the end of buy nothing november

img_7247 And just like that, November is drawing to a close.  When I decided that I wouldn’t buy anything for the entire month of November, I admit it was mostly just a reaction to the plethora of stuff in my house, and the overwhelming commercialism of the upcoming holiday season.  I wasn’t sure how it would go, or how I would feel about it when it was all said and done. Some of the results of a month-long kibosh on spending were as you’d expect, while others really surprised me.  In a nutshell, here are my takeaways from Buy Nothing November: Continue reading

dealing with discouragement (CAPC series)

*For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to an amazing site, Catholic Attatchment Parenting Corner. (What can I say, I’ve really got a thing for niche-writing, yeah?) Due to all kinds of life circumstances, the site won’t be live for much longer, and the editor and creator of that site will be focusing solely on her other (wonderful) endeavor, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  So I decided to run a few of my old articles as a little mini-series, so they can find a new forever home here. Some of them are recent, and some of them were from a few years ago, but I hope they all speak to the experiences of different stages and moments in motherhood. *

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I’ve been thinking a lot about discouragement lately. How powerful it can be and how powerless it should be. We are all vulnerable to discouragement in different ways, and it’s a tricky thing- it can sneak up on us when we least expect it.

To be honest, I’ve been struggling mightily with discouragement lately. I feel it sneaking up on me each time my just-cleaned kitchen becomes sticky with spilled juice and scattered with crumbs. It rears its ugly head when an idea I’m excited about for my moms’ group isn’t met with the enthusiasm I expected. I find it lurking in the background when I struggle with overcoming challenges in my marriage. And often, discouragement can be the dominant feeling when my kids are just not behaving the way I want them to. Discouragement says, “Why bother? What you’re doing isn’t working. Your efforts are not worth it. You might as well just give up.”  This quickly leads from simple discouragement to despair, which is a scary, lonely place to be.

As parents, we have to be on guard when this voice whispers in our ear. Why? Because I can tell you, with certainty, that voice is not coming from God. In fact, it almost certainly is coming from below . And there is nothing he wants more than to convince us that what we are trying to do as parents doesn’t matter, that it’s not worth it.

Let’s face it. Parents can be easy targets for this kind of temptation. Parenting can be an exhausting, thankless job. There are no promotions, no bonus checks. We are often criticized for what we do or don’t do, even by those close to us. When despite our efforts to parent with gentleness, grace, and love, our children act less than angelically (as children do), how tempting it is to say, “Why bother?”

The world would have us believe that we shouldn’t. That the effort that we put into raising our children might be better channeled into a “paying job” or something that we find more personally fulfilling. The world would have us believe that having a well-behaved child is more important than how we are working toward that behavior. When faced with this kind of thinking, of course we are susceptible to discouragement and hopelessness. I’ve often come face to face with despair when I think too much about how to navigate this world that is so often at odds with my faith. So what can we do about it?

Well, to start with, we must acknowledge this feeling and name where it comes from. When I hear the words in my head, “Why do I even bother?,” it is a signal for me to stop what I’m doing and identify the source. Once I’ve acknowledged that it’s not coming from God, I can begin to actively work against it.

Scripture is full of encouragement when we are feeling burdened by worry or failure, and I keep these passages handy for when the feeling pops up.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Where we are weak, God is strong. What greater encouragement is there!? We do not have to be strong, or even successful.  In fact, it is better if we are not at times, so that God can take over and work through us. This simple idea turns discouragement on its head because it take our failures and turns them into God’s sucesses. We need not strive for perfection, only for trust in God and his perfect plan for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

When the feeling of discouragement and despair feels overwhelming, there is nothing more powerful than prayer. When I was a child, my mom told me that if I ever felt really frightened, all I needed to do was say a Hail Mary, because anything evil was no match for the Blessed Mother. This stuck with me, and while I’m no longer afraid of what might lurk in the closet, I now have anxiety and fears that feel bigger than those monsters under the bed. Now, when I hear the evil one whispering discouragements in my ear, I stop what I’m doing and pray to the Blessed mother. The evil one and his disparagements flee. They are no match for a loving mother.

Which brings me to my next point: We have to talk to our kids about how to deal with discouragement. In a world that rewards success and punishes failure, we have to instill in our children that God’s ways are not the ways of the world. We have to tell them that hopelessness is not from our loving Father. Childhood has the potential to be rife with discouragement. There is so much to be learned, and thus so many opportunities to fail! But if we share with our kids that God takes their failures and makes them His successes, they will be empowered to withstand the real disappointments and yes, even despair, that they are almost certain to face in their lives.

As parents, we are called to stand in for our Heavenly Father on earth, encouraging our children when they are feeling lonely, despairing, hurt. Even if the despair of a small child seems inconsequential to us. (Raise your hand if you’ve comforted your child through the despair of not being able to put their shoes on by themselves, or the angst of not being able to spend an extra half hour at the park!) That is what God does for us when we feel hopeless. So when we say, “I can see you are upset that you can’t do this, but it’s ok. I’ll help you and you can try again next time,” we are showing our children how God treats each one of us. It might even be helpful to explain this feeling to our kids, and put a name to it. After all, naming this feeling as an adult takes away so much of it’s power over us.

This all brings me back to where I started.

Discouragement can feel like such a powerful emotion. It robs us of our peace, makes us question the plan God has for us, and tempts us to despair. But in reality, it has no power. When we call it what it is, the work of the one who wants to see us fail, it is so much easier to see it as what it is:  an illusion, a trick. Our God is infinitely more powerful than any of these tricks; we need only turn to him when we feel its presence, and teach our families to do the same.

7 things i’ll miss in november

Since I’ve decided to commit to doing a #buynothingnovember (read more about that here), I decided it would be wholly appropriate for me to sit here and whine about the stuff I’ll miss.  Just kidding.  Kind of.  But I did sit and think about the stuff I’ll have to say no to, so I can be prepared.  Here it is:

  1. Target. Just Target in general.  I know I can’t go there, even for food. Because seriously, have you ever gone to Target just for food and actually walked out with just food? No. So it’s probably best we just part ways for a while.
  2. Amazon.  Kind of for the same reason as Target- it’s just way too easy to buy stuff.  There are things that I would consider needs that I purchase through Amazon, but if I’m being honest, there are a lot of purchases that I justify as needs that might not actually be needs.  That “Add to Cart” button is just too tempting.  I’ll be hitting Amazon pretty hard in December for Christmas presents, so I feel ok taking a little break for the month of November. I’ll just use that prime subscription for endless episodes of Daniel Tiger and Man in the High Castle, thank you very much.img_5364{library books will be my friend.}
  3. Fancy beverages. This is one of those things that I say I don’t really care about but somehow I keep buying them.  So it should be easy to pass on these next month.  Not stopping at the coffee shop will probably be pretty easy, because I don’t do it too often. But not scooping up some delicious artisan soda or kombucha at the grocery store might prove to be harder.  We’ll see.img_4877{goodbye, fancy soda.}
  4. Clicking through to shops on Instagram.  I am SO bad about this.  I scroll through my friend’s instagram photos and the cute sweater they’re wearing catches my eye. Or the blanket on their couch.  Lucky for me, they tagged it!  Woo hoo!  I tap through, and before I know it, I’m the proud new owner of a fair-trade, organic alpaca blanket that costs as much as a years’ worth of Starbucks.  Ok, not really, but close to that.  I’m not giving up Instagram, but I’m going to work on reminding myself NOT to click through to shops, even if they’re incredibly tempting.  Self-control, guys.  Not my strong suit, but I’m gonna give it a go.
  5. Buying kids’ clothes. My kids don’t need any more clothes. Period.  They don’t have huge wardrobes, but they don’t need huge wardrobes.  And they don’t care, at all.  So at this point, if I buy something for them to wear, it’s more for me than for them, even though I sometimes tell myself otherwise.  If we’re really in need of something, I’ll bust out the sewing machine and attempt to make it with what I have on hand.img_5250{hope you like this sweater, joe.}
  6. MLM Parties.  Online or otherwise.  Because here is how it goes: I get invited to one of these parties and I say, “I’ll just do it to support my friend, but I’m not buying anything  because I don’t need anything.” And then… the rest is history.  I adore my friends who are entrepreneurs and truly do like to support them in any way I can.  But I’ll have to find other ways to support their endeavors in November, because leggings, no matter how soft and comfy they are, are a want and not a need for me at the moment.  But I’ll miss the snacks and wine.
  7. And here’s one thing I won’t miss: targeted ads.  I’m going to clear all the cookies and caches and whatnot on my computer so that I won’t get so many of those targeted ads that always seem to know exactly what I want.  I can’t even tell you how many times I shopped for something online, decided that I didn’t need it, then one of those Facebook ads popped up and I then decided that I did want it.  This is exactly the point of these kinds of ads, I get it, but I don’t need anything convincing me that I need anything during the month of November, so I’m going to do my best to steer clear.

So that’s how I’ll be avoiding needless spending on November- any other tips for me?

*Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.  Head over and see what everyone else is up to!*

buy nothing november

img_6167This morning, as I wrote on my to-do list a series of tasks related to “figure out where to put ____”, I had an epiphany.  We have too much stuff.  I’m constantly purging stuff, packing stuff away, trying to pawn stuff off on other people.  Even little old me, who likes to consider herself a minimalist, cannot stem the tide of stuff.  It clutters my mind and raises up some serious questions about how I’m using our resources. Because others (actually, most others, if we’re talking globally) don’t have the luxury of spending even a few extra dollars each month. But I had this aha moment where I realized that if I want to stop the madness, I have to STOP BUYING STUFF.

Now, I don’t consider myself a shopaholic in the slightest.  I don’t spend a ton of money “shopping” in the traditional sense.  We don’t splurge on meals out often, and we’re not into the latest electronic gadgets.  But. When I stop and scrutinize all the things that I’m bringing into my home and spending money on, can I honestly say that I need them?  No.  I may think of myself as minimalist, but maybe that’s because in some ways, my  home has become a revolving door- out with the old, and in with the new.  It keeps our number of possessions in check, but it’s not really in the spirit of minimalism, and we’re not being good stewards of our resources.  I look around my home and realize that not only do we not need one more single thing, but we already have far more than many people have.  It. is. enough.

November is a month that we focus on gratitude, and being thankful for what we have.  This year, I want to focus on what makes me truly grateful.  I want to pay attention to the little things that I take for granted, but I also want to take time away from tending to our physical wants so that I can draw nearer in understanding the emotional and spiritual needs of my family.

So, I’ve challenged myself, for the entire month of November, to not buy one single thing.  No matter if I think we really need it (or will need it in the future). No matter if it’s on some amazing sale that will never come around again (yep, that’ll include black Friday deals, guys.)  No matter if it’s only $1 from the Target Dollar section.

Now, obviously, food doesn’t count, because I have a feeling my family would object to not being fed.  But since I tend to sometimes buy little treats when I’m grocery shopping, I’ll be sticking to a tight “only on the list” rule.  But in the spirit of the challenge, I’m going to keep even grocery shopping to a minimum and try to cook from my pantry more often than not. And of course, I’ll pay my bills.  And get people medical care if they need it. But that’s it. (And even these things aren’t a given for everyone. So there’s that.)

Want to join me?  I’ve never done this before, so I can’t promise it’ll change your life or anything; I don’t really know. But I suspect that at the end, we’ll not only feel a little more appreciative of the things we usually spend money on, but also a little more free from the tyranny of stuff.  And, as a bonus, you’ll most likely save a bit of money that you can use toward holiday festivities in December, or better yet, donate to a charity that helps those that truly have no extra money to spend, and for whom spending a little extra money here and there is not an option.  I’d love to have some companions in this adventure.  So what do you say?  Do you think you could live with only what you have on November 1st for a whole 30 days?  Let’s find out together! (Hint: I think we can.)

I’ll be posting updates on my successes (and probably failures) here all month, and on Instagram with the hashtag #buynothingnovember.  I’m excited to embark on this adventure together and see how other people get creative about “making it work” with what we already have and get into the spirit of the challenge.

yes. and thank you.

img_3910I’ve often felt that modern motherhood can be pretty isolating. Talk to any woman and she’ll tell you that it can be a lonely road, and a challenge to make friends in the beginning of the journey.  People often muse that we’ve lost the “village”- the female friends and relatives that live in close proximity and are constantly ready to pitch in to help.  And this is probably partially true.  But sometimes I wonder. Continue reading

seven favorite freezer meals

So I’m in full-fledged nesting mode over here, and by that I mean I’m stocking my house with food like the end of the world is coming.  Some people nest by cleaning, others nest by organizing the nursery, some people nest by clearing their e-mail inboxes.  I do basically none of these super useful and sensible things to prepare for the birth of my next child.  HOWEVER, I have enough spaghetti sauce in my freezer to feed several dozen people. Need a chicken casserole?  I have 3, just waiting to be popped in the oven. Continue reading

the hardest job in the world (CAPC series)

*For the past several years, I’ve been contributing to an amazing site, Catholic Attatchment Parenting Corner. (What can I say, I’ve really got a thing for niche-writing, yeah?) Due to all kinds of life circumstances, the site won’t be live for much longer, and the editor and creator of that site will be focusing solely on her other (wonderful) endeavor, Intentional Catholic Parenting.  So I decided to run a few of my old articles as a little mini-series, so they can find a new forever home here. Some of them are recent, and some of them were from a few years ago, but I hope they all speak to the experiences of different stages and moments in motherhood. *IMG_1266

“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”

I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t.  I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually.  When I first read this, I thought to myself,  “Wow! How validating!  My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”

And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”.  I have often felt this way myself.  Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty.  I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room.  I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper.  I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch.  And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected.  And where the heck were my vacation days?!

Oh yeah, and you can’t quit.  Ever. Continue reading

slow brain, bursting heart

IMG_2225I used to hear the term “mommy brain” and cringe. It seemed to me a polite way of someone suggesting that women can’t have it all; you either have to be a strong, intellectual career woman without children, or a flighty, insipid stay-at-home mom who’s not capable of holding a conversation with anyone over the age of 5.  I told myself that as a smart, intelligent woman, I would not let motherhood get in the way of my intellectual needs or satisfaction.

What I didn’t anticipate is how my intellect would change.  Or, as I have come to realize, how very real “mommy brain” can be. While I still grimace at the phrase, I now understand the realities behind it.  So much of motherhood feels like being emptied out in service of others so that we can be filled up with something greater.  That “something greater” just doesn’t happen to be well-articulated thoughts or the ability to form an opinion on anything other than the most simplistic current events.

I’ve always love to think. To read. To discuss. In college, I studied English Literature and Sociology, two subjects that are basically all about reading things and then thinking and talking about them to death.  I loved it.  Exploring new ideas, being challenged in my assumptions, recognizing the many cultural and sociological facets in not only what we read and talk about but in the way we go about our daily lives- I found it all fascinating.  And I loved to think on these things and write them down.  Man, I could write.  I could write and write and write and I was pretty certain it was all very good and intelligent, but at the very least, I know I was putting coherent thoughts on paper.  I’m not a genius by any means, but I put a lot of value on the fact that I was smart and willing to explore new ideas, I was well-read, and I worked hard.  This was as much part of who I was as anything.

When I graduated college and got on with life, this stayed with me.  I found opportunities to write, I continued to be a voracious reader, I was proud that I could be quick on my toes and a problem-solver at work.

Then I had my son.  I had a hard recovery from a c-section I hadn’t planned, he was a poor sleeper, not a great nurser, and motherhood was hard.  I was so tired.  I started back working from home and wondered why it was so gosh darn difficult. Not only was I tired, but turns out working while also caring for a newborn is basically impossible. (Can I get a “duh?”) However, after I stopped working, I felt this huge void in my life. After the initial exhaustion of the newborn phase passed, I missed having the intellectual stimulation of work.  I still read a bunch of books, but had no one to talk to about them. I would sit down to write and the baby would wake up from his nap.  At night, when I might talk about adult things with my husband, I was so exhausted I would just pass out on the couch. The monotony of diapers and nursing and baby talk was mind-numbing, despite how much I loved my child and loved being with him. I had to really question my commitment to staying home with him many, many times. Then another baby, another newborn phase (this time accompanied by a toddler phase!), and I could feel more of my intellectual prowess slipping away. I’d sometimes find myself talking to someone about my kids’ sleep habits or how much laundry I do, and I’d stop and think, “No! It’s a grown-up!  Ask them their opinion on what’s happening in the MiddleEast! Tell them about that article you just read! ” But it all seemed so exhausting that it didn’t often happen.IMG_2205(This is basically what my brain feels like all the time.)

So here I am, pregnant with number three, with two small kids at home, and barely two brain cells to rub together.  I find myself often staring at a page in a book wondering what I just read. Or worse, trying to think of a word that’s on the tip of my tongue and not being able to get it out. Memorably, I tried to recall a line of poetry the other day and the theme song for SuperWhy came out of my mouth.  I wish I could say that I bear these indignities with grace and patience and the understanding that some day I will no longer be a sleep-deprived, hormone-addled mess, but that’s not always the case.  Some days I long to have a  conversation with someone about literature in which I can actually contribute something rational and intelligent. It makes it harder knowing that some people manage it, but I just can’t.

But there’s a silver lining in all this.  I’ve had to come to the tough realization that I can’t be everything at all times.  My brain is still my brain, despite the fact that it’s tired and geared almost entirely to my family’s needs right now.  Instead of being resentful, I have to look on this as a gift.  When it takes me 20 minutes to write a thank you note, where I used to spend the same amount of time to write an entire paper on some literary analysis, I can use that opportunity to accept with humility my limitations and my stage of life.

It also has shown me that while I value my intelligence, it’s not the full story of who I am.  I’m not just a brain, I’m a soul.  And allowing my brain a rest while I pour myself into my vocation is nothing to be ashamed of.  It doesn’t make me any less of a strong, successful woman.  Rather, it’s allowed me to make room for other aspects of myself that were always overshadowed by my analytical side.  It’s allowed me to see the beauty and graces present in my everyday life more than ever before.  It’s made me slow down and enjoy beautiful sunsets, sweet moments with my children, and the simple pleasures of doing a small task with love. It’s caused me to be more in tune with God’s will for me, allowing me to spend moments in quiet, when my brain is all emptied out and I can just sit and be. It’s made me small and humble and open to Christ in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to understand before. And in turn, my intellectual understanding of who I am in God’s eyes has been vastly expanded and deepened. I couldn’t have done that one my own, when I was so caught up in my own intelligence and maintaining my intellect.

I do know that, God willing, some day my mind will sharpen again and I’ll be able to laugh at the haze of early motherhood with fondness.  My hope is that when I emerge from this phase I will do so with a humility and gentleness and depth of spiritual peace that reflects my experiences now.  I can see this mark of motherhood on so many smart, kind, vivid women who are well past this stage of life; I can see how they’ve embraced the each season of their life with their eyes on something bigger and more important than the frustration of that word that won’t make it’s way past the tip of their tongue. So for my fellow women who are in the midst of these humbling, frustrating, maddening years with me, let’s have hope and be gentle with ourselves.  Good things are happening in our hearts, even as we think we’re losing our minds.

baby girl’s second birthday

DSC_0233Grace has learned a new phrase and it’s “My birthday’s comin’ up!” It’s pretty flippin’ adorable, and it’ll be kind of sad after Thursday when I have to tell her that her birthday’s no longer actually “coming up”, but actually has passed.  This past weekend, we had a little party for her, and she LOVED it.  I had been feeling kind of bad because she was gotten the quintessential second child treatment when it’s come to birthdays.  Her brother had an elaborate 1st birthday party, complete with tons of friends and family, themed food, favors, and a pretty serious cake situation that I spent days making for him. (See below.)  Grace didn’t get a first birthday party for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from it being a really crazy time in our lives to “Eh, one-year-olds don’t really appreciate parties, anyway.” I know, it’s fodder for the future therapist, guys.

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(The cake I made for Joey’s first birthday.  Did Grace get a cake last year? I can’t remember.)

So, obviously, this year, she was going to have a party, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized we’d ALL be a lot happier with a few close friends and family there to celebrate our girl and eat some cake.  In the end, it wound up being perfect. She was happy as a little clam showing off her insanely girly party dress that my mom bought special for the occasion, eating her (pink, perfectly chocolatey) cake by the fistful, and opening up all the presents that were for HER. (Yeah, there were some issues there when we celebrated Joe’s birthday in February.) We had a beautiful day, which was unexpected since the weather forecast predicted rain, and we were able to sit around outside, grill some burgers and hot dogs, and basically just enjoy each other’s company.DSC_0237DSC_0215

I was a little worried that Joey was going to be all jealous about the attention Grace was getting, but he was a champ.  It didn’t hurt that he has two adoring grandmas who brought him presents, too, and one of his favorite cousins (who’s a minor celebrity around here) was present  and gladly played with him to his heart’s content.DSC_0246

It was everything I could ever dream of in one of my kid’s parties- lots of people who love us, good food, and sunshine.  Pretty good, guys. Preeeettty good.DSC_0224

I’m not going to get all weepy about my little girl turning two, mostly because I just keep loving her more and more as each day passes, and I’m having more fun each day as my kids get older.  Sure, I get a bit misty when I think how quickly the time goes by, but I can’t spend too much time thinking about it, because all-in-all I’m just so super glad that my kids keep growing, getting bigger and funnier and smarter all the time.  I’m so in love with their personalities as they are now that I can’t imagine wishing them to be tiny babies again.  It might help, too, that in a few months, I’ll have another of those tiny babies to snuggle while my other kids run gleefully and determinedly away from me.  It’s all part of the joy of motherhood.

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