Dear Aunt Dianne:
It’s been almost ten months without you here and sometimes it feels like yesterday when we were watching The Pioneer Woman together and wondering how she hasn’t had a heart attack yet from all that heavy whipping cream she uses.
I try not to cry a lot over the loss of you because you know how everyone calls me the basketcase drama queen. I try not to dwell on the grief and that’s probably why it’s been shoved into a tiny hard ball in the corner of my chest somewhere, unraveling in the weirdest moments, like the other day when a little girl at Walmart yelled: “bye, Dianne!”
Of course she wasn’t talking to “our Dianne”, it probably was spelled with one “n” instead of two, but simply hearing the name spoken out loud when it’s so hard for us to say it sometimes, for fear we will break and never be able to be fixed again, was enough to leave me standing in the aisle of cheap and ugly purses with tears in my eyes. Seriously, though, I know you’d get this – why are the purses at Walmart so ugly these days? I wish you were here to tell me of a cool one you saw on QVC.
When we come to the house to visit mom and dad, I still instinctively look at your chair and expect to see you there. Instead, it’s empty so I set my purse and camera bag down and wish you were there to ask me to move it all so you can sit down and catch your breath.
Watching you fade away physically those last few years, feeling as if family far away had abandoned you, was hard. But it was also a blessing to have you close, even on the days we butted heads over silly things, usually because you were more stubborn than a mule. The people we once knew as family may not have seemed interested in talking to us, the cut or rejection and betrayal was deep, but if none of that had happened then our side of the family would have missed out on eight years of laughter and fun and being reminded to always keep in touch with our childlike selves.
I could never figure out why you seemed to be the black sheep of the family, you know that. Maybe it was because you smoked for years, even after Grandpa died from cancer, making us all wonder if it had been the cigarettes that killed him. Maybe it’s because you were loud and inappropriate and fun when others were sometimes more serious. I’m really not sure why you were the proverbial cast out and you never were either, which is why I think you always felt you were in the way when you weren’t.
The kids have been growing fast since you have been gone. Jonathan misses you terribly but I don’t think he knows how to talk about it. He withdrew into himself for a while and started thinking deep thoughts about death and who else he’ll lose soon. School became hard and eventually we pulled him from the school we’d all wanted to love but couldn’t anymore. So now he’s homeschooled and we wish you were still here because we finally have the time and ability to travel down and see you and Mom and Dad whenever is needed, not only when a schedule allows.
I think a lot about all the wasted time. All the time we could have spent with you but didn’t. But then I think about all the time we might not have had with you if you had never moved in with Mom and Dad and I’m grateful. The loss of others was our gain. I wish those boys could have had the time with you we did. They never rejected you, Dianne. They were simply never given the chance to know you, for whatever reason and reasons we may never know. Had they been given that chance they would have loved you, I know.
So we keep moving on, Mom and I pausing ever so often to cry because you aren’t here to watch Wheel of Fortune with or tell us about the latest gadget you saw on QVC. The Lyme is getting better for Dad and he’s discovered sugar triggers mood swings so he’s backed off of it.
Grace seems to not remember you most days but when guests come over she’s as matter-of-fact as ever, letting them know that was your chair, you lived here, then you died but that you existed. It’s good that she knows you existed but I wish she had had the chance to really know you and remember all the good about you.
I’ll close for now because I’m sure you know the rest – the losses we faced, the complexity of the feelings about the one loss, the mixed feelings you would have had too. And I’m sure none of that matters to you anymore because the things of earth have passed away and Joan and Jesus are holding you now, in a place where there is no more pain.
Love you and miss you more than ever,
This past week I started thinking to myself, as I scrolled through my Facebook timeline: how many more blogs written by Christian women for Christian women do we really need? It seems like every time I turn around another one has popped up and they are all writing about “God’s calling”, how to be a Godly wife and mother or how to be a woman after God’s own heart. And they all include a way for you to download an ebook to tell Christian women how to be better Christian women.
I know. It sounds like I’m against Christian women writing about,and for, Christian women, but I’m not. I read many of these blogs, books and Instagram mini-blogs and they are insanely encouraging and welcome. I seek them out, in fact, to feel encouraged. And sometimes I am even one of those Christian women writing for Christian women! Gasp!
Still, one has to wonder – when do we stop only encouraging each other and start trying to encourage the people who either aren’t Christians or who are but aren’t the “model Christians” by our own definitions? I think many Christians are so busy making sure they have it all together, never doubt, never question and always trust God, they forget, or don’t want, to show their weak and questioning moments. And they certainly don’t want it to appear they are criticizing the church in any way, even if they might only be trying to express a concern of an area they would like to work on so they can improve with the church.
I have received my fair share of scoldings from members or leaders of “the church” for expressing my feelings about church behavior or my doubts about God at one point or another in my life. Often, though, by expressing those feelings out loud I found others who agreed with me and felt the same and only when I mentioned it did they feel comfortable to say so. It opened a door not to complain but to exchange ideas and ponder solutions to our feelings.
One time I vented on Facebook, something I do not recommend, about cliques within in the church and how it makes other women feel left out to the point they finally stop attending church. I wrote this while never naming an actual church, or the church I attended yet I still received a private message, from the associate pastor, warning me to stop trashing their church online and a Bible verse about bringing concerns about other Christians to that Christian in private. Apparently, I had hit a nerve but what was odd was how this pastor didn’t come to me in person, as the verse had suggested, but hid behind social media to do his scolding. In fact, when I did see him in person, he never addressed me about it and shortly after our family left the church for that and a couple of other reasons.
Social media and smartphones as a growing form of communication is a hindrance to the church in my mind and the topic is something I plan to delve into deeper in future blog posts. Before you think I’m pointing fingers at people and not realizing they are pointing back at me, trust me, I know that I have also been guilty of hiding behind social media to deal with difficult situations.
The “leadership of the church” may not have appreciated what I wrote that day, and I shouldn’t have taken to social media about my hurt and concern, but I also received a private message from a friend who thanked me for the post and confessed that one reason she had stopped attending church regularly was because of the clique mentality at so many churches. Another friend also private messaged me later, once I had removed the post so as not to receive any more “scoldings”, and said she had also felt “outside the circle” during the times she’d tried to get involved in churches in her area.
So on that day I may not have been liked by Christians, who thought I should have protected the church and not air its dirty laundry, but I was understood by those hurt by the church as a whole and who, though they were hesitant to attend a church again, felt comfortable to share with me they wanted a relationship with God, knew humans were imperfect and not always a reflection of his true nature, but were not sure how to get past their disappointment in people.
We were able to have an open and honest conversation about church and Christians. I didn’t discourage either of my friends from attending church but simply said “I get it. We are on the same page. Me too.” It was nice for us all not to feel alone and maybe in one way we formed our own clique of sorts, but one outside the church instead of in.
I think that’s what the church is lacking – a way to reach out to those who don’t attend church and say “me too. I get it.” Instead many in the church write or speak only to their “own kind” and scold when some speak about God in a way they consider wrong, usually out of hurt or frustration as they work out their feelings. I know correction and encouragement of “our own” is needed but there is a time and place for both and sometimes obliterating the box we’ve put God in is needed.
I hope Christian women, and men for that matter, continue to write encouraging pieces for other Christians, but maybe we should question if we really need to only encourage our own using language only we Christians get and making an entire generation feel like they are on the outside looking in.
To follow my writing or photography you can catch me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or at my photography site at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler. I also offer stock photography for bloggers, creators, writers and business owners at the following links: Lightstock or Alamy, or contact me directly for personalized work for your custom project.
So many people want to be a photographer but are stuck on the idea the photo has to be technically perfect. They want their child to sit just right or the light to hit just so or the moment to be simply perfect and if they can’t do that then forget it – the photo isn’t taken.
Maybe because I like to photograph moments more than poses, and had to focus on them when I worked for newspapers, the lack of perfection in a photo bothers me less than it does some photographers. When I look back at my photos over the years I sometimes mentally scold myself for a technical error, knowing my aperture was set wrong or my ISO could have been raised or lowered, but normally my attention is on the moment captured rather than the technical aspects.
I don’t want to look back at my memories from a special time in my life and pat myself on the back for nailing focus. I want to look back at those photos and remember how I felt, what was happening, who was there. I look at photography in a similar way to art – it’s about how the art makes me feel not how it was made.
A local art teacher recently shared a photo of a painting by a student of his on Facebook. The painting was of a woman singing and I actually scrolled past it but then flung the cursor back up to take a better look at it. As I stared at it for a while I found it left me with a relaxed, easy going feeling, something I needed in the midst of a stressful week. I could hear the smooth jazz music and the velvet tones of the singer’s voice and imagined a cup of hot tea in front of me.
Someone else could have looked at it and said they saw technical errors (I doubt many would have) or that the singer wasn’t as “realistic looking” as some might think it should be, but none of that mattered to me because what was important to me was how the painting made me feel. What if that young painter had given up on her work because she decided, in her own mind, that her work wasn’t good enough? What if she had decided that because something didn’t look technically right, the painting could never touch anyone emotionally? She would have been wrong and if she hadn’t finished the painting she would have robbed me of those few moments of respite I was given that day by looking at the painting.
But because she picked up that paintbrush and painted what she felt, not only what she saw and knew, a soul, my soul was touched.
So pick up that camera.
Pick up that paintbrush.
Pick up that pen.
Put those fingers on the keyboard.
Just paint the painting, take the photos, write the words, create what you feel in your heart, not only what you know in your head.
You may not touch millions or thousands or hundreds or even fifty people but if you even touch one – isn’t that worth it?
For more inspiration to get out and create already check out YouTube entrepreneur and photographer Peter McKinnon talking about the power of an idea.
This post is part of the Sunday Salon, which is a group of bloggers who join together one day of the week to share what they’re reading, watching or simply what’s up in their life, although it’s mainly about what they are reading.
I’m finally finishing some books I started months ago and either wandered away from when a new and shiny book caught my attention (squirrel!) or simply filed away in the Kindle because it didn’t hold my interest.
First up this week to finish was something I don’t normally read – the autobiography of a professional wrestler. Shawn Michaels, also known as the Heartbreak Kid, or by his real name of Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (no, really, that’s his real, non-showbiz name), wrote this second autobiography, “Wrestling for my Life: the Legend, The Reality, and The Faith of a WWE Superstar” several years after his first (that’s what you write when you’re too lazy to look up the date of his first autobiography) and after becoming a Christian.
The book goes into some detail about how Michaels got his start as a wrestler, but not as much as a first autobiography would. Instead, this book is more about how his faith changed him and became the focal point of his life, seeping into every pore of his being, including professionally. He writes about his struggles to learn what it means to be a man of faith, the stumbling steps he took toward kicking an alcohol and pill addiction and becoming a better man for his devoted wife, a former wrestler herself, and his children. This is definitely “light reading” but as a practicing Christian myself, I see a lot of depth in Michaels’ words about his Christian walk.
A book I’m still plowing through, but haven’t yet finished is The Last Trial of Lincoln, which is about – ummm – the last, um, trial, of Lincoln. Hence the name.
But seriously, it’s a book about the final trial Abraham Lincoln served on as defense attorney before running for president. The basic plot is that Lincoln is defending a young man accused of murdering another man during a knife attack. The question is if it was premeditated or accidental. Much of the book is seen through the eyes of scribe Robert Hitt, the real-life scribe to the trial, whose handwritten manuscript of the trial was discovered in 1989 and is the basis of the book.
The full name of the book is actually “Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to The Presidency.” The author is Dan Abrams, chief legal analyst for ABC News and the book is often as wordy as his book titles (according to Amazon his last book was titled, “Man Down: Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.”)
The book is good, but it’s so chocked full of words and legal jargon and flashbacks that help to paint the picture of who Lincoln was as a lawyer, that I’m finding myself needing breaks from it to rest my poor, less-intellectual brain. I don’t want it to sound like the book is so deep it is unreadable, however, because it is actually entertaining. It’s simply that there are so many flashbacks that I am halfway through it and wondering if we will ever get to the end of the trial before the book ends. I’ll let you know if that happens or not.
A book I just started and read when I want something a little lighter, with quick to the point sentences, is the second book in the Fletch series, Carioca Fletch by Gregory McDonald. Technically, according to my husband, who really should be writing blog posts about books, this is not the “second” Fletch book but it is the book that follows the first book chronologically. In this book, Fletch is in Brazil, having escaped from his past adventure with his life and some money (I won’t spoil that book for you) and is confronted by an old woman who believes he is the reincarnation of her late husband, who was murdered. Now Fletch’s new Brazilian friends, if not Fletch himself, want Fletch to solve the murder and release the soul of the already deceased man.
Since I just started the book, I’m really not sure where it’s going to go but I have a feeling, based on the first Fletch book, it’s going to be a twisted tale where Fletch’s lack of empathy and humanity is going to be showing.
The people in it are pretty sad and without feeling so far, but for some reason, I can’t tear myself away, maybe because Fletch is a crooked journalist and I worked with a few of those during my time as a small town newspaper reporter at four newspapers in Pennsylvania and New York.
When I really need light reading, I turn to something very simple and lighthearted that doesn’t require any intellectual capability at all and for the past few months that has been the Paddington Bear series. Thank you, Michael Bond, for transporting me into a second childhood late at night when I’m trying to take my mind off of the screaming outside word. I’m currently on my third Paddington book – Paddington Abroad.
Writing this I am now realizing I’m, again, reading about a British bear, though the other book (Enchanted Places, the autobiography of Christopher Milne) wasn’t necessarily about the “bear” but the boy who was a friend of “the bear” (Winnie the Pooh). I guess there is something comforting to me about bears and the British, maybe because I still have the Teddybear I had as a child and … I have no idea about the British thing since I have no British family members.
So how about you? What are you reading this week? What’s inspiring you? What’s comforting you? What’s making you think?
I wave to the husband and the kids and smile, sitting calmly in the chair, surprised by the sudden time alone.
They pull away from the house and still I sit, appearing to be calmly contemplating what to do with myself. But inside my mind is racing.
I jump up and race for the kitchen.
My thoughts are jumbled but determined.
Oh my gosh! I’m alone for 20 minutes! Grab the remote, a cup of tea, a snack and run a bath! Hurry!
They’ll be back before you know it and you’ll be back to fetching juice boxes and arguing over how many more math problems he has to do before he’s done with school for the week.
Tea. Tea. Tea.
Where are the tea bags? Where are they?! Oh! Here they are! Yes!
The dog is by the door. No. I don’t have any time for letting a dog out. I must hurry.
Ross Poldark is waiting for me.
Let the dog out onto the porch, but her lede is stuck around the slide. Unhook the lede from the slide, hook her up, coax her out the door, run back inside, out of the biting cold wind that came with the temperature drop.
Put a cup of water with a tea bag in it in the microwave, put some peanut butter on some rice crackers, take the tea out and add some honey and then tip the entire cup full over, onto the counter and down to the floor.
Yell “damn and blast! damn and blast!” in my best Rex Harrison voice.
Don’t be discouraged. Keep going.
Clean up the mess and put another cup of water with a tea bag in the microwave.
Once the mess is cleaned up and the tea is done rush to the living room and click play on Poldark, who is deep in brooding mode (again) while I copy photos to a flash drive and tap out the first draft of this blog post and then start the Sunday Salon post for Sunday about what books I’m reading.
Halfway into an over-dramatic scene between Ross and Elizabeth, the front door swings open and kids and bedraggled looking husband emerge. Total time alone: 20 stinking minutes, if that.
Trips to Walmart with two kids takes me an hour, maybe longer. For my husband? Twenty stupid minutes.
Damn and blast, indeed, Rex.
The month of September was the proverbial bad word that I won’t say here because I’m a good Christian girl. I tossed a lot of things I usually care about aside simply to survive the month and all the bizarre little things that kept going wrong and adding up to weigh our family down. One of the things I gave up was worrying about whether or not I could make money with my photography. Another thing I had to let go of was trying to create images that would get me hired by people in my area. I just want to create images I like and if other people don’t want them hanging on their walls, that’s fine with me. I think sometimes we have to create to set our own souls free and if we set some others free at the same time then that’s simply an added bonus.
This post is part of a blog circle where a group of photographers, artists and creators share ten images from the previous month, taken either on one day or throughout the month. You can find the link to the next person in the circle at the end of the post. This month I decided to share some of the images I’ve been creating just for me. I’d love to see the images, art, or words you’ve been creating. Feel free to add a link to them in the comment section even if you’re not part of the 10 on 10 Lifestyle Group (on Facebook)
To continue to find other artists sharing today in the 10 on 10 blog circle, click over to see the beautiful images of Shea Kundler.
When Dave Page found himself interested in growing a vineyard on his property in Columbia Crossroads, Pa., he had no idea the plot of land that he’d set aside for growing grapes would become a sought-after wedding destination for brides and grooms.
When you step outside the front door of Dave and Denise Page’s home there is a four-acre field lined with 1,800 grapevines of eight different varietals of grapes. Off to one side of what Dave calls “D’Vine Vineyard” (incorporating he and Denise’s names) is a handmade wooden pergola with a swing where brides and grooms pause to have their photos taken on their wedding day. Across the road from the vineyard is a rustic barn, sprawling cornfields, and a mini orchard of apple, peach and plum trees. Behind the barn is a pond that looks like a painting and an empty field perfect for setting up tents and tables for wedding receptions or other celebrations.
Dave owns a total of 120 acres, part of which he rents out to a neighboring farmer to grow corn.
Denise says it was their niece who unwittingly started the now thriving wedding venue business in 2014 by telling the Pages she thought their rustic barn and the former working farm would be the perfect location for her wedding.
Though puzzled by the interest in the barn, built in 1907 by Dave’s great-grandfather, Fred, the Pages agreed to the request and began to prepare the space for wedding guests. The barn hadn’t been a working barn since Dave sold the cows off in the 1980s and was only being used to store equipment and hay. The Pages would soon learn that vintage, rustic, old-fashioned, or whichever term you might want to use, were becoming popular themes among young, and even older, couples as they looked for wedding venues.
Their nieces’ wedding was photographed by Danielle Barden, a well-known wedding photographer from Tioga County, Pa., who shared the photos on social media, Denise says. The photos went semi-viral and more requests for the location began to flow in. The vineyard, located about 40 miles South of the New York Finger Lakes region, has booked close to 50 weddings and events since that first wedding in 2014.
The Pages were pleasantly surprised by the attention but didn’t make plans to quit their day jobs to start a full-time venue or event location.
Instead, Dave still works as a classifier for the American Holstein Association and Denise is a full-time nurse. A full-time event venue and winery may come someday, but not until they both retire, says Denise. For now, the pair books weddings or other events for the weekends, in a space where the renters do most of the work, including setting up and tearing down. Their children Brandon and Denee and daughter-in-law Cheryl help the Page’s run the business.
Denise and Dave never expected their site to become such an attraction, they say. The land began as a dairy farm more than 100 years ago and is one of only a few century farms in Bradford County. Five generations of Dave’s family farmed the land.
The farm was passed to Dave in the 1970s by his grandparents, Max and Louise VanVeghten. The barn is all the original wood, having only a new roof put on a couple of times over the years and some of the floorboards have been replaced. An addition was added around the time Dave took over. Dave has now turned the bottom of the barn, and part of the addition, into an area to press and ferment the wine, as well as a small bar area to be used to serve guests refreshments. The wine press is locked off from guests during events, per state law.
Last year Dave also turned one of the old stalls into a changing room for the bride and her bridal party, complete with full-length mirrors, outlets for hairdryers and curling irons and even an old barber chair where hair stylists can prepare the bridal party members’ hair.
Dave added the deck to the back of the barn around the time of the first wedding.
Until he retires, Dave spends any free time he has testing wines, experimenting and sharing the results with a select few. He’s happy to show friends and family the wine bladder presses, the bulk milk tanks that he’s transformed to hold the wine, and the barrels where the wine ages, he says.
But for now he’s only making what he calls practice wine.
“We have a license in holding but we don’t bottle,” according to Denise. “We make wine for our own use. In the future probably we will do festivals.”
I haven’t been blogging much lately, mainly because sometimes life sucks and you don’t feel like writing about it.
But while I haven’t been blogging I have been watching somewhat odd British murder mystery shows from the 1980s and early 1990s thanks to Britbox on Amazon.
My husband suggested I watch Campion, a show headed by the fifth Doctor himself, Peter Davison, who I first developed somewhat of a crush on in the old BBC show “All Creatures Big and Small” that they showed reruns of on PBS when I was a kid.
To be honest, half the time I have no idea what is happening in the episodes, which are two parts and an hour long each. I’ve found myself rewinding them to try to figure out what just happened or what someone said, partially because of the British accents, and partially because I think in an attempt to be clever, the writers simply make the dialogue vague and confusing.
Despite those shortcomings, I can’t stop watching the show and wondering what is going to happen next. Campion’s sly, mischevious, and brilliant character is fun to watch and it’s also nice to see that Davidson was able to break out of the typecast hole some of the other Doctor
Who’s fell into over the years.
Miss Marple is another of the British mystery shows I’ve found myself caught up in, even though I’ve only watched two episodes so far. From what I can tell, each series takes us through one mystery, with each episode offering another piece to the puzzle each time.
There is so much meaty dialogue in each installment I found myself needing to take a break before diving into the next episode. These older mysteries weave such interesting stories it’s hard to binge watch them without becoming overstimulated, which is both a pro and a con of them.
On the lighter side, my son and I have been trying out Netflix’ latest cop show offering, The Good Cop starring Tony Danza and – uh – could it be? Is that him? Why, yes it is. It’s multi-million selling recording artist Josh Groban in the lead roll as Tony Caruso, Jr. The premise behind the show is that Tony Sr. is a crooked cop who just finished serving time in prison for various nefarious actions while on the force and his son, Groban, has swung the pendulum completely the other way by being the “good cop” or the stickler for the rules.
Woven in the storyline is the backstory that Tony Jr.’s mom and Tony Sr.’s wife was killed years ago in a hit and run accident and Tony Sr. is working behind the scenes to try to find her killer.
Groban really surprised me with his acting skills. The acting in the show is solid overall, but the plots and the writing could definitely use some work and I feel that is a disservice to the high quality talent they have on board. I’ve never been a huge Tony Danza fan but he really pulls off the slack off, flippant and defiant, bad cop Tony Caruso role.
If you’re looking for a hard hitting, gritty cop show don’t look here. The rating on this one is PG and the storyline is simple and cases easy to solve, except, even if you know who did it, you don’t always know how. My son compares this show to Pysch, which used to be on USA Network and you can catch in reruns on Amazon (no, I’m not being paid by Amazon… yet. ha!), mainly because of the intricate and humorous way they reach a mystery you may have been able to partially solve in the first ten minutes.
Since the show is PG, it is fairly safe for your older children to watch with you, but there are still some adult themes of sex, murder, cheating, and a few swear words. We haven’t finished the season yet to determine if this is one we will put on our list to look forward to a second season.
So, what are all of you watching, listening to or reading this week? Let me know in the comments or link to a blog post where you share what’s on your watch, listening or reading list this week (or month).