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.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

snowmelt cookout



Sometimes I read about other families and their traditions and I think "Oh no! We have no traditions at all! Our kids are growing up without traditions!" Then we will do something that we do every year, and often I won't even realize that we are in the middle of starting our own traditions. Such is the Snowmelt Cookout for us.

Every year when it's warm and sunny enough to stay outside for awhile in the evening, but long before all the snow is melted, we have a cookout. One year Chickie sat in her carseat for the cookout, bundled in blankets, and we fed her tiny bits of grilled hamburger bun. Last year we hauled Mac and Bubbie's highchairs out on the porch, since crawling babies didn't go well with slushy puddles.



This year everyone ran around and stomped in the mud and ate hot dogs and climbed on the riding mower, finally melted out from its four feet of snow. We were in winter coats and piles of dirty snow were everywhere, but we celebrated the sunshine and the warm weather and the crocuses in bloom.

And we did it not a moment too soon, because yesterday winter returned. (The second photo below is of snow on our car window.)

goodbye, Spring Break

snow on the car window

Like the crocuses, though - or perhaps because of them - we're still holding out hope for spring.

crocus in the spring

Sunday, April 02, 2006

spring break

like nearly everyone else in the Midwest, we headed south this past week for Spring Break.




...South, that is, to Wisconsin.

....OK, so it wasn't exactly tropical.

But at least there wasn't any snow there.

And aside from some time for Papa to do some not-too-exciting KAPping and a little household repair,

there were tractors to climb on.


and sidewalk chalk to draw with.


and a Granny willing to play board games.


and a Papa willing to allow a little time on the computer.


and an Uncle who reads Calvin and Hobbes.


and, best of all (according to the two youngest ones)...


trains came by Granny's front door at least twice a day.

This time Mac and Bubbie were big enough to see the trains, with a little help from the heat register.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

for my sister-in-law-in-law



No obligation, express or implied, is put upon Tracy (my sister in law in law) for this idea. But since she made one of my other quilt designs, I thought I'd give her first dibs on my other strange and perhaps wonderful idea.

Essentially, you make a bunch of flat puzzle piece shaped stuffed animals, each with four buttons and four buttonholes. You can then assemble them into any quilt you want.



All measurements are tentative and nothing has been actually attempted by the dreamer who thought this up when things were slow in her secretarial job 15 years ago. So in addition to no obligation, there's also no guarantee, express or implied, that this might actually turn out. As a matter of fact, I can think of several problems:

  1. The buttons might not exactly be comfy to lay on.
  2. There might be gaps or goofy overlaps at the corners where the four puzzle pieces join.
  3. I don't know if the buttons will look fun on the quilt, or will just look dopey.
  4. The puzzle pieces just overlap, they don't actually fit together. And I fear they might look like they just overlap. I'm hoping the generic "puzzle piece shape" will overwhelm your eye enough that you'll see them as puzzle pieces rather than just... um, a mess.
  5. To make an eight-foot-square quilt, you'd have to sew 64 stuffed pieces. That just seems like a LOT of work. Even if you sew flat pockets inside out and only hand-stitch a small section closed.
  6. And 64 pieces means 256 buttons. And worse, 256 button HOLES.
  7. Perhaps you can tell by this list that I don't have an innate love for sewing.


Nonetheless, the idea still attracts me. It's on my list of things to try someday. But hey, Tracy, if you want to try it, I'd be thrilled and honored. Ditto for anyone else who stumbles across this blog entry and wants to have a go at it. But if you do, please let me know... especially if you figure out any shortcuts!