What happened on the trail in July

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. 

Very fruitful. 

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.

Thinking about Educating at Home?

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.

I'm a firm believer in balancing academics with the rest of life

My thoughts on early chidlhood education are here, among other places. 

There is a complete, literature- and art- based early childhood curriculum here. It needs some sprucing up, I know, perhaps this year... 

Our learning at home is brought to you by storybooks. The idea is here and some of the ways we've lived it are here, in words and pictures. 

Oh, and I wrote a book on homeschooling. You don't have to pay $45.00 for a used copy on Amazon;-).  I think there are still new copies available here. And it's only $18.65.  

Let's talk about the Fitbit


Shoes here, because I know you want to know;-)

I've been wearing a  Fitbit Flex wristband for a little over two weeks now. Since I've posted pictures from various walks on Instagram & Facebook and posted my stats on Twitter, I'm sensing some interest in activity trackers out there in the cyberworld.

First, please let me admit that my Fitbit purchase was entirely impulsive. I went to Colorado to visit Sally Clarkson. My roommate there was Chrystal Evans Hurst. I love her. I really, really do. She was genuine and kind and took the time to make me feel very welcome even though I knew no one else personally and they all knew each other. We had some long talks and I do cherish the memory of them. But one morning early, I was awakened by a buzzing. I couldn't hear it, really. It was more like feeling it. I'd had a restless night, coughing and tossing and turning, so it didn't take much to wake me. I stayed very still and dropped back off to sleep. When I finally awakened (probably not too much later), I remembered how much I wanted to get out of bed before the day's activities began and sit on Sally's porch and just pray and journal. I rolled over, resolute in my decision to get up and I saw that Chrystal was gone. I will admit that my first thought was, "Darn, she's got the prime spot on porch."

I took my wheezing, sneezing self up to the back deck and got comfortable. It was a glorious morning. So, of course, I had to Instagram the moment.


When I posted to Instagram, I saw that Chrystal was no where near the front porch. Instead, she had posted a gorgeous picture of the trail before her. Chrystal wasn't sitting at all; she was off on a Colorado road getting some serious steps in. When she returned, I cheered her morning ambition and asked about her Fitbit. She has a Fitbit One, which attaches to clothing and has the benefit of having a digital readout of steps right on the device. It tracks steps and sleep. It also has a silent alarm which will buzz you (and your roommate) awake. For a few weeks, Chrystal wore several different activity trackers. In my I'm-too-sick-to-really-ask-questions-but-I'm-taking-notes mode, I noted that here was someone who'd checked them all out and she decided on a Fitbit. Later in the trip, Kat Lee was talking about her Fitbit Flex. I watched her whip out her phone and cheer or lightheartedly chide half a dozen people in their efforts to get fit. All I could think of was my child who is obsessed with numbers and a little too comfy on the couch.

I returned home and ordered a Fitbit Flex using Amazon credit. It arrived just before we walked out the door for dance recital rehearsals. I set it up with my computer and the phone app and strapped it on. Away we went. Nearly 6,000 steps that first day.

My goals are the default goals: 10,000 steps, 5 miles, and 30 minutes of sustained activity. Remember, I was still sick. For the next week, I met the step goals every day but one. Some days, all I did was walk and go to bed for the rest of the day. It was sort of stupid, but I wanted to form a habit and I didn't want to wait. I also learned that the number-obsessed child might have inherited that particular quirk. I am in no way recommending my obsessive compulsive induction phase. I'm just being honest.

Betty asked on Facebook whether the Fitbit Flex has made me more intentional towards activity. I can answer that with a wholehearted yes!. After years of being pregnant or nursing, particularly the last two high risk/very low activity pregnancies, I'd developed the habit of asking someone else to "run and get." 

"My shoes are up in my closet. Will someone run and get them for me?"

"Stephen, run up and get the laundry basket and bring it down here so I can start another load? And then will you please carry this one up?"

"I'll finish loading these groceries into the car. Will you run the cart back to the store?"

When the Fitbit Flex is strapped to my wrist, I become conscious of all those little times as opportunities to seize a couple hundred more steps. And those steps add up. 

Instead of standing at the sink while spending two minutes brushing my teeth, I walk circles around my bathroom. Up to 200 steps.

I park as far from the store as possible without being ridiculous. (My young companions do not appreciate this new habit because I seem to go into the store on a sweltering afternoon and exit during a torrential downpour).


I'm quick to volunteer to be the one to go back into the restaurant to fetch the forks when we are eating outside. Only about 100 steps, but every little bit helps.

I walk to the grocery store. And then I walk home. 2,000 steps there and 2,000 steps back.

It's halftime. Let's talk a walk around the track surrounding the soccer field, girls. 700 steps (including the diversion to the Porta-Potty).

I can easily persuade the girls to take a quick walk around the library pond after the Farmers' Market. 2,000 steps.


I also know that it's 2,000 steps to the dance studio and 2,000 steps to Starbucks. I made a deal with myself never to get Starbucks unless I've walked to the store. Also, from my house, you can get a lot of different places in 2,000 steps.

Someone needs to retrieve Michael from the airport around 7:00 in the morning, just hang out in the cell phone waiting area until an international flight arrives and he clears customs? I will! But I'll park at the airport Marriott and acquaint myself with the fitness trail behind it. 8,500 steps later, I'm five minutes away when he clears customs and heads for the arrivals door.


I quickly learned that even though I was being more intentional about the incidental opportunities to walk, I was going to need to make a  commitment to a long period of sustained movement every day if this was going to yield true improvements in fitness. So, I reinstituted the Morning Walk. I loaded my iPhone with podcasts from Chrystal and from Kat--they got me into this, they might as well go along for the ride--and I walked. And walked. And walked and walked. About an hour every morning--about 8,000 steps, more or less. If you get 8,000 steps before 7:00 AM and you are intentional about finding incidental opportunities to walk. I promise you will meet that 10,000 steps goal. Really, all you need is about 6,000 steps and then just regular momlife. Those morning walks have been glorious--cool, quiet, and really very beautiful, just walking within 4 miles of my house. I vary the path daily and try to keep myself from ever becoming bored. (My husband and children are all still asleep when I walk.)


Sometimes, I have to go out again at the end of the day and add to the step total in order to meet my mileage goal.Once around the block? One thousand steps. Ten minutes of Just Dance with my little girls? 888 steps. It hasn't taken long to develop a fat mental file of how many steps it took to get where I wanted my number to be. And one night, before going to bed, I noticed I was a tenth of a mile from hitting my five mile goal. My husband jokingly asked if I was going to walk around the bedroom just so I could see the number change. I giggled at the absurdity. Then, I asked if he needed anything from downstairs, told him I was going to get water, and did a few laps around the dark middle floor of my suburban colonial.  

My friend Nicole has a Jawbone Up. That means we can't officially share our steps via the Fitbit app, but we can screenshot results and support and encourage one another. Very early on, we learned that she would walk further and I'd have more steps. I'm barely 5'2". She's 5'8"-- different strides, for sure. Lately, I've tended to have more steps than Kat or Chrystal, which is hilarious considering I'm listening to their motivational podcasts and that's fueling me to go further. [Maybe I need to record a podcast for them;-)?] I've moving been very, very slowly though. I've yet to have a day when I haven't been wheeezing. This virus is excruciatingly slow to leave. It may have something to do with the fact that--even though I knew I was sick--  I flew to the Rocky Mountains, slept very little for three nights, came home, pushed hard through dance recital week, and then persisted in walking every day, to the tune of more than 60 miles in the first two weeks.

I tracked my sleep the first two nights, but after that, I stopped wearing it to bed. I just don't really  need that information and I think a little break from the electronics is probably a good thing. While Chrystal's silent alarm woke me that first night, the two times I wore my silent alarm, I slept right through it. I will admit that I'm not someone who has ever carried her phone on her person, so having this thing strapped to my wrist all the time does sort of  give me the eebie-jeebies. Except it's just so cool...

So what has all this meant in pounds and ounces. Ounces!? Glad you asked. I've been logging over 80 ounces of water almost every day. Fitbit Flex helps me track that.

Oh, you meant the scale. 

I haven't lost an ounce. Honestly, as of this morning, I've gained two pounds. I eat ridicuolously clean and very little. This body weight statistic is baffling and annoying beyond belief. So, yes, I will have my thyroid checked again. I will also put the scale away for the next month. Here's the thing about the Fitbit Flex: I'm in control of those numbers. I can make them go up. I can reach my goals every single day. Whatever it is about my metabolism or my body type (or my luck?), I've always had very little control over my weight. I can't effect the same changes in those numbers. I've lost weight almost as inexplicably as I have gained weight on occasion. It's just a very capricious thing, that scale. But it has the power to discourage. It's actually so powerful it can ruin an entire day before I am even dressed in the morning. So, the scale going to be hidden away for the rest of July. 

Instead, I'm making and keeping friends with this fun device that actually reflects how hard I'm trying.

I've committed to 150 miles in July. I've committed to 80 ounces of water a day. I'm reminding myself that what I'm really trying to do here is to strengthen my heart and lungs (and I probably need to go faster to do that but there's time to work up to that).  I'm holding myself accountable and I've asked my friends to help me.

But wait, there's more! My kids like this bracelet. A lot. Welllll, most of them do. They like to go with me, to find out how many steps it takes to get places. They like to see the smiley guys when I reach my goals. It doesn't seem to know how to accurately count steps if I'm pushing a stroller (or a grocery cart?). I try to let the Fitbit hand swing free. It also doesn't record "steps" while biking. I have had some limited success in both situations with strapping the wristband onto my shoelaces.


 Katie begged for a Fitbit Flex of her own. I conceded because it's good to have something to share with her and she's a happy companion on my jouney. I also got one for the child who loves the couch. He's not allowed to sit down until he has gotten 6,000 steps for the day. He's been encouraged to work towards his own unique fitness goals. There's a one more Fitbit sitting in a box on the dresser in my bedroom. It has my husband's name on it. We'll see where it goes...

Gathering my Thoughts

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::outside my window

Six baby bunnies nursing while their daddy stands guard! Last night, just around sunset, my girls came running. "Mommy, Mommy! you have to see this. It's the cutest thing EVER!" There in our backyard, six bunny babies laid on their backs and nursed away happily. I went to get the telephoto lens and carefully lifted the window in order to take pictures. Even though we were up on the second floor, that much movement was too much. Mama hopped away. Daddy followed. The poor babies just stayed there wondering what in the world happened to dinner. I have no pictures. But my girls are unlikely to forget.

::listening to 

Dishwasher swishing and washing machines spinning. Domestic day here.

::clothing myself in 

a FitBit and running shoes. All day, every day. More on that tomorrow.

::talking with my children about these books

 Divergent. Mary Beth really liked the first one. Second and third one, not so much. Definitely for older readers. 

::thinking and thinking

what to do in the fall. "Extracurricular" activities take time and money. I don't really think there is such a thing as "extracurricular." Life is the curriculum. Life is how we learn, especially if we're homeschoolers. Our family grabs life with both hands, jumps in as a family, and then learns what we can in whatever the setting. So it has been with soccer and basketball, where my kids have gone all kinds of places and done all kinds of things. While Mike was in Rhode Island with Stephen and Nick and Christian and Stephen was winning a regional soccer title, Michael was wrapping things up in Brazil. After the trophy ceremony, the boys headed to Connecticut to watch the game at ESPN Headquarters. Way fun.

And Michael's incredible World Cup experience came to a close. He wrote about that-poignantly and personally--here. Even if you don't like soccer, read it. 

Anyway, I digress. It's hard when you have so many children and you limit them to "just one thing" to feel completely confident that time and money is being invested wisely. I'm leaning heavily into God on this one because I really don't know...

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::carefully cultivating rhythm

I returned from Colorado very full. Also, very sick and with very little voice. And, nearly three weeks later, I'm still fighting something.

::creating by hand

I have a few little things for Lucy cut. I must sew them now or she'll never wear them. Pictures of those and last week's project at needle & thREAD on Saturday. I promise. 

(Gosh, this is awful. I wrote this nearly three weeks ago. Nothing has changed. Not one thing. Will do better. I promise.)

Wait, no. That's not quite true. Kristin and I made a quadruple batch of healing salve last week. That's creating with our hands. It's also good for our hands.

::learning lessons in

Time and money management.

::encouraging learning in

 Staying in the race and finishing well. 

::begging prayers

Please pray for people struggling with doubt and faith and fear and hopelessness.

The Pope asks us to pray for this intention in July:

 That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.

I don't know if dance is a "sport" --but I'm seriously praying for human fraternity and growth all around.

::keeping house

Just this. I'm telling you, it took four days.


::crafting in the kitchen 


::giving thanks 

for friends who listen when I think too much. I'm really super grateful for them.

::loving the moments

When everyone comes home, safe and sound, from traveling afar. Tonight, we'll gather and celebrate safe travels and happy homecomings. 

living the liturgy

I have children who cannot start their day without Morning Prayer and will not go to sleep without Night Prayer. I'm so grateful that's the case. 

::planning for the week ahead

Well, it's already Thursday and I'm just now getting around to writing Monday's post. My plan for the rest of the week is blog a bit. And to sew a bit. And to celebrate tomorrow with my gang. And then to go watch Paddy play and bring him home for awhile. 

Mercy in the Morning


I am a dreamer. An idealist. An addicted-to-hope optimist. When one commits to living an intentional life — to not letting moments slip by without assigning to them thought and care — she can set herself up for the perfect perfectionistic storm. I am an intentional mother, not a perfect one. My ideals and my dreams and my plans often far outstrip my realistic ability to make them happen, at least to make them happen in the way I envision. If I let myself look back and see all the ways I’ve gone off plan, all the things that didn’t work out quite the way I imagined, it could discourage even the most stalwart optimist.

But grace.

Every bend in the path, every place it was this and not that, there is the fingerprint of grace. It’s not that God always gave me something happier than what I’d conjured in my idealistic list making. It’s that He gave me what I needed. Sometimes, frankly, I needed a kick in the pants. Sometimes, I needed to come face to face with my failures and drop to my knees and surrender to His mercy. And there it was: mercy new every morning.

He promises us the fresh breeze, the clean slate, the ability to begin anew. There are no limits on the promise. He goes so far as to assure us that we can begin again every morning. Every, single dawn for the rest of our lives, He will be there, with mercy unbounded.

“The Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, His compassion is not spent; they are renewed each morning — great is Your faithfulness"

(Lam 3:22-23)

There it is. Every morning, we are given a fresh supply of mercy. Every morning, we are assured that God has compassion on us, that He hears our dreams and our desires, and He sees our lists and our lamentations. He knows about the wet bed, the spilled milk, the burnt toast that set off the smoke detector before everyone was even out of bed. He shows up, every morning, offering grace enough for the day and grace enough to forgive whatever we messed up the previous day. We just need to meet Him there, in the morning, in the promise of a fresh start.

Before anything else, in the bright promise of the day, God wants us to surrender all to Him. For just a few moments of stillness, steeped in Word and prayer while we hold that first cup of tea, He wants our hearts. In return, we get His mercy in that moment and all the moments that follow.

Even more, we are granted the great grace of forgiveness in the sacraments. We can meet Him in the morning, tell Him our hopes and plans, and, in quiet stillness, listen to what He would have us do. Then, every single day, He is waiting to offer us real strength that comes with His body and blood, a fresh infusion of grace for whatever comes our way. But wait — there’s more. We are also given the opportunity to pour out all those shortcomings — those sins, dirty and accusing — and leave them at the foot of the cross and actually hear the words of forgiveness in confession. Clean slate. Start again. Go forth with the full confidence that we are a new creation, and we can grab onto our optimistic ideals with both hands and live with the reckless abandonment to joy and mercy and grace that is the great gift of this crazy life of faith in Christ.