Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dogs Galore in Art & Life

This is our new Havanese puppy. We adopted him a few months ago, named him Dylan, and now of course, he is running the show. Dylan turned 1 year old at the end of June. I love taking him for walks in the morning, even though the summer heat is upon us. Dylan has a jaunty walk and a loving personality. We have enrolled in some dog obedience sessions at Petco and the trainer thinks Dylan is quite the brainy boy. He catches on quickly, especially when treats are involved. Now if only we could correctly apply all the commands we have learned at the appropriate times.
The biggest bugaboo about the dog is that he and the cat (Molly) have not yet made peace with each other. The dog just wants to play with the cat, but the cat hisses and sticks out her claws. Molly lives in fear of the dog and keeps high on the furniture. Yes, it's all a bit much, but my husband Tom really wanted a dog, so it makes me happy his wish has been granted before we get too much older. On Tom's side of the family, everyone owns dogs. When we all get together, as we did on the 4th of July, there are dogs galore, running around everywhere. Meeting this canine gang made Dylan giddy with delight. And when we put Dylan in the swimming pool, what do you know -- his doggy paddle was perfect! Dogs are a lot of work, but they steal your heart and so the deal is done.
This cloth and paper collage is one in a series I created in February. I think the poochie here resembles Dylan, although he has more white fur. So it is interesting that Dylan appeared a few months later. This collage and the one below were my entries in this year's show at the Jung Center. I called them Poochie Woochie 1 and 2. And guess what? Poochie Woochie 2 shown below sold to a couple from Mexico. My strategy in this series was to keeping it simple. Collage can easily get overly cluttered.

There have been a bunch of good things happening in my life as an artist. First was the use of one of my collages on the Jung Center Summer catalog. Then I entered a winter holiday greeting card into a Reader's Challenge at Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine and made the cut as a finalist, so usually when that happens, your image appears in the magazine. So I look forward to that winter issue and will keep my fingers crossed. Then learning I sold a piece at the Jung Center show was wonderful. I did not get in the Archway juried show this summer. Never mind, I have been in it twice before. There is always a mix of rejection and acceptance in any artist's life.
This second life as an artist after a career in librarianship is invigorating. Yet I constantly battle with work/life balance. DIY home and yard maintenance take way too much of my time. Other diversions such as yoga, women's circles, church groups, book group, travel, etc. also interfere with my artistic intentions. I am also taking a few art classes here and there. I am bushwhacking my way into digital collage by learning GIMP, a time-consuming process. On a good day I get to work on my art for 4 or 5 hours, but often that is not the case. Life is too short! On that note, back to the drawing board...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gifted by John Daniel

Gifted by John Daniel is a first novel that feels like the polished work of an old master, bringing to my mind the likes of Ivan Doig and Wallace Stegner. Daniel has previously published nonfiction and poetry, so he has certainly put in plenty of time polishing his writing skills.. Here is my review of Gifted:

“Sunrise and sunset are made of the same light, and, like gladness and sadness, you can’t have one without the other.” These words arise in the mind of Henry Fielder at the age of 16. Think he might be an old soul? Yes, oh yes.

His beloved mother dies when he is 15. Then later his father kicks the bucket when a tree falls on their house in rural western Oregon. If that plot line sounds like a formulaic YA premise, don’t go there. This novel runs deep. Henry is one of those kids who doesn’t talk much, who walks the woods in wonder. Woodland creatures who usually bolt away from humans instead step closer to Henry and they share spirit. That is his gift and those are the moments Henry lives for.

But Henry is no saint. A horrific act of violence is at the center of this book. And that violence against Henry only begets more violence. Henry strikes back at the cruel world in ways that only get him deeper into trouble. Yet often he is able to channel wisdom from the native American stories so revered by his mother and from the array of books he hungrily consumes. Henry hates school. He wishes he could just have a tutor for his favorite subject: “biologycosmologyphilosophyreligion.”

Often Henry runs away to the woods, with both positive and negative results. At one point, he commits an act of ecoterrorism that could land him in jail for several years. Like many teenagers, he drinks, smokes and discovers sex. Luckily for him, there are many caring adults surrounding him, including neighbors who become his foster parents, a gay man who lives in a commune and various church members.

The story of Henry’s troubles is told in hindsight as he tries to write a memoir many years after all the drama of his adolescence. This novel hurt to read. It hurt deep. But for all that, Henry’s intuitive pull towards the wisdom of nature is wondrous to behold. Acts of communion are many.

Some readers may find the novel too dark. I like dark and yet, at times the novel was almost too dark for me. But there is pure poetry here. Those sublime moments rang true and thus, I was hooked. I will not forget Gifted. It left me itching to go for a walk in the woods. A quiet walk alone, listening deep….

The text of this review also appears on and if needed, see also the discussion guide posted there.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Mashing for Five"

Mother's Day is around the corner and of course, I am thinking of my Mom, Dorothy Stanton Outlaw. We lost her in 2013. She lived to be 94. I wrote this poem in her honor years ago and gave it to her. She had it framed and hung it in her kitchen.

Mashing for Five

She stood at the sink with
the big pot of steaming hot potatoes
safely stowed there for mashing.
She used a common implement made of

curlicue metal attached to a worn wooden
handle, known as the potato masher.
The noise that Mom made
mashing the potatoes for dinner

was a predominant sound of
my childhood. Most nights,
some ten minutes before dinner,
we heard the mashing noise throughout

the house, a certain clackety-clack,
clackety-clack, clackety, clackety,
clackety-clack that comes back to me now
clear as a hymn or a heartbeat,

almost jazzy, our mother orchestrating
dinner, our mother so Irish and hard working,
mashing and fluffing, mashing and fluffing,
adding the milk and Blue Bonnet margarine

and giving the masher a final whack against
the rim of the pot before setting it aside
to tend to the meat and vegetables.
Only occasionally did I notice

the little sighs Mom made, those
sick-of-cooking-for-a-family-of-five sighs,
those this-must-be-my-three-thousandth-pot-
of-potatoes sighs, but I write this poem

to recognize them now, and to celebrate
the rhythm of her mashing so fondly recalled,
clackety-clack, clackety-clack,
clackety, clackety, clackety-clack......

- Keddy Ann Outlaw

The photo above shows Mom with me, her firstborn. To see her so young and happy, joyous in motherhood, is wonderful, a tonic for my spirits.

I have to tell you, despite the sighs I wrote about in the poem, mashed potatoes were one of her favorite foods up till the end... She once told me she would love to just eat a big bowl of them for dinner, especially if someone else made them, which I often did when I visited her in the last few years of her life. Love you, Mom! And I will say again what I often said to her over the phone on Mother's Day -- Mom, thank you for giving me life.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Collage Postcards

It seems March evaporated without much art to show for my efforts, but here are a few postcard collages I composed in my spare time when I wasn't suffering with a ginormous cold or working in the yard. My incentive was the National Collage Society annual Postcard show (a non-juried event for NCS members), which had a deadline of March 20th. So although I always have postcards hanging around that I made in the past, I like to make new ones for this annual event. You can only send in one, so here are the ones I considered as possible entries.....
Circling In
Moving On
Stay There (using monoprinted papers)
        Her Domain
I also attempted some paper weaving using papers I hand painted, inspired by a Cloth Paper Scissors magazine Challenge. I spent more time on it than I first intended playing with the concept, only to ultimately trash the thing. But I learned some new techniques. And I have to admit, I spent a bunch of mad money on paint markers (I found that Sharpie paint pens were the easiest to use, but the color palette was limited). Oh well, that's the way the artwork crumbles sometimes... 
Happy Spring!
PS For my latest book review on, click here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Painting the Garage Floor -- a Work in Progress

It is not easy to paint like Jackson Pollack! That is what I have learned fooling with paint effects on our garage floor. We painted it a plain gray using concrete paint last year shortly after the builders left. But that gray paint started chipping even after 3 rolled coats. Also, the light gray showed every speck of dirt and I found myself wanting to sweep far too often. When you have a new building, it is only natural to want to keep it looking new... Anyway, I decided to spatter paint the floor so it would not show dirt and imperfections so much.

At first I followed techniques picked up from YouTube and other online sources. I learned you were supposed to start with dark colors and then work your way up to lighter colors. The main technique seemed to be loading up a paint brush and then smacking the brush with a stout stick. That did not always produce the effects I had in mind. So I just started flinging the paint  and that helped a bit, but sometimes I had to wipe up unsightly big blobs. Flinging works best with slightly thinned paint, but could be unpredictable. After working my way through four colors (one a day and then letting it dry), I was not happy with the way the floor looked. So I dug into my printmaking tools and came up with three simple "tools" that really made a difference once I got to the white paint stage: a foam brayer with small dots, a piece of wadded up netting and some bubble wrap. Using these three inexpensive tools made all the difference. The floor started to look more unified. I am not done yet, but finally feel like I am making good progress. I want to add a bit more aquamarine. There is a much larger area of the garage floor yet to go and tackling that will be much easier now that I've got a handful of techniques together.

See here some other printmaking paraphernalia I might have used. But the three I chose seemed to be enough to get the job done.
And so it goes: every day a new adventure with paint and color, in both my DIY mode and art practice. More about recent artworks in my next post... February has flown by like nobody's business. We had a carport built last month, and once the garage floor is done and before the summer heat arrives, we intend to build a deck behind the garage as my potting area. Then we hope to be done with major DIY projects for awhile. Is there every really an end to such things? Probably not, but sometimes it is good to pretend so!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Whim-wham and other Delightful Words

Perhaps I have written of this before, but one of my favorite childhood memories took place in the second grade when I was given my very first dictionary. Our parents had to pay extra for them. The book was red and at the time, seemed hefty though it was but a junior dictionary. Miss Palmer, our Floral Park Bellrose (Long Island, NY) Elementary School second grade teacher, was BIG into reading and vocabulary. She had us competing to learn new words and look them up. She gave us stars and other stickers in reward for our lists of books we'd read. Wonderful!

So my love of words may have started then and was fostered all along by my parents, who were both big readers. Dad and I played Scrabble together until I got to be a sullen teenager. Getting my first library card was a true thrill. I enjoyed the company and attentions of various librarians and after a prolonged adolescence, became one myself. I still own the dictionary my parents bought me right before I headed off to college, the American College Dictionary (pictured above in its battered state). It seems incredible to me now that my little library in West University Place, Texas actually carried the multivolume set of the Oxford English Dictionary. It took up plenty of shelf space in the Reference section, and to tell you the truth, was really not used that often. But it was delightful to have on hand when etymological questions came in. Now we have Google but I still reach for dictionaries in book form because it seems quicker than wading through various web pages.

Only about a year ago, I signed up for the Merriam Webster Word of the Day emails. Just a few days ago, the word was "whimsical" and in the explanation of its origins, I found the word "whim-wham" which really made me smile. Whim-wham is a noun from the early 16th century that originally referred to an ornamental object or trinket. I've got plenty of whim-whams and I didn't even know it! And so I added that word to a small notebook I keep of favorite words. Often the words are odd or just beautiful to me in in any number of ways, including the way they sound or what they mean. Here are a few of them with brief definitions that are not in any way to be considered complete.

Alembic - anything that transforms, purifies or refines.

Bonhomie - cheerful friendliness; an atmosphere of good cheer.

Farrago - a confused mixture, hodgepodge or medley.

Glory - resplendent beauty.

Inscape - the deep meandering landscape of our interior life, as defined by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Jubilee - any occasion of rejoicing and/or festivity. Also the natural oceanic (Gulf Coast) phenomenon of an abundance of fish, crabs, shrimp swimming towards shore wherein people are able to scoop them up.

Lunation - period of time from one new moon to the next. Also the partial circles or cogs on the outer ring of an 11 circuit labyrinth.

Mazurka - a lively Polish dance in moderately quick triple rhythm (think Chopin...).

Rhapsody - an exalted expression of feeling or enthusiasm.

Yantra - a mystical or astromical design.

Perhaps no one said it better than James Michener, as seen on this dangling piece of art I used to keep in my library office: "I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions." Now this "Muse of Writing" (truly a whim-wham) resides in my art room/study. She reminds me to keep this blog going, even though I often feel the months go by so quickly and updating this blog seems like just another chore. Yet there comes a time when my fingers demand to type out some review or feature. Perhaps the blog is really an outscape from my inscape, to use one of my favorite words! And so it goes, meandering on long past the days when writing it weekly was part of my job requirements. More than seven years later, here I am and do consider blogging to be a privilege in many ways. Long live the freedom and democracy of the internet!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Favorite Reads 2016

During 2016, I read more new books than last year. Though my shelves spill over with older books I mean to read, I am also always looking for the latest and greatest books. Some of my favorite sources for keeping up with publishing now that I am a retired librarian include Book Page and the New York Times Book Review, not to mention browsing in Barnes & Noble and other local bookstores. There is only one older title in my list below, Cutting For Stone, which I was so very happy to (finally) read along with other members of the West University Library Book Group. Gosh, how we loved that book!
 Four of the books on this year's list are nonfiction. Eight of the books were penned by female authors. Two publishers are represented twice: Knopf and Algonquin. I love this exercise of gathering up my favorite reads at the end of every year. Here they are: 
Cutting for Stone (Knopf, 2009) by Abraham Verghese. All I needed to know to whet my interest herein was that a nun gives birth to pair of boy twins in an African Missionary hospital. Then she dies. How does that grab you? Larger than life, brimming with themes such as forgiveness, compassion, loyalty, love, loss, devotion and fortitude, the writing style of this novel reminded me of both D. H. Lawrence and John Irving.

Dimestore: A Writer's Life (Algonquin, 2016) by Lee Smith. Well, since I adore Lee Smith's novels (especially Fair and Tender Ladies, Putnam, 1988 ), this memoir felt like manna from heaven.  "I write because I want more than one life," Smith tells us, echoing Anne Tyler. Such a wonderful truism, one that can also pertain to readers. We read fiction because we want more than one life, don't we? We want to know what being human feels like to others! And now I thankfully know a bit more about Smith's life and writerly inspirations.

Dinner With Edward: A Story Of An Unexpected Friendship (Algonquin, 2016) by Isabel Vincent. I was charmed and enchanted by this tiny book gigantic in its scope, simply telling its tale of a rare friendship between a young woman reporter near divorce and a sweet, elegant nonagenarian widower. Truly they become a balm for each other's soul. And for mine. Read it if you feel the need to be uplifted!

Everybody's Fool (Knopf, 2016) by Richard Russo. Perhaps you remember the dark, sardonic tone of Nobody's Fool (1993) and its main character, Sully, such a lovable loser. Now Sully is older and perhaps a bit wiser. He steps back a bit to share page time with a colorful bunch of depressed and/or neurotic characters. There are comic moments amongst all the doom and gloom, and it was great to be back in upstate New York with Sully.

LaRose (Harper, 2016) by Louise Erdrich. Tragedies and miracles abound in this novel of native America. One child is accidentally killed. Oh my goodness, then the killer gives his own son to the family of the boy he accidentally shot. I found myself thinking of a pressure cooker as the plot thickened. Would things blow sky high or would the pressure be released safely? Erdrich weaves a complicated web and the result is a novel ultimately attesting to the power of familial love.

Modern Lovers (Riverhead, 2016) by Emma Straub. Bandmates in college decades later are still good friends, living near each other in super-hip Brooklyn. Now their teen-aged children are starting to date each other. And most of the parents seem to be going through midlife crises. Straub has a way of bringing even the trendiest characters alive, far beyond any level of caricature. Instead she seems to peer into their hearts in the most believable way.

My Name Is Lucy Barton (Random House, 2016) by Elizabeth Strout. Laid up in a hospital bed, Manhattanite Lucy Barton is surprised when her mother visits from small town Illinois. Lucy has never felt very nurtured by her mother. Perhaps now the past with all its deprivations can be re-examined. Somehow we get to know both of these women more through their ruminations than their conversations. Spare and eloquent, this character-driven novel was for me nothing short of a true gem.

News of the World (William Morrow, 2016) by Paulette Jiles. When 71 year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd reluctantly agrees to accompany a 10 year-old Indian captive, Johanna, back "home" to her relatives in the Texas Hill country, many adventures ensue. The time period is post-Civil War and in Texas the war is hardly over, so conflicts still arise. At least once, Johanna saves the Captain's life. The bond that forms between Kidd and Johanna is visceral, no matter how many times Kidd near kicks himself for taking on the responsibility for the wild child. Fantastic historical fiction!

The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir (Flatiron, 2016) by Ruth Wariner. This is  tale of polygamy is set in Mexico. Ruth Wariner's childhood is chaotic, impoverished and confusing. She loves her mother but hates her stepfather, he with the 4 wives and a proclivity to sexually abusing his stepchildren. Ruth has some 41 siblings and step-siblings; can you imagine??? I don't know why exactly, but Surviving a Terrible, Horrible or Extremely Eccentric Childhood is very much a favorite memoir sub-genre of mine. I know this book is not for everyone, but I for one certainly have a lot of respect for the author's ability to present her story to us with such clear-eyed hindsight.

Upstream:Selected Essays (Penguin, 2016) by Mary Oliver. In these assorted essays, poet Mary Oliver makes her loving attention to the natural world seem as simple as breathing. What a privilege it is to be right there with her as she rescues a seagull or spend hours observing spiders. There are also chapters on Walt Whitman, Poe and Ralph Waldo Emerson. We come away from this collection feeling we have walked through the woods and Provincetown wetlands with Mary. "For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple,” she explains. I am humbled by her gift and grateful for the way she opens the door to her temple for all of us. Enter and rejoice! (See also my longer review of Upstream on

I could never keep up with my reader self if it were not for Goodreads. I reviewed most of these books in full there, so please go to my Goodreads feed if you'd like to read more about any of the titles. Happy New Year ahead and may it be full of many good books!