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Just finished The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

Read Grace Unshakled, by Irene Huising. From Amazon’s page, it says: “In the year 2025, 17-year-old Grace Duncan finds herself in shackles because of her faith in Christ. An obedient daughter and stellar student, doing time in jail was never on her mental radar, despite the changes in religious laws [this takes place here in the United States] over the past few years. Through twists and turns in circumstances, Grace and a small band of Christians in Newport Beach, California begin a journey to discover what it means to follow Christ with unwavering faith in the midst of increasing persecution. Facing the potential loss of all her hopes and dreams, would Christ be enough?” We read this for one of my book clubs, and it’s a scary thought about what it could mean if we take God out of our country. The author is a friend of a friend and she attended our book club meeting to share about how she came to write this book. I don’t often share my faith here on my website, but this book made me stop and think about the direction our government is going, removing more and more our ability to worship God. Or to worship in any religion. Will this book ever make waves in the book world? Probably not. My copy may be a pre-edited version, as it contained numerous typos and formatting errors. But they didn’t detract from the subject, just the cosmetics. The book doesn’t come to a resolution; in fact it leaves you hanging, as some books do. It was intentional (obviously), but left me wondering about the “end of the story.”

Also just finished reading The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Read The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome (the Pope) – he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of Margaret of York (a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine),  who was a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read 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 free-lance 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 family was 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 an old (wild) 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. Just read this one first!

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.