Thursday, April 19, 2018

Limits and Liberty ~ Chapter Two: The Golden Mean (of Virtue)

The Golden Mean @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Read Chapter One here.]

“It is better to rise from life as from a banquet -
neither thirsty nor drunken.” 


I’ve started doing yoga. What I’ve learned is what looks so very easy can be so very difficult.

Even when I’m not moving (especially when I’m not supposed to be moving).

It’s the balancing that gets me. It takes so much muscle control to remain still. I have constant checks (small and large) in one direction and then then other. Sometimes I completely lose any semblance of form and have to begin again.

Let’s return to our pendulum from chapter one. It feels great, at first, to swing from a place of oppression to a place of freedom, but some of us may have discovered that the swing away from tyranny brings us to a different form of slavery on the other extreme. Slavery to an over-loaded schedule, closet, or body, for example.

Seneca, the famous Stoic, wrote, “So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments…”

The solution seems so easy: just shed a few activities, pairs of shoes, or pounds.

But it takes an extraordinary amount of muscle control (and willingness to live in tension) to find that place of equilibrium and remain there. It’s a constant effort of self-imposed limits, and we’re easily tired by constant effort.

We make decisions. We second-guess ourselves. We give in to pleasure or convenience. We punish ourselves.

Aristotle, writing about ethics, examined moral behavior according to the “golden mean of virtue.” He argued that virtuous living is a balance within a sliding scale of deficiency and excess (the extremes). The deficiency and excess are both vices, and the golden mean is virtue.

“For both excessive and insufficient exercise destroy one’s strength, and both eating and drinking too much or too little destroy health, whereas the right quantity produces, increases or preserves it. So it is the same with temperance, courage and the other virtues… This much then, is clear: in all our conduct it is the mean that is to be commended.” [Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics]

True liberty is liberty from excess.

True liberty is liberty to choose virtue.

Not cowardice or recklessness, but courage.
Not stinginess or extravagance, but generosity.
Not sloth or greed, but ambition.
Not bashfulness or flamboyance, but modesty.
Not apathy or aggression, but patience.
Not indecisiveness or impulsiveness, but self-control.
Not starvation or gluttony, but sufficiency.
Not cacophony or monotony, but harmony.
Not tyranny or anarchy, but freedom.
Not laziness or obsessiveness, but perseverance.
Not uniformity or eccentricity, but individuality.
Not false-modesty or boastfulness, but truthfulness.
Not chaos or reginmentation, but order.
Not self-deprecation or vanity, but confidence.
Not quarrelsomeness or flattery, but friendliness.
Not moroseness or absurdity, but good humor.

In our culture’s quest for freedom, we think in terms of “freedom from” rather than “freedom to.” We want freedom from limits (seeking pleasure and happiness) instead of the freedom to do what we ought (seeking virtue and character).

“Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” - Pope John Paul II

Do I have a handle on this in my own life? Absolutely not. I’m just a shaky tree pose over here. You’ll hear me chanting “I am, I can, I ought, I will,” as I wobble, fall, and start again.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be sharing how the “golden mean” applies to various areas in my life.

:: Charlotte Mason’s Students Motto @ Ambleside Online

I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

:: Stratford Caldecott, Beauty in the Word

We imagine that the more choices we have, the freer we are. In reality, a multitude of choices makes us no freer than we were before unless we have the freedom (that is, the power, the ability) to choose between the right action and the wrong action... A myriad of evil choices is no choice at all.

:: Letter 39: On Noble Aspirations ~Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

Utility measures our needs; but by what standard can you check the superfluous?

It is for this reason that men sink themselves in pleasures, and they cannot do without them when once they have become accustomed to them, and for this reason they are most wretched, because they have reached such a pass that what was once superfluous to them has become indispensable.

And so they are the slaves of their pleasures instead of enjoying them; they even love their own ills, – and that is the worst ill of all! Then it is that the height of unhappiness is reached, when men are not only attracted, but even pleased, by shameful things, and when there is no longer any room for a cure, now that those things which once were vices have become habits.

:: The Virtuous Life: Moderation @ The Art of Manliness

This is certainly the answer society gives us for our restlessness, our boredom, our anxiousness, and unhappiness. The answer is always MORE. More stimulation. More sex, more movies, more music, more drinking, more money, more freedom, more food. More of anything is sold as the cure for everything. Yet paradoxically, the more stimulation we receive, the less joy and enjoyment we get out of it. The key to experiencing greater fulfillment and pleasure is actually moderation.

:: The Stoic Range of Virtue: In Defense of Moderation @ The Daily Stoic

As a society we pride ourselves on extremes. We flaunt how few hours of sleep we maintain, how insatiable we are in our careers, and how comfortable our lives are thanks to an excess of luxury goods. But the problem is that when we aspire to extremes, we also run the risk of taking our virtues too far, which collapse into their opposite–crippling flaws in character.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Oppression, Freedom, and the Toothpaste Aisle

Oppression, Freedom, and the Toothpaste Aisle @ Mt. Hope Chronicle

Eleven years ago I began blogging. Eleven years ago I was in the early stages of parenting (my boys were 5, 2, and 8 months). Eleven years ago we moved into our little “forever home.” Eleven years ago we began our homeschooling adventure.

I had plans. I had big plans.

I had it all figured out.

My dreams, if I admitted them, were ambitious. On paper (and in blog posts), a decade ahead was the decade when it all came together. I would be experienced. I would be successful. My kids, oh, they would be amazing. All my passions would have become honed talents. Photography, interior design, parenting, homeschooling, reading, blogging, writing and speaking—expert level, right?!

Maybe you have noticed how quiet the blog has been for a year, or two or three.

Turns out, I don’t have it all figured out. The further into this life gig I get, the less I know and the less I feel qualified to share what I think I still know. Not only do I know less, but I do less.

I have a gazillion blog posts started. One of three things always happens:

1. I’m too lazy or distracted to finish it.

2. My perfectionist side can’t get it up to snuff.

3. I realize I am in no place to give any sort of advice or encouragement. About anything.

But a web, of sorts, has been forming in my mind and in my heart over the past six months. I’ve resisted writing a blog post because this web is woven of many different topics (the golden mean of virtue, politics, health, freedom vs liberty, minimalism vs hoarding, self-care vs self-limits, slothfulness vs leisure, independence vs community, depression, stoicism, Charlotte Mason). There are few topics the web doesn’t touch, and my thoughts are not linear. My perfectionism wants them organized in three winsome persuasive parallel points. With alliteration.

Of course, I also want these ideas to have transformed my life so I can share my successful experience. And I can be an expert.

Truth is, I’m wrestling with these ideas and preaching to myself. You can join me if you like. Wrestle with me. Discuss with me. Share with me your thoughts and experiences.

I have to take this in bite-sized pieces, so I’ll give you the short version if you’re the type of person who reads the last page of the book before starting the first chapter.

Short Version

Unbridled freedom is not freedom.

Options become obligations become oppression.

We can mitigate the damage in two ways:

  • By limiting ourselves.
  • By loving our neighbor.

The cruicible in which these actions are practiced is FAMILY.

Chapter One (of the Long Version)

I’ve been thinking about the sliding scale (or pendulum swing) between the oppressive lack of freedom and choices that much of humanity has had in other times or other cultures and the unbridled freedom and abundance of our own age.

For so many people throughout history, the occupation of their hours was fixed, their diet was fixed, their relationships were fixed, their knowledge was fixed, their cultural traditions and village of residence was fixed, their housing, clothing, number of children, personal hygiene, careers, creative outlets were fixed. So little freedom. So few choices.

But in this culture in this age?

We have a rapacious appetite for freedoms and choices. We resist all external limits.

You cannot tell me what I should or should not, may not have. You cannot tell me what I should or should not, may not do.

I have the freedom and ability to purchase 100 different items for personal hygiene. When I run out of one of these, let’s say toothpaste, I am faced with a string of decisions/judgments.

When shall I go to the store to buy more? Is it in the budget, or shall I go into debt? Which of the 20 nearby stores shall I visit? (This in itself requires a long string of judgments including distance, convenience, selection, thriftiness, and business ethics.) On the dental hygiene aisle (loaded with countless types of tools and potions just for teeth), I have 40 different toothpastes to choose from. Which is safest? Which is most effective for the purpose I wish it to fulfill? Which is the most economical? Which is healthy? Which is tastiest? Which packaging is attractive? Which one impacts the environment the least? Which company is most ethical? The list goes on. Do I buy just one, or do I stock up? What fits in my budget? What fits in my space? Will that save me time, energy, or money? Do I buy other items at the store while I’m there? Shall I pay with cash, check, or credit card? Which of the 10 credit cards in my wallet shall I use? Is the transaction safe?

We are so conditioned to face these endless strings of judgments and choices every single moment of every day that we hardly notice them.

But do we know what toll they take on us, emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually?

Is it healthy to demand no limits to our choices? Decisions that fatigue or paralyze us. Closets and counters overflowing with stuff that clutters our life. Excess or harmful food that weighs us down and cripples our bodies, minds, and emotions. Relationships that break us. Debt that burdens. Immoral or unethical actions or thoughts that destroy us spiritually.

Or is it possible to self-limit in a healthy way that brings us to the center of the pendulum swing, to a place of equilibrium, a golden mean?

In order not to be damaged by unlimited freedom and choices, I must have the self-discipline to set my own limits.

That is difficult in a culture in which choices are a right, almost an obligation. It is difficult in a culture of excess and permissiveness to find the self-discipline to deny ourselves any pleasure, convenience, desire, privilege, or entitlement. Especially when these limits seem (or are) arbitrary.

What if I choose to reject my 465 health care options? What if I wear the same items of clothing every day? What if I haven’t changed my hair style in 20 years? What if I choose to eliminate electronics from my life? What if I choose not to take a promotion? What if I choose to eat the same meal for dinner every evening?


I have been contemplating the idea of freedom and self-limits and finding that it is applicable in myriad arenas of life. I am hoping to share how this concept illuminates specific topics in future blog posts. Let’s see if I can write chapter two…

Saturday, March 31, 2018

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 17: Cascade Head

Cascade Head Hike @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

This was one of my favorite hikes so far this year, but I have few pictures and they don’t do it justice!

We (Holly, the kids, and I) traveled an hour and a half over to the Oregon coast to try out the Cascade Head Trail.

The weather was in the 50s. The sun was shining (even if it was hazy to the south). Miraculously, all four kids had good attitudes. I think Lola may have been the first to the top, but all four kids beat Holly and me. We were a little slow on the 1,340 foot elevation gain.

The summit was flat and grassy, perfect for picnicking. The sun was almost hot on our faces, and I was down to my tank-top!

We hiked a total of 5 miles.

The trailhead parking was easy to find. The parking lot was nice and there were toilets. The actual trailhead was a little difficult to find, but the trail had fantastic signage from there on. We started around 10 am and it wasn’t really busy until our way back down, even though it was a beautiful day of spring break. The trail was very muddy in the beginning, but the scenery was beautiful. Once we came out into the open spaces higher up, the trail was a narrow “ditch” of sorts but the view was incredible.

This is the view to the east (toward the Coast Range):

Cascade Head Hike Coastal Mountains View @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Part of the coastline to the west:

Cascade Head View @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

And the crew at the top:

Cascade Head Hiking Crew @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Sunday, March 25, 2018

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 16: McDowell Creek Falls in the Snow

McDowell Creek Falls Hike 16 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Holly and I met up without kids at McDowell Creek Falls on Saturday. We didn’t realize we’d be greeted by a dusting of snow! We made the loop twice and then up and down the brutal steps a third time, for a total of 3.5 miles.

It was about 38 degrees (brrrr!), but we felt invigorated by the end of the hike. [Holly had just visited last week with Shannon and the girls and it was 70 degrees that day!!]

McDowell Creek Snow @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Terrace Falls @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Falls Snow Limb @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Bridge @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Falls @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Stairs @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesMcDowell Creek Falls Snow @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Friday, March 23, 2018

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 15: Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Ankeny 3 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Saturday, March 17th, the four kids and I met up with Holly and Ivy at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge. This time, Shannon and her girls, Rilla and Sweden, were able to join us! We didn’t realize that part of the trail is closed until March 31st, so this was a short, but novel, hike on the boardwalk across the wetlands.

Two of my kids got in a fight. One of them ended up with a goose-egg bruise on his cheek. The other huffed back to the truck and didn’t finish the hike. Good times.

Ankeny @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesAnkeny 2 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesAnkeny 4 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesAnkeny 6 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 14: Uproute Extendo Loop

Oak Creek Loop @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

I’m behind on my hiking posts!

On March 6th I hiked the 4-mile Uproute Extendo Loop near Oak Creek in McDonald Forest in about 2 hours with Luke, Leif, Lola, Holly, Ivy, Christina, Jake, Genevieve, and Luke P. The weather was beautiful and the company delightful.

Oak Creek Hike @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 13: Old Growth and Ridge Trails

Old Growth and Ridge Trail @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

[Hike #12 was a beautiful Saturday afternoon hike on February 24th at Talking Water Gardens with Holly and Ivy. I missed getting pictures with my camera, but we’ll return soon and I’ll share then.]

We met up at the Lewisburg Saddle Trailhead on Saturday (March 3rd) and hiked the Old Growth Loop and the connected Ridge Trail Loop (across the road) for a total of more than 3 miles and enough incline to make us feel we’d had a good workout. I think last time we met here, we hiked the Tower Trail Loop instead of the Old Growth Loop. I didn’t have the map last time and was playing follow the leader. [grin] Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out these networks of trails!

The weather had been sunnier in the morning, but it didn’t do more than lightly sprinkle on us for a short period during the hike, so that was a win. I had the three boys, and Holly had Ivy.

The trail was lovely, but all my pictures look gray and lifeless. The above picture is the best I could do.

[Lola was fishing all day with Daddy. She hauled all their fishing gear to the fishing pond in our “distressed” bike trailer, so she had a workout as well. Russ, on foot, said he couldn’t keep up with her.]

Fishing with Dad @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday, February 19, 2018

52 Hike Challenge ~ Hike 11: Silver Falls

Silver Falls Snow 1 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Monday: a scheduled CC break, a break in the rain-filled forecast, and a break from parenting.

Russ had been out of town since Friday morning, and he returned this morning.

After hiking on Saturday, Lola declared, “Mom, hiking is not my thing. It is not healthy for me. I will die if I have to hike again.” [Granted, this was said right after a strenuous hike in the rain.]

Luke bailed part way through Saturday’s hike. Levi was icing his knees. Leif is unpredictable in his attitude.

So I decided to leave the kids with Russ, take off by myself today, and appreciate the solitude.

It didn’t occur to me that we had had some flurries of snow at our house on Sunday (didn’t stick) and that Silver Falls is up in the mountains.

Look at what the kids missed.

50 minutes from home.

Almost 4 miles hiked.

7 big waterfalls.

Snow, sunshine, and blue skies.


Silver Falls Snow 2 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

These are the South Falls.

Silver Falls Snow 3 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Silver Falls Snow 6 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Lower South Falls:

Silver Falls Snow 7 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Down Canyon Trail:

Silver Falls Snow 8 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

An unnamed falls:

Silver Falls Snow 9 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Silver Falls Snow 5 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Tiny waterfalls:

Silver Falls Snow 10 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Lower North Falls:

Silver Falls Snow 11 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Double Falls:

Silver Falls Snow 12 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesSilver Falls Snow 13 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Drake Falls:

Silver Creek Snow 15 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Middle North Falls:

Silver Falls Snow 15 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Winter Trail:

Silver Creek Snow 16 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesSilver Falls Snow 14 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Winter Falls:

Silver Falls Snow 19 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesSilver Falls Snow 18 @ Mt. Hope ChroniclesSilver Falls Snow 17 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

And finishing the loop on the Rim Trail.

Silver Falls Snow 20 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Words fail me.

Silver Falls Snow 21 @ Mt. Hope Chronicles