How to find your Christmas in the park

“Have you been to Christmas in the Park?” That may be the question I heard the most when people found out it was our first Christmas here in the Orlando area. In fact, as far back as September, I was already hearing that question and in fact had locked in plans to attend Christmas in the Park – before I even knew what (or when) it was!

While I may live in Orlando, my children attend school in Winter Park, where my husband teaches. And Winter Park is well known in the greater Orlando area for it’s fabulous downtown and active cultural scene.

For almost 40 years, the park in the center of Winter Park has hosted Christmas in the Park – a joint effort put on by the city, the Morse Museum and the Bach Festival Society.

One of the benefits to being in Florida is that we can happily enjoy outdoor activities at Christmas. Folks come early and stake out a place – chairs, tables, picnic baskets. I saw elaborate place settings, complete with tablecloths, napkins, candles and centerpieces. I also saw more modest preparations of picnic blankets and pizza boxes. While the event doesn’t officially kick off until 6:15 pm, most folks were there well in advance. We met our friends, set up our chairs and our food and settled in for an evening of unexpected delight.

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Ringing the park are nearly a dozen enormous Tiffany stained glass windows. Each window is accompanied by at least one docent/security guard (complete with communication earpiece).

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The windows are not on display at any other time. Just before 6:15, an introduction is made by the head of the Bach Society, and the music begins. Then just as darkness is settling in, the switch is flipped and the windows are aglow for all too see their radiant beauty.

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We spent the next two hours listening to Christmas music, singing along, enjoying time with friends, and getting in the Christmas spirit. Our children began to grow tired, so we went for a walk through the park to see the windows up close.

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The detail and intricacies of the designs were astonishing. The colors were so vibrant, it strains the bounds of credulity to think that no paint was used, it is all in how colors of glass are blended together.

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Taking pictures of briliiantly lit stained glass windows in a park at night is no easy task. So as incredible as these images are, in order to truly appreciate them, you’ll just have to make the trip to Winter Park next year and see them for yourself!

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Christmas in the Park was the perfect way to kick off the holiday season for me. After being introduced to the Morse Museum and the Back Society, I look forward to exploring the offerings of both those organizations in the future. And I’ll be ready on the first Thursday in December next year for another Christmas in the Park!

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What unique holiday event does your town (or neighboring town) host during the Christmas season? Get out there and explore – then share it with us here!

 

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The Museum in My Backyard

Are you ready for some word association? I say “Orlando”, and you say…….

How many of you said “Disney”? I’d also accept “Mickey” or “theme parks” or “happiest place on earth”. I have a hunch the the overwhelming majority of responses would fall along those lines. In fact, when my husband first began discussing the possibility of moving to Orlando, my words were “what? Orlando? It’s just Disney and old people.” To say that I was not excited would be an understatement.

However, as I began to do a little research on why living in Orlando was fabulous, I discovered that Orlando is a city that has much to offer beyond Disney. This past weekend, my family and I headed out to the Orlando Museum of Art to participate in their Family Day. Once a year, the museum sets aside a day specifically for families. There is free admission, children’s activities, live music, and a general welcoming spirit to families. I have written in the past that my children are no strangers to art museums, but for many families, art museums are not part of their usual weekend faire, and events such as this one present a fantastic opportunity to expose their children to real beauty in the form of visual art.

As this was our first visit to the Orlando Museum of Art, we really didn’t know what to expect. I was thrilled to see that there is a feature piece Citron and Cobalt Tower by Dale Chihuly. We first encountered Chihuly’s stunning glass art when we were living in Richmond, VA, and we have been fans ever since.

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Like most art museums, the Orlando Museum of Art has both permanent and visiting collections.  In the permanent collections, my children were particularly fascinated with many of the modern works. They have a fantastic collection of multi-dimensional art that encouraged our children to both think, and discuss.

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I was particularly captured by the visitng exhibit Babylonian Odyssey featuring works by artist Oded Halahmy. Halahmy is an Iraqi of jewish descent who creates sculptures from metal (in this exhibit, primarily bronze) that reflect middle eastern landscapes and themes. The collection was displayed in such a creative way that truly captured the flavor of his culture. You can still enjoy this marvelous exhibit through the end of 2017.

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My children’s favorite exhibit was easily Bravo! by Chris Raschka. Raschka is an author and illustrator of children’s books. Not only did the museum have his illustrations on display, they also provided a table with many of his books.

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It was delightful to read to my girls and then walk around and enjoy looking at his artwork.

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We were fortunate enough to visit on the final weekend of this exhibit, and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it! we even went to our local library later and checked out of few of his books to enjoy at home.

Of course, since it was family day, the “craft room” was not to be missed. My own budding artists enjoyed the opportunity to create their own masterpieces as a fitting end to an afternoon of art exploration.

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I was grateful to experience this delightful museum in my own backyard. For our family, it was just the right size. We were able to wander through the entire museum without overloading our kids or our own senses. There is a wide variety of art to peruse. The exhibits were well designed and engaging. We are already planning our return visit!

Have you visited your local art museum? If not, why not plan to go this weekend? And when you do, leave me a note about your favorite exhibit. There is so much beauty to enjoy – get out there and see it!

 

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Small but Memorable

Art museums may not be high on your list of places to visit with small children. I can understand that. We’ve heard an annoyed “shhhhh” from more than one art museum docent in our years with small ones in tow. But sometimes, small children and small art museums make for big memories!

We are Bank of America card holders, so we have the opportunity to enjoy a free museum on the first weekend of every month as part of their “Museums on Us” program. Being new to Orlando, we thought this would be a great opportunity to try out a new museum. This month, we selected the Mennello Museum of American Art.

The museum itself is small, only one floor with a few carefully chosen exhibits, both permanent and rotating. However, it sits on a beautiful expanse of land along the shores of Lake Formosa in downtown Orlando. We were also able to wander through its well manicured gardens which are amply supplied with comfy adirondack chairs for lounging, and engaging sculptures to enjoy.

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No small sculptures

Currently, they are featuring the sculptures of Alice Aycock – Waltzing Matilda and Twin Vortexes. These sculptures are anything but small. My daughters were fascinated just by walking around them and noting all the various details. As they viewed the sculptures from different angles, they pointed out different features and had lively discussions about what the sculptor was creating.

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There are a variety of other sculptures to view along the pathways in the garden. My family was particularly delighted with the larger than life crayon sculpture.

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No small impact

Inside the museum, we noticed that we had arrived on the final weekend of the visiting exhibit The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William EgglestonEggleston’s photographs have shaped many in the art world beyond just photographers. American novelist Megan Abbott said, “To me, his photographs evoke entire worlds, not worlds we merely see, but worlds we feel, smell, touch…When you look long enough at his photographs, [like the gorgeous, lonely blue parking lot chosen as one of the exhibit’s central images] you get lost in it. You’re in another place.”

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, 1973, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

Indeed, even our small children were in another place as they walked slowly and quietly through the exhibit. Ordinary moments in time become extraordinary works of art. In ways that I cannot quite explain, Eggleston’s works were remarkable in their power to capture my attention and my imagination with scenes as pedestrian as laundry hanging on a clothesline.

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Art credit: William Eggleston, Untitled, color photograph. Collection of the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses, gift of Dr. William R. Ferris.

My girls were full of big questions about the photos and why they were so powerful. They began creating whole stories around the snapshot moments captured and displayed on the walls of this small exhibit. Unfortunately, the exhibit has moved on, but I would encourage you to check out the works of this groundbreaking artist.

The Mennello Museum also has permanent exhibits featuring self-taught landscape artist Earl Cunningham, and a fascinating sculpture by Albert Paley, entitled Hector. 

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art credit: Albert Paley (b. Philadelphia, PA 1944), Hector, 1990, steel with red paint. Collection of The Mennello Museum of American Art, purchased by Friends of The Mennello Museum of American Art, 2016, from Paley Studios Archive, Rochester, NY

This towering steel sculpture calls to mind the character of Hector from Homer’s Iliad. My husband has had the pleasure of teaching the Iliad and my daughter has read a children’s version of it as well. We had a rather interesting and engaging discussion about Hector the Greek hero and the sculpture.

No small stories

We spent not quite two hours exploring the Mennello museum, both inside and out. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to visit. I have no doubt that we will return. The museum offers multiple opportunities to engage with the art they celebrate. They offer free docent led tours on the first Friday of every month, a monthly free day for families (where your small ones can create their own art), a monthly documentary movie screening, and even a puppet led story time for toddlers.

I was thrilled to find a museum that was accessible, engaging, and thought provoking to enjoy with my whole family. Even my six year old has asked if we can return! But you don’t have to be small to appreciate the Mennello. My husband and I were grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to some new-to-us artists and look forward to our next visit.

If you’re in the Orlando area, I would encourage you to check out the Mennello Museum. If you’re not, I have a hunch that you have your own small museum in town. Maybe you’ve always overlooked it because of it’s size. You may just find something there you never expected. What’s your favorite small museum you’ve explored? Share your experiences in the comments, I’m always looking for new places to see!

 

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Cluck, Cluck, Collecting

I love pallet knife painting and I love chickens! Fortunately for me I have a friend who loves collecting and appreciates both! Sunny, is the third rooster I’ve completed and she was fun. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to focus on something fun.

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If you’ve been listening to the news lately, it’s easy to get down, the woes of the world are many. So I’m going to recommend one of the little pleasures in life, collecting.

The joy of collecting

It’s funny when you talk to some people about collecting things, often he or she will just say, “I don’t know how I started collecting x,y,z, but it just grew. I started to see paintings, ceramics, drawings all around me. Friends started to bring me items and my collection just kept expanding.”

When you start to notice something, it does seem like it’s all around you. Everywhere you turn. If you decide you want to buy a RAM truck then all you start to see on the road are those trucks! There’s even a name for it – the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Half the fun of collecting is displaying all your treasures. Sunny, my latest rooster will be displayed with the other two roosters, I’ve done. If you haven’t seen them, take a look, on my collectors page. I think you’ll agree that Sunny will be a fitting addition to the group. Additionally, I was able to customize Sunny, so to speak, by highlighting the blues and yellows, colors in my friend’s kitchen where she has the other two rooster paintings featured.

Perhaps it’s time for you to start something fun and a collection might be right up your alley! My husband is now collecting Red Pandas!

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What are you collecting?

How about a collecting various 8 x 10 sunsets or a series of sunflowers? Or maybe peppers for someone in your family that likes “hot and spicy”. A collection of paintings as your grandchild grows up, there are many possibilities. If you like roosters then you can always get a few prints  or a mug to kick off your collection. Even better, I’ll be happy to create a custom rooster for you!

It’s good to focus on that which makes us happy, something Sunny! Something to take your mind off tragedy, disasters, disease. I’m not minimizing those things, but we can enjoy the temporary, while keeping our eyes on the eternal too.

Jesus said that we would have trouble, but He is our Overcomer. So enjoy all that His hand has given and set your mind on things above where He is seated in the heavenlies.

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What are you collecting? Are you interested in starting a new collection? Let me know your thoughts.

 

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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:

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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:

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Vacation of a Lifetime – part one

Vacations are what summers are all about! I mentioned earlier that my family planned to take an extended camping trip vacation exploring our national parks. Today, I finally sit down to try to collect my thoughts on some of our amazing journey.

I thought about doing a post for every week we were gone, but there was just too much to cover. So, this will be the first installment of “several” posts about our summer vacation. I hope these posts will inspire you to get out and explore some of the amazing sites in your locale!

Vacation Camp #1

Our first campsite was at Mather campground inside Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim. We had done a few, shorter, camping trips with our girls to get them used to the idea of camping, but this vacation was by far our longest endeavor. Our mantra is “when camping, everybody helps.” The girls were fantastic helpers and we had camp set up, dinner made, enjoyed, and cleaned up all in two hours time. Not a bad start.

Obviously though, the highlight of our vacation was not the speed with which we set up camp, but the sites we explored. I had to laugh when our six year old commented on our first night, “are you sure there’s a canyon here? Because all I see are trees.” She would not be disappointed.

Our first glimpse of the canyon came as we rounded the bend on a hiking trail. The girls had been looking for animal tracks and filling out their junior ranger booklets and suddenly, our oldest looked up and simply said, “wow.”

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Honestly, we took loads of pictures, and it is impossible to capture the beauty, the grandeur, the majesty of the canyon. We stayed at that overlook for some time, while our girls sketched their perspective of the vista in their junior ranger booklets. They weren’t wondering about the canyon’s existence any longer!

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Our family spent three nights at Mather and hiked many miles during the day. We saw two spectacular sunsets, one at Yaki Point and one at Yavapai Point, and saw glimpses of the Colorado River from the canyon’s rim. We even saw some endangered California condors flying overhead. I can’t help but have an overwhelming sense of my own smallness when surrounded by such vastness.

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Vacation Camp #2

We moved on to our second campground in the Kaibab National Forest just outside of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I am happy to declare the north rim as my favorite park of our trip. We had wanted to stay within the park itself, but it’s one campground was already full when we attempted to make reservations in late November of 2016, so we settled for the lesser known national forest campground.

The North Rim is the forgotten rim of the Grand Canyon. It is closed from October through May due to the 10-12 feet of snow they receive each winter. We arrived just two weeks after the park opened for the season. It takes 5 hours to reach it from the south rim, and it is not located near any major cities. I was already predisposed to like this park on those reasons alone. I think the north rim offers views every bit as remarkable as the south rim, despite its less touristy nature. You will just have to visit both rims yourself and make your own determination.

vacation part one

As I looked around at the Ponderosa Pine and Aspen forests, I was reminded that I was no longer in the desert. At almost 9000 feet, our campground was significantly colder than anything we’d experienced earlier in our trip. We even had frost on our final morning!

Our first morning there was the only time we experienced any rain on our entire vacation. So we opted for the scenic drive instead. We stopped at several overlooks to just bask in the scenery. We were even able to do some shorter hikes in the afternoon when the weather cleared.

vacation part one

One of the highlights of the north rim was our short, but challenging, hike into the canyon itself. No, we didn’t even attempt a “rim to rim” journey but we did take a tiny portion of that same trek. We descended only about 3/4 of a mile down into the canyon, but it was spectacular. Coming back up was less exciting, but we were all proud of ourselves nonetheless. And we were all reminded that we are used to living much closer to sea level!

vacation part one

The Vacation Continues

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to our vacation. Exposing the girls to the Grand Canyon was the perfect way to kick off our grand adventure. But don’t take my word for it! Add a trip to the Grand Canyon to your bucket list. And if you can only make one rim, go for the north!

I’ll be blogging more about some of the other stops on our vacation. If you want to know any of the specific hikes we did or any of the logistics of our plan, feel free to leave me a comment below!

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The Vacation of a Lifetime?

vacation grand canyon

One of the best perks of being a teacher is the ability to take an extended summer vacation. This year, my family is embarking on a three week whirlwind tour of eleven different national parks and monuments. Our oldest daughter is a fourth grader and thanks to the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, fourth graders and their families have free entry into all national parks.

 

vacation zion

We’ve gone on a few family camping trips, revised our packing list, planned our meals, loaded our car, and now we are off to enjoy what I hope will be a vacation for the ages as we enjoy the incredible natural artistic wonders of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Pipe Spring, Cedar Breaks, Hovenweep, and Canyons of the Ancients.

 

vacation canyonlands

Obviously, that means we are “off the grid” for a bit while we’re on vacation. Rest assured, I will be taking a travel journal with me, and my camera. Stay tuned for more blog posts to come on our adventures.

vacation arches

What’s your vacation dream?

In the meantime, get out there and enjoy the world around you. Leave me a comment to let me know what amazing things you’ve discovered!

vacation capitol reef

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Procrastination, Ponderings, and Perfection?

I am a serious fan of procrastination. I probably shouldn’t admit that – and I certainly wouldn’t advocate procrastination as a way of life for my children or my students. But alas, procrastination has been my pattern for decades; you can ask my thesis advisor how that worked out for me in seminary!

On my neat and tidy editorial calendar, Tuesday afternoon is blocked off for “blog writing,” and that is normally how the week goes. Yet this week, it is now Wednesday afternoon and I’m just now putting words on paper. Sometimes, my procrastination is due to writer’s block. But not this week.

In fact, I’ve had this blog post in my draft folder for almost a year. It’s been started at least three times, but never finished. The original working title was “Work hard. Have fun.” My daughter has taken ballet for three years now, and that was what we would encourage her to do when she danced – work hard and have fun.

procrastination blog

Since I was intending to write about ballet, I wanted to include some artwork of ballet dancers.

Who better to feature in a ballet blog post than Degas?

Dancers in Pink, Edgar Degas
Procrastination wins round one

In just a matter of minutes, I found myself lost in literally hundreds of beautiful paintings in stunning pastel colors, the rich hues perfectly capturing the grace, elegance and poise of the dancers.

Four Dancers, Edgar Degas

And so the post didn’t get written. Take two on writing, take two on browsing through masterpieces. Procrastination wins again.

Now it’s the third attempt, and this time, I decided to follow advice I often get from Laura (which is oddly similar to what my thesis advisor said when I captured by procrastination in seminary) – “just write something!” So I started thinking, “maybe getting sidetracked by Degas’s art isn’t a problem; maybe it’s not simple procrastination.” What if my eye is captivated by beauty and that beauty is more interesting to me in the moment than using the beauty as an illustration?

Can we enjoy beauty just for the sake of beauty? Since this is an art blog, you may guess that my answer would be “yes!” And indeed, it is – an emphatic YES! Of course! Beauty is meant to be enjoyed! We were meant to love that which is beautiful. What beauty captivates you?

Oh, and my little ballet dancer? Well, Degas never painted her, but I sure have enjoyed watching her dance. And I think she’d make a great painting subject!

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Give a man a fish….paint a man a fish?

There’s an oft-quoted saying that says “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” But what happens if you paint a man a fish?

My daughters attend a classical school where we talk a lot about Truth, Goodness and Beauty. So when Christmas rolls around and I’m thinking about teacher gifts, I try to think along those lines. Food, candles, and lotion seem to be hot teacher gifts every year, and this year I wanted to think “outside the box” and look for gifts that were true, good and beautiful.

My oldest daughter is in fourth grade and this year in science, they are studying sea creatures. Laura’s first acrylic painting was a jellyfish.

© Laura Gabel, “Jellyfish Dance”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “Jellyfish Dance”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.

I thought it would be fantastic if we were able to purchase that painting for her teacher. I first spoke with my daughter to see if she liked the idea. She was exuberant in her approval. So we contacted the other parents, who were also enthusiastic and quickly donated towards the purchase.

We were all amazed when Laura surprised us by painting a companion painting to our jellyfish. This incredible Austin Blue Crab:

© Laura Gabel, “Austin Blue Crab”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.
© Laura Gabel, “Austin Blue Crab”. Acrylic on canvas, 13.5 x 16.5. Private collection.

When the paintings arrived, I contacted the parents and we arranged a private art viewing from the back of my car after school one afternoon. It was difficult to tell who was more excited – the parents or the students. I spoke with our art teacher, who has guest blogged for us previously, and she agreed to take some time during the students’s art class to allow the students to sign the backs of the paintings for their teacher. They were thrilled!

give a fish

Finally, the last day of school before Christmas arrived. When I walked in the classroom during the party with a large wrapped present, the students all started jumping up and down in excitement and grabbed their teacher to open the present. They crowded around her so much that it was difficult to get a picture. She was astounded at the gift.

give a fish

The students are so proud our “their” paintings and take great pride in having real art, real personal art in their classroom. Not only do they have something beautiful adorning their classroom, they have a visual representation of the truth of what they are studying in science, and they experience the joy of giving a good gift to their teacher.

paint a fish

What will you give?

I know we are past the gift giving season of the year. How many of us received gifts that were true, good and beautiful? How many of us gave such gifts? Or did we, on occasion, buy a gift because we felt “obligated” or we rushed and grabbed something that was just available in our budget? Did you receive gifts that felt a bit like the giver didn’t really put much effort into the gift?

Let me encourage you to think about truth, goodness and beauty when you give a gift. Give some art! Yes, it can be expensive; can you perhaps give a group gift? What about you and your siblings getting a portrait of the grandchildren painted for your parents?

Let’s give gifts that nourish both the giver and the receiver. Painting a fish may not feed the stomach of my daughter’s teacher, but it is feeding her mind and soul for a lifetime. And her students will be fed as well.

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