Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We Signed on the Dotted Line! Patience Pays Off!

Last Thursday was an important day! After two and one half years of working to rezone our Sixtwelve properties and three years of negotiating with BancFirst, we signed for our loan to make our dreams a reality.

Cheryl Borelli at BancFirst is a wonderful person to work with!

The process took so long because no bank would give a loan on a dilapidated structure. Our building was supposed to be torn down the week after we bought it. The bank couldn't get title insurance for the loan if the building was in that state. So James and I pooled our money and renovated the exterior and brought it back to a state of of stability with our own funds. We also had to wait until both properties were rezoned as a SPUD (Special Planned Unit Development) before we had approval to do all that we want to do with our project, and we didn't want to pay interest on a loan that we couldn't yet use. Moreover, we didn't want to do work that we might have to tear out if we didn't get the permissions we hoped for.  But everything has worked out!!! Woohooo!

The dumpster will be delivered and demolition on some of the interior starts tomorrow! We're going to reuse all existing lumber to frame everything and we're keeping as much of the wood floors as we can. I can't wait to get back up to OKC to see the progress. 2013 is going to be one incredible year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our Newest Board Member: Arif Smith!

I can't believe that it's been since October 4th since my last post. I've thought that I needed to update the ol' blog, but I've been working (and playing) pretty hard for the past couple of months so the time somewhat slipped away from me! I was co-chair for the Paseo Artist Awards last Thursday and in charge of centerpieces, video intro's for each award recipient, music, the poet and whatever else I could help with, i.e. making calls and stuffing envelopes. It was a lot of work, but so worth it! Now that it's over, I am shifting my focus back to SixTwelve!

The most important thing that I have neglected to share is the fact that we have a new board member!!! I'm so excited to announce that Arif Smith will be joining us! Arif is the Programming and Special Events Curator at Urban Roots. Urban Roots is a community space located in OKC's historic Deep Deuce area and includes an art gallery, a yummy little restaurant and bar and performance space for some wonderful music, dance, poetry and whatever other great programs they decide to host. Here's a clip of one of their Culture Kitchen performances. I love it!

When I first started to visit Urban Roots, I was attending to support friends who were playing Jazz on a Friday night. Each time I have returned, I've been moved by the number of people who showed up to experience community and "conviviality." (That's Arif's word.) This wonderful place encourages people to come together and to learn more about history, art, music, spoken word and dance. Arif is passionate about dance and music, He has taught for over 15 years and is currently teaching an 8-week Rueda de Casino (Wheel of Salsa) class at the Metropolitan School of Dance. I wish I'd had the time go shake it with Arif in one of these classes! :) Here is an excerpt of him teaching the same type of dance a couple of years ago.

The main reasons that I feel like we are lucky to have him on the SixTwelve board are his commitment to community, his kind, kind spirit and his work ethic. He always provides encouragement and he knows his subjects! He is a huge asset to Oklahoma City. Whether it's through his work at Urban Roots, his dedication to programs for youth in neighborhood schools in the Douglas High School area, his public dance or art programs, or just a one-on-one conversation, Arif is always warm and giving. He is exactly the kind of person I want as a boss and leader for SixTwelve. Blessings abound!

Next Post: The Paseo Art Association's Sixth Annual Oklahoma Artist Awards!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What a Wonderful Day

I have to admit that when the weather starts to cool off my mood improves, and yesterday was such a gorgeous day that I couldn't help but to feel better. After a weekend spent inside due to illness, it was a welcome reprieve, but the weather wasn't the only reason I felt so well. A couple of months ago, I posted about having some health issues and that I had to wait until early October to go back to the doctor for the follow up. My appointment was yesterday.

I don't want to go into too much detail about what exactly is going on. I'm sure that nobody really wants that much information. I will, however, report that I found out that I am going to be fine. The issues I was/am facing are manageable and will be monitored, thank goodness, but before yesterday I had dealt with worry, fear and questions, such as, "Will I be able to have children?" It's not that I'm married or even dating anyone seriously. Even at 41, I haven't planned on having kids anytime soon, but I didn't want my body to limit my opportunities in the future. I also feared death because my grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer and I'm just not ready to go yet! I have things I want to accomplish on this earth before I do.

So for the past two months, I have hidden a little. I've been inside my own mind. But yesterday, I was told that I wouldn't need surgery at this time and that I could still have kids if the time is ever right. James went with me so that I wouldn't have to handle the news by myself if it was the opposite. Realizing that I was blessed with a good report and an awesome friend made yesterday one of the most beautiful days so far. I'm really grateful. Now, on to use the time I have to put goodness into this world! Yippppeeeee!!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Board Member: Katie Kucharski

About a month ago, James and I asked Katie Kucharski to join the SixTwleve board and SHE SAID YES! We are ecstatic because she will bring such great things to the team. Katie is the Show House and Community Outreach manager for the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and Orchestra League, so she knows all about serving members of the Oklahoma City community. While I was still working at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Katie was the Education Coordinator for the Philharmonic, and thanks to the wonderful collaboration my colleague and awesome friend, Chandra Boyd, established between our two organizations, I had the privilege of working with Katie a couple of times during kids' events, aka the Discovery Series, which she planned at the Civic Center. It was always so much fun!

Dr. Irv Wagner and Katie in 2005
(I chose this old picture because 1. I love Irv and 2. It shows Katie with her Trombone!

Katie has two degrees in music and is passionate about the arts in Oklahoma City. From the time that I first told her about our dreams for SixTwelve, she has asked and asked what she could do to support and help us. She said she didn't care what it was; she just wanted to help. THAT'S exactly what we need! I'm so excited to work with Katie. Her positive, brilliant and incredibly happy personality blends perfectly with her professionalism to make her a true asset to our project. We're so lucky to have her. Welcome aboard, Katie!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Update: Health

A lot has happened since my last post! James finished getting approvals for all of our requests from the city for 612 and we finally got our building permit! Yes! We then turned in all of our paperwork for our bank loan and are currently waiting on the appraisal of our property (should be completed on Sept. 7) and then we'll know what we have to work with. We have also added another board member, Katie Kucharski! My next blog entry will focus on Katie and how lucky we are to have her join the team. For this entry, I thought I would just give an update over what has been catch up!

I guess the biggest thing that has been on my mind is my health. Last semester, I decided that as soon as I graduated I would take a deeper interest in my health. I had ignored things for too long, focusing on school and life in general. I went in for checkups, got my teeth cleaned, etc. and had some tests run before I left for this latest trip. While I was in Savannah I received a couple of calls with results that were a little scary. My mammogram came back with abnormalities and other ultrasounds came back showing things that concerned me as well. I won't go into too much detail because I still don't know what's going to happen with the later, but as for the mammogram issues, I went in for a second round of tests as soon as I returned home from my trip.

It's funny how things happen exactly as they should. When I started planning on this last trip to Savannah, I didn't know exactly who would be going with me. I had mentioned it to a few people but it didn't work for their schedules and I had actually decided that I might go alone...and that would be fine. I have no issue with traveling alone. Sometimes I really like it. :)

But it turned out that my mom and sis decided to join me a couple of weeks before I was to leave. Thank goodness. They were the perfect people to have there when I got the news. I needed my mama and sis. I don't know if anyone else would have known exactly how to encourage and calm me like they did. After I recovered from the initial shock, we had a great time because I could relax with them. And boy, did we giggle and enjoy each other.

Jenny, Me and Mom

The good news is that the second round of tests showed that "the girls" are fine. I'm so grateful. I will have another round of tests for the other issues on October 3rd and, in the meantime, I'm trying very hard to keep my chin up, to not worry and to take care of myself. I'm so grateful for family and friends who have checked on me and shown support. They are important and precious to me. I'm a blessed woman to have them in my life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Religion and Politics

I have held a pretty strict policy that I would not write about religion or politics on this very public blog. I believe that people are free to believe as they choose and that we should actually encourage people to think for themselves, to really get in touch with what they think and to be confident that whatever is right for them is good. I also believe that over time your beliefs evolve based on what you have experienced.  I do not have the same experiences as anyone else, so why in the world would I ever assume that I had the right to tell someone else what to believe? But today is a day that I feel I must speak up.

I would have to say that almost all of my beliefs regarding how to treat other people were formed because of my parents' teaching, and a lot of that is based in Christian doctrine. While my approach to life has changed somewhat and I have sought out a more universal way of loving people, I am proud of the way that I treat others and grateful for this influence, because I want my friends, family and community to know that I really care, unconditionally.  I want people to know that they can find support in me, because I know just how valuable genuine kindness is to me. It changes me. It helps me to be happy, at peace with myself and to feel that I can do anything. It also gives me the energy to pass that on to the rest of the world. This is not dependent upon a religious belief. This is inspired by wanting to give as much love as my humanity will allow, and I often find the perception of people judging me to be a real hindrance in that process. I worry and focus more on that fear than on what I have to give and how to give it.

When we tell people that they are incomplete or wrong because they choose to eat or not to eat at a certain restaurant today, we are imposing our own judgement upon them. This is the basis of the entire problem. Because we are so afraid of people being different or having a belief other than our own, we become indignant and dig in even deeper. We firmly stand our ground in our beliefs, because if we don't, we're afraid that someone else (or some other belief) will win out and then things will change. We fear that we aren't being true to God or each other by accepting or even tolerating an alternative lifestyle into the mix. In the process, we are holding each other back. For the record, I don't believe tolerance to be the goal. Loving and accepting are the goals.

Our fear can easily become someone else's, because we project it all over those we encounter. Is that really what you want to give people? I know that we all need to speak up for what we believe; otherwise, progress would never come. But the intention and belief I have is this: We will only be at a more advanced place in life when we can accept people for who they are without judgement. Instead of seeing someone for their color, religion or sexual preference, why not see them as valuable for their contributions to this world? Why not see them as a work in progress, like we all are, and as a fellow human being? Judge them for their kindness, creativity and generosity, if you must judge.

We are holding ourselves back by refusing to open our hearts to those around us. We could be so much more than we are. We could accomplish so much if we spent less time hung up on differences and we could love so much more fully if we saw past the fears that ensnare us. I have hope that someday we can get to a place where we quit trying to change each other and start to embrace each other as we are. I believe this is the key to changing the world because the friends and family that have accepted me as I am and who have loved me no matter what...they are the ones who have changed my world and helped me to grow. I believe that I can do so much more than even a year ago, and as a result, I have more to give. Don't you want to do that for everyone? Can you imagine how much happier this world (and state) would be if everyone had the freedom to love themselves as they are?

Monday, July 30, 2012

SixTwleve Is On the Move!

The past couple of weeks have been big for SixTwelve! As reported, Ron Ferrell has agreed to be a board member and last Wednesday, James went before the OKC Urban Design Commission to request approval for new balconies, landscaping, a wheelchair ramp, stairs and a new door for wheelchair accessibility. We received unanimous approval for all of our requests. We're so, so excited!!!! For the past two years, we've been working with the city to obtain the necessary approvals for the changes we need to make to the building and lot. We've experienced a steady stream of applications, meetings, hearings, etc. and we really couldn't do much more than we have without taking these steps. It would have been terrible to spend money on renovations, only to be told that we hadn't followed procedure and then have to tear things out and start again. So we've followed the proper path of progress and it's all about to pay off!

James has done such a great job, especially when you consider that neither one of us has ever done anything like this before. We've had so much help along the way and couldn't be more grateful for the support of people like Catherine Montgomery, Harry Simms, Brian Fitzsimmons and all of the people on the staff and commissions we've met with in OKC. Because of their guidance and voice of reason, we are now going to be able to move forward in our renovations and that will take us closer to our dream of opening our doors!

The next steps include changes we need to make to the building and lot, asking two more people to be on our board, filling out the non-profit application, creating policies, procedures, bylaws, etc. and then building our staff and programs! We've come so far and that helps to give us confidence that we have what it takes to accomplish these goals. I'm realizing more and more everyday that it's a real blessing to work towards our dreams. We're taking it one day at a time, but each day is an adventure and getting to do this with James makes it even more fun. So proud of him! I'm proud of both of us.

Happy Monday everybody!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

SixTwelve Has a New Board Member: Ron Ferrell!

James and I are so excited to announce that we have a third board member on the SixTwelve team! We took Ron Ferrell to Cheever's yesterday and asked him if he'd be willing to join us and he said, "Yes!" Ron is not only kind, generous and a wonderful artist, he's also a sustainability leader here in OKC. He truly cares about our community and wants to do whatever he can to make people aware of changes we can all make it our lives that will bring happiness. This is what SixTwelve is all about! I was also surprised to find out yesterday that he has a masters in education. Yes! Yes! Yes! We are so fortunate and honored to have his guidance.

Ron and Trey (our second board member to accept) are both incredibly knowledgeable of sustainability issues and organizations, not only in OKC, but all over the country. As soon as we started talking to both of them, they started giving us suggestions on places to research and people to contact so that we could tie into a network of like-minded people who could help us to reach our dreams. So we will be taking some trips over the next year to meet people, observe ways and best practices of doing things, and to get ideas. I'm so grateful!!!

Ron has been approached by a couple of filmmakers, in hopes that he would be willing to make a series of educational videos on how to grow your food and live sustainably. They have an indiegogo project and all of the money raised to the $2,000 goal will go towards those videos. If they raise anything above that mark, the money will go to Closer to Earth, wonderful youth group in the Central Park neighborhood that is raising food right in the middle of the city! Kids learn so many great things and we will definitely be looking to them for a model of how to do it right at SixTwelve.

Check out this video so you'll know a little more about who Ron Ferrell is and then if you feel compelled, donate a little to this awesome project! Click Here!

Thank you so much Ron, for agreeing to work with us! We're really honored!!!!

Monday, July 16, 2012

I'm Speaking at OKC's Midtown Rotary Tomorrow Night!

Over the past couple of months, I have rested, regrouped, traveled, and indulged in the fact that I can now quit treating 612 like a mistress, like I did when I was in school. I always felt like I was cheating on my studies when I would attend meetings, commission hearings or even daydream about what I wanted our wonderful place to be like when we finally opened our doors. I could hear my dad's voice in my head, "Amy, focus on school. This has to be your main objective! There will be time for all of this when you are finished." I was always torn, because this project of ours has picked up speed and momentum all on its own. I continually felt pulled in multiple directions at one time and guilty that I couldn't direct all of my energy towards school or the dream of 612.

But now, I don't have to feel guilty at all. My life, like everyone's, is a balancing act, choosing between serving our community and keeping some time for family, friends and personal endeavors. The best part is that my personal endeavors include the arts in OKC and my passion is 612. So work doesn't seem like work anymore. It's fun to have this blank canvas in front of me and know that I can paint whatever I think is best on it. James and I can plan and organize whatever we feel will be good for our community in our space and it's going to be a blast to grow (ourselves) alongside the maturation of this community center. I know we will learn so much.

And there's some proof that I've grown in my confidence, too. I've been invited to speak at the OKC Midtown Rotary club tomorrow night and while I did spend a little time getting nervous about my talk, I'm actually really honored and excited to share the vision for 612! Instead of worrying about tomorrow night, fearing that people are going to instantly realize that I'm not a business guru, I am embracing this opportunity to present our plan to a group of people who care about and support the arts in OKC. And the more that I think about what I want to say, the more I get excited about it all!!! I'm hoping that this little, twenty minute talk will be the first of many chances to include people in the journey, because I want to share it with as many as possible. I have so much gratitude for opportunities like this, those that just come to us. They help me to feel like we're on the right path.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Feeling Great + Beach House!

Yesterday was the first day that I woke up and realized that I was beginning to forget the stress of grad school. I think it had something to do with the fact that I knew I'd be spending time with my awesome friend from class, Netha, last night. We went to the Beach House show at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa! I knew that we would discuss issues related to the stress of school and I would think to myself, "Self, you don't have to worry about that anymore." Ahhhhh, yes! It was a great litmus test for me to realize that I am letting it go. It took a while. And, of course, now I have a different kind of stress, i.e. learning how to start a nonprofit and getting this building renovated, but I've decided to look at that project in a different way than I experienced school.

I HAVE FINALLY FOUND MY CONFIDENCE. I don't immediately interpret everyone's questions about the project as judgement and I have embraced the pace of working with the city as time to get the board formed, the paperwork filled out and a chance to research programming so that we can provide the very best for our community. Plus, no one else is doing this besides me and James.  We know what we need to do and how we need to proceed, even if it's just figuring out the next step, one move at a time. I'm really proud of how far we've come and I am no longer scared of the future.

I think it took going through grad school and that thesis process to find this confidence. It was rough, but I'm so glad that I had that opportunity. It's not that I think a Masters in Art History qualifies me to run a business. I'll be taking lots of classes at the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. Now I just believe in myself and my ability to keep pushing until I figure out how to reach my goals. I won't give up!

I held the camera really, really high to get this shot! Glad it worked! Ha!
It was great to spend time with Netha last night, and I'm beyond grateful for the chance to see one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE BANDS here in Oklahoma.  Cain's was packed, but I stood next to really nice people who let me scoot over every now and then so I could catch a glimpse of Victoria and Alex. (They also had a drummer with them who was excellent!) I'm so in love with their music. The category is labeled, "Dream Pop," and their angsty beauty always has my heart soaring when I listen. I think the electronic aspect of their tunes, in combination with my favorite instruments: slide guitar, organ, high fretwork on the bass, percussion and the gorgeous harmonies those two produce all just add up to result in an amalgamation of everything I loved about music from my high school and early college years and everything I love now.

IMAGINE STANDING IN A BALLROOM WITH THE MUSIC PLAYING LIVE OVER THOSE AWESOME SPEAKERS!!!!! Because I'm so short, I usually can't see performers in a venue like that, so most of the time I just close my eyes, sway to the music and get a little lost in it all. I imagine that I'm the only one there and that the group is playing just for me. It's actually just as much fun as being able to see the stage and I feel like I'm getting the full musical experience that way too. Here's a video of a song that I love off of their new album. Hope anyone reading this loves it too.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What's New With 612?

Now that I've graduated, I feel like I can finally focus on SixTwelve and I'm excited about all of the experiences coming my way. People have been asking about the project and what is going on, so I thought now might be a good time give an update. We are currently waiting for our next hearing, this time with the Urban Design commission. It's funny how often I've thought that we were ready to move on to renovating the interior. (The exterior is pretty much finished - we just have to paint the front door red, get a new light fixture and fix up the balconies.) I kept thinking, "After this get's approved, we'll be ready to move!" Hahahaha! So naive. But really, it's ok. I've needed the time to focus on finishing up my master's degree and this is just how long it takes when your building is located in an historic preservation district, when you want to do a lot with the property that hasn't been done before, when you have to go through rezoning from residential to urban design, and when you're learning as you go!

Sooooo, if all goes well next month with our hearing, I think we'll be able to move forward with the interior renovations but we'll see what happens. You never know. It would be easy to become impatient or frustrated with the time that it takes to move through all of these requirements, not getting to actually do the work you set out to do for years. One could possibly get bogged down in the red tape and lose faith, but I just see each meeting as an opportunity to tell people who care deeply for OKC about our project and mission. By the time we actually open our doors, we will have been through staff and commission meetings with Historic Preservation, City Planning, Urban Design and the City Council. That's a great thing! I feel like the more people that know about it, the more people we can serve. I've also heard that the Hardesty Arts Center in Tulsa took eight years from the time the idea was formed to the opening day. I know that our little building and lot aren't going to provide what they do and that their project is much bigger, but it made me feel better when Ken Busby, the Executive Director and CEO, told me about their timeline. It really does just take as long as it takes.

You have to be flexible and patient and you have to do whatever you can to remove fear from the equation when you are chasing your dreams. I'm getting better in all of those areas. In fact, getting away on that trip to the UK really helped. Since I've been home, I've been much more peaceful and each day I feel like I have more strength and confidence. There's just something about travel that can change your perspective on things, isn't there? When you find yourself outside of your little corner of the world and look back in, you realize how everything is connected and that in each country you visit, every building or park represents someone else's dream that was accomplished.  It helps me to have faith in our vision when I see that others have experienced the same process of dreaming, planning, building, and executing programs...and that they succeeded! I feel that way about OKC too. It's such an exciting time to be a part of change in this city. I love it here and want to do whatever I can to contribute to its greatness!

As soon as we get approval for all that we are hoping to do with our building and lot, the interior renovations can begin and I can't tell you how excited I am for that part. I'm one of those weird people that loves to pour over all of the choices in fixtures and appliances. I've been collecting ideas for decor and design for months and can't wait to get started! I have some fun ideas for the apartments and classrooms running through my brain. We're also pretty close to finalizing our board selection and then, once the paper work is complete, we will hopefully get official confirmation of the formation of the 501c3! Then we can really do some good for people. It's exciting to be so close to the tipping point. Things are getting ready to take off! Yessssssss!!!!!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Okie Noodling!

Last weekend I had the most awesome privilege of volunteering at the Okie Noodling Festival. I call it "the most awesome privilege" because it's just so much fun to be there. I grabbed my good friends James and Preston and signed them up to be my "posse," as the incredible Cacky Poarch called them. (While I'm at this point in this blog entry, can we just talk about how wonderful Cacky Poarch is? She organized the volunteers and who knows what else at the festival and can TCB like no one else. I have so much respect for that lady!)

Me and My Posse: James and Preston

Ok so back to the fest. James, Preston and I showed up a little early so that we could take in the announcements of the weigh-ins and man, I think the winner caught a catfish that weighed something like 78 pounds! Wholly Moly!!!! That's a big fish!

I don't know if that's the winner or not, but it's still a big ol' fish! Ha!
The things I loved the most about the festival was getting to see friends I haven't seen in a while, meeting new people and experiencing something that is unique to Oklahoma. A friend that I went to school with and graduated high school with in good old Ardmore, America, James Payne, is one of the guys who produced the Okie Noodling documentaries and who helped start the festival and tournament 13 years ago. I'm so impressed with James; plus he's just a really nice guy. He and his team (including Bradley Beesley, the director) have worked on all kinds of awesomeness, including Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, Winnebago Man, and sooooo much more. I have to admit that I get a little start struck before I talk to them and then they just act like normal (as normal as you can be when you're that brilliant), hilarious, down-to-earth people who just appreciate all the quirky aspects of humanity. They are "good people" as my grandmother used to say.

So here are some pictures of my favorite peeps that attended the festival. I had the best time and can't what to do it again next year, if Cacky asks me back. Fingers crossed! :)

Preston and Kyle - The Best Staches in the State!

Kim and Katie- Love these Ladies!

Bryon is so awesome! 

Preston doesn't look too sure about this pic, but I had to add this pic of Steve. He and Chandra were there celebrating their "birthaversary." They were married on Chandra's birthday! 
What a way to celebrate! 
Chandra and I were photo bombed by one of the competitors! 
(and my bra strap, but who really cared? Haha!) Yes!

Preston was very official at our post in the information booth. (We didn't use this mic once. Haha!)

Did I mention that we were paid in beer? Thank you PBR! 
By the end of the shift, James had one of his classic hairdos. Love it!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Days 9-12: Sea Days, Monet's House and Garden, Rouen Cathedral and a First Class Journey Home

The last few days of the trip were restful, fun and full of goodness. We tried to dock in Edinburgh, Scotland, but the weather was so bad that we couldn't leave the ship. What I call the "gang plank" (haha!) would have thrashed about due to the high winds and people would have been thrown over, so instead of taking a chance with people's safety, the cruise captain and crew decided to just keep "sailing" on. We had two days at sea, which was so nice after getting up early each day for tours, pushing and pushing to see it all. When I go on vacation I like to keep a healthy balance between seeing new things and getting some much needed rest. So I was fine.  A lot of people were disappointed because they really wanted to see Edinburgh, and I understand that. I had heard it was a beautiful place, but I was grateful that we were all safe and that I just had a little more time alone with mom. You don't get a lot of alone time on a cruise ship with 3,080 passengers and 1,200 crew. Plus, because I had never been on a cruise before, everything I saw and experienced was new to me. I was grateful for whatever happened!

While we were enjoying our sea days, we entertained ourselves by going to movies in the theaters (or watching them from our beds in our rooms - NICE!). We also played bingo, attended wine tastings and went to the spa. Now that's what I'm talking about! Haha!

This was one delicious bottle of wine! 

While we were enjoying all of this fun, we were moving towards Le Havre, France. This is one of the main port cities of France, and was a convenient stopping point for many day excursions. Some of the people in our group took a tour of Paris, some stayed in Le Havre, and my friend Lydia and I hopped on a bus for Monet's House and Gardens in Giverny! I was really excited about seeing his grounds, not only because the artist has been so successful, but also because I love plants and landscaping. I wanted to see this place that he imagined, planned and brought into reality because I've done the same with my house and yards. It's always inspiring to see something and take back ideas to your own place. I was NOT disappointed. God, this place was beautiful.

Walking up the famous green bridge in the water garden

One of the gardeners cleaning the ponds - During his time, Monet employed someone to dust his water lilies so that they would look their best before he painted them. 

A view of the bridge

Water Lilies! Monet painted around 250 in his Water Lilies series and I was fortunate enough to see some of his larger, mural works in this series at the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris in 2008. 

Had to capture the moment!

My favorite view in the water garden

Monet's Flower Garden in front of his house. He constructed the whole plan of his garden, based on placing specific colors of flowers next to each other. 

The rose arches!


Rose arches leading up to the house

So lush!

Monet's House - Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside, but it was beautiful too.

We could take pictures of the outside from the windows! This was taken from Monet's bedroom. What a view he had!

Love this flower and want to put it in my own garden. Phillip told me it would work! We're going to try to find them this weekend!


Entrance to Monet's Studio - Now the gift shop

Inside Monet's studio/gift shop
One of the things that touched me the most while seeing this artist's home and gardens was the fact that he did what he wanted. This wasn't always a good thing, such as when he rerouted a branch of the Epte River to flow to his grounds and supply water for his gardens. That's pretty arrogant in my book and the townspeople definitely disagreed with the plan, but Monet kept at it until he got what he wanted.

The thing I loved, though, was the fact that Monet also painted the rooms in his house with bright colors. One can see yellow and light blue throughout the house. I received a little flack about that when I was decorating my house, but now that I have a few years under my belt, I realize that it's my house. I can do whatever I want! And I love it and it makes me happy! I also loved the fact that Monet didn't give up on his dream. He knew what he wanted for his life and he went after it. This man's life inspires me as much as his art. I have such big dreams for my life and for my community. In order to achieve those dreams, I have to keep at it!

After our tour, we drove to a beautiful water mill/house for lunch.

The backside of the mill house - So quaint and beautiful

Inside the lunch spot!

I met a wonderful couple from LA, Jerry and Bobby. They were hilarious! We had a lot of fun on this trip!

After lunch, we travelled to Rouen. This is the cathedral that Monet painted in a series as well!

The Rouen town clock!

Church of St. Joan of Arc - The roofline is supposed to represent Joan of Arc's hat.

The place where Joan of Arc was burned - in the courtyard of the church.

Inside the church - our tour guide said it was built in the late 60s- early 70s. 

Leaving Le Havre's port at the end of the day. Sailing back to London to get on the plane home!
After a night on the ship, mom and I got up really early so that we could disembark and travel to the airport in London. When we arrived, checked our bags, made it through security and up to the gate desk, we were greeted with a great surprise! We were upgraded to first class. Heyyyooooo!!!! I've never flown first class and it will probably be a reeeeeeaaaaaalllllyyyy long time before I do again, so this was a big treat for me. When the lady at the desk told us, I looked at mom and said, "How did this happen?!?!?" She looked at me with a serious face and whispered, "Don't ask questions." Hahahahaha! God I love my mom. 

So we boarded our flight and found our seats. I'm sure I looked like a "hick-from-the-sticks" as I proceeded to play with every button and gadget available in my little pod. The seats could recline, with a leg and foot rest motoring up to where my legs were straight in front of me. That makes a big difference to a shorty whose legs usually dangle during the entire duration of a flight. We also received little pouches of goodies, including a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye masks, ear plugs, socks, and we also were given a set of pajamas that the sassy flight attendant told us we could sell on eBay. Haha! 

And then there was the fact that we had our own video monitors, dimming lights, a little desk, and we were given unlimited cocktails and food. I was stuffed by the time the flight ended. I told the flight attendants that I was just making the most of it because I never knew when I would be back in first class. Haha! Then they brought me two cookies. LOL. 

I had the best time and it was the perfect way to end such a wonderful trip with my mom.  The very best part about this trip was spending time with her. We talked, laughed, resolved issues, saw incredible things, and were given a chance to simply enjoy each other's company. I love my mom. She is kind, loving, generous, sweet, hilarious and beautiful. She's been that way with everyone she meets from the beginning.  I'm proud to call her my mother and couldn't be more grateful. What an incredible graduation gift this was. I will cherish the memories we made forever. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Day 8: Scotland! A Little Different Blog Entry. Ha!

After a full day and night at sea, we docked this morning at Invergordon, Scotland, and this morning mom and I ate breakfast, had a good talk and then hopped on a bus for the afternoon tour of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. It was such a great day. (I have to say right now that this blog post will be colored by a few cocktails, so it will probably be much more entertaining than usual. Ha!)

Urquhart Castle

The Loch Ness I liked seeing the castle, I really enjoyed the drive to Loch Ness because I had the opportunity to see the traditional homes of the Scottish Highlands that looked like they were built a century ago, and the Loch was beautiful, but our tour guide was hilariously monotone. Mom and I giggled about it for at least an hour. As for the Loch Ness Monster, he was a no show. I have to admit that I was a pessimist today who didn't believe, but was still looking for signs of the curved neck or back every second I could see the water. Haha! Oh well. Maybe another day.

Tonight I finally let loose enough that I could laugh at the funny things other passengers have been doing. I think the vacation is finally working. To say that I have been a little stressed out over the past few months is to put it lightly, so my sense of humor has been a little compromised. Well folks, it has made a comeback. Tonight, my friend Lydia (the daughter of one of my mom's friends who is also on this trip) and I decided that we would take in the ship's "nightlife" after dinner. We attended a game night called, "Majority Wins," where people who wanted to participate were split into two teams. 13 questions were asked and each team member submitted answers. Whichever team had the most submissions that were the same as the majority answer won. Most of the answers involved the words, "Boobs, condoms, etc." Add in cocktails and we were entertained.

Then we went to karaoke. I was a little disappointed because we had chosen to sing, "Don't Stop Believing," from Journey, a la Romy Owens style, but didn't get there in time to sign up. What we did arrive in time for were thrilling performances from people who couldn't quite find the pitch and our favorite was a repeat performer on this trip, Steve from Kansas. This guy sang the other night and Lydia had told me all about him, including his 1984-feathered hair and his penchant for 70s and 80s music. (I don't judge. I obviously was going for the same style.) Anyway, Steve did not disappoint. In fact, this gentleman from Kansas chose a Kansas song, "Carry On My Wayward Son." It was scrumtrulescent, to use a Will Ferrell reference.

Steve from Kansas
After karaoke ended, Lydia and I visited every bar on the ship, finding that no one was left out and about. We suspected as much. There is a big crew party tonight that we heard about, and even though we had no intention of breaking the rules and attending, Lydia still asked every crew member she talked to if they would get us in. Haha! It was very "Dirty Dancing" - no fraternizing with the passengers. I was as entertained by Lydia as I was by the events of the evening. She told our waitress at Karaoke tonight that we were waiting on nice men to buy our drinks, and the lady replied, "Where?" Hahahaha!

I'm having fun and it's nice that there is no pressure to even try to attract someone. It's like camp for big kids. Who cares? We're going to Edinburgh tomorrow and I'm looking forward to whatever our last day in Scotland brings. We only have a few days left and I plan on living it up, laughing as much as I can, enjoying my time with mom, and relaxing even more. This trip has been really good for me. I'm so grateful for today.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 6 = Glasgow and Day 7 = Rest

We have really been pushing at a fast clip so I'm grateful that today is a day at sea. I needed a day to rest and take it easy. Yesterday, Day 6, mom and I slept in a little (woke at 8:30am instead of 6:30 am) in our port of Greenock, Scotland, ate breakfast and then instead of taking a planned tour, we jumped in a cab to the train station and got ourselves up over to Glasgow. Have I mentioned that I love taking trains recently? It was much less expensive than taking a cab and I loved the scenery we saw on our way.

We only had enough time to eat lunch and take a "Hop On/Hop Off" tour of the city, but it was worth it. Plus it was really nice to be alone with mom for a change. We had a great day! Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and the third largest in the UK. I was most interested in the architecture and the Botanical Garden.

Glasgow Science Center

Scottish Exhibition and Science Center

A new arena is on the way!

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

City Chambers on George Square

Maybe someday I'll return and have more than a few hours to really experience all there is to see. For now, I'll just cruise along and enjoy this day of rest.