Thursday, October 30, 2014

Enjoying: Pumpkins

I let the rest of the holiday horses out of the stall today--you know, the ones I hold back late October because a full stud of merry, merry sometimes just rubs people the wrong way. Get back in there, ya festive little stallions. The world isn't ready for you yet.  But it's October 30th, there's no school tomorrow and Halloween marks the opening bell of our home's Celebrate All Y'all season, a November/December mash-up that weaves fall cornucopia and twinkle, twinkle with a common denominator of happy--whatever makes you happy. It includes hay bales and pinecones, and has no prerequisite date for Andy Williams. All that to say, I hit play on my Classic Christmas station today, okay? I folded. I folded before Halloween, and I'm not proud of it. It was just for one song and then I switched it. It's just...Andy Williams is so suave.

So I call Heidi because she gets it. We never say hi when we answer; we just start talking.

"So I think it must be a gene, this holiday thing. I was born with it, and I can't control it. I want to pitch a tent in Target's Halloween aisle and watch it transform overnight to what's coming, because we all know it's coming next...twinkle."

"Oh my God, I know," she says.

"It's just a happy place, those holiday aisles."

"And we're not the only ones who think that, Kelle. We have justification for our craziness. I was in the pre-Christmas aisle the other day looking at wreaths, and this other lady next to me? She was smiling too. We both knew it. We looked at each other and, I swear, we held our gaze a little longer because we were in the frickin' Christmas aisle."

"You should have got her number. We could have had a cookie party."

Okay, I'll reign it in. Back to October. HORSES! Back in the barn, In you go.

It's pretty here right now. Cool and calm and promising, a taste of Florida's best months to come.


New Spaces
My girl lost her first top tooth last week, the most image-altering milestone since that same tooth broke through her gummy smile almost seven years ago. It catches me off guard when she smiles. I see what's happening here--a little wiggle here, a twist there and tiny pieces of babyhood and toddlerhood and childhood fall out of the way, making room for all the beauty to come. Three kids, and I've learned to balance a little better the sentimentality of their growth. Less boo-hooing over what's gone and more appreciation for what's here. I love this new smile so much.

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Pumpkin Patch Parking Lot
The horses that have plenty good reason to be out of the barn--our annual trip to the church up a few roads. I so appreciate the work they put into creating such a special place for our Florida kids.

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They upped the ante this year with a kettle corn truck. Oh, I'm sorry. Korn with a K. Which is very much like Anne with an E, I supppose.

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There were a billion moms with a billion cameras and lots of babies in pumpkin shirts and orange tutus. I smiled and loved watching them, remembering exactly what it was like, that first Halloween, that first trip to the pumpkin patch. These are rites of passage.

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Big boy goes for the biggest pumpkin. And don't think he couldn't carry it. He did just fine, thank you.

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I like the little ones.

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Her Jams.
Currently Mary Lambert's "Secrets" and back to Katy Perry's "Firework" again. All day, 'err day.

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Sheep Herder.
She keeps him in line, on the sidewalk, out of trouble. Except for when she's getting into trouble with him which is very often.

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The Delayed Bottle.
No comment. Just no comment.

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Cornsilk Halo.
It's for catching fairies.

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Lots to enjoy. Even without all the horses.
Happy Almost Weekend, Almost November and Almost a Full Horse Stampede.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Troll Bans and Monitoring Comments

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My eHow editor threw some article ideas at me last week, gauging my interest for a few topics she wanted to highlight, one of them being how to maintain your voice in social media and how to deal with what the Internet has labeled as trolls. I obliged (tips coming to a website near you), and then laughed at the simple answer to which I finally arrived earlier this year: hire someone to monitor it for you. After years of allowing people to anonymously leave snarky comments—because “you put yourself out there, you should be able to take it”—I now adhere to the same rules I have in my home: if the dog shits on the carpet, I clean it up. I took it a step further this spring and hired someone else to approve blog comments and exercise the delete and block feature on my social media accounts, suggesting the if-it-walks-like-a-duck rule for weeding out trolls. I now rarely deal with the following:

A: None-of-your-business demands
Summarized as: “You owe it to your readers to tell us why you wear a size 9 shoe! I wear a 7 and sincerely don’t understand why you wear a 9! Please! I’m so confused. Explain to your loyal readers why!”

B: Unoriginal passive aggressive snark
Summarized as: “Cute picture. Too bad you’re stealing the limelight from your kids and making it about you again. But adorable family! Love your blog! (kissy emoticon, hand clap emoticon)”

C: Flat out cut-downs
My personal favorite: “You used to be hot, but you’re not anymore.”


D: Ridiculous conclusions
Summarized as: “You never show pictures or talk about having sex with your husband, so that must mean you never have it. Nice marriage.”

But I still see enough of it (snark, not sex) to remind myself why not allowing it in my space was a good choice to make. While we can’t always control the input in our lives (like the woman who flicked me off in traffic yesterday), we can control our engagement with that input. Snarky comments not only sometimes triggered my own engagement (which, I’ll admit, periodically included “%#$@ off” over breathe-love-and-kindness-to-someone-who-obviously-just-wants-to-be-seen  because, well--I'm human.), but it triggered the engagement of a whole lot of other commenters—a distraction from content, a free-for-all place for people to be seen for their negativity, hooking anyone who begs to differ and coming back for a fight because, let’s face it—we all have tons of free time and engaging strangers on the Internet in argument is a grand way to make your mark on the world.

Defining the spirit of comments is a subjective job, one I’ve given to someone else now, and unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—skimming off provoking, passive aggressive or ill-intended comments is pretty easy beginning with anonymity equals goodbye.

I’ve talked to a lot of other writers and bloggers and have read numerous articles about managing feedback, an Atlantic article from this summer reporting that the National Journal (barely comparable to a mom blog, I know) opted to exclude comments on most stories altogether as a way to control the flood of abuse that appeared on the site. Blogging has definitely changed over the past seven years since I started, and navigating through all of it is a continued learning process. But right now, that’s where we are.

I suppose it might seem that what's left in the comments is all praise. I mean, I’m not going to kick you out of my house for saying you like my curtains. Inside and outside of the Internet and throughout our entire lives, we deal with feedback and learn to filter both the good and bad. The seatbelt you must buckle before you begin that ride is the “know thyself” principle: you can’t think you’re amazing because someone says “You’re amazing!” just as you can’t think you’re worthless because someone says, “You suck!”

I appreciate meaningful conversations and differing opinions about everything from religion and politics to parenting, but personal attacks, demands and general “you’re doing it wrong, you suck!” comments simply aren’t tolerated here. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Kissy emoticon. Handclap emoticon.

And coming to eHow later this week…how do you maintain your own voice in the overstimulating world of social media?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

North Carolina Part 2

Fall is, of course, at the top of my list of things that make me swoon. But even swoonier than fall is people--good people whose presence and stories and spirits make our world happier. Take those people and throw them into fall? That's Happy Squared which was exactly how I'd describe the little mountain wedding that took place last week.

I've known Kaity since she was in middle school. I worked with her mom who quickly became one of my closest friends, and I've watched Kaity grow from a quiet student to one of the most creatively talented individuals I've ever met. Besides the fact that she's an amazing photographer, artist and now wedding planner extraordinaire, she has a kind and gentle heart--one my kids have latched on to, making their way to her lap whenever she's near.

The love story of Kaity and Alex doesn't need much narration. Rather, a few seconds watching the two of them together tells its own story--a story we were so honored to be a part of as they sealed the deal under a fall canopy of trees and surrounded by twinkly lights, flowers, the most exquisite yet simple artistic details and a huddle of loved ones that made the evening, dare I say, perfect.

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The girls were excited to be flower girls.  I thought Nella would trip because she couldn't take her eyes off her skirt swishing, but sister did just fine.

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(tutus were handmade by my friend Kaili whose Etsy shop can be found here, cardigans are Gap, button-on crochet Peter Pan collars are from Hand Spun Creations, nude long sleeve leotards underneath for warmth)

Right before the girls walked down the aisle, Nella had a quick nervous moment and walked over to Lainey and nestled in--only needed a second. I know exactly how that feels.

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I don't have many wedding photos as I was wrangling kids and there was an insanely talented photographer capturing everything, but I love these few. .

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There was a lot of reflection last week about how quickly time goes--an overstated motherhood philosophy that gets buried with cliches--but it was palpable as I sat with my friend the morning she prepared to marry off her daughter and later that evening as we all danced together--friends, babies, aunts, uncles, grandparents--hugged,cried, laughed and heard from so many, "Where did the time go?"

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It is so easy to get lost both in then--reminiscing the days past, and someday--planning and preparing for all the events of the future. But the now between those two places is pretty sweet. I'm sure we all felt that sweetness up on the mountain that night, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness and trees and winding roads we'd eventually have to take home that night. In that magical place, we danced--the babies in their pajamas, the bride in her pretty wool coat, and all the mamas feeling grateful for the intersection between then and someday--this sweet little place called now.

We remained in that state for the rest of our trip, Okay, okay, we talked about Christmas a little bit, but we were only trying to throw up some cushioning to help our friend's defense against possible post-wedding letdown, and Christmas will do it. Powerful thing that cozy December is. It really should trickle into every month, if you ask me.

But mostly, we enjoyed the now.

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Dance party with David, the bride's brother whom Nella fell in love with, mainly because he can match her moves. 

And now I'll leave you with a series of photos that had us rolling last week. It started with one accidental shot and ended with--well, we couldn't stop.

I now present to you, Poop the Diving Barbie. Kind of like Sonora Webster, except there's no horse and she's plastic. Okay, and naked.

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Coming in sideways with an attempted open pike, she lost momentum. That'll cost her three points.

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A doubles round. They took bronze due to the inappropriate nature of blond Barbie's kick-out.

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This one took gold. Obviously. The crowd cheered.

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And with that...Happy Thursday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Easy Peasy Video Storytelling with OneDay

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of OneDay.

I take pictures. I've been doing it for years and because of that hobby, my family doesn't lack in the special moment preservation department. Our still photos are saved in folders, in albums and showcased in frames on our wall, and I love it. The photo of Lainey at the beach, framed on my dresser? I remember that moment. Thin wisps of blond hair dancing in the wind, eyes squinting from the sun, shoulders dusted with sand. It's all wrapped up in that photo, a memory frozen in time. I love my kids' baby photos, the ones that really capture the things I loved most about their littleness--folds in their chubby hands, Cheerio crumbs glued to their cheeks.

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I'm diligent in taking photos of my children not only because I want to remember everything about these days, but because I love the art of photo taking--the challenge of capturing who they are, their spark, their relationships, their timidness, their curiosity--in a single photo. I've realized over the years though that because I'm good about picking up my camera, I've forgotten to capture video moments of my kids. Recently while digging through the archives, I found a few videos of Lainey when she was a toddler, particularly one where she was dictating a letter to Santa, making present requests for herself and Nella who was just a baby. I had completely forgotten how precious her little voice was, how her tongue awkwardly attempted words against her pacifier teeth. As soon as I began playing the video, the whole family joined me around the computer. The girls were mesmerized, and Lainey didn't believe the little girl on the screen was her. We watched as teeny little Lainey looked over my shoulder and bossed me through the letter writing process.

"Write Maywee Kissmiss, Tanta," said three-year-old Lainey. And with that, seven-year-old Lainey fell to the floor in a giggle fit.

"I said Tanta!" she laughed. "I said Tanta! Play it again! Play it again!"

And if that was funny, you should have heard her when I asked in the video, "Do you love Santa?" and three-year-old Lainey snapped back "NO." Lainey done lost her mind, laughing so hard, she got the whole family going. We've since watched that video--oh, about three hundred times and "Maywee Kissmiss, Tanta" has become a frequently dropped phrase in conversation.

I'll always love still photos. But I'm challenging myself more to make quick videos to preserve the things photographs can't capture--their voice, their laughter, their humor, their hilarious answers to questions that tell so much about how seven-year-olds view the world. I have a voice memo saved on my phone of Dash's two-day-old cry and his suck-and-swallow noises, and those clips are just as precious as our photographs.

So it makes perfect sense that I'd love what OneDay has created to help families tell their stories. OneDay's app allows parents to make short movies of their children like a pro in seconds, doing all the think-ahead work for you so that you get your child's favorite things, funny sayings and thoughtful answers to questions preserved in little clips that the app stitches together for a short movie showcasing unique personality. The app not only preserves your children's stories, but it makes it easy for you to tell your own story to share with your family with a whole list of themes for parents--what you believe, your influences, your inspiration, about your childhood, your wedding, etc.

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My favorite thing about this app that makes it great for me to use is that it's set up for quick video capture--simple, not editing, not thinking required. I can open any story, ask some questions that take just a few seconds, tuck my phone away and pull it out again later to finish a complete story. And the questions are all written for you. You know those priceless kindergarten projects that come home with all the funny answers to questions you wouldn't have thought to ask your kid--things like "my dad's favorite thing to do magazines on the toilet in the bathroom"? You can find these things out for yourself now and lock them up in sweet videos to be watched for years to come.

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The app also has story themes for babies who might not be quite as prolific with words as older siblings.

And once you create a library of these stories, your kids will love rewatching them, especially when their voice has changed and they've gained a bit of a filter for outlandish childishness.

In one minute, we created a cute video with OneDay's Halloween theme yesterday:

Top tooth gone! 

Videos can also be easily shared with family and friends right from the app if you choose.
You can download the free OneDay app here!

And to think only 20 years ago, I hadn't even used a cell phone yet. I love the way technology enriches our families in good ways--storytelling just one of them.

Thank you OneDay for sponsoring this post, and thank you readers for checking out the sponsors that make great products and services our family enjoys and also help make supporting this blog a little easier.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

North Carolina Part One

We are emerging from a fall hangover over here--one that included a week of breathtaking scenery and a very special wedding we'll never forget. I'll break this into two posts with the wedding later this week.

We've been planning this trip for almost a year, and our original plan was that the entire family would drive up. When Brett's work plans changed and he wasn't able to go, I figured driving 11 hours alone with three kids wouldn't be feasible. "Why not?" was Brett's response, to which I had no answer. Now that we've done it, I'm inspired to map out future adventures. The kind of storybook fall scenery I dream of isn't a giant expensive plane excursion away but a fun road trip that required a car and less patience than I expected. The kids did great, the drive was smooth, and we broke it up into six hours of driving each day with only one cockroach cabin blip. Lainey had a short week of school last week which made the adventure even better (still missed a couple days, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat). And though we experienced some pretty magical fall days and my standard North Carolina landscape reaction was "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God", our most treasured memories were with our people. A wedding that will go down in the books as something pretty special. And all the talks we shared as friends last week, volleying our gaze between the little kids who added--well, let's just say a real life flair to what was so aesthetically beautiful--and a young couple whose mamas remember as little as my kids as if it was just yesterday. All I can say is, I hope the space between their littleness and bigness is filled with many more experiences like we just enjoyed.

With no further ado, the beauty of North Carolina. Its state spoon will be well-polished among my collection.

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(above photos are actually in Cordele, Georgia)

The house my friend rented was tucked right into the top of this mountain (outside of Franklin, North Carolina), and the view looking out changed in just the five days we were there from mostly green lightly speckled with yellow and orange to a full technicolor fall dream.

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We visited Dry Falls twice on our trip, the epitome of a fall postcard. You have to drive up Highlands Road to get there, a white-knuckled grip-your-steering-wheel-and-stare-straight-in-front-of-you drive that winds through the mountain with nothing but a rusty guardrail separating you from treacherous drop-offs. Treacherous drop-offs with gorgeous waterfall views, but still--treacherous. "Don't tell me how pretty it is or I'll look," is how you have to drive it.

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This is as far as Nella would go the first trip to the falls. By the second trip, she had conquered her fears and went all the way down underneath them.

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Dash, on the other hand, was ready to climb in a barrel and go over them.

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On the way back from the falls the first time, we passed a sign that said "Baptist Church--one mile this way."

"Bet that's a pretty sight," I said as we drove by. Steeple against foliage, little church in the mountain woods. It was enough to make us swing around and creep the one mile up the road to find it. There was no one around when we did, so we parked the car, opened the doors, blared Brandi Carlile and had a dance party in the parking lot. I'm sure the Baptists won't mind. I mean, we weren't in the church, and it's not like we were twerking on God's grounds. We saved our inappropriate moves for further down the mountain.
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This right here? Well this makes me insanely happy.

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Downtown Franklin where the sweet ladies of Rosebud Cottage served us up some nice pasta salad and sandwiches.

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Mountain fog? Nothing like the horror movie fog. Much kinder, thank you. Although I'd like to thank Brett for watching the movie one night, a week before our trip so that when the fog set it in, I had a quick instinct to hit the deck as my mom would say. So did Dash. Look.

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There was a scenic pull-off on Highlands Road, and I happened to pull over right while my grandma was waving from heaven.

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Lainey was ecstatic to take the bag of gems she mined for to school today as they're learning about geodes and gems right now. If you're headed to the Highlands area, check out Jackson Hole on Highlands Road, just a short jog down from Dry Falls. You can mine for gems, sample some cherry cider and shop the most adorable collection of little gifts--Davy Crockett hats, hand carved slingshots and bows-and-arrows, cut gems and geodes, jewelry, children's books, jams and ciders and my favorite--flavored honey sticks.

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Happy and fall-full here. Part 2 to come.
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Bring the cozy vibe of North Carolina home with this simple family fall party you can throw at home. I'm over at eHow this week with suggestions for fall treats, movies and fun for your next Friday night at home.

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