Embracing the Beautiful Body - Claire's Story

Monday, July 24, 2017

It's NFP Awareness Week! This year I am sharing stories from women who learned NFP methods while single. Single women often get left out of discussions of Natural Family Planning, but there are great benefits to be reaped for them too. It's time to hear some of their stories!

My name is Claire Ellendson.  I am a 21-year-old birth doula, NET Ministries alumni, and life-long Catholic.  I grew up being an older sister of a large family where I could see firsthand the beauty and purpose of God's design for fertility in my own family as we welcomed each of my younger siblings with joy and gratitude.  As I grew older however, I began to believe the lies from the world convincing me that my body was my greatest asset in attaining love. My body became to me a hopeless disaster, with a few redeeming qualities. 

Despite my consistent and faithful formation, my hatred for myself intensified from constant competition with my peers for the attention of men.  My mindset on my fertility was utilitarian. I thought that it was a thing that I probably wouldn't address until I was at least engaged.

God truly used my discovery of my own reproductive health as an avenue out of my own self-hatred and towards His divine truth.  I remember having earth-shaking menstrual cramps one day and demanded to know what the heck was happening with my body. I was blown away by how intricate and purposeful nature of my cycle. I was hooked on exploring more about the subliminal glory of how thoughtfully my body was gifted to me by God. I was lead to NFP though my pursuit of knowledge and practical application. Although I am not married or having sex, knowing what is happening with my fertility is a consistent reminder to me of the Lord's perpetuating gift of life.

I track my cycle using The Billings method mostly because it focuses on each aspect of what makes tracking my fertility useful to me as a single woman. This method teaches how to note and communicate changes with my body with a vocabulary which is easily utilized in my current stage of life (neither trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy). The goal of this is to understand the pattern of my fertility and to be aware of any irregularity. 

The greatest grace in my own journey of discovering NFP has been the redemptive effect that it has had on my own view of sexuality and womanhood.  For being such a sex-obsessed culture, so few have any level of intuition on how the female body works. Overcoming shame or misunderstanding about NFP or related topics is simplified by conversation and the God-given power of reason. It has been such a gift to me to be able to enter into conversations with women, as well as recognize beauty in how my own body is made.

Come back tomorrow for NFP For Everybody - Susie's Story.

NFP and the Single Woman

Friday, July 21, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!


It's that time of year again - NFP Awareness Week starts next week! This year I've decided to do things a little differently. When I looked at NFP materials, advertising, blogs, etc. there was consistently a specific voice missing: the single woman's. 

That's frustrating. Married people do not have a monopoly on NFP, and it can certainly be of benefit to single women! 
NFP is not solely about achieving or avoiding pregnancy. At its heart, NFP is about learning your individual body and why it does what it does. There is an amazing amount of misinformation out there about what is, and is not, normal when it comes to women's health. Why not encourage more women to learn about their bodies?

So instead of interviewing NFP couples, this year I sought out single women willing to share their stories of learning NFP. Let's meet the five brave women!



I am a 21-year-old birth doula, NET Ministries alumni, and life-long Catholic.  I grew up being an older sister of a large family where I could see firsthand the beauty and purpose of God's design for fertility in my own family as we welcomed each of my younger siblings with joy and gratitude.  As I grew older however, I began to believe the lies from the world convincing me that my body was my greatest asset in attaining love. My body became to me a hopeless disaster, with a few redeeming qualities. 



I'm in my early 30s and single. I grew up in Colorado, but have also lived elsewhere which I feel gives me the qualifications necessary to claim Colorado as the best place to live. :) I have a theology degree from Notre Dame (go Irish!) and an MTS from the John Paul II Institute in DC, and now work admin at a small Catholic non-profit that helps evangelize lay Catholics. One of my favorite things to do is take my dog on walks. I also love hiking (like most good Coloradans), knitting, games, listening to 80s music and movie scores, and watching my favorite movies and TV shows (Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite go-tos). I have three siblings - two older, one younger - and they're all married to great people. I also have three nephews so far, who are lots of fun and two of whom I'm blessed to have as godsons, and I am also godmother to one of my dearest friend's daughter.



 I grew up in Chicago, IL in a loving Catholic family. Formed by experiences in my faith, community and education, I felt the desire to serve others both individually and also on a macro level. After college I spent time in service with FOCUS then began working in NYC at a NGO devoted to the dignity of the human person. It was there that I discovered FEMM – a women’s health program that I’ve dedicated the last 6 years of my life to.



I’m Kate, 41 years old, never married, cradle Catholic.  I have been a school librarian for about nine years since changing careers from the legal field.  I live just outside of Philadelphia in the suburbs, not far from where I grew up.  My parents have been married for over 46 years and I have an older brother and a younger sister, both of whom are married—so I am a happy auntie to five wonderful nephews (oldest is 19/youngest is 4 months) and one fantastic niece (almost 13!).



My name is Alejandra, and I’m originally from southern California, but am now living in Oakland in the Bay Area. I just recently became a licensed Architect – hooray! Believe it or not, you can’t just call yourself an Architect right out of university, and I had to pass seven national exams and one state exam over two years to earn that professional title, so I’m pretty proud! I’m currently working at a high-end residential firm in Emeryville that does beautiful work in this area. 

I speak three languages – Spanish, English, and Italian – because my mom is from Chile and I studied abroad in Italy. I’m forever grateful to my mom for making sure we were bilingual from the start – languages are one of my passions! In my spare time, I love to cook and bake, work in my garden, spend time at the beach, hike in the Oakland redwoods (or anywhere for that matter – we are blessed with so many natural gems here in the Bay Area!), read, draw and paint, hang out with friends, and most of all, horseback ride. I’ve recently become an equestrian and I take English riding lessons here in the Oakland redwoods. There is nothing more wonderful than being out there with the horses… Unless it’s snuggling with my two adorable goddaughters of course!


Check back every day next week to read their full stories!

Maybe It's Not Just About the Kids - Becoming a Catholic Parent

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What does it mean to raise Catholic kids? I think it has more to do with forming Catholic parents first.

You know the saying "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? This is a part of parenting in which that is especially true - and also one where many are tempted to pretend it is not true. The reality is we can do x, y, z as perfect Catholic parents, but there is still no guarantee that we will get Catholic adults out of our kids.

There is no magic bullet for success in this challenge, however there is hope.

The best thing you can do to raise Catholic kids is to give them a Catholic parent serious about their own formation.

Your personal decision to take the charge of raising your children Catholic seriously is something you CAN guarantee. Here are three reminders that have been helpful to me in gaining perspective for teaching the faith to my own kids.

Treat teaching the faith like the J-O-B it is

If you were married in the Church, even if you are the sole Catholic spouse, you vowed to take on responsibility for raising your children Catholic. In that moment you gained a new job for life.

What would you need to do to do a good job at work? Show up, do what you say you will, make priorities, consult with coworkers, and adapt to changing circumstances. These are the basics of doing a good job. How could we expect our job of teaching the faith to require any less?

Just like in the workplace, not every endeavor, project, or attempt will be successful. That does not mean I'm failing at ALL THE THINGS. It just means I need to try something different.

For me this looks like:
Making sure the kids come to mass with me as much as possible.
Finding a way to go to the church at least one non-Sunday mass a week. That could be for a parish event, adoration, daily mass, or even just a pop into the church to say hi to Jesus.
Make my own faith formation commitments.
Seek out connection with others in the Catholic community, and feed those friendships.
Accept that life events happen, but those should mean a temporary change not a long term slide.

Know that I am not superwoman

There are many Church documents making it clear that Catholic parents are the primary educators of their children, but I have to be careful not to read "primary" as "only". The Church is not asking me to somehow form Catholic children on a deserted island. She has given me a husband, a parish, Catholic friends, godparents, and the larger Catholic community.

For me this looks like:
Taking advantage of any children's faith formation my parish offers.
Involving my husband in his own special way for the kid's faith formation. My husband likes to do Bible reading with the kids so that is a special thing they do with Dad.
Calling up, texting, or emailing trusted friends or family when I'm frustrated or need perspective.
Making sure the kids stay connected with their Catholic godparents.
Continue to reach out to other families and not settle into a clique.

Remember these kids are not just mine

My children are not mine to keep. They are beautiful souls entrusted to us for a time, but they are meant to become part of the bigger Church.
This concept is such a relief to me! It means that I do not need to mother hen them for the rest of their lives.
It also reminds me that my children ultimately have to choose to continue the faith as adults.
Faith formation is really about giving them as much of a foundation as we can so when the time comes to make their choice they are able to make a fully informed choice.

For me this looks like:
Praying for my children as individuals.
Praying for their future vocations and potential spouse.
Aiming to convey love and truth, not fear and anxiety.

Go over to the CWBN Blog Hop to read more takes on "Keeping our kids Catholic".

Do you do any of these things? What made a difference for you to stay Catholic?

Pleasant(er) Travel with Small Children

Friday, June 30, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

We have set out on our massive, crazy, summer trip! At this point, even at barely 5 and almost 3, the kids are pleasant travel buddies. They share our enthusiasm for exploring new places and embrace the experience of travel. But it is only pleasant with a decent amount of planning and organization. They are still normal kids after all.

Cleaning Day

Two days before we leave is cleaning day! The kids help. We start the laundry to get ready for packing day. We sweep, mop, and vacuum, clean out trashcans, wash all the sheets and towels, scrub the bathroom, etc. It is *so nice* to come home to a clean house and only have to worry about doing the laundry from the trip.

Yes, the helmet is overkill. But he was still helpful with it on, so it was allowed to stay on.

I have a list of things that must be done either the night before, or the morning, that we leave. Take out the trash and compost (including the coffee filter. Trust me on this one.), start the dishwasher if needed, and unplug/turn off all non-essential electric devices. Coming home to the smell of rotting garbage is best avoided.


It pays off to check the websites of your airport, airline, hotel, etc. for specific kid resources. Knowing what terminal has the kid play space is a life saver in the event of a flight delay.

Happy kiddo in the midst of a multi-hour flight delay. The kind that's so bad the airline gives out meal vouchers.
I also check for things like laundry availability at hotels and local attractions that have free or cheap kid admission costs.

Directed packing

Packing day is much less stressful if the kids can help with the packing.
We do directed packing. I have the master packing list and I send the kids off to their room to bring me a specific number of items. 5 short sleeve shirts, 8 pairs of underwear, etc. The kids get some agency in what clothes they bring, and only clothes that are appropriate and useful get packed. Win!

The kids currently share a big duffel as the "kid bag". To keep their stuff separated they each have a separate trash bag that their clothes stacks are wrapped in. Small items (socks, underwear, swim suits, etc.) are put in a gallon baggie so they are easy to find.

Kid Packs

Each of the kids has a backpack that fits them relatively well. They each contain:

  • 3-4 books (Picked by each kid, but fit easily in the backpack. It's an important qualifier with my kids. John tried to pack the fully illustrated Harry Potter once.)
  • A coloring book or activity book.
  • Small pad of paper
  • Stickers
  • Small baggie with crayons, pencils, and sharpener.
  • Kid headphones
  • Small toy
Each kid also carries their own water bottle in an outer pocket.

To test their choices, the kids have to wear their backpacks for a decently long walk. If it's too heavy, they have to swap something out or leave it out. They are in charge of their own packs in airports and other travel locations. Mom is not a pack mule.

Snacks go in parent backpacks

I learned the hard way that kid snacks are best portioned out slowly. The kid packs are designed for the kids to have free reign to choose from the materials. Having verboten items in there is a recipe for melt down, but if they all get eaten in the beginning there is nothing for when they are actually hungry. So snacks go in parent back packs!

I also have a wet/dry bag (the cloth diapering item that keeps on giving!) in the parent packs with a change of clothes for each kid, travel wipes, and hand sanitizer. Because if you need it, you need it NOW!

TripIt App

I love this thing! The last thing I want to do is be scrambling around for a confirmation number at the airport. I forward all of my itineraries to the TripIt email and it builds an itinerary that I can pull up via the app on my phone. It keeps plans in order and pulls the current part of the itinerary, and the next stop, to the top of the list. We have a complicated trip this summer, and this thing is a life saver!

White Noise 

Good at sleeping while traveling! Not so good at staying in place.
My kids are used to white noise and it's so helpful for getting kids to sleep in unfamiliar places. I go through the trouble of bringing our sound machines, because I don't want my phone to be held hostage during nap time by a white noise app, but I have used an app when traveling abroad to cut down on baggage weight and not have to worry about voltage issues.

What are your best tips for crafting a pleasant travel experience with kids in tow?

Travel Ambitions with Kids

Monday, June 26, 2017

This week begins our massive summer travels! Five states, two weddings, two kids, and a very pregnant belly - it's going to an adventure! 
Here's where we're going. It's a mix of flying and driving, hotels, friends homes, and rentals. 
Tips welcome! Follow along during the trip using #UTRtravels


It's our annual trip to North Texas for family reunion on the lake with lots of aunts and grandparent time! This will be our first year with both kids out of diapers and physically able to do most activities. It will be a blast!


We have a wedding in Denver but we are also going to be exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and staying part of the time in a mountain cabin.


We are driving from the Denver area to Idaho Falls, ID. Any tips for that 10 hour drive are more than welcome!
We get to see our very good friends and start adventures next door in Wyoming.


It's Yellowstone time! John wants to see Bison badly. He told me, rather mornfully the other day, "I WISH I could play on the prairie." His Little House loving heart will be happy.

We're going to try and explore Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole too.


Another wedding! And this one we're all in! John is ringbearer and Therese is flower girl. They are both taking their duties *very* seriously. 
John acts like he's going to be entrusted with the crown jewels. 
Therese just likes her pretty dress. 
This describes their personalities quite well.

We will have almost two days to explore around Atlanta. I have my eye on the Atlanta History Museum, but any other fun ideas (including must do food places for my foodie husband) are wonderful!


And now a belated My Sunday Best with A Blog for My Mom!

Dress: JC Penny's
Cardigan: Target
Necklace: Family heirloom
Bump: 27 weeks
It would appear that we attended mass at the Basilica from this picture. But no! We went to a picnic for young families held at the Basilica before making our way over to St. Thomas More in St. Paul for the Mass of Thanksgiving for a friend who is a newly ordained priest!

It is also a beautiful church.

We passed Maronite and Ukrainian Catholic churches on the drive down. So many cool places to explore in the Twin Cities!

Answering for My Catholicism

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When I was in college and traveling I would often get into conversations with my airplane seatmate about my college thesis. It was a good follow up since my major is in the wide and vague field of Anthropology. Somehow I always managed to be talking to a former Catholic about my thesis on Catholic women and veiling. Their first response always included that one liner that you just know has gotten a lot of use since they left the Church.

"Oh, I'm a recovering Catholic." Like there's an AA for that.

"I used to be Catholic but now I'm a free thinker."

That one always galled me a bit. The implied idea that anyone who is truly intellectually curious cannot exist in the Catholic Church came up quite a bit. I would have to calm my internal ruffled feathers and ask more questions about their experience in the Church. I tried to keep in mind one of my favorite quotes from Archbishop Fulton Sheen: "There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing."

The top of my list of why I love being Catholic is that no matter how hard I investigate and seek to understand Church teachings, there are still more depths to plumb. It makes me so sad to meet so many people who came against an obstacle to faith and chose to turn away. For many it happened as a young kid. Young enough that the initial turning away came from being failed by the teachers and leaders they trusted and asked to help them understand.

It is true that the teachings do not have all modern sensibilities in mind. Thank God! I want a Church able to articulate who she is and not a chameleon one can never be quite sure about.

I find it amazing that I can read the desert fathers and hear someone speak to the heart of my struggles. A hermit man who lived thousands of miles away and over a thousand years ago can speak truth to my heart because that truth is still truth. That is the amazing beauty of the Catholic Church.

Understanding the teachings does not take faith to move mountains, it just takes a heart willing to listen. I love that the teachings are very logical - the reasoning of a position has been followed to it's logical conclusion and made sure that conclusion is still where we should want to go.

One of my guilty pleasures is reading about all of the heresies that have occurred through the ages.
(I know it sounds weird, bear with me!)
Heresies almost always start with a subtle, but important, misunderstanding of a theological principle. From there the heresy spreads, and what plays out is the full impact of following error to it's logical conclusion. It is not a place I would want to go. Getting intellectual concepts down has a huge impact on avoiding error, and when one reads about just a smattering of the many heresies that have led to great loss of life and terrible practices one starts to understand how important a role intellectuals can play in the Church.

I think we should all be intellectuals of a sort in the Church. Understanding theology is not just the arena, or responsibility, of a select few. Regular Catholics in the pew need to understand why we believe what we believe. Every Catholic, at some point, will be asked to answer for those beliefs. Best be ready!

This post is part of the monthly CWBN Blog Hop. Hop over to read more responses on this month's theme "why I love my Catholic faith".

Why do you love your Catholic faith?

Choosing Mother of Divine Grace

Friday, June 16, 2017

Linking up with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

It is homeschool planning time for us! This year I will have a Kindergartner and a preschooler, with a newborn making an appearance early on in the year. I will be using 26 Letters to Heaven with my preschooler this year, but with some added adaptions to help it better fit into our year and my daughter's specific needs (more on that later!)

For my Kindergartner we have decided to enroll in Mother of Divine Grace (MODG). There are a lot of pluses to the curriculum in the early years that I thought I would write down - partially for myself to read when the "February Dull-drums" hit and I need a reminder!

Rigor not busywork

Somehow education discussions have come to view being busy as equivalent to rigorous in a curriculum. I think what one truly means when one says "I am looking for a rigorous curriculum" is, "I am looking for a curriculum that asks enough of the student that they must keep striving ever further, even in areas they may not personally enjoy." I believe busy work always comes back to bite you. It does not foster sustainable learning in the child, and is a recipe for burnout for the teaching parent.

Just like any other healthy plan, having reasonable and achievable goals is the sweet spot.


MODG is beautiful. I would be remiss if these early years did not involve learning to see and appreciate beauty. Because this window for true awe and appreciation just does not open again in the same way.
All the art, and music, and poetry are not just beautiful extras but important in their own right. Learning how to notice detail in art, pick up tone and audible difference,  memorization and performance - these are all skills that might be fudgable for a while, but their lack does become painfully obvious further along in life.

I love that MODG teaches kids these skills early, while simultaneously familiarizing them with a cultural heritage that could seem far away and unreachable.


There is a lot of wiggle room in MODG in terms of which books you end up using for each kid. It's flexible and allows for adaption from kid to kid and family to family. I love that I can tailor the curriculum but I don't feel like I have to right off the bat. There is nothing that I greatly dislike or feel the need to avoid in the curriculum as it stands.

It forces me to have limits

MODG is very simple in the early grades. It's all about building a solid foundation. A newborn is expected to make an appearance in the early part of our school year, and the reality is I need to know what is important and focus on THAT.
Because I am type A and would totally try to do all the things if the curriculum did not reel me in a bit.

Solidly Catholic

I do not need to pay money for materials that undermine the Catholic base I am trying to instill in my kids. That being said, the curriculum does not feel the need to make anything and everything about specifically Catholic things. MODG utilizes books that are not from Catholic specific publishers but produce solid materials with nothing anti-Catholic in that specific book. I like the attitude that secular or Protestant materials do not automatically need to be excluded. We are still meant to live in this world after all.

Enrollment and Accreditation

While enrollment is certainly not strictly necessary when I only have a Kindergartner and a Preschooler, it is comforting to be able to enroll in the school and have a consultant on call in the event that an issue does arise. If we feel like we need to change a book, if something is just not working, or specific learning issues come up, I can email, call, or text my consultant and know that she is familiar with our materials.

Accreditation is something I don't worry about until the middle/high school grades, but it does not hurt to have it - especially when talking to people who are unfamiliar with homeschooling.

It's Familiar

The big reason MODG initially stuck out to me is it uses the materials I largely know and would have chosen anyway. Many of you know I was homeschooled up until high school so I've made the transition from homeschooled kid to homeschooling mom. Living through the experimentation of the 90s Catholic homeschool world left me with big opinions about what does and does not work for me.
Starting out with what I know helps my confidence that we will arrive at important destinations without (too many) tears.

We are adding in a few things to the curriculum, such as: Little Lambs Family Formation, Ballet, science and history plans, etc. A post on our specific curriculum adaptations will be in the works soon!

What do you love about your curriculum? How do you envision next year in your house? 

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