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I SPENT PART of my evening with my second grade teacher tonight.  We were at event celebrating the county teachers of the year, and she came, too.  It was wonderful to be there with her.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, "I am so proud of you," and I could've been a seven year old in her room again, beaming with pride that I had pleased my  teacher.

Lydia Schroeder is that wonderful, rare combo of teacher and artist.  Her paintings were lovely and even when I was small I understood that I was in the presence of someone with talent.  She encouraged us to express ourselves through art - whatever our choice of art might be.  I had the added bonus of being good friends with her youngest daughter, and some of my happiest memories were spent in her downstairs art studio.  It was beyond my comprehension that someone could own that many different types of crayons.  Once, when her own parents were visiting they brought their granddaughters pastel crayons, and somehow knowing I would be there, they brought me my own box.  They were the fanciest crayons, and I loved the way you could create with them.

My father is also an artist.  He is the rarest of combinations; a steamfitter by trade, and an artist by design.  My parent's home is filled with all the paintings he has done over the years, and I love telling people that he painted them.  He always shrugs, and nods, and receives their praise graciously.  He used to teach both my older sister and I to draw.  I wish I could say that I discovered my own great talent under his guidance, but I did not inherit his natural gift; my daughter did.  

I understand, as he explained to me early in life, that an artist is someone who works and studies their craft.  I knew this to be true because I had seem him in the dim light of his makshift office off our kitchen, bent over a drafting table, painting.  He'd finished his ten hour shift at the oil refinery, and after evening chores, family dinner, and reading a story to my sister and I, he would craft beautiful paintings.  I understood that it wasn't just talent that made someone an artist - but drive and passion were important elements too.

Both my son and daughter have natural talents.  The Girl can draw fairly easily and has become obssessed with Kawaii style drawings, but more recently she has become determined to create more "realistic" pictures.  I am trying to instill in her the idea that all artists study the work and techniques of other artists.  The Boy can memorize anything.  He reads a book and he remembers it; every word.  We will be driving in the car and he will say things like, "Hey, mom do you know what the natural predators of the allosarous were?"  And then he'll go into great detail remembering every bit of a book he read.  He also taught himself to read.  I have no idea when or how this happened, but suddenly one day he began reading the closed captions on my parent's tv.  

I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many wonderful talented artists.  Some of them paint, some of them make music, some of them write code for computers, some of them sing, and many of them work alone in classrooms and teach like you wouldn't believe.  Because of my upbringing, I always thinking about a scripture in Hebrews that says, "Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses . . ."  I can really relate to that.  I am surrounded by a great cloud who amaze and inspire me daily.  

And you, you've got talents -- maybe it is something obvious like singing, or playing an instrument or painting  a picture.  You might have a quiet talent, like being able to understand all the layers and ideas buried in a piece of writing, or solving complicated math problems as though you possess a secret magic.  It might be that you have infinite empathy, and can make anyone feel safe in your presence, or you have the gift of encouraging people who are just barely hanging on.  You have tremendous talent.  I see it, and you inspire me.  

--Jen