Thinking Blue

My favorite color has always been BLUE. I particularly like periwinkle with its lavender cast, but almost any shade of blue will make me happy. As a painter I know I can use cerulean blue with some white for a gorgeous sky… or darken it to portray the perfect denim.

And then there’s turquoise as in an ocean wave and sapphire like a precious gem. And what woman wouldn’t welcome a gift box in the shade of Tiffany blue? (I’ll probably never know!)

So today, my sketches are in blue.

First up is my dream car. And this is totally a figment of my imagination because I don’t know what it would be like to have the car I desire or if I would even like it if I got it. But I think I would….

Years ago, there was a guy who owned a commercial sign shop in my local community and he must have lived and worked in my neighborhood because I would see his vehicle all over the place. It was a hunter green 1940s era restored Ford pickup truck with the wood slats on the back. On both the driver’s door and the passenger door was his beautiful sign shop logo in calligraphy script.

I don’t know why, but every time I saw that truck I would salivate. I wanted one for myself.

Then one day I was driving along a country road and I saw a similar model Ford truck parked back a long lane. It didn’t have the wood slats but it was the perfect shade of sky blue. I thought I had just had a glimpse of heaven when I saw it.

Now I am not a “car person” by any means, so this has to be some sort of visual attraction. That truck could ride like an old donkey on a trail down a gorge. But I don’t care. I’d just get a thrill out of seeing it in my driveway every day – and feeling the wind in my hair when all the windows are rolled down. And hauling a load of mulch or top soil in the bed in the spring. I know I would love it. So here is a sketch of my dream car (truck)…

Ford pickup

And it just so happens I’ve been on another “blue” subject of late.

I don’t watch a lot of network television. I pretty much stick to Food Network and a bunch of Netflix. But I recently stumbled onto the Netflix cache of the TV series Blue Bloods. There are like 89 episodes on there so I kept skipping by it for the longest time. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I clicked on it and began to watch. I am officially hooked.

blue bloods

I think I’m up to about episode 60 already and I am dreading for it to end. I love this family! And I don’t even know why because they are make-believe! I am not Irish Catholic and I am not involved in government or law enforcement, but I do enjoy the stories they come up with. I especially love the mandatory Sunday dinners the family commits to. Which is what I did the first 39 years of my life. Every Sunday. Without fail. Lunch at Grandma Nichols’ house. With the entire immediate family.

It wasn’t a fancy lunch with wine and china dishes like on Blue Bloods. But it was Grandma’s home cooking. And we were all together that day for an intimate meal. If someone was missing an excuse was demanded because you simply did not miss that lunch. I went as a child. I went as a young adult. I went as a newlywed and took my husband. I went as a new mother and took my twin babies and then my infant daughter. It only stopped when Grandma was almost 90 and couldn’t cook any more. And oh how I miss that Sunday meal!

I’ve tried to carry on the tradition in a small way in my own family by having dinners every few MONTHS. And even then it is hard to get every one on the same page at the same time. They’re all too busy. The “in-laws” don’t understand the importance. No one seems to have the time.

Frankly, I don’t think they realize what they are missing. The connection… the familiarity… and yes, the obligation. I don’t think it hurts anyone to have an obligation that might be a bit annoying at times but is for the greater good of everyone in the family. How else do children learn they are part of a network that should never be broken? That they are a precious piece of a puzzle made up of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents who think they are invaluable in their own right? If they don’t experience it, they will never know. And I have to say the loss of that tradition breaks my heart because I do know that connection and I miss it terribly.

It’s a poor substitute to watch Blue Bloods on television and reminisce. But that’s what I’ve been doing. And I will treasure those first 39 years of continuous Sunday dinners all my life. Just as I will always love the color blue. For me blue is not feeling blue… it is feeling happy and like the sky is bright above. And close families always live under that clear blue sky. (maybe even driving an old blue pickup truck!)


A Few More Spring Sketches

All winter long I wait anxiously for spring. Every time I shovel snow off the walk or scrape ice off my car windshield, I dream of tulips and lilacs and daffodils. The sight of pansies for sale outside the Kroger store sends my heart a-flutter. In fact, I recently bought some and planted them in my front porch urns. Delightful!

But every year, when spring finally arrives, it goes by so fast! Here we are, a month into it, and it is skating along like an olympic skier going downhill at breakneck speed. Soon the spring blooms will give way to summer plants like roses and daylilies and the hosta that keep the garden green. I love them, too.

Meanwhile I filled a few sketchbook pages with some spring glory. Daffs, of course…


And that harbinger of warm weather, the American Robin…


And the earliest little delicate bloom, the crocus…


Oh how I love them all and enjoy their sweet, short bursts of glory. It’s just the beginning of the parade of blossoms that go on until the next winter falls. I always enjoy commemorating that parade in my sketchbook each year as it goes by. I treasure every year of this parade even more than the last.

Neighbors Round the World

I’ve always been fortunate enough to have pretty good neighbors.

I’m not one to hang out having coffee or chatting all the time, but a good neighbor is one you know, one who will lend a hand when you need help and one whose number is in your phone in case of emergency. I guess I’m neighborly to that extent.

A couple years ago when I went to Italy for a few months, I met my new “neighbor” within my first hour in Lucca. And what a valuable friend she turned out to be!

Annamaria runs the nicest leather goods shop in Lucca. Her family has been making leather items for many, many years and she is the face of the storefront called Magellano. My apartment was directly above, so when I came downstairs, it was the first shop I went in to look around.

Oh my! The leather goods were displayed in glorious colors and felt like butter to the touch. I had never seen such beautiful wallets, purses, bags, cases and books. It was all I could do not to slobber on all the items there were to admire. And then there was Annamaria…

This gorgeous creature greeted me warmly and we struck up a conversation. I told her I had just arrived in town and would be staying a while. I was delighted she spoke English! And from that first moment, we were friends.

When I would get confused about something I would stop in and ask Annamaria to explain things to me. She did. And I would often linger in the shop looking at the tempting goods for sale.

Every time I walked past the shop, Annamaria would look up and call out “Ciao Starr!” and I would smile. Oh how fun to be part of the neighborhood!

I decided when I needed a new sketchbook I would buy it from her. The only problem was, the smaller notebooks had paper I liked and the bigger ones didn’t. There was nothing in the shop I could actually use. But when I explained this to Annamaria, she simply said… “tell me what you are looking for and maybe we can make it for you.”

And that’s what we did. I showed her the paper I liked from one book and the size I liked of another. “No problem,” she said, “we can make that for you!” I got so excited that I went and picked up another small wallet off the shelf and asked if they could make that in a size that my pencils would fit in. “Of course,” she said. “Let’s measure!”

I ran upstairs and brought down an assortment of pencils and we decided on a size. The wallet would have a long cord wrap closure just like the book. And I chose a dark blood-red leather with handmade rag paper for the book. The wallet was the same leather with a similar cord.

Not long after that I was able to pick up my new book and wallet on a sunny Saturday morning. And Annamaria’s father had made both pieces for me himself. I was beyond thrilled. Especially since Annamaria had included an engraved monogram of my initials on both pieces as a gift!

Then, as we were talking, Annamaria told me how her parents went to lunch at a local pizza place every Saturday with relatives. Well, I was always ready to try new pizza so I asked where it was and found it. So when Annamaria’s parents came in, I was there sketching in my new book. I wrote about it in this post from October 27, 2012… Real Life in Lucca

That was the day I started drawing in that sketchbook and I am just now finishing it up. And I’ll fill you in on that in just a minute…

MagellanoMeanwhile, I did a sketch of the Magellano storefront and gave it as a gift to Annamaria. She immediately uploaded it as the logo on the store’s Facebook page and it is still there! What a sweetheart she is!

Now, I am finally to the last page of that gorgeous sketchbook. And the thing is, the last page is the one on the inside back cover so it is a single left-hand page, not a two page spread. I wondered and wondered what to draw on it.

Finally I figured it out. Yesterday, Annamaria posted a beautiful sepia-toned photograph of herself on her facebook account that I was mesmerized by. It is absolutely perfect for the last page of my Italian sketch journal. After all, the first page is the day I went to the pizza place to meet her father and thank him for making me this spectacular book – which was a challenge since he spoke no English and I spoke almost no Italian. But we communicated and I was able to thank him and his family for making my trip so special with this beautifully handmade book.

So the book is at an end and I can think of no better way to finalize it than with a pencil sketch of the stunning Annamaria. She was a wonderful friend and neighbor while I was in Italy and I can only hope that I will get to visit her again. And I have to insist that she is even more gracious than she is beautiful.

Ti amo Annamaria, mia cara!

This is my gorgeous friend…


And I can’t end this post without mentioning another friend I met when I got home from that trip.

I moved from my house of 23 years to a small apartment and it was a drastic change. But again, good neighbors can make all the difference. I kept seeing this lady in my new neighborhood riding one of those three-wheel trikes for adults all over the place. I was fascinated.

One day she stopped to chat when I was outside and she is a delightful person to know. Here is my neighbor Kathy…

Kathy White

So I guess no matter where you are in the world, you just need to make friends with a few nice neighbors. They’ll be there for you and you can return the favor when they need someone. I sound a bit like “Mr. Rogers” here, but I do enjoy having good neighbors. You never know when you’ll need to call on them!

Radar Ears

Did you ever notice that when your kids get to a certain age, say 9 or 10 or so, they get tuned in to when adults are saying something they don’t want them to hear?

Ordinarily you can yell for them to take out the trash ten times and they can’t seem to hear you. But lower your voice to say something private and they have on what I call their “radar ears.” Suddenly their little necks get a bit longer and their head turns slightly in your direction because they don’t want to miss a thing. And you might not even realize it is happening.

The most obvious of my kids to do this was son Bill, known as “Billy” during his growing up years. We had to make that distinction since my husband’s name was Bill. And Billy often took after his dad. A funny, charming soul.

One day Bill came home and wanted to tell me something he didn’t want the kids to hear. I have no idea what it was now, but I was at the kitchen sink doing a few dishes. I turned off the water and Bill proceeded to talk in low tones about whatever it was.

eavesdroppingBut before we could even complete our conversation, Billy yelled out from the stair landing above… “Speak up, I can’t hear you!”

“You’re not supposed to!” exclaimed Bill.

“Why not?” asked Billy.

“None ya,” said Bill firmly. (That was his expression for “none of your business” and that was the end of that!)

Still, Bill and I were amused by Billy’s completely transparent curiosity. But we didn’t really learn from it…

Some time later another incident took place at our house. And here’s the background…

My husband always worked part time at a local pool hall. He loved that place because he enjoyed playing cards and shooting pool and he was a pretty good short order cook on the grill. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it was something he had always done from before I met him, so I couldn’t exactly complain.

Anyway, whenever we had a household project to tackle, he would hire some out-of-work guy from the pool hall to come over and help us at rock-bottom rates. This is what he did when we decided to put in a patio out back. I had designed it and it was a simple matter of pouring concrete slabs and laying bricks between them.

I can’t remember they guy’s name who helped us put in our patio… let’s just call him Pete.

Pete was very agreeable and I would cook up snacks and suppers and keep the beers cold while they worked. Soon it was done and I was very happy with the end result. We thanked Pete, paid him and he was on his way.

So imagine my surprise a few weeks later when Pete made the news. Turns out he had robbed the local donut shop at gunpoint and was sentenced to a term in prison. I was horrified. I had never felt in any danger while Pete was at our house, but still…

That evening we were in the car going somewhere, all the kids in the back occupied with their books and toys. I mentioned Pete’s incident to Bill and told him we needed to be more careful about who he bought home to work around the house. We talked about it quietly and I never dreamed the kids could be listening.

Suddenly, Billy’s face appeared between the two front bucket seats and he looked first at his dad and then at me. “What do you want?” I asked.

“I’m just wondering,” he replied, “how many donuts did he get?”

What a kid. And I’ll never forget how hard Bill and I laughed over that innocent question. Surely that has to be a classic!

At any rate, my sons are now grown up and have daughters of their own. Those daughters are still very little girls – I call them my little ones because they are much younger than my daughter Ellyn’s kids. Ellyn’s brood developed their radar ears long ago. Which means we have to be very careful what we say around them.

Meanwhile, the little girls haven’t figured it out yet, but they will. girls whispering

So they will all grow up and go through the phase of having “radar ears.” I love it. And I hope God grants me another 20 years so I can see these beauties, along with my 3 older grands, get older and start families. Watching them deal with kids of their own – and putting on their radar ears – is part of the fun, right?

Note: I originally had some drawings here of family members but needed to remove them for privacy. You’ll have to enjoy the other artwork on this blog!

The Mystery Fridge

Back in August of 2012, when I was downsizing to move from a 4BR home to a 1BR apartment, I had a dilemma of how to get rid of 40 years worth of “stuff.” The thing is, I like my stuff. All of it. But I had to be ruthless. I decided to have an auction to sell off all I could part with.

It was a good solution but it was a lot of work. And my kids (particularly Ellyn) had to help a lot. But I figured it was better to downsize at that point rather than leave it all for them to deal with later. And they agreed.

I told the kids to take whatever they wanted from the house but they didn’t want much. Especially since they knew I was using the proceeds to finance my 3 month trip to Italy.

So auction day rolled around and a couple things happened. One, my neighbors across the street were going to be out of town and they didn’t really want that to be public knowledge since I would be having a few hundred people gather in my front yard that day. They asked my daughter Ellyn to park in their driveway so it would look like someone was there. She did.

Second, Brad caught sight of a mini-fridge I had for sale and said, “gee, I wish I had taken that for my garage workshop!”

“Take it,” I exclaimed. “But hide it so it doesn’t get sold when you’re not looking!”

He picked it up and ran it across the street, putting it out of sight in front of Ellyn’s van in the neighbor’s drive.

The auction went on all day and I did well. And it was very strange to feel “cleaned out.” But afterwards the boys hung around and their best friend Javan stopped by with a sack of Wendy’s hamburgers and a bottle of scotch. We were ready for that!

Ellyn decided to leave and reminded Brad to get that fridge out of the neighbor’s drive before he went home. He agreed.

So now we’re sitting in the twilight – I had sold all the lamps so we only had the glow of the kitchen light spilling into the living room – drinking scotch and discussing the day’s events. What a crazy day it was!

Then, all of a sudden, the neighbor’s kids, Amy and her husband Rob, pulled into the drive across the street. Blast!!!

“Brad,” I yelled, “you didn’t get that fridge and now Amy’s over there!”

Meanwhile, Amy and hubby just sat in the car with the headlights shining on the fridge. It had to be a strange sight because first of all, Amy knew nothing of the auction. So after a short time she and Rob got out, looked it over and went around back into the house.

At our location, Brad was in the john. I was horrified. But I was much too tired to run out the front door and do anything about it. Soon, Brad burst into the living room on a dead run to go get the fridge. But as he passed his twin brother on the couch, Bill said in a low voice… “Hey, Brad… don’t take it away… just move it.”

Then that twin thing happened. In a micro-second, Brad looked at Bill and said, “OK.”

With that, Brad dashed across the street, picked up the fridge and set it back down in front of the driver’s door of Rob’s car. Just as quickly he came back across and disappeared into my house.

We were all stunned and thrilled with this development and watched to see what would happen.

mystert fridge 1

Pretty soon, Rob and Amy came back out. As they were walking toward the car they noticed the fridge in front of the driver’s door. They stopped abruptly. They looked at the fridge in amazement. Then they looked at each other and back at the fridge. I think they repeated this a couple times… but I’m not sure because we broke out in the most hysterical laughter you’ve ever heard in your life.

Can you imagine what they were thinking? And we were sitting there watching from across the street? I honestly could not contain myself.

After a minute or so, Rob and Amy turned around and went back in the house.

“They’re calling the police!” shouted Javan.

“No they’re not,” I said. “What would they say? That someone’s messing with a mini-fridge in their front yard?”

At that, son Bill declared, “I’m moving it again.”

I screamed in delight and Javan yelled “you’ll get caught!”

“No I won’t,” cried Bill and off he went. He darted across the street like a gazelle and moved the fridge to the middle of the front yard. In a flash he was back and Brad turned off the kitchen light so we were sitting in the dark. Again we waited but I was snickering the whole time.

Before you knew it, Rob and Amy were walking back out to leave. And when they saw that fridge in the middle of the front yard they literally stopped dead in their tracks. They stared. They were frozen to the spot. They stared some more.

Son Bill, who was officially toasted, said “they stopped dead in their tracks!” And he repeated that phrase with different inflections at least a dozen times. And each time I was struck funny again and laughed so hard I thought I would bust. Because you must remember, we were exhausted, and tipsy and slap happy to beat the band.

As we watched, Rob and Amy ventured tentatively into the front yard. Rob seemed to be looking for “tracks” of some sort while Amy reached out her hand to touch the fridge and tip-toed around it. I could barely sit up to watch as I was permanently doubled over at this point.

Suddenly Rob and Amy made a beeline for their car and we knew they were going to leave.

At that point we all burst out onto the front porch. Bill and Brad ran across the street to fill them in while Javan and I were literally draped over the porch railing like screaming hyenas. I think I could have died from laughing and if I had – I would have been happy!

mystery fridge 2

In the end, Rob and Amy didn’t think it was near as funny as we did. “ha ha,” they commented. And of course that made it all the funnier to me. I can only hope I see something that funny again in my life.

So what could have been a very sad day – parting with 40 years of belongings – ended on a very high note. And my boys (and Javan) made the day as they often do. What a blessing! I’ll never forget it.

Sketching during Spring Tax Time

OK, so who else put doing their taxes off until the very last minute? I did!!!

I guess when you know you have to pay you have little motivation to get them done ahead of time.

But it is 4/15, so everything is done – and PAID – and all is well. *Choke* Choke*

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a few random sketches. No time for anything serious, so strictly daily sketching subjects here. I was at a bit of a loss and just sketched my watercolors and brushes that are usually sitting on my ottoman while I watch TV. That is prime sketching time for me…

sketchy stuff

Then, when I went out yesterday, I noticed the glorious spring blooms all around. I snagged a couple blossoms from nearby trees. Here’s a Tulip Magnolia…

tulip magnolia

And a star magnolia…

star magnolia

And now that taxes are done and my current job is almost wrapped up, maybe I can get back to some serious sketching…

The Piano Escapade

Once upon a time I REALLY wanted a piano. I had come across a local teacher – an elderly woman – who gave lessons for only $1 for half an hour. That was for me!

I started the lessons even though I didn’t have a piano of my own. I would go to my grandmother’s house to practice. And I put the word out that I was in the market for a piano.

It wasn’t long before one of my friends said they would sell their old upright for $200. So as soon as I could scrape that amount together I bought it.

Now I wasn’t exactly up-front about this with my then-husband. He wasn’t always sold on my frequent “big ideas” especially when they involved spending money.

But I knew if I told him it was already paid for – and sent him and his friends out on a Friday night to get it (which meant they could grab a few beers) – we’d work it out. And that’s what I did.

I believe it was the winter of 1982. I only know that because I remember thinking I was 30 years old and I might not be very fast about picking up piano-playing. But even if it took me 10 years, I would be able to play by the time I was 40, right?

So I broke the news to Bill and told him where to go get it. He took it pretty well. He called his friend Mike, who had a pickup truck, and another friend Jim, who lived a few houses down from us. And off they went.

I excitedly cleared a space for my new piano, ran the vacuum and told the kids we were getting a big new surprise. After an hour or so they were watching out the window for dad to return to see what it was.

But dad was nowhere to be seen.

“OK,” I thought. “I know it takes a bit of time to get a couple beers so I just need to be patient.”

More time went by.

I called my friend and asked if the guys had picked up the piano.

“Why, yes,” he said. “Over two hours ago!” And then after a pause he commented, “but they didn’t have it strapped down very well and I was a bit worried about that. I hope they’re ok…”

I waited a while longer and finally loaded the kids up in the car and went looking for the guys. I was really getting worried because a winter storm was heading in and it was time to batten down the hatches.

I drove way out in the country where my friend lived and found no sight of anyone. I drove back to town and cruised past many of the local bars looking for a pickup truck with a piano in the bed. Nothing.

Finally I had no choice but to go home and get my kids put in the house safely.

Then, just as I pulled up to my own driveway… what do I see? Three guys rolling an upright piano down the sidewalk – away from my house!


I swerved the car to the curb, jumped out and yelled “STOP!” And they did.

But they had that look of mischievous boys caught in the act.

“What are you doing?” I asked Bill.

“Oh, you don’t want this piano,” he replied.

“And just why not?” I retorted.

“Well, we didn’t mean to, but when we were driving back the lid flew off, so it isn’t a whole piano anymore,” he explained. “So I sold it to Jim because he’ll be able to do something with it.”

All three of them looked at me and grinned like this was a perfectly acceptable scenario.

“And how much did Jim pay you?” I inquired.

“100 bucks” stated Bill proudly.

Again they all smiled.

“Give him his money back” I demanded.

“Why?” asked Bill. “You don’t want a piano that doesn’t even have a lid. We’ll never find it because we don’t know where we lost it.”

“I guarantee you we will find it” I replied. “So you give him that money back right now and push that piano straight up into the garage. This is MY piano and I will see that it gets fixed.”

Bill reached in his pocket, returned Jim’s money and the three put my piano in the garage. None were smiling at that point.

That night we got 6” of snow. And this piano was painted white at the time. There was no way we could go look for that lid for over a week.

When the snow began to melt I made Bill take me out to where they had been. Turned out they took a detour from my friend’s house on Hamburg Road to an old honky-tonk called the Starlight Nightclub. We drove out past there and turned around. On the way back, with my head out the passenger window, I spotted the lid in the ditch sticking out of the dirty snow. We stopped and picked it up and it was just fine.

I was stripping the whole thing down to its former oak glory anyway, so a week in a wet ditch had soaked some of the paint off for me.

And I was never overly mad at Bill for being the rascal he was. He was always so funny and good-natured I could never stay mad at him. But we did have our moments. And this was one.

Sadly I never learned to play that darn piano. But one of my boys did and that was worth it to me.

Today the piano is at my daughter’s house. We sent it there in hopes that her kids would pick up on it but they didn’t. And that’s fine. You have to have an interest in such things to pursue them.

Meanwhile we’ve got an old oak upright piano that Ellyn needs to get rid of because she will be moving soon. And I don’t think you can even give those things away now. I’ve been looking online and it seems you have to pay an enormous amount to even have it taken to the dump! Glory be!

So if you have any suggestions – or you know someone who wants an old upright and will haul it away, please let us know. Don’t let Bill have been right all these years if he would have sold it at a loss the very night we got it! That… just… ain’t… right!

Wine Tasting Dinner

I have really come to enjoy wine.

I love reading about it, learning about it, and of course… drinking it.

Within limits, of course.

Fortunately for me, I have a very good friend who collects wine and will share a few choice bottles with me (and my boys) when we schedule a wine-tasting dinner. I do the cooking and we spend an evening tasting, eating and having great conversation. And we just did that the other night!

Now ordinarily my budget only includes some pretty inexpensive wines. So one of my favorite things to do on a Friday evening is go to Trader Joe’s for their weekly tasting. You get a little plastic cough-syrup type cup for 25 cents and you can compare two or three kinds on the spot. And they do have a pretty good selection.

So when my friend, BB, drops off wines for our dinners, I am excited. He brings them ahead of time so I can look them up and figure out what food to pair with them. Not only that, they are always much more expensive bottles than I would ever buy. He’s certainly no Mr. Rockefeller, but he does collect some wines as a hobby and is very generous in sharing them.

wine tastingAt our latest dinner we started with a Chenin Blanc, a white wine that is just a bit milder than a chardonnay. Traditionally it came from France, but wineries all over the world are now growing it. This one came from Arizona and sold for about $50 a bottle.

I took one sip and was in heaven… for some reason the whites are always my favorite.

Then we played our little guessing game… son Bill said he tasted pear. BB said apple. Brad just said he liked it and I was lost in a dream of buttery deliciousness. But I had looked up the tasting notes, which said: “like walking through an apple orchard; nice acidity with a long pleasant finish…

Well, the truth is we aren’t all that fussy or snobby but we did congratulate BB for naming apple!

I looked over at the bottle and noticed… with four tastes already poured, only half of it was left. And I had to act fast if I wanted to scarf up most of the rest of it myself. (Besides, they all seem to like the reds best.)

“Hey, guys,” I asked innocently, “Why don’t you open the Rosé to have with your salad?”

They did and I bustled off to the kitchen to get those salads out pronto.

When I returned they dug in to the chopped salads and moved on with the Rosé. I knew the rest of that Chenin Blanc was mine-all-mine!

All I had to do at that point was let them finish their salad and put out the main course… lasagna.

Now let me tell you, I’ve been perfecting my lasagna recipe for over 40 years. And I’ve got it pretty down pat.

First I use tomatoes I canned from my own garden last summer.

And for the meat I use a mix of ground chuck and sweet Italian sausage. I add basil, oregano, garlic and onion – all chopped fresh.

Then I simmer it for a couple hours. This is the traditional “Sunday Gravy” every real Italian credits their Nonna with making!

I also make a ricotta filling with egg, parsley, fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan.

When you put this lasagna together in a baking dish it not only weighs a ton and a half, it is a thing of beauty.

I set that steaming monster of a dish on the kitchen island and called everyone to come fill their plates family style… more salad, more bread and heaping helpings of lasagna. We had our buzz on and just hummed through the meal.

And we were on to the red wine… a dry red 2011 Aglianico which was a limited edition. If you can find an available bottle it will probably set you back at least 80 bucks. I even found one guy trying to scalp it online for $325.

Thanks to BB, we enjoyed it with a great plate of pasta.

And I have to say… I absolutely ADORE the fragrance of red wine!

Oh, geez… pour it in a glass and let me sniff! Besides bacon, it is one of greatest smells of the world!

It rushes up my nose and floods me with the aromas of dark fruit. Intensified. Suddenly I am picturing bing cherries… or raspberries… or blackberries… and I am salivating. I just know that a taste of a dry red will make a fatty rib-eye steak into the most wonderful pleasure on earth!

keep-calm-and-drink-prosecco-40Still, my heart belongs to the white. It doesn’t smell near as intoxicating but it sits on my tongue just right. And my all-time favorite is Prosecco. Hands down. The Italians know what they’re doing.

Give me an acidic white wine… and add bubbles… and you have me forever. This little slogan pretty much says it all…

Tasting wine is a fun hobby. As pretentious as it sounds it really isn’t. Fine wine is really just another form of fine food. It is meant to make you happy. And growing it is such an art you can never learn all about it.


Why I’m the “Cool” Mrs. Potatohead

Today is another story because I don’t have any new sketches the past couple days. But I do have a number of sketchbook diaries from the last few years with lots that hasn’t been posted.

And if you’ve gone back to earlier sections of this blog – especially back to when I was in Italy – you will see that I often refer to myself as Mrs. Potatohead… or Mrs. P for short.

farside2The background is this… there is a very funny Far Side cartoon from long ago called “The Potatoheads in Paris.” It shows Mr. and Mrs. PH driving down a French street looking out at the Parisians… who are all tall skinny French Fries in their stylish clothes! That has always been one of my favorite cartoons since I can relate…

Anyway, I made the transition to Mrs. P a couple years ago while visiting Costa Rica. (And no, I’m not a jet-setter, I was there on business.)

I got to spend a few days at a beautiful beach resort that was so breath-taking I got a little carried away.

There was a travel/adventure kiosk in the lobby so I walked in and looked around. You could book fishing charters, surfing lessons, dinner cruises or scuba and snorkeling trips.

Wait a minute! Snorkeling? Man, I’ve always wanted to do that. I love the water and was always a good swimmer. I don’t quite like the idea of scuba… but snorkeling sounded harmless enough.

I inquired at the counter and the guy was thrilled to see me. Turns out there was a party of 3 booked for the next morning but the boat won’t go out with less than 4 people. I could be the 4th and everyone would be happy. I was excited. Well, nervous, actually… but excited, too.

I went to the lobby the next morning at 6:30 AM wearing comfy capris, socks and tennis shoes, and my swimsuit and sketchbook in a tote bag. I couldn’t believe I was doing this!

Then the “other 3” arrived.

OK, let me pause here.

You know how in the movies they sometimes show someone heroic or beautiful walking toward you in slow motion?

Well, that’s how it was for me.

Here I am, curvy, fluff-ball of a girl, waiting for the rest of our group and suddenly I spy them.

Three of the most gorgeous girls I’ve ever seen. Platinum blondes. From Sweden. Wearing bikini tops, shorts, naval jewelry and designer sandals. Tossing their heads as they smile and laugh with each other. Amazingly white teeth glinting in the morning sun…

I look down at my clunky white sneakers and one thought enters my mind: I’m Mrs. Potatohead.


Now mind you, I am not overly sad about this. I had to be 40 years older than those cutie-patooties and I had my day. But I wondered how the excursion would go being paired up with them.

Well, it was more of the same.

While they were lithe and graceful, I was clumsy and awkward. We were driven for about 20 miles and dropped off on the side of the road. After scrambling down a dirt bank we had to walk into the surf and go up a small ladder onto a water taxi. They all appeared to float onboard. It took 3 Costa Rican lads (Ticos) to haul me in.

We then drove out to the bigger boat and boarded it. I was so unsteady I was scared. Fortunately, the guide, Hannah, didn’t make fun of me. She steered me to a seat and knew she would have to coddle me through this.

I felt very out of place but was determined to enjoy this adventure. And several other people had joined us so there were now 7 or 8 on board. Two of us were going to snorkel and the rest were scuba diving.

The glamorous scuba group shimmied effortlessly into their spandex and fins. I was given fins and a huge orange life-jacket in addition to my goggles and snorkel. Hannah patted my arm and said, “this will be fun.”

Soon the scuba group were jumping off the tailgate of the boat in that funny bent leg way. They disappeared from view. Then Hannah told me to sit down on the tailgate with my legs in the water. I did. And the Ticos shoved me in.

Fortunately Hannah was right behind me and didn’t leave my side until I was comfortable in the water. She showed me how to maneuver and was very reassuring.


When I finally relaxed I was overjoyed with the beauty of the underwater landscape. The colorful fish were amazing. Hannah dove to the bottom and brought up a starfish. She said I could hold it if I kept it underwater. When I let it go she took it back down.

It was a wondrous experience. For over an hour we swam around a large rock outcropping and just watched the fish below. On the surface the water was crystal blue and the sun was bright overhead. It was truly a little slice of heaven to be there.

Soon we had to go back to the boat. The scuba group had a time limit for how long they could stay down so they had to come up for a break. Again everyone seemed to just hop up on the boat but it took several Ticos to help me in. I was just glad I made it!

Out came some snacks and drinks and before long it was round 2. Everyone but me was raring to get back in the water. I was done. Besides, I was in a perfect place to get out my sketchbook and paints.

Off they all went and I stayed on the boat. I sketched the rock outcroppings in the distance. They are called Los Sombreros because they look like two hats sticking up out of the sea. And I have to say, this is one my most favorite on-site drawings I’ve ever done.

Los Sombreros b

The boat crew kept coming and looking over my shoulder in amazement. And when the divers came back on board they wanted to see, too. And here’s the funny thing…

Even though I was Mrs. Potatohead for sure, everyone was so impressed with my little painting that now suddenly I was “the artist.” And they got very protective of me.

All the way back I was made-over. When we transferred to the water taxi, everyone jumped to help me. When we had to walk back through the surf to shore, someone grabbed my bag and carried it for me. I was assisted back up the dirt hill and was first to get back in the van to return to the hotel. When we all said goodbye you would have thought we’d all been friends for a long time!

It was a wonderful experience. And I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had with strangers who approach me when I’m sketching. My sketchbook is almost like a passport of sorts. It makes me new friends anywhere. And even though I was Mrs. P at snorkeling, at least I did it. And my sketchbook made 3 beautiful Swedish babes think I was pretty cool!

Me and the Car Situation

You have never met anyone dumber about cars than me.

I’m not quite sure why that is, but it has been true all my life.

As a kid I would sit on the front porch with my brother and sister and they would name the cars driving by. Ford! Chevy! Oldsmobile! they would shout. I looked at them in amazement and hoped for a Volkswagon to come along so I could join the game.

Sad to say, more than 50 years later, that is still true.

For instance… when my kids were little we were visiting my sister-in-law Karen and her family. In the confusion of leaving later, my son Brad accidentally locked the keys in the car. (It was the first car we had with power locks.) So I went back up on the porch and knocked on the door. Karen flung it open and asked “what’s wrong?” (she was quick like that!) When I explained we decided to call the police and ask them to bring a “slim jim” to unlock the driver’s door.

I went to the kitchen and made the call. The officer who answered asked me, “what kind of car do you drive?”

Now that shouldn’t be a trick question, but I drew a blank.

Embarrassed, I turned and asked Karen, “what kind of car do I drive?”

“Buick,” she said in a startled voice. “Maybe a ‘79”

I repeated that to the officer.

“How could you not know that?” Karen asked when I hung up.

“Geez, I don’t know. How do you know that?” I replied.

Soon we were back in the car and I knew Karen wasn’t going to let me live that down. It was just too good of a story not to tell. We laughed about it for years.

Sooo… fast forward to 2010 or so.

I was meeting my daughter Ellyn at the grocery to shop for a family dinner together. I got there a few minutes early, parked the car and walked over to the bench in front of the store to wait. It was a gorgeous day and I people-watched for a few minutes. Then it occurred to me that I should give Ellyn a quick call to make sure she wasn’t waiting inside.

Turns out she was!

I grabbed a cart, found her in the lobby and we did our shopping.

After we checked out we walked through the parking lot with our carts. As we continued side by side I said, “Oh! You must have parked in the same row as me!”

Just as I spotted my own car, Ellyn stopped, too.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to put my groceries in my car,” she replied.

That’s when we both noticed that I was parked right next to her.

“You’re kidding me!” Ellyn cried.

“Whaaaat???” I retorted.

“You didn’t know I was already here? And you didn’t even notice the Bengals license plate?” she inquired.

“Well, I don’t look at those things, you know….”

And that was my only excuse. At least Ellyn thought it was funny (she knows my history) and we had a good chuckle about it.

But I still wasn’t cured.

And I still outdid myself.

In late 2012 I moved from a 4 bedroom home to a small 1 bedroom apartment. Storage units were key so Ellyn and I made a trip down Cincinnati-way to IKEA. Man, what a store! It is huge… and packed… and overwhelming. But we got tons of ideas.

Before leaving the store we went to the cafeteria for some food. (You have to try their Swedish meatballs!) Finally we were ready to leave, so I filled up my soda and off we went.

My mind was filled with beautiful visions of IKEA units in my new place and we were both juggling purses and papers and sodas while walking to the car. When I saw Ellyn’s silver van I veered off and got in the passenger seat. I couldn’t wait to study the handouts I had picked up. But a minute or so went by and Ellyn did not get in on the driver’s side. What was she doing?

I looked around for where to set my soda down. And suddenly things did not look familiar. The console was different, there were strange objects all around and this van was nowhere near as clean as Ellyn’s was…

OMG! I’m in the wrong van! I swung my head to the left and saw Ellyn two cars over sitting in her vehicle.

She had just had a similar experience… she had gotten in the driver’s seat and wondered what was taking me so long. When she looked to her right she saw me sitting in another van two spaces away.

Our eyes met and I was stunned. I quickly jumped out of that van and ran to where I should have been.

By now Ellyn was hysterical and so was I.

Honestly, how does someone do that? I was 61 years old! And I knew it was a silver van!

I am much more careful now but I’m still not sure what can happen to me if left unattended in a parking lot. At least my kids know that and watch over me. And when I go to Kroger I always park in the same row – no matter how far out – so I have no doubt where my car is.

Meanwhile, here’s my beautiful daughter… the ever-patient Ellyn…


Thank goodness I had her!

And consider yourself warned… Lock your vehicle lest you come back and find someone like me sitting in it!

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