The end…or is it the beginning?

The End. No, I’m not writing the blog post in reverse this week. But we have reached the end of my postings about my recent vacation of a lifetime. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can catch up with my preview post, part one, part two, and part three. I am writing an “epilogue” post in a few weeks, but it’s a bit of a different take. So I’m calling this post the official end.

I could write so, so much more on what we saw and all that we experienced. I’m more than happy to share pictures and details to anyone who’s interested. We had an incredible adventure. I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to share so much beauty with our kids.

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I could write an entirely different blog series on camping with a family, but that one might be more a comedy of errors! All good things must come to an end, and so did our vacation.

The end of a civilization

The last park we visited was Mesa Verde in Colorado. Unlike the other parks we visited, Mesa Verde isn’t so much about the wildness of the landscape, the immensity of canyons, or the breathtaking vistas. The spotlight of Mesa Verde shines brightly on the ruins of the ancient puebloan peoples who made their home among these imposing cliffs.

mesa verde end 2

Sometimes referred to as the “Anasazi”, the ancient puebloan people were hunter gatherers, and later, farmers. They built thriving civilizations in areas where few of us would dare to attempt living today. In Mesa Verde, many of these dwellings have been painstakingly restored and preserved for us to enjoy.

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The highlight of our time in the park was the tour we took of the Cliff Palace. My girls were excited to take on a steep climb, complete with narrow passages and vertical ladder climbs. By this point in our trip, they were pretty accomplished hikers.

mesa verde 4

To protect the ancient architecture, you can only tour the cliff dwellings with a national park service guide. As we walked along, our guide did a fantastic job of telling us the journey these ancient peoples took.

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Mystery still surrounds the story of their demise. We had some interesting conversations with my inquisitive children as they suggested possible reasons for the end of these civilizations.

Not the end, but the beginning

Exploring ruins of a people who have long since faded away reminds me that I am only one part in a much larger story. It is all too easy to think that I am the center of my universe, the be all and end all of my little world. My problems are bigger than others, my successes more worth celebrating, my failures more cataclysmic. And yet, people lived, thrived, and died, long before I existed. No doubt people will continue doing so long after my story has come to an end. I am part of something much bigger.

I believe there is an Author who is writing a great cosmic story. An author who is Himself both the beginning and the end. As I reflect on a past civilization at Mesa Verde, I am reminded of this Author who alone determines the times and places for people to live. While I may be a small piece of the story, He still knows my name. I am not lost to Him.

“And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle 

So if today finds you a little too focused on your own story, remember that you are but one piece in much larger story. Not an insignificant piece, a valuable, important, loved piece. Take comfort in knowing that the One who set the stars and planets in place is writing your story as well. And His story has no end.

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A wedding, a gift, and the fun of sunflowers

I’m starting to get an idea as to why Vincent Van Gogh did so many different sunflower paintings. Whenever people came into my studio they couldn’t wait to see the progress on the sunflower painting; this one trumped everything else I was working on. EVERYBODY loves them!

I started this painting as a gift for our granddaughter Brittany for her August 18th wedding. Her flowers for the outdoor wedding were to be sunflowers. I wanted to surprise Brittany and her soon to be husband, Steve.

Sunflowers, the beginning

As I had never painted these iconic beauties before, I was quite excited.  I had an early start, here you can see the block in, sort of a Stage 1:

sunflowers 1

As I continued working, I began building up layers upon layers of acrylic paint and medium, 5 layers in all. It takes a lot of patience and strategy to determine the lights and shadows. I designed the painting so that it would have a great deal of texture, especially the individual petals and the wooden background. This particular approach really lets the light shine through all the layers for a luminous, glowing painting! This was my first time using this method and I really enjoyed the outcome. See what you think:

sunflowers 2

Sunflowers, the gift

Now, onto the surprise gift for the happy couple. They were so sweet to dedicate some time for the unveiling, the night before the wedding…a bit of drama in the unwrapping!

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I could hardly wait!

With every stroke, I prayed that Brittany and Steve would remember the words of 1st Corinthians 13:4-8: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I always dedicate my paintings to the Lord, every time I pick up a brush or a pastel. I know that it is His mighty creative power at work in me and I believe that His love for all of us shines in every one of my works.

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It was a wonderful and happy event. The sunflowers are in their new home in the kitchen, and I hope a reminder of how important it is to be “sunny and kind” to each other, day in and day out.

If you’d like to learn more about the how and why of Van Gogh’s sunflowers be sure to check out #SunflowersLive, a once in a lifetime virtual gallery uniting The National Gallery (London), the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam), Neue Pinakothek (Munich), The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Art, Tokyo.

What is your favorite flower?…

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The hike more traveled

When was the last time you went on a really great hike? Not a hike that was great because of the workout, or because of the time spent outdoors. I’m talking about a hike that challenged you physically while astounding your senses. What did you see, hear, touch, smell, and maybe even taste that was so incredible? Maybe you’re not really into hiking. That’s ok; maybe this post will change your mind!

It’s possible that I’m finally coming near the end of my blog series on our amazing summer vacation. If you’ve joined the series late, please do go back and check out my preview post, the first installment, and the follow up episode.

Today, I want to talk about my favorite hike of the whole three week trip. Ok, so my two favorite hikes. We visited eleven parks, so I hope you’ll forgive me for need to do two favorites instead of one.

The Water Hike

I must confess that one of my favorite hikes occurred in one of my not-so-favorite parks. Zion National Park in Utah is an amazing park.

hike zion 1

The mountains and mesas are majestic and awe-inspiring. Some of the hikes are among the most dangerous and thrilling of any of the parks we visited. And there is a beautiful river that flows through the whole canyon, a refreshing burst of coolness and refreshment in the midst of the otherwise harsh landscape. I don’t want to discount any of that beauty.

But it was hot. So hot. The temperatures hovered around 100 degrees fahrenheit every day. And it was windy. We had wind gusts approaching 30 – 40 mph. We were tent camping. The dust was red. Everything I owned became covered in red dust. I would visit Zion again, but I would not stay in a tent or come in June.

With all those disclaimers, let me say that hiking The Narrows was an adventure like none other we experienced on our trip. Zion is a canyon based park, and the river that helped form that canyon provides the setting for this most popular hike.

hiking zion 2

I should also mention that the trail had opened only two weeks before our arrival. The river was cold, high, and swift, due to massive snow melt at higher elevations. If the river is too high, the park service will close the trail. I am grateful it was open when we came.

The girls were excited and we tried to get an early start, given the high temperatures of the day.

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The trail was crowded (it really is the most popular hike in the park and the reason many people come to Zion), but easy going in the beginning. It was a fairly level and paved trail. Gradually, the path became more narrow and the pavement stopped. We were hiking alongside the Virgin River as it winds its way through the canyon.

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But the highlight of the hike is when the canyon begins to narrow further, so much so that the trail becomes nothing more than a footpath. Eventually, even the footpath ends and the trail becomes the river itself. My girls thought it was fantastic! We waded right in and continued the hike. The water was a frigid 52 degrees, but in 100 degree heat, it was a welcome change.

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I held tight to my oldest daughter while my husband grabbed on to our six year old. We followed the river for only about 3/4 of a mile (the trails continues for some ten miles). At that point, the water was up to my little one’s shorts and the current was so strong it was a battle to take each step. For safety reasons, we knew it was wise to turn back. We were wet and tired, but it was oh so worth it. How often do you get the chance to hike in a river?! The Narrows is definitely on my list for favorites!

The Wall Hike

I think in terms of sheer grandeur, my favorite hike was Wall Street in Bryce Canyon.

bryce hike 1

We may not have made it to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but Bryce is considerably smaller, the weather was amazing, and we were ready to give it a go. Some portions of the trails in Bryce were closed due to excessive snow melt that had caused some avalanches, so we were rerouted from our original plan. We started off full of energy and excitement and we were not disappointed. Almost immediately upon descending the rim of the canyon, we found ourselves along an intricate serious of steep switchbacks rapidly descending the canyon.

bryce hike 2

As we hiked lower, the canyon walls rose higher and straighter around us. We were completely surrounded by red and orange rock walls hundreds of feet above us.

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When we reached the bottom, we were astounded to see a regal Douglas fir growing straight and tall in a crevice at the bottom.

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The canyon walls split apart enough to allow both sunshine and rain or snow to easily reach the tree, and so it had grown higher and higher through the years. The bottom of the hike was cool and sheltered. There were quite a few people hiking through, but it still felt isolated from the larger canyon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen rock walls quite that color before. I know I’ve never hiked amidst rock walls quite that high before. My pictures simply fail to capture the exquisite artistry of that place.

I will spare you the details of our much lengthier ascent of the canyon. No, we didn’t have to return via the steep switchbacks. But our long, slow ascent was hampered by the altitude and little legs of tired children. We did make it back to the top eventually, and I consider that to be one of our biggest accomplishments of the trip. And we even managed to have some fun along the way.

bryce hike 5

When was the last time you went on a hike? What natural areas are there in your neighborhood or within a short drive that you could explore? Challenge yourself; do something you’ve not done before. See what beauty is yet to be discovered and experienced. Then share a of photo of you in the midst of it!

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When is a dog not just a dog?

I am a dog person. Many of you will not remember the song, “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” But, let’s acknowledge the fact that most of us wouldn’t sell our dog (or dogs) for anything. Ken and I have three long haired Chihuahuas. A pack, nicknamed by my stepson as the “Terrible Trio”. Indeed, they are naughty and yappy. I will acknowledge that; but they are also loving, entertaining, and they make us happy.

Which brings me to the saga of painting Emma.

Emma the dog 1

Emma is the darling companion Mary and David Flowers, church friends. Not just any dog, she is a Boston Terrier who rules the roost with energy and antics.

My motivating question when I paint is always, “how can I portray the true personality of this person, dog, cat, whatever?” Sorry photographers; but a photo is a flat reality. 

True art intensifies the real inner persona of the subject. It makes you want to know more…he, she or it should jump off the canvas and say something that is beyond the norm of “she’s a nice looking lady”, “he’s a cute dog”, “it’s a pretty scene”, etc. It’s a forever painting that somebody will want when a loved one dies. I’m not trying to be morbid, but paintings should be evoke emotion, have meaning.

So for me, Emma was more than just a dog. Emma had to recollect mischievous love for her owners, especially Mary.

When I paint a commissioned painting, I always ask for at least one photo from which to paint. This was the photo I was asked to paint:

Emma the dog 2

On the surface, it looks nice, but it’s a nightmare for a painter.

First, it’s not just a dog in the photo. On the viewer’s right is a hand! Yikes. Emma looks brown in the photo; but she’s obviously a Boston Terrier and they are black! There is little or no contrast in the blacks, the shadows are muted and not true to color.

Am I losing you? Then of course there is that teeny tiny Harley Davidson logo on the hat–all on an 8 x 10.

What to do? Pray, face the fear and begin!

Emma the dog 3

I wanted to make her coat silky and lustrous, showing a lovely under coat of browns, blues, and blacks. I want the collectors to feel as if they can reach out and feel their dog’s coat and the blanket. So I developed four levels of pastel (you can see those swatches on the right).

Emma the dog 4

I know Emma is playful, so I wanted to develop a little action in the background to suggest her energy and character.

Emma the dog 5

No white fur can be painted in until Emma is almost finished.

Now we are close!

Emma the dog 6

Not done but closer. I’ve got to polish up the fur, nose and logo! More hours, but worth it, she’s a doll. I’ve grown to love her as I paint her and that’s important.

With a mat and frame, Emma will be a darling keepsake.

Love is a growing thing. Most people don’t realize that. We tend to think of love as an emotion, but it’s not. I can say that after 34 years of marriage. Love takes patience, kindness, attention to the little things. Just like painting Emma.

Do you have a loving friend or creature that I can give life to through a painting? Then let’s talk! You can leave a comment or send us an email. And be on the lookout for a follow up post when she’s all finished!

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The Vacation of a Lifetime (part two) – Barren and Beautiful

As I continue to look through the pictures and remember all the beautiful sites we visited on our vacation, I am still struggling for a way to collect all my thoughts. I could easily do a post on each park we visited. But I don’t want to bore you with all the details. Of course, if you want all the info, I’m more than happy to oblige!

You can check out my preview post and my first installment if you’d like.

barren and beautiful capitol reef

So for Part Two of this series of undetermined length, I decided to group together a few parks that are still rolling around in my brain. On any given day, I’m not sure if I loved these parks, was intrigued by these parks, or was happy to move on from these parks. It’s not that I didn’t like the time we spent there, or that they weren’t beautiful. The parks were…well…different.

barren and beautiful canyonlands

Capitol Reef and Canyonlands are not generally on the top of anyone’s list of national parks. Particularly when you are looking at parks in the southwest. We all know the Grand Canyon, and most folks are familiar with Zion, Bryce and Arches as well. But we didn’t meet many people on our trip who were planning to visit Capitol Reef or Canyonlands. In my opinion, they missed out on some incredibly beautiful landscapes.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 2

Beautiful in the midst of barren

Capitol Reef was a study in contrasts. As soon as we entered the park, we were awestruck with the barren nature of the landscape. Towering red cliffs, expansive red vistas, deep crevices through the unforgiving rock – these were the sites by which we were greeted. We even joked that it looked like the setting of the movie The Martian.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 3

Yet, running through the middle of the park is the Fremont River and oh what a difference that makes. Instead of the wild and rocky landscape, you see green fields, lush orchards, and tall shade trees. In fact, in the early 1900s, a thriving agrarian community was nestled along the banks of the river and became known as Fruita, because of all the fruit trees that were grown there.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 4

Our campground was nestled in the middle of what used to be Fruita and it felt sometimes as if we were in a different world than the world in which we went hiking. My favorite time was at sunset when it seemed as if the mountains were on fire from within as they reflected the glow of the waning sun. Capitol Reef was definitely a study in contrasts.

barren and beautiful capitol reef 5

 

Barren becoming beautiful

Canyonlands is one big park that is subdivided into three sections – Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. We did not visit the Maze, since it is fairly inhospitable to family camping and hiking, being accessible only by 4 wheel drive on unpaved roads. Island in the Sky and the Needles are separated by the Green and Colorado Rivers. There are no roads connecting the three districts. We are tent campers, but not back country campers, so we did not camp in the park, but we did drive in to do some hiking in both Island in the Sky and the Needles.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 3

The rock formations were intimidating, the views stunning. Despite the high overlooks, we were barely able to see the rivers down below. On one day, it was so windy (upwards of 50 mph) that we found it difficult to walk and our small one was being pelted by sand. We didn’t do much hiking that day, but we were able to drive through the park and take some pictures of the wildness.

There is plenty of hiking to be done in the Needles, and the weather was much more amenable that day. However, because of the remote nature of the park, most of the hikes are in excess of five miles, which is pretty far to go when you’re six. So we kept to the few shorter trails.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 2

In many portions of the park, there is no soil in which is stick a trail marker post, so the rocky trail is marked by small piles of stones called cairns. Our girls had a delightful time running from cairn to cairn. On one such hike, we learned about “potholes.” No, not the ones you hate driving over! These potholes are small indentations in the rocks that fill with water when it rains. We visited in the dry season, so all the potholes were dormant. But in the monsoon season, these same holes team with life. There are species of shrimp who lay their eggs in the water, buried in the silt at the bottom of the potholes. The eggs lie dormant during the dry season, but when the rain comes, they tiny shrimp hatch and come to life.

barren and beautiful canyonlands 5

What I found fascinating was the black topped soil that was often found alongside the trails. This soil, called biological soil crust, is actually living dirt. It is filled with micro bacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and moss. The living soil helps prevent erosion and dust storms. When enough of the biological matter builds up, this seemingly barren landscape can support beautiful plants, shrubs, and flowering cacti.

barren and beautiful canon lands 4

A beautiful life

As I reflected on these two parks, I couldn’t help but see them as a picture of what my life so often resembles. I may feel barren, dry, empty. As a Christian, I have the Holy Spirit in me. Even when I can’t see Him, He is there. John 7:38 says that streams of living water will flow from me. The Holy Spirit will bring life in the midst of what seems dry  and barren. He is at work in my life. Oftentimes, He is unseen, his work too small for me to notice. Are you discouraged or in a desert season? Do you feel as though your life is barren? Take courage, pray and believe. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6).

I don’t often put extended Scripture quotes in my posts, but I pray this one will encourage your soul:

Isaiah 35

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;

the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;

it shall blossom abundantly

and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,

the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the LORD,

the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,

“Be strong; fear not!

Behold, your God

will come with vengeance,

with the recompense of God.

He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then shall the lame man leap like a deer,

and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

For waters break forth in the wilderness,

and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

and the thirsty ground springs of water;

in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,

the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,

and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;

the unclean shall not pass over it.

It shall belong to those who walk on the way;

even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.

No lion shall be there,

nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

but the redeemed shall walk there.

10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return

and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

they shall obtain gladness and joy,

and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

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