Thursday, September 4, 2014


Monday, August 25, 2014

Hearts and minds

*NOTE-- since I published this blog, the twitter account here linked has been disabled. There are tweets circulating speculating that this particular ISIS fighter is the suspect responsible for the beheading of journalist James Foley.

I spent a good deal of time reading ISIS tweets today from young, British-born jihadis who had joined the fight.

So interesting.
Like, possibly the most interesting thing in the world.

Perhaps it's because once again it is my Catholic sisters and brothers being tortured, raped, and beheaded. It could be me. It could be any of us.
Or perhaps it's because this whole crisis in Iraq is happening concurrently with my return to journalism. I wanted in on this career in the first place because of this very issue-- the middle eastern thing that occupies so much of my heart and thoughts. My co-workers on the college paper I started on used to joke about me ending up reporting from the middle east in a mini skirt and pink knee-high ugg boots, excitedly chatting with battle-worn men. Even as a young, oblivious, partying college student, the middle east and the religious dialogue excited me and called for me. I'm older and wiser now (I hope) but that call is still there.
Whatever the reason, I feel wide awake for the first time in years.

I am still shaken by the intimacy afforded by social networking in our day--reading tweets is a glimpse into the minds of these men who committing unspeakable violence against peoples who have literally done nothing wrong save profess a different belief system.  Reading these is such an intense experience. It is terrifying, because of the proximity... they are sitting here, tweeting, just like me. It is also strangely beautiful. They are sitting here. Tweeting. Just like me.

Recently, my Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, called ISIS out. ISIS had crossed into Lebanon and he knew he needed to act, and fast. He said to them:

"Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis ... you rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others.”

When I first heard his words, my reaction was disappointment. I wanted him to say something stronger, something more aggressive and harmful. But having soaked in these tweets, now, I believe his response was perfect.
All we seem to have in common is our humanity-- and yet humanity is everything. In the midst of that idea and despite their horrifying actions,  I find myself struggling to really despise them. Their humanity impresses me, because their courage and bravado seems almost superhuman. Like the Vikings of old which I so admire, they march on, fearless and unrelenting. Superhuman, in some ways.  Something deeper is going on here.... because a human being just like you and I cannot possibly be capable of the kinds of atrocities these men are committing.

But let's get something straight-- these guys bleed like the rest of us. Heartache, frustration, a need for identity, loneliness, unrest... you name your struggle, they have experienced it. Some of them come from a long line of terrorists, but most of them appear to have been radicalized not by their families but by those who were willing to mentor them, those Muslim leaders who poured into the youth and the hurting and the hungry for truth. These are men who strove to make meaning out of their lives, and out of existence, and not only that but had the courage to do something about what they discovered. Something uncomfortable. Something insane. We have to hand it to them, almost... for if there ever was a worthy enemy, here it stands. I am simultaneously disturbed to my core and silent in awe and admiration. There are men not so dissimilar in many ways all around me yearning to find the meaning of life and to give of themselves to get at it. Men who would go in a heartbeat to defend my suffering sisters and brothers in Iraq, if the opportunity came along. Men who ache with incredible sadness that they cannot join in the struggle to defend Christians from these zealous Jihadis. This boggles my mind. Men boggle my mind.

So my Patriarch is right, but dialogue will also get us only half-way there. They speak violence, but they desire sanctity and a purge of evil and sin. My sense is that we must speak violence back to them, for it is the only language they understand, but we must do so with respect for life-- a challenge many Christians are not capable of accepting,  but which contains the hope of glory,  because it is the life-changing Gospel that actually purges evil and sin and brings that sanctity which these men seem so hungry for.

Americans are often dumbfounded at the hatred Islamic extremists have of the West, and yet we have to admit that every single American soldier who served in Iraq or Afghanistan--- or even here at home--  and who came home with something on his conscience has contributed to the problem. Every single Western civilian who has embraced materialism, modernity, and sin and left even one part of his life untouched by the light of truth and goodness is to blame. God allows this because it purifies. We have to acknowledge our own failings if we are going to dare to hope for a different and better future for our children.  I sat transfixed at the idea that each of these ISIS fighters felt they had gone "From the land of the west to the land of the blessed." I've done it too--- moved east in the hope of finding what my soul was craving. I found it there. I get that.
Their twitter feeds told this unspeakably beautiful, heartbreaking, hideous and despicable story with so much detail and intimacy. Each time, the same tale: they hoped to go from pain and sin to submission and salvation... to glory.

Do we need to use violence to combat ISIS? I believe so. Absolutely-- it's the only way to deal with this threat. We need to act with equal, lethal, and co force, but we need to do so with IMPECCABLE accuracy, and with a moral high ground. With SPIRIT. And we need to do so in the name of humanity, and with the Gospel and the hope it affords for humanity on our lips and hearts and minds. In other words, this must be a crusade, and not an ordinary military operation.

Many of the ISIS Fighters appear to have left affluent upbringings and "normal" western-style families in cities whose streets I have walked often, to live in the dust of the desert and blow us and themselves away. In their own words, they have come "from the streets of London to the dirt roads of Jihad." They are brave, they are motivated, they believe that they are literally saving their souls, and they are on a mission to give their all for Allah. Their courage is astonishing.

At the same time, they are the first to tell you that their aim in itself is a struggle. As Abu Abdullah Britani, an apparent volunteer with IS,  said on his twitter bio: "Me being here don't mean nothing and don't make me nothing. I don't even know if its accepted." This stands in stark contrast to the message of the evangelical protestants we often hear in America, which cries out--- "It doesn't matter, we're all OK because Jesus died! You can't work your way anywhere. Just say it, believe it, and you're good. Sit back and let God."
No-- this, this is such a different mentality. So sacrificial. So.... Catholic.
There is a lot of talk in the US Army about "winning the hearts and minds of the people." Even a cursory glance at these militant's feeds show a constant, steady, stream of unwon hearts and minds. These are men on a mission, and nothing but God Himself can deter them.

In the end I am struck completely in awe of the new way I see them-- as if through the eyes of the scripture I have memorized from Matthew 11:12, which reads: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (KJV)

For these men of the Islamic State --- who purge themselves through violence against others, Christianity is a great mystery, an offense, for instead of harming others we purge evil in the world through violence against ourselves--- through fasting and alms and prayer and good works, and undeserved kindness, and cheerful acceptance of suffering. Through the cross.

The stark contrast is not lost on me, and in my heart, I mourn the potential goodness these men would be capable of, had someone else poured into them, and radicalized them a different way.
Look to your left and to your right. The people you see there will all know a day when they will be forced to decide, to "choose now whom they will serve." (Joshua 24)
How will you impact them in that decision? What are you doing for those around you to ensure they are radically affected by the Gospel of light?

As my husband said today, in a status update:
"It's not enough to be of the right opinion, to believe what is right, to say what is right, to think what is right. To do what is right, for your own part, is nothing. You men and women who think that not doing evil is your occupation, you're like a city under siege. You're worthless. You are worse than worthless: You're demoralizing to even look upon. You doers of good deeds who think your 'doing' emancipates you from believing, thinking, and saying what you must you are like a tree whose fruit is eaten by birds before it ripens. It bears fruit but for no good. It is not enough to simply say, or think or do. You must do both, at once. But there is a third thing: You must inspire your brother! YOU must. YOU create the culture of unbreakable fraternity, of zeal and piety. That should be your brotherhood: Zealots of Piety."

As for me, and my house? We will serve the Lord.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Language Arts Tips

In addition to doing 15 minutes of Latin 4x weekly  and 15 minutes of English Grammar 1x weekly, these are my  language arts plans for our daily lessons in any subject:

1. Prereading.

Parent does the reading. I highlight any vocabulary words, and define them on a paper if needed (for myself, so I can explain them. With older kids, I let them read the list I write out along with definitions IF THEY NEED TO/ WANT TO.)
I highlight new characters as they appear so I can introduce them. I come up with one discussion question per chapter to help me start a discussion if they don't have questions themselves.

2. Before we read/ before child reads:

Parent points out new characters, outlines the upcoming chapter, and introduces a few words from the vocabulary. Together, examine a map to point out new locations.

3. Child or parent reads the text.

Younger children narrate text piece by piece, Older children narrate orally after entire section has been read. Older than Year 4, Children narrate orally most texts, but will provide 3 assigned written narrations after reading entire text.

4. Parent leads discussion.

If there are any questions the child has, they should be answered at this point. If parent wants to draw out a point from the text, this can be discussed here.

5. Copywork.

The child selects a favorite word, sentence, then passage for copywork according to ability.
At first I copy it for them and they copy me, eventually they copy from the book directly. Yes, let them choose. They will surprise you and always choose the most amazing passages!

6. Dictation

At the end of the week I choose one of their copywork selections to use for prepared dictation.

I have been guilty of overthinking this in the past... of adding other programs, etc. They are making a lot of progress now that I keep it simple and don't add too much in.
During our "off school" months I am planning on switching it up with another element, like using more of Primary Language Lessons... but doing those BOTH in one day was really too much for us and slowed our progress.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Term 1 Family Study Notes for 2014/15

Family Studies for Term 1 of this year:

Plutarch's Life of Crassus
Shakespeare's Hamlet Prince of Denmark
Artist: Fra Angelico (1395-1455; Italian Renaissance)
Hymns: Abide With Me, Lift High the Cross, O Worship the King, I Am Thine, O Lord / Draw Me Nearer, The Mysteries of the Rosary,
Composer: Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179
Folk Songs: Barbara Allen, Billy Bo, Lord Randall, Once in Royal David's City
Foreign songs: Heyr Himnasmithur, Meunier tu dors, Hava Nagila, Eschat Chayil, O Sanctissima, Agni Parthene
Books: Creighton's A First History of France, Little House on the Prairie,  Peter Pan, The Trumpet and the Swan, Children of Odin, The Sciences.
Poems: Whole Duty of Children, Foreign Lands, The Children's Hour, Our Brother Is Born,
Bible: Psalm 50(1), Magnificat

This year I have two Y0s, a Y2, and Y3, and I will be tutoring a Y12. Excited!


Watching determined people hesitantly work towards implementing Charlotte Mason's ideas into their home is like watching a baby take his first breath.

Their tentative steps into nature...
Their sudden interest in good books...
The beginnings of their struggle to build virtue and character...
Their budding awareness that their children are persons with value and inherent dignity...
Their nascent gratitude for God's goodness...
Their newfound ability to pay attention and to use their reason....

It's so beautiful.

They don't know it yet, but it's leading them towards a wholeness they've never known.
They are becoming human again.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Scheduling notes for the AO/MA 2014-15 school year

Hi Friends,

Many of you are in scheduling mode right now and asking for help, so here is our routine/schedule for the upcoming school year using AO Years 0, 2, 3, 12. (Mater Amabilis years Prep, 1B and Year 2 of 1A)

Page one is the schedule, which I based on my combined experiences at Basic Combat Training in the US Army and with Carmelite monastic life, because I'm crazy like that... and it works. True story.
Page two is the gritty details... what exactly we are up to.

As before, we have three formations (we call them consilium)-- one in the morning, one after naps, and one in the evening.  I'm toying with the idea of having afternoons be poetry AND music and opening up the evenings more because we always have company at night... we shall see as we go along.

I'm schooling three elementary children, tutoring one high school senior, and entertaining a toddler, and "academics" go til noon. Haven't used this much yet (although it's close to what we did last year) so it may need some tweaking, but this is the general plan. I'll keep you posted as far as how it seems to be working.

A couple notes:

I don't combine years. Each kid gets cycled through time with me, youngest to oldest. Kids can get up whatever time they want and join me in that morning routine as long it's AFTER 6:30 and BY 7:30. Obviously, there are days where.... yeah. It's not happening. That's why we school year roundish (we break for advent, lent, and a month in the summer but usually keep "schooling" lightly because CMing is a life.

We don't snack. Meals are an event around here. They take a while, and since we cook from scratch, they require prep. Also, we ALL nap. If you're not sleeping, you are having a "quiet time." That's when freereads goes down.

Wednesday nights we do a book study/bible study or prayer group in the community so that is pretty open. Workbaskets are just random tups full of whatever handicrafts the kids are into at the time (Sewing, knitting, spinning, woodworking, whatever)
The "phases" are what they do to make soldiers in BCT, and I use it in the same way-- as a guideline to help me know how to provide the right environment/ oversight to each kid. Kids are cycled through as needed.

In keeping with "Education is a discipline, atmosphere, and life" we aren't going to do much breaking from good habits this year to see if that helps with the Mondays. ;) As before our observation of the Hebrew Catholic liturgical year makes for a good mix of ordinary and holy moments throughout the week.
Hydration just means I make sure they drink some water.... and I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory.
Don't be put off by the military mindset.... our days feel relaxed and it plays out as naturally as breathing.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments!
Good luck, I'm praying for you in your planning!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

No excuses

I don't usually post much about fitness, mostly because there is nothing tangible that I have to show for it.
Though I've grown really interested in fitness and it has become a huge part of my life, it isn't really my place to say much at this point---  I am light years ahead of where I was, but way behind where I want to be.

Lately, however, I've been reading a lot of threads on facebook from mothers who want to lose weight and get in shape---  but say that they don't have the time to do it.
The sheer amount of responses from people in the same situation commiserating with one another is an indication of how common this problem is.
I posted a comment response one day in yet another thread about it on facebook that was poorly received by most people in there. What I said was: "I understand how hard it is. You will feel better if you just. do. it."
Let's just say that wasn't received very well.

And what I read in response to my comment, I realized, was a literal flood of excuses....excuses I've been guilty of making myself in the past.
Hence this post.

Before I begin, let me just repeat that I used to be that mom. In fact, on down days, I still am!!
So much.
I truly understand the struggle.
Maybe more than others. ;)

Do you relate to this great picture of normal motherhood? I do.

This is motherhood, in a nutshell.

My husband works long hours, and is often gone for days at a time. When he is home he doesn't "take over," to alleviate my duties much. He's not what I would call "easy-going," and requires a lot from me.
I have a lot of kids and they are all really young. They also require a lot from me.
We don't have any money for gyms or babysitters. I don't drive. We don't have a lot of equipment.
In the past, on most days, I could hardly get my teeth brushed in the morning or take a five minute shower, without someone getting injured or destroying my house,  let alone carve out an hour, or even ten minutes to "take care of myself."
(I'm exaggerating, of course, but these were my thoughts when I was really low.)
The days dragged on, but somehow time passed so quickly. The baby weight stayed. There was never the time to do anything about it.

My husband began to get frustrated. The weight was not attractive on me.
He and his friends have always led a very healthy lifestyle. They get together and work out. They work out at work. Supplements and nutrition are a normal part of their daily conversation.
They have favorite bodybuilders, something I always thought was lame and weird, to be honest. I didn't think muscles were interesting or worth spending time on.

But it was clear I was slightly depressed and basically felt like a robot in my daily life.
Where he and his friends were basically pretty happy, inside I was hurting at the suggestion that exercise was the answer to my problems--- I hadn't WANTED to be pregnant over and over again. I didn't love much of anything about being a young mother of many with everything that goes with that. Didn't anyone care about what I did want??!
I was determined to embrace motherhood, but to be honest, it felt just a teeny little bit like hell itself.

And then here was the real struggle: the absolute LAST thing I wanted to do was to make a priority out of exercise.  Exercise, in my mind, was punishment. It was more hell, not less.
It was something I needed to do in my five minutes of precious free time-- but not something I wanted to do.
In fact, it was something that I hated doing, that I felt made me miserable and was hard and uncomfortable.
I didn't want to sweat. I didn't want to change my clothes. I didn't want to go run. To be perfectly honest, all I wanted to do was collapse and wake up when my kids were older and my husband was happier to see me, or hide in the pantry and eat chocolate.

Most women seem to agree with me. There are more posts about fitness from men than women in my newsfeed on any given day, and WAY more posts about accepting fat and imperfections from women than men. We just don't seem to WANT to exercise.

When I thought about it, I did want my husband to respect me more, to love me more, and to want to spend time with me more, but I wanted it to be for "who I was," (which, btw, wasn't who I was when he married me, right? I was significantly larger, grumpier, and more tired, lazy, and whiny.)

I also wanted to enjoy my kids, and not feel drained by them. I wanted more energy. I wanted time to myself. I wanted to reach some personal goals. I wanted to have more confidence and fewer tears. I wanted to rewind life and be young again. I wanted some peace and quiet. I wanted to stop time-- maybe even to rewind it.

Here's what I learned when I finally gave up and started doing it: Exercise is the fountain of youth.

It is a confidence builder. It is the healthiest and most beneficial form of "me time." It will give me the energy I crave. It is a powerful form of meditation. It boosts my mood and relieves my pains and aches. It is an intellectual and spiritual pursuit, as well as a physical pursuit.
It reminds me of why I'm alive. It heals me. It gives me time to think and gets me away from the chaos and craziness of regular, daily mom-life.  And most importantly, it teaches me some powerful lessons about life: that everything I want to achieve requires sweat, patience, dying to myself, and perseverance. Slowly it is becoming my place of peace.

Enjoying a quiet morning run in nature.

No magical thing happened when I finally admitted that I had been weak, lazy, and wrong.

I didn't suddenly find the financial means to join a gym. I didn't find a perfect babysitter who I trusted and was free. I didn't suddenly discover that my hopes of losing all that baby weight with a 20 minute yoga video twice a week were founded in science. No. Nothing got "easier."
Except my attitude. And my strength.

I had made resolutions year after year, just like everyone else. I had told myself I would just give it a try for a day, a week, a month. And then stopped.
I'd give it a half-hearted attempt (like, five pushups) and then collapse. I'd tell myself I was doing OK for "a start." Then I'd skip it for a few days.
I had told myself that yoga was going to be my thing... the thing that worked. And I would do it, and love it. But I couldn't escape the other aspects of fitness that yoga wasn't addressing.
I still needed it, it wasn't going to be as enjoyable as a yoga class or as sitting on my butt on my couch, and I knew it.

Thankfully, it turned out that God was on my side because I also have a husband who is a bit of a pain and who pushed me. A lot. The instant he saw me take ANY interest in exercise, he would begin to push hard.
He would come home from his night shift and say to me: "get dressed, I'm going to take you over to the river trail for a run." There is no arguing with that man. (Believe me, I've tried.)
After many years of this, one day, out of desperation, and even out of anger...I tried it his way.
And it clicked.

The first few days I was surprised to learn that I felt good, but it wasn't a habit. A couple weeks later, it began to become a habit, but I noticed that I felt worse. When I felt worse, I didn't want to exercise.
This is normal--- but it felt like everything conspired against me. Every time I would make a small amount of progress, something would happen to stop me in my tracks. I began to despair. I wanted immediate results. When I would experience a wall, I'd just give up, and my husband would get frustrated. I could tell he'd almost given up on me, and I'd be tempted to give up on me, too.
After a while I got resentful, too, because the only time I could find to work out was after everyone, including he, had gone to bed.
The resentment affected my relationships and the lack of sleep affected my emotions.

I've always need a push to get moving on stuff that doesn't "feel good."
When I was younger, my brother, intent on joining the military, would fling me out of bed and scream at me to move faster as I ran down the street in his company.  He'd pile rocks in two backpacks, strap them on our backs, and then leave me in the dust, where I'd complain about being hot and tired while he'd do laps around me. In Basic Training my drill sergeants were so frustrated with me. They knew what I was capable of, but found that motivating me was almost impossible. Unless there was a fire under my butt, I wasn't going to do anything I didn't want to, not even for the US Army, and I nearly became the only private to graduate BCT who couldn't even do a dang pullup on my own.

My husband has the same problem. He can't make me work out. I have to want it.
So unless I was spending copious amounts of time in research mode studying up on motivational fitness ideas and methods I WANTED to try, I was a blob on the couch. It just wasn't "me."

I had to learn to give that up.
And in doing so, I learned an important lesson: motivation is half the battle.

One night I learned that a celebrity I had always admired and who happened to be extremely fit had had the same kinds of hold ups. His physique was amazing and I had always assumed was something that had come to him naturally.

That night, I read in an interview that he had had to be pushed every step of the way (Sound familiar?) and all of the tremendous things he had overcome along the way humbled me.
Eventually he learned that the only way that fitness was going to happen was if he worked and did things he didn't enjoy or feel like doing.
He had often had to work out at 10:30 at night, after exhausting trips and tours, and long after everyone else was asleep. Eventually, the hard work payed off and today he is famous for his singing ability, and even more so for his physique-- which prompted his encouraging, positive attitude and work ethic, which in turn have made him a dedicated husband, father, and friend, and a powerful witness to godly living.

It reminded me that my husband has the same story. He wasn't naturally fit, but in exercise he had learned many important life lessons, and he had found a lot of healing from the difficult things life had handed him when he was a child.

The more "success stories" I read like his, the better I felt about exercise. I stopped feeling so alone. I stopped feeling like the whole world was against me, and instead I started feeling like I was part of a family of the strongest people on earth. Super-humans.
And they were actually all around me. My neighbors. My co-workers. People I passed on the street.
Instead of tearing me down and making me feel inferior like I had thought they would, time spent with people or reading about people who were extremely fit always built me up and encouraged me not just to win at fitness, but at life.
I learned I didn't actually hate these fit people all around me. I admired them--- and with good reason. And the harder I tried, the more bonded we were, even though I'm not even CLOSE to where they are at in the physical realm.


I started to find motivation in the funniest places-- in fitness professionals who had obviously reached success in their goals and overcome a lot to get there. I started following bodybuilders-- both men and women-- who posted about their fitness experiences on facebook and twitter, and reading their blogs.
It was weird, at first, because these were people I used to find actually physically repulsive, but I found amazing encouragement in their stories.
All of them had achieved incredible things with dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many of them had found healing from  their past.
And they really found joy in sharing those lessons with others, which in turn, helped bring a little sunshine and light to the world around them.

This gave me the strength to keep at it.
I wanted my kids to admire me like that one day, too. And I wanted my husband to be proud of me.
Still, every single step felt like work. Sometimes it was fun work, but many times... it was still drudgery.... at least before I got started.

And then one day, it happened.

I randomly weighed myself (I had not been weighing myself regularly on purpose, so as not to get discouraged) and learned I had lost a lot of weight. 20 lbs!

I went shopping and realized I was down a couple dress sizes for the first time in years.

In the mirror, I started to notice definition in my muscles where before there had been none. I could see muscles I had no idea I had.  Definition was appearing! It was so exciting!!!

My successes were really funny at first. I wanted to tell everyone, but at the same time, I couldn't believe they were things that I was dealing with.
The flap in my lower belly where pregnancy after pregnancy had left it's mark was suddenly lifted, instead of hanging over.... leaving me with great hope that it would one day actually flatten out and disappear. (ewwwww!)
My breasts, which had sagged from the heavy weight of nursing endlessly suddenly started sitting a little higher.
Picking up my baby was easier. And I could wear jeans again!
I discovered I had never, ever lifted with my legs, or squatted to pick something up and wondered where these movements had been all my life.... they were so helpful! Suddenly tasks around the house were less drudgery and became easier and even more fun. They hurt less and were over quicker.

A short while later, I again sustained a couple of serious injuries due to exercise.
Then came the failures.
For a time, the injuries felt like they had stopped me in my tracks. I let days and even weeks go by without doing anything of value in my workouts. I even stopped working out altogether. I stopped eating clean.
The weight came back.
I realized that exercise-- like life-- would always be like this. There would always be something.
I couldn't let that stop me. I had to keep pressing forward, making progress, being patient, being consistent. Admitting mistakes, learning from them, and letting them go. Working hard.

Just like homeschooling.
Just like housekeeping.
Just like my career.
Just like my relationships.
Just like my faith.

As I write this, I have a problem in my bicep which is relatively serious and is preventing me from even normal activity, let alone lifting weights. I am also having a problem with my ankle.
Now, instead of being depressed that I have to workout, I'm finding it extremely depressing not being able to work out. I'm also finding that I cannot allow myself to be defeated.
I've been sitting on my butt crying about it for a few weeks now.
But the truth is, as I write this, that though my bicep may not be working at the moment, my legs are. I can wiggle my toes. I can always do something. This bicep problem has felt like my undoing but in reality, I just need to assess the situation, develop a strategy, and continue to make progress.
No excuses.

I'm at an age where I'm starting to see that health is not a guarantee. I watched my grandfather and my father in law die of cancer. It was horrific. I am seeing friends and acquaintances who seem perfectly "normal" and healthy have heart attacks. Awful. On a practical level, I don't recover from a long night as quickly. I don't feel as "ready" when I wake up. I worry if my body can handle "one more baby." I'm in my thirties.
If I hadn't done it before, it's definitely time now to take my health seriously. I want to be around for my grandkids!!

In writing this, I realize I have been a little harsh.
I had to be because I am preaching to myself as much as to the rest of you.
Exercise is hard. It is painful.
It is intense. It causes suffering.
But like everything else in parenting and in life, you have to get past the suffering to see the glory. Those who don't even try will never know the sweetness of success. Those who don't make efforts consistently will not see the value of effort in itself. No effort gets no results. There are no excuses for not making an effort. These things are all true--- and only those with great strength to overcome hardships will believe me, because they are the ones who will try.

Don't have that strength? I didn't think I did either.
But you can't be awesome unless you DO something awesome.
There was a day this past winter, where I found myself starting a run at 7:30 in the morning in below freezing weather. I was cold, and I was furious, because my husband had dropped me off and nagged me to death about going even though I hadn't wanted to go. Now here I was, alone in the woods, and I had two hours to kill before he'd be back. If I wasn't going to freeze, I could either run home or run the woods, and since I didn't want to see him, I chose the trail.
I ran because I was cold.
As I ran, I picked up speed.
As I picked up speed, I got hot, and took my sweatshirt off and tied it around my waist.
There was no one on the trail for miles.
Suddenly, I realized there were two figures up ahead.
Embarrassed because I hate running in public, I realized they were two special forces soldiers. (I live in a military town.)
They were also running, and in shorts and tee shirts, despite the weather.
Instead of laughing at me as I had feared they would (I always think people are laughing at me when I run in public) I was surprised to find that they congratulated me. And smiled. One of them told me I was brave. They even looked back at me as if they thought I was attractive.
The thing was, I wasn't brave! And I was certainly NOT attractive.
I hadn't wanted to be there, I was grumpy, I couldn't feel my face, and I was just taking one step in front of the other. I was sweaty and smelled bad. I was wearing frumpy clothes because they were comfortable to run in.
But when I passed them, it hit me.
I may not be strong, or tough, but I was alone on a trail in freezing weather, running, and the only people running with me were SF. I wasn't in shape, I wasn't good at it, but I was just doing it. And I was the only one doing it besides them.

This changed my attitude tremendously. I began to see that those guys didn't get tough because they were just born that way. They had trained themselves there. They had worked tirelessly... in the cold, in the rain, when they were sick, when they were tired.
And it had been worth it, because when I had passed them on the trail, even from a distance I had said to myself: "Uh oh. Those guys are huge. Those guys are tough. Those guys are powerful."

They had never really had my respect just because they walked around with certain badges on their uniform. I see that every day, and it means very little to me.
That day, though, they got my respect because I saw them out running in shorts and teeshirts when I knew it was hard and it was early and it was cold, and it was uncomfortable and it was Saturday morning, and they were getting older,  and it was many other things that made what we were all out there doing DIFFICULT.

Only instead of being frustrating-- it was incredible! I fed right off their energy and ran faster and better after they had passed. I felt awesome.
When I got home, it made me want to do it again the next day. And when I did, and saw another woman on the trail, obviously a mom because she was pushing a jogging stroller and looked like she hadn't slept much.
That day I gave her the same kind of encouragement I had received the day before.
Her whole countenance changed. She knew what she was doing was good, and right.
And worth it. She held her head taller and her stride grew more vibrant.
I have found that God always sends me a little encouragement just when I'm ready to quit, in this same way.

So believe me when I say that I know the struggle. When I walk down the street right now, people don't say to themselves: "Hey, that woman is really in shape!"
But that's not the point. The point is that I know what feels healthier and what feels unhealthy.
I know what helps me and I know what hurts me.
I know, now, what it "was" like and what it "will be like."

Today, before the day goes by, see if you can't just get out there and do it. Even for moms-- ESPECIALLY for moms, exercise is critical.
Catholic wives are called to have babies. Lots of babies.

Drop and do a pushup every time you cross into your kitchen.
Put the baby on the floor next to you and do three sets of 20 situps.
Squat while you do dishes.
Ask your husband to watch the kids for ten minutes and sprint up and down your driveway the whole time.
Don't lie to yourself. An "active lifestyle" is NOT the same as exercise.
You don't need a program.
You don't need a fancy gym in your garage or the perfect diet.
You don't need a husband who gets on your case, or new friends.
You don't need new clothes.
You don't need anything but motivation, a little bit of knowledge,  and the will to do better and be better than you were yesterday.
You aren't competing with anyone but yourself.
It isn't just hard for you. It's hard for everyone.
So, mamas, get out there...

and just. do. it.

To get started, here are 10 tips I've learned along the way.

1. Lift weights, as heavy as you can safely lift them. Get help, at first. This is the number one thing women tend NOT to do, but which yields the best results, hands down. As I have progressed in fitness, I have begun to notice how much time is wasted in exercise endeavors that do nothing for people-- or that do something which could be easily done in a shorter amount of time if they would just add more weight.
2. Pay attention to form. Watch YouTube videos and read articles to learn how to properly do exercises, which muscle groups to work, and how. Injuries are not fun.
3. Have a plan. Stick to it. If you have no idea what you're doing, ask someone you admire for their plan, and follow it for a while.
4. Take a rest day. Vary your routines. Have fun.
5. Alternate abs and cardio. Ideally, do them on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. Weight train at other times during the day.
6. Eat a clean diet as a lifestyle. Having a cheat day can help, at first. Take supplements if they help, but remember that in health, processed food is the enemy.
7. If all you have is 20 minutes, read up on how to do tabatas.
8. Get the whole family involved. Get motivated. Find favorite athletes and read their motivational posts. Participate in fitness events locally and online.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need--- and to take advantage of the time you have. And don't be afraid to make fitness a priority, instead of a back burner activity. I promise you, it will be worth the time you are sure you are "wasting." It will give you the things you are looking for outside of exercise.
10. Don't stop when something comes up, even if that something is a pregnancy. Especially when that something is a pregnancy! Keep moving.

I'm praying for you! Please pray for me. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On children and the wild.

Recently many of you reposted this article on facebook, and a few of you sent it to me or linked to it on my timeline.
Here are my thoughts.

Obviously, I am 100% pro children spending the MAJORITY of time outdoors, and I'm huge on masterly inactivity (un-managed play in the context of clearly defined rules and cultivated habits of obedience, attention, and truthfulness.)
I want kids outside, especially doing nature study. As much as possible.

I do think there needs to be a space where they can make their fort, and I do think nature can take it. Yes. I remember all too well the disagreements I had with my father in law about what the kids should and shouldn't be allowed to do outdoors.
He wanted them to play outside, but it seemed that every activity they took up worried him. I understood his concerns, but felt strongly that they should be free to build and be, even at the expense of a few shrubs or flower beds. We can re-seed grass, but those lessons learned outside digging are priceless.

On the other hand, I also think that equally important, is the need to teach children from the youngest of ages that they have a place in nature. They are both "over" it and "in it."
They must learn to take authority, yes, but also they must learn their place in it and the impact of their decisions. I watch them, year by year, in this dance.
The first bug they notice-- something alive that isn't like them. The first time they discover a bird won't come to them. The first time they realize a flower is delicate and easily broken. The first time they get stung, or bit. The first time they fall out of a tree. The first animal they bury. The first decaying animal they discover and attempt to pick up. The first dandelion they reach for that dissolves into a stem, seeds flying on the breeze.

I go on nature hikes with many, many children and I find that most of them don't have a sense of their own *smallness* in nature, which is one of the best lessons nature can teach us-- that we can not control. We can build, but nature can destroy it in an instant. We can know everything there is to know about survival and still encounter the one thing that takes us down. Now, this is a lesson learned best over time, and gently, and typically not through "free play in the woods," of course. But there are other lessons as well.

Take the time to teach them tracking, or to learn how to read scat,  for example- a skill that can both feed them and give them ample time to escape disaster.
Take the time to teach them to bird stalk-- not only because they will find in the birds a perpetual friendship that grows deep over time, but also because it can help them find shelter, listen for danger, and prepare for weather.
Take the time to teach them about the stillness of the mountaintop, the roar of the waves, the music of the forest. Let them hear nature talk so that they learn to quiet themselves.
Let them learn to sit and observe quietly, to return to the same places each day or week, or month and be greeted by the same friends in nature-- that tree or rock or stream or animal who, with the seasons, looks and acts differently to adapt to it's environment.
Teach them that to want to take an animal out of it's environment and make it a "pet" is the seedling of objectification-- one of the greatest evils of this world. More rewarding than a pet is a free, wild animal that loves you, and who you love. (Are you coming with me on that one? It is one of my favorite lessons that so many people seem to miss.)

It frustrates me to see children (and inexperienced adults!) rumbling around off-trail, touching things. Conservation of resources is an important lesson, as is stewardship, and rule-following for the good of all. People are perpetually "ruining it for others" with careless wandering through protected areas.

It is also dangerous. Here in the Carolinas 80% of what's "out there" will damage you, and I'm constantly amazed to see kids-- and parents-- wandering through poison ivy, over potential snake zones, and through dangerous spiderwebs. Children will get ticks, they will get ant bites, yes.
But by all means, teach them how to avoid  these things and don't just let them loose to learn through each injury. The results could be deadly.

It also frustrates me to see children who have not been taught that nature did not create neat trails of concrete with porta-potties and water fountains placed at equal distances through the woods.
Many children hardly notice the difference between a pristine, protected and untouched field and a garden. Many children's only experience of nature is a weekly trip to the botanical gardens.
Take them to state parks and wild areas. From time to time, camp with them in sleeping bags far from campgrounds and folding chairs. Let them see the stars far from the city lights.

But.... "Leave no trace."

This is the motto of every bushcraft enthusiast and naturalist, and one it is our duty and responsibility to hand down to our children.. It is a lesson I seldom see being taught to children these days, even by park rangers. It is one the ancients handed down to us-- those precious ancients who in every country were chased out of their wildlands and into captivity and eventually into their own private hells by those who left a trace.

"Leave no trace" ensures safety. It also ensures conservation of beauty, it ensures friendship with nature and also survival for future generations and for those around us now. "Leave no trace" is the essence of a relationship with nature, but because of the nature of Man it must be balanced with our primal call to "Forge a Path," a vocation which also cannot be ignored.
We are men, and not animals.
We will travel. We will discover. We will conquer. We will build. We will settle. It will be glorious! We will hopefully take only what we need, replace what we can, and live in friendship and harmony with that with which we can co-exist peacefully.

For me, the most important thing in life is to find balance, and spending time with children in nature is one of the best ways to teach this important lesson.
By all means-- let them play and explore! But never forget to teach them, to train them, to hand down the lessons of the ancients who came before us and successfully lived WITH nature. The world has enough disrespect, destruction, and thoughtlessness.

Put them in nature to give them a sense of wonder, awe, and humility.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hymn- Heyr Himnasmiður

Forgot to post this month's hymn, written in 1208!
Lyrics onscreen in English and Icelandic.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A psalm for those who despair in the presence of liturgical abuse

Psalm 94  English Standard Version (ESV)
The Lord Will Not Forsake His People

94 O Lord, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!
2 Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve!
3 O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?
4 They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5 They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6 They kill the widow and the sojourner,
and murder the fatherless;
7 and they say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

8 Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
9 He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—
11 the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Freaky Fridays: On Waldorf Education

It's been a while since I've had a Freaky Friday entry, but today is the day!

A woman I recently met, who we'll call Sara, shared this testimony today of her experiences with Waldorf education, that I thought were indeed helpful to share. Although I am personally not familiar with Waldorf's theories, and despite the fact that I have many friends who were raised in Waldorf schools and seem to have enjoyed themselves tremendously, I have always felt a little tug to just stay away. I'm glad I did.

She writes:

"It's been on my mind to share my cautionary tale about my experiences with Waldorf and "Waldorf inspired" homeschooling since I discovered something in the past week.
Waldorf education and methods cannot be separated from Steiner's Anthroposophy, an occult science. It permeates everything. Under all those gently colored images is something really dark. I was involved in Waldorf off and on from 2011 until this year.
So many Christian and Catholic moms are doing Waldorf inspired homeschooling or incorporating elements of it into their existing curricula that I think it's important to let people know what they could be getting into.

It's a common refrain by the Waldorf community that Anthroposophy is not taught to children in the schools. It is true in that they do not receive didactic instruction in a subject called anthroposophy. What Waldorf leaves out is that every single element of curriculum and methodology is anthroposophical in nature and intent. The teachers are all educated at anthroposophical schools and read anthropos texts including Steiners visions for education.

Teachers are taught to do inner work in order to communicate with spiritual realms in order to facilitate the actual goal of Waldorf education: to help the child first fully incarnate their soul into their body and then to help guide the soul toward an improved reincarnation in the hope that the "whole child" will be pure enough to shed his body and enter the spirit realm.

Even though I was going to homeschool, the anthroposophical influence was very strong. The "gentle" curriculum that I purchased included "inner work" for mothers. At first, I thought this meant self improvement. Not so much. I was invited to join groups to study Steiner by other homeschooling moms.

Some of the biggest proponents of Waldorf homeschooling are very anthroposophist and want to lead you in.

Anthroposophists also believe that Jesus was a sun god, aka Apollo. So, all the so called Christian festivals they celebrate are actually not about Jesus.

Some argue that they can use the elements of Waldorf without being Waldorf. Maybe this is the case, but I think it is important to share exactly why Waldorf does what it does. Each aspect of Waldorf education has an underlying spiritual importance in anthroposophy.
Some examples:

Stockmar Beeswax Crayons: Yes, they are beautiful. But when you purchase them your money goes to an anthroposophical company in Germany. Each color has an intentional occult significance.

Soft colors in the classroom, play silks, expressionless dolls, songs for every activity are how early childhood Waldorf educators create a "dream like" atmosphere in order for the still incarnating little ones to remember their past lives.

Gnomes and fairies. Cute but actually considered to be real beings. This is taught to children as part of the science curriculum.

Wet on Wet Watercolors are meant to create colorful hazy forms that represent Steiner's view of the spiritual realm.

Nature Tables are intended to be altars to the spiritual world that is concealed by the natural world. Hence the fairies and gnomes that are usually displayed along with the various images of nature.

Delayed academics, while not evil on its own, the purpose of it in Waldorf education is to keep children focused on the spiritual world until they are able to fully incarnate into their bodies at 7.

Festivals that appear to be Christian in origin have an underlying occult significance.

Form drawing (with the beeswax crayons) is a method toward clairvoyance.

I really want to share this because once I learned how evil Waldorf really was/is, I realized why I'd felt so oppressed spiritually during my time with it. I started believing that the world in front of me wasn't real but was an illusion like The Matrix. I was terrified all the time. Making nature tables and having a rhythm of the day, painting wet on wet water colors, reading the inner work stuff, and singing all those verses were not making me feel peaceful at all. It made me feel dark. So, now that I did some research about it, I realized why.

I want to save you from that by sharing some of what I learned."

I want to thank Sara for speaking up about what she discovered. Have you had any experiences with Waldorf, and would you like to share them below?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Schedule for The World's Story by Elizabeth O'Neill

A very brief post that might help some of the Catholic users of Ambleside Online.

We LOVE the Synge and Hillyer books, but both have some issues that need explaining. In fact, I have a great sadness over the Synge books in particular, which our family LOVED until we got to the reformation portions.... then we knew we had to stop using them. That being said, I'm sure many families could simply read them and discuss, but in our family, it wasn't an option.

My husband feels strongly that especially in the young, formative years  I should use Catholic history books, because they tend to be more honest on BOTH sides of the main issues (Schism, Reformation, etc.) and to have a more Christ- centered (Vs people-centered) view of History. As we know, though, quality Catholic history texts are hard to come by. For the first two years this was a real conundrum for me.

However, I recently participated in editing a new edition of the book The World's Story by Elizabeth O'Neill. It's excellent, beautifully bound, very well-written and perfectly Catholic--- fair and balanced. I highly recommend it for world history and it is in fact scheduled for around fifth grade on Mater Amabilis. (Can't find my camera charger or I'd take some pictures to go with this post.)

Anyways, I scheduled it into the first five years of AO to replace the other history books (Synge or Hillyer's histories) as best as I could. My Year 1 this year has missed his chance to hear it and my Year 2 has missed a lot of it, since it just came out, but I will be using it for our family from next year onwards and wish I would have known about it before!

The reading is heavy in Y1 (two sections per week) but AO says on the website that it purposely left the schedule light to add in some history, so that should be fine.  The sections are also very short so two sections could make up one reading time.

Because The World's Story is set up both like a world history AND a bit like a world geography in some places, the readings don't always correlate perfectly, and in some years hardly at all, but I am quite sure that Charlotte Mason would have approved nevertheless, as it gives a complete, fair, and balanced survey of world history and the child will be able to make his/ her own connections as they read the rest of the scheduled books on AO.

So, without further ado, here is a schedule for using it with years 1-5. As with AO's schedules, one asterisk denotes Term 1, two for Term 2, and three for Term 3. In Year one, there are 23 readings per term (about 2 each week), but as I said, the readings are short and could be done in one sitting. The reading level is advanced--- this is a middle school text-- but that should be no problem for children who are using Ambleside as is.

*Chapter I-VI
** Chapter VII-XII
*** Chapter XIII-XX

(after Year One the readings go down to just one every other week or so, approximately 7 per term.)

*Chapter XXI- Chapter XXIII The Great St Bernard
**Chapter XXIII - Chapter XXV
***Chapter XXV- The Great Poet Dante to XXVII Joan of Arc

*Chapter XVIII - Chapter XXXI The Great Kings
** Chapter XXXI The Reformation in England - Chapter XXXIV
*** Chapter XXXIV The Great Civil War in England - Chapter  XXXVII Peter the Great

* Chapter XXXVIII- Chapter XL
** Chapter XL The First Colonist in Canada- Chapter XLI The End of Slavery
*** Chapter XLII - XLIII the Execution of the King

* Chapter XLIV- Chapter XLV Florence Nightingale
** Chapter XLV The Making of Italy- Chapter XLVI The Explorers
*** Chapter XLVI Mungo Park- Chapter XLVIII Our World Today

Monday, February 24, 2014

Knowledge vs wisdom: Why you need the seven liberal arts

During a conversation about the difference between the liberal arts and the humanities, a friend sent me this article to read yesterday, called "The Great Books... Enemies of Wisdom."

At first, I was taken aback by the title. I glanced at it briefly.
I almost skipped it, thinking to myself.... yeah, yeah, yeah.
It doesn't take too many reads around the homeschool forums to realize that the most verbal advocates of a non-Great Books education actually love the so-called Great Books, and frequently teach/ use their authors.... in context.

But I read it, and I'm so glad I did. It was like the missing puzzle piece that I was looking for to help me connect the ideas in my mind about education, as well as the nail in the coffin for me when it came to other "classical" homeschooling ideas I watch mothers who home educate throw around.

Making a case for a true classical education in the Catholic tradition.... an education where the ability to THINK is the precursor to anything, the article points out so clearly what we homeschooling mothers keep trying to put our finger on when we grasp at "educating" our children. We don't like the modern education system because it is obviously a fact-dumping ground.
We want a "classical" education because it trains our children to think clearly.
We know and understand that great ideas are what counts.
We know they are to be found in books. But if we're honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that just reading these authors is only half the picture. Following a train of thought is one thing. Adding to it is another. Having your own, original train of thought? A feat that can't possibly be taught just by reading a booklist. (For those of you who do ambleside, you could compare this to teaching the booklist without teaching grammar, latin, arithmetic, etc. It's half an education, which is no education at all.)

That's because a Classical Education is a set of skills taught to the student-- reasoning skills that inevitably lead to seeing the world around oneself clearly.

Without these skills, the "Great Books" are only a shadow of the possibilities of a child's education. I know, because I'm married to a man with these skills. He studied philosophy, whereas I was raised on the Great Books. I "know" the humanities, but I don't always understand the ideas being shared without tremendous effort on my part.
My husband, on the other hand, understands whatever ideas come at him very clearly, and is able to use reason to quickly reject or apply these ideas on the basis of truth-- But he has less of a general knowledge of names and faces. Whenever we grapple with ideas, he sees the big picture, and I often see only what is right in front of me. I often know something is important, whereas he understands WHY it is important.

I wanted something better for my kids than the education I received, which though enjoyable and much better than what I saw others around me doing, was not thorough enough to help me be WISE, only knowledgeable.

I wanted for my children to experience the type of education that will help them to follow in the footsteps of their father, who is able to reason. Reason leads to truth, and if my greatest concern is that they know the truth and thus be free, then I need to teach them to reason, not just to know facts.

This is why a liberal arts education became so important to me.... but not a "liberal arts" education in the modern sense. I love a good book discussion, but only when the minds holding the discussion are sharpened tools at the ready.

The real liberal arts, of which there are seven (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music), are the instruments which sharpen the tool of the mind. Once formed, the mind can attack any idea and seek out the truth and effectively find it.

Back in 2008, The Classical Liberal Arts academy put out a similar article, titled "Why the Great Books Aren't so Great." I remember reading it and I would ask you, if you liked the above article, to read it yourselves.

I am now more convinced than ever that the CLAA is offering to students something which you cannot find anywhere else in the homeschool setting. I would encourage you all to give it a shot and see if it doesn't change the way your children think. After all, isn't that the goal?
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