About Me,  Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  mental health,  motherhood

Winter Survival List

I wanted to participate in Modern Mrs Darcy’s “What’s Saving My Life Right Now” reflection exercise, but I just couldn’t bring myself to actually title a post … that.

Buuuut, I do have a little curated collection of practices, products, and habits that are indeed keeping me mostly afloat during a challenging season, which I will identify as having begun the day after Halloween with the first round of vomiting and has basically stretched into an almost interminable succession of viral assaults.  I know, having kids in school changes everything and I know, having little kids with limited – nay, zero – hygiene is mostly to blame, but we have been hammered by Thor himself this winter, and woe mightily unto the next classmate who shows up at school with RSV/rotovirus/pink eye/croup. Woe, I say.

But the list.

The reason I’m not bald and completely insane yet, I think, is that I’ve been making some respectable efforts in the self care/spiritual care department, and it’s helping keep things limping along.


Reading for pleasure. I had been remiss in falling out of a good reading habit and letting the social media dragon creep stealthily back into the driver’s seat during my daily time pockets, but about 3 weeks ago when felled by the first round of croup, I forced myself to make a digital hold list and slowly but surely, my Kindle started to fill up with new titles from the library.

So far since January I’ve read The Shoemaker’s Wife (loved), Everyone Brave is Forgiven (loved), Before We Visit the Goddess (meh), The Magnolia Story (LOVED), Falling Free (moderately enjoyed), Simply Tuesday (meh), and Resisting Happiness (decent). I got well into the Neapolitan Trilogy and while the writing was simply top notch and the character development was deep and fantastic, the subject matter and the gruesome, detailed accounts of sexual violence had me clicking “return.” I told the well-read friend who’d recommended them with that very caveat that she was not wrong, but that I’m particularly sensitive to what I read, because I pretty much never forget something once I’ve read it. Downfall of a visual learner, I guess.

The punchline to all this is, look how much reading I was able to accomplish when I left my phone on my desk (sorry, friends who I forgot to text back) and forced myself to sit without “real time” entertainment. It’s kind of scary that sometimes I’ll click on my Kindle and start instinctively trying to “scroll” through it and then experience a pang of disappointment that no, I won’t be getting a dopamine hit from this particular electronic device. I need so much self control when it comes to the internet. Work in progress.


Which brings me to my next practice: not engaging in inflammatory political discourse on the internet. The Women’s March and the March for Life aside, I’ve been assiduously avoiding engaging in any overtly political discourse with strangers or friends via social media. It is not helpful. It does not bring me joy. It does not cultivate depth or growth between myself and those digital friends with whom I am in true relationship. I am watching the news with one eye, checking headlines every day or so, but not consuming piece after piece dictating to me what I should think about what is going on in the world and in our country right now.

My particular role is to continue working in my own wheelhouse, which has always been women’s issues and life issues and the profound beauty of human sexuality. Any noise I could add to the national “conversation” (if you can call this … that) would be exactly that: noise.

I can pray for justice and I can make acts of sacrifice and self denial and offer those up for the Lord to use as He sees fit. I can donate money to charities that serve and protect refugees. I can continue praying and working and writing for a greater awareness of the sanctity of human life and the beauty of marriage. And I can pray for our President, our leaders, and those whose beliefs I don’t share, and teach my children to do the same. Screaming profanities or click-baiting friends from middle school on Facebook has never and will never advance a single cause. (Nor will, say, lighting cars on fire or pepper spraying people you disagree with.)

The world is a crude, coarse, and common place right now. Don’t contribute to the noise. If the noise is directed at you, forgive and turn away, and don’t engage in escalating violence even when it’s merely violent rhetoric. Flip the magazine covers over. Unfollow the unhinged social media ranter. Say a prayer, offer a smile, buy a stranger in line a cup of coffee, and do your little part to bring beauty into a world that is starved for it. Small acts of kindness are not incidental, they are essential to the survival of culture and desperately necessary to civilize and invigorate a culture that is losing hope and coming ever more off it’s moorings.


This probiotic is probably what saved us from round 11 of the stomach flu last month. Two separate friends recommended it and most of my kids drink it happily (one gags and surrenders only under extreme duress). I quite like it, it reminds me of a pina colada 🙂


A cleaning service. I found a fantastic deal on a bi-weekly housecleaning service and even though we’re in a belt-tightening season as we work on this house and prepare to sell, it has been a literal investment in my sanity and general sense of wellbeing. The kids are benefiting from it too, as I no longer faint dead away when somebody pees on the floor I just mopped, but instead wipe it down with clorox spray and look forward to next Thursday. We achieved this life-long dream of mine (at least since motherhood began) by shifting around some budget items, planning a couple simpler dinners that are vegetarian, and letting go of buying certain things organic. I realize it’s a privilege to even have the option to do this, but if there is even a possibility of getting some kind of domestic help when you work at home, whether it’s sending out laundry, having a cleaner come even once a month, or paying a neighborhood kid to do yard or snow work, I am a hearty endorser. We wear a lot of hats, whether it’s homeschooling, working part time or full time, or being all-hands on deck the only adult in charge of multiple small humans all day long. When I found we could make it work with our budget, I cut myself some slack and made it happen.


Non-negotiable nap times. When my 2 little ones are the only one’s home Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have become militant about nap time. 3 year old Evie thinks she’s ready to drop hers, but come 5 pm she is borderline feral without one, so I’ve finally become the iron-willed mommy who escorts her to her room with a stack of books, a sippy cup of water, and strictest instructions to stay for a minimum of 2 hours. And then I go downstairs and turn on the stove exhaust fan, and …. ahhh, blissful white noise-masking silence. I can get everything done in those 2 hours. Everything. Like sitting around writing, or staring vacantly out the window at a flock of geese, or praying a rosary or looking at the wall that really needs to be repainted.


Fresh flowers and lighting all the candles. Appropriate, since today is Candlemas (confession: I don’t actually know what that means), but I’ve been burning candles with wild abandon all of January and now into February and it is so comforting to have them shining during the day. I’ve also made it a point to grab a bunch of flowers from Trader Joe’s when I’m there ever week or 2, and they last so long that sometimes I’ve enjoyed uninterrupted fresh flowers for a month straight, for less than $5 a bunch.

I also started picking up a bundle of eucalyptus branches when I’m shopping once a month or so, which I break up and distribute in mason jars or vases throughout the house and especially in all the bathrooms. They look and smell so good, and they last for months. If I’m going to be working from home, working in my home, and just generally doing life within these 4 walls day in and day out, it helps my mood tremendously to have little touches of “luxury” and beauty around me. I think it makes the kids more chill, too.


Compounded progesterone. About 2 months ago I had some labs done for some weird hormone stuff that has been going on, and while it’s not fully resolved, my doctor did suggest switching to this specific preparation of bioidentical progesterone called a troche which dissolves in the side of your cheek and is supposed to be more readily absorbed into your bloodstream. I only take it for the last 10 days of each cycle, essentially, and I have noticed a big improvement in mood and a modest improvement in the ability to stay asleep (which had been killing me). Now if only I could fall asleep before midnight.

I heard someone say that most people figure out their health “stuff,” be it mental or physical, in their mid 30s. I don’t know if that’s because you start falling apart at that point, or because you start to have some of the necessary headspace and resources to look more deeply into things, but that has certainly proven to be the case for me. (shovels another handful of supplements and vitamins into mouth.)


Daily Mass and Adoration. I’ve been making it to one or the other (or sometimes both) at least once a week, vomiting kids notwithstanding, and it really is the game-changer. Maybe I should have listed it first? But really, when the opportunity arises, I’ve been trying to train myself into a place of “don’t think too long about it, just do it,” and as a result, I’ve been able to spend more time with Jesus. Yesterday, for example, I had to drive drop off to school while Dave met with a contractor, so I trotted next door to 8 am Mass after dropping the boys and even though Luke was in his footie pajamas and Evie was really, really naughty for the first 3 minutes, it was so worth it. Later in the day I had the thought “I could stop into the Adoration chapel” while driving near our parish and instead of caving to the 1000 things that seemed more important and interesting in that moment, I made myself pull over and go inside “just for 5 minutes” and ended up staying for 20. And it was amazing. I can’t hold down a regular holy hour during this season of life, nor can I commit to daily Mass in a literal application, but I can go – and I should – when the inspiration strikes and the circumstances allow.

So, what’s on your list right now? What are you doing that is saving your life during what can be a hard season, or even a really great season? I’d love to hear about it.

(And if you want to join the larger linkup, you can hop over to MMD and share there.)


  • Sarah

    I read every word and loved it all. I think I am very much like whatever you define yourself as being or, at least, I hope you wouldn’t mind that I think you and I may be cosmic twins.

    I am your fan.
    Sarah J.

  • Jean

    Candlemas is also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary and the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. 40 days after the birth of Jesus, in accordance with Jewish ritual our Holy Mother went to the temple for the rite. The candle reference comes from Simeon’s proclamation that Jesus was a light for revelation to the Gentiles. In some parishes we bring our candles to be blessed at this time. It’s a beautiful Mass and ties in with your post about using sacramentals.

  • Diana

    For the first 6 months of 2016 I made it to one weekday Mass a week with my then 2 year old and I really enjoyed it…although not the rushing around to get out of the house shortly after 8, frequently waking him up to do so. I need to get back into that routine!

  • Andrea

    Such a good list and you inspire me to renew my New Years goal (which has not come to pass) of going to Mass at least one other day during the week. I’m nervous to bring my 20 month old to our church’s small daily Mass chapel but I should buckle down and do it because I know I am just really needing that time with Jesus during the week! Also I just wanted to tell you in case you didn’t already know…the flowers you picked out at TJ’s are gorgeous but just make sure you keep your kitten away- the pollen can be toxic to cats. From one calico cat mom to another :). Thanks for all you write as always Jenny, love reading!

  • Marie

    Moms of toddlers, I’m here to tell you that if I can take kids to Daily Mass, you can, too! (I’m also here to remind myself that I need to go… winter weather + infant carrier has not been a good combo for me lately.) I have three kids – 5 (in preschool 3 mornings/week), almost 3, and 5 months. We try to go once a week, and it is SO helpful for me, my sanity, my sanctity, and mommy’s mood. 🙂 Find a mass time that sets you up for success (we have an 11:40am that shoots the gap between naps pretty well, and is after preschool pick up – if you’re done with morning naps, maybe an 8:30am is more your thing). And just go! Remember, daily mass is shorter (so my daughter told me a few weeks ago when they were playing mass… they wanted Dad & Mom to boost the congregation and we were assured it wouldn’t take long) and has a little bit different “crowd” than Sunday. In our case, we see a lot of the same folks – many older, but plenty on lunch break from work and a few homeschoolers who lead a whole flock of kids in. Once you go a few times, I’m sure you’ll be surprised at the helpful comments your fellow mass-goers will share. Seems like on those days when I’m most exasperated with my kids’ behavior, someone ALWAYS comes up and says it’s nice to see us, that they are pretty well behaved, that their kids used to do X/Y/Z too, etc. And don’t be afraid to sit in the front – my kids do so much better when they can see the action!

    • Lorna Mackie

      You know, I always sit at the back when I take the 3 year old to weekday mass (it’s at 1000 and well snack time so I feel a little ashamed about all the mummy I’m hungry comments) but maybe getting him to sit under the watchful eye of the Priest where he can see ‘stuff’ might work better! Thanks for the tip!
      We see the same crowd too – some ladies like to wave at him across the asile – he is super cute – even on the days I think he is a terror!

  • Bley

    That’s so funny you mentioned fresh flowers; I had two minutes before emailed a friend that they are on my “essentials” list of inexpensive luxuries that contribute to mental health:)

    Sorry to hear about the hormones; I have been hit by crazy hormones too after this last baby. It seems like after each baby there is something new on that particular horizon. Yay.

  • KD

    I was nodding my head at so many things on your list! Logging out of FB and reading books more often, focusing on how to make a difference through prayer and acts of kindness, sticking to daily prayer time routine, figuring out health stuff in my 30s — yes to all of this!
    BTW, a book I read recently that I enjoyed is The One in A Million Boy and I just saw this morning that it was on MMD’s Kindle deals page!

  • Giedre

    Ahhh, I really need to go to daily mass at least once a week. I’ve been telling myself for years and it hasn’t happened, but we’re only going to be living ONE BLOCK away from our church for another five months, so I think this is the time!

  • jeanette

    As you said here, “when the opportunity arises, I’ve been trying to train myself into a place of “don’t think too long about it, just do it,”…you are so right!

    For daily mass, unless you would be seriously neglecting your responsibilities, follow that inspiration of the Holy Spirit to go to daily mass. If you spend too much time pondering whether or not to go, you likely won’t go. If you just say “yes!” you will be very glad you did and I think you will really notice the effect on the rest of your day/week.

    Just being there with the rest of the people really gives a good witness to others, not because your kids have halos, but because the rest of us know what effort it takes to bring yourself and your children to mass. At least, that is the thought that runs through my mind when I see a mother with children at daily mass. And if the kids are less than perfect, don’t worry. It also gives you some extra, unknown graces, since others will also pray for you in your vocation as a mother. We really do, because we understand. Maybe that is why the Holy Spirit calls you there that day: to be supported in your vocation.

  • Tia

    I have a question, not meant to start a political debate, but something I’ve been wondering about. Like you, I hate how upset and wound up I get by all the political stuff I’m reading…BUT the reality is that there is a huge divide in the country, and what I’m struggling with is my twin desires to retreat to a more comfortable space versus the reality that this bridge will not be crossed unless I go out on a limb and try to see the other side’s point of view and try to reach those of opposing views. Clearly, some minds have to change or we will continue to be a starkly divided country and the country and the world will be worse off for it, possibly for years or decades to come.

    So I guess my question is: Do you feel like there’s some obligation to engage with SOME of this debate?

    I’m not sure what the answer is. I mean clearly you can’t engage to the point that you’re a sobbing mess every day. But on the other hand I feel like I’m not actually doing enough to try to reach out to people of differing views from mine. But there does have to a balance. And I suspect, given Trump’s confrontational first several days in office, these issues will be forced upon us.

  • Lorna Mackie

    I love reading – and since becoming a Mummy – I’ve neglected it a bit – so thanks for the shove to internet less and read more!
    I love to make stuff – when my head gets too full or life gets too tough I make something. I’m really lucky that I have a few things I can do – and an overflowing supply box – so I knit, crochet, cross stitch, sew, papercraft (you get the picture) and life seems a little better somehow!
    It also means that almost everyone I know gets something hand made at some point in their lives – something made with love, something that I have prayed over and something that gives a bit of me to them.
    I’m about to start some things for my friends new daughter – born at 28 weeks (12 too early) – I would appreciate your prayers for her too!

  • Jane

    Do you know why bioidentical progesterone is important? I’m on regular old progesterone for the last 10 cycle days because I am definitely low, but my not-at-all-napro GYN didn’t seem to think bioidentical was important and prescribed some regular stuff and it’s not boosting my mood like I’d hoped. Any thoughts or directions you can point me?

  • Anna j

    I just found you via the modern Mrs Darcy thread, after participating in this blog round myself, and just had to thank you for your humorous and helpful post. Your writing is amazing and makes me want to tell you all the ways it resonates…so thanks for brightening the day from the other side of the globe:-)

  • Leslie

    Oh Jenny, from one armchair realtor to another, I am begging you for a post on how you guys decided to put your house on the market! I do not know why I am so drawn to real estate but I wonder if it’s a deeper longing for home (and as a Catholic, I know there is no perfect home until I get to gaze at the Beatific Vision). What are you looking for in a house?

  • mary

    Great list! I have two little ones and we just had a cleaning team come in for the first time and it’s a game changer. I am going to try to tweak our grocery list too so we take less of a hit for it. Ours will only come once a month, but we got lucky with an amazing recommendation and they are the sweetest ladies, so I feel so blessed to have them. I need to work on daily Mass too. I loved it when it was just my son and myself, but we have a three month old now. She seems to be mellowing out though, so I think I might be able to make it work!

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