"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, December 21, 2015

Catching Up

When publishing the Jack Frost post, I realized I hadn't written on here in well over 3 weeks!

There has been a ton of radio silence this month because I was swamped with Christmas animal portrait orders. Like these:

Dogs have been the most popular request, but there've been a handful of cats and horses as well. My favorite orders have been the ones where I'm sent a handful of photos and an entirely new image is requested. Like this one, which was especially challenging:

I had these photos to work with:

Love this photo.
The client wanted the two dogs together in one portrait. On black paper. The lighting on the black dog was perfect for the dramatic lighting I like to use with black paper but I was having a hard time with the yellow Lab. I asked the client for more photos of him and she sent me this one:

As you can see, having the two different angles of the yellow Lab's face allowed me to be able to see him almost in 3D, which made it possible for me to add the dramatic lighting required for the black background. 

Even the drawings that were near-identical replicas of the reference photos (per customer request) have had slight modifications: the Golden in the first drawing above looked very sad in his original photo: 

Such a sweet face! He adores the person holding the camera and is looking right at them. But I knew an exact replication  of this photo would come across as him appearing sad.
I also had this photo of him as reference, where he is looking straight at the camera:

His eyes naturally tilt downward slightly, which is what makes his expression look sad, but it's just the way he is. In this photo, however, I could see how his eyebrows move up when he's being playful.
So I combined them:

I modified his expression so that he'd be projecting love at the viewer. Still a soft expression in the eyes, but I lifted the brows a bit (created by the light effect) to diminish what could be interpreted as sadness. I love animal expressions. You can read so much into the most subtle changes. The shape of the eyes, the brows, the nose, the mouth, are all such an important part of what makes that animal's face his own. It's always fun for me to play around with what they're saying with their faces while maintaining their personalities when creating these portraits.
So yeah...most of my free time has been spent working on these. I had not had any chance to blog at all and gave up on even attempting to ride because I was not able to get any kind of consistency in and simply decided to give the girls the whole month of December off, even from groundwork. I've been going to the barn to feed and groom and then running back home to continue drawing. I was astounded by the boom of work and incredibly grateful! The amazing thing was that all of the orders that poured in were from word of mouth. Happy customers telling friends about my work and also recipients of portraits ordering for friends of their own! I meant to advertise here on the blog and on Facebook and...never needed to! I'm working on revamping the Etsy website and will post it here once I'm done. 

The girls are fine. They are both shaggy and with our mild temps so far, I haven't even had to blanket them yet. Since I haven't been riding, I simply did a bib clip on Lily and have done nothing else with her coat, which has allowed me to continue to leave her unblanketed when evening temps have dropped into the 20s. I'm thrilled with both of their weights going into winter. Both are maybe a body condition score of 6/9 but I'm fine with that, as they both will get leaner once they go back to work + temps drop in January. 

Lily's face has officially been declared HEALED. 

Remember this at the beginning of October?
And this?
I was covering the bandage with a fly mask for extra protection.

Modified bandage at the beginning of November. She was getting tremendously head shy from the figure-8 of Elastikon going behind her ears so I stopped doing that. It turned out the bandage stayed on just fine anyway.
I stopped bandaging the wound sometime towards the end of November and simply kept a fly mask on her to make sure she had some sort of layer of protection over the wound. 

Upon our return from Jack Frost in WV, I removed the fly mask to inspect Lily's wound...and realized the scab over it was loose and halfway off. I removed it entirely to discover a clean, fully healed, tight wound.

Can you see it?
The fly mask stayed off after that. FINALLY!!!

And that is life in a nutshell at the moment. :) HAPPY SOLSTICE!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Frost!! Jack Frost!

This year has been the year in which we go to West Virginia during seasons that are not summer, unlike the last two years.

If you're guessing I'm talking about more adventures with Liz, you have guessed correctly. :)

The occasion? The Annual Jack Frost Celebration, held at the White Grass Ski Touring Center in Davis, WV, which marks the beginning of ski season. It is a pretty big event among locals, drawing close to 400 people, which is quite significant when you consider that Davis itself has a population of about 600 people. The 2015 Jack Frost was the 35th anniversary of this celebration and this year happened on Saturday December 5.


On Friday, I stayed up way, waaaay late because my doctor is taking a 2-month hiatus from work to study for his specialty surgery board exam (he is a DVM with a surgical residency, but to become a specialty surgeon you have to take a surgery-specific exam which is very, very difficult, is given only once a year and often involves flying to another state to take) and after finishing our day, the whole team invited him out for dinner and beers at a nearby local brewery. 

I rolled out of bed early Saturday morning to drop off Christmas portrait orders at the post office and to swing by the barn to do a quick check on the girls. 

I was excited enough about the trip to not mind functioning on 4 hours of sleep in order to get shit done before leaving for WV, but even if there had been any doubts about the advantages of waking up early on this particular day, they would have flown out the window when I got to the barn because I was greeted by one of the most gorgeous sights of the season so far. 

We had had a freeze overnight and the entire world was silver from the frost. It doesn't show up in the right colors in the photos: the shadows were bluer and everything shimmered and sparkled in the light. It was unreal. I pulled up by the mare field gate and got out of the car grinning from ear to ear, thinking, "This. This right here is why we live in a place with seasons. For all the magic that comes with the changes in each season, but especially for this kind of magic." Frost is what I had asked for when we rolled the dice in our decision to move from South FL. When we lived in Tampa, we would get the occasional rare overnight freeze in the winter and I was known to wake up at 4:00 am just so I could run outside during the coldest hours of the morning so I could stand outside in the ice-covered world before it melted with the sunrise. Even in the dark, the tiny flecks of ice on the grass looked like the tiniest of diamonds. 

This, this frost-covered universe in daylight, is especially significant to me because when you've lived all of your life in a place that is green and humid and hot 24/7 365 days out of the year, the gift of a chilly silver-gilt morning where you can see your breath as smoky vapor in the air is special beyond what words can begin describe. 

I checked on the girls and tried to get a pic of Gracie against the frosty backdrop but this is the best I got:

"Whatcha got there?"
"Can I eats it?"
"Will you pet me then?"
She received a big smooch on the nose. :)
See you tomorrow girls!
The frost was especially appropriate given the reason why we were heading out of town on this short vacation. :)

I returned home after the barn and after putting everything away in the car, we were on the road by 9:45 am. 

We finally just took 81 to Corridor H (per Liz's directions) instead of doing as the GPS said (what we always managed to do, even when trying not to!) and it was a super smooth, easy drive through the mountains into Davis, WV. This route takes you through the George Washington National Forest, where all three of the Old Dominion endurance rides are held, and it was nice to see some of the familiar sights that I associate with these rides. 

We arrived in Davis in 2 hours and 45 minutes, and stopped at the Shop n Save to grab beer for the weekend. WV beer prices seriously can't be beat...

Yes, the price is real.
This particular store also has a selection of locally brewed beers that you can only find in WV, such as Charles's favorite: Mountain State Brewing's Almost Heaven

After oogling everything and choosing what we wanted, we got back in the car for the short drive to The House That Dave Built (you can see the pics I took last visit in this post), where we would be staying again this weekend. :) 

It was 51 degrees but it had snowed a couple of days earlier and there was still plenty of snow on the ground!

Up the road towards Dave's neighborhood.
Dave's deck.
Snow in the shadows of the house.
We got settled then headed out for a short hike to Bald Knob with Dave, Liz and Kenai while waiting for Sirianni's, one of the local pizza places, to open.

I was still astounded by the amount of snow on the ground, which was not actively melting, despite the warm temps (Charles and I are still laughing over the fact that 50 degrees is now "warm" whereas when we lived in FL, 50 degrees in the daytime = major coat and sweater weather!) and the gorgeous day we were having.

Kenai bombing around in his element.
This would have been muddy slush in MD with these temps.
One of the steeper sections of trail.
Photos never do inclines justice here. This was steep enough that I joked about doing it on all fours.
Liz stripped down to a tank top and I wished I had that option.
I was on the warm side of comfortable in my Smartwool PhD Light top, but cooled down immediately any time the ground leveled out or we stopped for a break. The breathability of wool is awesome. I've become a Smartwool convert, seriously, especially after this particular trip!

The trail veers off to the right just past the treeline on the right. Going straight up is an option though.

Stopping to chat with another group of hikers that knew Dave.
I've been working out consistently for the last 4 months and Charles for the last 2. This was a pretty steep hike in several sections and while my heart rate did go up, I was very pleased to see that I never got out of breath and I was recovering within a minute's time or less of rest. Charles also felt the difference in his fitness levels. 
The views from the top of this mountain were astounding.
In case you're wondering, Bald Knob is about 5,000 feet and the third highest peak of the Allegheny Mountains.
Not a hill. ;)
I had absolutely no problem with the height this time. It looks like we are on the edge of a precipice, but the mountain sloped down beyond the rock we were standing on and the trail was right below. Charles and Liz had taken a shortcut up the side of this slope and Liz and I would take it down afterwards.
Either way, it made for some pretty epic photos! :D

Charles and Dave took the shorter but much steeper route to get halfway down the mountain.
Hiking the rest of the way down.
This is for tubing!!
Snow + 50 degrees = perfect.
See? The snow wasn't slushy, which was surprising.
We were truly hungry by the time we arrived at Sirianni's. Their beer selection was awesome and so were the pizzas. We all wolfed down our food while catching up on recent life happenings.

Pond in front of Sirianni's.
Yes, there was ice on it!
Beer and wine menu written on a blackboard wall.
We returned to the house to chill for a while. Liz and Dave played music.

We got Kenai to sing...lol
And then we went for a short walk around the neighborhood to watch the sun set.

Liz and Dave walking into the sunset. 
With Kenai leading the way.
This house had the best view from its balcony.
And...poof! Sun gone.
Liz was waving, "Bye sun! Good bye!"
Our faces...lol
The temperature dropped at least 5 degrees with the sun's disappearance.
We returned to the house to hang out  and warm up while waiting for Liz's friend T and her bf A to arrive: they were meeting with us at Dave's so we could all head out for White Grass together.

White Grass was literally less than two miles away. If you want to get a feel for what the place is like, you should totally watch this video (and hopefully go ski there if you're in this region) that Liz had shared with me in advance!

I've embedded it here for those of you that do like to watch video on your phones.

We were able to park close to the lodge and joined the groups of people making the line to go in.

Entering the main lodge.
Crowd around the bar.
Guys, if you like food and beer, this is heaven. They had at least 10 different beer varieties on draft from local breweries...FREE. As much beer as you wanted. They were happy to accept donations and tips, but the beer was FREE. And it was served in standard 10 oz plastic cups, not little shot cups. Until it ran out of course. :)

Liz had mentioned that the food tends to run out and there was a majorly long line already for it. I was just starting to get the first hunger pangs so I decided to get in line for the food, figuring better now than never. Charles came with me while Liz and Dave went outside to mingle with friends in the meantime. :)

Line for the food!

The food. It was like a giant potluck: to go to Jack Frost they ask that you bring a dish, so you can imagine the amount of food when you factor in 300-400 people at this event. ALL of the food was amazing. And again: free, with the option of giving a donation. They had themes: Italian (all sorts of pasta dishes including lasagna of two different varieties), Mexican (some majorly loaded nachos and ingredients for making fajitas), there was some incredible curried chicken and basmati rice (what I had), American fare (roasted turkey and breaded chicken), salads of every kind you can imagine (I chose a spinach and butternut squash salad with vinaigrette that was amazeballs), some vegetarian dishes, and this is just the stuff that I paid attention to. There were 3 tables so loaded with dishes of every kind that you couldn't even see the tables. When something ran out, it was substituted by something entirely different that someone else had brought.

And then there was the dessert table. Every type of pie you can imagine. Cookies. Brownies. These crackers coated in both dark and white chocolate that Charles kept sneaking for both of us while we waited in line. Again, so much food you couldn't see the table itself. I chose a slice of apple crumb pie that no one else had dug into yet, but that promptly disappeared before I could return for a second slice because it was that good!

I ate my food while slowly making our way back outside through the crowd of people. We found Liz and Dave promptly and wandered around to explore the area.

There was a huge bonfire going, except it was in the very coldest part of the outdoor area. If you wanted to get warm, you had to stand downwind...which is the direction the sparks were flying!

Still beautiful though. We love bonfires!
There was another much smaller lodge-type building where a woman on the flute and a man on the guitar were playing music; we walked in to warm up a bit. It was awesome.

So you guys can hear the music.
The floor was wood so it was great for stomping to the beat.

"I <3 Mountains."
Yes. Yes, I do!
I think maybe we were having fun. :)
The rest of the evening was spent wandering from the main lodge to the smaller music lodge to another small cabin where they had a band playing music as well. We got to meet the majority of Liz's ski patroller friends, and it was great to finally put faces to all the names.

The magical thing about Davis is that yeah, it's this tiny town in the middle of nowhere in WV, which automatically brings up the notions of WV stereotypes (can we please stop with stereotypes? This is yet another thing that WV and PR have in common!), but the majority of people that live there do so because they chose to live there: almost everyone comes from somewhere else. A lot of them are city people that wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle, and others just wanted to live an outdoorsy lifestyle, period. When meeting new people there, one of the first questions that comes up is, "So where are you from?"

It was such a great vibe. Such a huge group of wonderful people.

Liz gets something to eat. This is the first table in the food area. By this point there was about half the amount of food that there was when Charles and I made the line. In the background you can see White Grass's kitchen.

"We solemnly swear we are up to no good!"
I love this photo. Hahaha
Liz was trying to eat and Charles was trying to get an awkward photo of her eating (he loves doing that kind of stuff. My FIL is the same way...) and instead Liz stopped chewing for a second to fake glare at him while I grinned fake innocently.

Inside the cabin with the live band.

Liz and I dancing

At around midnight, the music stopped and my personal batteries started to die: those measly 4 hours of sleep the night before were starting to be felt. Dave wanted to stay a little longer but T and A were also getting ready to leave (they had come in T's car) so we hitched a ride with them back to the house.  (It would later turn out there was a yurt with more music that we completely missed out on! Arrrgh! That's where Liz and Dave headed after we left. The yurt had been mentioned in conversation several times prior but every time going to it would be discussed we'd get distracted by people or something else happening.)

By 1:00 am we were both out like a light.

At 5:00 am I woke up suddenly. Charles was asleep. I looked up at the side window of the guest bedroom and saw a waxing moon in the east, so, so bright despite its small size, just above the treetops. The bedroom was swathed in moonlight, streaming across the bed. The light was what had woken me. I sat up in bed and stared at it. "Hi moon!" I thought, grinning. The waxing moon is my moon. The last time I saw it shine this brightly just for me was back on the island. My bedroom back then had one wall that was all glass windows, and it was not uncommon for me to be woken up by moonlight in the middle of the night. I never minded.

Waxing moon crescent. Photo from the internet. On this night, it was about this visible.
I realized I was wide awake. After a few minutes I lay back down and turned around, deciding I should probably get more sleep. Except when I turned around, my eye caught the stars shining over Dave's garage through the window at the head of the bed.

Orion, clear as day, was shining brightly on this side of the house amid the twinkling brightness of the heavens. You could see all the stars! But again, the last time I had seen Orion so clearly was back when camping on the sister islands in PR. You don't always see the stars that form the bow clearly, but on this night in West Virginia, you could.

Another photo from the internet. But you can see Orion here.
We hadn't been to the mountains in winter since moving to the mid-Atlantic. Orion isn't visible in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer, when we've gone to endurance rides and all the stars have been visible. The times we've been to WV in the past, there has been rain sometime during the stay, so we had yet to see the stars this clearly.

I looked at Orion, at my constellation, and thought of the stories of the Three Kings that my grandfather used to tell. (The Three Kings are said to be represented by Orion's belt.) And before I knew it, I fell asleep again, bathed in the light of my stars and my moon.

I woke up again a little over an hour later, this time because the sun was coming up in the east, pouring its golden light across the bed. Again I woke up with a start and again I grinned when I saw the cause.

"Hi sun!" I thought. And snagged this photo for you guys.

I got out of bed when the delicious aromas of breakfast started wafting in through the closed door. Charles was still asleep but I got up and went out into the living room, where everyone else was already up and Liz and Dave were making homemade waffles and sausage patties. Those two are masters at breakfast. I woke Charles up when the food was ready. It was all as amazing as it smelled!

We were all on the road to our respective homes and jobs by 11:00 am. It was such an awesome weekend and despite it being such a short visit, as always it had been well worth the drive!

I was staring out the car window at this gorgeousness on the way home, my heart full of so much joy it felt like it could burst, when Charles, sensing what I was feeling, asked jokingly, "That's the kind of scenery that makes you think, 'Man, I sure miss South Florida,' doesn't it?" I laughed and said, "Yeah. Especially the flatness and the stink of swamp..." Charles chimed in, "...and the angry people and the flatness..." Both together now, "...and the sameness of everything and the broiling heat and humidity. And the flatness..."
NO, we don't miss it at all!!!
I turned back to the window, to my mountains, grinning.
Sometimes people choose a place, like the residents of Davis. And sometimes the place chooses you.
I have never loved a place as much as I fiercely love this region that Fate brought us to.
We are exactly where we are meant to be. And I couldn't be happier.