Tag Archives: creative

The Transforming Power of Heat


 It has been a rare treat to have an entire week to connect and make memories with just one of my five children. The last time Grace and I had this much uninterrupted bonding was 18 years ago in the days leading up to Molly’s birth. It has been a rare gift, one that I will probably never have again, so we are making the most of it and are filling our memory banks with a bundle of special experiences.

Our next adventure was to Kolor-N-Kiln, a paint your own pottery studio at Robinson Mall, that I discovered when we were there for the Sign-A-Thon in May. I was thrilled to stumble across this creative gem after losing our favorite “paint your own pottery” shop in Cranberry. When the older kids were young we frequented that studio often, enjoying the experience of creating permanent and treasured works of art with Grace, Molly and Rusty. We were all disappointed when it went out of business, so when I discovered Kolor-N-Kiln I knew it must be one of our girls’ week activities.


Grace and I arrived at the mall early.

We were greeted by a sweet gal who walked us through the creative process…

Step 1: Choose your pottery piece. There were dozens of options including mugs, plates, piggy banks, cookie jars, etc.


Grace decided on a vase with the thought being that it could be used and enjoyed in her room now but then also be used for decades to come in her future homes.

I decided on a butter dish, having recently lost mine to an enthusiastic and energetic “dish washer.”

Once we had picked our pieces and paid for them it was time for the next step.

Step 2: Wipe down the pottery with wet sponges, removing all dust.


Step 3: Pick out you paint colors. This was by far the most challenging step as the choices were abundant and the colors were all beautiful. Grace and I both finally settled on  Jungle Gems; paints that contained metallic flecks that burst into spots of color in the heat of the kiln, creating a mosaic look.


Step 4: Begin painting.


The interesting thing about the paint Grace and  I both chose is that what you paint on your piece looks nothing like what the finished product will be. Gracie’s chalky and grainy green paint will transform into a marbled jade in the heat of the kiln. My dark grey paint will become a mosaic masterpiece of creams, browns and robin egg blue when exposed to the intense temperatures of the kiln. As a result there is a certain level of faith needed as you continue painting what seems a mess, trusting that the mess before you will transform into something beautiful when exposed to heat.


I couldn’t help but take note of how much the process resembles our own mortal journey. Here we stand, unfinished and raw works of art. Messy and grainy, certainly not “mantle worthy.” But if we trust the potter and submit to His vision, despite the fact that the process seems messy and grainy, His process will transform us. He will take that mess and create a masterpiece.

But to do so heat is always needed.

It is within the intense fire of the kiln that we, the clay, are strengthened.

It is within the intensity of the kiln that the mess transforms into something beautiful.

That sort of transformation never takes place in the cool, comfortable seasons of our life…

Only in the seasons of fiery testing.

As Grace and I finished our projects and stepped away from the finished mess,

Surrendering our finished works to the master of the kiln,

Trusting that the added heat might turn our mess beautiful,

It was a powerful and poignant reminder of the greater purpose of each of our “kiln seasons” of life. They are hard seasons to live through, and we are grateful when the furnace cools, but no season of life is:

More transforming,

More affecting,

More essential,

Than the “kiln seasons” of mortality…

When we humbly submit and surrender our mess to Him and let Him transform the broken into the beautiful.

The finished projects:

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The Art of Hearing



What does sound look like?

If you were to turn the sound of dogs barking

Or raindrops falling

Into a visual work of art, what form would it take on the canvas?

It is an interesting question…

One I had never given thought to until last Friday,

But these ponderings have consumed my thoughts ever since, sparking within me a desire to put color to canvas and create.

Friday night, following an enjoyable day at the Erie Art Museum, Grace and I kept the prevailing theme of the day going with an evening at a local art show. Gracie heard about this particular artist from her ASL teacher. She came home eager to share news of this show with Molly and I, along with an invitation to join her.

The story behind this artist was as compelling as the artwork itself. Here is her story as told through an article published by The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

“The darkness in these paintings represents the quiet.

Bright colors portray loud sounds.

The dots show sound being transferred … sometimes broken up … between the inconsistent noises.


Artist Andrea Echavarria, who is deaf, has a cochlear implant, an electronic medical device that replaces the function of the inner ear and provides sound signals to the brain. It’s allowed her to explore another world when it comes to her paintings.

Recurring shapes in her art signify the cochlear implant, which allows her to hear things after spending most of her life in silence.


She’s now hearing loud sirens, dogs barking and the calm of her mother’s voice, which has inspired her ideas for artwork to help her express what she hears.

She’s created a collection of these expressions ­— “The Art of Hearing: Works by Andrea Echavarria” — for a show from 6 to 9 p.m. April 13 at 448 Studios, in Etna. The 30 pieces will be for sale.

“I want to let people know that deaf people can do many things,” Echavarria says via Eileen Noble, a certified American Sign Language interpreter from Harmarville. “I can express myself through my art. It really feels awesome inside. It’s my passion.”

Echavarria says she couldn’t do it without the assistance of artist Tom Mosser, whose work has been featured at sports venues across the U.S. He was her first art teacher. Mosser describes himself as part mentor, eccentric uncle figure, goofy friend, buddy, part life coach, speech coach, big brother and fellow artist. He often writes inspiring messages to her on the studio walls and works daily on learning sign language.

“Any time I’m bumming out over a sore knee, or a sore elbow or something, I only have to look across the studio floor and I see what hurdles she overcomes daily,” Mosser says. “I’ve had a giant metal ruler for years. Every so often it will fall on the floor with a huge crash. Before the implant, Andrea would never move. Now, when it happens, she kind of jumps. And that makes me smile. I’m a much better artist and person for having been around her and her family.”

“Tom has been a blessing to her,” says Andrea Echavarria’s mother, Laurel. “She would never have expanded who she is as an artist without him. He pushes her in a kind and loving way. He tells her not to be afraid to make a mistake.”

Echavarria, 29, who works in oils, watercolors and acrylics, attended the Western PA School for the Deaf in Edgewood and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and says she always knew she wanted to be an artist.

“I like being really creative and I have been using sounds I hear in my paintings,” she says. “I am a deaf person and I am proud of that. Hearing sounds is also an awesome thing.”

The transition to the implant in 2009 at age 21 wasn’t easy. It was overwhelming at times and she needed to turn the volume down on the implant.

“When I got the implant, I was wondering what I would be able to hear,” she says. “I was hoping to hear something. I didn’t know what to expect, after not hearing for so long. I began to hear sounds. I didn’t know what they were yet, but they were my dog barking, cars swooshing by on the street, my family’s voices, people talking, the telephone ringing.

“It’s hard to explain. It’s different than what you hear. Sometimes I get a headache if there’s a lot of noise. I wasn’t used to all the loud noises. I was used to a very quiet life before. I’m more confident around people now because I can speak a little now. And I just feel more connected to the world around me through sound. Technology has been a great thing for me to communicate and for my art. ”      -JoAnne Klimovich Harrop of the Tribune-Review

After driving home from Erie, Molly prepared for work, disappointed that she would be unable to join us. It was unfortunate that Molly couldn’t tag along, as I know she would have enjoyed the event, but these unfortunate circumstances allowed Grace and I to get in some fun one-on-one time.

The studio was located in Etna. Tucked behind a large warehouse, we found 448 Studios.


Within its walls we found inspiration in the form of paintings by Andrea Echavarria.


We wandered wall to wall soaking up the sight of sound as interpreted by this talented artist. The artwork was moving…affecting…powerful.


And we found ourselves drawn into the artwork.


While enjoying the art, Gracie ran into fellow classmates and teachers from her American Sign Language classes, and it was fun to step into Gracie’s world and watch her communicate so naturally and joyfully with others in ASL.

Our conversation on the drive home revolved around the things we had seen at the show. Inspired by the art of another, we both left feeling the desire to create.

I suppose that is one of the hallmarks of a true artist…

They make you look at the world in a new way,

They affect you on a personal level,

They pull from within a raw, emotional reaction,

and they touch the artist that exists within each of us, leaving us with a need to go out into the world and create our own art.



Erie Art Museum



Last Friday we had our second field trip of the year to Erie with 21st Century Cyber Charter School. Like the field trip to the Erie Zoo in February, we planned to pick up Ozzie and take him with us. We also had Tatum joining us for the day.

Our day began bright and early with everyone rolling out of bed at 5:30 am. The field trip was scheduled to begin at 9:30 am but we had a 2 hour drive ahead of us and a family therapy session scheduled with Ozzie for 8:00 am, which meant an early morning! I figured if we were already making the trek up north we ought to fit in a family session at his RTF while we were in the area. He is scheduled to be discharged this weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) so we wanted to fit in one more family session with the other kids before he came home.

We arrived at the Erie Art museum right on time, following a successful family therapy session with Ozzie and the rest of the kiddos.  In addition to our group of 7, there were two other students, two other parents, and two teachers signed up for the tour.

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I wasn’t sure how the day was going to play out. I knew the three girls would enjoy the art museum but wasn’t sure how much this particular field trip would appeal to the three boys. I assumed we would simply be walking through the museum and looking at art, but soon discovered there was much more to this outing than meets the eye, and it ended up being one of the coolest outings we have attended in a long time.

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We were blessed with an exceptional tour guide, a sweet girl who was both knowledgeable and engaging, drawing everyone into the experience, even the younger boys.

We began our day on the first floor, in a room showcasing large canvases with the shared theme of “art that tricks your eye.” As we walked around the room we discussed the techniques each artists used to create the optical illusions that played out on the wall before us.

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Then we all had the opportunity to create our own eye-tricking work of art.

Using two circles of paper, we drew two different parts of the same picture on the two circles. For example: a fish bowl on one paper and the fish on the other.

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By gluing the two circles to either side of a wooden dowel we created a spinning toy that became a moving work of art. Like a child’s flip-book, the motion of spinning the dowel merged the two drawings and the eye would then register the two images as one.

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It was very neat and all the kids had fun with this art project.

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From there we moved upstairs to an exhibit of prints made with engravings.

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Once again after learning about this art medium, we had the opportunity to create our own work of art. We were each given a piece of Styrofoam and were encouraged to walk around the room, be inspired, and create our own engraving on the Styrofoam that we would use to create a print.

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After everyone had finished their engraving we moved to a workroom where we learned how to use our engraved “plates” to make prints.

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Gracie’s print.

The finished results were delightful!

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After a 30 minute lunch break we reconvened for the second half of the outing which was a scavenger hunt through the museum. We were split into two teams and were each given a scavenger hunt list of exhibits to visit and tasks to perform at each stop.

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It was an awesome way to help the kids really engage with the exhibits, making learning about the art fun and impactful.

I was on a team with Rusty, Grace and Ozzie, while Tyler, Molly, and Tatum joined the other team.

Some of our scavenger hunt tasks included:

1.Choose one piece of art in the Sharon Kerry-Harlan exhibit and write a haiku poem about the piece.

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2. In the Frenzel Gallery take a look at Schabacker’s animal fabric collages and choose one of the animals from the gallery to sculpt out of clay.

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3. In the Bacon Gallery find the self portrait wall in James McMarray’s exhibit. Spend a few minutes looking at the collection of self portraits.

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Go to the end of the gallery and find the self portrait station and create a self portrait.

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4. Step inside the Gary Spinosa exhibit and spend a few minutes viewing the sculptures . What adjectives would you use to describe this exhibit?

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At the end of our scavenger hunt we joined the other team back at the starting point to compare notes. What a fun way to engage visitors in the art!

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It was an awesome field trip and I can’t say enough positive things about the Erie Art Museum and its staff.

This outing earned two thumbs up!

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Mural Club Creativity



Thursday morning we left our cottage by the sea by 8:30 am to make the 1 1/2 hour drive to Downingtown, PA, where my four oldest kids’ cyber charter school is located. The next three days will be filled with end of the school year activities, and this big art project by the mural club was the first event scheduled.

My three oldest kids are all members of the school’s mural club. Every other week they meet virtually over their computer’s web cams and create a painting on canvas that their mural club teacher leads them through.

Grace joined mural club three years ago and has loved it. Her first year Lana, Olivia, Grace and I traveled out to Downingtown so that they could participate in the mural club’s first wall mural. Grace submitted a design for that mural and her design was chosen. It was a painting of the state with the different subjects taught in the school represented within the borders of Pennsylvania.


Last year the members of the mural club didn’t all come together to create a wall mural, but rather created the same painting of the school’s logo on individual canvases with their own creative, Andy Warhol-like spin. Those paintings now hang on the walls around the school.

This year the theme of mural club throughout the year has been food. Each mural club meeting they have been creating artwork of food on canvases in their own homes under the instruction of Ms. Cloetingh, in preparation for the big mural that was to be a food themed mural for the school’s lunchroom.

The students were invited to submit designs for the big wall mural and my three kids each submitted a design with Gracie’s “four seasons of food” design being chosen as the one that would be used.

Prior to going, the kids, with Olivia and Tatum, decided that they wanted to do something special for their mural club teacher and came up with this “art bouquet.” Using a can filled with florist foam, we created “flowers” using paintbrushes and tubes of acrylic paint taped to colored pencils. We were thrilled how it turned out!


We dropped off the mural club members and Grace documented the creative process with her camera.

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They began with Gracie’s sketch being projected up onto the canvas, which they outlined with black markers, creating a giant coloring book on the wall.

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Then the mural club members began filling it in, using an ombre’ effect for the background of the four seasons of themed foods.

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There were a lot of mural club members there so they made quick work of this big task.

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At lunch time the mural club students were able to join all the school staff for their big end of the year BBQ in the back parking lot of the school. They had fun reveling in this celebratory atmosphere and had fun mingling with their teachers.

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After lunch they enjoyed the yummy homemade cupcakes Olivia brought for the mural club to enjoy. They were as “artistic” as they were yummy!

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At 3:00 we returned to pick up the kids and got to see the finished product…a work of art that will hang on the wall of the teachers’ lunchroom for years to come.

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Nice work, Mural Club!

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Our crew was the last to leave so we were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the upstairs where the teachers of the school congregate and spend their days on the other side of my kids’ computers.

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Most had left for the day, as it was the last day of school for staff, but the kids were able to leave notes for their favorite teachers taped to their desks.

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Boy do we love this school!

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Thanks for another great experience, 21st Century Cyber Charter School!


Christmas in the Woods

All bundled up for a fun day outside.

All bundled up for a fun day outside.

I am late in posting these photos, but better late than never…right?

Christmas in the Woods is now over but we were happy to make it this year after a few years of missing it due to the life changes that come with adopting little boys. Christmas in the Woods, as much as we enjoy it, really isn’t their scene. Oh, how far we have come to be able to attend an event like this and have everything go smoothly,

without incident,

and have everyone leave smiling!

Christmas in the Woods is the ultimate “craft show.” It takes place in eastern Ohio in the woods (hence the name.) It features a village of cottages, each housing a different artisan selling their wares. Everything is handcrafted. There is everything from jewelry, up-cycled products, art work, hand sewn products, whimsical décor,  yummy edibles, hand carved wooden spoons, etc.

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However, as fun as the shopping is, that is not what brings us back year after year. It is the atmosphere. The sounds, smells and tastes of autumn as it welcomes in Christmas. It is a charming place to spend the day and we were excited to be back.

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When we arrived Toby paid for us to get in while I handed out scavenger hunt sheets. I knew this really wasn’t the boys’ scene so I thought I’d make it more fun for them (thus making it more enjoyable for the rest of us) by creating a scavenger hunt list of items they needed to find as we walked around the woods.

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The boys embraced the challenge immediately, and even the girls had fun participating. I promised a treat at the end for those they found all the items on their list!

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When we entered the gates we heard a familiar sound. We followed the music to an outdoor stage where one of our favorite holiday performers was entertaining the crowd:

B.E. Taylor!

B.E. Taylor!

What a fun treat. We LOVE B.E. Taylor! We found a spot to stand and enjoy the free concert.

The kids loving the show.

The kids loving the show.

The chill in the air, the smell of cinnamon and pine, and the beautiful Christmas music left us feeling the Spirit of the season.

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Everyone had fun wandering from booth to booth, checking out the wares and tasting the samples. The food booths where they offered samples of the different dip mixes were definitely the favorite booths of my boys!

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While we ended up mainly window shopping (with the exception of a few small purchases by the girls) I found the atmosphere got my creative juices flowing and I was overcome with the desire to go home and decorate for fall.

(It’s about time…right?!)

Molly enjoying some hauntingly beautiful music...

Molly enjoying some hauntingly beautiful music…

By the end of the day everyone was chilled and ready for a warm treat. Our final stop was a hot cocoa booth where they were selling homemade hot cocoa mixes. I told the kids that their scavenger hunt prize was a package of hot cocoa mix that we would take home and enjoy while warming up. The kids loved trying all the samples they had for testing…

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We decided that white chocolate was our favorite.

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What a wonderful was to spend an autumn day as we look forward to the arrival of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas!

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Birthday Party in a Bottle


The question was, “How do we celebrate a special birthday, for a special lady, when we are miles apart?”


Next week is Mimi Joy’s birthday and this year we can’t celebrate with our usual birthday celebration.

We can’t take her out to dinner.

We can’t bake her a cake.

But we wanted her to know that she was loved and thought of on her special day,

soooooo… we sent her a

“Birthday Party in a Bottle!”

When the girls suggested it I knew it was the perfect “Plan B.”

First stop was to the Dollar Tree to buy our party supplies. We wanted to include everything she would need to have a birthday celebration with her missionary companion. We bought cake mix and icing, party decorations, balloons, birthday candles, noise makers, candy, some pampering treats for her to enjoy, and a gift card for a pizza dinner.


The most important item we bought, however, was the BOTTLE! Dollar Tree sells 3 liter bottles of soda as opposed to the 2 liter bottles sold at most other stores.

When we arrived home we began making our “birthday party in a bottle.”

Step 1: Make birthday cards for Mimi. Everyone decorated birthday cards with special messages inside.

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Step 2: Prep the soda bottle. Before we could fill the bottle we had to empty the bottle. We poured the root beer into another container to drink later and rinsed out the bottle.


Step 3: Remove the label and cut a slit in the side of the bottle. (vertically)

Step 4: Using the slit to access the inside of the bottle, dry the bottle out well, leaving no moisture.

Step 5: Then the fun begins…Time to pack it! Pack the bottle tightly and strategically using every bit of available space you can. It is amazing all you can fit in the bottle.


Step 6: When the bottle is filled, tape the slit closed with clear packing tape.


Step 7: Cover the slit with a colorful piece of card stock. On this you can write the address of who it is going to

as well as a birthday message for the birthday girl.

By covering the taped slit you leave the recipient puzzling over how you fit all that birthday fun down the small neck of the bottle.

Step 8: Mail it! Just as it is. The post office will weigh it and put the postage directly on the bottle making for a really fun, unusual package to get in the mail.

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And that is it.

A birthday party in a bottle: the next best thing to being there!