Enjoying the coral-colored brilliance of the annual pomegranate blossoms

With the close of May comes the bloom of the pomegranate bush. And it doesn't matter how many years I witness it, the color of the bright coral blossoms never ceases to intrigue and delight me. I left the photos for this post as close to SOOC ("straight out of camera") so I could share their brilliant hue.

As they mature, the ruffly petals of the pomegranate blossoms flutter down onto the pond below and float like brightly colored confetti left over from a party I just missed--nature's confetti.

The bush always produces far more buds than it can turn into mature fruit so some of the waxy-based blooms fall off along with the petals. I find the vivid stars in nooks around the pond. A few end up on my bench where I often sit and meditate wishing that a hummingbird would come and sip on the blooms that are still attached on the boughs just over my head.

I often get my wish.

My hummingbird friends, along with the other pollinators that frequent the garden, are helping the pomegranate do its job of producing fruit. By autumn, the waxy bases of the blooms that have remained on the bush will have ballooned to hold hundreds of rubies filled with tart pomegranate juice. 

For now I am content with enjoying the profusion of the tropical-looking flowers that make me smile. 
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One question changed my heart this afternoon... "What are you thankful for today?"

This afternoon I received an unexpected email from Hubby while he was at work with the subject line "Being thankful today". In it he shared with me the top 5 things that he is thankful for today. Then he asked me, "What 5 things are you thankful for today?"

The spontaneous exercise of taking time to think of 5 things, write them down, and send them off to him in response to his email was just what I needed this afternoon (Hubby has an intuitive way of knowing things like that).

As I've continued on with my afternoon with this new underlayment of thankfulness in my heart, I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes:
"Meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a great power beyond oneself, a recognition of God..."  
~ Gordon B. Hinckley
I think in the Western world we often mistake meekness for weakness or being a wimp. But when viewed as a spirit of gratitude, meekness is strong and empowering.

This last Sunday, our church choir sang a song called "Consider the Lilies". It's been running through my head ever since they sang it, and I've been enriched by it significantly. The words are powerful:

Consider the lilies of the field
How they grow, how they grow
Consider the birds in the sky,
How they fly, how they fly. 
He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky.
And He will feed those who trust Him,
And guide them with His eye. 
Consider the sheep of his fold,
How they follow where He leads.
Though the path may wind across the mountains,
He knows the meadows where they feed. 
He clothes the lilies of the field.
He feeds the birds in the sky.
And He will feed those who trust Him,
And guide them with His eye. 
Consider the sweet, tender children
Who must suffer on this earth...
The pains of all of them He carried
From the day of His birth. 
He clothes the lilies of the field,
He feeds the lambs in His fold,
And He will heal those who trust Him,
And make their hearts as gold.
I need to be as meek as the lilies, other flowers, the birds in the sky and all the creatures of the earth made by His hand, so I can be guided as they are. Thankfully, Hubby reminded me of that important truth today.

If you'd like to hear the best performance of this song, here it is:

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So... Japanese water iris aren't really water plants

In my last post, I shared the beautiful purple Japanese water iris that is blooming in the garden right now.  But the deep purple variety isn't the only one I have. I thought the others should get their time in the spotlight too. And also I wanted to share a bit about what I've discovered about Japanese water iris since I planted my first one (the deep purple) years ago without any idea what I was doing.

Years ago, I found my first Japanese water iris rhizome (it looks like a gnarled potato) in a package hanging on a display at WalMart along with other water plants like water lilies. I'd just finished digging and lining our pond and thought, "Cool! I've never heard of these but I love iris and they say 'water' on the label. Must be a good pond plant." 

Fortunately, I didn't have the space for the iris in the pond, so I planted it in a large pot without a drainage hole that I situated next to the pond. I installed a dripper connecting it to the drip-mist system that waters the rest of the garden and left it alone. It rewarded me immediately with beautiful foliage (that I would later discover is prized in Japanese ikebana floral arranging) as well as the deep purple blooms that I've come to treasure each year.

Years later when I found out about the benefits of having the green spearlike foliage in floral arrangements, I decided to expand and find more varieties of Japanese water iris. This time I went online and ordered from reputable growers.

I got them home and planted them in large pots generally in the same area as the first and installed drippers in each one.

Then I waited....

... and waited.

Hmmm... something wasn't right. They put out foliage but not much, and they didn't bloom.

I did some online research and found out that the Japanese water iris would be much happier in smaller pots. The fact that the first one did so well in the large pot must have been beginner's luck.

I also found out that Japanese water iris don't like to grow in the water like other water plants. Soggy feet make them unhappy. The fact that the first one did so well in the pot without a drainage hole must also have been beginner 's luck.

At the end of last summer, I transplanted the struggling new varieties into 10-inch terra cotta pots. I positioned one pot far away from the pond's edge next to where a couple of pots of sun-loving lavender. I positioned couple others closer to the pond amidst the wide swath of river rocks around the pond, but not close enough to benefit from any water.

I ran small watering lines to each pot to connect them to the drip-mist watering system with one dripper per pot. They would be watered on a timer along with the rest of the garden for 15 minutes each morning. That isn't a lot of water but enough to keep things flourishing during the dry months half the year.

The existing foliage withered and browned after the transplant, but I didn't give up hope. I figured it was to be expected, and they'd need the winter to get used to their new homes.

Then I waited...

... and waited.

Finally, my waiting was rewarded last week when I discovered the first blooms on the transplants! They are happy and thriving in the small pots, even in the locations farther from the pond (see the variegated one above).

I learned that Japanese water iris don't need a pond to thrive and grow. They don't even need a big garden--just a 10-inch pot, full sun and a regular drip of water will do. Such beautiful blooms and a non-demanding plant are a perfect pairing for this gardener.

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The royal purple robes of the Japanese water iris have unfurled

When the weather has warmed enough to coax them from their hibernation, the Japanese water iris send forth green spears. I wait and wait for the day when they unfurl their regal glory. That day came this week. And the brilliance of the iris' purple robes is unrivaled by anything else in the garden.

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Lydia, our "Puffy Princess", has gone to kitty heaven

Our sweet Lydia left this world today, and our hearts are breaking right now. She had been so well after her surgery in January that removed a large fast-growing subcutaneous tumor on her mammary gland. She had bounced back so well we thought she'd beat the odds. But a week and a half ago her health started to decline rapidly. We weren't sure if it was a kitty cold (which the others have) or if it was a recurrence of what we hoped would never come back. Today, the vet confirmed that it was the latter. We had to make the difficult choice to have the vet end her pain and suffering before it got any worse.

Lydia was the quintessential prissy princess kitty I had dreamed of having when I was a little girl. We hadn't planned to adopt her. Her mother brought us Lydia (and her siblings) when she was 8 weeks old. She came inside soon after and never had the desire to be outside again. She preferred velvet cushions, toile comforters and having her luxurious silver hair brushed.

Her precious little paw pads had a beautiful lilac hue to them. We called them her "aubergine paws". Against her silvery fur they looked quite regal.

Lydia's soft meow was much like Marilyn Monroe's voice--airy and feminine. She was such a girlie kitty and never wanted to muss her fur. She was known to lay with "fancy paws" (see below) quite frequently.

We love you dear Lydia. Thank you for gracing our lives with your sweet affectionate spirit. We were honored to be your stewards for your time on earth, as short as it seemed to be. We hope there is a wonderful purple cat tree on the other side that will match your lovely fur like the one you loved to lounge on here. We also hope you're flipping that plume of a tail for all the angels. They will love it as much as we did.
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Sitting in a chaise in a shady little grotto under the wisteria

I dragged my trusty chaise lounge down from the full sun of the deck into a shady grotto I've carved out under the new leaves of the wisteria. In my newfound nook in nature, I can sit and enjoy the balmy breezes of May yet be sheltered from the afternoon sun's rays. 

I had to pull out some unwanted volunteer grass clumps along the pond's edge but once I did my new spot affords me a beautiful view of the pond and the waterfall. If I close my eyes the soothing sound of the cascading water lulls away all my cares and almost makes me forget that there's a bazillion other clumps of grass (and weeds) that need to be pulled in close proximity to where I sit... almost. It's easier to forget when I close my eyes.

I sit and watch the ripples the mosquito fish make as they nose their mouths up against the underside of the water's surface looking for tasty tidbits amidst the floating pomegranate petals that have fluttered down from the pomegranate limbs hanging above.

If I get up from the chaise and sit on the bench directly under the pomegranate I can sometimes catch a glimpse of a hummingbird sipping from the brilliant coral-colored blooms.

I usually hear the hummingbird's chirping first. Then if I look in the direction of the chirping, I'll see the fluttering wings amidst the shiny green pomegranate leaves. Hummingbirds are so stealthy.

Mostly, I just sit in the chaise and ponder things. Sometimes I doze a bit. The garden kitty comes and visits--jumping up on my lap for a love attack. She'll wander off and then come back--checking in often to see if I've left my spot.

Sometimes I'll still be there when the sun starts to set and the bugs of twilight emerge. Eventually, Hubby will come out and tell me it's time to come in because the inside kitties are meowing for me at the window. Then my little wisteria grotto has to wait until the next afternoon.
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Ice cream weather is here

As soon as April left and May entered the scene, so did the hot temperatures. This happens just about every year and I'm always left with mixed emotions. On one hand, I miss the mildness of spring with all the trees in bloom. On the other hand, I love May's hotter days that are a harbinger of summer with warm evenings spent outside watching dragonflies as the sun sets or taking a quick twilight drive down the road to the ice cream stand to get a chocolate-dipped cone with my honey.

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My photo "Land of milk and honey" led me to some creative epiphanies

Land of milk and honey

The "recipe" for the above photo "Land of milk and honey":
Used my own textures Emerald Isle at 35% Soft Light and 
Lace Camisole at 65% Screen with strategic erasing

A couple of years ago, I was just getting into the groove of creating photographic art using techniques I'd developed through trial and error while learning Photoshop CS3. The above image is one that I produced back then (some of you may recognize it). The past couple of weeks, I've been revisiting this image in order to turn it into a suite of wedding stationery (hence this post).

When I first started honing the technique I now think of as digitally painting a photograph, I wasn't being conventional in my use of Photoshop.  I use what is known in Photoshop vernacular as "destructive" techniques of erasing, burning (darkening), and dodging (lightening) directly on the layers of an image instead of using masks that were "non-destructive". I couldn't get my head around mask layers (still can't). I think it's because I need to see the result of every stroke of my stylus as I make it the way I see the result of every stroke of the paintbrush when I paint traditionally.

Secretly, I've felt like I'm "cheating", haunted with thoughts like, "If other Photoshop users knew what I was doing they'd be appalled because I'm using this tool the wrong way!"

Over time, I realized I'm not "destroying" anything with my technique, because I always work on duplicates of the original photo layer. Using the word "destructive" is... well... destructive.

When I decided to think of what I do as "strategic" erasing instead of "destructive" it changed my perspective. I've come to the conclusion that if it works for me, then it's okay. No one is here in my studio staring over my shoulder going "tsk tsk".  The result is what matters. And if my techniques free me to create something I couldn't create otherwise, then I say, "So what?!?!"

It seems that life lessons I learn often come around full circle. Just as I had to get over a mental hurdle with embracing my way of digitally painting photographs, I've recently had to get over the mental block I've had about creating suites of wedding stationery. And the above photo is what led me through that journey.

Imagine me being a stationery designer but having a mental block about creating suites of wedding stationery! I'd tackle and conquer the designing and layout of a wedding invitation no problem. But when it came to designing the coordinating stationery (e.g., save-the-date cards, enclosure cards, response cards, etc.), I'd just poop out. I'd get a bad case of creative ADD and frolic on to the next pretty and shiny creative project that came along. Doing the layout of the same art again and again seemed too repetitive. And repetition=boring.

I decided that wedding stationery wasn't really my thing. I'd do other stuff instead.

That only worked for so long until I was approached by someone asking me to specifically design suites of wedding stationery for a new online venture in which they wanted me to be a featured designer. Talk about a good swift kick in the butt. It was time for me to get over the hurdle that I'd been avoiding.

In most of my creative pursuits I engage in a great deal of "mulling"--a process of thinking and thinking about something and letting it form in my mind. That's what I did.

I mulled...

and mulled...

and mulled.

If not reined in, mulling can transform from a stage in the creative process to a stage in the procrastination process. It almost happened that way for me this time. Fortunately, the image of "Land of milk and honey" swirled around in my head in all that mulling and began to form into stationery designs that intrigued me so much I had to get them out onto the computer and see them come to life.

Click the image to see everything larger

Again, when I changed my perspective from thinking of designing a wedding suite as a "repetitive" process into thinking of the process as "evolutionary"... things changed. The creative ADD went away and was replaced with a fervent creative drive that kept me at the computer designing (often into the night). Nothing really changed except my perspective and the accompanying vocabulary with which I approached the creative task.

It's made me think... what else in my life could be approached with a slightly different "vocabulary" that would make all the difference? I suspect quite a lot.

What about you? Has this experience ever happened for you?
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