Saturday, July 28, 2012

It is my job, after all.

Promotion. Yeah, I stink at it. I think it comes from the fact that I have had acquaintances before, people I have perhaps only met once, or who found my email from a homeschool list or something, and suddenly the only contact they have with me is to try to sell me anything from make-up to the latest health craze product. No, "Hi, how are you doing?" or "How's the family/band/toothache/whatever?" I'm just a potential customer because I happen to breathe.

I fully understand the need for promoting. I really do. Additionally, there is only so much time in the day to "socialize" with people in a real way, you don't want to socialize with them in a fake way just for the business, and you can't socialize with everyone you may want to sell a bottle of vitamins to or you'd spend your day, well, socializing and not working. It's a real dilemma.

When I started a Kindermusik business about 15+ years ago I walked around all day seeing all parents of little kids as dollar signs. I didn't mean to do it, but I invested a lot in the licensing, instruments, curriculum, and promotion and I really needed to sell some classes if I was going to get a return on my investment, and hopefully make a slight profit. Most of the friends I made during that time didn't end up sticking around as friends later, partly because the friendship was made only through the classes I was selling them. Friendships made in homeschooling groups and churches had staying power. I don't like to surround myself with those I'm looking at simply as dollar signs. I don't like to look at anyone as a dollar sign at all.

What about the band? For the most part, I have tried to keep my friend life and my "please help me book a gig" life separate, but the fact remains that you sometimes can only get gigs, especially at churches, because of who you know, not simply because you are good at what you do. So I ask my friends at times and feel guilty, like I've crossed a "friend" line somewhere.

Then there is a thing called social media. I love social media. Facebook funnies about cats doing silly things, political articles that preach to my personal choir, recipes, and even some honest keeping up with friends who live on the other side of the country. I don't look at it as a marketing opportunity because I don't want to. It's my playground, and who wants a commercial on your playground? I know some use it to grind their axes and market their product, and a few use it for what they do believe are noble purposes from spreading important information to spreading the gospel, but then I start to feel like I'm a project, even when I agree with them. So, I keep to my friends on the playground, because many of them still point me to great articles or doctrinal insights, but then it is information coming from friends, and that makes all the difference.

How on earth does one promote without crossing the invisible friend line then? If there is a perfect balance, I don't yet know what it is, but the facts of life (the fact where you must eat, and that's the facts), require that I learn quickly how to navigate this territory. Real friends don't mind helping a friend out with their business promotion, because I've done it for other friends and "like" pretty much every family band out there, good or bad, to encourage them in their pursuit.

With that in mind, I came up with one of those "social marketing" things this morning.
Here comes the promotion. You have been warned.
To find more fans on facebook, we'll do a drawing for free CDs if the link to our page is shared with a suggestion to friends to "like" our page. Go see it!

I'm also going to use this blog for something it wasn't exactly designed to do, but it is simply part of my job as a mom (to brag about my children, of course), and throw in a few recent videos that were posted and nabbed from youtube.

So here comes the bragging. You have been warned...


Ok, admit it. My kids are awesome. I'd take credit, but God made them that way, so that means God is also the author of all that is awesome, and I'm very thankful to get to share in a bit of that.

Now off to make promotional packets and talk people into liking us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Before the Camera/Behind the Scene

 I take a lot of pictures, with only a fraction of them ever making it to the blog. When I post I usually say something about the picture, but behind every picture there are everyday items that go without saying.

Before these pictures you see a lovely time at the Nicollet mall in downtown Minneapolis. We headed down there because we heard it was permissible to busk on the mall and we love street performing. Additionally, with a fairly light schedule, we thought we may get some money to tide us over just a bit while we try to frame our later summer/fall travels, and a maybe even earn a bit on the side for the Mall of America.

Behind the scenes we realized it wasn't the place for us at that time with those goals. Unlike the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, and far more like the 16th Street Mall in Denver, there is a large homeless population asking for money. We would never be able to find a spot more than a few feet from a homeless person looking for their next meal. It just didn't seem the spot for busking with the kids to get travel and Mall of America money.

It would be a good spot for a ministry, sharing the Good News, gospel music, and the spread of some joy. I'd like to do more of that in the future, and we do include gospel in all of our sets, but right now busking is part of how to manage expenses, and I admit I have trouble telling the downtrodden, "Move over, we are collecting the money now, and by the way, here is a gospel song." I think that misses something. Perhaps we can sometime go down just for the ministry someday if we get more church sponsorship to cover our one real expense needs, but that isn't the case right now. In fact, we have ZERO churches in Minnesota who seemed to want anything to do with us. I have no idea why, but we called dozens and had no interest, despite knowing gospel groups that have come out of Minnesota. Maybe it's just us and Minnesota isn't where God will lead us in the future. 

 Off we headed to the Mall of America! In front of the picture we see the most amazing mall with shops of every kind, an indoor amusement park, American Girl Store, and so many places to eat!

Behind the scenes we have choices to make. Only one ride per child, not including indifferent twins who prefer book stores, due to a tight budget (no busking funds appeared and we have medical bills to pay... more on that). We left the bus after we ate to avoid having to eat out, and returned to fix dinner in the bus, so it wasn't the indulgence it could have been, but I really don't mind that. The point was to see the attraction, not indulge in the sensationalism. That's not why we hit the road, and managing priorities is a better lesson in life for the kids than yet one more amusement park.

Sean chose a crazy roller coaster, but Mary was limited. See, even further behind the scenes we have a young lady who has had stomach spasms and upper abdominal cramps for a month now. The first couple of weeks it was only once or twice a day, fading quickly, so we didn't figure it was urgent. When it stuck around we took her in. The first doctor misdiagnosed her with a pulled muscle or something. After a week and a half more of handling it with ibuprofen, it took a turn for the worse and we ended up in the emergency room with her on Tuesday. There they did a urinalysis, abdominal x-ray, and blood work. The diagnosis was actually a case of constipation and urinary tract infection. For the next 2 days she stayed at the bus with me, lying in bed because it was uncomfortable to stand up and walk. We have done all we could with extra water, fruit and prune juices, fiber, antibiotics, etc. This was her first day feeling bouncy and well again, though she had felt mildly nauseous that morning. We banned all crazy rides. When she saw the boring options, she decided she'd rather see what goods she can get from Build-a-Bear, and being a sucker for a sick little girl, I let her get a new dog.

She had a relapse this morning and we almost ended up back at the emergency room, but the OTC stuff I had given her finally kicked in, so she is back to her bouncy self. It would appear that days of heavy water, prune juice, and fiber is simply not enough right now, and I don't really feel like having her on laxatives constantly, so we will try to get the current problem under control, then look into diet modifications, investigating what could be the root cause. Wheat? Dairy? I am cautious about the "allergy/disorder of the month" fads that hit, but when your child is doubled over in pain, you throw out the suspicions and head for the research. 
 Then there is Minnesota. Beautiful, land of 10,000 lakes! I'm trying to love Minnesota. Really I am. The pictures are stunning. We found a park on a lake, with the most amazing forested areas on all sides, lily pads, and frogs.

I'm having trouble loving beautiful Minnesota, however. After we were run ragged the last 2 months we thought it would be a quiet place to vacation and decompress, but we didn't count on the costs. First, anything other than federal parks is outrageous here. Most of the nicer private campgrounds with the amenities we hoped for are charging about $45/night for 2 people, $3/child, $8/anyone 18 and over. Add that up and we are talking $67/night for our family to park our bus there. Really? I can get a hotel for less in many areas.

Few have activity centers or pavilions for entertainment, since most assume people only head there for the lake, boating, swimming, etc. This means they are not looking for entertainment, which previously had been the main way we would afford our RV Parks through Texas and Arizona. State parks have daily vehicle fees, so that leaves federal parks, which rarely have full hook-ups, and never wifi.

We finally did find a reasonable park, closer to what we paid in TX, AR, MO, and AZ. As you can see from the pictures, it's pretty. It's kind of odd though. It's full of nice RVs with decks, decorations, and little yards, and it's a ghost town except for a few people who come stay at their RVs on the weekend. The "chalet" is a building with a very small game room, only open Friday night, and part of Saturday, with a little bar that sells pizza, pop, and 3.2 beer and wine. Then it goes back to being a ghost town, but at least we're left alone.  

We can get wifi, but the dump station and the bathrooms are up a steep hill, and we have very small tanks. This means we take the narrow hill with the bus every few days, which we stretch that long only because we hike the narrow hill to the bathrooms the rest of the time. Except Katie. She stepped on a bee and her foot is swollen, so she doesn't have to go up the hill.

Even so, it's in our price range and doesn't charge more for kids, so we'll stay another week at the weird park, where no one bothers us. It's hot, sticky, buggy, and an hour from anywhere fun in Minneapolis, but there is a library about 7 miles away. It's a decent place to decompress after our crazy last 2 months, figure out what Miss Mary needs to get healthy again, and find a routine. When this next week is over we play at a fair a bit north from here, then we head straight to Illinois and back to the land of Thousand Trails campgrounds. I already made reservations!

Our lives are not as shiny sometimes as the pictures suggest, but that's life for everyone, right? The majority of our days are usually full of giggles, and one would never say it's boring! In fact, we're terribly blessed to get this opportunity for travel, regardless of how long it lasts. We're soaking up every minute of it we can, and are learning to trust God to handle things like schedules, where to go, and what our children need. We forget the lessons at times, but we're always brought back.

Update: Since I wrote this 2 days ago, we've had our hyper, clingy, talkative Mary back. I think we turned a corner. Now to find out how to avoid it in the future. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stuffed in 300 sq ft with children

 See that darling bus in the picture? The one by the very ordinary looking white van? (I must do something about the boring part.) That is home. It is 38ft long and perhaps 9-10 ft wide, not including engine areas where there are no living quarters. Michael guestimated it at around 300 sq ft once, but I should probably check that sometime to be certain.

One of the most common things I hear from people when they are discussing homeschooling has been "I could never be around my kids all day." I used to find that so very odd. Now can you imagine the comments when I say we live together in a school bus and homeschool, work together, and we are never off in different directions, like scouts, 4-H, or softball? Maybe I can accomplish this and they cannot because my kids are so very calm, well-behaved, and I am so very mellow, easy-going, and gentle?
Yeah. No.

Then last year we sold our house and moved into a bus. Where once I could send kids to their bedrooms to be noisy, they now spend 90% of their time within arms length of my eardrums. Before taking off on the road, a well-known bluegrass musician, who has traveled often in a bus with his band, warned me to make sure we have ample opportunity to go our separate ways for our own sanity. Uh... our band is with kids. This advice is not applicable for family bands with young ones who will take off on a joy ride in the bus with a sister or two riding on the roof if left to his own devises. (Not talking about any band member in particular, mind you.)

Really, I don't know what the answer is, on why we manage and others can't even contemplate such a fate, but I suspect it is because we live, and have lived, closely together from the day they were born, and we simply don't know any other way.

It is likely that we are even the norm for human history. The modern world of McMansions and separate buildings in which to send your kids during the day is an abnormality for the vast majority of humans to ever walk the planet, and God therefore designed us to handle such a fate. No doubt, in the history of mankind, there were some people who simply could not handle it, but I imagine we would not have survived if most could not. Humans are meant to live in communities, with families. To put it in anthropological terms, we're primates, not mountain lions.

Consider native groups who lived in huts, or pioneers who lived together in cabins. Yes, at times in human history people would separate for schools, or for work, but very often the family unit worked together and kids learned from their family/communities. (You will need to remove your thinking from western society a bit to understand what I'm saying. Yes, there were times of wet-nurses, apprenticeships in the far away kingdom, etc. These too were not a historical norm, only a snapshot. )

It's simply a personal opinion, but I think the more we separate, the more we desire to separate. The more we remove ourselves from the lives our our children, the more we need to. Living 24/7 with our children means we are molded together with our habits. If you are with your son at all times, he doesn't have a chance to develop rotten behaviors that you cannot immediately deal with. If he speaks poorly to his sister, you are there to correct it the first time. Bad words do not have a chance to become part of the inner vocabulary, unless you are using them. If he drops his shoes in the middle of the floor, you will see it. (That last one I just made up. We never notice messes in this bus until they take over, but that too is a family habit. Not all are good ones, I fear.) However, if he spends much of his life with different people, he is able to develop attitudes, behaviors, and habits that will then come back and cause strife within the family. Some would cheer that opportunity as "self discovery", but I don't believe this independence is a historical human benefit, nor do I believe it is Biblical. I thought about looking up a bunch of Bible verses to back that up, but I'll spare you. Just start reading Proverbs. That's not really a book of classroom rules for teachers to classes full of kids. It's wisdom, and often for parents.

Accountability for negative behaviors counts for parents as well. If we have some rotten habits and are not being the influence we like for our children, does it benefit us if we send them away so we can simply sink deeper into our rottenness? Living with others entails some aspect of accountability on behaviors from all sides, and it isn't always easy. The easy thing is to separate and allow the negatives to flourish, thinking less harm is done. (Side note: I'm not talking extremes, like abusive, clinically whatever. I'm talking general principles, not extreme responses for extreme circumstances.)

All of that makes it sound like I'm some noble person struggling for the greater good by being around my kids all day. Hmmm... I should rephrase it. It's simply not a struggle, it's a joy. There are some strong personalities in this house, most of them come from my genetic make-up, loud, ornery, and outside of the occasional attack of the grumps, or barking some frustrations when things get too messy, it is very easy. I rarely need to "get away", since I'm already with my favorite people.

Yes, this includes teenagers. Our teenagers get looked at as weirdos for wanting to travel in a bus with their parents, but I don't think they'd even consider it at all if it wasn't for those comments, which put it into the back of the mind, "Should we not want to? Why not?" Most who comment cannot live with their teenagers and do not like hanging out with them, or have had society tell them teenagers need to move 2,000 miles away to the nearest college upon receiving 18 candles on a cake and a piece of paper from the school. The teenager learns to feel the same way, so they all count the days to escape. Years of living for yourself, instead of as a team, takes its toll. Yes, I want to give my teens the boot someday, because I'd like another generation of loud, ornery ones with my genetic make-up in the mix, but not simply because a modern notion struck our minds, one that says we are to not want to be around each other if we happen to be genetically related, and that you can only tolerate those you are not related to and only when it suits your selfish goals. They will leave when there is a real reason, like an opportunity for education they feel they must follow for a set goal, or to marry, not a made-up one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More than a Month in One Post

I have been terribly neglectful of my blog. Usually I love blogging, but when we hit Colorado and the mundane world of business struck hard, the last thing I felt like doing was complaining about the craziness on a blog, when I would rather be writing about adventure. So I wrote a big post of whining, then promptly took it down, figuring the world would have to wait until Colorado was in the rear view mirror and adventure was the next destination!

Over the last month we had to accomplish the following:
  • Buy a vehicle - We gave up trying to get something to tow 4-wheels-down and got another minivan/dolly combination. I think we did good with an old, but very low mileage minivan and a higher quality dolly this time, though as usual, we picked poorly where easy title transfers go and had some squabbles with the DMV and dealer to get paperwork in order before leaving. We finally got the tags the morning we left!
  • Get the twins their licenses - They had their permits for a very long time, but between selling the house, moving in the bus, and then not having a vehicle for the previous 6 months they could not test for their licenses. They also needed practice. We spent HOURS having them drive around, then got them in for their test (after calling everywhere for a time that met our schedule), and they passed!
  • Graduate the twins - While in the area of family we held a big BBQ at a park, had a ceremony, and declared them all grown up!
  • Mary was baptized! Yay! We wanted to let her get baptized with our home church in Longmont, even though we won't be able to attend it much anymore. All the other kids has chosen to be baptized while at this church and we were thankful to have an opportunity to be in town during their baptism service at Union Reservoir. We were also invited to play for the following BBQ!
  • Nine gigs/shows, including Streetmosphere, a Cowboy Church, Gospel Festivals, picnics, etc. Should have been 10 but we were rained out of one.
  • Other little things like changing banks, bus to mechanic, doctor visits, fiddle lessons, hitch on the van, family visits, putting in the new floor on the bus, paying state sales taxes, etc,
But how to blog a month of pictures and events? So much has happened. I suppose I'll try to do some pictures. Pictures are far more fun than reading long lists of activities anyway. If you click on a picture, it should enlarge it for you.

2012 Rocky Mountain GospelGrass Festival 
Fabulous time, as usual.

Mary danced with all the younger boys who would go for it, and Michael and I realized we are in big trouble with that forward young lady! She also debuted her first solo accompanying herself on her Dobro. Sean and Emma from the Prowell Family were two peas in a pod when it comes to their many ways to play a fiddle inappropriately, which is why Sean now has an obnoxious, but very inexpensive, purple violin for goofing off. The minute the good fiddle hits his hands he had better be all business, but he now has one just for fun that can be used to jam around fire pits and other places nice fiddles are never to go.

Here we are playing a Streetmosphere performance in Fort Collins with that obnoxious looking (and sounding) fiddle.

Graduation!   I did actually make them a nice diploma, but they liked this one best, 'cause they're secretly ornery like that. 

Other Colorado Stuff:
Of course, then there was that crazy ride Michael and I took in a Porsche, courtesy of my dear friend Carly, who happens to own a Porsche. Must be the latest homeschool mom craze. 

 Record heat and fires were definitely not a highlight of the last month.
 Due to the fire ban, fireworks were out of the question, so some smart mom went to a dollar store and went hog-wild on the glow sticks. We had an evening glow-stick party for the 4th of July.

 And then... we LEFT! Not that we don't love to see our family and friends in Colorado, but we do love our adventures!

With practicing to do but 3 days of driving, we found ourselves getting some practice in at a great rest stop on the Colorado/Nebraska border. It was beautiful outside!

This was a BLAST! It should have it's own blog post, but hopefully it won't be lost down here. We met Alison Arngrim briefly (Nellie Oleson), chatted with Dean Butler (Almanzo), who called us the Partridge Family... NOOO! He thought we were pretty wild for doing the whole sell-the-house-move-into-a-schoolbus thing. We made a lot of friends and Mary had the best time of her life at the Camp Laura. 

Sadly, we did have to leave early because we had head up to Bagley for an Art in the Park show. It was a long drive, in the rain, but wow it was beautiful! 

The highlight of Bagley was this wonderful lady who couldn't seem to stop dancing to our music! She told me she was 95 years old. Then she informed me that she couldn't seem to find a man, but figured there was time still, since she wasn't 96 yet! She'd dance, then say she needed to go home to take a nap, then we'd start the next song and she'd dance again!

So, now we're at a quiet RV Park outside of Minneapolis, one of the few that didn't charge extra for kids, extra for running the air conditioners, or extra for breathing too much of their oxygen. It's very pretty, though not as nice as Bagley, but at least there is wifi, so I can finally update the blog.

Consider it up to date, finally. With any luck, things will be very boring over the next 2 weeks while we relax a bit and decompress after such a crazy past couple of months. After that we play in Brainerd, MN for a fair, and make our way towards Cincinnati!