Happy 100th blog post! In the spirit of continued creativity, I'd like to introduce my first fabric design, "Mountain play (in custard)," available at Spoonflower.
I'd thought of designing my own fabric for a while, but it wasn't until I came across this post on Creature Comforts about illustrating in Photoshop using a technique described in Heather Ross Prints that I decided it was actually something I could do. Thanks to Ez and Heather for the inspiration.
I ordered Heather’s book...and then waited...and waited for a kernel of an idea to emerge. Eventually, thankfully, one did. I created a conversational print for our sunroom pillows (starring stick figures of our family, naturally) that I thought would make the girls smile.
It took a few weeks of painstakingly slow work to bring the design to life. Technically all you need to do to create fabric is upload a JPEG to the Spoonflower website. But I wanted to create it the "right" way so I could control the color selection. Using Ross' technique (mixed with some clunky and time-consuming strategies of my own creation), I sketched the outlines by hand in ink, scanned the individual drawings and assembled them into a JPEG in Photoshop, did a lot of pixel-by-pixel clean-up, then filled in the colors using spot channels.
Here's an example of one of the hand-drawn sketches:
I used a Spoonflower color guide (available here for $1) to help select colors. They turned out bolder than I expected based on the color guide, but that's probably because I ordered the fabric sample on a thick canvas rather than the light cotton the color guide was printed on.
When the fabric swatch arrived, Cricket was so excited to see our family on it that she made me drape the swatch over a pillow so she could snuggle it. I'd call the project a success.
More design ideas are brewing, and I'd like to build a small collection. At some point I'll piece together the time to make it happen and will update you when I do.
Have you designed your own fabric? Any tips?
We're always up early, but it's one thing to be awake and another to get the family out the door for a dawn adventure. When I read that the best time to spot manatees at Blue Spring State Park is early morning in winter, I knew we had to make it happen on our recent trip to the Orlando area.
And we did. And you must, too, if you find yourself in central Florida. It was well worth the hurried production of changing and dressing and feeding and navigating (and maybe a few false stops for coffee before finding a shop that was open and had a functioning espresso machine...).
The park is a designated manatee refuge and home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River. It has a fascinating natural and social history. Thanks to my friend, Sarah, for tipping us off to this incredible place!
We arrived just after the park opened at 8 a.m. The rangers had counted 16 manatees in the spring that morning, including a few babies. The water was clean and clear, appearing brilliant blue in some places and grass green in others. A boardwalk stretched the length of the spring, with small docks extending over the water along the way for excellent viewing. It was teeming with activity; everywhere we stopped, we saw a handful of manatees, schools of huge fish called gar and, here and there, alligators, heron and cormorant. (Believe it or not, all of the above are present in the following frame, though a few are hidden in the shadows.)
The manatees were interacting with each other quite a bit. Cricket was sure this one was waving to her.
This enormous mama manatee stayed still during our entire visit while her 2- or 3-week-old baby cuddled against her back or side.
Can you spot the alligator and great blue heron?
Was our visit to this little gem of a place just a dream? If I didn't have the photos to prove otherwise, I'd be wondering...
In the mood for more wildlife viewing? Check out the gorgeous nesting egrets we happened upon at Kraft Azalea Garden earlier in the week.
Imagine my surprise when I parked the car at Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park, FL, (on our recent trip to the Orlando area) and noticed a photographer aiming his lens at the trees instead of at the azaleas we'd come to see. I looked up to find an amazing surprise: a colony of nesting egrets.
They were actively building nests (a male typically builds or begins to build a nest before finding a mate), flying around chasing each other either to defend their nests or to try to mate (males and females are identical, so it was tough to tell what was going on), displaying and sitting atop their nests.
During breeding season, egrets develop neon green masks around their eyes and beaks, as well as beautiful plumage.
Collecting nest-building supplies while displaying plumage.
A graceful takeoff.
Two egrets aggressively dive-bombing each other (mating? defending a nest? fighting over a gal?).
The five-acre park is nestled in a gorgeous neighborhood on Lake Maitland.
This little lady had a blast exploring the park with her sister.
Dashing around the massive cypress trees.
We were just in time to catch the tail-end of the azalea bloom.
The girls also enjoyed watching kayakers and other boaters from the dock.
If you find yourself in the Orlando area, I'd highly recommend visiting this little park. Bring your camera and a picnic (and appropriate shoes for dashing around amidst the cypress).
In the mood for more wildlife viewing? Check out my post on manatees at the incredible Blue Spring State Park.
This is a tale about a non-Disney-oriented trip to Orlando (though we did spend a day at SeaWorld). It all started when Jeff decided at the last minute to attend a conference there. Even more spontaneously, we decided to tag along.
I'm convinced that the act of my purchasing plane tickets spurs the universe to react in the following two ways: creating horrendous weather conditions for the travel day and causing one or both my girls to develop an ear infection the day before travel. The universe did not make an exception for this trip, but somehow we made it down to Orlando rather uneventfully.
Until our sad retreat home, we had a wonderful trip. Since we had so many adventures, I wrote separate posts about two other animal-packed highlights: nesting egrets at Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park and manatees at Blue Spring State Park.
Above: Dolphin emerging from the water at SeaWorld.
The conference hotel was already booked, but leave it to Jeff to find a room at the hotel across the street...which happened to be the Nickelodeon Suites Resort...which happened to have a Dora the Explorer suite...which happens to be the only show Cricket watches...which makes Dora her favorite character of all time. (Plus Cricket and Dora could be twins. The first time Cricket saw a picture of Dora, she thought it was a picture of herself.) So, yes. The Nick Hotel happened.
Above left: First Dora sighting. (Our accommodations were a surprise.) Above right: Dora high five. Below: A resident swan swims in a Nick Hotel pond, with the hotel's neon walls(!) reflecting in the water.
This heron was keeping the swan company one evening.
A friend who grew up in the Orlando area gave us several ideas of "local" activities that would be manageable for me to do with the girls while Jeff was working. On the list was Dr. P. Phillips Community Park, which was a huge win. The lakeside park had swings, unique play equipment, fields for romping, a dog park for dog watching and a paved rec path.
I'm not typically a theme park person, but I always thought it would be fun to check out SeaWorld, especially with the girls. It was! We arrived as they were opening the gates Saturday morning, which worked well because the crowds were too intense for our shy Cricket (and me) later in the day.
The dolphin tank was a particular favorite for all of us. Take a look at the detail of this dorsal fin; most of the nicks are from the dolphins nipping each other as part of their social interaction.
Sometimes you get so excited about dolphins you just have to dance.
I was so astounded by the immensity of the walrus that it made me question whether I've actually ever seen a walrus outside of nature documentaries. This guy was unbelievable.
We had a great time at the shark tank, too. (And for the photogs among you, here's what happens when crank up the ISO to 6400—very grainy but worth it to capture the moment in a dark setting.)
Below top: Cricket also loved seeing Shamu and Baby Shamu, as well as the seals and sea lions. She got a kick out of watching Jeff throw fish to a couple of hungry sea lions. Below bottom: Falling immediately asleep in the car (with souvenirs in hand) is the sign of a successful adventure.
P.S. I’m not making restaurant recommendations for Orlando, since I came down with food poisoning the last night. Thankfully the rest of the family was spared. Here's to a husband strong enough to lug his infant, toddler and wife through two airports!
I planned to post a batch of photos today from our trip to Florida last week, but instead I'm writing a memorial to our dear old buddy Austin, our nearly 12-year-old black lab/shepherd who died unexpectedly yesterday morning.
(Above: One of my favorite photos of all time. Jeff and Austin: A guy and his dog.)
He died peacefully in the care of his vet, but it happened so fast that we were still out of town. I've spent the last 36 hours fixated on the fact that we didn't even know he was sick (it was cancer—everywhere) and that we didn't make it home in time to say goodbye. And, of course, I feel guilty that the dogs went from being our babies to being second-class citizens once our girls arrived on the scene. So I'm trying to pick myself up by the boot straps this afternoon and remember all the happy times we had together.
Austin became Jeff's sidekick at 6 weeks, when Jeff came across some people who were giving away a litter of abandoned puppies they'd found. Jeff, who had just graduated from college, took one look at Austin and knew they were meant for each other. Who could resist this tiny guy?
Austin came into my life more than six years ago when I met Jeff in grad school. I got my own puppy, Finn, that fall. Austin and Finn quickly became best friends and then brothers. And Austin became just as much mine as he was Jeff's.
"The boys," as we referred to them, played and romped and chased and barked and got into lots and lots of mischief together over the years. They road tripped with us to Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, many beaches in North Carolina and just about everywhere in between. Some of my favorite memories with Austin include hiking and snowshoeing with him through the Colorado Rockies.
I promise the boys are just playing around here. They were such nut jobs together!
Doesn't he look just like Ferdinand the bull under the tree?
Our 2009 Christmas card photo.
One of Nora's first words was "dog." She would crawl over to the door, pull up and watch Austin and Finn playing outside while telling them: "Dog. Dog. Dog."
I'll never forget Austin's companionship while I was pregnant and incapacitated by nausea and vomiting. He was always at my side while I lay on the couch too weak and sick to get up. And when I managed to run to the bathroom to throw up, he would follow to check on me, with great concern.
He was terrified of thunderstorms and once became so panicked when a tornado came through town that he climbed behind the toilet to hide and got stuck.
He barked all the time, and we were always yelling at him to be quiet. Now the house is too quiet.
Cricket loved taking him for walks. Jeff would walk ahead with Austin while I pushed the double stroller. Cricket would watch Austin investigating things and comment on whatever he did. It was her lucky day if she got to watch him poop!
Jeff has so many fond memories of Austin from the years before I knew them, but I could never do those stories justice. Let's just say they got into plenty of trouble together.
Here's to you, Austie Bear! Thank you for being our best buddy for 12 years. We love you to no end and will miss you every day.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.
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