July seemed like a good month to do an experiment. My regular schedule was a little more relaxed, still lots of mom things to do but slightly more wiggle in the routine, and this year, the weather has been truly glorious. How was I going to tweak this schedule in order to find time for the three things I knew I wanted in my mornings: exercise, prayer, and uninterrupted writing?
I have a house full of kids. Uninterrupted anything is a rare thing. I've always written in the margins. One day we'll talk about How She Does It. It's a great book and Anne Bogel outlines how most everyone I know "does it." It's not how I do it, because "share care" isn't practical here. What's practical is getting up at 5 AM. Ninety minutes in front of the computer and then out the door for ninety minutes in the fresh air.
I actually wish I could reverse the order and start with the walk, but I don't feel comfortable walking in the dark. So, writing from 5:00-6:30 and then a walk from 6:30-8:00. Then, snuggle time in the Bible chair with my littlest and the day has truly begun.
It helps to be a morning person; I'll agree with that observation. I do love the morning. But I'll also pose this question: Would you give up an hour of sleep to walk for an hour if you knew that you'd fall asleep more easily and that you'd sleep more soundly? It just doesn't really seem like much of a sacrifice. The fresh air and exercise absolutely enhance the quality of my sleep.
I go out into the quiet morning and I fill my tank. It's interesting; before my walking experiment began, I identified one of the emotions I was wrestling with as loneliness. I felt disconnected. In the last four years, I've withdrawn significantly from the internet community, reducing my time online to only what is absolutely necessary. Almost all of my local homeschool friends no longer homeschool, their children grown or in school now. And my husband has been working 'round the clock and traveling. But my days are filled with lots of people. Heck, my house is filled with lots people. And I do have dear, close local friends with whom I have plenty of contact. So, the pervasive sense of loneliness was strange. Within the first week or so of walking, the loneliness dissipated. Maybe loneliness isn't the right word for it at all. I was lonely for myself. Those ninety minutes in the morning were absolutely necessary for the care and tending of this introvert. At last, I was getting sufficient time to refuel. Time to talk to myself. And to listen to myself.
I break the time into three chunks, not always three even chunks, but always three chunks. First, I listen to an audiobook or podcast. My brain is so happy! I've been able to fill up on good writing and it has been very beneficial. Lots of good ideas, plenty to ponder. I think that I had fallen into an all-too-common trap of clicking around cyberspace for information. I'd follow interesting links on Facebook or scroll Google's newspage while standing in line. But those brief 300-500 word excursions were leaving me feeling weary and not much smarter. Anne Bogel explores that phenomenon. While you are at Anne's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, bookmark it. She's absolutely the best resource for a good book recommendation and she has lots of other smart things to say (probably because she reads a lot).
Back to reading with audiobooks: A whole book about something that matters to me? Much better than clicking around on a screen. Books expand the idea; they unfold and they carry the reader for the duration. This practice of listening to audiobooks is one that will be a lifelong one for me. When my children were little, we always listened to books read aloud in the car. As much for my edification as theirs. And we still do, sometimes, though I rarely have them all together in the car at once. The younger boys and I listened through the entire Mysterious Benedict Society series last fall. Such good listening! Time well spent. I love to listen. I love to curl up with the print version, too, but we'll save that conversation for Friday's needle & thREAD.
In the middle block of my walking time, I pray. I pray the Office of Readings and then a rosary, filling my tank with scripture and feeding my soul with the wisdom of the Church Fathers. It's concentrated time to both talk with God and to listen to Him.
Then, I do my version of Morning Pages. In her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron insists on three handwritten pages of a "brain dump" every morning. It's stream of consciousness writing about anything and everything that becomes the "bedrock tool of creative recovery." I've been creatively dry for quite some time. Just not feeling it... There are a myriad of reasons for my own dry syndrome and most will remain close to my heart. The steps back to creative joy, though, are outlined here, in this post. In the walking. In the praying. In the journaling. Cameron insists on writing this all out. I'm a rebel;-). I dictate my Morning Pages to my iPhone using the "notes" app and the microphone button. I usually stop talking to myself when I pass my neighbors walking in the dawn. Then I keep right on going.
There are, of course, health benefits to this whole walking thing. Walking burns calories, strengthens back muscles, (supposedly) slims your waist, strengthens bones, lowers blood pressure, shapes and tones legs and bottom, reduces risk of heart disease and diabetes, and helps us manage stress. The big question I'm getting lately is "How much weight have you lost?" The big answer? None. Absolutely not one pound. At first, this bothered me tremendously. Then, a couple weeks ago, while talking walking with my friend Nicole--who is sharing this walking journey using a Jawbone Up--I found msyelf saying, "You know, it wouldn't matter if I never lost weight. I'd still keep walking." For all the things this has done for me and all the ways it enhances my well-being, weight is becoming just a number on a scale. That alone is extraordinary. I grew up believing weight was probably the most important thing about a woman. I come from an extended family of eating disorders. It's a thing. A bad thing. And it's a thing that I'm grateful to have mostly dodged because I've spent most of my adult life pregnant or nursing and the baby always won the inner struggle over the number on the scale. I ate very healthfully for my children, overcoming any genetic or environmental predisposition to sabotage my health for the sake of scale.Still, the scale tormented me and it fed my doubt about my worth all the time. I haven't been nursing for two years. Two years of time during which middle aged creep and hypthyroidism can mess with my mind. To have found peace with the scale is nothing short of miraculous.
We live as we move, a step at a time. And there's something in gentle walking that reminds me of how it is I must live if I am to savor this life that I have been given. Savoring this life becomes an automatic and appropriate response the miniute I dispense with velocity and pressure. This earth is beautiful and so are we, if I just take the time to notice.
I need time outside. I knew this about myself, of course, but over the years I have become increasingly an indoor person. And my whole self was sad. I just didn't know how sad until I started walking. Now, I notice the outdoors and it makes me happy. I notice how the leaves are already starting to turn just little. I notice the cattails have gotten quite fat and are going to burst momentarily. I notice how many areas of my neighborhood are alive with natural beauty. I notice the subtle changes from day-to-day in the terrain of my natural surroundings. My body is in tune with the sunrise. I can tell you the percentage of humidity without even looking at my weather app and be accurate within a point or two. I'm noticing. I'm really seeing. And it has slowed the relentless pace of my mind. I used to think I needed to live in the country. Too much hustle and bustle here in the suburbs. Now, I firmly believe that one can live in the most serene of surroundings and still hear crashing noises in her head. Likewise, one can live in the bustle of a Washington, DC suburb and slow down enough to notice the details that bring quiet peace.
Obviously, walking has much improved my mood. I'm calmer. I'm more magnanimous. I'm taking things in stride more often than not. Karoline remarked last weekend as we were being silly at the playground, "You just seem so happy lately, Mommy." And my husband echoed her just yesterday as I ran past him on the stairs on the way to grab my running shoes, "You're smiling. It makes me happy to see you happy." All the stresses have not melted away. I still have major IT issues here "at work." I still have lots of kid things-- some quite serious--taking up my brain space. But I've turned a very important corner on self-care. I've learned, once and for all, that it's not selfish. Big difference. Self-care serves my family. Just ask them; they'll tell you.
The day that Sarah Harkins died, Mary Beth, Sarah Annie, and I drove down to be with Ginny's kids while Ginny and Jonny went to the hospital to say goodbye.It took us about two hours to get there. Mary Beth and I talked the whole way, two warriors in an extraordinary yearlong battle with grief. I'd already walked my 10,000 steps before the drive and when I got there, I puttered around Ginny's house and then went out into her yard with her girls to soak in the sunshine and to force myself to be very present in the sacred moments of the day. I stayed for awhile and talked with Ginny when she got home. Then we did the drive in reverse. It was evening by the time we got home and I thought to myself what a long, exceptionally full day it had been and how I was looking forward to just curling up in bed next to my husband and going to sleep.
When I pulled up in the driveway, there was a group text from Patrick to Mike and me. It was a screenshot of Paddy's Fitbit Flex. He had 19,000 steps for the day. And he was most definitely taunting.Mike joshed with him and said something about giving UVa their money's worth (a reference to Patrick's athletic scholarship). I said, "I only have 7,000 steps to go to reach you." I was totally kidding. It was one thing to share stats with Paddy's friend, Aimee. She was encouraging and well, not hyper-competitive. If Patrick is two things, he's (1) very competitive and (2) in perpetual motion. I am not setting myself up to compete with Patrick. I bought Mike a Fitbit Flex so that he'd be encouraged to be more active. Paddy bought himself a Fitbit. I have no idea why. But I suspect that, like me, he likes to watch the numbers rise. He likes the tangible, objective proof of his effort. And, though I would not have known it 2 months ago, we share a bit of competitive spirit.
So was it the competitor in me that compelled me out again that afternoon? Maybe just a little. Mostly, though, it was knowing that I could. Knowing that I was able to move myself through a glorious world, inhaling goodness as I went. And so I went. 9,000 steps more as the evening stretched into night.
In the beginning of July I told you about my Fitbit Flex. If you missed that post, take a minute and read it now; it's kind of necessary to this post. I'll wait.
This picks up where that leaves off.
I resolved to walk 150 miles in July. I have a very short stride, so I'd noticed that 10,000 steps for most people was about 5 miles. For me, it was 4.2 miles. It took considerably more steps to get to 5 miles. I figured that I'd have my 10,000 steps a day goal and then I'd have my 5 mile a day goal. July has 31 days, so I left myself a buffer in case I just wasn't feeling it one day. But only one day. I wasn't going to to leave myself much margin.
I quickly settled into an early morning routine, mapping out various routes in my neighborhood carefully so I knew how far to go and which way to return home to keep within my allotted time and distance goals. If I could get around 8,000 steps first thing in the morning, as long as I was conscious of taking the active route throughout the day (parking further away, going to fetch things in the house myself instead of sending an active child), I could hit the 10,000 steps goal. Then, an evening walk around the block usually capped the five mile mark.
A little before the middle of the month, we went to the beach. I say "we," but I took the four girls and Nick to Myrtle Beach, where the girls were competing at a dance competition. So, it wasn't a family vacation. It was a half-a-family trip to the beach. I was a little concerned about my walking routine--partly because I'm a creature of habit in a big way and partly because I knew that this particular parenting endeavor was going to take serious stress management on my part. I'm very much out of my element at dance competitions (a subject for another lengthy essay, no doubt).
I had insomnia at the beach. I could not will my body to sleep past 4AM any morning I was there. So, I gave up trying. Instead, I got up and walked. It was dark and I was a little concerned about safety in a strange area, so I essentially walked the parking lot of the condos where we were staying, weaving in and out of lit stairways, for about an hour and a half every morning. I'd come to the beach with some heavy things on my heart and as I walked I listened first to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (reviewed a bit here) and then to John Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (reviewed extensively here). Note: I wasn't having a proper midlife crisis; my marriage wasn't falling apart. I just had a lot of thinking to do and in the quiet of the South Carolina mornings, to the rhythm of my feet falling again and again, I started doing it. Soon, I was logging 10,000 steps first thing in the morning and only reluctantly going inside.
It was dark when I started and I watched the sun rise every day. I was glorying in being outside. Thick, humid Carolina air was having a field day with my hair and leaving me drenched by the end of the walk, but the sunshine? Absolutely golden. As soon as the sun came up, I moved from the parking lot to the many ponds and walked around them. I recognized quickly how much I'd missed fresh air and sunshine and how restorative both were to my soul.
Then, we'd all trudge off to the air-conditioned convention center for the dance competition. At varied moments throughout the day, when the noise and the drama and crush of the crowd overwhelmed me, I'd take my iPhone, my earbuds, and my perpetually sneakered self over to the adjoining hotel. I'd get to the halls of guest rooms and I'd walk, listening to Divineoffice.org. In the quiet. Up one hall, up the stairs, down the next hall, up those stairs, up to the top and then down again. Then back to the convention center, a much calmer person. It ocurred to me that I was sneaking off to walk and I did briefly wonder about the addictive behavior aspect of that, but really, it seemed all good.
The Fitbit Flex began to give me smiley faces and trophies and then, I watched something else happen. I'd gathered just a few people around me on Fitbit's "friend" page. Not long after starting to use it, I decided that I was going to limit my "friends" to only people I knew in person. I didn't want exercise to be another occasion of social media. I needed this walking world to be my world away from social media. So, I've got my kids there. Chrystal Hurst and Kat Lee, who walked with me in Colorado and inspired me to get going in the first place. And then, I have three college women who are Division 1 athletes. They're friends of Patrick's, but they're absolutely real life people. Could I be as active as they are, at least now, in the offseason? I watched as my stats stayed above theirs most days. And one of them became one my biggest encouragers. She was in Charlottesville, walking all the places I used to walk when I walked way more than 10,000 steps every day and I was home from the beach by then, nearly 30 years older than those fit college days, wondering exactly what the next thirty years might hold. Somehow, the connection and the raw numbers were very encouraging.
I had very few conversations at Sally's in Colorado. I was just too sick. And too shy. But Chrystal Evans Hurst went out of her way to find me and one of the things we talked about was finding writing time. I told her that I used do my "quiet time" on a stationery bike in my closet. I'd listen to Divine Office, pray, read something inspirational. Then, I'd write for awhile. Last winter, I realized this time was becoming less fruitful and I abandoned the bike for a couple hours of time with Bible and journal every morning in a chair in my living room.
I wrote Restore following those intense quiet times and it is and probably always will be one of my favorite writing projects ever. But I was completely unmotivated to write much else. And I wasn't exercising at all. In early March, I got strep throat (and probably undiagnosed mono) and then I began the exhausting and unrelenting task of caring for several children with rare serious manifestations of adenovirus (another visit to the specialist today, by the way, pray?). The class times at the gym were always inconvenient. The pace of life unrelenting. All the way to mid-June-- when Chrystal persisted in asking, "But when will you exercise? And how will you find time to write?" She was the preacher's daughter. Couldn't she just say, "Wow! Two hours of quiet time in the morning every day? That's awesome. Go you. Nothing else matters."?
But she didn't. Instead, she said, "When will you write?" and "How many steps today?" The question hung heavy through the end of June and I pounded it out on the pavement those first few weeks of July.
Tomorrow, the answers and the unfolding of walking magic.
Hi, there! If you are coming from I Take Joy, welcome! I've gotten several requests lately for thoughts on curriculum. It's that time of year again. As we move this blog from Typepad to Squarespace, I'll be sure to move homeschooling posts this month. In the meantime, if you're hunting around, wanting to know what I think, here are some links to get you going.
There are lots and lots of notes on real learning at home and detailed booklists here.
...that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures or wisdom and knowledge. ~Col 2:2
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