more advent music + Chesterton on Santa

Two quick things I mentioned on the radio today!

First up: more of the Advent music we love in our house.

Night of Silence - Marty Haugen

Christmas Eve - David Lanz

Hymns - Beth Neilsen Chapman 

Advent at Ephesus - Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles

And here's why G. K. Chesterton believed in Santa Claus, even more as an adult than when he was a child. Don't miss the other article linked at the bottom of the post, about whether telling children about Santa Claus is lying. Spoiler alert: it's not. :)

A blessed Gaudete Sunday to all this weekend. And a great big thanks as always to the crew at Mater Dei Radio's Morning Drive program for having me as a guest.


domestic tips and tricks for December

Hello! The Advent of our Lord is upon us! And currently, I'm in bed with some weird stomach bug/food poisoning grossness. I'm praying it's one of those blessed 12 or 24 hour miracle bugs that does it's awful business and then leaves my house in peace. Praying praying praying.

I'm not jumping into the "how early is too early to pull out the Christmas decorations?" fracas because my own reasons for holding off are completely non-liturgical: I just cannot stand the the stockings, Santas and snowmen getting a fine layer of DUST on them before the Christmas Eve. Dusting and cleaning are depressing enough without having to dust and clean the stuff you pull out of the closet each year to MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY!!!

So, family rule is that it all the tinsel comes out and the tree goes up on the 2nd or 3rd Sunday of Advent, and then comes down by Epiphany, all dusty and sad. But by then I don't care as much.

Here are 7 things I'm loving at home this month:

1. Budget friendly Christmas card photos

We only had to take 4,000 photos to get a good one! This was shot 3,403. We were still warming up.

I had grand plans to hire a photographer and have a big ol' family photo shoot with my family (three sisters, two sons-in-law, two grandparents and nine grandkids under the age of eight).

Yeah. That didn't come together. But instead we went to a nearby park with benches and this little gadget with a remote shutterfly, and it went pretty darn well:

I plan on just taking one of the photos of Sean and I with our kids, embellishing it with a little photoshop magic, then printing them for like .09 cents or something at Costco. Done and done cheaply.

2. Cheap frames for kid art

So many times I've tried to sneak one of my dear kid's masterpieces into the recycling bin (after the proper period of admiration and praise for their aesthetic sense, of course), only to have them see the smallest corner of it sticking out and scream HEY, I WANTED TO KEEP THAT!!

Since this is the season of 9,000 art projects, I picked up a 3-pack of these cute 8x10 pop-in front loader frames from Walmart for $5.97. I can only find the link to the 3-pack of 11x17 frames online, but still, at $11.56 for three, that's pretty good. 

3. Free foliage 

My rose bushes and nandinas start to quake when they see me head outside with the scissors.

As much as I love having fresh flowers in my home and on my table, I still have a hard time biting the $5 bullet to buy a cut arrangement at the store. It's a thrill to go see what I have outside in the yard, instead.

3. My Dollar Store Advent wreath.

This year I'm using little $1 candlestick holders, prickly evergreen branches, and candles my mom picked up for me because I forgot to buy my own!! (Thanks, Mom.)

4. Advent music that sounds like Christmas music

I've had this album, Hymns, on repeat for weeks now. It's free on Amazon Prime Music. Beth Neilsen Chapman's voice has a way of taking Catholic classics (many of them in Latin) and making them sound lush and festive with nary a whiff of misplaced-Chrsitmas cheer.

Bonus: I play it in the afternoons when the kids are going bonkers and supposed to be doing their homework, and it smokes the bees, as they say. Lifesaver. 

6. Toy purge

Something about knowing that in influx of NEW STUFF (which I myself am buying at a ridiculous speed) will be descending into our home in a few weeks at Christmas makes me want to clean out all the closets. I've been going room to room with paper grocery bags, trying to furtively trash all of the broken-past-fixing items that have accrued since we moved.  

Hint: Doing this purge while the 5 year old is present makes it 91% less effective.

7. Always always always shop Amazon Warehouse Deals

It's just second nature anymore, but for any item I'm searching for on Amazon (most especially toys or household goods), I look for it in the Warehouse Deals dept. first. A little tutorial for mobile users:

Buying something from the Warehouse Deals means sacrificing the pristine beauty of opening the original packing of an item yourself. But if that's no big deal, then there are deep savings to be had--usually about 30-50% off of Amazon's original prices.

Blessed Advent to us all!

that baby life

I've noticed something the last few weeks.

For the first time, we finally have "older kids" with our 5.5 and 7.5 year old boys. And between the two of them and Sean and I, we collectively reference the bottom two as "the babies."

Before, I felt like I just had a rather large herd of small and adorably needy little people to shepherd around. Now I have two big boys that help with the household chores, and that includes helping with THE BABIES. And now, my little ones are not just mine to dress, mine to feed, mine to play with.

"Joseph, please put on Gussie's shoes."

"Amby, please feed Stevie some yogurt."

"Joseph, please play pat-a-cake with Steve."

"Amby, please get Gussie a cracker... and then please catapult Gussie off an air matress."


The amazing thing to me is that as I've delegated more responsibility of the babies' care to the big boys, their love for the little ones has grown so much. Sure, I'm often breaking up squabbles or removing a baby from his or her assault on a big kid's Lego creation. But more often than not, the big boys are being genuinely and sweetly helpful.

It shouldn't be surprising to me, since I've been reading the Catholic mommy blogs for years. Heck, Kate wrote an awesome series of posts titled "Before I had a 7 year old," marking that magic transition a family makes when kids start pulling some blessed weight around the house.

But even if I knew it worked in theory, I'm still tickled pink to see it actually happen in my own home.

For that, along with so much more this Advent, I am truly grateful.


sex, salaries and salads: just do the hard work

Week nine of our first Financial Peace University class just concluded, so Sean and I hosted a little party to celebrate with about 30 of our delightful class members. I didn't expect to feel so emotional about it, but I did. In just two months, our class members saved up $26,000 in cash, paid down $25,000 in debt, and had some serious plastic surgery--cutting up more than 33 credit cards.

Hard work, all of that.

The longer that Dave Ramsey's lessons about money bounce around in my head, the more I am convinced that whether the topic is money, or healthy eating, or sex and family planning, success lies in realizing just one simple lesson:

There is no substitute for hard work.

Smart man.

Last week I ran across the instagram account of plus-size model Tess Holliday. She had posted a photo of the side of her face, post-shower, without make up. Her skin had some blemishes. The caption:

“Here to tell you that even ‘Supermodels’ have breakouts. Hormones are a killer. Also can I just say that ever since my IUD my skin has been whack. Can we please have better birth control options.”

Oh girl. I've got a great form of birth control for you, and it's never once made my skin break out. I did a little research about this post of Holliday's, and found this commentary from Refinery 29 (and pardon the French):
She's not alone, either. Whether in the form of oral birth control pills or an intrauterine device (a.k.a. IUD), so many of us struggle with seriously f---ed up skin due to synthetic hormones. We want to practice safe sex and protect ourselves, but sometimes it feels like acne is the price we have to pay. 
To Holliday's IUD-specific claim, Dr. Debra Wickman, MD told Refinery29 that it happens. She says that around 15% of women who use an IUD as their form of birth control will experience skin issues due to the levonorgestrel hormones released into the body, stimulating skin's oil glands to start pumping oil on overdrive. Thus, triggering acne. 
Luckily, there are solutions. "You can make some impact by cleaning the skin with benzoyl peroxide," Dr.Wickman says, adding that sometimes the body just needs some time to just get used to the foreign object sitting in their uterus. She recommends giving it six months before getting rid of your IUD due to acne. "The body does an amazing job of adjusting and compensating," she explains.
Are you kidding me??

Decades and decades of the lobby for sexual revolution, fighting for "reproductive freedom" or whatever, and the best they can do is: "acne is the price we have to pay" and "sometimes the body just needs some time just to get used to the foreign object sitting in their uterus."


No. There is no pill nor device that takes sex, separates it from procreation, and makes that transaction without a fee. Natural family planning is no picnic, I know. It's lessons and charting and sacrifice and abstaining, maybe a little, maybe a lot.

But there is no substitute for hard work.

Dr. Joel Furhman's book, Eat to Live, darkened our doorstep recently, and ever since reading it, our family's diet has undergone a pretty radical transformation. We are... well, there's no easy way to say it.

We've become reluctant vegans.

Very shoddy and resentfully crunchy vegans, really.

I cannot do justice to the onslaught of evidence Furhman delivers in his case against eating meat and animal products. But he connects the rapid rise in cancer rates, obesity, diabetes and the other medical ills of Western society with the rapid increase in animal product consumption. He explains how nutrient-deficient our society is, forever plying ourselves with diet products, barraging our systems with low-nutrient foods, flooding our meals with protein, rarely eating unrefined plants, and then swallowing a multivitamin to feel better about it all.

I had to laugh at my post about meal planning. Just weeks after writing it, I had to utterly revamp every shelf in my pantry.

I tossed the salad dressing and bought pure tahini.

I stopped buying my beloved gluten free Ritz-lookalike crackers and started making smoothies for breakfast.

I threw out the frozen pizzas and put 10 lbs of walnuts in my freezer.

I serve 3-5 vegetables a night for dinner, along with some beans. My counter is awash in the cuttings and clippings from making a full-scale salad bar, daily.

I cook with something called, no joke: DINOSAUR KALE.

I digress. Tears come about every 7th meal or so--and that's from me, not the children.

It's an ongoing struggle to find my way back to normalcy and ease in the kitchen, getting comfortable cooking without salt or oil. But Sean is feeling better than he has in years. All of my issues with digestion have greatly lessened or stopped altogether (which is great, because, as I told my GI doc when he recommended an endoscopy for my tummy troubles: "I literally have no idea when I'd ever have time to do that").

One of Dr. Furhman's tenants is that our society expects to be able to eat whatever we want, damn the consequences, and then just take a pill (sound familiar?) to fix the inevitable problems:

"The modern food and drug industry has converted a significant portion of the world's people to a new religion--a massive cult of pleasure seekers who consume coffee, cigarettes, soft drinks, candy, chocolate, alcohol, processed foods, fast foods, and concentrated dairy fat (cheese) in a self-indulgent orgy of destructive behavior.
 When the inevitable results of such bad habits appear--pain, suffering, sickness, and disease--the addicted cult members drag themselves to physicians and demand drugs to alleviate their pain, mask their symptoms, and cure their diseases. 
These revelers become so drunk on their addictive behavior and the accompanying addictive thinking that they can no longer tell the difference between health and health care."
Chewing kale makes me feel like a hangry brachiosaurus. However:

There is no substitute for hard work.

How can it be that it is the same with food as it is with money; the same with family planning and sex as it is with monthly budgets; the same with saying no to cheeseburgers (if I want to keep my waistline trim) as it is with periodically saying no to sex (if I want to keep my waistline, ahem, trim)?

I don't know how it all coalesces, but it does. Here's hoping for the grace, endurance and fortitude to continue choosing the hard work over the substitutes.


7 things I always look for (and find) in thrift stores, plus 3 to skip

HO HO HO! MEEERRRRRY... Thanksgiving. Yes, I'm thinking about Christmas, but no, I am not "celebrating" Christmas in any way yet--just preparing for it, in ways various and sundry.

Because that's the job of the momager, right? Make lists, check them twice, change the beds, and stock up on Pyrex dishes? We all know what's coming down the pike in six weeks, and as the beloved Mr. Ramsey is fond of saying, Christmas is not an emergency. Sean and I have set our Christmas budget, and I'm starting to stock up on some housewares I like to have on hand before things get too nuts. 

I think I've beat the dead and upcycled horse here about how much I love thrift stores and bargain shopping. Today I'm sharing the specific items I look for when I pop into Goodwill and its ilk on the weekends.

1. Books 
Biggest secret of MY LIFE right here: I have been known to give my kids used books as presents. GASP. Through the year I scan for titles I know they'll love receiving: the Narnia trilogy, anything with Star Wars, or Eric Carle picture books, and Sandra Boynton board books. These are usually .25 up to $1.99, and I stash them through the year for Christmas presents and other holidays.

2. Vases
One of my favorite, tiny little thrills in life is to be able to take someone flowers, either from my yard or the store, in a glass vase--and tell them to keep the vase. It's like getting to play the FTD florist delivery guy for a day. Give someone flowers they can just plop right down on their desk, no cutting or vase-finding required, and you get a big smile in return. I usually scan the vases at thrift stores for cute little ones that cost about a buck.

3.White bowls & serving pieces
We somehow go through all six of our cereal bows daily, and I'm often faced with the conundrum of having to wash the dishwasher only half full, because I need those dang bowls again in the morning. A set of four matching bowls can be hard to find, but two or three? Done. Same thing for a new-to-you platters and Pyrex dishes for Thanksgiving. Best to look for them now, before the hosting season draws nigh.

4. Juice glasses
I've got small children.
I've got tile kitchen floors.
Stuff shatters. Frequently. I know juice glasses are already fairly cheap at discount stores like Ross and Marshalls, but I can often get small juice glasses, perfect for little pre-school hands, for .25 cents at a thrift store.

5. Sports equipment
Baseball gloves, badmitton rackets, soccer balls, shin guards... both at thrift stores and Once Upon a Child, these items are usually easy to find.

6. Playing cards
I once nabbed a still-in-the-plastic set of Star Wars playing cards at a Goodwill for .69 cents. They are still a hit around here, although I think we're missing Yoda (he's the ace of spades).

7. Wreaths
Take a stroll down the "holiday decor" aisle of the moment at the local thrift store and I guarantee there will be a pretty darn nice wreath to be had for the front door. These cost so much less than buying them at inflated prices at Target or Michael's.

So vases, wreaths, books, serving bowls, playing cards, sports equipment and juice glasses--those are my wins!

Now, 3 things I always skip:
1. Boys' pants
Boys are just way too rough on the knees of their pants to buy these second hand. I've gotten burned more than once with buying a used pair, only to have my little guy come home from school that afternoon with a hole in the knee already. I almost always buy boy pants on super sales at Old Navy, or regular WalMart prices.

2.  Mens' pants
Same deal! Costco frequently has mens' jeans for $15 or less--and he can take them back if he doesn't like how they fit. And then he can pick out his own damn jeans. ;)

3. Toys & stuffed animals
Yeah, no. I just try to wait for major Black Friday sales to buy the kids their Christmas toys.

I'd love to hear what are your go-tos in thrift stores! Linking up (super late) with Kelly for 7 quick takes.


the baby always gets nothing for Christmas

Right? Isn't it how it always goes? I make a list of 9 million gifts/Christmas expenses in our Christmas budget, and the baby always gets the short end of the peppermint stick.

Poor buddy.

Estella NYC sent us this adorable organic cotton Taxi bodysuit (maybe I should have saved it to have something to put in his stocking, heh) and the rest of their items make me think Steve should get his own portion of the budget.

Because, hello, avocado rattle.

In other news, my 5-year-old boy wants a vacuum for Christmas (insert mom emoji heart eyes), while my 7-year-old boy would like nothing more than carte blanche access to every Star Wars and Transformers film/TV series/cartoon ever created.

Spoiler alert: it's going to be a great Christmas for one little dude, and possibly disappointing for the other.

In other frugal news, I'm hunting down everything from Rescue Bots to roller skates and kids rain boots on Amazon Warehouse Deals. This week I scored a Melissa and Doug Water Wow pad for less than $4, and I just grabbed new shelves, a towel hook rack and light fixture for Gussie's room through the Warehouse Deals. For those looking for bargains, it's a goldmine.

Aforementioned size 13 rain boots, procured through Amazon Warehouse Deals and promptly confiscated by the child who never receives gifts. Can't blame him.

Estella NYC is offering Domestic Apologist readers 15% off your order with code Domestic15.

If you end up getting the avocado rattle for your kid, don't tell Steve. I can't let him find out other babies get new stuff.


interview: ditch the perfection and boil the pasta already

I get to add a new title to my dusty ol' resume: momager.

Has everyone heard that term before? Just not me? I love it. My good friend John is the broadcast operations director at Mater Dei Radio in the Pacific Northwest. For whatever reason, he's decided to keep bringing this momager on the air to talk about the finer arts of, errr, how to make a salad for dinner, and the joys of grocery shopping ALONE. 

Oh, the deep, deep joys.

We also discuss how aiming for perfection in motherhood and household management--and how toxic it is. 

Many thanks to Mater Dei Radio. The full morning podcast (which I listen to even when I'm, ahem, not on the program, because it's terrific) is available HERE and my little interview with John is HERE


7qt / saving money on house stuff at walmart vs. target

Hello oh thrifty ones!

I've realized something about being a Walmart shopper vs. being a Target shopper. I'm already not a Target fan due to their pick-your-favorite-gender bathroom policy from last year (which, by the way, was a financial disaster for them), but even if that issue could be set aside, I find Target to be a budget buster for me.

It's too easy to spend money in Target. From the one dollar (which now can be $3, I guess?) bins to the clearance women's clothes, then stationery, and of course throw pillows, and hey look the RUGS ARE ON SALE!

Total: $131, and I walked in there with a list that said:
- lunch meat
- kid toothbrush
- foil

So is it sad to say that at least partially, I'm a Walmart shopper because I buy less there? It's a less aesthetically-appealing store? But therein lies the answer: It's a less appealing STORE. As brick-and-mortars go, their inventory doesn't hold a candle to Target's in-stock homewares. But their website? Gold. And, hence, this series of posts, which highlights things I've discovered through their website and app. And ad least for me, when I'm able to peruse items online, I'm less likely to do impulse buys--and much more likely to add it my cart, then click "save for later," and think about it for days, or weeks, or until it fits in my monthly budget.

WHEW! Here's the stuff happily languishing in my cart:

1 / Modern Farmhouse Storage Cabinet, Rustic Gray Finish
This one's been on my radar for ages. Better Homes and Gardens could easily change names to Faux Fixer Upper. Love the sliding barn door and slots for four baskets. $219 isn't bad for a piece this big and cute. Someone please tell me it comes with that pair of hipster mustard yellow rain boots.

2 / Distressed Ogee Area Runner
I keep vacillating on whether or not to put matching runners on either side of our bed in the master bedroom. But if I did, these would be the winners--22x60" for $16.50.

3 / Indigo Border Medallion Rug
Remember my undying love to my jute rug? The love is still there, but the thrill is gone. I'm itching to put something soft under Stevie's little crawling knees. Largest size it comes in is 5x7 for $68. Very World-Market-ish.

4 / Set of 4 Rustic Frames, 11x14 matted to 8x10
Thinking these would look miiiighty nice and matchy matchy to that farmhouse storage cabinet up above. Four big frames for $25.

5 / Carter's 2-piece cotton pajama set

I keep meaning to just buy these already for Gus. $6.97!

6 / Pioneer Woman Ticking Stripe Comforter

It had me at the words: "100% cotton" and "reverse is floral print." #hearteyes

7/ Pioneer Woman throw pillows
One of each, please. Except that cat one. But definitely the cow.

That's it for my cart! Linking up with Kelly for 7 quick takes.


what happens when no one hears "no"

Poor Steve with his plastic, rotating nemesis.

Sean and I are five weeks in with teaching Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU) class at our parish. Last night's lesson had to do with changing personal spending habits--also known as saying "no" to our impulses to buy things because we tell ourselves we "need" them.

I "need" a new van... but really I just want the car that vacuums up after my crumb monsters.  

I "need" another pair of jeans... but really I just want something dressier to wear on date nights. 

I "need" a new rug in the family room... but really I'm just tired of looking at the stains on the current rug.

We've all got to learn to tell ourselves "no." Delayed gratification is a pretty good marker of adulthood. But in this age of snowflakes and the constant urging to treat yo' self, even adults seem susceptible of throwing tantrums.   
People hate hearing "no." And so we have a country full of adults who have yes-ed themselves into hundred of thousands of dollars of debt. 

But it's more than just money matters, of course.

That family who insisted that their little girl get to wear a white tux to her first Holy Communion? They were told "no." They didn't like it.

I've had so many more examples lately--at home, at work, with kids. It's maddening. It's disheartening.

It's what happens in a culture when no one hears "no."

I've committed to doing a monthly budget with Sean, every single month, no exceptions. A budget doesn't mean a damn thing, though, if you don't stick to it. It doesn't work if you get to the end of the month, the clothing budget is at a scant $4, and I see a pair of clogs for $30--and buy them. That's not how it works.

It only works if I tell myself "no." It only works if I set that example for my kids. It only works if Sean and I both keep our promises to stay on track with money.

A wonderful couple in our class came to us and asked for help with their budget. They asked us if we put birthday presents for our kids in our budget. We said "yes, we do, but with how expensive parties can be and wish lists for new toys that stretch on forever, our kids hear 'no' a lot."

The couple looked at us.

"Really?" they said. "You tell your kids no about that kind of stuff?"

"Yeah," we said slowly.

Saying "no" to our wants, our perceived needs, our kids' wants, our tantrums, our kids' tantrums... it's not easy. It's not the norm.

But maybe it should be.


how I failed at meal planning (and what finally made me start doing it)

I'm awful at meal planning.

Additionally, I hate being wrong.

So yeah, this is about how I both learned to do something I hate, and about how I was wrong for not doing it earlier.


I was a dyed-in-the-wool daily grocery store shopper. Back when I had just one babe to tote around in a ring sling, I professed a need, a very real requirement of sanity, in visiting the grocery store every day. I thought as a stay at home mom with days full of diapers and Dinosaur Train that I needed that daily trip to the store, if just to get me out of our apartment for an hour or less each day.

Add my second kid to the carload, and suddenly the trip to the grocery store becomes more than just mom's grand daily adventure--it became LUNCH for my toddler, who swung by the deli counter first for a free slice of cheese, then hit up the bakery after that to procure the token free cookie.

Add some free stickers from the charmed checkout clerks and bam. I've given my toddler an afternoon that rivals Sir Chuck E. Cheese.

Add a third baby to the mix and now I'm rolling three kids deep down the aisles with the double stroller and the preschooler walking alongside. People raise eyebrows at that. They also get out of the way, lest I run over their toes.

Then I added a fourth baby. The first week that school was out last summer and I had all four kids home all day, we went to Walmart.

When we got back to the car after shopping, I swore a parking lot oath to the children and told them to remember this day, remember it well, for they would never, NEVER AGAIN, see the inside of that store all together again, because MOMMY WAS NEVER NEVER NEVER repeating that experience. (I did repeat it. It was equally horrific.)

I came home full of wrath and fury, pounding out plans for meal planning, once-weekly trips to Costco (made on the weekend, just me, myself and childless cart) and meals based on "family-size" bags of assorted freeze-frozen proteins, 30-pack yogurts, 4-lb packages of meatballs and many, many prayers.

I failed. Never once even planned nor executed a meal based on that model.

I continued my haphazard, expensive, daily grocery store trips, continued to make dinner based on whatever I felt like making that day, and continued to bust our grocery budget.

Fast forward through the summer to August, when I started a part-time job at the boys' school.

I learned quickly that one cannot:
- care for a small army of small children
- be on-site at a job 3 days a week
-work from home an ungodly number of hours a week
- even have time to step foot in a grocery store.

It just didn't work. Something had to give. I had to get over my aversion to planning out our family's meals, and had to commit to one weekend shopping trip.

I had to face what had stopped me from meal planning. At the root of it was this stupid, stupid belief: Once you commit to planning out dinners, days in advance for your family, you've got to be innovative! You've got to try new recipes! You've got to take direction! You've got to have discipline! You've got to have respect for your director!

Or so I convinced myself.

The truth? The truth is that a "meal plan" can mean "I plan to have frozen pizzas for dinner."

What the what.

I realized: What (or who) was stopping me from doing that? After all, I'm the mom, right? I get to plan this stuff, right?

I was basing my concept of meal planning on someone else's life--someone who needs 7 new meals every week, based on varying world cultures and taste sensations; someone who doesn't have 4 kids under age 8, is working part time, and whose husband travels roughly 50% of the month.

Friends. This has been a life-changer for me.

I've begun meal planning for REAL LIFE. And instead of beating myself up for meals that aren't instagram-worthy, I'm cheering that dinner gets done, the dinner didn't break the budget, and the dinner wasn't an emergency $45 trip to Red Robin at 6:30 pm.

Here's my list of stuff that makes meal planning a reality for me, not just a guilt trip:

- buy a box of mixed salad greens, a container of my favorite salad-topping cheese (I love bleu) AND a bag of over-priced salad toppings. I love anything with a dried cranberry and a candied nut in it. It runs me about $2.75 at Walmart. Could I get those things way cheaper in the bulk bins at Winco? Yes. But Winco is a lot further from my house and I'm already saving money as it is by making a reliable salad side dish stretch over 3-4 days.

- raw veggies as legit side dishes for the kids. My kids love "cold carrots" as they call them and detest them when hot/cooked. They also love cucumber. I used to think serving either of those for dinner didn't really "count" as a healthy side dish. HA. Now I've let it go and I whip one or the other out with nearly every dinner.

-  frozen meals: they're way cheaper than takeout/delivery. My favorite is this one. And yeah, I'm stocking tater tots, chicken nuggets and gluten-free meatballs every week, too.

-  "no-recipe" dinners. I've stopped holding myself to some golden standard in which dinner recipes for my family must contain 3 fresh herbs, a 1/2 cup of bone broth, a boneless rib roast, assorted root vegetables and some leftover red wine.

No. You know what makes a simple, healthy meal? Baked salmon, steamed broccoli and a box of risotto. I can make that in 20 minutes, with the crawling-but-not-walking baby attached to my leg, with minimal swearing.

 There's a whole list of these at Fun, Cheap or Free.

Leave your best meal planning tips for me in the comments! Please!!


"mom, were you on the news?"


And by "the news," we mean anything playing from the speakers of our van that isn't Raffi.

God bless the hubby of a good friend of mine. He works for a Catholic radio affiliate, and for some strange reason, he got it in his head that I'd be a good candidate for an interview for NFP Awareness Week. (it might have something to do with having a van full of children, ahem.)

Really. God bless him. If he starts getting complaint calls about the crazy lady who compared being on the Pill to eating a Twinkie for dinner, I'm changing my name and leaving the country.

Due to my verbosity, the interview is playing in two parts, one today and one tomorrow (Thursday) on the Morning Drive program on Mater Dei Radio in Portland and surrounding areas.

Listen live here. Or find part one of the interview here.

And thank you John!!


7 tips for post-partum thrift store success

Thrift stores: they're an assault on the senses.

The racks and racks and racks of clothes. The music playing overhead on damaged speakers. The Febreeze. Oh, the febreeze is thick as fog.

And the clientelle... it's a group you wouldn't find in a Nordstrom.

But then again, you wouldn't find me in a Nordstrom, either! Ok!

So. Why do I love thrift stores?

Because I got tired of finding myself 2 months post-partum in the summertime, and having no shorts that fit. I refused, REFUSED I TELL YOU, to put my maternity shorts back on, and yet my regular shorts were still a good 2-3 sizes away from fitting.

I got tired of being six months post-partum in the spring and having zero shirts or dresses that I could wear to mass and nurse in discretely. Cue my Sunday morning meltdown.

I got tired of being four months pregnant in the winter and having to dig out the maternity clothes, only to realize that last time I was pregnant, my first trimester was in July, not December, and I had exactly zero pants that fit.

Back in January when I wrote about my losing battle with minimalism, Sean and I added up how many sets of clothes I need to outfit myself in the various combinations of pregnancy/post-partum/nursing in  summer/winter.


Stevie's shocked, too.

I began thrifting as a budget-friendly answer to my ever-fluctuating body size and shape. I regularly hit up my favorite local thrift store about twice a month. Here are my tips to making that one, solitary, beautiful hour on Saturdays at naptime, out shopping alone, worth it:

1. Find cotton blouses. 

My wardrobe is full of 100% cotton button-downs because they are a workhorse of a shirt. They stand up to being washed weekly. They are universally flattering. If I hang them up while slightly damp instead of drying them all the way, they don't need to be ironed. And, most importantly, I feel great in them.

Gap and Land's End made great cotton button downs. I can usually find good Old Navy ones as well.

2. Skip the knits.

When I'm thrifting, I generally skip over shirts that are knit blends of rayon or polyester. Even if they're in great shape on the rack, they're still more prone to pill, wrinkle and fade as they're washed.

3. Shop for bottoms IN ANY SIZE. 

When I need jeans, black pants or khakis for mass, or skirts for every day wear, I flip through the racks in both my normal size, then also a size down, and a size up (or 2). Obviously the items in thrift stores come from a hundred different brands and manufactures, and so sizing is all over the place.

I'm nine months post-partum and my current rotation of bottoms (all thrifted, by the way) contains items in size 6, 8, 10, and 12! I don't let a number dictate whether I'll try on something. I get a victory in walking out of a thrift store with a pair of J. Crew chinos that make me feel confident. I could care less what size they are.

4. Shop for bottoms, actually, all the time. 

Jean and pants are a terrific aisle to start in for someone who hasn't done much thrifting before. My theory is that women discard their jeans and pants way before they're either out of style or worn out, either due to their size changing (*raises hand*) or making room for other items in their closet. Either way, the thrift ladies win. Thrift stores are chock full of barely-worn ladies' jeans and pants. Carpe denim.

5. Try it on--selectively.
Thrift store dressing rooms often leave something to be desired--namely, clean walls and fresh air. I try not to spend more time than absolutely necessary in them. Pants almost always need to be tried on, unfortunately, due to tip #3. But with shirts, if I've got a good feeling about a piece, I'll often bag it without trying it on. At about $3/shirt, I'll take the risk.

6. Save more money with extra discounts. 
I never seem to remember this but on Sundays at all (I think) Goodwill locations, one color tag is discounted to either $2 or $1. On any given day at my favorite thrift stores, tags of three different colors are either 25%, 50% or 75% off. Some thrift franchises even have points/reward programs.

When items are already so discounted, these extra discounts can make things amazingly cheap. For instance, I thrifted my entire Mother's Day outfit (cute navy blue wedge shoes included) for about $10. #notbad

7. Go alone. 

Some ladies are superhuman and are able to navigate thrift stores, dressing rooms and crowded aisles of used junk, all with CHILDREN IN TOW. I am not one of those women.

And with that, my bag of tricks is empty. If you're a fellow thrifter, I'd love to hear how you score the deals.

Linking up with the Kelly for quick takes!


what NFP looks like, four babies deep

It's posts like this that make Sean nervous when I announce I'm blogging more frequently. : / Ha.

So eight years and four babies ago, he and I were here:

Then here:

Awww. Positively AWASH in blind naivete.

Next here:

Love the bump-as-toddler-seat. Another one here:

and then there was another one here:

and good grief now we are here:

Spots are still available in our workshop how to look THIS GOOD in family pictures. Call today.

I wish someone would have told me (and hey, maybe they did) that the woman in each of those pictures would feel dramatically different about NFP in every snapshot.

I've felt elated by being able to use NFP correctly and space out the births of my kids.

I've felt terrified at the idea that another baby was coming, sooner than I would have planned.

I've felt like a biological bad ass, knowing my cycles and correctly identifying both the conception date and due date of a kid.

I've felt like a unschooled idiot, unable to say whether I ovulated on day 14 or day 24. (Those fluctuating hormones when you're trying to wean.. man, they're nuts.)

I've felt deeply grateful for NFP, knowing my body is free from synthetic hormones and implants (yikes).

I've felt like shaking a tired fist at NFP for not being as simple as... as synthetic hormones or implants.

Now, I've resolved to make NFP charting not an afterthought, or something I try and remember to do if I have time. Now, it needs to be the priority. Writing about NFP resolutions is always tricky, though. Nothing gets you pregnant faster than saying "we're back on the charting wagon!" But since taking my fourth trip 'round the maternity ward last summer, I have substantial motivation to keep the womb room vacant for a while.

I'm tired. Sean's not feeling great. The kids, they all seem so little sometimes. Joe and Amby learned how to pour their own milk this year, so, yeah, that helps. But still. What's it like with four kids? You know the line.

I've learned (finally! slow! learner! alert!) that NFP can't be a passive feature of my marriage, if I want to delay having another cherub. NFP isn't a cute creed that we hold in unison with all the other NFP-using families out there, making us members of the larger-than-average-families club.

It's work. It is a daily, hourly commitment to observing fertility signs--and that was a doozy during Lent when I decided I'd take up drinking a gallon of water every day. #tmi

It's a struggle. It can be embarrassing, for all parties. It's a guarantee of awkward marital conversations. It's a guarantee you'll watch a lot of Netflix.

But. To me, NFP is synonymous with bodily honesty. To me, it's the total fulfillment of "allllllll of me loves alllllll of you." I cherish the simplicity it brings to our bedroom, to our marriage. You don't need much to practice NFP. I think that's worth a lot.

Using NFP right now to delay/avoid conceiving looks so dramatically different than it did for that girl in the white dress up there, kissing her groom, beginning her marriage. She had her paper chart all ready to go, with multicolored stickers to spare and a Creighton FertilityCare handbook at the ready.

She also had a flip phone and thought Facebook was stupid. Ha.

Fast forward to today, when my iphone buzzes at 10pm each night to remind me to chart. I use this simple app (which I absolutely love). I use these ovulation test strips after I think I've charted peak as a double check (you can buy them on Amazon for about $40/ 7 tests). We talk about how the cycle is looking. And then... the baby usually cries. Heh.

Eight years in and four babies later, and NFP and I are still getting to know each other. Here's to a long and happy relationship.