Quieting the creative voices of others so you can hear and feel your own

I fell into one of those Youtube spirals the other night (like one does) and I caught this interview from last year with Ellen and Bradley Cooper and she asks him if he is on social media at all, which she actually knows he isn’t. When he says “No, I’m not.” She feigns shock and says “Oh my gosh. What do you even do with yourself?”
He laughs, shrugs and mumbles something about being able to waste a lot of time on the internet without social media. But really, a better answer, since was there to talk about a movie he was just filming at that time but comes out this week, would have been, “I create.”
“A Star is Born” comes out this week and Bradley both stars in it and directed it. If he had been sitting around wasting his life on social media, getting distracted by the drama and ridiculousness that can be found on it, he might never have made the movie or made the music for it along with Lady Gaga and Luke Nelson (Willie Nelson’s son).
Lady-Gaga-and-Bradley-Cooper-in-A-Star-is-Born-2018-670x335Imagine all the books and paintings and songs we would never have heard if social media had existed earlier than it had. Yes, there are good things about social media for a creative. We can share our creations and our art to a wider audience and immediately. But what we lose in that immediate interaction is taking the time to really develop and plan our craft before we throw it to the world. What we lose is the time to actually create because we are distracted by looking at either the work of others or the drama of others.
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We are squelching our inner voice because we can’t hear it over the shouts and creations of others. We are comparing and contrasting and then going back to our creative work, thinking we either can’t create as well as the others we’ve seen, or we can do the same, but never giving ourselves time to really develop the skills we need to create, as well as, or better than, those we admire.
Bradley Cooper worked with a voice coach, musicians and others for almost a year and a half, if not longer, before creating what many are calling a masterpiece remake of a movie, that touches hearts and will inspire many – creatives and others. he had a vision and he put the work in to complete and present that vision.
If he had wasted his time on the drama and distraction that comes with social media, he may have never reached his goal of creating something he is extremely proud of that will touch the souls of so many others.
Though I don’t know what Bradley Cooper’s personal reasons for not being on social media are, I do think he’s made the right choice by abstaining from it when it comes to strengthening his creative voice. It’s something other creative people, or anyone with a goal they want to reach, should try as well.
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Frank. And only Frank. Thanks, Kid. I’m now sick of Frank.

Every night and every nap for the last two years my daughter has had to listen to Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours” album while she’s falling asleep.

I’ve tried to change the music without her knowing but as young as two she would look at me and say “no. I want frank.” In the beginning she called him “Frank Satra,” but as she grew she knew how to pronounce his name clearly and she let me know no one else would do – no Nat King Cole or Diana Krall or even a different album by Frank.

I finally slipped in some Dean Martin from his “Sleep Warm” album, skipping over the slightly faster songs thrown in the middle of the more gentle and melodic tunes, and she accepted it.

Last night I decided to try some Sarah Vaughn, who I’ve never actually listened to that much, but we only got two songs in before I heard an exasperated sigh in the dark.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, hoping to God she did not ask me for the snack she’d tried to tell me she needed a few moments earlier, even though it was way past her bedtime.

“It’s the music,” she said with exasperation dripping off each word. “It’s just not working.”

Now it was my turn for a sigh. I switched the Apple Music on my phone to the playlist of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

She relaxed in the darkness, obviously content, and in less than five minutes she was fast asleep to the smooth, soothing baritone of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Someday we’ll find another artist who lulls her into a state of pure relaxation but for now Dean and Frank remain our close and repetitive friends.

The heartache is real as family farms start to fade away

It was a humid August night and the field next to the now defunct dairy barn was full of equipment and maybe a couple hundred people. An auction trailer was set up off to one side and to anyone driving by it might have looked like some sort of community festival, complete with hot dogs and drinks and baked goods. But this wasn’t a party or celebration; it was the end of an era.

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The Robbins family had been farming this land and milking cows here for more than 40 years but debt and the inability to survive financially forced them to make the hardest decision in their lives – sell the farm equipment and the livestock. If that sale didn’t cover the debt they’d sell the barn, house and property too, Billie Jo Robbins said, admitting she was unsure what the future held for her family but that her faith in God’s plan for their lives was helping to lessen some of the anxiety.

She had taken a job at the local bank the year before to try to help the farm stay in business, but as milk prices dropped and operation costs rose, the family couldn’t plug the holes fast enough. Her husband, Paul, recently took a job at the local cheese making factory and the dream of passing the farm on to their two sons, Matthew and Kevin, is now gone.

The loss of a family identity and business is heartbreaking but even more heartbreaking is that the Robbins aren’t alone in their struggle and forced life changes.

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“Local dairy farmers forced to auction off farm.”

It’s a headline that should be in more newspapers and on more news sites than it is because it is real and it is happening in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, where the Robbins live, but also all across the country.

It isn’t only dairy farmers being forced to close their doors. Farmers of all types are being crushed under the blow of low product pricing, but dairy farms are being hit the hardest and according to various media outlets the hard hits are coming for a variety of reasons, one of those an oversupply of milk. Some question if the push for people to drink less dairy and more plant-based proteins is one reason the dairy industry is suffering, but this seems unlikely with Americans love of ice cream, pizza and milkshakes still going strong.

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And even worse than the farms closing down are the suicides of farmers who collapsed mentally and emotionally under the weight of the pressure and the feeling of failure.

According to an article on the National Public Radio (NPR) site, one co-op had three out of 1,000 farmers commit suicide in three years, and while those stats might not seem alarming by quantity the fact they are happening at all when at one time they weren’t, is frightening.

Even here in Bradford County farmers are receiving letters from their co-ops, first with dismal news about the future of dairy prices and the information for suicide hotlines and how to find counselors.

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DSC_9324_1DSC_9268Standing in that field the day of the Robbins’ auction one has to wonder who these buyers are. Local farmers? Corporate farmers? Farmers barely getting by themselves? Billie Jo wondered too and admitted it felt awkward selling their equipment to farmers who may be struggling the same way they were. She didn’t recognize many of the people there but others she knew because they were there for something more important than buying.

“Many came here simply to support us and that means so much,” Billie Jo said.

Farmers support each other, which is one reason many farms in this area of Pennsylvania are surviving at all.

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Sitting in a truck, waiting for her husband, a farmer from Troy says she doesn’t know what the main reason for milk prices dropping so low is but she feels before long the Bradford County landscape won’t be dotted with very many family farms anymore. She and her husband, now in their 70s, own a dairy farm and can’t imagine doing anything else. They’ll keep farming as long as they can.

Knowing they aren’t alone in their heartache or their struggle helps the Robbins deal with their situation easier than some might. Their faith in God keeps them trusting that beauty will come from ashes.

——

To read more about the struggles of dairy farms in Pennsylvania you can visit my posts on The state of dairy farming in Northeast Pennsylvania: tangible struggles, palpable heartache and immeasurable joy and The Farm and Tell Me More About . . . Mark Bradley, Sayre Pa Dairy Farmer

The town that lost its’ library

The day the library died in the tiny town of New Albany, Pennsylvania, rain fell from the clouds like a waterfall and didn’t stop. The already saturated ground gave way with nothing left to hold it in place. A week before the bottom floor of the library had taken on water in another flash flood, most likely weakening the foundation.
Volunteers were working to clean out the ruined books two days before the water rose again, sending water rushing up around the building as it had before, across the major highway running through town and toward the gas station in the middle of town.
This time the building couldn’t withstand the rush of the water. No one had expected it all to wash into highway it had sat next to for over 60 years, crumbling like a matchstick house, but it did, taking with it some of what one community member called “the dedication of so many to keep it going.”
The downstairs of the building, where the library was, was empty of people when the building collapsed, but a family upstairs was there and held on tight to each other as it fell and their apartment landed fully intact in the water rushing by. Neighbors and the local fire department helped to rescue them, pulling them out and across the rushing water to safety.
The building hadn’t always been a library. A few times it had been a store and above it was an apartment for those who ran the business downstairs. After it became the town library many volunteers, most middle-aged to older women who were retired or homemakers, filled it with books, organizing and categorizing and creating a gift for what some might call a dying town.
Inside its walls were whole new worlds; voices never before heard, thoughts never before thought, dreams never before dreamed, chances to be given, opportunities to be provided, and lives to be escaped for just a little while.
For some, a library doesn’t seem very important, especially in this modern age when books can be read on digital devices and smartphones. But to a town without much, a library can provide a sense of community, a sense of imagination, and even a feeling of belonging.
“Expand your mind” is the encouraging message added at the top of the library’s Facebook page, updated the week flood waters first damaged the library.
Who could blame members of the town if they felt a desire to give up a little bit more on the town when they saw the crumbled ruins of the library either in person or in photos. Some 30 years ago the only factory in town closed, and in subsequent years the town pool was filled in, the only local supermarket burned to the ground, the town bank closed, the elementary school closed, the population began to dwindle and hope began to fade.
The factory never came back but the store reopened and later became a mini-mart and gas station, there was still a post office, a beauty shop, a borough park where the pool once was, and a sense of community- if only one that hung by a thread.
While the town may be dying from an economic standpoint, there are some trying to keep the community feel alive by organizing family days, fire company fundraisers, and, of course, preschool storytime at the library.

Let’s be honest, anyone trying to keep the community feeling in a small town alive today should be commended since it isn’t the physical community that is dying in today’s society, but the idea behind what a community really is. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” the psychological idea of community is fading into a world where our primary form of communication is smartphones and social media, or anything that doesn’t involve actual in-person interaction.

When photos of the library smashed in the middle of Route 220 surfaced on social media last week a deep feeling of loss was expressed, maybe because so many remembered a simpler time when talking to people face-to-face was normal and days for reading and focusing on less than 10 activities at a time was normal.

 

Honestly, there isn’t much to the town anymore, in some ways. I grew up two miles from there and many of my days were spent riding bikes with my best friends, Julia and Sarah, on its’ streets. I attended the elementary school, swam in the community pool, walked to the local store for snacks, ate with my grandmother at the small diners that are now gone, and yes, even visited the library a couple of times.
For me and others, losing the library was like watching even more of the community break away. After the most recent flash flooding, the library won’t be the only building that will have to be torn down, a fact that only adds to the heartbreak.
“I can’t remember a time without the library,” one man said.
His mother, Doris, was one of the volunteers who worked to build the library’s collection. Now in a nursing home, she asks visitors from her hometown, “How’s the library doing?” Family and friends have decided they won’t tell her the truth about the building, but instead simply let her believe, as they’ve always told her, “It’s doing well.”
Another resident, Todd, said, “The library was a labor of love of so many people. There were many times when some thought it was not used and thus not needed, but these people persevered and keep it going. There were times when hardly anyone came, but they still were there during operating hours. The people were dedicated to keeping the library open, found ways to bring in new books and create programs for kids. And most recently, it became a place for local histories and genealogies. Breaks my heart to see it completely washed away. “
“I remember being very young and going to get a book. It was a big deal to be able to pick your own book out!” a cousin of mine, Gila, said. “I started volunteering at 16 with Doris. I’d stay a few years and then move on. I always came back.

She was one of the main volunteers running the library, updating and rearranging it in the years and months before the flood destroyed it.
Volunteers aren’t yet sure if, or how, they’ll rebuild the library. A fundraising effort has started and the hope is that one day they’ll find a new home where they can again open a  small bastion of imagination, nurtured community and unvetted learning in a small, sometimes physically crumbling town.
Since I recently rediscovered my love for reading full books, and not only short excerpts, I’d love to see the fundraiser succeed and for the spark of knowledge to be lit again. And maybe through it, a desire to rebuild the other parts of town damaged or falling apart even before the flood.
To learn more about the fundraiser to rebuild the library click on this link….

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 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 farm, with their father David, now retired, and their mother Gail, who passed away a few years ago.

The main farm, called Snowcrest Farm, started as one barn and several silos and has now been extended to include David’s property, 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_9040Scott 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. 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 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 says.
“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 says.

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 Area School District.

In addition to the cows, Scott houses 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 says. “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. 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 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. The profit isn’t trickling down to the farmer.

“The biggest challenges in farming today are the big farms pushing out the little farms,” he says. “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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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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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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Photography for parents: Five tips to photographing your children inside your home

The other day I offered tips on where you can take your children outside of your home to capture memorable photographs of them. Today I want to assure you that you can also photograph your children inside your own home, no matter how dark or cluttered you think it is.

DSC_9625The key word in this post will be “light”, because no matter what your house offers in the way of light you will need light to make your photographs dynamic and interesting. Luckily you can almost always find a way to add more light to a situation and document the moment naturally unfolding before you.

Here are five ideas how to capture better photographs of your children inside your own home:

1) Move them to the light. If you can move them without ruining the moment that is even better. One idea is to encourage your child, or children, to move to an area of the house where there is more light before they begin their activity. This can be in a more lit room, near a window, by an open door or next to a lamp. Of course there is no need to share with them why you are asking them to move their activities elsewhere because, like most children, then they won’t do it.

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2) Get more light on the situation.

You can add more light to your scene in a variety of ways. A few ways include adding a speed light to your camera and bouncing the flash off a light colored surface (preferably white so you don’t pick up the hue of the wall or ceiling), increasing your ISO, widening your aperture, or simply opening some curtains or pointing a light in the direction of your scene or subject. Turning the lights on in a room won’t always provide flattering light, but this is an option. In some cases turning the light on in a room will actually cause your photos to look even worse because you will pick up what is called ambient light (the light in the room) and it could give your subject odd colored skin, either too orange or too blue depending on what kind of light is used to light the room.

DSC_1444-EditWhen it comes to flash, I rarely use the flash that came built into my camera as it often creates unflattering, blown out images of subjects with red, glowing eyes. Instead I use a speed light and bounce the flash off of a wall or ceiling to better light the scene. To learn more about using bounce flash you can read here or watch here.

Of course, if your skills are even more advanced you can use strobe lights or another form or off camera flash or lighting, but that is another post for another day.

3) Watch your backgrounds.

Don’t stop the action but if you can stealthy move the distracting element from behind your subjects then do it, even if you have to ninja roll to push the lamp out of the way. Of course, if you are like me and were born without the athletic gene it might be more distracting if you attempt to move the item and lock your back up in the middle of the ninja roll and start screaming in pain. In the instance where you can’t move the item try to move yourself so the object is out of the view of your camera. If you’re knowledgeable in Photoshop then you could also clone the object out of the background.

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5) Get in close or move further back and try different angles.

Don’t be afraid to move in closer to your subjects, but moving further back (if there is room where you are) can capture environmental portraits or show the viewer what is really happening around the subject. Trying different distances and angles can help add unique and eye catching images for the viewer but also help you to really remember the moment and the details around it.

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Bonus tip: let go of your expectations of perfection

This bonus tip is the most important of all the tips and is one you should keep in mind no matter where you are photographing your children. It is also the most difficult tip for me to put into practice, even though I know how important it is.

Children are never going to do exactly what we envision when it comes to photographs of them so we need to accept that our photographs won’t always come out the way we envisioned it in our mind. Sometimes the photo may be even better than what we imagined.

Letting go of my expectations is hard for me because as a photographer I see what I want to capture in my mind and if it doesn’t unfold the way I imagined then I may begin feel discouraged and disenchanted with the moment.

Unfortunately, if we focus too much on our concept of a perfect photo it can lead us to miss precious, camera worthy moments.

Approaching photographs with your children while having the mindset that you are there to document moments, no matter how they unfold, can help make photographing your children more relaxing, enjoyable and memorable for you and them.

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Five places to capture memorable photos of your children

DSC_3155You’re thinking to yourself right now – I’m sure you are – that your house is too dark for photos of your children and that your flash is unflattering and makes your children look albino (which isn’t bad if you are an actual albino, of course.)

So, where can you take photographs of your children that you will cherish for years to come if you don’t believe you can take them at home? (And actually you can take them at home and I’ll tell you how in my next post.)

There is nothing better than being able to distract your child, and maybe even you, with something fun so you can photograph them while they are in action and you are all relaxed. Here are five ideas where to take your children for some photographs of them that you will want to frame and put on your wall or print out to place in your scrapbooks.

1) A local playground. Here is the key about taking photographs of your children at the local playground: don’t try to pose them. In fact, not trying to pose them anywhere is probably the biggest key to child photography. Strict posing of young children often results in disaster and that disaster usually includes tears. Sometimes tears are acceptable for photographs, if you want to capture the emotion of the moment, but minimizing them is always desirable.

If you want photographs of your children as they really are, let them play and photograph them as they play, whether that’s getting messy in the mud or sliding down the slide. Are you looking for a photograph of them looking right at the camera? Well, then get that camera ready because without a doubt they’re going to need mommy or daddy at some point and they are going to turn and look for you and, consequently right at you. And if they don’t? Calling their name once or twice will, sometimes, result in them turning their face toward you. The moment they turn is when you snap the photo you want because as all parents know, asking for them to stop and pose for you may result in cheesy smiles or, worse yet, shakes of the head.

 

2) A hiking trail.

Not only are you all exploring and experiencing nature but the natural backgrounds and soft lighting created on many hiking trails is the perfect setting for memorable images of your children. If you’re a homeschooling parent, and even if you’re not, you can also make the excursion an educational one by learning more about the plants and trees and animals you encounter.

A couple tips: make sure to protect yourselves from ticks (as Lyme Disease carrying ticks are very prevalent in many areas of the United States, especially Pennsylvania and especially in 2018.); wear protection from the sun; bring water, a snack and a first aid kit; and read up on what those poisonous plants, like poison ivy and oak, and poisonous snakes look like!

One other tip for hiking trails: expect a mess at some point so try to grab your photographs early in the hike if you’re looking for photographs of “clean” children. I have no concept of a “clean child” in my family so this one isn’t a concern for me, luckily, and I just roll with the mud and the wet moments that are sure to occur.

_DSC08493) Museums.

Your local, or even not so local, museum is a great place to learn about history or art and photograph your children. Not only can a museum provide dynamic and interesting backgrounds but it can also provide faces looking up at paintings (great lighting and a good look at the face for the scrapbooks), colorful backgrounds and children engaged in hands on learning experiences.

Visiting a local museum is also a great way to support local art, history, science, whatever the museum features. Tip: be sure to double check for any signs that might prohibit photography in certain areas and again, like other excursions, take snacks (if they are allowed) to be sure you aren’t stuck with photographing hunger-induced meltdowns.

 

4) Small fairs or art shows.

Almost everything about a small, community fair or art show lends itself to stellar photographs of your children that capture their true personalities. There are rides (laughing faces), games (winning faces), food (messy faces), and sometimes animals (sweet faces). Yes, you may have noticed a theme in that previous sentence because capturing the face of your child is what this is all about after all.

As is the case in other locations, be sure to watch your backgrounds so you don’t end up with the creepy looking dude at the fair standing in the background of the smiling image of your little one.

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5) Ice cream stand.

Nothing makes a kid happier than dairy and sugar, unless, of course they are lactose intolerant. Actually, in all seriousness, my son is lactose intolerant and he takes enzymes that allow him to digest dairy, so the lactose intolerant still can enjoy a trip to the ice cream stand and you can photograph your children while they are in one place, slightly confined and entranced by their frozen treat. Fun images to capture are their ice cream mustaches and their first few licks when the ice cream is bigger than their head.

Bonus: if the ice cream stand has a miniature golf course with it! Even more fun photos can be taken while they play through the course a couple of times.

A couple closing thoughts to keep in mind before you head out the door for photographs with your children:

– make sure your camera battery is not only charged, but in the camera.

– make sure your digital camera has a memory card.

– If you are using a phone, make sure you have a full battery charge or bring a car charger with you.

– try to get yourself in a couple of the photographs so your children know you were there too.

And last, don’t worry if your child doesn’t look at the camera in every photograph. Photographs of children not looking at a camera but still having a good time, laughing or loving each other will still provide great memories for them and their family as they grow.

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