Learning to Appreciate the Big Things in Life

So the reason I vanished from the internet like I’d been kidnapped in broad daylight is that I had to quick plan a massive trip to Europe.  (I know!)  A different day, I will write more about the how-to’s of pulling off that feat; for now just know that yes, it consumed my every free minute from the moment the opportunity opened up until the transport, lodging, and insurance were firmly established.

You understand, because you, too, have something you want to do that, if you were suddenly given the chance, you’d drop everything and make it happen.  I want to talk about what it takes to make that thing happen for you.

The One Big Thing

I think “bucket lists” are nonsense.  Life isn’t like that.  My list of priorities looks like this:

  1. God.
  2. My vocation as a wife and mother.
  3. Everything else.

#1 and #2 are inseparably intertwined — doing one means doing the other, always.  #3 is composed of all the other things that might be important, but that when push comes to shove you can pout all you want, I’m not available to do that thing you think I should be doing, if it interferes with #1 and #2.

Still, there’s a pile of good stuff behind door #3, including a long list of, “It would sure be nice if . . .” items.  It would sure be nice to have a bigger, prettier house.  It would sure be nice to visit New England.  It would sure be nice to take the kids to Mount Vernon (God-willing, that’s next summer).  The One Big Thing also sits behind door #3, but in a different corner of the Everything Else room.

We have a friend whose One Big Thing was to invest in a large, well-appointed home for his eventual wife and children.  It was so important to him that he started saving up for that house while he was still in college.   It’s not that he would have felt like he’d failed in life, or “missed out,” or that his happiness depended on having that house.  It was just important enough to him that he was willing to sacrifice a lot of other good things in order to make it happen if he could.  (And he did.)

You have some things like that.  Things that maybe are achievable or maybe they aren’t, but if you do get the chance, you’d be willing to set aside a lot of other good stuff in order to make your One Big Thing happen.

The Things We Set Aside

So I’ve been thinking about taking my kids on this trip since I was sixteen years old.

(Yes, that’s right: I wasn’t dating anybody, I hadn’t yet met the man I’d eventually marry, it would be another decade before the first child was even born.  I was sixteen years old and walking along a misty tree-lined alley leading up to a historic French chateau, and I knew that one day I wanted to share that moment’s experience with my future children.)

Everybody has a different financial picture, so this isn’t a talk about how if you just do what I do you can have your big thing.  But I want to make it clear that there’s a long list of good, worthwhile things we’re forgoing to make the One Big Thing happen.  On that list:

  • All superfluous purchases.  I was going to bring home flowers for Valentine’s day, but I need that $2.99 to be in the bank this summer.
  • A laptop that works.  My trusty Surface Pro has given it up, and thus one of the reasons I don’t write as much lately is that I don’t have a computer I can take to another room when the family’s all home, and I do have to jockey for time on the shared machines.  So basically I’ve made the decision that something I really love, writing, is just not going to happen as much as I’d like, for a while.
  • A new-used car.  Our minivan has 170,000 miles on it.  The doors either don’t lock or don’t open or sometimes both.  The paint job is Green and Black Cheetah because we’ve filled in with primer where the original finish is rusting out.  There is no interior carpet anymore, just bare metal with strategically-placed rubber mats.  We’d been planning to upgrade to something conceived this millennium, but my mechanical engineer tells me we can get that baby to 200K, no problem.  So that’s what we’ll be doing.
  • Living room furniture.  When we updated the circa-1985 paint in the living room and hallways this Christmas, we donated our couch and recliner, from the same era and in the same general condition, to other worthy recipients.  What’s there instead?  Lawn chairs.  Really nice ones, yes: They’re the ones we got from Lowe’s on clearance and had previously been using to kit the screen porch.  They just got promoted to a full-time, permanent gig as Chief Living Room Furniture.
  • More house space.  Eventually that minivan is going to need to be replaced.  Good thing we just painted, because this family of six is going to be squeezed into the three-bedroom ranch for a long time to come.

I mention that last one not because it’s a big deal (I know larger families living in smaller houses), but because to a lot of people, a spacious home is their One Big Thing.

You just have to know yourself and know what trade-offs fit the kind of person you are.  No matter how rich you are, you can’t have everything you’re able to want.  We all have to prioritize, and give up some good things in order to have other good things that are more important to us.

Seizing the Day

I’m not omnipotent nor omniscient, and neither are you.  There’s no telling what will happen between now and the end of June.  Perhaps our plans all come to naught.  One of the ways you know you’ve hit your One Big Thing is because you can honestly say to yourself: Even if this doesn’t work out, I have to try it, because I will always regret not having taken my chance when it came.

[Tip: If you are making a significant financial investment in anything, get that investment insured.  You can insure a house, a car, a boat, a musical instrument, and yes, even a trip.]

In our case, what happened is that we were thinking about taking a much more reasonable, but still-ambitious, stateside family trip.  That was another thing we’ve always wanted to do and here we were: The kids were at the ideal age, my health was finally decent again, there was a slot when we could take the time off and make it happen.

So we talked about a variety of other, much more sane choices.  Then one day I came to my senses.  I told my husband: I would rather not go anywhere this summer, and save up for as long as it takes to make my One Big Thing happen.

And he briefly set aside all reason and scruples and determined that he really, really loves me, and that maybe we should talk about this.  I pointed out that I’ve been talking about doing this trip since as long as he’s known me, and also there has not been a single time in the past decade when I was physically able to make it happen.  Our son graduates high school next year.  If I wanted to do it, now was literally the only time.

So I did it.  Trip is booked.

File:1138357639 3c5c483074 o Haut Koenigsbourg CC by Fr Antunes.jpg

This is where we’re going.  Photo by Fr_Antunes (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. And no I won’t be live-blogging it, because: I don’t have a working laptop.  That’s fine.  My One Big Thing wasn’t “taking the internet on this trip,” it was, “taking my kids on this trip.”  I don’t recall ever giving birth to a computer, thanks.

PSA: Short Workouts for the Win

If you made ambitious fitness resolutions this year, they have probably fallen apart by now.  If so, this message is for you:

Try small workouts instead.

By “small” or “short” what I mean is an amount of exercise that seems hopelessly ineffective, but that you can actually manage to do.

When I was racing, “short” was a thirty-minute sprint on the bike.  When I was so sick I couldn’t walk an 1/8th of a mile, “short” was ten sit-ups, then lay on the floor and recover for five minutes, then do ten more.  Your “short” is someone else’s “long,” and your “big” is someone else’s “small.”  The key here is that if you are not succeeding at what you think you should be accomplishing, try scaling back instead of giving up.

Are short workouts beneficial?

Yes!  At the extreme end of the spectrum, here’s a study that found that breaking up a long day by just 1 minute and 40 seconds of exercise every hour results in lower plasma glucose and insulin than sitting around with no exercise break.  Even if you are ill to the point that you can do almost nothing, you’re still better off getting micro-bouts of exercise than doing nothing at all.  (And in fact, you’re better off than if you workout for thirty minutes then sit all day, the study found.)

If you can exercise more, have at it. But if you can’t seem to pull that off, trying doing something instead of doing nothing.

10 Reasons Short Workouts Succeed

The main reason I recommend short walks or other exercise is that it works.  That other thing you aren’t doing isn’t working.  This is a thing you can do.

#1 You can slip a short workout into a tight schedule.  The boss probably won’t let you spend 30 minutes mid-morning at the gym, but might be fine with five minutes walking around the building while other people are lounging at the coffee machine.  The spouse might not be ready to watch the kids for an hour at the end of a long day while you go off to do a super-workout, but probably can manage fifteen minutes while you sneak out and run sprints.  The baby will be hungry and angry after forty-five minutes in the stroller, but might put up with ten minutes.  You might have children at the in-between age when they can’t be left alone for long periods, but can safely occupy themselves while you jog around the block.

#2 Short workouts are easier on the wardrobe.  Not every workout can be completed in any clothing at all, but you can do push-ups while wearing business-casual, or go out for a quick walk in clothes you wouldn’t wear for a 5k.

#3 Short workouts are more weather-resistant. If it’s extremely hot, cold, windy, or wet, your body can tolerate short exposure with much less preparation and stress than long exposure.  If it’s snowy, a short trudge through the snow is realistic, a long hike through the snow is exhausting.

#4 Short workouts are easier to orchestrate and harder to miss.  You don’t need a lot of space or a gym to do some quick calisthenics.  You might not have time to go out for a three-hour bike ride, but you can ride your bike to the store for groceries.  You might not have immediate access to a good place to go for a forty-minute walk, whereas if you’re just getting out for five or ten minutes, you could do laps around the block, down to the corner store and back, around the parking lot, around the building — lots of options.  Likewise, if you get to the end of the day and still haven’t exercised like you hoped, you probably can’t cause an extra hour to be added to your day, but you could squeeze in a ten minute walk or a stack of push-ups and sit-ups.

#5 You can always go longer.  If you think the toddler’s going to mutiny after ten minutes but she’s still happy as a clam, you can keep on strolling.  If you thought you’d be exhausted after just your short circuit because you’re a weakling that way, but actually you feel great, you can add on more time.

#6 You can test the waters. Sometimes you feel sluggish because you’re getting sick and need to rest, and other times you feel sluggish because you need to get up and move around and clear your head.  If you go out for a short walk and it makes you feel better, you can keep on going or else make a note to do a more vigorous workout later in the day.  If you go out for what would normally be a refreshing short walk and instead you feel like you’re made of lead, you know you really should take a rest day.

#7 Short workouts keep you fit for bigger, better days.  If you have a sport you like to practice on weekends or vacations or with the team once a week, fitting in small workouts during your “off” days maintains a level of fitness for your sport that can help prevent injuries and improve your performance.  If you are currently dealing with a health or personal situation that prevents you from exercising the way you’d like to, small workouts now provide a base for safely ramping up to bigger things when the time finally comes.  If your life is always erratic, working out in small ways when opportunities are scarce allows you to take the most advantage of the odd spurt when you can do more.

#8 Short workouts work well with injuries.  You might not be able to put miles and miles on your bad knee, but maybe you could still do a lap or two — some walking is better for bone density and posture and heart health than no walking.  You might not be sure how to exercise for an hour without aggravating your back, your shoulder, and your spider bite, but you might be able to think up ten minutes worth of exercises that don’t make anything worse.

#9 Short workouts every day mean fewer days with no exercise.  Let’s say you pencil in two big workouts a week.  If you blow those days, they’re gone.  You might not have two other days when you can set aside that much time.  If your plan, in contrast, is several short workouts each day, if you don’t make your full goal for the day, you might still make half your goal.  If yesterday was a bust because you had that horrid cold that’s going around and also you were trapped in the cellar waiting out a tornado, today you can still get something done because you aren’t scheduling all-or-nothing exercise days.

#10 Short workouts don’t sabotage bigger workouts.  If your normal routine includes long, intense physical exercise, you aren’t going to blow yourself out by taking a quick walk around the block.  If you ride your bike three miles to work because you think you’re going to have to stay late and not be able to go on a real ride, and then the client reschedules and thus you can get your big ride in, those three miles aren’t going to prevent you from riding the other forty.  50 sit-ups this morning aren’t going to prevent you from finishing your whole CrossFit routine this evening, if it turns out you can get to the gym after all.

If you’re getting a lot of exercise, keep on doing that.  But if you are getting zero exercise, try aiming for an amount you can definitely accomplish.  You can always add more.

File:Promenade plantée, Paris August 2009 (20).jpg

Photo by Jean-Louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE (coulée verte (PARIS, FR75)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How to Get Your Young Athlete to Sunday Mass

I’m not a fan of sports on Sundays.  I’d like to stay home, go to Mass at my local parish, then spend the day relaxing with friends.  Instead, I’ll be at a tournament this weekend, watching one of my top favorite athletes in the world do her thing.  Also, she and I will be going to Mass.  If you’ve ever had a child involved in competitive sports, you know that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Should You Even Be Playing on Sundays?

There are two questions every Catholic parent of an athlete ought to ask:

  1. Should we, as Catholics, even be participating in Sunday sports?
  2. Should my child in particular be involved in such sports?

The first question has been answered, for the moment, by silence and logic: I’ve never heard any priest or bishop forbid the faithful to watch the Olympics, professional football, or any other sport.  These activities take place on Sundays, and furthermore they require a decade or decades of training that involves, almost invariably, playing or practicing on Sundays.  If it’s moral to participate as a spectator, it’s moral to participate as an athlete — you can’t have one without the other.

That said, if at some point the Church should study the matter and determine that it is in fact immoral to play sports on Sundays, there we’ll be.  (I don’t mean kickball at home with your friends.  I mean the kind that dramatically interrupts church and rest for all involved.)  Until then, we have a conditional green light to play on.

So long as Question #1 remains a tentative yes, Question #2 is up to you as the parent to discern: There are many good reasons not to play sports on Sundays.  Some of those reasons may well apply to you.  Discern thoughtfully.

Plan Ahead. Way Ahead.

Let’s imagine that for some good reason you’ve determined that your child ought to participate in a sport that plays or practices on Sundays.  I hope if you had another option (a team with Saturday games only, for example) you took it.  But say this was your only realistic choice:  How do you make sure you’ll still get to Mass?

Answer: Talk to the coach before you sign up with the team.

Sooner or later, you are going to find yourself in a corner.  You’ll be playing in some town that only has Mass the same hour your child is scheduled to compete.  Your coach needs to know before you join the team that if push comes to shove, your player will be at Mass.

At that point, the coach might let you know that you should look for another team.  So be it.  It’s one thing to stretch the very limits of our freedom as Catholics; it’s another to abandon the faith altogether.  But chances are your coach will be willing to accommodate you, if you hold up your end of a fair deal.  What does that look like?

Don’t Be Obnoxious

You don’t have to make a big scene to the other families on the team about what amazingly holy people you are.  Come on: You’re playing sports on a Sunday, not fasting in the Adoration chapel.  You aren’t that holy.  Put together a list of parishes within striking distance and all their Mass times.  Then, when you get a break in the schedule, quietly head down the road to church.

Go to the first-available Mass opportunity you get.  You don’t want to miss your one chance to get to Mass free and clear, only to have to hurt the team later by skipping out on a game.

If you have more than one child playing at the same event but with different play times, ask around and find out if there are any other Catholic families also trying to get to Mass.  If your children’s breaks should line up just wrong, sending one child with another (trusted) family may be the only way you can get all children to Mass.

If you know you’ll have to skip a game, talk to the coach.  Have your list of Mass times laid out in a way that’s easy to understand, and let your coach pick which game your child should miss.

Be willing to accept any consequences that go with missing a game.  Charitably assume your coach has good reasons for having to bench your child if you miss a game.  If you don’t trust your coach’s decisions, look for a different team.

Be Ready to Do the Unreasonable

When you make your list of potential Mass times and locations, include every possible option, even if some of them are just horrible.  So you have to spend three hours on dirt roads getting to and from the Ancient Slobovian 10 pm Mass on your way home after a long weekend? If it’s a safe possibility, the fact that you’ll be inconvenienced is beside the point.  If you want convenience, competitive athletics is not for you.

There can be times when there is no safe way to get to Mass.  Weird things happen. In the winter you might, for example, be playing at a venue that is on well-maintained roads just off the interstate, but the nearest Catholic parishes are deep in the hinterlands with long stretches of dangerous ice patches.  Likewise, don’t be on the road later than you can safely stay awake to drive.  It’s better to skip a game and go to Mass during the day than to risk your life taking one for the team.  

But if there is a way to get to Mass without missing any games, take that option even if isn’t your favorite choice.  Don’t put the team dinner, touring around, or a relaxing morning at the hotel ahead of your obligation to attend a Sunday Mass.  Save your miss-a-game cards for when you really need them.

The How-To’s of Finding a Mass

  1. Look up your event location, then search Masstimes.org for nearby parishes.  If your hotel is in a different area, look for parishes near your hotel as well.
  2. If you will be traveling home on Sunday, look up parishes along your route home in addition to those near the event.
  3. Click through to the parish websites, and confirm that the Mass schedule is up to date.  Watch out for holiday schedules in particular, as Mass times can get irregular.
  4. Make yourself a list of parishes and their Mass schedules.
  5. Either include each church’s address in your list so you can get directions on the fly, or print out directions from the venue or your hotel (or both — whichever you are most likely to be leaving in order to attend Mass).

If you know the tournament schedule in advance, you might be able to pick out which Mass you’ll be attending ahead of time.  Otherwise, watch for an opening as the weekend unfolds.  When you get a chance head to Mass, out you go!

 

File:Karol Wojtyla-splyw.jpg
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]. Some guy who liked sports. Click through for details.
Related Links:

Come to Mass Ugly, Please

Is the Mass Just Like Everywhere Else?

Three Ingredients for Parental Sanity in Kids’ Competitive Sports

Sabbath 101: Giving Up the Work Habit (I know! I wrote that!  And I still believe it, even if my life interferes.)

What Happens When You Go Out to Eat on Sundays (So do what you can to minimize your impact, however imperfectly you pull it off.)

 

Copyright Jennifer Fitz 2017.  If you would like to reprint this article for your parish or diocesan publication, you may.  Please credit the original link.

How to Make the Best March for Life Signs Ever

If you’re going to the March for Life, local or national, you are going to end up with a sign.  If you don’t bring one, helpful people will give you one, and then you’ll have to carry it.  Or you could go ahead and make the best sign ever: It’s lightweight, compact, easy to carry, and will keep you warm if the weather behaves like January tends to behave.

Bonus: It isn’t any more difficult to make than a regular posterboard sign.

Fleece March for Life Banner Instructions

What you’ll need:

Approximately one yard of fleece fabric.  If you have an old blanket you want to re-purpose, that works too.  Err on the side of choosing a solid color unless you’re really good at visual design.

Fabric paint and stencils, or some other way to write your slogan on your banner.  Go with something that will contrast with your fabric.

A length of rope a foot or two longer than the width of your fabric.  A walking stick would work, too.

Needle & thread, a sewing machine, or a bunch of safety pins.

 

Step 1: Think up your slogan.  Since your banner will roll up into a teeny tiny slot in your scarf stash, you’ll use it again in future years. So pick something simple and enduring.  Yes: “Don’t Kill Innocent People.”  No: “Please Pass Prop 37 on July 16th, 2012.”  My then-six-year-old came up with Abortion is Bad for our local March, but half a decade later the girls chose the much more subtle Babies are People when we went to the big March in DC.  I Regret My Abortion and Suicide is Never the Answer are good ones too.

Step 2: Hem or pin your fabric.  Lay out your rectangle of fleece, then fold over the top edge of the future sign.  Stitch or pin the folded-over edge so that you have a slot for your length of rope or stick.  Tip: If you’re using rope, it’s a pain to work it through the slot after you’ve stitched.  Go ahead and lay it in place before you sew.

Step 3: Add your slogan.  If it’s easier (depending on how you are attaching your letters) you can do the slogan before you sew up the slot for the stick, but pre-plan so you don’t end up with your slogan cut off.  You can see below we ended up precariously close to the hem.

Step 4: There is no step four.  This is a very easy project.

You can improve on the original design by not making it at the last minute the night before you march. Everyone loves house guests who bring along unannounced DIY projects.

Using Your Banner

While you are marching, sign-holding children (or adults, if you must) stand on either side of the banner and hold the ends of the rope.  Note that if you have many small children to keep track of, you can make a longer rope and they can all hold on and make a train.  You can tie a hand loop in either end; if your hands are full, you can use a carabiner to clip your end to your belt loop, backpack, stroller, etc.  If you used polyester fleece, you’ve got an extremely lightweight sign that doesn’t blow you over like a shipwreck if the wind gusts.

If you get tired of carrying the signdrape it over your shoulders like a cape, stash it in the baby’s stroller, or stuff it in your backpack.  It’s lightweight and compact.

If you get cold, wrap up in your sign for warmth.

If you have to sit on the ground during 5,000 speeches, your sign is also a blanket.

If the baby is breastfeeding, you can use the sign to cover that dreadful gap by your waist you failed to anticipate, and which does not feel invigorating outside in the cold in January.

If the kids are boredthey can do parachute games with the sign.

If your preschooler’s head keeps bonking against the window as he falls asleep on the way homefold it up and wedge it between his head and shoulder.  (Remove the rope first, thanks.)

If your house is so small you have no place to store your sign from year to year:

  • Keep it in the car as a lap blanket in the winter and to cover your steering wheel in the summer.
  • Hide it between your duvet cover and your quilt.
  • Fold it up and stuff it in a small pillowcase and use it as a pillow.
  • Hang it up in your living room to nip in the bud obnoxious political conversations.

You’re welcome!

Tip: Don’t argue with someone sporting one of these.

 

Should You Try to Lose Weight?

It’s resolution season, and for reasons I can’t explain, I keep ending up in conversations about weight loss.  It might be because we live in a society that sells an obsessive preoccupation with a particular standard of beauty to a populace notoriously unable to achieve that standard.  Hence a large number of us yearn to live up to an ideal we are nowhere close to meeting.

Thus: Unhappiness.

If you are one of the unhappy people trying to decide what to do with your body this year, here are my three thoughts.

#1 Work on Your Soul First

I don’t say ignore your body, see below.  But let’s remember what your body is: Your body is the way your soul expresses itself.  You are a body-soul sandwich, the two are inseparable, and thus if you don’t take care of your body (see below) you hamper the working of your soul.  But the soul directs the body.  The work of the body is to communicate the soul to the world.  Therefore, if you have a perfect body and a trashy soul, your body is just going to strew garbage.

You don’t want that.

As it happens, one of the means of caring for your soul involves caring for your body — the two are, after all, inextricably linked.  But if you have to choose between devoting your limited energy primarily to making yourself all shiny and buff on the outside or tending to the serious spiritual problems you’ve got going on inside, tend to the spirit first every time.  Do that and the body will start to follow along — it’s attached.

#2 Do You Really Need to Lose Weight?

There are two categories of people who think they need to lose weight:

(A) People who do not need to lose weight.

(B) People who do need to lose weight.

I have no idea which one you are.

If you took a poll of friends, relatives, and physicians, you’d probably get a variety of answers — even if you inhabit the very portly or very slender end of the spectrum.

To complicate matters even further, there are some people who determine they need to lose weight, so they change some aspect of their daily habits and thus succeed in achieving long-term weight loss.  (Examples: Rebecca, Erin, the other Jen F.) There are other people who follow the same exact steps that worked for so-and-so, with the same amount of diligence and self-denial, and do not achieve the same results. There are yet other people who try ten different things before they finally figure out the one that works.  There’s not much way of knowing which group you’d fall into.

Therefore, after you’ve done #1, I recommend skipping straight to #3, which will hold you in good stead and save you all kinds of anxiety in the meantime:

#3 Work on Being Healthy and I Mean That For Serious

I am not your girlfriend who always says “supportive” things.  I am your mother who cares about your well-being, and who is also ready to barge in and claim your rights for you:

You deserve to be as healthy as you can reasonably be.

Now there are a lot of horrible things going on in your life that are getting in the way of that.  People steal your protein bars and stuff your cabinets with sugar-coated Doritos.  Your boss threatened to fire you if he caught you exercising.  You have an evil fat-producing tumor in your rear.  You’re allergic to fresh air, sunlight, and all vegetables.

I exaggerate, but I don’t kid.  We all have things we cannot control, and other things that are hard to control, that make it more difficult for us to take care of ourselves the way we ought.  We all have things that genuinely prevent us from being able to make ourselves as healthy as we’d like.

So accept right now that you might not be able to be as healthy as you want to be.  Furthermore, accept that being as healthy as you can be is going to require overcoming some significant obstacles.

But don’t, therefore, cheat yourself of that which you both deserve and can realistically have.

It isn’t, after all, just about you.  By taking care of your body as well as you are able, you allow your soul to work as well as it is able. And that means you are able to do good things for other people.

***

Spare notes for people who don’t have a clue where to begin:

I’m loathe to make specific prescriptions on what as healthy as you can be will look like for you.  I’m not your doctor, and anyway doctors disagree on what the best course of nutrition, exercise, and so forth looks like.  But if you know things are not well with your body and you aren’t sure where to start, here are my three thoughts on how to make a beginning.

Visit your doctor.  There are a lot of health problems, piles and piles of them, that can cause fatigue, weight gain, lethargy, depression, exercise intolerance, etc., etc., etc.  There’s no sense beating yourself up because you can’t achieve xyz health or fitness goal when it turns out all along you needed to be treated for an underlying medical condition if you were ever going to make a go of it.

Pick a middle-of-the-road book on health and nutrition that’s not about dieting, and is about eating real foods.  Two that get good recommendations by a broad cross-section of motivated-but-beleaguered readers are The Perfect Health Diet and The Wahls Protocol.  I don’t say these books will be exactly what you need forever and ever amen.  You may find you need to blatantly ignore some of the advice.  But if you are currently living on Frosted Flakes and haven’t got a clue whatsoever, both of these sit midway among various approaches to health and nutrition, and provide a starting point from which you could then make adjustments.  There are other similarly good books you might like better, I just haven’t read them.

Readers, if there’s a book or website you’ve found helpful in showing you how to realistically improve your health, please share over at the Facebook discussion group for this blog.

Start somewhere, and then adjust and improve bit by bit.  Maybe you’ll be one of those people who gets instant, perfect results with the first thing you try.  Congratulations and please hush your mouth.  Most people have to do some experimenting to find out what works well for making their bodies as healthy as possible.  Your body is unlike any other, and your life is unlike any other, so the only way to take care of yourself is to just keep trying to take care of yourself.

But regardless of how you proceed, here’s your message for the coming year: God doesn’t make garbage.

He didn’t make you to be treated like garbage.

He made you to be loved and cherished.  When He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He necessarily implied that if you don’t love yourself, you aren’t going to be any good at loving your neighbor either.  Taking care of your body is a way that you serve God.

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Artwork: Joseph Keppler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  That’s a “P” in the word Puck, just FYI.

The Physiology of Fasting and other Penitential Links

Link #1 The Physiology of Fasting

Late last Lent an Orthodox friend and I were whining about how much we hate fasting.  There are people in this world who don’t have much appetite, and he and I are not those people.  Furthermore, at his parish he knows these guys who fast for days and days during Holy Week, and hold up just fine.  We’re not talking St. Starvicus of the Empty, Empty Desert who lived on a weekly mouthful of bitter herbs in the second century. We’re talking about flesh-and-blood normal guys with day jobs in modern America.

How do they do it?  We had a number of theories, and mine were all wrong.

Not too long into Easter (happy happy feast feast) I stumbled on a website run by a physician whose practice includes overseeing a lot of clients who fast extensively for health reasons (primarily in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, as it happens).  Dr. Jason Fung is a normal (secular, slightly potty-mouthed) Canadian-guy MD with normal-people clients and a lot to say on how fasting affects your body, and why our non-eating Orthodox friends are experiencing something radically different when they fast than that misery you feel on Ash Wednesday when you eat one regular meal and two small snacks.

–> I have no opinion on whether or how you should fast, other than that you should mind the Precepts of the Church and also common sense regarding your own health and state of life.  But if you are bored, here’s a site with the answer to the question of What’s with those people who don’t eat for days on end?

Here’s the archives of the entire “Fasting” category on his website.

Here’s page 1, if you want to start at the beginning.

I mention it now during Advent because if you want to run pre-Lent experiments on yourself, now’s the time.

Link #2 Vader Did You Know?

A profound thank you to Jane Lebak for sharing this link.  Sometimes a song is so bad that the only good use for it is turning it into a Star Wars plot summary.

#3: Not a link, just a PSA

Dear Adults Who Edit Hymnals,

Did you know that young people are linguistically competent?  You might have noticed the way they are constantly making up words and phrases that confound you to pieces.  This is because they are able to learn languages, even English.

Therefore, it is not necessary to wipe every use of the word “Thou” from your hymnal.  People under the age of 150 are able to learn new words, just like people in previous eras were able to learn new words like “telegraph” and “wireless” and eventually even “social security check.”

Also, you look very stupid when you “fix” a hymn for us by making it grammatically incoherent in the effort to remove verbs ending in “est.”  So perhaps you are not able to master the English language. But the rest of us can pick it up pretty well, thanks.

Sincerely,

Jennifer  <– So done with offering it up.  Just done.  Get me to confession, please.

Link #4: My Classic Collection of Advent Links

When I moved the blog to the new location, I didn’t pull over the entire old sidebar.  FYI the new sidebar has lots of good stuff, including a freshly-harvested crop of internet reading now that I’m back to goofing off on the internet.  But if you’re looking for the annual collection of Old Reliable Advent Links, here they are:

This is not the year I grow the list, but look, when I searched Wikimedia for “Advent” this slightly-wrinkled manuscript page from the “O Antiophons” category popped right up:

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Artwork courtesy of Benedictine monastery of Podlažice [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Thomas Becket, Pray for Us! (Post-Election Thoughts from Me & Other Smarter People)

When I saw this photo of President Obama and President-elect Trump shaking hands [click the link, it’s not public domain], this was my reaction:

They look like men shaking hands at a funeral.  And I mean that in a good way.

It is possible to undertake an unpleasant task with both seriousness and good grace.

Here’s another photo that is public domain, from the same meeting.  If President Obama can be cheerful, surely we can put off our gloom?

Obama meeting with Trump, both men in good humor
A more cheerful moment – as one also sees at funerals. By Jesusemen Oni / VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Erin Arlinghaus writes here about the difficulty of making the post-election adjustment after actively campaigning against Trump. Readers will recall that I was ardently 3rd party (Any party but these!! Please!) and wrote both here and at Patheos about why one should not vote for Donald Trump.  I have not changed my mind.

My initial reactions Wednesday morning were threefold, and fourth quickly followed:

  • I was astonished that Donald Trump had won.  Truly astonished.
  • I felt great relief knowing we would not, therefore, be experiencing a Clinton presidency.  I was surprised at how strong my sense of relief was, when I had essentially accepted that reality as what we were going to get.
  • I was consoled that at least we could now hope for a working fourth estate.  Please, ladies and gentlemen of the press, do your work.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by reports of the sobriety with which Mr. Trump transitioned into office-elect.

My thoughts immediately turned to another politician who did what was needful when the moment came:

It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took “Thomas of London”, as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry’s wide dominions.

. . . Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy.

. . . A great change took place in the saint’s way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected.

St. Thomas Becket proceeded to exasperate his friend the king at every turn by the unexpected seriousness with which he took on his new office.  That exasperation eventually led to the saint’s martyrdom.

Donald Trump could surprise us just as wonderfully.  Pray that he will — though without the martyrdom, Lord willing.

 

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The murder of Thomas Becket, from a manuscript circa 1200, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Related:

Brandon at Siris on the implications of protesting a free and fair election:

But the anti-Trump protests people are having in various cities are annoying me. Are they protests of specific voting injustices? No. The protesters are protesting voting itself. I have no sympathy whatsoever for this. It is, frankly, revolting, as if the United States were some tinpot fresh-from-dictatorship little country, without any sense of due process or the importance of elections, both essential to American honor. Good-faith negotiation is one of the key principles of a free society; and if you have a problem with the fact that you can be outvoted by people whose views are distant from your own, protesting the fact now is a sign that your participation in the election was not in good faith.

Jim Curley at Bethune Catholic as usual sums up what I do think (and when not that, what I *should* think):

In other words, (my interpretation), if we as a people live our lives correctly, the country will be taken care of, including having good choices at the ballot box.

 

What we had this year is the two major candidates who reflect who we are and how we live as a people. Think on that for a bit. Angry, immoral (or amoral), bigoted, sexually immature, animalistic, liars, and cheaters.

 

. . .  we will go a long way for the future of the country if we as citizens reform our own lives.

 

One other (final) point. I have gotten many emails throughout the election season saying I need to vote for Trump because this priest or that priest gave a homily or talk saying so. (“Hilary is evil, Trump is just bad”). The problem is that politics is mostly in the realm of the laity. We should follow guidelines on voting from the Church, but how to play the political game is the laity’s. So many people hid behind the cassocks of clergy to justify a vote for Trump. I still don’t believe there was any justification. I hope I am wrong.

And here’s what I said to my good friend and colleague Kathy Schiffer, who endorsed Trump (So wrong! But I love you anyway!), in discussing the election results:

One thing I *won’t* do is attack a politician for something that’s not actually happening.

It’s one thing to inform yourself in an election based on past behavior. But I won’t be slinging criticisms for the dark joy of it. If he wants my disapproval of his presidency, he’ll have to earn it 🙂.

May our president-elect marvel us with unexpected wisdom, diplomacy, and integrity.

***

My main response to the post-election riots and Calexit is in the form of a bit of satire over at Patheos.  It upset some people; if you don’t like dark humor, please read some other blogger. To keep abreast of my list of recommended reading, follow either my @JenFitz_Reads account on Twitter or the corresponding (and essentially identical) JenFitzWrites page on Facebook.  I nearly never converse at those locations, but I do feed a lot of interesting reading, both from my feed reader and links other people suggest.

For civilized conversation on all the dark and heated topics I cover on both blogs (and the odd pleasant topic as well), the place to look is my blog discussion group on Facebook. I am not always there, but if I’m active online, I look when in I can.  Readers are welcome to post non-spam links of interest and converse without me, that’s the point of the group.

You can find links to all these places in this blog’s sidebar.  If you turn off your ad-blocker, you can also find out who sponsors the Catholic Conspiracy and consider giving them a bit of your business this holiday season. We never post annoying pop-up ads, so it’s safe. The mix varies, but at this very moment the three sponsors showing are the Shrine of St. Anthony, Rugged Rosaries, and a service that provides profanity-free movies.  Thank you to these and all our supporters who keep this blog on the air!

Life and Death Decisions Made Beneath the Pedestal

The other week when I posted my rant-o-rama about the misuse of the label “amazing,” John Hathaway went right to work at the blog discussion group pulling out of me the what’s really going on here??  We managed to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and below I’m going to explain what I think is the biggest, most deadly part of going around thinking other people are “amazing.”

But first, a few side issues that deserve some resolution:

  • We quickly agreed on the usual explanation for surly bloggers: I was being cranky.
  • I do concede that the word “amazing” has shifted to take on a second, diluted meaning of generally “nice” or “good.” I’ll spare you a long talk about how we already had words that meant those things.  (To wit: nice and good are still around.)
  • Furthermore, I generally don’t care if other people have the odd shoddy linguistic habit — don’t we all?  If you’re itching for a fight, you’ll get more fervor out of me if you bring up the Oxford Comma.

(Yes!  Even though I am a convicted comma abuser!  We pundits would have nothing to do all day if we sat around waiting for our holiness to arrive before we opened our mouths.)

Now, on to the Pedestal of Death.

Superman is Amazing

Let’s talk about Superman.  He stops speeding bullets.  He leaps tall buildings in a single bound.  He’s the guy you look for when you need something done that ordinary people just can’t do.  He’s called “amazing” because he does things you and I never could.

Ordinary people of course are “amazing” in the sense that we are each the precious and intricate handiwork of God.  Spend half an hour learning about the things we’ve discovered to date about, say, the way a human nerve cell functions, and you’ll be rightly amazed.  Furthermore, our loved ones bring all kinds of invaluable gifts to the world simply by being themselves.  Despite my cantankerous headline the other day, your children are in fact amazing even when all they’re doing is drooling over their baby food.  There’s that.

But sometimes we call someone “amazing” not out of simple wonder at the marvel of human worth and dignity, but more in the Superman-sense of amazing.  We have gotten to where certain classes of people who happen to be doing hard things are given the Superman label.

Doing this isn’t just over-enthusiasm.  Such labeling actually causes humans to die.

Hard Things Don’t Require Superman

Life is hard.  Humans — all of us — are called to do hard things.

When somebody is dealing with some tremendous difficulty, they aren’t being Superman. They are experiencing human life.

Lately though, our society has gotten that idea that difficulties are only for Very Special People.  We consider suffering to be the sole province of amazing superheros, and do all that we can to excuse everyone else — people who are “like us.”

If you have a baby with an adverse prenatal diagnosis and you don’t choose to abort that baby, people call you “amazing.”  Only special superhero people can do that; ordinary people would have to abort, because they just can’t take it the way Amazing SuperParents can.

Thus it follows that if you happen to be raising a child with a serious illness or disability, or you happen to be such a person yourself, surely you are “amazing” for experiencing such a life.

If you reach a point where your family member’s illness or disability becomes overwhelming, you’re “amazing” if you continue to care for that person rather than opting to go ahead and put the sufferer to death.  If you yourself are the one directly suffering and you choose not to commit suicide, again you are “amazing” for enduring what “ordinary” people just couldn’t do.

No! No! No!

Not Killing Innocent People is an Ordinary Person’s Job

There’s just nothing “amazing” about not committing murder.  Ordinary old you is a person who is called to man-up and do your best to muddle through difficult circumstances.

Some people endure their hardships with admirable fortitude and good grace, while others of us aren’t winning any prizes for Sufferer of the Year.  But all of us, by mere dint of our humanity, should anticipate the time when we, too, will bear our share of hardship.  We don’t have to seek it out; it will find us.

When it comes, we will not be Amazing Supermen.  We’ll feel the sting of the bullet and the penetrating wound and the leaking of life from our bodies in an unstoppable river of blood.  Suffering hurts.  Suffering is difficult.  Suffering eventually robs you of this mortal life.

Death by Admiration

The going expression is that if you put someone on a pedestal you’ll see their clay feet, but I don’t think that’s the gravest risk anymore. Anymore, the pedestal is where we put people we want to admire from a safe distance.  If you keep far enough back from someone who’s working through a difficult part of life, and you squint so you don’t see the messy parts, you can convince yourself you’re looking at Superman.

You can say to yourself, “I could never do that.  I’m not Superman like that person is.”

You can say to other people, “I don’t expect you to do that difficult thing, because if you’re not Superman it’ll be just too hard for you.”

You can say, “Well, they are the ones who chose not to abort or euthanize — if they’re having a hard time, it’s not my fault they tried to act like Superman.”

These are lies.  The people you know who are doing hard things right now? They are ordinary people.

If you admire someone’s fortitude or good grace, don’t say, “Wow you are so amazing!” as if your friend were from another planet, possessing super-human attributes.  Rather, say, “Wow. When my time comes to face some similar trial, I hope I’ll have learned enough from your example to be able to do you proud.”

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By Matrakci Nasuh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What Happens When You Go Out to Eat on Sundays

Before we begin, let’s clear something up: Sometimes I go out to eat on Sundays.  Credible witnesses can attest to this fact.

***

A friend recently shared St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy).   It’s a long, rich exploration of the what’s and why’s of Sundays, so naturally I just skimmed it and made a note to come back later and read it more carefully.  But I link to it now because I’ve been meaning to write about the restaurant problem since last summer.  Here are some pertinent quotes:

65. By contrast, the link between the Lord’s Day and the day of rest in civil society has a meaning and importance which go beyond the distinctly Christian point of view. The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something “sacred”, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God. . . .

66. Finally, it should not be forgotten that even in our own day work is very oppressive for many people, either because of miserable working conditions and long hours — especially in the poorer regions of the world — or because of the persistence in economically more developed societies of too many cases of injustice and exploitation of man by man. When, through the centuries, she has made laws concerning Sunday rest, (109) the Church has had in mind above all the work of servants and workers, certainly not because this work was any less worthy when compared to the spiritual requirements of Sunday observance, but rather because it needed greater regulation to lighten its burden and thus enable everyone to keep the Lord’s Day holy. In this matter, my predecessor Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Rerum Novarum spoke of Sunday rest as a worker’s right which the State must guarantee. (110)

FYI, Rerum Novarum is no commie pinko manifesto.  Actually it’s an anti-communist manifesto.  [And some other things, too.] Go read it sometime, it’s really fun.  If you’re local, you can bait me into a conversation (bring the text, please) basically any time you want.

Anyway, the point for today is that Sunday rest, worship, and Christian fellowship are so important it just keeps coming up and coming up century, after century, after century.  It’s like the Church just. won’t. shut-up. about it.

So let me tell you about my kid.

Woohoo! Gainful Employment!

I have this boy who can cook really well.  Just last night I came home with a tray of chicken, pointed him to the grill, and he caused there to be dinner an hour later.  So last summer we sent him out to find a job, and yes we all considered it providential when he got hired by the local sandwich shop.  A few weeks of doing dishes and then on to cooking and he’s never left the kitchen.  He’s still working there and everyone’s happy.

When he interviewed, he said up front that he had to have Sunday mornings off.  Non-negotiable.  Since this place gets most of its traffic on weekdays, the boss was good with that.  But the restaurant is open Sundays, and so he does get assigned his share of Sunday afternoon-evening shifts.

As a result, he misses out on a lot of the Sunday-afternoon Christian fellowship activities that happen in our area.  He can’t do Sunday afternoon youth group events, and he ends up leaving early to get to work if a friend hosts, say, a relaxing family get-together.  We have some Christian friends with a pile of kids who are getting trained now to cut the birthday cake by 3pm so Mr. Boy can sing, eat, and run.  Everyone else can stick around for hours of heavenly conversation and camaraderie, exactly like St. John Paul II writes about, but the boy gets to go to work.

How Do You Use Your Servants?

The reason he gets to go work is because other people want to eat.

People need to eat.  Every single day, even multiple times a day.  There are situations in which people have good reasons to need to hire someone to prepare food for them on a Sunday, and many more situations in which people have good reasons to want someone to prepare that food.

There are other services we likewise avail ourselves of on a Sunday, for various good reasons.  I do this.  You’re not the only one.

When we do this, it causes the people we hire to work for us to lose a bit of their Sunday.

This is an Evangelization Problem

There are people like my boy who aren’t under a ton of pressure.  Sunday is not a high-traffic day for his restaurant.  He is only working part-time, and if he were fired for not being available when the boss wanted him, he’d still have his parents at home gainfully employed.  He’s not supporting himself, let alone a family, on this job.

Other people aren’t so lucky.  If they are Catholic, they end up scrambling just to find an hour to run into Mass sometime during the weekend.  If they aren’t Catholic and you tried to invite them to join you for Mass, or RCIA, or that fun thing you do on Sundays, they’d chuckle-cough and say, “Yeah. Sure.  I’ll let you know when I get an opening.”

It is extremely difficult to evangelize someone who literally cannot go to church.

You Only Control a Slice of the Problem

There are parts of this problem that you can’t control.  Some services (medical, police) are non-negotiables.  Unless you’re in charge of the hospital or what have you, you don’t decide what the shifts will look like; unless you’re in charge of the parish, you don’t decide whether Mass times will line up with the local police and hospital and pharmacy shifts.

If that’s not your responsibility, it just isn’t.

Likewise, you probably don’t set restaurant hours.  You’re not the one who decided to keep the amusement park open until midnight and then re-open at 8AM.  To a certain extent, you can’t control whether the worker-bees get an opening for Mass or not.

But you do control a small slice.

When you make the decision to go out to lunch after Mass, you are making the decision that two or three people will report to work a couple hours before you arrive, and they’ll stay on a couple hours after you leave.  What does that do to their day?

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Photo: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Movies for Grown-Ups: Room

People will tell you that this or that deplorable book or show or song requires depraved content in order to explore “mature” themes.

So here’s a tip: Watch the film Room.  (Wikipedia has the full plot synopsis here.)  It’s the story of a teenage girl whose kidnapper keeps her in a storage shed for years, and visits nightly to rape her.  We meet her as the twenty-something mother of a five-year-old son, still locked in that shed and now raising her child in captivity.  Movie topics don’t get a whole lot darker than that.

Do not watch this film when your little kids are home.  (Do watch it with your teenagers – parental guidance required).

But guess what?  In the hands of a good director, you can swim deep into some very nasty, brutal crimes without anything of the gratuitous voyeurism that so many lazy producers lather on like cupcake frosting.   You can have your (plot-essential) rape scene without actually having to watch someone get raped.  You can show terror, desperation, and suicidal depression without morbid violence. The very light touch on the use of foul language is a textbook case study in when and how such words might properly belong in a script.

***

In addition to being a study in How to Handle Extremely Dark Topics, the film is also, as any good film should be, about the true, beautiful and good.  If you are a writer, you should watch this film for its genius use of the breadth of the English language.  For any human, the very last lines of the film are stunning in their ability to sum up one of the greatest struggles of the human heart with piercing simplicity.

FYI – It was streaming for free on Amazon Prime when we watched it.

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Film poster via Wikimedia, used per fair use guidelines.