me…art collector?!

I am now officially an art collector. Oh, I have bought prints and posters over the years. And I confess to owning a Thomas Kincade painting of Venice’s Grand Canal (same light, no flower gardens or english cottages in sight). But I’ve moved up a level now. I have a painting commissioned specifically for me by a professional artist! (I still can’t believe that’s true…)

My new painting by Greg Gutierrez

My new painting by Greg Gutierrez

I participate in a number of on-line artist forums. It is invigorating to see what other artists are doing–whether something I love or things I don’t enjoy, all of it sparks my own creativity. Sometimes I join art swaps or on-going projects. Other times I merely enjoy what others are doing and posting.

A few months ago a bright, cheerful painting was posted. It was from this artist’s “Ward Series.” I was fascinated by the painting…and I was intrigued by the series name. (My mother-in-law’s maiden name was Ward.) I contacted the artist to ask more questions. And I kept looking back at that painting over and over. Every time it made me smile. It made my heart sing!

Eventually, since I had some birthday gift money, I got brave enough to contact Greg Gutierrez and ask how much it would cost for me to buy one of his Ward Series paintings. I was sure it would be far above my means…but was quite excited to find out I was wrong. It took every penny of my birthday money, but, oh how it was worth it!

After receiving my money, Greg bought supplies and started the layers and layers of paint. Color is added even on the sides of the canvas. It takes a few weeks for him to finish these paintings. Greg kept me posted on the process. And finally at the beginning of this week I was told that the package was in the mail.

Detail of Painting--notice it wraps all the way around the sides of the canvas

Detail of Painting–notice it wraps all the way around the sides of the canvas

YAY! I was so excited to rip open the envelope when it arrived this morning. After unwrapping layer after layer of protection, I finally saw the painting made especially for me.

I am now the proud owner of Ward Series #60, by Greg Gutierrez. It hangs right above my desk, where I can look up and enjoy it over and over. Thanks, Greg!

My painting's new home--right above my desk so I see it often!

My painting’s new home–right above my desk so I see it often!

Hmmm…I wonder how long it would take me to save for another painting in the series?!

Take a look HERE at Greg’s on-line gallery and enjoy his colorful, eclectic paintings!

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Princess Anna’s Sparkly Birthday

My “baby” daughter, Princess Anna, had a birthday this past weekend.

Anna -- still a Princess, not really my "baby" any more!

Anna — still a Princess, not really my “baby” any more!

Many of you saw my plea on facebook or via email:

Daughter Anna turns 11 on Feb 2nd. We will have a small celebration with the family we are living with in Germany. There will be a big birthday party the following weekend for 2 of the children in this family. Anna understands in her head why we can’t have a big party with lots of guests and gifts for her…but she still gets teary thinking about it. And THAT makes this mama’s heart hurt for her.

So…I want to surprise her during her family “Sparkle Party.” Could you please send me (fb comment, fb message, or email) a short note for Anna, focused on “sparkles” or “glitter” and on how special SHE is? I will type them out, print them, cut them out, and tie each one with sparkly ribbon for her to open all the affirmations on her birthday!

THANK YOU in advance for helping her feel special! (Also, IF you are so inclined, please consider mailing a sparkly card to her for her to get an extra birthday surprise when we get back to Ohio in early March…I will message our address to anyone who wants to do this.)

Anna’s 11th birthday is over—celebrated with lots of SPARKLES! I thought you might like to see photos of four (count ’em, FOUR) days filled with special activities and fun.

Day One–early in the week Anna and I went clothes shopping. She needed new pants and wanted to add some sparkle to her wardrobe. (The shirt in the top photo was from this shopping expedition.)

Searching for a sparkly wardrobe is tons of work

Searching for a sparkly wardrobe is tons of work…

Obviously, we "needed" sweet refreshments to recover from the shopping!

Obviously, we “needed” sweet refreshments to recover from the shopping!

Day Two — My friend took her daughter and Anna for all three of them to get “new ‘do”s. What fun!

Three "New 'Do"s for the "ladies"

“New ‘Do”s for the three “ladies”

Day Three — I took both “big girls” to Bamberg. A day with no responsibilities added to the pleasure of the outing!

We discovered an awesome "pocket playground" where Fairies could vanquish the giant (invisible) spiders.

We discovered an awesome “pocket playground” where Fairy Anna and her friend could vanquish the giant (invisible) spiders.

...and we found an entire fairy village with multiple homes (aka holes) in each tree

…and we found an entire fairy village with multiple homes (aka holes) in each tree.

As we wandered the old part of Bamberg, the girls were Princesses.

As we wandered the old part of Bamberg, the girls were royalty.

We finished the day at an indoor mini water park. (Thanks, Aunt Jan!) Can you find Mermaid Anna?!

We finished the day at an indoor mini water park. (Thanks, Aunt Jan!) Can you find Mermaid Anna?!

Day Four — On Anna’s actual birthday, we continued the annual tradition of taking a photo of Groundhog Anna to record her prediction for Spring’s arrival. I took all 4 kids back to Rothenburg ob der Tauber for a little shopping, some yummy food, and a climb up the medieval walls.

Groundhog Anna in Rothenburg...

Groundhog Anna in Rothenburg…

YAY! No shadow! Spring is on the way...

YAY! No shadow! Spring is on the way…

We visited the Teddy Bear stores and Anna bought a fairy at the "Knights and Fairies" store. (Thanks, Grma June & Grpa Bob!)

We visited the Teddy Bear stores and Anna bought a fairy at the “Knights and Fairies” store. (Thanks, Grma June & Grpa Bob!)

We finished Anna’s SPARKLE celebrations with a little family party at home that evening:

Anna had sparkly decorations and gifts at her birthday dinner.

Anna had sparkly decorations and gifts at her birthday dinner.

We fixed favorite German McDonald's food--Nurnberger sausages, Rosti (potatoes) with applesauce, and some Broccoli to make it healthier!

We fixed favorite German McDonald’s food–Nurnberger sausages, Rosti (potatoes) with applesauce, and some Broccoli to make it healthier!

At 11, "little girl" Anna still delights in sparkly toys...

At 11, “little girl” Anna still delights in sparkly toys…

...and my "one-teen" likes bling, LOTS of bling! (earrings, rings, hair doo-dads, lip-gloss, and more)

…and my “one-teen” likes bling, LOTS of bling! (earrings, rings, hair doo-dads, lip-gloss, and more) (photo taken by Anna’s friend)

At first Anna was bored with the bag filled with little rainbow tied scrolls...but her face lit up when she realized there were 18 different notes celebrating SPARKLE GIRL ANNA! (Thanks, friends and family!)

At first Anna was bored with the bag filled with little rainbow tied scrolls…but her face lit up when she realized there were 18 different notes celebrating SPARKLE GIRL ANNA! (Thanks, friends and family!)

And everyone enjoyed their first (??!!) banana splits for dessert---Happy 11th Birthday, Anna Bananas!

And everyone enjoyed their first (??!!) banana splits for dessert—Happy 11th Birthday, Anna Bananas!

(THANKS to all who helped make this a very special birthday celebration for Anna. Hopefully, these sparkly memories will help her joyfully celebrate her friends at their birthday party this weekend…)

Where is the “Real Me”?

I am usually the one behind the camera; the one taking photos of everyone and everything; the one capturing the memories of this moment and of that event. Oh, I try to hand my camera to someone else occasionally so that I’m in a few of the photos in the family scrapbooks. And my older daughters sometimes catch me in unguarded moments and snap a picture or two.

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

I’ve become friends with a woman who started writing a blog as she approached her 50th birthday. Today she is putting the finishing touches on a photography project she started during that year. And she has become a professional photographer. I absolutely LOVE her work. Somehow she makes magic with her camera and shows the beauty of each person she “shoots.” (I’ve suggested before that you visit her photography website HERE.)

Jo captures beauty with her camera...

Jo captures beauty with her camera…

Last summer I celebrated my own 50th birthday by taking a trip to London to visit my sister. Among other things, I emailed my friend and asked about a photography session. As the date drew closer, I realized I was worrying…stressing…not sure I was ready for this. After all, my place is BEHIND the camera, right?

Worrying...about being the "model"

Worrying…about being the “model”

I spent time pondering why I was so uncomfortable having my photo taken. I realized that part of the issue was being disappointed when I look in a mirror…or look at a photo of myself. After all, I have wrinkles. I have thin hair. I have lots of extra padding (lots and lots of extra). That’s not the “real me,” the one I think of when I think of who I am. What happened to the beautiful, slender, young girl I used to be? Where did she go?

The "Real Me" was just waiting to be recognized!

The “Real Me” was just waiting to be recognized!

So, with a bit of fear and trembling, I met my friend. We enjoyed getting to know each other better in person. I met her husband. We had dinner together. I spent the night in her lovely extra bedroom. And in the morning, we headed out to the surrounding countryside.

Beautiful countryside...

Beautiful countryside…

...and a peaceful old church.

…and a peaceful old church.

It was actually far less painful than my dreadings. We laughed. We talked. We got a little silly together. And she took photos…LOTS of photos. I stopped thinking about how I might look and just enjoyed the time with my friend.

Having fun...

Having fun…

Getting serious...

Getting serious…

...with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

…with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

And somehow, when I got the photos back from her, she had done it again. She made magic with her camera. I look at the pictures and see a beautiful, mature woman. And in the process of being brave enough to trust this friend to capture the “real me” in photos, I received a marvelous gift. I now have reminders to smile at the woman I see in the mirror.

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

Thanks, Jo. You helped me reach for the magic and be able to truly celebrate who I am at this stage of life! You released my inner beauty and made it visible each time I look in the mirror.

PS—check out this blog post by my friend, Jo Blackwell. In it, she challenges each of us to see the beauty within us. And she includes a variety of photos she has taken of beautiful women (including ME!!)

Photo Credits: 1st photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz, all other photos taken by Jo Blackwell.

The Wrath of Mama Bear

“wrath” (noun) – strong, stern or fierce anger

I tutor at-risk students in the local school two full days per week. The principal had to work hard to juggle my schedule since, by federal mandate, no pull-outs can occur during “core instruction time.” To me, this is ridiculous since many of the students I work with are critically behind their classmates. Core Instruction Time is merely time when they feel overwhelmed and more lost than ever. It is time when these at-risk students often give up completely. It certainly is not effective learning time.

To meet federal rules, in the mornings, I work with smaller groups in the classroom itself, focused on independent reading skills while the teacher works with other students on general language arts skills.

some of my “bear cubs” at the end of our Immigration Activity time

A few weeks ago that teacher and I put together a special morning of activities to end a language arts unit on Immigration. (You can read more about the activities and see photos HERE.) You can imagine my frustration when the acting principal interrupted us to make it clear all students had to be in the gym for a rah-rah presentation by the candy fundraising company. I argued. I ranted. I cried. I cussed. In other words, I totally lost it!

I cried all the way home. I cried while I whipped out a ripping letter to the editor and submitted it to four local newspapers. I cried while I drove my kids to town for errand-day. I cried myself to sleep that night. I was overwhelmed with anger.

At first I was upset with myself. How selfish could I be? Yes, I had put extra effort into the special activities. Yes, I had come in as a volunteer on a day off to do the activities. But it seemed petty to be so angry about something that was easily re-scheduled, right?

Now it is two weeks later. I just finished rewriting and condensing the letter at the request of an editor. It will be published in one of the papers later this week. (You can read the final submission at the bottom of this post…) And I am STILL angry.

As I thought about this over the past few weeks, I realize this incident is a picture of the overwhelming problems at this local school (and at many other schools across the country.) There is no time for anything more than prepping for state tests and “core curriculum.” There is no time to include art, music, free reading, or one-on-one tutoring, even though there are shelves and shelves full of research that show how these things increase proficiency in core subjects for at-risk students. But, apparently, there IS time for fundraising companies to have access to our students during that same core-instruction time.

In talking with teachers and the principal at this school, I discovered another thing that makes me furious. They constantly urge the students to “just say no” to harmful things such as drugs, alcohol, abuse, and dangerous situations. They expect the students to learn to judge activities on the merits of how this will help them or harm them. They urge students to stand up to (or avoid) parents who are making decisions that will harm the children. (The majority of our students live both below the poverty line and in very dysfunctional family situations.)

And yet, the response I got from school staff when I questioned this abuse of core-instruction time, was that they “had no choice.” They couldn’t turn down the mandated presentation time by the fundraising company. They couldn’t even demand an afternoon assembly. In other words, they couldn’t “just say no.”

And that makes me angry. That makes me furious. That brings out my WRATH!

I’m no longer beating myself up for my “inappropriate” response to a “frustrating situation.” I’m no longer going to apologize (again) for my angry words. I am like a mama bear, protecting her cubs. When they are at-risk, she roars!

And, in the process of writing all of this down, I realize there IS something good to be found in this situation. I now have a specific discussion topic of a real-life harmful situation for my tutoring students to wrestle with. Perhaps, as I share my anger and what is behind that anger, these students will gain the courage to speak up about things that anger them, things that are harmful to themselves. Maybe that is one way to protect my “cubs” and help them be ready to face the challenges of life out here on the edges.

Dear Parents:

School administrators say they have your student’s best interests at heart even while bemoaning the lack of parental support. You hear them (or maybe they say it out of your hearing) complain about students who live below the poverty line and whose parents can’t pay for special activities.

Today’s focus on testing and on a “core curriculum”, has limited time available for other subjects during the school day. At our local school, funding shortages recently eliminated weekly “enrichment” time. There has been no time for art or music for years. Prepping for state tests is of higher importance than educating a well-rounded student!

Your child may complain about this year’s school lunches—only healthy food, no seconds, limited calories (even for student athletes). By federal mandates, students can’t have outside food until late afternoon, when the entire school has finished lunch “hour.” No parties can be held on half-days before holidays. Or rather, no treats can be eaten at those before-lunch parties.

Administrators claim to be concerned about these issues. But it is now “that” time of year, time for candy sales. It is time for YOUR child to become the coerced worker for fundraising companies. Students miss core instruction time for presentations urging them to become the high-sales winner. There are tantalizing prizes based on sales levels, most of which will break within weeks. Students are pushed to sell something they would not even be allowed to eat at school!

Of course, there is no time for art or music. Of course, no candy is allowed at the school. Of course, you, as parents with little extra money, are asked to help your students sell lots of candy to all your relatives. (And, of course, neither the fundraising company nor the school will explain that the majority of money made by these efforts will go to the company rather than to the school.)

If you see a problem with this situation, it is time to rebel: refuse to buy any candy, prevent your child from becoming unpaid labor for the candy-company. School fundraisers do more harm than good for students.

Sincerely, Jill Emmelhainz, Reading tutor

Changing Time

I have been reading a fascinating book: Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life by Marney Makridakis. I read it from cover to cover when I first got the book. It is filled with little sticky notes, marking passages that have challenged me, projects to try, and statements that I either strongly agree with or question. Because I’m planning to send this book on to a friend when I finish with it, I have restrained myself and not mangled and marred the book by bending over page corners and scribbling in the margins!

I bought the book initially because I assumed it was about making/taking time to do creative things. I thought it would help me “prioritize” me-time, and artsy-time. What I discovered, however, is that those ideas are background in the book. The primary focus is on changing our perception of time from “not enough” to being something of “abundance.” The author lays out her ideas in readable format. She includes tidbits from others who have played with these ideas. And she finishes each chapter with hands-on activities to remind the reader of the principles in the book.

Eventually, I plan to do some of those creative projects. (When I do, I will post photos on my art blog…) For now, I continue to dip back into the book, reading a quote here and a passage there. I’m still finding new ideas that challenge my beliefs about the world, about time, and about my own life.

I am trying to put some of these ideas into practical form. Last Monday looked like it was going to be a hectic, horrible day. I had a zillion things on my to-do list, most of which were NOT optional. It seemed impossible to finish everything on the list all in one day. On Sunday night, I was stressing about the coming day, dreading the morning alarm which would start the rat-race.

Then, as I was driving to town that morning, I remembered one of the ideas from this book. It sounded corny to me, like one of those shmarmy positive-thinking-will-change-your-life ideas. It felt too simple to make any difference. But…facing that overwhelming to-do list, I decided it was worth a try.

I told myself that I had all the time in the world, certainly enough time to complete everything that needed to be done. Each time I felt my heart start racing and my muscles tense up throughout the day, I repeated those same thoughts.

Amazingly enough, by the end of the day, I had indeed completed everything on that dreaded list. And, in general, I enjoyed the day. I wasn’t overwhelmed, after all.

Hmmm…maybe it’s time to get out that book and read it some more. Time to find a few more tidbits to put to the practical test. Time to stop stressing and “create more time.” I’m going to give it a try—how about you?!

Confession Time…

Some of you know this already. Some of you will be surprised. After all, I’m in my 50s now. I’m a suburban, minivan driving, stay-at-home mom. (Well, I USED to be that…before moving to the middle of nowhere, switching to a 4wd that can handle miles of dirt roads, and taking on reading tutoring for at-risk Navajo kids…but the idea is still the same, right?!!)

I didn’t make this decision lightly. I followed the advice I gave one of my sons a few years ago—I can cover it up and it’s something I will be proud of at any age. After thinking about it for almost four years, I finally found enough courage to get it done.

What is “it”, you ask? Why, a tattoo, of course! Yes, I am the proud owner of a chubby-faced monkey tattoo on my upper left arm. (For those of you who are shocked by that idea, please sit down and take a few deep breaths. I’m still the same ole boring person…really!)

Why did I do “it”, you wonder? It is a way to remember our son who died 4 ½ years ago. The monkey is a copy of a prize that he won in an international tournament in an on-line game just a few days before he died. The words “Heaven’s Gift” are both the name he gave that monkey and a reminder of what he was to our family.

Here are a few photos:

The artist who drew the final version and tattooed it on my arm…

Proud owner of a cute tattoo…

Tattoo close-up

And, to close, here’s a funny story:

A few weeks ago, I wore a sleeveless blouse to the school where I am a reading tutor. Apparently I haven’t done that since last April. One of the “little ones” (2nd or 3rd grade) ran up to me and gave me a big bear hug, squealing, “Mrs. E! Mrs. E! You have a TATT! That is sooo cool!” She then ran off to announce this amazing news to the rest of the little girls in the cafeteria, who quickly gathered to see this wondrous thing. Who knew that a cute monkey tattoo would give me “cred” with the playground crew?!

Royal Ascot

One of my favorite musicals is “My Fair Lady.” Do you remember the scene where Eliza Doolittle is at her first society event, a big horse race? That, my friends, is the Royal Ascot.

My Fair Lady at Ascot

A long-running British tradition.  A place where ladies dress in fancy clothes and wear over-the-top hats and where men wear tails and top-hats. A venue for people-watching, for seeing and being seen. The horses run their races, but the society action is in the “royal enclosure.” Royalty has been attending this racing event for over 300 years.

Imagine my absolute delight when my sister asked if I would be willing to go with her to Ascot as her guest! We had great fun together, pretending to be “posh.” We studied the official STYLE GUIDE to make sure we would be dressed appropriately. We covered our hats with bright, cheerful flowers (and I included a whimsical turquoise butterfly).

Ascot Sisters

Garden Hats

It is traditional for race-goers to have a pre-meet picnic in the car park. Many of the groups put up fancy marquee tents with wooden tables and chairs, hot food, and magnums of champagne. Ours was much simpler, with folding chairs and a small side table, but we felt fancy, and I bet our food and drink was just as tasty as theirs! (Let’s not talk about the rain, okay? It was a bit squished finishing up our picnic in the car…)

Fancy Picnic

Bubbly Drinks

Posh Picnic

We joined the throngs walking towards the special entrances reserved for those in the Royal Enclosure. Along the way, we walked on a boardwalk across the turf race track. (Just think what it would be like to stand in the middle of the track with horses thundering toward you…)

ascot grounds

turf track

We were still a little nervous that it might be obvious by our dress that we really didn’t belong in the Royal Enclosure. Whew! After doing some people watching, we realized we fit in just fine!

Ascot Hats

Proper Ascot Style

The Day’s events started at 2:00 with a parade, including the arrival of the Royal Family. The QUEEN and Prince Philip were in one of the first carriages. (No, they did not join us in the Royal Enclosure. That was surely too plebian for them…they had their own private Royal Family Box!)

Parade

the Queen arrives

Then the races finally began. Besides the wonderful people watching in the Royal Enclosure, and the feeling of being one of the “elite,” it was also a wonderful place to watch the horses. We stood along the rail, right at the finish line. That meant we saw each horse explode out of the tunnel on to the track AND we saw the actual finish of each race.

in the tunnel

entering the track

on the rail

finish line

My sister insisted that if we were at a horse race, we had to “take a flutter on the ponies.” She broke even. Don’t ask me how I did… (yes, the first two races I picked winners…but I wasn’t betting on those races…sigh…) Others could be seen intently studying the race card between races.

breaking even

studying the racing card

With passes for the Royal Enclosure, we also had front row access to the owners ring (where they could watch the race on big screens) and to the winners circle. After each race, the jockeys walked past this area to weigh in. At the same time, there was a media circus while the trophy was presented to the winner of that race.

owners

jockeys

winners circle

After all 6 races were over, thousands of people crowded around the bandstand behind the grandstand for a singalong. This is apparently a long-standing tradition. Everyone waved British flags, singing and dancing. (Quite obviously many of the prim and proper British upper crust folks had plenty to drink during the races…guess that’s why they had magnums of champagne at their picnics!!) Occasional rainbursts didn’t stop anyone from having fun—they just put up their umbrellas and carried on.

ascot singalong

dancing

brollies

singing and dancing in the rain

“Singing and Dancing in the Rain”
(This one’s for you, James)

It was an amazing day that ended with a double rainbow. I didn’t have to search for the pot of gold—even though it was a dark, drizzly day, it will always be golden in my memories! Thanks for a wonderful, extra special way to celebrate my 50th Birthday, little sis!

Golden memories

(If you haven’t seen “My Fair Lady,” you can see the opening scene and song of Eliza Doolittle at Royal Ascot HERE. And yes, I managed to restrain myself from yelling “Move yer bloomin’ arse” as the horses neared the finish line…sorry Eliza, I managed to stay in high-society character even though you didn’t!)

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