Monday, May 01, 2006

on blogging (part three of three)

this is the third and final chapter of my thoughts on blogging. No pictures this time, because it would slow me down from a long-overdue conclusion of my thoughts on blogging.

So, to summarize. Blogging brings me joy and reminds me of the other joys God has given me. It is a journal of sorts, as well as a means of keeping records of my craft projects and keeping in touch with my family.

And blogging is also, for me, unhealthy at times. It distracts me from my children and my dishes and laundry. It becomes an alternate universe where I can escape to numb my feelings of isolation. It feeds my ego, allowing me to be a "writer" and "photographer" at no cost and not much effort.

In my last chapter, I wrote, "Is there a scale on which I can weigh the good and the bad of my blogging, and should I decide whether or not to blog based on the outcome?"

I do think that the good outweighs the bad in blogging. I realize that that is a dangerous thing to say. If you're allergic to peanuts, and a slice of peanut butter pie is only 5% peanut butter, it could still kill you even though the "good" ingredients far outweigh the "bad" ones. And for the rest of the world, the fact that it's 5% peanut butter matters not at all - it's all good pie.

So am I "allergic" to blogging? Could feeding my ego and distracting from my children harm me in some tangible way? Perhaps.

Or take that same slice of peanut butter pie. If you're trying to lose weight.... there's nothing particularly evil about that slice of peanut butter pie, and one slice won't kill you... but if you keep eating that pie, you won't lose the weight. Or if you eat that slice of pie, PLUS a bag of Doritos, PLUS a cupcake, PLUS.... Weight Watchers only allows you a certain number of indulgences, and you'll need to pick whether you want the Doritos or the pie, because if you really need to lose weight, you can't have both.

So am I "overweight" in the things that blogging feeds? Sitting in front of the computer, plugged into an alternate reality, escaping the life that God gave me to enjoy? Focused so much on telling my own story that I've forgotten how, or never learned how, to ask other people about their stories? Have I traded the "real food" of real conversation and real relationships for the "convenience food" of blogging and reading others' blogs? And is it junk food? And if I don't have time for the real thing, or don't know how to forge real relationships as a stay-at-home mom living in a trailer by the side of the highway, then isn't junk food better than starving? Perhaps.

But what initiated this internal debate about "to blog or not to blog" was none of these things. It was the niggling sense that, after a joyful year of writing blogs and taking pictures, God himself was asking me to give up blogging.

Since I tend to be an unrealistic pessimist who's convinced that anything fun or rewarding is bad, and that God is some sort of ogre who always calls me to do hard things and sacrificial things, I asked him to confirm it somehow. To give me some bolstering evidence, or some internal sense that I should be done... SOMEthing.

And in my devotions I read Luke 14:25-35 which says, in part, "...suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for the terms of peace."

This verse is in the larger context of Jesus saying it is going to cost everything to follow him. I never in my life until this last week saw this verse as anything but an extension of the earlier parable about building a tower and estimating the cost.

But it suddenly dawned on me that (arguably) in this parable *God* is the opposing king, and I can futilely fight against his will or I can be smart and ask how much peace will cost me. And the amusing answer is that it costs everything I have. He is so assured of victory in the end that he can demand whatever "ridiculous" terms he likes.

Or, to put it another way, it really all belongs to him anyway. He is not conquering new territory, he is fighting to reclaim all that is rightfully his, which includes me and the possessions I have (wrongfully) called my own. Whether he fights or we make peace, he gets it all. But the difference is -- peace. And peace is what I want.

So, it still seems that he is asking me to give up blogging - that in my case, that is one of the "terms of peace." And I can come up with many reasons why he might be asking me to, but the truth is - I don't know. When a more powerful king and his army arrive at my home, and we have already negotiated the terms of peace, and he says he wants to rip out the garden and enlarge the house, do you argue? Even though it hurts? Do you talk back if he turns your bedroom into a library and moves your room out to the potting shed? The terms of peace, remember? You promised to give up everything, did you not?

In that context, blogging seems like a small thing to give up, even if I don't fully understand why. And it's good to remember that this same king promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. And that he loves me and that this painful process of letting go is somehow necessary, perhaps like giving up the peanut butter pie to lose a few pounds, even if I'm not allergic to peanuts.

One final question that someone is likely to ask inside their head if not directly:

do I know for sure, for sure that I'm not mistaking God's voice? That I've really heard him correctly? That I'm not just hearing some strange contorted echo of my own conscience and the thoughts other people have thrown my way?

The answer is no, I do not. But I am convinced that God is good, and that he can speak to me, and that the only way I will ever learn to properly listen to him is to keep trying to hear him and trying to do what I think he's calling me to do, using the Bible and good friends who are better listeners to help me sort through all the conflicting voices. I'm trusting that as I go I will learn better how to hear him.

And who knows? Perhaps after we rip this garden out and enlarge the house, God will say "now plant another garden over here" - and I'll begin blogging again. Or perhaps not.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the larger house , the extra time in my life created by the loss of the blog - and I will try to listen for God's voice to see how we should fill this new room in the house. Listening more attentively to both God and my children seem to be a good place to start.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

on blogging (part two of three)



This post, the second of three about blogging, is about the drawbacks of and concerns I have with blogging. Photos here are from my yard over this past week.

For me, the biggest drawback to blogging is that quality blogging consumes an enormous amount of time. I can't stand to post "just text", I need pictures to go with that text. Which means, among other things, that I take lots of pictures all the time.

And my standards have gotten higher over time - I want not just ordinary pictures, but real beauty. I want to not just write about the past week, but have the whole blog entry well-composed and meaningful, poignant, beautiful. And the amount of time involved in that effort has run smack into the amount of time needed to simply maintain life as mentioned before: dishes, laundry, bills and so on.

I have a friend who used to be a missionary; he often said that he had time to either live the life God had called him to live, or to write about it, but not both. The older I've gotten the more I've empathized with his words. I've let several things slide (more or less, depending on the day) as a result of blogging, including writing our own prayer letters, writing emails, and simply taking the time to listen to and play with my children.



Recently my photo-hosting company, buzznet, changed how you access photos remotely. It makes my old photo links obsolete, though the photos are still there. I started to go back through my old blog entries and change the photo links, but found the process of changing about 150 blog entries (each with 2-5 photos!) quite daunting. Which brings me to my second concern:

Blogging (like everything else) is a temporary thing. I know that sounds self-evident, but I sometimes forget. Sometimes I fool myself into believing that the pictures and words I post in my blog will be preserved for all time - that I have actually accomplished something eternal by writing the words I write. Part of what prompted me to move my photos and text of most of my craft projects onto a free blog site was that a series of other free websites either went under or mysteriously lost all the pages I'd written. And now my photos are unavailable for many of my entries, which I could remedy with a few days' work... but with no guarantees that it won't be lost again in another year or two. I'm reminded of the photo a virtual friend of mine posted of a graveyard in Finland, where your remains would be removed if the rent wasn't paid. Nothing, ultimately, is eternal except what God chooses to preserve.



Blogging has also dumbed down my writing. I don't write in compound complex sentences anymore, and my paragraphs are generally only one or two sentences (these three installments notwithstanding!) This in itself is not bad- it has meant I have learned to write in true 'blog style' which is more like newspaper or magazine writing than novel-writing or poetry.

But I've discovered that a steady diet of writing blogs and nothing else is like Edmund's "Turkish Delight" in the Narnia books - it doesn't, ultimately, meet my need for writing. It's a temporary thing which I enjoy doing but leaves me unfulfilled, with a craving to write more and more and more. I have a thousand ideas for blog entries tucked away in the back of my head, most of which, if I write them, will emerge half-baked and less than I originally intended, even after a huge time investment. There's no putting it on the shelf and pondering it for a few days or weeks or months. There's no time spent in the chrysalis getting wings.



Blogging is, in many ways, too easy to be a real art form for me - my thoughts are published before I have really finished mulling them over, and I'm on to other projects. I treat it in some ways like a private journal, except that it isn't private. And I'm well aware of that fact. There are times I live for the comments my blog entry may or may not get. Instant feedback, praise and honor - more of Edmund's "Turkish Delight" which fills me up momentarily, but leaves me hungry for more.

Even my self-imposed goal of "writing [only] about the things that bring me joy" has its drawbacks. While it's been good for me, it sometimes gives me a sense of artificiality. I feel like I portray my life as more colorful and wonderful than it actually is. The trials and tribulations don't get recorded, unless of course they are over with. Sometimes I have an air of forced cheerfulness, where everything seems too good to be true. And I've realized that even when I only write about the joys, there are even joys too personal or heartfelt to write meaningfully about in public - at least for me. So it's strange, then, to limit myself not only to things that bring me joy, but things that bring me joy which also wouldn't embarrass myself or a close friend, and also wouldn't reveal too much about myself, and also wouldn't make me look like a hopeless case.



Part of my original goal, too, was to move my craft files over to a new ad-free website. Disappearing pictures notwithstanding, I've done that. And I haven't done any "quality" crafts in a long time, just the fun quick kids' crafts as befits this stage of my life.

And now, after a year of blogging, the same flowers are blooming in my garden that I blogged about (and posted pictures of) last year. I am enjoying them again this year, but are my loyal readers?

Often I feel that I've run out of content and am only blogging to buy compliments or to fulfill some sort of strange contract with my readers, whoever and wherever they may be. So that they (if they are as undisciplined as I am) can waste more time online looking at my blog along with the others, hoping to find something of value or interest...?

Reading blogs can be a bit like a casino at times, can't it? You pay your ten or twenty minutes every day, and sometimes you hit the big time with some really insightful thought, or a great craft that you would truly enjoy doing, or a deep belly-laugh that really lifts your spirits...

...but more often than not, you wake up in a daze realizing that you've just wasted two good hours of your day, and really should have gotten the dishes washed and the laundry folded, or the email written to your friend.

Which makes me think that perhaps the online "community" that I thought I was joining is not truly a community in any fulfilling sense of the word, at least not for me - but rather an addictive sort of entertainment that dulls my loneliness. At least that seems to be true much of the time.



So... to blog or not to blog? Is blogging a joyful reminder of all the good things God has poured on me, or is it an ego sop and a waste of time? Is it a "witnessing tool" or a distraction from my real ministry? Is there a scale on which I can weigh the good and the bad of my blogging, and should I decide whether or not to blog based on the outcome?

Tune in...

um...

...well, tune in sometime soon, whenever I finish getting all my scattered thoughts together.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

on blogging (part one of three)



This past weekend was Easter weekend. It was also my "blogiversary" - one year ago today (which due to Easter's strange calendar was not Easter), I started my blog. Both Easter and my blogiversary seem to be a good time for me to reflect on the practice of blogging.

This first part (of three) will be about the joys and benefits of blogging, the second part will be about the drawbacks and concerns I have with blogging, and the third part will be my conclusion.

The photos in this post are all from a glorious summery Easter weekend downstate with my side of the family. The aerial photos were taken (by kite) by Daniel and my dad; the photo of me and Chickie was taken by Kim.



My sister has been blogging for a few years now, but I never considered it for myself until one of Daniel's co-workers first put the thought in my head. He suggested a "team blog" at work, actually, with staff and spouses contributing. Though his idea never caught on with the rest of the team, it started me thinking about blogging and the purposes of blogging - whether or not blogging could be in itself a spiritual activity, a way in which to honor God.

I looked at religious blogs. I read political blogs. I read funny slice-of-life blogs.

And then I found craft blogs. I was smitten.

Here were other smart, witty, creative stay-at-home moms (as well as single working women, college students, grandmas and working moms) who thought about life and beauty and joy. Women who delighted in everything from wildflowers to Kool-aid dyed yarn, women who celebrated their three-year-old's first watercolor paintings and the cute cookies they made for their second-grader's class, women who made stunning quilts and adorable felt stuffed animals.

Here was a community, and I wanted to belong. Not only to belong, but to be a follower of Christ in this community. To rejoice in the creator of the crocus and not just the flower itself. To celebrate the maker of colors and seasons, to delight in the one who gave us our children and our gardens and our skill with the needle or paintbrush. To see that all of life points back to a creator who loves beauty and detail and color and design.



A year ago, then --after a gentle push from another friend who assured me that I didn't need to spend all my writing time trying unsuccessfully to write "meaningful" things -- I started a blog, and gave myself a manifesto - a purpose statement. That long-winded manifesto has been distilled over time: to blog about things that bring me joy.

It's been a wonderful year. Blogging has given me the excuse to lay on the ground next to my flowers with my camera, even in the slush, to capture their beauty. It has given me the extra 'push' I needed to finish several unfinished craft projects. It has reminded me to stop whining and to "count my blessings" - everything from the sunshine to the funny things my children say.



Blogging has made me look over my shoulder, several times a week, to see the gems God has dropped in my path which I had been too busy or preoccupied to notice. The beauty of a rainy window, or of beads in a bucket, or of a not-quite-opened flower in my garden.

Writing about my babies becoming toddlers, or my oldest son losing his front teeth, or my daughter learning to bake has made these ordinary things the milestones they truly are. Looking for "something joyful to blog about" in the midst of a dreary week or after a disappointment has sometimes turned my grumbling to heartfelt praise (And, admittedly, sometimes not. I'm often stubborn and unrepentant!)

Blogging has also fulfilled my urge to write during a year when "real" writing has been nearly impossible. Click a button and I'm published - that's an accomplishment, it's something tangible I have done today. I have written five coherent sentences, and I have remembered to celebrate the beauty in today. For a day that is otherwise occupied in laundry and dishes - or breaking up fights between kids, or taking care of sick children, or paying bills - it is nice to feel like I have done -- or at least brought to my own and others' attention -- something "real" or something of beauty.



Though I haven't been able to invest enough time to make my blog "all that it could be" in terms of both writing and photos, it has been not only a way to remember my joys and accomplishments, but itself a source of joy and satisfaction.

One of the hardest years of my life thus far (infant twins becoming toddlers, huge changes and tensions at Daniel's workplace which is also our main community, losing Dan's dad) has also been a year of joy, and that's good to remember.

If I had the past year to do over, I believe I would still choose to blog. It's been a good thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

these colors are unretouched



The snow we had last week has melted.

We're still working on the big piles of December and January snow, though the rain we're having today helps.

The woods are about 3/4 melted now. And the crocuses are just about done blooming. These pictures (from last week) are all I have to look at on a rainy Wednesday.



Between two mini-vacations and two rake-wielding toddlers when I'm outside, I haven't kept up with the start-to bloom dates of my flowers this year. But I guess I can figure it out with the EXIF data from my digital pictures, if I want to know someday.

I noticed yesterday that my not-scilla is ready to bloom. I noticed it as I just about dug into its home to plant something else there.

Yes, I keep a complete map of all the plants I've planted and where... but I always forget to consult it *before* planting anything!



In other gardening news, I bought some dwarf red Bleeding Heart at Stuff-Mart and discovered how to momentarily interest my seven-year-old son in gardening.

He's excited that he gets to tell people at school that his mother dug a hole in her yard and buried a bleeding heart in it.

To be fair, he was also interested in how the flower got its name and whether or not that dead-looking clump of roots really was alive. We'll find out soon!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

addendum to self

P.S. Self--

I've been reconsidering my recommendation at planting crocuses under the aforementioned cedar tree.

Sure, it's sunny all day there...



but the wildlife is another consideration.



How about some nice bright yellow Winter Aconite instead?

Or perhaps some Spring Meadow Saffron - Bulbicodium Vernum. Which is disappointingly pale pink, but is lovely otherwise and something the critters won't like.

Meanwhile, self, I have had a bit of bright color in the backyard, in the form of a pileated woodpecker and a downy woodpecker.



So if you're fabulously wealthy in July, you can buy me a camera with a quality zoom lens and tripod, so I can take better photos of the wildlife.



After you buy me my winter aconite, that is.

Thanks again,
love, Me

Saturday, April 08, 2006

eggs

Since we are headed south for Easter weekend, we dyed our Easter eggs early.



We made a big mess, of course, and cracked at least five of the eggs - good thing they were hard boiled.



Mac's hands are green and Bubbie's are orange, at least until their bath tonight.



Lots of people seem surprised that I let my little kids play with bowls of dye and eggs, and that we perpetually make messes at our house. Sometimes I wonder if it's more hassle than it's worth. My kids don't even like hard-boiled eggs.



But when I see the happy bright colored eggs and (more importantly) the grins on everyone's faces, I'm always glad we went ahead and made the mess.