decluttering, design + style, Family Life, large family, minimalism, Uncategorized

Big family minimalism + the life changing (yes, really!) magic of tidying up

January 11, 2019

(First in a series of essays this month on minimalism and its particular relevance to family life.)

(Update 1/14/19: Once I got a few episodes into the show, they introduced storylines involving cohabitation and homosexuality, so consider this your content warning and get ready to skip over a couple episodes. Womp womp.)

I’ve been an armchair minimalist since before minimalism was a buzzword. 8 moves and 5 kids in less than 10 years of marriage means I’ve honed the fine art of “do we really need this?” to a science.

Netflix launched a new series this month, and it’s fantastic: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (of Life Changing Magic fame) Kondo is warm and gracious and my kids get a kick out of hearing spoken Japanese. The families she works with – at least so far – have been anxious to cooperate with her process and seem genuinely happier at the episode’s conclusion. There is no bootcamp style shaming or furtive confessional-style camerawork: the couples are taught Kondo’s signature method and timeline for tidying, and then seemingly left alone for days at a time to put her methods to work.

The footage of the process and of the interaction between the families has a distinctly different vibe than most reality shows; rather than encouraging strife and plot-driving tension, Kondo reminds the couples to focus on their own possessions rather than haranguing their spouses.

What I most appreciate about the show – and the process of tidying she espouses – is that it is custom fitted for each home, and for each family.

The first episode featured harried millennial parents of young toddlers and the requisite piles of laundry and dishes and toys – and chaos. When they’d completed their month long tidying endeavour, the couple were communicating better (their early scenes did seem a little overwrought with domestic tension, but the dishes! I get it!), enjoying their kids more, and seemingly more content with their already beautiful and perfectly serviceable home.

The next episode featured an older couple who were empty nesters and, frankly, hoarders. Their completed space still produced a mild panic reaction by my standards, but they did a ton of work in only 6 weeks, undoing decades of neglect and recreational shopping habits as they worked together to sort through their belongings.

Both families had clearly different styles and spaces and were in totally different stages of life; both benefited from learning that stuff, however little or much you have, won’t make you happy.

Minimalism, to me, is the idea that less is more, and that stuff can’t make you happy.

That stuff is actually value neutral, and that the space we inhabit and the things we bring into that space should be working together in harmony to increase the value in day to day living, not competing to suck it away.

A bigger family like mine is going to have a greater variation of sizes of clothing, but not necessarily own more clothing overall.

I’d venture to say that our family of 7 owns fewer total items of clothing than the average American family of 4. Because that’s what works for us. I’m the main launderer in the family, and just by the numbers, I can’t keep on top of 15 pairs of pants and 20 shirts for each family member. As our family size has increased, our net number of items of clothing per member has dropped. Seems counterintuitive, until you remember that even with more kids, you still only get 24 hours in a day. Once I figured out that I didn’t have to live normally, i.e. surrounded by mountains of toys and bins and bins of extra clothing, it was a huge relief.

Having more stuff doesn’t increase happiness beyond a certain point. At some point, you hit peak satisfaction. Peak satisfaction is probably closer to sustainability than we realize. Once you have your basic needs for food, shelter and clothing met, happiness actually levels off fairly soon thereafter. A family living in a 4,000 square foot house is not appreciably happier than a family living in 1,200 square feet, at least not in ways that can be directly correlated with square footage.

So what does this look like, practically speaking?

But first, a caveat. Minimalism treads on privileged ground. It’s not just for the rich or upper middle class – I believe that almost anyone can benefit from it – but it does presuppose a level of security. Self-reflection is a luxury. I give thanks for the stability that enables me to calmly assess our circumstances and adjust as necessary. Not everybody lives in this kind of privilege. I also want to avoid falling prey to the false morality trap. You know what I’m talking about, right? Organized people are not “better” than disorganized people. Clean and well dressed people are not superior to dirty and disheveled people. People who eat conventionally grown produce are not inferior to people who buy organic. In a society that is becoming increasingly untethered from objective moral values, pseudo values have swept in to fill the vacuum, and they’re pretty whack. And minimalism, while it can compliment your values, is not itself a value.

Minimalism begets time:

I read a lot of books. I also write a lot. I also cook at least two, sometimes three meals each day for seven people. I can’t – I don’t want to – spend hours every day picking up toys and books and throw pillows and dirty underwear. An hour or two of that each day is more than enough for me. As such, we don’t have all that many of any of those items, dirty underwear exempted.

There are five throw pillows in our house. Two on each of our couches and one on a chair. I guess if we have a sixth child we might…I kid, I kid. I don’t know why we have so few. I just know that the ones we have, I mostly like, and I don’t mind picking up five pillows off the floor every day. Five feels like a manageable number of pillows to me.

We have 16 dinner plates. About half that many bowls, because I guess my kids can break anything, even Corelle. We use a dozen mason jars for drinks, have a cupboard of 10 coffee cups, all of which I actually like, and there is a shelf of glass barware for fancier stuff than water. Down below we have a single kid’s drawer: 10 plastic plates, 6 stainless steel cups, 6 water bottles (all missing lids), and 2 of those magic silicone toppers that make any cup a sippy cup. Zelie still drinks bottles, and we have 4 of those, and 4 nipples.

Our kitchen is small, a 70s-style galley layout. I’ve had friends comment on how small, but honestly, I don’t really mind it now. I wish I had more counter space sometimes, but for ordinary life, it’s actually fine.

Obviously if we were hosting dinner parties for the high school track team every Thursday night we’d need to own more dishes, and I’m sure as my kids age, we will! But right now? 16 dinner plates is enough. And it means the sink is never overly full of dishes, and that I have time to do stuff besides dishes. Like pick up dirty underwear.

Minimalism begets contentment:

About that galley kitchen. I don’t love it. When we moved in it was a dark brown cave with mustard linoleum accents. I’d love to blow out and rip down and bust through all the walls and surfaces, but the budget won’t permit it, maybe for twenty years or maybe ever. In the meantime, I’m a domestic engineer who spends 90% of her life working at home, and I want to feel good in my space. So month by month, one $30 can of paint at a time, we’ve changed the way it looks and feels.

Slapping a coat of paint on something isn’t minimalism, per se, but slapping a coat of paint on something in order to make it work better for you rather than trying to shop your way into contentment? Totally. I rarely bring new non-consumables into my kitchen, because there isn’t space for much, but also because I like the way it looks now. A cupboard shelf with matching (and allegedly indestructible) white dishes is actually really attractive, even when the shelf they’re sitting on is dated wood, and the countertops cheap composite.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not saying that you have to have plain white everything in your kitchen, lined up in uniform columns like a control freak (raises hand), just that when you are intentional about what bring into, or keep, in your daily environment, it makes you happier.

You’ll be less tempted by what you see on Instagram or the aisles of wherever, not because you have achieved monastic temporal detachment, but because you are content. It’s easier to forgive my kitchen for its other shortcomings when I’m not opening drawers that are exploding with logo-tatted water bottles from our insurance company or whatever.

And listen, if your closet floor is invisible beneath layers of rejected or dirty or wrong size clothes and there are bent wire hangers crammed on the rods, holding stuff you haven’t worn since college, then of course you’re going to feel like you need – want – to go shopping.

Set yourself up for contentment by only hanging onto what you love. That’s my version of “sparks joy.” And yes, I love our NoseFrida, for reasons that are less aesthetic and more functional.

Minimalism begets domestic tranquility

Marriage – ay, there’s the rub. “But my husband collects x,” or “my wife wants to have a two year supply of y on hand, at all times!” you may be thinking.

Fine, great! An intentional, curated collection of just about anything can be beautiful in its own way. If he has a garage full of ski gear or a shed full of tools, why not line everything up and mount some hooks to store stuff vertically, and make the space look more like a nicely merchandised end cap at REI and not the scary multi-neighbor garage sale? And recycle the old and broken stuff while you’re at it. You are not going to hit the jackpot on antique road show or one day coach an amateur ice hockey team, half the members of which will have nothing to use but your old dirty gear from 1998, so it’s a good thing you held onto it.

Try sitting down with your spouse and making a list of things that you already own that bring you joy. I can imagine for me it really would be a few pairs of Kendra Scott earrings I love that I’ve received as gifts. For Dave, it would probably be camping gear and some of his barware.

There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff, especially when you’re hanging onto it because it serves your family and makes you happy.

But those garbage bags full of used baby clothes that may or may not come in handy down the road? Those aren’t serving your family right now. And they could, in fact, be serving another family at this very moment. Same with old equipment for sports you don’t play anymore. Books you’ve read and don’t plan – realistically – to re-read in the future. Clothes that probably aren’t going to fit again or, if they do, will be aged beyond usefulness or stylishness.

One of the best places to start with a spouse who’s less inclined to letting things go is to start with the positives: what having, say, an emptier garage or basement or unstuffed dresser drawers or kitchen cabinets could help provide for your family. More space to play and grow. Maybe room to carve out a spare sleeping space (in the basement, probably not the garage but YOU DO YOU) for an introverted child who is currently sharing a room or for hosting overnight guests.  

(I’m going to cover the marriage dynamic extensively in an entire future post, so stay tuned.)

I’m not going to pretend like this concept is super intuitive for everyone to apply. I really think some people are just born collectors (cough cough my eldest son’s horrifying top bunk), and others are more prone to frequent Goodwill . How you were raised factors in, too. How much money your family makes. Whether or not you travel a lot, move frequently, host regularly, etc.

Kondo, while not preaching minimalism in her method, per se, seems to have a tremendous grasp on how to help different personalities embrace and apply her method (which does tend towards minimalism in its essence, I think, because I think most of us hit our hedonistic threshold with stuff much sooner than our linen closets would have us believe) no matter whether they want to have a whole room stuffed full of crafting supplies and musical instruments or if they prefer to live in more austere quarters.

The biggest sell for our family to start – and keep – living this way for so long has been the time freedom. I can clean my entire house in under an hour, no joke. And by clean I mean stuff is organized, de-loused, and re-homed, not that it’s scrubbed and shined. My floors, baseboards and shower tiles will tell you the real story of how “clean” things really are around here. Tidy, though? Anyone can do tidy, I promise.

Our Italian living room/dining room/guest room/play room. Rome was the true birthplace of my minimalism. I owned 4 dresses, 3 pairs of jeans, 10 shirts, and 4 sweaters. The kids had 2 pairs of shoes each. We had a single canvas bin of toys. It was totally crazy and totally liberating at the same time.





ditching my smartphone, mental health, mindfulness, self care, social media, technology

Body image, self acceptance, and the price of Instagram

January 9, 2019

I’ve come to realize something about myself this year, and it might sound a little ridiculous, or it might sound just right to you. It’s this: the more time I spend away from social media, the better I feel. The better my prayer life is. The more I appreciate my own body, my children’s bodies, my husband’s body.

It’s not just bodies, either; the fewer pictures I see of other people’s houses – not shiny design pictures, because somehow I know those aren’t the stuff of comparisons, but real pictures of real people’s homes, styled or not – the better I seem feel in my own space.

Here’s the difference for me, I think. I love reading and admiring content that is designed in a way that is obviously design-y. When a piece is written for House, Beautiful or as a featured home tour or a DIY project on a design blog, my brain automatically categorizes that as “professionally cleaned, styled and shot, obviously a curated product, and DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT THIS. This has nothing to do with your lived reality.” When I spend time pouring over real life images though? Something happens in my head that tends to trip my discontentment wire.

Does that make even a morsel of sense?

All I know is the way I feel after 40 minutes on Instagram is … not great. “But I’m just catching up with my friends!” I can rationalize to myself, “I know this is just a snapshot of their lives, a sliver of their reality, a scroll of mostly silver linings.”

But my brain does something else with all those images. My brain misses the “curated reality, do not apply to real life” memo for whatever reason, and refuses to behave as if THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE, DON’T JUDGE YOURSELF/HER/HIM BY WHAT YOU SEE HERE. And my stubborn brain can get pretty down after ingesting a couple hundred beautiful images of how everyone else is killing it/slaying their dreams/nailing their goals and I’m over here just trying to get another iteration of chili on the table for dinner and spraying dry shampoo on 6-day old hair.

And honestly? I like using dry shampoo. My shower in a can, I call it. I’ve always resented the imposition showers make on my busy life, and having a can of degreasing spray powder is actually just what the doctor ordered. Plus it makes my fine, limp, slippery soft hair infinitely more amenable to styling.

Also, my family loves chili.

So my baseline level of happiness, even in this busy, demanding, frequently exhausting season of early parenthood is basically set at “contentment.” Maybe not breathless joy, but still, a pretty great life.

But I find that when I take my eyes off my own paper, peering over someone’s shoulder into their selfie game, more often than not, that calm contentment is rocked. Maybe I should get a blunt chin-length bob, I muse almost unconsciously, clicking on a stream of dreamy images of a lovely woman with 6-month old twins who looks like a Russian supermodel. And just like that, at a single tap, I find myself immersed in the curated world of someone else’s life. But I don’t just “find myself” there…I put myself there. I go there, willingly, to sneak a peek into a another person’s existence through the lens of their camera phone, looking for, what, exactly? Inspiration? Leisure? A moment’s rest while I sit and scroll?

Never happens. It’s never restful. Or hardly ever, at least.

For every single arresting and transcendent image I encounter on Instagram, there are probably thousands I’ve scrolled through to get to it that have had a net negative effect on my mental and spiritual health.

(I’m being awfully hard on Instagram here, but that’s because it’s the worst offender for me. Maybe Twitter is your Kryptonite. Facebook is good for almost nothing save for livestreaming far-off events and private groups.)

I’m becoming more convicted by the year that social media has a net negative effect on the human person.

But Jenny, you’re a blogger!

I know! Cue the identity crisis! But blogging has always been different for me. Less like consumable, scrollable, forgettable (I hope!) social media, and more like an ongoing conversation. And hey, maybe some people can Instagram that way – I believe it’s entirely possible. But I can’t.

A historically difficult relationship with my body and with food is kind of a recipe for Insta angst. I find myself moving almost unconsciously into comparison mode when presented with beautiful pictures. My mind races, unbidden, to do the math when I see a trim, smiling woman holding a newborn, calculating the baby’s age and delivering the result to me like a verdict: 5 weeks. She looks like that with a 5-week-old baby in her arms, what is wrong with you that you don’t look half that good a year out?!

Even if I never let myself voice that thought, don’t entertain it aloud, I’ve still thought it. I’ve still introduced yet another piece of evidence into the neverending and unwinnable trial of “Why Jenny Will Never Be Good Enough: the Defendant vs. Herself.”

Saddest part of this all being, honestly, the fact that I don’t know that mom’s story. Maybe her baby is adopted. Maybe she’s thin because she just beat cancer and although the doctors told her she’d never carry a healthy pregnancy to term, here’s her miracle baby. Maybe this is her first baby after a string of devastating miscarriages. Maybe she’s just skinny.

My personal baggage blurs her humanity though, objectifying her through the lens of my discontentment, filtering her appearance through my own wounds.

This is getting awfully self disclosing, even for a blogger, but I feel really convicted to share it with you because I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in these struggles. Amidst a sea of content about New Year’s Resolutions and goals and ways of eating and changes for the better, I want to make a small and sort of ridiculous suggestion that has changed my life during the course of the past few years: look away more.

Maybe you can handle Instagram in smaller chunks and it doesn’t shake you. Maybe you never had an eating disorder and your self-doubt centers on your personality, your intelligence, your sense of competence, your sense of worthiness of God’s love. Maybe there are no doubts and you’re higher up in the mansion of perfection, and I mean this wholeheartedly when I say good for you. (And also, I’d wager you probably don’t spend all that much time on social media to begin with. Please pray for me.)

But if this resonates with you at all, I want to encourage you to sit with it for a bit. Ask God to weigh in on it. Ask Him if there is something you’re doing to feed the vicious cycle of self doubt and self judgement and, frankly, self centeredness.

I haven’t lost all the baby weight yet, not even close. I’m still eating relatively keto because it makes me feel good, but I’ve stopped posting “progress” pictures and following #results hashtags because it’s just too easy for me to get into a bad place with those images. Even with my own images.

I look at photos of third-time postpartum Jenny and hold fifth-time postpartum Jenny up to her in my mind’s eye, critically evaluating where I’m at now, and where I was then. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I wasn’t satisfied with myself back then, either! I didn’t realize how great I looked, how shiny my hair was or how luminous and unlined my skin. Or how little any of that mattered.

Ah, but youth is wasted on the young. Well, I don’t want to waste any more of it! As the past year unfolded I found myself making a surprising peace with the one enemy I never expected to bury the hatchet with: myself.

Not because I reached goal weight.

Not because I found the perfect workout.

Not because I bought beautiful new clothes or tried great new makeup.

Not because I landed the perfect job or grew my platform or won the lottery or slept through the night for a whole month straight.

I just got out of the habit of comparing. I stopped comparing myself to unrealistic images of friends, strangers, celebrities, and even the younger me.

I caught myself critically assessing some photos from a recent family wedding the other day. There were several lovely group shots of me with my four younger sisters, one of whom is a full decade my junior. I mentally shook myself by the shoulders when I realized what I was doing, and I gave myself permission to look like I was the oldest. Because I am the oldest.

It sounds ridiculous! But it’s something I’m having to retrain my brain do to, because for too long I’ve been caught in a negative feedback loop, cycling over and over again, lifting my head only slightly higher than my navel to gaze into the screen of my phone, and then lifting it a few inches higher to look into the mirror.

I got so, so sick of the view, bouncing between my own midsection, a screen, and a mirror. It’s like Narcissus on steroids, and I finally realized it.

I wish I could tell you how, or why. It’s prayer, medication, therapy, quiet time, self discipline, lack of free time, a good partner, good friends, kids who demand a lot of me, maturity, frequent confession, a good Father, grace…it’s all of these things. There is no magic bullet. I still mess up. I still have mornings where I’m less than thrilled with my own reflection. I got on Instagram for the first time in weeks last night, after having gone almost 2 months without it during November and December, and I spent a half hour scrolling, clicking, tapping, feeling more unsettled by the minute.

When I finally dropped my phone into my lap, I forced myself to sit with my feelings of discomfort, contorting almost painfully into a posture of reflection when my dopamine-heavy brain just wanted to rush ahead to the next thing. “This is important,” I told myself silently, “recognize how this made you feel. Feel these feelings.”

Dear readers, they weren’t good feelings. I did not enjoy peace, clarity, and freedom after my half hour of “leisure” on my phone.

Here’s the long-awaited conclusion. If you’ve stuck it out to this point, good on you, mate.

I think that self acceptance comes hand in glove with working to truly see other selves as human beings, not as competition. And I don’t think social media facilitates much of that. If it fosters a little bit, here and there, glory to God.

But if it mostly steals your peace, sucks your time, and keeps you from attending to your own first things? Maybe it’s too expensive.

One of the amazing pictures from my sister’s wedding which led me to ponder: “What a beautiful family we have! Praise God for all these wonderful new members and my dad being here and healthy and…wait, are those crow’s feet? Why are my arms so big…(<— my narcissistic process in a single paragraph)

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: is the tree dead yet?

January 4, 2019

Ours is. Well, it’s artificial. But an entire branch fell off this morning so I’m calling these the waning days of Christmas. We’ll probably make it liturgically fitting and box it back up on Sunday after Mass.

Funny, but I spent a lot of the final week of Advent pining (sorry) for a real evergreen and then on December 26th switched abruptly to giving thanks that our perfectly serviceable faux fir doesn’t need to be dragged to the curb while spewing pine needles into all the house’s major crevices.

Plenty of crevices

This week has marked our return to the land of the living. This morning I took the whole crew to Target to pick up wheezy’s croup steroids and shocked the passersby with my rough and ill mannered crowd. It wasn’t our worst trip to the grocery store by any stretch, but it was obvious to even the most casual observer that we hadn’t been out in public in at least a month.

While in line for the pharmacy, I bent close to verbally chastise Luke who was dragging his entire tongue, canine style, down the side of the main cart basket to which he’d been exiled because your mother is not a fool, son, when a pharmacy associate restocking the ace bandage and Icy Hot section doubled over in silent laughter, hearing me berate the 3 year old for “always having to be Patient Zero. It’s like you’re looking for foreign bacteria to ingest.”

He is. He is always looking, and he is always licking.

One hundred dollars of roids and Paw Patrol underwear later, we finally staggered blinking out of the store, pale, chilled flesh flushing in confusion under the 60-something degree Colorado sun. I didn’t know exactly how much time had passed since we’d entered the Bullseye, but the parking lot was melting into lush puddles of spring all around us, defrosting a chunk of my icy heart along with it.

The coughs are fading, the piles of snow are dwindling to premature patches of brownish green, and life is looking up. I’m ready for a real holiday do-over this weekend on these the 11th and 12th days of Christmas, and I’m holding out for the second cheapest bottle of prosecco, a homemade charcuterie board and a binge watch of the Marie Kondo show on Netflix. (p.s. I’m a longtime fan – she even retweeted me on Twitter once. Swoon.)

Hey girl

I’ve been reading a little of this and that all week, bouncing back and forth between two books: Dopesick and Alone Time. I had to abandon High Season about 40 pages in which was so predictable, but I just keep hoping that this beach read, this chick lit is the one that I’ll be wrong about. So far, no good.


You guys were so into the What I Read post from last week that I’m thinking I should make a “currently reading” tab/continually updating post that I’ll add to as I finish books. It’s always a thrill to get a good recommendation, so I’m thrilled if I can provide one myself.


I’ve been watching Jen slay her talk on atheism at SEEK via FOCUS’ livestream of today’s breakout sessions. Worth your time, even if you just play it in the background with the video minimized and go about your business (though you don’t actually want to do that, because you’ll miss her perfect blowout).


I’m in a total keto slump. It goes like this: well behaved for breakfast, basically on track for lunch, and then…yep, that post lunch grind. A handful of dark chocolate chips here, a bite of someone’s awful rice krispie treat cereal (yep, that’s a real thing) there, and by dinner time I’m like PASS THOSE TORTILLA CHIPS RIGHT ON DOWN YEP I’M CARB LOADING TODAY.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine to eat like this if it’s intentional on my part, but ever since, um, honestly Thanksgiving, I’ve lost my performance edge of having zero cravings because I’ve been, duh, out of ketosis from all the stuff I’m eating, and so it’s back to a willpower game versus effortless not really caring that tortilla chips exist. And it seems remarkable that I was truly in a place of not caring whether tortilla chips exist, but I was. I was there. It was real. It seems like a dream now, but it was real…

I’m hoping that kids back to school next week + a few more actual sleeps through the night + the soft liturgical end of Christmastide = go time. We’ll see. All I know is sugar cravings are real, and I like life without them a whole lot easier on the knuckles.


I did a casual survey of a bunch of my friends about how/when they pray and while all the specifics of the answers will remain forever anonymous (see guys, I promised!), I found it fascinating how many of the holiest people I know make use of the “pirate prayer” in their daily practice of mental prayer. I’m two days in and feeling like it could change my life (rolls eyes), so fingers crossed that it’s a habit that is quickly automated. Fr. Mike Schmitz does a good job explaining it here. And here, if you’d rather watch than read.


How amazing is this story? I have specific memories of watching CCC movies as a kid and then worrying I’d see the sun dance if I looked at it too long or that the Eucharist would turn into physical flesh in my mouth after communion so suffice it to say I was a little weirdo and definitely not holy enough to have been worrying. Totally normal.


This is just…I don’t have words for this. But a culture of body hyper-autonomy, for lack of a more precise term, which gives us everything from butt implants to voluntary sterilizations to physician assisted suicide to gender reassignment surgeries surely has nothing left to credibly deny willing customers. Demand has always driven medical treatment in a way, but what does it mean when demand is totally untethered from the balance of morality, or even reality? I guess we’re going to find out.

A lovely weekend to you and yours – and hey, if you do end up coercing your better half into watching KonMari Netflix, well, just remind him that it’s been a long, cold football season this year.

About Me, Family Life, motherhood

What my 5 kids taught me in 2018 {part 2}

January 3, 2019

Continued from yesterday. Read part 1 here.

3. Accept people for who they actually are

One of our kids has struggled heroically this year with emotional regulation. I can say heroic now because I recognize the delicate wiring that comprises his arousal system and the unique qualities of his personality. Another child may sail effortlessly through the school day, hopping into the car afterwards brimming with energy and good nature; his tank is full, he spent a full day interacting with his favorite thing in the entire world: other people! He will happily (usually) do his chores and skip outside to play for hours until dinner. Homework, however, is another matter.

This other child though? I see him visibly sagging from the weight of the school day as I pull up to car line, his small shoulders telegraphing a message to me from the curb: I’m done. I’ve handled pretty much everything I’m able to handle today, and I need you to recognize that.

For months I ignored that message, or couldn’t translate it properly. Tantrums erupted daily after school, sometimes stretching for hours past dinnertime and ending only with sleep. We consulted with teachers and saw a counselor and modeled play therapy techniques at home and made plodding progress (again, not linear) and finally, what hit me after months of hard was something his therapist scribbled on a sheet of notes: “remember, this is not something he is doing, this is who he is.”

That single sentence reframed a year of difficulty and in all frankness, resentment on my part.

It wasn’t something he was doing. It was simply who he was. Not adaptable like his brother or fiercely independent like his sister. Sensitive and intelligent and utterly and profoundly exhausted by a day out in the world. My expectations had to rest in the reality of him. He needed little more in the afternoon beyond a snack and to melt into my arms for some quiet time on the couch. And he needed me to simply offer it and not dwell on the disappointment – my disappointment – that asking for anything more, like chores or activities, was asking for the moon. At least for now.

Another child has demonstrated a seemingly infinite capacity for mischief this year, and our house bears visible witness to it.

I can continue to live in willful ignorance of this and leave all the Sharpies in unlocked drawers because none of my other kids would have drawn on the kitchen cabinets with permanent marker, refusing to become one of “those” houses who childproof to the point of ugliness, or I can save myself the heartache of more broken treasures and destroyed tubes of mascara and put everything out of his destructive reach.

Every human person is a mystery. They have a particular mission they’ve been given to share with the world, and they are comprised of a surprisingly disparate collection of parts and pieces that don’t necessarily add up by human standards.

I’m not sure I would have gone with that particular trait and that specific weakness, I can muse critically, mentally scoring God’s craftsmanship in one of my children while wiping something unmentionable off a surface that should be out of reach, a masterpiece which must have taken long, careful minutes of intelligent strategy and persistent effort to achieve. This one’s going to end up on one side of the law or the other, as they say.

Or I can keep my eyes and ears open and maintain a sense of curiosity and even sometimes in rare moments of benevolence on my part, wonder.

It really would be a dull, efficient world had I designed it. But there would never, ever be poop in a place you weren’t expecting poop.

4. Self-acceptance is a beautiful, instinctive thing*

I hope this memory of my preschool daughter sears itself into the depths of my long term memory: looking down at her suddenly too-tight jeans and her adorably bulging belly preventing the buttoning of what buttoned yesterday, and exclaiming with joy “Wow mommy, I’m growing! This is great, I need new clothes!

I look at her dumbstruck. Impressed. Wishing I could frame things that way. Granted, a child’s growing body is healthy and normal and expected. But shouldn’t an adult body also be released from the shackles of a static self image?

Every time I glance in the mirror and excoriate my reflection for not reflecting high school Jenny’s youthful visage back at me, I burn the miserable neural pathway of wistful nostalgia in a little deeper. What if I could expect – and therefore accept – a changing body?

I don’t mean an acceptance that tosses the eye cream and hangs up the gym shoes; that’s resignation by another name. It would be for me, anyway.

I mean an acceptance that bravely expects change. An acceptance that is untethered from the frantic message of marketers and advertisers and the tiresome echo chambers of social media and is deeply rooted in this gospel truth instead: you are fearfully and wonderfully make, and it is good that you are here.

I watched my little daughter bloom from a miniature preschooler this year to a sturdy little kid, arms and legs lengthening even as her torso blew past those size 4 skinny jeans (also, skinny jeans for toddlers? I judge myself. But also, that’s all you can find in most stores.) She was delighted to embrace her new body, knowing instinctively that it is good to grow and stretch and change. No playground bully or Instagram filter has told her differently, yet. I pray that when one does, she will be able to see the lie for what it is and turn back to reality.

*(Mental illness notwithstanding, of course. Depression, anxiety, and other pre existing conditions in our brains that precede self awareness can certainly interfere with an intrinsic self acceptance. Original sin is a real buzz kill.)

Finally, and most importantly of all of these, I look back over these past 12 months and see a distinct theme woven through all the smaller parts of the story, and it is this: that I am not in control.

I am not in control. You are not in control. None of us can hope to execute the perfect list of New Year’s resolutions because none of us can say for certain what the coming year holds.

I can fill a whole bullet journal with goals, set a dozen intentions for the coming year, fill a spreadsheet with data tracking my progress, but I don’t have all the necessary information at hand.

I can’t see the illnesses and heartaches, the financial stressors, the windfalls, the knock down drag out fights or the quiet moments of sorrow in the middle of the night.

All I can control, in the end, is me. Me, and how well I love the people around me.

Motherhood is searing this into my soul one stomach virus and night waking and parent teacher conference at a time, and I’m a very slow learner. As my cramped soul expands to consider the possibility that maybe this thing, too, can be good, I’m learning my lesson. Maybe this thing I didn’t expect and this situation I certainly didn’t ask for can be meaningful on some level, can be redeemed somehow, was what God intended for me all along.

I can imagine my heavenly audience of intercessors gathered around whatever God’s version of Facebook Portal is, waiting to see how I’ll respond to the situation at hand: Will she scream? Rant to her husband? Pull the soiled sheets off the mattress a little too violently? Write a scathing review online?

Sometimes the redemption exists only in my own heroic (ha) effort to resist throwing an adult temper tantrum when someone, say, stabs a hole in the couch. Because someone is going to stab a hole in the couch, okay? And then they’re probably going to cram it full of orange slices or snotty Kleenex. The only real variable here is time. Time, and whether or not mommy is going to add a new word to the family vernacular when she finds it.

But that variable is huge. And as I reflect on the gift of another year given, fully aware that I’m promised nothing beyond today, I hope to make better use of my time. Not simply becoming more efficient and productive, but accepting reality for what it is: a gift from a good Father Who is watching and waiting to see what I’ll make of it.

Not all my kids, but an approximation of what the checkout guy at Trader Joe’s sees when he sees all my kids.

About Me, Family Life, large family, motherhood, Parenting

What my 5 kids taught me in 2018 (I should have taken better notes)

January 2, 2019

Another retrospective New Year’s post, just what the internet needs! For your enjoyment I think I’ll break it into two installments since said internet has destroyed our collective attention span. You’re welcome.

I sighed this morning, as I leaned over the kitchen counter this morning waiting for my espresso to drizzle out another shot of “sorry you’re not sleeping these days,” and scrolled through my blogfeed reader – remember those? I still use one! (And sometimes I read paper books. Subversive, I know!)

I was reading through another “goals I nailed in 2018” post, mentally congratulating the author but also wondering if maybe I’m doing something wrong.

Gone – for now, at least – are my days of setting lofty S.M.A.R.T. goals in January and having a list of successes to look back over at the year’s end. I can point to a few small things that I’m doing better, to patterns of healing and growth in the emotional and spiritual realm that are no small matter, but not really to things that I’ve accomplished, per se.

Any growth this year has happened to me rather than through me. It has consisted more of accepting and embracing circumstances as they come to pass, and less of setting out to conquer x and actually, well, conquering x.

And it’s not linear. It’s a hot, embarrassing mess. Cut to scene one of me angrily scrubbing kitchen counters with a diaper wipe on one of the interminable days between Christmas and New Year’s Day this year, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand and feeling such irrational anger at the hand we’d been dealt for what felt like the umpteenth year in a row: barfing, fevers, night wakings and not a single family event attended.

Crumpled in the wake of sickness was the calendar of holiday festivities I’d eagerly consulted in my mind’s eye as November melted into December, the anticipation buoying me along through one more school lunch packed, one more pickup, one more last minute costume assembled, one more late night of work.

Soon, the cursor was all but hovering over January 1 and we’d accomplished seemingly nothing over our Christmas “break,” instead trading night shifts and shampooing vomit out of carpets and picking up yes another prescription. (We’re not re-selling these online, we promise.)

I was feeling sorry for myself as I scrubbed that counter, despite having just read a stirring essay by a father of 9 with cancer, whose piece contained a hyperlink to the blog of a mother of 7 with cancer who had died of said cancer. “We can all take a lesson in contentment from the pages of her book; what she would have given for one more day, week, month of ‘ordinary time,’” he wrote.

I paraphrase. All that to say, I’m a sh*t and I know it.

Thank God He is training me via a thousand paper cuts and not a severe and mortal blow. At least not yet.

1. Flexibility

I cheerily responded to an email from my spiritual director in late December (but pre-Christmas, notably) that Advent had been “surprisingly joyful, actually! We’d had some illnesses and some difficulties but it was going to be smooth sailing from here on out and we were so looking forward to Christmas.”

You can probably see where this is going.

The lesson here for me was one I’m always exasperatedly trying to impart to my children. Guys, be flexible! That’s just life in a big family.

“Flexibility!” I apologized to my crew, dipping a washcloth in cool water and laying it on the 3-year-old’s inferno of a forehead and texting our regrets to a long-awaited Christmas party with my other hand.

“Flexibility,” I shrugged, sending Dave solo to 4 pm Mass on Christmas Eve while I sat couch duty with 3 fevers burning and what sounded like an entire infirmary of coughing. The newly Tamiflu’d preschooler lay across my legs like an electric blanket, eyes dull and pitiful.

“Flexibility,” I reminded myself with jaw clenching, running another load of laundry on Christmas Day. And another. And then another.

By the time December 31st rolled around, I was stiff and aching from the effort. Both parents were. My own flexibility exhausted, I emotionally assumed the fetal position, snapping at simple requests and drinking more coffee than was wise or helpful.

I had learned the lesson, or so I thought. I could be flexible. Fun, even! Okay, plan B, we’ll stay home and light all the candles and order pizza!

But flexibility on my terms, that’s what I wanted.

God wanted to equip me, I think, with the superpower of inconvenient flexibility.

That was not on my Amazon wishlist.

And as readily as I can admit that, gosh, that kind of adaptability would sure come in handy leading this big ‘ol family as the mom, my human nature shies away in horror from the work required to acquire it. And so He keeps assigning the reading, sending home the assignments, so to speak. Not because He is an awful taskmaster who wants me to suffer, but because learning this thing will be a profound help to my long term happiness and holiness, not to mention my family’s.

2. Be open to unexpected gifts

Having as many babies as I’ve had has demonstrated to me that every baby is ground zero, every person a new starting line. I’ve gleaned some some time-tested lessons from baby to baby, but each new person who joins the family has necessitated a sort of amnesia of expectations. I have loosely affixed goal posts in my mind, but the new addition is welcome to blow past them in his or her own way. Number one needed a paci attached almost surgically to his person at all times and slept on a tight schedule I could set a watch by; number two was almost physically attached to my person at all times and slept almost never, as far as I can remember.

By the time number five started babbling mama and baba and taking mincing steps all over the house and dropping her second nap all before the age of one, I trimmed my sails of expectation and resigned myself to a child who was determinedly mobile months before any of her siblings were. It wasn’t remarkable in any sense other than this: it was her.

This was simply who she was, and she was revealing herself to me in a way that none of the books or blogs I’d read or even her own siblings could have. I’d mentally steeled myself for the horrifying spectacle that is newborn sleep with four other children in the house. She showed up and slept through the night by week 6. Right now she is contentedly eating mini marshmallows at her high chair beside me and I’m congratulating myself because I did the responsible thing and pre-shredded them for her.

I’m a much better mom for her than I was for her older siblings, simply because I’ve studied more. Learned what hills to die on (sleep, always) and what hills to forfeit to the battering winds of what actually works (this time, bottles). I begged God to make breastfeeding easy for me this time around, and in the reality of Zelie’s circumstances He answered me big time by simply removing it from the picture altogether.

Never rule out the possibility that God wants to answer a prayer, perhaps did answer a prayer in a way you never expected.

(to be continued in part 2)

Just imagine I lysol wiped the entire cart first and there’s an invisible brightly patterned stretchy cart cover lovingly positioned beneath her. And that she’s not barefoot. Voila, firstborn status achieved!

About Me, book list, books, reading

The PG-rated book list you’ve been waiting for {what I read in 2018}

December 30, 2018

I started this post in November soooooo things are just swimming along for us as we round the bases to close out 2018. Here’s the recap: Christmas: we missed it. Bird flu, we have it. Norovirus: we had that, too. Lots of clorox wipes and bottles of ibuprofen under the Christmas tree, etc, etc.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot this year. Especially since cutting out social media browsing early in November, and more recently in between many middle of the night disruptions requiring new sheets and tylenol disbursements. I have more free time than I ever realized, though the discipline required to sit down with an in process book is a little more than what I’d grown accustomed to with scrolling.

Sometimes I’ll find myself putzing around the kitchen at 9:40 pm looking for something else to clean because I don’t quite feel like crawling into bed with a book, I’m too wired/tired to do my own writing, and I’ve removed that third option of the slump n’ scroll from the evening menu.

Jenny’s have-read list of 2018, in reverse chronological order: (p.s. these titles contain affiliate links from Amazon; if you order through a link, Jeff Bezos will give me a hay penny)

(I’ve kept the reviews uber concise and have also included, at the bottom, the unlucky titles I’ve abandoned for the time being because adulthood means not having to finish a book you start.)

The Obesity Code: 5 stars. Really great read, some fascinating stuff that backs up what I’ve experienced eating keto and dabbling in avoiding sugar.

Tell Me More: 3.5 stars. I really like her writing and this collection of essays was enjoyable, if somewhat depressing at times. Her life kind of reads heavy into “hot mess,” which, I mean, aren’t we all? But light on the redeeming qualities. Call me pollyanna, but I need some morally uplifting denouement in my written word. (I just found out there is literally a name for the kind of reading I gravitate towards: Up-lit. Nailed it.)

Delay, Don’t Deny: 3.5 stars. I’d like to give it more because it has some great information, but it’s so short and it’s written so casually that it didn’t feel worth the $9 purchase price. She extensively referenced Dr. Jason Fung, author of the Obesity Code, so if nothing else she pointed me to a great follow up read.

The Personality Brokers: 3.5 stars. Not the most pleasant reading, and investigative journalism just isn’t my favorite thing to curl up with. It’s definitely interesting and made me re examine a lot of the forgone cultural “truths” we embrace about sorting people, including ourselves, into different categories and types.

These is My Words: 5 stars. Riveting, a grown up version of Little House on the Prairie. I loved it.

Small Animals: Parenting in the Age of Fear 3.5 stars. Some good insights and interesting journalism but tiresomely cluttered by the author’s extreme liberal POV.

Waking Gods: Book 2 of the Themis Files 5 stars. LOVED this book.

Motherless, Fatherless and Childless: Solid 4 stars. Apocalyptic Catholic trilogy. Novelized exploration of the culture of death in full flower. I read these towards the end of the summer once it seemed the Church was in full meltdown and found them oddly comforting. Great character development and arresting content.

Only Human: Book 3 of the Themis Files  Not my favorite. High hopes for the final chapter in this trilogy, but book 2 was the standout in this series.

The Real Presence St. Peter Julian Eymard: 5 stars. Captivating spiritual content necessitating bite sized chunks and time for meditation. Plus the Kindle version is practically free right now.

Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah (dull and predictable but palatable for pre-Christmas bedtime reading)

Waiting for Christ, a collection of meditations for Advent by Bl. John Henry Newman, great read for this season.

Abba’s Heart by Neal Lozano. 4 stars. I’m a big fan of Lozano’s Unbound, and this book is a nice companion to the relational work that most of us need to do in our connection with God the Father.

In Sinu Jesu: 5 stars. best book I read all year, hands down. Will be re-reading it many times again, I can tell. Order a copy for your pastor ASAP.

Made for This: 5 stars. A must read for all women and anyone who does anything related to birth for a living. (Read: OBs, midwives, doulas, NFP instructors, lactation consultants, RNs, etc. Listen, I am firmly on Team Epidural and this was still such an essential read. Mary knocked it outta the part –  forgot to include this on the initial list because I read it as a physical book, and those are harder to keep track of than my cloud library 😉

Stranger and Sojourners and Eclipse of the Sun: 5 stars apiece. I re-read at least a couple Michael O’Brien books every year. I glean something new from his fiction each time I revisit it; I read once that he writes his first draft in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and it makes total sense when you sink into the depth of his prose.

The Smoke of Satan: 4 stars. Great, fast read. Was surprisingly balanced and level and gave lots of backstory about the present situation in the Church hierarchy. Docking it a star for having a clickbait title that will probably put a lot of people off from reading it. Highly recommend.

The Grace of Enough: 4 stars. I love reading books written by people I know – a solid read that delved into the necessity and beauty of creating an intentional family culture and taking the path of rejecting materialism in our extremely materialistic culture.

China Rich Girlfriend + Rich People Problems: 3.5 stars a piece. (books 2 and 3 of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy – I saw the HILARIOUS movie in theaters so never read the book.) I like these books a lot; they were entertaining, fast paced, and really fun to read. There was a good amount of sexual content and infidelity and some mild cursing, but it wasn’t graphic, you know? I wish modern (well, most modern) fiction wasn’t so hypersexualized. It’s not crucial to the plot and it ends up being distracting and embarrassing and keeping me from finishing and/or recommending a lot of books. This one really was on the tamer side, but it was more quantity over quality, and just had general themes of immorality and secularism.

Leota’s Garden: 3 stars. Guys, I went on a really embarrassing Francine Rivers kick this past year and read basically everything she’s ever written. Her “Mark of the Lion” trilogy is far and away her best work, and gets a solid 5 stars and will probably be worth re-reading in the future. Her other books, like this one, are uplifting, entertaining, captivating, and good. Not great, by any stretch of the imagination, but good. Think Hallmark movies, but more moral. And almost as saccharine in moments. Not all her books are sugary sweet, but this one was.

Her Mother’s Hope + Her Daughter’s Dream: 5 stars. Some disturbing content dealing with child abuse in the first book, but a really enjoyable and historically captivating set of books about the complications of mother daughter relationships. Squeaky clean but not saccharine.

People of the Second Chance: 3 stars? 2.5 maybe. I’m putting this one in the same category as GWYF (though Goff’s theology is vastly superior to Hollis’), and books like Present Over Perfect. I don’t really get this entire genre, so maybe it’s me and not them? It had a good heart, but it was written at like a 6th grade level and sounded more bloggy than a blog, if that makes sense?

Pachinko: 4.5 stars. Guys I LOVED this book, but there was sexual content for sure. Not graphic and sort of matter of factly written, if that makes sense? Such a richly textured and fascinating novel.

Mark of the Lion trilogy: A voice in the wind (5 stars) An echo in the darkness (4 stars) As sure as the dawn (4 stars) I absolutely adored these books, but especially the first one. A fascinating and inspiring historically inspired read of early Christianity with beautifully developed characters.

Codependent No More: LOL. 3.5 stars? I honestly don’t remember much of this one. A friend told me “everyone needs to read this book” and so I did, and she was probably right. She also confessed that telling someone they needed to read it was in and of itself codependent behavior.

The Four Tendencies: 3.5 stars. I’m a bit of a Gretchen Rubin junkie. This was neither her best nor worst work. I can’t remember what, specifically, wasn’t great about it, but it hasn’t stuck with me the way The Happiness Project did.

Reading People: 3 stars, fairly meh. I’ve read a lot of books about temperaments and personality theories, so there was nothing in here that was new information to me. (Skipped the Enneagram chapter bc I’m pretty skeptical that stuff jives with Christianity.)

What We Were Promised : 3.5 stars. Interesting and engaging read but unremarkable characters. I struggled to remember what this one was about.

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky: 4 stars. Compelling and occasionally difficult subject matter. I really like Marisa de los Santos’ writing.

One Beautiful Dream: 5 stars. Loved this book. A must read for pretty much everybody, not just moms.

Crossing to Safety: 5 stars. My first foray with Wallace Stanger, it won’t be my last.

The Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living: I honestly don’t remember this one so I’m going to assume it was a solid 2.5 stars.

The Drama of the Gifted Child: 2.5 stars. Really interesting for the first 60% (sorry, I read mostly on Kindle) and then it got vv weird and Freudian.

The Widows of Malabar Hill: 5 stars. I love India and books about India, and especially books about women in India. Clever writing and a surprising plot twist.

Goodbye, Vitamin: 3 stars. A bittersweet (mostly bitter) memoir-esque retelling of an adult child’s coping with a parent’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the relational fallout from the disease progression and the brutal honesty it can bring.

The Last Sin Eater: Another Francine Rivers situation. 4 stars.

The Atonement Child: and another. 3.5 stars.

The Masterpiece: and yet another. 3.5 stars.

Educated: A Memoir: 4 stars. Really disturbing and really captivating.

Finish:Give Yourself the Gift of Done: 4 stars. I listened to Jon Acuff on the Dave Ramsey show back when I had a commute, and I like the guy. This was a good reminder that it’s the little daily habits which add up to big wins.

Anxious for Nothing 3.5 stars. I don’t think I’d ever read an adult Max Lucado book. It was decent. A good little primer for combating anxiety with Biblical wisdom, not in a “think yourself well” vein, but in a truly helpful application of Scripture to daily life.

Adrenal Fatigue: 3 stars. Read like a very long Web MD article.

The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution: Slightly less WebMD-ish.

The Adrenal Reset diet: 3 stars. (LOLOL) turns out having a fifth baby in 6 years will make you vv tired. Also, some hormone stuff that changing up my diet to very low sugar/high fat/low processed foods has helped tremendously with fatigue.

Girl, Wash Your Face: 1.5 stars. I can’t handle the popularity of this book. It was everything self referential and disappointing about millenials with no redeeming qualities that I could discern except for, I guess, her massive Instagram following? Think banal health and wealth gospel + some Christianity flavored seasoning sprinkled on top to get on the right book club lists.

The Scarlet Thread: 4 stars. Another Franny title. I enjoyed the way she toggled between frontier days and modern time (well, the ninetes) with this title.

Lineage of Grace Series: Second to lasts dance with Francine. 4 stars for creativity with biblical content without being offensive. Definitely has helped me read the stories of the Old Testament – particularly the female protagonists – with new eyes.

Sons of Encouragement series: ditto, but featuring men of Old Testament.

The Hideaway: 2.5 stars. For as long as I had to wait on my library’s digital hold list, I expected this book to be better than a mediocre Hallmark movie. Alas, it was not.

Meet the Frugalwoods: 4 stars. Enjoy their blog and found this read pleasantly comprehensive of all her writing there without being overly repetitive. I’m never going to give up living in the suburbs or living with electric heat, but I still find their frugality fascinating and inspiring. Worth the read.

The Perfect You: 2 stars. I didn’t love this book because just as I was getting into it, it become a sort of personality inventory/scoring device and as I was reading on a Kindle, I was not about to start filling it out.

Flyaway: Kristin Hannah, but I literally remember nothing. So, 2 stars for that?

Night Road: I like Kristin Hannah but I don’t think I like like her like so many people do. This novel was darker but not unbearably so. About partying teenagers and the life-altering consequences of youthful misjudgement.

Distant Shores: 3 stars. And another Kristin Hannah title that I don’t remember much about.

Kisses from Katie: 5 stars. It will change your life.

Daring to Hope: 4 stars. The follow up to Kisses from Katie. It wasn’t as authentic or compelling or convicting to me, for whatever reason. Still a good read.

Gilead: 4.5 stars. Luminous prose and an unexpected perspective was employed by the writer. I was shocked to discover that this book was written not 100 years ago, but is actually rather contemporary.

Living Your Strengths: 3 stars. Not life changing or anything, the way I found the Highly Sensitive Person or the Temperament God Gave You to be. Just another personality indicator/type predictor.

A Year of Less: 2.5 stars. I love budget memoirs and I cannot lie. This one was okay. Also she lives alone, so being frugal is just not that impressive to me in those circumstances.

A Spender’s Guide to Debt Free Living: 3 stars. Can you tell I go on topical benders, too?

Small Admissions: 3 stars. Moderately entertaining, especially her descriptions of the terrible parents of the prep school babies she manages.

My Life in France: 4 stars. Julia Child was fascinating and before her time, though her writing drags in places.

Dark Matter: 5 stars. I do not love physics, but gosh did I love this book. Read it, you won’t be sorry.

Leia, Princess of Alderaan. 4 stars. I loved this Star Wars fan fic, and my 13 year old self won’t let my 36 year old self pretend otherwise.

Joy to the World3.5 stars. A new-t0-me Scott Hahn title. I’ve read most of his work and had him as a teacher for several years, so there was nothing new here for me, but still a concise and beautiful little book, especially during the Christmas season.

Chestnut Street 3.5  stars. Some sexuality and anti Catholicism. I went on a real tear with this author for the next couple weeks, as evidenced by:

The Return Journey: 3 stars. Did I mention when I “discover” a new to me author, I binge on them? For example:

Minding Frankie: 3 stars. Yep.

A Week in Winter: 3 stars. Yep again.

A Few of the Girls: 3 stars. At this point It was safe to say that I was on a serious Irish chick lit kick. This particular title collection of moderately entertaining short stories with a decidedly anti Catholic bent (written in Ireland in the nineties so I totally get that.)

Circle of Friends: 2.5 stars for moral relativism and being depressing as hell, and for starting me down the road of earnestly questioning the wisdom of continuing to read Miss Binchy.

Tara Road: 3.5 stars. I finally quit Maeve after this one (don’t you just love that name though?) when I admitted to myself that her virulent anti Catholicism and secular sexual morality was affecting my non-Teflon soul. I know some people say they can read anything and let the bad stuff just slide off their backs, but I’m not one of those people. I can’t handle steamy, suggestive and overly graphic sex scenes and I can’t stomach the reality-defying moral relativism of the bulk of modern pop fiction.

The Comfort Food Diaries: I honestly don’t remember this one, so I’m giving it 2.5 stars for being unremarkable. My bff is very into food memoirs, which I totally get, but they usually involve tortured childhoods and resultant adult trauma – at least the ones I’ve read – which kind of stresses me out as a highly sensitive person with tons of little kids at home.

L’appart: I love travel/living abroad memoirs, and this one is definitely that. The author is a little vulgar and a pretty negative guy, but it’s still a good read and gave me some pangs of panic as I thought back to anything home improvement related during our year in Rome.

A Million Junes: 3.5 stars. Moderately well written YA lit.

The Garden of Small Beginnings: 3 stars. Cute, but kind of dull and unremarkable.

Little Fires Everywhere: 3 stars, disappointing treatment of teen pregnancy and abortion that could have been such a great opportunity to deviate from the typical/predictable Planned Parenthood storyline, especially given the character development in this book.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: 5 stars. A completely fascinating exploration of the intersection between different cultures, faiths, and medical science.

Currently reading: Alone Time, This Will Only Hurt a Little (had to bail on this one last night, but I’m SO glad I happened upon a transformative memory she has of JPII before I did. I really like this book, but it’s very, very graphic in parts and I just couldn’t hang), Dopesick, and The Lido.

Abandoned list: either they were boring, trashy, poorly written, depressing, wrong book at the wrong time, or just wildly off the mark for me in some other way. Recording them for posterity’s sake in case I want to revisit a future title – I’m looking at you, Wendell Berry and Julian Fellows

A Quiet Life in the Country, Belgravia, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Rich Mom, Smart Mom, This is How it Always is, Far from the Tree, Bootstrapper, The Well Educated Mind, The Red Tent, Elinor Oliphant, The Betrothed, Beauty in the World, The Dictator Pope, The Glass Castle, Jaybar Crow, Names for the Sea, Number One Chinese Restaurant, I Feel Bad About my Neck, Under the Volcano, Tell Me Three Things, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Start with Why

Whew, that’s a lot of books! How do I achieve these numbers? I’ve found the secret to success is as follows: bring my Kindle everywhere, cut out social media, don’t watch tv (except the occasional football game and medicinal Hallmark movies) and commit to having really no other hobbies. For example, I’ve struggled mightily to get into podcasts because, well, I’d rather be reading. So I read. Go with what works, I guess.

I also recommend having a bunch of kids and then using a solid hour + of solitary reading each night after bedtime to recover from your day with them.

Hope you find a gem to carry you through the rest of Christmas break, cheers!


About Me, deliverance, feast days, keto, mental health, mindfulness, motherhood, PPD

Consolations and Desolations of 2018

December 21, 2018

The other night we did something pretty remarkable with a group of friends at a Christmas party. Wedged in right between the overconsumption of some terrible red wine and a white elephant gift exchange, one of the guys invited us to share “desolations and consolations” from the previous year.

Between laughter and sober tears, couples went around the room and told their stories. I was struck by the humility and honesty the activity required, and also by the willingness to be vulnerable. It would have been easy to keep it light and surface level and I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for doing it, but no one did. Every person who shared did so from the depths, and it was pretty moving. Some couples shared stories that were already familiar. Others reached for stories that hadn’t seen much daylight, surprising the group with the weight of the load they’d been carrying.

It reminded me of something that is too easy to forget; that everybody has a story. And few of us know the details of each other’s stories. And any time you are entrusted with those details, good or bad, it is an honor.

I was proud of the men in the room for being willing to open up. There’s a range of different masculine personalities in our circle of friends, from frat boys to intellectual giants and everything in between, and it is so refreshing to see their willingness to be humble and real.

I was proud of the women in the room for being transparent and pulling off the masks most of us wear in real life, whether in the carline at school or on social media. Real women can reveal weaknesses as readily as they can reveal strength.

Something about the Christmas season – and yes, we are in Advent still – invites a kind of reflection that is so necessary and so cathartic for the human soul. I think that’s part of what can make this season hard for people who are grieving – reflection and recollection go hand in mitten with the yuletide.

I’m 36 years old today, and far from despising my doorstep-of-Christmas birthday as I did when I was younger, I absolutely love having my personal calendar turn a new page right around the time that the Church’s calendar and the calendar year do the same.

It’s like a trifecta of reflection on the past year, if I lean into it. And so I will, sharing just a few – not 36, don’t worry – of my own consolations and desolations from 2018.


My dad’s cancer diagnosis. From the moment I got the call from my mom, I had peace. I was concerned but not hysterical, and I had a deep consoling conviction that he was going to be fine. This was a complete consolation in what could have been an utterly desolating time. I am naturally anxious and prone to health anxiety, especially about my parents, being a dutifully neurotic firstborn. Also, I was 3 days postpartum when they told me the news. I was in the most fragile of mental states given my past history with PPD, but I felt enveloped in tranquility. I asked for prayers and I prayed a lot myself, and I truly don’t remember a time over this past year when I was terribly worried. Even while sitting for hours with my mom in the waiting room during his surgery, I felt sure he was going to make a full recovery.

And he has. He is approaching 6 months cancer free, and had a clean report on his last scan. He also miraculously escaped without nerve damage from the procedure, an unexpected and wonderful gift.

His presence at my sister’s wedding a few weeks ago, the fifth child he has given away in marriage now, underscored for all of us how tremendous this year has been, and how differently it could have gone.

I won’t take my parents’ and inlaws’ robust good health for granted. I pray for many more good years, grateful, in a way, for the conviction of that terrible diagnosis. The big takeaway for me was this: the only thing I can actually control is how I react to the circumstances and events that God permits in my life.

Easy for me to say when he’s healthy now, right? But this realization and the profound gift of an increasing capacity for emotional self mastery has been an unbelievable gift to me, a girl who has always defaulted to chronic anxiety and occasional panic attacks. It’s like this: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


On a related note, another huge consolation this year has been the gift of a good counselor, an effective counseling technique, a good antidepressant, targeted hormone supplementation, and some profoundly efficacious healing prayers. I wish I could point to any one of those things and say definitively: this was the thing. The thing that changed everything! But I can’t. I’m a poor candidate for a double blind study because I am notorious for Trying All The Things until I find something that works. Chalk it up to being very results oriented. I’ve never felt better in my adult life. I have very little anxiety and a fuse that is about a mile longer (though Luke my verb still manages to extract a decent amount of maternal, um, energy).


Along with that longer fuse, I have realized, truly by the grace of God, this truth: you get to decide whose voice you’re going to listen to. For months after Zelie was born, I was working doggedly and without any evidence of results to lose the baby weight. I swam for miles and miles each week, counted calories, tracked my meals, got sugdar out of my diet, etc, etc, etc. And nothing happened. I mean, I’m sure it was good for my heart to do all that swimming, but no weight was lost.

My frustration would always, always peak while getting ready for Mass on Sunday mornings. I would whip myself into a frenzy of self hatred, glowering at my reflection in the bathroom mirror with piles of rejected items of clothing around my feet. The kids were dressed and ready, Dave was dressed and ready, and I would be resorting to tearfully stuffing myself into my stretchiest pair of jeans and caking makeup on my face to disguise my puffy eyes.

I have a vivid memory of almost growling to myself in the mirror during one of these pre Mass abuse sessions: “I hate you.”  And it dawned on me like a clap of thunder: that is not my voice.

Using my impressive powers of deduction, I figured out that it wasn’t God’s voice, either.

I prayed, in that moment, for God to show me how He sees me. And He immediately pointed me to the Cross. He didn’t pat my head and tell me how pretty I was. He didn’t give me visual amnesia and cause me to suddenly see a supermodel looking back at me in the mirror. But He did correct my vision. “Love,” He seemed to be saying, “looks like this. This is love. This is what love does to a body.”

Once I put two and two together, that God sees the self immolation of motherhood with the same eyes of love that look upon His Beloved Son on the Cross, I correctly deduced that Satan hates me, personally. He hates God, and he hates whatever images God. He has a vested interest in making sure I hear that hatred coming through, loud and clear. And he’s not stupid. Women want to be beautiful. Women are drawn to beauty. Beauty speaks our soul language. And in my woundedness and sadness, he had gotten really good at leaning in close and whispering all the things I thought were true about myself: that I was fat, worthless, ugly, hopeless, ruined, repulsive, past my prime, never going to recover, never going to be an athlete again, etc.

The clever part is this: I’ve always struggled with self image, I have no memory of ever not struggling, and so I was pretty sure that the voice whispering all those terrible things, that constant refrain in my mental soundtrack, was mine.

I cannot possibly overstate how transformative this realization has been. Are the negative thoughts all gone? Nope. But knowing that they aren’t mine? Stunning, extraordinary freedom.

I can deflect those little slings and arrows as enemy fire now, no longer locked in a prison of self harm. The bad tapes I’ve been playing over and over again in my mind for decades are broken now, their tracks becoming more distorted and scratched with every effort on my part to resist and rewire and redirect them.

Neuroplasticity is real. What a gift! God loves me personally, and His and my enemy, the devil, hates me personally. What a revelation! The desolation of the first 8 months of this year was in my inability to accept my 5th-time postpartum body. The consolation has been not in the miracle of a little weight loss, but in this new ability to correctly identify different voices.

I feel like I’ve happened upon the secret of happiness. Discovered the fountain of contentment, the wellspring of peace. It makes me stupid happy, this new superpower. And it’s such a relief. I could cry right now thinking about the way I used to talk to myself, and I could cry in gratitude for no longer being enslaved to that way of thinking.

2018, you’ve been a year of real surprises. I never expected to look back on 35 and definitively put my finger on it as the year that God rescued me from myself.

But He did. And He has.

And He wants to rescue each one of us, personally. I’m sure of it. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. Here’s to another trip around the sun.


I’ve been praying these prayers daily for a couple weeks now, and I’m noticing that when I am faithful to the practice, it is much easier to remain in this place of peace. The negative thoughts are laughably easy to identify as enemy missives, and there is an overall lightness to life. I can’t recommend the practice – or the app – enthusiastically enough.

advent, Catholic Spirituality, christmas, decluttering, ditching my smartphone, feast days, minimalism

A minimalist guide to the last week of Advent

December 17, 2018

Today marks the beginning of my absolute favorite period of time of the whole year: the O Antiphons. It’s the beginning of the end, the final countdown till Christmas. Advent’s last hurrah.

I have not strictly observed the Advent action items – or inaction items, as it were – which I laid out for myself back in November. I never did quite get up the self discipline to cut off the Christmas tunes in the car, so we’ve been thrilling in hope and wearily rejoicing all these past long weeks. I did limit our options to the Christian station and the 24 hour Christmas station, so we were at least constantly being filled up with positive noise, if indeed we had the radio on at all.

It has been glorious. No toggling between NPR and catchy-yet-slutty pop music that my kids probably don’t understand yet, but that I honestly shouldn’t even be listening to myself. No negativity streaming into my ears from another breaking news world report detailing some heinous atrocity half a world away.

I’ve also been steadfastly abstinent from social media, save for a brief click on Facebook to drop a link to a new piece of writing I’ve published, or to highlight some truly interesting and important bit of information.

I don’t flop down at the end of a long weekday of mothering and writing depleted beyond all recognition, capable only of streaming and scrolling. I’m still very tired, but it’s the normal kind of tired from caring for people and performing the day’s labors. I’m not overstimulated and hyperactive, looking to my teeny screen for my next dopamine hit.

So if I could make any sort of suggestion for you, gentle readers, as we cruise into this last week of Advent and preparation for Christmas day, it would mostly revolve around reducing your screen time.

Leave your phone plugged in on the counter at night. Crawl into bed with a book – electronic or otherwise – and leave the notifications and blue light downstairs/in the kitchen/far from your sleeping quarters.

Turn off the radio in the car, or, if you must drown out the ambient noise of screaming children (and I must) turn it to K-love or pop in a Christmas CD. Matt Maher’s new Advent album is phenomenal. These two tracks in particular.

Take a fast from social media from now until December 26th. Nothing bad will happen. You will not miss anything. Anyone who desperately needs to get ahold of you already knows how to do so, using the numbers connected to that tiny screen in your pocket that you’re going to plug in downstairs tonight.

I have missed literally zero important things in my month and some change fast from Instagram and Twitter. I’m more present to my family, have enjoyed connecting intentionally with friends and neighbors, and have been forced to confront some lazy habits which were preventing me from investing in relationships with people in my immediate physical proximity.

I’ll never abandon Voxer and the digital connection it allows me to enjoy with far flung friends and relatives, but social media is only a one-dimensional substitute for real connection. Anyone who has ever had a heartbreaking conversation with a friend and then experienced the cognitive dissonance of scrolling through their cheery Instagram feed later that day knows exactly what I mean here: social media only tells one side of the story, and a curated side at that.

Pull away from the 24 hour news cycle. If you absolutely must stay up to date for your job’s sake, then pick one or two trusted sources and go directly to their homepages to check the news, once a day. Declutter the dozens of apps and any and all push notifications. You do not need to know when a new related story pops up, or be alerted every time you receive a text message. If someone needs you badly enough, they will call you. Obviously work is work, but the average Joe or Jane probably doesn’t need to be 24/7 available and plugged in. Be honest with yourself in this regard.

Commit to a nightly family rosary/decade/reading of the scriptures associated with that day’s O Antiphon with your family or roommate(s). The Hallmark movies you haven’t watched yet will still be there when you’re finished. Dim the lights, light some candles, and make space for quiet reflection in defiance of our frenetic culture.

Stop buying stuff. Seriously. You probably have enough gifts for everyone in your life already. Your teachers/principals/service workers/coworkers/neighbors/distant acquaintances don’t need anything from you that you can find on Amazon. If gift giving is your love language and you are horrified by this suggestion, then go to Trader Joe’s and buy some nice dark chocolate and a few mid range bottles of wine and pass them out. Nobody needs another cheap (insert item here) in their home. They just don’t. Give a bottle of wine, a nice chocolate bar, some homemade cookies, a coffee gift card, or a great hug. Let each other off the hook to partake in the frantic consumption cycle. Make a donation to a morally sound and meaningful charity in someone’s honor. Pray a rosary for someone and present them with a beautiful hand-lettered card letting them know about it. It is so good for our hearts to stop shopping before Christmas. (And I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t want a bottle of wine or a gift card for coffee or burritos.)

If you’re still really itching to shop, try a decluttering spree instead. Grab a couple trash bags or discarded Amazon boxes and fill them with broken toys to recycle or toss and gently loved or new toys + clothes to donate. It never ceases to amaze me how similar the surge of happiness is between buying and giving away. It’s the novelty that fires the good feelings, I’m sure of it. Plus you’ll have a beautifully pared down playroom/basement/garage/living room come Christmas morning.

Give something up for this final week of Advent. Maybe it’s chocolate. Maybe it’s wine. Maybe it’s one of the above mentioned practices. Make a little space in the inn of your heart for the baby savior by pushing something aside, even – and maybe especially, a good something. The king is coming. He is coming to personally enter into each of our hearts, and He will come again in glory at the end of time, when we won’t have the luxury of a season of preparation to ready ourselves.

He is coming.

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization

Why do Catholics go to church every week?

December 12, 2018

Alternate title: Aw mom, again?!

This past weekend we had a double whammy of obligatory worship: a holy day of obligation on a Saturday and then the regular Sunday obligation of Mass the next day.

My kids whined and squirmed and demanded to know whyyyyy we had to go baaaaack when we had just been there the previous morning. There were some sniffles and a lingering hacking cough, involved, too, so, in total, we actually ended up attending 4(!) separate(!) masses(!) to get all the healthy-ish people where they needed to be.

I was thinking about the feat we accomplished and the juggling required, and grateful that we both have jobs that don’t typically require weekend work and free us up to attend pretty much whatever Mass time works for us. We also live in a major city and have a laundry list of different times and locations to choose from, which is a luxury I don’t take for granted.

I explained that having to go to Mass is a privilege and a gift, not a drudgery and a drag. I also admitted that yeah, it’s not always entertaining. That even adults struggle to pay attention and to sit still, and that I don’t leap out of bed with joyful expectation on Sunday mornings and run to Jesus.

Still, the reason we go has less to do with God commanding us and more to do with God giving us what we need to flourish.

God gives us our Sunday obligation to meet our needs, not His. He gives us Himself in the Eucharist to sustain us.

While it’s true that our obligation to participate in communion, receiving the Lord in His Body and Blood, is only annual according to canon (,), our presence with Him at Mass is required on a weekly basis. (And if we are in a state of grace and properly disposed to receive Him –  recently confessed/not in a state of mortal sin – then He gives Himself to us willingly, over and over again.

This is what is known as the Sunday Obligation, and it requires a Catholic to attend Holy Mass every week, either as a vigil Mass on Saturday night, or on Sunday itself. Missing Sunday Mass intentionally with full knowledge of the gravity of doing so is actually itself a mortal sin.

Crazy, right? Of course, there are circumstances beyond our control that might keep us from church: sick kids, a serious injury, a deployment, a career as a first responder requiring shifts that would all of Saturday and Sunday sometimes, etc. But to miss Mass intentionally for a soccer tournament, while on vacation, or out of a desire to sleep in or hit up Home Depot bright and early?

Nope. Not sufficiently grave reason to excuse the Sunday obligation.

What a demanding God we Catholics worship. Couldn’t He lighten up a bit and given the frenetic pace of most modern family’s lives?

Let me put it another way. I feed my children every night. I am richly blessed to be able to do so, and I want to nourish them as well as I am able. (Some nights the level of nourishment is more apparent than others, but for our purposes here, the analogy is sufficient.) I invite them to the table and fill their plates every night because I love them and because I care about their health and wellbeing. I could feed them less frequently, but it wouldn’t be best for them. I could also excuse them from sitting down at the family table and toss a granola bar their way while they engaged in some other activity, but it wouldn’t serve them well long term. It wouldn’t build our family relationship the way a meal around the table does (or is meant to, anyway. Fingers crossed for better behavior from the preschool set at some point, eventually)

They need real food that nourishes their bodies, and real connection as a family to nourish their hearts.

God didn’t have to leave us a tangible, fleshly reminder of His presence. Didn’t have to pour Himself out, literally, as physical food and drink to be consumed.

But He did. He chose to give us more than could be reasonably expected. He lavishes us with the physical gift of Himself because He knows it will meet our needs – physical and spiritual – more completely than anything else in this world.

Even if we don’t fully understand it. Heck, even if we don’t fully believe it. Even if we feel utterly unworthy to approach it. There is a reason we recite the words of the Roman Centurion just before we approach to receive Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

There can be any number of reasons for our unworthiness. Doubt, fear, anger towards God, apathy, lack of faith…the list is as endless as the number of faithful in the pews. But He still comes. And because He knows how good it is for us, He requires us to come back again and again, every week, for as long as we draw breath.

God doesn’t need our worship. But we need to worship God.

We are created beings, externally oriented toward the Creator. We can turn away from Him, of course, and we do so over and over again, sometimes permanently. But it hurts. We were made to be in relationship with Him and with one another. When we turn away from that for which we have been made, we fracture something essential to our happiness, to our wholeness.

This imperfect nugget of “why” is something I’m trying to give to my kids. Trying to help them frame their understanding of God as lavish Father, not demanding dictator.

Catholic Spirituality, christmas, Family Life, liturgical living, motherhood, Uncategorized

Motherhood + Holiday Magic

December 10, 2018

I love this time of year more than any other. I look forward to this particular stretch for months, such that when it does finally arrive most years, I’ve perhaps overplayed my enthusiastic hand just a tad.

This year, being that I am neither nursing, pregnant, nor newly postpartum, I’ve had the chance to look around and take an honest inventory of where we’re at as a family and come to the conclusion: I can try adding in some little extras this year.

We were talking customs and family traditions as an office the other week and I maintain that mine was the weirdest and least liturgically sound: my siblings and I would gather in the family room on Christmas Eve after the littlest kids had been put to bed, and we would crowd around the newest non-believer in Santa and let them in on the secret. Wrapped in an unfortunate poinsettia apron and knighted with a roll of wrapping paper, we would solemnly induct him or her into “the Christmas club,” making them promise to protect the secret of Santa for the little ones who still believed, and just generally making a big fuss over their entry into adulthood. There was a real oath we made them swear and everything.

Were my parents even aware of our antics? Did they model the Christmas Club for us in any way? No. No, I really don’t think so. If memory serves, they were probably crashed out upstairs with a newborn, my mom exhausted by the previous month of effort to find, buy, and wrap presents for everyone.

In fact, a significant focus of the Christmas club in future years would come to be our procurement of trinkets and the stuffing of all the stockings, the last-minute late night wrapping of some – and eventually, most – of the family’s presents, and of course the careful gnawing of reindeer carrots and the splashing and nibbling of Santa’s milk and cookies.

So my expectations for holiday season 2018 are … modest.

I can plan and execute the perfectly curated holiday scenario, but I can’t select which memories will make their way down into their little hearts.

That’s part of the beauty of childhood, I’m coming to find as a mother of slightly older kids. There are so many sensory experiences to choose from, especially as a Catholic, and different things will stick with different kids. And the things they’ll stubbornly choose to hold onto? Totally not my call.

One might remember the sticky wax dripping from the Advent candles we’ll light every night at dinner, singing a verse of “O Come O Come Emmanuel (yes, again, put your fork down and stop eating until we’re done) Another will just remember that mom didn’t really seem to cook for the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and gosh, we ate a lot of crock pot chili that time of year.

Like, a lot.

Which I’ll totally present to them as a our small effort to scale back and simplify and make the little sacrifice, and not solely due to maternal holiday fatigue.

Some of the tried and failed activities of years gone by: making personalized Christmas ornaments, and homemade Jesse tree + ornaments crafted lovingly each morning as the corresponding Scripture passage was read aloud. We got 17 days in before everybody’s enthusiasm evaporated, mine first. Now we have a ziplock bag of tattered yarn and construction paper creations that has spent 4 years in Advent decor exile, and this year I’m giving myself permission to toss the thing and admit Jesse tree defeat.

My sister and I were recalling our childhood advent calendar – a quilted fabric banner which hung on the fridge with numbered pockets for each date, a traveling star moving from space to space until finally arriving at the top – baby Jesus! – on Christmas eve.

I can’t believe mom made that, my sister recalled with awe, shaking her head in wonder.

“Mom didn’t make that, she bought it at that weird craft fair held at the high school every year.”

We regarded each other solemnly and laughed. Our memories, too, are tinted rose by the beautifying and forgiving mists of time.

Absent are the Christmas mornings filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth over awful presents or unfairly distributed loot; the indignity of being prodded and brushed and stuffed into itchy tights to suffer through a long, cold Dan Schuette-fied liturgy in the gym, exiled to the overflow crowd of which we always seemed to be a part, shifting our feet miserably in puddles of dirty melting snow as we stood on the edge of the basketball court.

I dreamily recount my own fond memories of “the Christmas club” which, at the time, was almost certainly born of necessity, my mother tossing up her hands in exhaustion and flinging rolls of scotch tape and dollar store wrapping paper at her adolescent children at 9 pm on Christmas eve. Which, if you’re reading, mom, is deeply comforting to your now thirtysomething daughter who is exhausted by the prospect of providing your grandchildren with all the comfort and joy this holiday season.

When I say I can do more this year, what I mean is that I can be somewhat intentional in my direction for our family celebration. But I can’t guarantee that the highlight of the season won’t be yogurt tubes for breakfast, lunch, and every snack between.

“Remember when mom used to give us Go-gurts to help us enter into the penitential season of Advent? So we’d always be a little bit hungry and think of the Holy Family journeying to Bethlehem, unable to find shelter?”

I can imagine my extremely literal 6-year-old pointing out to his brother one December night in the future, perhaps over beers, that “mom was probably just really tired and all she bought was yogurt that year.”

Touche, future John Paul. You found me out.

Some plans for executing said intention?

More family time doing spent nothing more than snuggling on the couch with candles lit. Maybe we’ll pray a decade of the rosary. Maybe we’ll just stream the James Taylor holiday station each evening.

More nights where I surprise them with thermoses of hot chocolate and we jump in the car for an impromptu drive through the fancy neighborhood for light peeping.

More focus on little details like candles always lit, Christmas jammies worn for a month straight, the occasional daily Mass as a family, and tiny fake Ikea Christmas trees in bedrooms.

I want to sit back and enjoy this season, in order that they get to really enjoy the season. Less planning, yelling, and scrubbing, and more saying yes to marshmallows and requests for movies and my participation in coloring time. Letting them touch the nativity scene figures if they want to, the real ones from Italy, and smudge up my perfect holiday decor.

They’ll still probably choose to remember fondly, during Christmases to come, the butt joke we weren’t quick enough to bleep out from the beginning of Home Alone instead of a charming homemade craft their loving mother slaved over, and that’s okay. This time of year was never about me, after all.

Motherhood is nothing if not a slow suffocation of the ego, the self annihilating and oddly liberating realization that you are not, after all, the center of your own universe.

No better time to put that knowledge into practice than the most wonderful time of the year.