Self Portrait

One fine day in August I went to a local paint-it-yourself ceramics studio which I love visiting from time to time. You simply walk in, choose a plain white ceramic piece, come up with a design, select your paints, and begin painting. Once you're satisfied with your work of art (or completely frustrated) you leave the piece in the hands of a trusted studio worker and pick it up the following week. VoilĂ !

During my last visit I noticed there were several Halloween selections and I suppose the skull I ended up chose was meant as a Halloween decoration. I deliberated for quite a while before I selected the skull. ("Wouldn't a plate or a bowl or a cup be more useful?") I couldn't help myself. I just wanted to have fun. I was reminded of phrenology diagrams (see example below) but I didn't have my smartphone with me so I couldn't look up any images on the internet. Instead I just threw on a base coat and grabbed a roll of thin masking tape and marked off sections on the skull. I ended up with 13 sections and after brainstorming a list of words I drew and cut out the letter of every word on contact paper.

Once all of the tape and contact paper was in place I got to have some real fun and paint each section a unique color. (As you can see some of the paint leaked under the contact paper and tape but I didn't mind much since my mind is a little messy.) After staring at the plain white face for a white I decided to take a chance and add some white paint with colored speckles in it. I was a little horrified at the initial result (a chunky, chalky layer of paint) but once it was glazed and fired I realized that the face never would have been complete without freckles. Check out my inspiration and finished product below.

Mr. Phrenology:

Miss Amber:


My Reality TV Heroes

Hey Everyone!

I hope you're having a fantastic Thursday night. With Fall TV premieres just around the corner (and Project Runway Season 9 well underway) I thought I'd reflect on my "Reality TV Heroes." I know many people hate reality television and I have no issue with that. However, my family is full of die-hard Survivor fans and our obsession with reality TV began 11 years ago during the summer before my senior year of high school. The first season of Survivor premiered in the summer of 2000 and my family was changed forever. We were interviewed by the local paper twice and a local news team actually filmed our Survivor Season 1 Finale viewing party. That's right - I was on the news! The cast of Season 1's "15 minutes of fame" actually translated to 15 seconds of fame for me. Those were the days!

For the last week I've been thinking about who I would put on my all-time Top 10 reality TV star list. I know I must be missing people who made an impression on me but this is all for fun and I wasn't about to review and entire 11 years' worth of reality TV contestants. The people on the list are simply the ones that stuck out to me the most. Here we go!

#10: Ethan Zohn (Survivor Season 3 - Winner)

Oh my gosh he's even cuter than I remembered. I first laid eyes on this ideal man when I was 18. I actually am not sure who had the bigger crush on him - me or my mom. The reason Ethan has made my Top 10 list is because he managed to win the game of survivor the "nice" way. I can hardly remember watching him compete in Africa but the thing I do remember is how sweet he always was. He has made several reality show appearances since his debut in 2001. While doing research for this blog I learned that he was diagnosed with Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2009. As of today he is in remission and he is actively involved in raising money for cancer research. I am very glad to know he is healthy enough to compete on the upcoming season of The Amazing Race, even though he's taking his girlfriend and not me. (See the original photo here.)

#9 Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. (America's Got Talent Season 6 - Finalist)

AGT is in its sixth season but I never watched a single episode until this year. I have to admit, it's not my favorite. The show seems to be dominated by its three judges who are constantly bickering with each other and usually trying to take the host down with them. However, every once in a while it's worth the constant eye-rolling when a particular contestant steals the show: Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. I love this guy! His dream is to be a singer (the season winner will headline a limited-run show in Vegas beginning in October) but in order to support his wife and four children he works as a car washer. You can see the love in his eyes when he talks about his wife and kids and it is so endearing. He is best known for singing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin songs on AGT and amazingly enough I LOVE it. (I normally can't stand that genre of music. I have no idea why.) I am just grateful he's using his talent to breathe new life into songs that are normally snoozefests for me. Tonight I found out he made it to the top four. Can he go all the way? (See the original photo here.)

#8 Kelly Bruno (Survivor Season 21)

Kelly did not win her season of Survivor. In fact, she didn't even come close. The contestants are always divided into tribes during the first episode of the show. Season 21 kicked off with a "young vs. old" division and unfortunately Kelly's tribe was full of beastly competitors more suited for a lion's den than a reality TV set. Kelly's bio on revealed that she had lost her dad when he was volunteering in Haiti. He died when the earthquake struck and the building he was in collapsed. Kelly had obviously been through hard times prior to that. Her right leg was amputated from the knee down when she was six months old. As if surviving middle school and high school hadn't been daunting enough, she had to face social strangulation from her tribemates at every turn. Many of them were worried she'd win the million dollars simply for earning the "sympathy" vote, but this girl never asked for a word of sympathy. She contributed around camp and competed against the other tribe with all her heart. It was just too bad her tribemates gave her none of theirs. In fact one of the tribemates promised the camera she'd "push [Kelly] so hard that [her] d*** leg will fly off." Yep, it's true. I'm just glad Kelly wasn't seriously hurt. (See original photo here.)

#7 Seth Aaron Henderson (Project Runway Season 7 - Winner)

As I mentioned earlier, Season 9 of Project Runway has already kicked off. The season began with a first time "casting special" in which prospective contestants were judged by a panel of former contestants in a preliminary round of auditions. I was very happy to spot Seth Aaron on the panel because I trusted he'd send the right people to meet the real judges (Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia and Michael Kors) in New York City. He had "killed it" on his season of PR and the thing that impressed me the most is he knew exactly who he was as a designer and never backed away from it. He was also a very dedicated family man and would get very emotional when he talked about his wife and kids (pictured left). I was surprised by a particular tidbit of information revealed in the casting special: Seth Aaron had auditioned something like five or six times before making it onto Season 7. I am always impressed by people who know what they want and GO for it. He is a great example to me! (See original photo here.)

#6 Mondo Guerra (Project Runway Season 8 - Runner-up)

Mondo blossomed before my eyes on Project Runway. He started off as the most meek, painfully shy cast member and I was worried he was going to quit. He was willing to take risks and although he stumbled many times he came up with some of the most memorable designs of the season. One of the other designers, Michael C., got on a winning streak mid-season and many of the contestants despised him and accused him of cheating. When Mondo was randomly paired with Michael on a team challenge I thought Mondo was going to lose his mind. Mondo was not happy with the initial pairing but it didn't take long for him to take an unexpected 180 and he ended up openly praising Michael C. as they faced the judges on the runway. The transformation stole a tiny piece of my heart. Later in the season the remaining designers were tasked to create an original textile and design. Mondo quietly designed a pattern based on the plus sign (+) and made incredible pants out of the fabric that was created for him. He kept his inspiration a secret and when each contestant was surprised by a family member he opted to not tell his mom that he has been HIV positive for the past 10 years. I was very grateful he didn't choose to tell her on camera. He ended up winning the challenge and advancing all the way to the finals. The picture on the left is the flagship design of the collection he created for Fashion Week even though Nina Garcia urged him to scrap it. While I was searching for images of Mondo on Google I found out that Heidi Klum had the dress made specially for her. I love Mondo because he never backed down from who he was as a designer. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. (See original photo here.)

#5 Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town (The Sing Off Season 2 - 4th Place)

These guys are my heroes! Jerry Lawson was an original member of The Persuasions back in the day and originally collaborated with The Talk of the Town in 2001. (Jerry's return to live performance came after falling on very hard times.) They formed an unforgettable a Capella performance group that made it pretty darn far in the second season of The Sing Off. I absolutely loved the respect the audience showed for these guys (eventually chanting "Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!" at the end of their performances), especially when they were busting their butts to impress the younger folks with more contemporary songs. For me the best moment of the season was their rendition of The House of the Rising Sun. It chilled me to the bone. Months later Haley Reinhart choked out a similar rendition on American Idol and the judges kept remarking they had never heard anything like it. Obviously they don't watch the best singing competition on television. (See original pic here.)

#4 Jane Bright (Survivor Season 21)

This, ladies and gentleman, is Ms. Jane Bright laughing maniacally as she secretly eats an entire fish whilst hiding from her evil tribemates. You see, Jane was on the same season as the ill-fated Kelly Bruno (#8 above). Jane managed to survive with her "older" teammates but eventually was randomly traded to the "younger" tribe in a twist of the game. She ended up becoming their live-in maid, firewood stocker, and resident fisherwoman. Every effort she put into the tribe was thanklessly sucked down the gullets of her idiotic tribe members. When she was betrayed by Chase, her lone ally and fellow North Carolina resident, she knew she was on the chopping block for elimination. By then the immunity challenges had shifted to individual competitions as opposed to team matches. I will never forget watching this amazing 56-year-old woman outlast competitors half her age in battles of STRENGTH. That's right - strength! After clenching the immunity necklace set aside for the "female" winner of a particular challenge she could have easily dropped the impossible-to-hold-onto fire poker of death. The host prompted her to do so but instead she looked over at the remaining men and asked, "What if I want to beat them?" (Be sure to scroll down to the video.) And she did! Jane: I love you I love you I love you. (See original pic here.)

#3 "Boston Rob" Mariano (Survivor Seasons 4, 8, 20 and 22)

It's good to be king. Rob Mariano started his Survivor career in 2002, met his wife on his second season, got his butt handed to him by Russell Hantz 12 seasons later and FINALLY, in a landslide 8-1-0 vote, WON THE MILLION DOLLARS on his fourth attempt. What does this teach me? Never give up, never surrender! I remember hating this guy when he debuted on Season 4. Over the years he has become my hero (not just because he married a girl named Amber). He is mature, brilliant, hard-working, determined, cunning, fearless and gosh-darned hard to describe unless you've seen him compete on Survivor. Maybe the best word to describe him is "Murlonio." (See original pic here.)

#2 Margie & Luke Adams (The Amazing Race Seasons 14 and 18)

Margie and Luke came very close to winning their first season. I caught the season halfway through at the behest of my mom. She told me there was an amazing team comprised of a mother and her deaf son. I was completely impressed by Luke's performance in the challenges, especially the ones involving language because English is his second language. (ASL is his first.) As for Margie - she stands out to me as the exact type of mother I want to be. I was so happy when the team was brought back to compete on Season 18 ("Unfinished Business") but I was devastated when they were eliminated again (fast-forward to 3:07). They didn't perform as well in their second season but they proved to me once more that a disability never has to slow down your life or hinder you from becoming the person you were meant to be. (See original pic here.)

#1 Erik Weihenmayer, Jeff Evans & Aaron "Ike" Isaacson - Team No Limits (Expedition Impossible Season 1 - Runners-up)

Let's just say I could write an entire blog on these guys alone. In fact, they are the ones who inspired this blog in the first place. Expedition Impossible debuted this summer and I watched almost all of the episodes online. At first I was rooting for the "Country Boys" team (two of the members of the team are LDS) but it was soon apparent they weren't going to last very long in the competition. They were just too big and heavy (in a muscular way) for many of the challenges. The physical challenges in EI included harsh terrain (everything from sand dunes to snow-covered peaks), crazy animals (camels and horses), lots of water (kayaking, rowing and cliff jumping), plenty of scary heights (rappelling and sky-diving) and many a team meltdown. That doesn't even include the plethora of intellectual/verbal/spatial/cultural/navigational/mathematical challenges the teams faced in each leg. As I watched the season finale of Expedition Impossible I still couldn't believe that No Limits was still in the competition. I was skeptical of them at first because, well, Erik is blind. (He is pictured on the far left.) He completed every challenge, often aided by Jeff (in the center) who has been his climbing guide for 20+ years. Ike was always the quiet member of the group and the team flourished in the competition until Ike seriously injured his foot. When he given the choice of getting an X-ray and almost surely getting his team eliminated or walking on a possibly broken foot for the rest of the race, he chose the latter. No Limits miraculously completed the leg and a fellow competitor put it perfectly when he said, "You guys just inspired an entire nation." In one of the dramatic and inspiring moments of the season, No Limits beat another team in a footrace to qualify for the finals. It's just a shame that more people didn't know about this show. I want them to get their own TV show and teach us how to be as awesome as them. (See original pic here.)

Well boys and girls, it's almost 1:30 am. I suppose your Thursday evening is all wrapped up by now. If not, good on ya. Maybe you're up late watching the newest treasures on your DVR. Maybe you're writing your own blog. Or maybe, just maybe, you have a life that doesn't involve former reality TV cast members and fellow bloggers you've never met. Either way I hope you enjoyed this blog - even if you've never seen a single show listed above.

My reality TV heroes have taught me invaluable lessons. If I ever have to fight, compete, become vulnerable, dream, dream bigger, risk it all, lose it all, make a comeback, and demand respect only to start over and try again and again and again I have 10 amazing examples to look back on. Thanks to them I know that I can do it. There really are no limits.