coffee clicks, current events, pregnancy

Coffee clicks: December 15th

December 15, 2017

Even though it’s the shortest possible Advent, liturgically speaking, I’m still kind of feeling like things are craaaaawling by. Christmas is 10 days away, which is so soon. But when I stop to think I might still be pregnant 10 days from now…. well, yeah.

At any rate, it’ll be a magical sort of progression of time between now and then for our family, baby or no. Today is Evie’s 4th birthday, which she marked by coming downstairs at 3 am to snuggle while I was up being a pseudo-productive insomniac. We cuddled for a while before I convinced her that it was, in fact, still nighttime, as evidenced by the Christmas lights glowing merrily out the window.

Tonight we have the Christmas program at school, and then tomorrow, the absolute highlight of Advent 2017: STAR WARS. Also my birthday celebration with my parents, all my adult siblings + spouses. If I ever doubted God’s love for me, that silly notion was laid to rest when Disney bought Lucasfilm and started cranking out a brand spanking new iteration of everyone’s favorite space opera every December for the past 4 years. Hashtag very blessed.

Next week the kids have just a few days of school, culminating in a half day on the 21st, my 35th birthday and the official starting point of the “advanced maternal age” portion of this pregnancy. It’s also the day of my brother’s rehearsal dinner, with his wedding to follow on the 22nd. Then it’s basically the best day of the year, Christmas Adam, a brief extra-liturgical pause solemnly observed in my family of origin by watching Home Alone and singing karaoke and maybe cigars (though not his year) and perhaps getting the tree totally decorated before a blur of long Masses and joyous celebration…

And so help me, if I am still pregnant come Boxing Day (which, despite the flurry of activity this week is still a distinct possibility) I don’t know what stamina or motivation I will have left.

So that’s what my Google calendar looks like for the rest of December. Whew.

1.

I have some great links this week, starting with a story that is close to home and utterly heartwarming:

2.

I temporarily scrapped another, lighter-hearted piece (forthcoming early next week) while pondering the occasion of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day earlier this week. I remembered how much she had helped me through Genevieve’s delivery, now 4 years ago, and since then have been asking her intercession as this current resident’s exit date draws near:

3.

Maybe you don’t know this about me (though after that disclosure towards the beginning, it’s a little more obvious) but I’m probably the biggest female Star Wars fan you’ve ever met who is simultaneously living a normal looking life (no cosplay or card games or weird conventions). But find yourself signed up for a Jedi trivia night at your local neighborhood pub and missing a 4th teammmate? You’re gonna want to call me. Or maybe Bishop Conley, if I’m not available.

But yea though ewok through the valley of the shadow of death, Bishop Conley feared no evil, and found a fisherman brave enough to take his group of friends to the island, because Han-YOLO.”

4.

Great news out of Ohio for anyone who claims to care about the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. It always puzzles me that, on the whole, culture warriors and social justice activists aren’t more impassioned about the rights of people with Down Syndrome. Seems the polar opposite of progressive.

5.

This piece is a long but essential read. My parents have been calling abortion a “sacrament” of the secularist religion since I can first remember talking about it around the dinner table, and Eberstadt’s piece magnificently distills the tenants and dogmas of this brave new religion into non-academic sized bites. (But boy, when I read heavy hitting pieces that go past 2,000 words, I sure am aware of how much the internet and social media have weakened/destroyed my attention span…)

All of the expressions of animosity now aimed against Christianity by this new secularist faith share a common denominator. They are rooted in secularist dogma about the sexual revolution”

5.

Finally, did you catch this short (unaffiliated) video about harnassing the power of Amazon Prime Now for good? I was full on weeping by the end. Praying Amazon execs see it and take note.

6.

Do you follow CNA on Instagram? You want to. Also, even Popes have that one school picture that will follow them around for ever.

Happy (belated) ordination anniversary, Papa!

Happiest last week plus a day of Advent! It’s not too late to jump back on the horse if you’ve fallen slack in your preparations and add in a little sacrifice or penence here or there as the Christmas countdown ticks down. I like to try to turn off the Christmas music between now and the 24th to kind of reset my brain in preparation for celebration, and that will be especially necessary this year as I’ve been a little, ah, lax in my generally temperate pre-Christmas indulgence in James Taylor. Also planning to try to offer up the somewhat interminable nights of prodromal labor which seem temporarily here to stay, so please, if you have specific prayer intentions, please share them and I’ll remmber you while I’m not sleeping from 2-5 am for the next few weeks…

About Me, advent, birth story, Catholic Spirituality, pregnancy, Suffering

Am I not she who is your mother?

December 12, 2017

I will never forget my labor with Genevieve, thus far my only daughter (though that title may be ceded in mere weeks now.) Partly because it was drawn out over 3 agonizingly long days of prodromal labor – not hideously painful, but hugely exhausting – and partly because she was the only baby whose sex we found out ahead of time, so we knew “who” we were waiting on in a more personal way.

I remember feeling very connected to Our Lady being pregnant with Evie during the Advent season, and with an estimated due date of Christmas Day, I allowed my imagination to carry me along on the long journey towards Bethlehem, comforting myself with the notion that even if I were averaging 4 hours of sleep each night with contractions coming almost unrelentingly (but non-productively) around the clock for days on end, at least I wasn’t on a donkey.

The evening of December 12th, 2013, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, found me once again hunched over the bathroom counter in pain, timing contractions that both I and my iPhone app knew were not going to amount to a pattern worthy of hospital admission. Dave knocked on the bathroom door, having returned from a late night grocery run, and handed me a beautiful bouquet of roses.

They were wrapped in cellophane and still bearing the store logo, but there on the crinkly plastic was an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the very same image supernaturally imposed on St. Juan Diego’s tilma on the hill at Teypeyac more than 500 years ago.

The roses eventually found their way to water. As I was balling up the wrappings and clippings to toss out, I impulsively grabbed some kitchen scissors and cut the image of Our Lady out of the plastic, fashioning a little 8 inch high icon of crinkly plastic which I taped to the bathroom mirror.

I spent a lot of time looking to Mary over the next 72 hours, bracing my hands on either side of the sink and looking into her delicate brown face. I reminded myself in between the waves of seemingly inefficient and interminable contractions that she too was a mother, that she too had done this. I fixed my eyes on the black sash draped around her waist, whose imagery symbolizes pregnancy.

That’s right, Mary is actually pregnant in the image seared into the fibers of Juan Diego’s tilma.

It was, at turns, comforting and confounding to think of God putting His own Mother through this – though the jury is still out on what, precisely, Mary’s physical experience of childbirth entailed. Various Church Fathers have weighed in on the matter, one the Church allows to exist shrouded in no small amount of mystery. We know that Mary physically carried the Christ child in her womb and that she mysteriously and miraculously maintained even the physical aspects of her virginity upon His birth, but beyond that, God has not chosen to reveal specific details about what birth was “like” for she who was conceived without sin.

Still, as I hunched over that sink and raised my eyes to the filmy plastic icon of the Mother of God, I took comfort in the slight swelling apparent in her midsection, wondering if she had experienced round ligament pain or pubic symphysis dysfunction or sciatica – I doubted you could ride a donkey many miles at any stage of pregnancy and escape unscathed, ergonomically speaking.

I wondered over Mary’s experience of Jesus’ tiny – and then not so tiny – kicks under her ribcage. The in-utero hiccups that rattle the whole belly, the improbable acrobatics that accompany those final few weeks of stretched-outness and can’t do this another day-ness.

When it was finally – finally – time to go to the hospital and stay at the hospital, I ducked into the bathroom and grabbed the piece of plastic off the mirror. I wanted her with me still, epidural or no.

It turns out she wanted to be with me, too. The nurse who checked me upon arrival announced a triumphant “5 cm, you’re staying!” and escorted us from triage to the delivery room, where I could have and might have wept in relief. 3 days of little sleep and contractions 15 minutes apart around the clock; I sank exhausted into the hospital bed, nodding enthusiastically that yes, I did want them to call anesthesia right away.

As I settled into a blissful and exhausted sleep, I remember the nurse commenting that she thought it would be 3 hours, maybe less. She was right, because after a brief and glorious nap, I was complete and ready to push.

Our doctor arrived a little after I’d woken from augmented reality nap time and started setting up his equipment. He paused before he gowned up, reaching into his bag and sliding out a wooden icon, which he propped against the wall opposite the foot of my bed.

I gasped in delight because it was her – a beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, larger and far more saturated than my grocery store wrapper.

I laughed and told him she’d been following me throughout labor, and he cocked his head and told me “it’s strange, but I lost my usual icon of Our Lady of Lourdes somehow at my last birth, so this is her replacement. And it’s actually the first time I’ve brought this new one along.”

And so mine was to be the first birth attended by this particular image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I’ve since delivered one more child under her watchful maternal gaze, and I look forward to her presence in my hospital room this go round, too.

It is comforting to have a God who is not unfamiliar with our human condition. And it reflects such careful attention to detail and such compassion that He would entrust us with a mother who is herself intimately acquainted with the seasons and stages of our lives as women.

There is a beautiful quote from Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego, her “smallest son,” which resonates deeply with me as being applicable to any hardship or physical suffering we might endure in this life, but perhaps most particularly, in facing birth:

“Listen, and let it penetrate your heart … do not fear any illness or vexation, any anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother?”

Because I am afraid.

I do fear the pain, and the anxiety of past memories and experiences of delivery can wash over me and overwhelm me at a moment’s notice if I allow them to take hold.

In these final few weeks as I prepare mentally, physically and spiritually to bring a tiny new life into the outside world, I find myself wanting to be folded more deeply into Her mantle, begging for the comfort that only a mother can offer to a small, anxious child.

Because it is coming, and it will hurt. And I will not be alone.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn, pray for us.

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 bluenailswoodcraft@gmail.com*

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.