Friday, November 26, 2021



With a chill in the air even in California, I look for good books to read. Mysteries have been my guilty pleasure since I was a kid. Bill and I often remark that English villages must be dangerous places to visit with all the "murders" taking place in them. We walked into Books Inc, a local indie bookstore, recently. On the checkout counter, we saw a book Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village by Jay Cooper and Maureen Johnson. We laughed through the book and its suggestions not to venture into the cemetery of the church (there is always a church) at night. Even walking into the local pub can be dangerous because the authors say the locals just don't like change. All in fun, of course.

If you aren't into mysteries, check out the following good books:

Sandra Cisneros, Martita, I Remember You or Martita, te recuerdo

The book is cleverly published with the English cover and version on one end upside down from the Spanish cover and version at the other end. We bought it thinking of our goal to learn Spanish and found the story to be a tender one of youthful friendship and the discovery of old letters that the main character describes as "those letters between us, pebbles tossed into water. The rings grow wider and wider."

Alex George, The Paris Hours

The story revolves around four seemingly disconnected people in Paris in the 1920s. We follow Marcel Proust's housekeeper, a journalist, an Armenian puppeteer, and a painter as their lives are metered out one chapter at a time during the course of one day. For different reasons they all come together at the end of the book by arriving at the LeChat Blanc, a local bistro, at the same time.

Victoria Finlay, Color, a Natural History of the Palette

A non-fiction book about the pigments that make up the colors that we have used for thousands of years to tell our stories. Ochre, from the yellowish compressed soil found in many countries, was the first pigment. It has been mixed with various binders to cover our skins to ward off evil or insects, to paint faces for hunting or war, and to set some people apart from others. In some cultures, ochre is secret and only visible to certain people.

Finlay takes the reader through the process of developing formulas for the colors, how they are made, then lost over time and then rediscovered in another era. We learn that blue and red mixed together make violet, but it wasn't until the 19th century while a chemist, William Henry Perkins worked on a synthetic version of quinine, that he noticed a small amount of residue from his experiments. He turned the residue into a dye that he called mauve, which in Victorian England became the trendiest color. The book is more than a book for artists. It's a walk through our history and explains how influential color has been on cultures around the world.

Charlotte Mendelson, Rhapsody in Green

Gardening for Mendelson occupies her life. She is the gardening correspondent for The New Yorker, but her own gardening plot is limited to about 7 square yards. In that small area, she grows an abundance of food, each plant contributing a small amount each day to her meals. Like many nature writers, she finds something more important in her garden than mere plants. She finds life itself and how it nourishes us all.


The Prolonged Nativity by Virginia Averill

Ginny Averill, the wife of one of my cousins, is a multi-talented artist and has an entire wall of her work at the annual group art show at the art gallery at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Marquette, Minnesota, from Nov. 28 to Jan. 16. The best time to view the show is on Sundays from 10 am to noon. Because of COVID restrictions, it is best to call ahead if you want to visit. 612-332-3221

Check out her website at

Friday, November 19, 2021



The latest set of postcards made for the Global Art Exchange

A group of friends asked each other recently, "Do you have a favorite food that you can't do without at Thanksgiving?" The responses quickly came, "Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie." I was reminded of another friend's son who has to have mashed potatoes or "Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving." The question made me stop to think, "What is special about the Thanksgiving meal?"

When we were first married, we would drive from San Francisco to LA to go to my parents' house and greet 15 to 20 family members including my grandparents. Mimi loved to play card games, but she also showed me how to set a dinner table so all the forks and knives were aligned one inch from the table's edge. Grampy loved to tell stories and kept the kids entertained before we sat for the traditional fare.

Our Thanksgivings changed when we purchased our first house. We alternated between in-laws and our house. Rather than the family-style I was used to, the in-laws would dish out the fixings onto each plate so that everyone got some of all the food. Bill's dad loved to talk politics and controversial topics and would challenge us all about our viewpoints. Nanny, Bill's grandmother, joined in the discussion, staying current about the news well into her 90s.

When we hosted, I used a recipe from an old Sunset magazine cookbook. I began preparations days before Thanksgiving. On the morning of, I started by filling the turkey with the rice stuffing that I had made the previous day and put the turkey breast side down on a rack in a shallow pan. About an hour before the turkey was ready, I pulled the turkey out of the oven, turned it over, warmed some brandy, ignited the liquor, and poured it over the bird, and then stuck it back in the oven. Those extra steps kept the turkey breast meat moist.

When we moved to Japan, we suddenly had to make new traditions. Turkeys were not a normal part of Japanese cuisine and are very small and expensive to buy there. We spent our first Thanksgiving without a turkey but at the home of a neighbor from our hometown who had moved to Tokyo a year earlier. Around their table sat a world of new friends from Sweden, South America, and the East and West Coasts of the U.S., all enjoying a meal together to celebrate friendship.

Our move to Paris a few years later led us to new traditions. We had to search for the normal Thanksgiving meal. We could buy a turkey from an American grocery store situated across town. Since we didn't have a car in Paris, we would have had to carry the cooked turkey and fixings all the way home on the Metro. "Impossible," we thought. Instead, we went to a butcher a few blocks from our apartment, who prepared a delicious half turkey breast including confit on the side. The butcher handed me the turkey on a large platter, and I think, mistaking me for another bird, ran his hands over my breasts. I was stunned, and not having my hands free or the right French words to respond with, I just turned quickly away and walked home with my prize. His shop closed down soon after -- perhaps he had taken too many liberties with his customers? That evening we shared the meal with a friend who was originally from Cote d'Ivoire, whose consulate was just down the street from us.

When we moved back to California, we spent several Thanksgiving dinners at Bill's parents' assisted living home, where the staff provided a delicious, overflowing banquet filled with the traditional fare. We chatted with the residents of the senior community and found many people who had lived full lives and still enjoyed friendships in their new home.

With all our parents gone, we now spend a quiet holiday with our son and enjoy our day together. I continue to cook turkeys, but I search for easier ways to fix them. Instead of a stuffed turkey, I've tried a butterflied (spacklecocked) turkey, which cuts down on the preparation as well as cooking time. I then moved on from that experiment, first to a turkey breast spread with a herb paste, then rolled and tied into place. I've tried a sheet pan bone-in turkey breast, which takes only an hour and a half to prepare. The last Thanksgiving before the pandemic, I decided to keep our meal as simple as possible and made spaghetti instead.

When I think about the question about Thanksgiving, my answer has to be "the entire meal," but more importantly, I look back at the people we shared Thanksgiving with from LA to Japan to Paris and back to California. Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without them. They are the most important part of the day.

Friday, November 12, 2021



Maybe it is the Autumn light, the crisp air, the cerulean blue skies. Maybe everything seems fresh and new again because we've been so closed in. Maybe we have a chance to look at the world with new eyes.

After sequestering for so long, we found we had to learn to drive on freeways again. We cringed as speeding cars zipped back and forth through the growing number of cars. We held our breaths at the nearness of big trucks almost scrapping our car's side. With more practice, we have returned to our confident driving. 

We entered the grocery store and marveled at the colors in the produce section and grabbed a small thing we hadn't had in eighteen months. (We were so lucky that our son brought our weekly groceries so we didn't have to depend on deliveries or on going early in the morning to our local store. Thank you, Theo!)

We have ventured out on short outings, still wary of the Delta Variant, though now with good coverage from our booster shots. We went deeper into a time warp last weekend when we stayed at the Dream Inn Santa Cruz to hear the Big Brother and the Holding Company. Their fame derives from their association with Janis Joplin, the era of the late 1960's-70's, and the Summer of Love. We didn't know they still played together until we found news of the show. 

The balconies of the Dream Inn SC all face the ocean. The set-up for the show came as a response to COVID with the band at poolside while colored lights illuminating each balcony. We laughed because we were part of a light show. 

The music reverberated against the hotel walls and radiated out to sea. BBHC still has a terrific sound. They are experienced musicians (some of them are in their late 70's and early 80's). Most of the songs, such as A Piece of My Heart, Me & Bobby McGee, and Kozmic Blues, connected the audience with Janis Joplin. The singer KAte Thompson (one of 30 who has replaced Joplin) had a huge range, but the desire to hear the whiskey-soaked, raspy Joplin voice is hard to break.

Like the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and the Who, BBHC still performs the old-style rock and roll with its heavy, loud bass rumbling through the music. We were brought back to that long-ago era which made us think of the young performers caught up in the fame and the rampant drug scene of the time. People like Joplin, Jimi Hendricks, John Beluchi, and Jim Morrison of the Doors, who all died in the early 1970s from drug overdoses. If they hadn't made that fatal mistake, they could still be performing before loving audiences.

The Dream Inn Santa Cruz, built in the 1960s, has been remodeled and turned into a mid-century spare, clean place without the grungy feel of old beach hotels. As I walked into the lobby and looked at the minimalist chairs and tables, I had to remind myself that this is 2021 and mid-century 2020 is new fashion again. Once in our room, I looked down at the Boardwalk Arcade close by and remembered that the rickety wooden roller coaster that had given so many thrill rides had been torn down long ago. I could see people walking out on the long Wharf to take in the Monterey Bay views. 

Santa Cruz is Northern California's Surfing Capital as well as a college town. The hotel is situated close to Steamer Lane, where surfing competitions are held. As I stood looking out to sea, seagulls and pelicans swooped by reminding me of Summertime at the beach.

We walked through Santa Cruz's downtown streets and noticed the diverse group of people from college students to old hippies to tourists who filled the streets, masks on, for the most part, all hoping to wake up a little more from sheltering and to catch some of the old California vibes.

All photos by Bill Slavin

Check out these places in Santa Cruz:

The  Dream Inn Santa Cruz:

Steamer Lane:

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH):

Artisans & Agency store filled with beautiful, hand-made goods with a back entrance to the cafe at the MAH:

Friday, November 5, 2021


Watercolor artists often use spatter to create texture, to create water's edges, or to introduce color in an area that doesn't need to be completely filled in. Trying to paint individual random dots without the use of splattering comes right up against a human being's need for order. We try, even without our realizing it, to make order out of chaos. We have even made patterns by creating the constellations when we looked at the billions of stars scattered over the sky. You can see this hard-to-break pattern-making in this small sketch where I placed supposedly random dots on the left hill. Not random at all. That's a spot where splatter would have worked much better.

Splatter with a brush creates the effect of randomness that painters want. Not that splatter is easy to do. It took me lots of trials before I could flick the end of my brush in a way that didn't end up with paint all over my glasses and face instead of my paper. The motion is similar to flicking an old thermometer.

Splatter is also a good way to create the foam at the edge of a wave. Again, the splatter provides random splashes that can be brushed out to become a natural edge of the water.

Practice turning splatter into water's edge

I thought of the need for people to make order out of randomness while we sat on a hotel balcony looking down past the poolside paving to the sandy beach beyond. As the sun set, the beach became deserted except for the dips created by thousands of feet crossing over each other leading to the water's edge. 

We came to the hotel to listen to a band concert. The band, standing on the pool deck, faced the balconies of the hotel rooms. As they began to play, people began to drift over to sit in the sand at the back of the band. I watched as they distributed themselves across the sand as if they had a seating chart with equal spaces between groups. I remembered seeing a graph of how four-year-olds spread themselves equally across a room as they played. No matter how we try, we make patterns for ourselves, whether on paper or in real life. 

Right after I published this post, I came across an email from The Postman's Knock, which offers lessons in calligraphy -- wonderful examples. Her topic for today is ink splatters!  I noticed during our Sheltering in Place that many writers chose the same topic to write about, unbeknownst to each other. Great minds think alike!


Collage Artists of America's Annual Juried Show is online to view. One of my mixed media pieces was chosen, but take a look at some of the others. They are terrific!