#MyTownProud: The Small Town Artist That Inspired Me the Most

This content is sponsored by the Monsanto Fund’s America’s Farmers Community Outreach programs, but views and thoughts are my own.

What makes you #MyTownProud? Before I moved to New England and found my small town, I got inspiration from where I'm from, and how it has helped my art. #ad

I admit that there was a period of time in my early 20’s in which I thought I wanted to live in NYC.

Now, I can’t believe I ever sought that life because I’m a country girl through and through, and I’ve been that way probably my whole life. It’s true that I lived in San Francisco for a short spell in the mid-2000’s, but that was a chance of a lifetime and an experiment. It didn’t last long, and soon I gave up living in a MIDDLE apartment in Golden Gate Park – sandwiched between, below, and above some loud neighbors – and traded it in for a New England town without its own stoplight.

This is where I find peace, and this is where my words and my art are the most inspired. It’s no surprise to me that I wound up living in a clearing in the woods on four acres, because I get it all from my mom! As a kid, we lived on top of a mountain and surrounded by cornfields. I always thought we had the best of everything. We had the dimension and the beauty of the elevation, but we were also on a place filled with crops and wildlife. My mom’s dream was always to own horses, and once she reached that dream, her dream was to own her own horse FARM, and she fulfilled that dream when I was an adult.

I’ve loved seeing it unfold.

My mom is an artist/art teacher, and her father was an artist too. As a writer and a photographer, I certainly relate to so many parts of her – her humor and quirks, the way she translates her hopes and dreams into visual creations, and the way she is at one with nature. We are both small town women, probably more so than anyone else in our family. I’m proud to be from a small town, and to have been inspired to be an artist – like my mom and my grandfather. Their art is in galleries.

Before I was born, my mom was an art teacher in the public schools. After she gave birth to my sister and then me, she had the foresight and inspiration to start an art school right out of her home. When we moved in with my dad and new siblings after she got re-married, my dad helped her create an even bigger art school in our new house. The business was and still is called Art Magic, and its existence is the only life I’ve ever known. When we moved to Blairstown, NJ about 15 years ago, my parents set down their small town roots and let them spread. They own a horse farm, and my mom is a curator/exhibitor at the town’s local art gallery on Main Street. You can’t go for a walk down Main Street without seeing a familiar face.

I used to joke that it was straight out of a movie, or a western. I’m #MyTownProud to be a part of this life.

My mom makes dioramas/dreamscapes. They involve a lengthy process that begins with her original pen and ink drawings. Then, her drawings are photographically reproduced and reduced in size. She takes the new drawings and dry mounts them to boards. Then she cuts them out and layers on colors with translucent films. The final product is a three-dimensional box – a juxtaposition of cultures, worlds, and images – intended to portray time as the past, present, and future as one event.

What I love is how receptive the town is to her art. She’s found a niche in a wonderful community.

Not long after we moved to Blairstown, the small town had an Arts & Local Business Night. All of the local businesses opened their doors and served food and drinks. It was warm and welcoming, and VERY country. I loved seeing residents ride horses down the street and then “park them” to go out to dinner. That’s when I knew we had found “home.” A forever home.

And THESE are the people you’ll find in small towns – full of love, warmth, inspiration, and complexity. Their stories have layers, and it’s so rewarding to find out how they came to do what they do, and how they came to live where they live.

What makes you #MyTownProud? Before I moved to New England and found my small town, I got inspiration from where I'm from, and how it has helped my art. #ad

I’m so proud to be from a small town, and to live in this rural setting I enjoy every day now. What I love is that The Monsanto Fund celebrates these amazing communities, and helps to make them even more vibrant for future generations through America’s Farmers Community Outreach. These America’s Farmers programs, sponsored by The Monsanto Fund, help put the farmer in the center of the story. In America’s rural communities, farmers not only provide food and fuel, but they are pivotal characters in their communities. They often serve as the backbone of the areas in which they live – like here. Through the Grow Communities, Grow Rural Education and Grow Ag Leaders programs, The Monsanto Fund celebrates the accomplishments throughout communities with grants to help them continue to grow and thrive. A new campaign sponsored by the programs called My Town will continue this celebration of the people, places and stories that make small towns great.

They do this with the help of local farmers.

Why are you #MyTownProud? Share your own why on social media with the #MyTownProud hashtag! Connect with America’s Farmers on their website, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and share your stories in those places!

Are you an artist? Can you think of a particular artist you love in your town?

5 Ways to Jazz Up Your School Lunch Game

Thank you Mardi Gras Napkins for sponsoring this post. Learn more about Mardi Gras Conversation Starter Napkins here and grab your coupon today!

Have no fear. I have 5 ways to jazz up your school lunch game that won't break the bank or take up a lot of time! Conversation starts! #ad #mardigrasnapkins

Come on, fellow parents – It’s October now! It’s been 1-2 months of school under our belts.

We’ve had school picture day, back-to-school night, and the beginnings of after school classes, programs, lessons, and practices. I’m learning some interesting things along the way – with one kid in third grade, and one kid as a kindergartener!

Have no fear. I have 5 ways to jazz up your school lunch game that won't break the bank or take up a lot of time! Conversation starts! #ad #mardigrasnapkins

Have no fear. I have 5 ways to jazz up your school lunch game that won't break the bank or take up a lot of time! Conversation starts! #ad #mardigrasnapkins

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1 – Having two different library days and remembering to remind both kids to return their books isn’t easy!

2 – If you have two kids in the same school, or even two kids not in the same school, you will accidentally switch their water bottles. Scarlet will walk around with a racecar water bottle, and Des will have the giant pink bottle with the “S” on it.

3 – You might get annoyed that they still want you to walk them to the schoolyard and wait until the bell rings..but..

4 – You’ll cry in your car the first day that she walks into school without a backwards glance at you.

5 – You can’t actually pack them the same exact lunch every day. You can’t. Now my father? He was a teacher and he ate the same PB&J every day of his life. Every. Day. I always wanted to find out more about this. Did he pack it himself, or did my mom do it? Had his own mom packed him one for years and he couldn’t break the habit? Did he ever want anything else?

school lunch

I admit that I Google school lunch ideas probably at least once a week! And while most of the ideas are fun, and I’m all about people using their spare time how they want – especially when the kids are in bed and the night is spread out before them – the ideas aren’t for me. I like things that are easy – like a party in a school lunch! My ideas are Tamara-tested and super fun. Here are my five ways to jazz up your school lunch game. I hope you’ll find them as fun as my kids do!

1 – Dress up your food and make it come alive. For us, we love to use cookie cutters in fun shapes for sandwiches, cheese slices, and fruit. Another fun thing requires just a marker, some round cheese, and maybe scissors if you have time:

2 – Plastic Jar Parfaits! These are so easy and delicious. I did a fall themed one with layers of plain yogurt, honey, apple slices, and some cinnamon sprinkled on top. The kids loved them and I didn’t have to pack any glass jars in their lunches.

3 – Rainbow fruit and cheese kebobs or skewers! There’s no end to the fun, and they’re easy to make too.

4 – Lunch fondue! You can make dips with peanut butter and jelly, as well as hummus or yogurt. Then pack fun things to dip them in! Generally I cut bananas for the kids, but I also like to write secret messages on their bananas too.

5 – A party in their lunch boxes with Mardi Gras Napkins!

Time to wipe away that school lunch and weeknight dinner boredom and bring mealtime fun back to the table with these fun paper napkins! I love that they ignite spontaneous and unexpected family conversation into our lives with their super-cool illustrated prints. The napkins feature conversation starters. They’re available in 200, 250, 500, and 700 count packs with a variety of conversation starter prints in each pack – and they’re affordable at about a penny per napkin.

It can be tough to get my kids to talk about their days after several hours at school. Not only do I jazz up their lunches with Mardi Gras Napkins, but I also jazz up dinnertime with them. I love putting out a different napkin for all four of us. Before we start eating, we go around the table and answer the prompt on the napkin. It sounds cheesy but we also hold hands during this pre-dinner game. Scarlet came up with that idea and I would never change it! That’s how we connect.

This full day of school for two kids thing is new, and it’s nice to find a way to have quality family time on a daily basis.

Want these awesome napkins? Of course you do! Enter your email here

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

What are your fun ideas?