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: http://americanfallensoldiers.com/

For a video of Phil’s work, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cig_kGRFJ2Y

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Cutting the Cord on TV

One year ago, I grounded my kids for bad behavior.  We were at my cousin’s home and they began running around the house like wild hooligans!  First, I was embarrassed.  Then I found it disrespectful considering my cousins were doing me a favor by babysitting my 4 month old.  Usually my kids are obedient and responsive when it comes to discipline, but this time, they threw care to the wind.

When we got in the car (but before we headed home) I calmly and quietly turned around.  Looking them in the eye, I explained to them that I expected more.  “When we’re in someone else’s home, I expect you to be respectful, polite, obedient – just like we behave in our own home.”  (In our family, we often speak about how good behavior has “benefits” while bad behavior has “consequences”.)  So, I told them there would be a consequence for their actions.

Like most kids, my kids LOVE TV.  So while still in the car and thinking quickly on my feet (although admittingly coming up with a punishment QUICKLY is never a good idea), I said, “As your consequence, I’m going to take away TV time for a whole week.”  As that came out of my mouth, I heard from the hooligans, “What?  No, Mom!” and in my own head, the words came, “Woman, are you crazy?  That will teach you to speak before you think.  A week without TV?  So now you’re on duty to entertain them.  Yea…smart move, Mom!”  Gulping, I stuck to my guns and said a little prayer.

Long story short, we fared that first week much better than I anticipated.  With no TV, there was actually less arguing about what to watch and whose turn it was to pick the show.  That in and of itself was a huge blessing.  Less for me to manage.  I was also impressed that they actually LIKED playing together…A LOT!  They began to use their imagination (from books we’d read) to create characters and plots, even the brown box in the living room became their “hide-out” and endless hours of play.

After that glorious week of no TV – I gave them a reward: ANOTHER week of no TV!  (Snicker, snicker).  I was actually having fun watching them take leadership roles in their imagination play, learn to be flexible with each other and growing their relationship.  And truth be told, I think they were some what excited to have an excuse not to turn on the tube: Mom’s new rule.  Yup – the gift of parenthood: you get to make your own rules!

So it’s been 15 months since that heavenly “grounding episode” and we’ve adopted this new rule: No TV during the week.  Only on the weekends and with that – only 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday.  This gives them time to watch a movie or two from the library.  But on sunny days – sometimes that TV never gets switched on during the weekends.  As my oldest recently said, “Mom, TV is really boring compared to what you can do with your imagination.”

Moral of the story:  “Groundings” and “quick thinking” do have a long term advantage…for the whole family!

2nd Grade Finance Lesson

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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…

My “Chicken Checkers” and Life Lessons

My “Chicken Checkers” and Life Lessons

As we drive into our drive way after having run errands for a couple of hours, I call out, “I am in need of some “chicken checkers!  Who will help me?”  As I say those words I can hear myself parroting the familiar story of The Little Red Hen.  Eagerly responding, I hear my two happy kids’ voices saying, “I’ll do it!”  Once we park, they both jump out of the car and head for their chicken boots.  (The rule is we wear our chicken boots whenever we go in the coops so that we don’t track chicken “stuff” into the house on our regular shoes.  This is one of the many new “rules” I’ve instituted since getting our chickens about two months ago.  Having these systems in place has made everything run smoother and causes less work for Mom in the long run (the ultimate goal – right?)

We’ve had our 15 laying hens now for about six weeks (and 25 additional chicks who are not yet layers.  That’ll come in the fall.)  Every morning and afternoon we check for eggs and collect between 10-12 eggs a day.  The beautiful shades of tan, some dappled with chocolate-brown freckles, others a pale tan, almost vanilla are such fun to see.  Each egg is as individual as the hen who laid it.  And every day my two kids get excited to see how many eggs are waiting to be gently scooped up.  They each have their own basket, decorated pink for the girly girl and blue-camo for our down home boy!  I got the baskets at Hobby Lobby and then had each child pick out their favorite ribbon.  I then used a glue-gun to wrap the ribbon around the handles and voila – individualized baskets.

So my “chicken checkers” are at their post daily.  And new lessons are emerging daily, too.  They are learning to help each other with coop duties when I am not available.  Our littlest has trouble with the big coop doors (they are very heavy) so his older sister being bigger and stronger (for now) can help him open and shut the doors.  When I see this happen, I find my motherly endorphins shoot off like rockets when the spirit of cooperation out-rides the temptation to annoy one another.  Peace reigns, the eggs get collected, and a habit of helpfulness is once again instilled.  Just one of the many benefits to having chickens in the first place.  It creates opportunity to help one another towards achieving a common goal.  This is a life lesson: one that will be used with their parents (us) as we all grow and mature, in their own marriages, with their own children, on the job with their employer or as the CEO of their own business.  Learning to work together – especially when you are of different ages or generations is a huge asset one can bring to the table in this journey of life.

Having chickens is fun and tasty – but let’s not forget the unromantic part of keeping this (sometimes foul-smelling) fowl.  Mom and Dad play a huge roll in the success of this hobby.  A perfect illustration of this occurred when cleaning the coops last weekend.  I try to do the deed on the weekend as there are less things pressing on my time.  Additionally, I like to get it done early in the morning when the heat of each summer day has not yet hit its peak (although we’ve had about 10 straight days of 100+ degree days – ugh!).  Yet, last weekend as my husband headed off to do errands, there I was, in my oh so attractive grey “mom-shorts”, black tank top and my aqua and brown argyle chicken boots (about the cutest thing I was wearing that day).  Oh and let’s not forget my pregnant belly of 6 months.  Anyway, he calls to me, “I’ll be back soon.”  I look up, standing in 6 inches of stinky chicken shavings, the fragrant chicken air just hanging around like Chevy Chase’s cousin Eddy in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, my pregnant belly growing by the day, holding my snow shovel which I use to scoop up their shavings each week, and sweat dripping off my face and forehead.  Forcing a smile, I respond, “Ok, see ya soon!”  To be clear, I was not unhappy with the best husband in the world, just anxious to get this part of my day over.  But I have to say, just after that moment, I had a change of heart.  I realized that not only was I getting the coops cleaned, but I was getting a great workout to boot!  It really was a win-win!  So the rest of my time, as I listened to the rock hits of the 80’s, was quite pleasant.

And so it goes, another life lesson…for me and the kids.  Sometimes, having the quality results you desire (i.e.: fresh eggs on a daily basis) has a price.  It takes sacrifice, discipline, persistence in tending to the responsibilities on a day-to-day basis.  It’s not a sprint to the finish and collect your reward.  It’s a slow and steady race, with ample opportunities of humbleness sprinkled in for flavor.  And perhaps, as I reflect, the bigger benefit than even the fresh eggs…it’s the character growth for me, the husband, the kids.  And to give my hubby the props he deserves, this weekend he was right by my side and we cleaned the coops together.  You know that “working together thing” I talked about earlier?  Well, we did it today, and it was such fun!  Clean coops in about 40 min.  But what benefits do the kids get from this?  Happy, united parents, forging a team of cooperation and giving that they expect from their “baby chicks.”  It’s about a family who works to contribute – to each other and their world around them.  Looking to make their little world a bit more beautiful and fun at the same time.  It’s a gift we work to give to our “Chicken Checkers” daily.  Is it always neat and tidy (and pretty smelling)?  Not in the slightest, but that’s when the character is cultivated and hopefully rooted in solid ground.  I

like to think of it as “Less take, more give.”  It really fills a heart full!