Happy Happenstance

We’ve just had a week off for spring break.  As homeschoolers, we certainly could have kept up the normal routine while our public school counterparts had the week off, but we decided to take our own break.  We didn’t travel.  We just enjoyed some simple pleasures at home.  We played a lot of Pictionary.  We played outside.  We anxiously waited for a forecasted snowstorm that never came.  We went to a movie.  We read books.  We spent a lot of time at the YMCA.

We happened to be at the pool when a Multiple Sclerosis Water Exercise class was about to begin.  Not all participants had MS, but most of them were older and had some limitations in mobility.  Side note:  I love that the YMCA offers classes and exercise options across a huge range of ages and fitness levels.  The family feel, the whole community feel, is largely what drew me to the Y over other gyms.

A gentleman who was waiting for the class, Bob, approached me to ask about my tattoo.  I told him about my Ragnar Relay experience and that several from the team had gone to get tattoos together after the race.  He told me that he had had a stroke six years ago and had been coming to this class for about 4 1/2 years.  He told me that after his stroke he could only speak two words and had to relearn to speak, walk, everything.  He remarked that now he “can’t get himself to shut up”.  He was delightful.  His zest for life was contagious.  I can understand his enjoyment of his gift of gab.  I imagine it is something he does not take for granted.

At times, I feel a similar sense of gratitude and enthusiasm to that of my new acquaintance, Bob.  It took years after my heart surgery to really appreciate the gift I’d received.  I resolved to make the most of my healthy heart, and for a while, I did.  Then I began to let it slide, caught myself, and renewed my efforts to keep up healthy habits and do my best to hold on to this gift of good health.  I was so happy to meet Bob, and I hope that we will see each other again at the Y.  I think he gains something from sharing his story.  You should have seen how he lit up talking to me and my children.  He certainly gives in the course of sharing his experience.  Inspiration.  Encouragement.

Coincidentally, when I met Bob, I had just started reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s massive stroke and locked-in syndrome.  His cognitive function remained excellent, but his brain could not communicate to the rest of his body, essentially leaving him trapped in his own body.  His only means of communication was blinking his left eye.  It was a touching book, heart-rending really.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy good health, let us not take it, or any of our other blessings, for granted.

Boundless

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Image: NASA

I have been reading a book called The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander with my children.

I found the following passage worth jotting down so I can read it again and again. The characters noted below were high in the air, looking down at the world.

“Are we still in the kingdom of T’ang?” Fragrance of Orchid said. “Have we left it and crossed into another kingdom?”

“The first thing to understand,” Niang-niang said, “is that there is no Kingdom of T’ang, nor any other realm. Do you see borders? Is one countryside so different from another? Is not a mountain a mountain, a tree a tree, wherever it may be? Kingdoms? They are pitiful inventions of humankind. They mean nothing to us. We see there is only the world itself, nothing more, nothing less.”

Truly. Look at that image of Earth. There are natural boundaries formed by oceans, rivers, varying climates. There are not lines denoting ” us” and “them”.

There is so much division in our society, in our world. Different religions. Different political ideologies.

I became a mother after 9/11 and just two months before the U.S. launched its War on Terror. It saddens me that this has been the state of our world for my children’s whole lives. It saddens me that these patterns repeat again and again throughout history.

Radicals aside, isn’t the average person simply trying to live a happy, safe, healthy, meaningful life? Are we really so different from one another?

Long time, no blog

Wow, I see my visits here have become few and far between. It has been nearly a year since I have updated, with the exception of my ongoing book list. Glancing back at several of the more recent, however non-recent, posts, I see a lot of focus on child-related issues. That is no surprise. As a homeschooling mom, a huge part of my time and attention is directed toward my children. I do give a lot of thought to how our culture, and how our own parenting and educational decisions, will influence them. In fact, the infrequency of my posts here is largely a result of my effort to be more available to my kids. As homeschoolers, we do spend a lot of time together. I found that it is pretty easy to let other things overtake our free time – my free time – and I don’t want all our time together to be about doing schoolwork. I want to have time to play together and work together on meaningful things other than school.

Since I spent a lot of time talking about running in the past, I will update briefly. After an injury in 2012, I have to admit, I fell apart on the fitness front. If I couldn’t run, I wasn’t going to exercise at all, darn it! I didn’t consciously decide that, but it turned into my reality.

One great thing I’ve noticed when I am in a good exercise routine is that I also tend to eat well. I called it my virtuous circle.

virtuous circle

noun

A recurring cycle of events, the result of each one being to increase the beneficial effect of the next:
‘economic expansion would itself produce a virtuous circle of increased productivity, increased exports, and increased growth’

Sadly, when I wasn’t running, I didn’t make an effort to eat well. I was very lax about my food choices. It’s not by any means as if everything was bad at that time, but I certainly put my health on the back-burner.

When I saw people running, I felt a longing. For a long time, I thought I could just dive back in at any point once my injury had resolved. I would decide to start running again, run a few times per week for two or three weeks, then fizzle out. Boo. Finally, in 2014, I acknowledged the reality that I needed to start over. I did Couch to 5K all over again, and was so pumped to participate in a local 5K as the culmination of that training program. I’ve also joined a local chapter of a national women’s running group – Moms RUN This Town – and the community has gone a long way in encouraging me to keep it up this time. I have been running pretty regularly again since July of 2014. I’m slower than I used to be, but I have run several 5k’s, a 10k, and even a half-marathon last fall. I have enjoyed getting to know some great mother runners in my community as well. How did I do it without community before?

I have no races coming up, but I should pick something out and sign up! While unnecessary, I feel that races add a lot of FUN and motivation to things. I did enjoy a four miler today. A sunny 60+ day in Minnesota in March? I’ll take it, with gratitude. My virtuous circle also seems to be functioning fairly well again. It’s hard balancing work, parenting, health and all the rest. I am a constant work in progress in all aspects of life.

How about you? Have you dealt with injury with more grace than I did? Do you notice virtuous circles in your life? Do you have any advice on balance?

Point of View

It’s all in how you look at it.

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Taken from the same little perch next to the river.

I came to look at the beauty here. When I noticed the trash-ridden shore, the more lovely image I had captured felt a bit fake.

I prefer to see the beauty. Must I also acknowledge the ugly?

Girls, Dirt and Play

I can vividly remember taking my precious toddler girl out to play in the backyard. This was about nine years ago. If she happened to sit down on the ground, perhaps lose her balance and end up on her bottom, she was distressed by the dirt that she got on her hands. Rather than dig in and play in the dirt, she sat there holding her hands out as if unsure what to do about that dirt.

At four, she wore dresses almost everyday. (She had been the lucky recipient of a lot of very lovely hand-me-down dresses.) She certainly had other options in her dresser and closet, but she literally wore dresses almost everyday. I should add, it didn’t stop her from playing. She was into Polly Pockets and Littlest Pet Shop around this time, but she also enjoyed playing outside at the playground (in her lovely dresses).

By the time she was six, she was in self-imposed superhero training. She very seriously informed me that one must be eight years old to actually be a superhero, so she was in training until that day. This involved a lot of strength and agility work. Many goals and checklists.

At ten, she is now a full-fledged superhero. And a musketeer. And she plays in the dirt. That little girl who once held out her hands in dismay when they touched dirt now comes in from an afternoon of play absolutely covered in mud.

So why am I telling you this? I ran across this interesting blog post on peggyorenstein.com about girls’ footwear and the old practice of foot-binding.

My two kids and I had read the biography of a missionary to China named Gladys Aylward last year. One of the things she accomplished there was helping to eliminate the practice of foot-binding (the mandarin made her a foot inspector), which would literally deform the girls’ feet and greatly limit their mobility. As you would expect, all three of us were horrified by foot-binding and couldn’t imagine anyone choosing to do that to their children. We shook our heads, thinking how enlightened modern people are in comparison.

The Peggy Orenstein article cites a study showing that parents take their boys outside to play more than their girls. It also shows the vast difference in marketing for boys’ and girls’ shoes. Whether to sparkle and shine or to help you run fast. Whether to be looked at or to be used. I must say, I hadn’t ever really thought of footwear choices as reflecting the same attitudes as foot-binding, but I can see her point.

I’ve never been one to wear high heels often. Occasionally when dressing up, sure, but not regularly. Since I started running, though, I almost never wear them. I noticed that my ankles bothered me when I would go for a run after a night out in high heels. Not worth it to me. My feet are for getting me around, not for looking at. Contrary to the shoe industry’s apparent marketing strategy, I care more about utility. I have a few pairs of high heels that mainly collect dust and that I probably never should have wasted money on for how seldom I actually wear them. Am I unusual? I don’t know. I don’t pay that much attention to other people’s shoes. Is the shoe industry out of touch? Again, I’m really not sure.

I have nothing against dressing up and wearing pretty things, for myself or for my daughter. I draw the line when looking pretty and shiny becomes more important than being active and doing what we enjoy. If we can’t work or play for fear of messing up our shiny shoes, what’s the point?

What do you think? As a culture, are we unintentially (or intentionally) telling our girls to be still and look pretty?

(I hope not. There is SO MUCH MORE to life than that!)

Why I’m Not Tired of Winter

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Here it is past the middle of March, the temperatures are still routinely in the 20s, and I’m not going crazy.  How is this?

This winter has been really pleasant for me.  So many people I know have recently traveled to Florida and Hawaii, and I don’t long to do the same. 

I had to stop and think about why I feel so content this winter.  If it is anything in my control, I will want to keep it in mind for the future.  I might find myself feeling cabin fever again someday.

Here is what I’ve come up with:

1.  We have had good snow most of the time.  Obviously, this is out of my hands, but it makes such a difference to my children and me.  Cold and snowless equals staying indoors way too much.  Cold with snow equals bundling up and playing outside a lot.  Fresh air, exercise and having fun are great ways to keep the mood up.

2.  I purchased new winter boots.  For several years, I’ve been wearing boots that left my toes chilly.  Warm toes contribute greatly to quality of life for a Minnesotan in winter.

3.  We have been meeting up with other homeschoolers on a weekly basis just to play and visit.  (We still do weekly classes and occasional field trips with a group as well, but it is something different to gather simply for the enjoyment of it.) This has involved visiting many new parks as weather allows.  Over the winter, we have met at sledding hills, indoor playgrounds and swimming pools.  Again, it is getting out of the house and being active.  Having others expecting us makes us more likely to consistently head out to the YMCA or whatever the case may be, and it has truly helped to pass the time.

4.  I have been very flexible about school work.  If my kids ask to play outside, I say go for it.  We can jump back into our school work a little later.  And we do, with everyone feeling refreshed.

The moral of the story: make sure you are properly equipped for the conditions at hand, and make sure to get out of the house and enjoy the season you find yourself in as much as possible. 

Vote

Today, of course, is the election here in the U.S. I will be heading out to the polls, children in tow, a little later. I won’t tell you how to vote, but I hope you will vote.

I hope you will vote your conscience, and be civil to others who may vote differently from you.

I was recently asked my advice on which candidates in our area to vote for, “as a Christian”. Well, I can tell you which candidates I prefer, and why. I won’t pretend, though, that there are certain candidates, or certain issues, that one must vote for to be “more Christian” or a “better person”. There are so many issues to consider. Two different people, both with the goal of improving their community or promoting “family values”, might approach those goals in completely different ways. That doesn’t make one person good and one bad.

Please. Go vote. Be respectful to others. Be kind. Then move forward, respectfully, kindly, after the ballots have been counted. That is all.