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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

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.