Friday, February 28, 2014

Ciao y'all

Forgive my radio silence yesterday, but girl's night out called and I answered, and I just couldn't seem to find the time to do my duty. The margaritas, however, were delicious.

I've been noticing some new faces around the comments lately and some increased activity on bloglovin and Facebook, so I thought I'd go ahead and introduce myself to you dear new readers. No doubt you've stumbled over here via the Edel Gathering homepage or perhaps Jen or Grace sent you (so my stats tell me), but at any rate, you are very welcome here. Very welcome indeed, Mrs. Bates. 

I just figured I perhaps owed you a little introduction and I figured what better way to do that than in a feigned third person interview? Plus, 66% of my offspring are wailing themselves to sleep right now and my husband is working for at least another 2 hours tonight and that soothing white noise on the sound machine? It's just the background ambience I need in order to conduct a proper interview with mahself. 

Without further ado, may I present to you, Mama Needs Coffee's FAQs (or something like that).

1. Who is this coffee lover, and how much caffeine does she actually consume? 

Hi, I'm Jenny. I'm married to Dave, who works for the Archdiocese of Denver. We live in a southern suburb of Denver proper, and we've been happily married for 4.5 years, in which time we've accumulated 6 separate addresses. The most recent address before this one was in Rome, Italy, where Dave worked as a journalist for Catholic News Agency, covering the Vatican beat. Yep, that's a real thing. We're pretty much done moving for now, though, much to the relief of grandparents on both sides. Italy was a blast. It was also supremely lonely/frustrating/confusing/charming/historic/socialist. Choose your own adventure from the archives and see for yourself.

(Oh, and I drink one to four shots of espresso per day, depending upon the night before. Yes, even when I'm nursing/pregnant. Makes 'em smart and tough.)

2. Why are your kids so close in age? Are you done?

Honestly, I was almost 27 when we got married, and Dave was 30. We're just making up for lost time.

In all seriousness though, we're practicing Catholics, and with that we believe in managing our fertility naturally, and without the use of birth control. As even a cursory examination of this blog will tell you though, I know a lot about contraception, and even if I were straight up atheist and living la vida loose and loca, I still wouldn't be popping the Pill. It's not only a moral issue, but a medial issue. And an environmental issue.

As for the 3 kids in 4 years? What can I say, we just like 'em. We figure we'll keep going till we get an ugly one. Meanwhile, please be at least a teeny bit classy when you're asking me about my sex life in the Target checkout line. I warn you, my comebacks can be a tad caustic when I let fly the first things that come to mind. 

3. Why blog? And why not monetize it, or at least learn some basic design-y tricks to make it look less like…it does?

I've been blogging since 2006, long back before it was cool. What started out as an outlet suggested to me by a college fling (who, incidentally, was a huge fan of this site called "Et Tu, Jen?") ended up having greater longevity than the relationship. We ended, but the virtual ranting didn't. And so 8 years and one name change later, here I be. Speaking of Jen, she claims the title of her forthcoming book was inspired by the headlining quote on my old blog, which is, admittedly, a good one

I haven't monetized it because honestly, it seems like a hassle. And because I have a full-time job already. (More on that later.) I write because it makes me feel alive and because it's how I process the world. Whenever I get emails asking about sponsored posts or guest posts I turn them down, not because I'm not flattered, but because that's not why I'm doing this. I don't have a brand to build, and honestly, I swear kind of regularly. And address controversial topics. And frankly, I like having the freedom to to so. (However, if anyone wants to send a killer diaper bag or amazing footwear my way, I will happily write you a love story and host it here.)

4. You have a real job?

I mean, 3 kids in diapers, you do the math…

No but really, I work full time, from home. Hence all the recent chatter about a mother's helper. I'm the content editor for a news aggregator called Heroic Media News. It's a news site that features content on life issues from all over the world. On a given day we cover everything from euthanasia to abortion, and surrogacy to the death penalty. It's fascinating stuff, and what makes Heroic Media News different than just about any other site is that the content is 100% relevant to major bioethical issues of the moment, but is pulled from a wider variety of sources than almost any other news outlet can claim. Secular, religious, state-run media, academic papers, you name it. If it relates to life and family issues and it's breaking news, you'll find something about it on Heroic

Our parent company, Heroic Media, has been in business for the past decade and is focused on offering life-affirming choices and resources to women in crisis pregnancy situations through various media outreaches; billboards, tv commercials, radio spots. You name it, they've done it. And they've done it well.

In addition to curating the content for the website, I also direct the content for a weekly television show by the same name. It's currently slated to begin airing on EWTN in April. The show, (which I will infrequently appear on as a guest anchor) will cover 5 breaking stories from the week. The aim is to "catechize through the news," which sounds odd, but hear me out. Technology and legislation - especially in the reproductive sciences arena - is moving ahead so quickly that there is often little or no thought given to the morality of a new advancement. We're so caught up in the "can we?" that very often nobody stops to ask the "should we?" What we're trying to do with Heroic is help people to reason through and to understand the moral and social ramifications of issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and end of life care. You'd be surprised how few people have ever heard a homily on IVF, or who have ever discussed palliative care versus extraordinary measures with their own families. We want people to have these conversations. They're important. Maybe even the most important. 

So Heroic Media News. Read it. Bookmark it. Visit it every day. And feel very free to send news tips my way any time!

5. Did you study journalism? Or English? 

Yes. And no. I mean I was a journalism major for a semester, I think. But I was also a history major, an English major, a psychology major, an earth sciences major, and I ended up turning my tassel for a degree in the now-defunct school of mental health and human services. (Hail, Steubenville, made up majors.) 

So no, I didn't actually graduate with an official mandate to write, but writing has always been my thing. My first ever real published article appeared in Our Sunday Visitor way back in 2007, and the publishing bug bit me hard. Real hard. To date I've published more than 50 pieces for various publications both in print and around the web, and there's more fun coming this spring.

6. So, a book?

Honestly I'd love to write a book. (And no, no deals currently in the making. Not any solo projects, at least.) I think I'd write about contraception, and about how very wrong our culture has got things in that department. Or maybe about parenting and motherhood. (This would largely be a blooper reel, as I'm sure is self evident.) Or perhaps a memoir of our 9 months in Italy. At any rate, one day…

7. Do the things you write about really happen to you? Surely you're using hyperbole.

With very few exceptions, the shit that gets laid down on this page is real. I don't know if there is something about my manner or person that invites utter weirdness from strangers, or if perhaps I am just more attuned to finding and then recounting the humor in daily encounters, but let me assure you, I really do discuss teenage promiscuity with strange men at the Grease Monkey, and I've been known to encounter all kinds of … kinds at the big red bullseye. Plus, my kids are really weird themselves, and are thus an endless source of material. Just this morning I was trolling the Drudge Report with JP on my lap when he excitedly shouted "there's daddy right there! there he is!" while pointing at my laptop. The image he was so jazzed over was of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama, so I'll leave that to your imaginations as to who my baby daddy more closely resembles…

And with that cliffhanger, I'll bid you a lovely evening, and repeat my gratitude for your time and interest. Truly, it's an honor to have so many new readers. I hope you'll take off your coat and stay a while.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Naming Rights

I read Bonnie's name stories for her babies today and I just knew I had to play along. That and I didn't have anything much in mind for today's requisite post, so…c'est la baby names.

Starting out our line up of all star Catholic names we have:

Joseph Kolbe

Joey, as he is more frequently called, was named to honor the patron saint of our courtship and engagement and the foster father of Jesus, St. Joseph, and a favorite saint of Dave's - and now one of mine - St. Maximilian Kolbe. Also known as the priest of Auschwitz. Aka prisoner 16670. He died in the camp after offering himself in place of a father who called out for mercy for his children's sakes when he was randomly selected for exaction by Nazi guards looking to make an example for the general population. Fr. Kolbe was sentenced to death by starvation, but after weeks without food, he was still alive and still offering encouragement to his fellow prisoners. The Nazis finally killed him. Cool fact: the family of the man whose place he took was present in St. Peter's Square years later when JPII beatified him (the precursor to canonization, or recognized sainthood.)

Another cool story: while traveling in Italy (the first time) we chatted up a capuchin Franciscan from Poland in a restaurant in Assisi of all places, and as he bounced 7-month-old Joey on his knee, we proudly told him that his middle name was Kolbe "for Father Max." The happy friar shot us a look of horror and asked in disbelief You took his family name?! So I guess the American trend of assuming surnames is not kosher the world over.

Next up:

John Paul Francis

So after the aforementioned trip to Italy, where we attended the beatification of Bl. John Paul II (soon to be St. JPII!) and profoundly encountered the spirit of St. Francis in Assisi, we returned home and found out we were expecting this little dude a couple months later. We tossed around a couple other names but when he arrived, we both looked at each other and said, oh, this is John Paul, right? Fun fact: to complete the papal trifecta, John Paul Francis was named almost a year before Pope Francis was elected, but not before Pope Benedict took him in his arms and laid one on him. If this kid isn't destined for the seminary, I don't know who is…

Bringing us finally to:

Genevieve Therese

This little sweetie was the only baby whose sex we discovered in utero, but we still hemmed and hawed over her name pretty much until she was placed on my chest. Genevieve is a nod to a sometimes nickname from childhood when my dad would substitute the french version of Jennifer, and she is also the patron saint of Paris. Therese is my favorite female saint, and it just seemed right and beautiful to pair two such lovely names together. So she's our little flower. And she has 8 e's in her full name. So you're welcome, sweetheart. Good luck with roll call. Fun fact: we thought we were being a tiny bit unusual without being actually, you know, unusual with this name, and in secular circles we for sure get that reaction, but no sooner had the ink dried on her birth certificate than we discovered not one but two fellow FUS alums with Genevieve's of their own. And not just Genevieve, but Genevieve Therese. Both of them. One born less than 3 weeks after ours. Go figure.

So there you have it. The moniker medley for family Uebbing. Thanks to Kathryn for giving me something to post about for day 3.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How (and why) to Catch a Mother's Helper

So leave it to the old mommy blogger identity to make my recent post about getting a MH one of my most read to date in 2014 (like thousands of page views, go figure).

Apparently you guys want to know more. Well let me be the one to bring you into the happy, light-filled place where well-rested and highly satisfied mothers dwell: the land of helpful teenagers.

Now, I've heard you can get your own helpful teenagers with approximately a dozen investment years of blood, sweat, and tears, but I don't have the luxury of a decade + of mothering under my belt yet, so I had to outsource.

I had several well-respected moms of many extol to me, via email or the combox, how very useful one of these mythical creatures could be, and, even more helpfully, advise me on how best to lure and capture one. So allow to me share the recipe.

First, know what your needs are. Maybe you're the kind of mom who loves to read books, play imaginary games, build endless railroad tracks, and sing lots of kid's songs out loud. But maybe you'd gladly pay someone to fold your underwear and mop your kitchen floor. So tailor your search accordingly. I, however, am very much not that kind of mom.

The tremendous amount of energy it requires for me to engage my introverted momself with my kids all day long is actually weirdly rejuvenated by vacuuming, uninterrupted laundry folding, and even the occasional toilet scrubbing. Plus, I am a bit of a perfectionist in the housekeeping department. Don't get me wrong, my house is not extraordinarily clean, but it for sure is cleaned to my standards and my standards alone, by me. I love my kids, and I also love someone else entertaining them while I take an hour of uninterrupted time to clean. I know many moms who would rather have the cleaning help, and that is fine too. Just be clear in what you're looking for.

Secondly, have a realistic budget in mind. Take a gander at your local Craigslist or ads for childcare help, cleaning, etc. and get an idea for what the going rate is in your area. Think of what you'd pay a babysitter. Ask your friends what they pay theirs. Heck, ask your friends if they employ mother's helpers of their own. I was shocked at how many of my girlfriends had recommendations for me. And all this time I thought they'd all been Super-moming it on their own…

If you're willing to hire a younger teen, you can definitely save some money. Be prepared to have to be more flexible in terms of availability, however, as they might be younger than driving age and might not be able to handle more than 1 or 2 kids on their own if you decide to leave the house.

Third, know where to look. First, ask your local mom friends. Call around to local churches and inquire with their youth ministers or youth pastors, (think outside the Catholic ghetto - good opportunity for evangelization, too!) ask the barista at your regular coffee spot, or ask your friends who teach or coach at area high schools. If your city has a homeschooling community or email list, this is a great resource, especially since homeschoolers have much more flexible schedules.

Finally, don't feel the need to explain yourself or hover around your fabulous employee once they're on site. I mean obviously you'll want to observe them with your kids, have a character reference or two, and be confident that they're responsible and friendly, but then… back off.

My biggest concern when I was considering making this move was that I'd feel awkward having somebody in my house while I'm there, and that I'd have to justify why I was essentially paying someone to hang out with my children while I took a nap, did some writing, ran errands, went to the gym or just sat on my bed, nursing and reading a novel. Stop it. You don't have to explain to anybody. Even moms deserve the chance to shower without spectators, and I know my husband would rather come home to a smiling wife who might have even cooked dinner than to a frantic shrew who tosses him a screaming baby as she runs past him into the night for an hour of escape. (Don't I paint a rosy picture of family life? Whatever, postpartum mothering is hard.
Hard, but cute.
Mothering in this culture is hard, period. For starters, those of us who don't commute to an office have to answer the idiotic inquiry do you work? at least on a weekly. Coupled with that is the reality that modern America is not exactly family friendly. Sure, there are kids play places and programs at the library for little people, but hardly anybody lives nearby enough to their extended family to get any real help, and childcare is so expensive that it necessitates (and also creates the need for, by the way) a second income. Plus, nobody is home during the day on most weekdays, so if you're staying at home, you're going it super alone. It ain't natural, I'm telling you. And it isn't the way mothers the world over are doing it.

There's a reason so many of us are burnt out, lonely, and wonder on the regular whether our work means anything at all. In the eyes of our culture, the answer is too often a big, fat no. But the eyes of the heart reveal a different answer. What we do is infinitely and eternally important…but we were never meant to do it completely alone. Ladies, don't be afraid to add a co-worker to the corporate payroll when you've found yourself with a broader job description. There ain't no shame in upping your game, even if that means expanding the roster to include some new talent.

I hope this helps you struggling and lonely mamas out there see the idea in a different light. And if the cost is intimidating to you, perhaps there is a solution that doesn't cost a thing. Maybe there's another mom in your same situation who would be willing to swap kids one day a week, and the two of you can take turns relieving each other. Maybe your mother-in-law is local and is dying to be invited to help you with the kids on a regular basis. Maybe there's a teen in your community who just loves little ones, and who would want to come play with your kids for no cost at all. You never know until you ask.

For our own situation, our MH is  15-year old homeschooled high school student whose parents were willing to drive her both ways (this was hugely important to me) two days a week. She comes Monday and Friday afternoons from 1:30 - 5 pm, and I usually entrust her with my 3.5 year old and my 22 month old for the entire time. I will also leave her with the 9-week-old, as long as one of the three kids are asleep. (She doesn't have any qualms about taking care of them all, but I feel like 3 little kids is a lot to ask of a 15 year old.) When I do leave the house, it's usually for an hour or so while I shop or work out. I won't put her specific salary, but the going rate for babysitting in our area is 8-12 per hour, and I stay within that range.

Hope this was helpful and not sleep inducing. (And thanks for a second day of motivation, Jen.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Go by Giving

Squeaking in during the pre-bedtime lull in the storm to post my due diligence for day one of the 7 in 7 challenge, and my little bro made it easy on me. You'll see a new button on the top right corner of the blog - see it? -------->

Do me a favor and clickity click your way to the fundraising page and make a small donation (or a large one, by all means!) to help fund my little brother's mission trip to Ecuador next month. Actually, they leave in 2 weeks so time's a wasting.

Kenny is in his last semester at FUS and is one of the best guys I know. He has a deep desire to serve and to spread the love of Christ in a tangible way. I was talking with him last weekend while he was here for wedding festivities and asked him what the plan for the trip was and he said that the plan was to set up basic medical facilities for the village they'll be visiting. Not being pre-med or nursing, he said his contribution would probably be to carry stuff, haul trash, maybe give talks on basic hygiene to the people of the village, and perhaps do some catechetical instruction like "Why go to Confession" and "the importance of going to Mass" And he was so happy to be going to do these basic things! He didn't mind one bit that he'd be doing the grunt work of the trip, and he is paying out of pocket to do so.

As a survivor of FUS student loan debt myself, I know it's no small detail to shell out money during college for even fun and frivolous matters -- but to spend $ on a mission trip for senior spring break…well that's something special.

So yeah, I think he deserves an honorable mention and a shameless plea from his proud big sister. So what are you waiting for?


Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's a Beautiful Day

Since I mentioned a wedding, I felt it was only fair to share a picture or two from the blessed event. We were all more or less recovered from our plague, and I thoughtlessly rewarded my still fragile immune system with copious amounts of alcohol and carbohydrates, so I'm calling an early start on Lent this year…just as soon as tonight's episode of Downton wraps. #31isnot21 #oldmomproblems #vodkasodas4ever.


Anywho, here's the happy couple, aren't they gorgeous?

The first 'look.' (They didn't actually lock eyes till she started down the aisle.)
If you're local-ish and lucky enough to get on her schedule, this gal is an amazing photographer, and a sweetheart with two beautiful baby girls who she takes gorgeous pictures of on her blog all the time. Check her out. And okay, one more gorgeous pic:
55 degrees in February. Go home Colorado, you're (happily) drunk.
I think I'm jumping on the Fulwiler bandwagon and taking up the 7 in 7 challenge, so I'll be back tomorrow. 

In the mean time, any thoughts on Lent? Dave and I were talking about it on the way home from Mass this morning and he had some awesome words of reflection from our Holy Father's Message for Lent about overcoming destitution, which he explains as being very different from poverty. Destitution, says Pope Francis, is poverty without hope, and can be in a material, spiritual, or emotional form. He was encouraging us to find ways to overcome destitution this Lenten season, both in the world and in ourselves. He also said (and this one is a little scary) "I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt." Ouch. 

That little gem led me past my usual line of alcohol abstinence and no desserts unless it's a feast day reasoning and onto the possibility for a greater sacrifice for this year. I think the very most difficult thing I could imagine at this stage of life is to start setting an actual alarm and waking up before my children to pray for 10 minutes each morning. I don't know what is sadder about that sentence, the idea that a grown adult doesn't use an alarm, or the fact that my greatest suffering is waking up in the morning, but I'll get back to you when I've decided. Pathetic.

So no booze and waking to an alarm. It'll be just like high school all over again. Maybe I'll get my body back, too…

What are your Lenten plans?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Five Faves: sick and tired and spandexed

1. My little sister is getting married this weekend. It's SO much fun to be going through a wedding that isn't your own, and it is so much work. It's my favorite kind of work, make no mistake, but it's work nonetheless. Last weekend's lingerie shower precludes this week's 5-sister movie date (we're lucky and we know it), bachelorette party, pedicure appointment, rehearsal dinner, and of course, the blessed event. I'm rocking a head cold and an 8-week old, so I'm pretty much the most fun and most matronly of all matrons of honor. And did I mention my size enormous David's bridal frock is nursing friendly? Or at least, I've made some adjustments to make it so.

Anyway, I bought 5 bottles of this at Costco this morning. So we're pretty much set.

2. I have the kind of cold that makes you feel like you've been kicked in the mouth and taken a baseball to the septum, so I've been searching for various and sundry breast-feeding kosher remedies, and basically the options are:

Sensible saline.
Suicidal snot buster.
Tea towel sauna.
4. I'm counting that last unfortunate round up of images as number 3. Currently I'm sitting on the couch, nursing a glass of aforementioned prosecco, and willing numbness into my teeth and forehead.

5. But at least I've got these to shimmy into, come Saturday.

I did extensive research and then dropped $70 at Target on several hideous looking garments promising to make all my wildest dreams come true. Or at least, to grease the entry into my size i'llnevertell bridesmaid dress, and ensure a tight and reliable ziiiiip.

Hallie for life, y'all. Via Christy. See you there.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Little Luxuries

I am just swooning over my sweet babies tonight, each of whom is sick with a rather mediocre cold, (thankfully Dave and I are the hardest hit) and all in need of extra cuddles. It's hard to extract yourself from the tangled embrace of a sick three year old whispering sweet nothings in your ear, even if his entire bed does stink faintly of urine and peanut butter. This boy is destined for great things.

At any rate, they're finally abed, and I can finally bang out a blog for the first time in days.

The Wellness Project will hit day 30 on Wednesday, but thanks to some dead Presidents and a loving husband, I was able to go out with a big bang a few days early. Enter the dragon:

Blurry iphone selfie in the mini van marking my triumphant return to blonde.
Never again, chestnut. Never again.
Three uninterrupted hours in an honest-to-goodness salon was pretty blissful, though I did commit the epic faux pas of forgetting mine own reading material. Listen, I enjoy the occasional trashy magazine as much as the next red-blooded American girl, but after the third back issue of People life starts to look a little … bleak. Still, I'm now up to date on all 3 successfully-married couples from the Bach/ette franchise. (Make that 4 now that Sean and Catherine are lawfully wedded.)

While I was sitting back, choking on the bleach fumes and waiting for my color to process (your what to what, honey? asked a concerned Dave back on the home front, shushing a starving and angry breastfeeder) it dawned on me that all this self-care and pampering had really awakened a part of my identity that I had been denying, or perhaps was simply unaware of: I'm a bit of a girly girl.

I guess I sort of recognized that any woman who gets semi-regular pedicures and enjoys interior decorating was fairly feminine, but I've kind of downplayed this part of my persona since becoming wife + mother, which is sad. I guess, subconsciously, I was waiting until I was looking/feeling better to go ahead and own that part of me that likes costly shampoos and wearing an apron to cook dinner and putting on mascara to go to Costco…but how sad is that? Why would I squelch this part of my nature, simply because I was unhappy with how I might look in this phase of life?

I think a big part of it was fear, and the hope that if I didn't make myself vulnerable by admitting I cared about looking or feeling pretty, then I wouldn't be crushed when someone (I don't know who. The world, my mirror, a stranger's glance in Target?) disagreed with me.

So that makes perfect sense, right? Don't want to be called out for being ugly or frumpy or past one's prime, so dress in tattered yoga pants and forgo makeup. Um…

Anyway, sometime during this whole project my little sister pointed out that there was never going to be a time where I would be perfectly happy with my appearance, so to stop waiting for that time and to just put on some mascara. Every day. Her point wasn't that I looked bad, but that while agonizing over how different I might look from high school or college Jenny, I was, in a very real sense, wasting the pretty.

I don't want to wake up and be 45 years old and sporting an androgynous haircut and a mock turtle neck because I gave up on life, you know? I want to gracefully embrace my changing (but not destroyed) femininity as the years pile up.

Not to get too deep here over beauty products and 'me time', but if this past month has taught me anything, it's that when I take some time each day to value and care for myself, I have much more to give to my family. At the end of the day it doesn't matter whether I put any makeup on or showered or brushed my teeth…but if in forgoing any of those things I was less patient, less kind, and less loving toward my family, then actually, it matters quite a bit.

So here we are, almost 30 days in, and I think the thing's been a smashing success. In fact, I think I'll keep it up, this whole business of wellness.

Starting with my little post-bedtime wars cocktail hour. May I present my immunity-boosting and milk-producing combo? A little Guiness plus a little spinach, though not necessarily in the same glass.

Mmmm, vitamins...
Cheers, mamas.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I've Got a Mother's Helper

(sung to the tune of "I've got the golden ticket")

I'm not saying that to brag, truly I'm not, people. But oh my goodness can I get an amen and an alleluia up in here over what an absolute game changer it has been to have another pair of hands on deck?

Let me sketch this scene out for you: 1:59 pm, Friday afternoon. The gym is abandoned, save for the cleaning woman and one, solitary mother chugging along on the elliptical. All is silent, save for the subdued hum of scripted conversation from "House Hunters International" buzzing in her earbuds. All is right with the world. End scene.

In a word: perfection. Because wee bambina is under 6 months of age, she cannot foray into the kid's club with her elder brothers, so all daytime gym visits have been off limits to me, until now. While I love working out at night after they're all abed, I also like seeing my husband once in a while, so this daytime visit was total bliss.

I popped back home to feed the princess (our gym is less than half a mile from our house, and is therefore the one I've used more than any other since the old dorm + rec center relationship back in the day. So spoiled) and I ended up cuddled up on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, leisurely nursing the babe with Kristen Lavrasdatter propped open in one hand. I honestly felt so discombobulated by the peaceful nothingness  of what was transpiring that I surrendered to my discomfort with being 'at rest' and hopped back in the van, Genevieve in tow, to hit up the bank, the Hobby Lobby, and the thriftstore. Ballin.

In short, I humbly submit the creation of the concept of "mother's helper" as the second best thing to happen to modern motherhood, runner up to the disposable diaper alone.

I went back and forth on the idea for a loooong time before one craaaaazy day led me to pull the trigger on 3-year-old pre school and a MH at the same time. Holy financial train wreck, batman. But honestly, it hasn't been that bad. I pulled and pushed some things around in the budget and actually, without ever drinking coffee outside the house save for the rarest of occasions and cooking more homemade from scratch dinners senza carne, we've managed to make it work with minimal pain.

Moms, if there is any possibility for this to happen to your life, do it. Just do it. Cancel the Netflix account, scrap your weekly trip to Chicfila, boycott Starbucks, beg your inlaws for monetary gifts at birthday and Christmas time and squirrel it away for this express purpose…but do it. We were never meant to mother our children alone for 12 hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Unless you are living next door to your endlessly available parents or in a commune with your sister wives, you are living out a most unusual model of motherhood, the likes of which history and most of the world has never seen.

So to all you mamas out there who encouraged me to take this leap, I salute you. I will tip my Valentine's margarita glass back tonight with gusto in your honor. And I will think fondly of you when I am blissfully applying mascara and using the toilet, but not at the same time, because twice a week, I no longer have to live out that scenario.

(*Lest this all come across as indulgent fluff, I'm also happy to report that my skinny little daughter has also put on 7 ounces in the past 3 days, simply because I have more time to spend nursing her. Color me one terrible and satisfied mother.)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dressing for Success

Alternately titled, hugging your stretch pants back.

I purposely dressed in workout clothes this morning, with the hopes that I would find my way to the gym someway, somehow, even as the odds continued to stack up against it. It wasn't one of those sweatpants-are-all-that-fits-me days, either. I had good intentions. To prove this, I will confess to applying a full face of make up in the car, and blow drying my hair in my sister's bathroom while our herd of half a dozen children ran wild through her living room.

Sadly, I've yet to make it to the gym, but my mascara looks great. And I have high hopes for the post-dinner hour, while daddy does bedtime solo and I can perhaps sneak away for 60 minutes of elliptically infused relaxation.

Sure, it would be nice to put some real clothes on, but I know myself well enough to know that if the gym shoes stay on my feet long enough, those feet will soon enough find their way out the door and headed in the right direction.

(Back to bedtime for a sec - does anyone else hand over the entire routine to their dearly beloved? Or am I just the most heartless wife/mother in all the land.) Seriously I loathe the bedtime shenanigans, while Dave seems to (usually) relish the time to reconnect with the boys. When I have a newborn I feel like I have an awesome 'get out of bedtime free' card, so I just sweetly collapse on the nearest couch with the nursling and mentally check out of hands-on parenting for a while. I guess maybe I'm practicing detachment parenting? Whatever.

So workout clothes. Worn all day, but in the spirit of hopefulness, not resigned surrender. I'm counting this a 'win,' and my one thing for today. We're in the homestretch now!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

An Anniversary

One year ago today I sat staring in stunned disbelief at my computer screen, my eyes darting between the glaring announcement on my Facebook newsfeed (of all the ways to get big news…) and the glistening dome of St. Peter's basilica, looming outside the bedroom window of our apartment. As I frantically dialed my husband's number on my Italian cell phone, thus began one of the strangest and most memorable days of our stint in Rome.

Dave, can you hear me? 

I'm in the hallway outside of class, what's wrong?

The Pope just resigned.

...stunned silence…

Twelve minutes later Dave arrived back at the apartment, breathlessly giving orders into the phone he held in one hand while using the other to pull his suit coat on in the world's fastest costume change. A moment later he was out the door, and I looked over the balcony to see him running in pursuit of a bus headed east, towards the Tiber, and the basilica that loomed on the horizon. I wouldn't see him again until well after midnight.

The day passed in a strange haze, similar to the feeling after 9/11, but lacking in the horror. It was still a deep feeling of unease though, as if the foundations of reality had tilted, somehow, and we were sliding off into an unknown place.

I fielded Skype calls and emails from home all afternoon. "Yes, it was true." "Yes, he's really resigning," "No, it hasn't happened in a really long time," "Yes, the Pope can do such a thing."

That night after dinner the sky darkened and a serious thunderstorm rocked the Eternal City, cutting short our evening trip to the Square to pray a Rosary and hold vigil under the still-lit window in the papal apartments (Francis doesn't live there, so once Benedict vacated the See, we never saw those windows lit again).

As Tia (my little sister) and I trudged homeward with the stroller, dodging fat drops of rain and picking up speed as the weather deteriorated, we were mostly quiet, still very much in shock over the day's events. Maybe a half-hour after we'd arrived home, the now-famous lightening bolt hit the dome of the Basilica, marking the day in the eyes of the world as one of strange and unsettling infamy.

We had our chance to say a very special goodbye to Pope Benedict about 2 weeks later, standing in that same Square on a sun-drenched Wednesday morning, tears in our eyes as he held my youngest son in his arms and gently kissed his forehead. We wept with gratitude and sorrow as his eyes found us in the crowd, and for a moment, as the guard handed my baby back into my arms, I locked eyes with the successor to Peter and simply mouthed the words Thank You.

My heart is filled with the same gratitude today, and just a touch of the grief, as I sit 5,000 miles away,  nursing a new baby in a living room whose wall is graced with our family's most prized image.

What an incredible 12 months it has been. For the Church, and for our own little domestic church. What a wild ride. Who could have imagined?

May God bless Pope Emeritus Benedict, and his holy successor Pope Francis. I'm so grateful to have had a front row view.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Abortion: Hollywood gets it right

(*Spoiler Alert: if you're behind on your Downton consumption this season, look away)

Or British Hollywood, such as it were.

Last night's episode of Downton was one of the best on-screen depictions of the reality of a crisis pregnancy that I've ever seen. Not because it was brilliantly written (though it was) or because the characters were compelling in their dialogue and emotion (though they absolutely were), but because it was realistic. At least, as realistic as the fictional depiction of an earl's daughter falling pregnant by an older married man whose wife is interred in an insane asylum can be. Ahem.

The truth behind most crisis pregnancy situations is not a political truth, as so many on both sides of the issue would have us believe, but a deeply human one: loneliness.

I don't mean loneliness in the sense of isolation, necessarily, though it can certainly be that, but rather, I'm speaking of the loneliness that affects someone who perceives themselves to be alone in a crowded room.

I am alone. I am abandoned. I am trapped. Nobody can feel what I am feeling, and there is nobody who can help me out of this place I find myself in. I am utterly alone.

That is what drives most abortion-minded down to the nearest Planned Parenthood or women's 'services' clinic. It isn't politics. It isn't even religious beliefs, or a lack thereof, necessarily. It is loneliness, and the fear that accompanies the desolating poverty of options that a woman facing a crisis pregnancy perceives.

My parents will kill me. My boyfriend will leave me. My Church will reject me. My husband will walk away. Her husband will find out what we've done. I'll lose my job. I'll lose my friends. I'll lose my life.

Abortion might be a buzzword in our culture, but the banality with which we discuss it betrays the truth of the matter: it is a horror, for every body involved.

With the rare exception of those abortion apologists who are so wounded, so enamored of this culture of death that they've pledged their allegiance to, and perhaps a handful of truly earnest practitioners who have deadened their minds and souls to the gruesome reality they participate in, hardly anybody is truly pro abortion. You might spend some time on CNN or MSNBC and walk away believing otherwise, but don't mistake the cacophony of a few shrill voices for the silent dread of millions of quiet ones.

Abortion is awful.

As the storyline for last night's episode played out on the small screen, we were made privy to Edith's visible interior struggle over her situation. In one scene she confesses to her mother that 'she has bad thoughts sometimes' and wonders aloud if she is, in fact, bad. Her mother reassures her that we all have bad thoughts, but that 'acting on the bad thoughts is what makes someone bad.'

If only more parents were willing to have that simple conversation.

When Edith announces to her aunt that she intends to 'get rid of it,' the older woman reacts with natural horror and pity, not with a callous agreement or an 'atta girl, you exercise your right to choose.' That isn't realistic. Nobody feels that way, not in the real world of flesh and bone and complicated situations and sorrow and regret. The media might (usually) want us to believe otherwise, and the small chorus of bitter and twisted voices promoting abortion for abortion's sake might want to convince us it is so, but let me assure you, it is not.

I have sat with women as they wrestled with the decision whether or not to take the life of their child, walked alongside them as they entered the bubble zone surrounding a 'clinic'.

If any of them failed to see the humanity of their unborn baby, none of them voiced it. Maybe the belligerent boyfriend accompanying them into the clinic did, or perhaps the aging and angry mother (grandmother, really) escorting them firmly by the elbow…but not the mother herself.

No matter what the media - or Cecile Richards - tells us, the truth is that abortion is always the fruit of a hideous, soul-wrenching decision bred of a lack of options (either actual or perceived) and most of all, that ultimate loneliness.

As Edith sat perched in the dingy waiting room of an illegal abortion clinic in post WWI Britain last night, she bared her aching heart for the audience as she admitted she would never be able to return to the nursery at home, the nursery containing her niece and nephew, her sisters' children.

"Yes you will, in time, you will." her accompanying aunt consoled her.

"I know that I will not. I am prepared to kill the wanted child of the man I love."

Edith's fear of rejection - by her family, by her missing lover, by her society at large, is so great that it forced her to consider what she herself recognized to be unthinkable: killing her own child.

It's never a simple decision, let alone a celebratory one. With few exceptions, the decision to abort is a painful one. And so is the decision to choose life. Edith, ultimately, did. And she didn't do so for political reasons (crowed the tired, predictable leftists blogosphere this morning) nor for lack of courage. Her decision to embrace the life of the child she carried was born from courage, from the decision to face the unknown rather than to embrace the horror of the known. And ultimately, it was a rejection of loneliness, of the lie that 'I am alone' and 'there is no other choice.'

May her courage, while imagined and portrayed by a skillful actor, breathe a spark of life into a culture obsessed with death. And may her fictional story speak to women living this an all-too-familiar storyline out in real life.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

10 Days to Go

This afternoon found me logging miles on the elliptical and testing out my newfound resolve to refrain from using the scale for at least the next 3 months (and possibly forever.

Seriously what possible reason do I have for knowing my exact weight? My driver's license and my passport both have at least 5 years before expiration, so…) so consider that my Wellness Project update for the weekend. (20 days down, 10 to go.)

For the digital record, every workout I've had sans weigh-in has been infinitely more satisfying than any workout that ever preceded or followed a rendezvous with the worth-giver. I mean the validation dispenser. Or maybe we can just call it the shitty day-o-meter. Because folks, I could have logged 4 solid miles on the treadmill, lifted weights and be dripping sweat and feeling like a warrior princess and then … beep, beep, beeeeeep: the numbers prove me wrong. The numbers say that my work has been in vain, and not only that, has potentially set me back in my pursuit of bodily perfection, for I am 1.3 lbs up from yesterday.

So stupid. Why it took my 31 years to realize this, I can hardly say, but consider it realized. Working out is only fun (and sustainable) when I'm doing it for the right reasons, anyway.

I have some other thoughts percolating, thoughts about gratitude and worthiness and comparison and what an interesting weekend it has been, but a hungry angry baby who most definitely doesn't appreciate the dairy I ingested yesterday is calling - nay, shrieking - my name.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rewiring the soundtrack

The past 5 days or so have been rough in the area of, well, honestly, basic personal hygiene. I've showered some, but only under the careful scrutiny of pint-sized bathroom intruders. My children - and all small children, I guess - have an internal alarm that sounds when mother disrobes. I intensely dislike this aspect of parenting. Rant over.

Anyway, I've been limping along, trying the keep the house together and the kids alive-ish and warm, and I haven't been doing much in the way of the Wellness Project most days, and I feel it acutely. Yesterday was one of the hardest days I've had with the kids, and I was exhausted and so broken down by 4 pm and wouldn't you know it, all that negative self talk I've been laying waste to? It came roaring back. 

I began to find myself making the odd offhand comment here and there as this interminable week has dragged on, but it wasn't until today that I stopped and looked closely at the correlation between one exhausted, over-extended mommy and the soundtrack of doom that plays like a broken record in my brain.

You're such a failure, look at this house/your body/this dinner/their attitudes/your tone with him…

Why can't I look like her? Why does my body look so awful? Why can't I dress myself? Why don't clothes look that way on me? Why doesn't my house look like that?

etcetera, etcetera.

Tellingly, from an eternal perspective, I don't spend much time pining over the holiness or charity of others. But the temporal stuff? I'm all over that.

And this post is all over the place. I guess what I'm getting at is when I get really run down and, consequently, stop making conscious efforts to care for myself in a healthy and realistic-to-this-stage-of-life way, it's harder for me to practice virtue. It's just plain harder to be good; to myself and, more importantly, to others. I would never have imagined that there would be a connection here, but there you go. Body + soul and all that.

So today? I took a shower. I put on make up and blew my hair dry, even though it was close to 4pm. And I felt better for it. And I know Dave appreciated it, even though I was strrrretching the definition of 'fully dressed' from the waist down in my highly inappropriate but whoops, nothing else quite fits yet black leggings. Leggings are not pants. Except when you stuff them into boots and pretend that they are. 

Nope, they're still not pants. But boy are they niiiice and stretchy.

Tomorrow is a new day. I'm re-commited to this project, and to the idea that something good is happening here, and that the soundtrack that starts to play whenever things start to slide downhill isn't infallible. Hell, it isn't even true most of the time. 

It's time to start listening to something new. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


I don't know you guys, I probably shouldn't even throw my cap into this ring because I'm sure it will be close to 50-something next week here in (usually) sunny Colorado, but this week has been brutal. Canada, I feel your pain. Kind of. I have never been the kind of mom to flinch in the face of the elements, at least when it came to something like weather standing between me and my forays to procure groceries, coffee, etc., and yet here I sit, 7 week old baby tucked snugly under one arm and croupily coughing up a storm and the mercury? It's hovering right around negative 10 degrees and so I'm eating Panda Puffs for lunch. My options - like my luck - have run out.

Poor Genevieve has been sick as a toy poodle for days now, and yesterday spiked a scary (to me) fever of 101.5. She is better today but still not eating well and keeping us (okay, mostly me) up aaaaallll night long with her sad snorting and snuffling and gagging on snot, etc. Too much information, I know. But my brain is short-circuiting from too many consecutive days of crazy housebound baby-wrangling, and I'm pretty sure my sweet, single, medically-trained sister in law, visiting us from exotic south Asia, just had the SAHM version of a 'cultural immersion experience,'

Claire, I'm so sorry, and God love you for all that Curious George you read Joey. He is currently waving a sippy cup in my face and berating me for serving him "old" milk, so feel free to come back any time. Or right now, really.

Do you see that liquid? It turns out you cannot leave an unattended keg of beer in the company of men of any age. "Beer fight, Mommy!"

Don't even ask why we had a keg in our garage, but know that it was Fat Tire.
This too shall pass, I know, I know…but just when I felt like I might kind of maybe be getting a little bit on top of my newly-expanded mom game, bam: gut check courtesy of mother nature.

So there you have it, delivered to you fresh from the land of stretchy gym pants and unmade faces. I've been sustaining myself on this gem of a book my sweet husband brought home for me last week and came across this cool lady, who saw housework as a form of temporal punishment for sin and oh MY GOODNESS YES. Amen. And alleluia.

If you'll excuse me, my penitential load of dishes awaits me.

On a warmer note, now that the embargo has been lifted, I am beyond thrilled to invite you to come share a pint poolside on a glam rooftop in the humid heart of Austin, Texas this summer with Jen, Hallie, and a whole slew of other queens of the internets who will be speaking at the Edel Gathering.

You best believe when J + H emailed me a month or so ago to ask if I would emcee this fantastic creation of theirs that I simultaneously started doing labor breathing and trying to craft a somewhat cool and casual reply of "Oh hell yes" a very reserved 11.2 seconds after the email hit my inbox.

So if you wanna come hang with the creme de la creme (them, not me) of the mommy hood, I hope you'll start dropping hints to your husbands about what a fabulous St. Valentine's gift a weekend away of this caliber would be. Come on, a rooftop pool. Starbucks. Multiple bars in the hotel. Quiet, sanitized bathrooms with ample hot water. I'm sorry, I just fainted from the anticipation of a 25 minute shower followed by an enormous glass of red wine.

Join us. You know it to be your destiny.

(I'm really, embarrassingly sleep deprived. Luke Skywalker called and confirmed it for me.)

Monday, February 3, 2014

We interrupt this utter lack of programming

To report from the land of sick and sad babies with head colds. Sriously, there is nothing sadder than a congested baby. Still, we did get her baptized Saturday evening, as planned, and she does smell deliciously of chrism and salvation and all that.

But she can either breathe or eat, and not both, which has made for a kind of awful weekend. Trying to sprinkle a few lunges here and there, coupled with polished nails and toes and extra shots of espresso, in the spirit of keeping the Wellness Project - and myself - limping along.