Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are The Mother Of Small Children: Part Two The Intellectual Life

I was the kid who preferred reading novels all day to playing outside or with toys, or even watching tv. I would escape for hours into a novel, and as soon as that was finished pick up another. Most things I read were not great literature, but as my excellent high school guided me in my reading choices, I became more selective. In college I was a part of the honors Great Books program, and slowly learned to become a scholar. My final degrees of choice were theology and philosophy, and through several inspiring yet academically rigorous professors I learned how to do research and write a good paper. My then fiancé and I both decided to take a summer and school year to work on our Masters degrees, I chose theology and he philosophy. That year was very formative. I realized that I truly enjoyed the intellectual rigor of studying the liberal arts, the one I studied being theology. Once I graduated the studying ceased. I discussed prayer last week, here I want to discuss continuing the intellectual life.

The first thing to do is READ. However, since time is so precious, one has to be particular about what to read. I spent much of my first pregnancy immersed in classic novels, and then if you go back a few years on this blog you can see my feeble attempts to "get something out of them." I was not very good at reading more than fiction after four years of intense study at the university, but I read the occasional history and essay. My husband continually encourages me to read philosophy and theology. It helped that there were several books he wanted me to read. I have read a quarter of his dissertation. He convinced me to start the Summa Theologica during my second pregnancy. I made it a few questions in. I am also reading the assigned readings for his class on Catholic Social Teaching this semester, and am in the midst of a good novel. The point is to make good choices about what you read and take the time to do it. I do most of my reading after the kids are in bed, and sometimes I can do a little when they are playing together (though that time is usually for housework or playing with them).

The next thing I do is TALK. I talk to my husband, of course. It helps that my best friend whom I live with loves great books, theology, and of course philosophy. It did take several years of marriage for me to realize how important it was to him that I converse with him about what he is currently researching and about what I am reading. It is really good for our friendship and marriage when we keep up with each other in an intellectual way. I also am blessed with friends from college who are geeks like me and read classic novels. These we discuss via phone. But having people who share your interests to talk to really helps.

The last thing I do is to write this blog. I am determined to write one more intellectual post a week about some of my reading or based in conversations I have had. My husband likes to write ideas in a journal. He also gets paid to think, so that helps him. But as a stay at home mom, reading, talking, and writing is a big struggle and it is a challenge to make it a priority.

Making the effort to do these three things has helped me find balance in my life, and keeps me happy. The intellectual life is as essential to my life as regular prayer and regular exercise, and it make my husband happy. Knowing these things about myself, I also know that I really have to work at it. It is not easy to develop the habits, but it is possible even while taking care of small children and a home. I know it make me a better mother and wife, and when I get bombarded with questions about God or life by an almost three year old I feel confident in my answer and pleased to be beginning a liberal education for my children.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Meatless Meals: Quinoa Tostados With Avocado Sauce

 In anticipation of Lent and because yesterday was Friday, here is the meal I made for dinner last night. And by last night I mean, I prepped the avocado sauce and the quinoa in the morning when the kids were playing, a chopped veggies during nap, and spent about 15 minutes finalizing it before dinner was served. I love when I get my act together and make dinner early (which is a rarity). Quinoa is supposed to be one of those "super foods." It is a grain full of protein and takes 15 minutes of cooking and 10 minutes of soaking. You can add it to lots of different foods.

Here is the link to the recipe since there is no need to type it out if it is already explained so clearly:

I used sour cream instead of cashew cream, and basil instead of cilantro. We decided it would make a really good summer dish when all these vegetables can be found fresh and local. It was like fresh salsa. Even G. ate all of hers, and she loved the giant "cracker" bottom.

I plan on trying out some of the other quinoa recipes on the site since I have a box mostly full in my pantry.

P.S. Let me know if you want me to type up one of my other meatless recipes from last Lent.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pre-Literate Philosophy

Photo is from when G. was the age L. is now

I could not help my laughter when I heard G. yell,
"Ready, Think, Go!" before charging around the house with her doll stroller full of her most favorite animals.

But seriously, it is good advice. I know my biggest problems occur when I forget to think before I go or before I speak.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How A Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are the Mother of Small Children: Part One Prayer

I remember how it was my first year out of college; I had just gotten married and had my first child before that first year was up. I was thrilled to read whatever I wanted to read and claimed pregnant brain whenever my husband tried to bring me into an intellectual discussion. I confess that I was jealous for about two days when he went back to school for graduate work in the fall and I was at home with morning sickness. After G. was born and the realities of parenting hit me, I really started to miss my old intellectual life of graduate school, studying in the library, going out after dinner, etc. While I was a pregnant, we continued to go to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration, frequent confession, and had a full prayer life; similar to college. When I was stuck at home without a car and a newborn on my lap, none of this seemed possible. But, as my loving husband always does, he pointed out to me the ways I was unhappy and the ways I could become better, and I realized I needed to make a change.

I decided to sacrifice ten minutes of nap time for doing whatever I did during nap time for prayer time. I discovered that God can hear me even if I don't go to Adoration in His Real Presence. Because, get this, while the Eucharist is amazing, wonderful, and so necessary for the Sacramental life, we still have Jesus in our hearts where ever we go. And He is in our children, and our husbands. He is also everywhere, and God holds us in existence moment to moment, constantly sustaining us. During my prayer time I read Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. It is such a practical prayer book, divided into short but pungent sections that teach you how to pray always and takes into account every state in life. While I do not follow the advice to wake up and pray for an hour before the household is awake, I have taken up many of the smaller less time consuming ways to pray and be mindful of God throughout my day. Now I no longer use nap time, but just after the kids bedtime, and get this, my husband and I take this time together. Also we try to have one of us go to Adoration every week, so that we each get to go every other week. When you spend the whole day with little kids, the solace of Eucharistic Adoration is pretty amazing.

Another thing I resumed after my first child was several months old, was to make daily Mass a priority. My first reason was that she was up before 8 am everyday, so why not go to Mass? When my second was born and I was not physically capable of going daily, I remember how I felt the graces of all the Masses I had gone to before I have birth sustaining me day to day. And now thinking about it, my reason is not because the kids are up, but because it is God I encounter at Mass every morning (when I get myself up to go) and it is totally worth it to wake up 45 minutes before my kids so that I can take them to Mass most days to experience Christ's sacrifice extending throughout time and space to the very altar in our church.

The third thing I have been able to do even while having little kids is frequent Confession. St. Francis De Sales recommends weekly confession, and some weeks I wish I did. My husband and I aim for every two weeks; we make this work by going to different churches' Saturday confession times that are different by 30 minutes. He goes to one church's scheduled confession time, and when he gets home I have just enough time to get to the other one early. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is by far the best way to learn where you can be better in day to day life, and where you fail to be the best wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, etc. you can be. This Sacrament is such a gift! In this Sacrament, we can know our failings, be forgiven for them (wiped clean!), and then be given the grace to become holier! What more can a woman want?

The point of this essay is to show how stay at home mothers do not have to give up ate daily Sacramental life of the Church; they just have to discover how to fit it into the new life that is quite different from the liberal arts educational experience.

Next week: Part Two The Intellectual Life
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