Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Letter

I walked back from the mailbox, clutching the day's messages. In the wind gusts here, it's incredibly easy to lose an important bill or something along those lines. However, in today's collection of mail, there was something different.

He stood at the door, excitedly watching me walk up the driveway. I'm sure that, in his seven-year-old mind, I was moving much too slowly. He could hardly contain himself, bouncing in place, as he asked, "Is there anything for me?"

The look of utter joy (and the shriek that accompanied it) when I answered that, yes, he did receive a letter, was adorable. Here, in front of me, was joy in it's purest form: the joy of a relationship.

He took the letter from my hand with nervous anticipation evident in his moves. He immediately ripped open the envelope and sat in the chair to see what was inside. Inside was a simple card, beautifully decorated, with a handwritten message inside. It wasn't a happy birthday greeting, or even a thank you note....but simply a message to say hi and that someone was thinking about him.

As I watched him enjoy this connection to another human, I began to think about my own mail. All that was left in my hands were bills, junk ads, and a few business-related pieces for my husband. Not one personal connection in the bunch, unless you try to count the car payment, since we did actually initiate those mailings through an in-person encounter. Even in my expert rationalizing, that's a pretty big stretch.

As human beings, we're MADE to interact. We're meant to be in communication with others. But are we still? Sure, we all Facebook and text....but are these meaningful communications? Are we really investing in our relationships with these 30 second interactions?

I know that this topic is everywhere, but I think it really hit home to me today, watching my son open his letter. That letter gave him 15 minutes of pure joy. It took the sender at least 15-20 minutes of concentrating fully on my son, thinking about him and about what he was doing/thinking/feeling, to complete the message and stick it into the mail. In his 7 year old person, it was evident that he could FEEL that care and concern in his heart and mind.

I'm hugely guilty of relying on Facebook and email to communicate. It's a pain to try and make a phone call with 3 kiddos playing in an open-concept house filled with tile. It's loud, even when they're not being loud. Add in the 3 hour time change between me and most of my family/friends....and phone calls are very easy to rationalize away. So, I default to a quick text message or Facebook post.....and I'm beginning to really regret it.

How many of us blog? Blogging is a relatively new concept. Before, it was a pen and a journal, right? We didn't go distributing copies of our journal entries...most of the time, we hid them from everyone else, right? (This is based purely on observation - I never kept a journal myself, believe it or not). Why do we blog now? I would guess it's because we're not being heard when we communicate with others. Think about it: if all we're doing to talk to other people is online or via text messages.....we're not truly being heard. There's not a conversation happening - we're talking to someone else, but not WITH them. I think that's why I blog, for sure. I don't have anything hugely fascinating to write about - I'm just a stay at home mom of three rascals. That's it. But yet, I blog. I think I blog because I need to talk to more than just my husband (although we do talk, a lot, he's pretty much the only person that I have regular, in-person conversation with).

I know I haven't written much about World Youth Day at all. I don't think I've blogged about it at all, actually. One of the things that struck me most about WYD (other than the experience of seeing the universal Church, which was incredibly overwhelming), was that when we were with others, we were truly WITH them. We had some cell phones sprinkled among our group, but the cost was SO prohibitive to use them, that we pretty much only used them for quick logistics issues (i.e. "I can't find the group, what street corner are you standing on?"). Email access was spotty, at best, and wasn't a reliable way to communicate with anyone. Basically, what it boiled down to was the person standing right in front of us was who we were talking to, and who we were listening to.

And you know what happened? We had the most amazing conversations. We actually talked and listened to each other. I learned so much from others....just purely because I had no other distractions. I was investing my time and energy into hearing what they had to say. Now, I truly believe the Holy Spirit had a role in all of our relationships during that 2 weeks...but for once, we were able to listen to Him. We could actually take time to listen.

I know we're a hugely global society today. A lot of us don't live right around the street from our families or best friends. I understand that - that's the situation we find ourselves in, too. I'm not at all suggesting or implying that we can only have meaningful relationships if we can have in-person conversations. Are in-person conversations important? Definitely. When we're with someone, we need to be with them, focusing on them, listening to them.

We can build relationships long-distance. All kinds of relationships (this is coming from someone who lived across the ocean from her significant other for a year, so I do have some experience there). But what it takes, on our individual parts, is commitment to hearing the other person. Take time to actually think about them and what they've told you or might be experiencing.

If you have a chance, take the time to actually write and mail a letter. We adults can experience that same joy that my 7 year old did when we open the mailbox. Getting a handwritten note, instead of only getting bills, can truly make someone's day. We're human beings, meant to be in relationship with each other.....let's work on fostering those relationships by caring and loving each other...and making sure they know it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


It's funny. I was originally composing a totally different post in my head yesterday and today. A reflection on the weekend...and how much things can change in a few short months, for both the good and bad. That post will have to wait, though. Eventually I'll type it out. It just needs some more fermenting time, I guess.

Something really struck me today. About 20 times, since 8 am this morning, I heard the word "time." It was usually used in phrases like this:

"Where do you find the time to do this?"

"I wish I had more time."

"I don't have time to do x, y, and z."

"I'm running out of time."

"I try to make time."

"I have no time for that."

"I don't seem to have any extra time today."

...and so on and so on. For some reason, the concept of "time" really was on my mind all day. Maybe it's because Baby #1 is learning how to tell time on an "old-fashioned" clock, and I'm the lucky one who gets to teach it to him. Or maybe it's because our family's concept of time and daily schedules has changed so much recently. I don't know - all I know is that by the time I got on the treadmill at 3 pm, I'd heard the word used a ton.

Has "time" always been this commodity that people are always in search of, always consuming, always envying? I've noticed it more in recent months - it seems that people are always on the hunt for this elusive element, known as "time," and there's never enough of it to go around. Add to that the "wonderful" update to Facebook today that everyone and their brother is complaining about (in case you were wondering, I'm not a huge fan, but ehh, I'll get used to it), and it seems that everyone is talking about "time:" their lack of it, the amount of time it will take to figure out the updates, the waste of time online, the need for finding more time, and so on and so on.

It's funny that this should happen just when our lives here at home are changing drastically. My amount of "free time" has increased dramatically in the past month, as we started the homeschooling journey. I literally gained 2 hours of time (a day!!) that I used to spend driving to and from schools. I seem to have so much more of it....and often find myself wondering what to do with it. Maybe that's why it was so noticeable to me today that so many people were mentioning "time."

If "time" is this desirable commodity, how are we going about attaining it? Is this like the willpower concept I blogged about a few weeks back? Is time becoming the new scapegoat? The new excuse to get us out of doing something hard? Do we really not have enough time....or are we not motivated to change our habits/lifestyles? Does this go back to the lack of willpower and our lack of discipline?

Now I realize that I'm probably making people mad out there, so please forgive me. Don't get me wrong - a few short months ago (as in, less than six), I found myself saying the same things. I thought I had no time. I couldn't work out. I couldn't read a book. I couldn't make a phone call or write a letter, even though I wanted to. Watch a movie? Nope, I had no time for that. Work on a craft (only my favourite thing to do)? Not enough time for that either. Increase my prayer time? Definitely not enough time for that.

A lot changed that was out of my hands. We moved. My husband got a new job, with less demanding hours. My children got a little bit older and more self-sufficient (it's amazing the change in 6 short months when the child is only 2!!). Because of the move, I was able to remove myself from countless commitments that I had been unable to discontinue while still living in Maine (things with school and church, for example, that I'd agreed to and didn't feel that I could "back out of"). In a lot of ways, I was blessed to have this opportunity to start fresh.

I know how hard it is to not have something like a move for an excuse. Believe me. That's how I got into the mess to begin with: I kept saying "yes" to things...and my 24 hours a day was eaten up by everyone else, leaving me with no "time." I didn't have that nerve to remove myself from those commitments - my good old guilt complex kept me tied up and donating my "time" to everyone else.

But I ask you have the nerve? Are you doing things because you want to serve, or are you doing things because you feel obligated to serve? Serving is good - serving is VERY good. But why are you doing it is even more important, if you ask me. Are you volunteering because YOU like the accolades, or are you volunteering because you have a God-given skill or talent that you can use to glorify Him? There's a huge difference between donating your time on a project because you crave seeing your name on the credits....and donating your time because you want to serve Him and those He put into your life. I will be the first to admit that often, I was only saying "yes" because I liked the attention. I liked being "in the know" when it came to different organizations. Sometimes, I was doing it for the right reasons......but more often than not, it was my pride that was fueling my service. This is something that I'm really struggling with right now, as I discern how to volunteer my time in our new church community.

Moving on to another time much time do you spend "wasting" time with things like online websites or TV or video games? Again, I don't think there's anything wrong with these activities (assuming none are immoral, of course) long as it's in moderation. I am guilty of this one, too. Often, when I find myself not having enough "time," it's because I've spent too much time on Facebook or other online forums...or in front of the TV. I'm still working on this - some days are much better than others. I'm not perfect, by any means.

But one thing that I've tried to do is combine things that take my time from me. For example...I love watching mindless TV. Honestly...I'll come right out an admit it. Things like The Big Bang Theory crack me up and I thoroughly enjoy watching it. But, sitting down in front of the TV often meant that I'd lose hours upon hours a week. My solution? I pretty much only let myself watch TV if I'm on the treadmill. It's my reward. Not working out? No Law and Order for me. It means I often have to watch them on the iPad, which means reruns, but to be honest, there's not a single TV show that I follow closely enough to care. If you don't have small children wandering in and out of the room, there's no reason you can't workout DURING the new episode. I choose the iPad purely because it's self-contained, directly on my treadmill...and no little eyes will see the screen.

I don't have any huge words of advice about gaining time. I still struggle every day with balancing all that's on my to-do list with the limited amount of time on the clock. I'm improving, day-by-day, though.

How about you? Do you have any tricks for finding that elusive thing known as "time?"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

10 Percent

Well I did it.

(I know this isn't a weight-loss specific blog (I've tried that, it worked for awhile, but it was too much pressure, I think, and I gave it up), but this is a huge moment for me, so bare with me as I head back down the weight loss blogging path for a little bit).

Back to the post title: 10 Percent.

Yeppers, I did it. I lost 10 percent of my body weight. It took longer than I wanted it to - it took about 9 months - but, what's important is that I did it, and I didn't have to do any crash diets or crazy weight loss pills or plans to do it.

Last January, I weighed (and *gasp*, I am going to come fully clean right here) a whopping 234 pounds. It was the highest weight I've ever been, except for during one of my pregnancies. Seeing as my "baby" was two years old at the time, I couldn't really blame anyone other than myself for that weight.

I made a decision last January that I needed to "get healthy." In my life, that meant two things: losing some weight, and taking better care of myself. I've been working on both since then, making small changes to my daily life. (seriously, some were REALLY small - like flossing every day instead of a couple times a week). I'm happy to report that, overall, I've kept those resolutions. Sure, there have been some setbacks - I DID move 3000 miles with three small children and two dogs, after all - but overall, things are looking up.

The last time I ever hit the 10% goal on a weight loss journey was when Mike and I joined Weight Watchers before getting married. We did well - he lost something like 40 pounds, and I ended up being 60 pounds lighter at the end than in the beginning. I contemplated joining again this year, but for various reasons decided not to.

WW had taught me a lot: how to cook healthy food, what proper portions looked like, and that it was very, very easy for me to mindlessly eat (I had a love/hate relationship with my food journal, that's for sure!). Just these changes made a HUGE impact in my weight loss. Switching from regular soda to diet, eating more veggies and whole grains, keeping track of my food: all of that combined to be the biggest overall motivating factor behind my weight loss that time around. WW provided me with a lifestyle change when it came to my food intake and choices.

What WW did not teach me - and not for any lack of trying on my WW center's part, I just didn't commit to it - was how to maintain weight loss or how to continue to lose weight once you'd made a drastic change in your food choices and intake. I didn't know what to do when I started gaining weight, but yet was eating all the "right" foods. My love/hate relationship with that journal, and the HUGE desire to not be attached to points and a notebook for the rest of my life, translated into me giving up completely. I fell back into my old habits, and it was even harder to break out of them this time around. I'd gotten used to eating "healthy" foods, and had grown to like them and would willingly choose the salad over the burger or sandwich....but I'd still eat too much of it, and eat even when I wasn't hungry. I'm living proof that you CAN still gain weight eating primarily veggies.....if you eat too much of them. I was still an emotional eater: my weapons of choice had just changed from chips and ice cream to carrots and apples.

I'm not perfect, by any means. I had so many stops and starts, it isn't even funny. It's been awhile now, though, so I think I might finally be settling into a routine. I'm running a mile at a time now (this is huge for me - I could barely do a few minutes of jogging when I started in January), and I'm down to 210 pounds, which is a 24 pound weight other words, I've officially lost 10% of my body weight. I still have a long way to go.......let's just say 3 kids translated into about 80 pounds of extra weight along the way....but I've made it over the first hill. I feel stronger....and I feel like I finally, myself, have realized that there is no one who is going to do this for me. It HAS to be me, not a weight loss plan or company, not a magic pill, not a doctor, no one has to be a change and a decision that I take responsibility for.

So my weight loss journey isn't over at all, and I'm sure that I'll blog a few more times along the way about my weight and any struggles or successes that I run into, but for now, I'm enjoying the moment. I hit my first goal, and I can take responsibility for myself getting there. No one told me what to eat and how often or how much of it to eat.......except me.

I think I might be growing............or shrinking. ;-)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Owl and the Pussycat

Well, week 2 of homeschooling is half over. We've had a field trip and two "full" days of school this week. (Full is only in quotations because it only lasts 1.5 hours-ish, so to most traditional school-goers, it doesn't seem like a "full" day...but it is. We're doing, on average, 5 subjects a day). I'm still loving it, and I think the boys are, too. They LOVE being together (minus an occasional squabble), and we're all loving the relaxed atmosphere around the house, compared to the past few years of trying to rush to get to drop-off and pick-up on time.

I'm finding it amazing to be able to watch my children learn. Their learning styles and wants/desires/preferences are so different from each other...and it keeps our day interesting. Munchkin #2 is LOVING homeschooling so much that I'm actually having to come up with "extra" work for him to do because he doesn't ever want his assignment sheet to be all completed. He's thriving - so far - with this style of learning. Munchkin #3 is plugging away...he's only doing preschool-type lessons, so most of his stuff is manipulatives and trying to improve his coordination (holding pens/crayons, cutting with scissors, etc). Munchkin #1 is struggling the most, which I expected, as he'd had two years of traditional school already. I think we've hit our groove, though, and he mostly seems to crave the "teacher's pet" role: as long as I praise him and give him special "helper" jobs, like reading to his little brother or doing flashcards with his little brother, I can actually get him to complete his grade-level work. I think he needs to feel important in order to foster that desire to do well.

But enough of the schooling update. We're happy so far, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my little family. We've definitely had our choice to keep the boys home affirmed often over the past few weeks.

I'm extremely thankful for having this positive experience, but it's had another effect on our family that I didn't foresee, and one that I'm not sure that I like. I've found myself retreating more and more into our family ... and away from the outside world. I can't recall the last time that I watched a news report or even checked the news online. It seems that every time I do, it's just a bombardment of negativity. Trying to find that glimmer of hope amongst the news reports seems so hard....even when I do see something positive, it's quickly swallowed up by the negative, or brushed aside for a more "shocking" of a news story.

I'm not sure how I feel about this family retreat that we've created. On one hand, I am SO thankful for our little refuge, and feel so incredibly blessed. On the other hand.....I feel like the ostrich sticking her head into the sand. Should I be ignoring the outside world like I have been? Doesn't that make me some ignorant punk and, therefore, perpetuate the cycle of negativity, instead of doing something about it? IS there even a way to do something about it?

The past few days, I've been really craving some good news. Some sort of glimmer of positivity. It seemed that every time I turned on the TV or the computer, I saw another complaint. Another accusation being thrown around. Another evil act. Another reason for despair.

I decided to post a few simple questions on Facebook: What are you thankful for? When did you receive a random act of kindness, and what was it? The responses came quickly and some were amazing: restaurant meals being purchased for someone else...receiving a Wii from "Santa" in the mail...thankfulness for family and friends and good health. It was almost like people on my Facebook page couldn't wait to share their positive feelings and experiences - like it had been too long since someone had asked.

I found it extremely ironic that today, about an hour after posting my random acts of kindness question...I got a chance to be that person. A patient of my husband's - with no family in town - had no babysitter for two older children and was being rushed into a c-section (unexpectedly) for her third child. The husband was going to have to wait in the waiting room while his third child was born.....but Mike called me and gave me the chance to be that random act of kindness for someone else. I babysat for two little kiddos that I'd never met their dad could be at the birth of his third child. Didn't take more than an hour, and was a lot of fun. It was extremely ironic to me that on the day that I had been craving a bit of positive human interaction....that positive interaction was pretty much thrown right into my lap. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humour?

I'm hoping that my questions and my actions today made a difference in someone's life. I hope that one or the other helped someone else to regain hope in people, somehow. I hope that someone (other than me, even though I was) was reminded of all that we have to be thankful of.

I hope that I can hold onto that positivity for tomorrow....and many days to come.

What do you have to be thankful for today?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The One Thing

It's not very often that I "miss" something from my life pre-kids. I definitely had a lot of fun, and enjoyed my time before becoming a mom (I mean, come on, I lived in a Big 10 town, had a great job, and wonderful friends - there was always something going on and some fun to be had, somewhere), but to be totally truthful, I don't often find myself looking back on that time wistfully.

Sure, it would be nice to have an uninterrupted shower, but really, as long as I'm getting clean, who cares? Usually it's during the shower interruptions that the rascals make the funniest comments or ask the most entertaining questions. (Example from today: I thought I'd sneak in a shower while all three boys were sleeping. Mutual naptime doesn't really exist in our house anymore - the oldest rascal doesn't usually nap. Today, however, we're going to be out late, and the munchkins woke up earlier than normal, so I instituted a common naptime for all. As I enjoyed the quiet and the hot shower, the inevitable knock on the door came. I called out, "Who is it?" and got this serious response "Hi, it's Joseph. Did you forget who I was?" No, son, I know exactly who you are...I just couldn't see through the bathroom door! Silly boy).

Anywho, back to the original post. Like I was saying, I don't usually miss things from my life pre-kids. My life was good then...but it's still good, just a different kind of good. Today, however, I realized there was ONE thing that I missed from my pre-mom days.

I miss reading.

Silly, isn't it? I mean, I read tons every day. I read labels. I read emails. I read blogs. I read posts on my favourite mom forum. But what I don't read is BOOKS.

I love to read. Fiction or doesn't matter. I love the smell of a book. I love the sound of turning pages. I love the experience of curling up with a good book and losing myself in the words.

As I tried to do that today (more than once, I'll admit), I realized: I haven't read a real book in ages. I honestly cannot remember the last one I read. To give you an idea of my recent reading, I borrowed two large novels from the library way back in July. I still have them. I'm about halfway into book #1...and book #2 has been used as a decoration next to my bed since coming home from the library. I just don't read anymore - every attempt is stopped about 2 pages in, interrupted by a child, a chore, a phone call, whatever the case may be. I will fully admit it: I'm considering books on tape, just to try and lose myself in a story again. (On a side note, I'm not sure when I'd LISTEN to it, either. I can't imagine that most novels would be kid-appropriate, and I can't really justify wearing headphones when trying to take care of the kids).

Maybe, just maybe, I will make this my new goal: to read at least 15 minutes a day (sounds like my oldest rascal's homework assignment....). Now, I just need to figure out how to work that 15 minutes into my day.

Do you still read, as a parent? If so....HOW?!?! Share your tips!

Do you miss anything from your pre-kids days? Share below!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Beginning of the Journey

Wow, I hate when I get so far behind on blogging. Sorry about that!

In my defense, I was out of the country for two weeks, and jet lagged for almost another week. Two of those weeks involved having house guests. I guess I've kind of gotten behind on everything!

My head and my body are finally back in the same time zone (travel totally kicked my butt this time - I don't remember it ever being so hard to get back to "real" life before!). I'm chalking it up to lack of sleep and balanced diet while being abroad (I was at World Youth Day, so I pretty much averaged 3-4 hours of sleep a night, and lived on ham and cheese sandwiches and orange Fanta for that two weeks). Totally blaming the jet lag on pure exhaustion and being hung over on real food when I got back to the States!

There's been so much going through my head since I got back, and I've had a hard time putting it into words. I was able to see SO much while in Madrid, and learn so much from speakers, from other Catholics, from the history in each area. I'm still processing it. I'm sure, at some point, there will be the obligatory WYD 2011 post (hopefully before WYD 2013), but for now, I'm still mulling those experiences over.

We did reach a huge milestone this week: Homeschooling the three rascals has officially begun. We're nearing the end of Week 1, and I can honestly say that I'm enjoying it more than I thought I ever would. Having the boys all together as they learn has been fabulous, and it totally tickles me pink to see them enjoying being with each other. Today, we took our first field trip, which was to a nature preserve near our house (about 5 minutes away). Science, at their young ages, is mostly about asking questions and trying to find the answers (helping them to understand the scientific method), so their assignment while at the nature preserve was to document everything they saw, or found interesting. Tomorrow, we'll form questions from their observations, and will research the answers together. The excitement on their faces as we explored our world was incredible - and watching them work together to record their observations was fantastic.

If nothing else, I hope that our journey into homeschooling strengthens our bonds as a family. I know we'll have our struggles, and will have the necessary ups and downs, but I hope that the one thing we always do will be to work through the ups and downs together, as a family.

Working hard to record their observations:

My non-reader drawing what he saw:

Exploring our surroundings...

I know homeschooling is not for everyone, and I'm not even sure it'll be for us all the way through to college, but I know that for right now, keeping our boys home was the right choice for our family. Together, we'll navigate these early years, and hopefully this extra time at home will give them the direction they need to become strong, confident, Catholic young men.