Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hit or Miss

In case you had trouble (a "Miss") with the video on the V&AM that I gave you in yesterday's blog. try this:

There are times when one seems to be living within a clock that has a "hit or miss" pendulum.  To make things even more complicated, there is a tiny gnome who lives inside the clock and whenever you're not looking, he slides down the pendulum and switches the "hit" sign with the "miss" sign. 

For example, on Sunday, I happily unwrapped a new, larger canvas and set it on my new, sturdy easel (after spreading newspaper around, just in case).  My charcoal pencil was ready and quickly I sketched the bare outlines of my planned painting.  Then I pried off the tight rubber lid on the box in which I store my palatte with the lovely globs of oil paints I have been using (a hard, rubbery skin forms on the paint that can be removed with a palatte knife and beneath that skin is silky smooth paint that can be used again).  Refreshing those paints that needed it, I was ready to work - which I did for a little over an hour.  My clock's pendulum was set on "Hit".

But, with nary a blink of an eye, that wee crafty gnome snuck out the minute my back was turned and BAM! 

My eyes were crossed and my nose was stuck to a pendulum that clear as day now read "Miss".  I had run out of two critical colors of paint.  Of course, I had just purchased six enormous tubes of paint (have I mentioned how much one uses when using a palatte knife rather than brushes?) of the colors I needed the most. Yes, there were additional tubes I thought I should buy, but money was in short supply so I limited myself to 6.  Have I twisted off the caps of any of those yet?  No.  I needed the two I didn't purchase.  Of course.  Pendulum on "Miss".

Oh well, at least I now have a gnome to blame.  You may borrow him any time you wish!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Victoia and Albert Museum in London

In case you have not yet had fun peering into windows showing exotic treasures, you should give yourself 15 minutes to search through the "windows" available on the Victoria and Albert Museum's website.  The wonders you will see!

There are several pages devoted to Beatrix Potter complete with her illustrations and the illustrations of Caldecott whom she admired (you may remember I mentioned him in my December 9, 2011, entry on the Hyde Collection).  Even better, there are samples of her botanical illustrations in which she portrayed her subjects in botanical correctness but also used her artistic sense to make them beautiful as pieces of art.

Then there are the textiles . . . oh my!  Such lovelies to swoon over.  Indeed, it was a particular textile that took me to the V&AM site to begin with.  I was so wonderstruck by it that I sent the URL to several friends.  It's about a cape made and embroidered simply to be a beautiful, one-of-a-kind garment.  If you do watch the video, you will see the cape on a model, but the point was not fashion; the point was to do something that hadn't been done before and probably will never be attempted again.  Why?  The cape was made from the silk of the Golden Orb Spider, and yes, you will see the spiders on the video (if that bothers you, you can still see a bit of the cape at the address below with no spiders in sight).  In short, to truly appreciate the cape, go to:
To find out more, click on the video and be prepared to be astounded.
When you have caught your breath and recovered, promise yourself you'll go back to the site later to look in more "windows".  There's a lot to enjoy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Willoughby

Seventeen years ago, when we were vacationing in Vermont, there was a wonderful couple, Calvin and Stephanie, who owned a camp up the lane from where we rented.  We visited them often, played with their dog and cat, and David chopped wood for them as the gentleman who was in his seventies at that time was no longer able to do it.  Over the course of several years, we became very friendly. 

One summer, they had two kittens in addition to their cat.  She had had a litter earlier in the spring, and Stephanie had given away all but these two.  The mother cat was a long-hair calico, one kitten was pure white, and one was white with gray markings.  Stephanie planned to keep the pure white kitten and thought she'd give the white and gray one to Dick in the next cabin to have as a barn cat.  The thought of that lovely long-hair white and gray kitten as a barn cat didn't sit well with me as I knew its life span wouldn't be long. 

We took the white and gray kitten home with us and named him Willoughby.  Mind you, we already had two orange male cats, and adding a third male to the mix (even if they were all altered) wasn't one of my best ideas.  Eventually, everything got sorted out, and the cats settled down.  The largest orange cat, Mr. Big, was the alpha male, and Willoughby was second in command.

What surprised me was that as he got older, Willoughby's gray markings disappeared. He turned into a solid white cat who looked like the photos of classic Turkish Angoras. On the other hand, his brother Willie, whom Stephanie had kept, became a dark gray-almost-black and white cat. We wound up with the pure white one after all!

Because we keep our cats indoors and don't let them go out, they live longer.  But over time, the two orange cats lived out their lives and died.  For several years now, Willoughby has been our only cat.  After the death of Mr. Big, Willoughby became a very affectionate animal.  He knew our routine, and would eagerly await the evenings when we would join him in the family room.  Lately he's spent half his time in D's lap in his recliner and half beside me on the sofa.  He's been wonderful company.

Today, after seventeen years, we have to say goodbye to him. He's had some trouble with arthritis which is to be expected, but now he has even more difficulty lying down. Over the past month, he's not been eating much and so has dropped weight. About a week or two ago, I noticed a lump on his side, and this week it was noticeably larger so we made an appointment with our vet and took him in. We knew what she would say, but it was hard to hear it anyway. Willoughby is down to six pounds and is in pain. We took him home for a last day or two, but today he will be put to sleep.

It's a hard thing, a sad thing to have to do, but we know it is the right thing.  We have to say goodbye.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Yesterday I cut out and pieced the binding for D's lap quilt.  For the binding I used varying lengths of the different flannels that are in the body of his quilt.  When I was finished sewing all of them together as randomly as I can (which means I had a pattern that I hoped would look semi-random) and ironed the resultant binding, it looked quite good. 

Then I sewed the binding on.  Of course, whenever I work on this quilt I attach the even-feed foot to cope with the flannel.  That made attaching the binding easy.  Until I arrived at the end where one has to attach the two ends.   I thought I had made everything easier for myself by purchasing a "binding tool" that had instructions printed directly on it.  It'll be easy now, I though to myself.  Not so.  I think that in order to get the instructions printed on the plastic tool, they had to shorten them too much.  I read them over and over, and I followed the diagram, but it didn't work for me.  Grrrr.  Back to my old stand by; I had to take out my print out of how to attach the two.

Here's what I learned from the doing this yesterday.  A pieced border of this kind on the right quilt is really great,  However, you must end the binding strip with the same fabric you used to start the strip.  That makes the two ends you have to sew on the diagonal to make the binding lie flat, the same.  Mine were different, and that means that there is one diagonal meeting of two different colors on a strip that is made up of fabrics sewn together horizontally.  Think about it, and you'll see what I mean.

Bindings, how I love them.  Ha! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


It's hard not to write about things, i.e., projects, that are secret.  The last few days those are the kinds of projects on which I've been working, and I can't tell you about them!  Frustrating because I've had such fun working on one in particular.  All I can say is that in the future those projects will appear on this blog.

Are you good at keeping secrets?  I can't say that I have always been good at it; possibly because I was too young to appreciate why keeping secrets was important.  Now, I am very careful about confidences.  If someone asks me not to tell something, I don't, and frequently if I've been told something but nothing has been said about keeping quiet about it, I still won't discuss it until I have permission to do so. 

It's not always easy, is it?  Sometimes the confidence is so tantilizingly juicy that it seems to tickle one's tongue in its eagerness to be let out.  Other times it's such a wonderful, bubbly secret (like a special gift for someone) that it just wants to effervesce straight into someone else's ear. 

I do admit that I tell my husband some of the secrets I'm holding (things like the gifts and the happy things) but only the ones that won't hurt anyone.  Like me, he keeps his own council so I don't have to worry about him passing along anything.  Telling him might be a little like letting steam out through a tiny opening.  It relieves the pressure of keeping everything all bottled up inside. 

None the less, I can't wait to share some of the secrets I'm holding right now!

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Gone to the Dogs" in Style!

A lot of time has been spent on my activities and projects in this blog.  Today I want to tell you about a project David has just finished.  First, a little introduction.

 Not so long ago, there was a minor league team in Colonie called the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs, and we were ardent fans.  We went to all the home games and several away games.  We were members of the Booster Club and hosted players/trainers during the summers.  Our good times ended when the Diamond Dogs were "shut out" by the then new Troy team in their new stadium.  The Colonie baseball stadium is no more.  The Dogs are part of Albany's baseball history.

We are still baseball fans and collectors of baseball "stuff". The collection is more David's than mine, but we each have things that are dear to us.  Diamond Dog mementos are part of our joint collection.  David also has  been collecting miniature baseball figures and has a few complete teams.  His sister Nancy, who is incredibly observant and really notices the many items throughout our home on her yearly visit, sent him a very special set for Christmas this year to add to his collection.

He was so taken by this new set of miniature baseball players that he set about making a field for them (and for his other miniature teams).  It's taken a while.  First, he had to think about what he wanted to do.  Then, he had to figure out how to do it.  Next, he gathered the materials.  Finally, he started.  Yesterday David's Baseball Board was finished, and he brought out the team Nancy sent him.  Here it is:

Aren't these figure just wonderful!  I'm sorry they're not the best photos, but I focused on the figures that really tickled me the most.  Didn't David do a super job?  I think he and Caleb will have fun with this baseball board and David's many miniature teams.  But this team, the Dogs, are really special!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Music Soothes the Savage . . . Blahs!

Yesterday's piano lesson certainly would have lifted the blahs if my spirits had needed the help (fortunately they didn't).  It would take serious will power and strength to maintain a downward spiral in the face of Mendelssohn's music - even with me playing it.  This is the third year of this return to the piano, and I am hoping to break the witch's spell this time around.

You see, all told (isn't that a great phrase?) I've been playing for nine years.  It's just that I've really only played three times three years.  Does that make sense to you?  My introduction to the piano began when I was five (my brother Daniel was eight) with my mother as my teacher.  For several reasons, that didn't work too well.  I'm sorry she's no longer around to tell her side of the story which I'm sure would have been worth listening to.  We'd all probably be rolling on the floor with laughter to hear what my brother and I were like as her students. 

I do remember this much.  Mother would reward us for a good lesson by putting stickers on the appropriate side of the piano book (Dan had a side and I had the other).  Daniel was better at practicing; even though we each had to practice the same amount of time, he made good use of his time.  I'm sure I squirmed around, looked out the window, hummed a bit, and daydreamed a lot.  Anyway, I began to notice that Dan had many more stickers than I did, and they were pretty snowflake-shaped stickers in many different colors.  I wanted them.  So I peeled them off Dan's side of the book and stuck them on mine.  They looked very pretty even if a bit bedraggled. 

It wasn't long before my mother noticed and said something about not realizing that I had earned so many stickers.  Dan probably let out a bellow of outrage when he saw what I'd done.  I'm sure his explanation to our mother was quite pithy and not flattering of my character, piano playing, or general worth.  Ah well.  I think the sticker-awarding ended shortly thereafter.  At the end of three years of tolerating the two of us at the piano, mother gave in and let us quit.

Then, as an adult I started lessons again.  I enjoyed it, but I still didn't practice as I should have.  There was too much going on in my life at that time.  Rebecca was young, David traveled a lot, and I was starting my teaching career.  Three years later, I quit (and so did Rebecca).  However, I did keep the piano.

Now I love my lessons and enjoy practicing.  I try to play for an hour a day, but sometimes to get that hour in, it's  in 20 minute or half-hour intervals (there are still things to do and interruptions).  Even so, I can feel the difference this time around.  I hope I can maintain it - it would be so very nice to get farther along.  The music I play is music I love (mostly Baroque and Classical eras). But I do hope to be able to play some Schubert some time as well as more difficult Mozart and Bach than I can handle right now.

Music can banish the blahs and much more.  I consider myself lucky to have the piano back in my life.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Case of the Blahs

Yesterday I came down with a case of the blahs and didn't accomplish much at all.  One of the good things about having deadlines is that one is forced to move along with whatever projects one has.  With no deadlines, one allows oneself to just sit it out for a day. 

So did I do?  I took care of some computer business (I finally answered three of those questions from McCall's among other things) while waiting for the UPS person to stop with our cat's medicine which had to be signed for.  Since D was away for the day, that meant I didn't even dare take my shower until after the delivery (11:30 a.m.).  Once that was taken care of, I tidied myself and the house.

Practicing the piano was next.  And last.  Even though I spent time researching stitches and finding threads for my crazy quilt block, I can't say I was truly accomplishing much.  You know how it is when all you really do is push the piles of paper from one side of the desk to the other?  That's how I felt.

In the evening, I did stitch on the crazy quilt block so I did have something to show for the day.  It wasn't a lot, though.  I simply had a case of the blahs.

Do you ever get them?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Tuesday is my painting day, and to my delight I finished work on Canyon Path and began a second painting set in Canyon de Chelley. Here are photos of the paintings: the first is Day 3 and the next is Day 4 (final day).  The first one you see is in the almost finished stage, but I wasn't happy with the blue shadow at the base of the rock wall on the right.  It's too heavy and creeps too far up a wall which faces the light.  Also, the rocks at the side of the path on the lower left aren't finished.

This one is the final version. It's shown against a black backdrop which gives it a more finished look (and may make it look darker). You might be interested in comparing these two with my earlier "drafts" of this scene to see what I changed.  These are more accurate to the scene than the work I did in my first days on this subject.
Now, as I told you a few entries ago, I am going to continue painting Canyon de Chelley scenes to make what I have learned so far stick in my mind. Also, because it is a magnificent place so the painting is a joy. This is my first pass at another section of the Canyon.  So far all I have tried to do is

lay down some colors and begin to get the shapes right.  Obviously, there's a lot of work yet to be done.  In this painting, one of the challenges will be to show the different layers of rock and the directions they take.  To me it was one of the most striking and interesting things about these canyons.

I should also tell you that I finally purchased an "at home" easel!  Now I can paint here without worrying about my canvas falling face down on the floor or carpet.  With both luck and time, I hope to start a third painting Friday.  That will enable me to paint at least twice a week - once on each painting.

A note about these photographs.  There's something about the transfer from Picasa to a folder on my desktop to the blog that makes these paintings appear square which they aren't.  I wish I could figure out what does that; it changes the paintings in an unfavorable way.  Phooey!

Monday, January 16, 2012

For Esther

When I announced that I was going to stop writing my blog, there were a few people who wrote and remonstrated with me.  They enjoyed reading what I wrote, and wanted me to continue.  As you know, it's very difficult for some to respond, and others don't wish to, so sometimes I feel as though I'm writing for no audience.

Esther, my more-sister-than-in-law, took it upon herself to write to me after almost every blog and comment in some way on what I had said.  Friday I received a valid complaint from her.  I spent some time last week describing my projects with no accompanying photographs.  I was lazy.  This week I will try to show you what I have been doing, Esther, and I'll start with David's lap quilt.  I mentioned that I had pinned it to its backing so I could quilt it using machine embroidery stitches.  Here is part of it in its porcupine glory:
Partially pinned lap quilt

While I was pinning I had the feeling that I wasn't using enough pins, but I had no idea how many I should use.  One every 6 inches, every 3 inches, every inch?  I let the blocks decide for me and tried to use one in every corner of each block.  At the end I had used 275 or 276 (I lost count near the end) pins. 

The thread I'm using for the embroidery is all right, but it isn't the thread I used while appliqueing the random stars on the quilt.  It may have been quite popular for people making gifts as that is when I purchased the first spool.  It was red, gold, and black.  The thread I did buy and am using now is dark red, dark green, and cream/white.  Actually, I was somewhat surprised to have found those colors.  It seems more holiday-ish than what I had earlier.

Here's a photo of one of the stars I machine appliqued on the quilt.  It is one of the star shapes I used in "Music of the Night"; I am partial to it. It's flannel but not from the same fabric line as the blocks, but I used it for the inner border so it works in well.  The outer, wide border is the black floral flannel (you can see it in this picture in three blocks; one to the upper left of the star, one to the right, and one in the lower left) as well a one or two other stars.

Yesterday I finished all of the machine embroidery.  Next I have to cut and sew the binding from various length strips of the flannels.  But, with D's permission, I'm going to set it aside while I finish another project.  That one won't take too long so I'll be able to get back to the binding soon.

I hope.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

It's interesting how a simple letter can set a series of events rolling.  Not so long ago I received a letter inviting me to submit a quilt or quilts to the show being hosted by the Cooperstown Guild.  The invitation arose out of conversations I had with some lovely ladies who belong to that guild while we were at a lecture at the Fennimore House in Cooperstown.  At any rate, I set the letter aside to think about.  Yes, I will submit a quilt or quilts, but which quilt or quilts shall I send? 

I determined that my entry should be one of the four that were in the McCall's contest.  Having reached that decision, my brain stalled.  Which one of my "babies" would go? 

How about "Jack's Wild Ride"?  After all, that quilt was the first of my designs that I actually made; he started the entire journey.  As a design, he makes a strong showing.  He's simple with lots of audience appeal and strong colors.  Ribbons, beads, and buttons as I used them were not overwhelming and are easy for others to be able to do, also.

Then came "Miss Ruby Takes a Walk."  Do you remember her?  She's the red salamander strutting her stuff under the leaf of an arrowhead plant whose white flowers are also visible.  Actually, it's a wall hanging consisting of 4 blocks and a border in shades of green and plum.  The blocks are the arrowhead and the shoo fly (aka churn dash).  Again, I think it is a good design with simple construction.  Miss Ruby, however, won't be to every one's taste, and maybe the embroidery in the flowers and the buttons might be too fiddly for others.  The colors are good, though.

"Daisy Makes Do" was the next wall hanging.  It's a triptych design with traditional blocks in the outer panels.  The center panel is a bucolic scene set in the 1930's - 1940's with women doing various chores.  The importance of this scene is the older woman on the front porch of the farmhouse and her granddaughter who are working on a quilt together.  The design is fair, the story is of personal significance, the fabrics were dictated by the powers-that-be at McCall's.  Construction of this quilt demands non-traditional approach with applique.  Is the story too personal?  I don't think so because it could really represent almost any one's experience in learning at the feet of older family members.  But perhaps it is, or perhaps the given fabrics and/or colors don't appeal.

Finally, "Music of the Night" which was the last of my entries.  This one is a night sky with fantastic planets, stars, and galactic streams in vivid colors.  A woman and two young children look at nature in awe.  There are also creatures of the night (owl, lightning bugs, dragonflies, Luna moths).  For this wall hanging I let my imagine go wild.  Therefore, the construction may be too difficult, the design too full, and the colors too bright.  Also included were ribbons, Swarovski crystals, embroidery, beads . . .  

My head is spinning with reasons why one quilt or the other would or would not do for a show.  All four are quilted, but two need binding (my oh-so-not-favorite part of quilt creation), and one is still in transit from Colorado.  The decision wasn't being made, and I thought I may be too personally involved to be objective.  So, thanks to the letter I received, I sent out a letter to a very small number of people and asked for their opinions.  Which one or ones would they recommend I send and why, those were my two questions.

How would you answer it?  Please write and tell me your thoughts.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flannel Lap Quilt - Report

For Christmas I made David a flannel lap quilt,  The pattern I chose, "Take Five" was a good one for flannel because it consisted of squares and rectangles with nary a triangle in sight.  Now those who know me will probably be wondering already, "Noel made a simple quilt with squares and triangles only?  Okay, what'd she change?"

I changed the pattern, but only a little.  I added a star block ("Payton's Star - the one I used as my label for "Music of the Night") because over the course of the contest, David patience and considerable help and moral support certainly made him a star.  Oh, and I sprinkled some stars around, too.  Eight, I think. 

The top was finished in time for Christmas so I was able to wrap it up and give it to him without worrying about pins or loose blocks.  Of course, it wasn't completely finished.  Now I am working on the quilting, and this is why I brought up this subject again.

Flannel can be very heavy especially if you add batting and backing as for a traditional quilt.  There's also the problem of quilting.  If a piece is quilted it becomes stiffer, and it doesn't wrap satisfactorily until it's quite old.  I wanted this lap quilt (as opposed to the baseball-themed one I made for him about three years ago) to be something he could curl up in.  I decided I'd use the different but still traditional method of tying the quilt.  It's not something I've ever done, but it isn't difficult.  However, I've had mixed success with tying embroidery thread which I planned to use.

Eventually I decided to use the wonderful embroidery stitches on my sewing machine.  Last weekend I pinned the backing (a beautiful batik) to the flannel top (still no batting - too weighty as I mentioned), and this week I started sewing.  Yesterday was the third day of stitching on the seams around every block using a variegated thread and different embroidery stitches.  I have the outer round of blocks, and the two borders to go.  If I can spend a good portion of a day on it, it should take only one more.

I think I'm going to like it quite a bit when it's finished.  I'll let you know how David feels about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Creative Experiences

What a day yesterday was for working on creative projects.  In the morning I had my painting class where I worked on "Canyon Path" which actually is almost finished.  I know I thought it was nearly at that point after my last class (before the holidays), but as it turned out today, I was wrong on that count.  Finishing touches still remain to be done, and those will have to wait until next week when the paint is dry enough to work.  Then I will start the second Canyon de Chelley painting.  Painting another Canyon piece is a way of reinforcing what I have learned about color, light, and shadow during the first painting by using a similar palatte on a similar subject.  It may sound odd, but I am looking forward to this painting.  Since it is not the same scene (only the same canyon), it won't be tedious.  My challenge will be: can I apply the lessons from the first painting to the second?  If I can, those skills will become more easily retrieved because they will have become part of my "repertoire of skill sets" (now how's that for jargon!).  There will be still more scenes from Canyon de Chelley that I may want to work on some day so this practice is worth it if only for those reasons.

After class I dashed home to become a quick change artist and take off with Mary Ellen for my Crazy Quilt class from 1 - 4.  Bonnie is teaching it at Log Cabin (and those of you in the area already know that, right? and that she also teaches it at Gloversville?).  Anyway, for a long time I've wanted to make a crazy quilt because - well, why not?  One gets the chance to use extravagant ribbon embroidery and embroidery stitches, collected buttons and jewel-like beads, charms that have personal significance, photos transferred onto fabric, gloriously rich fabrics, feathers, and furbelows.  My goodness, that's enough to send me into a sugar high with no food! 

As expected, the class was pure joy. Bonnie is the kind of teacher we'd all love to have all the time; she's funny, kind, accepting of our differing levels of knowledge, kind, helpful, patient, kind, and encouraging of individual approaches.  Did I mention kind?  She started with a short history of the crazy quilt and the crazy quilt "craze" (even if you think you know it, there's always something more you can learn), talked about her experiences including her less than stellar first attempt (doesn't that always make you feel better - knowing that the teacher was a novice who had issues with whatever you're trying to learn?), took us on a tour of the shop to broaden our horizons as to what we could use and what was available (and there's a lot; my heart was palpitating!), and then gave us the background we'd need to begin our first block.  Then?  You're right.  We began working on our first block. 

What fun we had snipping and sewing as our afternoon flew by!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

YA Literature

Once a month in late afternoon, Jean (a good friend and the social studies teacher with whom I taught for many years) and I go to a class in Young Adult Literature with Sherry Guice a local reading professor/middle school teacher and all around great guide through current books designed for young adults.  Jean and I have taken this class since it started until I retired when I decided I needed a break (Jean continued with the class).  Now I'm back at it, and it's as wonderful now as it always was.

Our genre for this month's discussion is fantasy, and it's my favorite.  Unfortunately because the reading was done during December, I finished only eight books out of fifteen possible titles.  We don't have to read them all; Sherry has told people to read at least two.  Even though I used to read all the books on the list, now I choose what I wish to read.  After all, I am no longer reading for the wide range of interests I would find among my students so now I read for myself.  In fantasy that means I no longer feel compelled to read the vampire/werewolf books which were never favorites of mine.

For those of you with children from third to twelfth grades, here are some the class liked: 
  1. The ever popular (especially with the boys) Rick Riordan has a new series featuring Egyptian mythology, and we read the second book Throne of Fire (fourth grade and up).  Even though my knowledge of Egyptian deities is basic at best, I really enjoyed this action-on-every-page book.  The fact that I didn't know all the gods and goddesses didn't matter.  I learned painlessly. 
  2. Wonderstruck by artist/author Brian Selznick (Caldecott winner for Hugo Cabret) received kudos from those who read it (I didn't).  It's on the 7th grade and up list, but like most of the books it could be read by a good 5th or 6th grader.  Don't be put off by its apparent length; half of the book consists of Selznick's illustrations, but it isn't truly a graphic novel. 
  3. All of us loved Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride enough to hope for a series.  The male protagonist doesn't know he's a necromancer which causes problems for him.  It's really funny, too (luckily, necromancers weren't on my "don't read" list).  It's recommended for the 8th grade and up due to one sex scene. 
  4. Beauty Queens by Linda Bray (author of Going Bovine and Rebel Beauty) is a laugh out loud delight that would be great to use for discussion group in high school.  There are serious issues covered in this book which is geared to a female audience, but I wish boys would read it, too. 
Obviously there were other books, but they received mixed reviews from the group.  For example, Jean and I liked Chime by Franny Billingsley which is  a possible winner for this year's National Book Award (I think that's the one).  It reminded me of Thomas Hardy's work in a way though the subject matter is different.  I would recommend it for a serious young reader, but I'd caution you to check it out and see if the subject would be of interest.  Actually, I'd recommend you do that with any of these books! 

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier is getting a big play this year, and since its about time travel, I was prepared to fall in love with it.  I didn't, and it wasn't because it's a translation from the German (which is well done, by the way).  Indeed, the book made me angry because while it had promise, it seemed to be just an introduction for the next book in the series.  Nothing really happens in Ruby Red.  Compared to books by someone like Rick Riordan who has written several series in which every book is full of action and has a complete plot, this one just doesn't.  I wonder if that was a publishing decision?  It's not the first time we've read something so lacking like this one, either.  It's not fair to the reader (especially a young one!) who expects a finished plot.  Cliff hangers are one thing; this is different.

Anyway, I had a great time discussing books with other readers, both male and female.  Some teach English, there's a social studies teacher (in addition to Jean), and several special education and reading teachers, too.  There are also at least three librarians, one former teacher who is now raising her children, and the two of us who are retired.  It makes for a well rounded group with different points of view and differing concerns so I always learn a lot. 

Next month is historical fiction, and Sherry apologized for not being able to find many "boy active" (read "boy as main character") books that were interesting.  I'm going to shy away from war books (unless they're really, really good); we've read so many, many, many, many . . .

Next month, I'll let you know the ones from this genre that stand out. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Good Mystery

Do you remember when the Ellis Peters' mysteries were on PBS with Derek Jacobi as the main character, Cadfael?  That may have been when I fell in love with medieval mysteries.  It shouldn't have surprised me for I enjoyed reading historical fiction set in early to medieval England, and the slight shift to mysteries was a natural progression.

Anyway, there are many wonderful mysteries and talented authors out there, but I just enjoyed one new to me.  It's Priscilla Royal whom I met in 2006 or 2007 at a conference for writers of historical fiction (I went because Diana Gabaldon was there and like many other readers I love her books).   I remember Ms. Royal as a warm person who chatted a bit as she autographed her book for me, and that's about all I remember.  Her book was set aside for a later date when I would have more time to enjoy it.  Lucky for me, I found it on my shelf Saturday, and I had the time.

Wine of Violence is the book and here is a brief summary from Publishers Weekly: 
In the year 1270 on the remote East Anglican coast, the new prioress of Tyndal priory (a small "double house" where the monks and nuns run a hospital), the young Eleanor of Wynethorpe, is prepared to face some resentment but not the dire consequences of several deadly sins, including lust, in Royal's stellar debut. Eleanor's political appointment, a reward to her parents for their loyalty to King Henry III, has embittered some of the Tyndal nuns and monks, particularly Sister Ruth, who was assuming the job would be hers. Eleanor knows that gaining the trust of the sisters and brothers she's to lead is vital, but when a beloved monk is found murdered in the cloister gardens, Eleanor has a brutal killer to deal with as well. The arrival of a young priest, Brother Thomas, struggling with the demons created by a crime he committed compounds her problems. As the violence continues, Eleanor, Thomas and the local coroner join forces to investigate. With its intriguing plot, chilling conclusion and characters who exhibit universal and timeless feelings, this fresh first has all the potential to evolve into a series as enduring as Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Here are some of the things that I liked about the book.  First, Ms Royal has done her homework and the historical content is accurate and well handled; you don't feel that you've mistakenly opened a text book because the facts are an integral part of the story.  I learned things I hadn't known while enjoying a decent mystery.  The main characters are realistically drawn, and they certainly have their flaws (Brother Thomas especially).  There is a tension between the town and the priory (Saxon vs Norman), an intriguing tension between the Prioress and the Priest (and not what one might expect), as well as tensions that are what one might expect between people in as closed community as a priory.  Minor characters add their colors to the tapestry of the story and make the picture whole.  One or two work their way from minor to more significant subtly which I liked as well as I liked their secrets. 

However, I am not saying this is a book without flaws, but I found them to be minor (they didn't distract me from my pleasure in the reading).  Ms Royal will possibly take care of some of these weaknesses as she gains experience.  For example, I knew who the murderer would be early on in the book, and I'm not one who really tries to figure that out (I like to be "mystified" and let an author have her fun with me).  The villain is a little too black and unlikable and his semi-accomplice is drawn with the same pen.  The prioress is not as fully developed a character as Brother Thomas.  She has only one clear character flaw instead of the several that plague the priest.  Since the village does not play a major part in the mystery there little description of it, and I would have liked more as well as more of the priory itself (I'm a real fan of maps in mysteries like this).

All that said, I didn't want to put the book down and found enough time to read it in one day.  I look forward to reading the second (Tyrant of the Mind which I understand does not take place in the priory) and the third and hope there will be still more. 

If you've read this book or others by Priscilla Royal, please tell me what you think about her books. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Beginnings - Again!

This will be a short posting as this is still a busy holiday time for us.  David is suffering from a cold accompanied with a dreadful cough, his sister Alice comes to share Christmas with us today, my painting and piano lessons start again this week, and there is one final holiday gathering this weekend. 

Today I was up quite early to put finishing touches on various and sundry chores before I head out to painting.  I have missed those classes these past few weeks!  The painting I'm working on, the one of a cliff opening at Canyon de Chelly, is ready for the finishing work, and I'm eager to do it.  It's had two weeks of drying so I should be able to do a lot today.  Later this month I'm going to buy a sturdy wooden easel for use at home.  I don't paint here because my current easel isn't very stable; indeed, the bar that holds the canvas has a tendency to fall off if it is bumped.  Can you imagine what would happen if a wet oil painting fell on your floor?  The destruction of hours of work on the painting and a huge, messy, smelly clean up!  Ugh.  So I've avoided that by not painting.  That's not good.  We all know the value of frequent practice, right?

Speaking of practice, there's another thing that has fallen by the wayside.  The piano hasn't had its daily workout over the holiday season.  We've been away, been busy etc.  Now I'll be going to my lesson with an old piece that hasn't improved and a new piece that's still brand new.  My poor teacher is going to spend half an hour listening to me bumble along.  I'm not going to cancel, though.  That would be too easy!  By going I will kick-start the habit of daily practice again (I'll be shamed into it if nothing else!).

Anyway, those are some of the things my New Year is starting with.  How's yours?