Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Not Without Me

   Today is National Women's Day. When is National Men's Day? If what we truly want is to be equal, why do we not also celebrate the magnificence of men? When is the #DayWithoutMen ? If what we want is to be equal, then we should also acknowledge what this world would be like for a day without men. Feminism, by definition, is, "The advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes." What's equal about these arbitrary acknowledgements?
    In our home, girls are outnumbered by boys. In our home, we teach conservative Christian values and Biblical principles. In our home, all humans are created equal, regardless of sex, ability, skin color, religion, or any other variation. We all have inherent value that is to be respected, not diminished. In our home, we value the Constitution and our rights as citizens, including the right to assemble and peacefully protest. In our home, Daddy cherishes Mama, praises her hard work even when it's "just being a stay-at-home-mom," and puts her on a pedestal for his children, friends, co-workers, and anyone who will listen. Especially  when he comes home from his long day of corporate servitude and sees a frazzled Mama, wild kids, demolished house, and just general chaos, Daddy knows I worked extra hard that day and is quick to take over and shoo me to a hot shower, a nap, a cup of coffee with a book locked away in my bedroom. In our home, there's no "just a mom," there's respect for the incredible value for me as a person, me as a woman, me as a mom, me as a skilled laborer. In our home, my husband is "boss" because I gave him that position. We are equals and he is the leader. In our home, my children are learning to value fellow humans not demean them with hateful speech, bullying, and manipulation or cheating, or to take a life when it inconveniences them. They're learning to love, how to treat people right. In my home, girls can be ballerinas, doctors, firefighters, chefs, presidents, and stay-at-home moms. In my house, boys can be ballerinas, doctors, firefighters, chefs, presidents, and stay-at-home dads. In my home, people hold doors, give up their seat, or the shirt off their back for anyone. In our home, Daddy is leading by example, showing his sons how to be courteous, respectful gentlemen, and showing his daughters how they should expect to be treated by men. In our home, I am leading by example, showing my children the value of being home with your children, the hard work of being a good steward of what you have, the importance of self-reliance, and that the Proverbs 31 woman is still some one worth being and having.
   In our home, there will be no "Day Without Women." Women are an integral part of the human race and no one can deny that. Women and men are all valuable, esteemed, needed, and equal, but we are not the same. When we stop demanding to be treated as better than men, perhaps we will give chivalry a chance to return, and we can make some real progress. In the mean time, I won't be marching, abstaining, wearing a hat or waving a sign that says, "I'm a woman and that's okay!"Because I know I'm okay, I require others to treat me as such in every day life, and I am making a very real, tangible, long-term difference right here, every moment of the day with the army I've created not by myself, but with my husband- an equal but different and imperative part. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

VLOG- Clean Eating on a Budget Tips

   If you're on my Facebook or Instagram, you know I'm sick. Like, body throbbing and aching from head to toe, 102+ fever, and throat so sore and swollen that my neck hurts to touch and I can barely swallow. Dr. Google says I have every single symptom of Influenza. YAAAAYYYY! Haven't had it since 2007, and the extra sleepiness, mild runny noses and one evening of low grade fevers the kids had over the weekend never would have told me it was such a doozy. Hooray for keeping my babes strong enough to fight the big bugs, too!  It has taken me down for the count. Hard. Ouch.
   But I digress. While I'm sitting here at my computer trying to keep myself awake until my husband gets home, I figured I'd post a new blog. I had such an overwhelmingly positive response to my Vlog earlier this week, I decided to make a second one that day and answer one of the questions I get asked constantly here at my blog: How do you feed your family so cheap?! Here's a little bit(2 minutes worth?) of how. ☺

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

VLOG- Homeschool Mom Tag- 12 Most Common Questions

   Giving it a go. What would normally take me an hour or more of typing, editing, re-typing, took less than ten minutes while the kids munched on apple slices in the dining room. Maybe I'll "blog" more if I ramble more often. ☺

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Both Feet

   We do a great disservice to ourselves, our families, and society as a whole when we ignore the roles we play in every day life. Each action has a ripple effect, whether we ever see the waves or not. Believe it or not, I spend very little time on social media. I post to my Instagram because it's a way to take quick snaps, whether it be photos or videos, of the precious goings-on with my family throughout the day, and often(though not always) it's shared to my Facebook. When I am "stuck" in one spot underneath a nursing baby who is now too large for me to support with one arm and move about 'doing' with the other and my phone is handy(instead of my book), I find myself scrolling through Facebook. That is the entire extent of my social media time. It is so infrequently intentional, sitting and spending time doing nothing else. But lately even that 'passing the time while otherwise disposed of' social media exposure has just been too much. There's so much friction. So much meanness. So much double-talk. So much confusion. I just don't need it. It's overwhelming. I'm at a loss as to how to respond to people(when a response is required) in a way that both speaks my truth, but is loving AND articulate when so many are hell-bent on bickering or believing that, "I disagree," means the same as, "I hate you and want you oppressed!"
   I don't have the mental strength nor do I have the desire to witness or partake in this fruitless sparring. My precious angel boy Asher's birthday is next Sunday, the 29th. There's much to be felt, to be grateful for, to be present with. For the next week we're going off the grid. Jumping off the bridge of distraction into Intentionality full bore this week. No social media of any kind for me(but if you know my number you can text, call or email!) save for necessity with my businesses(KumfyKozies™ and Blessed Journey Birth Services), no devices or gaming systems for the kids. We will be present, in the moment, and being purposeful. Living fully, intentionally, not stuck in a rut as consumers of distraction. I'm sure my children are dreading a week without Minecraft, I may or may not blog out some processing, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of pure intentionality and taking responsibility for the ripples my every moment makes.

My photo of a back porch sunrise marking the start of a new day matched with the profound words of a wise woman

Friday, January 20, 2017

Are You Not Entertained?

   There are so many memes cycling around regarding the difference between my generation born in the 80's and the Millennials, the summary of it all is this: Technology has made us expect to be entertained. No longer are we responsible for our own fun. Children's toys are specific, automated sets meant to play a certain thing, shown a certain way, and one must have the entire set to fulfill this pageantry. Television is no longer a couple hours of cartoons Saturday mornings, but rather a plethora of all day, every day children's programming and advertising. Children's television has become its own industry.
   Speaking of industry, the IT world has positively exploded in the last 20 years. It was a really big deal when my family got a computer and dial-up AOL when I was in eighth grade. Now it's seen as a right the government must provide if a family cannot afford such luxury. Enter the world of tablets, smart phones, and more hand-held technologies, and most children are rarely required to go a day without spending a significant amount of time gazing into the glow of a distraction device. Mine included!!! Truly, my children are no better. Granted, we have no cable. No unmonitored screen time, but when my kids complete a task they expect that they're then entitled to time on a device, whether it be the laptop(educational games or not, they're games), the Kindle, Minecraft, or Netflix. They automatically consider it a punishment when they're not allowed what amounts to cumulative hours spent between these various ways each day.
   Why are we as a species so engrossed in being entertained? We spend trillions of dollars in this country alone on things with no value but entertainment. We have televisions and computer screens in every room to distract us from our true purpose there, and we cannot even go to the bathroom without taking our smart phones with us to keep us busy. Why do we as a culture insist on being entertained, constantly distracted from our purpose every waking moment? We ignore those around us in favor of screens, trading relationships and human interaction for constant entertainment, faceless communication, and distraction.
   This is another facet of life in which I am aiming to be more intentional. Leaving my phone on the charger but within earshot. Taking a book to the bathroom- OR NOTHING- instead of my phone. Letting there be silence in the air instead of some appliance playing Netflix or another form of entertainment that I am hearing but not really listening to. Why must we always be entertained? How have we fallen so far from personal responsibility that we cannot even entertain ourselves? We as a culture- with little exemption but the likes of farmers, extreme conservatives, and off-grid homesteaders- feel so entitled to this constant stream of distracted existence. For me and my family, I'm try to break out of our rut. Take responsibility for every moment of our time, even when that is rest and rejuvenation.  Finding the purpose in every day.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Living Intentionally

   I've been mulling for weeks now over this term. I had been sitting on the couch one night, exhausted, a ton of to-do's calling my name, but there I slumped, watching Netflix and eating Tootsie Rolls from the candy jar. Because naturally, exhaustion needs to be fed rancid vegetable oils and processed sugar. Suddenly the word "intentional" came to my mind. The concept isn't new. "Intentional living" has been a catch phrase for quite some time. In that moment I have no idea where the notion came from, but something inside me yelled at it. Since then, I have been making small changes. Working toward it. It's something we really strive for, but fall away from easily, especially when we get in an exhausted rut. Sometimes it's just plain easier- and necessary!- to just get by. But eventually we need to move out of the survival mode, out of the 'just getting by' phase, and start being intentional. Purposeful.
   Intentional living isn't a new aim for me. We knew from the start that our first son had some struggles that were outside the realm of "normal" childhood development. In his toddler years we learned that a predictable routine down to the finest details meant the most peace for him. So we were intentional in every thing we did, because it meant peace for our family. Then our third child came, and she fell into that rhythm. Likewise with our fourth, and so-on. As our family grew, we learned that almost everything had to multi-task. My baby carriers are blankets when a kid is cold, a nursing cover when we're in a crowded space, picnic blanket when we forget one, and of course the intended purpose of wearing a baby. My jewelry is made of purposeful materials and shapes so they attract nursing babies' hands into play and away from slapping, pinching, and nose-picking, in addition to being my accessories. A trip to the grocery store was never a one-stop-and-done occasion, but instead became the one day I did every single errand on my to-do list, because good knows I don't have time to pack up these kids and do this more than once a week.  My knitting is a way to keep my hands busy so my brain feels satisfied with the productivity and allows my body to rest while I watch a movie with my husband, listen to a sermon at church, or enjoy conversation at a small group meeting. It also seems to serve as amusement for the people around me who are astonished that I can read a book or carry on a full conversation all while never missing a stitch nor looking at my work. Multi-tasking. It's what I do. I don't know how not to.
   But living intentionally is far more than just multi-tasking. Anyone can multi-task. What I'm talking about, what my brain was confronting me about is more about using every moment, every decision for good than simply productivity. So that is my aim for 2017. To be more intentional. Not just multi-purpose, but actively pursuing more life, not just more busyness. Using every moment we're given as an irreplaceable gift instead of something to be endured or muddled through. Taking care of myself, my family, my home intentionally. Not waiting for tomorrow, next week, or 'When we have the room to do this.' We'll do it, whatever it is, now, to the best of our abilities, showing our children life and relationship with intention to the very best we can.
   As I've begun to make small changes and contemplate more, I've found some bloggers and vloggers who've inspired me. Three ladies, Jamerrill Stewart, Nicci Lynn of A Farmhouse Full, and Ashleigh of Joyful Chaos, have been especially inspiring on the homeschooling, large family, Christian parenting front. On the topics of mini-homestead, self-sufficiency, DIY projects, John Suscovich, Nick Fouch, and Esther Emery(also the wife of Nick Fouch) have been incredible sources of inspiration and untold springs of knowledge and wisdom. During most of my hours in the kitchen prepping meals you'll find my laptop playing a video from any of those channels while I listen and cook simultaneously. Esther Emery in particular just started a "Skill of the Month" series that I am really enjoying, and so glad I found it in the first week!
   No matter what your goals, aspirations, and beliefs are, I truly believe we can all shed some true time-wasters in our lives, and replace things with more intention, grabbing this gift of life- these gifts of today's that NO ONE is guaranteed and many don't receive- and being a little more intentional. Purposeful. Make it count. It's the only one. You're the only you.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trust Me: You Want My Kids to Taste Your Food

Dear Costco,
   I love you. But sometimes love hurts. Back when I lived in New York, there were no Costco stores in reasonable driving distance, so I just reveled in the stories of your awesomeness, awaiting the day I could trade in my memberships at BJ's Wholesale and Sam's Club for what was always proclaimed to be the ultimate of wholesale club stores.
   Then we moved here to Virginia, and you were just two minutes down the road from the rest of my regular grocery stops. The day toward the end of our Sam's Club membership that we strolled in your doors to see if things were all they were cracked up to be(thus warranting the switch), you did not disappoint. We made the switch and it was love. Deep, true love. You have the usual conveniences, random odds and ends on killer sales, extra perks, obscenely large stuffed bears at the holidays that make my kids scream with delight, and the $1,200 tree house on display that gave my kids the audacity to ask their grandparents on a Skype session if they have the money to buy them a tree house for Christmas, because Mama and Daddy said we do not. You also have the largest assortment of wholesome, organic, American-produced, high end food products in mass quantity of any store I've been to. You're my kind of place, Costco. You make my mom-of-many hippy heart sing.... and spend at least $600 inside your walls every month.

   Until you made it cry. Well, maybe not cry. Cringe? Bite my tongue to bleeding? See here's the thing. I'll eat anything. Even if it tastes awful, I can choke something down if I know it's good for me. My husband and our plethora of children, though? They lack this gift of dietary discernment. They need their tongues delighted- or at the very least compromised with- to get things down the hatch. Going to Costco every other Friday is an adventure for them. Lucky for you, I homeschool so we're there bright and early, the whole lot of us, for our biweekly grocery trips(and often one or two extra throughout the month as well), so you get us all, sans the husband who works his tail of to feed this herd of cuties. They love all the cool new things they're sure to see, and they love putting enormous packages of their favorite things like dried nori(seaweed), clementine oranges, buckets of unsalted cashews, and my go-to convenience grabs like organic veggie potstickers and spinach ravioli into our piled-up cart. The added bonus is when we're running a little behind our typical 'soon's the doors be open' schedule, and ya'll have had a chance to set up some of the sample kiosks. I cannot tell you how many times we've been suckered in to buying things that never would have ordinarily made it to our list simply because ya'll gave me and the nuggets some nibbles and they approved. Like the $15 pack of salmon burgers that are now a staple on our list. Our crowd of seven marched up to your sample counter, we each tried a bite, and now there's always a bag in the freezer. Never would I have thought to try them, the half-gallons of organic salsa we buy multiples of, or the Asiago cheese we now love and buy by the huge brick, and many others that are now mainstays in our cupboards unless we'd had a taste at your fine establishment.
   I also wouldn't have spent $14 on a box of chocolates without trying one when we were there yesterday. Speaking of yesterday, Yeah. Ouch. Did ya'll change your sample policy recently? We saw no sign- we would've noticed. We're homeschoolers. Ahead of the curve. Even our infants can read. Half joking... - but when my passel o' kidlets approached the lady with the tiny, halved macaroons in the cooler section yesterday, she looked my kids over with such obvious disdain in her face, and with a voice dripping with literal disgust said, "Are these ALL yours?!" I get rude comments about my family size often, though rarely with such nastiness, so I responded with my usual broad smile and friendly, "They sure are!" Disgusted Woman then looked down at my 8-year-old who was staring into the cups. He has Autism. Weird things trigger him. No doubt he looks 100% "normal" to others, but see, he can't eat the color green. Not joking. So he stood on his tippy toes, hands by his sides, and looked over the edge of each paper cup until he came to a pink one, and chose that. The woman quickly barked at him, "YOU TAKE THE FIRST ONE!" I recoiled, grabbed my babies(10 years or 7 months, doesn't matter. They're all my babies) closest to her by the shoulders, and we hurried away with our piled-high cart before my kiddo with Autism was triggered into a sensory tantrum by the nasty treatment at such a volume. Yes, Ma'am, I'm sure those three halves of a cookie we took before running away from you broke Costco's bank. I see why you're so defensive of your sample cups.
   Several aisles over we passed a woman sampling spinach ravioli. I wasn't going to stop, but my kids asked if they could try this kind to see if they liked it better than the brand we currently get from Costco each trip. I agreed. Immediately, when I reached for a cup, my offspring crowded around me and my cart, the woman glared at them and snapped at me, "Are they all with you?" OH MY GRAVY, WHAT GIVES, YA'LL?! Again, I gave my reply, though it was admittedly less dripping-with-sweetness than minutes earlier when I gave it. She continued to stare down my children and I, so I pointedly stood in front of her display and used a tiny fork-ish thing to split one ravioli between myself and the four children who want to taste it. They loved it, and declared it was better than the usual brand we get there! Sadly, we didn't buy any. I'd had enough of the nasties from your sample ladies for one day, Costco. I got out as fast as I could. I came home and told my husband about the adventure, and he promptly pulled up all our Costco transactions from the last year on our bank account. $6,500, Costco. That's how much just our one family has spent inside your walls this past year. My husband also pointed out that our cards give us 5% cash back on all purchases at wholesale stores.... Oh, except yours. You don't participate. We have the money to spend and more, but because we are wise with our money almost every way possible in order to keep this large family financially secure, 5% makes Sam's and BJ's look better and better. When we're treated badly in an establishment over the size of our family, it makes your glorious offerings quite tarnished and no longer look worth it. My family comes first, and my budget feeds us. We're but one family. Families our size and larger spend so much more at your stores nationwide, and are what keep you in business! Cooking for my crowd is tough, so when my kids taste your food samples and approve, you've made a consumer for life. Or at least the next 18 years. So maybe think about that when you're training your sample ladies. Or maybe just tell them to be decent human beings to every customer, regardless of age or family size.

12-5-16 Edit: After requesting my contact in response to posting this(yes, it was a real letter I sent to corporate Costco!), I received a telephone call from Bill, the assistant General Manager at the location where I shopped. He firstly thanked me for writing about my experience and apologized for the negativity, and secondly, he agreed that every person of every age should be trying the samples. That's the point! Try it and buy it! Thirdly, he confirmed what a friend told me: The ladies handing out samples are not in fact Costco employees, but contractors from Club Demonstration Services, or CDS. He said he forwarded all the information to Reggie, their on-site CDS manager, and was going to make sure that the demo personnel were all on the same page as Costco: Everyone of all ages should be treated respectfully, and everyone deserves a sample regardless of age. High-five for following up on even the little things, Costco, and being so responsive to your customers. Now about that 5% cash back thing.... 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Cup of Tea

   Yesterday I taught my oldest how to make a cup of tea. She's almost ten. She's very much in the thick of 'tween-ness.' This terrifies me. Full on insta-anxiety tightening my throat. I can't screw this up. She is my first child. So impressionable. Full of grace. The kind of child I can count on one hand the number of times a year she needs discipline beyond a firm word of reprimand. Being her mother has been a blessing from the moment she was born. A lesson in gentleness, because even a harsh word breaks her heart. And I don't want to break her. I want to strengthen her. Empower her. Teach her. Help her grow in goodness, love, patience, compassion, knowledge, character, wisdom, and strength. Help her figure out who she is as a person, discover her passions and talents, and encourage her in them. I cannot screw this up.
   Several months ago we realized she would go through days at a time where she was, in her own way, raging. Mean to her siblings, impatient and snippy with my husband and me, and would just burst out roaring at anyone over the slightest trigger. We had long talks about a lot of things, and determined she was okay, she hadn't been hurt by some one, she was just dealing with natural physiological development. No one tells you mood swings start before puberty sets in, but when I asked about it on a private parenting forum, all the moms were, 'Oooooh yes, it's AWFUL!' So here's your warning: It's a thing. It happens, and way before you'd expect it. Tweens turn into angry toddlers for a few days at a time. Brace yourself. Fill yourself with patience and grace. It's coming. I was at a loss as to how to help her, so I just reminded her to take a deep breath and find a new way to say or do that. It was really a reminder to both of us as I dealt with this new creature my child was becoming. She continued to have her raging days, so one day we sat down together one afternoon while everyone else was napping,  and looked up a handful of Bible verses on how to handle our anger and frustration. We copied them down with colorful markers until we'd fill an entire page, and talked about what they literally meant, what these things would actually look like in our common frustrating situations while we decorated the page. She hung hers by her bed when we were done. When she has her bad days now, sometimes she'll go to her room, read the verses, and talk about how those things would literally look in the situations making her angry that day.
   In addition to having such a sensitive heart toward reprimand, my girl also has a sensitive heart toward outside influences. One day, she and her siblings watched Spiderwick Chronicles on Amazon. They all seemed to love it, but that night she couldn't sleep. An hour after everyone was asleep and I was heading to bed myself, she came downstairs in tears. Every time she closed her eyes she saw scary things from the movie, and she was now scared to close her eyes. I was annoyed. It wasn't a scary movie in the first place, and I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep so badly. but thankfully a voice in my head boomed that this was a crossroad. I could tell my daughter she was fine, remind her how she knew it was just a movie and none of that was possible in real life, and she needed to go back to bed. That's what I wanted to do so badly. It's what I'd done in many instances before. But that voice wouldn't stop, so I made a change. I snuggled her into the couch with me, we got out our Bibles, and we talked about fear. Irrational or not, she was afraid, and she was coming to me with it. I could shut her out and poo-poo her feelings, reminding her of logic and require that she accept it, or I could meet her where she was and connect. I chose the latter. For more than an hour, we sat and talked, looked at what God said about these things, discussed how that would literally look in our lives, and ended up turning on our favorite music and singing along. Right there, in the living room, at midnight, my almost-10-year-old and I were worshiping together.
   For the next few weeks, at least once a week she would have trouble sleeping because something was heavy on her heart, and she'd come down just as I was about to turn in, and it would mean at least an hour of connecting with her. It was exhausting. But I knew it was worth it. It was what needed to be done. If I commanded obedience, requiring that she put feelings aside, think logically(like an adult), and assimilate in accordance with our family rules of lights out and did not validate her feelings, see her as the amazing individual she was, and respect her enough to make time for her I would be failing mightily. It was tempting. So tempting. I was tired. Every one of those nights I was exhausted, fought impatience, and ignored my own brain screaming about all I needed to do the next day, the sleep I was missing, and counting down the minutes until I knew the baby would be awake to eat again. But my daughter needed me, and she is worthy of me and my time.
   Last night my husband and I talked about how terrifying the thought of parenting a teen is. We've been doing infancy through childhood for the last decade, and for the decade before that I was babysitting, nannying, and teaching. We know how to work our way through that part. But this turning-toward-teen stuff. It's like toddlerhood all over again, but the problems are a lot stickier. A lot more involved. A lot more grown up. It all feels so imperative that we get it right.  Yesterday our girl looked whooped. Dark circles around her eyes, low energy, and a bit snippy in personality. She even fell asleep at rest time, which is usually just an hour of reading time she enjoys while the younger kids nap. When she woke up she looked wrecked. I gently probed a bit to see if she was feeling symptoms of illness, or if she had some hurt feelings or something else she was dealing with, but came up empty. Something in me saw her through different eyes. I saw myself. Whooped. Nothing to give, and a short fuse. What do I, an adult want, when I'm feeling that way(aside from a 12-hour nap)? Coffee. A nice, hot cup of coffee. Well, I'm not giving her coffee, but I could do tea. So I coaxed her into the kitchen and told her I was going to teach her how to make a cup of tea. She was confused at first, tired and reluctant, but she went along with it. As I walked her through safely getting the kettle to boil, choosing her mug and tea bag, she started to perk up. After I explained how to leave the tea to steep, then told her that as long as she followed those steps each time she could make herself a cup of tea any time she wanted, her face glowed. She asked if she could add a spoonful of honey when it had steeped, and I told her of course, then left the kitchen. Ten minutes later I returned to the kitchen for something else, and she was sitting alone, at the big, empty table, hands wrapped around her cup of tea, inhaling the steam, and sipping, with a great, big smile on her face. That smidge of grown-up-ness in her own cup of herbal tea, the freedom to be able to make a cup herself any time. It seemed like nothing, but it filled her little growing-up heart so full that she was bursting. She's made herself three more cups in the last 18 hours since then, and she's yet to melt anything or burn the house down. A cup or ten of tea and a few late nights are worth it. Over and over again, they're worth it while we all grow, learn, and change. My daughter's worth it. She's not a minion to be screamed at, required obedience without question, demanded respect from without first showing her what respect looks like. She's worthy just by being her.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Notice Goodness

   The past few months have been emotionally hard for me. I've always been very closed. Very cautious, with a minuscule circle of those I know I can trust because it's been proven. About a year ago I tried opening up. Thrust myself out on a big, scary limb of friendship and putting myself out there. I have been met with love and connection from precious people put in my path. I've also been met with deep hurt, manipulation, back-stabbing, and been used for what I have to offer then cast aside- all by seemingly wonderful people.
   Why is it that the hurt resounds the loudest? A friend made us a huge, delicious meal this week. I was blown away with her love and kindness. Another friend offered to come to me when I'd forgotten my wallet and found myself 40 minutes from home without my wallet, and pay for my groceries so I didn't have to drive all the way home to get the forgotten wallet. In response to a Facebook post about my son's struggles, he has received more than 40 birthday cards and messages this past week, encouraging him and loving on him. Yet as I lay in bed sick all weekend, alternating between sleeping and scrolling Facebook and Instagram on my phone to keep me awake long enough to feed the baby, I was overcome with the pain of rejection as numerous friends posted pictures of themselves and their children at each other's birthday parties and fall get-togethers, none of which we were invited to, despite all being friends with the same connections and children the same age, or mamas going on the "wine and art" nights together- all of which I know, am connected to the same way- and yet I've never once been invited to such a thing. I've even been UNinvited from things by receiving an email telling me I was welcome at a later gathering, but not the soonest one- Oh, but if we happen to need to use you for your very specific skill set as it relates to this social gathering, we will let you know(no, I'm not kidding. That was seriously said)- with absolutely no explanation and the person has completely avoided me since. What's wrong with me? Why didn't I enter their mind to invite? What terrible thing did I do to be UNinvited from a women's prayer meeting, of all things? Admittedly, this realm of "friendships with lots of people" is new to me. I am not kidding when I say that I have always been very, very closed with my heart, and I've always had many acquaintances- people I know but there's no relationship there- but very few friends. I had a little pity party among my tissues and hot tea in my bed, then I picked up my book to read. This was the very first line on my bookmarked page in Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst:
It's time to stop the lies and devastating hurt stemming from this kind of circumstantial identity[in human relationships]. 
Wow. That was exactly what I needed to hear. I often get hung up on the hurt. Dwell on the meanness from others, succumbing to rejection, allowing it to control my mind.  I started reading this book when it was recommended to me because of the hurts I've been struggling to deal with, and it has had so many zingers that have hit my soul just right.

The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or breaking of my identity.
That. Right there. Yes, people make mistakes. Yes, even lovely, well-meaning, generally wonderful people can do very ugly things. And they hurt. But I don't need to be consumed by them. I can take a deep breath, process it, acknowledging my feelings rather than stuffing them and not being honest with myself, then choose to focus on the right things. Hurt will still exist, but I can choose where my focus lies. I can focus on the good, the lovely, and the true, and let the rejection, the ugliness, and the hurt fall away. I don't need to let it break my identity and who I know I am. Friends and relationship- real relationship, not just people I know and whom make nice with me and my family when we're in the same place- totally exist in my life, and I need to cherish them, not focus on the hurt and rejection. There is so much good. Deal with the bad, the hurtful as it comes, but focus on the good. It is everywhere.

Oh, and if you haven't ever heard of it, check out Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst. SUCH a good book about relationships.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"I Don't Know How You Do It"

   I hear this all. The. Time. That's a fact, not tooting my own horn. My answer is always the same, regardless of what the statement pertains to: I do it because I have to. Aside from knitting and reading books, there's really just about nothing on my plate that isn't a necessity, so I just summon the will and throw myself through- hopefully with a smile. For today, that pertains to exercise.
   I explained to a friend on Sunday that there's little I've done to make a huge change in my life without first having an "Aha!" moment in the form of a real, life-altering experience which spurred me to the change. In the area of self-care, that was the pregnancy and birth of my youngest. My sixth baby, my rainbow, my Peaceful Light From God. Aside from varying degrees of awful morning sickness, I have always loved being pregnant. My body just does pregnancy and childbirth very well, with no credit to me. My body just does it, and I am so grateful. Things started to change, though, when I had my second. After my first, I found an odd 'hole' around my belly button, but mama friends said it was normal. My second was a massive 10.5 lbs and my bump showed it. I was left with pretty severe Diastasis Recti(A separation of the abdominal muscles that your internal organs can and often do herniate through)- or DR. I tried so hard to get back into shape after he was born- running 5k's and doing pilates and ab workouts by the hundreds- but my body wasn't having it. I had no idea what DR was, nor how it was affecting my body. With my third, that core instability led to very painful  Symphasis Pubis Dysfunction(trouble with the ligaments and alignment in the pelvis and hips), which thankfully did not complicate delivery, and resolved itself after her birth. I walked with my babies in the huge stroller, and crunch-crunch-crunched to try and re-strengthen my core. I had no idea why it was not getting better. With my fourth, aside from severe morning sickness for 25 weeks in the form of serious Hyperemesis Gravidarum and a resulting scare with IUGR, the pregnancy went well, but after an 18-hour posterior labor and delivery(hard work, extra painful, but in the realm of "normal" and safe) because my stubborn nugget wouldn't turn, That extra work and hard pushing combined with my already unstable and weak core resulted in my internal organs settling a bit lower than ideal, because I lacked the tone in a very specific set of muscles to hold things in place. The technical term for that is Pelvic Organ Prolapse- POP. Exercise experts basically all had the same message: No more high-impact exercise again. Walk. Walk until your feet bleed. Because anything more jarring can worsen the POP and require surgical repair. Oh- an Diastasis Recti? All those crunches by the thousands and hours of Pilates and ab work to strengthen my core? It was making the DR worse. Nothing but surgical repair for that.
   I resigned myself to being out of shape. In conversations on the matter I'd say, "Well, I have a pretty serious Diastasis and only surgery will fix it so I'll always look 5 months pregnant until I'm officially done having kids and get that all fixed." I walked with my kids whenever possible, but my "postpartum/extra lumpy transition" wardrobe became my wardrobe. Then I lost Asher, and his surgical birth made the POP I'd been dealing with for years instantly exponentially worse. At a post-op appointment in April that year, my midwife recommended a program called Hab-It Pelvic Floor Exercises, which is a physical therapy program created by a PT specialist in pelvic floor issues, Tasha Mulligan. I bought the DVD on Amazon and set to work. I was amazed at how 20 minutes a day 4 days a week started to make changes on my body. I even started to notice that my DR was improving. Could it be? No one had ever mentioned a correlation between DR and POP to me. I was supposed to work hard at the PT program for 3 months, and(unless I was having trouble with ANYTHING else sooner) come back in 12 weeks. Well, the 12 weeks came and I wasn't feeling well(it was nearing Asher's original due date and I was very emotional) so I put it off. Three weeks later:

No, four tests is not overkill. It's necessary.
   So back to the midwife I headed for an entirely different reason. I was a higher weight than I had ever started a pregnancy, so I continued my PT program, walking-walking-walking, and a rigidly healthy, clean(preservative-free) diet throughout the pregnancy, but still my body revolted. High blood pressure for seemingly no reason, physical pain from head to toe, months of no weight gain, then 10 lbs spike in a week with no change in my diet or exercise. I was a bit of a mess. Then came my guy's delivery- my first in an actual hospital setting(I had placenta previa that had moved but was still close so I risked out of a birth center or homebirth). There were emotions at play, a malpositioned little(or 9.5-lb) guy, a lot of extra amniotic fluid, and a very intense fear-tension-pain cycle I let overpower me, and I ended up with a 13-hour battle that ended with an epidural so I could shut my brain off and go to sleep until he literally slid out just after I woke up with a "weird feeling."
   That pregnancy and delivery- the struggles, the way my always-capable, strong body just couldn't do it anymore- was my wake-up call. I needed to do SOMETHING. I started research DR more. The very experienced, trained EMT turned aromatherapist-herbalist-holistic health adviser who is the woman behind Blessed Mama Services(No, no relation to my Blessed Journey Birth Services. See What's In A Name for my Why) said she was doing an online info session on Diastasis Recti and related issues. It was during that discussion that I heard about Fit2B. Supposedly this program was made for moms. Supposedly she could help heal all these core and pelvic floor issues by helping you strengthen the right muscles. Supposedly once you're healed and know how to move properly for your body you can do anything. I say supposedly because I was told this was only ever repairable by surgery, and that my POP would prevent me from ever running again. Plus it cost money and I don't part with money easily. Everybody asking for money has some ulterior motive besides the good of the buyer: money. I "liked" their Facebook page, followed along with the information that was posted there. Then, the day before my 8-week postpartum check up with my midwife, they posted that they had a free 30-day trial. I read it over, three times, searching for the loop holes. Nothing? Really? Alright. When my midwife released me for light activity as I felt well enough, I went home and ordered the free trial. I figured I'd give it a go for 30 days. Workouts and such were all completely digital- either through their website, streaming on your phone, or on their own app on Roku. For 30 days I'd give it a try to see if it hurt like my other workouts did due to POP and DR, if it fit in my life with short chunks as I had a moment without a baby in my arms and kids asleep, and if it actually did anything positive for my body. It was free(actually, $1 card processing fee. but I can do $1), so I had nothing to lose(except the dollar). This was the picture I took of myself, nuzzling my "tiny" guy, before my postpartum checkup: 

That's good posture, standing upright, holding my belly in, 8 weeks postpartum. That day, I started 20 minutes of exercise daily, however I could fit it in. I alternated my Hab-It DVD and workouts(15-30 minutes) from Fit2B. This is me three weeks later:

I was down 3 pounds. THREE! That's not significant weight loss for the way my waistline was shrinking. I was so impressed by Fit2B. Beth(the founder, trained in physical therapy and an exercise
professional) asked everyone to start with their Foundational Five. Let me tell you- you THINK you have good posture, you THINK the chiro is what keeps you properly aligned(I LOVE my chiro- no dings there!), you THINK you're bending, reaching, babywearing, etc, properly, until you do the F5 for a couple weeks and learn how to engage certain muscles to move differently- more healthily for your body. Oh. My. I was stronger every day, moving differently in things as simple as bending to unload the dishwasher or change a diaper, or SQUATTING, things I'd been doing for a decade in wys that didn't support my body or strengthen my core. AND IT DIDN'T HURT! None of it hurt. At all. Ever. Throughout Beth's videos, she is teaching, talking as she moves, giving you "bone cues" on what you should be feeling to properly engage a muscle, reach a tiny muscle group, and more. She is sweet, happy, encouraging, and teaching you how to move, live, and care for your body in the long run of life. She's not creating a dependent consumer, she's educating, strengthening, and healing you so you can move on stronger and healthier for life! There's the added bonus of an online member forum(Facebook group) where Beth herself and other trusted "wise women" and professionals in their own fields answer questions, and all the members chat, talk life, encourage one another, and work through challenges together.
   Now before you get all, "Workouts at home and online 'groups'? Sounds like Beachbody, etc, etc," on me, let me tell you: in case you haven't figured it out already from my description, this is NOTHING like Beachbody or anything I've ever found. This is real life, real women who have lives, families, jobs, and more who just want to help you heal and life healthy. They don't live to workout and post their selfies on Instagram. They live life on their own terms and are getting healthy on their own terms. That's not to say Fit2B is only a beginners game. There are simple programs like F5, but it goes so much further, so much harder- as hard as you want to take it. Just this week Beth did a workout routine in Weightlifting 101 to help mamas discover the health benefits of lifting so they can keep getting stronger and building muscle mass(if that's the direction they want to go), while protecting a healed or healing DR and more. Very few of these workouts require special equipment and all can be done right in your living room.
   When my 30 days expired I GLADLY signed up for a monthly subscription- and that's saying something if you know how much I dislike spending money on non-essentials besides yarn and fabric. But this was obviously essential. $14.99/month is very affordable for most(a yearly subscription breaks down to less per month, but I haven't saved up for the lump sum yet), and so worth it. I'm not dropping pounds like crazy- I'm breastfeeding and I don't like to lose more than a pound a week until they're over a year- but I am getting so strong, more energetic, and losing inches purely due to long-ago damaged and neglected muscles healing and toning up. Remember those pics above(I know, this has gotten long)? This is me now, after 10 more weeks of Fit2B and Hab-It:

   I have not been this flat in a decade. Literally. The other milestone: I'm running again. I haven't been able to run without pain in my midsection due to DR and POP for 8 years, but here I am running, pain-free, stronger than ever despite being 50 lbs more than I was when I was last running. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do 20-30 minutes of Fit2B at some point during the day, whether that's 5:30am before everyone else is up, during nap time, or after the kids are tucked in, and a Hab-It workout(12-18 minutes) before bed. Tuesdays and Thursdays I get up at 4:45am to meet a mama friend at the local high school so we can run for 30-45 minutes and get back home by 6am when everyone else is waking so I can quickly shower then start our day as usual. Before No. 6 was born, I would never have spent money on me, nor made time for me like this during my insanely busy days, but that pregnancy was my body screaming for intervention, and his delivery was my body declaring its mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Duly noted, bag o' bones. I'm worth being healthy. I'm worth feeling good about myself. Surgery isn't the only option. And for the first time in 7 years, I signed up for a 5k. The Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'm not even dreading it. I'm excited. Because I am strong. I am capable. I am healing. I am worth it.