Posted in everyday musings, Photographers, photography

Photographers: enough of the emotional blackmail already.

We photographers can be a depressing bunch. I mean how many more ways can we remind people they need to get photos of their family members because soon they’ll all be dead.

Dang, people.

Yes, it is true we want to have photos of family members before they pass from our lives but enough with the emotional blackmail already. How about we just suggest people capture their memories in photos or video so they can share the memories with each other in the future? How about we stop depressing people into buying packages or spending more money than necessary by using fear tactics.

“Grandma will be dead next year so you better buy this $300 canvas for your wall.”

“Grandpa has been in and out of the hospital. You’d better spend that full tax refund on 18 different poses of you all together and the digital files that you’ll have to take a loan out to get. He will probably be dead in a few more days and you’ll want those memories of him forcing a smile for my camera.”

I think one reason I can’t push myself to market myself as a family photographer is I can’t bring myself to play the mind games of marketing small businesses 101. If I see one more Instagram post that talks about how glad a photographer was that she took photos of a relative at the last family gathering because a few months later they were dead and then ends with a sales pitch, I will scream. If you want to say you were glad you took the photos and then end it there, fine. But the sales pitch too?

No.

Please.

Stop.

I swear family photographers are becoming the car salesmen of the creative world.

Tell families they’re going to love capturing their moments together, fine. Tell them they will love looking back at the photos of their children as they grow. Tell them they will treasure these memories as the years pass.

But, please, stop threatening the deaths of their family members so you can line your own pockets.

It’s depressing and morbid.

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Posted in everyday musings

Covered bridges, old general stores and getting lost in the boonies

One way to keep your marriage fun and spontaneous is to suggest a restaurant for your anniversary dinner that’s in the middle of nowhere, has no WiFi or cell service and then forget your wallet.

My husband and I usually take our children with us or eat a family meal at home because our life is void of a reliable babysitter roster. We also usually eat somewhere in the Finger Lakes region, which is lovely, but this year I decided we should travel another direction and see what the wilds of Pennsylvania might offer us.

The location I chose (also unusual because I’ve never picked the restaurant for our anniversary) was near my parents, free babysitters who don’t usually travel to our house because of my mom’s various health issues, and a diner I had been reading about through their entertaining Facebook posts. It had been a busy week with mornings full of Vacation Bible School and afternoons of traveling to zoos 2- hours away or a nearby campground pool where we spent four hours jumping in the heated pool and we left for my parents after the final VBS and a birthday party for my husband’s great aunt.

“Are you telling her you’re leaving or are sneaking out and letting us deal with the tears?” My Dad asked, referring to our rather clingy 3-year old daughter, right before we walked out the door.

I told him “good luck” and we snuck out while my daughter was falling in love with a baby toad our son and her grandfather brought her earlier in the day. We headed out into what we call the boondocks and outsiders may call simply “the middle of nowhere” of Sullivan County, Pa., twisting and winding around roads with more curves in them than Shirley Temple’s hair. Trees and mountains shot up around us almost directly against the car window until we finally arrived in the little community of Forksville, in search of the covered bridge and nationally recognized Philadelphia cheesesteaks at the Forksville General Store. In our “neck of the woods” we don’t say “cheesesteak” without Philadelphia in front of it because in our minds no one else makes cheesesteaks.

I’m sure General Store owner, Big Mike, who runs the cash register himself, understands why we feel that way since he’s originally from Philadelphia himself and the crux of his menu is their famous original cheesesteak, a recipe he brought from Philly in 1999, and recognized as one of the top ten cheesesteaks by the USA Today.

IMG_6041I’ve been to Forksville a couple times in my life but it had been years and I almost forgot how to find the store and bridge, which is a bit humorous considering there are only about 20 houses in the village.

It wasn’t until we parked out front of the restaurant that I realized I’d left my wallet at home. This wouldn’t have been an issue except we have two checking accounts, one was empty because of bills, and we’d forgot to move money from one checking account (which acts as our savings) to the other and my husband only had the card for the account we had forgot to move money into. The card we needed was in my wallet and my wallet was 50 miles North at our house. Though we had a gift check from my parents in my purse, we had decided not to cash it on the way through the tiny town of Dushore (which used to be the only town in the county with a stoplight) because, hey, I had a card in my wallet. Only I didn’t. Because I didn’t even have a wallet with me.

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A quick inquiry inside of the man at the front counter, who we later learned was Big Mike, the owner, revealed there was no WiFi “around here” so transferring money from one account to another via our bank’s ap, wasn’t about to happen. Disappointed we almost decided to head back the 13 miles to semi-civilization where Dushore may not have had a Starbucks but it did at least have an ATM, but then I said “no! We will find a high spot somewhere in this cell service void world and transfer to that account.” This was our plan and I wasn’t about to diverge from it, no matter how high I had to hold the phone up over my head to get it.

IMG_6008When we passed a place that rented apartments and I saw three men outside, all looking at their phones, I knew they either had WiFi or were just sadly looking at their phones wishing they had WiFi. I urged my husband to pull in so we could hopefully steal off their WiFi and transfer the money. After a lot of lifting, tilting and shifting, mainly from my husband who was nervous the property manager was going to think we were there to rob the place, I was able to hook up to their open WiFi and — then get kicked off again and again and again until finally EUREKA! (Like the show because it was creepy cool) we struck gold and the connection worked.

Then it was back to the only tiny gas station in a 15 mile radius to utilize the ATM and hopefully get back to the diner before it’s kitchen closed. The only problem was I apparently moved the wrong amount of money but luckily this station also had open WiFi, which made me think maybe Big Mike should research more about the availability of WiFi in his small village a little better before he says it doesn’t exist there.

After all that drama, I had a sinking feeling we might get inside the diner and find out all the news of great food and atmosphere might have exaggerated, but no, the food did indeed live up to the hoopla. I should have known it would, since there was a photo of Big Mike with Dale Jr. on the wall in the front, next to a framed copy of a front page article on the restaurant in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you’re reading this and you need a last name to go with Dale Jr.,

first, I shake my head at you in disappointment but second, I offer you the last name of Earnhardt. Seeing a photo of Dale with anyone in Sullivan County isn’t a total shock, really, since his sister is married to a Sullivan County native and they visit from time to time still.

The inside of the diner features a deli counter like you might see in a Philadelphia butcher and then a small dining room lit with fairy lights stretched across the ceiling and filled with tables and booths to sit about 50.

IMG_6018In the end, neither one of us actually had one of the famous Philly Cheesesteaks. Shame on us. The covered bridge hamburger sans the bun, with fries and topped with melted Mozerella cheese and the diner’s own slab bacon was my choice while the husband ordered the buffalo chicken cheesesteak. Our dinner ended in an embarrassing way when the owner came to our table with a complimentary Philadelphia style cheesecake, drizzled in plenty of chocolate, and announced to the entire dining room, with a little song, that it was our anniversary.

Only two people knew we were going to be there at that time so, of course, when we arrived back at my parents later we pretended the singing never happened, laying a trap for my mom, who I knew couldn’t resist asking “wait. The owner didn’t say anything else to you?” At that comment, the mysterious tattle teller was revealed and we knew we had her and my dad (who had actually made the call) to blame for our blushing but thank for an amazing slice of cheesecake.

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The store, built in 1841, has been revamped over the years, of course, but still sits directly next to the covered bridge, one of only a three original wooden covered bridges left in the county and now a historic landmark. The bridge is one lane only and when we sat under it after dinner my husband remarked that it reminded him of the bridge in Sleepy Hollow, which wasn’t very comforting to me.

Despite stepping in a hole the size of a woodchuck while we looked at the famous bridge, we survived the adventure and our children enjoyed roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with grandpa and shooting off fireworks my Mom shook her head at the cost of. Incidentally, if a man tells you to watch your step, realize men often skip details, details like “watch your step. There is a HOLE THE SIZE OF A WOODCHUCK IN FRONT OF YOU.”

Also, if you’re going to travel to the Forksville General Store bring your appetite and a camera but leave any devices that require WiFi at home.

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Posted in Ordinary Moments

Oct. 5, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens, PA photographer

This is part of a new project called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

My oldest was gone for a campout for school and I used a visit to my aunt in a local nursing home to distract myself from his absence. While we were there, visiting her in the courtyard, the weather was cloudy. Once outside the sun broke through as it was setting and Little Miss thought it would be fun to make me chase her while we waited for Grandpa to come to his car. 


Posted in Ordinary Moments

Oct. 3, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens, PA Photographer

This is part of a new project called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

Oct. 3, 2017

My oldest, The Boy, decided he wanted to paint pumpkins tonight on the back steps. It may have been a way to avoid his homework, but because I had just read an article about much happier Dutch children are because their parents let them explore on their own, I let him paint while his sister looked on.


Posted in Ordinary Moments

Oct. 2, 2017 Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days | Athens, PA Photographer

This is part of a new project I’m doing called Ordinary Moments in Ordinary Days where I capture ordinary moments in our days for the month of October. Those ordinary moments often make up very extraordinary lives. We may not all be famous or save lives on a global scale or make a national or international impact, but each of us have the opportunity to touch others, show them light, and speak life. Each of us have moments, the small moments, the little details of our day, that mean something to us, even if they don’t mean anything to anyone else.

 

Oct. 2, 2017

It was her birthday. She made me wrestle her out of the shirt she’d been wearing since yesterday but giggled during the process. Then suddenly she was mad at me. I wanted her to get dressed again so we could go pick her brother up from the bus stop. She didn’t want to. So she stood and sulked and glared at me around the door as the minutes ticked down to when we needed to leave. I asked her why she was mad but she wouldn’t answer. Finally she said “mama, you say sorry?” I had no idea why I was apologizing but we were on a schedule so I did and she smiled again and threw herself into my arms. She happily put on her dress and we headed to the van as if nothing had happened. Apparently her third year of life is going to be even more confusing than her second year.


Posted in Faithfully Thinking, keeping it real

Faithfully Thinking: A little more of a little less: why the fear of missing out is killing us

Our brain was not wired to process the amount of information we throw at it on a daily basis.

The shows we watch.

The news we tune into.

The podcasts we listen to.

The social media we scroll through.

The trends and news and health warnings and even the good stuff that is aimed at growing us spiritually.

It is information over load.

Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church said it well in his sermon “why are we anxious?”

“There is no way that we can’t take it all in and still have room for the peace of God,” he said. “You’re praying for the peace of God – God doesn’t have anywhere to put it. Your mind is too full. You were not designed to have the entirety of the conversation of the whole human race buzzing on your back pocket on your butt bone. Just walking around like snipers. ‘What did they say?’ ‘Where did they go on vacation?’ ‘What about that press conference?’ It was not supposed to be this way. Of course we’re freaking out. Of course we’re zombies. Of course we’re numbing ourselves and drinking and smoking and popping. Of course we can’t stop it. The devil’s got a shock collar on our back pocket and we don’t even know it.”

We are constantly shackled to the world through our devices.  Our minds are constantly filled with digital noise.

We are listening to a new song or reading a new post or receiving notifications about who is presenting something “live” on one of our social media outlets. And while they are live we are dead inside because we can’t even hear ourselves think.

We have a constant buzz of knowledge and information in our heads. So much we can’t hear our voice, our spouse’s voice, children’s voices or more importantly God’s. 

How can God speak to us if we never shut the voices off?

Notice I say “we”  and “us.”

How can God speak to ME if I never put the phone down and stop searching for help and validation in social media instead of His Word?

Ouch. That one hurt. 

Because it’s true. 

Because it’s what I heard in my spirit today when I tried to quiet the voices and just listen. I tried to listen to what God was saying and it was hard. 

It was hard to hear His voice beyond the anxiety and the doubts and the worry and the efforts to fix it all in the twenty minutes between when I woke up and my toddler woke up.  Not too mention I tried to force myself to listen and we all know what happens when you do that: you start making grocery lists in your head and wondering how cellophane works.

But then I did have a thought, that felt a lot like a reminder to my soul; a reminder that we can’t place ourself in chaos and expect to feel peace.

There are times chaos whirls around us, out of our control. Often, though, we are in control of what sweeps us up into its current. We can step back, close computers, uninstall apps, shut off devices and quiet all the voices except His.

We can decide that less is what we need.

Less people telling us how to be a better us.

Less “motivational” posts that make us feel we’re getting this Christianity thing all wrong.

Less busyness.

Less voices whispering we need to do more.

Less of us telling ourselves we need to be everything to everyone

Less expectations.

Less running toward what we think will make us happy.

Less determination that if we just have more of what we don’t have we’ll have all we need to be happy.

Is social media all evil and no good?

Of course not.

There is good mixed in the bad but less of it can mean more of what matters to us.

More of him.

More of her.

More of them.

More laughter with them. 

More of your voice, not “theirs”.

More of hearing your soul.

More peace.

More Him.

Posted in honest stuff, keeping it real, motherhood

Don’t stop asking if you can hug me

There we were driving over the back roads to the small Christian school my son attends and just like that summer was over.

Sure we had one more day before school officially began but on that humid summer night I felt a tight feeling in my chest and knew it was because the carefree days when I could hug him on a whim anytime throughout the day had come to an end for another year.

Here we were – his fifth grade year.

Fifth grade.

 

I felt a catch in my spirit. I mentally reached out for an imaginary lever to slow it all down but like usual the lever wouldn’t work.

I was sure it had only been a few weeks since I’d walked him into that school for the first time, him frightened and crying because he didn’t want me to leave. I cried too, all the way home, and at home.

At the end of each day I picked him up and he ran fast to me across the gym with his arms wide open and the widest, most excited smile on his face.

His hair was soft against my cheek and I loved the way he leaned into me, his comfort at the end of a long day.

On this night, a parents night to learn more about the new year and meet new staff, he ran away from me to see what was new. He’s independent now, excited for a new year and in some ways he doesn’t need Mom anymore.

But then there are those nights I hear him at my bedroom door and he tiptoes into the darkness and I ask what’s wrong.

“Can I have a hug?” he’ll ask, like he often does throughout the day, no matter where we are.

 “I just need a hug,” he says, and I know he wants to sleep next to me for the rest of the night.

I give him the hug and let him sleep next to me because I know one day he won’t want me to hug him or hold him, at least not very often .

I kiss his head on those nights and I feel his hair soft against my cheek and I close my eyes.

I breathe it all in because for these few moments, maybe a few hours, he needs me to be his comfort again.

Posted in everyday musings

The garden is indeed a disaster

You might remember my prediction that our first attempt at a garden may be a disaster.  

That prediction has proven to be fairly accurate as shown by the weeds attempting to choke out the few plants that did survive the initial stages of planting a month and a half ago.

First, I missed the memo about planting everything in neat little rows. There definitely isn’t anything neat about our garden and not really any rows at this point.

I didn’t read packages right and failed to space the seeds far enough apart, as well. Then there was the week long rain that started the day after I planted. I’m convinced it washed away a good portion of my carrot seeds.  

I am a total garden newbie so when I started yanking out weeds and didn’t see carrot tops sprouting where I thought they should have been I ended up ripping out a few carrot seedlings. I thought they grew a lot faster than they actually do. Whoops. 

One side of the garden never even got planted and the weeds know it and have taken residence there, creating what is going to be a town violation at some point if I don’t get in there and yank out more of those pesky, pointless plants. It seems as soon as I weed one part I return the next day to find 1,000 more. Who knew weeds could grow so fast.

This week we harvested two little summer squash and you would have thought I’d won the lottery. Little Miss and I ran in the house and proudly displayed the little veggie to the boys, who were appropriately impressed but not as over the moon as we were.

There is currently something growing where I thought I planted cucumber. I thought it was zucchini but now it’s rounding out like watermelon and I truly do not remember buying watermelon seeds at any point, let alone planting them.  A quick message to my dad and he said it’s a pumpkin growing, which is very upsetting to me because we now have four official pumpkin plants and two more trying to grow by my house. I had no idea simply dropping pumpkin seeds could lead to plants sprouting up all over the place. 

I guess I’d better start searching the internet for pumpkin recipes now. And now to freeze pumpkins, carve pumpkins and convince others to take pumpkins away from us.

So at this point, I’m fairly certain we’ll have at least some summer squash, no cucumber, maybe some butternut squash (need to Google and find out when that usually starts to make an appearance) and I’ve learned that I can plant spinach and kale later in the season so I’ll be trying that too.

How about you? Do you garden? Does your garden thrive or barely survive?

Posted in motherhood, parenting, personal musings

Real life parenting moments

I’m in the kitchen trying to perfect a Ree Drummond recipe but every few moments my oldest is shouting that the cat is on his Lego table knocking pieces off to smack around on the floor or the youngest is holding an empty bowl and asking me when she can have “port top” (pork chop).

She’s looking up at me like a child from Oliver Twist, big green eyes, pitiful and pleading. One would think she hadn’t eaten in days, instead of five minutes before when her cheeks were full of apples.

Let’s be honest, I know I’m no Ree Drummond, whose children aren’t under foot when she cooks, or at least when she films for her show, but it would be nice to have at least twenty minutes uninterrupted to try to complete a new recipe (incidentally one of the Pioneer Woman’s. I had to leave out the grits because I’m allergic to corn.).

If I only have two children and a cat interrupting me then I have no idea how parents with more than two children cook, although they might have the benefit of an extra parent to help out. Extra help is rarely a luxury here thanks to my husband’s late afternoon to late night schedule and most of the time I really don’t mind.

On this day the ultimate interruption came between cooking the apple part of the recipe and browning the pork chops.

I heard the footsteps and the words before I even looked away from the cast iron pan the chops were sizzling in.

“Mama. I jus’ poop!”

I remember at that moment how Jonathan told me earlier his sister had stripped down naked. And sure enough she’s standing before me in her natural state pointing toward – not the bathroom – but the dining room.

“What do you mean you pooped? In the potty? You pooped in the potty?”

I knew she didn’t poop in the potty. Call it a intuition. Call it a horrible dreading feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“No. Right der. ” She was still pointing in the dining room.

“Where?” I asked, somewhat frantic to find “it” before my or my son’s feet did.

“Der! Under table!”

And indeed it was there.

Under the table.

Looking much different than it does squished in against her little tush in her diaper.

Yes, be thankful this is one of those life moments I didn’t photograph.

Unlike other similar events in the past (though this was the first pooping on the floor incident) I was able to stay calm and instead of asking “what were you thinking?!”because she wasn’t, because she’s two, I kept myself calm and used this as a learning experience for us both.

I ushered her into the bathroom and reminded her that was where we went when we had to poop, not under the dining room table.

She sat on the potty but let me know she didn’t have anymore poop left so I suggested she pee, which she did.

We celebrated and then I made sure she was instantly clad in a diaper before I let her loose in the house again.

I mentally committed to quickly respond with running to her with a diaper if I ever heard again, “Gracie just took all her clothes off.”

And despite all the interruptions, I managed not to burn dinner.