Falling in Love Again… with Charcoal Drawing

You all know by now that I am a life-long artist. I discovered drawing in the second grade and have never looked back. It’s been a passion for me like no other.

But life gets in the way, you know. You get busy with “things” and big chunks of time pass by while you’re distracted. Then you look up and think, “I’d better get busy! Where has the time gone?”

I had a wake-up call along those lines last fall when I was fortunate enough to attend the Figurative Art Convention and Expo (FACE) in Miami, Florida at the Biltmore Hotel. I had done some freelance work for the sponsoring company, Streamline Publishing, and asked for a pass to attend that convention in lieu of payment. Boy, was that a good decision on my part!

The convention was the most glorious ART EVENT I’ve ever attended. The venue and the organization of the program were flawless. The quality of the presenters was so top notch it was OVER the top. For the 5 days I was there, it was total immersion in a world that usually I only dream of.

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Michelle Dunaway painting Streamline Publishing Founder, Eric Rhoads

Have you ever truly thought you “died and went to heaven?” Well, that was what FACE was like for me. Every day… from 6am to midnight… it was all art… all the time. Because not only did the lectures and demos run all day, there was studio time with live models every night. And there I was – with people just like me – for the sweet, sweet duration.

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The Biltmore itself is an iconic destination. Not only is the service and room lodging a high-end experience, the pool is one of the largest in the entire county. Before he was the original Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was a swimming instructor on site. And Esther Williams was filmed doing the backstroke here in her 1944 movie, “Bathing Beauty.”

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So just to relax after a long day of “art bootcamp” I would ditch out of the studio time and be down at the pool about 9pm to take a leisurely swim in the night air. It was absolutely glorious. At that time of night the pool was pretty much deserted and I could silently paddle around the circumference of that enormous body of water and feel every care just literally fade away from my body. It is one of the most wonderful sensations in the world.

But come the next morning it was up with the crack of dawn and down to have the provided buffet breakfast. The couple hundred people there would be gathering in small groups to chat and check their schedules for the day. And that was because the event organizers provided more than one choice for most time slots. Talk about a wealth of available classes! How fun to choose your own direction and have such a major event be tailored just for you! This kind of thing is the result of very careful planning by the staff of Streamline Publishing and a genuine concern for the participants who make special financial and travel arrangements to be there. And to me, in this day of generally deplorable customer service everywhere, I find that sort of attention to detail to be extraordinary. These people actually CATER to you to make sure you not only get your money’s worth, but have a very special experience.

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OK. So I sound like I am selling this event – and actually I am. But let me tell you… they did not ask me to do this… and they don’t KNOW I am doing this. I was just that impressed and wish I could go again. This year’s event is from November 10-13, 2019 in Williamsburg VA.  I hope all my artist friends will check it out at FACE 2019.

If you register by the end of July you can get a spot for just under $1K. Sadly, that is not in my retirement budget and then you have travel and hotel and food expenses on top of that. PLUS the dealer expo where you can buy wholesale art products – paints, brushes, pencils, charcoal, canvas, etc. Believe me, the deals at that expo are outstanding and I came home with a boatload of products last year. Such fun!

But the REAL BOTTOM LINE is this…

You learn more at an event like this than you do working by yourself for a FULL year or two.

 

Seeing what current working artists are doing… being able to talk to them and observe them as they work… and meeting people from literally all over the world who are there to learn and observe as well…  It is an incredible thing. It is so exciting and mind-expanding that it’s like getting infused with ROCKET FUEL to take off on your own when you get home. And what I came home with was a renewed interest in improving my drawing and using charcoal as a medium. I hadn’t done that in decades.

Now I wanted to draw anything and everything but I have a particular love of portrait work, which is a skill that demands a lot of discipline. No one wants a portrait that doesn’t look like the person. And in fact, the portrait must look BETTER than a photograph because you are trying to capture something about the “life” of the person, not just an image or a likeness.

This means you not only have to be an artist, but a bit of a detective. What gestures make that person who they are? What mannerisms can you work into the art that will speak to those who know them and make them delight in the portrayal? It is NOT just drawing a picture – it is capturing a moment in time. It is something a static photo can never do.

So I came home totally hungover with high-level drawing and painting instruction and raring to go. I got busy on a few portraits right away.

This one is Anya. She was my granddaughter’s best friend. She passed away unexpectedly at age 16 to the devastation of her family and friends. This portrait was done as a gift for her mother despite the tragic situation. For me, to have my drawing skills sharpened up from the FACE convention, I was able to make a portrait that will live on for someone who desperately needed that very thing.

Anya 12.4.18

 

This one is also Anya. Can you not see the absolute sweetness in her face?

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And here’s another of my grand daughter’s friend, Alex.

Alex Dec 2018

 

Then, my own dear little grand daughter Josey. She has a most special place in my heart.

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Being able to do portraits is a discipline like no other. They mean so much to the folks you do them for. I’ve been doing them for decades – both drawn and painted – and I can’t tell you how many people have told me that if their house was burning down, that’s the one thing they would grab on the way out. It really is that special.

This is one of the Caudill Boys, commissioned by my special friend, Corrina Caudill. She had this awesome picture that I was able to use and it was a pose that was pure delight for the family. Corrina was able to make photographic copies to frame for her mother-in-law to spread the joy.

Caudill boys sun 50%

Now tell me… how can you look at these wholesome boys and not smile? THAT, my friends, is a moment captured in time. A moment preserved that will remind everyone who they were as they grow up and move on in their lives. Someday, one of those boys will meet his future spouse and they will see that drawing and exclaim, “how cute you were!” Not just because it looks like them – but because it tells a story of their childhood. How special is that?

So yes, I absolutely fell in love with charcoal drawing again. It is so smudgy and expressive – I love working with the “vines” and pencils and blenders that turn a mark on the paper into the vision of someone you love so much. It’s not just artwork – it’s magical imagery at its best.

This coming week I plan to do a few more charcoal portraits I have orders for. I know they will make my friends very happy – but I have bartered them for goods and services in return. I love doing that, but it isn’t helping me build up some cash to be able to go to events like the FACE convention this fall. I think I need to re-assess my methods to include some actual money changing hands. Either that or be like a Renaissance artist who had a patron who sponsored them for things like that in return for drawings and paintings. That would be an awesome arrangement!

Meanwhile, I HAVE decided to become an Amazon Associate to recommend products I use and provide a link to them for people who are interested. This should not deter anyone from reading my blog. It is simply to make a small commission if someone goes through one of my links to purchase an item off Amazon. Such items are exactly the same price as always so it doesn’t cost any extra at all. Amazon just gives the person providing the link – in this case, me – a little bonus for driving the traffic their way. And it isn’t very much. I checked and say you get 4% on a $20 item – that’s a big whopping 80 cents or so. Now I’m sure that adds up, but my blog does not have a gazillion readers – not even a hundred readers. But I will work on that and see where it goes.

If you enjoy my blog, please sign up to follow and you will get a notice when I publish a new post. It makes me happy to keep in touch with you and I hope you will read and comment when you have time.

Thanks so much, my friends.

Starr

 

Note: Products used for Charcoal Drawing:

This basic set of charcoal pencils by General’s is all you need to get started and see if you like the medium. Don’t worry about getting more pencils or a sharpener – in a later post I will tell the REAL way to sharpen a pencil and you will be amazed!

 

 

“Vine” Charcoal is very traditional and quite a lot of fun…


Then you will need a blender of sorts… here’s a beginner option. I promise I will go into more detail of using these soon. But honestly, you can pick up a smaller pack at Hobby Lobby and use your40% coupon. OR you can use a tissue or your finger. Just don’t spend too much money when trying these things out.

And YES you will need an ERASER. Sometimes it is the best way to get back the white of the paper while you still can. This little basic beauty will do the trick…

Or spend just a couple bucks more and get this…

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I have yet to figure out how to post my affiliation with Amazon except that it says I have to say, “As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.”

So there… I  said it. I will figure that out before I post product links again. And please, if you are one of my friends who doesn’t give a fig about such things, just come here and read and have a good time. You know I will try these crazy things and give them up if they don’t work out.

Good day all!

Starr

Glass Art and Mosaic Garden

Boy, I sure haven’t been here to post for a very long time. Years, maybe? I guess I ran out of steam for blogging – I tend to be fickle about my “projects” – but I’ve been doing some arty garden stuff lately and wanted to add it to my Pinterest page. But without a link to this blog, where I can explain what I did, no one can follow up on the pics I put on Pinterest. So this just might get me blogging a bit again.

To start with, this is the Glass Art and Mosaic Garden that was fairly finished up yesterday and installed on the side of my house.

Glass Art and Mosaic Garden

This project started as a result of two things… (one) I LOVE seeing all the images on Pinterest of interesting garden art… and (two) I never keep up with watering my flower pots once mid-to-late summer starts, so I need a low-maintenance garden. I’m lazy. What can I say?

And I’m a sucker for starting large projects I don’t have room for in my now-small apartment and just wrecking the place all-to-craziness. Before you know it I’m tip-toeing through a path to the bed and sleeping surrounded by glassware, pvc pipe and tile adhesive.

But yesterday I got all of this moved outside and my daughter, Ellyn, helped spread pea gravel and river rock as needed. I just can’t lift those bags anymore.

Here are some more photos:

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I tell you what…

It is really FUN to collect the stuff for a project like this. Myself – I’m not a big “shopper” for clothes or electronics or entertainment. But when it comes to dishes and glassware and kitchen items… watch out. Now I don’t mean expensive stuff. That’s just not in the budget. BUT!

There is an incredible Thrift Store not a half mile from me and it is the most dangerous place I know. Ask my kids. They want me fitted with blinders just to drive past it.

Can I help it if my treacherous little heart goes pitter patter at the sight of a cut glass relish dish? For 99 CENTS!!! What’s a girl to do? Let just anyone walk off with it? No-siree – it will go home with me and have visions of being featured at a magazine-worthy dinner party in the garden with friends who swoon over my good taste. (OK… so it COULD happen, right?) Straight out of the pages of Country Living, I tell you.

Now for a glass art project – shopping for glass was a treat. But I DID limit myself… 99 cents or less for most pieces. Should I find an item that was marked an outrageous $3.99 – back to the shelf it went! There’s no fooling me, you know!

Except for this little guy. This rabbit was very fine, name-brand, handpainted and was a whoprabbitping 5 bucks. However, I had a 50% off coupon… hahaha… you really can’t fool me on these things.

But I’m getting sidetracked here. Back to the folks who might link here from Pinterest…

Gathering the glass is fun expedition time. All the possibilities swirl through your head and you don’t know how any of it will really end up. And even when you get home and lay out all your goodies, the arrangements will change every time you leave the room and come back. Or maybe that was just me. But it’s all part of the process. Which is this…

GE SiliconeFirst off, you have to stick all this stuff together to make the “totems” or whatever they are called. I have made quite a few now and I will say that my favorite adhesive is GE Clear Silicone 2+ in this tube that fits in a caulking gun. It is under $5 at Lowe’s and for my entire batch of creations I used about a tube and a half.

This silicone is weatherproof and here in Ohio, I have left previous glass sculptures out year-round and they show no extra wear from winter weather. In my area we can get to about -20 degrees F and the silicone holds up fine. It’s a bit flexible, so will contract and expand as needed.

To bond glass to glass or glass to ceramic, make sure both items are really clean at the contact point. Wipe both pieces off with rubbing alcohol to remove any oil that might have gotten on them from your fingers. And be sure to get it right the first time. Silicone is a great sealant, but you can’t take it apart and start over because silicone doesn’t stick to itself. Once it’s on there, it’s on there. You’ll never be able to scrape it all back off for a do-over.

Now I DID try that, of course, because I changed my mind mid-stream. And of course, it didn’t work. So I’m waiting for delivery today of a glue called Devcom Home Silicone Sealant that supposedly sticks silicone to silicone. I could only find it on Amazon. I’ll have to update you if it does the trick.

IMG_20190711_152258941_HDRNote: My mistake was this… when you are building totems you have to build from larger at the bottom to smaller at the top. You can’t have two pieces with a small circumference “join” below the halfway point of the piece – it will buckle and not hold the weight above it. Now if it isn’t a LARGE piece, you can reinforce the join by putting a plate between the two smaller pieces like the blue plate in this blue and yellow piece. Still, this one is pretty uniform in width all the way up. If I had tried to put something large on top, it wouldn’t hold.

IMG_20190712_092236655Another note: This blue and yellow bird piece is sitting in the hole of a cinderblock. The cinderblock is stacked on another cinderblock below it. How is it holding there? Two things… The stacked cinderblocks are filled with pea gravel to keep them in position on the ground. Then there is another ceramic jar you can’t see right IMG_20190712_092318900below the flowered plate. It was filled with some pea gravel for weight before being siliconed to the bottom of the plate. The cinderblock hole is filled with pea gravel up to the point where that jar can sit without pulling down on the piece above it. It is quite heavy and sturdy there and shouldn’t move even in a storm.

Likewise, other pieces had a “jar” of some sort on the bottom that got buried and surrounded with pea gravel and river rock to hold it in place.

IMG_20190711_172324550IMG_20190712_092301831Then, for the tall, skinny ones, rebar was put into the cinderblock hole, pounded into the ground and pea gravel poured in around it to hold it in place. Then all you had to do was slide the piece onto the rebar.

tile adhesiveThere ARE a couple of mosaic pieces as well. I bought some 2′ sections of PVC pipe and glued both glass and ceramic tile to them using Mapei Type 1 Ceramic Tile Mastic from Lowe’s. A quart is about $7 and it was plenty. After the mastic was set, I grouted the pieces with Sanded Grout – the “sanded” is supposed to be stronger for outside use.

sanded groutAll you do to mix the grout is add water and stir until it is like thick oatmeal. I used a plastic spoon and disposable container and added black craft paint to darken it. Glop the wet grout all over the tiles and push it in between each tile to get it solidly in all the spaces. I tried using a small putty knife for this but found it better to just use my finger to smooth it all out. Wearing latex glove will protect your skin. Scrape off any huge excess of grout to make the cleanup easier.

Then you wait about 20 minutes and start rinsing it off with a damp sponge to expose the tile. It’s helpful to have a bucket with some water in it to squeeze out the sponge fairly often. Be sure to get as much grout as you can off the tiles – it IS cement. Later you can go back with a cloth and buff any haze off the tiles.

I did attempt to use grout sealer to finish it all off but I didn’t like it. I just got out an old can of trusty polyurethane and gave everything a good coat of that.

triple thickIMG_20190711_172703530For pieces like the bird figurines and the frog and lizard, I just gave them a coat of Triple Thick to try to weatherize them a bit. Fast and easy fix for that. Triple Thick is about $7 at Hobby Lobby but you can use your 40% off coupon, of course.

I did some decorative painting on some of the pieces with Deco Art Americana Gloss Enamels. I know you can heat set that paint in the oven but I didn’t. I just gave it a coat of poly or Triple Thick and will hope for the best.

Note: I did all this by the seat of my pants. I would read instructions from others until I lost patience and then just dive in and do something. If you would like to leave suggestions in the comments below, feel free. But keep it positive. I don’t need criticized for doing things “wrong” – this isn’t the Sistine Chapel here. It’s just my little garden that I will enjoy no matter what. I hope you enjoy it, too.

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Those little bits of blue glass on the globe were glued down with E6000. It runs about $4 at Hobby Lobby and is a good, universal glue.

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Don’t you just have to have a pink flamingo or two?

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And a few Frogs and Lizards?

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Froggy has a crown made of two water bottle caps glued together, beads added and painted gold.

So now the Glass Art and Mosaic Garden is in and I sat outside last night with a glass of wine and admired my handiwork. It’s a no-water garden for sure. And by the way – the bit of greenery you see in the big blue pot is fake. You really can’t tell from any distance. It is plastic, not silk, and was purchased during a sale at Joann Fabric.

You die-hard crafters know all the shops and coupons I refer to here, so go make your own water-free garden now. It’s rain-proof, no-maintenance and winter-friendly, so what are you waiting for?

Check out my Pinterest page for lots of ideas. And thank you, Pinterest community, for sharing your ideas and expertise with me.

 

 

 

Hot Under the Collar Today – and Can’t Keep My Mouth Shut!

OK, my friends, this is NOT a good thing because one of two things will happen…

I will say TOO MUCH and dig myself in deeper than I mean to…

OR…

I will wish I would have kept my mouth shut.

Typically, it is the latter. Why? Because the issue that started this debate was never important enough to reply to in the first place.

STILL!!! I’m a bit of a firecracker sometimes and this is one of those days!

So… this post is aimed at my writing colleagues, many of whom will have seen the “offensive” (to me) post on FaceBook. (I would post a link but don’t want to stir the pot overmuch or burn any bridges…)

Now I am an avid follower and fan of this long-time professional writer, and always will be. BUT – he has blown me off more than once online for disagreeing with him and I am totally flummoxed by that. Why in the world would someone with such a golden reputation make flip comments online – and then totally dismiss any response made to them? Are they so convinced of their guru status that they cannot be fallible? I really don’t know, but I know I don’t appreciate making a reasonable response to someone and them coming back and telling me, “I didn’t mean it like that. You need to quit over-blowing things and move on.”

What????

So why did you post such a nonsense statement that is up for interpretation? So that we, your faithful hoardes, would fall in line and agree? I think not.

This particular disagreement arose due to the writer posting on Face Book and saying that people who respond to his “free offers” of writing “how-to’s” are basically moochers taking something for free that they don’t deserve.

I did not agree.

Free black & whiteProfessionals will often offer free “premiums” of some sort to capture your personal information. You sign up with your email or address and phone number and they send you something “free” in return. It could be an article on how to brush your dog’s teeth and extend his life – or a raffle ticket for a chance to win a massaging recliner chair – or maybe an entry into a drawing for two free burial plots worth thousands of dollars!

The point is, you know you’re giving out info for a chance at something free – but you also know you will go on someone’s marketing list for the next two years. Or worse, get a phone call or a knock at the door from that cemetery sales guy. Probably right at suppertime.

Now here’s what some people do… they order the product in question, open it up and see that it’s as phony as they feared, and then return the whole shebang for a refund. Naturally they get to keep whatever “free gift” was promised because that was the deal. Free Try It Now

The writer in question calls such people “premium bandits.” And THAT is burning my biscuits as well.

Years ago, I was a sucker for any weight loss promo that came in the mail. And boy did I get them! The ones from Prevention magazine were the best… an entire little book dedicated to how you could lose weight, restore your figure and your youth, be able to run circles around people 10 years younger than you, avoid deadly diseases of aging, make your husband fall madly in love with you again, and maybe even keep cancer at bay by eating chocolate brownies!

Of course I am exaggerating… but surely you have been seduced by such advertisements. Especially if they look like real magazines! They even call them “magalogs” or “bookalogs” because they are done in the same format. And boy did they get my attention.

So here’s what I would do…

Carefully read the “guarantee” to make sure I could get the product for a small down-payment – or even free – and hang onto that full-length magazine advertisement. The minute the new miracle book arrived, I was ready.

Tickle MagalogThe ad would say… “Eat this every day at 2pm and lose 5 pounds of water weight by bedtime! (see page 247)” I would turn immediately to page 247 to find out that you only had to consume 14 bushels of freshly steamed asparagus (with no salt or oil on it) and you would go to bed 5 pounds lighter. And it might really be true after you got done barfing and peeing green for several hours – but hey, 5 pounds is 5 pounds, right?

After looking up and trying out a few dozen of these amazing suggestions, I was ready to return the product for a refund. But not without keeping my 12 free reports on how to become sexier and more youthful with every year that passes! All while scrubbing the raw, mashed banana off my face that had given me an allergic reaction I wasn’t expecting. (It was supposed to ‘turn back the clock.’) How would I have known? I’d always been able to EAT bananas – I just never tried rubbing one all over my face before. Let’s just say I learned my lesson about fresh fruit “scrubs” and what they might do…

So was I a “premium bandit” for complying with the “IRON CLAD GUARANTEE” that was mentioned numerous times in the sales advertisement? I think not!

And guess what….

In later years I actually became a copywriter who WROTE some of this stuff. I will say that I never tried to deceive people. I was diligent about my research and citing real evidence that products COULD do what they say they do. But the companies ALWAYS offered guarantees. That info was given to me to include in the sales material and it was repeated over and over to assure the potential customer that they were never taking a risk by ordering the product.

Free guarantee

So to have major writers that I learned from call customers “moochers” and “premium bandits” has me bent a bit out of shape today. I don’t like it. I don’t view customers like that. Rather, I view them as people looking for a solution to a problem, willing to buy a product, and being enticed by whatever premiums the company offers. If they end up making a return it is of no matter to me. I just cared that they were treated fairly and had a choice per the sales offer.

Truth is, most people are too lazy to return a product or stop the auto-shipments and companies know that. They use it to their full advantage. And people like me – and other professional sales writers – make money every time they do that. So why is one of my favorite gurus bashing customers online? And then bashing me for challenging him?

Don’t really know.

And now that I’ve blown off about it, I don’t even really care.

I only took on this battle in an effort to be truthful and honest. Which usually gets me in trouble. That’s what happens when you can’t keep your mouth shut…

Another Year of Tomatoes, Come and Gone

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I absolutely LOVE tomatoes.

Which is why I say, “Viva la bella Pomodoro!” (Long live the beautiful tomato!)

20110601-bloody-mary=6Tomatoes, for me, are a fruit from heaven. They are the key ingredient in many of my favorite foods… pizza, lasagna, sloppy joes, chili, and yes, Bloody Marys! Give me a tomato and I will slice it thin, sprinkle it with salt and eat it right off the plate.

Give me a GLUT of tomatoes and I’ll can them for sauce and juice for the coming winter. I’ve written about it here and here.

Sadly, this year’s tomato harvest is over. A couple weeks ago, my daughter and two of her kids came up and helped me winterize my yard. That included pulling up the remaining tomato plants and discarding them. But my grand daughter Josey helped me pick the last of the green tomatoes to bring inside and see if they would ripen. And of course, many of them did! Look at this…

tomatoes 2015 end season

It was actually a funny tomato year for me. Last year I had planted some cherry tomatoes, which did quite well, and this year they re-seeded themselves. I didn’t plant a one but they were up and running by warm weather.

Who am I to argue with a volunteer tomato plant? The little cherry ‘maters went nuts!

Which meant I had to find some recipes to use them.

The first one I tried was a winner…

Mario Batali’s Spaghetti al Pomodoro.

This recipe is now on my favorite’s list because it was quick… easy… fresh… and divinely delicious! Check it out here.

But one can’t live on spaghetti alone…

So I searched for a sauce made of cherry tomatoes… and I found several.

Naturally, since one of my main hobbies is PIZZA – meaning I have spent YEARS perfecting various pizza recipes – it was only right that I used a sauce of cherry tomatoes to make a pizza.

Not only that… but it had to be a THIN CRUST pizza.

Back many years ago – when I didn’t know any better – I loved a thick, bread-y pizza. I was all about the bread. And the cheese. Gobs and gobs of cheese.

However, over time, I went through a transition. I had some stomach problems. I had some surgeries. As a result, my tastes changed. I could no longer tolerate large amounts of wheat products like bread. They blew me up like a balloon and made me miserable. But it was a good thing. I broke my dependence on carbs and sugar and began to really taste food for the first time. It was a revelation.

Now I’m all about real food. Like tomatoes. A fruit from Heaven, as I already said.

Plus… I spent some time in Italy several years ago. The land of pasta, pizza and wine. For me – the Mother Land. The place where I SHOULD have been born. The place that feels like home to me on this planet.

And guess what…

The pizza in Italy is THIN. Like a cracker. With a moderate amount of toppings and a minimal amount of cheese. This is no Gargantuan Pizza Hut overdose! No, no, no, no!

An Italian pizza is ordered – ONE per person! – and devoured in its entirety by normal, every-day, thin Italiano men and women. I was amazed to witness this with my own eyes but it is true!

So I have since been on a quest to make a perfect thin-crust pizza at home. I’m not to perfection yet, but I have a lot of good pizza recipes in my repertoire.

I just tried this one the other day…

Thin Crust Pizza Dough Recipe

basil-in-a-tube-1I used sauce made from my excess cherry tomatoes out of the garden. It was super-easy… just wash the cherry tomatoes and slice them in half. Heat some olive oil in a shallow pan, then simmer some onion until it is soft. Add some minced garlic and some chili (dried or fresh – whatever you have) and stir so it doesn’t burn. Dump in the tomatoes and let them cook down. Continue to stir and add salt and pepper to taste. Then add some basil. If you have fresh, chop it up and drop it in. If you don’t have fresh, use the stuff in a tube you can get at the grocery. I’ve read mixed reviews of this stuff, but I like it because it keeps a long time and adds the basil flavor you need.

Since I don’t take the skins off these small tomatoes, I DO get out my potato masher and help this mixture along. Some say you don’t have to do this, but it makes me feel good to stand and mash away. What can I say?

thin crust pizza 1This pizza was delicious, of course.

The crust was very thin although I had to make the edges thicker than I wanted with the excess dough. I also baked this one on a particular pan. In my quest for the perfect pizza, I have tried a lot of things.

thin crust pizza 2One of them is this heavy-duty pan with holes in the bottom. When you put this in the oven at high heat, it allows the crust to crisp up beautifully. In fact, in this case, the areas where the holes were turned black on the bottom. That is a very good thing as the “char” of cooking a pizza quickly at high heat is a grand thing!

OK….

I’ve gone all off-topic about my love of tomatoes here.

I’ve given you recipes for Spaghetti al Pomodoro and a delicious thin-crust pizza. Try them if you like. I guarantee they are in my personal cookbook to make again.

I also must tell you that tomatoes originated in the South American Andes. They aren’t even Italian! They were first used in food prep in Mexico and spread to the rest of the world after the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Even in Italy they were originally only grown in flower gardens because they were considered an ornamental beauty. (Until someone took a bite!)

Now… here’s the largest tomato plant in the WORLD!

This massive “tomato tree” growing inside the Walt Disney World Resort’s experimental greenhouses in Lake Buena Vista in Florida, USA is regarded as the “World’s largest single tomato plant”. It is recognized as a Guinness World Record Holder, with a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes and a total weight of 522 k. The vine grows golf ball-sized tomatoes which are served at Walt Disney World restaurants.

largest tomato plant

Meanwhile, back at my homefront…

Here are a couple recent paintings of tomatoes from my personal collection.

tomato ptg 1

tomato ptg w garlic and onion

I do think tomatoes will always be part of my still life painting subjects. Besides being tasty they are beautiful!

Amari I miei pomodori! (love my tomatoes!)

Time Magazine is Right… the Kardashian Kurse is Alive and Well!

This past week Time Magazine published a list of the 25 Most Influential Teens. I don’t follow Time Magazine and was unaware of the list until I saw this photo on Facebook…

Jenner & Malala 18

These are two girls who recently celebrated their 18th birthdays. And they couldn’t be more different.

On the left is Malala Yousafzai and on the right is Kylie Jenner. Here is why they made the list…

Malala

Secretly wrote a blog for the BBC as a young teen talking about her life in Pakistan under the Taliban and advocating education for girls. As a result, the Taliban tried to assassinate her. Malala survived a gunshot to the head in 2012 and went on to speak at the UN on her 16th birthday. She humbly rejected having the day named after her by saying, “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”

At age 17, Malala was the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Upon turning 18 she opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon. She gave a few hundred girls a chance to get a formal education despite being displaced from their homes due to violence. She gave them a safe place to learn at a time when they could not even find a safe place to live.

Malala school

Kylie

Along with her sister, Kendall, these Jenner girls were credited with “hosting red-carpet events, releasing clothing and nail-polish lines and modeling for famous designers.” Kylie is praised as an entrepreneur for launching her line of hair extensions. (I wonder who helped her with that???)

To celebrate turning 18, Kylie changed her face with plastic surgery and lip injections. Her birthday party was attended by A-list celebrities and was covered on all social media outlets and every gossip magazine and site. She was gifted with a $320,000 Ferrari from her boyfriend and was paid $200,000 just to show up to the venue.

kylie-birthday-9-435Tyga-Kylie-Jenner-Birthday-Ferrari-412x560

Ahem…

Where do I start???

Let me tell you, I’ve been stewing on this for almost a week. And not for the reasons you might think.

First, I am not a political person. It’s not that I don’t care – I actually care very deeply. But years ago I made a decision that has affected how I view these things that I cannot control. I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and decided to let God handle this. You may say that’s a cop-out, but it is not. It is an active decision to acknowledge there is only one permanent answer to the greed and corruption this world exerts on girls like Malala and Kylie and our beloved teens in our very own families. I’m not going to preach to you here, but I will excuse myself from that discussion on grounds that I have dealt with it. And that is not up for debate.

However, that photo of the two 18 year olds has stuck with me all week because it goes so much deeper. Let’s look at it again…

Jenner & Malala 18

My first reaction was… “Shame on Time Magazine for even beginning to compare these two girls or their lifestyles! How is that in any way fair or relevant?”

But like I said, I’ve been stewing. And I think Time has got it right.

First of all, Time is a weekly NEWS magazine and both these girls exemplify teen news. In that respect, Time is reporting what goes on in the world. And the list was organized by age, not importance, so the order was rather determined by that.

But when I looked at the photo above I was totally struck by the difference.

Malala has an earnest, honest, straightforward gaze. She is sure of herself and what she is doing. She feels passionately about education for girls in war-torn, female-oppressed situations. She didn’t ask to be shot, but that incident brought her to the forefront of issues she feels strongly about. She has stepped up and used her situation to meet with world leaders and bring attention to a subject many of us never have to face. Her courage and persistence are noble and admirable.

Kylie has not grown up in a third world country but she might as well have. I had the odd thought that her life in a second or third generation of opulent wealth is every bit as crippling. Just like the 2nd and 3rd generation of welfare recipients who have no idea how to make an honest living due to handouts that have enabled them to have no marketable skills, Kylie has also been deprived of a normal life. Her only marketable skill is having cosmetic procedures to make her the height of current fashion. And this is not something she achieves on her own. It takes a brilliant marketing TEAM and an unfathomable amount of money (none of which she could afford or assemble by herself) to accomplish.

Bottom line? She isn’t good enough or pretty enough on her own – she needs expensive enhancements to be something she wasn’t and then sell herself for all she (and her family) is worth. Imagine how that must make her feel!

She is a slave to appearing as though her lips got stuck in a pool drain and wearing thousands of dollars worth of clothes and shoes that make her look like a sex object even though she is still a little girl. The vapid pose and vacuous look in the photo rob her of any appearance of intelligence she might really have.

Both of these girls are victims of their lifestyle and where they were born. And sadly, they DO influence millions of teens in the rest of the world.

I admire Malala. But she is not a real-life example for a western teenage girl. She is one in a million who is doing wonderful things, but no normal teen can aspire to Malala’s special circumstances, no matter how credible and noble.

I do NOT admire Kylie even though she encourages her “fans” to “be themselves.” How? By buying a piece of the Kardashian/Jenner empire? Nail polish? Hair extensions? Designer shoes? Cosmetic surgery if possible?

Kylie herself acknowledges that she deserves the Time Magazine “honor” when she says… “I know how influential I am over my fans and followers. I feel like everything I do, my hair color, my makeup, I always start these huge trends, and I don’t even realize what I’m capable of,” she shared. “I didn’t care what people had to say; I didn’t even read any of that stuff. People might have been upset because we were next to, like, young girls who started schools and crazy things. But we’re just different people! We’re influential in different ways, and that’s okay.”

Whoa! She compares “young girls who started schools” to “crazy things” ???? I may be giving her too much credit about possibly having a brain in her head.

Here’s Kylie before and after surgery…

Kylie before and after

I have a teenage grand daughter who sees these things. Is she supposed to think that by cloning herself into a plastic zombie like Kylie that the world of rich boyfriends who buy her a luxury sports car will open to her? What a crock! But that is what Kylie is selling. Or what her pimps are selling for her…

Kylie after

Are normal teens supposed to have legions of “fans” as though they are worthy of worship??

What a horrendous thought!

I am reminded of the bible example of when an angel appeared to the apostle John to give him the vision that inspired the book of Revelation. Rev 22: 8, 9 says… “Well I, John, was the one hearing and seeing these things. When I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing me these things. But he tells me: “Be careful! Do not do that! I am only a fellow slave of you and of your brothers the prophets and of those observing the words of this scroll. Worship God.”

If even a true angel of God says “don’t worship me! Only God deserves that honor!” then who are these worldly celebrities today spouting off about their “fans?” And teenage ones at that!

And then there’s the KKK – the Kim Kardashian Kurse…

This woman has made a career of taking “selfies.” She spent 9 years photographing herself in all states of dress and undress and then published it as a book called “Selfish.” Appropriate title, I guess, for someone so arrogant and self-absorbed that she describes her collection of self-portraits as a “candid tribute to my fans.” That’s her talent? Glorifying herself as a shallow sex object? How pathetic. All the money in the world can’t buy or restore her dignity or self-esteem. She’s already sold it to the highest bidder for everyone to see.

Here’s the cover of the book, Selfish that my grand daughters will have to see and be distorted by…

Selfish_cover_3288883b

In contrast, here’s the cover of Teen Magazine from May 1963 back when I was looking for beauty and glamour…

Teen 1963

We’ve come a long way since then, doncha think?

Who knows how long this travesty will continue.

Here’s an idea… why don’t Kendall and Kylie Jenner hook up with Malala and get her a makeover? She is plenty beautiful as is, but the world loves glamour (and makeovers) – so give Malala a boost that will benefit her fund-raising efforts. Then finance another school for her and go pose at the grand opening – if you dare… At least some good would come of the Jenner-o-cide conspicuous consumption for someone in the world.

I’m being facetious, of course. It doesn’t seem that a Jenner or Kardashian has ever done anything for anyone other than themselves or a tax write-off…

Meanwhile, our own beautiful young, teen girls deserve better. Even though the Kardashians – and the Taliban – are both brutal parts of real life.

I hope we can protect our young ones from these gross distortions. Yes, I am on social media. This blog is social media. I reach out to others on social media. But I hope it is for greater good than the latest war story or the latest nail polish.

We need to educate our young girls about their real value and worth. It is not based on how they look or what they weigh. It is all about who they are… what they care about… how they embrace the world on real terms and with friends and family.

Young girls need to know that pictures of the Kardashian/Jenner females are EXPLOITATION for money and profit. They are not contributing to society in any way by exposing their bodies and their expensive, distorted lips in photos that make them look like insipid sex objects instead of real, intelligent people.

Our young girls need a sounding board after this kind of exposure. They need to work this out by talking about it without fear of being judged. This kind of media exploitation puts them in a corner with nowhere to go. How can they ask the embarrassing but crucial questions they have after seeing such things? They need parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents to listen to them.

Will it make your hair stand on end to hear what they might say? Possibly. But we can handle it. We can let them know we understand. We can let them know they are making their way through a maze we might never have had to face to this extent. We can assure them they are loved and beautiful beyond compare to us. We can be a safe haven from this vulgar trend that wants to mislead our children and feed them lies instead of truth.

Our young ones do not have to save the world.

Nor do they need to sell themselves to it.

Let’s help them find the balance they deserve.

Our teens do not need to win a Nobel Peace Prize or start a clothing or jewelry line or take 1000 selfies to prove their worthiness. They just need to be normal kids who are special in our own families. But as special as they are, they must respect others and be responsible citizens who acknowledge they are not more privileged than anyone else out there.

Forget celebrity.

Embrace family.

Worship only God.

More Family Treasure

me and Josey

Me and my oldest grand daughter Josey – the original Princess!

The closest thing to my heart is family. And the older I get, the more that is true.

This wasn’t something I was expecting originally. When I was young and even a teenager, my goals were about education and being an artist. I didn’t particularly like kids although I did a lot of babysitting – but that was for money. Fifty cents an hour was pretty productive time spent for me in 1966!

Oh how I wanted to go to college! I would study art, move to France and paint masterpieces. I dreamed of it for years.

But that didn’t happen. While my friends all went off to various universities, I worked, lived at home and went to the local branch of OU. I took whatever classes I could afford but wasn’t very happy about it. Art education in those days was all about abstract defiance, not classical training in drawing and composition. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The schools that taught what I wanted to know were totally out of my reach.

By my junior year at OU I was commuting to the main campus in Athens, Ohio but also dating a fun guy who had no interest in college. I was head over heels for him and we got married. Soon I had to choose between him and school. He won, hands down.

Even though I had in the back of my mind that I would figure out a way to finish my degree, I enjoyed being married and having a great circle of friends to do things with all the time. None of those friends were college-minded, so soon the babies started coming along. I caught the “baby fever.”

By the time I was married a year I was three months pregnant. I was excited and not deterred a bit. I had known other classmates who had graduated with a baby in tow… I knew I could do it, too. Besides, I only had just over a year of school left. How hard could that be after what I had already done?

Enter… LIFE.

I remember, at my college orientation in the fall of 1969, filling out the paperwork declaring what I wanted to study and the projected graduation date. At age 17, I confidently wrote down “Bachelor of Fine Arts, June 1973.” I had no doubt it would happen.

But the fact was, in June 1973, I welcomed twin sons to our new family and my life was never the same.

First of all, I was totally SMITTEN. These were the most gorgeous babies ever born and they were mine.

All mine.

Bill & Brad, 1974

Bill & Brad, 1974

A whole new world opened up and me and my babes were the center of it. I became an Earth Mother – baking bread, making yogurt by the quart in the oven, putting in a garden, hanging cloth diapers on the line to dry. This was a life I never knew I wanted and I loved every minute of it.

Ellyn Oakwood Ave mirror 1977The only thing missing was a little girl so that was next on my list. To my great delight I got her in November 1975. I was so thrilled that I carried her around like a baby doll and changed her clothes a couple times per day. How could anyone have such a charmed life?

School went by the wayside and I couldn’t have cared less. Once in a while it would nag me a bit as it was an unfulfilled goal, but I knew the time would come again when I could go back to it. And I hadn’t given up art. I took occasional classes and painted when I could. I also knitted, crocheted, sewed, baked, gardened and began to study the Bible seriously. I took my children to the local Kingdom Hall and we made friends with other spiritually-minded families. My life was full and happy.

As the kids got older, my husband wanted me to go back to work. I knew he felt the burden of supporting the family on one income but I did everything I could to save money so I could stay home. The thought of leaving my children during the day was not something I could accept. I DID work part time as a waitress/bartender at private parties with my mother-in-law and it was a good cash income. I saved every dime for family expenses and extras like outings and small vacations. Still, that didn’t really satisfy my husband.

So… the idea of having more children was out of the question. And as much as I wanted more kids, I had to respect the fact that we lived on one main income and it wouldn’t stretch any farther. Still, I longed for babies. I would just have to long…

My husband regularly played the lottery, so I bargained with him. He always said what a nice house or car or jewelry he would buy me if he hit but I never wanted that. I wanted kids. He agreed that more children would be in the picture if the lottery came through.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And he fully expected that when our three kids were all in school I would go back to work full time. It was a very sore subject with us.

Bill, Ellyn, Brad, Lake Erie around 1978

Bill, Ellyn, Brad, Lake Erie around 1978

I took my daughter to her first day of school and accompanied her inside. When I left to walk back to the car it was raining. The tears streamed down my face to have her away from me for so much of the day. I held my face up to the rain and actually wished for my husband to hit the lottery. I wanted another baby (or two) even if I had to go to China to get them. In fact, two Asian babies would be ideal since my concept of a perfect family was 5 kids. Please, God, don’t let this be it. I love my family and they are everything to me. I am grateful for what I have, but I don’t feel like I am finished. Please….

It was not to be.

I did not go back to work full time but I did find more part time work. In addition to the private parties, I did artwork from home during the day. I painted signs, hand-lettered menus for local restaurants, painted murals in public buildings and private homes, did custom stencils and wallpaper designs and started my own portrait business. I worked almost every day and was able to do it while my kids were at school. My husband hated it. He would rather I worked for less in a factory on an hourly basis because he resented that I could work at my own convenience and still make money. I never understood why he wasn’t happy that I could make enough money from home to take us on vacations and buy the kids’ school jackets and designer sport shoes, but he never stopped hounding me and I never backed down. And I guess that was the beginning of the end.

In the final washout, it was good we only had three children. They were plenty to raise and they were plenty to disappoint when our family split. I was beyond devastated when my husband left for someone else after 23 years. My perfect family was destroyed and it nearly destroyed me. Little did I know he was doing me a favor…

That’s right. He did me a favor. In 1994. More than 20 years ago.

Since then, I’ve learned the true meaning of family.

True family… and true friends… stick with you always. And I mean ALWAYS.

My three kids are my life. Still. I wish I had a couple more, but it didn’t happen. I’ll always mourn a little bit for that, but what I have is priceless. Two sons and a daughter (and 6 grands) who think I hung the moon. Yeh, they know my faults and get on me sometimes when I get wacky, but they know me from way back. They know how I loved them then and now and they love me in the same way. They also love their dad and I am glad for that because I taught them well.

And here’s a twist in the works….

My very own blood family suffered a major tragedy this year. It was so bad that I cannot talk about it publicly out of respect for others. The sad fact is that, as a result, I have been cut off from immediate family I love very much. This has been so hurtful – in addition to the loss of two lives – that I’ve had to go into therapy over it.

Author Henri Nouwen writes, “When those you love deeply reject you, leave you, or die, your heart will be broken. But that should not hold you back from loving deeply. The pain that comes from deep love makes your love ever more fruitful.”

On top of that, I lost my former mother-in-law AND my spiritual mother this year as well. (And my own mother last year.) It has been a time of loss. That is devastating for a family person like me.

Yet, like I said, true family – and true friends – stick with you always.

This past weekend, my niece (from my former married family) had my whole family up to her house for a cookout. And they included ME! I have not been able to associate with this beloved former family of mine for 20 years now. I have no idea why they still consider me part of the family but I am so grateful they do.

I told my therapist about my own blood family rejecting me on ridiculous hearsay while my former married family and long-time friends continue to include me. I explained that I am the same person in each of these situations. My therapist advised that I accept the love shown to me when it comes from such reputable, long-time sources and rejoice in it. And that is what I am doing.

So here are some photos from last week’s get-together at my niece’s home (Amanda Daubenmire Morley).

This is me and my niece Jamie, who I have not seen for a good 20 years. She is gorgeous! I was thrilled to visit with her!

DSC01462a

Here’s my father-in-law with my two grandsons…

IMG_5245a

Here’s my oldest grandson, AJ. He’s almost 17 and will be getting his driver’s license any day!

DSC01421

Here’s my oldest grand daughter, Josey. She is the sweetest thing ever!

DSC01442a

Here’s my other grandson, Colin. He is so good with all the little kids!

DSC01437

Here’s my sister-in-law, Becky and her grandson (Amanda’s baby) Mac. He is Macon William after my FIL Bill and I think he is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen. So pleasant and happy all the time!

DSC01496

The patriarch… William Daubenmire, Sr. My FIL, Big Bill. He HATES being hard of hearing but never misses a chance to be with family and watch all the goings-on. We love him like crazy!

DSC01490

Here’s Amanda’s family. I made knit hats for each of them as a gift in OSU colors since Amanda and Chris are die-hard fans…

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Isn’t Amanda beautiful??

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And here’s the shelterhouse (Pavillion) Amanda and Chris just built on their property that we lounged in for the afternoon…

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And my gorgeous great-niece, Meredith…

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My brother-in-law Mike and my son Bill on the sidelines…

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The guys posed in the woods…

Brad, Bill, AJ, Chris

Brad, Bill, AJ, Chris

And the rest of the family wandered on walks through the colorful foliage…

IMG_5253b

What a wonderful day we had…

Oh how I love this family! Amanda’s children are really my great-niece and great-nephew, but I want to claim them as two more of my precious grands.

Thank you, Daubenmire Family (Amanda, Becky, Mike, Big Bill) for keeping me close to you. You will always be part of my heart as well.

I know that when I post things like this I tend to say too much. My kids would prefer that I keep these things to myself and play them down rather than post on social media. But for some reason, I just can’t do it. I don’t tell only good or funny stories. I tell the sad and bittersweet ones, too. They are part of life and life isn’t always happy.

Sadness is part of a well-rounded life. We all must shed some tears along the way. We all will be misunderstood in spite of our best intentions. I am not always tactful and as kind as I mean to be. But neither am I ever intentionally malicious.

This is my blog and my story. I share it with you as my experience when I speak from the heart. I know it will be valuable to others who go through a similar journey, so that is all it is. A shared experience.

And things eventually come around like they did this past weekend when I got to visit with treasured family that I’ve been apart from for years. What a gift!

Love to all.

And may Your Family be your treasure all through your life.

(And maybe someday I will still get that 4 year Fine Art degree!)

Painting Trip, Day 13, the Drive Home

(Note – this post concerns Sat, Sep 19, 2015)

My trip is drawing to a close. I slept OK last night but I woke up coughing and realized I was losing my voice. It has to be pure exhaustion. I pushed myself so far beyond what I normally do that I’ll have to pay for it. My weak spot has always been my lungs. If I get a chest cold it goes into bronchitis. And maybe pneumonia. But I did get a pneumonia shot last fall so that shouldn’t happen.

I woke up just before 7:30 am, Tennessee time, which is an hour earlier than Ohio time. As much as I would have liked to gone back to sleep, I needed to get moving.

It didn’t take long to pack up and be ready to go. I loaded everything into the car except my monster suitcase, which is extraordinarily heavy. I left it at the top of the stairs and went to the kitchen to say goodbye to Harriet. She, of course, wanted to cook me an egg for breakfast. What a sweetheart she is!

But I just wanted to get going. Driving is not my thing and I had about 6 hours to go to get home. Not a big deal to most people, but it would be a challenge for me.

Tiny little Harriet actually went up and got my suitcase and loaded it into the car. I couldn’t believe her strength. I wasn’t able to lift that beast at all. I really need to re-think that big case on future trips. It is HEAVY when full of clothes!

Harriet and I said our goodbyes and I was off into the gorgeous Tennessee countryside. The early morning sun was gleaming on the fields and fences as I drove away from the gracious Victorian home where I had stayed the past week. I was reminded how wonderful it is to wander a ways from home and see a bit of the world. You don’t even have to go far to discover new things and have a wonderful time.

Tennessee

As usual, I had my two hour driving rule in place. No stopping and no eating until I have two hours of drive time under my belt! So when it was time, I didn’t see anywhere I wanted to stop! That’s kinda crazy… I always want to stop!

Instead I kept on driving. Driving and driving. Maybe I’m a road warrior after all and don’t know it. Wouldn’t that be a hoot!

Really, I had plenty of snacks in the car so all I did was pull over at a regular rest stop to go to the ladies and unload some food from the trunk. A diet coke, a can of tuna salad, some chips and cheese… hey, I’m all set. I even had a pack of famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. Who could ask for more?

It was no time at all and I was almost back to Cincinnati. Rain clouds were letting loose overhead but now I’m back in my own stomping grounds. Nothing like heading to home sweet home.

I was still going strong when I hit the outer edges of Dayton, so I stopped at the grocery for a few things. I know when I get home I’m gonna crash and I may not want to venture out for a couple days. I got my usual staples… deli ham, sliced cheese, a half-loaf of bread and a pint of milk. I got some hot chicken soup from the deli for good measure. What’s better than chicken soup when you need recharged?

I made it home about 4pm and was glad to see my simple little apartment waiting for me. Only one more round of “schlepping” and all my stuff will be back inside where it goes.

What a fun trip!

I spent two weeks on the road, saw a lot of beautiful country, made new friends, learned a bunch about the painting I love and made it back home safe. All is well.

Truly, all is well.

Thanks to all who read here for taking this journey with me. Hopefully, when I resurface in a few days, I’ll be a painting fool. Can’t let all this new “learnin’” go to waste!

paint brushes

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