Posted in everyday musings

Carrying the star

This year there was no snow to make the truck slide but there was mud so the star was walked up the hill, instead of driven, to the end of the field and edge of the woods, by the father and son while the grandfather prepared to make the Star bright. This year there were new light strands on the same wood, the same star he built many years before, replacing the old lights that had burned out.

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They carried it up the steep hill and then the pulley was looped around the trunk of the tree and the ladder was climbed. Down below I took on the role of Grandma (Mom), since she can’t walk the hill, by saying things like:

“Someone hold the ladder.”

“Be careful.”

“Don’t lean out too far.”

“Don’t go up there on your own. Someone should be here to hold the ladder.”

“The ladder is tied to the tree,” Dad said, looking down at me with the expression parents give children when they know more than them.

“Oh. Well… still…”

So they pulled the star up to a place on the tree where drivers from the main road can see it, where people who need a sign of hope can find it.

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DSC_0711I thought of the post I wrote about this annual tradition last year and thought I’d share it again:

The star

They carried the star up the steep, snow-covered hill because the truck’s tires spun and sent the hunk of metal skittering sideways toward the old dirt road. In the end they left the truck in the field and slid the star, made of wood and strands of Christmas lights off the roof. Their breath steamed patterns out in front of them as they walked and the sun, a misleading sign of the outside temperature, cast long shadows onto the untouched surface of the snow that fell the day before.

Ropes were looped and tied and hooked on a pulley, the ladder was climbed and the star was hoisted with a couple reminders from father-in-law to son-in-law to “be careful of the lights! You’re hitting the lights on the tree!” But finally it was high enough and nails were hammered in to hold it in place.

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Dad built the star several years ago and put it at the edge of the woods, at the top of the field and where people driving by on Route 220, across the Valley could see it. It has become a beacon, you could say. A beacon of good will, or peace, or joy or whatever it represents for each person who sees it.

It can mean a lot of things for a lot of people but for Dad it is a sign of hope and the real reason behind Christmas. After all – isn’t that what the birth of Jesus was all about? Bringing hope to a hurting, fallen world?

So on this little hill, in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania my dad hangs his homemade, 50-some pound star, and with it hangs a little bit of hope – hope for health, for peace, for love for all, hope for the broken, the weary, the shattered souls.

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Posted in everyday musings, honest stuff, keeping it real

Why I briefly broke my 30-day Facebook detox (and no, it wasn’t to vent about a fast food restaurant.)

I’ll confess!

Turn off the interrogation lights!

This week I logged on to Facebook, briefly breaking my 30-day detox.

I know.

I’m a total fraud.

But, wait!

Let me explain.

Here is how it all started: without logging onto Facebook, I looked at the Today Show Parenting Team’s Facebook page this week, out of curiosity, and discovered one of my posts I had submitted on the community, had been shared. It had 38 comments and 240 shares.

The post, entitled “A Pregnancy Loss is A Loss No Matter How Small” was about my early pregnancy loss, which was caused by a blighted ovum. The post focused on the feeling by some women that they don’t feel they have a right to mourn an early pregnancy loss. In  reality they do, because that pregnancy, no matter how brief, represented their idea of what was to be. And because that pregnancy was the start of a life that ended too soon.

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Some of the comments on the post were so heartbreaking that I wanted to show the grieving mothers support so I hesitantly broke my Facebook detox simply to try to offer them some words of comfort. A couple days later I checked on the post to see if any other women had commented and discovered my post had also been shared on the Today Show’s main Facebook page and there were now 408 comments, 2,652 shares and over 11,000 reactions. I was flabbergasted and knew I couldn’t comment to all those women so I just read most of the comments and cried at how many of them had been told they had no right to mourn such early losses.

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I just couldn’t imagine not offering some words of comments to these hurting moms, especially one who had lost a baby only a couple of days before she commented. She had been 32-weeks along. My daughter, my rainbow baby, was born at 37 weeks. I can’t imagine being so close to full term and losing a child. I have at least two friends who have lost children later in the pregnancy and it breaks my heart to think of the pain they suffered during that time. It breaks my heart even further to imagine they may be afraid to talk about those losses because we live in a society where miscarriages can be so easily dismissed, especially if the loss is early in the pregnancy.

I want those women to be able to share their feelings. I know I blogged about my feelings here and under the Today Show’s Parenting Team challenge to share about a pregnancy loss, but the whole situation is still difficult to talk about.

There was a lot going on in our family during that time in addition to the loss. It was a whirlwind of emotions and confusion and rejection and part of me shut down after the miscarriage. There was some shame mixed in because the pregnancy came during a marriage trial.I worried some might think the pregnancy came to try to save the marriage when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Even now I feel myself cringing inside as my fingers hit the keyboard. Despite having a personal blog, I’m not a person who thrives on sharing intimate thoughts or feelings, even if I think the sharing might help bring comfort to someone else.

What I hope the post the Today Show shared will do is help grieving moms have the courage to speak about how their pregnancy loss made them feel and ultimately understand they are not alone.

Posted in everyday musings

Creative Tuesday: try it all

A photographer asked a question in a Facebook group I’m in, sometime last year, about how to get better at varying her perspectives for her photos.

So I told her:

“Try it all. Go high. Go low. Shoot between. Climb on chairs… move back, move close. Think what will help capture the moment the best. Don’t be afraid to try it all because – why not? If it doesn’t work then you still learned from it and know what to try next time. Like my 11 year old says “YOLO – you only live once” so go for it.

Creativity in any form is a learning process and how will you learn if you don’t – to borrow the slogan for Nike – just do it! Get in there. There is nothing wrong with trying it all and seeing what happens.

We learn from the failures as much as we do from the successes so get out there and fall flat on your face!

I’m serious. Get out there! What are you waiting for?

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 creative tuesday, everyday musings

Creative Tuesday: Just take the photos already

So many people want to be a photographer but are stuck on the idea the photo has to be technically perfect. They want their child to sit just right or the light to hit just so or the moment to be simply perfect and if they can’t do that then forget it – the photo isn’t taken.

Maybe because I like to photograph moments more than poses, and had to focus on them when I worked for newspapers, the lack of perfection in a photo bothers me less than it does some photographers. When I look back at my photos over the years I sometimes mentally scold myself for a technical error, knowing my aperture was set wrong or my ISO could have been raised or lowered, but normally my attention is on the moment captured rather than the technical aspects.

I don’t want to look back at my memories from a special time in my life and pat myself on the back for nailing focus. I want to look back at those photos and remember how I felt, what was happening, who was there. I look at photography in a similar way to art – it’s about how the art makes me feel not how it was made.

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DSC_0290-2DSC_0008A local art teacher recently shared a photo of a painting by a student of his on Facebook. The painting was of a woman singing and I actually scrolled past it but then flung the cursor back up to take a better look at it. As I stared at it for a while I found it left me with a relaxed, easy going feeling, something I needed in the midst of a stressful week. I could hear the smooth jazz music and the velvet tones of the singer’s voice and imagined a cup of hot tea in front of me.

Someone else could have looked at it and said they saw technical errors (I doubt many would have) or that the singer wasn’t as “realistic looking” as some might think it should be, but none of that mattered to me because what was important to me was how the painting made me feel. What if that young painter had given up on her work because she decided, in her own mind, that her work wasn’t good enough? What if she had decided that because something didn’t look technically right, the painting could never touch anyone emotionally? She would have been wrong and if she hadn’t finished the painting she would have robbed me of those few moments of respite I was given that day by looking at the painting.

But because she picked up that paintbrush and painted what she felt, not only what she saw and knew, a soul, my soul was touched.

So pick up that camera.

Pick up that paintbrush.

Pick up that pen.

Put those fingers on the keyboard.

Just paint the painting, take the photos, write the words, create what you feel in your heart, not only what you know in your head.

You may not touch millions or thousands or hundreds or even fifty people but if you even touch one – isn’t that worth it?

For more inspiration to get out and create already check out YouTube entrepreneur and photographer Peter McKinnon talking about the power of an idea.

It's better to create something

To follow my work you can catch me on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lisahoweler or at my photography site at www.lisahowelerphotography.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

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Posted in Faithfully Thinking

The day God told me I needed to create a war room

One day last month God told me (in so many ways and with various hints) that I needed to go to my war room and pray about all that has been leaving me stressed and tied up in knots inside. The problem was, I didn’t have a war room. I’d never established one.

For anyone asking, “what in the world is a ‘war room’?”, in modern Christian terms a war room is a small, quiet place without distractions, reserved to meet with God about specific issues you are facing in your life.

In all honesty, God has been laying this whole “war room” idea on my heart for months, after I watched the movie War Room, but I’ve been ignoring the prodding because this Mom can’t even use the bathroom alone most nights, let alone lock myself in a closet to pray.

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Yet there I was one day, anxious about so many things and scrolling through Instagram, when I should have been praying, and two posts hit me full in the face. They were both written by women who were also struggling with anxiety. One wrote about withdrawing into her war room during the difficult times.

A half an hour later, this time while I was avoiding life by wasting time on Facebook, the word was in front of me again in a post by blogger, Roslind Jukic. 

“When you find yourself soul-weary, the first place you need to go is to your war room,” Roslind wrote. “And here’s why: Satan will take advantage of your weariness. He will whisper lies to your heart. He has already been creating a strategy for your demise. He wants to use your weariness for his purpose, to steal your joy, to rob you of your purpose, and to destroy your testimony. When you are weary, you need to get in your war room and begin developing a strategy against the enemy….a war plan for victory!”

So I made a war room in my bedroom closet. I cleaned it out (tossed clothes and stuffed animals to one side), taped a piece of paper with some pressing issues written on it on the wall and sat in there to pray.

My 11-year old son, who I had practically forced to watch War Room with me one day, found me there and looked bewildered for a moment but then had a moment of realization and said “You’re making a war room aren’t you?” And then he crawled inside with me and I held him for a few moments before he left to make sure his sister wasn’t pulling knives out of drawers to cut open her yogurt tubes.

I came out of my bedroom closet ten minutes later having difficulty breathing because of all the dust in there, but I did it! I had established a war room.

“We pray because our own solutions don’t work and because prayer deploys, activates, and fortifies us against the attacks of the enemy. We pray because we’re serious about taking back the ground he has sought to take from us.”
― Priscilla Shirer

Now I just have to be more consistent about going in it and actually praying about issues facing our family instead of worrying about them.

Do you have your own war room? Or have you thought about creating one? If you have one, how has it helped you and how do you keep yourself consistent in entering it during the tough and stressful moments of life?

Posted in everyday musings, honest stuff, keeping it real

The teachable moments of parenting fails

DSC_1871“I’m hungry.”

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

It was midnight.

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

By a 3-year old.

By my 3-year old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in everyday musings, Zooma the Wonderdog

The Adventures of Zooma The Wonder Dog: The bunny

I’ve been sharing little stories on my personal Facebook page about our new puppy Zooma from her perspective and thought I’d start sharing them on the blog as well because I think Zooma would think “it’s hilarious.”

May 3, 2018

This morning I woke daddy up at 6 a.m. by licking his face all over with my tongue.

Mommy says my tongue feels like wet air because it’s so tiny.

Daddy wasn’t very happy with being woke up but took me into the backyard so I could do my potty time.
Back inside Daddy wanted me to go back to sleep but I knew it was time to explore, lick, dig, run and slide across the floor and then chase that big, fat, black and furry thing with the sharp things on her feet. It’s fun trying to see how close I can get to her before she tries to claw my tiny eyes out.

I spent the morning listening to Daddy grumble about how tired he was and how much he needed something called coffee and then I ran up the stairs to find Mommy and my playthings.

DSC_3610_1One of them likes to squeal and scream when I nip at it’s legs. It’s hilarious. The other one shouts “No! No, Zooma! No!” Also hilarious.

When the taller Plaything took me in the backyard for another potty time I found fur and some squishy stuff that tasted good and was fun to roll in.

This resulted in Plaything One flailing and screaming and chasing me around the yard yelling “That’s so gross! Drop it! It’s a dead bunny! Oh my gosh! Zooooommmaaa!”

Plaything One stole my treat and it was back in the house to chase big, fat black beast again while Daddy staggered around with a cup of that coffee stuff and a scowl and then left to clean up the fur and squishy stuff so I couldn’t have it anymore. I heard him tell Mommy he felt awful because he’d apparently run over a bunny nest with the lawn mower. I hope he does that again. That treat was fun and tasty.

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I spent the rest of my day napping off and on, because I’m just a baby and I like to sleep, with a few moments of ripping paper and dragging it around the house in between while Mommy and the Playthings tell me to “Drop it. Drop it. Droooooooop it.”

It’s hilarious.

 

Posted in photography tips, photography tips for moms, Tiny Tips Tuesday

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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