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My Art Bus, My True Love & My Merged Family

01 February 2017 Written by  By Allison Millar
Published in February 2017 Articles

From my earliest memories I loved art and wanted to be an artist.

A dream came flooding into my imagination one day when I was teaching at a preschool and a gymnastic bus came by. I looked inside and thought how perfect it would be, in my estimation, if the bus were a mobile art studio. I decided on the spot to create an art bus. Money to pay for the project was a problem. Not only did I lack the funds, but was paying off grad school loans.

Fortunately, I became involved with someone who came to share my vision and actually had resources to turn the vision into reality. On our very first date Lance Millar did the thing that guys must do to prevent first dates from being last dates, as well. Instead of talking about himself, he asked about me. In particular he asked, “If you could do anything, what would you do?”

I told him about my dream to teach art and, in particular, to teach it from a traveling art studio on my very own bus. The probability of my agreeing to a second date became almost certain when Lance immediately thought the idea was fantastic. Further­more, it turned out that he had a masters degree in business and actually knew how businesses were started and managed. We were married 18 months later.

The first year or so was tough. Lance was promoted to regional manager of his company and was on the road a lot of hours, including holidays. Good things come out of bad things, they say, and last Christmas a new regional vice president took over in Lance’s company. It was a terrible fit and right after the Christmas party Lance was laid off without warning or severance. However, he had some savings, so instead of going into panic mode, he decided that this would be the perfect time to turn my dream of an art bus into reality. His parents invested enough into the business to enable us to purchase a 39-foot, 48-passenger, 1990 Thomas-model school bus from a Pismo Beach school system. The bus was clean, well maintained, and had been in service until the day we bought it.

Lance really did turn out to be the perfect partner in my new adventure. He had been a truck driver in a previous life so was able to drive it the 250 miles home with professional-level confidence. Then the tough part came as we attacked the challenge of transforming the school bus that was now parked in front of our house. Once again, Lance proved himself to be the perfect partner because he had the skill and knowledge required to make the conversion. He and our 13-year-old son Tyler ripped out the seats and gutted the interior. They laid linoleum on the floor and Lance built benches by hand to line the sides of the bus along with 18-inch folding tables that could be erected along a center aisle. Lance installed a bench in the back along with a working sink. He recycled the cushions from the original benches for use in his custom benches. Each of the benches has a storage space and he created additional storage in cabinets located over the wheel wells. Lance recycled materials from the original seats to make easels of two sizes appropriate both for children and adults.

I put my artistic skills to use by painting and distressing an old desk. We hung bistro lights. We couldn’t afford to custom paint the exterior but discovered that Rust-Oleum markets oil-based paints. However, they are only available in gray, black, white, and primary colors. I didn’t want any of those colors, so I mixed blue and green together with a number of accent colors to make a lovely shade of turquoise, which appealed to my artistic passions. People compliment us all the time on our brightly colored art bus, and often ask where the colors came from.

Our Brentwood Bible Fellowship church let us paint the bus on their lot. We couldn’t afford a commercial spray paint unit, so we taped the windows and painted the bus with rollers and brushes. The event turned out to be a painting-bee because friends gathered around to help us with the project. The day was sizzling hot, over 100 degrees, but they chipped in with a willing spirit and even brought pizza. We worked like beavers with the result that only three months passed from purchase to our rollout last May.

We offer classes in acrylic art painting on canvas. We do seasonal themed pieces and play some soft background music while our clients learn to create art through a step-by-step process.

Our kids belong to the El Campanil Children’s Theater. I do a lot of their background sets working with friends of the groups and especially with the mothers of the young actors, who assisted us in getting the Art Bus program off the ground. We began right away hosting celebrations and especially becoming a birthday party venue for children from the Children’s Theater. We also began to sponsor adult paint parties. It didn’t take long for word-of-mouth and Facebook connections to begin bringing business to us. Our business plan anticipated that we would have a lot of parties for children, but it turned out that the moms were more interested in using the bus for adult parties and fundraisers than for using it as a party-place for their kids.

Another big part of our business is working with homeschool and charter school communities. We’ve been coordinating with the Sacramento Visions in Education and Byron’s Vista Oaks programs. Twice every Tuesday and twice every Thursday we park in front of Willy’s Bagels and offer art lessons to kids while moms are having coffee. A couple times a month we offer art lessons to Teens and Tweens at Mountain Mike’s Pizza near Country Club drive. We have monthly paint parties at Brentwood’s new Crown and Crow bar on First Street. We partici­pated in fundraisers for Home for the Holiday and were present for Leer Vineyards’ Tree Lighting event.

The Art Bus is a family affair. Our kids have a genuinely helpful attitude and will do what they are asked. They love partici­pating in painting projects themselves and, of course, love the free pizza from Mountain Mike’s. Fourteen-year-old Alyssa is an amazing artist and is my right hand. Thirteen-year-old Tyler is good at setting up the generator and tables. He helps me unload the cars. Lance’s daughter Madison and my son KJ, who are ten years old, set up tables, put down paper, and help clean up the bus. They are often waiting for us to get home from a job and get to work on the clean-up. Nine-year-old Abigail is better than her older siblings at getting out the paper and spreading it on the table.

Teaching art is so important. It is nice to see people shut off their phones and iPads, and begin actually talking to each other. It’s also been nice meeting the business owners that we work with. We enjoy the gift of being hands-on in raising our kids.

I’m a child of God. This is His doing. I’m so grateful!

BACK STORY
I was born in Palm Springs and raised in various places in Southern California. We were moving around after my parents’ divorce and I moved to Bishop, California, while still an infant. I was home schooled for a while and then graduated from Desert Ministry’s Christian School in the class of ’95. I then majored in English at California Baptist University and got my teaching credentials. I really loved art but Mom wouldn’t let me pursue an art major because she thought English would be more potentially profitable. However, I took all the elective art classes I could fit into my schedule.

I went on to grad school at California Baptist where I studied journalism and met Kevin, the man who would become my first husband. We had two kids, but Kevin turned out to have dreams that were incompatible with mine. We were divorced seven years ago. For a person of my values and upbringing, the divorce was a major catastrophe. Becoming a single mom and left with two kids on my own was devastating. But the tough get going when the going gets tough, as they say, so I made up my mind to make a life and provide a home for my kids. I became a stay-at-home entrepreneur and got a place for us to live in downtown Brentwood on First Street. The apartment was tiny but the marvelous location permitted me to easily walk or ride my bike to any downtown location. I got a number of side jobs cleaning homes and tutoring. I wanted to find work that permitted me to work around the kids’ school hours and be at home with them. I began doing art docent programs, moved into a bigger condo in Antioch and landed a job as an instructor at Antioch’s Paidea Academy.

Lance Millar’s two daughters were in my class. His son was in my older daughter’s class. The parent-teacher relationship began to be more intense when Lance kept offering to bring me coffee. I knew what he had in mind, of course, but had no interest in the dating scene. I had been jaded by the failure of my marriage and never imagined that I would let him or any other guy into my life. I wanted to focus on making a life for my kids. Lance finally wore me down and I agreed to go to breakfast with him at Antioch’s Dad’s Café. C.S. Lewis’ biography is called “Surprised By Joy” and I had that kind of reaction as my connection with Lance began to unfold. I learned that Lance shared my core values and dreams. He was as passionate about raising his kids and focusing on their education and development as I was about mine. We hit it off really well!

It turned out that cinnamon rolls were one of the avenues into my heart. My friend Jill and I were on our way to the City. Lance said he had something for me, so we stopped by to pick it up and it turned out to be cinnamon rolls. It was so sweet! (So were the rolls!) We began to hang out together; he fixed my laptop, which turned out to be another way into my heart. One thing led to another, as will happen in these situations. My daughter was “grossed out” when she learned that I was dating her teacher. “He’s so old!” she said. “He’s my age,” I replied. Of course, in her eyes I was really old. Certainly too old to be dating.

However, all five of the children eventually came around and on November 8, 2014 all seven of us packed ourselves into my Honda Odyssey, and we were married at Emerald Bay in Tahoe. It was a small wedding attended by our kids, my dad, his sister, and my sister. We had a one-night honeymoon and then we had to get the kids back home for school. If we were in a Disney movie this would have been offbeat and romantic, but the service was performed by a guy who read from a script and behaved as though he were being paid on a per-event basis and was hoping to get three more weddings in before his break.

But life with Lance is fine. The blended family never had much problem. Our kids were friends before we were family. We are living in Brentwood off of Country Club across from Heritage and enjoying the great place in our lives that love and the grace of God has brought us to.

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