How I Became a Real Artist (with help from Vino Van Gogh)

When I was in college, I was in a sorority. Each of us welcomed a "little sister" by making her a door sign for her room. They were all the same - each had our little sister's name, our sorority name, and our mascot, which was a bear. We were even given a pattern to create it.

Despite that, my poor little sister's door sign looked like it had what can only be described as a cross between a mutant mouse and Jabba the Hut on it.

Needless to say, I am not artistic or crafty AT ALL. And I reeeeaaaallly wish I could be. I see the beautiful and clever things that other people create, and I know there is no way I could do that. I don't even have a craft board on Pinterest, because - duh. Not crafty.

So when I had the opportunity to attend a Vino Van Gogh event, I was intrigued. Vino Van Gogh is a way for participants to create art while socializing at a restaurant, wine or coffee bar, or other local venue. The instructors are artists, art teachers, and others with a passion for art who use certain instructional techniques to help the participants create real art.

Honestly, I thought there was no way I would be able to recreate the work of art, which for this event was Sahara Elephants. 
This is what we were to recreate. 

But I was excited to try because my (now four-year-old!) loves elephants. The event was held at a place called Wine Styles, so of course loving wine and inviting my BFF Diane made it more appealing.

Diane and me. 

Our instructor, Carl, is an artist who splits his time between our city and NYC, where he paints sets for Broadway shows. He was a great teacher. True to Vino Van Gogh's model, he led us step by step through the painting. He told us which colors and which brushes to use and advised us on which stroke techniques would be best.

We all started out the same. Four colors
seems less intimidating. 

Already all looking slightly different. 

The class was filled with a variety of people: best friends, couples, a mom and daughter, and some single people. Next to me was a professional cake decorator and across from her was a young woman who considered being an art teacher. Theirs turned out so good! According to Carl, it's not about duplicating the painting, but interpreting the art in your own way. Really, everyone's painting looked similar to the original, but enough different to be original. One woman even left the elephants out of hers.

This is the "would-be" art teacher's painting.
Show off. ;)

I had a blast. For me, drinking wine definitely helped. Diane said drinking wine made hers worse; but Carl gave her lots of help and direction without ever once judging. I would definitely attend one of these events again - what a fun girls' night out! Wine Styles was a great location for this. The girl working recommended a perfect wine for us, and - as I started to get a little too loopy - also recommended the perfect cheese and crackers to go with it.

Diane and me with our paintings. 

Vino Van Gogh has events in several cities across the Midwest in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kansas. Check their website for a location near you. They also run coupon specials frequently, so sign up to receive their newsletter so you can know when and where events are. Sign up according to a preferred venue, artist, or painting - it's your choice! You can also follow them on Facebook.

I can't stress enough that even if you don't think you're an artist, you can do this. If I can, anyone can! And if for some reason it doesn't turn out, just remember Vino Van Gogh's motto: Paint, drink, and be merry!

*Diane and I received complimentary tickets for this event. All opinions are my own, and I would totally pay to go again!


The Stuff of Life - Memories of My Childhood Home

My parents have been married for 50 years. That’s quite an accomplishment in any day and age. To have both made it to their seventies healthy and still going strong in their relationship is something to be celebrated.

They hosted an anniversary party last weekend for themselves at the house they have lived in for forty-nine years. Until I was married myself, it was the only home I had ever known except for a smattering of college dormitory rooms. At one time it was a small, simple home with only two bedrooms and one bathroom in the basement.

Shutterstock.com photo

My older sister and I were housed in the attic; though we mostly slept in the living room since the attic was too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter. When I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would wake her and make her walk me down the two flights of stairs to the spider-filled basement. At almost 50 years old, she still teases me about it.

There was barely enough room in the kitchen for my mom to cook. When not in use, our table was against the wall. When pulled out, she couldn't open the oven.

There was only one room for all five of us to gather. I don’t remember any of us minding; that is, until teenage privacy kicked into gear. By the time my brother and sister had moved out and moved on, my parents had some money saved to build extra rooms onto the house. They made our living room into a dining room, remodeled the basement, and added on an extra living space and bathroom just in time for me to leave for college.

We all still gather there in that tiny home; only now instead of five of us, there are seventeen – even more if the grandkids bring special friends. For the past eleven seasons of Christmases and Easters, I have been chasing my own small children in that home, pulling out toys and crayons and coloring books that I used as a child. My brother, sister, and I often comment about how “Mom is still using the same holder for Dad’s toothpicks,” the little ceramic donkey with the basket where its back should be.

We talk about childhood memories – how on hot summer nights we used to “make a raft” on the living room floor, a bed of blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals on which we could sleep. We talk about the one rotary telephone we used to have, its cord stretched to three times its length in the user’s attempt to find some place for a private conversation in our tiny non-private home.

I have nothing but happy memories there. I loved my house until I got into high school and realized that other people lived in big homes where they could have their own bedrooms and possibly even their own bathrooms. Other people had rec rooms in the basement where they could host slumber parties and hang out with friends. They had kitchens big enough for everyone to have a meal without bumping into one another. I never knew what I was missing until I saw what others had.

Before my parents’ anniversary party, I helped my mother clean and prepare for guests. She gave me the simple task of dusting. As I went about the house with the dust rag, moving nick-knacks and tchotchkes, I began to see my childhood home with new eyes.

I picked up the delicate little donkey that held my father’s toothpicks and smiled. I unearthed some of my favorite puzzles and games from the back of the basement closet with the delight of a seven-year-old child (I knew I had more dusting to do, but I really wanted to put that Happy Days puzzle together again). I lovingly dusted around our entire collection of Little House on the Prairie books and tried to remember just how many times I read each of them.

It took me until I was an adult with my own children to realize what a good life I had growing up. Though it was simple, we never wanted for anything. We never had any less than we needed or any more than we wanted. And today, I appreciate it all. I often wonder, in this world of excess we are living today, if my boys will appreciate everything they have. Probably not until they are in their forties and helping me clean my house.

By the time we were done, my parents’ house was as neat as a pin and ready for guests to arrive.  “It looks junky, doesn't it?” my mom remarked as we stood back to survey our work.

“No,” I replied, “it looks like you have had fifty years’ worth of a very good life here.”

My wonderful parents. A wonderful 50 years. 

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