First Disciples Project

Small Success Thursday: The Lent’s Not So Bad Edition



Celebrate the good things in life with!


Oldest Dumpling and I decluttered and reorganized the junk drawer.



We’re going camping!  With the brutal weather we’ve been having, and with how far along we are in schooling as a result, we skipped formal lessons yesterday and started planning our spring camping trip. This will be our third year doing a girls-only road trip, and each year we get a little more ambitious.  The first year, we did a little study of the Appalachian Trail and stayed one night at the Harper’s Ferry Youth Hostel.  Last year we did two nights at a rustic cabin with our rat terrier, whom we discovered is so territory-attached that he makes a very poor camp dog indeed.


This year we are working up an itinerary to do a tour of the first Catholic settlement areas in our state.  We are using The Catholic Community of Pennsylvania: Past and Present as our guide.  Having this trip to look forward to seems to have brightened our spirits around here.   I aim to include at least one girls-only roughing-it (as much as we can) trip each year to help our daughters build the kind of resilience and resourcefulness Mary and Elizabeth, the First Disciples, had.


I’ve not been an utter failure at Lent, because temptation is stupid.  


Apple image courtesy of WikiCommons/Abhijit Tembhekar.

The first good choice I made was to set tough but not ridiculous goals that gradually increase in difficulty throughout the weeks.  But the biggest help I’ve gotten from the Holy Spirit was the realization that I actually do have willpower and the desire to do God’s will.  See, I’d convinced myself that I never resist temptation, so no wonder I’m such a failure at growing in virtue–especially in outgrowing certain vices.  Then, one day in the checkout lane at the grocery store, I had the temptation to slip a candy bar into my purse.

Are you kidding me? I thought.  That’s a stupid idea.  A grown woman with kids, shoplifting?  That’s ridiculous.

I turned my back on the candy display, paid my bill, and went home, not giving that temptation a second thought.  On the way home, however, I gave my post-temptation thoughts some of my time.  I realized it was no trouble at all to resist the temptation to shoplift, because, come on, That’s a stupid idea.  The temptation fled because my next thought was an exact reason why that particular temptation was so stupid.

What if I told all my temptations that they’re stupid ideas?  The more I thought about it, the more I noticed that agreeing with temptation is the very path away from virtue and towards sin.  After all, take a look at Eve in Eden.  In Genesis 3: 6, we see, “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom.”  Sounds great, right?  By golly, that temptation sure has some good ideas!

Once I think a sin is a really good idea, I’m likely to do it.  This might be why I have no trouble, say, resisting the urge to scream at strangers who annoy me, but keeping my temper with my kids who do need my correction (“Yelling like this is a good idea, because correcting them is my job, and yelling will make me feel better, and feeling better makes me a better parent, right? Right? Right?“) is so much harder than leaving the Hershey bar behind at the checkout.

So this Lent I’ve been aiming to tell my temptations that they’re stupid.  It’s a little bit of Method Acting, really, using emotional memory to recall times when my character did the right thing and applying that memory to the present challenge.  It’s helping, I think.  Don’t get me wrong:  I still fail a great deal, especially at my favorite sins.  The biggest hurdle is the first one: to realize that my brain is saying stupid things.  However, since I’ve started this Method Resisting, let’s call it, instead of seeing my path to virtue as this long, grueling, Ignatian marathon that I could never possibly finish, each battle just looks like just that–a battle, and one with the grace of God I might actually win.

I hesitated there.  I didn’t want to type anything about me winning anything.  On the one hand, yeah, I really want to be humble.  When you wear your addiction on your body like I do, it’s a bit easier to keep the pride down.  But on the other hand, whenever one of us chooses Christ over ourselves, we become more integrated into His Body.  That’s win-win. There’s gotta be something good about claiming that.


I almost forgot!  I’ll be giving a talk this Saturday to the he Central Jersey Chapter of The Catholic Writer’s Guild.  This talk will be held on Saturday, March 7th at 10 am at the parish center of St. Aloysius parish, on Bennett’s Mill Rd. in Jackson NJ. I’ll be speaking about -“A Fiction Ministry:  Using Stories in the New Evangelization”


No registration is required and all are welcome. For information contact Karen Kelly Boyce at 732-928-7981.  Thanks for hosting me, Karen!

First Disciples Update: A Fire Prayer

I’m quite pleased!  I finally finished the first draft of the Fire chapter for the First Disciples Project.


The finishing touch was a prayer written by the oldest member of First Shift of Kids, age 10.5.  I may be biased, but I still think it’s beautiful.

Lord, as we have learned through our building of the fire,

We have to work for good things.

Help us to understand this in our everyday lives.

As we continue on our journey,

help us to be faithful to you,

and become more like your mother.


Just learning about First Disciples now?  Do you have a daughter aged 8-15 (or thereabouts)?  Would you like to join our beta team?  Comment below and I’ll hook you up!

7QT: Lessons Learned from Making Soap

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Join up with Jennifer at Conversion Diary for Seven Quick Takes Friday!

We tried out our second First Disciples project, in order to draft a set of project instructions to send to our Beta Team Extraordinaire. As you may remember, our first project was learning how to make a fire and keep it going. Our second project was making the kind of soap that Mary may have used. What have we learned so far?


Herodian life seems, so far, to have been full of little trinities. In order to have fire, you need fuel, oxygen, and heat. Flint strikes metal and creates a spark. In order to make soap, you need lye, fat, and water. You can’t remove one of those things from the other and still have fire or a spark or soap. The more I work with these kinds of things, the more it feels on a very visceral level like the Trinity has seared His image into the basic stuff of humanity–fire-making, fire-tending, soap-making… I wonder, where else will we find the face of God in this process, peeking around the corner, smiling, looking to see if we’ve noticed?


Primitive success required primitive tools, or, Some things just don’t translate across eras. Before making our foray into the world of soap-making, we studied what felt like a gazillion bajillion YouTube videos on how to make soap at home. It all seemed simple enough to follow until we got to the part in most of the videos where the star says, “And now you get your stick blender…” Mary did not have a stick blender. Fine, we said. We’ll make the soap using our plastic vessels, but we’ll just stir it all by hand. What could go wrong?

I’ll tell you what could go wrong. The ingredients won’t reach “trace” (the point-of-no-return in the emulsification process) if they lose their heat too quickly, and no dollar store plastic bowl is going to retain heat the way, say, a warmed terra cotta pot would have while the Herodian housewife stirred the soap. And no hand held dollar store mixing spoon will whip the ingredients together as fast as a stick blender would, hence why a stick blender is necessary in a world of plastic bowls, but a wooden spoon will work just fine if you have a vessel that retains heat.

Our result after three hours of stirring, then re-heating in a low slowcooker, then stirring some more: lye-olive oil slurry that never reached trace. Doubtful, we poured our runny goop into the mold and set it aside to dry. Then we went to bed, because I doubt even Mother Mary wants to stir a greasy mess all through the night.


God chose to be born in a time when human life was hard. On my personal Facebook page, I left a few statuses about how our soap wasn’t seeming to come together. A couple of friends teased me with hashtags such as #teamstickblender and #WWJD #useastickblender. Ah, but He could have and very clearly chose not to! What does that tell us about our God? A lot, I’m sure, but the first thing that comes to mind is that He wasn’t afraid of hard work. So what excuse do we have? That’d be none.


God chose to be born in a time when human life was slow. The easiest soap to make in Mary’s time would have been either tallow (rendered animal fat) or vegetable (probably olive oil). We started by making the olive oil soap because it was what we have in the pantry (this may surprise you, given my previous admissions of obesity, but we don’t have actual lard on hand all that often). Olive oil is the softest soap you can possibly make. The recipe we followed promised it would be ready to cut into curable bars after 24 hours. We waited one day, and it had become sludge. Another day and it had remained sludge. A third day, and it became slightly thicker sludge. Finally, on Day 4, it was firm enough to crack out of remove from the mold…


…and cut into little bars and squares and such.


I’ve read these might take three weeks to five years to cure hard enough not to fall apart under a running tap and clog up our drains. This is slightly more time than it takes me to drive to the store and buy a bar of soap somebody else made more cheaply than we’re making ours. This is the schedule for which God volunteered? Thoroughly Modern Erin is all like, “Dude. Whoa.”


Becoming like a little child. Okay, so First Shift isn’t “little” any more (Ellen Gable, they very well may be taller than you–which, you may be irritated amused to know that Older Member of First Shift made that a goal last year when she met you at CWG Live). I digress. Anyway, I was ready to throw out the aforementioned sludge after the first 24 hours of not drying, but First Shift convinced me to keep it around and see what happened. Maybe we could turn it into liquid soap or something. I grumbled and placed the mold up up and away on a high shelf. If I had ignored their hope, we would have assumed failure, which fire taught us is always dangerous. Their living hope breathed life back into mine.


We learn patience by living as patient people did–and do. Whenever I tell someone new about the First Disciples Project, I often wonder how crazy they think I am for wasting time teaching girls skills that they don’t really need any more. Now that my kids have seen our slow, hard work and patient waiting turned into success, I see that taking the time to live, even in a small way, as a more patient people would have done, bears fruit in our modern world. First Shift learned by making fire that we have to keep trying, even when it looks like we’re wasting our time. I believe it was that lesson that inspired them to ask me to wait upon the un-emulsified sludge. Their practiced hope breathed life back into mine.


Stepping into Mary’s sandals brings us closer to her Son. First Shift knows lots of faith facts and prayers and a generous number of faith “whys,” because I’d always been big on “why.” “Why?” is the question that brought me to Catholicism, so I’m not about to stop anybody from asking it. Still, it wasn’t until we began First Disciples that my kids started asking their own questions. “Would Mary have gone to Elizabeth alone? Why not? But what would it have been like if she did?” “Did Mary know how to find edible plants?” “What would Mary have grown in her garden?” The fact that they’re seeing her as a girl so like themselves is a gateway drug, I hope, to seeing Jesus as a real person. Mary suffered a hard life to bring up Jesus. Jesus suffered for love of them, for love of us all. Appreciating that is what brings us into relationship with him, what helps us see that He doesn’t owe us a darned thing He didn’t already give us.

We’re still looking for a few moms with girls ages 8-15 to join our beta testing team. If you’re interested, please email me at emccolecupp at g mail dawt com.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

First, I must thank Leslie Lynch for inviting me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour.   She’s a delightful colleague and a skilled writer, and I’m glad to be getting to count her among my “writing friends!”

Here’s the part where I actually talk about my, you know, writing process.


Here I am with La Virgen Morena Papel at CMN 2013.

1)     What am I working on?  Spinning plates, that’s what I’m working on.  In between homeschooling, marketing Don’t You Forget About Me, and trying to figure out how to eat with hypoglycemia, I’m working on First Disciples, a series of books that will teach girls 8-15 the daily life skills that young Mary would have used as a girl living in Herodian Israel.  I’m also, slowly and painfully, drafting Never Let Me Down Again, the sequel to the aforementioned Don’t You Forget About Me.

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2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre? I’m not even sure I have a genre.  Theology of the Body murder-mystery isn’t exactly a category on Amazon.

3)     Why do I write what I do?  Because it hurts when I don’t.

4)     How does your writing process work?  I’m a planner but not in the traditional outline-y way.  Writing Jane_E, Friendless Orphan:  A Memoir got me into a writing habit that works rather well for me.  Since Jane_E needed to follow the same essential plot structure of Jane EyreI made a “To Do” list of narrative tasks that each chapter had to accomplish.  I’ve been using that technique ever since, putting the list at the bottom of each chapter and deleting each task as I write out its narrative.  It’s very satisfying to watch each list dwindle as I write.

I’m also supposed to give you my Facebook page, web page (which you already have if you’re reading this), and the link to buy my books. There ya go.

And now I tag the following writers:

Ellen Gable is a Catholic mom, writer, editor, blogger, Catholic Writers Guild president, and all around great lady.

Barb S. is a Catholic  mom, cook, blogger, technowizard, and busy feeding a child with Type I Diabetes.

Laura is another Catholic mom, blogger, and proponent of faithful environmental stewardship.

Enjoy, tomato pie fans!

This girl is on FIIIAHHH! 7 Charm-ming Quick Takes

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Pack your sleeping roll and join Jennifer and the rest of us happy campers over at Conversion Diary for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

ETA:  I’d love a copy of Jennifer Fulweiler’s Something Other Than God, myself having come (back) to Catholicism from atheism, though at a younger age and through a much faster route than blogging.  If you mention where to buy this awesome-looking book in your 7QT post…

7qt259 contest1 7 Quick Takes about your awesomeness, saints working through Youtube, and me buying you a banana suit

So, here’s where to buy Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulweiler.  You’re welcome.  🙂

I thought I was on fire with my last 7QT. Boy howdy, was I wrong! We just came back from a girls-only camping trip. See, I have a publisher interested in this idea for a series of books that encourages girls to learn the kinds of skills Mary would have needed to make her journey to visit—then help—her pregnant kinswoman Elizabeth. For instance, Mary probably didn’t know how to throw a tea party, but she sure as shooting knew how to cook over an open fire. She may not have known how to knit lace for her hankies, but there’s no doubt she knew how to turn mere fluff into clothing. Same goes for Elizabeth. Same goes for centuries—no, millennia—of girls who went before us.

Don’t get me wrong: I love modern technology and wouldn’t give away my smartphone, my blog, or my water heater without a fight. Still, we women have gone from being the most vital part of our communities—being the source of our most basic human needs for food, clothing and shelter—to being told we can’t make our own crumb topping for a casserole without professional help. Basically, we’ve been convinced that we’re incompetent. I’d put down real money that a girl who grows up feeling incompetent will become a woman who thinks she can’t handle life without a man (or some kind of romantic stimulation), can’t handle a crisis pregnancy, or can’t survive without destructive substances.

I have three girls. “Not on my watch,” says I.

So here I am, starting on a project I’m calling First Disciples: Amazing Skills for Strong Catholic Girls. Truth be told, that might even end up being relabled “for Strong Christian Girls,” because the more I think about it, the more I can see these skills as a meeting place for us with our separated sisters in Christ.

Anyway, through these books, girls (and their moms) can learn things like how to take fluff and turn it into fabric, how to cook over a fire made without matches, and how to be of service to pregnant women and others in need. As I draft the books, I’ll be testing out the activities with my own daughters, of course. I’m also looking for beta-testers. If you’re interested, comment below to join First Disciples Team Beta.

So, back to the camping trip. Before we left, First Shift and I read lots of books about wilderness survival, camp craft, and so on. I watched several YouTube videos about making fire without matches. Additionally, the Easter Bunny brought me one of these:


Not the kid, the thing she’s holding.

It’s a flint and striker, the modern-day version of the kind of thing first century people would’ve used to star their fires. At first I thought they might have used something like a bowdrill, but in the process of researching I discovered that wood was so scarce in first century Mediterranean lands that it wouldn’t have been wasted on a bowdrill when you could serve the same purpose with a rock and a bit of metal. Our goal for this trip was to make at least one fire without matches. Did we reach our goal? Read on to find out what we learned about fire.


Every knee will bend—even mine. You can’t light a fire unless you’re close to it. I’m obese, out of shape, and have had arthritis since I was 15 and an in-shape size 7/9. The fire doesn’t care. Every time I tried to light a fire with my butt in my camp chair, I failed. Matches or striker: it didn’t matter. I had to humble myself, accept the necessary pain, and get on my knees to light that fire.


You can’t be afraid to get too close. The few times I was able to get a spark to light on a bit of dryer lint or cotton ball tinder, I got up from my aforementioned knees. I thought, “Hey, I made fire! I can back off a bit.” Then what happened? Poof. Bye-bye, fire. Not only did I have to get back on my knees, but I had to touch burning things with my bare hands to have a fighting chance of keeping those flames alive. I had to quiet every piece of pyrophobic anxiety screaming inside of me and nudge that smoking sawdust with my fingers to get it closer to ignition. How many fears must we face in order to get close enough to where God wants us to be lit and warmed with His fire?


Keep breathing. “It’s going out. It’s going out! There. It’s out.” I lost count of how many times I heard the elder member of First Shift say that. I had to keep ignoring her natural negativity (and my own) and breathe on those smoldering embers, always at least three times. Trying to imitate me, First Shift would collectively give one gasping puff at the fire and say, “See? It’s out.” “Try three breaths.” And they would. And soon we’d have a fire again. Trying just once never worked. The fire needed as much breath as we could give it in order to get started.


Just keep breathing!


Never assume you’ll fail. I’d tried twice already to light the fire with the striker. Both fledgling fires had expired within two minutes. I decided to try a technique I’d seen on those YouTube videos: wrap your tinder in a nest of kindling, then once the spark catches, carry the whole nest (insulated in kindling) in your bare hands into the pre-built fire fuel. I’d failed so much that I didn’t think it would work, even with the extra help of the kindling nest. So I built my kindling nest RIGHT NEXT TO THE WOODPILE. I hit the striker once, twice, a third time, and within three seconds?

Con. Fla. Gra. Tion.

Embers spilled out of the kindling nest faster than I could pick the thing up. Fire fell into—and under—the waiting woodpile, and of course it all caught. The Holy Spirit intervened and kept the group’s collective generalized anxiety at bay as we laughed and ran to refill our water bucket.

Do you need me to explain this to you? Don’t assume you can only fail. Assumed failure, it seems, can be dangerous.


The fire only comes if you’ve made a place for it: or, some things have to be believed to be set on fire. The woman in this video about using a bowdrill says something to that effect. You know what? This proved true on our trip. If you’re embarking on any journey of faith—whether writing a novel, planning a blog tour or thinking about homeschooling—you won’t see the bridge through the fog unless you step towards where the bridge will be. In other words, first build your fire, then strike your first spark.


Forget the spots on the clean, white milk jug of your soul. Think fire instead. Just last week, I’d found myself at a loss for images to use when teaching our kids about the difference between venial and mortal sins. I know the “pure white milk jug” image has its shortcomings, so I’d always used the idea of building a wall between ourselves and God. A venial sin is a single brick. A mortal sin is an infinitely long, infinitely high steel-reinforced concrete slab. Even that, though, seemed to have its limitations. Then we spent two days working with fire. After all the trouble we’d had starting fires, we decided to keep our one lunch fire going through dinner time so we wouldn’t have to start over again. We might have neglected it a few times so that the ashes covered the embers, but with just a little tapping and stoking, maybe an extra log, it came back full force rather quickly. However, if we let it go out completely, or worse doused it with water until it was no longer even steaming… do you see where I’m going with this?


You’re always on my mind. Even with the huge log pile the campground provided on our arrival, we still needed to be on the constant looking for firewood. On our hikes in the woods we were looking for kindling. At the playground, we scavenged under the red pine for winter-scattered needles. Wandering to the bathhouse, we picked up sticks. This one vital task took up so much of our mental energy, even when we weren’t actively working with our fire. Think of all the other jobs that women have had through the centuries that occupied our minds from the moment we woke to the moment we rested. I’m often down on myself for being so obsessed with food (see above re: admission of obesity). This camping experience helped me to see that such a thing may be hard-wired into my brain for the sake of survival. God put it there for a reason, and knowing this has helped me forgive myself a little bit for, well, being who I am, concupiscence and all.


Mmmm… Easter Fire=Toasted Peeps

Do you have girls ages 8-15? Would you be interested in joining the First Disciples Project Beta Tester Team? Leave a comment below and we’ll be in touch!


Blogging Against Disablism

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2014

Today is Blogging Against Disablism day.  I have two kids with a neurological disorder (one I’m quite confident I have myself).

All three of us are extra difficult to love.

We make your lives harder.  We cried a lot as infants, toddlers, preschoolers, middle schoolers, even now.  We are prone to feeling defeated because it’s a battle just to get our muscles to move us out of bed every day, so telling us to “be more positive” in the face of that is kind of insulting.  It’s a struggle to not drop everything we pick up.  It takes loads of mental energy for us to hang on to your every word in a noisy place, because we can’t process what you’re saying as easily as the average Joe.  We mishear song lyrics all the time, so at least we give you something to make fun of.

Actually, we give you a lot to make fun of.  We can’t get our eyes and muscles and ears to work together well enough to play playground games or high school social games or reindeer games of any kind.  Our brains are so busy trying to keep us from killing ourselves with our poor perceptions that we’re plagued by seemingly ridiculous anxieties.  So by the time you ask us a question in school and we get it wrong because our brains simply have nothing left to give, don’t be surprised when we burst into tears.  By the time you try to get us to battle with you, we’ve already lost twelve battles that you didn’t even see.

I’ve heard it called “Easy Target Syndrome.”

There is now evidence for a biological basis for Sensory Processing Disorder. Hooray.  Maybe the treatments that help people like my kids–and me–will be covered by insurance insurance some day.

Or maybe someday that evidence will lead some savvy scientist to develop prenatal screening that will identify SPD before birth.  Then you won’t have to try and love people like me and my kids anymore.  We won’t be around to bother you.  We’ll be offed in the womb.

Your life will be much easier.

Won’t it?

Is a difficult life a fate worse than death?  

Do you think you are so incompetent that you couldn’t parent a difficult child?  

Do yourself a favor.  Give yourself a little more credit.  And while you’re at it, could someone write a novel/produce a movie where the kid in the wheelchair DOESN’T die?

Check out the new togs!

What do you think?  I did some sprucing up around here:  switched to a new format, gave each book a room of its own and added a Wildcard Wednesday category.

I also have a new category appearing this Friday for the brand new First Disciples project, but you’ll have to come back on Friday to learn some more about that.  It involves girl power and toasting Peeps over a roaring fire.


You don’t want to miss it.