Monday, July 6, 2015

Flowers and Paint

Giant oregano, hostas, sunflowers, and more!
Peppers, tomatoes, and flowers.
Summertime in the city. Every summer I tend to do two things--garden and paint. These jobs tend to be alone or quiet times for me, especially in the garden. I wish someone else in my family would willingly join me to "Play in the dirt!" I haven't spent as much time as I would like in the garden, but I'm hoping to change that trend this week. Painting, though, seems like it will consume many days this summer, the first of which was yesterday, and I have an enthusiastic partner in my daughter.

I had a rather rough winter into spring. I wasn't particularly sick or depressed, but I constantly felt ill-at-ease. I couldn't get moving, and things just felt wrong most days. Now that summer is here, my little world seems to be blooming and joyful again.

Tiny corn and cucumbers--and wild violets.
My vegetable garden is coming along slowly this year. I tried something new--planting in wood chips. Wood chips are supposed to be great for lots of things, including holding moisture and providing nutrients to plants while keeping weeds under control. After a very hot and dry spring, our early summer has been cool and sufficiently rainy. Therefore, my heat-loving plants haven't grown much yet.

Day lily and  coreopsis.
We are expecting a very hot week, though, so things may start to take off and grow quickly now. Although the corn isn't knee high and the 4th of July has come and gone, my flowers seem to be particularly happy this summer!

After the bunnies nibbled away at my beautiful red and white verbena last year (no flowers after I planted them, just lush, stubby green plants), I thought petunias would be a safer bet for some annual color. The petunias are filling in nicely and the perennials are blooming in turn. I hear the goldfinches singing outside my window, so I know they have returned to munch at my sunflowers.

 My teen-aged daughter's room is the current indoor project. She has spent the past couple weeks discarding things that take up space and bring no joy. She had a color in mind for the walls--she calls it "dove." It's a light tannish-grey. We recently purchased some furniture for her room, so I was hoping to keep additional redecorating costs low. I remembered that I had a couple gallons of off-white paint left from my garage project last summer, as well as a tan sample and some dark grey from another project. What did we have to lose? We mixed the paints, and we came up with a custom color with what we had on hand. The best part--it's exactly what she wanted and we spent $0! We had a great time yesterday, listening to 80s pop and painting her room together.

We have painted together before, but this time was the best. Maybe it was because it was her room or because we created the color together. We are both excited to see how everything turns out when the furniture and curtains are all in place. We are already discussing other projects we would like to do together in the house this summer.

Thank you, Lord, for this special time with my daughter and for the resources you've provided to add beauty to our lives. Making things beautiful brings peace and joy to the heart! 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lenten Longing

My cat was missing for a couple hours today. We had contractors doing some work in the bathroom in our basement, and their equipment was quite loud. A few hours after they began working, I realized I hadn't seen the cat all morning. We were afraid he had gotten out of the house because we had looked everywhere we could think of--under beds, in closets, on bookshelves--but we didn't find the cat. I couldn't imagine where he was, but I knew he was certainly scared. He is very skittish when it comes to noises and strangers, and he was dealing with both. The terrified kitty had found a hiding place in a very dark, narrow corner behind the furnace. When we finally realized where he was, it took about 10 minutes of coaxing to get him to come out and join us upstairs, away from the noisy work in the basement.
Curled up safe on Mama's bed.
These days, I feel a little like my anxious cat. I want to simply hide in my quiet corner where nobody can see me. It's been a rough winter. In New England, most folks are happily watching the big melt. The snow drifts still extend several feet into the secondary roads in my neighborhood, but they're much shorter than they were two weeks ago. Driving is much easier with the improved visibility and clearing of the ice ruts, but now the potholes present new challenges. I've been blaming the weather for my melancholy, but the empty feeling I've endured these long dark months hasn't improved much with the longer, warmer days.

The darkness descended upon us in October. During Advent, I was hopeful. By Christmas, I still felt meh.

At New Year's, I made some goals and tried some challenges. I didn't quite achieve as much as I had hoped, and the clean eating thing fell apart a few weeks into the challenge when I neglected the exercise portion. The focus on goals related to food and finance interests me, but it hasn't helped my disposition.

Lent began, and in those first weeks I was reading a spiritual book and going to a discussion group at church. Again, I was hopeful that my mood would improve. The spiritual boost from the book seemed to be transforming me as my daily focus started to shift: "Our lives change when our habits change" (Matthew Kelly). Alas, one of the February book discussion events was cancelled due to a pending snowstorm, and the next discussion meeting was a month away. I stopped reading and stopped changing my habits. The meh feeling came back full force.

I don't want to have a self-hosted pity party. I don't want my readers to feel sorry for me. I want to find the holiness God wants for me. I want to stop hiding and start living.

How? How can I let God in and listen to his voice? How do I let God coax me out of my dark, quiet hiding place?

I suppose the first step is to go back to the book, to Rediscover Catholicism. My faith is the reason for so much of what forms me, and yet I'm not really living as the "best version of myself" as Matthew Kelly says.

Lord Jesus,

Send your Holy Spirit to guide me during the final weeks of Lent. Help me prepare to receive you with true Easter Joy.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Nearing the End of the Shortest and Toughest Month

Tomorrow is February 28. We've had a particularly long, cold, and snowy winter this year. Based on the height of the snow drifts, I don't imagine all of the snow will melt away before April. That's okay. It will be March on Sunday! It's still cold, but the sun is shining, and with the time change making sunset an hour later next weekend, it will be easier to believe that spring will really come again.

We won't be sitting on these benches for a while!
In my circle of homeschooling friends, the longstanding advice is to "avoid making any important decisions in February" if at all possible. I believe that our brains need warmth and sunshine, and perhaps a week or two of Lent, for the clarity required for good decision-making. In February, we are more than half-way through the school year, and more-than-half-ready to throw in the towel on days where it seems that sending the kids to school may be the better choice for everyone's sanity (except for the school teachers who already have enough work to do without adding a new student mid-year).

Well, to all you homeschoolers out there, we made it! February is almost over. I have to admit that I did not make it through the whole month without losing my patience on more than one occasion.

Physical education and home maintenance classes=shoveling the driveway, again and again.
I have been struggling with several things lately, none of them life-threatening or anything, just "stuff." I felt down, but I didn't know why. I stopped doing things I used to enjoy immensely, and again, I wasn't sure why. It was not to the point of medical depression, but it seemed to be heading in that direction. Part of the problem, I know, is the cold. I really don't enjoy winter. I know many people truly suffer in the cold and the snow--the homeless, those who cannot afford the high cost of heating bills, the elderly and disabled individuals whose travel is seriously impeded by poorly cleared walks and parking lots. I feel guilty about complaining when I think of others who are truly suffering. 

The twigs behind the mailbox are the top of a mostly-buried crabapple tree.
What can I do instead of complaining and becoming impatient? As a Christmas gift to the parish, every family at our church was offered a copy of Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism. One phrase that Kelly repeats throughout the book has made a deep impression on me in the past month: "Our lives change when our habits change." I realize that I have little control over the road conditions or air temperature. What I can control, however, are my habits.

One bad habit I recognized in my life was procrastination, a.k.a. work avoidance. I would find many interesting or seemingly important things to keep me from grading papers or prepping lessons. Then, I'd wonder why my children weren't mastering math concepts. As Kelly says, "Our lives change when our habits change," and I realized this month that I have some changing to do. To begin, I have been pulling myself away from the internet and getting things done. I've done a better job meal planning this month--and I kept the budget under $500 for the first time in a long time, and we ate quite well. (Last month I spent about $700 on groceries.)

I realize I can't attempt to change too much at once, or I will be destined to fail and to quit trying. I have been working on simple and attainable goals. For instance, I focused on staying within my grocery budget, and it worked.

The second change this month is two-fold. Instead of wasting time searching for recipes and decorating ideas online, I've been reading books (like Rediscover Catholicism) and getting work done for our homeschool and for my outside teaching job.

I'm still working on better time management and will continue to work on the meal planning/budget stuff. For March, though, I have some other habits I plan to change. I know that if I say it here, it will motivate me, just like the food budget post motivated me this month.

I'm not a patient person. There, I said it. I keep wondering what I need to do to become more patient. I know, I know: "Pray for patience." I get that part, but Rediscovering Catholicism and Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus by Christopher S. Collins, S.J. (the book my women's Bible study is currently reading) have helped me recognize that I have all the tools I need. I just need to use the tools. Kelly's chapter about the rosary reminded me that when I was regularly praying the rosary and running, I was more peaceful. Fr. Collins reminds us that God sees us as his "beloved sons and daughters with whom he is well pleased" even when we aren't all that lovable. I can't sit around complaining that I'm impatient, thinking that I'm a lost cause. God knows what I need. If my heart is open and ready to receive his grace, I will find the peace and patience I desire.

So, by March 31, my hope is to report the following: Lent is going great and I'm ready for Holy Week, I've coninued with the spirtual reading, I'm staying in budget for groceries, and the Rosary Runner is back to work.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the many blessings in my life--my family, my friends, my students. 
You meet all of my needs. Without you, I am nothing. 
With you, I have everything.
You are all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving.
Help me to know your love and show your love.
Bless all who read this prayer. You know their hearts and their needs. 
Help them to have the grace to seek you in their lives.
In this Holy Season of Lent, help us to recognize the greatest gift,  
your Son and Our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

How I Feed a Family of Five or Six on $700 (way too much) per Month

Buy fancy food ingredients that I saw on the eating healthy blog. Put said ingredients in the pantry. Look at them every few weeks and think about how I should use them some time.

Go to the store twice a week when I forget important items (read: bread).

Spoil children with potato chips, marshmallow cereal, and frozen waffles. Wonder why they won't eat fruit and salad without nagging.

Buy lots of produce, especially blueberries from Chili because...I. Need. Summer. Now. Hope that someone other than me and youngest child will eat some of the berries because they are a "super food." Then secretly hope nobody else will touch our precious blueberries.

Buy some more produce, especially salad and soup ingredients. I'm the only person in the house who likes soup (college boy likes soup, but he's in college eating their food). 

Buy frozen fruit for "yummy" smoothies that nobody except me likes. Cry inside because I just want to help them be healthy. Why don't they like ginger in their smoothies?

Realize that I won't really bake bread this week, even though I have 70 lbs. of oats and at least 18 lbs. of flour on hand. Buy some bread. Feel guilty for not baking bread, then throw some grinder rolls in the cart. Dinner will be meatball subs to use up the meatballs I made from the grass-fed organic beef I bought last week.

Buy more grass-fed organic beef. 

Buy capers, Kalamata olives, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.

Buy sesame seeds to make tahini in my fancy new blender. Think about making it for a month. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow.

Buy hazelnuts to make hazelnut spread. Watch 10 videos about how to shell them. Think about shelling them for a month. Maybe I'll shell and roast those tomorrow, too.

Buy bags of dried beans. Actually cook the beans in the slow cooker and realize they are delicious, particularly in comparison to canned beans.

Save money by making my own slow-cooker yogurt and granola.

This week, I read a few blogs about families who spend less than $250 per month on groceries. How??? Well, they raise chickens, which is huge! I cannot raise chickens--not allowed in the city. They have successful gardens and put back food. They shop at Aldi. I do that! They meal plan. I do that sometimes. 

There's the problem! I probably cannot realistically get to a $250 per month goal in the winter time in New England, but I can do better than $700. 

I meal-planned for next week based on my pantry inventory. I will be working in some of those fancy food ingredients from the pantry. February starts in a couple days. Let's see how much under $700 I can get the grocery budget!

Heavenly Father,

You've blessed us abundantly. Thank you for your many blessings. Help me to make better use of the resources of food and money. Help me to nourish my family and friends with good foods. Help me to use financial resources to your glory, Lord. 


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Challenges in the New Year

For me, every week is like a new year. I'm always thinking about how to improve myself and my home. It's honestly a bit of an obsession. Lately, I've been reading lots of "How to Get Organized" books. I take them with me to read while waiting for appointments and joke about how I keep reading these books, but I am still not organized. One piece of advice in the latest book was to stick with a project until its completion. As I look at my very-close-to-clean desk, I wonder why I quit before I finished. In five minutes, the job that has been looming for the past month could finally be crossed off the to-do list. Two more piles, and done, Instead, I have been reading blogs about New Year's challenges, and now I'm writing my own post.

Two challenges are on my radar: The Frual Fresh Start Challenge at and the Clean Cuisine 8-Week Challenge. Financial and physical fitness are both very important to me.

All of the challenges have one theme in common, goal setting. I'm very good at dreaming up how I'd like things to look or feel or be. However, I am not quite as good at setting attainable goals with benchmarks to keep me on target for success.

I wrote some goals in a notebook today. The notebook has a page in it with my "five-year goals" from 2009. My goals were lofty and unattained--but inspiring all the same. This time, I'm starting with a six-month goal in response to Stephanie's suggestion for Day 1.  In terms of the financial goals, one is to save for a trip in June to visit my grandma. Another is to pay off a student loan this year. My fitness and health goals are to exercise a minimum of four times per week with a specific focus on strength training and flexibility to alleviate knee pain. Once I've met that goal, I can begin training for a spring or fall half marathon (a distance I claimed to be done running, but I think I need to do just one more!).

All of my current goals are realistic, attainable, and measurable, essential characteristics of worthwhile goals.

I need to start supper in about 10 minutes. That means I have plenty of time to finish cleaning my desk.

What are your goals for the New Year? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Regrouping on a Wednesday Morning

In the Veggie Tales "classic" Josh and the Big Wall,
the Israelites have come to claim the land of Jericho following the plan revealed to Joshua by an angel of the Lord. As the Israelites walk around the city, the People of Jericho mock them, their plan, and their God. Jimmy Gourd says that he and the other "Israelites" should "fall back and regroup" after the People of Jericho (i.e., the French Peas) throw slushies on their heads. Jimmy and Jerry Gourd then plan to develop a "better way" to knock the wall down--one that won't involve humiliation and obedience, a rocket called "The Wallminator 3000" which will blast through the wall. Joshua urges Jimmy and the other Israelites to continue day after day with the original plan, and eventually, the walls come crumbling down because they did it God's way.

I often feel like Jimmy Gourd--with a figurative slushy dripping on my face and my best plans falling apart in front of me. I keep thinking, if I develop the perfect plan, like the "Wallminator 3000," I will get all of my work done, do a great job homeschooling my children, have a beautiful, well-organized home, and complete the decorating and shopping all before December 24. Are these goals worthwhile? More importantly, are these plans how God wants me to spend my time?

I pray every day, but do I really listen? I praise, thank, and petition the Lord, but maybe I'm just a "clanging gong." What is God's plan for me? I read a blog this morning about the Blessed Mother's total surrender to the Lord. Mary stopped everything to listen to God's plan for her. Mary's fiat, her total, selfless "yes" to God, is the model of holiness. I realize that I can't say yes if I don't know what is being asked of me. Of course, I don't expect Gabriel to pop in and sit with me at the kitchen table to tell me over tea what the Lord is asking of me. So, how can I surrender to God's will?

Jimmy Gourd's idea to "fall back and regroup" isn't a bad plan. The problem is that he wanted a better plan than God's plan. Wednesdays tend to be a good time for me to regroup, to consider what is being asked of me and to move forward with focus and direction. How is the week going so far? Are we as a family on track with the things we hope to accomplish before the weekend? Most importantly, though, have I put God first in my plans?
Heavenly Father, 
You have given me so many gifts. For those I thank you and praise you.
Send your Holy Spirit to guide me.
Give me wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel to recognize your will.
Give me piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord that I may surrender to your will each day.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"O Mary Conceived without Sin, Pray for Us Who Have Recourse to Thee"

When I was in middle school, our church had a girl's sodality devoted to the Blessed Mother. New members were inducted on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and given a Miraculous Medal on a long powder blue cord. I must have been 11 or 12 years old. I remember we went to church on a cold December weekday at night, which was unusual. I was already thinking about Christmas. I didn't realize the significance of the Marian feast that day, but I held onto the medal. I kept it in a special place with things I'd received for my First Communion, but I didn't understand what the words meant or that I should actually wear the medal and not keep it tucked away!

As my faith grew in my early adulthood, I learned more about the Miraculous Medal and began to wear mine regularly. All of my children teethed on the medal. The cord split. Since the cord was so long, I was able to knot it and still get it easily over my head to continue wearing it. 

This Monday is a Holy Day of Obligation, the Immaculate ConceptionThe words on the Miraculous Medal capture the essence of the Holy Day, "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." Many people misunderstand the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The most common misconception is that the Immaculate Conception is the Annunciation (which is celebrated March 25) and the Virgin Birth. However, on December 8, we celebrate the conception of Mary in her mother Anne’s womb nine months before we celebrate the birth of Mary on September 8. Because she would bear the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord preserved her from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her Conception. This Holy Vessel, this Living Tabernacle who would carry her Lord within her own human body must not be stained with sin. Mary, most holy and pure—Full of Grace, as the Angel Gabriel greeted her in Luke 1:28—God’s own mother must be Immaculate from the moment of her conception. And so, on December 8, we celebrate the tiny baby, Mary, in her mother’s womb who would later say “Yes” to God, no matter the cost. 

The Church invites us to know Mary, to love and honor her as our own mother. Mary suffered deeply. Her betrothed initially thought she was an adulterer and planned to divorce her (of course, in a dream the Angel helped Joseph recognize he could trust his wife). She birthed her baby in a dirty stable. She had to flee with a newborn to Egypt so he wouldn’t be slaughtered. At the Presentation, Simeon told her that her heart would be pierced with a sword. She was at the foot of the Cross when God’s own son paid for our guilt. 

When the pains you endure in this daily life are too much to bear, know that our Mother Mary intimately understands our human sufferings. She will console you.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, 
and Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, 
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.