Monday, February 8, 2016

Best Shot Monday: Meet Topaz

Topaz 
Let me tell you about this incredible girl. Her name is Topaz. She's a red and white American Pit Bull Terrier mix, about two and a half years old. This girl may have come into the shelter as a stray, but she's either naturally brilliant (which I don't doubt!) or she's been in a home with someone who spent some time training her.

She is A --- MAY --- ZING!

First, let's talk about that smile.  I was at the shelter for about four hours for this shoot, photographing 22 dogs, and I spent at least 30 minutes with Topaz.  She was just so much fun.  I have at least 50 shots of her, and in every single one, she is smiling just like this!  Every single one.  One reason she is smiling is that she is simply that awesome and likes to show off her best side.  But another reason she is smiling is because I had tennis balls.  And this girl is one of the most amazing ball dogs I've seen in quite a while.  I'd hold up the ball, and she'd take two steps back and sit down just like this, smiling and waiting for me to throw her the ball.  Every single time.  And then I'd throw her the ball.  And she'd catch the ball.  Every single time.  Then she'd walk back over to me, drop the ball at my feet, take her two steps back, and sit down and smile again.  Then we'd repeat the process.  She never missed. She never hesitated to bring the ball back to me so I could throw it for her again.  She never stopped smiling.  Talk about one awesome dog.

She recently went out on a sleepover, but unfortunately one of the family members was allergic so they sadly had to bring her back in.  Which is good for you!  She's waiting for you to adopt her at Jacksonville's Animal Care and Protective Services, 2020 Forest St.  They are open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-6pm.  Bring her a ball!  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Meet Honey: Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue

Honey 
Oh, this girl. The redheads and I spent some volunteer time with Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue this past Saturday. They have adoption booths two Saturdays a month at PetSmart on northeast Capital Circle. While we are there, we take the dogs down to a grassy area for their glamour shots. Honey is not only obviously gorgeous (and very photogenic!), she is a super sweet girl. She's a medium to large size, a little more on the medium side, walks so well on her leash and will surely make the right family very happy to have her as a new family member. She looks to be a Lab and Golden mix with a little Heinz 57 mixed in.  She reminds me so much of my Molly!  She's not yet listed on the Big Dog Rescue website, but if you are in the Tallahassee area and interested in her, you can contact her foster mom through their website.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Looking Back on 2015

It’s been two full months since I’ve posted, so I guess it’s time to fully look back at 2015. It was certainly a year filled with dramatic change for us. Change is always challenging, but I think we’ve had our fill for a while.

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If we’re connected on Facebook, you probably have a pretty good idea why I haven’t posted in two months. The picture above sort of sums it up, taken in “recovery” about three and a half weeks post surgery. In the late night/early morning hours after my last blog post on November 24, my husband had a massive heart attack. He had gone home to Jacksonville that Monday to prep for our Thanksgiving holiday, so the girls and I were still in Tallahassee finishing up the school week. I’m incredibly grateful that he had the strength and the sense to call 911, as I understand most men in his situation don’t. He was sitting on the front porch when rescue arrived from Blount Island just a few moments later, and he told the EMT he thought he was having a heart attack. The EMT checked him out and said, “Sure enough, you’re having a heart attack. Better lock up your house.” He called me at 2:30am to tell me. His cardiologist called me at 4:30am to tell me it wouldn’t be a simple stent procedure. I woke up the girls at 5:30am and headed home. The following Monday he had a quintuple bypass.

Those next three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are truly a blur. I was back and forth between Benny in the hospital and, finally, recovering at home in Jacksonville and our girls in school in Tallahassee. We are very thankful to have had so much help on both ends of I-10, friends taking care of my girls in Tallahassee while I was in Jacksonville with Benny and friends and family taking care of Benny in Jacksonville while I was in Tallahassee with the girls. I put nearly 3,500 miles on my car in three weeks. It was an incredibly difficult time, but we made it through. We’re back in Tallahassee now, Benny doing his cardiac rehab program, and praying for a full recovery. One day, I’ll summon up the courage to find a YouTube video of an open heart quintuple bypass.

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Somewhere in all that, the holidays came and went. We spent Thanksgiving and another 10 days in the hospital, and Christmas was quiet and restful, the girls and I taking the dogs on their annual Christmas morning trek to Black Rock Beach without Benny since he was far from ready for a trek like that. Somewhere in there, I also apparently had my 50th birthday, though we’ve decided that milestone really didn’t happen yet since we had to cancel the surprise party Benny had planned for me. My birthday was two days after his surgery. Thank you to Jim and Doug for dragging me to Barnaby’s for pizza and a beer when I got back to Tallahassee to be with the girls that week. And thank you to Sandi, who kept the girls that week and picked up a cake and balloons.

That’s how 2015 ended for us, but the whole year was a year of transition. With the start of my new job – a move I still haven’t quite comes to grips with a year later; adjusting to the professional challenges that job brought forth – not only learning a new role, but also missing so many pieces of my old role, most especially the students; and lastly, uprooting my family from our home in Jacksonville to a house in Tallahassee in August – and adjusting to a whole new way of life.

They say everything happens for a reason, so I keep reminding myself of the reasons I accepted my new role: our kids are in a much better school district, and I’ll have a much better retirement. The first is very important to me; I guess the second should be. It’s been a little over a year now, and I can’t honestly say that we’ve settled in. I’m not sure we ever will. Home will always be over there. Some may think that’s a draw that’s a little too enticing, perhaps keeping us from fully immersing ourselves in our lives in Tallahassee, but we’re standing pretty firm on that one. We seem to be in a neighborhood of temporariness. We’ve met others on our little street that are in a similar situation to ours: renting while they try out a new role for a year or three or five or six, and it seems half the homes on our street are rentals.

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Someone very dear to me shared a confession recently that she’d lost herself over the past year; she didn’t recognize the girl she saw in the mirror. I love that girl dearly, and my heart hurt for her when I read it. But I know how she feels. I’ve felt that way often over this past year. Maybe not for the same reasons, as she and I are facing very different challenges, though we’ve both started new jobs. Over the past year, I feel like I’ve lost a lot of myself … walking away from a role I had served in for the past 20 years.  Though things were certainly about to be in an upheaval at my former employer, I still until the very day I walked out the door, tears in my eyes, loved my job. And that walking away extended not only to the career change, but also to my place in the world, that little 6’ x 12’ art studio downstairs, and very much to the ground under my feet and that river in the backyard. This girl, this apparently now 50-year-old girl, is still struggling with this new role she’s in and this new life she is living. (And don’t even get me started on what it feels like to have your husband go through what mine just did and the added fear that experience adds to your life. That’s a post for another day.)

Walking through this house in Tallahassee still feels strange, yet here are Pete and Zoey sitting next to me as I write this. Driving to work down Thomasville Road instead of Heckscher Drive and I-95 South still feels strange, yet I still swing through McDonald’s for my morning tea fix. Not being on a campus filled with students feels more than strange – it’s down right lonely – and yet there’s a campus of nearly 40,000 students just a half mile from my office. Our girls seem to have settled into their new school well; that part’s a blessing. My husband is doing a darn good job of keeping a positive attitude in the middle of all this transition, even with a shiny new eight inch scar going down his chest, though he’s certainly ready to be fully recovered and fully healthy. Me? I guess I have good days and not so good days, like we all do. I’ve had a year in the job, but we as a family, have only had five months here.

My hope for 2016? I guess my biggest hope is that all this stops feeling so strange. And we all feel more settled. And we all make the time to do the things we love again. I’ll start with trying to check back in here with you more often, and hopefully have some art and photography and jewelry to share, because that will mean I've recaptured at least part of me, that part that's always making something. My baby sister turns 41 tomorrow, and that's got me feeling so much more like a grown up. As such, we often have to make decisions that, while they may not be our heart's desire, we hope and pray are in the best interest of our families in the long run.  That's where I find myself here now nearly one month into 2016.  Hoping and praying I'm doing what's best for my family.  And hoping that 2016 brings you all that you hope for, too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Shot Monday: 17045 NW 11th Avenue

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(So it's Tuesday...who's counting? And this isn't exactly a stunning photo, but it does have a story behind it.)   I was born in Miami. The best that I can remember, we lived in four different places in Miami before moving to St. Petersburg when I was in the middle of 5th grade. I can't really say why, but 17045 NW 11th Avenue is the address that's always stuck with me. I even remember my phone number from that house.

I was in Miami this past weekend for a Student Government conference, and curiosity got the best of me.  I wanted to see it. It's so funny how you remember things from your childhood being so much bigger than they actually were. The nearby landmarks that stuck out so clearly in my mind were an arch, kind of like the St. Louis Arch, and in my mind it was that big, and a Levitz furniture store. The arch was still there, right at the intersection of 826 and 12th Avenue, but it was a quarter of the size I remember it being. Levitz was no longer there, but the industrial area there did have a furniture, flooring and building supply vibe to it. When I was a child, the area just to the north of 826 at the south end of our street was a big open field. It was full now, with a hotel and more industrial buildings.

But as soon as I made the turn onto the street, there it was, the second house on the right, right where I remembered it. And there was the Hunter's house across the street, and Timmy Taylor's house next door. I remember there being a big tree to the left of the sidewalk in our yard, but it was not there. Not sure if it ever was.  The house was so much smaller than I remembered it being. The neighborhood itself has held up pretty well as far as old neighborhoods like this go. Throughout the neighborhood, there were bars on all the windows and doors, but at least more than half of the yards and homes looked fairly well kept. The elementary school was still at the end of the street, though I wasn't allowed to go to that school. This was in the early to mid 1970's, so busing was in full force in Miami. Kids in my neighborhood were bused to a school on the other side of town, so my parents put me in a private school nearby, Northwest Christian Academy.  Looking back now, I have no idea how they afforded private school, but I'm glad they did. I have good memories from that school (including being sent home because I wore pants instead of a dress one day ... a rebel from an early age), and I still have my 4th grade NWCA yearbook.


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I've often heard it said that most parents dream of their kids doing better than they did. My mom's been gone nearly 16 years now, but she was doing pretty well financially in the years before she died, though obviously, she's a prime case of money not buying happiness. My dad's doing fine and still living in South Florida. My sister Kim and I had the opportunity to go to college right out of high school, something my dad didn't have the opportunity to do. My mother went straight into nursing school, Nana and Granddaddy sending her up to Miami from their home in Key West, where my mom was born and raised. Kim and I are now both fiercely independent.  While we had our parents help for our undergraduate degrees, I put myself through grad school and Kim put herself through a post-bachelor's advanced certification. We both now have happy, healthy families.

Our life experiences certainly make us who we are, whether we choose to take the best lessons from them or not. I took both good and not-so-good memories from 17045 NW 11th Avenue and hope I've made the best of them. As I've said many times before, I believe happiness is a choice and I try to make that positive choice every day.  Moving around so much when I was younger, I've wanted to keep a strong sense of home as I've become an adult and started raising my own family, which is why our move to Tallahassee was so hard on me and probably part of the reason I'm not sure I'll ever be fully grounded here.  "Home" will always be back in Jacksonville, in the home we built and raised our girls in and will go back to for retirement.  But I'm trying. I'm getting involved here. I've found an animal rescue to work with and I've accepted a position as a chapter advisor for my college sorority.  We're slowly growing some roots here on Wild Rose Way, though the deepest roots will always be thriving on Heckscher Drive.

*I first wrote of 17045 NW 11th Avenue in this post if you want to read it. Be forewarned, it's an emotionally revealing post, but a story I needed to share.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Best Shot Monday: Meet Farrah

Farrah

Well, I've finally hooked up with a rescue for which I can photograph dogs in Tallahassee! Meet Farrah! We first met Farrah when the girls volunteered with Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue back in September. When we came back to volunteer again, I promised I'd bring my camera. Farrah is obviously a gorgeous girl. Look at that face! She was quite a good poser for the camera as well. She pulled a bit on her leash and needs to learn some leash manners, but she is eager to please and loves to settle down on the grass and stretch out.

Here's what Farrah's foster mom has to say about her: "Total sweetness describes this baby. She had a rough past, found starving, torn up, with skin issues, heartworm positive and the list goes on. You would never know it now. She is at an ideal weight, with a gorgeous full coat of fur, heartworm negative and so full of love. She gets along with dogs and cats. She loves to play and will need to go to a home with another dog for her to play with or you will need to be active and want a jogging buddy!"

Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue (TBDR) is a private, non-profit rescue dedicated to rescuing as many dogs from abuse, abandonment, euthanasia and natural disaster as possible. I love their slogan: "We rescue big dogs, dogs who think they are big, and cats!"  Visit their website to read more about them and see other animals they have available for adoption.

It's very different volunteering with a small private, non-profit rescue like TBDR as compared to a large city organization like my home shelter, Jacksonville's Animal Care and Protective Services. While the mission is the same -- save as many animals as possible -- the approach is very different by necessity.  I'm still planning on getting into the Leon County shelter as well to see if I can help out there. And of course, I try to make it into ACPS every time we are home! ACPS will always be home. For now, I'm happy I can help TBDR as often as I can. You can see more dogs I photographed for TBDR in this Flickr album.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

2015 Documented Life Project: Week 20

Documented Life Project - Week 20

Week 20's challenge for the Documented Life Project was to use modeling paste. I've discovered that modeling paste works similar to the very thick gesso I used on these books in Albie's class at An Artful Journey back in 2011. What fun! On these pages, I started by laying down some color with spray inks and then stenciling on some modeling paste flowers.

Documented Life Project - Week 20

After the modeling paste dried, I went over the flowers with gelatos to give them more color and then finished up the spread with more stenciling, mark making and pen work. Check out all my 2015 Documented Life Project pages here and see everything the Art to the 5th gals have going on here! (Want to see my 2014 Documented Life Project book? Click here.)

Documented Life Project - Week 20

Monday, November 2, 2015

Best Shot Monday: Meet Mr. Big

Mr Big_A924150

This handsome boy is Mr. Big. Sweet Mr. Big and Velvet are currently Animal Care and Protective Services two longest residents. I love both of these dogs and have photographed each several times now.  Shelter staff believe Mr. Big is a three-year-old gray and white American Pit Bull Terrier.  He is a super great boy and a big hunk of love waiting patiently for his forever family.  We think he may do best as an only dog but, with him, that's more than enough to love.  He loves to take walks, is very smart, and learns quickly, especially when treats are involved!  He walks well on his leash, and he sits for treats. Each time that I have photographed him, he's been the perfect handsome model.

Can you believe this awesome boy has been in the shelter since April 16? That's more than six months. And yet, amazingly, it hasn't broken his spirit. He patiently sits in his kennel, holding his Kong in his mouth, just waiting for someone to come see him, take him outside and see how wonderful he truly is. Do you have room in your heart and your home for this big sweet hunk of love? He's available for adoption at Jacksonville's Animal Care and Protective Services. His ID number is A924150.

Mr Big and Kelly