Monday, November 23, 2015

Interview with Smockity Frocks author, Connie Hughes, on the Role of Fitness in the Life of a Homeschooling Mom

I have been friends with Connie from the Smockity Frocks blog for over a decade.  Throughout the years, I've watched as she's journeyed through pregnancies, deliveries, babies, toddlers, homeschool, relocation and job loss. I've laughed (and respected!) as she's worked through library, llama, and scorpion fiascos.   Now, as a mom of 8, she still balances young children, school at home, business ventures, and two kids in college.

There are many things I admire about Connie, many questions I'd like to ask her.  She's a successful woman in so many ways...maintaining a positive and consistent blog for so many years is one of them.  Someday, I'm going to show up on her doorstep, and see if she'll answer all of my questions.

Today, however, I've focused on one of the more recent successes I've watched play out in Connie's life.  She's one of those people who will never announce that she's trying out a new health routine.  Modest about her achievements, she'll just never mention it.  Every so often over our years of friendship, I'd send her a note, saying, "Are you doing something different?  You look great!"  Maddeningly, she'd write back with just a simple "yes," as if she didn't have time to reply with all of the kids and school and animals and business commitments....

This was not enough for me.  I wanted her to TELL me all about her top secret, magic elixer.  She was aging backwards, and I wanted to know HOW!  Why was she looking like a schoolgirl again?  That's not really how it is supposed to work when a woman has birthed 8 children (with no epidurals...she is TOUGH.)  Everyone knows that children age you, that repeat pregnancies are hard on a woman's body. (I know this as I have nine children, myself.)  

This summer, I noticed that Connie began to casually mention "CrossFit."
"This is new," I thought.

Connie and I had always said that the hard work of raising a family was enough to keep us active.  "Who needs a gym or regular workout?"  Had something changed?

I wondered if she would be willing to grant me an interview.  I asked and she agreed, happily for me! Connie continues in modest appraisal of her success, but that is one of the things I love about her.  In the interview below, she shares the philosophy of health which keeps her going.  I suspect it's the same philosophy which fuels many aspects of her life.

Holly:  Connie, I know that you do quite a few things to stay healthy.  Most recently, you have joined CrossFit.  Would you tell me a little bit about that?  What got you started, and how long have you been going?

Connie:  My 20 year old daughter, Madison, had been talking for a few months about how fun it would be if the two of us joined CrossFit together.  Honestly, that sounded like the opposite of fun to me for a few reasons.

I have never been athletic.  I was always the last one picked for kickball teams.  I am not known to be strong or fast.

But Madison was relentless, and she finally reeled me in with the admonition, "I bet you are afraid you CAN'T do it and that's why you won't try it."

That girl knows I can't resist a challenge!

We signed up for 2 free trial days, and it was EXCRUCIATING!  I have never sweated so much!  I have also never laughed so much with my daughter.  Madison couldn't stop talking about how fun it was, and she was home from college for the summer and pleaded with me to sign up for the summer program with her.

I realized that I had a rare chance to spend time each day with my adult daughter doing something she enjoyed, and just couldn't pass that up.  I was keenly aware that very soon she will be focused on her own life, her own career, her own family.

We spent that sweaty summer laughing and getting stronger together every morning before the rest of the family awoke.

When she went back to college in another state, she joined a CrossFit Gym there, and my gym offered me a discounted rate to sign up for 6 more months.  I looked at my arms, a little stronger than they were before.  I considered my energy level.  I was a little less sluggish than I had been in years.  I realized, to my astonishement, that I had actually been enjoying CrossFit!

I signed up for a 6 month contract, and I now go every Monday through Friday at 7:00 a.m.  I am not the strongest, or the fastest, and I expect I never will be either of those.  But I am proving to myself and the rest of my family that I can do hard things!  I am proving that trying hard at something for an extended period produces results even if you start out having never done that thing before.

My 15 year old daughter recently decided she would like to play varsity basketball for the local Christian school (which accepts homeschooled students in their sports programs).  Even though she has NEVER played basketball in her life, she set out to practice every day until time to try out for the team.


I am so proud that she is willing to try something new, something hard, something that requires dedication to see results. I want to be an example of those things.

Holly: My next question is from a personal place, because I find this type of consistency so difficult.  You know that I have a lot of children, too, and I am so tired, Connie.  How do you keep getting up morning after morning?  How do you find the energy, or at least the "want to?"

Connie:  There are many mornings I don't want to get out of bed.  There are even many mornings when I am getting out of the car that I think, "I DON'T want to do this!"

The thing is, I know deep down and with a certain sureness that if I didn't do all the things I didn't feel like doing, the laundry would never get done, the dishes would never be clean, diapers wouldn't get changed, Algebra wouldn't be taught, and so much more.

I consider going to Cross Fit every morning part of disciplining myself to do things because those things are GOOD, not because they are EASY.

I hope that by doing this, besides reaping the health benefits, I am showing my children this very important concept.  I hope they will always be willing to do hard things.

Holly:  Well, you're a great example for *me,* even long distance, and for many others as well.  I am confident that your children are watching and your example will be deeply instilled into their lives.  I must also say that you are looking stronger all of the time.  You are climbing ropes and doing pull-ups!  Could you share with us some of your results?

Connie:   When I first started, I could not even do the daily warm up of running 200 meters.  I HATE running, and I really dreaded this daily warmup.  Each day I was totally winded, heart racing, staggering in minutes after the last runner finished the 200 meters.

Now?  I can run the distance with no problem.  No stopping, no gasping for breath, and sometimes I am not last!

Today, we did our usual warm up run and then our workout included 5 ROUNDS of running 200 meters, flipping a tire 5 times, and 10 (14-pound) med ball cleans.  I managed to do this workout in under 15 minutes.  That's not any kind of record for anyone but me.  But for me, it is phenomenal progress!

Holly:  Sometimes we truly get so discouraged that we can't see any way around our circumstances.  What would you say to the woman who says, "I am too old, or my body is in such bad shape, I can't possibly do anything with my circumstances of life?"

Connie:  I would tell her there are grandmothers at my gym who come to workout every day.  There is one in particular who has recently lost 120 pounds.

I am 49, stretched out, creaky, slow, tired and weak.  BUT...I am getting less so!  Slowly I can see and feel that I can run farther, lift more, and last longer than I did the first day.  I am constantly striving to be better.  Isn't this our goal in all of life?

"Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

We are not called to be better than everyone else.  Just better than we were yesterday.

I admit this is sometimes an issue my pride struggles with.  I don't like to be last or weakest.  Sometimes on certain weight lifting exercises, I have to use the tiny 5 lb metal plates while everyone else has the giant rubber plates on their bars.  But I remind myself that I am not competing with any of them.  I am getting stronger daily.

Today, I added 10 lbs. to the push press for a new record for myself.  EVERY SINGLE other person in the gym had more weight on their bars, even the grandmas.  BUT I BEAT MY OLD RECORD.  I am improving!

Thank you, Connie, for taking the time to share with us about fitness which is successfully working for you.  More importantly, thank you for being open about what drives you to continue pressing toward your goals:  Hard work, persistence, and a desire to be a good example for your children.  Best wishes, and I look forward to watching you progress throughout the years!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Catching kisses

I pulled out into my country drive-way this afternoon, and my little girl flashed across the backyard on her way to the swing.  Her "little red riding hood" coat swung against bare legs tucked in rainboots, and she flashed a grin devoid of front upper teeth before she blew a kiss for me to take with me.

I captured that kiss and flung one back to her heart.

We blow kisses now, and save them for the crazy days when we might know nothing at all.

I spent the afternoon with my father at the heath center (nursing home) where he has been for two weeks.  He's been having some crazy nights, where he doesn't sleep and his still-mechanically-driven mind drives him to take apart everything in his room. 

In the hospital he ripped out his iv and his catheter.  In the health center, he took apart the television set and ripped off his electronic tether.

He had a particularly bad night last night;  he wandered the halls and kept everyone else awake.  He insists upon shoes at all times, but he can't remember how to tie them and sometimes he even forgets his pants and one sock.       

He is in a state of unbalanced adrenals.  It affects him in bizarre ways.  Some days are awful, some are alright.    Today he was clothed and upright when I entered his room.  He might not have been able to recall my name, but he still knew that I was his girl and when I wrapped him up in my arms he melted like my little child. 

I sat beside him and held his hand, lifted his flannel shirt and mismatched polyester plaid slacks to check his arms and legs for swelling.  He could not tell me how he felt. "Can't'll have to ask someone else..." but as I stayed beside him on his bed he said, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14, NASB)

We played a game we've played thousands of times.  He couldn't remember how to play, but expressed frustration that I couldn't follow the rules.  It didn't bother me in the slightest, as it's just like playing with my 3-year-old son.  Who cares where the marbles go?  Are we having a good time together?  Checkers also confused him, so we just stacked them.

We walked the halls.
We went to therapy.
We sat and watched the birds at the bird-feeder, where he marveled that some birds were faster learners than others.
He could not remember how many children I have (nine, Dad...) but he could tell me the name of every member of his great-grandfather's family and how many children they each had. 

We sat, and I just held his hand for a long time... because I could and because he is still here.

His hand is still warm.  This won't always be.  One day, I will touch his hand and it will be cold; and that will be the end of such times on this earth.  When that day comes, I will mourn, but it will in no way be the end.  Dad has not been perfect, nor have I; but we both love Jesus and He is our Lord.  We will have a lot of time in the Life to come.  Still, I store up love for the days to come, when he is no longer here:  hugs, hand-holding, and kisses.

I hugged him goodbye; he laid his head on my shoulder and I think he would have just stayed there.  I know that  it is not considered proper to compare the elderly to children.  For my father, it is appropriate.  He has become much like one of my littlest children. 

I threw a good-bye kiss from the door.  He smiled and bid me safe-travels.  His smile, missing the front teeth, is just like my little girl's.  I caught that too, and stuck it in my heart...for he and I are in the crazy days.

I do not miss the reality that each one of us is one burst vessel away from catastrophe, one slight medical misstep from forgetting our pants or which way to the bathroom.  I can barely stay on my feet (from the need to kneel before Jesus) with the paucity of my own strength and how quickly life flees.  Too soon, that gappy-toothed girl and the three-year old who clings to me as I walk in the door will be returning the favors I've done for my dad.  I hope they're okay with simply hugging me and holding my hand because it's still warm when the time comes. 

Catch those kisses and tuck them in tight. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Stubborn Root

The stubborn root


(This post is from almost five years ago.  My Dad is at a different place now; he is at a place of need.  I once wondered if I would know when more help was needed,  and he assured me that I would.  He was right.)

I walked past Dad, my arms wrapped full of branches from my own pruning.

The day was near 90, I was finished with my job and was ready to clean up and head inside for a cool drink. I took my branches on down to the pile, then climbed the small hill to see what he was doing.
He was scuffling his knees through a rough patch of rocks; tugging and yanking at roots, pausing now and again to pick up his pruners in his effort to uproot an insidious bush.

“Want some help?”


Of course not.  It is fine for me to help my mother, she needs it after all.  But him? Need help?  Never.
Fierce independence brought him to good health at 85.  It makes him strong and keeps him grumpy, and I wouldn’t take it away from him for the world.  He knows that once he loses the ability to do something, he is unlikely to gain it back.  He forges on, never giving himself permission to be indulgent nor choose the easy path. Tougher than anything, this one.

But still.  This work will take him days.  I crawl under a guidewire and start tugging at loose roots.

“Been working on this for weeks already,” he confides.  “Gonna do this patch here, and then quit.”

I leave the pruners to him, pulling my shears out of my pocket for the little branches.  I won’t take a man’s work away from him. I’m his girl.  I can’t be stronger than he is.

He cuts, I pull.  The pruners slip, his hand hits a jagged rock.  Skin that is paper-thin tears when it brushes against a doorframe.  You can imagine what stones do.  I wince, but don’t say anything.  I’ve made that mistake before, and he won’t take it.  He laughs my off my concern.

“Oh, that.  It doesn’t hurt.  I don’t even feel it.  It’ll be better by tomorrow.”  I nod, agreeing with him. It’s really the only way.

We continue, me surprised that he has let me stay.  He loves me,  but I can’t have his work.  As he once said, “If you take all of my work from me, I won’t have any reason to be around.”

Well.  I won’t do that, then.

At one point a year or so ago I asked, “Dad, how will I know when you really do need help?”

He replied, “You’ll know.”

Okay.  But until then, can we work side by side at times?

We can, and this time we did.  We finished the entire patch, both of us red faced with heat and sweat and effort.  He even surrendered the pruners for a time, so that I might reach in at a differing angle. I worked hard and fast, knowing that he would not let me have them for long.  We talked about a nephew’s wedding and how to eradicate the offensive plant once and for all.

“Boiling water,” he says.
“Boiling salt water, I say.

He concurs.
Nothing taken from independence; but a little bit of me given and little bit received.

“Thanks, my girl.”
“My pleasure, Dad.”

I don’t expect it again anytime soon – and that’s just fine with me.  Let’s make it last as long as we can.
*this photo is not my own original.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Chose You

(Here's a blast from the past - five years ago now, but just as true today.)

This is for every woman who ever chose a child over other options.

I could have had more time,
more house,
more room.
I chose you.


I could have had more money,
more things,
dinners out…
I chose you.


More me,
More sleep,
more freedom;
I chose you.


Less mess,
less cooking,
less laundry;
I chose you.


Less school,
less PBS,
less PBJ;
I chose you.


Because of you,
I have MORE.
More love,
more memories,
more smiles,
more delight,
more joy.

Where would I be without you?

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Along about the end of February, winter becomes the guest who has over-stayed its welcome..  We yearn for days like these, above, where bare-footed children run and climb unfettered.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Just to make you smile...

 There are not many things cuter than a chick in a tutu,

 or the girl who thought of it...

Are there?

Friday, February 15, 2013


Benjamin Cade,
my Valentine,
my critter-loving boy...
is now seven.

He's still little enough to sit on my lap,
but too heavy to carry far.
Still small enough to not care very much for school,
but big enough to be doing well with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Big enough to check eggs and feed the cats,
Big enough to shoot a slingshot and a cap-gun,
Little enough to still climb trees and 
kiss chickens on the beak.
 Our seventh child is seven.
He's just perfect,
for us.

Farm Babies

I brought home some new babies yesterday.

Black Jersey Giant

Black Star

The chick above was from a different batch from last fall.  Back in September we hatched these cuties out from eggs from our own flock.  We did pretty well for our first-ever hatch, with a hatch-rate of around 60%.
This week, at four and a half months old, they began laying the tiniest, cutest, little brown eggs.  

We didn't want to miss a moment of living country life to the full, so we incubated as soon as we moved.  We also didn't want to experience a drop in egg production as the flock we inherited from the former owners was beginning to slow down.  I'm already looking ahead to fall with the chicks we just purchased, when the older hens will be phased out.  I enjoy a variety of hens, love the different egg colors and personalities of the hens.  I don't think I would gain quite as much pleasure from a homogenous flock.


Silly kitties.
Not quite *that* different.

On one occasion, we actually had a chicken and a cat vying for the same nesting space.  The chicken ended up sitting on top of the cat, and they stayed there for several hours.  I guess they both won.

 We fell into country life quite easily.  No longer could I say "no" to animals for the children.
(Although we have had to make certain adjustments in animal ownership.  I no longer let the kids grow attached to roosters.  Roosters, by necessity, come and go.  Live and learn!)
We have around 55 chickens, and I anticipate a few more chicks in a few weeks.  I have not decided whether I will raise meat birds or not, although we certainly have the room for it.
There is a pasture and the place is fenced for quite a few different types of animals.
Today, a friend brought me two rabbits, and I'm on the lookout for a couple of piglets, maybe some turkeys in March to pasture thru the summer in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

 It's a very natural fit for our family.  My parents and my sister are such organic sources of farm wisdom, so the learning curve has been gentle.

 Farm babies, like all babies, grow up quickly.  They are renewable, however, so the enjoyment goes on and on.  When one batch grows up, we can begin all over again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


When I was a little girl, I sat on the floor and watched my mama's brown legs as she stood hot, endless hours at the counter canning peaches.  I wondered how she stood for so long, how they remained so strong.  Didn't she ever get tired?  Didn't she ever want to stop?

As I grew into a teen, I moved to the chair, sometimes peeling along with her. She still stood, and I still wondered.


She was up at dawn, tending to something or the other, always up, always working, never, never stopping.  She raised four children and faced Carter's deep recession by growing a bigger garden.

She was a pastor's wife, so along with a hard physical life of self-sufficiency, she carried the grief of my father's congregations:  wayward children (one of them her own,) miscarried babies, accidents which took fathers.  At times, the loads were so heavy that I could not understand how she got up in the morning, let alone kept doing the work of her life.

All these years later, the secret is finally mine.   I never asked, she never told me.  I just watched, and learned.

I got here the same way she did.


You  You get up.  You keep going.  You do the job in front of you.  You grow weary and overwhelmed.  You despair.  You become exhausted.

You think about what would happen if you dropped it all, just lay all of the responsibilities on the floor and walked away, let someone else handle them.

Then you think about everyone who would suffer if you did that, think of the ones who depend on you and trust you....

And you know that while your job is impossible, quitting is not an option.  Quitting would devastate the lives of those you love, and you won't do that.

During the tough years, this may be a daily cycle. 

Daily you give it up, drop it all, momentarily reject it, give it back to God, go to sleep, knowing that the only way you will make it thru and endure is by letting Him carry you and set you back on your legs. 

You get up in the morning, and you do it all over again....not for yourself, but for the ones you carry, the ones who trust in you.

You get strong legs for standing by just doing it - day after day after day.

God, in you, accomplishes the impossible the same way.  Small task by small task, moment by moment, year by year...


one day, by His grace, you will look back and be amazed at how far He's carried you and what you've endured and just how long you can stand

Friday, February 1, 2013

File this one under lessons from our children

 Dear Daddies and Mamas,

Let us never assume that we have the corner on teaching, that our children are given to us specifically so that they may learn from our vast stores of knowledge.
 I like to think I've journeyed far in my Christian faith.
Sometimes I even toy with the idea that I've got wisdom, that if these kids would just pay attention, they will learn so much from me.

I am humbled tonight, yes....again, this far in to parenting....
by a ten-year-old boy too sweet to have come from under my hardened and complaining heart.

From his feverish sickbed on the couch, my Josiah talks with me as I work thru my own stomach pain and pick up stray kleenex and kicked-off socks.

"You know, I'm thankful, Mom.  I really am....for lots of things."  And he makes a list:  the couch he is laying on, a mama to take care of him, movies to watch, medicine and cold water.

I think I stop and stare, a little discombobulated from the daze and the last few days with hardly any sleep.  I am definitely not thankful.  In fact, I've already run so far from thankful that I'm contemplating the goodness of God over a simple flu.  (Sleep-deprivation is not something I handle well.) 

He softens me, this boy who was a gift himself; in his own weakness he reflects his Father's glory with a pure and simple act of thanksgiving.
I may be the mama, but I have far to go and much, still, to learn.  He didn't get this gratitude from me - it came from his own heart which is turned in love toward God.

*these photos are recycled from several years ago.  I don't think any of us are up to taking/uploading pictures right now.  Ah well, you've seen one bad flu, you've seen them all.  Things look much prettier in photographs.