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.

Amen.


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. 

Amen.

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 SixFiguresUnder.com 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.
 
Amen.

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.
Amen.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

Suffering and Redemption in the Season of Comfort and Joy

On this December Saturday morning, I woke to a quiet house at 5 a.m. No alarm. Nowhere to be. Just wide awake. It's like this most Saturdays. Some people might desire to sleep in, but not me. I love my quiet Saturday mornings. I have time to reflect on my devotional readings, prepare for the Sunday liturgy, and to contemplate what the Lord is asking of me in the coming week.

Each day, I pray for the souls in Purgatory and then read a magazine called Magnificat. If you are looking to grow in your faith, Magnificat is a great place to start! Magnificat features the daily Mass readings, morning and evening prayer, and some fantastic reflections each day. Today, I read a reflection by Heather King about Venerable Elisabeth Leseur (Leseur's writing is also often featured in Magnificat). Leseur's husband became an avowed atheist "shortly before their 1889 wedding." She had been a "conventional" Catholic up until then, but she was strengthened in her faith as a result of the mocking of her faith from her "husband, whom she deeply loved," and his friends. She quietly suffered this "hidden form of mortification," being charitable, friendly, and loving to those who persecuted her faith. She died in her forties of breast cancer. Her husband discovered her writings and journals upon her death and recognized the redemption in her suffering. Felix Leseur not only converted, but became a Dominican priest—something she had prayed would happen for him upon her passing.

Why did Elisabeth Leseur have to die young and suffer physically from cancer? Why did she have to suffer emotionally and spiritually in a marriage to a man who had turned completely away from God? Some may see her life as tragic. I see it as heroic and grace-filled. She did not wallow in self-pity. She used her suffering for redemption. Her cause for canonization is moving forward, and her words draw others to Christ a century after her death.

Why must human beings suffer? The somewhat unsatisfying answer is Original Sin. Which leads to a big question: Why did Jesus have to die? 

Youth at our parish discussed this big question at a recent confirmation class. The short answer is that Jesus died because we need a redeemer. We cannot save ourselves, but we must be saved by one like us in all ways but sin. We wonder, though, if Jesus already died for us, why do we still have to suffer in this life on earth? I don't claim to be a mystical theologian with the insight to answer these questions satisfactorily, but I will share what I understand through faith.

We all bear many different crosses in this life. Sometimes life does not seem fair, like when a child dies, when someone gets a terrible disease, or when innocent victims suffer at the hands of criminals or unjust governments. God wills only good things. But free will and temptations mean that sin happens. Our fallen humanity is subject to disease and pain.Through these trials, we must remember, God’s ways are not our ways—we have no idea the joy the Lord has in store for us if we are faithful to him. Our human minds cannot comprehend the depth of his love. God understands the deepest suffering--what it is to lose a child. He, too, lost a son—a son who was without sin, yet he suffered for the sins of all the world. The short film Most (The Bridge) (See a portion of the film here), based on a true story, captures the idea in a way that my simple words cannot do justice. A father must make a decision that means either the life of his son or the lives of hundreds of passengers on a train. 

God's son, Jesus, died for all humanity. His suffering was so intense that his sweat was drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemanie as he prayed to God, knowing the weight of the sins of humanity from all time, preparing to carry those sins under the weight of the Cross. Jesus did not will evil, but he accepted the suffering which results from the evil in the world so he could wash the world clean and give us a chance at eternity with God.

During this second week of Advent, our minds may be seeking "tidings of comfort and joy" rather than the Lenten call to repentance. Without repentance, though, we cannot experience true comfort and joy, as we see in this Sunday's readings. Isaiah 40 begins: "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God." The Psalm 85 response implores: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your slavation." Peter 3 reminds us, "The Lord does not delay his promise as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." And finally, the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, "proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

As Christmas draws near, we must recall that the Passion and the Resurrection are the reason for Jesus' birth. 

During this Second Week of Advent, as we "Prepare the Way of the Lord," we might reflect on this verse from "What Child Is This?" 


Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


Monday, December 1, 2014

31 Days to Improve My Domestic Church

I predicted (self-fulfilling negative prophecy?) on November 1 that in spite of my desire to write a novel in November that it would probably not happen.

I did write for a few days. I'm actually kind of excited about the story. Somehow, though November wouldn't let me win.

I'm not discouraged. I discovered other things during November. I read a book about laziness being a myth which highlighted methods for helping different types of learners. I'm homeschooling my two youngest sons, and their learning styles are extremely different from one another. Likewise, I have my own struggles with staying on task and finishing projects (as noted above!). This book helped me understand us all a little better. I need to find ways to capitalize on our strengths and use different tools to keep us on task than I needed for my older children.

In November, I also came to terms with other things about my work and my home management. I cannot do everything, but with a change in my approach and attitude, I can accomplish much more than I have recently.

What does December hold for us? With the beginning of Advent, we are shifting gears to "Prepare the Way of the Lord." We are at the beginning of a new liturgical year. I plan to make my New Year's Resolutions now instead of in January.

In what became my planning month of November, I researched blogs and books about organization and time management. I often think, "If only I can get things in order, everything else will be easier. Living Well Spending Less features a "31 Days" category for a month of changes--reducing clutter, stress, and spending. Since December has 31 days, it seems like an invitation to reduce stress and make things less scattered in my domestic church.

Today, December 1, I inventoried my pantry/freezer inventory and prepared a two-week menu plan with what's on-hand. I won't need much from the grocery store to get us through the next two weeks. Just about every organizing blog will tell you that if you know what's for dinner, everything else about the day is easier. In the past, I've planned a month at a time. Grocery shopping and meal prep were never a problem. Somehow, though, I got out of the habit, and things fell apart over the past year.

With meal-planning under control, I can focus on other things, like teaching, grading papers, and most importantly, celebrating Advent in a peaceful, prayerful manner.

Tomorrow will be Day 2. The focus will be time management, making intentional decisions about how to spend the minutes and hours God grants us, rather than floating aimlessly through the day. I'm guessing the task will be a challenge that won't be accomplished on the first try, particularly with my A.D.D. personality.

Heavenly Father, 
You have given us the gift of time. I struggle to make good use of that gift each day. Help me this Advent Season to more fully appreciate the minutes and hours you have given me, and to use my time to better serve you.
Your Son, Jesus Christ, came as a little child to be the Savior of the World. Help me to also see Jesus in the children you have entrusted to my care. 
Amen.