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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Prior to about 1999, I’d had no formal training in art. I’d always been interested in art, used to do crafts (like macrame and weaving, all handcrafts). Prior to retiring, I had three big goals for my new life: (1) to write a cookbook to hand down to my children (my blog is the result of that); (2) to learn to paint and draw; and (3) to start an investment club. I’ve realized all those goals, and continue to derive enjoyment from all of them.

First, I took a college-level drawing class (with homework, grades, etc.) for a year. Although it was difficult, I’m glad I did it. Then I began taking classes through my local Senior Center. We have some very good instructors who teach through the local community college (and at our senior centers), and have enjoyed the classes very much (oil, drawing, watercolor). Nearly all of these works below are projects from the classes I’ve taken. Many are not my original art. I painted or drew them, but they’re copies of somebody else’s work. Mostly they were projects assigned by my teachers to help us students improve our skills. To stretch our techniques. To open our horizons. None of my work is for sale – some of it I cannot sell because they’re copies of art by well-known and obscure artists; projects accomplished in class (as noted above) to further our skills. With nearly all the paintings I do not know the original artist, so forgive my lack of proper credit where it is due.

plums in weave 300 compression

Plums in Weave, watercolor, (an original).
This watercolor became the header for my first blog. It’s one of only two pieces of art I have of food. It was a class project – we were asked to bring any watercolors we’d completed but didn’t like. I had no difficulty doing that! The instructor told us to choose two and cut one in strips halfway up, the other into complete strips, then weave the one into the other. I chose two paintings that were similar in color and hue. It’s become a favorite since then. It’s not yet framed, so you can see the shadows of the paper strips.
alaskan sunset
Alaskan Sunset, oil 14 x 18
A class project, I chose a small photo I found in a mail order catalog of an Alaska sunset. They were showcasing clothing to wear in cold climates. The colors are a bit surreal, actually. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunset with such lavendery hues, but it made for a pretty painting.
archway
Archway, watercolor, 14 x 18
I think the project was architecture. I chose this from a photo I found in some magazine. The instructor liked it well enough she asked me to do a second one (this one above) with different shadowing in the arch. I’d made the first one too dark.
Brokenwindow
Broken window, watercolor, 12 x 14
A study in brickwork and glass. I believe we were learning how to paint glass. I chose to do several of the windows differently, but I like it anyway!
artistic graffiti
Artistic Graffiti, pen and ink, 12 x 16
I really enjoyed this project. The teacher said to start a graphite pencil at the edge and make a long, meandering line with loops and curls until we finally exit the line at another edge of the paper. We were to cross the line several times. Then we did another line, similarly, from another edge. It creates these erratic shapes. We were to use different pen and ink techniques to fill in some of the spaces. I labored for hours and hours on this drawing, and had nearly finished it, with just one section left to go. The teacher said “STOP!” Meaning I was to leave it blank. Ah, yes, I see.
Blue Jay
Blue Jay, watercolor, 12 x 18
Part of the learning here was to “make” black. Some watercolor instructors believe artists should always MAKE their own black by combining colors to create it. You can purchase ready-made black too. I wanted to bring out the blue/green and red, so the black in my painting has tinges of deep red and it rolls a little toward blue green on the right.

aspens in winter
Aspens in Winter, watercolor (in two colors) with rice paper, 14 x 18
For this class we had to buy a sheet of rough rice paper at an art store. We tore long strips of the paper and affixed the strips (in varying widths) onto the watercolor paper with a very thin glue. The rice paper almost melds itself to the watercolor paper, but gives it texture, in places. The assignment was to do this painting (based on a photocopy in black and white) in two colors only. I chose raw sienna and purple. All shades of light to dark had to be created from those two colors.
bridge in the rain
Bridge in the Rain, watercolor, 18 x 14
I loved this painting – the doing of it. It’s a copy of a famous painting (I believe it’s London) done a long time ago. We had only a black and white photocopy, and could do whatever colors we wanted. I usually veer toward warm tones, even though I suspect London in the rain may lean toward cool, cold, blues and grays. I wanted more vibrancy in the painting. It was a very fast painting, done in a matter of a few hours. It’s one of my favorites.
Horses
Horses, watercolor, 12 x 16
I can’t say that I liked doing this painting. I labored over it too long, and should have made the two horses slightly different shades so you could tell their bodies apart. Way too much detail work in this. Sometimes, to learn, we have to do things that we don’t like, so I always chalk it up to learning. Something.
Curling Leaf
Curling Leaf, watercolor, 11 x 17
Leaves are okay. Even those kinds. The purpose was to learn the nuances of greens.
Dancer
Dancer, watercolor, 14 x 20
This too is a copy of a famous painting. Some of the artists of the 1800’s were enchanted with the colors and dress of the Arabs and others from the Middle East. We were to learn how to do fabric and skin tones.
Fall Harvest, pen and ink with watercolor
Fall Harvest, pen, ink & watercolor, 10 x 8
I took a class one semester in design, with pen and ink techniques thrown in. We worked on our own assemblage of  pumpkins and leaves, with particular attention to how to use pen and ink marks to show shading. Then, with watercolor added at the end. I enjoyed this project.
Hillside in Snow, watercolor
Hillside in Snow, watercolor, 14 x 20
Snow was the subject, ice, grays. How to make a flat surface look contoured, how to show shadows in snow. Even though it was likely dark, gray and gloomy, I chose to warm up the sky with some warm colors.
Landscape in Spain
Landscape in Spain, watercolor, 18 x 12
I absolutely loved doing this painting. I wish I could remember who the original artist was, but the teacher had us complete this entire painting in a little more than an hour. I couldn’t believe I could do it, but I did. I am much more attuned to detail, and would likely labor over way too much of it. We were allowed to use our own judgment on the structures and the river too, to suit our purpose.
Old Door
Old Door, watercolor, 12 x 18
I believe this came from a photograph in a travel magazine. I wanted to make the eye travel to the coral color in the courtyard beyond.
Old Lady’s Shoe from 30,000 feet
Old Lady’s Shoe from 30,000 feet, pen and ink, 10 x 8
Whenever we travel, I take along an artist’s notebook. One trip I’d just finished a class in pen and ink drawings, so as I glanced out at the landscape from the jet flying east across the United States, I was struck by the geometric shapes in the farm fields, the kaleidoscope of greens, little streams, cottonwoods (I guess) lining them, rivers, meandering roads. As I drew, I visualized a shoe shape and drew from memory to complete the piece.
Peggy’s Cove, oil on canvas, 12 x 16
Peggy’s Cove, oil on canvas, 12 x 16
I must laugh at myself with this painting above. It was one of my very early paintings, based on a photograph out of a travel magazine. Nearing completion I began a watercolor class and put away my oil paints. I’ve never gone back to this and finished it – about the only thing left to do is tether the row boats to the dock.
Pomegranates, oil on canvas
Pomegranates, oil on canvas, 10 x 14
The pomegranates above is one of my very favorite paintings. I did oil right after I finished my drawing class. An issue of Gourmet magazine arrived, with this picture on the cover. I don’t know the photographer, or I’d give him credit here. This painting hangs in our family room, in a place of honor. I’ve had more than one person offer to buy it.
Woman with Rooster, pencil drawing
Woman with Rooster, pencil drawing
I think my dad’s engineering background gives me an affinity for detailed drawings. My father used to thrive on making drawings on restaurant napkins – everything from how to build a mousetrap, to complicated schizmatics regarding some engineering project he was working on. I really enjoy pencil drawings. This was a project I did in one of my drawing classes, although I chose the subject myself, from a color photograph in a travel magazine.
Shell in shell, watercolor
Shell in Shell, watercolor, 10 x 8
A class project, we were to learn how to make the swirls and whorls in a shell (using a wet in wet technique). From the black and white photocopy we had, many of us students didn’t know this was TWO shells; we thought it was just one, very odd shell. If I’d known that when I started I would have made them slightly different shades so you could determine more easily what you were seeing.
Raven in Snow, watercolor in two colors
Raven in Snow, watercolor in two colors (black and red)
This was a class project also – we were given a black and white photocopy of this raven (or crow?) and we had to watercolor it using just two colors, black and one other color.
Red flowers, watercolor, 8 x 10
Red Flowers, watercolor, 8 x 10
Another class project, we were given a black and white photocopy and could utilize any colors we chose.
The glasses, white charcoal on black paper, 10 x 12
The Glasses, white charcoal on black paper, 10 x 12
In my drawing class we were asked to do a drawing of a face, but in white chalk on black charcoal paper. A friend gave me a magazine ad from some years ago with this woman leaning her head against the neck rest in her convertible.
Red Rocks, watercolor
Red Rocks, watercolor, 16 x 18
This was also a class project – I believe the painting was originally done by some famous artist. The purpose was to learn about painting red rocks. This isn’t one of my favorite paintings; I don’t much like this kind of dry, arid landscape.
Red Leaf, watercolor
Red Leaf, watercolor, 10 x 12
Another class project, we were to learn all about the intracacies of an autumn leaf.