The Hermit Life: Saying Goodbye to February’s Darkness

I live, write and mother from “God’s County.” There’s even signage on our back road one-lane highways to prove it. Yes, I’m a cheese eating, Packers and Brewers cheering, God-fearing Wisconsin girl through and through. While I’ll likely never leave the great Badger state, here’s the thing: February in Wisconsin is the table by the kitchen in the darkest corner hell.

February and I are not friends. It’s been cold for too many consecutive weeks and people haven’t seen hide nor hair of a human being not covered in marshmallow shaped coats or fur skinned hoods since Christmas. The icing on top of that lovely cake is the fact that there’s only light for about 2 minutes a day in February.
This February my four-year-old assigned animals that have the same likeness to each of our family members. I was given bear.

“Why bear?” I asked.

“There are mama bears in stories that get mad when others bother their family. Plus, you like to sleep.” She said.

There’s a burn, four-year-old style.

My overly-observant daughter has a point. In fact, if I’m going to survive a Wisconsin winter it would ideally be spend hibernating with my bear cubs. Unfortunately, people don’t take well to shut-ins and society expects me to change the children out of their pajamas for Mass and company.

Therefore, until I’m rich and famous and can snow bird on out of here for 8 weeks every winter – February is about surviving.

I can’t imagine life without the four seasons. Plus, having the cold tundra of winter keeps many creepy-crawling bugs out of our state by a deep freeze that kills them all off once a year.

However, the pros just don’t outweigh the cons when it comes to a Wisconsin winter. By the time Lent rolls around every year I often feel like if there’s another doom and gloom day in my soul I just may roll over and play dead until spring. Things are always the worst at the darkest hour of the night (or in this case, year). Thankfully, hope rises with the March sun. There may be snow/sleet/rain and hail, but there’s hope.

Last weekend my husband and I took a late-winter trip to Door County, sans kids. We hiked through the freshly fallen snow and bare trees to a violent and spitting Lake Michigan.

The trees were heavy and bent with the wet, sticking snow of a late-season storm.

They were my peers, the bent trees. Hunched over, naked and frail from a winter of coldness and little light.

A tree doesn’t turn from its source of light as we humans do. Trees search for the light and chose to grow toward what they know sustains them. They grow heavenward. In the cold bitterness of the darkest times they may bend downward but they survive because spring will come and they will bloom again.

With gratitude, I too know the story doesn’t end in February. Just when so many of my branches are on the brink of snapping, Lent comes and the pain is reigned in and re-focused heavenward. This carries me until the bloom of spring – when we are all resurrected.

This winter I’ve put my hermit like behavior to good use. You may have noticed my absence in the social media words. It’s been deliberate. When I’m not changing a diaper or crying into the reproducing laundry pile I’ve been wading knee-deep through the messy dream of writing a book with my dear friend and fellow writer/speaker Woman at the Inkwell. It’s funny how our dreams tend to bend us ever so slightly and look a bit messy.

It’s March and I’m ready to do just that, march forth. God willing, beauty will bloom in the chaos. At least it will be spring, and there will be light.

Winter Trees, Door County, WI

Budget Woes: Is Vacation a Necessity?

With the start of another year, many are reflecting on personal and familial habits that may need to be re-examined. For families, the top slot on this list is often the family budget.

The budget tends to burst at the seams comes January. December can bring, “It’s a little much, but it’s such a perfect gift for —-,” and, “We can’t stick to the grocery budget, it’s the holidays and we’ve got things to bake/cook and memories to make.”

Every January we sit down with the budget and cut the fat. It’s not that difficult of a job. We know what we’re comfortable spending in each category and it’s easy to see where we are falling short. We look at the numbers and plan out the next year for our family. We think about each month and what our needs will be and everything runs smoothly – until we get to the summer months and one budget category jumps out.

That category: Vacation.

Should we take a family vacation?

No matter how much (or little) money there is, we’re frugal. It’s just how we live. What we have we save because we know there’ll be a time of need. There are student loans that could be paid or a home that could be saved for. Do we spend a large chunk of money over the course of one week in the summer?

The answer for this family is a resounding YES! For us, a vacation is a necessity and something that needs to be budgeted into our lives.

A few years ago my husband, who struggles with a chronic health issue, had a complication after a surgery and I had to rush him to the hospital. There was a serious question as to if he would live or die. I called a few friends to sit and pray with me as the doctors worked and I waited. During that time I didn’t think of our budget, the student loans or if I’d gone over on cell phone minutes. Instead, I was haunted by something my husband had recently shared with me,

“My favorite thing in this world is when we’re traveling and you all fall asleep in the van. I love to drive my sleeping family.”

This memory was interrupted when the doctors came to tell me they had found the problem and that my husband would make it. My friends smiled and looked at me for tears or leaps of joy.

There were tears, but the only thing I could think of to say was:

 “I want to go on vacation for our anniversary.”

Our favorite things are important, especially if they help bond us as a family unit. For us, it’s vacations. They are the thoughts that haunt us when we are reminded that this life is temporary and they are the first memories of our very young children.

There is something to be said about cramming five people into a mini-van and living out of a cooler for five days every summer – if it’s done together.

We’re not millionaires over here, so vacations mean other sacrifices throughout the year. We can do vacation on a dime. My husband and I even play “fun games and challenges” to help ensure vacation is possible for our family. You can make dinner for five out of a cooler for consecutive nights and those “free weekend if you take our timeshare tour” trips are actually really fun – and they serve lunch.

Taking his three daughters to Disney World is my husband’s dream. Old age isn’t likely for him, so I’m determined to make it happen sooner rather than later. We even have a code phrase for the dream in our home. “Someday, when we go to the Mouse’s House” we say as we dream while attempting to not tip off the children. It’s a bit early to share our dream with them. We’ll wait until the vacation category in the budget can grow. Until that time, vacation will always have a place in our budget, even if it is a small one.

Does your family have a “Mouse’s House” dream vacation? Does your family have a favorite vacation spot you want to recommend?

Vacation: taking time to climb rocks

Mind your Own Motherhood

If there’s one thing we have as women, its opinions. I’d like to issue a friendly reminder to Catholic wives and mothers that personal opinions on motherhood and issues of morality are two different things.

In other words: mind your own motherhood!

A holy mother has many faces, friends. She may wear different hats. They may be hats you don’t think look good on her.

A holy mother may not breastfeed, use cloth diapers or co-sleep. Or she may. A holy mother may make the baby cry it out. Or not. She may send six kids to public school or stay home full-time and home school one.

There are some popular phrases that some women have been using as weapons on fellow mothers:

“We are the first and primary educators of our children” is slug like mud at mothers who send children to school.

We are the first and primary educators of our children. Education is an important and private discernment process where God may reveal his will in differing ways.

“I could NEVER leave MY kids,” is casually said to mothers who leave the home for work, implying they love their children less than mothers who stay home.

That mother may not be able to leave her kids because she may be called to be home. This does not make her calling superior or her children “better off” then those of a mother who leaves.

I’ve recently been noticing an elitist attitude from stay-at-home (and some school-at -home) mothers in my life and in the media and blog world.

It is only “acceptable” for a mother to be called to work outside of the home if it is financially necessary for her family. When that time passes she can go home, where she “should” be.

Mother’s who leave the home to work even though she doesn’t need to financially may indeed be called to a mission in the world in addition to her vocation at home.

A holy mother may set her college degrees aside and stay home with her children full-time. She may make her husband lunch and have dinner ready when he returns home. A holy mother may have a husband who does laundry and cleans the kitchen.

A holy mother may work outside the home – whether or not her family needs the money.

A holy mother discerns her life putting her vocation as wife and mother first. Her discernment is between herself, her husband and the Lord. A holy mother will do so with a formed conscience. What she is called to is divinely perfect.

Who are we to question how and why God calls anyone, mother or not?

Our thoughts of each other are so disordered they’ve been exploited and are used as entertainment in the blogs and media sources.

Stop it! We’re making Christian motherhood look bad – as if we can’t handle our vocation. It’s embarrassing and shameful.

Mind your own motherhood.

Let’s stop tearing each other down and looking down our noses at those God has called to our same vocation. We’ve got the same goal, friends! Let’s serve each other in the absence of judgment with encouragement and support so we can best serve our vocations.

Mind your own motherhood. I’ll try to do the same.

Mama and bottle-fed baby

Are You a "Santa Family?"

We’re a “Santa” family. I understand the reasons behind some families choice to keep Santa out of their Christmas celebrations, but for us, it’s important to include him.

There is beauty in the “magic” of Santa. In the innocence in the heart of a child that can believe a man can make it around the world in just one night, solely to bless the lives of children everywhere. The story is appreciated and loved because of its wonder, sans the syndical and bitter questioning that sneaks its way into our hearts with age.

We use the Santa story to teach our children about the unconditional love that can be found in a gift that is given out of love, not earned like a sticker on a responsibility chart. Once a year, for just a few years, they will wake with the type of anticipation that only lives within a child. They’ll know that awaiting them under the Christmas tree decorated with holy cards will be humble presents, right next to the manger that’s present all through Advent. The gifts won’t be there because they have earned them or they deserve them, just because they are loved – similar to the baby Jesus who will be placed in the manger that sits under that Christmas tree.

Accepting unconditional love and unearned reward may be difficult later in their lives depending on their temperament. The “Santa years” are great practice for them to accept that they are loved just because. They are loved by us, by each other and ultimately, by Christ. They did nothing to earn this love, can do nothing to lose the love and need only accept it – like a gift on Christmas morning.

There is no “naughty” or “nice” list and Santa works in his workshop year-round making toys for boys and girls because St. Nicholas inspired him to be loving and kind to children out of the goodness of his heart.

There is no danger of our children learning one day about Santa and drawing a parallel to Christ –  thus dismissing the resurrection as a fable, myth or moral story. We talk about Santa from December 7th to December 25th every year. We talk about the baby Jesus everyday.

My biggest concern that comes along with being a “Santa family” is not a spiritual one. We’ve got three daughters in this home. Teaching them to sit on an old man’s lap, tell him their secret desires and then take candy from him doesn’t really coincide with what we generally teach our daughters about strange, odd looking older men! Then, on Christmas Eve, we’ll celebrate Jesus’ birthday and while we are sleeping he’ll sneak into our home and we’ll leave him a snack? It is rather amusing when you think about the details.

Seems my girls feel the same way, judging from the Santa pictures we’ve taken the past few years.

A blessed feast of St. Nicholas! May his goodness and generosity inspire our Advent and Christmas season in whatever way is best for our families.

Gold chocolate coins, an ornament to celebrate the year in the life of our family and a new book of stories of the Saints have appeared on our fireplace! 3 little gals are going to be so blessed by St. Nicholas’ visit in the morning.