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The state of dairy farming in Northeast Pennsylvania: tangible struggles, palpable heartache and immeasurable joy

DSC_1669Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

This post is part of a continuing project about the changes in farming in America. The project is both a photo series and a blog series. For more about this series please visit my page about the project, or see the other posts, Tell Me More About: Mark Bradly, Dairy Farmer and The Farm.


Even though he was using a smile to greet his visitors when he came out from the back of the barn his face showed the stress of the morning.

“Is it broken again?” his sister Melissa asked and he nodded, and shrugged.

It wasn’t anything new. Equipment had been breaking down at the Walrath family’s dairy farm for months. Scott, owner and main operator of the farm can’t seem to keep up. He is the farms mechanic, vet, accountant, milks the cows, cleans the barn and plows and plants the fields.

Scott’s shoulders dipped slightly, revealing much more than physical exhaustion.

Days off don’t exist when you’re running a family farm and the pay? Well, most people would have given up years ago based on the pay alone.

Melissa and Scott Walrath are no strangers to the challenges farming brings. They grew up on the main farm, with their father David, now retired, and their mother Gail, who passed away a few years ago, and they’ve lived here ever since.

The main farm, called Snowcrest Farm, started as one barn and several silos and has now been extended to include David’s farm, Melissa and her husband Wayne’s  property, and Scott and his wife Lydia’s property, located in succession about a mile apart from each other on Ballentine Road in East Smithfield.  All together, the three farms, all under the umbrella name of Scowcrest, includes 542 acres and 265 head of cattle on the three properties. Out of the 265 cows, 120 are milking cows and are milked twice a day.

DSC_9036DSC_9040Wayne and Melissa have been fighting to keep the family tradition alive their entire lives and they aren’t ready to give up, even though many others would have. The farm was started in 1951 with Scott and Melissa’s grandfather Albert Walrath, who was a full-time school teacher and part time farmer. David took the farm over after graduating from SRU and the farm became Snowcrest Farm in 1973 when he married Gail.

The piece of equipment that broke this day is used to feed the cows their silage of corn and hay. It pours it from the silo, into another machine that drops the feed in front of the cows twice a day. The feeder has been breaking down a lot lately, Melissa says. In fact, a lot of equipment has.

The siblings looked at each other thoughtfully for a few moments, both seeming too worn to even suggest a remedy. Finally Melissa asked if Scott has called someone who has helped in the past. He said he did and the man  would stop by the farm at some point that day. In most cases it’s Scott who fixes the farm equipment, but sometimes extra help is needed.

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Farmer Scott Walrath works on farm equipment at Snowcrest Family Farms, which his family has owned and operated since 1951.

“We are stupid – Stupidly in love with farming,” Scott says with a tired grin when asked why he continues to work the farm even as the challenges grow each day. “Pride, passion, stubbornness and stupidity all play a part of why I am still farming. I have pride in my craft and ability to still make this life work even with everything working against me. I have passion for my animals and my crops.”

“Getting a heifer calf, a litter of pigs, watching my corn come up, or even at 11 at night after being up for 20 hours and stacking the last round bale in the shed before rain comes,” he continues. “The smile on my face should say it all. I have stubbornness to make this life style work for my family as well as my community. I want my family to be able to grow up on this farm and I want my community to be able to drive by and see my farm prosper. Nothing makes me sadder than to see fields that used to be in production and growing wonderful crops turn into weeds because there is no one left to tend to them.”

Scott knows other farmers are giving up, selling, and in worst cases, ending their lives from all the pressure.

“I don’t know what else I’d want to do. There is nothing else I’d want to do,” he said.
“I want to be able to provide for my family doing this but right now I’ve got Kelsey (a young girl from the local Future Farmers of America) I’ve got two other high school boys who will be here later. I don’t have any full time help. It’s me and Melissa is working herself to the bone helping out right now.”

Ten years ago the Walraths had two full time helpers, both parents and Scott.

“That was a lot of help and it still seemed like a lot of work,” Scott said.

Now Scott does the job of four people and recently when a back injury flared up the tasks on the farm fell to the rest of the family. Melissa and Wayne also work full time as elementary teachers in the Troy School District.

In addition to the cows, Scott owns pigs, a horse, goats, chickens and a turkey in his recently rebuilt barn at the top of the hill. The barn located at the house where he lives with his three children and Lydia burned two years ago and took 100 animals with it. All six of the breeding pigs, all of which had just had piglets, and the family dog also died.

Although we got insurance money it was not enough for the rebuilding, so we had to take out a loan“, Melissa said. “When we tried rebuilding the first time the barn collapsed and we had to start all over for the second time. Luckily it was summer by then and cattle could be in the pasture because we were running out of room without the barn.  I think rebuilding was more of a new beginning. Scott designed the barn just the way he wanted it.”

The new barn became a more friendly place for a more modern farm, she said.

It’s available for tours by local 4-H groups or local schools and it’s also a great location for meetings and the small office even provides a place for Scott to crash when his pigs are in labor and he needs to keep an eye on the laboring mom.

Scott appreciates those who encourage people to go out and buy a gallon of milk or a block of cheese to support the dairy farmer but in the long run that won’t help much, he feels. The people who are actually benefiting from the sale of dairy are the middle men or larger corporations. That money isn’t trickling down to the farmer.

“The biggest challenges in farming today are the big farms pushing out the little farms,” he said. “I call it the Walmart effect. There used to be a lot of little mom and pop stores especially here in the Valley. Now you go to Walmart. Same in farming. There are more 1,000-40,000 cow farms and they can make more milk, cheaper that we can at 100 cows or less.”

Dairy farming is not regulated in the United States and that lack of regulation means the people doing the hardest work are getting the least benefit, Scott feels.

DSC_9020“We are at the bottom of the food chain so we don’t get it. It’s always the middle man,” he said. “So if you want to go out and buy a gallon of milk I’m sure they appreciate it but it’s not helping me.”

Nothing is helping at this point, he said.

“As far as I am concerned, the dairy industry is not regulated – like, for example, Bill Gates goes out with Microsoft, they let him get so big but they don’t let him corner the market you know..he’s got to sell off or whatever,” Scott said. “The Dairy Farmers of America controls 80 percent of the farms and a couple other small farms are co-ops but Maryland and Virginia right now they are losing money because they’ve got too much milk. They’re trying to sell it at lower costs but then they don’t have operating capital. I was forced last October to sign with DFA or [I] don’t have a market. I didn’t have a choice.  So they say ‘you want to sell all your cows and your livelihood or do you want to join with the DFA?'”

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Scott gets some help on the farm from members of the Athens Area Future Farmers of America and his nephew, Simon. 

DSC_8980Scott credits the Athens Area High School Future Farmers of America with helping to not only keep area farms in the area running but keeping young people interested and up to date on the changing face of farming. In addition to learning about farming, these students are also learning a work ethic that has already shown to benefit them in future jobs. When a potential employer looks at a resume and reads that a young person has worked on a farm, they know they are a hard worker, Scott said.

“Every one of the kids that have used me as a reference has been hired at the post high school job choice,” he said.

“Pride, passion, stubbornness and stupidity all play a part of why I am still farming. I have pride in my craft and ability to still make this life work even with everything working against me. I have passion for my animals and my crops.”
– Scott Walrath, farmer, East Smithfield, Pa.

Scott doesn’t want to give up on farming. He wants his children to grow up the same way he did – getting much of their food from their backyard, climbing tress and milking cows and splashing through the mud and catching fireflies in the summer.

“I want to raise my kids here ,” he said, as he turns his tractor into an empty field to spread manure and prepare the soil for planing later in the season. “The joys of raising a family on the farm is the closeness we have. The kids can ride in the tractor with me, go to the barn with me and when there is hay or other work to be done there is nothing like all of us pitching in and getting the job done, even if it’s until the middle of the night.”

His children, like many children who grow up on a farm, will always know the value of a dollar and what hard work really is, he said.

DSC_8965-2“They get to experience so many of God’s wonders from the birth of the animals, to animal husbandry, to building things, to growing our own food,” Scott said. “My kids never say that they are bored and don’t need video games to keep them entertained. One of the biggest things I  teach them is common sense, which is very lacking in society today.”

Scott knows continuing to farm doesn’t look like the wisest choice to some.

“Stupidity also plays a role – a big role,” he says about his determination to continue the farm. “My body is breaking down early, I rarely get time off, and my stress level is at an all time high. I am sure a 40 hour a week job would be better for my sanity and my health, but I am not made that way. I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if I didn’t have something to pour my mind, body and soul into.”

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Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

Originally written for another publication who rejected it because they said it had been published before (it hadn’t) and wasn’t timely (it is). Hmmm…Anyhow…figured I’d just publish it on my own blog instead.

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I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

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Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when No Reservations was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17 year old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word dead but would also understand the term passed away would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what dead is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial.

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Adventures of Zooma the wonder dog: out in Wall-kings Glen

A couple weeks ago we went to a place Mommy and Daddy called Wall-kings Glen or something like that. The lady in the little building said I wasn’t allowed on the trail so Mommy and Plaything One and Plaything Two stayed with me in the place they called a park and another place called a playground.

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The playground was full of creatures that were the same height as Plaything One and Plaything Two but some looked like Mommy and  Daddy only with less gray. Mommy called them college students and then did this weird thing with her eyes, sort of like they rolled around in her head. Then she smiled. It was weird.

At one point Mommy thought we’d never get to Playground because everyone kept stopping to love on me and give me attention. They kept asking “what kind” I was. I don’t know what that meant, but I didn’t care because I learned the best way to get the pets was to wiggle my rear sideways at them and lay on my back so they would rub my belly.

I was just laying on the charm, Mom said. I don’t know what charm is, but I sure like the sound of that.

“Oh look! How sweet!” people kept squealing at me and then my belly was being rubbed and my ears caressed and I was being told what a good girl I was.

I was glad none of them saw me the week before when I was nipping at Plaything One and Plaything Two to try to get them to play with me.

DSC_8600I rolled right on my back every time someone asked to meet me and showed them the belly so they all said “aaawwwww”. I also wiggled my fluffy butt and little tail when an entire group of college boys and girls swooned all over me.

What power.

If only I could figure out how to harness that for more of those cookie treats Mommy and the playthings got me the other day.

Read more of my adventures here: Zooma and the Bunny; Zooma Escapes.

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Are you a blogger, advertiser, or in charge of advertising at your church or another organization? Maybe you are in need of some faith-focused images for your project. If so, you can find some great images at Lightstock.com. *disclaimer: by clicking on the link you are supporting me as an affiliate and I will receive a small payment for that referral.

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She’s quite fond of the slimy creatures. 10 on 10 for June

My 3-year old daughter is a caretaker.

She takes care of her stuffed animals and our pets and other people’s pets. Sometimes she takes care of me and once in awhile her brother (though she’s usually bossing him around). What she really enjoys taking care of, though, are worms and bugs. I don’t get it, but she likes rolly pollies and worms and wants to put them in containers to keep them safe whenever she finds them. I try to explain that they are safe outside because that’s their home, but it doesn’t always work.

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We had filled the pool in our backyard one night this week and for some reason the water on the grass drew a huge worm, one we country folk call a “nightcrawler” right out of the mud. My toddler was delighted. DSC_0104DSC_0101She was delighted to show it to her brother and make a video for her dad, who was at work, and she was delighted when I said she could keep the worm in a plastic container from the kitchen if we added some wet soil to it for it to live in for awhile.

She most likely wouldn’t be delighted that yesterday she couldn’t find the worm so I took it all outside to look myself and discovered the worm was indeed gone. My closest guess is that our very large, moody cat ate it.

I think we’ll have to be a little more careful about taking care of our worms in the future.

This post is part of a monthly blog circle that publishes the 10th day of the month and features 10 photos from the previous month on either one day or throughout the month. To continue the circle please click over to Shea Kleundler’s blog

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Are you a blogger, advertiser, or have you been put in charge of advertising at your church or another organization? Maybe you are in need of some faith-focused images for your project, whatever that project is. If so, you can find some great images at Lightstock.com. I’m a photographer contributor and simply a supporter of the site. While I am a contributing photographer I wouldn’t expect you to feel obligated to use my photos from the site because there are some amazing artists who you support when you purchase from Lightstock. *disclaimer: by clicking on the link you are supporting me as an affiliate and I will receive a small payment for that referral.

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What Anthony Bourdain taught me

“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”
― Anthony Bourdain

I’m not sure how healthy it is to cry off and on for two days over the death of a person you didn’t even know but this week I have done that.

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Photo from nuvomagazine.com

Cutting myself a little slack, I know some of the emotions from the death of writer and former “chef” Anthony Bourdain stem from the still raw loss of my aunt, and the unsteady feeling I now live with that my world is tilting a bit off kilter. Bourdain was a man who called himself simply a “cook” when others called him a chef and became well known after writing an essay about working in the cooking industry and even more well known from a show on the Travel Network called “No Reservations” and his recent TV foray on CNN called “Parts Unknown.”

I don’t like change. I never have. I’m a creature of habit and like my routines. I don’t like things to be different, no matter if it’s a change in my toothpaste to a change in who is in my life. I don’t mind spontaneous moments or last minute plan changes, within reason, but I don’t like when that change of plan includes the removal of people from my life.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t really part of my life, yet he was. He was who I listened to when I needed to be reminded the world was bigger than this small town I lived in. He was who I went to when I needed to remember I may have had a cruddy day but there was always great tasting, delicious food available to be cooked and sampled to make it seem a little better.

My family watched reruns of No Reservations on Saturday nights and I cooked while the dishes Tony ate inspired me to try harder to create something worth eating.

When I say Tony reminded me there was food to help my day seem better, I don’t mean it in that unhealthy “using food as a crutch” way. It’s simply that food is good and good tasting food is even better. We are humans and we need to eat and if we are going to eat we might as well eat food that tastes good. Good tasting food doesn’t always mean processed, crap food, either, as Tony showed on his shows.

Yeah, sure he featured scenes of him gorging on some of the most disgusting processed, chemically-laced food you’ve ever seen more than a few hundred times over the years but he also showcased some of the most simple, divine and flavorful dishes on the planet created with some of the most delicious and healthy ingredients known to man.

To be honest, I didn’t see Anthony Bourdain living much beyond his 60s. I always thought he would die from a heart attack induced by some of the garbage he shoved into his pie hole, as he might call it. The thought of a day when he wasn’t around to watch do crazy things and eat even more bizarre things was always unsettling to me so I tried not to think about it. I knew it would come, though, but I thought it would be years from now and from a plane crash, a diving accident, food poisoning, a shark attack, not from his body hanging from the end of a bathrobe belt.

Anthony and I didn’t agree when it came to the spiritual world. He was an outspoken atheist, maybe sometimes an agnostic, and I have always been a Christian. There are lessons he taught with his life that I don’t want to learn from, nor or they lessons I care for my children to heed. By his own admission, he did too many drugs and drank too much (though he had been drug free for many years before he died) and he frequented places I never would have. Still, I learned a lot from Anthony Bourdain, and not just what not to do.

For one, he taught me to live fully and ironically he taught me this one even more so by his death.

Anthony definitely knew how to go out and experience every bit of life he could – traveling to every country you could think of, eating meals and meeting people wherever he went. I don’t experience every bit of life and it’s a change I hope I can make in the future. I want to experience freely and fearlessly, while recognizing the need to shield body and soul from things that could steal the joy of life from me.

Anthony showed me how to taste fully, breathe fully, feel fully, laugh loudly and immerse myself wholeheartedly in life. He did that and I wish I knew what made him forget how amazing that could be.

With all that traveling, much of it without his family, it’s clear that Anthony probably faced some very lonely nights. Lonely nights where he was trapped with his thoughts, fears, regrets.

Maybe he regretted not seeing his daughter more, of leaving two wives, of drinking too much, hurting too many. We don’t yet know what drove him to end his life the way he did but it’s really no surprise the demons he battled with finally overtook him and drowned out the voice of reason and hope and the love he’d always had for life. Some don’t believe in real demons, but I do. I believe in servants of the devil who whisper lies in our ears.

“You’re not good enough.”

“You will never realize your dream.”

“You’re a horrible mother.”

“You are unloveable and indescribably impossible to care about.”

“You’ll never be worthy of love.”

Who knows what lies were whispered in Anthony Bourdain’s ears that night. Whispers that grew to deafening screams that he only knew one way to drown out. I can’t save Anthony Bourdain. I wish I could. Oh, how I wish I could. But maybe we can save someone else. Maybe we can drown out the whispers with words of life. Words of hope. And the word of truth.

For we are all wonderfully made.

We were created out of love by an ultimate creator to be loved and to show love.

And you, and I, were created to life fully alive.

So let’s do that until God decides it’s time for us to live fully with Him.

I don’t know if living life fully is what Anthony Bourdain would have thought his life, and even his death, would have taught someone, but both were worthy lessons for me to learn.

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Are you a blogger, advertiser, or have you been put in charge of advertising at your church or another organization? Maybe you are in need of some faith-focused images for your project, whatever that project is. If so, you can find some great images at Lightstock.com. I’m a photographer contributor and simply a supporter of the site. While I am a contributing photographer I wouldn’t expect you to feel obligated to use my photos from the site because there are some amazing artists who you support when you purchase from Lightstock. *disclaimer: by clicking on the link you are supporting me as an affiliate and I will receive a small payment for that referral. 

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The Graduate

I know, Mom. It’s hard.

She’s wearing a cap and a gown.

But you see a newborn in a blanket.

A little girl in a ponytail.

Skinned knees.

Kissed booboos.

Heartache.

Warm hugs.

Little hands holding yours.

It’s all wrapped up in this moment and you can see it all at once, flashing before your eyes at lightening speed.

You can barely catch your breath.

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People came and went. Seasons passed by.

Through it all you were the constant.

You held close, wiped tears, whispered comfort.

You picked up, dusted off, sent her on her way.

It feels like you are losing her.

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It’s unsettling, unnerving, turning your world upside down.

But, really and truly, nothing is changing.

When she needs to be held, needs to be comforted, needs to remember whose always been there  – she’ll still reach for you.

It feels like something is ending, but actually something is beginning.

And that something is going to be amazing.

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The teachable moments of parenting fails

DSC_1871“I’m hungry.”

It’s not WHAT she said that drove me crazy, it’s WHEN she said it.

It was midnight.

Bedtime had been stretched out insanely long for months now, something I hoped to remedy soon, and my last straw was being asked to get a snack at midnight.

By a 3-year old.

By my 3-year old.

Right then I acted like a very mature, 40-year old woman and flounced out of the room and told her if she wanted a snack she could go get one BY HERSELF!!!

I was done with dealing with hungry toddlers whining at me in the middle of the night. I was done with 11-year olds staying awake way past when they were supposed to be and being grumpy the next morning. And for that moment I was done with never seeming to have a break and dare I say it? With being Mom.

I shut the bathroom door and pouted in the dark for maybe two minutes before she opened the door and I remembered we still hadn’t got a lock for that blasted door.

She was whimpering at me in the dark and looking pitiful and of course I felt even more guilty about it all so I led her to my room where I knew there was one of those applesauce squeezable packs, tucked away in my purse for those days we are out somewhere and she says she’s hungry (this child is always hungry). I gave it to her, reminding myself she’s just a little girl and she can’t help it if she gets hungry at midnight. Even I get hungry at midnight sometimes.

It also wasn’t her fault that her mom hadn’t stopped her and her brother’s playing and told them it was time for bed much earlier in the evening than I had.

I took her to bed, telling her I loved her, and then I laid in the dark after she was asleep and felt guilty for yelling at her and her brother right at bedtime. I kissed her head so many times I’m surprised I didn’t wake her.

5a4c8-dsc_5772Then I tiptoed into my son’s room, where he had already fallen asleep, and kissed his head. Suddenly, in that darkened room, a sliver of light from the street leaking in, he wasn’t 11 anymore in my eyes. He was still five and innocent and little and all I wanted to do was scoop him up and hold him against me.

But he’s too long now and I knew if I attempted to scoop him up I’d fall over backwards and drop him and I on the floor, cut open his head and we would have to call an ambulance. That’s how the brain of a mom works – we take a simple idea and blow it into the most scary outcome we can imagine.

Being a parent is hard. Harder than I ever imagined. We all have tough days and boy do we blow it sometimes. Even when we blow it we love them and they love us. We all make mistakes and fall right on our faces in this parenting journey.

Maybe you feel you have failed as a parent too. We know we are not alone, yet we often feel we are alone because parents fear sharing their fails. We fill our social media feeds, and even our personal interactions, with images and tales of our children’s accomplishments and our successes. We rarely share about our blunders.

No one wants to admit when they have made a mistake and certainly not to other parents who we think have it all together. The truth is, no parent has it all together – no matter what their highlights may show. Maybe as parents we need to be a little more public with those moments we fail in, be brave and show other parents they aren’t alone in their struggle.

What makes us good parents is that we recognize we are not perfect, we apologize when we need to, and are not afraid to admit our mistakes. In fact, maybe not being afraid to make those mistakes makes us even better parents.

When our children know we can admit mistakes then they know that, yes, mistakes are always going to be made, but we can always learn how to improve from them.

And when we admit our mistakes to other parents we can learn from each other.

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Just be you | Athens, pa. Photographer

Too many times I try to be someone I think other people want me to be.

But guess what.

This is me.

And this is us.

And we’re fun and crazy and I sometimes I don’t fit the traditional ideas of what a Christian is or a mom is or a photographer is and I think that’s just fine. I have never minded not fitting in.

What am I saying?

Let your freak flag fly, ya’ll. That’s what I’m saying.

Well, don’t get too freaky, I don’t want to have to call the police, but you know what I mean.

DSC_8869I bet there are a lot of you out there who can relate to doing what you think everyone else wants you to do. Living the way you think they want you to live. Expressing yourself the way someone else wants you to.

You’ve told yourself you will never get business, love, attention, faith, freedom or appreciated unless you are the way someone else told you you need to be.

It’s all a bunch of lies.

Just be you.

It’s cliche, but it’s true.

You will feel so much better.

Trust me.

I do.

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I’m sorry my house isn’t clean, we were doing important things.

We spent our morning looking for rolly pollies. We made them a home in a plastic container and searched and searched until we found one to live there.

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Last night we mixed brownies without eggs because we were out but she thought it would be fun anyhow. Then we ate brownie goo before bed.

The other day we spent the morning looking for just the right Lego pieces for a Lego animation he was making. Then we watched the movies he created when it was done, after hours of setting up individual scenes.

We spent one afternoon in the yard digging a hole and another collecting rocks we can paint this summer and then and hide in places people will find them and hopefully smile.

One day we painted on canvases. Actually we were supposed to paint on canvases but most of the paint ended up on clothes and the back porch floor.

And then one day I realized my house was a mess and I hadn’t heard some things.

I hadn’t heard someone say, in a mocking tone, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” while sneering at my mess. I didn’t hear the voice inside my head telling me I would be a better mom if my kids were involved in five different activities or if we spent our vacations in Hawaii or at Disney.

I couldn’t hear the words “Germs! Germs! Wash those hands or they’ll get germs!”

And I somehow missed all those articles with titles like “Five Things You Should Never Let Your Children Do” or “Three Reasons No One Likes You” or “Ten Reasons You Never Reached Your Dreams” or “Ten Organic Foods You Should Be Feeding Your Children.”

I was simply too busy doing important things with my kids to worry about what other people thought I should do.

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I tend to think those days are the best days of all and that more mothers should have more of them, more often.