Enjoying the Magic

Sparkle Shoes

So we had a big weekend….three-and-a-half days in New York City with my family and four students. Benny’s not real big on NYC, but he and the girls came with us again this year since our annual APCA Leadership Conference fell once again on the girls’ birthday. While I was in sessions all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, Benny and the girls wandered around town…walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, playing in Central Park, you know, stuff a guy would want to do. We did make it to a Yankees game Friday night too, so that was quite an experience.

I snapped the photo above on a quick whim on Thursday evening out at Coney Island. I always take my students out there the first night we’re in the city because I think Coney Island is just something you have to see. It’s not just the rides…it’s the people! All the crazy Coney Island boardwalk characters! Sarah was about to take off on the high flying swings when the sight of her snazzy little feet just screamed out to me. They just looked so small and frail, yet here they were attached to this incredible little girl who was turning nine years old. Nine years old! How did this happen!?

I was able to do some girly stuff with the girls too. Did you know that American Girl Place in NYC (the home of American Girl dolls) is THREE STORIES! It looks deceptively small from the street, but good Lord, once you get inside you soon realize the store goes way back and up three floors. The girls were a bit overwhelmed (seriously, I was too!) but they finally managed to pick out something for their birthday presents that didn’t totally break the bank. That night, I took them to see Mary Poppins on Broadway while Benny watched the Olympics in the hotel. I think the girls and I definitely got the better show!

There’s something so magical about childhood, I think especially for me being blessed with two amazing little girls. Just watching the smiles on their faces as they rode the rides at Coney Island, seeing their “oh my gosh, can you believe all this stuff?” looks as they ran from section to section in American Girl Place, and then most especially, when Bert danced on the ceiling of the theater and Mary Poppins flew with her umbrella in the show. During intermission, I saw Sarah frantically twirling her necklace in circles and asked her what she was doing. She replied, “I’m playing jump rope with the fairies, Mama!"

When I was tucking the girls in Sunday night, I told them I couldn't believe they were nine years old and asked them both what their favorite thing was of the whole trip. Livvie’s was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (I’ll share some of her pictures later!), and Sarah’s was most definitely seeing Mary Poppins…and specifically seeing Mary Poppins fly up into the air with her magic umbrella. “It really was magic, wasn’t it, Mama?” Then as I was walking out the door, Livvie said "Mama, even though I'm nine years old, I'll always be your little girl..." Talk about magical...that's the kind of magical moment that melts a Mama's heart.

Off to the Big Apple!

FLK NYC Artists Gate

At 7:05am tomorrow morning, I'll be on a New York City bound plane! Every summer I take a group of students up to a leadership conference in NYC. It's a great experience for the students to be able to experience the city, especially since most of the students I take have never been.  Taking the family this year, too, since the girls' birthday is this weekend, and I can't be away from my girls on their birthdays! So Benny and the girls have big plans while I'll be in ed sessions all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, but at least we'll have most of the day Thursday, Friday night and Saturday night to play. We have Yankees/Red Sox tickets Friday night, and we hope to hit the half-price ticket booth for a Broadway show Saturday night.

I took this picture in NYC two years ago. As many times as I've been to New York, I've never noticed this particular gate to Central Park, and it's right smack dab in the middle of 59th St, not far from the Plaza! Have a great rest of the week!

Spiral Journal Spread 3: Sewing up a Broken Heart

Spiral Journal Spread 3

I've always felt that what has kept me in my current professional role for so long is the students I work with. My involvement with them is what helps me through the rough spots, even if they never know it. I've added several "adopted daughters" to my family over the years, and one of them suffered a broken heart last week.

I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with her, while my girls kept coming over asking what was wrong. When I tucked the girls into bed that night, I told them that their big sister C had a broken heart and asked them to keep her in their prayers. To that, Olivia responded with concern, "Mama, do I need to go down there and sew up her heart for her?" Oh, if only it were that easy, right? I've been teaching the girls how to sew, so sewing has been in the forefront lately.

I made this journal page in honor of C's broken heart and Livvie's response to it. Sarah suggested I add the "stitches" to the heart on the left side. The heart on the right to me symbolizes her heart in rest, staying just a bit under the covers while she heals.  I love incorporating the sweet things my girls say into my art journals.  Seems like the perfect place to always remember them.   

Heart-Stealer of the Day

Snicker, Beagle/Lab mix

This morning, I did my usual summer Friday morning volunteering at Animal Care and Protective Services photographing the dogs.  And wow!  I didn't have much work to do today!  We had a HUGE adoption event at the fairgrounds this past weekend, in which all the area shelters banded together for advertising and marketing and brought all the animals to the fairgrounds.  About 950 dogs and cats were adopted over the three-day event!  Isn't that awesome!?  Every dog and cat at AC&PS was adopted! (This was an extra good thing, because the one who stole my heart last week, Sam, was coming home with me if he didn't get adopted this weekend....) So when I arrived today, there were only 13 dogs there (and the shelter holds more than 100), all new arrivals since Sunday. 

This little girl was the one who stole my heart today.  Her name is Snicker. She's a beagle/lab mix, sweet as she can be but pretty shy.  Look at that sweet little face.  I'm finally starting to accept that I can't bring home every animal I fall in love with, so I just have to leave little pieces of my heart there with them.  You can see all the dogs I've photographed recently in this Flickr set.

Spiral Art Journal: Art and Spirit, Spirit and Art

Sprial Journal Spread 2

This is the second spread in my mixed up spiral art journal.  Still not crazy about the spirals, but I'm determined to make it work.  For you art journalers out there, what type of journal do you like to work in most? 

If I remember correctly, I got the quote stamp I used in this spread from my friend Cristi: "Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art."  (Sorry, the English teacher in me had to add that comma.)  It got me to thinking, though.  I think the opposite can be true for those of us with creative spirits, those who need that creative space to breathe. I often see it as: "Where the hand does not work with art, there is no spirit."  I hope Leonardo doesn't haunt me for altering his quote, but I think this is very true for me. Finding time to play with paint and paper or beads and wire or my trusty Nikon and a willing subject feeds my soul.  How about you? What feeds your soul?

Finding Breathing Room

Tonight's Catch

I am a born and bred water baby.  No matter what may be happening in my world, Mother Ocean calms me.  I've never lived more than 45 minutes from either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, and right now, my drive to the ocean is approximately eight minutes.  As I mentioned back in this post, I've been going through a rather trying time on the job, and this past Thursday I nearly hit my breaking point.  I left a meeting in which I felt totally deflated, devalued and demoralized and immediately went home. I hugged my babies, trying not to break down, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, grabbed my camera and told Benny I'd be back in a little bit. He had already caught the tears in my eyes when I hugged the girls, so he knew what was up, no explanations needed.  And I came here.

There's a little spot at the south end of Little Talbot Island, where Fort George Inlet meets the ocean.  It's my spot. I park across the street at the Fort George River access and scoot past the fence along the breakwater and to this spot of beach.  Unless you want to take a really long walk from the southernmost beach access at Little Talbot Island State Park, this spot is not accessible by any way other than how I reach it, illegally I'll admit, so I almost always have it to myself. By the time my toes hit the first little rush of tide, I can feel the bad parts of my day slipping away into the sand. And I just stand there ankle to knee deep in the water, letting the tide wash over my soul.

I spent about an hour out there Thursday afternoon, watching the birds and the waves and the ships coming out of the river, picking up shells here and there, and snapping pictures.  I was about to head back to the house when a memory washed over me, and the tears I had been fighting since that meeting broke through.  So I talked to my mom. She was out there, literally and figuratively.  Like me, she was also a water baby, born and raised in Key West.  About two and half years after her death, I woke up on Mother's Day, asked Benny to put the boat in the water, and we drove all the way out the mouth of the river into the ocean. And I scattered my mother's ashes. I hadn't planned to do that, but I just woke up that morning knowing that that was what I needed to do that day.  I had cut some of my geranium blooms before we left and scattered them with her ashes. Their bright red and pink petals looked so pretty on that blue water. 

So I talked to Mom about everything I was going through, even all the crap happening on top of the work struggles, and I know she was listening.  My tears dried up and I felt a calm come over me.  Moments later the clouds started clearing up and I looked up and saw this (below).  And do you know the first thought that popped into my head?  The Three Stooges. I knew my mother was out there.  And I thanked her for the smile and made my way back across the sand and home again.

You Can Make a Difference

Story, this little gal needs lots of love
Story and Sandy
I've been volunteering at Animal Care and Protective Services (the city animal shelter) here in Jacksonville for about three months now, photographing the dogs for the website and Facebook page.  Each time I go, I learn something new.  Early on, I learned how wrongly maligned Pit Bulls were.  It's not the dogs who are inately bad; it's people who make them that way. 

When I photograph the dogs, the first thing I have to do is get them out of their individual kennels, and that's honestly the most difficult part!  On my first day, I quickly learned that I wasn't very good at just slightly opening the door and slipping the leash over a dog's head...yep, learned that lesson when Penny almost got away from me!  I only managed to grab her by the scruff of her neck!  So I decided the best way for me to get the leash on them was to quickly get in the kennel with them!  Yes, I said quickly get in the kennel WITH them.  You may think this is crazy, but if you have no fear, the dogs have no fear, no matter their size or breed.  So I started dashing right into those kennels, quickly closing the door behind me, making a friend, and then slipping the lead over the head.  Now I will tell you that most of the dogs at ACPS are big dogs...and many of those big dogs are Pit mixes.  And not once have I felt threatened by any one of these dogs. 

Friday, I met a little girl who absolutely broke my heart. I've named her Story, because this photo of her (above) and First Coast No More Homeless Pets staff member Sandy most definitely tells a story.  This is a story about the power we have, as individuals, to make a difference in an abandoned animal's life.  I've photographed quite a few dogs over the past two months, but I've never seen one as scared and shy as Story.  She kept her head hung down and tailed tucked the whole time Sandy and I had her out in the yard, glued to either my side or his. She had obviously been abused and showed the mental scars of that abuse.  It's people who make those bad dogs bad.

There's hope for these animals though.  You!  Look at this beautiful girl!  Her name is Felecity and she is also a Pit mix, and she looks like royalty.  So next time you think about making a four-legged addition to your family, don't buy a designer dog.  Adopt a dog from your local animal shelter.  They will love you for life. I'll start posting a special furry friend of the week here for you to share these beautiful furry friends I'm making. I feel blessed to have the talent and opportunity to photograph these babies. Oh, how I wish I could bring them all home!  Hopefully my portraits of them will help them.

July Free Bling Friday!

Ruby Slippers

Time for my monthly Free Bling Friday giveaway! Random.org picked comment number ten as the winner of my June Free Bling, so congratulations to Sarah from northern New Jersey!

For July, how about some Ruby Slippers earrings?  My girls are July babies and love these ruby red earrings.  To be eligible to win, simply visit either of my Etsy shops (here for jewelry and here for photography) and leave a comment in the comment box below with the link to your favorite piece along with a way to reach you and where you’re from by midnight August 9, 2012. Want more entries? Tweet, blog or Facebook this giveaway and leave another comment with the link. The next winner will be drawn via random.org Friday, August 10.

Don't want to miss a single Free Bling Friday? Click here to sign up for free weekly email updates or subscribe in the reader of your choice over there in the right column. And be sure to like my Facebook page for specials. Thanks for stopping in! Giveaway open to US and Canadian residents only.

Just Begin...Spiral Art Journal

Sprial Journal Spread 1

I first started working in this art journal at the beginning of the year, but then, as things so often do in my world!, it fell to the wayside.  I picked it back up recently and reworked the first couple of pages.  This the first spread. Not sure why I kept the date the same as when I first started the page, but what the heck.  Not sure if I like working in this spiral format, but I'll see if I can fill this one up by the end of the year.  It's a Strathmore 6 x 9 mixed media visual journal. I do like the paper as it holds up to a lot of punishment!  And I've been in a bit of a panic because I can't find my 2011 Fun Journal!  I'm sure it's buried in my mess of a studio somewhere.  Am I the only one who is always losing things and then finding them months (or, um, years) later? 

What's Your Truth Today?

Boca Grande Seashore

My sweet friend Leanne has started a new series on her blog called "Keeping it Real" where she tells her truths of the week.  I've talked here before how many in blogland tend to keep to the positive, showing only the good, and not the bad and the ugly of their lives.  I'll admit, I do that, but I do that by choice.  I talked a bit about that here before.  I try to keep a positive attitude as much as possible, but I'll give Leanne's "Truth is..." a shot and see what I come up with...good, bad and ugly! 

Truth is....lately, I've simply just wanted to dive into a picture like that above and bury my head in the sea. I took that shot in Boca Grande while we were on vacation, and the week, though rainy, was a very welcome getaway from my workday grind, which truth is, has been very, very, very trying lately.  (Did I say it's been very trying?)

Truth is....I've been thinking a lot about my future and what my options are...and are not...and trying to be realistic even in light of the trying times mentioned above.

Truth is...Knee surgery has not been a "piece of cake" for me like so many others have told me it was for them.  I'm a life long athlete, so I expected my recovery to be easy. It hasn't been. Though I didn't have a full knee replacement, the "scrape and shrink" Doc did under my kneecap along with both medial and lateral meniscus tear repairs have left me with a really fat, ugly knee which, 10 weeks out, is still swollen. 

Truth is....I went for my first long walk yesterday anyway.  Though I had knee pain, it felt really good to get out there again...even though my knee looked like a cantelope by the middle of the day...a really ugly cantelope. 

Truth is....That meant I got to lay on the couch, icing my knee, while I snuggled with my girls watching Hawaii Five-O last night.  That's a good thing.

Truth is...I'm tired of living in a renovation zone, which I'm sure has been adding to my overall stress.  Our kitchen reno started over a month ago...and we still aren't done. I'm so ready to be done.

Truth is...I miss my art.  Trying times at work have meant extra hours and tasks that have made me grumpy and wanting to do nothing more than squeeze my babies when I get home. While squeezing the babies is definitely a good thing, I realize it's those little breaks I take down in my studio that really clear my mind from all the messiness and frustrations I'm dealing with at work.   Hope to get back to that soon.

So what's your truth today?