1 + 1 + 1 = Love

1+1=1=Love_final_ (1)

Meet Patrick, Cooper, and Bridget, one of the most endearing families I’ve ever met. Cooper is Patrick’s son from a previous relationship, but you’d never know it. When spending time with them, I’m always struck by the love they have for each other. The only thing that would tip one off that Bridget isn’t Cooper’s biological mom is that he calls her, “Babe,” a term of endearment that he picked up from his father.

To create my portrait paintings I work from reference photos. For this watercolor, I ended up combining two group-shots. It can be tricky to get three people (especially when one is a child) to all look their best in one image. I asked Pat to take off his hat mid photo shoot because his face was in shadow. Removing it, left him with a clear case of hat-hair. I knew that I could change that in the artwork by working from a photograph of Pat with his hair gelled and combed. It comes in handy having a brain that fuses and alters images like Photoshop.

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I felt like I’d won the lottery when I was commissioned to paint this piece. Getting paid to do what makes your heart sing is a gift. Plus, the fact that Pat and company are some of the nicest (not to mention beautiful) people around made it a dream job.

In September, this family by choice, will deepen their bond when Pat and Bridget are married. 1+1+1 = Love is Patrick’s love letter, painted through me, to the two most important people in his life. I’m wishing them all the best as they set sail on their happily ever after.1+1=1=Love_detail_edited-red

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

 

 

 

It’s Picture Book Month: Give the Gift of Wonder

mabel-rose-version-2

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents —Emilie Buchwald

November is National Picture Book Month. It’s a gentle reminder of the importance of reading printed picture books to the children in our lives. I wish I could tell you what being read to, nestled in my mother’s arms, meant to me, but I didn’t have that kind of mom. What I can impart is the experience of reading to my own kids. It was routine for me to enjoy books with them before they fell asleep. The books I picked out helped them get to know me, and the ones they chose showed me who they were. Our eldest, Rob, was a big fan of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. To this day, no one enjoys the magic of Christmas more than him. One of his sister Bridget’s favorite books was Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. It was funny, and I suspect Bridget identified with the book’s theme of using brain power to outsmart others to get out of doing chores. Our youngest, Brian, was lulled to sleep nearly every night while I read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to him. Of course, Good Night Moon was the first book he thought of buying when his son was born. Picture books fueled my children’s capacity to dream and wonder. Pouring over them together was our time to bond.

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing? Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?—Bonnie Raitt, You

As a young mother, I knew I wanted to illustrate picture books but had no idea one day I would write them too. If I had known that, I would’ve written Love You to the Moon and Back for my kids. Instead, I will be able to read it to my grandchildren. It’s now available on Amazon. Getting the book into print is a dream come true for me. I wrote it so parents and grandparents would have a tangible way to give their little ones a sense of their all encompassing love. It’s message will reassure them throughout their lives. Knowing we are loved is what opens up doors and windows to let the heart fly free. It’s the only lasting gift we can ever give our children.

Love You to the Moon and Back

My daughter-in-law reading “Love you to the Moon and Back” to my grandson

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Remembering Ryan Cruz Saldana

Don't Lose Heart

On May 2, 2014 Jacqui and Dan Saldana lost their three-year-old son, Ryan. Although I never met him, a piece of my heart broke off when he died. I learned about Ryan, while he still graced the planet, from my niece Molly. For a time, she worked with his mother at the Madewell store in Santa Monica, California. I began reading Jacqui’s blog, Baby Boy Bakery and following her on Instagram where she shared recipes and the adventures of being Ryan’s mom. His adorableness, wrapped in red curls, was irresistible.

Last May, Ryan was struck and killed by a truck while playing outside of his cousin’s home in Alta Loma. An unfathomable loss that no parent should ever have to face. Ryan’s death sparked a social media outpouring of love and support for his family. The well wishes were posted with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan, which was begun by family friends. Red balloons were chosen as a symbol for Ryan because he loved red and balloons. His parents planned to release them heavenward during their little boy’s funeral service.

Since that time, Jacqui has shared her journey of healing and hope on her blog and Instagram. After learning about what the Saldana’s where going through last December, Ellen Degeneres had Jacqui on her show to help get them through the holidays. The talk show host told Jacqui,“I know what you’ve lost is something you can’t ever explain or imagine. Know that you are helping a lot of people with your blog. Continue writing your blog and continue knowing I’m sending you love all the time.”

After seeing Jacqui on The Ellen Show, I felt inspired to send her love in a tangible way. What if I did a watercolor of Ryan as a gift for his parents? But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get in touch with them. Still I felt called to do it. The whisperings of Ryan urged me on. Why not paint his portrait anyway? I could have it published with an essay about the anniversary of his death. I knew somehow it would get to Jacqui and Dan. When a parent loses a child, their greatest fear is that the world will move on and forget about their son or daughter. I wanted to make sure they knew that wasn’t going to happen to Ryan Cruz Saldana.

So today, you are seeing and reading my remembrance of Jacqui and Dan’s little angel. Believe me when I say I didn’t create this alone.

Don’t Lose Heart

Remember…

I am not gone.

I am closer than ever

I watch you every day.

It takes time to heal.

I can feel your love.

I smile when you smile.

I laugh when you laugh

Balloons are love notes from me. 

I will be your “little man” forever. 

Remember, I have what you always wanted for me.  

I am happy. 

I am free.

I am whole.

Remember, I love you.

*Join the outpouring of love and support for Ryan on social media with the hashtag #RedBalloonsForRyan

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This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Trust Your Inner Compass

Come on Buddy (2)

Always a seeker, my journey has now taken me in the direction of unraveling my self talk. By that I mean the voice in my head that is hell bent on me being a “good girl.” It’s the voice that shames, cajoles and judges everything I do. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve heard it said that when we are born our consciousness is like an unsullied computer. As life goes on program after program is downloaded onto our hard drives. Where do the programs come from? Our parents, the Church and the media, to name a few. All of these externals indoctrinate us with who to be and what to do. Without healthy, supportive parents (which I was not privy to) it’s nearly impossible to trust your inner voice. I have lived much of my life going into my head to reason away what I know to be true deep inside.

“And always let your conscience be your guide.” -Jiminy Cricket

When I was in grade school, I loved the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio. In a song from it, “Give a Little Whistle,” Jiminy Cricket sang to Pinocchio to always let his conscience be his guide. The tune was catchy and gave grown ups the perfect opportunity to drum into us the importance of listening to our inner selves. The problem with that was our “conscience” had little to do with who we really were. It was located outside of ourselves in the rules and expectations of the adults who were trying to mold us.

Today, I am am learning to live by the dictionary’s definition of conscience, “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” Contrary to what I was taught my conscience isn’t located in church dogma, family rules or societal standards. My conscience resides in my heart.

When people of my generation were born, we were dangled upside down and slapped on our bottoms to force us to breathe. Today we know that’s unnecessary. Taking our first breath is built into us. We do it automatically. I think the rest of our lives work that way, too. As adults, we don’t need outside forces directing our path. By allowing ourselves to trust our intuition, step by step, we will be shown the way. For children, living like this is second nature. Of course, as they are raised they still need to be guided and protected while paying heed to their individuality.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” -Alan Alda

When I heard that Siena, the little girl in the above art, took her brother, Rhett, by the hand and said, “Come on buddy. Let’s go see the rest of the world” I thought, I want to be like her. Spontaneous. Free. I immediately set plans to illustrate the scene. As I worked on my watercolor, it dawned on me (as so often happens) that my need to paint the image was my way of working out more of my life lessons. As I put the finishing touches on the piece, I realized that I had successfully replaced some of the corrupted applications downloaded in my youth. And what would be the names of the new programs? Trust Yourself, Approach Life with Wonder, and It’s Safe to Explore. And so it is.

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

The Comfort of Angels

Gloria

“Everyone has only one guardian angel and this angel is with them from before their birth until after they die. This angel never ever leaves them, not even for one moment.” —Lorna Byrne, Irish Mystic

I learned about guardian angels as a girl. Having my own heavenly helper is a notion that has comforted me many times over the years. I have never believed in the angelic more strongly then when my grandson Logan arrived. I could feel a presence in the hospital room when I met him for the first time. Nothing that can be proven scientifically, of course. It’s just a knowing that lives in the heart of a grandmother and others who pay attention to such things.

On November 17, 2014, Logan James Shanahan was born into a world full of love. He has fabulous parents and is surrounded by aunties, uncles and grandparents who adore him. He will move through life with the certainty of one who is cherished. Being seen and accepted for who you are is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. And it’s a gift that was bestowed on Logan before he was even born (his in utero kicking was a force to be reckoned with).

Less than 24 hours old, baby Logan with his parent’s Emily and Rob.

“God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!” —Robert Browning

I’ve heard other grandparents click their tongues and say, “The way the world is today I  wouldn’t want the task of raising a child. What will it be like twenty years from now? I worry about my grandkids.” That’s one way to look at it. I choose to focus on the good. There is so much of it, you know. Any fear I have over Logan’s future dissipates when I consider all who are watching over him, seen and unseen. Knowing that my grandchildren are cared for is one of the best things about being a grandparent. That keen sense of responsibility I felt at the birth of my own kids is gone. All that’s left for me to do is to love them. Yes, God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

It’s Picture Book Month: Give the Gift of Wonder

Mabel Rose - Version 2

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents —Emilie Buchwald

November is National Picture Book Month. It’s a gentle reminder of the importance of reading printed picture books to the children in our lives. I wish I could tell you what being read to, nestled in my mother’s arms, meant to me, but I didn’t have that kind of mom. What I can impart is the experience of reading to my own kids. It was routine for me to enjoy books with them before they fell asleep. The books I picked out helped them get to know me, and the ones they chose showed me who they were. Our eldest, Rob, was a big fan of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express. To this day, no one enjoys the magic of Christmas more than him. One of his sister Bridget’s favorite books was Tales for the Perfect Child by Florence Parry Heide. It was funny, and I suspect Bridget identified with the book’s theme of using brain power to outsmart others to get out of doing chores. Our youngest, Brian, was lulled to sleep nearly every night while I read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon to him. Of course, Good Night Moon was the first book he thought of buying when his son was born last April. Picture books fueled my children’s capacity to dream and wonder. Pouring over them together was our time to bond.

Isn’t it love that keeps us breathing? Isn’t it love we’re sent here for?—Bonnie Raitt, You

As a young mother, I knew I wanted to illustrate picture books but had no idea one day I would write them too. If I had known that, I would’ve written Love You to the Moon and Back for my kids. Instead, I will be able to read it to my grandchildren. It’s now available on Amazon. Getting the book into print is a dream come true for me. I wrote it so parents and grandparents would have a tangible way to give their little ones a sense of their all encompassing love. It’s message will reassure them throughout their lives. Knowing we are loved is what opens up doors and windows to let the heart fly free. It’s the only lasting gift we can ever give our children.

My daughter-in-law reading "Love you to the Moon and Back" to my grandson

My daughter-in-law reading “Love you to the Moon and Back” to my grandson

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

American Hope

god-bless-america_edited-1

“Children are hopes” – Novalis

I began work on the above illustration in 1999 through the advice of my then agent. It was all over the news at the time, that an immigrant family had named their newborn “America” in hopes of not being deported. The baby’s parents desperately wanted to give their child a better life than the one they had fled. My rep thought it would be a great way to capitalize on the event and draw attention to my art. I am a follower of directions and immediately began work on the illustration. Shortly after that, I parted ways with my rep, realizing we didn’t share the same vision for marketing my work. I didn’t abandon my drawing, though. I finished it knowing the baby wrapped in the flag wasn’t specific to one child but symbolized all of America’s children.

“See, there’s the land of America…which you have to defend. But there’s also the idea of America. America is more than just a country, it’s an idea.” – Bono

True, our nation’s physical beauty is vast. And although magnificent, it’s not what makes America, America. My ancestors didn’t leave County Cork, Ireland, during the potato famine to find a more striking landscape. What brought them here were the intangibles. They were under the thumb of English landlords and came to a new world that promised freedom for their families. Freedom meant opportunity and most of all hope. And like their sons and daughters, it must be cherished and protected at all costs.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”Ronald Reagan

On June 9, 2014 a boy from the village of Mokena, Illinois, where I live, was killed in Afghanistan. Private Aaron Toppen was only nineteen and died serving the country he loved. He left behind a mother, sisters, a girlfriend and countless others. With him he took a piece of all our hearts. He was laid to rest in a casket wrapped in stars, stripes and the love of our community. In my mind’s eye, I can see his spirit joining the ranks of a heavenly guard appointed to keep watch over our children. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

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Aaron Toppen’s mother adjusts a medal before her son’s Turning Blue Ceremony.

Mokena honors Aaron Toppen

Mokena welcomes Aaron home.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

Your Children Are Not Your Children

So valuable is the dignity of the human soul, that every member of the human race has a guardian from the moment the person is born.” – Saint Jerome

At first glance, one would think the above painting is an artist’s hope that guardian angels exist and guide our children. What if I told you it illustrates an actual event to the smallest detail?

Twelve years ago an old friend tracked me down after coming across a lithograph of mine. In it angels were pictured playing in the clouds, blowing stars to one another. Even though the signature on the piece was different from when I was in high school, Clare recognized my art and felt compelled to find me. She thought anyone who can paint angels like I do, must believe in them. After meeting for coffee, she confided the event that made her search me out. Two years earlier she had stood in court looking on as her ex-husband was sentenced for sexually abusing her daughter. What had taken place shook her family to its core. In the depths of their despair, an angel came to little Emma and helped her come to terms with what had happened. The angelic presence not only healed her but healed her mother and siblings too.

The events with her stepfather left Emma in deep emotional pain. She had loved him dearly and even called him dad. How could he betray her like this? How could she miss someone who had hurt her so much? One night, as she neared her breaking point, she climbed out of bed to get a tissue to dry her tears. When she returned, sitting next to her bed was a woman with wings and light radiating around her. She introduced herself as Sarah. She told Emma she was there to help. She knew that Emma missed her stepfather but promised her everything would be alright. The heavenly being assured her that she had done the right thing by revealing her secret to her mother. That was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship. Emma’s guardian angel stayed by her side during the process of pressing charges against her abuser. She always knew exactly what Emma needed to hear to soothe her.

As Clare and I rekindled our friendship, of course, I pondered the hugeness of her story. I wanted to believe her. Who wouldn’t want the comfort of knowing that our children are watched over when we can’t protect them? After meeting her kids, I was convinced something incredible had indeed taken place. I came to believe my friend’s daughter had been given a gift, through a tangible presence that had found her shattered and left her whole.

As time went on, Emma’s angel began to fade into the background but never entirely left. Today all grown up and a mother herself, she continues to be one of the most well-adjusted young ladies I’ve ever met. It’s impossible not to feel a remnant of the celestial when in her presence. Until now, her encounter with Sarah has only been disclosed to a trusted few. The way I see it, Emma’s gift is a healing balm that should be shared with the world. Her mother agrees and is now expanding her journals about her daughter’s experience into a book. As a parent, I feel privileged to have been able to tuck Emma’s visitation in my heart all these years. It’s been such a source of comfort to me while watching my children scale some very rocky terrain. In lyrics penned by Van Morrison we are assured, “You know the obstacles along the way, sometimes might feel so tremendous. There are guides and spirits all along the way, who will befriend us.” Our loved ones are watched over and cared for even when we can’t be with them. Just knowing that helps me sleep better at night.

So what about you? I would love to hear any experiences you’ve had with the angelic.

*The names were changed in the post to protect the privacy of all involved.

Dream Catchers is the image Clare came across and compelled her to find me.

Dream Catchers is the image Clare came across and compelled her to find me.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

www.sueshanahan.com

Time Well Spent

Time together is time well spent,  And time with our children is heaven sent. – Author unknown, found on a vintage sampler

In the above painting, which is more endearing, the fairy or her habitat? No question in my mind, I pick the fairy. Of course, it would be fun to discover the magic of her home, but she, herself, is what would ultimately charm me. I found life imitating art while visiting my daughter in Vermont.

We had been planning my October trip for months. Five days with my Bridget in a land of eclectic shops and bistros at the base of foothills woven with color. We had every day brimming with activities. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin our adventure. The first two days went according to plan. And then on day 3 it happened, without warning,  my back went out. Moment by moment, the pain worsened as we scrambled to get an appointment with a doctor on a Friday afternoon. We were lucky to find a chiropractor who squeezed me in. I did feel better after her adjustments but was advised to take it easy for the rest of my stay. Both Bridget and I were disappointed we had to cancel most of our plans (although, in retrospect, we really just felt bad for each other.) So that afternoon instead of taking her rescue dog on a hike to the reservoir we went to a movie.

Saturday we managed to browse a few shops before my back insisted we return home and ice it. That evening we had no choice but to stay in and watch a movie and sip some wine. But do you know what? We had a blast. We came to the realization the whole point of my trip was for us to be together. Sure Vermont is a beautiful place to explore but it doesn’t hold a candle to the pleasure of my daughter’s company. That night as I lay in bed my heart echoed the words of Kitty Carlisle Hart, “Each morning I wake up and say, ‘Dear Lord, I don’t want anything better; just send me more of the same.'”

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Bridget and Nelson - a moment captured on my trip.

Bridget and Nelson – a moment captured on my trip.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

www.sueshanahan.com