Thursday, October 25, 2018

Good Luck With That by Kristan Higgins

Is there any American woman alive who does not have an issue or two about her weight? You get points if you still manage to feel good about yourself at least some of the time, right?
In GOOD LUCK WITH THAT by Kristan Higgins, we meet 3 women who meet as teens attending a weight-loss camp. As the years fly by, best friends Georgia and Marley share a duplex in a small city an hour north of Manhattan. The other gal, Emerson, has been living in Delaware. Tragically, she has become morbidly obese and in the second chapter we learn she has died.
Emerson leaves behind a slim envelope to be opened after her funeral. In it are her wishes for Georgia and Marley. Actually it is a list entitled “Things We’ll Do When We’re Skinny” that the three friends made years ago at camp. Among the poignant entries: eating dessert in public, going running in tight clothes and a sports bra, holding hands with a cute guy in public, etc.
At first, Georgia and Marley balk at the very idea of the list made so many years ago. But because Emerson never got to do most of the things skinny people take for granted, the two remaining grownup campers do their best to take on the challenge.
In alternating chapters, we grow familiar with the lives of personal chef Marley and lawyer turned-nursery school teacher Georgia. Each has different attitudes towards cultural norms about relative fatness. Occasionally we are also privy to a diary poor Emerson left behind in which she addresses her thoughts to “Other Emerson,” the thinner person she wished she could be.
A friend gave me this book to take along on a long flight home from our annual girlfriend reunion, and at first glance, I wasn’t sure it would be a novel I would enjoy. I prejudged it as somewhat fluffy.
But it was well worthy of my reading time. One rule of librarianship I learned long ago is that no one should have to apologize for their reading tastes! If my friend loved the book, I was going to give it a try.
Anyway, I full-out fell for this novel.
It brought up so many issues women have with their bodies. Also brimming with themes related to family, romance, work, and friendship, it quickly became a compulsive read. Even with all I already know about how women feel about body weight, the book was an eye opener, a sort of fictional Fat-Like-Me expose.
The Readers Guide is readymade for book clubs and weight loss groups. I can imagine some really lively and empathetic discussions taking place around this (ultimately) heartwarming book. Try it – you might like it!

(This review was first written for!)

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Lost in Connecticut and Other Digital Collages

My interest in digital collage waxes and wanes. Too much time on the computer is not good for my posture, plus my mouse finger gets numb. Most likely I will always be more of a paper collage person, but then who knows -- older age may eventually limit my ability to hoard paper for collage, ha-ha. Meanwhile, both are more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Both have stumbling blocks at times, especially when I can't find what I need to complete a project. And in digital collage, I keep running into the limits of my mostly self-taught knowledge. Only recently have I gotten more of a handle on layers in GIMP, the alternative-to-Photoshop free software I use. The artist friend who gave me a couple of lessons in GIMP showed me layers early on, but I guess I made other features more of a priority and let the layer concepts slide. Now finally I am catching on. As with many things, you learn by doing, and bit by bit, familiarity and skills increase.

This vintage postcard plus a Tarot card figure plus use of GIMP's "posterize" application made for a simple but satisfying image. Poor gal -- she is lost in Connecticut (but help is on the way -- see the tiny boat out in the water).

I took a photo of a window in the Houston Heights decades ago. I painted the image a bit and added the cat, one of ours who is no longer with us.

This one is based on some iPhone photos taken in our neighborhood.

I love Retro imagery and cut and pasted to my heart's content with some of that here. The cowboy is bringing  home flowers to his gal.

I remember taking a photo of neon theater lighting in Seattle when I was there for a library conference. It is really fun for me to repurpose my photos for collage! Stars, a ferris wheel and the steeplechase horses complete the image.

More iPhone imagery herein... I love taking photos of puddles, hard to do well while walking the dog, but that's where some of this imagery came from.

I have done about 200 digital collages so far. My initial intention was to do 500 as a rite of passage into digital collage. I started in June or July of 2017. So maybe by 2020, I'll consider myself more of a Pro. I study techniques on YouTube though there is a lot of pecking around to find top quality videos. Learning GIMP is a challenge, but I think from all I have read about aging, learning a new skill like this is good for my brain. May it be so!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Collage News

 I entitled this one "Knowledge Foretold" -- the substrata is a cigar box lid painted black. It will be in a Collage show at the Texas Art Asylum this weekend. Method: fusion collage.

Though I had another larger, newer piece I hoped would get into the 10th Annual Juried show at Archway Gallery, this one, "Mirage Foreordained," made the cut. In any case, it was of course an honor to receive this acceptance. This piece was completed in the fall of 2015, when I was obsessed with using hexagons in my collages.

Every year I enjoy entering the National Collage Society's Small Format show, a non-juried show for members. I called this post card "Ah, the Magic Act of Collage," kind of a silly title but I thought it might have appeal. Adding the snippets of cut paper was fun. This year it was held at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. I did not get to go to the show and had pretty much forgotten about it when a large envelope appeared in my mail with a cash award and lovely certificate. Now that was the best thing to happen in my art life this year!

Here is another post card I considered entering, called "Looking Up," but as things turned out, it was better to have chosen the one with hands cutting paper.

I have two large fusion collages which I worked on for weeks at a time this spring and summer, but can not post them here as I have sent those images into the annual juried show sponsored by the National Collage Society. Last year I was lucky to become a Signature member when I entered a tiny 4 x 4" collage (link goes to my blog post showing the piece) originally made for a Texas Art Asylum show. I never dreamed it would be the piece of artwork that would catapult me into a Signature membership.

That's all for now. It is Houston's hot, hot, hot season. Except for swimming, yard work and walking the dog, I am very much indoors. The bonus to that restriction is it gives me more time for making art. I am also striving to play, experiment and learn new techniques for mixed media, printmaking, collage and quilting. But still, it often seems no day is long enough. Onward through the heat and humidity!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

When I think of Anne Tyler, I think of Baltimore, Maryland. That’s where so many of her books are set, and it’s also the city Tyler calls home. Clock Dance, however, begins in Lark City, Pennsylvania, where we meet Willa Drake at the age of eleven. Later the story will segue to Baltimore, but for now it is 1967, and Willa’s mother, Alice, who has a history of extreme moods, has disappeared. Return to her family Alice does, but Willa feels hurt and confused by her mother’s nonchalance over the incident.
Quickly the novel moves ahead to 1977. Willa is a junior in college and brings home her boyfriend Derek over the Easter weekend. He wants Willa to marry him, but she’s not sure she wants to just yet. The visit does not go well due to Alice’s tempestuousness and next we see Willa fleeing her family vowing to marry Derek.
Suddenly we turn the page and it is 1997. Willa did marry Derek and has two nearly grown sons. She has tried to be a reliable, predictable mother, the exact opposite of Alice. But soon her family’s world is turned upside down when Derek dies in a car crash.
Hop, skip and a jump: this time the novel has come all the way forward to 2017. Now we find Willa living in a golf community outside of Tucson Arizona, married to a lawyer named Peter. One day when Willa is busy organizing her headbands (not having much else to do), she gets a confusing phone call that sends her to Baltimore. Her son Sean lives there. His ex-girlfriend, a single mother named Denise, has been shot in the leg and hospitalized. Who will watch her daughter, nine year-old Cheryl?
Somehow there has been a mix-up and the neighbor who has called Willa thinks she is reaching Cheryl’s grandmother. Willa feels compelled to answer the call and go help out. For me, this is where the novel really picked up.
Willa has actually been pining for grandchildren, and thrust into the role by these zany circumstances, she takes to the situation like a duck to water. Though her husband Peter accompanies her to Baltimore, he has no patience for the absurdity of their visit. Eventually he returns to Arizona. Denise can barely hobble as her leg is in a full cast, nor can she drive, and Willa feels much needed.
Round about now, I thought of Delia Grinstead, the woman who walked away from her family at the beach one day in Tyler’s novel, Ladder of Years  (1995). Willa gets so involved with Denise and Cheryl and their eccentric neighbors it is as if she has unwittingly run away from Arizona, perhaps for good.
Her impromptu life in funky Baltimore is much cozier and homier than the sterility of her existence with uptight Peter. Yet some of the situations Willa must deal with as a temporary grandmother test her mettle. Read Clock Dance to see how it all turns out. As a lifetime fan of Anne Tyler, I was glad to be back in her beloved Baltimore, hanging out with characters whose strengths and flaws were made so endearingly apparent.
This review also appears on LitLovers (a great site for book clubs!):

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Winter Sisters by Robin Olveira

Though this historical suspense novel is set in 1879, in many ways it seems relevant to today’s #Me Too movement. I was dumbfounded to learn that the age of consent for females in New York State was ten years old at that time. Also eye-opening was how poorly the medical establishment treated Dr. Mary Stipp—a female surgeon and one of the novel’s main characters—by taking away her hospital privileges. Her “crime”? She dared to treat prostitutes.

Set in Albany, New York, WINTER SISTERS (Viking, 2018) opens with a colossal blizzard that brings the city to its knees. Right before the snow begins to fall, Claire and Emma O’Donnell, ages seven and ten, are delivered to school by their loving parents as usual. But days later, it seems the two sisters have disappeared. And their parents have died in the blizzard.

Dr. Stipp and her husband, close family friends of the O’Donnells, begin their search for the orphaned girls. Checking hospitals, morgues, churches and orphanages to no avail, finally one of Dr. Stipp’s patients suggests she check the brothels. No, that’s not the exact answer, but the idea that many men, even those among Albany’s wealthiest, have an appetite for young girls becomes central to the story.

Sensational headlines in the local papers label the missing girls as the “Winter Sisters.” Robin Oliveira does a fine job of bringing Claire and Emily to life, as well as a bevy of Stipp family household members who care deeply for the girls. Weather continues to be a factor when melting snows bring flooding to Albany.

And that’s about all I want to say about the plot, for it would be too easy get into spoiler territory. Figuring out what exactly happened to the girls is a long process, taking readers into the lives of the city’s finest and worst citizens.

For some reason, books about missing children always grab my interest. The author’s flair for historical detail and local color deepened my involvement with that basic plot premise. I dare anyone to read Winter Sisters and not want to discuss women’s rights with others—both how far we’ve come and yet, how much further we still have to go.

The text of this review first appeared on

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Curious Words and Phrases: Botchagaloop, Farrago, the Primrose Path, etc.

One of the best things about the Internet Age, as far as I am concerned, is quick access to word definitions. I am much more apt to look up words than in the days of old when all we had were dictionaries. I do love bound dictionaries and still turn to them at times, especially if one is nearby, but both alone whilst reading or when talking to friends, there is nothing like instantaneous clarification via smart phone or tablet.

Here are a few words and phrases I've looked up lately:

Botchagaloop -- I heard this word when I was growing up on Long Island in the 1950s and 60s. It came to mind recently, don't ask me why, and wondered if my memory of it as kind of a put-down was correct. According to the Urban Dictionary, the basic meaning is: a dufus. Other sites commented on a Golden Girls connection: the Italian American character, Sophia, used it often in dialogue. There was also a Mr. Bacciagalupe character played by Joe Kirk on the Abbott and Costello show.

Whippersnapper -- Yes, I do know what this colorful word means, but when I heard someone use it lately, I wondered about its history. According to, during the 17th Century or so, it referred to "young layabouts hanging around snapping whips to pass the time." Makes sense, eh? There would have been plenty of whips in daily use back then.

Farrago -- meaning a confused mixture, a hodgepodge or medley.  On, I learned that the word stems from a mix of grains, as for animal feed. Far equals grain in Latin.

Primrose path -- (Growing up in Floral Park, NY, our telephone exchange was PR for Primrose!) I knew that a primrose path implies a life of pleasure and ease, but not its origins. Simple enough: informs us it came from Shakespeare's Hamlet (1602), wherein Ophelia is warning her brother "not to reject the difficult and arduous path of righteousness that leads to Heaven in favour of the easy path of sin."

Biophilia -- This is a great word that the world needs more of. Simply put, it means that human beings have a instinctive bond with nature. cites it as originating via the work of Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), where he described biophilia as "the passionnte love of life and all that is alive."

For Pete's sake -- We've all said this, I'm sure, but I wondered why Pete was singled out this way. As it turns out, the Grammarphobia blog, quoting the OED, indicates that the name "Pete" as used this way is a "euphemistic replacement" for God, and thus, "for Pete's sake" or "for the love of Pete" are mild oaths, and possibly, there may be a connection to St. Peter.

Ambivert -- Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Or perhaps you are an ambivert, meaning you have qualities of both an introvert and an extrovert. The term was coined by Kimball Young in his Source Book for Social Psychology (1927), as explained on I wonder what Carl Jung, the person who popularized the introvert/extrovert concept, would have to say about this middle ground terminology. I am an introvert, but am want to say that being a public librarian made me a more extroverted introvert (though not an ambivert).

OK, that's enough linguistic curiosity from me for today! But I would like to add that I enjoyed listening to author Elizabeth Gilbert's interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR On Being show last Sunday (first broadcast in 2016), where she stressed the importance of curiosity as related to creativity and life (instead of fear, which, of course, tends to block our vitality).

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." 
- Albert Einstein

(illustration - Collage, "Reset, Return, Shift" by Keddy Ann Outlaw, 2016)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

"Collage Squares"

I just returned from a North Carolina beach retreat of sorts. I mailed ahead a group art project, a simple collage exercise I call "Collage Squares." My three friends enjoyed the experience. Their smiles were great to see! I have done this type of collage with many groups, including friends, various women's circles, and one time, with a group of homeless teens. 

In a way, Collage Squares are similar to mosaics. I use a square scrapbook punch to harvest the squares. I have square punches in various sizes, but the one I use most often cuts out 1 1/4" squares. I find imagery in magazines, catalogs and old books. When I work with a group, the little squares are laid out on trays on box lids and passed around. The process is very intuitive. People instinctively choose ones they like. Then they are glued to pieces of cardstock. It is also fun to make them into cards. When I did this with the teens in 2014, I also made available inspirational quotes to go on the back of their postcard-sized creations. Then we laminated them so the art would survive at least a little while in their backpacks. 

Here are some I've made since I started making collages this way in 2012.

I think I was aiming for a sense of history here, repeating elements of curving shapes, birds and the red, brown and tan colors.

I went through a stage where I was making very sweet collages using Victorian era elements. Using nine squares to create a composition, as my friends did in NC with me, is the simplest way to get started, and resembles the nine patch squares in quilting.

Eventually, I went beyond just combining squares and started bringing in other shapes. My love of the sea is apparent here.

These rich colors (still) excite me and at the time I made this one, I was very into cutting up copyright-free fruit label art.

You can barely see the squares in this beachy collage, but certainly they helped get me started. I think probably I wanted to do something using the glamorous dame in the upper left hand corner, as well as map pieces.

And finally for "show and tell" here today, here is a postcard with a vintage feel I made last year. My favorite part of the composition hardly shows in this upload: the words "Strike Silent" on the clock face in the top row. I sent this to a friend in Maryland, and she commented that those words struck her almost as a koan. Lovely! 

See also my 2012 post on "Quiltesque Collage" and another collage post presenting some of my art seen in local shows during the summer of 2016. When I started getting into mono-printing, I also punched out squares of my own printed papers to create collages (some of those appear on my Saatchi online gallery page).

I shared this technique with a friend from Idaho when she visited last year. She could not wait to buy a punch and get started collaging. Every time I hear from here, she tells me she is enjoying punching out her own stash of squares. The Collage Squares method is a great way to try one's hand at collage and here is a warning: it can be very addictive. Try it and see!