Saturday, December 21, 2013

Living and Loving Life as a Loud, Messy Family

Parenting on the stage, where all can see and critique your every move, poses some serious challenges at times, especially if you happen to be a loud living, messy family. Some people adore this aspect of our children and love to see their wild ways. Others like to sit back and reminisce about the days when children were seen and not heard.

One conversation I had tonight was a discussion about a family band who has played in that area before. I didn't recognize the name, but this family was quite large, perhaps twice the size of ours. (If you ever want to feel like 4 kids is a puny family, try hanging out with family bands.) The conversation included the behaviors of the kids, not as a critique of my children, who were strangely keeping to themselves at that moment, but simply an admiration for this other family, who were quite strict. The children got along wonderfully, they would go to festivals and be in and out of tents quietly, and no one would know they were there. Even the little one, at age three, would stand proper on stage and play his little violin. If they got out of line the parents were on top of them in a flash. They would get them up early and the children would all exercise, study, and have a very productive morning each day as well. There was no suggestion that the kids were mistreated, just kept in perfect order at all times.

So, you can imagine how awkward I felt when my daughter almost held up our show that evening when we found out, right as the show was about to start, that she had left her shoes in the van. Daddy put down his bass, ran to grab them, couldn't find a sock, so she put them on without socks. This made her feet hot, so when it was time to come back on stage, which she usually forgot to do because she was so busy playing with her Little Ponies, she had to stop to put on her shoes, laughed about it, and zipped up on stage, still laughing. The cat was out of the bag. We were not that perfect family. The audience joined in with her laughter and loved every bit of her youthful enthusiasm and childishness. She was not being naughty. She was being eight, and I love eight.

Early on in our journey as a band we would attend a GospelGrass festival where there were many family bands. Our son was about 8 at that time and if you have ever met him, you know why I must faithfully dye my hair each month or show a bright line of white to the world. His impulse control at eight could have rivaled that of any 2-year-old, and all of the parenting books in the world couldn't cure it. I was usually a disaster trying to monitor him and keep our awkward young band together on stage. Our now 8-year-old was only three back then, not fully potty-trained, and quick to wander anywhere, or simply leave with any stranger that smiled at her kindly.

The other families at the festival didn't seem to have the same issues we did with our children. They had little ones who could sit quietly for the full show, all in a cute little line, then get up on stage at just the right time to sing just as perfectly as they sat. I felt constantly like a failure, despite that fact that my son could outplay many of the other fiddle players there, even at his young age. That didn't seem to matter to me nearly as much as whether or not he could sit quietly though.

As we progressed as a band and played for more locations, a curious thing happened. I realized that most people found the crazy antics of my children quite endearing. They weren't interested in wooden children who came off the shelf to look pretty at their parents' bidding. They loved seeing the carefree, childhood behaviors.

I'm a bit slow at times, but eventually I relaxed and simply laid down laws for the things that I felt crossed a line in regards to behavior on stage or in public. My rules of conduct tend to simply focus around the idea that they need to not be annoying to other people. Really, just esteem others more than yourself. That's it. No shoes required. Don't kick the table where they're sitting, don't make obnoxious noises and interrupt their conversations, say “thank-you” if someone says something nice to you, and play great music that will make them happy.

I stopped bothering to look at how perfect the child in the other band behaved, and in the conversation tonight about this one additional perfect family band, I realized the only thing going through my mind was, “Thank you God that You don't demand we live like that.”

This isn't a judgment against families who simply take comfort in a very rigid lifestyle. Often when you have a parent or two who thrive under such situations, due to their personality, those little apples won't fall far from the tree and will have similar personalities, which will find their own sense of security and comfort in such a schedule.

However, for some I do think there is a sense of fear driving this need of perfection. Initially it was for me, and in that I had to repent because it can ruin the joy of a family. If you then happen to get a child who doesn't fit the mold, it can cause very high amounts of anxiety. Worse than this, I believe at least a few fear that their “Christian witness” will be damaged. (After all, we want people to think Christians have their act together at all times, right?)

This type of desperation for perfection reaches into all areas of family life at times. There is an extreme pressure in some Christian circles to have a perfect home to show you are being a perfect housewife, able to have a perfect dinner party for company at a moment's notice.

After a sufficient number of years beating myself up over the fact that my home flip-flopped between a complete disaster and just messy, no matter how hard I seemed to try, I sought to figure out what I could live with and what I couldn't. Yes, my husband's opinions here count as well, but he really only sees the mess at all after it hits the complete disaster stage. So, the goal is to always keep it under the maximum threshold when we can, in order to function.

Life is too short to stress out over a pile of messy dishes in the sink, socks tossed on the floor, or books all over the bench seats, toys taking over the table, or mail in a stack on top of a stack that is over in a corner by a stack. When it passes the threshold of tolerance, you give a holler ('cause you're loud, remember?) so the culprits can come clean up their messes and do the dishes. Then you let it go if they got it below the threshold, instead of inspecting to make sure they put the books alphabetical on their shelf. They got them off the bench. Good enough for now.

As for doing morning exercises. Bahahahahahahahaha! Yeah. We consider it a successful day when the teenagers roll out of bed before 10am.

This doesn't mean we've found perfection in our unperfection either. Teenage girls will still get in moods. 13-year-old boys will still do dumb things that make you want to leave the state in shame. 8-year-old girls will whine until everyone's head is about to explode. However, the times when we laugh and get the giggles so badly that we can't practice, or when we sit and spout off endless silly movie quotes that come to mind, or even get into discussions about religion, politics, and all of those other things you can only discuss with family, that is where the magic happens. There is no magic in sitting up straight in a chair and awaiting your token cute appearance on stage, or showing off your shiny counters that are free of evidence that children are present, or being able to proudly boast of your rigid schedule that ensures your children will be at the top academically, musically, and athletically. I'm willing to bet that in Heaven, none of that will be worth a hill of beans. However, the relationships will, the joy will, and most certainly, the grace shown in each of our failures will.

Oh, and we have a new rule. Shoes must be worn during the whole performance. It was understandable that taking off shoes when your feet were hot seemed logical to an 8-year-old bouncy girl, but it was a bit of a nuisance during the show. Since she won't be eight forever, it seemed good to let her know what is proper.

I informed her of the rule. She shrugged said, “Ok.” Sadly, the next audience will miss out on that fun, but there will be something else. Of that I am absolutely confident.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Change or Die, Musically Speaking

Recently we abandoned the term "bluegrass' from our band description and decided to not add many more bluegrass tunes to the music set, but instead freely indulge in the new, creative outlets that have always thrilled us as musicians, regardless of whether or not we will doom ourselves to poverty by not playing by the rules, never to play another festival. Of course, some of these creative outlets may occasionally sound a lot like bluegrass, but that is simply because bluegrass has a lot of potential for awesome, has been awesome in the past, and we do happen to like awesome. However, bluegrass is having some growing pains, and some of that is because very many want it to freeze in time, applying a lot of rules to the sound in order for this to happen. I understand why, and sympathize with their reasoning, but as a family and a band, we do not have those same goals.

Last night during our Christmas show (which is further away from bluegrass than our standard set), an older gentleman asked if we do bluegrass, because he loves bluegrass. We said we do about half bluegrass during our regular sets. He proceeded to tell us about how he's been to so many bluegrass festivals but the young artists coming up keep trying to change it and he feels like it's getting away from its roots. He doesn't like that. 

I am personally glad to see the diversity the big labels are starting to embrace, but sadly, the opinion of this gentleman appears to be the predominant opinion among a lot of small bluegrass festivals and promoters on the local level, which shuts us out, because we never had a desire to sound like Bill Monroe. He was revolutionary, but his followers have now refused to allow that same revolutionary creativity among his progeny. 

A recent festival we attended had four headline bands, consisting of all middle age men, and all with a very similar sound. I honestly could hardly tell them apart unless I was looking at them and listening near the stage. We will never manage to be a headliner in a place like that, unless we get much better at conforming. The festival promoter knew this tendency we had and wanted to be sure that we would use our time on stage to play *bluegrass*. Don't pull out a fife, a hand drum, or anything modal, or do anything prior to the 1940s, and do not do anything too far after that either, unless it follows the rules. Sigh. We mostly complied. Ok, we sneaked in the fife once and did an artistic modern arrangement of a historical tune, but it was only 450 or so years off the date and we didn't do any Irish reels!  

I do understand that one must have a sold, basic sound or the audience really doesn't know what they're getting from one song to the next. We do, actually, which is probably why we never got that old time bluegrass sound right, because our bluegrass sounds a lot like that artistic modern arrangement of the four-hundred-and-something-year-old tune. Our reels all end up molding into the sound too, so I'll expect a big snub from the die-hard Irish folks as well. We're used to it by now. 

Well, are the new kids pushing it too far and ruining bluegrass? I can't help but to think, "DUH." Why would he expect the new generations to want to get frozen in time, never allowed to grow, expand, and create, in the same way your generation was allowed? You don't have to like their stuff. Heck, I can't stand half of what I hear on the radio, and that's strictly from the sound, even minus the common immoral lyric issues to which I object. Even so, I don't ask them to fit into my old box. Who wants to keep the sound of Duran Duran and David Bowie anyway? Once was enough, thanks. Long live the 80s. 

Folk music has always been far more open. There are over 100 variations of the old folk song Barbara Allen that can be downloaded from the Smithsonian archives. New music lovers would adopt the wonderful tune and make it their own, then share what they came up with. 

I remember reading about how Bach's music was largely forgotten within a generation of his life. His own sons, two of them being quite respected composers, didn't bother playing his music. They wanted to create their own. Thank goodness they didn't, because had their generation stuck with his style we would never have had Mozart. Many tried to freeze the style popular during Mozart's life, but thankfully Beethoven ignored that and busted out on his own, leading too all kinds of mischief by many Romantic composers. Some stinkers later showed up in the 20th century, (Schoenberg anyone?), but you can't blame Bach's son for that. We're thrilled Bach lived, and we're thrilled some people still love to play Bach. I love Bach. Sean loves Bach. The rest? Not so much, but I don't really expect them to just play music like Bach. Go find your own amazing. One Bach was special. Generations of Bach is just sad.

One Bill Monroe was special. Generations of Bill Monroe is just sad. 

Some people who know we've dropped bluegrass from our band description (though not completely from our sound and set lists) ask what we play now. I say we play "American Acoustic Music". Most of our music is from the varied sounds of America, a country rich with diverse sounds, and all of our music uses acoustic instruments. Maybe someday we'll create our own specific genre though. Wouldn't it be great to be like Bill Monroe after all? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Think We're in Time Out

No, the blog hasn't died. I just haven't felt like blogging boring random things. We are parked here in Florida and I think God has put us in time-out for a spell.

I don't think it's necessarily that we've been naughty. God is a much better parent than us and knows how to effectively handle the concept of a time-out. It's when you have a child who has just sort of lost his sense of control and needs a moment to calm down and focus. This is in contrast to a good swat on the behind to the child who is being deliberately insolent or insubordinate. I don't get the feeling we're gettin' a whippin'. Whew.

Personally, I think God handles parenting much better than we do. I've been doing some reading in the book of Joshua lately and thinking through the full history of the Israelites. God does give them a well deserved whippin' but not until He's given them warnings. That's probably why I've never been good at the "obey immediately" mindless child training and I give my kids a chance to think about their choice before pouncing. I see God giving a moment for them to consider the folly of their choices and turn back.

Other times a good parent simply redirects, which is something I see Him do with us at times. "Quit looking at that toy, it's not for you. Here, have this. It's better." However, sometimes He puts you in time out so you can quit running around like a crazy person and refocus on your school work. "Sit down in that chair until you've gotten back under control. When you've calmed down and are thinking straight again, you can go back to work."

Yep, we were in time out. When we hit Florida earlier than planned we thought we could use the same techniques for filling the schedule we always did. Problem was, God foiled our attempts. Promotional materials lost, illnesses and changes in personnel at churches that originally thought about having us changed their minds, budget cuts at retirement places canceled gigs when corporate cut the program, and a larger number of blow-offs than we've ever had in any given area. It had to be Divine Providence. It was that weird. Either that or we contracted a serious case of cooties.

We ran out of ideas and just decided to quit and assume God would provide enough for us to eat. He did... barely. I almost got to the point where I refused to buy coffee because it was a frivolous expense that we could survive without and would provide two servings of chicken thighs for the week, but thankfully it never quite got that bad. The coffee held out until the next time we had a show. I get that you don't get toys in time-out, but the coffee? I think God loves me too much to take that away. I hope so anyway.

Is it wrong that I really kind of liked being in time-out? Shouldn't I be in a panic and frustrated as I see our bank account shrink? Strangely enough, it's been really nice. The last few months will likely go into my someday-book as a fond memory, not one of concern. I have felt His hand on all of this and not a bit of it was ever out of His control. We are still a couple of weeks out from relief in the schedule. That's the beauty of it though. God gave us a timer. We can see our time-out lifted and the dates on the calendar the signal this, just in time to get in Christmas shopping and buy another can of coffee, but not enough to keep us from blowing off preparing our winter programs or indulging in frivolous stuff. Plus there is still that long trip back to Texas and the huge cost of diesel that goes with it. Coffee, yes. Starbucks, no. Eh. Starbucks just makes you fat and sick. Except the blonde roast. I want blonde roast for Christmas, please.

During our weeks of  time out we did 5 new Christmas songs with some of the best new arrangements we've ever put together. They are going to be AWESOME! We had the time because we were not bouncing around going from place to place. I am going to be sad when the Christmas shows are over because we don't have quite as many shiny new things for our winter show. I hope to get a few in, but time will be a bit more restrictive and our winter audiences mostly want the classic stuff we already do. They aren't as adventuresome as we are, but hopefully we'll have time to put some new cool ideas into a CD... if God decides we get one. We wanted one in the fall but landed in time out. We'll see how spring goes.

I have neglected this blog because it would be boring to read the last month or so, but is a collection of one-paragraph blog posts I could have written, since none of them were worthy of their own individual post.

So far so good on the very modified, bus-friendly, no-I-can't-afford-raw-cheese, no-I-can't-make-sauerkraut, and no-I-won't-soak-then-dehydrate-my-nuts GAPS diet we've been trying with Mary. She was sick over a week ago but when she got a fever I almost rejoiced because it meant the nausea was likely viral related and not her overall digestive health going down hill again. I modified an awesome recipe for stewed prunes that we all love, even us anti-prune people, and I am pretty sure they are the key ingredient. Even if they're not, I love them and will be pretending they are. Prunes. Who knew?

It was going to be turkey cutlets in the toaster oven and mashed potato flakes on my single burner in the bus, with a possible GAPS friendly pie made the day before, but Grandma Susan came to the rescue and will be treating us to a full turkey dinner, provided to us by the park's kitchen. Last year we purchased tickets to their turkey dinner and it's pretty good. I'd have done so this year, but we're in time-out remember? Coffee? Yeah, like $7/ticket was going to get through the budget. Just one ticket is a canister of coffee. So, I only have to make a few Mary-friendly side dishes instead of making everything... or nothing, which was really the plan. Yay!

We're working on Christmas music and have new stuff. I already mentioned that. Did I mention I love the sound? I did? I get to play my flute on two of them, and one is not really a Christmas song so we can keep it in our regular sets. It uses a tambourine and Mary sings it. Yeah, we're not really in bluegrass territory anymore. It's about time too. We do it well, (ok, with our own personal Colorado BIG mountains sound we like, but never did get that nasal little mountain sound right...[oooo, I'm gonna pay for that comment if it ever gets out!]), but bluegrass has simply never been the passion of the twins, and I prefer the creativity one can do in music arranging when you break free of the genre shackles. Now, if only someone would please give me a snare drum, or a 18th century field drum. That would be awesome. Someone gave us a keyboard. It's collecting dust. I really want 18th century field drum. A hurdy-gurdy would be cool too, while I'm dreaming.

Nothing specific to report. We did go to the beach and they have had some fun at the park with some of the kids that stay here over the winter months. This causes some drama because kids come in rotten shapes and sizes as much as nice sweet shapes and sizes, so there is the occasional set of "he was being mean to me" tears from my youngest. Sean has had to step up to the plate once or twice and put a young man in his place who was picking on her. That's my boy! Most of the kids are just wonderful though. We've met some nice families and both kids have picked up some new friends. The twins haven't. They hide. Always. It's just them and they're happy that way.

Ok, that's all. Here are pictures, and maybe something interesting will happen in the next month worthy of a blog post. If not, I'll probably write at Christmas time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Determined Makeover of an Old Folk Tune

I admit, I am not much into shows that include the word "makeover" in the title. I saw one on making over homes a few times and they just seemed a bit overblown and impractical. When you have a toddler in a poor family and make this wonderful room on a nursery book, you are forgetting that the toddler will grow very quickly and within a few short years he will hate the babyish look of it, then you have to tear everything out and hope you can afford to replace it. I have never seen the ones with beauty makeovers, but one would hope they are due to a high need, such as a physical abnormality or injury, and not simply just to look like a model, or the shallowness and pride would likely not impress me much. Our culture is already too hung up on physical appearances and does not need to have that fed any further.

However, the beauty of music, especially the old folk songs that have stood the test of time for generations, is that they can be made over again and again, at no cost to the artist, and they can bring something new and rich to any generation, while still providing something that links to the past. This is one of my favorite things. I love remaking old tunes, sometimes really old tunes, even more than I like trying to write my own.

That's what we did with the song, "Greensleeves". We loved the new arrangement so much, we chose it for our first music video project, and we couldn't be happier with the results. Here it is!

Ok, I think I lied a little about how we couldn't be happier. For a zero-cost production on a shoe-string budget, I couldn't be happier. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to music projects with the band and working with low-quality equipment and very little time made perfect simply unattainable, so I decided to enjoy it for the organic nature, not for any professional expectations. When I changed my thinking in this area, I loved every minute of it.

We discussed the idea of a music video, something I have wanted to do for a very long time, and realized, without current money to get an updated CD recorded, we really wanted something to move the band, so now was the time. The problem was, how to manage it? In came our superhero friends in Virginia! When I mentioned it to them I received a very excited "absolutely!" Suggestions were provided for the perfect location, they offered to use their home cameras, and another friend arranged to have us put the audio track down first in the upstairs of their church, all in the short time we would be passing through the area.

The audio was a bit of a trial, but since we hadn't planned on even managing a prerecorded audio at all, I have no place to complain. The trial came simply from the timing, which was after a morning show, hungry from lack of sufficient lunch, and no real time to manage isolated sound (used to correct mistakes of one without tossing out the whole thing and starting over), or a click track, for when something did need to be lined up and corrected. We were all together, counting on having this new song, with a new change to it learned just a couple of hours before recording, come out "good enough", despite tired fingers and a long day. Tom, our volunteer recording artist, did a wonderful job mixing up what we managed, especially with the vocal mix. Loved it! Sure, I'd like to correct a few things in the performance, but overall he made what we had sound quite good.

A couple of days later we headed to the state park in Harpers Ferry, WV and with nothing more than 3 (down to 2 fairly quickly, when a battery died far sooner than expected) home cameras of varying quality, a lead singer feeling ill, and on the hottest day of the month. We sang along to the recording on the iPod and hoped it looked ok, having only one day, only one or two takes per location, and no good way to ensure it was at all authentic looking until we were 200 miles away from the shooting location.

Next step was the editing, which I did on my laptop and with Windows Movie Maker, the free program that comes with the computer. The new Movie Maker does not have a crop feature, and the files were not in the correct format, so job #1 was to get a free video converter that could crop scenes in when needed for different angles, and change the files to a .wmv file for easier editing. This took quite some time and overheated my laptop, so I had a little fan on it constantly.

After this was finished I realized my computer memory and processor still couldn't handle playing the video files accurately with the audio in the editor, making it nearly impossible to tell if the lips were syncing with the imported audio file. The audio played fine, but the video kept getting stuck, so I instead worked on syncing the audio from the video to the imported audio, scene by scene, then saved it in pieces to see how it looked after production. That is, when the whole thing didn't lock up and have to be restarted. I learned to save my work after every change, and occasionally reboot the whole computer.

When each section looked good enough, I put the saved sections together and laid the audio back on top of them, and hoped for the best!

To be honest, it was frustrating, but it was sort of like hiking up Pike's Peak. Yes, if you have a car you can drive right up, but there is a certain satisfaction in hiking up it out of pure determination. I did not have the proper equipment for any of this, but I was downright determined to get us a music video! I put on my hiking boots and started climbing.

There is something I have come to realize in life: financial hardships are an opportunity to grow and build creativity and ingenuity in a very unique way that cannot be replicated when everything is simply handed to you. Don't get me wrong, I would love to get a better computer and a professional editor, along with a professional recording session and new cameras for the next project, and there will, Lord willing, be many more such projects in the future. However, now I know it can be done, with or without the fancy gadgets. We just need determination and a little help from our friends.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I enjoyed making it!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Obsess 'Til You Fall Over - Creative Bursts

(Edited intro to post: Decided to jump right to the fun stuff, a fun project that will hopefully be a nice promotion for the band - a new music video project. It's not ready for release - hopefully next week, but here are some pictures.)

What are we up to???

It's gonna be awesome! Ok, awesome for a shoe-string do-it-yourself production. Audio is courtesy of friends who pulled out microphones in the upstairs of their church in Virginia, video (and pictures below) from another friend who took a day to hold a couple of ordinary hand-held video cameras and trek around poison-ivy riddled ruins, and I am using my free video processor, Windows Movie Maker to try to put it all together on a computer that doesn't have near the necessary active memory and processor to really handle it without constant snags. Shot in one day on the hottest day that month. If it comes out even half-way decent, I'll be giddy! 

I do love video editing, almost as much as sewing. You put boring parts together to make something that looks really neat. I have worked on it almost non-stop for 3 days, stopping only to eat and sleep. Every clip had to be converted and cropped to something WMM could handle, sometimes with different crops to create the effect of different camera angles. Then I selected the best clips and had to put them together and sync them with the audio, which is really tough when your computer can't handle the process and keeps freezing the video. 

I'd be downright dangerous with the proper equipment! Maybe someday if New York ever pays us and Florida stops ignoring us. Pfthhhh...

During our time on the video shoot we also took pictures. Alex wanted more "serious" pictures to work with on some new promotional materials she's been asked to create. It can be difficult for family bands to overcome the cutesie-kid-and-pony-show syndrome, so she is trying to tweak our image. That's why most are lacking the usual cheesy grins. We'll do cheesy grins another time.

Too much fun! 

We're in good hands. I live for these bursts of creativity and amazing Providential help just when we need it. Friends to help when we need it and opportunities that fall in our lap when we are at the end of our ropes. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nicholas Cage Was Here in NEW YORK!

My children are nerds who have seen too many movies. When we went to Washington DC last year (and will return late next week), the kids had to watch "Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian". After both the National Mall and Independence Hall in Philadelphia they rewatched "National Treasure". While there, they kept pointing out the places from the movie. New York City provided the best "Nicholas Cage was here" moments yet. A few other notable movies were mentioned, especially ones that involve web slingers in masks and smashing Hulks, (Mary asked if there really was a Stark Tower...) and then there were the "Don't Blink" comments when an angel statue showed up. Even so, Nicholas Cage spottings seemed to be the favorites.

 Trinity Church. Was there really a treasure below?
 Here at that wall!
 Sorcerer's Apprentice anyone? 
 Yep, here too.
I do have to start to wonder if I'm not ruining them by indulging all of these cool movies. At least National Treasure shows some characters who are passionate about the history. Not so much for the comments our Lady Liberty provided. "Don't Blink!" Oh, and then there was this comment, "Hey, one of these buildings around here Amy and Rory jumped to their deaths... again!"

If you don't know the show they referenced there, I'm not going to tell you.

Ok, enough silliness. Here's the rest of the details of a very busy, very exciting day.

Start spreading the news,
I'm leaving today,
I want to be a part of it...

New York, New York!!!

I noticed something about myself I never realized until we headed east. I'm an architectural fanatic! Not that I've taken the time to learn actual names and details of the architectural designs. I'm too busy just sitting in awe over the lovely structures. 

New York was the best eye candy yet for architectural ogling! We splurged on some tour bus tickets for a downtown tour so we were treated to a ride on top a double decker bus, high over the other cars, with a knowledgeable tour guide who pointed out the buildings, when they were built, and occasionally the era and design. I loved every minute - even if I don't remember a thing about the details. There was just too much. So very much history in that city! 
It's amazing when the things you have seen in pictures comes to life before your eyes! 
I have no idea what the design is, but isn't it pretty?


My kids have a thing for really old cemeteries. 

Old ships were pretty cool too. Mary was sleeping on the tour bus about this point, so I think she missed it, but the rest of us enjoyed a lovely sight!

Sadly, we took the Lincoln Tunnel so we didn't get to drive across this.

If these buildings could talk, I bet they'd have a lot of stories, huh?

Someday I'll take notes when I'm giving details on the different buildings. This was absolutely beautiful!

The twins went "shopping" at Macy's. Or just wishing they could shop. No time, and no Macy budget. 

Poor little orphan, alone in NYC? Nope. Cute girl who just left the Build-A-Bear and was waiting for her sisters to get out of Barnes and Noble.

Window Shopping

Night time in Times Square!

I could add so many more. What a neat day! So blessed to have the opportunity to travel to such stunning places, even if it's only for a day.

You do realize, however, that all of this movie landmark spotting will not be able to halt until they can finally say, "Frodo was here", right? I'm pretty sure that's where it's all heading eventually.

Old Montreal and I'm Behind!

Nearly 2 weeks ago we visited Old Montreal, the historic port area of Montreal. It was our first trip into Canada! Then we got busy and I didn't blog the adventure, so I'll just post some of the amazing pictures. It was a fantastic day in a fantastic city. I'm so thankful that the city decided to preserve so much of the rich 400 year old history in this area. You really were able to step back in time.

What a lovely city!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Snapshots: Land of my Birth

I'm lovin' this summer. We got out of the heat wave and into some of the most beautiful August weather I have ever enjoyed.♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

We have had some unusual chilly evenings that dipped into the 40s and we often had to head outside in the mornings with sweaters and blankets. During the warm parts of the day we could take off the long sleeves. 

New York is beautiful country. We've been on top of our game, musically, partly because the surroundings have been so nice for overall health and therefore, practice and focus. I imagine we'd make some pretty good advances if we weren't so busy, but busy means we're getting paid, and paid is good too, right? Shows have been fun, with very enthusiastic audiences. Yep. Awesome summer.

I'm back in my home land too, you know. I was born in upstate New York. We waved at the city of my birth on our way up to Plattsburgh. I can't say I remember much. I hear we moved when I was three months old. 

Snapshots of a moment in time I know we'll always treasure. Sitting outside on a cool summer evening, next to a beautiful, slow moving river. Fire going. Sean reads out loud a book we're all enjoying together. Kids nibble on homemade chocolate. Michael and I sipping red wine, toast one another in our plastic cups. 

Plastic cups. Makes me laugh just thinking about it. Those are old plastic kid cups from when we owned a house and lived like normal people. Our budget doesn't allow for frivolous stuff, like real wine glasses, at least not when plastic cups work well. Our bus wouldn't have enough room if we wanted some pretty glasses. It's becomes a game of practicality. I'm on a bit of a health nut phase and wine happens to be healthy for you in small doses, so we enjoy it on cool evenings, which means that gets the budget as long as it comes in a box, but the glasses do not. I'm quite content with the arrangement, thank you!

Tomorrow we play for a church and they seem very excited to have us, which makes us very excited to play. Monday we'll head up to Montreal, Canada, just because we can. We have some Canadian money here at the bus, donations from playing tonight, and everyone wants to go spend it where it is meant to be spent. Perhaps on Tuesday we'll take a ferry over to Vermont and buy maple syrup, crossing Lake Champlain and watching for Champ, the lake monster. Maybe the lake monster will make it into one of Katie's cartoons?

Just for fun, here is Sean in cartoon form. I just love what she's done with her toon scribbles of our family. She's getting very good and I can't wait until she's ready to start making the full cartoon strip! 


It won't last. Life always gets complicated again, but worrying about that takes away from the moment, so we'll just freeze things in time for just a bit, ok?

Thank you God for these moments. They're like tiny glimpses of eternity, and if we let them, they'll remind us of the final prize during the times when the rough patches come.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Food is Annoying but Chocolate is Good

We went. We ate. We mmmmmm'd.

Hershey is wonderful. Wonderful and bad for us, but still wonderful. Why is all the truly yummy stuff that is relatively cheap and already prepackaged for me, ready to enjoy, always so bad?

We just hit Chocolate World, not the amusement park. We've been more than amused already this year with Disney and Silver Dollar City. Not much new to see in rides.

The Chocolate World ride that takes you on a fake tour of the factory was cheesy, and the rest of Chocolate world revolved around finding ways to stuff candy into you, which we obliged. What can I say? We're an easy target.

I had thought ahead to have us eat lunch first, and had dinner in the crock pot for when we returned, trying desperately to minimize possible allergy reactions from Mary. Didn't really work. She was still a bit sick, but nothing dramatic, thankfully. I suspect it was from the cheese she put on her dinner though, with the annatto and corn starch, not the chocolate, which does have some soy lecithin. I cannot find any cheddar cheese at any of the nearby towns that does not have annatto coloring, which I suspect is on her list of sensitivities. So, we had a slightly sick little girl after all the fun. Since she consumed left over chocolate today (after much pleading) and was not sick tonight, I am doubly suspicious of orange cheddar cheese shreds. I really need to figure out how to find some of this specialty food when we are bouncing around all of the time.

"Specialty food." Cheese. Because we MUST put artificial color into our cheese. We're so food stoooopid in this country it makes me nuts. We've messed up our basic food staples and now I have to jump through hoops to feed my daughter real food. If only she could just stuff a box of Mac & Cheese down her. I admit, part of me is thankful she can't. All of this forced me to wake up to just how contaminated our food supply has become. I have to go to a specialty store to find cheese that is just cheese. Gah!

So, after excessive sugar and who-knows-what, the younger two have been in rare form the last 24 hours as they detox their system. Hershey isn't too bad, as far as food mucking goes, but sugar bombs mess with their brain and attitudes nevertheless. The two of them almost got shipped off to the nearest military school today after all of the fights, whines, squabbles, and other joys of siblinghood. I felt lousy, their dad felt lousy, though the twins usually can handle food junks better than the rest of us so they appeared to be the only ones functioning.

Food has been giving me headaches for weeks now as we try to stop the bad digestive issues poor Mary has to deal with. I kept going back and forth between this and that contradiction, because the screaming dogmatic stances are all around me, usually from facebook memes, but sometimes in real life, and were making me nuts.

I have vegan friends, low carb friends, paleo only friends, and just-give-me-a-burger friends. They all post the memes about health, herbs, foods, and natural miracles. Some are just false, like the stupid one that says spiders hate peppermint. Well, let me tell you, we've had lots of chances to try that one out and the spiders could care less.

Then there is milk. I hate the milk debate and spent a month trying to get to the bottom of it with little luck. First I'm told whole milk is evil because it's homogenized (not convinced, the theory comes from a study in the 70s that has not been updated or verified, according to the Nutrition Diva, but Mercola says it's evil since he says everything is evil and some things are so sometimes I listen and sometimes I roll my eyes). Then some say to instead use skim, because it doesn't have the maybe evil homogenized cream, but then you find skim is more evil because they put dehydrated milk in it (only a few do and it's easy to tell despite the labeling, but that may not actually be evil after all). But, but, but... dehydrated milk is waaaay evil (but only if it's not skim milk since it's the fat in this case that gets altered to oxidized cholesterol, which is confirmed evil), but whey protein powder is often recommended to boost protein (which may have oxidized cholesterol, so it may be evil). Then there is raw milk only groups (can't find, can't afford, not on the table here but probably healthier). Oh, and let's not forget those who say that God did NOT intend cow milk for human consumption, but only made it for baby cows... (Do you remember how the Hebrews were led to a land of milk and honey? I bet God wasn't thinking of a land full of lactating women. Just sayin'.)

I hate milk because it's confusing. Unless it's with chocolate. 

Let's all just give up on food, shall we? It's all contaminated. From what I have gained in my limited time for study, wheat is now officially evil, thanks to modern farm practices, and although some people can still digest the frankengrain, it is likely not ideal regardless. You have to go to some old Russian brand of wheat to get the stuff that was more like what our grandmothers used. I think the jury is still out on GMO food, but that's mostly because I can't really trust anyone doing any studies because that one is so politicized and the darling child of the FDA, and not really having much love for the FDA, I lean in the "probably frankengrain stay clear" direction. We've also found about 1000 uses for all that excessive farm subsidized corn and soy, most of which doesn't really resemble food anymore. All of this stuff means I have to get a degree in food chemistry to read a label and see if my daughter can eat it, if it will make my husband's metabolic syndrome cause him to die an early death, if it will make me fat, and if it will make the twins break out, or Sean's scattered brain scatter further.

When we eat real food, we feel great. Too bad we have to find a specialty store to get the stuff.

There's hope. I'm reading a book I kind of like right now called Trim, Healthy Mama. "Kind of" is the key phrase. They do rely on a lot of whey for extra protein, which I'm still not convinced is healthy until I learn more about that oxidized cholesterol thing, and lots of stevia, which I am not convinced is a fool-proof way to have your cake and eat it too, (or get your lemonade and drink it too). I recently found a study on how the body might react in preparation for carbs when it tastes sweetness, and how it may be messing people up when it prepares for something it then doesn't get. That would explain why diet drinks can lead to diabetes... or not. We don't know, but if it's from that alone, stevia may not be immune to the effect. Too soon to tell, but I think caution is necessary with stevia abuse for now. People cheer over how stevia does not spike the blood sugar. Neither does aspartame (which I am convinced really is evil in sweet form and no one should touch), and yet it leads to type 2 diabetes. Hmmm...

Nevertheless, the reason this book speaks to me is because it really goes where so many of the low-carb, paleo mentalities only give lip service towards - the real need to feed your cells with the stuff only things from the plant world can provide. Fabulous green smoothie recipes are part of the plan, along with salads, and even the occasional evil BEAN. You can eat breakfast that has a grain Mary can have, instead of 1000 ways to use eggs, which Mary can't have. However, I was sold when I saw she had many recipes that use chocolate. Chocolate that doesn't use soy, TBHQ, BHT, or UDIENOW. Yes, they had me at chocolate.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Saturday Snapshots - Great Lakes

There are definite perks that come with this interesting lifestyle.So far we've hit "three" coastal shores of the US, including the Atlantic, the Gulf, and now the Great Lakes. Ok, the lakes are not exactly an official shore, but they do make quite an impact on the northern end of our country.

We headed up to Lake Erie to a small coastal town about 15 miles from where we're staying in northern Ohio. Just as we approached the drawbridge, the arms went down and the light went red. So, what do a bunch of nerdy tourist homeschoolers do? Jump out of the car and run up to watch it, then run back to the van before we hold up traffic and annoy everyone.

After this we wandered to a local beach. It was a cool day so we did not swim, and I'm not that confident about the cleanliness of Lake Erie this close to Cleveland, so we just lounged.

Naturally, we learned a little bit about the lakes on the way, such as the fact that they hold 21% of the world's fresh water, and a bit about the lake weather. That would explain why the whole area is one big, sloppy, wet mess. Colorado is always so dry so having rain, and sometimes very heavy, street-flooding, torrential rain for over 2 weeks straight puts us out of our comfort zone, and boredom was getting us crazy. A day at the beach was just what the doctor ordered.

This park also has a small lake and checks out canoes, so the younger two talked dad into a canoe ride.

We were given a great gift this week. A gentleman in the park had just purchased a new keyboard and wanted to give his old one to us, figuring we'd get good use out of it. Of course, figuring out where to put it is a pretty big challenge. At the moment it lives on Sean's bed during the day and stands up behind the captain's chair at night. Sean plays it most of the time, mainly making up chord structures that have an eerie resemblance to 80's music. I don't think the 80's music will be particularly helpful with our folk music band, but the twins have a wild idea of having a band in the future with electronic instruments and they like the idea of having a keyboard to enhance that someday sound. Mary wants to learn a bit of keyboard (I'm looking into low-maintenance basic courses now so we don't step on her fiddle progress), and Sean is already obsessed with it. It makes all the weird noises a 13-year-old boy could ever want and his mother doesn't scold him to stop it. She scolds him to put on headphones, but not necessarily to stop.

While we figure out what to do with the keyboard, we have figured out some new arrangements to some historical folk music for our next CD. No, we aren't planning one officially yet. We can't afford it, but I am treating this the same way I treat everything. We couldn't afford the instruments, the sound system, the bus, or even to take off on the road 1 1/2 years ago. What we did each time is to plow the fields and await the rain. We don't wait for the rain and then plow the fields. If the fields are ready, God will provide when it's time, just as He did with the instruments, sound system, van, bus, and when we took off on the road before we were financially ready. Pray, plow the fields, and wait for the rain.