Ember Day Plans - Fall 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Fall Ember Days begin tomorrow! (Can you tell I'm excited?!) I love these quarterly days of fasting and prayer.  To give you some ideas of how to observe, I thought I would share my plans for this Ember Week!


Preparing my heart for the work of a new season means tackling the physical spaces I would rather ignore, or have already procrastinated on handling. This week it's prepping the library for painting, and cleaning out the grease trap over the stove.

I also do a lot of the less frequent type of cleaning this week: vacuuming the porch, cleaning out the car, doing a quick purge in each room, switching over clothes for the new season, etc. 

Realistically, not everything I try to do will happen, but I will have forced myself to do what is asked of me and that is a valuable practice in and of itself.


Confession is always the number one practice for spiritual clean out that I try to make happen during the Ember Days. 

This season I'm also re-committing to praying the Liturgy of the Hours for the readings, morning, and evening prayers. During a parish town hall this past weekend on the abuse crisis, our pastor said something that made me pause. He noted that most priests who became abusers started neglecting their promise to pray this common prayer of the Church first. Being negligent in small things was the first step down that evil road. For the healing and intentions of abuse survivors, I am dedicating these prayers that should have been faithfully prayed in the first place.


I'm a fan of the two prong fasting approach. On these Ember Days I will be following a traditional fast (nothing but liquids during the day) and fasting from social media scrolling. 

To do the spiritual and physical clean out, I need time. When I looked at my time spent, my greatest amount of truly wasted time was scrolling on social media. The amount of that that turned into legitimate connection and communication with others was tiny, and could have been easily found without the scrolling.


Living through, and within, this crisis in the Church has made it very clear to me that this is also a crisis of community. Of connection. Of remembering to care about others as loved Children of God. These Ember Days I am making a special effort to connection with my children, with my spouse, with members of my parish, Catholics beyond my parish, and others I may have met but have not gotten to know yet. 
I don't know exactly what that's going to look like, but I've found that making a conscious effort to be open to the Holy Spirit tends to create what needs to be.

How are you observing these Ember Days? Will this be your first time?

Where I've Been Lately

Friday, September 14, 2018

This has been one of my longest writing breaks in a good while. I think it's time to level with y'all and let you know where I've been lately.

Talking Off-line

In the Diocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the young adults have been leading discussions about the church crisis, developing concrete steps for moving forward, and submitting a letter to the Bishop. I attended the first large discussion with over a hundred other young adults. While I felt like it was a productive conversation at my table, the equal representation of men and women in the room was not reflected in who stood up to address the larger group.

I emailed the organizers about it. Which turned into an invitation to their next planning meeting.
Which turned into getting involved in next steps.
Which turned into being listed as an organizer by the time the letter was released.
All within just a few days.

That meant that more people have been coming up to me wanting to talk about the crisis and what is being done about it in the diocese. I love having those conversations in person! Human connection is so very important for having these hard discussions, and I believe very strongly that we need to feed our community connections now more than ever.
Not every conversation is positive, but I think it is harder for most people to see the subject of their frustration as an object when they are a flesh and bone person standing in front of them.

Writing Online

All of those in person conversations have been enlightening. Plenty of young parents have told me that changes are unnecessary, that the "past should be in the past", or just straight up that the crisis does not concern them.

I wrote a piece for YA Respond, the collection of people who are behind the young adult response in the diocese, addressing that reaction.

Beyond that, I've been on the quiet side online because of....

The Fallout

I knew there would be push back, but I never anticipated how much I would be torn down by other WOMEN. I've gotten hateful emails, messages, comments. One women told me, to my face, that I should "Go home and love your babies instead of talking like this."

It's been a lesson in internalized misogyny, I tell you what.

I appreciate that it's easier for women to be angry at another woman, and to take out their frustrations on someone like me who is sticking her neck out. But just because something is easy does not make it ok. I'm not actually an endless pit that can take all the evil of the world. I'm a human being who isn't always being seen as one right now.

Let's be very clear here - if you have issues with how things are being handled right now, you are invited to get your butt in gear and do something too. I will not allow anyone to continue on harming their own souls by venting their hatred.

Protecting my own mental health has been important because, imagine that, I still have other things going on in my life.


Like homeschooling. This has been a rocky year.
This year I am schooling 1st grade and preschool. 1st grade seems to be a turning point on when it's ok to be different from your peers. Suddenly I'm getting a lot of push back about learning to read (still on that struggle bus) and doing pretty much anything I ask during the day.
It's very hard when the number of young homeschooling families seems to be plummeting, and all his little friends are in the parish school together or at various other schools.

The preschooler would prefer to do school everyday. She does not believe in this concept of "the weekend". If she could start kindergarten right now, that would be swell by her.

Preschooler has been allowed to start phonics because I just can't keep her from starting any longer. Open to suggestions for a struggling to blend, not even beginning, reader. I've tried most of what I've found online and it's not doing the trick here on week 5.

Bleaching E V E R Y T H I N G

The drama could not stop with the big kids! I brought the baby into the doctor with, what I thought, was a bad yeast diaper rash. It was that, but also Staph. STAPH. Eeeeeeeek!!!

This has been a lesson in how little can actually be done against bacteria, but I am fighting this battle with so. much. bleach.


Modern medicine is a marvel, y'all.
Somehow this baby is still pretty cheerful, despite the infection with the awful creatures.


It's been a few weeks of hard, and frankly I needed a win. I did an audition that I *think* went really well!
I'm the kind of Type A actor who keeps an audition log. That way I can record exactly how many times I've thrown myself against this brick wall. (I jest...sort of...) This was my 15th audition. In my "mood coming out" column for this audition I put "nailed it". We'll see what ends up in the "outcome" column.

Amelia Hill House reno

We are attempting to tackle two big areas before the winter sets in: the nursery and the library.

Upon removing the wallpaper in the nursery, and letting it sit, it became apparent that the vintage wallpaper was just not in good enough condition to preserve. The plaster behind it was flaking off the wall, and I called it as a DIY project. For a room intended for a baby the various issues were getting beyond my pay grade.

It's been a few weeks of occasionally having workers here scraping the wall and re-plastering. I don't love parenting and homeschooling with strange men coming in and out all day (who don't speak to me. It's weird.) I keep reminding myself how nice it will be to finally have all the rooms upstairs in usable condition!

We finally won the battle of the rusty nails (...by bringing in a handy man who tackled it in 10 minutes...) so we are now picking colors for the library! We found a local carpenter to build shelves that will be stained to match the dark walnut inlays we have in the floor. I'm going for a 1920's study feel to it, that won't feel too dark in the dead of winter. Ideas welcome!

It does get s t r o n g light in the late afternoon, so I'm thinking red would be a little intense. I like the idea of a dark green, but we have used a lot of green in the house so far.

Linking this little life update with This Ain't the Lyceum for 7 Quick Takes!

"But Not All Men!" and Other Unhelpful Responses

Friday, August 31, 2018

It's been a hell of week - and I do mean that literally. I have never been so disappointed and discouraged in my fellow Catholics.

I thought so highly of them. I thought that when rubber hit the road they would show up, listen to truth, ignore their personal bogeymen and do what was right. Instead I have never before seen such a show of clericalism, cults of personality, intellectual dishonesty, and a love of comfort over truth.

I appreciate that as a survivor of abuse (albeit not clerical abuse) I have less tolerance for the hand wringing and "woe is me and mine" attitude when there is true evil lurking in our midst. But it's time to shape it up, fellow Catholics! Here are some of the responses I've been seeing that are thoroughly unhelpful, at best.

"But not all men!"

No duh, not all men behave problematically. But can we say that there are sociological differences in how men are responding to this crisis, as a group, and how women are responding? Absolutely.
Having that conversation shut down because "my husband would never act like that" doesn't help anyone. It shuts down the very real issue that women are having a hell of a time being taken seriously as voices here.

"I'm waiting for more information."

Omnipotence isn't happening for you. The reality is we do have some information, and I will not be a shrinking violet. In the refusal of Rome to clarify the issue, we must use what we have to the best of our ability and demand that our leaders do what is required of them.
If our leaders refuse to lead - it's a problem. Final, unassailable, proof or not.

"As a faithful Catholic, I will side with the Pope."

No. No it is not more Catholic to love a man more than Jesus. That is clericalism at it's raging finest. The essence of following mammon instead of God.

"Let's not jump to conclusions."

This wouldn't be a bad one if it wasn't hurled at anyone seeking to move the issue forward. It's not jumping to conclusions to say that Pope Francis is letting down the larger Church, and inciting even more scandal, by remaining silent. It's stating a fact.

"The real problem is a lack of women priests!"

Yes, let's blame the women some more everybody! Let's pile on and make sure our pet project is the thing that gets forwarded here. Not truth. Not love. Pet. Project.

"It's only the *Catholic* Church that has an abuse problem."

It's hubris to think that abuse could never happen in OUR tradition, in OUR town, in OUR family. But it can and it does. Oh how the mighty will fall.

"They always had it out for Pope Francis anyway."

Probably. I'm not going to pretend that anyone is squeaky clean of ulterior agendas. Does it mean they're wrong to be speaking now? No. No it doesn't.
Just because someone is dirty doesn't mean they don't know about more dirt. In fact it makes it more likely. Don't ignore the message because you have a personal tiff with the messenger.

More on the topic:

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

What responses should be added to this list? How have you responded?

How Dare You Tell Us To Close Our Eyes Now

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I should have known better than to believe that scales would fall from eyes once the truth started coming out. I have a consistent fault where I believe people. I believe that others mean what they say, and that truth will be accepted when shown the light of day. That is not what is happening in our Church right now.

Instead the Catholic world is in a civil war. I'm sure the Devil is celebrating.

He is celebrating our collective inability to stand for truth. That comradery, friendships, and working relationships are fracturing left and right over demands that we "pick a side", "withhold judgement", "wait for more information".

There is a difference between rushing to judgement and seeing what is before your eyes. I cannot abide any attempts to evade investigation upon pet favorites. The instinct to protect a "side" is from the Evil One. If you are not on the side of truth, please reconsider for the sake of your soul.
Do not be so corrupted that you allow tribalism to take pride of place over love of truth.

There can be no healing as long as we continue this ridiculous "liberal Catholic vs. conservative Catholic" civil war. Those labels have never made sense in the fullness of Catholic theology and they are now becoming a weapon of our own destruction. A crude mallet with which to crush our own brothers and sisters.

I love the Pope. I love him enough to be willing to call upon him to be a better shepherd. It is reasonable to expect our Holy Father to show up and guide his children.

It has happened before that a Pope has been too personally weak to fulfill the duties of his office. It took great Saints, like St. Catherine of Siena, who refused to be silenced, persisting in the face of immense pressure to go home and be good - and quiet.

I love my Church. I love Jesus. I love my Catholic brothers and sisters. I love them enough to refuse to let them harm themselves.

We don't have all the answers yet, but we all know enough now to know that this is a war.
Not between liberal Catholics and conservative Catholics.
Not between those pro or anti Pope Francis.
This is a war between Heaven and Hell.
This is a battle that will only be won if each and every one of us purges attachments to evil in our own lives and within ourselves. Let no one rest easy.

Related posts:

Where Do We Go From Here? - To Catholic Women In the Storm

Monday, August 27, 2018

There has never been a harder time to be Catholic in modern history. Yeah, I think we're there, and it's not over. The purge has yet to come and the pain will be raw for a good time yet.

Today I want to speak to the women of the Church. I want the men to hear the women of the Church. Our struggles are not always your struggles, and in the deadening gong of revelation the chasm between our experiences has widened.

To the women who want to fix everything

I get it. There is an overall need to *do* something. But in our quest to do something, we must be very careful not to cross the line into making women the savior of men in some sort of warped idea of the feminine genius.
Predators are not mothered into normal behavior. Narcissism cannot be tempered by womanhood.
Work for your church, for the salvation of your soul, but do not allow your compassion and empathy to blind you to reality.

To the survivors of any type of abuse 

You are not alone. Those who have never had to confront evil like this are flailing right now. In that process they are repeating the very reactions and systems that allowed abuse to happen in your personal experience.
In the past 48 hours alone I have seen: gaslighting, disbelief of whistle blowers, rationalization, denial of gravity ("it wasn't x so it wasn't really abuse"), wagon circling. For those of us who have ever spoken about our abuse to anyone, this is like watching some of your worse memories reenacted by people who you were told to trust. Again.

It's despicable that people are reacting this way. It's not ok. Do not stand for it if you can.
Be aware of your own mental health in this environment. It's ok to take breaks.

To those who are mothering through public pain

Mothering these innocent ones when you are hurting and mourning is so painful and so powerful. This generation of children has the capacity to be the greatest we have ever seen. But they are watching their parents and trusted adults live through some of the darkest days in modern church history.

Now is our chance to form an honest and true relationship between our families and the church. One that is free of clericalism. Free of blind adherence. One that sees ourselves in the fullness of truth, and our shepherds as human beings.

You do not need to put up a strong front. Children need our honesty. They need to see that we will not excuse evil if it comes from someone important enough.

To women asked to answer for the crimes of men

I have gotten many questions in the past weeks. Most are along the lines of "How can you possibly still be Catholic after all this?" Some want to know if I am "taking the Roman out of your Catholic and going East?" Some want to know exactly what kind of abuse I have seen. Some want to know if I'm "really an abuse survivor".

All I can think when I get these questions in emails, messages, and in person is: if the men who committed this abuse and corruption had been treated like we treat those who speak up, especially the women who remain faithful, this evil would never have been able to find a safe haven.

I don't blame those asking questions. I do blame those who deflect and avoid the light of day on their pet projects and favorites.
I wish those prying into the stories of survivors understood what they were asking. That it's not just telling a story. For me it's asking me to re-live the unthinkable. You are asking for something you have no right to demand. For those who have asked, I know you didn't mean to do it, but now you know better.

To those who just want this to end

I know. Everyone in pain reaches a point where it just feels too painful to go on. But like a woman in the transition stage of labor, this point of no return is where we have to go if we wish to see new life spring forth.

Our souls cannot bear the cost of avoiding the question and allowing for any muck to be papered over. I mean that quite literally. For the sake of your soul do not stop the light from shining into the crevices.

What I'm doing

I still believe prayer, fasting, #sackclothandashes are necessary. They are not all. God gave us hands, voices, and minds for a purpose - how dare we avoid using them?

Reaching out to each other as a church is needed. Evil will use this opportunity to divide and further wound our humanity, and I refuse to let that happen.

I will not tolerate anyone attempting to excuse anyone from investigation.

I will continue to pray that those accused and those who covered up accusations step down voluntarily and out of humility. For how else can the sheep survive if our shepherds tolerate the presence of wolves in the flock? I don't just want them to sin no more, I want them to save their souls. That's what it means to love.

I will continue to fight for my church in the world. I will continue to raise my children Catholic. I will fight for Jesus, and I will not sacrifice truth for comfort.

I will love. However painful it is, I will continue to love. That is how I have survived, and it's the only way the Church can survive.

Hosting Your Own Retreat

Monday, August 13, 2018

Last week we hosted a retreat at our home! It was a very simple thing.

Something that has bothered me about retreats aimed for women is they are often 1. very expensive, 2. cater to a different demographic from me, or 3. don't have a way to easily remain in contact with women you have just gotten to know more personally.

Instead of waiting for someone to come along and drop the ideal retreat from the sky - you can make what you need! Here are some key things to hosting your own retreat.

The difference between a "retreat" and a "conference"

This is key, and often forgotten.
A retreat should entail some specific focus toward spiritual development, preferably something that would be difficult to do in your day to day life for whatever reason.
A conference is more focused on building connections, and might have spiritual practices but they may be optional or something already easily accessible in your daily life.
One is not better than the other, but they do have different purposes, and it's important to be aware of what your purpose is before you begin.

M'kay, onto the fun stuff!

Feed your group's needs

We were putting this on for young moms. Ours was a off-line meeting of some online friends from a Catholic mom Facebook group.
Something I heard consistently from the group was they struggled to find:

  • in person spiritual discussions
  • feeling directly fed by the priesthood
  • finding time to go to confession with littles in tow
So we set out to meet those explicit needs! Your group mind need something totally different, and a good planning process will adapt to those needs.

The basic structure

This is how we structured our mini-retreat!

I like having a flexible arrival hour. That lets people get to know each other a little more before delving into small group discussions, and make connections.

I do feel that food is an important part of a retreat. This might just be a coffee/pastry break in the middle, it could be a potluck meal, it could be a family style dinner at the end of the day - whatever works for your budget + needs of the group.

Our group leader has a background in ministry, and she led us in a talk/exercise for evaluating where we were in our personal journey as mothers. The plan from there was to break off into small groups to discuss our responses, but we were a size of group that could either stay as one or split into two. We opted to just all discuss together. If you have a larger group, I highly recommend having some sort of break out time.

I asked a priest friend to come meet everyone, say a blessing for mothers, and offer confessions. It was part inviting a priest into an extremely chaotic, wiggly, young family world and part adding friendly hands to make it easier for young moms to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. 

We ended on the early side since many of the women were attending another event that evening. 

Keeping it affordable 

We suggested a $20 donation per family. We were hosting it at my house, so no facility costs, had a free speaker, and kept food simple. Because kids and spouses were invited, we felt this was a fair cost and we broke even (goal met!)

Hosting in homes is cheapest, but might require keeping your group size on the smaller end depending on the home. We had 9 moms, 2 dads, 6 kids, and 2 babies, and that worked in our home.

What about kids?

We decided to open our retreat to whole families - especially because this was the first time the group had gotten together and our kids were a big part of our connection to each other. It also allowed women to attend for whom finding childcare/affording childcare would be a hardship.

Limiting it to just moms, or moms plus babies, would probably result in a much calmer event. Deciding what route to go just depends on your purpose and the needs of your group.

We did some things to make it easier to have kids present! There were various play areas set up, kids friendly snacks available, a changing station set up in a hallway, and some quiet bedrooms with sound machines for any nappers.

Deciding your audience

Who would you like to provide to opportunity for a retreat? Using a pre-made group, as we did with the Facebook group, is helpful to make notifying easier. Perhaps your bible study group at church? Your moms group?

Maybe it's a group you put together of someone you know from choir, someone you met at the park, people from various mom groups. Perhaps you have Instagram friends (don't laugh, it's a thing) that are local to you and you would love to see in person.
Be conscious of your goal, what these women have in common, and work toward feeding the needs of the group. It might look totally different from our retreat, but it will be good for your group!

Have you ever hosted something like this? Are you interested in doing so now?
What would your ideal retreat to host look like? What about your ideal retreat to attend?

What World Breastfeeding Week is Like for Formula Feeders

Friday, August 3, 2018

I said I wasn't going to write anything else on this topic after that one time, but, whelp.

In case you have missed the sharing of memes, articles, and brelfies - it's World Breastfeeding Week!

It comes after NFP week every year, and when we got to Tuesday without a breastfeeding dripping Facebook timeline, I thought I might have to throw a party. We were two days into breastfeeding week and people were playing it cool and keeping it logical and reasonable?! I'd buy a round for the house!

But it started on Wednesday, and my celebrations were promptly put on hold.

You see I'm one of THOSE. A formula feeder. A hard won formula feeder who, frankly, needs to speak a little truth to power for a second here.
This is what this week is like for formula feeders.

Literally every, single, other way of feeding your baby is celebrated but yours.

People are trying to be more open minded now. So it's not just breastfeeding. Anyone who pumps, uses donated milk, combo feeds are included!
You know the only group not included? Formula feeders.
No, there is no formula feeding week, in case you were wondering.

The barrage of events that make it clear that you are not invited.

You wanna know what makes me feel isolated as a mother? Seeing all the events for nurse-ins, breastfeeding celebrations, and other events that make sure to note that breastmilk using families are welcome to attend the festival of feeding!

I'm the type of mother not invited.

Bad Science. Sooooo much bad science.

When you are sacrificing so much for the sake of feeding your baby breast milk it might be nigh impossible to hear, but science is not showing that breast milk has any long term impact in the developed world. The sibling studies just don't bear it out.
Enough with the "science" articles and memes and whatever else claiming that breastfeeding will make your child a long-lived, immune to everything, genius, who will create world peace. (And that's not even an exaggeration, people! All of that are real claims I have seen in the past few days.)

Please feed your baby, but don't put yourself through hell to do it. Your baby needs a mother, not just milk. Mothering is more than feeding, and you are worth more than a bodily fluid.

I wonder if lactivists would say the things they do if they would see people like me?

There remains an identity of persecution among breastfeeding activists, and some breastfeeders, that just doesn't reflect reality where I have lived.

I have encountered serious issues accessing medical care because people cannot compute that I am not breastfeeding. I have to lead with it. Continue to correct the doctor who just went off on another why-this-medication-is-fine-for-breastfeeding talk. Get sent home with inaccurate care instructions.
Delays in treatment because the only measurement of normal for a postpartum mother is a breastfeeding mother.

I have strangers check in if there is breast milk in that bottle.

A push for donor milk for my perfectly healthy full term baby, even though there is a shortage for NICU babies who actually, medically, need breast milk.

Lactivism has actively hurt my mental, emotional, and physical health. Caused unnecessary health risks in my first two children, and severely limited my community support.
It's not ok.

There's a hugely uneven power balance here

Have you ever seen the back of a formula can? Every single one includes the phrase "breast milk is recommended" or "breast milk is best". ON THE FORMULA CAN.

In order to access formula in a hospital, you might have to sign a form certifying that you are "aware of the risks of formula feeding". Even if formula is medically indicated.

You know what message that sends to mothers who need to use formula?
That we're making a lesser choice for our babies.
That we can't be trusted to have evaluated this decision.

Breastfeeding is not the underdog when it comes to the power to impact mothers in this way.

No one mobilizes for discrimination against a formula feeding mother like they will for a breastfeeding one

I'm going to tell you a little story that illustrates this power dynamic.

I took my kids on a trip to an art museum, as parents might occasionally do. I had my young baby with me in a front carrier.
Half an hour into being at the museum she needed to eat, like young babies do.
I pulled out a pre-made bottle and starting feeding her in the carrier as we walked through a gallery, keeping up the commentary on what we were seeing for my older kids.

A docent came up to me, "I think you would be more comfortable over here with your baby."

"No, I'm ok, thanks."

"Well, we don't allow food or drink in the gallery."

"Even for a baby?"

"Yes, just follow me."

I didn't want to make a scene, so I stayed in the little alcove off a hallway the docent had led me to feed my baby in. Fed the baby, tried my best to keep the antsy big kids quiet-ish, packed up after and went back into the gallery we had been before we were redirected.

Sitting on a couch, in that same gallery, was a mother breastfeeding.

Same docent standing in the room, apparently un-bothered.

I was mad. I was frustrated. If I cannot feed my baby (who looked as old as the nursing one) in that space, why is breastfeeding allowed?
This was not a toddler walking around with a juice box and snack pack. This was a young infant being bottled fed in a close carry by an adult.

But I also knew that no one would have my back.

That there would be no one willing to do more than shrug and say "that's annoying".

Discriminating against a bottle feeding mother is allowed. These stories don't go viral. They don't inspire some sort of feed-in protest. Bottle feeding is not culturally valued in the same way as breastfeeding.

You know what all the breastfeeding celebrations are like for someone like me? A punch in the gut.

I don't even want a formula feeding celebration week. I just want to not be treated like a criminal embarrassment by doing just what a breastfeeding mother is trying to do - feeding my baby.

A little understanding this week would be acceptable.

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

Did any of this surprise you? How can we better celebrate all parents?
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