The balancing act of being a mom, a dad, a member of the human race

There is a children’s musical entertainer named Tom Knight who visits the local libraries and summer concert series each year in our area. While his songs are, of course, aimed at children who are around the preschool age, sometimes the lyrics hit home for me.

One song, in particular, caught my attention one day when were listening to the CD in the car: The Juggler. When Knight sings the song live he roams through the crowd of children while juggling a few balls, throwing them under his legs and high in the air as we walks and sings.

Well the juggler is a strange one,” he sings. “He does his tricks for his own fun. And the people gather ’round him. To see the tricks that astound ’em.

And the chorus:
But when the juggler is in danger of losing all he has. Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”

The other verses, with the chorus thrown in a couple of times in between: “So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment. And it’s worthy of the time spent. Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one. It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too.
It’s easy just count one two three four five six.

But the song is simply about a juggler, right? When you read the lyrics it certainly sounds like it, so why would a song about an entertainer throwing objects in the air and catching them again hit home for me, a simple, stay-at-home mom with only two children?

Because, I, this mother of “only” two children, see a double meaning in the lyrics. I relate to the juggler because I feel like I am the juggler. In fact, I think we all, parents or not feel like we are a jugger, at one time or another, in our lives. We are all always juggling something in life – if not relationships then work if not work then home life, if not home life then general life “stuff,” for lack of a better word.

Many parents definitely feel like we are juggling about a hundred things all day long. We are juggling requests, tasks, whining children, work, cooking, laundry, and thoughts – almost losing our balance, but able to somehow get back on track.

Throughout the course of the day, I feel like my head is constantly spinning, with thoughts jumping from one subject to another. At the same time my 4-year old daughter wants me to play with her and her stuffed animals I need to cook dinner. At the same time I’m cooking dinner my son wants me to see something he has created on Minecraft, the dog needs to go out and the cat is sitting on the island giving me the evil eye because I’m not petting her.

So it’s faster and it’s funny. It’s hard to play for the money. But it’s easy with the patter. ‘Cuz it’s the jokes that matter. So the juggler is a dancer. He’s an actor with no answer. But it’s simple entertainment.

When dinner is done my daughter still wants me to play but there is writing I need to do for a freelance assignment and photos I forgot to edit for a client, keywords to write for stock photography, laundry to fold, dishes to wash, parents to call, friends to message and God to try to hear over it all.

Now it’s bedtime and the dog is terrorizing the cat again, I forgot to fold the laundry because I was distracted with writing a blog post, I never responded to the friend’s message, and the dishwasher is only half loaded.

And God? Well, I can’t even hear what He wants to say because I’ve thrown all the pieces of life in the air and I’m trying to juggle them all by myself.

But, if I would just let him, God would take each one – each worry about homeschooling, each stress about finances, each rushed and anxious feeling about all that needs to be done, and he’d take care of them and tell me that I no longer need to be The Juggler.

“Here’s a good day, here’s a slow one,” Tom Knight says. “It’s hard to keep it goin’. It takes practice, but it’s fun too. It’s easy. Just count one two three four five six.”

Yes, the balancing is hard.

There will be bad days, then good days, fast ones and slow ones where we have to wait until we take the next step. Those waiting days where we feel like we can’t throw even one more ball up amongst the others.

Some days it is hard to keep all the balls sailing, but even on the hard days, there is joy, hope and a Heavenly Father who is reaching out to help us slow it all down and trade the balancing act for sturdy ground.

“Then the juggler gets it balanced. And he’s right back where he started.”

Advice for shooting photos in low light

Since I live in the north and our winter months are often cold and dark, the key word being dark, I’ve learned to adapt to shooting in low light so I can photograph my family even when we are stuck inside during the depressing winter months.

Over the years I took a couple of classes on Clickin’ Moms, searched the YouTube archives and scoured the internet for articles to learn how to do improve my low light photographs, something that has proven to be beneficial for freelance assignments, in addition to personal photos.

I thought I’d share a couple of low light tips here, after being inspired by YouTuber Peter McKinnon. Remember, these are all simply tips, and not a list of “rules.” Your photography is your own.

1) Shoot manual.

If you don’t know how to operate your camera manually, I suggest you take a class, or simply look online, and learn how to do so, because being able to adjust settings manually is key to capturing low light images. Knowing how to adjust your camera manually allows you to adjust your aperture, your ISO and your shutter speed, setting it where it is needed to capture your subject, no matter the lighting situation. Most importantly, learning how to operate your camera manually (which is the “M” stop on your camera dial) gives you unfettered control of your photography.

As a self-declared control freak, this fact is a welcome one for me. It’s one of the few times in my life I feel like I have been given control over something and at times I find myself wild with power – adjusting settings like a convict running through the streets after they have just been released from prison. Okay, that was a horrible analogy, but you know what I mean. I like to have control over my photography because when I do I have freedom to create the images I see in my mind.

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2) Open wide that aperture.

The wider the aperture, the more light is let into the camera, which is basic photography knowledge. Widening the aperture is one of the best ways to grab amazing bokeh during brighter lighting situations, but in lower light, it’s the best way to capture a scene without it being underexposed. Using your light meter in the camera can help you to determine if your scene is too dark or too bright. Your aperture is adjusted by your “f-stop”, if you’re new to this photography stuff.

3) Increase your shutter speed.

If you’re finding you are getting a lot of blur in your low-light images, because the wide aperture is narrowing your depth of field, you’ll need to increase your shutter speed to help capture movement. This is especially helpful for parents photographing their children. Increasing your shutter speed, however, will, of course, make your scene a little darker.

You may ask how you can increase your shutter speed if your aperture is open so wide and the answer to that is your ISO, which you will need to increase to help brighten a darker scene.

4) Increase your ISO.

Your ISO is like your film speed, if you were using a film camera, but you’re most likely not because this is 2018 and everyone has a digital camera at this point.

If you want to get a brighter scene in a low light situation, you’ll need to raise the ISO, which can cause some grain, or noise, in your image, but grain isn’t always a bad thing. Grain can add character, or a more documentary feel to the image. And if you don’t like grain, hopefully, you are using a camera that either handles noise well or lets you shoot in RAW, which brings me to the next tip: shoot in RAW.

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5) Shoot in RAW.

While the goal should always be to get it right in the camera, there are going to be times the situation doesn’t allow for perfect lighting,, or the right settings. And for those times there is the RAW setting and luckily most advanced digital cameras today have a RAW setting.

For more information about what RAW means in relation to photography, check out this link.

Shooting RAW allows you to adjust your image in post-processing without causing damage to the quality, since RAW is simply the digital information for the photo, not the actual image. When a JPEG image is edited, repeatedly, for example, it degrades the image to the point of ruining it.

When you photograph in RAW you can take an underexposed image like this, for example,

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and raise the exposure in post edit to end up with a final image like this:

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without losing too much quality. If a great deal of noise remains you can use the luminance slider in Lightroom, which Peter discusses in the video below.

There are definitely more tips out there for low light photography than I am mentioning here, but the biggest hope is that by having a few tools under your belt to shoot in low light, you won’t shy away from doing so and will feel free to capture moments in your life no matter the lighting situation.

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To see Peter McKinnon’s tips on low light check out his video, below…

Any questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments. If I don’t know the answer we can look for it together!

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For more photography tips or simple rambling about photography, rural life or motherhood, be sure to subscribe to my blog on the right sidebar. You can also find my photography at http://www.instagram.com/lisahoweler

Finally some fall colors: 10 on 10 for November

We waited for it patiently and that patience finally paid off this past week when the leaves on our trees finally changed from dreary brown to bright yellow and then scattered the ground, creating a blanket of bright for us to walk in and inspect.

My daughter and I spent part of a day picking up leaves and tucking them away in her bicycle pouch if we (or rather she) deemed them pretty enough.

We still have one tree that hasn’t changed yet, but always changes late. The tree blesses us with amazingly beautiful and uniquely patterned leaves even as the cold weather sets in and the snow starts to fall.

This post is part of the monthly 10 on 10 blog circle where a group of photographers share ten photographs from the previous month on the tenth day of the month. Find the link to the next blog at the bottom of this post.

DSC_7581DSC_7601DSC_7629DSC_7655DSC_7661DSC_7670DSC_7688DSC_7759DSC_7771-2DSC_7662To continue the blog circle, please visit Erika Kao.

October in photographs

October was another somewhat dreary month for us with more rain but when we did have sun we tried to run out and enjoy it.

Temperatures, dropped, of course, our daughter turned four and then there was trick-or-treating.

We did get some autumn colors, but not widespread until this week, thanks to two months straight of rain. But even without colors spreading across the mountains in full force, there were still some trees that outdid themselves, especially the bright yellows and oranges.

We spent a lot of time at my parents throughout the month, as we often do, as well.

So, anyhow, to the point – here are some photos from our month of October.

 

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Tell Me More About . . . Maureen Wright, children’s book author

I remember the first time my son and I read a Maureen Wright book. It was “Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep,” the sweet story about a bear who is being reminded by Old Man Winter that he needs to sleep for the winter, but doesn’t seem to be able to hear him, so instead Big Bear ends up on a middle of the night adventure.

Each night we read it, we couldn’t only read it just once. My son would ask for it to be read again and again and it was one of the few books I didn’t mind repeating. The story is creative and catchy and the artwork by Will Hillenbrand is mesmerizing. Flash forward to now and there are now three Big Bear books and a collection of other books by Maureen that I now read to my 4-year-old daughter. Her current favorite is also Maureen’s best seller, “Sneezy the Snowman.”

What’s special about Maureen’s stories, beyond the fact they are a delight to read and the artwork is so stellar, is that they are written by someone who lives in the town my children and I now live in. Even though I’ve seen her often, either reading her book at the library, or selling her copies personally at local events, I still feel like I’m meeting a celebrity each time I see her, maybe because her stories have been such a part of the bonding time with my children.

I’m so thankful to Maureen for taking a few moments to answer some questions for this weeks Tell Me More About . . . feature and that I’m able to introduce her special books to my readers.

45095165_166161841001041_1170191499384586240_nCould you tell us a little bit about yourself, such as where you grew up, family, etc. ?

I grew up in Athens, PA. I met my husband, Don, at Main Elementary in Athens in fourth grade. We have three grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and three little grandsons We live in Athens Township in the old farmhouse his great-grandparents built in the 1880’s.

When did you realize you enjoyed writing?
I was in third grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer I was doing a writing homework assignment. I even remember where I was sitting in the house that I grew up in when this feeling came over me — an awareness that I loved to write.

 What made you decide to write books for children?

I loved reading books to my children when they were young It was my favorite thing to do with them.

What inspired you to write the Big Bear series?

I am a lot like Big Bear. We both usually think we are right and most of the time we are both wrong!

Which of your books seems to be the most popular among children?

“Sneezy the Snowman” is my best seller. I recently received a framed copy of the book from my publisher because it has sold over 100,000 copies. It was totally unexpected. At the time, I was waiting for my niece to mail me a picture frame. When I opened the package, I wondered, “Why did Anna put “Sneezy the Snowman” in the frame?” Then I read the plaque on the frame.

 What authors have inspired you over the years?

I have been inspired by any well-written rhyming book.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it?

If I have a story I’m working on, I am excited to get out of bed in the morning to work on it. I read aloud my stories dozens and dozens of times to get the rhythm right. Whenever my cat Juanita hears me, she runs to my side and sits on the arm of the sofa. She is always the first one to hear my stories.

Do you have future projects coming up? Books or otherwise?

My next book is “Super Rooster to the Rescue” due out in August of 2020. Rob McClurkan is the illustrator. It will be my tenth picture book.

 Anything else you would like people to know about you or your books?

I love reading to children and encouraging them to follow their dreams. I was rejected by publishers for twenty years before an editor, Margery Cuyler at Marshall Cavendish, took me under her wing. I will always be grateful to her for pulling my story out of “the slush pile.” (Unsolicited manuscripts on an editor’s desk.)


Do you know someone you think would be great for my Tell Me More About . . . feature? Maybe that someone is you! You, or the person you suggest, doesn’t need to be from my area to be featured. You can send any suggestions for features to lisahoweler@gmail.com or use the contact form at the top of the page.

What I’m reading this week: Rediscovering Mitford

This is part of the Sunday Salon – a series of blog posts where regular folks write about what they’re reading.

In the last couple of weeks, I decided to rediscover Mitford, the fictional town created by author Jan Karon, and the characters within it – most notably Father Tim Kavanaugh, the charming Episcopal priest and his wife Cynthia, who he married late in life.

downloadI own hardcover and paperback copies of most of the series but started downloading the new books into my Kindle a couple of years ago. This time around I started my latest visit to Mitford with book 13, “Come Rain, Come Shine,” which I had started last year but never finished. Then this week I started the latest book in the series, book 14 “To Be Where You Are”. I’m afraid to look anywhere online until I finish it because of spoilers, but I did Google Karon when my mom and I were wondering how old she must be now and learned she has recently written the last of the series as a collection of sermons and prayers by Father Tim. This distressed my mom a little because she has read “To Be Where You Are” already and said some of the character’s stories were left hanging

I started reading these books in high school and have loved following the stories of the characters. I’ve laughed with them (because there is a lot of humor) and I’ve cried with them (because there are some definite tear-jerking moments, some heartbreaking and some simply touching). I used to read the books in a couple of days because I simply couldn’t put them down. I still move through them fairly fast, but I’m faced with more interruptions now that I have children so the books are a nice thing to disappear into late at night once they are asleep.karon

For those who haven’t read the books, Father Tim and Cynthia have an adopted son Dooley and a slew of friends and family, whose stories are also part of the books. The story of how Dooley became their son and the fracturing of his family weave in and out of the books, with new characters, such as Dooley’s brothers and estranged mother, being added in each edition. There are other reoccurring characters who are part of almost every book and include the local newspaper’s editor and his reporter wife (something I could definitely relate to), the owners of the local restaurant, the local veterinarian, and church parishioners whose stories often intertwine with the main characters. At times there are a couple of different plots going on throughout the book, but each one seems to come back to Father Tim.

While Karon’s writing isn’t super deep or complex, she is a talented writer who is able to use words to paint a beautiful picture of a scene or an interaction and pull the reader into the moment.

In the first chapter of the fourteenth book in the series, one sentence she wrote made me pause and read it slowly again: “The chlorophylls of summer foliage would have degraded into nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites, and hidden pigments would explode in a pyrotechnic extravagance of scarlet, gold, vermilion, and out-loud yellow.

I think one reason I’m in love with the books is that I can relate to the characters, the life in a small town and to life in North Carolina, which is where my mom’s entire family is from and where she grew up.

Opening the books is like visiting with old friends and also makes me think of an old friend who had loved me but needed so much love she drained me and others of almost all their energy in the process.

She once gave me a small, wooden frame with the words: “I’d rather be in Mitford” printed off a computer. I have many regrets in my life and not getting back in touch with her after one too many of her demands weighted me down is one of them. She passed away a couple of years ago and I like to hope heaven is a lot like Mitford for her – with quirky, funny and friendly characters.

As for me, I’ve often looked at that little sign during stressful times in my life and thought the same thing – how much I’d like to be in Mitford instead of dealing with the stress of the moment.

So what are you reading these days? Anything good? Let me know in the comments!

Creative Tuesday: The loss of time to be bored may be killing our creative buzz

My kid flops on the couch on his stomach, face smashed into the cushions and lets out an exasperated sigh.

He turns his face toward me, eyelids heavy and his words are full of whine:

“I’m sooooooo booooooored.”

While I once thought filling my children’s days with various activities was the key to keeping them out of trouble, and their mind engaged, I’ve started to embrace what I’ve heard others talk about – the importance of allowing ourselves to be bored, especially if we are a creative person.

That’s right – actually having nothing to do can be a blessing to us, not a curse.

When we are bored we stop, look around us, and find inspiration. When we are bored our brains wander and when our brains wander, they often stumble on creative, interesting ideas.

It’s no surprise that some of the greatest innovations of our time came during a time in life when things moved slower and there were fewer distractions from technology.

Technology is a double-edged sword for creativity. It benefits us by connecting us to so many, getting our creations seen by others, and by adding a different dynamic to how we create. But technology also hampers us by filling our brains with so much information and distraction that we rarely slow down to simply listen to our own hearts and visions. And if we are too wrapped up in technology it will actually completely suffocate our creative voice.

Many of us are guilty of being addicted to social media. As easily as we can find ourselves trapped in a Youtube spiral (where we jump from video to video until we are bleary-eyed) we can find ourselves falling down the rabbit hole of comparison when we follow several artists in our particular medium. Even if we are not comparing when we are on social media, we are easily distracted on sites like Facebook and Instagram, so much so that we may find ourselves wasting most of our day on our phone or sitting at our computer and that is time we could have been using to create and truly experience life.

I recently downloaded a book into my Kindle by Manoush Zomorodi, a journalist who found herself face-to-face with boredom in 2007 when her first child was born and never wanted to sleep. The iPhone had just started to become popular (can you believe it’s only been about 10 or 11 years since the iPhone/smartphone started taking over our world?!) and she found herself walking several miles a day to help the baby sleep. As she walked her mind wandered and she began to dream of what she would do when she could sleep and work again. She came up with ideas of how she could work at home while also being a mother and all went well until she started using the smartphone everyone else was using; to help make her life and work easier.

She found that every “down moment” she had was filled with wasting time on the phone and that left little time for imagining or thinking about new ideas. So when it came time to create for the podcast she had conceived while at home with her baby, her brain was empty. She realized that one reason she didn’t have any more new ideas was that she was never bored. She never gave her brain any time to rest.

After talking to neuroscientists about what happens when we are bored, she learned it is during those down times that our brains create new neural connections. When our brains are quiet they look back at our lives, create a personal narrative, and make plans for our future and for future projects, she was told.

The problem is that many of us never give ourselves time to be quiet and let our brain decompress, Zomorodi points out. We keep our brains busy constantly. We don’t simply watch a television show anymore. We watch a show while doing reports on our computer or listening to a podcast and scrolling through Facebook. Not only is this detrimental to us from a mental standpoint, but it’s also detrimental to us physically, for a variety of reasons, which Zomorodi details in her book and in her TED Talk.

When it comes to creativity we need those moments of boredom even more. We need periods of boredom to think, to imagine and to hear our inner, creative voice.

Many of us, myself included, equate boredom to laziness. This could not be further from the truth, as Zomorodi learned and many researchers are learning. And beyond what “experts” are learning, you can learn it yourself.

You’re not being lazy when you’re contemplating, working out creative ideas or thinking about what you hope for your future.

You’re letting your brain have the space it needs to open doors to creativity.

To hear more about Zomorodi’s findings, you can see her TED talk below or find her book, “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.”

Faithfully thinking: when your glad God doesn’t answer some prayers

Do you know what I’m grateful for today? I’m grateful that sometimes God doesn’t answer “yes” to some of our prayers. That sounds weird, doesn’t it? I mean, who is happy when God says “no” to them?

I can tell you who. People who pray for things they really think they want but later realize they never did, are happy when God says “no” to a request. Of course, we aren’t happy in the midst of our disappointment but down the road, we are struck by relief.

“My word, imagine if God had answered that prayer my letting me have what I wanted,” we might think. “Imagine the stress I would have been under then. I think it’s bad now but if I had been given the desires of my heart back then – ouch. Nightmare for sure!”

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For me I know one prayer I’m actually glad God didn’t answer yes to was for a full-time photography business that I could rely on to partially support my family. Once upon a time, I wanted to be busy every weekend, taking and then editing photos of other people and their children. I imagined that if I could do that then I’d be a real photographer and I would be popular and yes, yes, Sally Fields, people would like me too.

When that dream never came I was crushed. I was rejected and I’ll let you in on a secret – there are many days I still am. But, my goodness, am I so happy I’m not dealing with the stress of worrying about doing the right things for a different group of people every weekend – juggling personalities and soothing egos and simply trying to please them all, no matter what. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been very lucky that almost every client I’ve had for photography has been easy to get along with and a blast to photograph. Still, let’s face it, no client is perfect and even if they don’t mean to, stress can come with having clients, even if it is stress I place on myself.

I still accept requests for photo sessions or freelance assignments but I don’t ever see myself being a well-known or well-sought after photographer and I’m finally perfectly happy with that. I’m actually happy with my small, boring and run-of-the-mill life with my two children, my husband, the cat and Zooma the Wonder Dog.

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I have found joy in being a mom, in homeschooling, in rambling on blogs and sometimes being offered freelance assignments in writing or photography and even in the daily chore of cooking meals. (Pray for me to also find the joy in cleaning.) I can honestly say that that previous unanswered prayer is one I’m glad God has said “no” to. And any of the rejection I felt from it is something I can continue to ask God to heal me from, even as I rejoice in how His ‘no’ became a yes in other ways.

How about you? Is there a prayer or two you’ve uttered and now, looking back, your glad God didn’t answer “yes” to?