Thursday, December 4, 2014

9 Neanderthandal Habits of a True Man You Never Thought Would Make You Melt, but Will.

I came across this article today which was being furiously passed from woman to woman on my facebook and touted as the best thing in the world.
As I said there, and will say below, the article annoyed me quite a bit, for many reasons, but mostly being that:
" If you try to help me put my jacket on or take it off, I will cut you. Because hijab and it took me an hour to get it right so don't freaking touch it.
And me no likey chick flicks I don't expect you to either.
I like flowers but I once dumped a guy because he brought me flowers EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.... and spent too much time with my family.

I should write a post called: "9 Neanderthal habits of a true man that you never thought would make you melt... but will." In fact, I'm gonna."
Also, I love and appreciate opening doors but sometimes aintnobodygottimefodat and I just can't stand the wait, I'm just like MOVE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST MOVE. So pick your moments, men.
So now here I am, writing this post. Let me start off by saying that all those ideas I read about are nice, but if you hold out for the guy who embodies that post, you are going to be either (a) marrying a damn liar or (b) missing out on a lot. So without further ado, I give you nine things men actually do that used to drive me nuts but I now find incredibly endearing.

1. Closing doors. 

The writer mentioned that she liked men holding doors open. Well I like men closing doors.
First off, I like when my man closes the figurative door on a situation I didn't have the guts or common sense to close one on myself. They don't mind being rude or direct, and I love that because I do. Close them doors, for me boys!
That's a big one...  for sure. But also, I like men literally closing doors.
Men slam doors every where they go. Doesn't matter if they are little men or big men, they will pretty much slam every single door they encounter, and whats' even funnier is that you can bet on them yelling at any kid within ear shot for slamming doors themselves. Door slams always carry a message: things like "leave me alone" is a common one, yes, but another is "Oh my gosh I'm so excited!!" and there's also "I'm late!" too. While door slamming is a regular occurrence in a household full of boys, they are almost always loudest at naptime and after the children have gone to sleep. I have no idea if this is intentional or just a weird Murphy's law thing, but there you go.
 Whatever the message, whatever the reason, I melt a little bit when my house is full of guys and my door is slamming constantly as they happily go in and out forgetting things and yelling things to each other.

2. Eating everything in the house.

Sure it's nice if they save the last bite, but lately I've been noticing how nice it is to have a house full of hungry men I get to feed. There's something about chasing them out of the kitchen, slapping their hands away while they touch stuff, and watching the look of satisfaction (not to mention the good mood after ) that comes when guys have eaten a hearty meal and are grateful for it. If they are eating you out of house and home, you likely know the joy of finding happy men all around you and there's nothing like it. Like my Mediterranean mothers before me, this year I have really learned to rejoice in my kitchen duties and to find peace and pleasure in stocking and re-stocking.....  and re-stocking the fridge. I used to LOATHE Dinner prep, practically considered suicide when it "+1" started turning into "+ 3" around here on a regular basis, and seriously thought about just walking out one day and leaving everybody hungry. I prayed about it a lot and the Lord gave me a brilliant vision for hospitality and told me to embrace that hot, dirty kitchen.... and now let me tell you, I wouldn't trade my job for all the world. I now love to feed people, but men especially, because nobody is more thankful or happy after a good meal.

3.  Spending time with the guys.

Love a guy who loves to be around family. That's always, always important. But ladies, have you ever really stopped to appreciate the hilarity that ensues when guys get to spend time with each other? It's a glorious sight to behold, and one of the most enjoyable ways to spend an afternoon should you have the good fortune of listening in.
Men get together and play jokes on each other, talk smack to one another, give each other a hard time, build things, do projects, figure out ways to dominate the world..... it's amazing. Also, you will NEVER have to worry about things like home invasions or things that go bump in the night with groups of men around. You will learn all kinds of interesting things and come out with such a great appreciation for who men are and what they do. Most importantly should your guy be the kind who works in a "guy-oriented field" (military, first responders, etc.) you will find that even dull moments at work can be made hilarious and gleeful and learn a thing or two about making glory out of ordinary tasks. Most importantly, metal sharpens metal, so if your man has the blessing of having some good guy friends--- let them go, be, do. They come back way better than if they had spent eight hours locked in a house with you. and what happened will keep you entertained for a whole day of folding laundry and rinsing dishes.  I promise. :D

4. Making you watch action/war/ adventure movies.

Like most women, when I married my husband I had fantasies in my head of snuggling on the couch watching The Notebook or something most nights, while he whispered sweet nothings at me about how amazing I was. Yeah right. Instead I have spent literal years of my life listening to deep discussion about weaponry, armor, tactical gear, combat methodology, body building, philosophy, and kingdom building. I have seen Red Dawn (7 billion times to date) and Dune and Braveheart and Rob Roy and the Last of the Mohicans and The Postman.... again, and again, and again. I go to sleep to the sounds of Rambo, or Rocky IV,  not Rapunzel, and you know what? It's been kind of amazing. If you want to know why, you'll have to read my older blog on the topic right here.  Do it.

5. Sending weapons.

Sure, it's nice when guys send you flowers. But you'll know it's love when they send you weapons-  especially weapons THEY want to own. ;) Over the years, I've received endless knives, spears, bows, and battle axes and I'm not going to lie to you, I've often been like.... seriously? All I wanted was a gift certificate to Amazon. But there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a visiting man notice one of your gifted weapons on the table or something and hearing him say: "WOW  This thing is awesome. Where did you get it?" Now that's love. :D

6. Walking in front of you and/or getting in your way.

When I was first married, nothing irritated me more than my husband walking miles ahead of me when we were out and about or him stomping around in front of me when I was trying to get stuff done. Ten years in and now I love both. I love watching him when he is getting in my way because he's also active, doing something important to him, and I love to see him at work and to watch his process. It's adorable, and almost always a good, playful conversation starter.
But it's the walking far ahead of me thing that makes me melt....  I love the looks we get as a family when he walks into a room, with me behind him and our long line of kids trailing behind me. It's like people just want to stare open mouthed, or clap or something. EVERYONE has something to say. It's hilarious. I love it.

7. Trying to have sex with you all the live long day.

Yeah, kissing your forehead is cute. But you know what's adorable? When your husband won't leave you alone. Slapping your butt in public, making big eyes at you over the toilet he's fixing, or sneaking you off during a big holiday meal... whether you're in jammies or gym clothes, if he's a man,  he's constantly at you and it's pretty flipping awesome.

8. Filling up your fridge.... with beer. And random edible animals.

Sure, we all love a guy who fills up your gas tank. But have you ever known the joy of opening your freezer one day and finding a chopped up deer in there? Or a squirrel? Or a Greenland freaking shark? Yeah, living with men is crazy, but you will never, ever again has as much fun as you do once it begins, especially if you let them do their thing.
I've always tried to, which is how I have ended up with enormous frogs and chocolate-and-habanero covered crickets in my fridge at times but the tradeoff is the fun of the unexpected find and.... well, it's love when he wants to share his poo-smelling Durian fruit with you "just to try it." So choose love.

9. Putting his jacket on.... the floor. 

Yes, that's right, I'm actually going to say that there is something endearing about these crazy neanderthals leaving their clothes all over the dang carpet. Because let's face it, when you're a new wife you spend a lot of time crying over this stuff, right? ("I mean, *sniff* he threw his disgusting, sweaty PT shorts here and it's like TWO INCHES AWAY from the laundry basket I bought, restored, and spent six hours painting pink and electric green and now I have to touch them! Why doesn't he respect me??!") But now that you've been married ten years, you do things like giggle when you find one of his socks hiding in the blender or on the ceiling fan("How did he do THAT??!") and sigh when you find an invisible man made out of clothes standing up next to the bed, realizing he was so tired last night he literally just peeled them off and slid in with you. You learn to love this stuff, because it means you're IN, and that he loves you. And in the end, I'd rather have that a million times over than any of the formalities I read in the former article y'all are passing around like it's the best thing you've read all year. ;)

Here's to men--- may you know them, love them, raise them. Polite and totally wild. And here's to savage gentlemen. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Advent of Hope

The sweetest song of praise just came to my lips as I did our breakfast dishes and reflected on my advent waiting, wandering, and longing. It sprang from my heart and out of my mouth, and filled the house, and my children danced.  This is advent.... the coming of the Lord. We await His presence made manifest among us...learning He has been with us all along.

I've been thinking about single-ness lately. It is a good way to express the longing I think about during Advent.

I know some amazing men who are yearning for a strong, real relationship and who are finding it difficult to meet the right girl. They struggle and they suffer, and I watch it with tears in my eyes and a prayer in my heart, for any woman would surely be so happy to have such good men to call their own and in some ways I can't understand it.
I know so many girls, also, who are waiting, searching, and yearning. They are finding it hard to meet men of character who they feel will make good husbands. They sort and they sift, they wait and they expect. They long.

You'd think the two would meet and voila, but quite honestly, it's much more complex than that.
Personalities have to connect. Chemistry is critical. There are sparks to be looked for, and warnings to heed. Having experienced that longing myself, I not only sympathize but genuinely relate to the struggle.  At the same time, I envy them their single-ness. My husband and I always say that if we could do it again, we wouldn't.  What a beautiful time of freedom and internal reflection single-ness is. What a time of peace and fun, with such few worries! What a time to build character and habits that you will need for what's ahead.
But even then, with all that joy, I know that my own journey towards hope didn't come to an end at marriage.

Marriage is hard. It's a daily struggle. For every ounce of joy you receive, a joy which fills your cup and leaves you breathless, there is an equal part deep struggle and an overwhelming sense of doom you'll have to battle to get there. It is uphill. The road is long. The loads are heavy. Most of us have not trained the way we should have.

When I was single, I used to wait for the right man to come along... unable to do anything but improve my own condition as I could, feeling that I was quite alone at times, but still quite happy and fulfilled at others.
I always thought it would one day change, but if I'm honest with myself, I still do much of that same thing in my marriage.

My husband is incredible-- probably the best man I've ever met. And yet I am still lonely, as is he, despite knowing he has my heart and I have his. Our lives are full, and our relationship incredibly rich, and yet still there are holes-- there is longing, there is waiting, there is indescribable pain that surfaces again and again. Why?

Because this is the stuff of life.

As a teenager, I remember well watching Romeo and Juliet one night, late, in my living room alone.
Moved by the passion in the story (and probably pretty hormonal, ;) )  I started to cry, wishing for that same flame to come alive in my life, wondering why all the guys I had dated had ended up wrong for me.
My parents (who, incidentally were the only couple in my entourage who were still married and loving towards each other)  heard me and called me back to their room, where we talked about it.
"Do you think anybody will ever love me that much?" I cried. "Does real love even exist??"
They tried to calm me with good humor and jokes about their own relationship, but this was serious business to me and I would not be deterred from my longing.
I remember saying: "You're married! You are supposed to have this huge bonfire of passion burning all the time."
My parents looked at each other and laughed.
"Well, we have a match," my dad giggled. "One of those long ones. Maybe a candle."
I sighed. I felt empty. I knew this was a feeling I would know all my life. I didn't want a match, or a candle. When I later read St John of the Cross it left me breathless and helped me to know what God was doing in all this....

 O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive,now consummate! if it be your will: Tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

So as I sang, today, I remembered the quotes I had scribbled in my journals and pored over as a young, single woman. Quotes written in tears and ink, sprawled across pages and pages as long as I could remember.
I remembered the first time I saw Elisabeth Elliot's words on the matter on paper. They shocked me so badly it took my breath away and made me retreat to my room where I remained all day to reflect and lick my wounds. She wrote:

My heart was saying, “Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long.’ The Lord was answering, ‘I must teach you to long for something better.'”

Where was that "something better?"
Every year He answers that question more deeply for me.
The answer comes at Christmas. This is the Advent journey. The Lord reminded me that day that I had been converted on Christmas Eve--- nothing is ever an accident.

One night recently, around a lively fire, no less, I stood with my husband and some of his closest friends, a group of guys I lovingly call "The Chieftains," for their ancient ways and manly occupations.
We were talking stories, looking at past memories and having a giggle, when suddenly I found myself deeply amazed as I looked into the eyes of one of the Chieftains who had just said to my husband and myself: "Ten years. You've been married ten years."
I breathed deep.
His eyes expressed the same kind of wonder and awe that I felt in my heart when he said it.
Ten years?! How could this be??!
I went over my inventory of married life-memories. So many wonders. First kisses. Babies, sacraments. Touches. Tears. There was darkness there, too. But just as the flames before me seemed to rise from the ash pile beneath themselves and reach into the darkness around us, leaving us warm and aware, I saw that the flames had touched us the same way. There was darkness at times, but still we were warm and aglow. We just needed breath -- fresh wind-- to be OK again. We needed PRESENCE. We needed presents. Something to sacrifice in the flames.

I remembered reading and copying these lines from Elisabeth Elliot as a young woman:

“I took it for granted that there must be a few men left in the world who had that kind of strength. I assumed that those men would also be looking for women with principle. I did not want to be among the marked-down goods on the bargain table, cheap because they’d been pawed over. Crowds collect there. It is only the few who will pay full price. "You get what you pay for.”

“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.”
I learned this lesson late in my marriage... that there would always be temptations for him or for me, temptations which called us to promises of fulfillment or satisfaction "elsewhere" and in something other than in ordinary life. More than many women, perhaps, I have never felt that being a mom or a wife suddenly fulfilled or satisfied me. I have other needs and interests that I constantly yearn to express and explore. I often feel unappreciated, and unwanted. Or too wanted and feel like I just need to run away. These are common feelings in marriage and motherhood.

And yet as I have struggled with these, I've learned more deeply that anticipation, waiting, hunger, longing-- these are much more fruitful and satisfying than anything I can dream up.
True to His Word, in which He has promised me that he can turn "what was meant for evil" into something good, when I have remained faithful to my vocation to love without care for what that sacrifice costs me, he has given me glimpses of what true love looks like and feels like and that love has been life-changing. It has, indeed, set me on fire.

For years, I have clung to this passage in scripture:

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord... In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord." (Psalm 27)

Did you catch that? In the land of the living.
You see, I have learned that we are not only CALLED to wait and long--- but called to wait silently:

“Waiting silently is the hardest thing of all. I was dying to talk to Jim and about Jim. But the things that we feel most deeply we ought to learn to be silent about, at least until we have talked them over thoroughly with God.” (Elisabeth Elliot)

Whether I was single, or now as a married woman, to speak to God and turn to Him in the turmoil of my longing and yearning and waiting.... to accept that THIS is part of the experience.... to accept that
almost every time what He wants from me is to die to myself, to turn my desires and my weaknesses and my wants and my needs into gifts of love for those from whom I want the most......

THIS has been the catalyst for joy and fulfillment again and again, whether in my love life, in the raising of children, in my friendships, in my career. This has been the spark, the embers, the flame at times. It never burns out completely and is only as strong as I let it be.

With the lessons of advent I can serve others and feel satisfied. I can love others who can't or won't love me back and still feel fulfilled. I can love with real love. This is Advent in action.
Only when I commune with God about these opportunities, and allow him to transform my "waiting" and emptiness will He make it into a holy, pregnant time of new growth and new birth.

Then and only then my "Silent Night" turns into an "Oh, Holy Night" and His presence becomes known. Then, and only then do stars and rock, earth and hay, an uncomfortable-- even painful-- journey through the night, doors slamming in our face..... these become a living, breathing miracle that gives life to the whole world.

We will never be competely satisfied in this world. We will never know complete joy while we are here. We will never have complete fullness this side of heaven. We will always hope, always wait, always long, always yearn for something more.

But the King, our friend and savior, walks among us, in the ordinary things of daily life. He is in our coffee pot and in our woodpile. In our dishes and in our song. And in Him is the fullness of life eternal.

So I sing.... Rejoice!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Instruction in women's attire from the early Church

What follows is a selection of quotes from early fathers on veiling and women's attire. I'll let them speak for themselves.

But we admonish you, too, women of the second (degree of) modesty, who have fallen into wedlock, not to outgrow so far the discipline of the veil, not even in a moment of an hour, as, because you cannot refuse it, to take some other means to nullify it, by going neither covered nor bare.
(...) Arabia's heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face.
It is incumbent, then, at all times and in every place, to walk mindful of the law, prepared and equipped in readiness to meet every mention of God; who, if He be in the heart, will be recognised as well in the head of females. To such as read these (exhortations) with good will, to such as prefer Utility to Custom, may peace and grace from our Lord Jesus Christ redound

- Tertullian, "On the Veiling of Virgins." approx 200 AD

"Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happens to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled." [Clement, The Instructor 3.12]
Clement of Alexandria, Egypt, approx 190 AD

"And let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering."
-- Hippolytus (200 AD), Apostolic Tradition

“Woman, because she was created by being drawn from man’s side, is constantly trying to return to him. She desires the original unity of one flesh and one bone. The desire for unity between man and woman is a mirror of the relationship between Christ and the soul. As woman longs for union with man in human relationships, she is also drawn to unity with God. He calls her to become one with Him: to come under His side and become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bone. This occurs during reception of the Eucharist. The covering of the head with a veil symbolizes the reality of woman sheltered in the side of her Source and becoming one with Him. She becomes covered and hidden in her Divine Spouse.”

~ St. John Chrysostom, Father and Doctor of the Church

Instruction in Christian prayer from the early Church

Let every faithful man and every faithful woman , when they rise from sleep at dawn, before they undertake any work, wash their hands and pray to God. Then they may go to work. But if there is some instruction in the Word, they shall go there, considering that it is God whom they hear in the one instructing. For having prayed in the assembly, they will be able to avoid all the evils of the day. The pious should consider it a great wrong if they do not go to the place in which they give instruction, especially if they know how to read…

If there is a day when there is no instruction, let each one at home take a holy book and read enough of it to gain an advantage from it.

If you are at home, pray at the third hour and praise God. If you are elsewhere at that time, pray in your heart to God. For in this hour Christ was seen nailed to the wood. And thus in the Old Testament the Law instructed that the shewbread be offered at the third hour as a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ. And the sacrifice of the irrational lamb was a symbol of the perfect Lamb. For Christ is the Shepherd, and he is also the bread which descended from heaven.

Pray also at the sixth hour. Because when Christ was attached to the wood of the cross, the daylight ceased and became darkness. Thus you should pray a powerful prayer at this hour, imitating the cry of him who prayed...

Pray also at the ninth hour a great prayer with great praise, imitating the souls of the righteous who do not lie, who glorify God who remembered his saints and sent his Word to them to enlighten them. For in that hour Christ was pierced in his side, pouring out water and blood, and the rest of the time of the day, he gave light until evening. This way he made the dawn of another day at the beginning of his sleep, fulfilling the type of his resurrection.

Pray also before your body rests on your bed.

Around midnight rise and wash your hands with water and pray. If you are married, pray together. But if your spouse is not yet baptized, go into another room to pray, and then return to bed. Do not hesitate to pray, for one who has been joined in marital relations is not impure. Those who have bathed have no need to wash again, for they are pure. By catching your breath in your hand and signing yourself with the moisture of your breath, your body is purified, even to the feet. For the gift of the Spirit and the outpouring of the baptism, proceeding from the heart of the believer as though from a fountain, purifies the one who has believed. Thus it is necessary to pray at this hour.

For those elders who handed down the tradition to us taught us that in this hour every creature hushes for a brief moment to praise the Lord. Stars and trees and waters stand still for an instant. All the host of angels serving him, together with the souls of the righteous, praise God. This is why it is important that all those who believe make certain to pray at that hour. Testifying to this, the Lord says thus, "Behold, a cry was made at midnight, saying, 'Behold the bridegroom is coming! Arise to meet him!'" And he adds,
saying, "Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the hour is coming."

Likewise, at the hour of the cock-crow, rise and pray... hoping daily in the hope of eternal light in the resurrection of the dead.

With these things, all you faithful, if you do and remember them, instructing one another, and encouraging the catechumens, you will not be able to be tempted or to perish, having Christ always in your thoughts.

--  St. Hippolytus of Rome written around 215 AD.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Monday, August 25, 2014

Hearts and minds

**NOTE-- since I last wrote, this particular young man was reported killed in an airstrike carried out by the Assaad Regime in the eastern city of Deir ez-Sor, Syria on November 4, 2014. His real name was William Hasmo Clinic and he was from London.  May God accept him and have mercy on him.

*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. (No further information on this rabbit trail.)

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 equally lethal 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 I read 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.
And I hope we can harness that same zeal in this family.

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.

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