

“Yes, as soon as you hang up your backpacks/finish your reading/bring me your lunch box”

“Mom, can we go play baseball till dinnertime?

“Yes, as soon as you pick up the Legos and put them away.”

“Mom, can I go outside and play with Andrew?”

“Yes, as soon as you put on your jacket and make sure there are no shoes on the floor of the front hall closet”

“Mom, can we have hot cocoa?”

“Yes, as soon as you finish your salad/carrots/whatever vegetable I’m pretending we’re eating tonight.”

You get the idea. I found that I was constantly saying no and feeling like I was bargaining with my kids to preempt them to good behavior/good habits, and I’ve realized that by leading with “yes,” we’re all so much happier and feel like we’re winning. Now, I don’t honor every request and I promise, I don’t preface every movement of their lives with a necessary domestic task, but all in all I’d say we’re learning a better balance of helpfulness and permission granted, of give and take. Plus, it makes me feel like a much nicer mom to say yes so many times a day. Power of affirmations, babies.

5. Empty the car.

Don’t know why it took me 7 years to master this one, but we’ve disciplined ourselves into the habit of almost completely emptying the car upon arriving home for the day. No backpacks, shoes, toys, food, or mom-debris left behind. The exceptions are my makeup bag (a girl has to have some time to mascara), 2 emergency pairs of socks in the glove compartment (thanks, mom!) diapers and wipes, of course, and a stash of current library books for in flight entertainment. Additionally, there can usually be found a spare fleece or light jacket in the back in case someone has an accident or it starts snowing out of a 70 degree day, not unheard of for Denver.

As a result, the car looks clean, the kids are actually encouraged to keep it clean, and we are all encouraged forced to put stuff back where it belongs upon arriving home each day. It’s like the mobile version of Marie Kondo, and yes, a healthy stack of spare diapers under the passenger seat spark joy.

This room is a naturally toy-free zone. When I find them there, into a bucket or basket they go until put-back time. (I mean, unless they’re actively being played with. I’m not a monster).

6. Kamikaze clean at night. I’m a little militant about this one (cough, cough, sorry Dave) but I do not go to bed with a dirty house. The kids tidy up the dinner table and their craft area in the kitchen, plus any toys that have remained out from the day’s play. And I finish processing and delivering the laundry and make sure the kitchen is scrubbed down and ready for business the following morning. Mornings are tough enough without waking to a disaster (and more often you will wake to some other disaster, any way) so I like to have a clean slate to start fresh from. Otherwise, I tend to feel like I’m behind the eight ball all day long.

Obviously there are nights where the dishes don’t get done and someone is sick or super needy or one of us is traveling and things fall apart, but on the whole, we go to bed with a clean house 95% of the time. And it makes a big difference.

All your toys are belong to us

7. I promise I’m going to stop. But this one is critical. Limited toys. We have 4 kids – soon to be 5 – and they’re all really little, and we could literally be drowning in toys. But we’re not, because I refuse to live that way. Our kids are not deprived: they each have a bike or plasma car, an armory of Nerf guns and lightsabers, a handful of special stuffed animals, and a few personal trinkets. Other than that we have a small box of Legos, a toy kitchen with cooking instruments, some doll-sized baby care gear for Evie’s growing cat family (don’t ask), and some matchbox cars and a ramp. There is a soccer goal in the backyard, and a stash of baseballs and bats in the garage.

And that’s it.

That’s all the toys we own, pretty much, and we are constantly paring back after birthdays and holidays, swapping out old or broken toys for newer favorites. Our parents are really great about buying thoughtful or small or even non-toy gifts, and I suspect this is one area where larger families can have an advantage, because spending big $$$ on a dozen grandchildren could really add up.

Our kids don’t seem deprived, but if they do complain about not having as much stuff as so-and-so (which to be frank, is very rare) I just point out different families do things differently, and aren’t they lucky to have more siblings? A pet? A bigger yard? etc. than that friend. Accentuate the positive.

Besides, they’re accustomed to our continuous purging of possessions, and they’ve confided to me before that they were grateful “for not having very much to clean up,” because when I give the order to go put the toy corner back together (two IKEA Kallax 4-cube shelves with bins) it can be done easily by even the 3 year old in under 5 minutes.

It forces me to be accountable to my own accumulation of “stuff,” too. I don’t really need a new piece of seasonal decor for my mantle or another candle (okay, maybe another candle…) or a cute mug because the stuff I have, I like, and it’s working well. It’s a good practice of minimalism for the sake of contentment, rather than minimalism for making some kind of philosophical point. We are minimalists by nature because our lives are kind of stuffed to the bursting with relationships, so there’s not a lot of room for much else.

Whew, that was a novella. Hopefully useful? Interesting? Or at least you’re sleeping peacefully now.

May your laundry be manageable, and your dishes unbreakable.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Culture of Death, current events, politics, Pornography

It’s the culture, stupid

November 10, 2017

2017 has been kind of a train wreck, hasn’t it?

Lately it seems like each week has brought news of another mass shooting, another massive sex scandal, another round of accusations and tarnished reputations and fresh outrage and calls for … something.

But I can’t help noticing that we seem to want to have our cake and eat it too, collectively speaking.

Frankly, this is the culture we’ve built for ourselves, constructed on promises of sex without commitment or consequence, violence as entertainment, and the pursuit of personal appetites at any cost.

We lament the violence done to women and the apparent backsliding of decades of feminist progress in our nightly newscasts, but the commercials between segments are filled with soft core porn using women’s bodies to hawk products.

We flinch at each new accusation of predatory sexual violence that hits our newsfeeds, many coming to light decades after the fact, while we meanwhile hound our elected officials for greater access to abortion and contraception, those necessary components fueling the sexual revolution.

We reject God and His laws, written into our very bodies, and then we rail against the cruelty and evil that springs up in the absence of a moral compass.

In short: this culture is one of our own making.

And it cannot be cured in Washington.

America – the entire world – can only return to greatness by falling to her knees.

Until and unless we get serious about pursuing personal conversion and cultivating holiness, this is what the world will look like.

This is what the world was like, before Christ, and this is the natural state to which it will return as we reject Christ. You might call it the human equilibrium, determined by the introduction of Original Sin and remedied by one thing alone:

Jesus.

The world can be saved, one soul at a time, by Christians willing to live out their faith without counting the cost, leading people to Him. But as long as Christians play at the game of going along to get along with the world, whether that means an outright rejection of the faith or a lazy complacency where we drift through life in a haze of busyness and Netflix, then this is the new reality.

Life with Christ is, as St. John Paul II was fond of joyfully reminding us, “a wonderful adventure.”

But life without Him is a nightmare.

Guys, we’re living the nightmare right now.

I have some ideas.

First, we have to get serious about our own personal prayer lives (looks meaningfully into mirror). I am the first to admit that falling into bed with my Kindle at 10 pm is immeasurably preferable to spending time with my Bible or rosary. That’s because my spiritual muscles are flabby and undisciplined, worn down by years of parenting small people and self-medicating with mindless entertainment and distraction in the evenings. I have to commit to at least a solid 15 minutes of serious mental prayer at some point in the day, offering back to God a fraction of the time He has given me. I know this, but actually doing it is another matter entirely.

Second, there are areas in my life where I have not fully given Christ Lordship. I’m thinking of a few novels I’ve read lately, grimacing and skimming over the explicit sex scenes and degraded morality but justifying continuing to read because “most of the book is fine.”

But it’s not fine. It’s not fine for me to read a book that is 10% pornographic content, justifying that the other 90% is Tolstoy (which it sure as hell ain’t). I’m no prude, and there is a place for realism and grit in literature, but what I’ve been encountering with increasing frequency in modern fiction is straight up smut: graphic, gratuitous, and worst of all, conscience-numbing. How silly to be striving to form my conscience and conform my mind to Christ’s while continuing to fill it with garbage. Maybe your garbage takes another form, but you probably know exactly what it is.

Which brings me to…tv. And movies. There’s a lot to choose from and a veritably limitless array of options, but it’s becoming increasingly necessary to just turn the thing off. I spend a good amount of time and energy devising ways to protect my kids from sexual deviance and premature exposure, and we put a lot of effort into forming this area of their personalities to be receptive to goodness and beauty. How can we spend a hour or two in the evenings fast forwarding through garbage, letting our own consciences become dulled by repeated exposure to pornographic content, homosexuality, adultery, sexual violence, witchcraft, and abortion and expect that there will be no long-term effects?

What goes into us very much affects what comes out of us.

Our consciences can become deadened and dulled by repeated exposure to garbage. What is shocking the first or seventh time it is encountered might not even raise the blood pressure the 40th or 100th time. Try popping in a DVD of a popular sitcom or drama from the 90s and then contrast it with, mmm, pretty much anything that’s popular in primetime in 2017.

You may be astonished at how much has changed in a relatively short time. By how “tame” the innuendo and violence, and how seemingly chaste the onscreen depictions of intimacy.

We’ve come a long way in a short time, thanks in large part to the internet, and very few of us have taken the time to step back and ask “is this okay?” rather than getting pulled along with the tide. It’s a small, necessary sacrifice I can – and must – make, as a parent, as an adult.

Finally, we need to be heeding Our Lady’s call to the children of Fatima and making regular sacrifices in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of others.

We each have a role to play in the sorry state of affairs of the modern world. We have been asked to pray, to make sacrifices, and to offer up suffering for the good of our neighbors. Those neighbors are our own family members, the people across the street, and the monster who shot up a church last weekend.

We live in a kind of modern fantasy of autonomy and individual freedom, when in reality, we are all intimately connected to one another by virtue of our brotherhood in the family of God.

Look, I am the absolute worst at fasting and making sacrifices. Happily, God has given me a tidy pile of stuff to offer up in the course of living out my actual life, if only I would consent to suffer willingly and intentionally rather than always proceeding directly to “thrashing about like a wounded animal railing at the injustice of it all,” which seems to be my default setting when confronted with pain.

But I needn’t waste it. I can offer up those midnight wakings, the stomach flu, the broken down cars and zeroed out bank accounts, the wrecked out bodies and the agonizing, lonely hours of solo parenting during business trips or endless Tuesdays. I can offer my little loaves and fishes to God to do whatever He pleases with, and perhaps it pleases Him to do something insanely miraculous with the crumbs.

But first I have to offer them.

Finally, we must be unashamed in our witness of faith in the public square.

Christians in the early Church were set apart form the depraved pagan culture from which they sprang because of the way they loved one another. Because of their marriages, their charity, their civic engagement and their unwavering witness to the truth.

And yes, some of them were killed for it. And they went joyfully to their martyrdoms not for love of pain, but for love of Jesus. We will probably not be martyred in a literal sense of shedding blood. But our careers? Our reputations? Our friendships and social status and financial stability?

Yeah, those are all up for grabs. We ought to be prepared to offer them willingly, if He asks. We should absolutely fight for just laws and morally sound legislation, but we should also be prepared to be increasingly marginalized as the cultural free fall – which shows little sign of halting – continues. We know how this game ends, but it might be a hell of a fourth quarter, so to speak.

I keep coming back to JPII’s most oft-repeated phrase when I read the news lately: Be not afraid.

That’s the hope we can offer to a world that is bleeding out in self-anihilation, seeming to crumble before our very eyes.

Be not afraid.

Be not afraid.

Be not afraid.

But also, be not an idiot. Be not caught doing nothing, when the Master returns. Be not a complicit accomplice in the carnage that is laying waste to a civilization.

I can’t save the world with my one little life, but I can offer it to God to do with it what He sees fit. And when He asks for something, I can give it to Him without hesitation, knowing that the steely core of the Christian identity must be a readiness and willingness to suffer as He did.