Plans for Lent 2023

My YouTube addiction seems to be getting worse. The plus side is that I’ve been listening to many homilies about Lent. It’s now one week until Ash Wednesday and all I know is that I want to make this Lent special. A couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me a video about something called 90 Days to Liberty. I passed it along to another friend. “I’m considering this…” I told her. She immediately said, “I’m in!” When I told her that I’m more indecisive than she is, she said, “You can do it!” So, there’s that.

Then I found an article called Lent: Growing in our love of Jesus Christ. More ideas.

And here’s a video I really liked: The Spirit of Lent is Not Self Help. In it we are told, “Don’t get too attached to your plan.” What great advice. He says sometimes God gives us something else instead.

This has been my experience, especially in the last five years. It was in Lent 2018 that the closing of St. Mary’s High School was announced. It felt like my family was in limbo for months. Whatever my plan was for that year, this unexpected trial increased my prayer life. During Lent 2019, Bobby was offered a job in New York City. It felt like my family was in limbo for years. Would he sell his business? Would we move? Whatever my plan was for that year, this unexpected offer upped my prayers. It was rely on God or live in fear. I went back and forth between the two. And everyone knows what happened during Lent 2020.

So, I do intend to make a plan for 2023. I want to be generous. I want to be disciplined. I want to be ruthless. I want to break the chains and cut the threads of all of my attachments. But most of all, I want to be open and willing to accept God’s plan -whatever that might be- humbly and gratefully.

Book Notes: Leisure-The Basis of Culture, II

This section was long and what I am going to write here will definitely not be a summary, but rather some thoughts on a few points.

“Intellectual activity used always to be considered a privileged sphere, and from the standpoint of the manual worker especially, appeared to be a sphere in which one did not need to work.”

(Pieper, 25)

I have this attitude now. It’s why, when I am trying to avoid unnecessary work on Sundays, I save intellectual activity for then. I don’t consider it work. It’s fun. It’s relaxing and it does feel like a privilege. Sometimes, I try to squeeze a little of it in during the week too.

“Only those arts are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends that are attained through activity, however, are called servile.”

(Aquinas, 37)

I went to a liberal arts college. I changed my major a number of times. I was a foreign languages major, an English major, a math major… I was indecisive. I remember talking with my parents when I was considering majoring in art history, and it was not encouraged. What was I going to do with that? They suggested accounting. I could get a job right away. The world always needed accountants. True, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day.

I think I was majoring in philosophy when I dropped out of college and became a factory worker. I worked nights. The good thing about it was that there were not a lot of people around, so it was quiet. I fondly remember the hum of the injection mold machines. It was a good atmosphere for thinking, and I could read books one sentence at a time in between doing my work. Or I could read on my breaks. So, for me, there has always been a distinction between work and intellectual activity. I wonder if that would have been different if I had been paid to read, think, or study.

“We are not simply to devote ourselves to politics and economics or to making a living, however valid these are in their own spheres. Pieper is quite aware of these things as elements in human life. But he recognizes that when everything human is defined in terms of utility or pleasure, the enterprise of knowing what we are loses its centrality in our lives.”

(James V. Schall, S.J., 11)

I included this quote from the foreword because I think it summarizes for me what Pieper is aiming at in this section. He seems very concerned with our world of “total work” and especially that the once privileged “liberal arts” are being called “intellectual work.” He goes into detail about how we acquire knowledge. He says that Kant claimed it’s from our effort alone. My own experience leads me to agree with Pieper and the ancients, that sometimes knowledge can be received without effort. He goes further to say that without this belief, we’d be ruling out things inspired and given to us. Knowledge would be the fruit of our own unaided activity. AS IF!!!

“… can a full human existence be contained within an exclusively workaday existence?”

(Pieper, 39)

Or can a man be a worker and nothing else? To be continued…

Book Notes: Leisure-The Basis of Culture, I

I’ll admit I chose this book because I thought it would give arguments for ideas with which I already agree. I thought it would convince me of how important it is that I make time for leisure. I’m talking about leisure in the Greek sense. Making it a priority to appreciate things of beauty, to contemplate… Not being a busy little bee all the time – full of ceaseless activity. My motivation in reading this book was to increase my knowledge, awareness, and conviction… and to hopefully act in accordance with these beliefs. After reading section I, my new hope is that it will not be too difficult to understand.

This book contains two parts: “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” and “The Philosophical Act.” According to the writer of the foreword, these were essays given by Josef Pieper in 1947.

This is my super-simplified synopsis of section I of the first essay:

People nowadays have very different values from people in the past. Also, the meanings of words have changed. On the surface it looks like today’s concepts of work and leisure are very different from the Greeks, the Romans, the people in the Middle Ages, and even the people living in 1947; but there is a deeper (not so obvious) change that I’m sure will be discussed in later sections. It is a changing view of our nature and the meaning of human existence.

Whoa! Hang on… I wasn’t expecting all of THAT! I guess I was kind of distracted when I started reading this in the summer.

So rather than getting “Ten Tips of How to Make Sunday a Day of Rest,” (Yes, I am too hooked on YouTube.) I may be diving into the deep end. (Picture me tapping my temple with my index finger à la Pooh Bear, saying… Think, Think, Think…)

“We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” (20)

This is what Aristotle said. And to the Greeks, leisure was something much more than it means today. It wasn’t simply a little free time from the work that takes up most of your life. The author states that it is closely linked to the Christian and Western conception of the contemplative life. And he points out that the distinction between the “liberal arts” and “servile work” came from this notion of leisure. I found it interesting that he was certain that everyone was familiar with “servile work” at least, because they speak of it as unsuitable on Sundays and holidays. Not in 2023!

One last point: if we are to uncover what brought about this big change, looking at it only historically isn’t gonna cut it. We’re gonna get to the root of the problem. I’ll be interested to see where and how this goes.

I’m Kicking My Basement’s Butt!!

I actually made this strange exclamation (not aloud, just in my head) last night after Bobby and I spent the afternoon going through our stuff. I was pumped up. I may have even swung my arms around enthusiastically, feeling powerful.

Of course, today I see the reality of the situation. We put a small amount of trash in the back of our truck. I’ll bring it to the dump tomorrow. We also sent lots of paper to the recycling bin. I have lists of items to post online and projects to be done. Some items were sorted into categories. The basement looks worse than it did before we worked down there. But I am hopeful and grateful. We made a lot of decisions together, and this week, while Bobby’s in New York, I can plug away at removing the excess from our home.

But not today! Today is Sunday, a day of rest. I don’t do it perfectly, but I try to avoid doing unnecessary work on Sundays and to spend some time praying and some time doing what I enjoy. Today, I finally finished a book I started last summer, Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius Loyola. It wasn’t an easy read for me. It was sometimes interesting, but not a favorite. I’ve chosen another book I started reading during the summer to be my next book study. I hope to write about it here. It’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper. I was only into Chapter 3, so I plan to start from the beginning.

Gotta go now because some members of my family and I are going with my father to see Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. I hope to write again soon.

I Didn’t Know Complexify Is a Word

I can’t believe it’s been more than four months since my last post. And yet I shouldn’t be surprised, because long stretches between posts have been a pattern for me. It seems like when I “come here” in the mood to write, I feel obligated to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. So let me just get my excuses for not writing out of the way.

They are as follows: homeschooling, parenting, Italy, remodeling the half-bath, Plum Island, parties, NYC with Mary, decluttering, home maintenance, NYC with my sister, holidays, plays, deep cleaning, decorating, Christmas shopping, wrapping, movies, puzzles, cooking, celebrations, taking down decorations, and trying to maintain relationships and my spiritual condition.

So today is Day 15 of the Catechism in a Year, and I’m on Day 10. I’m also on Day 10 of a 30-Day Organizing Boot Camp, of which I’ve completed 16 of the assignments. If that didn’t make sense, it means I’m a little behind on my studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a little ahead on my decluttering and organizing my entire house. I expect to get behind on the latter when I get to the storage areas assignment, which for me is the dreaded basement. Maybe I’m being dramatic. It’s not as bad as I imagine it to be. I made a great deal of progress on it in November. The problem is that I always give up when it gets hard, and I don’t finish the whole house. Well not this year!!!

Let’s talk about books. The start of a new year always gets me assessing where I’m at in many areas, and reading is one of those areas. I find myself, as usual, with a list of books I am “currently reading”. This means I started them, but do I want to finish them? I’ve decided that 2023 is the year I will finally read The Lord of the Rings. I’m starting with The Hobbit. I also plan to finish the last few pages of Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius Loyola. That’s all I have decided so far. There are so many good options. I will commit to one soon.

I’m not going to attempt to plan out my whole year as I did in the past, by setting goals and breaking them down and getting things done. While organizing crafts and hobby supplies, I found my old planners. The first one was an original Franklin Covey planner and the year was 2000. Yes, I have 22 years of them. Skimming through them I found it interesting that 2020 was noticeably emptier.

Anyway, I’m starting out 2023 by planning for the week ahead. I start by scheduling the activities that I already committed to, like giving rides. Then things important for my spiritual wellbeing, such as adoration. I also track daily habits I’d like to form or strengthen. I thought I’d ease into physical habits to make it easier for me to develop them. The first week I focused on sleep. I went to bed early and got up early. Yay! The second week I added drinking water. I met my daily water intake goals. Yay! But my sleeping plan failed miserably. I got into eating chocolate and staying up late reading or watching YouTube videos on my phone in bed. This week I’m going to try going back to the 5-0. (It’s going to bed and getting up at regular times, calorie counting, drinking water, exercising, and journaling. It’s basically taking care of my body.) I’ll need to take one day at a time and pray for help to do this. And a media fast wouldn’t hurt.

Speaking of media, and media fasting, today I watched a video I found fascinating. A man on a channel called Sips with Aquinas was interviewing Dr. Peter Kreeft. It was so interesting that I took notes. He listed the only three reasons why anybody ought to do anything according to Aquinas: 1. moral duty, 2. practical necessity, and 3. fun. There’s some food for thought. So, if I’m considering doing something, and it doesn’t meet any of these three criteria…

He was making the point that we make our lives more complex rather than simplify them. And why? Why are we so harried and hassled? Why do we complexify? And I like this one: Why do we put ourselves in a spider’s web? He says we are bored. I call it running away. The not wanting to slow down and sit quietly. He says it takes too much effort. It’s because of sloth. I’ve read about this before and would like to ponder it more in the future. And one last idea: If you don’t believe in a real Heaven, you have to try to make a heaven on earth, and that’s going to keep you very, very, busy forever.

In conclusion, once more, I was able to bring a bunch of wandering thoughts back to the theme of this blog: Slowing Down.

Tortoise to Hare, and Back

Wait. What just happened? I know today was the first day of school, but I feel so unprepared. It’s like I went from tortoise to hare overnight. I remember we were slowly creeping through Gilmore Girls: Season 1 with my mom, I was doing laps in my dad’s pool, going to daily Mass and frequenting Adoration… Then we went away for a week of not having to do anything; and came back to summer’s-over-get-busy!

I want to reflect on the season gone by in order to let it go and clear my head, making space for direction to come. I pray for clarity and the ability to focus on what’s important now.

This summer was enjoyable, but arguably the shortest one ever. Looking through my photos reminds me of some highlights. Hugh Jackman!! I’m so grateful I got to see him perform as Harold Hill. It was a fun weekend with Bobby, Joseph, Hannah, and Mary. Then there was the impromptu weekend in NYC with my father. I took him to Central Park and he took me to Yankee Stadium. I was surprised that he didn’t mind subways. We tired ourselves out climbing stairs, and walking, and we ordered a feast at an Italian restaurant that we ate for days. It was an unexpected blast!

The girls and I attended some summer concerts at a local park, I started decluttering the dreaded basement, there was a trimming the bushes weekend, and last week in the Poconos. It was relaxing, but it’s good to be back home.

Writing this out has helped me. It was a good summer. I’m realizing that I just did too much in the past few days. Once again, I want to slow down. Fall is a great time to get back to routines. I love order. It may take a little time to get there, so I won’t expect it to happen in one day. Slow and steady.

Party Season

Summer is in full swing now. I wanna get back into blogging, but I’m not sure what I want to write about yet, so I’ll start with an update post.

Yesterday… I was spreading mulch. The old gray mare just ain’t what she used to be. I was moving very slowly. Pushing that yellow wheelbarrow and using Bobby’s pitchfork was like lifting weights for me. Because we are having a triple birthday party on Saturday, and Bobby had to go to Canada, I said I would do what I can.

I think we’re in the midst of a party season. There was Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, and Sarah‘s birthday, and Fourth of July, and the Fourth of July Eve, then the triple birthday party and Hannah’s birthday. This year, Mother’s Day was my best ever. We played tennis and got Chinese food. Of course, not cooking is a great present to me, but we topped that with a double feature. We watched Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (including a Sing-along with enthusiastic family participation).

One Saturday, Bobby and I picked up a bathroom vanity cabinet that I had ordered in February. We took out the old one, and since we needed a plumber, we decided to hire someone to install it. He hasn’t come over yet, so it’s just sitting there. I have plans to paint and update the room as soon as he comes.

I took a day trip with my mom and her dog, Rosie, to visit my uncle and his wife and daughter in Rhode Island. Then the kids and I went to New York with Bobby for one night. We slept in the apartment and visited the American Museum of Natural History.

I’m in the process of planning out the next homeschool year. Mary, most likely my last homeschooler, will be in the sixth grade. I felt emotional as I was sorting through her fifth grade books. I used to take the Saxon math textbooks and solutions manuals and pack them away for the next kid. But there was no next kid. We don’t need the books anymore. And the fifth grade Faith and Life text, Credo… I remember buying that when little Matthew (now 23) was going into fifth grade. It was one of those days when life appears to be passing by too quickly.

But today I am grateful. During one of my late night YouTube scrolling sessions, I saw a thumbnail about getting rid of belly fat and I checked it out. The video was by a very likable woman whose theory seemed sound. I watched a few of her videos about food. The next day I was texting with my friend who told me she was watching videos about light calisthenics. I sent her a link to the belly fat woman and it turned out that we were both watching videos by the same Pahla B. Does my phone have the ability to send videos that my friends are watching to my YouTube feed? Or was it just meant to be? Anyway, from that day on I’ve been practicing her 5-0 Method, and my friend and I have been sharing our experiences through texts. I’ve been feeling very happy that I am taking care of my body, albeit, imperfectly.

Before this post gets too crazy long, I’ll share one last thing. While I was mulching yesterday, I listened to MP3 talks by Fr. John Hardon. They were recordings from 1996 about the Real Presence. I’ve listened to five of the 18 parts, and plan to continue. It’s given me a desire to read Mysterium Fidei (and to attend daily Mass and get to Adoration more frequently). If time permits, I may write more about this or any of these topics again. Surely not this week, however, as I will be busy with party prep.

Basically a Brain Dump

I wrote this post at the beginning of June. I don’t know why I didn’t publish it, but I’m posting it now before I begin writing an update for July. Chronology.

Last weekend, my daughter’s boyfriend came over to watch a movie with us for the first time. We ran around picking up the house and putting things back where they belong before he arrived. The next morning, the house looked really neat, and we wondered why it doesn’t look like that more often.

Our quick tidy wasn’t the only thing that got the house to a place of neatness, and my mind to a state of rest.

I linked in my last post, videos by a YouTuber that caught my interest recently. The idea that really got me thinking was one she listed as a reason people have clutter: delayed decisions.

I realized that I have struggled with indecisiveness and avoidance many times in my life. I think my mom used to describe me as a procrastinator when I was a child. She was probably right. I remember starting a whole research paper the day before it was due, and all-nighters were a regular part of my high school and college years. (Those continued during my 5 years of working third shift and my 14 years of nursing babies.) But getting back to delayed decisions… I instantly knew this was why I have not finished decluttering my whole house yet, despite having been trying to get “totally organized” since 1998. And this is likely why the kitchen has been covered with laundry and dishes lately. I have been delaying deciding who does what around here since a failed attempt at changing up an old chore plan.

There’s more. Other videos revealed that the mess and clutter will always come back if I don’t make real substantial changes to my lifestyle (like when I go on a diet, then return to my regular eating habits). She offered practical ideas and inspiration that I acted on right away. And with journaling and prayer, I started thinking… I can do this. I can be decisive. Isn’t this the discernment of spirits? Awareness, understanding, and taking action to accept or reject the inspiration or temptation. (Or in my case, awareness, understanding, and not taking action.). Seriously, one of the things I like about these videos is her emphasis on being gentle with yourself. And one thing I don’t completely agree with is the encouragement to trust myself. I prefer to think of it as trusting God to lead me.

But enough about the videos… What have I been doing? Well, first I went around my home looking at all the material items and writing a list of “Unfinished Business”. This could be: repair my bathroom towel hook, open Rachel’s bank account, finish remodeling the half bath, read such and such a book, and so on. A lot of the items came from my kitchen desk area. It was basically a brain dump. I also added things I didn’t see on my pass through the house that were just in my mind. I eventually processed this list. I put tasks I will do either on a To Do list that resides in my desk drawer, attached to a manila folder holding some of the paperwork, or on my calendar, on the day or month I intend to work on them. I wrote projects on sheets of paper (where I added some of the steps to the projects) and filed them in a binder by the month I intend to work on them. If I don’t get to them in that month, I can move them forward to another month. And some tasks/projects I just crossed out as not necessary right now, or ever. It was a relief to organize the jumbled mess in my mind into a prioritized, doable plan. Order out of chaos.

The next thing I did was to make two lists of things I wished I did daily. The first listed things to keep my house effortlessly cleaned, maintained, and clutter free. The second listed things I can do to take care of myself. (Many were retreat resolutions.) I have chosen three items that I am going to focus on during June. The hope is that they’ll become habits. I usually try to change too many things at once and lose focus. Choosing only three seems, again, doable.

Lastly, I wrote 25 small chores on index cards, laid them out on the dining room table and told my four daughters to each choose 5. I’ll take on the five (least wanted) remaining tasks. I quickly wrote out lists by chore and by person (so ISTJ) for reference. I have been procrastinating doing this all spring and it feels good to have decided who is responsible for what again.

So it kind of sounds like I spend all my time writing lists. I do enjoy writing, but I’ve also been involved in many people oriented activities such as: helping Joseph buy a car, driving Hannah and Rachel around to tennis practices and matches, getting Mary new eyeglasses, spending a weekend with Bobby in Delaware, attending two school spring music concerts, doing laps in my Dad’s pool, playing tennis, tech ring, and corn hole… See I do live quite an exciting life.

Book Notes: Things That Matter, Wrap Up

When I first started reading Things That Matter, I said I was going to “study” it. I have a friend who was also planning to read it. A month has come and gone, and my friend and I have not connected. Maybe we’ll discuss these ideas at a later time, but I finished the book last night, and I don’t think I have too much to say about it here. Overall, the book resonated with me. I agree with the ideas the author proposes. The chapters in which I frequently underlined sentences are the ones about the distractions I struggle with most – possessions and technology. Here are some of the highlights:

“Who can go gung-ho after a challenging goal if they’re constantly buying and taking care of a bunch of stuff? Who can invest in things that matter if they’re too busy organizing the garage? We’re drowning in possessions, and all too often our dreams are drowning with us.” (110)

“Look around your home. All that clutter used to be money and time.” (117)

“Minimizing takes effort, but on the other side of that effort is the ongoing payoff of greater freedom to accomplish the things we want.” (119)

“Just imagine what life would look like if you were content with what you had.” (121)

“Do these things promote my purpose?” (125)

“One of the most common excuses for not pursuing one’s goals in life is ‘I don’t have time.’ And every one of the distractions we’ve looked at in this book is a time stealer…. Cut back on your screen time, and you will have taken the single most effective step to opening up more time for meaningful pursuits.” (170)

One night when I was looking at one of my time-stealers (YouTube) in bed, I found videos by a woman named Nena Lavonne that really interested me. I’m testing out some of her practical suggestions. I’ll post about my thoughts on these soon.

Trusting God in Sickness

I recently read the book, The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence/Alan Vermilye). The Eleventh Letter of Brother Lawrence (pgs. 95-96) got me thinking about my own attitudes toward sickness. Long before Covid 19, Bobby called me a germaphobe. Do I really have a fear of germs? Maybe. I usually go straight to the bathroom to wash my hands when I return home from shopping, (You know – touching carts, hangers, check-out touch screens.) or when I’ve been touching other people; but my fear of germs doesn’t stop me from going out, shaking hands and/or hugging in public. Sometimes I focus too much on wondering if I’m getting sick, or when I know I am, trying to figure out what caused it or what I could have done differently to prevent it. I think things like oh no, my throat feels a little weird or I shouldn’t have stayed up so late the other night.

Here’s the part of Brother Lawrence’s letter that made my eyelids stretch and my mouth hang open: “They see sickness as a pain against nature and not as a favor from God. Seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress. But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of God, out of His mercy and the means He uses for their salvation, commonly find sweetness and consolation in it.” (pg. 95) He was talking about worldly people, who don’t suffer “like Christians”, and it sounded like he was talking about me!

So why do I mildly freak out when I get sick or when there are sick symptoms in my home? I don’t think I’m afraid of dying, or of physical pain. I rarely take medication, I’ve had six natural childbirths, and suffered physically through many oddball ailments over the years. I think the real problem is that sickness ruins my plans. I might have to lie on the couch or in bed while the house falls apart and I don’t get anything done. Not what I want to do anyway. If members of my family are sick I may have to drop what I’m doing to perform unpleasant nursing or waitressing tasks, or sit in a doctor’s office. How ungrateful and selfish am I?

Brother Lawrence continues: “I pray that you see that God is often nearer to us and present within us in sickness than in health. Do not rely completely on another physician because He reserves your cure to Himself. Put all your trust in God. You will soon find the effects in your recovery, which we often delay by putting greater faith in medicine than in God. Whatever remedies you use, they will succeed only as far as He permits. When pains come from God, only He can ultimately cure them. He often sends sickness to the body to cure diseases of the soul. Comfort yourself with the Sovereign Physician of both soul and body.” (pgs. 95-96)

In thinking more on this paragraph (for some reason I was straightening my hair after I read this letter) I realized that this has been my experience. I’ve noticed a pattern where I get sick after times of busyness, such as I’ve written about here many times. I’m usually burning the candle at both ends, trying to do too much, not taking care of my body, less aware of God’s Presence, and feeling stressed out or worried. Then, BOOM! I have symptoms of sickness and I initially try to reason things out. Then, I realize I’m powerless. And it’s like God is saying to me, if you’re not going to slow down and take care of yourself, then I’m going to help you. It seems that sickness has a humbling effect. It reminds me that I’m not as strong as I thought I was. It can be comforting to remember that God is in control of everything, and that He is the one who heals me.

Sometimes the healing doesn’t seem to come fast enough. Brother Lawrence addresses this at the beginning of his letter. “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray earnestly that God gives you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross. He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy are those who suffer with Him. Accustom yourself to suffer in that manner and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He judges necessary for you.”

How I would love to receive a letter from a friend, encouraging me in this way. This is obviously something that I struggle with, especially when I fall back into my long-practiced habit of self-reliance rather than to completely surrender to God’s will. I need to pray for the grace to trust God in all things. As St. Ignatius states in his First Principle and Foundation: “…we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short one, and likewise in all other matters.” It seems this attitude would bring much peace in this time when people are angry and afraid of even the possibility of being exposed to sickness. Brother Lawrence advises, “Be satisfied with the condition in which God places you.” I think St. Paul would agree.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This sounds like a prescription for unruffled peace.