Jenny Anne Mannan

American Songstress

Filtering by Category: Kids

Peace Where You Find It

I love family photos. I love taking them, I love looking at them. When I was a little girl I loved nothing better than a visit to either of my grandparents' houses where I would pore over photo albums documenting family vacations and events big and small. My aunties are great scrapbookers, and they have archived decades of family gatherings, trips, haircuts both successful and regrettable. Their photo books chart fashion eras, home decor fads, cousins coming of age, and most of all they tell us that time really does fly.

In the age of digital and social media, memory preservation looks a lot different than it used to. We don't always print photos anymore, we stream or share them. Photos aren't just family photos, they're social networking tools. And sometimes, as I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, I wonder how much of our memory sharing is about preservation and how much of it is about creating a brand. Of course when I post pictures on Facebook or Instagram, I want to put my best foot forward, so to speak, so I filter or edit out the less-than-picturesque bits -- the chaos in the mudroom, the dustbunnies, the dark circles or crow's feet around my eyes, and I accentuate the positive. I slap on some lip gloss and zoom in on one of the good intentions that made it past my wishlist and I share that with all my friends. And acquaintances. And other moms who, if they're anything like me, feel pretty overwhelmed a lot of the time and carry around more than a little guilt about all the fun or productive or meaningful memory-making they wanted to do with their little people today but probably didn't because they had laundry to fold or multiplication tables to teach or errands to run or a friend to visit with or a shower to take. But the picture doesn't show all of that, because I've taken pictures of dust bunnies before and they're gross and who would want to share them, and I'm not sure how to photograph Guilt but when I figure it out I'll let you know. So there I am accentuating the positive and my brand becomes Frost-Filtered-Homemaker-Earring/Baby-Wearer-Who-Reads-Aloud-To-Her-Kids-All-The-Time. Even though my actual persona is Busy-Mother-Trying-To-Capture-Snapshots-Of-Beauty-And-Peace-In-the Midst-Of-Chaos. Putting my best foot forward, I'm not really telling the whole truth. Pictures are worth a thousand words, but sometimes the whole truth takes more like two thousand.

This is exactly the problem. We forget that, online, we're not always our actual selves. We're the image of ourselves. This image may not have much to do with who we really are, how we actually feel, what we actually do, because, of course, we're trying to be positive and prove to ourselves that our lives have picture-worthy moments too. The trouble is that many people on the receiving end of that image think it's the real thing, and so they look at other family's photos and sigh and wish they were one of the happy, chill moms who let their kids get out the glitter glue at any time of the day. It becomes a vicious cycle - the effort of one person to remind themselves that their life is beautiful becomes a measure for another person to live up to.

The immediacy of photo sharing has changed things too. I remember back in the Dark Ages having to wait at least an hour to get my photos processed. Now, I snap a pic and post it within seconds, fully edited and framed and hashtagged. And the options for improving that photo are limitless. Glance over any photography Pinterest board and you'll find tips for how to get more Instagram followers, how to use Photoshop, how to pose. Always use the same filter, put your hand on your hip, be clever but direct about hashtags...It's not that there's anything wrong with using technology to take the best photos we can, it's just that sometimes it feels like we're more focused on the share than on remembering the original experience. A great yoga instructor once told me when we experience a thing -- a sunset, a meal, a feeling -- our efforts to describe the experience take us out of the moment, until we're experiencing the description instead of the original event. I think it's this way with our modern means of memory preservation - sometimes the result and the feedback are so immediate, they influence our record of the event or even the event itself.

My aunties and grandparents were primarily interested in preserving memories for themeslves and their posterity. They just wanted photographic evidence that they made that trip to Yellowstone, that all the siblings and cousins were together that day in 1990, that they saw that rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. They weren't planning for all of their friends and relations and acquaintances to see and comment on each of those events, they saved that privilege for the few who were invited over for the slideshow viewing. They weren't creating a brand. Glennon Melton over at Momastery has said people can use their online persona or brand to do things at each other. We post our Saturday morning breakfasts or 4 layer birthday cakes at each other to prove that we're okay, we're justified, we're right with God and the world. Maybe we've got it wrong. Maybe we should take a page out of our grandparents' photo albums, the titles of which could easily be, "See, kids, we did have fun sometimes!" If I'm really telling the truth, that could be my caption to myself for every photo that I share. Through that tight spot between my shoulder blades, the mess in the pantry I'm trying to ignore, the lunch dishes that have yet to be taken care of, the sharp words I wish I could unsay, the great unnamed Something for my kids I may or may not be able to identify and get around to today, I can take some photos and remind myself, "Look! WE DO FUN THINGS! Our little life is messy, but it's great!"


Look! We throw rocks in the river!


Look! We sit on the sun-bathed porch!


Look! We love each other!


Look! We go to the movies!


Look! We take ferry rides!


Look! We do the Ciderfest!


Look! We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and we go to the orchard!


Look! We build forts!

We're discovering that peace isn't an ethereal, far-off, pie in the sky concept. It's here, right here, in the middle of all the chaos and the stress and the lack of sleep and everything else. It's active, it's the sometimes tenacious belief that THIS IS THE LIFE. Peace is right here, if I look for it. Peace is where we find it.

The thing is, I'm not posting these pictures at you. I'm posting them AT ME! My brand is a byproduct of what I'm trying to do: remind myself of what's actually true. Sometimes when I glance around my life, I focus on the to-do list, the work, the messes, and the backdrop of peace and beauty is a little blurry. Sometimes the camera lens is the tool that helps me focus on those things. And when I look my friends' photos, I could stand to remember that that's probably true for them too.

And also it's a good idea print some pictures and put them in an album in case this whole internet thing doesn't work out.

First Day of School

Oh the early morning quiet! It's our first day of school and the kids decided to sleep in. This reminds me of last Christmas morning when they slept till 7:30 - who does that? I thought their excitement would get them up before the sun, but here I sit, fully dressed and coffeed up, waiting for my little pupils to appear. (Oh and in case you were wondering, it's no accident I just compared the first day of school to Christmas morning. My friends and I have a theory that, as moms, we get excited about doing the things for our kids that also meet our own needs, and these things are different for every person. School meets my needs. Don't make fun.)


After spending a busy summer soaking up the sun, taking the kids to the pool, dragging the kids to shows, cooking dinner on the grill, and steeping ourselves in wonderful, schedule-free chaos, I was so excited to sharpen pencils, clean out our desks, throw on a sweater, make lists and schedules, simmer some soup on the stove, and start our second year of school. (That was probably too many s's. Sally sells seashells by the seashore. Sorry.)

Tennessee is starting homeschool kindergarten this year, and my only plan for him is that he rub shoulders with learning enough to spark his curiosity and fuel his imagination. Minimal structure, less bookwork. Just guided activity and hopefully some learning by osmosis. If all he learns this year is that school is exciting, I will consider kindergarten a success. Right now, his favorite letter is x, and when I ask him to write it he crosses his fingers and says, "eckkkttth!" I can only hope to foster that level of enthusiasm in all our work together.


This is Tennessee's standard pose of concentration. It's my number one reason for homeschooling this active, curious little boy. He simply cannot sit. To him, sitting is what you do when you've given up - when it's time to check in with your blankey and admit the world is just too much. Sitting is not what you do when you're problem solving. Everyone knows your mind is more engaged when you're precariously perched on the edge of a rickety Ikea chair. (He only fell off once.)



I don't know how long his love of this particular puzzle will last, but for now he's asking all the right questions and loving the answers.

Violet is starting first grade, and we've got a few more guidlines for her: reading, writing, and arithmetic. ("Addition is counting forward on the number line...")


So far math is her favorite, and since I happen to love powerful women who love numbers, I'm eager to see where her interest takes us. I'm sure we'll begin by reviewing how to write the number 3, but that's okay. Education happens one number or letter at a time, right?


The kids eventually woke up and, if success can be measured in the cozy warmth of activity, curiosity, questions asked and answered, and above all, snuggling and reading, then we all enjoyed a very successful first morning of school. I am so excited to share the wonderful world of ideas with these interesting little people, and to see it all through their eyes.

My first grader:


Another perk of homeschooling: silly faces for school photos are encouraged.


My kindergartener:




Aaaand my toddler:


We have very limited academic aspirations for him this year...perhaps teaching him that not all birds are chickens? We'll see.

Music Festivals: A Family Tradition

Last week I met up with my friend Kimber Ludiker, fiddle player for the amazing and inspiring (and coincidentally all-girl allstar) band, Della Mae, and played an opening set before their show out in the Spokane Valley. The evening turned into a mini festival, with lots of music, passels of kids running around, and a full moonrise over the mountains. Summer night air, high lonesome singing, hot picking...these are the sights and sounds of some of my fondest childhood memories. My darling friend Brittany Roberson showed up with her camera and captured some of the fun.

See, there's Kimber. She's rad. Seriously, I'm not just saying that because I like her. She's a total badass. I mean, both her parents are national fiddling champions themselves, so I guess it makes sense that she's a 2-time national fiddle champion and lives and breathes fiddle magic.

That's my mom's guitar strap, by the way.

There's Caleb and Waylon watching and listening...


And this right here is really what festivals are all about. Throwing as much food and drink at the kids as possible and then turning them loose to run and play so as to keep them out as far past their bedtimes as possible.


Here is my lovely Violet, with my lovely photographer friend Brittany.

This Saturday I'm playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival, so we'll have a chance to do it all over again. 

Oh and I'll have my brand new CD for sale. You should come. Bring your kids and listen to some music and make some memories!


So. A few things.

This morning I overheard my son telling his sister that he can't wait for swimming lessons, it's gonna be so fun, which reminded me that I haven't even looked at the pool calendar yet. But wait, that's not the part I meant to tell you about. Oh well, we've gotten started now so I guess I'll tell you anyway. Also I was shocked at the unbridled and unfeigned excitement in his voice, since last year I had to try every trick in the book to keep him from making a spectacle of himself (okay, a spectacle of me) at his lessons, including threats, bribery, cheerleading, peer pressure, and shame, concluding each day of fun with tossing him off the diving board to his swim instructor, and still, despite all my wonderful parenting and coaching, he scored a solid NW in every category of his evaluation.

His favorite part of swimming last year was sitting on the edge of the pool and playing with the squirty crab toy. He still talks about it.

But, okay, so he's excited to go back? I have to get right on that.

Anyhoo, that's not the part I meant to tell you about. What I meant to say is, the calendar now officially says it's summer, whether the weather agrees or not, and I've got a few things coming up that I want to highlight.

1. I am working on finishing up my record. Still. It's been exactly a year since we started recording, and I think it's actually going to get done! I can't believe it. I feel like I'm in the last 3 miles of a 1/2 marathon - you know, the part where I'm literally cursing myself out loud and wondering why in the world I ever did this on purpose. I could have stayed in bed this morning and slept longer! I could be drinking hot coffee right now instead of sweating my brains out and running my legs clean off and peeing my pants just so that I can say I ran really far. (I realize that's way too much information. Sorry.) But I just have to try to remember the feeling of crossing the finish line and hang onto that, because I know it will be just the same with this record. It's been such a group effort on so many levels, and sharing my progress, slow though it has been, with all of you has kept me energized and inspired. Caleb and I are finishing up the artwork right now, and I cannot wait to show it to you.

(Yes. That is an open BandAid wrapper in the background.)

2. In honor of the release of my first record, my dad is helping do my very own Hatch Show Print poster. You know, these guys:

The ones who made posters for Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and The Beatles. The ones whose work is all over the Country Music Hall of Fame. I've had 2 of their posters hanging in my house since I very first set up my house, and those images are so historic and significant. I can't believe I'll get to have my very own! I'll also keep you updated about a very special cd/poster combo pack.

3. I am playing at the Blue Waters Bluegrass Festival on August 11. My first solo festival. I am so excited.

4. On August 19, I'll be participating in a very special benefit concert for the Schuh family. The Schuhs are practically an instution in the Northwest fiddling community; they're the ones who make every contest feel like a family reunion. So of course, the fiddling community is rallying around them as Jay fights cancer. Visit the Facebook events page to find out how to donate, and how to purchase tickets. It's sure to be a great time. You won't want to miss it.

There's lots more of course. I'll keep you posted about swimming lessons.



A Wednesday List

1. Dirt Monsters. That's what they call themselves. As I stood, dumbstruck, looking at the dirt-powdered (white!) pants, I could tell they were afraid of the consequences of their decision. A carefully controlled "Wait outside" was all I could manage. As they tittered toward the back door, I heard Dirt Monster #1 whisper to Dirt Monster #2, "I think she's going to punish us!"


2. She's really tall. It's happening so fast.


3. So is he.


4. Bruiser. I'm trying to get used to having an adventurous baby. Aside from the constant high alert that he might seriously injure himself with his ambition to climb every mountain and ford every stream, I'm also trying to adjust to the disapproving looks of sweet old ladies in the supermarket who are sure I'm to blame for the shiner on his head.


5. This morning my eldest said to my baby, "Sorry the strawberries are gone, old chap."

6. That made me want to read PG Wodehouse.

7. I've got stuff to do man, but what with managing Dirt Monsters and Bruisers, I suspect my To Do list will remain a Wish List for a little while longer.

8. The sun is shining and my List doesn't matter much.

Happy Wednesday!

On The Road

Maybe I'm referencing Jack Kerouac.

In a way, I think I am. But mostly I'm talking about the trip Violet and I took last week with Michael Londra and Celtic Fire.

Now, the tricky thing about playing Irish music and having a daughter who was born on St. Patrick's Day is that I am often busy on her birthday. So this year I asked if I could bring her on the road with me, and I am so glad I did. It's easy to develop a jaded view of travelling and to dwell on things like the irregular mealtimes, long hours on the road, late nights, early calls, separation from home and family, exhaustion - all of which are a guaranteed part of the touring experience. But bringing a wide-eyed 6 year old took care of all of that. We ate catered meals with chocolate cake for dessert, had as much juice and as many cookies as we wanted, stayed in a hotel that had a couch AND a tiny fridge, watched movies in the van and played go fish with the dancers, and rode on an airplane while it was still dark outside.

Night #1: Spokane, Wa. I didn't take pictures. So lame. The theater was beautiful, the audience even more beautiful. There is truly nothing so magical as a hometown crowd.

Night #2: Wenatchee, WA


On my left, musical director (and general manager and caretaker of all complaints specific and general in nature), Mellad Abeid. Just behind him, brilliant drummer and percussionist, Steve Holloway.

Piper and whistler extraordinaire, David Schultz. Just behind him is the string section who joined us for the Wenatchee show. Just beyond them, though I wasn't able to capture his image on film (he's kind of elusive that way), pianist Peter Storms.

Directly behind me, the light of my life and the most eager audience member in the history of mankind, Violet Mannan.

Night #3, Canyonville, Or.

My view from the back of the van.

Look! The Gorge!

Blurry? No, that's exactly how I saw it!

Best traveller of the bunch. Every time I asked her how it was going, she'd smile and say, "It's GREAT!"

Night #4, Bremerton, Wa.

March 17, St. Patrick's Day, Violet's 6th birthday.

She was cheered and toasted and well-wished by dancers, crew members and musicians alike. Here she is with one of the dancers, the lovely Katie.

Before the show, she put on her 'dancing outfit' and practiced her steps behind the curtain.

Pre-show with 2 of the dancers, Katie and Rachael.

The trip was indeed a whirlwind; we covered 1361 miles by car in 4 days, did 4 shows, celebrated a birthday, and made wonderful memories with old and new friends.

Spring Fever

Being sick. It's the worst.

Everyone except Caleb was ashiver, feverish, glassy eyed, and coughing. For over a week. We hadn't a breath of fresh air for days, and then, adding insult to injury, March decided to come in like a lion with a lot of snow and whatnot.


So on Sunday we took to our trusty rock park, Tennessee adorned with a St. Patrick's day crown, of course, in search of sunshine and fresh air.


There's the snow.

About halfway through "The Sick", Caleb hopped onto Amazon and ordered some essentials - the third Hunger Games book for me, and the SAS Survival Guide for himself. I guess he felt determined about being prepared to practice first aid in case things really deteriorated.


Tennessee got pretty good at blaming "The Sick" for everything. "The Sick makes me want to watch a movie!" "The Sick makes me tired!" Or, my favorite, "The Sick makes me booorrring!"

Well said, kid. Couldn't have done better myself.


But lucky for us, the sun was out. We didn't end up needing the first aid guide.


The snow receded to mere puddles.


Sunshine, nature, freedom. The perfect antidote for The Sick.



Climb Up Sunshine Mountain

10th November 2011

My husband’s mom sings a song to all of my babies. I’m sure she sang it to her kids when they were babies too, because they all seem to know it. I’m willing to bet its origin is somewhat obscure, like many mountain hymns, but come to think of it, I’ve never asked her about it. I’ll do that next time I see her.

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain,

Heavenly faces glow

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain

Sumthin sumthin sumthin sumthin know…(I didn’t hear it when I was a baby, alright? It’s not deeply embedded in my subconscious. Oh wait, here’s Caleb. I’ll ask him how it goes.)

Hang on, I have to start over. (Clears throat.)

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain,

Heavenly breezes blow,

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain,

Faces all aglow

Turn, turn from sin and doubting,

Look to God on high,

Climb, climb up sunshine mountain,

You and I

Sunlight Basin

15th September, 2011


Last weekend I drove for hours and hours and hours. Then I drove some more. I took 2 of my kids (which felt weird), and my mom, and my grandma and my aunt, and drove all the way to Cody, Wyoming. I'm not gonna lie. There were moments when I wondered why in the world my sweet, beautiful cousin chose to have her wedding so far away from my shipping address. But then we got there.



This landscape, so rugged and wild, made me feel very small.

Seriously, why didn't I just bring all 3 of my kids and my husband and find a convenient place to camp for the rest of the year? Sure it might get awkward once those fabled fall winds kick up, but would we really even notice?

During the wedding, Waylon threw a shoe, kicked back, and enjoyed the scenery from his perch.


He also threw out the vibe and laid it back while the ladies checked him out. (That's my cousin Sarah's angel-baby, Quinne).


Violet played with rocks and posed.



My heart skipped some beats.


It was a magical wedding, and an unforgettable trip. My cousin, the bride, looked like a mountain fairy. I was honored to be a witness to a such an inspired, sincere, and heartfelt ceremony.


I did make it home to Caleb and Tennessee and our house. But we should probably go back soon. It does a soul some good to feel so very small.

Copyright 2016, Jenny Anne Mannan. All rights reserved.