Imperfectly Perfect

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A young man meets his newborn, not expected to live.

I am often asked why I am so drawn to watercolors, especially when there are so many different creative mediums from which to choose.  Truthfully, there are so many things I love about watercolors; the way they move on paper, the unintentional and intentional fluidity that happens, the melding of colors, and the transparency of so many of the colors on paper.  However, there is one aspect of watercolors that I love, or at least how it relates to my abstract style, and that is the “imperfect perfections”.  One thing that is certain about my paintings is they are not perfect.  They have many flaws.  I “color outside the lines” so to speak. I don’t worry about keeping the color within my sketched design.  I want my colors to creep outside the lines, sometimes meshing with other colors that are right outside the lines.  I don’t want perfectly contained shades of colors that look like a photograph.  I love to see sporadic blurred lines, so that you don’t always know where one thing ends and another begins.  Some details are more defined than others.   I’m okay with having a hand that looks more like a lobster claw than a hand.  My intention isn’t to draw a perfect hand, or face.  My intention is to bring about emotion.  This style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to me, it reminds me of real life.

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A young girl walks with her “Boppy” (grandpa) after one of his final chemotherapy treatments. 

Peruse through a few of your friends’ Facebook page or Instagram account.  I can guarantee that the majority of photos are those of people smiling, looking beautiful, happy, secure and hopeful.  You generally won’t see a photo of the new mother who is crying because she has only had a handful of hours of sleep since bringing her newborn home.  You won’t see pictures of a fighting couple, near the brink of separation of divorce.  You won’t see the photos  of anguish, hopelessness, or despair.  You generally won’t see the “messy” part of each of our lives…the laundry piling up on the bedroom floor, the tax papers spread out all over the kitchen table in a rush to meet the deadline, the overwhelming burden of taking care of aging parents, or photos that are reflective of our worst times, such as grief, depression, or other form of utter despair. I get it, these are often our private emotions and we certainly don’t want them displayed out there for the world to see, not even our closest family and friends (at least I don’t).  But, to be frank, this is part of life.  It’s messy and it’s real.  The sad thing is, so often we feel that other people are happier or healthier than we are, or more financially secure.  People don’t generally post pictures demonstrating their worries, anxiety, or physical or emotional pain.  They don’t show the struggles with one of the many possible addictions, or fears of stigma that often go with them.  We may feel that they have perfect children, perfect relationships, perfect, well everything.  The bottom line is, that’s just not true….no matter who you are.  It is my belief that some of this false perspective comes from social media, as we always want to show our best.  I can guarantee you won’t see me posting pictures of me when I first wake up, or even without makeup, I don’t like the idea of that perspective living permanently on the world-wide-web, (and you all should be thanking me for this).  You may wonder where I am heading here, but ultimately, it is this: we are all imperfectly perfect.  We are as we were designed to be.  We don’t always have perfect hair, makeup, clothes, or life for that matter, but the imperfections are what makes us who we are.  Every ebb and flow makes us wiser, stronger, and sculpts us into the individuals that we are meant to be.

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A beautiful, young woman loses her life in a tragic accident. 

As each of us faces challenges, and perhaps feels like we are facing our struggles alone, while others are living blissful lives, I believe it is important to remember that we all have blurred lines.  We often only see the pictures that others want us to see.  If there is no other lesson here, it is to be kind, even when you don’t feel like it.  Make no assumptions, as we are often not seeing the whole picture.  Most people are struggling with “something”, although we may not or never know what that is.  Love the skin that you’re in and love others for who they are, not what you hope that can be.  Love yourself and others, despite imperfections and flaws, as they are what makes each of us, us.

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A big sister gently kisses the forehead of her newborn brother, born with serious health issues. 

In today’s post, I am sharing some of my most intimate paintings.  Paintings that remain most dear to my heart, because of the sentiment behind them. I am not sharing the full stories behind each one, as they are not my stories to tell.  Each one is a rendering of emotion of heartache, despair, and sadness, as well as hope, love and miracles.  Just a simple demonstration that we all live imperfectly perfect lives and to remember love each other just a little bit more.

Unconditional, a Father’s Love

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“Daddy’s Girl” Original Watercolor

This year marks the seventh year that I have been without my dad.  It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, and yet, it seems an eternity.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, or miss him.  I long to hear his voice, hear him call me and my kids by pet names like “tweetie” and “kiddo”.  He truly left a void in our lives that will never be filled.  My “dad” was actually my adoptive father.  My mother and father had married young and separated when I was a newborn.  My mother struggled with being such a young mother (having my oldest sister when she was only 17-years-old).  There is a lot of chapters in my story, but this blog is dedicated to my dad. My adopted dad,  who ultimately became known as “Papa”, became an integral part of my family when I was only a few months old.  He and his wife, my adoptive mother, were good friends of my paternal grandparents.  They soon became my Godparents and eventually my adoptive parents. I don’t like the term “adoptive father”, as the term itself suggests that he was not my real father, and let me assure you, he was a very real father to me.  He truly loved me from the time he first held me.  He was kind, loving, protective, and he was there for me and my kids from day one.  He was a retired Marine that was so eager to serve his country, that he lied about his age, entering the service at age seventeen. This created a few problems later, when his actual birth certificate didn’t match what the Marine Corp had on file for him.  After he passed away, I had several conversations about this story, as to clear-up the discrepancy (not an easy task when it comes to the federal government).  I can remember him laughing about his rushing into the Corp.  He was born and raised in Texas. He was a Marine through and through.  Even after he retired, he continued the habits that had been formed through his training in the military.  I can remember him putting his work boots on each morning.  He would always start with the left foot, proceeding to roll up his pants first, then put on his white calf-high socks, (not much lighter than his pale, white legs) followed by his boots.  He would lace them up, twisting around the metal clasps and then wrapping around the boots once or twice, since the laces were always way too long.  I once asked him why he didn’t get shorter laces so he didn’t have to wrap them around his boots, and he replied, “That’s how I learned how to do it, and that’s how I’ve always done it”.  He was a man of structure and consistency.  He was predictable.  He was the constant in my life.

There are a lot of “Papa-isms” that my kids and I enjoy remembering about him.  His name was Arthur Paul (much like southerners might name a child “Billy Bob”), but you NEVER called him “Arthur” (bless the poor souls that made that mistake). He liked to fix things.  Technically, he seemed to break things, or make things “more broken” in his efforts to fix them. God bless him, he would do anything for anyone, and would make an attempt to be “Mr. Fixit” for just about anything.  If he was in the process of fixing something, and someone (referring to his methodology) told him “That won’t work”, he would reply, “I’ll make it work”.  That was usually a statement made just prior to him making things worse.  He was working on my washing machine one time and had parts (big and small) scattered all over the floor.  He was cursing and grunting while trying to get a part to fit somewhere.  It wasn’t fitting, and he began to “make it fit”.  It wasn’t long before more parts went flying and we ended up having to call a specialized washing machine repairman.  It was something always done as a last-ditch effort to fix something after he had spent countless hours working on whatever it was that needed fixing.  I came home one day, for lunch with a friend of mine, only to find his truck parked at my house.  Knowing we had a leaky toilet, I shared with my friend that he must be there trying to fix it…I then proceeded to confide that he was known as much for breaking, as he was for fixing.  As expected, he was wrangling with the stubborn toilet.  I introduced him to my friend while he was leaned over with a wrench, and about that time, he busted a pipe, creating a fountain of water all over the three of us.  He cursed and continued wrestling with the commode, while us girls giggled at the confirmation of his legendary “fixit” skills .

Papa used to be extremely hard-of-hearing.  He was ultimately my babysitter for years, and I used to wonder why my sweet, little, angelic, cherubic children were so loud all of the time.  I was always having to remind them that we were indoors and needed to use our inside voice (to no avail).  One day, I realized, as one of them was having a conversation with Papa that their high volume was to ensure that he could hear.  They had become conditioned to it, and it became habit.  It became endearing because we knew it was because they spent so much time with him, as he was helping us out (free of charge, I might add).  Because he was hard of hearing, I believe he often would nod and agree to something, even though he really hadn’t heard a word that was said.  Or, he would commonly say “do what?” as an automatic response to something someone said, only to process and respond while someone was repeating what was said.  Because of this, we had a papa-pause.  We often paused after he said “do what?”, allowing him adequate time to process what was just said and then respond. He always cupped his ear when saying this, as it helped him hear what was being said.  This used to crack me up, although it’s becoming less funny as I find myself sometimes doing the same thing these days. He would have found this funny, and I’m sure he smiles from above when he sees me following in his footsteps

There are the special phrases Papa used to say, such as “I’m gonna make me a sammitch”, in reference to his bologne or ham sandwich (often layered with pungent onions)  To this day, my kids and I will often use the same phrases in loving reference to him.  We laugh about the many silly phrases and words he used.

He even had a certain way of doing things that would make us laugh.  When joining in listening to music with one of us, he would start snapping his fingers (in efforts to be cool, of course)….they didn’t really “snap”, they would make more of a dry thud sound, all while having the biggest grin on his face.  I can still see that grin, it literally went from ear-to-ear.  We would be cracking up because there was literally no noise with his snaps.  He knew I hate onions, and yet, he would eat an onion “sammitch” and then get real close and say “Hhhhhhhhiiiiiiiii”….to ensure his malodorous breath reached across the room, causing us to scold him while we giggled and yelled “Ewwwwwwwww!!!!!”  He loved to see us smile and laugh and he would do just about anything to make that happen.

I don’t want to take anything away from my biological father, who is alive and well.  I was blessed to have two dads in my life. I had them both walk me down the aisle when I was first married.  I have always known my father, and have a close relationship with him.  As a child, I had a difficult time understanding why I didn’t live with my mom and/or dad, but over the years, I came to understand how fortunate I was to have not one, but two dads.  One father was the “see-once-a-year” fun dad that would take me to cool places like the beach, and art galleries.  Having lived in Southern California, he introduced me to fine dining and upscale living. I loved spending time in the summer with my dad; however Papa was my stability; my rock.  We lived simply.  We always had a nice home; not a mansion, but certainly comfortable.  He always made sure I had what I needed.  I didn’t want for anything.  He was there for me through every important event in my life.  He was at every band concert, every dance recital, and every award ceremony or other school activity.   He was at every one of my kids’ ball games and track events. He was the first to offer to help watch the kids, even when they were sick.  He was there during the good times, and during the not-so-good times. He was there for me when I was on, what seemed like, perpetual bed-rest during my three pregnancies, and when I lost my newborn child.  He was there for me when my mom died of cancer (at age 44) and when my Godmother passed away suddenly from a stroke.  He was truly there during the darkest of times. He was there.

He was very firm in his beliefs and we didn’t always agree.  I am chuckling as I write this, as we even had several heated discussions over the years about politics and beliefs.  He came from a different era and much of what he believed was a result of how, and when he was raised.  We had to occasionally agree to walk away from a discussion, although he really enjoyed “getting my goat”, so to speak.  I just typically tried to steer clear of discussions on which topics we had strong (and clashing) views.  It really was rare to have an argument with him.  He was just so kind, loving, generous and supportive.  He was truly a character, in the best sense of the word. Just writing about him  makes me pause and reflect on how lucky my kids and I were to have him in our life, and what a devastating void his passing has left.

The picture at the top of this blog post above is a commissioned painting I did of a father and daughter.  I love this painting and what it clearly represents; unconditional love. There is a beautiful story behind this picture, but it is not my story to tell, so I will just share my own.  I miss my dad every single day.  My children miss their Papa.  We are appreciative of the many beautiful memories that we were blessed to have with this very special man. We cherish every moment spent with him.

A Buddist quote states, “The trouble is, you think you have time”.  There is such truth in this statement. What I wouldn’t give to spend another moment with him, letting him know how much he is loved and appreciated. I only wish we had more time.

 

 

Empty Arms, Losing a Child

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In Memory of Sierra RayLeen

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Sierra RayLeen, October 27, 1987

As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share my story of losing a child.  I hear so many stories from other women and it breaks my heart every time.  It brings me back to nearly twenty-nine years ago when I lost my first child, a daughter, Sierra RayLeen.  She came nearly three months early, and only survived for approximately five hours.  It was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I was 20-years-old and was excited to be pregnant with our first child.  We wanted the gender to be a surprise, so we had no idea whether we were having a precious baby boy or girl.  I had been having a lot of problems throughout the pregnancy, especially with bleeding off and on.  I, myself had been born two months early, weighing in at 3 pounds 15 ounces, so it had been a concern throughout my own pregnancy; however after nearly six months of problems, and much of that time on bed-rest, it seemed that the pregnancy was finally going well, filling us with much excitement and anticipation.  I can still remember the first belly-flutters, the ultimate sign that that there is a little being growing inside.  It was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to meet him or her.  I knew early-on that I wanted to be a mother.  My own childhood had been pretty rough, and I couldn’t wait to have a child of my own to love and watch grow up.  It was a dream come true.

That dream came to a screeching halt on October 27, 1987 when I was 6-months pregnant.  I was finally to a point where I wasn’t having issues, and no longer required bed-rest (after nearly three months on bed-rest).  Because of the issues I had experienced, I hadn’t bought anything for the nursery; however on October 26th, I finally went shopping with a friend, and bought several baby “things”.  It felt good to finally start getting ready for his or her arrival.  That night, I woke up around 2:00 am with severe cramping and hemorrhaging.  I called my husband and he immediately rushed home and we made our way to the emergency room.  It was there that it was determined that the “cramping” was actually full-blown labor.  An ultrasound was performed and they were able to determine that I was 7cm dilated, and that the baby’s lungs were not fully developed.  It was not likely that he/she would survive, and certainly not without intervention.  My doctor shared that he could send me to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) where they were performing a procedure where they would put the mother on a bed that actually tipped upside-down, using gravity as a means to hopefully keep the cervix from further dilating and prevent the baby from being born.  We were told that it was our only hope in the baby surviving, because the lungs weren’t developed.  We mentally prepared ourselves for the ambulance ride up to OHSU in efforts to save our baby; however nearly fifteen minutes later, our doctor came back with news we didn’t want to hear; OHSU was no longer performing this procedure because the survival rate was so low.  We were devastated.   We no longer had an option, so began the wait for the arrival of our sweet baby.

The nurses later came in with a steel tub and towels, placing these items at our bedside.  I was not sure what the purpose of these items were, and in the back of my mind, I feared that the staff would put my baby in this tub and whisk him/her away.  I was young and it was my first pregnancy.  I did not know what to expect and was utterly terrified.  I couldn’t even bring myself to question the nurses as to what the purpose of these items were.  I thought perhaps they would take the baby away (I had no idea what the baby would look like or if he/she would even look like a normal baby).  With each contraction, I grew increasingly worried about the steel tub and its purpose.  I tried to relax as much as possible and focus on getting through each contraction….and, so we waited…

A few hours later, our baby girl, Sierra RayLeen, entered this world.  She was just over 15 ounces and just under 12 inches long.  She was tiny, but she was otherwise perfect!!  Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect little hands and feet.  She was breathing, although labored because her tiny lungs were not mature.  They immediately cleaned her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to us to hold and admire.  I quickly forgot about the steel tub.  I only focused on this beautiful little baby girl and how perfect she was.  The doctor let us have a few minutes with her and then came back in to visit with us.  He reiterated that she was not going to survive; however if we wished, we could have her immediately taken to the nearest neonatal center (several miles away); however because of my blood loss (and my body had gone into shock just prior to delivery), I could not go with her.  He assured me that she would be poked and prodded with needles and tubes, and that none of those things could save her.  We would lose all time with her. It was, to this day, one of the most agonizing decisions I have ever had to make in my life, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  We ultimately decided that we wanted to spend time with our precious baby girl.  We didn’t want to waste one minute away from her.

For over five hours, we held her, cuddled her, and kissed her.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers and would occasionally take a deep sigh.  She never opened her eyes.  We were told this was because I had been sedated while in labor (when my body went into shock); therefore she was also sedated.  We had the most amazing doctor and nurses.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the nurses were so attentive to our little one.  They wrapped her up in blankets and kept her warm.  They took Polaroid pictures of her (this was in 1987, long before digital cameras and since we had no idea we would be having a baby that night, we didn’t come prepared with a camera), and provided us with a “Special Babies” baby book, along with her foot and hand prints.  They are the only physical mementos we have of her, and we are so very thankful that they provided these things to us during that very difficult time.  We reveled in each breath that she took and each squeeze of her hand on our fingers.  Even after she took her last breath, we continued to hold her, knowing how precious this time was.  Letting her go was more difficult than I can express in words.  When do you finally let go of your tiny daughter, knowing that these are the last moments that you will ever have with her?  When we did carefully hand her to the nurses, they treated her like any other baby.  They held onto her like the most precious of cargo.  I don’t think the nurses will ever know how much this meant to us, and I don’t think I could ever truly put it in words.

Going home was unbearable.  Empty arms that only had the chance to cradle that precious “little” for a few moments in time, would never rock her to sleep, or calm her cries in the middle of the night.  It’s a time that I’ll never forget, as it was such a time of darkness and despair.  But, we hold onto those beautiful brief moments with our daughter.  We had a gorgeous baby girl less than a year later, and a beautiful son almost two years after that.  We truly recognize how blessed we were, as many that lose a child, never have the opportunity with another.

My mother, who passed away just a few years later, wrote the following poem for our precious little one:  “Sierra RayLeen, child of my child, you only stayed a little while.  Bands of love wrap around my heart, knowing we would have to part.  Time stands still, there’s no tomorrow, wishing mine, was yours to borrow.  Time goes on, and hearts will heal, but the love of Sierra, we’ll always feel.”  -Grandma Lois

Sierra’s headstone where she lies was perfect in our eyes and we knew it the moment we found it: “She gave so much to be so little, but angels always do”.   Our beautiful angel is gone, but never forgotten.

 

 

 

April Giveaway!!

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April Giveaway!!!

 

Sign up to follow my blog and be entered into a drawing on April 30th for a FREE 8×10″ matted and framed custom watercolor portrait!!  Drawing will be held on April 30th at 8pm and winner will be announced thereafter.  This is a $120 value.  Go to my Facebook page (Watercolor Creations Gallery) and share my page for an additional chance to win.  Good luck!

Best Friends

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Best Friends

A few months ago, I was asked to paint a picture of a friend’s husband with their beautiful (and quite large) dog, “Big John”.  I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t do the portrait justice, as Big John is very black, and watercolors tend to lift, so you have to be very careful when painting.  It took longer than most pictures, as it took many layers of paint to get the desired effect, but it is one of my favorites.  I want to give a shout-out to my friend, whom this painting was done for, as she and her husband have the most amazing business called Woodsy Wonders Props, making beautiful props for newborn photographs (they have many other amazing things too).  Check out her Instagram account @woodsywondersprops.

Dogs are known to be and often referred to be “Man’s Best Friend”.  I miss having a dog, but my allergies were pretty intense as a child when I had dogs.  Plus, I really don’t have adequate time to spend with a dog, or other pet, so I choose not to have any at this time.  Perhaps down the road, when I am retired and/or have the adequate time to spend with my pet, I will do so again.

I appreciate the loyalty that I have experienced with pets.  My first very own pet was a dog that actually adopted me.  I was about twelve-years-old and in the 5th grade.  My parents and I lived out in the country, about 8 miles from town.  We had horses, but no other pets at the time.  This short, little black and white mutt showed up at our house and I was absolutely elated. He didn’t have a collar, and we assumed he strayed from home.  A few days later, we found out that he belonged to our neighbors just up the road.  I was a little bummed that we found his owner, as I wanted to keep him, but at least I knew I could visit him, since he lived so close.  I found out that his name was Spanky (a little homage to The Little Rascals series) and the neighbors had just adopted him the prior week.  They tried to keep him home, but every chance he had, he would run down the road to my house, much to my surprise, and joy!  After many weeks of trying to keep him home, the neighbors finally suggested that I keep him, since he clearly had adopted me, and they couldn’t keep him home. We all, including my parents, knew that he belonged with me, so that’s how he became my very first pet of my own and my best friend.

I LOVED that dog!!!  He would  actually wait for me at the bus stop each day when I returned home from school.  He had short, stubby legs, but he could run surprisingly fast when he saw me, or knew I was coming.  He brought joy to my world and often went with me as I explored the outdoors (this was long before video games, cell phones and DVDs).  He was a Heinz-57, which ultimately meant that he was a various mixed breed of dog.  I couldn’t even tell you what various breeds he may have consisted of, but it doesn’t really matter, because he loved me with all of his being, and he helped me get through a difficult childhood filled with instability and uncertainty.  I have had other pets, and he is long gone, but Spanky will forever be special in my heart due to the unconditional love that we had for each other.