The American Fallen Soldiers Project: A day we’ll never forget


Air Force Capt Derek ArgelIMG_5263.JPG
Army SP4 Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.
Army CPT Daniel W. Eggers
Navy CPO (SEAL) Christopher S. Kyle
Army CW3 Wesley Charles Fortenberry
Marine LCpl Nazario Serrano
Air Force Capt James M. Steel

These 7 fallen US soldiers, along with 213 more, have been commemorated by artist, Phil Taylor, through The American Fallen Soldiers Project.  With 70+ hours into each painting, Phil creates a beautiful portrait of an American solider, a solider that has served our country and unfortunately paid the highest price. This foundation, created by Phil and his wife Lisa, “was formed to help provide comfort and healing to the grieving families of our fallen military. [The] 501c3 non-profit organization makes available, at no cost to the family, an original portrait of their fallen loved one that fully captures their appearance and personality.”

Flash back 6 months:
It was December 2015, and our daughter had just been notified that she was awarded 1st place in the Constituting America art contest in which she had submitted a piece of art work highlighting the importance of the Constitution.  Little did we know, Phil Taylor, co-founder of The American Fallen Soldiers Project, was one of thFullSizeRender.jpge judges for this contest.

When Marin received her award, she was given a DVD explaining further the work and contribution Phil has made to our fallen soldiers and their families through his art work.  It then occurred to me that because of our family’s love for our service men and women, our love for America and our love of art, we should pay a visit to Mr. Taylor.  By April, we had scheduled our visit to Dallas, TX.

On June 3rd, days after Memorial Day, we pulled into Phil’s new gallery in Dallas.  After four hours in the car, we pealed ourselves from the pleather seats and quickly straight-IMG_5261.JPGened our hair.  I reminded the kids of their manners and the kind of gallery we were visiting.  We opened the door into a beautiful gallery where we immediately saw an American flag.  However, the red stripes you’d normally see on our flag were actually comprised of photographs of fallen soldiers that Phil has commemorated through his work.  What a fitting way to immediately honor those respectable men and women no longer with us.

We were greeted by Lisa, Phil’s wife, and Amy, a dedicated worker of the foundation.  Stepping in further to the gallery, we saw numerous large portraits, each hung in their own space, alone.  Each a fallen soldier, having paid the ultimate price for freedom.  Each being granted their space to be remembered and honored.

matt_leathers.jpegI had that same feeling when I saw the Vietnam Memorial for the first time, or when we strolled through the Arlington Cemetery, or when we sat by the shore of the Delaware River and remembered Washington’s fateful crossing on that bitterly cold Christmas Eve night.  A moment of sadness, of grief, longing to express your gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.

We turned and saw Phil walk out of his studio office wearing shorts, shirt untucked, flip-flops and an array of tattoos on his forearms.  I’m sure not the picture my kids were expecting.  Though they were a bit shy at the beginning, because of Phil’s authentic, open-heart, the kids each felt a kinship towards him and this incredible foundation, bringing healing and peace to so many families.  Phil, Lisa, and their amazing team, honor – every day of the year – these true American heroes.

For over ten years, Phil has painted over 200 portraits.  Once a portrait is complete, the Foundation then holds a ceremony for the family and presents the inspired portrait Phil has painstakingly created.  The ceremony is brewing with honor, dignity and praise for this soldier’s gift of service.  The families find great healing and peace with Phil’s inspired rendition of their loved one.

In one particular case, a mother, who had lost her son in war, became suicidal.  Once Phil had completed this son’s portrait, he and his team flew into town to hold the ceremony.  As the ceremony was to start, Phil asked where the mother of the son was so they could begin.  He was told she was in the bathroom, drunk.  Knowing they were going to honor her son properly that day, he emphatically walked into the women’s bathroom, brought out the mother and had her sit right in front of the painting.  When the painting was unveiled, Phil was right next to this mother’s side, honoring, grieving, and finding peace with this precious mother.  Now, with that portrait in her home, this mother has felt a sense of peace which has helped her face each new day.  And to this day, she credits Phil and this painting with saving her life.

As Phil walked us through the gallery, he invited us into his studio which is graced with the largest American flag I’ve ever seen!  He sat with our kids and looked at their art.  He listened to theirIMG_5237.JPG thoughts and how they created their works.  He gave them suggestions to improve their art, and exemplified, through his work and sharing, how an inspired artist fulfills his life’s mission.  His office was adorned with uniforms, metals, badges, empty magazines, awards, and more…all from the families of the fallen soldiers he has honored through his talents.  He’d begin telling us a story of how he came to have a certain badge or soldier’s uniform, but would have to stop numerous times as he could not continue.  He lives Memorial Day every day of the year.

Phil made an impression on our family that day.  Not only is Phil the most talented artist we’ve ever had the opportunity to meet, but he is also a true patriot that lives to provide healing for those who’ve been left behind by their fallen loved ones.  He gave us more time than we should have taken from him and he gave Marin and Colton invaluable inspiration and suggestions on their art.  It was a day we will cherish for a long time.

His ministry is through his artwork, and it continues to gain momentum through the inspiring non-profit, The American Fallen Soldiers Project.  We were honored and humbled to have had this opportunity and highly encourage you to visit the gallery in Dallas.

To learn more, visit the gallery or donate, please go to:

For a video of Phil’s work, please see:


Maker Faire: Kansas City

A feast for the mind!  Learning in the raw!  These were thoughts that came to me as my family and I walked through booth upon booth at this year’s Maker Faire in Kansas City!

Ever hear of the “Maker Movement”?  It’s all about kids/adults learning to innovate, create, problem solve “in the new world of crafters, hackers, and tinkerers.”  It’s a revolution of creating, building and birthing new ideas!  You can read more about it in The Maker Movement Manifesto by Mark Hatch.

What is a “Maker Faire”?  Maker Faire: Kansas City celebrates things people create themselves — from new technology, 3D printers and electronic gizmos to home-made soaps, clothes, and sculptures.  It brings together Makers, Crafters, Inventors, Hackers, Scientists and Artists for a faire full of fun and inspiration.

As a teacher and a parent, I’m always on the hunt for avenues to help teach my children “that learning and sharing is exciting and fun!”  And not only fun – but when you find a solution to a problem and you find ways to meet that solution on a large scale – it can benefit your community and be profitable for you at the same time!  Then you can find more “problems” to solve and do it all over again blessing many in the process!

What did we see today?  So many fun things!  And I loved what they said over and over: “You know the disclaimer – ‘Don’t try this at home?’ Well we say, ‘DO try this at home!  In fact, try it lots of different ways at home!”  Words to ignite and kid!IMG_0569


What can you do with 100+ bottles of warm Coke and 500+ Mentos?  This!  and if you want to learn more about these guys – go here!

What happens when you shoot a super sonic ping pong ball cannon (800 MPH)? Who knows!  But this guy built a launcher to test it and learn what happens!IMG_0513

We made leather bracelets – complete with embossing our own names and designs.

We saw 3D printers and kids designing their own creations!

IMG_0531We saw a company completely obsessed with all things robot!  A husband-wife team started this robo-cool company literally making robots, t-shitrs, original art prints of robots and even stationary!  Check out their great quality IMG_0535products here!

We made duct tape journals complete with pockets and special locking devices.

Of course a maker’s Faire isn’t complete without home-made soap!  Bought me some yummy lemon-verbina soap!  Find some for you!

And then we met the Diva of DIY!  You IMG_0561know all that recycling you just throw out?  Well they suggest turning that into matIMG_0562erials for kids to make into their own inventions!  Or take a tire, hotglue some rope and turn it into a shabby chic ottoman!  Super creative – super cheap!  Love DIYers!

And who doesn’t love a race of home-made race cars around a home-made track of tires?!  Just plain fun and super educational…if you’re the maker behind the fun!IMG_0565

Which brings me back to my point of why were doing this with our kids.  We want to illustrate – with REAL life examples – how fun learning can be when you’re a maker!  A do-er!  When you apply this learning into real life – watch out!  That’s when the learning is raw, it’s fun, and it’s addictive!  Is there any other way to learn?

To check out a Maker Faire near you, head over here!


2nd Grade Finance Lesson


Stationary for the Craft Fair

I should totally be in bed right now.  But I was eager to put pen to paper and share this great moment in homeschooling today…

So this weekend, my daughter (2nd grade) will be a vendor in her first craft show.  For 5 weeks she’s been making rainbow-loom bracelets, collecting eggs from our 30 chickens and crafting stationary from her art projects.  In an effort to teach her the relationship between income and expenses, I sat her down this morning with receipts in hand.  I wanted to show her what I had spent to get her ready for this show.

$24.00 – printing (stationary)
$27.00 – egg cartons (fancier egg cartons than your avg run of the mill)
$10 – craft fair booth fee
$12 – rainbow-loom rubber bands

Total expenses: $73.00

I then explained that these are monies she owes me to help reimburse my cost.  With that her eyes filled with tears.  “It’s not fair!  I don’t have the money, and I don’t know how I’m going to pay you.”

“Hold on, hold on,” I quickly said.  “Your expenses are just half the story.  Let’s now talk about your potential profit – the money you will get once you sell your inventory.

Stationary – $40
Eggs – $48
Rainbow Loom bracelets – $40

Total potential revenue: $128.00
Less Expenses: $73.00
Net Profit: $55.00 (+ a real living, breathing education in finance!!!)

Seeing the potential, her tears faded and a huge smile broke out on her face!  She now understood how it all worked.  She then said (and mind you we only have 2 days before the show) excitedly, “Oh – can I make more stationary or bracelets? ‘Cause if I work more, I could make more money!”  Smiling, I said slowly, “You got it!”

So on Saturday comes the fun part – the selling!  And of course more education to come…marketing her items for sale with signage and pricing, welcoming her customers with a smile and answering any questions they have, and making change for the customer, just to name a few.  I’m excited to watch education LIVE Saturday morning as she puts together all she’s learned.  And in the process – hopefully make a profit!  But then again – in the game of life – that doesn’t always happen either and there are grand lessons to learn down that road, too!  Stay tuned…

The 5 Best Reasons to Travel with Kids

Road tripping with young children is no small feat.  In addition to your clothes and other needed items, there’s the stroller, the pillows, the toys and books (we all want happy riders), the movies and music, the cooler full of snacks and drinks, charge cords for all our mobile devices, oh and of course, the kids!

This last summer, when we set out on our exciting east coast road trip (Liberty Bell in PA, Washington Crossing the Delaware in NJ, Natural History Museum in NYC, etc), I had my itinerary all planned out.  Each day was accounted for with either driving or sight seeing, and we were all excited!  I was sure I had thought of everything.

However, as we journeyed, I was happy to learn I had not thought of it all!  I knew our trip would be educational, but I had no idea how many academic “fringe benefits” there’d be!

A fantastic travel game for kids 5 and up!

The 50 States:  For starters, I had ordered the “Wee Sing America” CD (Pamela Conn Beall) from our library.  In my americanly romantic mind, I thought it would be fun to listen to these patriotic songs as we traversed through the historical, revolutionary roads.  Additionally, as a fun gift for the kids, I purchased Melissa and Doug’s License Plate Game.  The wonderfully thought out game added so much to our hours spent on the road.  For each car or truck we passed during our 3000 mile trip, I had both my 7 and 5 year old reading the plates and exclaiming which state they had just seen.  And as it turned out (which was totally unplanned) there was a “states song” on the CD which my son and daughter fell in love with. Because we were talking so much about the states with the license plate game, they naturally wanted to put these state names to song.  So within a week, they had learned ALL the 50 states, in alphabetical order, with great joy!  That was not part of my educational syllabus – but hey – I’ll take it!

Elevator Etiquette:  I don’t know about you, but I find “social etiquette” and children don’t naturally go together.  There’s time and training that is needed to achieve a happy balance.  So with each hotel we stayed at there were elevators which allowed us to practice the importance of elevator etiquette numerous times a day.  In a short time, my children learned that when waiting for an elevator you stand back and wait to the riders to exit – rather than push on like elephants.  Likewise, once you get on board, they had to take “happy” turns pushing the buttons or that privilege was taken away.  Great motivation to do the right thing the first time!


Hotel Room Numbers:  What a great math lesson this was!  Once we arrived on the floor where our room was each night, we began letting our kids take the key card and do the figuring out of where we’d be spending the night.  We’d walk off the elevator and see the list of room numbers: 401-429 to the right and 430-450 to the left.  We talked about odd and even numbers as well as greater than and less than.  From the number on our key card, the kids figured out which direction our room was (odd or even = left or right) and then had to decide if we need to walk a far ways to our room or if it would be close to the elevator.  It was real life math!!

Organization: To make our mornings smooth, it was each child’s job to know the next day’s activity and to pull out the clothes they needed for that activity; whether it be a long car ride, a day at the Liberty Bell, a day in NYC or just a down day.  They began to use their anticipation skills and pre-plan for their own needs in the future.  Really – exercising that independence skill I strive to teach them daily.

Additionally, this meant they needed to sort through and organize their car pack for whatever items they wanted close to them during the car ride.  They needed to grab their books, music, toys, etc that they thought they’d use the next day.  Again, thinking ahead and becoming self-sufficient.

NO Instant Gratification:  Good or bad, instant Gratification doesn’t exist on road trips.  Instead, car rides help children understand that not everything happens within a couple hours – like a plane ride.  They learn how much distance exists between states and destinations.  And with that stretch of highway comes time.  A blessed thing!  That opportunity of time allows kids to again exercise their muscle of patience and self-sufficientcy.  They learn to entertain themselves.  I loved the natural rhythm that evolved as we drove each day.  The early excitement in the morning as we began our day, the slow settling into the drive and sinking into a good book, sticker project, coloring activity, or new toy, and then the shift into playing with one another.  They learned to entertain themselves or each other with the simpliest of things.

At the end of out trip – we drove from NJ to STL in one day – 17 beautiful hours!  But after about 11 hours of driving, our 10 month old was tired and bored of his toys.  “Enter knee highs!”  I had some knee highs in a bag which my kids found.  They got the idea to tie them together and then across the inside of the car (from hand rail to hand rail).  They then strung toys on it so the baby could reach out and play with the toys.  And happily it worked.  Hey – it all comes down to the marketing, right?  How ideas are presented.  Change up the angle or the way the toys are played with and it’s a new toy.  But that little discovery would not have come about if we were on the plane.

Our east coast trip was one of our most favorite trips to date.  We had so many happy, fun, inspiring, sweet family times that I’d do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance.  In fact, we’re planning a “Westward-Ho” summer road trip for 2014!  Stay-tuned!  I bet there are more “fringe-benefits” when traveling with kids to be discovered!  Have you traveled with kid-lets and what benefits have you found?

The Birth of Two Young Patriots

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

Since the beginning of July, our homeschool began studying the Revolutionary War and surrounding time period.  One symbol we gave significant amount of study to was the Liberty Bell and George Washington.  So, during our homeschooling road-trip, we went to Philadelphia, PA to specifically see the Liberty Bell.  During our study of the bell, we:

  • Read children’s books about the bell
  • Learned that it weighs over 2,000 pounds…(and they managed to move it down from its tower and into a wooden wagon!  Amazing!)
  • Learned that the British wanted to seize the bell to melt it into ammunition.  In its day, it was considered the “Mother Load” of bells and the Americans went to great lengths to protect it and themselves should the bell fall into enemy hands.  So…
  • …During the revolutionary war, the bell was secretly removed from Liberty Hall in PA and hidden away (under the floor boards of a church) until after the war.
  • Learned that to move the bell in secret, it was hidden in a wooden wagon under a hoop skirt and hay so it was disguised like a pile of hay.
  • And Lastly, we learned that the Liberty Bell had its last clear note rung on February 23, 1846. It was rung to commemorate the birthday of George Washington.

Because of our study, my children understood this was not just a bell…it was a symbol of determination by the people of America to preserve and protect their freedom.  Our American brothers went to great lengths to hide it from the enemy and rang their bell proudly when the war was over.  And through the stories and facts, my kids came to love this bell, this American symbol of freedom, of heart-pounding passion.

Having read stories and learned all the facts, having seen pictures of it in books, and after driving almost 1,000 miles, we finally arrived at the Liberty Bell Center.  We walked down the corridor towards the bell.  Like waiting to see an old friend at the airport whom you haven’t seen in a long while, my children were eagerly anticipating their first encounter with “the bell.”  I could tell their excitement mounted as they walked briskly to see this symbol in the “flesh”.

And then…the waiting was over.  There it was.  Both of their paces  slowed – almost to a stop.  They were unaware of the people all around.  My four year old son’s jaw dropped.  My daughter just stared.  Their eyes were fixed…it was real!  That was it!  It was really real!  I don’t mean to sound corny or overly patriotic.  This is exactly how it happened.  And to be honest, I was amazed at how taken they were with this moment.At the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA

As I stood behind them, watching them more than the bell, my eyes blurred.  They were looking at the bell, but saw so much more!  As a parent, this was a moment frozen in time.  They had captured the spirit, felt (if even for a moment) the passion cast into this bell.

As the privileged parent of these wonderful little people, their inspired moment has inspired me with further resolve to continue teaching them true American History.  Just as we were clamoring for Patriots to fight the embolden British over 230 years ago, so today we search for modern day patriots to preserve the freedoms we hold today.  How privileged I feel to have witnessed the birth of two more young patriots on this special day!

Homeschooling: Where do I start?

Owl Unit: Illustrating Owls in our journals

Owl Unit: Illustrating Owls in our journals

Last March my husband and I were on the fence about homeschooling. We had a soon-to-be first grader that we were interested in homeschooling but weren’t sure if it was something we could do. We talked often about the pro’s and con’s – weighing what might be right for our child. I then heard about a Homeschooling Convention that would take place in April. I decided to attend to see what they had to offer.

Boy was I glad I made the time to go. During the second day of the convention, my husband and I ducked out of “class” and sat down to have a heart-to-heart about this possible decision. By attending the convention, we saw the vast amount of “teaching tools” available to parents and learned about the wonderful support for parents yearning to be successful at homeschooling. It seemed to then be an easy decision…so we said “yes” and took the plunge!

It’s now been a year. My kids and I are still “friends” and we learned tons to boot! It’s fun to look back and see all that we’ve accomplished and to see what growth I’ve had as a parent/teacher. What I didn’t know then – and what I now know…night and day.

If you’re in the middle of trying to make that decision – to homeschool or not – I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned, what resources we used and what we’re changing up this next year. Perhaps with some added info you’ll be able to make the best decision for your family for next year.

Homeschooling Laws
Before you do anything, it’s best to check out your state’s laws and regulations concerning homeschooling. Find out what age they expect from you regarding:
– what age should you start recording keeping for your student
– how many hours of instruction needed per student
if you need to keep a plan book, diary, daily log, or other written records
– the definition of a “school year” in your state
– if, when and how to notify your local school of your intent to homeschool
– and more…(just google “homeschooling laws” for your state)

One of the best parts of homeschooling is that you get to set up your own schedule. We had our 3rd baby due in October. Knowing that, and wanting to complete 9 months of instruction, I began teaching in June before the baby was due. We schooled from June through September and then “took off” October, November, December. We then began again in January and will finish up in May. While everyone was summering, we were schooling. Our “summer vacation” was Oct – Dec, and it was such fun! With all the holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, life can get a little crazy. So it was very special to take those months off and really enjoy a slower paced life. We enjoyed calmer holidays and were able to spend more time baking, making Christmas gifts, focusing on the real meaning behind the Nov and Dec holidays and overall, enjoyed just being together during that time of year. I just loved the flexibility!

There are a few ways you could go with this.
1) You could do it all yourself – researching online for math, science, reading, language arts, etc.
2) You can pick one company that gives you the curriculum for all subjects and just use that one company (aka: Complete Curriculum)
3) You can use the homeschooling convention like a buffet and pick and choose what subjects you need a program for. Because I used to be a reading specialist, I didn’t feel I needed a reading program per se. But because I am NOT a math wiz, I wanted some program or guide to help me teach.

This 3rd option is the one I choose. I wanted to pick and choose which programs to buy. I found with the “complete curriculum” you may like their spelling and grammar but their math was dry and boring. So Instead of going for an all-in-one approach – I went a la carte! Here’s what I did…

A year ago, I was not sure what I was doing in math, spelling, and language arts. I used the convention to help me fill those gaps. However, this year, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I had asked other homeschooling parents what they were using and what they liked and didn’t liked about certain programs. This was a tremendous help!

This year’s convention, I felt like a pro going through the exhibit hall. I knew exactly what I was looking for and was able to purchase programs for all my kids in about one hour. I walked out satisfied I had the best programs picked for my kids. Here’s what I am doing and why:

Language arts: Five In A Row – I’ve used this program for about 3+ years and it’s phenomenal! The people at Five In A Row have scoured about 3,000 children’s books. They then picked the best ones and wrote 10+ lesson plans for each book. The basic theory is that you pick a book from their list, read it each day for a week, and each day you then pick a lesson (which they have already thought out and planned) and teach it to your kids. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of my day with my kids. We all have TONS of fun! And by the end of the week, you’ve fallen in love with the book you’ve been studying and learned so much in the process. It’s great for ages 4-8.

Math: Math U See – Another exceptional program! I wish I had learned math like the way they teach it! This program comes with a student book, student test book, manipulatives, parent/teacher guide book and CD. The CD teaches the parent how to teach the lesson (in about 2-3 min) and then you turn around and teach it to your child. The way they teach and organize how they teach is brilliant. My child feels so successful each time she completes her math that I often hear, “Mom, I love math!” I know I never felt that way about math. Two other reasons I love this program: 1) They teach to mastery. It’s not a spiral program. 2) They use manipulatives which helps the child see the math computations. Math is such an “in your head” experience that often I found it hard to find the words to explain it to my child. However, with the manipulative and the work book, my child felt so confident. And that was such a nice contrast to how she felt about herself in kindergarten when she would make comments like, “I’m not good at math” or “I don’t like math.” No way was I interested in her loosing her joy at 6 yrs old for math! Now she can teach (and often does) her brother because she gets it conceptually (thanks to the manipulatives)!

Spelling/Grammar: A Beka – Truth be told I have not yet used this program but I hear great things from other parents who have been in the homeschooling trenches a while. This program will not set the world on fire in terms of their creativity (like Math U See or Five In A Row) but it is tried and true. It’s simple and straight forward and targets mastery in spelling and grammar. We actually just received our 2nd grade and preschool books in the mail today. The kids and I sat down to look at them right away. My 2nd grader turns to me and asks, “Can we start on these books tomorrow?” They look fun and right at their level. I also like that they are Christian based (not afraid to mention Christmas and other biblical terms) and they are pro-America. They mention our fore-fathers and talk about American History as they teach grammar. I really like that. Makes me excited to teach!!

Science: Real Science 4 Kids: Again, this is a new program I have not yet used, but I like how it’s organized and it doesn’t take tons of time to assemble ingredients for experiments. I’m have the student and parent books ready to go and will start using it in May.

What’s the cost?
I have spent approx. $300 on curriculum materials for this next year. I would expect that’s a good estimate for 2 young children in homeschooling. If you are teaching in the upper grades, I would expect that to increase due to the amount of additional textbooks needed. If you’re looking to keep your costs down, I’d look for a used curriculum sale perhaps in your homeschooling network or research on craigslist or eBay.

Hopefully this has been helpful. I’m always looking for new and better ways of teaching so if you have any helpful ideas, I’d love to hear what great “nuggets” you’ve found!