Painting on a Whim

January 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , )

My latest painting:

The Elephant in the Room by A.K. Klemm

The Elephant in the Room by A.K. Klemm

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While the Net was Sleeping…

November 21, 2012 at 2:09 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Too many Sandra Bullock allusions for one heading?  I think so, but I don’t feel like Starting from Scratch.  Heehee, see what happens when I go without my internet for 3 whole days.  The cheesy humor that only I find funny gets out of control.  And this post isn’t even about Sandra Bullock.

It’s about the fact that my internet was down for 3 days and in that time the Kiddo and I went on a bit of a young adult binge.  If you follow my blog, or my life, you know we read a lot of picture books.  This last weekend, however, we just couldn’t help ourselves.  After finishing Pippi Longstockings, the kiddo seemed more and more interested in sitting through me reading chapter books, and there were two in particular calling my name.

The Magician’s Elephant and Kenny & the Dragon had both been sitting on the shelves for quite sometime.  I impulsively bought each from Half Price Books in hardback because the price was too wonderful, the illustrations on each were beautiful (and I’m a sucker for beautifully illustrated fantasy books), and I thought one day the kiddo would enjoy devouring these.

With The Magician’s Elephant I was moved first by all the deep blue hues. Rich blues and grays give the impression of a romantic gloom I find fascinating. Of course, after it was off the shelf and in my hands, the elephant sealed the deal. I adore elephants and half our lives consists of elephant art and books with elephants on the covers.

The fonts, the illustrations, the beautiful fairy tale… what is not to like about this wonderful book? Everyone should have a copy of Kate DiCamillo’s tale of family and keeping promises. It makes for a great Thanksgiving and Christmas season read, and I highly recommend sharing it with your children by the fire.

Kate DiCamillo is famous for Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and countless others.  She has made quite a name for herself in the book-world as a trustworthy storyteller, but this is the first I’ve actually read of her work, and what a testament it was! My two year old sat through the whole book in one morning.

Of course, author Kate DiCamillo can’t take credit for the art, that is the fine work of Yoko Tanaka. She has quite a bit of published work and still manages to stay in the non-book art scene at galleries and group shows and such, according to her online bio which is actually more of a resume. I’m excited about keeping track of her future ventures as well, because I’ve really fallen in love with what she did for The Magician’s Elephant.

 Tony DiTerlizzi became a part of our lives when I first grabbed a copy of The Spider and the Fly picture book. Of course, I was familiar with the dark tale, but DiTerlizzi’s art really sucked me in. It was not until later that I discovered he was the same DiTerlizzi who wrote and illustrated The Spiderwick Chronicles. What a clever, talented man! Where I previously lamented over whether the kiddo was ready for such a gothic tale as Spider and the Fly, Kenny & the Dragon is a story of friendship and book-love for any age. Again, everyone needs a copy. We will probably re-read this in the Spring or Summer.

Side note: I totally want a bicycle like Kenny’s, it’s so cool.

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When We’re Not Reading…

May 13, 2012 at 3:09 am (Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

My Daughter, Ayla, at the Zoo

… We Go On Adventures.

Today we went to the Houston Zoo and Hobbit Hole Cafe.

The Houston Zoo is a great place to take kids.  When I was a kid it was free, but it wasn’t nearly as nice as it is now, and frankly, I’d rather pay money to enjoy my experience and see the animals enjoying their environment than go to a free zoo without shade, no amenities, and sad-looking creatures on display.  The Houston Zoo of 2012, is beautiful.  Paved (but not crappy concrete) walk ways, gorgeous fountains and statues, lots of shady spots and places to buy drinks and snacks (but they still let you bring drinks and snacks into the park, kudos and brownie points for that), and relatively happy looking animals.

The only animals that don’t look happy are the obvious ones… lions and tigers who should probably have more space, even though their habitats are quite large, and the injured animals that are being rehabilitated.  The lions and tigers are too cool for school, as most cats are.  They look grumpy and bored.  Although the male lion did a lot of showing off, he posed for the cameras and even roared for us, he also got pissed off when we wouldn’t go away afterward and peed on the glass.  There is no way on God’s green earth you can convince me that the lion did not piss on that glass directly in front of us on purpose to give us a lesson in privacy and manners.  It was done in the attitude of ‘You came, You saw, I even showed off for you, NOW GO!’  As for rehabilitated creatures, there’s a bald eagle there named Liberty who has a cast because she was found in 2000 with a bullet through one of her wings.  Her habitat is open to the sky, but she has no ability to fly.  Beautiful bird with a sad, sad tale.  Her cast today was neon green, which I thought was a cute touch.

I was looking forward to the otters because Ayla loved the otters at the Dallas Aquarium last year.  They had a female otter that just swam and swam and swam in circles the whole time we watched.  She did tricks and Ayla just giggled and laughed and thought it was the most wonderful thing she’d ever seen.  The otters today were sleepy and looked oh so cozy snuggled on top of eachother.  At that point, Ayla looked pretty sleepy too, so it wasn’t a disappointing moment at all.

But the big deal for us today were the giraffes and elephants.  Ayla’s room is mostly decorated with these wonderful beasts and we’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks going over their names because without being reminded she calls them dogs.  I really wanted her to make the connection between the live animals and their artsy counterparts on her walls and in her books.  Lucky me, I got the reaction I wanted once we got home and she recognized the animal above her changing table as a giraffe with the most wonderful level of awe ever.

When she is older, I plan to get a zoo membership.  We will be homeschooling and I think weekly outings to the zoo and the museums in the surrounding area will be a great addition to her library visits and lessons. (  For $94 a year I can get free admission all year for my entire household, plus discounts in the gift shop and special events, and a whole lot more.  I’d say its a worthy amount to put towards Ayla’s “tuition.”

After our Zoo adventures, we went to the highly praised Hobbit Hole Cafe.  Granted, I know Ayla was tired and pretty much done for the day and this could have affected my experience a great deal, but man that place does NOT live up to its hype.  Hobbit Hole, sounds wonderful and bookish, and foodie fabulous, right?  Well, the food was good, nothing to get all hot and bothered about, but nothing to complain about either.   I had a Gandalf Classic (sandwich with mushrooms, avocado, and swiss cheese, I paid extra for onion rings (which were excellent).  Despite the large sandwich, I could have done with more onion rings… $1.99 for 5 rings, I don’t care how delicious, I want a bigger pile of rings… after all, I DO eat like a HOBBIT!  Other than the wonderfully named sandwich menu, though, nothing else was hobbit-esque or Lord of the Rings fashioned, other than the movie posters on the wall at the entrance.  Most of the people around me (not my table, but in the cafe at large) were eating enchiladas.  They’ve also got Jamaican dishes on the menu that, according to the Jamaican who was sitting next to me, don’t taste how they should.

Still, good food, but not worth going back to due to the awful service.  Long wait at the door, long wait at the table, long wait for silverware once food started arriving, long wait for straws, long wait for food that wasn’t ordered with the other food, long wait for, well, everything.  In addition to the long wait, we were crammed against other tables and lots of traffic.  My chair was literally being crushed by the chair next to mine… and they were randomly assorted plastic lawn chairs.  We were sitting at a square table slammed next to a circular table and I had the unfortunate luck at sitting in the awkward joint area, while I prayed the chair behind me didn’t slam into my back from people coming up the patio ramp to the front door.  On top of all that, those chairs (put there to create an aisle where there wasn’t one and give people waiting at the hostess desk a place to sit) were being used by servers to set plates of food down because the plates were too hot to carry and too heavy to juggle (Anyone hear of tray service? Sorry, too long a server at a tray service only restaurant makes me cranky about people carrying plates diner style with their sleeve dipping into my food.  Its gross.)  When we were done, the server had us tally up our meals and food on the back of a bill and figure out what we owed ourselves.  I’m assuming they don’t have a system in which you can easily split checks, I get that, but don’t ask me to do math on an 8 top, that’s your job.  I can say that because I’ve waited tables with the best of them.

Once again, the food was good, but over all I’d only go back if I was in a group and somebody else wanted to go.  It’s not on my list of places to return, but I feel like it should have been, because I’ve read so many glowing reviews (one even states that if you don’t like the establishment you’re just a terrible person).  I fear they get the vast majority of their business from the false promise of their fabulous name.  So people who love it… what did I miss?

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Hurray for Spring! And Elephants!

May 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Weekly Low Down on Kids Books 5/03/12

Title: Hurray for Spring!

Author: Patricia Hubbell

Illustrator: Taia Morley

Publisher: NorthWord

Genre: Childrens, Picture Books

Ayla has a wide assortment of books of her own, she can’t help it with a compulsive book buying mother.  But going to the library and picking out special books for just the week is always fun.  At a year and a half, she already loves books and spends a lot of time pretending to read or browsing illustrations.  ‘Shopping’ at a library, however, is so much different than shopping at a store.  For starters, there’s the Dewey Decimal System to contend with, something I honestly haven’t used in about ten years.  Then, there’s the lack of beautifully merchandised end caps – you can ask my best friend, I’m a complete sucker for a pretty display.  (That’s probably why I enjoyed making them so much in my merchandising days.)  Still, we manage to find precious gems and exciting reads every week.

This week we haphazardly pulled Hurray for Spring! off the shelf.  The poem tells of all the adventures one can have throughout the season and is accompanied by gorgeous illustrations of kids playing and dragon flies and flowers.  There’s mice playing in the weeds, beautiful blue skies, and the book is an all around treat.  We read it four times in a row before bed time Tuesday night because Ayla kept demanding, “More” as she turned the book back to the first page and patted the title, indicating a re-read.

I’d like to buy a copy to use to celebrate Easter every year.  Its fresh, lively, and is a good way to get kids excited about playing outside, but if read softly the cadence of the words can still put a baby to sleep.  We love Hurray for Spring! Even now Ayla discovered it in my hand and is hopping around, rummaging through the book bag, and begging me to read it again.

Busy Elephants

Author: John Schindel

Photographs: Martin Harvey

Publisher: Tricycle Press

Genre: Childrens, Board Books

In the past, we’ve tried Busy Penguins, which I loved, but Ayla had little interest in.  This time, Busy Elephants was all the rage.  Each page contains a photograph of elephants out in the wild, eating, running, bathing, etc.  And after months and month of every blessed furry (or even some non-furry) animals being called ‘Dog’ its nice to finally see her point with recognition at the elephants on each page, listen to me say elephant, and then try the word out on her own mouth.  So far, all we get is “lphn,” but that’s enough for me this week.  She’s excited to learn new words, even if she can’t quite pronounce them properly.  That’s what makes these kinds of books so great for babies: real photographs, repitition of a word, until by the end they’ve seen the world and added something to their vocabulary.

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Water for Elephants: 24 Hour Fairy Tale

April 20, 2012 at 4:55 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

Title: Water for Elephants

Author: Sara Gruen

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: I read from the Algonquin Books, a division of Workman Publishing, movie cover edition

Length: 445 pgs.

When I first see a book, I mentally catalogue it.  I see On What Grounds, Cleo Coyle, mystery by author, C’s.  I see On Art and Life, John Ruskin, philosophy by philosopher, R’s.  Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, general fiction by author, G’s.  I see Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, general fiction by author, R’s.  I see Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman, History, British biographies by subject G’s.

At second glance, it becomes a more personal catalogue: bubble bath, afternoon, 24 hour, week, over time.

A bubble bath read is a Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse mystery series.  Roughly 200 pages, usually purchased in paperback format, I can read it in an hour to an hour and a half.  John Ruskin’s On Art and Life is part of my Penguin Great Ideas books collection, they are small, but involve a little more brain power than a fun, cozy mystery, I will spend an afternoon on one of these books.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen? I saw ladies pick this up for their book clubs, I weighed it in my hands, and thought: I’ll read that… looks like a romantic 24 hour fairy tale.  You see the pattern.

Yet I waited.  I impulsively buy many things when it comes to books… bubble bath reads because I read them often; Great Ideas books because I collect them; week longs because work like Carlos Ruiz Zafon is heaven to me; history and science books because I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge.  But 24 hour reads get brushed under the rug fairly often.  They are often times catalogued as fluff I don’t have time for.

The movie came and went, the movie edition came by the hundreds.  Still, I passed it up.

Finally, my best friend bought a copy during a Valentine’s Event hosted at the Half Price Books in Humble (Buy your favorite love story, get a chance to win a dinner for two at Italiano’s).  Now, for a book reviewer, blogger, and aspiring novel writer, you’d think I had a best friend who reads with me.  You probably envision a girl that goes and gets coffee and pours over reading material only to gab about it later with her bestie.  Well, I have very close friends that I do that with, but Danielle isn’t one of them.  My best friend absorbs books on her own, stews over them in her mind, and then cherishes them and tries to not breathe a word of them with another soul lest she ruin the magic of the experience.  Point? She wont read with me.  But I found out what book she bought at that event, and I picked up a copy of my own on clearance.

24 hours of entertainment for 25 cents – heck yeah!

Now, granted, I wasn’t reading Water for Elephants for 24 hours straight.  Just between baby, husband, event planning, house cleaning, playdates, meals, emails, pampering, and dog walking, it took me 24 hours to finish it.  If however, you are going on a vacation and have a chance to read it all in one sitting… I HIGHLY recommend doing so.

The New York Times Book Review calls Water for Elephants “An enchanting escapist fairy tale” and despite the sociopathic husband of the love interest who gets off on beating animals and people and lording over a small community of travelling circus hooligans, it really is a bit of a fairy tale, and its definitely an escape from your own reality.

Water for Elephants reads a bit like a Kate Morton novel, but at a quicker pace, with lots of layers, old age, storytelling, and flashbacks.  Unlike Kate Morton, this first person narrative is written from the perspective of the man in the saga – rather than aged ladies.  Where Kate Morton’s fabulous books strike me as having a very female target audience, I feel that marketed a bit differently, Sara Gruen has the potential to engross a population of male readers who have missed out under the impression that this fairy tale is a romance novel.

Gruen has done extensive research into depression era, of circuses, and of elephants, and it shows.  Although Water for Elephants is about two people finding their fairy tale life in the midst of harsh circumstances, its ultimately the greatest coming of age story I’ve read in a long time.  You’ve got a virginal college boy experiencing the death of his parents and loss of all his future plans, running away to join the circus, telling you the story of his life, all his trials and tribulations, from a nursing home at age ninety – or ninety three.  From becoming room mates with a dwarf, losing his virginity, learning the fine art of train hopping, planning a murder, witnessing a murder, and falling in love, and becoming an unsung hero, Gruen leads you effortlessly through the life of an ex-circus vet, and its wonderful.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but when I do, I’ll tell you all what I think.

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Masson Tries to Make You Weep…

January 28, 2011 at 1:24 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

in When Elephants Weep

I enjoyed the anecdotes quite a bit, this parrot learns to say this, that elephant painted that, this species is documented as feeling empathy towards that species in a rare moment, the monkeys are a lot like us, but so are the fish etc. etc.  I agree with most the points, animal cruelty is wrong, experimentation needs to have stricter rules, we should treat the animal world with respect.  However, I don’t want to become a vegetarian and I didn’t care for how the opening and ending arguments basically boiled down this beautiful essay to we shouldn’t eat meat.  Apparently that’s what this was about to them, to me this book was about how beautifully complex our world is, but I can’t argue with the authors themselves.  By the end of the book they had achieved a level of redundancy I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read in any other book my whole life.  This book’s saving grace was those amazing animals that starred in it, but if I hear /read the word “anthropomorphism” I think I’ll scream, and if someone tries to guilt trip me out of eating my steak I’ll kindly smile, cut, and chew. And if I’m told I’m a bad person for taking my daughter to the zoo, well, I’m sorry you feel that way, I’m going anyway.

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