Saturday, May 30, 2015

What have I been reading…non fiction...

I have read a few books lately that I found absolutely compelling, the kind of books where you can't stop reading.

The last compelling read has been An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski.  As the book cover says it is" the true story of an 11 year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny".  I was thinking as I busily read it on the ferry the last book I can remember enjoying that much on a ferry was that later proved to be not strictly factual.  Oh well.

I guess we all like touching stories with happy endings, and this is a rather amazing story.  Maurice was     an 11 year old (actually 12 as he didn't know when his birthday really was) who lived in the worse possible circumstances, and Laura was a successful executive.  I liked how the story weaves in her background to explain why she may have wanted to help Maurice, to be his friend, and how honest she is in her telling of the story.  It really was amazing the commitment she did make, but she also is honest about when she thought she let Maurice down.  And there are times when he felt he let her down.  Anyway it was a great read…Maurice is an amazing example of how one can succeed against many odds and how the right mentor can make a real difference.

Now another book I could not put down was written by a Vancouver teacher about her family's struggle finding help for her daughter's mental illness, After Her Brain Broke by Susan Inman.  This was another book I could not stop reading.  This is a difficult story as well, one in which a family realizes that their younger daughter has a problem that suddenly escalates and they find themselves in a nightmare and in a difficult maze to find help.  Again the story does have a somewhat happy ending and Susan is the type of person who has worked hard to help others who find themselves in this type of situation.  Again she tells the story very honestly.   I read it and then lent it to a friend and her husband.  Her husband has a background in counselling and he thought it was excellent.  Well worth a read!

Another book that I found really interesting and had a hard time putting down was Elizabeth Jane Howard's autobiography, Slipstream.  She was an English novelist who grew up during the Second World War and whose husbands included Admiral Scott's son, Peter, and well known novelist, Kingsley Amis.  In my 20's I read and enjoyed her early novels and then later I read her Cazelet Chronicles, a series of historical novels about an upper middle class British family, not unlike her own.

I saw the book at the library and because I had enjoyed her novels, I decided to give it a read.  I found it quite fascinating.  She grew up in a very interesting but not easy family.  She married an older man  when in her late teens and was totally naive and also became a mother at 19. The marriage wasn't successful and she basically left it and her daughter, thinking she couldn't be a good mother.  Again she  wrote this autobiography very honestly.  At times I thought, another affair?  And you always knew it wouldn't end particularly well.

She often had difficulty getting writing done as she was busy trying to support herself.  It is an interesting picture of the arts scene in post war Britain.  And she certainly traveled in an interesting circle.  Her affair and then subsequent marriage to Kingsley Amis is an interesting story, and you can't blame her in finally leaving him.  She didn't get much writing done during those years.  (This part I found particularly interesting as I actually have a personally autographed book from Kingsley Amis as he ended up eventually living with his first wife and her husband, and she was a friend of a friend's sister in law-I know crazy but true).

I was impressed how she kept writing.  She also honestly sounded like a very nice person.  Anyway probably not everyone's cup of tea but I found it really interesting.

I am really much more a reader of fiction than non fiction so I was kind of surprised that a series of non fiction books grabbed my attention.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


disclaimer-this isn't the original camellia I painted-it died!
Yesterday I was working on my watercolour painting.  I had a plan to work each day on it but as of yesterday, that had only happened once.  And that consisted of me playing with washes and using salt.  I realized I needed to really practice on drawing not just playing and I needed to have a real block of time so since class is today that happened yesterday.

I decided to go back to the camellia I had started in class almost two weeks ago.  It actually didn't look too bad.  I hated to "mess" it up.  And I was trying to remember that lesson as well.  Watercolour often requires waiting, waiting for a section to dry.

While I was waiting I decided to try to draw another flower and work on it.  I wanted something fairly simple!  I decided to choose a perennial bachelor button which grow like weeds in my garden.

When I started drawing I realized it wasn't that simple and when I started trying to get the colours right in my painting I realized it really wasn't simple.

Watercolour painting required patience and I am not a patient person.  Long ago I remember my father saying,  "I don't know how you can teach those special children, you have no patience!"

Actually I can be patient but it isn't always easy for me.  It is something I am continually working on or I should be working on.  My lack of patience often has me not  following things in order for instance.

 I am not always convinced patience is a good thing.  There are times when I think we need to not put up with things but that is another story.

I am not good at waiting.  And watercolour painting requires waiting and it requires patience with myself, my lack of skill etc.  I also have to contend with that fear it isn't going to look right.  And in a way it may be that unwillingness to go through the steps, put in the effort.  My perfectionism comes out in be just saying let's just not do it.

In a class you generally have other people encouraging you, alone you have to be your own encourager.  Maybe that is why some kids don't get their homework done!!!

I think this is one reason I always liked going to work as opposed to the idea of working at home or on my own.

using Waterlogue app
I actually found myself posting my before and after camellia pictures on Facebook, no doubt seeking encouragement.

I actually have  things I enjoy doing on my own  but when I am doing something challenging to me I seem to need that encouragement of others.  I find it hard to struggle alone and not just give up or take the easy way out.

But as I was having difficulties yesterday, I was also thinking, "This is good because now I know what I need to ask in class"  I can show our instructor where my struggles are and ask for suggestions.  Not really very different to Grade 11 Algebra class with Mr. Cochrane.  Several of my friends wouldn't even attempt the problem they were so math phobic but it didn't bother me to get it wrong and find out what I needed to do to make it right then I would explain the whole thing to them.  My early teaching moments…

So I am trying to learn to have patience and not be afraid to "screw up".  And yes, I am looking forward to art class today.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watercolour Lessons

still life by me from art class onboard ship
A former principal told me once you shouldn't say you are going to wait to retirement to start something new or something you want to do.  Retirement should be about doing what you enjoy and  learning more about something you already enjoy doing.

I have tried quite a few things in my life and others I haven't.  And for instance, I have never gone scuba diving and I have no desire to do so now that I am retired.  Although I have really enjoyed snorkeling and I like to look at things underwater I am kind of claustrophobic and the thought of all that water over me is not appealing so no scuba diving planned in my future.  I also have no plans to go crawling around in dark caves.

out the classroom window
But I am someone who kind of likes taking classes.  And if you have followed this blog you have probably heard about my going to Spanish lessons and my attempts to learn some Portuguese using iPad language apps.  And I have told you about my knitting lessons.  And lately I have also been learning about identifying different types of ornamental cherries!

In February I went on an 18 day cruise from Rio de Janeiro to Miami (for more details check out my .  I was a little worried about being on a cruise ship that long and about the nine days at sea. It all worked out, but a real highlight for me, was I got to take watercolour lessons on our sea days.  The lessons were only about an hour long but fortunately we had a skilled, former middle school art teacher.  For many of my fellow travellers and me, this became something we really enjoyed and looked forward to doing.
travel blog)

first class demo
I haven't taken much in the way of art lessons but I loved drawing when I was a child but I never really had access to much art instruction.  I think I took a drawing course in the community once when I was in university.  I did a bit of sketching much later,  and I did a one day seminar in watercolours about 10 years ago. I never really liked teaching art and fortunately, usually had a talented art teacher to teach my class.

But after the ship experience, I really began to think about taking a watercolour painting course.  First I did a plein air watercolour seminar with a friend.  It was a bit of a disaster for both of us and we actually quit early and had brunch.

I had already signed up for a watercolour art class apparently for all levels working with spring flowers and given at the nearby botanical gardens.  I was a bit worried after my last experience where I felt totally over my head.  I didn't have the right materials, I didn't even know the particular colours he was telling us to use.

When I got to the centre last week I was greeted by a lovely younger woman who asked if I was looking for the art class because I looked artistic (it was probably the big bag I was carrying).  It turned out she was the volunteer who is helping with the class, but it was nice to be greeted that way.

second class demo
Our teacher was excellent and although, I was a bit nervous, I was quite pleased with the beginnings of my camellia painting.  I left the class quite happy and excited.  But somehow life got in the way and I was busy and the painting didn't get touched again.  Not that we were given homework, but I kind of felt guilty but obviously not guilty enough.  In university I often seemed to carry books around that didn't get read and now I even took my painting equipment to Salt Spring Island but didn't do anything with it.

But no recriminations in my art class.  After my second lesson in this class, I was thinking how much I am enjoying it.  Some people are quite experienced, others are novices such as myself, but our teacher is able to accommodate our differences.  I also really like the people in my class and I love the beautiful setting.  There is a nice sense of community.  I think we are all nature lovers and appreciators of beauty.  

one of my talented classmate's work
I went into class today feeling a bit stressed out and noticed how good I felt by the end of the class.  That lovely sense of concentration.  I can see why my students always enjoyed art class.

Even in retirement I sometimes feel a little driven in a zillion directions.  It's nice to find a quiet place where focusing is required.  I also really like learning new skills.  I like that I am required to be patient.

And maybe this week I will find time to practice!  And perhaps work on that portrait of the camellia.