First Things First

Years ago I read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Steven Covey.  I took away lots of great insight and advice from the book, but one analogy has stood out the strongest over all these years.  In short its message was “Put first things, first.”  I have tried to continually put it into practice and to pass this important lesson along to my kids.  Then, the opportunity presented itself for a tangible lesson and teaching opportunity.  And because of that teaching opportunity, I also gained material for a blog post.  So, win–win, right?

My kids have lots of toys and I try to organize them in a way that we can maintain a clean home, have space to play, and have access to games and toys without complete chaos in the wake.  One of the recent favorite toys to pull out and play with for hours and hours are the Playmobile sets, known as Mo-mobile sets in our home because that is how Daniel heard it called and it stuck.  image The problem with mo-mobile is there are lots, and I mean LOTS, of tiny pieces.  The best way to keep up with it all is to have one large storage bin for all three sets.  Everything is in one place and we don’t go insane trying to match up parts to specific sets.  (DISCLAIMER:  this does not include Samuel’s set.  All the pieces are in their precise designated location, kept in the original box in the top of his closet, off limits to all siblings.)  But, for the not-so-OCD-Mach children, the remaining sets are fit very well in one large bin–IF you put them in the bin in the proper order.  And here is where the teachable moment fits in.

My children, including Samuel, want to get the toys picked up with the least amount of effort.  Good.  Efficiency is good.  They will toss the pieces into the bin in no particular order, and finding that the lid will not fit on the bin, begin to push and cram the pieces hoping to get the desired results.  It never works.   Stephen Covey tells us in 7 Habits that we have to put the “big” stuff in first.  We have to put important things like prayer, marriage and parenting into life before we can add in the activities, the parties, or even work at times.  If we put the big things in first, all the little stuff will fit in much more easily.  The other night it was Joshua who was assigned to clean up the mo-mobiles.  In his rush he tossed the items into the bin, but couldn’t get the lid on.  With frustration and irritation in my voice, I said, “You’ve got to put the big stuff in first, Bud.”  He tried to scoop the small items to one side and slip in the largest house.  He even figured out how some pieces nested together to save space, but still the lid would not shut.  So, I got down on the floor and showed him how to do it.  image image image I removed the large pieces and set them to the side.  Then, I dumped all the pieces out onto the lid with only a few spilling onto the carpet.  I replaced the large pieces and lifting the lid, I carefully dumped all the little pieces into the bin.  In less than one minute they were all neatly in the bin, lid on, and slid into their home on the shelf.  His eyes were wide with amazement.  Not only did everything fit, it was easier and faster to do it that way.

The analogy was not lost on me and I hope it rooted deeply into Joshua’s heart as well.  It sometimes seems for me that time for prayer, relaxation, or any activity apart from hearth and home will not fit into my busy day.  I try stuffing it all in, but like toys that get lost or broken in the process, I too can become lost and broken.  I get in a hurry to get it all done and in the end nothing gets done well, if at all.  I put it off because the thought of fitting it all in is just overwhelming, but then I realize that I just need to focus on the big things first and take them one at a time.  When I finally set all the little things in my life to one side, I can see more clearly where the big things can fit in.  If I start my day with prayer, work on my relationship with my husband and kids, and focus on my main job of teaching; somehow I have a little time here to read a blog or two, a little time there to play a game, and another spot of time to work on growing my business (new venture, I’ll post details soon).  It all fits and it is easier and less stressful to boot.

Now, I just need to remember to put it into practice daily.  Old habits die hard.

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Magnetic Months

I am a planner.  Organizing is a hobby for me and gives me energy.  So, with the start of school came the excuse to organize and plan for the school year.  I have younger children that still are trying to understand the days of the weeks and months of the years.  They still confuse “yesterday” with any day before the current one, and “tomorrow” as any day that follows.  It just made sense to give them a visual understanding of when events will take place:  when Lauren will be home, when a birthday will be celebrated, when we go to church, etc.  I pulled out the trustworthy Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar only to discover that many of the numbers were missing and the magnets for activities did not cover our personal needs.

But, have no fear, I have a large magnetic dry erase board that serves as a command and teaching center for our entire home.  I decided that I would post one week at a time and label the month and year at the top.  In addition to our weekly activities, I like to plan the meals out as well.  This makes grocery shopping more efficient and it eliminates the end of day decision making for “What are we going to have for dinner?”  I didn’t want to waste the M&D magnets, so I reused them by putting stickers on top. aweek pic Sophia enjoyed putting small round stickers over the numbers and these became our new “marks” for our reward system.  amark pic We customized the other magnets by printing 1×1 pictures our favorite foods on labels.  I cut the labels to size and the kids covered the magnets.  I also just use blank labels and write in activities that seem to re-occur on a regular basis.

My older children are each responsible for planning and making a meal or snack.  The magnet system has worked well in helping them plan the meals out for the week and takes all the guess work out of meal times.  Another addition I have made is to incorporate the Liturgical Calendar.  I bought these stickers of feast days several years ago.  It took a little bit of work, but I placed the stickers onto magnetic paper and then cut them out.  Someone should really produce these as magnets! It really helps to tie our days together with the days of the Church and is another way to remind us why we are really here and where our journey is headed. afeast day pic Learning about the saints encourages us in our own journey and continually reminds us that God is an awesome God!

One last suggestion is to buy the magnetic paper and print directly to the magnetic paper.  I used labels and the wooden magnets from Melissa and Doug only because I already had them on hand.  Although, the thicker wooden magnets are easier to grip; the magnetic paper would eliminate several steps and is relatively inexpensive.

Happy organizing!

Fear, Science, and Nature

One of my favorite Catholic bloggers, Simcha Fisher, wrote a piece over at the National Catholic Register entitled “Science, Catholics, and Fear.”  It was published earlier this week and upon reading it I walked away unnerved, irritated and a little defensive.  I took a few days to chew it over and I even had an in-depth conversation about the article with my husband.  I wanted to be sure that my response came from a place of charity and humility and not from wounded pride.

I think my irritation with the written words was that they seemed to speak a bias against natural living and alternative medicine.  But, when I re-read the article I read that Simcha is speaking of the EXTREME focus of natural living and alternative medicine, people who deny the need for medicine altogether.  She may or may not have a bias towards western allopathic medicine.  She may or may not have a bias towards homeopathic or holistic medicine.  I can only go by her words in this article as I have never had the pleasure of speaking with her in person, especially not on this topic.  And when we speak of extremes in almost any circumstance, we can be sure the Church cautions us to be balanced, instructs us to seek counsel, and implores us to discern before making any decisions.

As one who has struggled with chronic illness and found help lacking within the medical realm, I felt led to explore other options, alternatives to western medicine in search of finding the truth about what ailed me.  I will admit to my skepticism of doctors.  It was not always so.  My biggest trial came with the birth of my eighth child when the doctor physically violated me while I was in labor.  I was in such shock at what she had done that I remained calm as I questioned her actions.  I fired her, but she refused to get another doctor.  We left the hospital and I had the baby within 15 minutes of arriving home, despite the doctor’s condescending announcement that I was not in labor.  It is a long story, but one that illustrates well how some doctors can and do use power to coerce vulnerable patients.  My next birth was watched over by a very caring and respectful doctor who saved my baby’s and my life.   So, this was a very real experience that taught me to be wary of extremes and of labeling an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.

Just as Simcha pointed out that there are extremists who deny all medicine and science as bad, there are extremists at the opposite end of the spectrum who are just as quick to deny the alternatives.  In fact I have found very few medical doctors who will even acknowledge natural remedies or alternatives.  It took me a long time to find an OB/GYN who would even allow me to use NFP without getting into a verbal duel over its effectiveness.  Those doctors that supported and encouraged NFP and did not prescribe bc pills were Catholic doctors who had been trained in NaPro Technology. But when I wanted to have a home birth, the wonderful Catholic doctor who supported my use of NFP and didn’t harass me to get my tubes tied, was adamantly opposed to home birth and could only give me generic reasons based upon fear in his defense against it.   He offered no valid reason why I should not have a home birth with that particular pregnancy.

I hesitate to even mention vaccinations.  It is such a controversial topic these days, but only because people feel like they have to take a stance for or against.  Extremes and fear rule the discussions on both sides of the debate.  Fear of toxins, autism, or other side effects keep people from vaccinating their children while fear of Polio, Chicken Pox, and Whooping Cough with possibilities of hospitalization or even death drive people to vaccinate for every possible disease.  I’m over simplifying the debate to be sure, but I firmly believe that each parent should make the decision for each child.  Parents should not be bullied by family, friends or health care providers in either direction.  Information, education and facts should be given, but not threats of firing you as a patient or calling CPS because you don’t agree.  Neither should the provider dismiss the importance of vaccinations without backing up their claims with scientific fact.

Interestingly enough, I have never felt pressure from the holistic health care providers.  My midwife answered any questions I posed to her, but she never tried to talk me into any decision.  Even when I was struggling to decide hospital vs. home, she simply answered with facts while my medical doctor denounced home birth as utterly dangerous with no supporting evidence as to why it would be a risk for my situation.  My Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, my Chiropractor, my midwife—none of these people has ever pressured me to make a decision, but they educate and encourage me to take responsibility for whatever decision I do make.  To me this is the greatest benefit to holistic medicine.  You form relationships with your caregivers.  They are not just looking at one part of you, the part that ails you, but all of you:  your whole body, your family, your spiritual journey.    To be fair I have found an excellent medical doctor who also treats me with this same respect and he refers to the afore-mentioned holistic providers.  He is the only medical doctor that I have met who is open to holistic medicine and combines the methods to treat his patients (other than my nephew who lives several states away).

But I digress, my point is that fear should never be a deciding factor as fear is not from God.   As I read the comments after Simcha’s blog post, I was saddened by the ignorant rants against natural remedies.  One person wrote of his cousin’s battle with cancer.  She had chosen a natural route and died.  His wife had cancer, chosen the medical route and survived.  He surmised that medicine saved his wife, while the natural route was the cause of his cousin’s death.  Another used Steven Jobs’ death as an example of failed natural treatment.  Used is the proper word here.  Why do we get to condemn someone’s personal decision for healthcare treatment?  Would we dare to scoff at someone who underwent chemo and months of radiation and lost the battle with cancer?  Would we claim that medicine doesn’t work?  If so, then shame on us!  Just because a natural remedy did not work for some, does not mean it doesn’t work at all.  On the same note, we should support and encourage each other to discern the path God chooses for us be it medial or natural, or a combination of the two.

There is a much greater bias in our society against natural medicine than there are extreme views against modern medicine.  I have faced it personally and continue to do so.  In fact, I was once guilty of the bias myself.  It stems from ignorance.  Denying the natural solutions is as much an affront against science as the denial of modern medicine.  Simcha expresses worry for the loss of our “science and reason” roots as Catholics. But, for thousands of years, herbs and nutrition were the first defense against disease.  Essential oils were used by the Egyptians.  Oils are mentioned over 200 times in the Bible.  A recent article spoke of the benefits of aromatherapy and Frankincense.  You don’t get much more Catholic than incense!  St. Hildegarde, a Benedictine cloistered nun was known as a healer and wrote volumes on the benefits of plants and herbs.  She is sited several times in the Essential Oils Reference book that I use for my own family.  The bias also stems from fear.  It takes faith and courage to step away from the main stream way of doing things and follow the path less traveled.  One of the greatest risks in looking at alternatives is not the risk of life, but the risk of losing our pride.  If I had not improved after venturing down this trail, people surely would have shaken their heads and scoffed at my failure.  If I had continued to spend thousands of dollars on drugs and medical specialists and failed to improve, people would have probably shaken their heads in pity and then pointed me to yet another doctor or medicine to try.  Even in death, allopathic medical limitations are rarely blamed, but accepted as the human limitations that they are.  I’m just asking that we give nature the same respect.  After all, modern medicine’s roots stem from nature.  Pun intended.

Power of Prayer: or Be Careful What You Pray For

“Be careful what you pray for,” Patrick said to me.  “I know.  I know.” I replied, “I am only asking that He give me a clear sign of labor when the time comes.”  I was pregnant with our sixth child.  The five previous children had all be born with the same routine:  weeks (anywhere from 3-16) of contractions 3-5 minutes apart lasting ten or more hours, failure to progress, pitcoin induction on the 3rd or 4th trip to the hospital, epidural for pain, birth of a healthy baby.  A blessed outcome indeed, but a very frustrating third trimester and delivery to say the least.  This time I wanted something different, something more edifying, something empowering.

We planned a home birth assisted by a midwife and her helper.  There was no option for induction and no option for medicated pain relief, unless I changed my mind and went to the hospital.  I kept the doctor’s number in my phone.  I wasn’t afraid of pain.  I had taken Hypnobabies and was fully confident in my body’s ability to deliver a baby.  After all, I had already done so on five occasions.  My fear was a fear of contractions that would not progress into labor, of contractions that would last for ten or twelve hours and then just stop as quickly as they had started.  This had been my pattern with all of the previous births.  Each time the contractions came, the doctor told us to go to the hospital for monitoring.  We waited long hours while I was hooked up to monitors for the nurses to watch my contractions.  I was poked and prodded and told that I was not in labor; but, not released to go home because I was contracting regularly.  After half a day in the hospital the nurse would come in and announce–sometimes stoicly, other times filled with pity–“You are not in labor.  Go home, get rest and come back when your contractions are 3-5 minutes apart.”  It was humiliating each time.  With the home birth at least we wouldn’t be bothering family to keep the children, waking children and upsetting schedules, or causing Patrick to miss another day of work.  The midwife could come to us and she was happy to do so at any hour of the day.  It was her job, she told us with a huge smile.

My pregnancy had gone swimmingly well.  It was July 4, 2008, I had only 18 more days until my due date and not a single contraction wave to come over me.  I prayed that when the time came for baby to be born, my water would break–a clear sign of labor with no guesswork from me.  At 8 o’clock that night Patrick walked out front of our home and discovered a small river of water flowing across the driveway.  We had a leak and discovered it was in the city’s line at the corner of our drive.  The kids danced in the flowing water, splashed and played.  Patrick called the city to report the leak and at midnight giant jack hammers worked to repair it.  Me?  I was wandering the hallways with contractions 3-5 minutes apart for the next ten hours.

A few days later, the contractions returned.  This time it warranted a call to the midwife.  She and her assistant, Angela came to the house and settled themselves on the couch for a long night.  All night I contracted only to stop at six in the morning.  I was exhausted and frustrated.  My midwife reassured me that all would be fine as I cried in my frustration and thought about going in for an induction.  Patrick walked into the room and announced that we had a leak in the utility room.  There was a puddle of water on the floor and he prayed that it wasn’t a slab leak.  He would have to do some investigating.  I saw the irony.  Two water leaks, two rounds of non-progressing contractions.  At the time, I wasn’t laughing.  Patrick knew my prayers before I said a word.  He questioned me without hesitation, “Have you been praying for your water to break?!  Well, stop it!” he teasingly admonished.

A third time on July 17 the contractions began again.  This time my midwife advised a warm, relaxing bath and to call her if I noticed a change, or if I wanted her just to be there.  The change was noted, the midwife called and a healthy baby boy, weighing 8lbs was born in one of the most beautiful and intense moments of my life. Dan After sharing in the joy of the birth and the hours of fawning that followed, my husband was alerted to a third water break.  This one flooded the hall bath with sewage.  My husband said he went from one of the most beautiful moments to one of the most disgusting in a matter of minutes.  “I didn’t!” I stated defensively, “I promise, I didn’t pray for my water to break this time.”