The Farm

The little boy was leaning nonchalantly  against the door, with one hand on the door knob and when we jumped out of the van he said into the cold wind that whipped at our faces, sounding more like an adult than a child,“Welcome to our farm. Come on in.”

I smiled to myself at the sound of such serious, grown up words coming from someone so young and thanked him for the greeting. We stepped into a small, dark room filled almost completely by a large metal container, pipes running along the ceiling and walls, and a deep, metal sink at the back of the room. A small fluorescent light barely lit the room but a small window provided a little daylight.

I had started a personal photography project and series about small, family farms in Bradford County, Pa. and this was the first farm I had visited. The boy, wearing a winter coat and a knitted winter hat down over his ears, launched immediately into a tour of the barn, starting by showing my 11-year old son the nozzle where the milk truck driver would put the hose to siphon the farm’s milk collection from the refrigerated container into the milk truck. He motioned his hand up in the air along the path of the pipe system, showing us where the milk comes into the room and travels down into a clear sphere and then down another pipe and into the main collection vat.

Next he motioned us toward a door to our left and into the barn where he said his dad was feeding the cows. Cows were lined up in two rows, each in their own stall, ready to be fed and milked. They turned to watch us walk in and almost seemed to be listening to our young tour guide.

Before I could ask the boy his name or how old he was, he had a handful of the cow’s feed in his hand and began telling us it was made up of ground corn and hay and other nutrients. A man with salt and pepper hair and mustache, wearing a pair of faded blue overalls, pushed a wheelbarrow full of feed toward us and smiled at the boy and us. “He’s giving you the tour, huh?” He asked.

I said he was and doing a good job.

I finally was able to slip in between his explaining how the farm works to ask him how old he was and his name. His name was Parker, he said, and was six. When I asked how he knew all about the feed and the barn and the cows and milk, he said “I just do.”

Of course I know why he knows all he does. He is the son and grandson of farmers. Each day he watches the men who have shaped who he is and who he will become work hard for the life they want and they life they need. They work not only to survive, but to thrive.

His grandfather and dad milk the cows, care for the cows, feed the cows and they run the tractors, cut the hay, grind the corn and clean the barn. He is a boy being taught that to get what you want in life, whether that be a peaceful life on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania, or a life full of adventure and thrill, there must be some blood, sweat and tears shed. To reach a goal you work and you work hard.

It’s something his dad Mark knows a lot about. He thought he’d find his dream at college, but it was there he realized he had been living his dream all along on his family’s farm, right where he grew up. After he earned a degree he returned to the farm, the quiet, the tough life but the rewarding one that maybe he thought he never needed or wanted. Isn’t that how it is for a lot of us? We think we want something different from where we are and what we have when really, all we ever needed could be found right where we’d always been and among what we’d always had.

And sometimes we realize that what we want to do in life isn’t what will bring us monetary riches, but will bring us riches of the soul.

“Honestly, it is a labor of love,” Mark Bradley said. “I love working with the cows, and I love working the land.  It is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. There are always bad days, but I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

It’s not a job.

It’s a lifestyle.

It’s a labor love.

So much of what we do that really matters is just that – a labor of love – work that might not light up our pocketbook but will light a spark in our spirit. And from that spark will come a fire that will burn through all the distractions of life and leave for us a clear picture of what is good and right and perfect about this thing we call living.

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The worm is not a pet and no, he can’t come inside

The rain clouds had turned the sky dark an hour and a half ago and a shower rushed through and dampened the ground. Still, we soldiered on and decided to plant some seeds in our garden space.

Miss G wasn’t interested in planting, but she did enjoy digging. 

I can still hear the little gasp she made when I found the first worm. She’s already fascinated with ants and roly polies and any insects that makes its way across the sidewalk.

The other day Miss G looked at me and said she saw a roly polie but now he was gone.

“Oh no,” I said. “Where is he?”

Her expression became very serious, but not sad, and in a strict, matter of fact tone she said “he’s dead.”

I said, “dead? Are you sure? Sometimes they just flip over on their backs and can’t get up again.”

“No,” she said, a little firmer this time. “He’s dead.”

My heart ached a little that already at 2 she understands that a bug not moving means he is indeed dead.

But on this day she had a new fascination. Worms.

I started it, I guess. 

“Oh! Look at this worm! He’s huge!” I said that day.

And so we looked at him. And then we put him on her wooden spoon I’d let her use for digging. 

“I want to keep him,” she told me, holding the spoon with the worm on it. “I want to take him inside with me.”

“No. Honey, he would be happier out here in the dirt. The dirt is his home.”

“No. He come inside with me. In the house.”

“Honey, you can’t bring a worm in the house. He needs to stay outside with his family. We have pets. Smokey and Pixel are our pets.”

Smokey and Pixel are our cats. 

I shouldn’t have mentioned the word “pet.”

“He can be my pet.”

“Honey, I’m afraid Pixel will eat him.”

She was indignant and saw right through my attempt.

“Pixel won’t eat him! He huge!”

I tried again.

“But she might think he’s a toy.”

She kept looking at the worm and said, “He not a toy! He a worm!”

In the middle of the conversation “he” becomes a “she” and now she’s mama worm.

“Mama worm happy here.”

“Honey, I don’t think she’s happy on a wooden spoon.”

She places the worm on her plastic slide.

“She happy on the slide. See?”

I point out the worm is crawling off the slide.

“She needs to be in the dirt with her family.”

“She happy on the slide.”

She thoughtfully pauses while laying the worm on the edge of the plastic slide. 

“I worry about her.” She said, her head hanging down a little and her lower lip pushing out.

“I know but she is used to living in the dirt. That’s her home. She can take care of herself there.”

She watched her and moved her a bit. She let out a heavy sigh.

“Bye mama worm.”

“Are you going to leave her here? Maybe we should put her back in the garden?”

She carried her back to the garden, set her in a hole and covered her with dirt.

She looked at the dirt a few seconds “bye, mama worm.”

She walked away, head hanging down. She ran to me and hugged my legs. 

“I hope mama worm okay,” she said.

“She’ll be okay. Do you want a popsicle?I think I have grape.”

“Pospicle! Yeah!”

Inside with her popsicle she says again “I hope mama worm okay.”

She is, honey, but she’s lucky to have someone who cares for her as much as I care for you. 

The Garden

Rain fell steady just like the weather app said it would and I felt a twinge of disappointment. I knew it would mean a couple more days of waiting to plant the garden my son and I have wanted for a couple of years now.

I had always dismissed the idea of a garden because we live in town on a busy, noisy street and somehow, for this country girl, gardens are meant for quiet, out of the way yards where they can be admired on a warm summer evening in golden hour light. 

I had wanted to wait until we actually moved to the country to create a garden but since that doesn’t seem to be remotely close to reality at the moment, we started planning what we wanted to plant and where, early in the spring.

Pumpkins, squash and various herbs for him.

Cucumbers, carrots, green beans, peas, and potatoes for me.

Strawberries and watermelon for her.

What makes this year different is that for the first time in 13 years we don’t have a dog to consider and worry about digging up the plants. This lack of a puppy has me fairly heartbroken and I sat next to the garden space one day this week and cried from the grief of missing our Copper.

My dad brought his rototiller up to “the big city” and made the space for our garden. My son helped to break up the dirt and smooth it out and his sister worked next to him, most likely negating all the work he had already done.

Dad was only supposed to drop the rototiller off but instead he broke the ground for us. He then gave advice on what to plant and where.

There are days that living in town has its advantages, like when an old friend is driving to her daughter’s band concert at the school across the street and sees you standing outside. The friend, who I have barely seen in several years walked across the lawn with a sun-infused smile (or some might say Son-infused), her hair as blond now at 39 as I remember it at 19. Looking at her has always made me think of the “got milk” commercials, partly because of her sparkling white teeth and smooth skin but also because her family are diary farmers about ten miles from us.

Standing out with the sun pouring across the lawn and the kids, and Dad and potential, catching up on our families made a busy week seem less busy and more manageable. 

It was dark by the time the garden was done and Dad reminded my son that when the dirt crumbles in your hand it’s the best time to plant.

The kids had dirt in their finger nails like I had at their age. My legs and arms were bit up by mosquitoes because apparently they love my blood. My head was full of ideas but also of thoughts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit after Dad brought me a file of thoughts he had gathered about healing, Christ, and souls on fire.

He stood there as the sun set and pondered people who have prophetic dreams and people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, but don’t understand it. Pondering God and  how He works and why He works the way he does is something he’s done all my life. Though not a big reader of fiction, he’d often sit at his desk (now his computer) and pour over books on theology, blessing, curses, and God’s role in our lives.

I called Mom when he pulled out, a tradition, and told her he was on his way home, since he often is out late helping others, or if not, wandering aimlessly in Lowe’s admiring planks of wood and nuts and bolts to add to his collection, and forgets to update her on where he is.

Baths were late.

Bedtime was late.

But lungs were filled with fresh air, bonding time was spent, hard work was done, and deep, well earned slumber followed.

How social media sucks my life from me and why detoxes from it are needed

I’m sure some will say I’m being over dramatic and maybe they will say I just need some will power but each day I find myself having to admit what I’ve read about the addictive nature of social media is true.

One day this week, I found myself obsessed with why my blog posts weren’t updating to my business page but instead to my personal page. I was searching support pages, asking in a photography group and becoming moyre and more agitated. In the meantime my dog had slipped out of the back fence and was wandering the neighborhood and the time table for us to leave for my parents before my daughter hit nuclear meltdown before nap time was shrinking.

I had to retrieve the dog from across the street, where he could have been hit. Our plans for the rest of the day were scrapped in exchange for a nap for the almost 2- year old tornado  when we might could have left earlier and snagged the nap at my parents if I had been focused on dressing us and getting out the door and not social media. I had also been checking my Instagram account.

My obsession with my Facebook page and social media in general, not too mention my attempt to promote my photography business, was throwing my day and life off schedule, I told myself. That’s when I set up the extension on Google Chrome that lets me block sites and promptly blocked Facebook.

Enough is enough I decided. I needed my life back. I needed to get my priorities straight. One of the first ways for me to do this was to quiet all the voices yelling at me through my newsfeed. Are all those voices bad? Not all, no. Many of the messages I read on Facebook and social media are positive.

The issue is the volume of voices. They twist my head back and forth and speed up my heart as I always feel I am a step behind in my faith, my health, my parenting, my life in general.

Is Facebook evil? I don’t believe so but I do believe it can take over our life if we let it and even without us realizing it. Before we know it voices whisper to us we are not as good as someone else in our circle of friends or our chosen profession because we see their highlights day after day in our newsfeed. We don’t see the sad days, the tough moments, their feelings of failure, their insecurities, unless we read between the lines of their shares of elaborate vacations, school accomplishments, and career successes. We know they have those bad days but somehow all we can see is the good and for some reason all we can hear is someone telling us we don’t measure up and we never will.

Even if I am not feeling inadequate by what I read, I do feel like I miss out on a lot of important and in between moments in my life by wasting time scrolling through news feeds and images of the lives of others. While reading about how to improve traffic to my site and therefore my business, I may have missed my daughter smiling at me and trying to get me to smile back or maybe I made my 9 year old son feel like he shouldn’t interrupt me for a hug and a story about his school day.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the moments I’ve missed in the lives of my children because of my addiction to likes. I enter photo contests on Facebook and find myself disappointed if I didn’t receive as many likes on my photo as someone else did on theirs. How many times have I subconsciously based my worth as a photographer, and as a person, on how many fewer likes or comments I have? Too many times is the answer.

Prior to this latest wake up call, I had been having other wake up calls to the pitfalls of social media and about a month ago I detoxed from all social media for four days. When I came back on I reduced the time I spent on it and also implemented a new personal policy that I would only check social media after I had done my devotions in the morning. My devotions consist of reading my The Upper Room and Joseph Prince devotional apps.

I also removed the Facebook and Twitter applications from my phone and blocked Facebook through my phone internet browser settings. I kept Instagram because the interaction I have with fellow photographers there is positive and less about comparison. To me it feels more like a community than Facebook.

At that time I decided if I was going to be on Facebook at all I would use that time not to just click like on posts or photographs by family and friends and those in photography groups or pages but instead work to leave encouraging comments whenever possible. Not only would this take the focus off the negative and the underlying feelings of comparison for me but I hoped, and still do hope, it will force me to look beyond myself, my tendency to whine about situations, and help others to feel like they aren’t alone and that their words and art matter. Anyone who knows me personally knows

I failed at this challenge recently when I used an entire paragraph to whine about my failed photography business so I am, by no means, perfect. I take solace in knowing I am not alone in falling to the temptation Facebook naturally creates to complain. In addition I recognize we all have bad days, sometimes feel the need to vent and share our bad times with our friends. We can’t barf rainbows all day long after all.

If you have read this far, I hope you will understand that I am not suggesting you need to change your social media habits simply because I am. I don’t believe every person who signs up for a social media account is or will become, addicted. I do believe some of us have more addictive personalities than others and therefore need to put stop gaps in place to prevent ourselves from losing sight of what is truly important in our life.

Tips for a social media break or reduction that I’ve gathered personally or from others :

  • Turn off notifications in the settings of the social media aps on your phone to keep you from feeling the need to check your social media all day long (if it’s an emergency I would hope family and friends would call instead of text);
  • Turn off the notifications you receive in your email from social media outlets, which are another way they are trying to pull you into their world and subsequently push advertising at you, for one, but also keep you addicted. Again, not saying they are evil, but it’s necessary for their business to keep people coming back. It’s more of a business strategy than a malicious one, in other words
  • Set a timer whenever you use social media so you won’t find yourself wasting time on it. Do what you want to do there and get out, in other words
  • Set up two accounts on your computer, one for personal use and one for work and use a site blocking extension like Blocksite to block social media sites on your work account.
  • Remove your social media applications from your phones and digital devices. If you simply can’t stop wasting time on Facebook or Twitter when you should be doing something else, then it is time to go cold turkey and drop the aps completely. Yes, you will experience withdrawal but you will make it. There is a good possibility what you wanted to share wasn’t that important after all.
  • Replace your online “socializing” with in person socializing. Call some friends and ask to meet some of them for lunch. Maybe you and your spouse could use all that free time you now have to reconnect (emotionally and *wink* physically)
  • Fill the time you used to spend on Facebook with a hobby, journaling, reading, exercising, cooking, earning a degree at your local college

You don’t have to quit social media cold turkey or all together. There are benefits in simply setting time limits or enacting week long detoxing sessions. Some of the benefits I noticed after even my short detox:

 

  • better focus and a clearer mind
  • accomplished more during by the day on a personal and business level
  • less stressed. when I avoided getting sucked in to mindless scrolling it kept me on schedule for tasks that needed to be done at certain times, like waking the baby up early so she naps before I have to pick my son up at the bus stop or starting dinner so it will be done before my son’s karate class.
  • my children were less stressed because I was not only less rushed but more focused on them and their needs
  • less anxiety. I wasn’t bombarded with either political negativity or articles reminding me what foods and medicines are going to kill me or my children or even articles suggesting I need to pray more (those articles are not bad but I have a guilty personality and feel constantly condemned. Yes I am aware that’s not good and yes, it is an issue God is addressing in me and yes, I’ll probably write a blog post about it someday. You’ve been warned.)

In case you need even more incentive to break your social media addiction, articles about breaking social media addictions which encouraged (naysayers will say brainwashed) me:

http://jasondoesstuff.com/social-media-detox-recap/

http://mashable.com/2014/08/09/summer-social-media-detox/#5K29iHxoqiqT

 

https://stevecorona.com/how-30-days-without-social-media-changed-my-life

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/social-media-addiction/

A book for moms that really encouraged me to back away from social media, though I apparently forgot its’ points recently, was The UnWired Mom – Choosing to Live Free in an Internet Addicted World

Lisa R. Howeler is a wife and mom living in a small town located in northern Pennsylvania, less than a mile from the New York State border. She is a photographer, writer, chocolate lover, and one of those Jesus freaks your mama warned you about. Find her online at http://www.lisahoweler.com; www.instagram.com/lisahoweler; and Facebook, when she’s not detoxing from it,  www.facebook.com/lisahoweler.

Five tips for capturing authentic images of your kids | Elmira NY Child Photographer

Over the years I have had people ask how I capture the personalities of children in my images. The answer is much more simple than you might imagine. I’ve pulled five quick tips together for capturing authentic images of your children.

1) Always Have a Camera

I rarely leave my house without a camera. I say rarely because it has happened, but if it does, I feel very incomplete. I’ve been known to even carry my camera on a trip to the store, simply because I never know when a great moment is going to happen. It’s like the Boy Scout motto “Always Be Prepared.” While I’m not a huge fan of the images my cellphone creates, at least having that to capture an image can make sure you capture a moment as it happens.

 

2) Don’t Say “Smile for the Camera!”

I’ve rarely asked my son or any child to smile for the camera. It’s so easy to capture the real person when they aren’t being asked to think about how to smile. Capture them as they are, doing what they love to do, in the place they love to do it in. That can be at home, at a park or surrounded by some of their favorite things or people. If they are asked to look at the camera, they have to stop and think about how they look, what they are doing and if you want them to smile or not.

For me some of my favorite photographs of my children are of them engaging in a favorite activity for that time in their life. Years down the road, I can look at those images and see in them, not only my child, but what they liked to do at that age.

 

 3) Stalk Your Children

I follow my children as they play. I stalk them throughout various times of the day. I essentially become their personal paparazzi.

Of course it is important to put the camera down and be in the moment sometimes, but other times I have fun following my son and daughter around and snapping images as they play, rarely asking them to stop what they are doing and pay attention to the camera. The less they think about the camera being there, the better, when you are looking for candid images.

 

4) Keep snapping.

Don’t take only one photo of the moment. Keep clicking the shutter to capture the perfect image of the event or activity or moment. Children move fast and constantly. You have to do the same and never miss a shot. You don’t have to keep every image you take but at least you’ll have several to choose from for the family album or to hang on the wall. This doesn’t mean you have to snap away during and entire event or time together, but definitely take more than one or two images if you really want to capture authentic images.

 

4) Focus On the Moment

Don’t think about photography perfection but about perfection in moments. When taking authentic images of your children, don’t be so concerned about her hair being out of place or chocolate on his face or her shirt being ripped. Is she laughing? He is sticking his tongue out while concentrating like he always does? Then that’s what matters the most

 

5) Let your children to be children.

This goes with the previous tip. If you truly want to capture who your children are, then let them BE children. Let them play. Let them climb trees.

Let them splash in mud puddles and lick ice cream cones with their church clothes on and even pick their noses.

Let children be real and your camera will capture who they really are.