Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A different way of looking at things...

You might know, or maybe you don't, that I like to take pretty pictures. I am still learning, there is always so much more to know, but I am better than I used to be and I suppose that is a good start. Anyway, so in this month's issue of Click, the print magazine for Clickin' Moms, there is a beautiful article on shooting to convert to black and white and it has the tips and perspectives of some of my favorite photographers.

This means that I am now super excited and very inspired to spend all of November working on Black and White photography. I like black and white and I can see when it works and have some sense of why it works but often it is not until after I look at an image and consider if it has the tone and texture that it needs. I would like to be able to look at my environment and consider the light and texture specifically for black and white.

I am not used to doing this and I think that challenging myself to take a photo specifically for black and white every single day will help me develop a set of skills that I have not yet flexed. So, today is November 1st which means it is my first and I think I will have to find something to shoot.

I think I should see if one of my boys will let me photograph him? More of the girls are willing than the boys. I have no idea why they hide more than the girls but almost all of them do. Well, except for Jack who loves to be photographed. He is thrilled to get out there and he follows direction well which is pretty rare for a child.

I am also keenly aware that there are many missed shots of some of those more camera shy children. I recently made a photo book for my mother's birthday and I am going to have it printed for my grandmother and my mother-in-law. It takes for-freaking-EVER to format a flipping photo book and ima get some mileage out of that one.

Having a challenge makes sure that I pick up my camera and the more I pick up my camera, the better I do. So, I need to pick up my camera. I might even do some more split tone like the one above which happens to be the BEST I have of my almost fifteen year old who usually needs to be chased and begged to photograph. I have no idea why. He has a fantastic smile. We will see where November takes me!

Monday, October 31, 2016


Elijah and Raymond guide the auger
while my husband, Ben, operates it.
We are expanding the barn. We have sheep this year and both the dairy cow and the ewe are pregnant so we need not one but TWO birthing pens to keep the mamas and their babies away from the others. We borrowed an auger from a neighbor but since it didn't fit on the tractor hubby drove five miles there to pick it up, he had to come home with the neighbor's tractor. It takes a while to get used to a new machine but the auger made quick work of the first couple of posts...and then they starting hitting large rocks. So many rocks here! There are giant rock piles out in the fields that are the result of piling up all the ones that are turned up in plowing. These piles are huge, like the size of large car, and there are several of them. When we want rocks to fill in around the house to keep the mud down during the melt, we just take the tractor out there and load up the bucket. Anyway, they had to resort to finishing the holes with a a plain old post hole digger and old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears.

We have some great friends helping us. We helped a new family to the area build their house and by we, I mean the royal we. I basically stayed home and Ben and the boys took lunch over their and worked many days over the summer. Not hard for me! So this family and the father's brother and his wife all headed over here to work on our farm. This weekend was pretty old timey feeling with all the people here and the neighbor who stopped by to see if the tractor was working out for us (royal us). The men and teenaged boys were out there busting their backs in the cold drizzle and the ladies and girls were inside in the warm kitchen. I have a large kitchen table, it is ten feet long and a scant four feet wide. We had yarn all over the place and we were knitting and crocheting and chatting and I cooked enough food for a hungry army. My eleven year old daughter made her first solo cake and even iced it herself. The younger boys did the dishes to keep them from being underfoot since the ladies were busy and the men were working. It was a fantastic weekend for me but my husband is sore as heck this Monday morning. I am actually looking forward to the next few weekends because we get to do it all over again although I think my husband is probably less excited than me.

So, after my glorious weekend, we had a rough evening last night. About a quarter to seven, I sat down to edit these photos and my thirteen year old son started the dishes. We had several minutes of flickering lights and so we got ready for an outage. We get water, we make sure the Berkeys are filled, double check that all the electric candles are in the specified places, and plug in all the devices. Usually we get some warning but we are pretty out there so power outages of a couple of hours are a regular thing. Then we actually lost all power for just shy of five hours.

I complained and whined and moaned and groaned. I was starting a fun project and the dishes weren't done. We had an outage of a day and a half this summer during the hottest part of summer and it was a crisis. We live on a well and when the power goes out, so does the water. No water, no toilet, no heat, no electric fence, no heat lamp for the ducks, and no lights is a tall order. If we have no water, that means that we have to haul water for our animals, 40 gallons twice a day, and the outhouse sees some use, which is less than fun when it is cold outside. I was working on a hat for a friend and in the dark, I could not find the second color of yarn I wanted. Because the fence was off, we had to put the animals in the barn early (the cows have been known to take a powder). The power company didn't update its message and every time I called, I got more annoyed.

I was huffy about the whole thing as I got children ready for bed and the two who were supposed to shower went to bed dirty. We read books and brushed teeth and then my oldest daughter and I settled down with our yarn and an battery operated lantern while my husband read on his charged Kindle. I just wanted the power to go on so that people could shower and the dishwasher could run and so I could flush the toilets. I used a different yarn on the hat, which in the morning light, actually is working pretty darned well. After a while, Ben and I went to bed and just as I was feeding the cat, the power came on. I was thrilled. Everything was working again.

This morning I was chatting with the grandmother of one of Ben's youngest students at our little country school. She had managed to hear from someone at the electric co-op about what caused the outage. Some poor soul had wrecked their car and taken out a pole. While I sat in my comfortable house with my family and whined about not finding my yarn, someone was in an actual crisis. I felt like a heel. I have no idea how this person is doing today but I can tell you that this person and any passengers and their families had a much worse evening that I did. I wish I had known but if knowing would have made me less self centered, that means that I am mindlessly navel gazing and I don't like what that says about me. I hope to take something away from this experience and that is a sense that I don't really know what happens out in the world and I need to spend less time concentrating on my own little heart and it's selfish desires. I prayed for my power. I should have prayed for the people involved. At least I learned something about myself and that might have been the best part of the weekend after all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Maple leaf red and fall projects...

Back home, the snow comes early and then retreats and leaves sunny days in the seventies in its wake. I have woken up on bright sunny days and left the house in short sleeves only to come back in the afternoon in four inches of wet, sloppy snow. When the leaves change, it is a fleeting  moment to be captured quickly because pretty soon there will be snow to knock all those lovely leaves to the ground. It is also a dry place which means late summer and early fall are very brown months. The color is a bright spot but it doesn't last so we have to enjoy it.

Here, the leaves slowly change and weather slowly dips into freezing. It gives time to really enjoy it. I'm grateful for that because I love those fall colors. That red of a maple leaf is my absolute favor color of all time. There is nothing more beautiful than something maple leaf red. I am so lucky that there is a lot of red here but of course, no matter how much, I wish that there was even more. Having beautiful color puts me in a great mood which is good since I have a lot of things planned for fall. By fall, I mean, when other people have fall. Mine is pretty much wrapping up. Which is cool because I am charged. Anyway, so here are my projects.

I started writing a novel. I am just over 9K words in with a goal of getting to a total of 15K for this month. Next month I start NaNoWriMo. I have already substantially changed my introduction because I needed plot points that will better lead to the inciting incident. You can find the link to my novel HERE. So, keep me honest ask about it occasionally.

I also have some food related posts related to the Nativity Fast and I will be putting together weekly videos and recipes. You will be able to find them on my book's Facebook page HERE. We will be covering a whole slew of oil free sauces and dressings for more ascetic diets in just the first week. We are also going to be talking about beans and cheap eats so if you are looking for help this fast, I got your back. It will all be out in time for New Calendar families which is great for us Old Calendar people. You will help me get my act together! The truth is that watching NC people start their fasts helps me. You are like barometer; so thanks for that.

Lastly, if you have not been reading me for long (at my old blog) then you probably don't know about my family's lovely first snow tradition which is also coming up. I am not sure when, it seems to be taking its time this year, but it will come. And when it does, I will tell you all about what we do. I will even take some sweet photos.

It is going to be a busy next few months. Hope you stick around for the ride!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Overwintering the ducks...

We had some late ducklings and though they had about the best mother duck I have ever known, they were getting picked off by hungry predators. We have the remaining two in the mudroom in a cage, keeping them until they were larger, stronger, and faster. The time has come to force them out. Fall is breaking into winter here and the animals saw it coming while we were still enjoying unusually warm and sunny October weather. While some of this big beautiful country is still warm and even has the air conditioning running, this  morning I was outside in front of my house screaming at my van while I pulled on frozen doors and desperately looked for my ice scraper. These lovely little ducks need to develop their deep winter feathers and the mudroom just isn't cool enough.

So, right now as I type this, my teenaged boys are finishing fixing up the winter home for the ducks. These ones will be in a dog kennel with a warming light as close to them as is safe. The other ducks will be in with them but they will need a few days to get used to each other so that they don't fight. We don't want to lose anymore. Over the next month, we will move the light up and put the ducklings with the others. Eventually, they will have a shared light and some small nesting boxes with hay to cuddle in. I love watching ducks curl up against each other, wrapping their long necks around each other's. It reminds me of watching my children sleep with all their legs and arms tangled together.

As much as it bothers me to think about moving the ducklings (who really aren't babies anymore) out to a place twenty to thirty degrees cooler than where they are now (the mudroom is heated to the upper fifties to prevent my washer from freezing), I have to do it. They need to be a little cold so that they grow the feathers that they need. I am soft but I have to harden myself so that I can harden this little things. When my children express concern about it, I have to tell them firmly that we need to do this, that we will make it as easy as possible, but in the end they will have to be a little uncomfortable. We love these ducks and we do it because we love them.

Too much grass is
bad for baby lambs.

We harden off plants, we harden off ducklings, we wean lambs onto fresh grass after hay, and we harden ourselves a little while we do it. Critical life lessons for the children and in more ways that we know.When we carefully weaned the lambs onto grass after they were weaned from the mother and given hay, it was hard for the children. We had to chase the lambs into the barn and away from the sun and wind and bright green pasture not because we didn't care but precisely because we did. Lambs will give themselves bloat if they have too much grass. Perhaps explaining this to my children will make them think twice when I limit sweets. It is an important life lesson for them, in ways that they cannot immediately appreciate.

In the beginning, the ducklings were in my kitchen next to the wood stove with a low light. I would watch them and sing to them and talk to them while I cooked. Eventually, they were in the mudroom with no light. The first night they were out there with no light, my three year cried for them. But now she sees the stiff feathers coming in all over their bodies and she sees that I was right. I wanted them to get feathers, real ones, not the lovely fluff of a new duckling. They look more and more like proper ducks with large wings and spiky new feathers. Now comes the next step of moving them out to other ducks.

Truly, it is as hard for me as the children. Inside I dread it though I say nothing about it. It is an important life lesson, in more ways than I can appreciate immediately. Maybe when I think about what God has ordered in my life, perhaps I will think about it and realized that He is hardening off my soul like a seedling. Perhaps He is doing it as gently as possibly but perhaps I am being prepared for what comes next.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

People aren't machines...

I have been thinking about this off and on for a couple of weeks and I decided that I really just needed to write it down. A couple of weeks ago I was doing the grocery shopping while my son was at classical guitar and I was running late to pick him up. My teens don't have cell phones (whatever, they are expensive) and he knew there was a chance that I would be late but I wanted to be...not late. Maybe I just wanted to be able to bilocate or freeze time so I could get all the errands done. When it is a sixty mile round trip to get groceries (literally, that is the closest place), I try to make it a once a week thing. I head into town and while Raymond is in class, it is a mad dash to get to the store and the bank and to get feed or whatever errands there are and make it back home so I can cook dinner and we can do afternoon chores.

Sometimes it all goes according to plan and everything clicks into place. Sometimes it doesn't. Actually, most of the time I am barely holding it together and everything is late but at least almost everything is done. Generally speaking, when stacking appointments and errands that one must drive for, my day is pretty much a dumpster fire waiting to happen. One whiff of smoke, and panic sets in. I had a day like that recently. First, there were problems with the computer network for the cash registers. Then there were "operator errors". I had gotten in line behind a familiar cashier and then she clocked out, and a new cashier being trained took over. I was so frustrated. It took forever. She didn't know what she was doing and had a hard time bagging and just was out of her depth. The more frustrated she got, the worse it went. I couldn't escape because there were so  many people behind me. When I left, it was late, and the bridge was up which meant that I couldn't get back across to guitar until the boat has passed and the bridge went down. Then when I came back, it was up again. My day was just going up in flames.

I complained bitterly to my son about my afternoon when I picked him up and he commiserated. I had complained that my favorite cashier was not working and we discussed how I walk back and forth and look for the ones I know will do the job quickly so that I could get on with my day. We went back and forth for several minutes until I suddenly realized what I was doing. I waited tables for a bit and worked as a cashier when I was young. It was awful. Hungry people are cranky people and people checking out, are that. Checked out. I hated being treated as a machine, as an extension of the cash register and not as a person on the other end. Yet, here I was, doing the same thing. I briefly considered writing about it and promptly forgot.

Then I made a quick stop at the store while in town for something else. I was in a hurry. I just needed two things and I really needed to get back home. I got in the wrong line. There was an elderly couple ahead of me and they wanted their things bagged a certain way and in a certain order and wanted the cashier to check the price on things as it rang up and then they could not figure out how to use the new chip reader with their new bank card. It was almost like a comedy routine, a video someone would post to Facebook and we would all start complaining because it was familiar. But, as difficult as it was, the cashier, who was really young, was so patient. She didn't apologize to the people behind in line, rather she thanked us for being so patient. Then she moved their cart so they could continue to look through their receipt as she checked out the customer in front of me, who made jokes at their expense. He was not overly unkind, but he did do it.

When I got home, I had plenty of miles and time to mull over the experience.This young woman running the cash register was a much better model for my children than I had been. She looked at those customers and saw people. The rest of us saw obstacles in our own individual paths. I don't want to be like that or for my children to be like that, but it is exactly what I am modeling. I picked up the phone and called the manager.

It took a while, she was busy, and when she took my call I am pretty sure she was expecting me to complain. Instead, I told her that I was really very impressed with the young woman at the register and how she handled the situation. I told her that I hoped someone would remember to treat my mother and grandmother so patiently. I do. Which means that I need to treat people that way.

When I was a young and overwhelmed mother, a seasoned veteran of motherhood once told me that she always tells her children to look at each person that they encounter as being made in the image and likeness of God. That's something. That is really something. I try to remember but I am weak and self absorbed but it does not take away from fundamentally what each person is. Every cashier, every customer, every pilot on a boat (are they called pilots?), they are each and all made in the image and likeness of God and I can't take that away, but I do fail to see it.

So, even though you will fail, make an effort to spend a day remembering that each person you meet is made in the image and likeness of God. I'll do it with you. We can keep doing it, day after day, and knowing that we will fail is okay. All those failures will add up to lots of successes. Each time we look at another person and see them not as obstacles, it will a good that we have put into this world.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Happy birthday, baby...

Jack and sneaky selfie with  my good camera.
Today  my son, Jack, turned twelve. He is the only one of my children born after my due date. The previous five all came early, the fifth came twenty-two days early. This means that about a month out from my due date, everyone expected me to have a baby. I would show up at church or at a home school function and I was giantly pregnant and somebody would stop, drop their jaw, and cry out, "Are you still pregnant?!?"

"No. This is a beach ball. I hid the baby in the car so I would not have to share him with any of you."

I laugh about it now but at the time, I cried so much! When my due date dawned, I literally sat up and cried because in six pregnancies, it was the only time I did not wake up on my due date without a baby in my arms. What seemed like an eternity to wait, is now a blink of an eye. I am sure someone said something like that to me at the time but I only heard the questions about labor and delivery.

Jack is my sneaky one. He is my squirrely one. He is the one who managed to climb up on top of our giant fridge and climb into the basket in which I was keeping all the girl scout cookies. He is the one who knows that my good camera is my good camera and nobody messes with it. Except him, because to Jack, rules are suggestions and if he breaks them in an awesome way, it should all work out in the end. He always has his natural charm to get him out of sticky situations. This boy is gonna be trouble.

He is also the one who had scrambled eggs for breakfast one morning, just before his first birthday, and went into anaphylactic shock. I watched the hives spread over his face and body and I called the doctor. I got him into the Suburban and and watched his lips start to swell. There was no way I was making it the office. I yelled out to my next door neighbor to call him (he is and was a friend) and tell him I was going to the hospital. I should have just called 911 but the hospital was right behind the house so fortunately, my poor decision didn't turn out too badly. As soon as I ran in (just throwing my keys at the E/R valet), they got him in and medicated. He looked freakish for about five days but recovered beautifully.

I remember thinking that I couldn't deal with that allergy. My oldest daughter was recovering from strokes caused by a blood clotting condition and she was on the mend. I didn't think I had the strength to do that. But I did. Motherhood is an incredible thing. We are driven by unfathomable depths of love and fueled by caffeine and sheer will we can do anything. Each beat of my heart is the sound of my body telling me and my children that I am not giving up, even when I want to.

I am profoundly grateful for every morning that I wake up next to my husband and with the houseful of children who are growing too quickly. Every day is they are a gift to me. Today, that one there is especially a gift to me. God is good, I am weak, but it all turns out in the end. Jack teaches me that daily.

Happy birthday, son. May God grant you many, many happy years.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

No photos for the album...

Jack looking dramatically off towards the sunset.
I regularly worry about the fact that there are no photos of me but I don't worry about it enough to actually take photos. Instead I wring my hands over for a day or two and then go back to life.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The easier one to explain is that I like taking photos. I like them to look good. This makes getting photos of me from others is hard for me. Once one begins to study photography, then every image becomes one for analysis. When my kids take photos, I work very hard to be supportive and encouraging but inside I find myself noticing focus that is off or chopped limbs or uneven lighting. You should know that I never mention these things, instead I choose to focus on the finer elements of what they have done so that they are encouraged to continue. The whole positive reinforcement thing.

The second reason is that I hate photos of me. A lot of people do so I know that I am not alone in this but we hate them to varying degrees. I spent decades cutting myself out of photos and refusing to get into photos. I can count the number of times I have been photographed (since I was married) on my hands. I almost always, I have deleted or destroyed the photos. I do not even have photos of me at my children's baptisms. Really. I won't get in the photo. I know, it's stupid, but it is what I have done and there is no undoing it.

I nearly died six years ago when I nearly bled out after a surgical complication. I don't say that lightly and I do mean to write a book about that at some point. In fact, I hate it when people tell me that they have nearly died because they seldom know of what I speak. If you were not in intensive care on a ventilator, please do not tell you almost bled to death. If you felt faint or tired but were not sedated and intubated, you can't understand what I am talking about. But, I digress. My point is that my husband cautioned me later that there were no photos of me for my children. He worried that if I died, and because I was in intensive care and there was a potential for it, there would be no photos of me for my children. You would think that I might snap out of my vanity at that point and take some photos, but I didn't and I don't now. When I had to take publicity photos for my publisher, I cried about it. There were expertly done but I still hate looking at my own face and nothing that the enormously skilled and kind (so, so kind) photographer could have done or said would change that. It was my problem, not Molly's, which means I need to fix it. But I don't.

I did take those photos but I hate them; not because of the photos, but because they are of me. I love Molly's work (see her site HERE) and I love looking at the amazing photos she takes. I just can't stand looking at myself. Authors need to take photos for publishers who need to use them and they are used, so I just...look away. I don't look at those photos. I would rather hide behind my own camera and take my own photos of other people (which are certainly less amazing than Molly's) so that I do not have to be in other people's photos.

My older kids take it as a given that I am very rarely photographed and simply accept that there are no physical photos of me. If someone takes a photo and I am in it, it gets ripped up and goes in the garbage. I once threw away DOZENS of photos from one of the kids' baptism because a very kind person did not understand my "rules" about photos and took like a million of me. I tossed the lot and it meant that some beautiful moments are gone because she also gave me the negatives, which also went into the garbage. Another friend once had her daughter take photos and make a DVD of  scrolling baptism photos set to music. She was very young and not a very good photographer but loved the craft and was happy to do it. I was very upset because I could not edit the selection of photos but could only share the whole CD, with me in it. You know what happened? No one got a copy of it. I snapped it and tossed it. I am not sure  my husband even saw it once. I even deleted  almost all of the photos of me with my father and my ten day old youngest child because I thought I looked bad in them. The gravity of it might not register with you because you might not know that my father was in the final stages of his battle with cancer.

Stupid, I know. Believe me, I know. I regret it profoundly. Sometimes I cry over it but again, I never feel badly enough that I keep the photos of me. Every once in while, I will take a photo to prove that I can but it literally shakes me which is also stupid. Notice that I am writing a whole post about how I hate photos and I should be in them but I used a photo of one of my kids? I did not even put a photo of me in it. I can't bring myself to do it.

My husband occasionally gets cranky about it all, the older kids just let it go and never say anything because this is their normal, but my youngest notices. She was sitting in my lap while I edited photos and she noticed that we have none of me on this computer. Well, there is one and only one. It is the one I use on my blog. That's it. She asked to take a photo of me and I let her and I promised myself I would delete it later. I probably will even though I know I shouldn't. Then today, a lovely woman whom I follow on Instagram (follow me HERE but you won't see photos of me) posted a photo of herself in her farm kitchen. It was taken by her child who wanted to take a photo of her. It isn't perfect. She isn't dressed up. But she is in the moment. I can't do that. I am not that brave. I am just a little too broken. I know I should, though, and knowing is half the battle. Knowing doesn't mean there are photos for my children so it is probably less than half of the battle.

My resolution for this year was to have one photo a month of me with the kids. Just one. Know how many there are? One. That's it. I took a selfie with Claudia sleeping on my chest, I had my photos taken for my publisher and then there are two little iPhone shots that Claudia took yesterday and which I will probably delete. That's it in ten  months. I've had this resolution for years and there is an average of one single photo a year and none are printed which means my children who are not teens have probably never seen them because they are on Facebook. How sad is that?

I am not sure where I am going with this or how to wrap up this post because in the end I've had no epiphany and I have no photos. I have nothing to give my kids and no intention of actually taking any photos. I want to but I want more to not take them. So I won't. It's wrong and it's sad and I know it. But I also know that in a few days I will be done feeling badly about for a while and I'll just go back to normal. Well, my normal.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Making memories...

I love this photo of my youngest. For the last couple of years, I have taken the school photos at our little country school with a teeming population of twelve students. I also do my home school high school kids photos and took some photos of little Claudia since the other kids all had photos (except two boys who need to sit for me). I have some lovely smiling shots but there is just something about the petulant pout of a toddler that is just delicious.

We have a quarter mile long drive way and I wanted a shot of her with some nice leafy bokeh behind her so I trotted her out to the drive. She was displeased because it is a road and roads are for cars. She is so right...and so cute. I love this. When I am an old woman and she is a fine, grown woman, I want to remember her just like this.

Speaking of remembering photos, I did not get any of my son's birthday party last night. We invited the whole school over and then a friend from church and her two kids and her mother-in-law and sister-law, and another friend of mine with her two kids. And the novice monk. It is not a party unless you have a man in black, amiright? His birthday is actually next week but this was a night that worked for people so this is when we did it. Saturdays are hard because we have church and most other people don't and then days when we are fasting is hard to have others over.

I really should have gotten some photos. I stayed in the kitchen cooking a giant meal for six adults, four teens, and sixteen children. I also made two chocolate truffle pound cakes in Bundts and glazed them with white chocolate. It was pretty darn good if you ask me. The moms sat around my table with my oldest daughter and crocheted and we talked about yarn and patterns and whether or not this will be a harsh winter. It was wonderful but I don't have a single photo. I tell myself I am not a "real" photographer because I often just put down my camera and live in the moment. I think that if I were legit, I would always have it clicking away. Maybe that is true and maybe it is not.

I am not sure I want to only experience things through my camera lens. While I am so grateful for being able to capture moments like Claudia pouting on the driveway, I am also happy to capture them in my mind. I will remember chasing kids away from the cakes and all the begging for a second slice. I will remember the noise and chaos of all those people running around and in and out of the house and the moment one of the kids jumped off a railing and right into a pile of sheep poop.

What is more, is the experience of everyone else there would have from the other side of the camera. I think always having the camera going would mean that I would have a different experience. That is not always bad necessarily. I am glad to be able to observe and record things. There is still a distance between me and my in-laws and I think my Latin mercurial temperament and tendency to hug and kiss everyone still freaks them out a bit, decades into my marriage. When my father-in-law's brother passed away last fall, his long time friend and companion asked for some photos. I was grateful to her for the job because it allowed me to hide out and put a camera between my face and the world. In the end, this was good for me. Sometimes I just want a little slice of time to take out and ponder. Like these two photos of Claudia taken minutes apart.

I think for me, photography is finding a balance with being in the moment and recording the moment. There is that old saying that you can't have your cake and eat it, too. I think that is something like photography. You can't just sit and soak up the moment, eat cake as it were, and simultaneously hold it in a photograph forever and keep it. I might never be a "real" photographer but I think I am okay with that.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Were there no graves in Egypt...

I have known several people over the last few years who have suffered greatly for different reasons and to be truthful, my family has carried a cross I would much preferred to have traded for another. In the end, my own personal trial has highlighted just how blessed I am, not that I always see it. We had a conflict that I won't go into here but it has been achingly painful. Because I have seen some darkness, the light seems far more light than I would have thought before. The brightest light in my life is in my husband. I have done many stupid things in my life and made many bad decisions but thank God that he is the best decision I could have possibly made. He is better than I deserve.

Today my post is a (hopefully) coherent edit of something that I wrote to a far flung acquaintance who is feeling crushed by some heartbreaking losses. I hoped to apply what I have learned to her situation and see if it helped her. Then I thought that I would scoop it all together, clean it up, and put it here and see if helps anyone else. That is my prayer, anyway.

In terms of my own trials, I found myself thinking a great deal about the exodus of the Hebrews into Egypt. Moving clear across the country and away from my family and friends has a lot to do with that. I think this early history of the people of God is important to think about for those of us feeling crushed by our journeys. One of the most important things to remember is that God called the Hebrews out in to the desert and freed them from the Egyptians not because they were enslaved but so that they could worship more freely. Moses only asked for permission to go temporarily into the desert so that they might offer sacrifice. In the end, it was never about slavery per se. The yoke that bound them was not slavery but that which separated them from love and service to God, which is only superficially connected. When Pharaoh did not permit them to go away for a short while, God took them away forever. He cut the ties that bound them to their old lives and He lead them out in the desert. Once there, God fed and protected them but they did not see it because they focused only on what they thought they had left behind and not on what they were supposed to be doing and what they would be doing.

When you despair, remember that in
Egypt there were  graves but only
graves. In the desert is life...

Remember how the Hebrews pleaded with Moses, "Were there no graves in Egypt?" They believed that they were being lead to death and not just death, but a death with insult. They were exposed and frightened and they deeply wished to go back and fall into an easy and familiar death. This resonates with  me because I often wish that I could just go back and not have to deal with my current situation, whatever it might be. I, like the Hebrews, often cannot see what is actually happening. The Hebrews were being lead into life and but because they could not see the when or where the journey would end, they feared that were simply lost. I know that I have often felt this same crushing despair of thinking that there were graves a plenty back in the place I came from and wishing to not have to endure the journey.

That is not to say that the journey is the point or that the slavery of the Hebrews was not a problem. What it is to say is that whatever separates us from service to God needs to be stripped away and for each of us this is a different thing. What actually needs to be stripped away might not what is most immediately obvious. The things that stood between the Hebrews were not primarily the Egyptians and their slavery, but their own divided hearts, and that is what God was stripping away. This understanding can be lost when we look at the things we have had to give up. It might never have been that the things that we had or wanted or hoped for were problematic in and of themselves but they came with things that were and so all needed to be taken away.

Our lives are always a process of stripping away the layers of self to expose a properly ordered will that can serve God more faithfully once all the weight is shed. Lots of things will leave us over the course of our lives and not all of it was ever particularly bad or problematic but is also carried away. Learning to be at peace with the losses is a painful process.

No matter how dark it appears, God has not lead you into the desert and death but into life and it is coming. In the desert there is life, you just don't know where it is yet but once you find it, it will be as obvious to you as it is to us as a people of God reflecting on the restlessness of the Hebrews. We pity their shortsightedness and cannot understand how they did not see the greater work of the Hand of God in their lives. We know where their journey lead and that what they left behind was empty weight. They were lighter for the journey despite their suffering and perception that they were fading.

In the end, you will have to take comfort in knowing that though you may not know where you will be lead or how long it will take, but it will be to life. Take the small comfort of manna when and where you find it and try to accept that it is a pale foreshadowing of what is to come. When you despair, remember that in Egypt there were  graves but only graves. In the desert is life and He will lead you into it, into the heart of the land flowing with milk and honey.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Summer is behind us...

The last sunset swim of 2016
We are done with swimming at the beach for the year. Actually, we have been done for a couple of weeks. With lows in the low forties, evenings are too cold. Days in the upper fifties with the usual gloom and rain of September is also too cold. I have been pretty bad about getting my Christmas planning done and so I really need to start thinking about it. I like knitting and usually people like the knitted things that I give them for gifts, or at least I believe they do. I could be wrong. Anyway, I still like knitting. So I need to start thinking of quick and easy gifts to knit and I need to be vague since some of the people who read the words that I write also receive the knits that I stitch. So. That said.

I have some really lovely brightly colored sock yarn from my bestie. It is all pinks and purples and super cute. I am thinking this would be good for some tiny gift for my younger girls. I am thinking maybe some wristlets or something. But not matching. I have done a lot of that and then in the mornings, everyone fights over whose is whose. No more.

These look cute, thought the photograph isn't too great. I can see this being good in all kinds of sock yarn. Maybe a different pair for each little girl?


Those would be pretty quick but not too boring and still nice. I need to find something to knit my sons and godson. That is harder. Boy are hard on things and usually not terribly appreciative of knits. I can't figure it out. I did mittens for all of my children the year before last and I am not in the mood to do a dozen again. I have no ideas. And then there is my mother and sister who happen to appreciate knits. Maybe something from THIS amazing site?


There is nothing there that I do not want to knit. Nada. It is all gorgeous but I am behind in my planning so Ima needing quick projects.


Wait! That could be good for all kinds of people. And it is striped which means I can use up all the yarns so it is a stashbuster, too. Hmm. Maybe I need more of this.

Any chance any of you have figure out what you are doing?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Projects, progress, and purpose...

I have been thinking a lot lately about the things that I could be writing and the things that I should be writing. Maybe these are the same and maybe they are not? I don't know. At any rate, it is month end and also quarter end so it happens to be the time when I look at my royalties. I know that in the end, sales and royalties are not necessarily indicators of the worth of my writing. I mean, really, if it were, those super crappy best sellers about angsty teen vampires or abusive May-December romance would not the tripe that they are and Homer would be in paperback at every newsstand. But since writing is my job and this is the metric I have, there it goes into play. When I negotiate with a website to produce content for a series, those sales and then the landing rate for other articles are how I am evaluated. 

I switched blogs despite having a solid following and some really amazing readers, some of whom turned into amazing friends despite the distance of hundreds, sometimes thousands, and even continents of distance away. I switched because I wanted to remind myself that the blog is for me. It is not about metrics. It is about putting words to the thoughts and then putting them down. Maybe they click with someone and maybe they don't but it gives me the space to write things and keep my wheels turning so I am working with a well maintained machine when it comes time to write on contract work.

Speaking of that lucrative contract work, I have been putting it off because I sold one book and then I have been working on turning some other ideas into another one. When I say lucrative, you should know that is tongue in cheek. My husband and I have a running joke with an old friend about his sister-in-law's freelance writing and mine. It brings in hundreds of dollars, hundreds. Think about that for a second. I am not an A-list pulp fiction writer buying a second home. I am just me and happy with one real Benjamin (my husband, by the way). When I think about the time I am spending working on potential projects it can be a bit frustrating because I think about the quicker return on work when writing for smaller publications. There is a big downside to it and it means crafting their voice and using their SEO criteria. My voice is muted. It is there but it is not exactly the same. Not that writing for sale, even if I am going to click publish or upload an eBook, is without some voice and audience considerations.It is just that it is about the volume of my voice in the final product and given that I am an author, frankly I like the sound of my own voice. That is how we work.

So I am getting back to regular blogging and I am putting few limitations on it right now so that I can get my machine humming again. It will put me in a better position for deciding what project I am going to pull out, put on, and run with. I have some ideas and they need a little cultivation right now. We had a difficult summer with some stresses that I allowed to eat into my writing and knitting time and that means that I was turning down my own voice. Putting limits on somethings and some people will give me the space I need right now to find my balance again. I think I will then figure out what I want to write and how to do it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Proudest moments...

My lovely daughter.
There are those days as a mother when I am insanely proud of my children. I want to tell you about it today.

My oldest daughter had noticed the quiet suffering of a fellow student in one of her online classes. He was just struggling with lots of little things and they were building up and he just was feeling defeated. She took the opportunity to reach out to him because she wanted him to feel less alone. She told me that she wanted to find the right words to use in an email to him to let him know that she appreciated him and the contributions he makes. While she talked about it with me, I never read the email. Later, this young man's mother sent me a message to let me know what a difference it had made for him. She said he had smiled for the first time in many days. She wanted to let me know that Maria's tender little note had ultimately not only for her classmate but for his mother as well.

As mothers, our hearts are forever tied to our children.
Their happiness is our happiness and their grief
is the most profound grief we ever feel.

Maria reached out to this other student because of her own suffering. When we moved here to the farm, she was starting high school. We pulled her away from the only home she had ever known, and all her Colorado friends and family, and set her down her. That is a high challenge for a young teen aged girl. Moving to a small, rural, isolated place is just harder. Friendships here are generations old and grudges are carried around in corners of hearts for a lifetime. I mean that sincerely. I met a lovely mother in one of my children's activities and I think we could have been good friends but a relative of my husband's had been incredibly hurtful to this woman's mother-in-law almost sixty years ago when they were both reckless children. What happened had nothing to do with me but it hung over my head and we were not able to be friends. Friendly, but not really friends.

My children also had a hard time breaking into the inner circle here. We were very actively involved in a specific activity here and my kids were trying very hard to make friends. They were in fact encouraged by the directress, who is a very kind and lovely person. It wasn't going well but I wasn't sure if it was a matter of self-consciousness or a reality. We thought there was a push back from the other children. It turned out to be incredibly real. One of the parents in that group actually had the gall to send me an email telling me to ask my children to stop talking hers and to her child's friends because mine were intrusive. She wanted to let me know that they were long time friends and not interested in my children. To say I was incensed is to underestimate my feelings. To say that I wanted to throat punch somebody behind the Walmart is more accurate. To tell our children what happened was one of the worst moments of my life. I cried telling them and then I cried when they cried.

I can tell you that we have moved past this to the point at which I can pass this family in said Walmart without incident though I may never speak to her again. Ever. It is better this way. From a distance I can pity her children for the harm she causes them by encouraging them to so mean. In the end, it is their loss. Their children will never know the warmth and comfort that my children bring into friendship.

In the end, the incident left wounds on my children but rather than allowing these to fester and make them bitter, they have become very sensitive scars, ones which attune them to the needs of others. If nothing else, I should be grateful for the whole series of events because I have these incredibly kind and compassionate children now. If this other mother reads this, she should know that. Her cruelty has made my children more gentle. Her bitterness has made my children more sweet. The children they rejected are far finer people now than ever before despite her; really, because of her. The world is a better place for that.

Maria told me that because of what happened, she promised herself she would not only never do that to another person ever. Because of what happened to her, she would look for opportunities to reach out and show love and warmth to other people. Because of the horrible way we were treated, she sought out this fellow student and extended such warmth to him that it radiated out to his mother. 

Somewhere out there is someone who is loved
better because someone else was hated more.

When I received that message from his mother, the relief and the comfort was palpable. My daughter may partially understand what she did for this student and his mother but she might never understand what it did for me. My hurt over my children's broken hearts melted in that warmth of her love for her fellow man. If I see that other mother in the store in the future, I  might even smile. I know what she did but she never will see how far it extended. I know the love that radiates out from that point in space. I can feel it and I am not alone.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Happy Box...

I have been over committed and under a lot of stress and I have been ignoring everything except critical things. That means that I end up ignoring things that will ultimately give me some balance. I am not writing. I am not filming. I am not doing the things that I love. My grandmother even told me that she missed me keeping up on a blog because she felt like I was not keeping people in the loop anymore. So. I am back.

Let's start small, shall we?

I am starting with this happy box.

I missed a Yarn Crawl in Denver and I shed many fat tears over it but there was nothing to be done. Yarn. Wine. Bestie. So much good and I missed it. I was so sad over it. So she went and had to give my ticket to another super amazing person and I chalked it up to a missed experience that I would not miss again next year. I went on not as merry way and comforted myself that they had a great time and that they both also deserved some time out. We all do. And with wine and yarn, it is even better.

Then, the happy box arrived. It was a box full of little samples and stickers and trinkets and even little wine glasses with the Knit and Nosh logo on it and I was thrilled.

It was all the best things ever. If I could not be there with here, she sent it to me in a lovely little box with a lovely little card and brightly colored tissue paper. It came on this cold, rainy, windy day that was already just a bit rocky and following some serious stresses. Perfect timing. God is good. Hanna is pretty good, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Home Schooling in a Large Family

Home schooling is always a challenge, there are no two ways around that, but there are particular challenges to home schooling many children at the same time with younger children in tow. The most children I have schooled at one time is eight (between kindergarten and sophomore) with a baby and many years I gave birth to a baby mid-year. Here is how I kept my head above water and hopefully it will help you do the same.

School Toys

First of all, it is important to some unexpected prep-work. When you have younger children or even babies, you need to make a plan for them to be entertained. Our children have had a large plastic bin known as the “school toys” which have always only been available during school time. Because the dynamics in my own family, with the exception of one lone girl, I had my five boys first who were followed by five girls. I know, know. I have no idea how it happened. My school toys bin started out as Brio train tracks with lots of accessories. When the shift to more and more girls happened, they added more things. The girls have dress up clothes. We have always had a very large bin of Megabloks that comes out at the same time. Babies often need small things that they can play with, too, but they are often don’t need them to be special the way toddlers and preschoolers need them to be. The youngest of my eleven children is three right now but when I still had babies, they always had a basket of things.

Secondly, the best way to keep the younger children under control and happy while you do school is the have someone older with them. I always schedule my children in half hour blocks to do their “babysitting turn”. It does not have to be stressful. In my notebook, I keep chart that is a list of all the older kid’ names down the side and a space to write dates across the top. As I go through my day, each child has to take a turn with the younger children and once they have done their turn, I put a check next to their name so that I know who had already gone. It is tempting to have some kids babysit more than others but everyone both needs to do school and learn how to take care of younger children. I try to plan it so that kids who are more reliable students start babysitting so I can make sure that the ones who are less reliable have me with them to make sure they get their work done. You can use a timer on your phone or on the oven or any other timer. Switching the kids out regularly makes sure that they kids never get tired of the babysitter.

Lastly, I think it is really important to segregate the learners. I group the older kids (who often listen to music with headphones while they study) and the younger kids who need a lot of talking back and forth to do their school work. This means that the youngest ones and the babysitter need to be elsewhere and not mingled in with the other children. If you keep everyone together, this means that you will have more interruptions and more frustrated teenagers who need to do a lot of reading. Carving out space does not need to be tricky. I have ten children at home still and we live in a 1640 sqft house. Center study areas around the dinner table, a coffee table, even a picnic table on the patio. Wherever a child sit, they can learn.

Daily Check-In Time

I have another list in my notebook that consists of a daily check in with my children. Every day they need to sit next to me and go through their work and get help and have questions answered and concepts taught so that they can move on. I make a check-list of names and any notes on things I need to check. It might look like below:

Maria 11/15·         Math: Differential Equations, stuck on lesson 12
·         Eng: Paragraph check in
Vocab: flash cards made?

Just keep a list of subject and make sure there is a dividing line down the center of the paper. Then keep what you need to check on one side and what needs to done the next day on the column next to it. Then you can keep the dates over the column. At the end of the day, you can transfer (no more than a half sheet, from top to bottom), of instructions into each child’s notebook. They know that you will check those items and they need to be responsible for checking them off. Once they are in fifth grade or so, make them responsible for copying it over. You have enough to do.


I used to have each child grade the English and Math of the child down in the level below their own. Now that I use Khan math, it means that they have less to grade. I like Khan because I get a weekly email that lets me know how many minutes they have spent and in what areas and where they are succeeding and where they are have problems. The children need to do 300 minutes of math a week but the upper limit is 400 (yes, I have kids who need that limit). If anyone does not get his minutes in, he gets to clean the bathroom. If you are using workbooks or texts for math, ask the child grading the work to help a younger child work through the problem. If they can correct it together, I do not count it as wrong. Helping someone learn a skill helps both children.

I can take a look at the work during the daily check ins but I also only have children do math and reading on the first Friday of the month to give me a chance to really look at where each kid is in each subject. I put on a movie and the kids come up one at a time and we really look at everything so I can make sure that each child is making the progress that they need to make. This is a great time to keep track of the reading list for high school kids. Work on their transcripts at the end of each and every semester so that it is not a gargantuan task at the end of high school.

Also, a big tip: flashcards. If it can go on flashcards, do it. I have cut apart vocab books and used them to make flashcards. The children have to make a flashcards for every term in every chapter in the science books. Group kids as much as possible and have them quiz each other every day. I check that the flashcards are made and then I quiz them weekly in groups. I go through hundreds of index cards a year and we have boxes and boxes of them. You can often use them with younger kids who do not have to go through the process of making them for themselves.(Almost) Free curriculum. Score.


All of my children have their own pad of colored or decorative Post-It notes. I love these things. If they have a question, and I am busy, they have to write that question down. It might look like this: Math, lesson 6, #14. They are to come put it on my notebook and not interrupt. I know immediately who needs me and what they need help with and they do not need to tell me and disturb me. This happens when I am helping a child with school, or making lunch, or changing a diaper, or even using the bathroom.

When they come to a place where they can’t solve a problem or answer a question, they are told that they skip that are and keep going. Just skip it. If it means going to the next subject, fine. They need to keep going. Now, if they have nothing else to do, then they need to work on their “Just Right Book”, that is a book they can read with no help whatsoever, or a smaller project. In the kids notebooks, I keep an area for a list of things that they need to do that are open ended like practice classical guitar, practice tying shoes, working on a model, or things of that nature. This means that they keep busy and can even account for their time when I get back to them.

When I have something that they need to get to, I write it on my Post-its. When they seem them on the first page of their notebooks, they know they need to do it. I will often post chores and things like that. By the way, there should always be a punishment attached to losing or destroying these notes. Something productive but unpleasant like rinsing out garbage cans or changing the cat litter.

Nap Time

If you have younger children or babies then someone needs a daily nap; sometimes it’s mom. So, after lunch, we have quiet time. This is a time when everyone needs to quietly read a book. I do not care if you are fifteen. Too bad. This hour is sacred. Little ones go down with an audiobook or a CD. If someone is inclined to ask repeatedly if they can get up, my solution is a CD about an hour long. When it is over, you can get up. If they fall asleep, great. Anyone who is disruptive during this time loses privileges. I have been known to give the good children ice cream at the end of the day in order to teach a child to not misbehave at this time of the day. My children know that I am dead serious about this.

End of the Day Ritual

One of the most important things that I learned about a decade in, is that we just need to stop at some point, even if we were unproductive. You will lack the strength to keep going if you don’t take breaks. We have a set time to stop every day and I don’t go more than half an hour over it. Then we have tea. We stop and have tea and put things away. It helps us switch gears. I think having a ritual is so important because we need to remind ourselves that this is behind us. Now we can be a wife and mother and not a teacher. That said, children might still need to finish work.
We have what we call “Stay Up Late Time”, which is the evening when we play games, watch movies, and things like that. If you are an older child, and what that means is flexible, then you might need to spend finishing thing you did not do during the day. Didn’t write that paragraph? See you later.

Final Thoughts

If there is nothing else that I can impart, I think the most important thing I can say is to remember that sometimes you need to be off. If you are always schooling, always thinking about school, running long days because your morning was unproductive, then you are going to feel strained and stressed. I have done that far too many times. Treat it like a job and be there all day but end it and leave it behind. Get up in the morning and get going as if you were going to a job. At the end of the day, leave it behind. You might not like getting up and staying on task but really, you will be so grateful if you do because you will be able to stop in the afternoon. There are a few ways to make that easier.
  • Put an out-going message on your machine saying that you are unavailable during the day and that you will return calls after 3 or so.
  • Put your phone on silent and only check social media during lunch and after school.
  • If you really need to be available to certain people during the day, use a special ring tone or a “push app” so that they can always reach you without being available to everyone.
  • If you have close neighbors with children who interrupt during school, put up a sign. Yes, I have done this. If you just print up something with some pictures that looks school like, even non-readers can understand it. Laminate it or cover it with clear Contact paper and use a hole punch and ribbon to make something that can hang from the knob.
  • More on signs: when I was a kid my mother had signs like this for dinner time and chore time. It hung outside and our friends knew that we were not available until the sign came off the door. This is another great tip.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any
great tips or ideas or even questions I can answer.