Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Neverending Project

When I was growing up, my mom was like a lot of other moms in that she took photos of all the holidays and milestones and vacations and dutifully put them in albums; but my mom, much like myself, also liked to take pictures of random shit. Often. Everybody does it nowadays. Entire corporations have been founded around this. Facebook would practically collapse if we didn't see at least 57 pictures of your sweaty margarita on Friday afternoon or your dog's new haircut.  I am not making fun. Trust me. (I took 17 shots of Mr. Bean's last grooming before I got a picture of him not looking like a war refugee and you're damn skippy I Instagrammed that thing WITH FILTERS).  But my mom lived most of her life before Facebook and Instagram so she didn't post her pictures. She printed them and put them in a box. Then a bigger box. Then a cedar chest that would hold a bunch of boxes. She had pictures crammed into books, stuffed into drawers, albums overflowing-- they were everywhere.  For years I asked my mom to give me pictures from when I was growing up and she never would. Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, it changed. Whenever I'd go to Little Rock for a visit, she'd let me sit and go through boxes, picking out pictures to take home. At first she'd ask me to send them back to her when I was done with them but then after a while, she stopped asking and just let me keep them. I didn't take much at first, just maybe 10 or 15 pictures at a time, but when she loosened up a little and told me to take what I wanted, I scooped up a whole album and said, "Can I have this?"  It pained her to part with it, but she did.  

When mom died, the first thing I did when I got home was go to that cedar box and open it up and start looking through pictures. I think pictures show you a lot of things. They show you the obvious: the subjects, of course, but they also tell you so much about the person who takes them and the person who keeps them. What they love, who they love, what their viewpoint (LITERALLY) is. I guess that's why they're so fascinating to me. Because I feel like even though I knew my mom pretty well, there's a whole deeper dimension to know in those pictures. So, while I was there, I scooped up as many pictures as I could reasonably carry and I took them back home with me. I've been going through them ever since.

Every weekday, I pick out about 10-15 pictures. I scan them, then I try to fix anything that needs fixing in Photoshop and I upload them to an online photo archive separating them out by decade. I've gone through a few hundred by now and I've not even gotten to a quarter of them. And these that I took barely made a dent in my mom's collection. It's not an exaggeration to say that there are thousands upon thousands of photos my mom took over the years. And they're not all gems. I just went through a stack that had no less than 5 pictures of my mom's dog we had in the 1980's looking likes she chewing her own butt. (DO YOU SEE WHERE I GET THESE THINGS??)

There are so many photos that I've never even seen before. I'm not even sure who some of the people are in them. But in some weird way, it soothes me to do this. Sometimes, the pictures are these tiny little cutouts (I don't know why she did this, it drives me insane) that I have to glue to a larger sheet before I can even scan it. like this:

That I then cropped and turned into this (and yes, that's me when I was Rowan's age).
Sometimes, I'm scanning and cropping and then trying to figure out how to fix the yellowing pinkysoriasis (my technical term for it) that happens to old photos, like so:

I am pretty sure this is my mom's grandmother.

Luckily, Photoshop has some handy/dandy tools you can just click and point onto and it will mainly fix it. One heartbreak I have is that there was about a five year period where my mom used her Polaroid camera exclusively. Good Lord did Polaroid Cameras suck. No matter what you do, all the pictures are crappy. They were INSTANT! But they were crappy.  What I wouldn't do for a clear, non-polaroid version of this picture:
Thanksgiving, 1982.

If anyone has, or can point me to a tutorial on how to fix POLAROID in Photoshop, please hit me up.

Here are some of the other photos I was working on this morning: 
My mom and her sister Robyn, year?? I'm guessing probably 1949 or 1950

My mom and Uncle Frank, Christmas. I think the little girl in the hat is her sister Robyn. No clue on the little boy.

I adore this photo. I'm pretty sure it's my mom and her sister Robyn. There's no date, but on the back it says, "I have no idea what to call this." heh.

This is my Dad's mom holding my brother and her one-time husband
 (not my Grandfather) holding my sister. I have no idea what One Time
 Grandpa's name was. Seriously, no idea.

So, this is my neverending project.  I expect this to take me 
YEARS to finish, if I ever get finished. But I'm hoping by doing 
this and putting them in the online archive, my family can look at them too and, yes, order prints if they want to, but also remember,
  SO much. It's daunting. But I think Bonnie would approve. 

Note: Family members that would like the links to the archive, email me at  I promise I've culled the pictures of Muffin's butt.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Farm 2014 Blogging Days 4-6

Ok, so I had intended to post more pictures from the farm while Rowan took his nap each afternoon, but then I realized this wonderful little phenomenon that happens when you're on vacation and someone else can distract Hopper from dismantling a 150 year old farmhouse: I get to take naps. Also, I broke my middle toe. I won't post another picture of it here, as you may have already witnessed its glory on Instagram, but to answer your burning question: I tripped over a cat rug. Not a rug for cats, a rug with cats on it. It had it out for me. So, I've been propping up my foot a lot. It rained for a couple of days as well (including all of the Fourth) so I have less naked-butt photos to share.
One thing we did do is have a big family dinner celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary (which is actually in August, but we will not be here in August), so we had some lovely steaks and peach cobbler for that.

There were even some special shirts made for everyone. The boys wouldn't wear theirs because they were being contrary, but I did manage to snap a shot of them in one right before they ripped them off. I fully suspect that a week from now, they'll both insist on wearing these shirts daily and wonder why I ever took them away from their grubby little hands because that is just how they do. The picture is of the grandparents walking down the aisle at their wedding, it's very cute, unlike these children. 

and then as an after dinner surprise, there was a bagpiper who came and serenaded the group. He also marched around the house three times, which is supposed to give good luck. His name was Douglas and he was very nice.

On the Fourth of July, it poured all day. We weren't sure they were even going to have the parade. But they did. It was 65 degrees, so that's why we're wearing raincoats. 

The parade was very cute, lots of firetrucks and boyscouts and old cars.. Hopper wasn't sure why he was supposed to keep waving if they weren't just handing over the candy.

Here is Rowan giving his patented WTF look after the parade ended. He might have just been giving a clown the side-eye.

Rowan and I in the middle of the street.

We also went to a lovely after-parade party in a gorgeous old house at which I failed to get any pictures.   Then today, we woke up and after all that rain, it was a beautiful cool morning. So, we went to the local CSA and mucked around a bit so Rowan could see some farm animals. They did not disappoint. 

The pigs, however, may have been a little bit of a letdown. I think the boys were surprised to learn that pigs would rather lay down in poop than come over and say hi. 
But all in all it was a nice little visit. 

Tomorrow, Ro and I head back to Austin while Sam and Hopper stay a few more days. A solo plane trip with a 3 year old and a broken toe sounds fantastic, doesn't it? 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

2014 Farm Blogging Days 1-3

We've been at Forked Brook Farm for 3 days now, so that means that if you're not my friend on Facebook, you've missed at least 2 days of me posting pictures of my kids' naked butts. It's pretty much Mother Nature's Nudist Camp up here all the time. We normally come up in August, but this year we planned our trip a little bit earlier to coincide with some family celebrations.  It's a bit hotter this time of year, so we've pretty much either been in water, or they're taking off clothing and free-balling it in the wind. One of the two. The first day we went to the Grafton Lakes State Park which had some nice lovely cool water. But due to the fact that we were operating on sunscreen that expired in 2009, we opted to leave a little early. Hovlands are not sunburn people.

Then yesterday we went to one of my favorite places in the world, Tom's Pond. Man, I love this place.  This is the little island where I like to sit and ignore the cries of my children.

Hopper paddling 

We found a cache of goose eggs! Apparently, they've been abandoned by their mom. Either that or the mom was somewhere off to the side seething quietly at me. Don't worry, mama, I didn't touch your eggs. 

This was my attempt at nature photography. 

There has also been some bubble action. They're only wearing clothes because I made them. They were in the buff shortly after this. 

And this morning they made some cookies with Gram. Don't worry, they're wearing shorts because I told them they had to for sanitation reasons. 

But the temperature is rising, so we're about to go back to Tom's pond for a bit. It's polywog-tastic. I'll show you pictures of a million tiny frogs a bit later. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Suck it, Barney

For whatever reason, neither one of my boys has ever gone cuckoo for cocoa puffs over dinosaurs. They will play with dinosaurs from time to time, watch a little Dinosaur Train here and there, but  I would say that the prehistoric set has never really achieved the universal love that, say, ROBOTS AND ROBOT-LIKE STRUCTURES AND ANYTHING REMOTELY RESEMBLING ROBOTS OR THEIR SUBSIDIARIES enjoy among the young Hovland males.  So, I really didn't think much of it this weekend when  we were at a little festival here in town where they had some cast members of an upcoming show called Erth's Dinosaur Zoo Live. 

Now, I don't know if you know anything about the show, but from what I can find on google, it's a live sort of wildlife show about dinosaurs using these reeeeeaalllly life-like puppets. (photo of one nabbed from google images here).

So, we walk into this festival this weekend and we see a big crowd of kids around one of these puppets and it's the T-Rex (or something approximating a T-Rex, I don't watch enough Dinosaur Train to know). At first the puppet is bent over on the ground so the kids can pet it, which is when we approach. And then the guy stands up and the whole contraption is about ten feet tall with gigantic teeth.  About this time, Rowan, who was standing right next to me, clutches my leg in a death grip and lets out the loudest, most hysterical scream I have ever heard come out of this kid. You might have heard it? Around 11:45 last Saturday morning? Yeah, that was him.  
It took me about 30 minutes to calm him down and convince him that this puppet was not going to come eat us. He even kept checking behind us when we pulled out of the parking garage an hour later, you know, just in case this guy in a 10ft rubber T-Rex costume was coming after us. When we got home, he took all the little plastic dinos the puppy has not yet eaten and attempted to hide them in an Elmo coloring book. 

Suffice it to say that I'm pretty sure any affection my son had for dinosaurs at all is, uh, extinct. (heh)  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Coming Soon..

Someone asked me a few days ago whether Sam and I were going to have any more children and I almost choked on my beer. I will readily admit that I once had baby fever, ignoring all logistical reasons--economic limitations, mental health, ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE (cough) to daydream about that awesome smell that newborn babies have. But I've since learned to adjust to the idea that we'll be a family of four because, well, I like sleep. Sleep is good. Not paying more than my mortgage in daycare is good. Baby fever is now just an occasional 24 hour baby virus. My uterus is retired and looking at condos in Florida.

But forget all that because I get to smell that baby aroma VERY soon because we have a niece on the way!  My sister and brother in law are having a baby girl this August. Her entrance is a bit untraditional--You can read pretty much the entire story here because there was a nice article that ran in the Iowa City Press-Citizen a couple of weeks ago.

And then this weekend, we got to meet the Awesome Kate herself.

I was trying to take a lot of photos without being obnoxious and, uh, failed. 

I also did that thing that non-pregnant people do to pregnant women where you recount your entire boring birth stories despite the fact that they can't drink enough beer to ignore you (sorry 'bout that, Kate). 

But it was really great to meet both her and Sandy. And feel the tum (yes, I touched her stomach, just what pregnant women enjoy. I was on a roll, what can I say). Really, meeting this baby is going to be awesome and I will attempt to wait til she's at least one to pinch her cheeks or kiss her with red lipstick that won't come off. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

MY dog

Every year, I try to get a picture of Hopper and his dog Mr. Bean because they are pretty much the same age. We adopted Mr. Bean as a 6 week old pup just a few days before we went into the hospital to have Hop (see the dictionary entry for "questionable judgment"). Normally, I try to do this photo shoot right around their birthdays, but we went through a period where Hopper would  a)refuse to acknowledge Mr. Bean's presence and b) scream if made to be within five feet of the dog. Yes, I appreciate the irony that the firstborn son of a bonafide crazy dog lady regularly asks me if we can have a cat instead.

Recently, though, the tides have started to turn. It started I guess when we were fostering O'Malley and Fergus was still with us. The boys would assign everyone their own animal. Hudson is Daddy's, The Old One is Mama's, O'Malley is Rowan's and Mr. Bean is Hopper's.  Then O'Malley left for his new home and Fergus died which threw everything for a loop. When the new pup joined us Rowan made sure to claim Possum  as his own and not to be left out, Hopper makes sure that everyone knows, "Mr. Bean is MY DOG." This, as you might imagine, is a bit of a sea change for Bean who has spent the last five years trying to learn how to meow.

At any rate, a wee bit late, are this year's photos of Hop and Bean who might eventually be friends.

You can check out earlier pix here, and Here, and here's last years when we were full on in the "I want a CAAAAAT" mode. There's more, but you get the idea..

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Road Trip

I've had at least 3 friends put out a call for songs for a road trip playlist in the last week, so I am sharing mine with relatively little comment other than to say, there is no Bon Jovi. Let's hold hands and power through.

Hit the Road. Jack, Ray Charles
Don't go back to ROCKVILLE, REM
Amarillo Highway, Robert Earl Keen
Middle of the Road, Pretenders
Hotel Yorba, White Stripes
O Sole Mio, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Lovely Day, Bill Withers
Let it Ride, Ryan Adams
Lost in my mind, The Head and the Heart
Ride Wit Me, Nelly (yes, I know, I'm aware)
Stick shifts and Safety Belts, Cake
Keep the Car Running, Arcade Fire
Windows are Rolled Down, Amos Lee
Can't let Go, Lucinda Williams
No Particular Place to Go, Chuck Berry
King of the Road, Rufus Wainwright and Teddy King
Stay with Me, the Faces
Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
You Can't Always Get What You Want, Rolling Stones
Windfall, Son Volt

And if you're very lucky, these songs might last you past Round Rock.  What are your faves?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Touched by an Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

~Maya Angelou

She truly was an oracle. Rest in peace. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How it's going

I haven't been sleeping very well since last Wednesday and it's starting to seep into my every day interactions with people, even those who don't know, who have no reason to know what happened because they might just be the clerk at 7-11 trying to take my money, or the guy in the elevator who's asking me which button to push.

"you need three more pennies." 
"I'm sorry, my mom died and I can't do math."
"what floor?"
 "I'm sorry, my mom just died, I can't remember where my office is."

I have no idea why I feel the need to work the fact that my mom died into these interactions. I don't even know why I apologize first before I say it, every time, like I'm afraid it's going to punch this total stranger in the gut the same way it punched me when someone told me the news.  But they don't even flinch. I suppose other people's mothers die every day and we can't expect the world to stop spinning every time.

 Still, it would be nice to get some sleep. Restful sleep anyway. I'm going to bed and I'm shutting my eyes, but I don't stay asleep for very long. Or if I do, I have these really vivid, bothersome dreams. Last night I dreamt that my mom had died just like she did in real life, but in the dream, we found out that she had been pregnant.   That shit isn't restful.

A lot of you wrote some kind words to me about the lightning bug story and I wanted to thank you for that. Sam pointed out to me that he sees lightning bugs ALL the time in our back yard. He thinks that I took some poetic license there, but the truth is, he just spends more time on the back porch than I do.  I totally get that some people believe in angels and some people don't. Some people want to think their moms still look out for them after they're gone even if its in the form of an insect and some people don't.  Different Strokes. It's ok.  Even if you chose to poo-poo that whole lightning bug thing, my mom still found a way to get a word in. Literally. 

I'll tell you the story:

The day after she died, my dad and stepdad and sister went to the funeral home to make arrangements. She died on Wednesday, we had the rosary on Friday and the funeral on Saturday. All very quickly done.  After the service on Saturday, we had a nice lunch for everyone and then just our immediate family went back to my mom's house for one last champagne toast.  While we were hanging out, we were sitting in the kitchen, flipping through her cookbooks. My mom used to like to stick cards and postcards or little handwritten notes all in her reference books, dictionaries, cookbooks, etc. I thought about it for a second and thought I'd just go check her bible to see what was in there because it seemed like the kind of place my mom would have stuck some notes. It's this big, fat white tome she always had sitting on a sofa table in her living room.  "oh, you won't find anything in there," my sister Kate said, "we already went through it looking for bible verses for the service."  But I flipped open the bible and there it was, first thing I saw: a white envelope with my mom's handwriting on it that said, "Mom's Last Wishes."

I looked at my brother whose face turned white as a sheet and I said, "What the hell is this??"

So, we grabbed both of my sisters and headed into my mom's room to open the envelope. In it was a sheet of paper with handwritten directives for how she wanted her funeral to go.  Memorial Gardens Funeral Home, Check. Holy Cross Catholic Church, Check. Lavendar dress, Check. Father Harvey? uh, no. He couldn't make it, but Father Dupuis did a lovely job. No big flower arrangements, just 1 red rose for each grandchild. Oops. Sorry, flowers and arrangements everywhere and the roses we got for you were yellow.  The best was her declaration, "Under no circumstances is anyone to play OR sing Amazing Grace. I don't like it."  Yeah. First song in the service. Sorry about that, Mom. You can't win 'em all. 

But then tucked into that larger envelope was a smaller envelope that said, "To be read at Rosary." In it was a two page note telling each of us how much she cared about and was proud of us. Thanking us.

Both the letter and the funeral directions were undated, but they were written some time after my son Rowan was born 3 years ago because she mentions him by name with the rest of the grandkids. My mom hadn't been sick or in poor health. Had no reason other than normal mortality to think she needed to write this down and place it where one of us would think to look in the event of her death.  Of course, it would have been nice to find it a day earlier.... because we didn't get it in time to follow all of her directions. But I think we found it when we needed to find it: when it was just us, the people who loved her most, on the toughest day that most of us had ever had. When we needed to hear from my mom just one more time that she loved us.

It was better than a lightning bug even.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Lightning Bug

When I was a kid, one of my favorite parts of summer was how my mom would let us stay outside til it got dark and sometimes even longer. On super humid nights, she'd give the four of us old pickle jars and we'd run all over the grassy hills of our neighborhood catching fireflies. We called them lightning bugs. We'd capture enough of them in our jars to light up our whole room and we'd stay awake as long as we could watching them blink and glow.  Finally, we'd drift off to sleep, our room still illuminated with their soft light.  They'd be gone in the morning,  either freed or dumped out by mom who probably had more than her fair share of animal/insect disposal, raising four country kids. Then we'd go out the next night and do it all again, blink and glow, slipping off into sleep, beautiful light. The circle of life.

I have never seen a lightning bug here in Austin. I know they probably exist, but the air just isn't quite as hospitable for them here, I guess. In almost 20 years, I've never seen one.  Last night, as I'm sitting on my back porch, sipping some wine and thinking about my mom, this one single firefly comes up and buzzes my head. I swatted it away at first, as you do when a bug comes right up to your face and then I swore, "holy shit."

 You know, I'm not sure what I believe happens to people and their souls when they die. I know they don't stay here. I know our bodies are just shells and the essence of what truly makes us who we are leaves and goes somewhere else. I like to believe it's a better place. I like to believe that our souls find peace and that suffering only exists for those of us who are left behind because we miss them and our heart aches because it's stretching itself to find a new way to love someone you cannot physically touch anymore.

Someone said something to me about how losing your mom is losing your closest connection to life itself. It's true. Your mom literally made you.  She was the first to feel your heartbeat. The person who served as your portal into this world. You knew each other before anyone else.  It doesn't feel right that  life should be still going on without her. I feel cheated that I didn't get to say goodbye to her. I have no idea what I would have said if I had the chance, but I know I would have liked to  tell her that she meant the world to me and that I was so very grateful for everything and that I loved her, really really loved her.

So I whispered it to a stupid lightning bug who lost its way and found me crying by myself on my back porch. "I love you, Mom" I said. blink and glow, beautiful light. And it flew away.