Posted in everyday musings

The urge to laugh when I probably should be crying

The pastor who officiated at my aunt’s funeral in August did a wonderful job reminding us we are all going to die soon.

She prayed: “Remind us how limited our time is, Lord. How we are but a breath away from our last. How our days are numbered.” And then she prayed some other encouraging lines to never let us forget that we should keep the funeral director on speed dial.

I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just say, ‘remind us, Lord that we are at death’s door and we live our lives with one foot in the grave.’?”

I know the tone of the message was making me uncomfortable, so I couldn’t imagine how the rest of the room felt when many of them were closer to death than me, based on their age and the oxygen tank being carried by at least one.

I sat in the back row and found my brain filling with inappropriate thoughts and reactions to what was going on around me. I kept staring at the amazingly large ears of the elderly man three rows ahead of me and wondered if they had always been that large or if they had drooped and stretched over the years, much like women’s breasts, as they age. At one point I almost giggled out loud as I mentally checked off how many more ways the minister could describe our impending deaths.

I looked around the funeral home and realized it was the same one we had all sat in the day of my uncle’s funeral more than 15 years before and it hadn’t changed since then, or maybe even since the  1950s. The mint-green paint was chipping in places, the air conditioner sounded like a cat had got stuck inside and I was fairly certain the floor had never been replaced and someone’s foot might shoot right through the boards when they stood up to leave.

A glance at the ceiling made me wonder if parts of it might cave in our heads, creating more business for the funeral home director, a man who had unwittingly tortured me when I’d worked as the hometown editor at the local paper, always sending obits riddled with typos, typed on either an electric typewriter or maybe a computer so old that it filled one half of a room. He always sent them by fax and I had to transcribe them into the computer since the way they were typed made it impossible to scan them in to the computer”. Other funeral homes would email their obituaries, leaving me to merely copy and paste them to be published in the next days newspaper. No matter the hints I dropped, though, this director seemed blissfully unaware that his failure to upgrade made my work nights even longer.

As I sat there in the funeral home, in a metal chair that squeaked or made fart sounds when I shifted or breathed, I knew that all these giggling-inducing thoughts were a type of self-protecting hysteria, my internal self-defense mechanisms kicking in to keep me from breaking down. I couldn’t help feel guilty for not being more serious during such a somber time. Luckily, the urge to giggle dissipated when family members, including my dad, stood to speak.

I often find myself laughing at the wrong moments – giggling when my son trips over his feet and lands on his face (as long as he gets back up again and isn’t bleeding) or when someone trips and spills what they were carrying (again, as long as they are uninjured). These moments of fighting to hold back inappropriate laughter make me think of an episode of the British sitcom “Coupling” where the characters struggle to hold in their giggles at a funeral and the scenes switch between the actors at the funeral and a metaphorical tower of glasses about to tumble.

Sitting in the back of that funeral home, straining to hear the kind words being spoke about my aunt over the grinding of the dying air conditioning unit, I fought to keep my own internal tower of glasses from falling. I knew that my urge to laugh was simply misplaced emotions, my brain’s way of trying to claw toward numbness so I could feel less of the pain of having suffered another loss in our family in less than a year.

I welcomed the humor, the pushed down giggles, because it was like a mental release valve for my mind, a way to keep me sinking beneath the surface of depression, with no chance of coming back up to breathe the air of joy again.

Posted in everyday musings

The balancing act of being a parent

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

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

“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.

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 juggler, 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 they 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 plug in 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 his steady hand.

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

Posted in photography, photography tips, raw

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

Posted in 10 on 10, photography

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.

Posted in books and reading, Tell me More about

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.

Posted in creative tuesday, everyday musings

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.”

Posted in everyday musings, Faithfully Thinking

Faithfully thinking: I may not think, speak or do things like you but God can still use me

“To be honest, I don’t know why I even write anymore,” I thought to myself one morning. “I don’t know much about anything and I’m full of very little wisdom. I’m a mom and a wife and I take photos for myself and that’s about it. I’ve never written a book, I don’t have a thriving business and last school year I was called a bad parent and it makes me try too hard at this blasted homeschooling thing.”

Cleaning the house? Don’t get me started. Actually, if you did get me started I would be completely overwhelmed and would end up in a fetal position crying and still nothing would get cleaned.

Cooking? I try my best but I often find myself imagining that cardboard with salt would taste better than my dinners.

Parenting? Last week my daughter bit her brother in the shoulder because he was sitting in the chair she wanted and my son is addicted to Minecraft. I have a huge “Fear of Missing Out ” (FOMO) problem but it’s mainly focused on my children because I already know I’m missing out and I’m so tired every single day of my life I don’t even care.

In other words, I’m a mess, or so I feel most days.

My one comfort is knowing I’m not alone, that I may be a train wreck but somewhere in this world there is another mom in another house feeling as inadequate as me.

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And despite how we feel, the truth is we are loved, we are worthy and we can be used by God even when others have written us off. I express doubts often and recently, after three weeks of trials stacked one on top of another on top of our family, I tossed out a few words of doubt on Facebook about whether or not God even cares for us.

I received an admonishment from a fellow Christian who told me: “Repent of your thinking” because nothing comforts a person dealing with trials by telling them they’re falling short in their Christian walk.

Those scolding comments are something that tends to make me pause and decide I’m not worthy to talk about faith or Christ, wonder why I even thought I should, and lead me to withdrawal within myself and vow to keep my inferior opinions to myself. The truth is, though, we are all on our own journey and on that journey we are going to stumble more than once.

DSC_5409Maybe God can use me even if I have doubts and I express them and I say things that don’t fit your idea of what a “good Christian girl” should say or should be. Maybe I show my weak moments when you hide yours but that does not exclude me from being used by God.

Maybe I show my weak moments when you hide yours but that does not exclude me from being used by God.

Those comments that don’t sound “Biblical” to you or don’t fit your personal narrative, those comments I throw out there in a moment of frustration or under the heavy burden of trial after trial after trial in a short amount of time, don’t dismiss me from God’s list of people who can be used for His Kingdom.

As I heard Pastor Steven Furtick say in a recent sermon: “There is nothing wrong with you that isn’t right with God.”

If you’re like me and feel your imperfect attitude disqualifies you from speaking your feelings about faith and God, let’s remind each other God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called and maybe what some of us are called to do is let our messy moments show so others know they’re not alone.

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