Saturday, April 30, 2011

Una Scia di Colore

At some point I should probably attempt to explain the specifics of our field-trip across Reggio Emilia province and our specific stop at the brand new Italian National Childcare Center there. That story would require a lot of time on my hands and oodles of internet connectivity. Let me just suffice to say that at the end of being irrevocably lost due to a series of European travel circles over-run by streaming, menacing, steam rolling semi-trucks on the loose, a brand new European cell phone that suddenly didn't work in Italy and several other extreme"Murphy" oh-you've-got-to-be-kidding me specifics, our outing to observe in Reggio and me perform for their Italian children turned into a remake of Chevy Chase's European Family Vacation run awry & amok.

Short version. We, in our rental car, got separated from our caravan of vehicles including our host van of Vicenza teachers being led by our native Italian-connection in a jeep at the helm. Allen & I ended up spending the bulk of the morning attempting to get ourselves & our rental car un-lost all while my heart was sinking. Our getting ourselves from un-lost to found, involved our making an impromptu visit to a completely random village preschool in the provicne, in a totally random village square but alas no one there spoke any words of English. When we had determined that we were indeed completely separated from our crew, we had parked in the village square in an effort to find a payphone as directed by the gate keepers of the Fiat factory. I then followed the laughter of the children from the town square of our lostness -- to find the spot of the laughter's origination. The preschool teachers then sent us on to the nearby elementary school thru a series of charade-like pantomime motions and a lot of pointing & some subdued laughter. The elementary school had a teacher with some English phrases who loaned us her cell phone. We were then able to connect their Italian speaking receptionist to our Italian speaking Vicenza tour guide..... several hand-drawn maps and some more patience, an additional stop at a bicycle fix-it shop once on the road while following the 'map' and 'low & behold' only a couple of hours later we rejoined the tour already in progress. [I don't know if if I've ever received such an enthusiastic response for just walking into a room. To say that they were glad to see us is something of an extreme understatement. Sigh. No one had to contact any embassies. LOL.]

I got there as all were observing the "scia of colore" mural of feet-painting posted on the wall. I learned that 'scia' translated as the 'trail' that is left..... as in a trail in the water, left by the waves of a motor boat, or the trail left in the sky of the passing plane thru the clouds. I love the documenting of the toddler feet painting experience, with the very expressive photographs set into the midst of the painting itself. The photographs documenting the process of the work are as much a part of the art as the painting itself.

I have a feeling that we left a scia of hilarity in the wake of our morning's adventure across the hills and vales of Reggio. They may indeed remember us and our trail of charades. I gave the Italian speaking grand-mother receptionist at the elementary school a copy of my Kweezletown DVD. The English speaking, cell phone lending teacher earned a copy of my first picture book. Their help was immeasurable.

Moral of the story? When in doubt? When lost beyond all hope? When things are looking rather bleak? Follow the laughter of the children.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New School in Reggio!!!

Just how awesome is this concept? Gather original children's artwork that is effervescent in it's innocence of color and design. Enlarge these masterpieces by about 3000 or 4000% and reproduce them 'professionally' over a two story atrium of a new childcare building!!! My favorite part of the display? The original designs that are displayed amidst the monsta-enlargements. I wonder about their being held in place with a teeny-tiny bit of what looked like masking tape? Perhaps the child-artist was given the opportunity to 'hang' their own work?

What does this treatment of wall space give? A totally child-friendly entrance that permanently announces an appreciation for the work of children. I can imagine that every day that as the children come to school -- as they walk thru the front doors and walk on down the bright hallway to their room, that they know from the tops of the heads to the tips of their toes that the process of art is appreciated in this space. After all it is displayed from the tips of the rafters, across the door jambs and over the two story space. Oh happy day!!

[As I add some text to the photos today I lament that time during my visit did not allow me to capture each 'piece' of the public mural. I would guess from my recollection that there were at least a dozen children-artists represented in this gallery format.] LOVED it!!!

Life Changer: Arlana

Here we are!!! The two of us!!!! I can't believe that this is the only photo that I have of the two of us??? Thank heavens I have this one!!!! This is the woman who changed my life, everyone. Changed my life forever. Here she is!!! Meet Arlana Young. We are posed here smiling in a rest stop on a busy Italian 'interstate' the morning of our 'field trip' together, (we're headed to Reggio) the morning after I spent the day on her very own Army base(s), the morning following the family concert pictured below. [It will require a whole 'nother segment, let me just tell ya right now, to tell you the story of our field-trip day is a real whopper, even by Kweezletown standards.]

Through the years people have always asked, "How did you ever get that invitation?" They are asking in response to whatever amazing trip I am just reporting upon. Let me tell you, there are going to be a scadoodle of people that are going to ask, "How did you ever get to take that whole tour through Europe??"

The one word answer? Arlana.

The story behind the short answer?? Arlana and Renee and Allen.

NAEYC in 2009 was held in Washington DC. At the last possible moment we realized that my real-life pal Renee Sutherland didn't have lodging for the event & she bunked in with me. She gave a workshop on Conscious Discipline, that same ramp-up day as our presentation on the Arts and Movement & Music. We met up at the absolute end of the kick-off day in the Exhibit hall for it's grand opening festivities. As we are leaving the Exhibit hall via that very over-crowded escalator, Renee turns to me and says, "One of my workshop participants could be a real resource for you..... and she's from Italy."

No kidding, on that crowded escalator, the person on the step in front of Renee, turns around and says "I think my ears are burning, did someone say Italy?" Meet Arlana.

Out of 20,000 people in attendance. Seriously. What are the odds that the three of us would be standing one step apart from one another on the escalator? You do the math. Then you thank the angels.

The three of us then ended up walking back to our hotel laughing all the way and the initial scheming was launched. That began the journey I am now reporting. Through follow-up email Arlana asked me to sign up officially through the USO to be one of their approved acts for touring. I began that official process in December. To tell you the truth I didn't really fit their format. How many performers are in your group? One. How many thousand people can you perform for: 5,000 or 10,000? A couple hundred? Not a choice. No where on the form did it mention anything about children performances, or early childhood staff development presentations or family concerts. The proverbial square peg and round hole conundrum, the land of Debbie Clement.

At that exact same time as my attempting to jump through the USO hoops for their audition process, much closer to home, I learned of my own second diagnosis of Breast Cancer. For real. Thud. Exact same time frame. My mind can only hold so much & can only process so much. I totally & completely & utterly & abo-so-lutely forgot about ever returning to the USO proposal & audition process. Never once crossed my mind again in the midst of the surgery decision making, complications of infections yada yada, Physical Therapy going, shoulder freezing, regaining my "life" year of 2010 to ever think of Europe. Never once thought again about any of it. I was thrown back into the survival spin cycle and was working hard to keep my nose above water. The truth is, I dropped the ball.

Then came NAEYC time all over again. Again in Nov. This time across the country in Anaheim. The exhibit hall is open over four days in length. It is a marathon intertwined with sprints. I stand smiling all day after happy day long. The experience is delightful & gruelling all mixed together. I look at my watch on Saturday and realize there are only twenty-five more minutes of smiling, greeting, striking up conversations, engaging & planting seeds left. Through my exhaustion, I tell myself, "I can do anything for 25 minutes." [Drum-roll, please.]

Just then, the very next twinkle, someone stops and notices my two quilts hanging on my little corner of the Zaner-Bloser booth. She says that she's a quilter.... we talk about quilting for a couple of minutes and then I go on to explain that these quilts are actually illustrations from my brand new picture book, "Red, White and Blue" and that the book is actually a song I'd written & recorded earlier. She freezes and the expression on her face is priceless. It is at that exact moment when we each recognize the other!!! And I begin to experience life is offering me another profound opportunity.

It's ARLANA!!!!!

What are the odds that a second time at NAEYC, in the midst of 20,000 other individuals that the happy universe of serendipitous odds would connect the two of us? You do the math!!!!!

She says, "Hey, I thought you were going to follow up with USO?" I respond, "Well, I started that and then very promptly was diagnosed with Breast Cancer..... but wait till you see my new book!"

The next words out of her mouth? "Forget USO. I'll just bring you over directly."

The rest is history. She put out an invitation to other bases across Europe to join our very own "USO-like" tour for the celebration of the "Month-of-the-Military-Child" and three other installations joined her base outside Vicenza to make for the whirlwind of a lifetime.

In retrospect..... it is the culmination of my previous 15 years of being the Rainbow-child that prepared me to enter this particular lottery. All of the incredible invitations over all of these years have prepared me for this one. I needed to be an "author/illustrator" to enter the lottery. Actually I also needed to have a picture book project filled with images of the United States of America flag to have my ticket selected for this lottery experience.

It requires an infinite amount of fairy-princess-wish-upon-a-shooting-star blessings to connect all of the dots together into one constellation. It takes good friends looking out for you to help connect the dots. Thank you Renee for introducing me to Arlana. It takes a good spouse to make all of the arrangements and connect all of the dots for the renting of a car, securing flight & hotel reservations and driving untold miles across new territory, schlepping boxes of books merrily along a new Continent, to connect the dots. Thank you Allen for supporting me through Arlana's brain-storm. It takes people in a position of decision making who have the perspective and clout to pull off the unbelievable and connect the dots. Thank you Arlana.

The short answer: Arlana. The longer answer? Renee, Arlana and Allen et. al. Where in your faith story and belief system do you allow for out-and-out miracles to weave together the fabric of your experience in every day life? Let the celebration begin!!!

P.S. It was Arlana that made arrangements for all of us to tour in Reggio. She made all of the strategic provisions for 14 of her staff to get to have a day of inservice and observation together.

P.S.S. Contrary to rumors we are not sisters. That was probably the most frequently asked question while we were together and apparently even asked prior to our arrival in Italy. For the record, I only have one biological sister and that is Rebecca, my co-illustrator of Tall Giraffe fame. Arlana and I are not even 'sistah's' of the great Breast Cancer sisterhood either (thank goodness.) We, me and Arlana, are only Sisters with a capitol "S" -- as in the sort of woman who affords you the opportunity to grow and to dream beyond your wildest imagination. It is truly wonderful to be a part of that Sister-hood.

Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!

Thanks for your support! I am so appreciative of your pins!
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