I had the privilege of going to Riverbend Park last week to see thousands of Virginia Bluebells blooming in the woods near the Potomac RIver. I used photos I took of these beautiful flowers and created a pattern for the top in this fashioned out of flowers clothing design along with some photos of tulip magnolias for the skirt. The stalks in the background are from a photo of a tree bud.
First, I want to announce that I am now commuting to D.C. three times a week as I am working part time instead of full time at Robert Allen Design! My life feels so much more balanced as I am able to play tennis again on Mondays which I have been doing for the past 22 years (!), work on art and various projects, write my blog, and travel to see my family in Houston and friends in California. It's working out wonderfully and I feel very grateful.
I continue to find inspiration on the metro as there are so many characters I see each time I ride. One day as the metro arrived, I spotted a girl with a purple hair and unusual hairdo so I ran over to the car she was on and found a seat right behind her. Score! Generally, I do a quick rough sketch since I don't know how long my subject will stay. Sometimes I am able to observe for 40 minutes, other times they are off the metro at the next stop. I also take a photo for reference as I finish the sketch up at home.
"Is it a beetle or a netspinner? How many legs does it have? What side is the opening on the snail, left or right?" These are some of the questions Jacqi and I asked one another this morning. Jacqi volunteers as a stream monitor for Virginia Save Our Streams and she invited me to join her for the spring assessment. Each season, she goes to the same local stream in Great Falls and fills out forms to report the conditions in the surrounding area, quality of the water, and does a count of stream insects and crustaceans. All of this is indicative of the health of the stream. She showed me how to help collect the specimens by letting the water flow through a large flat net. After collecting, we placed the net on a flat aluminum camping table, spread it out, picked up the insects with tweezers, and put them in white ice cube trays filled with stream water. We identified each insect, one ice cube square at a time, and counted how many of each there were until we reached a minimum of 200 insects and crustaceans. It was so fascinating to see the life that is normally naked to the eye as one watches a stream flow. We each took a magnifying lens, one 5X, the other 10X so we were able to see the tiniest details of each beetle, midge, mayfly, stonefly, scud, and hellmaggramite! Jacqi and I share a fondness of miniatures and I think this came into play in appreciating the fine detail of each life form. Twas a wonderful way to spend a glorious, 70 degree, Sunday afternoon!
I am writing this from Katy, Texas. My step father, Jim, is 90 years old and his health has been failing for quite some time. He surpassed the doctor's prognosis who put him on hospice 8 months ago. He has a strong constitution and healthy heart for a man of his age, and the way I see it, he just isn't ready to let go. How much of our will, at this point in life, matters, I wonder. A week ago, he woke in the morning, ate a small portion of cereal, went back to bed, and hasn't awoken since. The doctors recommendation was to let him be, not worry about him eating or drinking, just let him sleep. A hospice nurse has been over every day for the past week. The belief of hospice is that everyone has the right to die pain free and with dignity. An incredibly compassionate caregiver came yesterday. She gave Jim a sponge bath, washed his hair, even shaved his sparse facial hair, all while he slept away. The emotional support and knowledge they share in what to expect these last days is invaluable. Yesterday, the kind, caring nurse told us that when he takes a turn for the worse, it will be very clear. She warned us not to be afraid, and described what he may go through.
When I arrived and saw him for the first time, I thought it was quite beautiful to see him sleeping so deeply, comfortable and cozy, his body completely relaxed. My mom covered him in nice blankets as she did her very best to keep him warm and content as he could be. He was surrounded by the energy of love from family. I can't think of a better way for him to have gone, as his body slowly shut down. As the nurse put it, he was dying a natural death.
Last time I visited my family in Texas was about 4 months ago. One of Jim's favorite poems was the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. He had memorized it many years ago. One day, I got the book from the bookshelf and sat with him. His mind wasn't nearly as sharp as it once was, but with some prompting, he was able to recite Part 1, which was very impressive since this poem has nine parts. It was a beautiful experience for which I am very grateful. The second day I was there, my sister, Jen, and I read all nine parts to him. There was ever so slight recognition- his breath became lighter and his eyes opened halfway and there was no doubt he heard us.
Since the the time I began to write, Jim has passed on. The third day I was there, my mom was in the bedroom with him when she noticed a change in his breath. She said that he suddenly opened his eyes and looked right at her, almost as if he needed to see her one more time. She called me in to the room saying there was something wrong. The moment I arrived, he took his last breaths of life. Later, she told me that over the years, she would catch him staring at her and she would ask why. He would answer that he just enjoyed looking at her. They were sweethearts, my mom said.
The natural cycle of life and death is sometimes hard to accept. It is those of us who are left in this world who suffer. I've experienced the pain and heartbreak of death yet know that our loved ones live on in our heart. Our dearest Jim is now at peace. If there is a heaven, he was heading straight there, I am sure of that.
This past weekend, I visited the National Portrait Gallery, where my favorite exhibit featured Isamu Noguchi, a prolific artist and sculptor. Most of us know Noguchi because of the iconic coffee table he designed. Born in 1904, in Los Angeles, his father was a Japanese poet, his mother an Irish/American writer. Throughout the exhibit, his Japanese sensibility is very clear. Slabs of stone, polished in areas, yet much left raw, create opposing surfaces. In my eye, many pieces evoke the Japanese ideal of wabi sabi, or beauty in imperfection. There are cracks in some of the art pieces which were left on purpose and in one case, a chunk of stone missing from a large sculpture. Again, making one think about the definition of beauty and how contrary forces can be complimentary. The lighting and furniture designs seem current, even though they were designed during the 1940's. As with all great art, his work is as relevant today as when it was created.
If you'd like to see the exhibition, please check with the National Portrait Gallery as it is not listed under Current Exhibitions on their website so I don't know how long it runs.
I've spent the past few weeks making some changes and fine tuning the Flower Petal Fashion calendar. As with the smaller version, each month features a design which corresponds with the month or season. An African American for February which is black history month, a Latin inspired design for Cinco de Mayo, a dress made from lotus flowers for August, the month of their peak bloom, and a red gown sprinkled with snow for December.
I have greatly enjoyed designing the ensembles. Nature now lays dormant but once life emerges again in the spring, I am sure that the color and pattern will inspire me to either continue with petal fashion or start another project which I will enjoy equally.
The new calendar measures 9 x 11 which includes the 1/2 inch black mat border. It has a magnetic strip on the back to hang on a metal surface, or can be hung on the wall. Available on the Shop page.
I sometimes find myself fearing the loss of creativity because of the focus it takes to work a full time job. I don't actually believe I could lose it because it's an integral part of me, but I am aware of the need to find inspiration in places other than nature. During the week, I am surrounded by people and man made objects. Consequently, I started drawing people on the metro, especially those seated in front of me. Turns out the back of the head can be quite interesting, the ears in particular, which are very oddly shaped, especially when viewed from behind! One of the things I love about drawing is that it requires observing that which one normally does not see, which makes me feel connected to the whole of life. And isn't that what it's all about? The oneness of all...
The other day I took some photos of the metro train as it passed. I overlayed the photos with some washes of color I'd done earlier in the week.
Lastly, I couldn't resist designing another flower petal fashion. This is the January page of the new 9 x 11 Corolla de la Moda Calendar. Available on the Shop page.
I took these photos about 3 years ago at this very same time of year. I was walking the dogs on a chilly day in November, when all trees and shrubs lay in a state of dormancy, not a green leaf in sight. Suddenly, I spied a group of pods filled with seeds and silk. It was a feast for my eyes to see such beauty among the surrounding bareness. At the time, I didn't recognize the pods as part of a decaying milkweed plant. I brought the pods home and laid them on a piece of dark colored velveteen. I took them into my garden room where the sun shines through a prism which hangs from the south facing window. Each morning, the floors, walls, and ceiling, are filled with spots of color from all colors in the spectrum. I placed the pods strategically to absorb this warm glow and took many, many photographs with my iPhone. Yes, iPhone! I was really happy with the photos as they turned out amazingly clear. I ended up framing these three and they hang in my entry.
Since then I have learned a lot about milkweed, or the botanical name, Asclepias. It provides the nectar of life at the caterpillar stage of Monarch butterflies. What a magnificent display of the wisdom of nature.