Wednesday, December 04, 2013

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson

I didn't think I was going to like this book when I started it, but it really grew on me as I read.  It was about a young slave boy, Octavian, who was raised by a group of men who called themselves the Novanglian College of Lucidity.  It was set just prior to the Revolutionary War, while American Patriots were fighting for liberty at the same time they were keeping slaves.  One quote I found interesting was this one near the end of the book:

Mr. G -- ing talked with fire of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, a noble experiment in human dignity; we heard it was peopled with slave-lords, men who bewailed their enslavement to Britain while in their rice fields, thousands of their bonded servants toiled without pay in the mud, the sun above, the air swarmed with insects, and the water red with scum.
And this one:
It was for this that we labored and fought, risking our very lives.  And yet some of the men who worked alongside of me or who died upon the bayonets of the British at Bunker Hill had been enlisted by their masters without promise of freedom; with no offer of emancipation; and they fought in lieu of their masters, who were acclaimed generous patriots for supplying men for the cause.
I never knew before reading this book that slaves fought in the Revolutionary War in lieu of their masters; this was quite shocking to me.  I thought the book was well written and I rate it 4 out of 5.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Welcome Eli Benjamin Gebhart

My new grandson finally made his appearance on 11/29/13 at 8:15 pm (he was only 6 days late!).  He weighs 6 lb. 10 oz. and is 20 inches long.  I can't wait to meet him in person!!  I live in Oklahoma and he lives in Minnesota, but we'll be traveling up to see him soon.

Eli Benjamin Gebhart
Eli with his mom and dad (my son Brian and his wife Jessica)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

April Morning by Howard Fast

This is my 4th book for the Revolutionary War Reading Challenge I've been participating in this year.  And since my goal was to read between 4 and 10 books, I met my goal, which is more than I can say for the Sketchbook Challenge - I haven't been sketching much at all lately.  But that's a different subject altogether.

April Morning takes place on April 19, 1775, at the Battle of Lexington.  As the story opens, Adam Cooper, 15, is tired of hearing only criticism from his father Moses.  He wants nothing more than his father's approval, but he believes he never lives up to his father's expectations.  When a horseman comes through to let the town know that the British are on the march, Adam signs the muster book and joins the battle.  He must grow up literally overnight.  The book is very well written and I rate it 4 out of 5.

Saturday, November 02, 2013


When I first started writing about books on my blog, I never intended to write complete reviews.  I just wanted to keep track of the books I read and write a little something about them.  Now I find myself falling behind, and it is becoming more of a burden than I intended.  In addition, I have been keeping track of my books on Goodreads, so writing about the books here is becoming superfluous.  Therefore, I will only write about books occasionally, probably when I read a really extraordinary book that I feel I have to share.  So while I thoroughly enjoyed the last two books I read (A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons and The Coral Thief by Rebecca Stott), and I rated them both 4 out of 5, I don't really have anything special to say about either of them.

A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House

According to Amazon, "Set in 1917, A PARCHMENT OF LEAVES tells the story of Vine, a beautiful Cherokee woman who marries a white man, forsaking her family and their homeland to settle in with his people and make a home in the heart of the mountains. Her mother has strange forebodings that all will not go well, and she's right. Vine is viewed as an outsider, treated with contempt by other townspeople. Add to that her brother-in-law's fixation on her, and Vine's life becomes more complicated than she could have ever imagined. In the violent turn of events that ensues, she learns what it means to forgive others and, most important, how to forgive herself."  I thought this book was well written and I rated it 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Baby Quilt

For my son and daughter-in-law, who are expecting their first child (and our first grandchild) next month. The top is finished; just need to quilt and bind it!  Not your typical baby quilt, but they are decorating the nursery in a sky theme; a good friend who is also an artist is painting the walls with sun, stars, and moon.  This is the pattern they chose for the quilt, and I was happy to oblige them.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read this book for a read-along with War Through the Generations blog.  At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Isabel is a 13-year-old slave from Rhode Island.  She was promised freedom when her mistress died but was sold by her mistress's son (along with her sister Ruth) to the Locktons, a Loyalist couple from New York City.  Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, who encourages Isabel to spy on her owners to help out the revolutionary cause.  I thought the book was well written and I probably would not have read it if it hadn't been for the read-along, because I don't usually read young adult books (which this book is).  I rated it 3 out of 5.

Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz by Charles M. Schulz

This is another book I found among my mother's, and it was delightful.  I'm going to "cheat" and quote Goodreads here:
More than five hundred comic strips are reproduced, as well as such rare or never-before-seen items as a sketchbook from Schulz's army days in the early 1940s; his very first printed strip, Just Keep Laughing; his private scrapbook of pre-Peanuts Li'l Folks strips; developmental sketches for the first versions of Charlie Brown and the other Peanuts characters; a sketchbook from 1963; and many more materials gathered from the Schulz archives in Santa Rosa, California.
 It was fun to re-visit a comic strip I grew up with.  I rated this 4 out of 5.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

I found this among my mother's books, and it caught my eye for some reason.  I am not a religious person, and I am not a Christian, while C.S. Lewis was both, so I'm not exactly sure why I chose to read it.  It was a memoir of the year or two after his wife died, when he was questioning much of what he had believed all his life, including his belief in God.  It was very short or I would not have finished it. I rated it 2 out of 5, but most who read it rate it much higher.  Certainly it was well written, and you could feel the anguish Lewis felt over the loss of his wife, but the religious aspect of the book was difficult for me to relate to.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

I'm behind (again) in posting reviews of books I've read, so these next few will be brief (well, all my reviews are brief, but these will be even briefer than normal).

This is a historical novel about Alice Liddell Hargreaves, who was the real Alice of Alice in Wonderland. It follows her life from the time she is seven years old until she nears her 81st birthday.  It's a well-written, interesting story that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I rated it 4 out of 5.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lollapalooza One: A New Journal

When my brother and I were going through my mother's desk after her death, I found what might have been every card I'd ever made for her. I was so touched by the fact that she'd saved them that I decided to put them all in a book. This is the book I made for them.

Here is the front cover.

And here is the first page.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lollapalooza One Front Cover

My art snippets journal cover from Martha Lever's Lollapalooza One class.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Giveaway by Sue Bleiweiss

Sue has a very generous giveaway on her blog at this post - go check it out!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman

This book begins in 1765, where Makepeace Burke is a tavern owner in Boston.  Some of her clients include Sam Adams and other Sons of Liberty.  She is a patriot and hates the way the English rule the colony.  But when an angry mob dumps a man into the harbor, she rescues him, only to learn that he is the aristocratic Englishman, Sir Philip Dapifer.  When the mob returns to Makepeace Burke's tavern for revenge, Philip smuggles her on board a ship bound for London to save her life.

This is my second book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge.  The revolution was only a secondary theme of the book, but I enjoyed it.  I rated it 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In Memory

My mother, Billie Pepper Trachtenbarg, died early Thursday morning, July 18, 2013. She had fallen about a month earlier and fractured her sacrum. She spent the last 2 1/2 weeks in skilled nursing doing rehab, which wasn't going well. She had been in a lot of pain. She died of kidney failure. We held her memorial service on Sunday, July 21st. It was conducted by mom's longtime friend, the Reverend Carol Fincher, and it was a beautiful tribute to her. My brother, son, and I all spoke. Here is what my brother said:

We’re here to celebrate Billie’s life. Naturally, I’ve been reflecting on that quite a bit recently.

One of the first words that comes to mind when I think of Billie is “independent”, and she certainly taught me to be independent as well.

But today I want to talk about a different lesson that she taught me. She was naturally very proud and supportive of any accomplishment of mine – doing well on a test, winning a debate competition, getting good grades. She was just as supportive, though, when I lost a competition, or did not do well on a test. What she taught me is that accomplishments are important and good – but that they did not define me, or make me more worthy as a person.

Furthermore, she reminded me that any accomplishment – winning a competition, getting an A, earning a higher salary – did not make me a better person than anyone else, just like someone else’s accomplishments did not diminish me as a person.

In short, what I learned from my mother was a fundamental tolerance for other people, that we are all worthy of respect for who we are. What we have done,  what we have earned, what we might have, does not change that. The fact that we might have a better house or a faster car, or graduated from a better college, or have a higher status job does not make us any better as people than those who do not have those things.

I believe those lessons from my mother have helped make me a better son, brother, husband, and friend, and I thank you, Billie, for that lesson, and everything else you’ve done for me.

This is what I said:

When Carol asked me if I wanted to speak at the service, I said no.  I've never considered myself much of a public speaker, and I often have trouble putting my feelings into words.  But after reading what Charles was planning to say, it got me to thinking, and I decided I had to at least try.

As many mothers and daughters do, we had our differences at times.  But no matter what happened between us, I've ALWAYS known that she loved me.

She taught me many things, but I just want to share a couple of them here today.  She taught me to always be myself.  Don't put on airs, don't try to be someone you're not.  Who you are is enough.

And she taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be.  She was always supportive and encouraging of me.  She always wanted to see the latest project I was working on, and she loved the quilts I'd made for her.  When we were going through her desk yesterday, I was touched to find that she had saved all of the cards I'd made for her over the years.

Even though there were some difficult times, I always knew she loved me and wanted the best for me, and I loved her too.

And here is what my son said:

Unfortunately, I never knew my grandfather, who died before I was born. So for me, my grandmother was always a solitary figure. And in this way, she was a very important person in my young life, because I was often solitary as well. I was an only child who lived in the country and was very shy by disposition, so Grandma's independence and self-reliance was a kind of beacon for me. Her life was a demonstration of how to confront the world on one's own terms, forthrightly and honestly.

This wasn't something she taught me directly--the way she taught me how to use a typewriter and how to play solitaire and cribbage and canasta--but something I simply picked up by being around her. And its these things about my grandmother, her independence, self-reliance, and honesty--along with her sense of humor, her love of words and games, and our many conversations over dinner at Leo's Chinese Restaurant--that I will remember most.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara

This is my first book for the American Revolution Reading Challenge that I am participating in this year, and it was a good one.  It is the first book of a two book series, and tells of the build up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  It begins with the first bloodshed in Boston in March, 1770, and continues through the summer of 1776.  While it is a historical novel, it is different from most historical novels I've read in the past.  This follows actual historical figures, such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and many others.  It has no fictional characters.  But it is written as a novel rather than a history textbook.  Obviously, dialogue and thoughts would have to be fiction, but the author used letters, memoirs, diaries, and accounts written by people who were there to tell the story.  It was a very readable way to get a history lesson, and I will be reading the second book in the series (The Glorious Cause) this year as well.  Since my husband and I are planning a trip to New England in the fall (including Boston), I found this book even more interesting, and it gave me a couple of ideas of sites I don't want to miss.  I rate it 4 out of 5.

Sketchbook Challenge - Into the Woods

It's been in the high 90's and above this month, so I'm not going out into the woods! But I did sit in the car and wait while my friend did her weigh in for Weight Watchers on our way to our quilt class this morning. This is probably as close as I'm going to get to the woods in July in Oklahoma!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sketchbook Challenge - Garden Doodle

Maybe not technically a doodle, but these flowers surely came from a garden, right? Anyway, I haven't sketched much lately, so this was a good chance to do so.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

We have been in the middle of a remodeling project for the past month and a half:  in order to get a larger sewing studio, we have switched our master bedroom with my studio.  We moved furniture out, repaired drywall, painted, had new carpet laid in my new studio, had hardwood flooring laid in our new bedroom, and moved furniture back in (including some new furniture in my studio).  Today I was putting books back on the shelves in our bedroom, and I rediscovered this book.  As I flipped through it looking for the ISBN so I could post it to PaperBackSwap, I ended up re-reading it and decided to keep it.  According to Goodreads,
Simply written, but powerful and unforgettable, The Man Who Planted Trees is a parable for modern times. In the foothills of the French Alps the narrator meets a shepherd who has quietly taken on the task of planting one hundred acorns a day in an effort to reforest his desolate region. Not even two world wars can keep the shepherd from continuing his solitary work. Gradually, this gentle, persistent man's work comes to fruition: the region is transformed; life and hope return; the world is renewed.
It is a delightful story, a very quick read, and I rate it 5 out of 5.

The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir

My friend Kathy of Catching Happiness sent me this book to read.  Because I'm trying to catch up on my reviews, I am going to "cheat" and quote the book description listed on Amazon:
For Lobbi, the tragic passing of his mother proves to be a profound catalyst. Their shared love of tending rare roses in her greenhouse inspires him to leave his studies behind and travel to a remote village monastery to restore its once fabulous gardens. While transforming the garden under the watchful eye of a cinephile monk, he is surprised by a visit from Anna, a friend of a friend with whom he shared a fateful moment in his mother’s greenhouse, and the daughter they together conceived that night. In caring for both the garden and the little girl, Lobbi slowly begins to assume the varied and complex roles of a man: fatherhood with a deep relationship with his child, cooking, nurturing, and remaining also a son, brother, lover, and…a gardener. A story about the heartfelt search for beauty in life, The Greenhouse is a touching reminder of our ability to turn the small things in everyday life into the extraordinary.
Thanks Kathy!  I will be sending it back to you this week.  I enjoyed it and rate it 3 out of 5.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

This is the third book by Charles Frazier that I've read, and I can say that I would read any book by him.  Each book is a completely different story, and all are really well written.  This one is set in the early 1960's in small town North Carolina.  Luce is a young woman living all alone in an old lodge as a sort of caretaker when she inherits her murdered sister's troubled twins.  The coming of the children changes everything.  I rate it 5 out of 5.  (I finished this on May 1, so I'm STILL behind in my reviews!)

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Sketchbook Challenge - Bowls

I finished my bowl for the Sketchbook Challenge this month, and got it posted to Flickr JUST under the wire yesterday.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

An Illustrated Life by Danny Gregory

I'm still trying to get caught up on my reviews; I finished this book on the 18th of last month.

I've had the book quite awhile and I'd read a few of the pages before, but I finally read the book from cover to cover.  I was inspired to read it because Danny Gregory has published a new book on travel journals in the same format as this one, and I've been enjoying seeing the interviews with the artists from that book that he's posted on his blog.

I really enjoyed reading about all the different journal artists and seeing pages of their journals.  I only wish that the journal pages could have been larger.  But it's a great glimpse into the wide variety of ways that different artists use journals.  I rate it 4 out of 5.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

I am trying to catch up on my reviews; I finished this book a little over two weeks ago.  It is the story of Elizabeth Middleton, a 29 year old spinster who leaves England in 1792 to teach school in a remote village in New York.  She is joined by her brother Julian to live with their father, Judge Middleton.  Upon their arrival, she meets Nathaniel Bonner, a hunter and trapper who was raised by Mohawks.  It reminded me of the Outlander series in many ways; historical fiction, romance, strong female lead character, just as long but not as well written.  It is also a "sequel" to Last of the Mohicans (which I've never read), since Nathaniel Bonner is the son of Dan'l Bonner, or Hawkeye, from that book.  I enjoyed the book, which is the first in a series, but I'm not sure whether I'll read the rest of the series.  I rate it 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Petoskey Watercolor Journal by Catherine Carey

I really enjoy looking at other artists' visual journals.  I have read Catherine Carey's blog off and on (here) and knew that I liked her painting style; it always looks so fresh and loose.  I did enjoy this book very much, although it isn't exactly like looking into her journal.  Instead, there is a full sketch on the right hand side of each two page spread, and usually a very small sketch on the left hand side of the page.  Then she talks a little bit about what it took to get the sketch, or what the day was like, or where she was, or some suggestion for keeping your own visual journal (such as this quote from page 106):

"Don't save your journal painting just for trips and special occasions.  There is plenty to observe and paint in our daily lives."  I need to remember this more often!  I rate the book 4 out of 5.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian

I finished this book over a month ago and am just now getting around to writing about it. It is the story of Emmett Conn, an old man who suffered memory loss after being injured during World War I. But now he has a brain tumor, and he is having dreams that he is a gendarme, taking a group of Armenians out of Turkey. One of the Armenians is a young woman who captivates Emmett. But the war intervenes and they are separated.

I had never heard of the Armenian genocide before reading this book, so I learned some history. It was a good story and well written. I rated it 4 out of 5.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sketchbook Challenge - Natural Surfaces

We stayed at The Lodge at Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas. This huge fireplace was in the lobby. Athough the fireplace is manmade, the rock it was made from is a natural surface, which is the current theme for the sketchbook challenge.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

First finished stitched painting

I took a 4 1/2 day class with Katie Pasquini Masopust called Stitched Paintings. It was a fabulous class, and this is my first finished piece. It is framed rather than bound (edges are finished with satin stitching).

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sketchbook Challenge - Sweet

Just barely got this month's challenge finished before the end of the month! I haven't been sketching much this month for some reason. But it felt really good to sketch this.

Journaling reads: "These sunny flowers survived the snow of a few days ago. It was forecast to be a blizzard, but we only got about an inch. I'm glad the flowers survived!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's 5th wedding anniversary, Amy disappears.  Nick lies to the police about several things that can be easily checked.  Amy's diary paints a picture of a very troubled marriage.  As the story unfolds, told alternately from Nick's point of view and Amy's diary, Nick and Amy both become less and less likable.  There are several plot twists that I certainly didn't see coming.  It was a very dark story, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was very well written; I rate it 5 out of 5.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Draw & Paint Culinary Herbs - Lesson 6 Basil

We used a flat, heavy application of watercolor as a base layer, then used colored pencils on top. It's slow going, but allows for a lot of shading and detail.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Draw & Paint Culinary Herbs - Lesson 5

I've fallen a little behind, so I'm trying to get caught up. I actually bought some oregano to sketch. It's much nicer to sketch from the real thing (it smells nice too). I wasn't too satisfied with this as I was working on it, but I like it a little better now. I'm out of practice!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln A Life by Catherine Clinton

I learned a lot from reading this book.  Mary Todd was a well-educated woman from a wealthy Kentucky family who became a Northern wife when she married Abraham Lincoln, a Springfield lawyer.  They were poor for much of their marriage; Mary Lincoln continued to worry about money for most of her life.  She was faithful to the Union in spite of vicious press attacks on her throughout her husband's presidency and the Civil War.  She was the first president's wife to be called "First Lady."  After her husband's assassination, her mental health suffered and she was briefly held involuntarily in an asylum after her son Robert had her brought to trial on charges of insanity.  She never forgave him for betraying her.

The book has been on my shelf for over a year, but I wanted to read it before seeing the movie Lincoln.  I'm glad I read it, although I found it slow.  I rate it 3 out of 3.

Draw & Paint Culinary Herbs - Lesson 4

Informal watercolor of dill or fennel using Val Webb's reference photos. All watercolor; no pencil first (even in the title, where I usually use pencil).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

This was a pretty unusual story.  It follows three different sets of characters, and it's a long time before you learn how they are related, but you eventually do.  Miles Cheshire is searching for his twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for 10 years.  Lucy Lattimore has run away from Pompey, Ohio, with her former high school history teacher, George Orson, a few days after graduation.  And Ryan Schuyler has learned that his parents aren't who he thinks they are, so he walks away from his college campus to remake himself. It is very well written and I often couldn't put it down. I rate it 4 out of 5.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Kiss Before You Go: An Illustrated Memoir of Love and Loss by Danny Gregory

Artist Danny Gregory lost his wife Patti in a tragic accident almost 2 years ago.  He used his journals over the next year to work through his grief, and this book is the result.  There is some background over how they met and their life together, including an earlier accident that put her in a wheelchair.  There is Danny's artwork and thoughts and feelings about continuing his life without her.  The passage that struck me the most and has stayed with me was this one:

The big things that have changed are not the ones I feared. I thought it would be all about having someone to hug and kiss, a hand to hold, eyes to stare into, maybe just someone who would always get my jokes, indulge my point of view.

But it's all the things that Patti did in her life that were melded into mine that have left me like a one-armed man. Running our house, the practical aspects of our lives, what sort of garbage bags to buy, who to invite for dinner, where to spend the summer, when to pay the mortgage.

Every day is filled with a thousand things we would discuss. How does this shirt look? What should we have for dinner? What do we buy my sister for her birthday? Should we repaint the hall? How do I deal with my boss? Do you like this sentence? Am I a good person?

I'd pick up the phone, send a text or an email, every hour or two, just to stay in touch, to course correct. Now. over and over again, I find myself starting to dial, then I drop the phone, realizing my mistake, that Patti's unable to come to the phone right now, Patti's not home.

I've been trying to share my life . . .

. . . but now it belongs to me alone.

 It is at times heartbreaking and at times hopeful. I rate it 5 out of 5.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Draw & Paint Culinary Herbs - Lesson 2 Revised



I revised my pencil sketch based on a critique from Val Webb.  As usual, I needed to add contrast by darkening my shading. Thanks Val - I like it better now! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

I don't read a lot of mysteries, but this book sounded interesting.  After surviving World War I, Laurence Bartram learns that his old friend John Emmett has apparently killed himself.  Laurence agrees to investigate for John's sister Mary.  But as one of the characters tells Laurence, "You're dogged but you're not a natural detective. . ."  What I liked about this mystery that was different from others I've read was that it presented Laurence's musings about the case as he learned bits and pieces.  Most of those musings turned out to be wrong, but it was interesting to follow.  There is a quote on the cover of the book that states, "The new Birdsong - only better."  I would have to disagree with that statement.  While I basically enjoyed the book and thought it was fairly well written, it was not as good as Birdsong in my opinion.  I rate it 3 out of 5.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I like baseball, especially college baseball, but I would not have chosen to read a book about baseball if I hadn't read this review by my son.  Of course, he writes real reviews as opposed to the brief summaries and thoughts I write. I happen to think he's a great writer, but then, he's my son, so what else would I think?

Anyway, this book is about much more than baseball. It is the story of a young college shortstop (Henry Skrimshander) who is about to tie the record set by the greatest shortstop of all time for number of games without an error, when he makes a wild throw and hits his teammate in the face.  This error shakes Henry's confidence and has far reaching effects on several other people as well.  The book is all about hopes, anxieties, secrets, ambition, family, friendship, and love.  That's a pretty wide net for a baseball story.  I found it to be very well written and I rate it 4 out of 5.

Draw & Paint Culinary Herbs - Lesson 2

Val Webb calls this technique a "gentle pencil sketch" because you use the pencil so lightly and build up layers for the darks. I sketched this from a reference photo provided by Val.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Sketchbook Challenge - Artist Date

Theme for Sketchbook Challenge this month is Artist Date. I had lunch at Panera for my Artist Date. I enjoyed sitting by the fireplace and sketching.