November 30, 2011

Goodbye November

It's hard to believe this is the last day of November.  November tends to be a tranquil month, doesn't it?  It slips in, ready prepare our hearts.

My heart needed quite a bit of pruning this year.  
It's been quiet around NEM, have you noticed?  I've had a rough couple of weeks and needed time to process rather than vomit words/feelings onto the published page.  
I have had a soul wrestling season.  Do you have those?
While this blog is a place for you to find encouragement and humor, I also desire for it to be a place that is real, exposing the lie that bloggers have perfect lives all tied up in a bow.  I try to be as candid as possible about my joys, daily blunders, and heart matters.   I am often encouraged when I discover that other women are dealing with the same kinds of life-stuff that I am.  It keeps us on the same page, digging through life together.

However, I recently learned the hard way that sometimes when we are transparent with others it opens us up to criticism and skewed perspectives.  I've been through a world of hurt over this and I need to apologize to you.

My post about our finances may have come across as discontentedness.  What a world we live in, for me to complain about medical bills when there are so many who have never seen the likes of a Bandaid.  I know that I have more than some could ever dream of.  My life is full.  I have much to rejoice over.  My world is not built upon the ups and downs of our financial journey.  I have 3 precious children and a wonderful husband that are living gifts worth every diamond in the world.  My heart is full.  I do not want to have a complaining spirit.  Sometimes in my effort to keep it real, it comes across as discontentedness. Yes, the weight of this world is too much to bear sometimes, but I am filled with gratefulness.  

This "November heart pruning" has made me realize that sometimes we assume things about others which causes a separation of souls.  For example, if you saw my new Christmas tree  lights, you might be scratching your head wondering why I would complain about finances when, clearly, I had enough to purchase new lights.  You would assume that I was spending recklessly and deserved to be in the pit I am in, after all, I dug it!  What you might not realize is that I used some of my Christmas money last year and shopped the 75% sale after Christmas to replace the lights that we had used for 15 years.  Now my spending doesn't seem so reckless, does it?  I'm not trying to justify myself.  I've just been made acutely aware of the danger we can be to one another (and ourselves) when we allow judgements to cloud our view.

We all already know our own imperfections.  We don't need others to point them out or look for ways to dig chasms.  I am as real as it gets.  I don't try to hid behind a veil of false perfection.  I struggle.  I heart-wrestle.   I desire to be transparent with you.  
We all need grace.

Since it's the last day of November, I thought I'd finally share my fall mantle.  
Better late than never, right? 

November 17, 2011

Things That Made Me Laugh This Week

1. As I sat in the paper towel outfit on the doctor's table I couldn't hide a giggle when I read the "Having a Blonde Moment" plaque hanging on the examining room wall.  My doctor is African American.

2. After a quick walk through Walmart (at a location we typically don't frequent) my daughter said, "Mom, why are we the only people who weren't weird in there?"

3. We spent the morning watching a dear friend's 6 month old baby.  It was precious to watch my kids be so enthralled with her.  My sweet boy, with pleading chocolate eyes said, "please can we have one?"

4. Last night my group of 7th grade girls were oohing and aahing over Scotty McCreery.  At one point one of them said, "do you know any of his songs?"  To which most of them muttered a quiet "no."

5. This is my new mantra:

I think it's a brilliant response to my kids' favorite phrase.

It's been a busy week.  The Lord is teaching me many things.  I have been blessed in unexpected ways.  I'm so thankful for grace.
I hope you've been blessed!

November 13, 2011

Quiet House, Stormy Thoughts

I sit in a silent house with nothing but the hum of the refrigerator and the crackle of the fire.  I hold vigil over my sleeping child, whose body is fighting off the attacks of a migraine.  At first the silence is deafening.
Even though a quiet moment is a gift, I have been trained to the static noise of life.  As I allow myself to bask in the silence, thoughts begin to tumble.  Thoughts I've held at bay because I am a stuffer.

The past 36 hours have left me spent, feeling swallowed by the highs and lows.  I've shared our financial journey here and here.  You would think by now I'd be over myself.

This is when I feel like I need to give you permission to slip out the back door quietly, shaking your head because you thought you were attending a "You Can Do It" seminar.  Not today.  Today I am just going to be me.  Just the real me.  The me that has highs and lows.  The me who has more questions than answers right now.

We received our medical bill yesterday.  A bill that includes an ER visit, CT scan, xrays and lab work.  Even with medical insurance, it's overwhelming.  I suddenly feel like an idiot who just squandered her children's Christmas away in the name of some bruised ribs.

2 steps forward, 3 steps back

The all too familiar churning of my insides begin to assail.
How will we ever get ahead?
My husband sees the fear behind my lying eyes.  Eyes that try to be brave.
He whispers assurances, but my heart is too weary to readily agree.

I am broken.
Then I am angry at the injustice.
Mad at myself.
Frustrated with the impossible mountain we can't seem to conquer.
Questioning my decisions.  At what point do I determine that our financial upheavals may be the end of living my dream as a stay-at-home-mom?  My dream?  His calling?  The lines are blurred.

Tonight, as I sit in the silence I stumble onto this post.  A post that quite possibly will change my life.  The pictures are gorgeous, but the story causes me to tremble.
We have so much.  Yes, I feel like we are drowning, but suddenly my personal storm turns to an afternoon shower compared to Jonathan's lonely existence.
But he chooses to sing praise.

I move on to this story and I am brought to my knees.
Lydia has waited for 3 years.  Three years of waiting for God to provide. She waited as I yapped about pumpkin butter and peppermint mochas.

When I was a child my parents faced a financial crisis.  My dad's answer was, "we need to give more."  It doesn't make sense on paper...  or a napkin, or on anything else you try to write the math. But God's ways are not our ways.

So on an evening that I thought would be perfect for a little commiseration, I find myself turned upside down.  My heart burns for a child who is waiting on the Lord.  Waiting for me to make a difference.  Though we often wonder how we are going to afford dental care for our own three, surely we can find a way to provide $38.  After all, it's an eternal investment.

November 11, 2011

5 on Friday

1. I found myself amused that our oil company still uses a handwritten ledger even though a computer sat on the desk.  The multitude of "No Smoking" signs apparently didn't apply to the administrative assistant at the desk.  Not so amusing.

2. We ordered butterfly larvae for science.  Clearly I wasn't looking at the calendar.  It looks like they will be traveling with us for Thanksgiving.  The more the merrier?

3. November brings my one of my favorite family past times:  building a fire in the fire pit.
Okay, specifically, 'smores over the fire pit.  Have you seen these new marshmallows?  They are flat, so they fit on a graham cracker better.

They are definitely less messy for kids.  My love for a fat, melty mallow was too much, so I put two on each 'smore.

4. I am almost completely healed from my accident.  Still tender and a little slower than normal, but back into life, full swing.  Well, no swinging yet, but you know what I mean. :)

5. We pulled out the Christmas playlist this week.  I'm not ready for the holiday yet, but I do LOVE the music!

Have a FANTASTIC weekend!

November 9, 2011

Photography: Camera Talk

One of the things that spurred me on to write this little series is this most asked question:
What kind of camera do you use?  

I own a Nikon D3000. It's a DSLR, not a point and shoot (we'll get to those in a minute). The standard lens that comes with it is good... not my favorite, but definitely good for beginners (Nikon 18-55). It doesn't zoom much, but it is great for group shots or photographing a large space.
The zoom lens that I own is the Nikon 55-200. It gives a good crisp picture, but because it is only a zoom lens, you really have to back off to get a good shot.  It's not great for birthday parties etc, where you are trying to get a lot of people in the shot.  However, I love it for face shots like these.

If I did it over again, I would forgo both of those lenses and get this one

It is basically my two lenses wrapped up into one (18-200), so that would mean less baggage and lens trade-out in the middle of a photo opportunity.
*If you own this lens, please leave me a comment about how much you love/hate it.  I've been admiring it from afar, but I want to know your thoughts.
When you purchase a camera, you have the option to get just the base and build the camera (lenses) to your liking.  Or, you may find a great package deal like I did.  If you are looking for a package deal, I recommend purchasing it through Wolf/Ritz camera... it's really going to be pretty much the same price anywhere, but they have lots of free extras (processing, camera bag, classes).

 BH Photo is an AWESOME online shopping resource. I would definitely order from them again for extra lenses/accessories.  Or maybe Santa could order that lens for me...  Just sayin.

I have had my D3000 for 3 years and have often said it was one of the best investments we've ever made (and I HATE making big purchases). At the time the D3000 was the most basic/cheapest Nikon DSLR. I have not been disappointed. Some of the more expensive versions are much heavier, so while you will look cooler, your hand might get a wee bit tired. :) 

As far as brand goes, I owned a Nikon (film) camera previously, so I was used to their mechanics. Some people love Cannon. I think it's kind of like Coke and Pepsi. Pretty much the same thing even though some people swear they can tell a difference.  

If you are looking for a point and shoot camera here's my 2 cents:
1. Don't think you can't take great shots with a point and shoot.  Sometimes people say, "I only have a point and shoot."  The most important thing is to get a camera that you will use and be comfortable with.  
The first two pictures were taken on my trip to Germany.  I didn't want to haul a big camera around, so they were taken with a Sony CyberShot point and shoot.  The last two were also taken with a Sony CyberShot before I purchased my DSL.  

2. I don't know a lot about point and shoot cameras, simply because I rarely use one.  However, there are some REALLY great (and inexpensive) ones on the market.  Do your homework and find one that fits your needs: weight, zoom, durability

If I've totally confused you, or if you just have a question, let me know.  I'll be glad to help (as much as my limited knowledge allows!)    I asked a TON of questions (sometimes the same question, several times) when I was getting started.  Heck, I still ask a lot of questions.  

I will be doing one more post on some fun things/tricks to try.  I'll also give you a great link to the best camera tutorial I've ever read.  
Until then... snap those shots!

November 8, 2011

Who Needs Perfect Anyways?

Today was one of those perfect days.  The kids got their work done quickly; I went to the grocery store by myself; we did art.
Okay, we did what the average, Joe-the-Plumber would call art.  I'm sure all of my true artist friends are rolling their eyes right about now.  But hey, we used paint!  I found this idea on Pinterest, my new favorite place on the web.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about click on the Pinterest button in the right column of my blog.  If you want to find out how to "do" Pinterest, go here for a great tutorial.  

As I demonstrated, they oohhed and ahhhed over my artistic ability.  Which totally rocks because I can't draw a good stick figure to save my life.    But if they want to be impressed with my Qtip ability, so be it.  Bwahahaha!!! 

The weather was PERFECTION today, so we did art on the screened porch while listening to the audio version of The 39 Clues.  Have you read this series?  I was skeptical at first, but we're on book 5 and other than the "stupid" word used a little much, it's fantastic.  I love when a book/series takes the reader to real places/people around the world.  So far my kids have learned about Benjamin Franklin, the Catacombs, Egyptian Pyramids, Motzart, and the Motherland Calls statue.  Actually, I just learned about that last one.  We even looked it up on Wikipedia.  Because the art teacher didn't know what it was.

My kids were itching to get outside to play so I made an executive decision that we would do math this evening so they would have longer to play in daylight.  Feeling a little smug about how well our day had gone, I looked out the window a minute ago and saw my 8 year old running around in his underwear and my 10 year old with lipstick all over her face.
 Oh well, who needs perfection?

November 4, 2011

5 on Friday

1. I drove for the first time in 10 days today.  We needed to get out of the house groceries so we headed to Target.  Each of the kids was armed with their own gift cards/cash.   This made for less complaining and more enthusiasm in helping me collect the necessities. Since I had to walk at half the pace I usually do, it took us about 2 hours to get through the store.  At one point one of my kids generously offered to go find a Target wheelchair.  I declined.

2. I rewarded all of us with a drink when we finished.  The kids chose an Icee.  I chose ... wait for it... Starbucks must have known I was coming ... Gingerbread Latte.  Yes!  The holiday flavas are back in town!

3. Judging from the lack of comments, I'm guessing my little photography series wasn't a big hit.  I'll still do one more about camera/lens choices, I suppose.

4. My parents are celebrating 44 years of wedded bliss today.  I am blessed.

5. A few dear-hearted friends have provided dinner for our family this week.  My kids were wondering how long they could last on boxed mac-n-cheese and canned soup for lunch and dinner.  Needless to say, my energy level has been very limited.  By the time we finish our school day (albeit on the couch most days this week) I am worn out.  I am so thankful that my kiddos are at the self-reliant age.  Cereal would have been a wee bit old by this point in the game.  I am so blessed to have such caring friends!
Tonight we are going to prove that the geniuses in the marketing world really know how to draw us in what they're doing.  We've seen the same IHOP commercial about four times this week and finally I looked at my husband and said, "We've got to go!"  Yep, livin' it large on a Friday night.  We're cool like that.  Rootie Tootie Fresh and Fruity, here I come!

November 2, 2011

Photography: In Your Face

If your mother taught you to stay out of people's faces, she was right... except for when you have a camera in your hand.  That's the time to get close.  Sure I love the photos of my little guy in his favorite superhero costume, but it's the pictures like the one above that make my heart stop.  

But before I get all sappy on you, let's look at an example of why face shots are great.  The first picture was taken at a soccer game.  Sure, I captured a shot of my parents and my brother (with a guest in the background), but it looks like a photo taken at a soccer game.  Nothing more.    

But look at the awesomeness difference when I zoom in on their faces:

 Squeal!  It goes from ho-hum to frame-worthy!
Now that I've convinced you, let's look at some great angles to try out:

1. Get them on the ground:

Kids are much more likely to go for this angle than adults, so go for it.  Tell them to giggle, wrestle, snuggle.  Be ready to snap those shots.  Some of my favorite head shots are from this angle.

2. It's okay to chop off the top of their head:

I wanted to capture her chocolate lips that matched her chocolate eyes.  Who cares what her hair looked like that night?

My man loves a baseball cap.  Unfortunately, they usually have a logo plastered across the front.  No problem... go for the face!

 3. Side Swipe
There's just something so natural about a profile shot.  They aren't posing for the camera; they're engaged in the moment.. the moment I want to capture.

 That's snow, not dandruff  ;)

4. Not everyone has to be looking in the same direction.
This is one of my favorite shots.  It's not staged.  I don't know what kind of shoes they are wearing.  You can't tell where the photo was taken.  It is real life.  I didn't tell him to kiss her, so her reaction is genuine.  It's an up close shot of life being lived.

Sometimes you will capture a shot that you will be so glad they're not looking at the camera.  Sniff, sniff.
I took this shot at the beach about 7 years ago with a point and shoot.  It's my all time favorite.  Next time we'll talk about cameras.  I need a tissue after that stroll through memory lane.

Now go get in their faces!  

November 1, 2011

Willy Wonka Would Be Proud

Hello November.  I'm always so glad to see you.  October used to be my favorite month but after this, this, and this I've decided that you now hold the title of Favorite Month.  October hasn't been good to me and my loyalty can only go so far.

But before we get too settled into my favorite month I thought I'd share a photo from last night:
Yes, I know it's blurry, but I'm on medication for goodness shakes sakes.

Let's back up a little bit and catch up, shall we?
I was thrown from a horse last Wednesday.  By Friday morning I was still in excruciating pain so my mom drove me to an urgent care (remember we were out of town).  After one light touch to my abdomen, the doctor told me I needed to head straight to the ER because there was a good possibility of organ damage.
I spent the day getting xrays, CT scan, bloodwork know, all my favorite ways to spend an October day.  The good news was that no organs were damaged.  The even better news was that I would leave with some strong pain medication.   I don't usually like to take  medicine beyond the typical Advil, but when you're in this much pain, you're willing to expand your horizons.

I've pretty much been on the couch since Saturday night; with the exception of church since my kiddos were singing in "big" church.

Which brings us to last night.  We started a tradition last year of gathering with four other families (totaling 17 kids) for chili and trick-or-treating.  I know it's a touchy subject, but we keep the focus on spending time with friends and having fun with the costumes.  No ghouls aloud.  My dear friend played the perfect hostess by moving her big soft chair into her kitchen so I wouldn't miss out on any of the fun.  Since it was pouring rain, the other moms graciously volunteered to stay and keep me company while the dads and kids gathered the bounty.  What generous friends.  ;)

My kids are too old for me to steal sneak candy out of their bags, so we usually go through it together and I get all the Twix and Take5 bars, of which there was a deficit this year.  As we dug through the loot my daughter held something behind her back.  With a sly grin she presented the perfect gift that mended my candy disappointment:
A World's Finest Chocolate bar ... my golden ticket.

What's your favorite November 1st candy?