Monthly Archives: February 2014

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 2.25 Thought of the Day


Self-portrait, (1875)

Self-portrait, (1875) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“I’ve been forty years discovering that the queen of all colors is black.” — Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on this day in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France in 1841. Today is the 173rd anniversary of his birth.


He was the sixth child born into a working class family. His father was a tailor and his mother a seamstress.  When he was four the family moved to Paris, there Auguste attended primary school. By the time he was  a teen he was working at the Lévy Frères factory, a porcelain factory. He already had an interest in art and he brought some of his drawings to work. He was …


chosen to paint designs on fine china. He also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans before he enrolled in art school. During those early years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters. [Pierre Auguste]


His family lived near the Louvre and he often went there in his free time with his sketch book. “His favorite painting was The Bathers by FrançoisBoucher, a Rococo piece, which would later inspire some of his artwork.” []


At 21 he began to study art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts where he met Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne.


He  was invited to exhibit at the 1864 Paris Salon, but he continued to struggle financially, sometimes he didn’t even have enough money to buy paint.


While his Salon works helped raise his profile in the art world, Renoir had to struggle to make a living. He sought out commissions for portraits and often depended on the kindness of his friends, mentors, and patrons. []


He served briefly in the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War, then returned to Paris at the end of the war. There he joined forces with his Impressionist friends to hold their own salon. The 1874 exhibit was a huge  success. Renoir’s six pieces in the show brought him to the attention of wealthy art patrons, such as the Georges and Marguérite Charpentier. “His 1878 painting, ‘Madame Charpentier and her Children,’ was featured in the official Salon of the following year and brought him much critical admiration.” [Ibid],”


English: Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) - Madame G...

English: Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) – Madame Georges Charpentier (Marguerite-Louise Lemonnier, 1848-1904) and her children, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) and Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895), 1878. Metropolitan Museum of Art Français : Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) – Madame Georges Charpentier (Marguerite-Louise Lemonnier, 1848-1904) et ses enfants, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) et Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895), 1878. Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


His success allowed him to travel internationally. Renoir went to Algeria, Madrid, and Italy. He met opera composer Richard Wagner in Palemrmo, Sicily and rather famously painted his portrait in 35 minutes. In 1883 he went to Guernsey for the summer.


Girl with a Watering Can

Girl with a Watering Can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Swing (La Balançoire), 1876, oil on canvas...

The Swing (La Balançoire), 1876, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




Pierre-Auguste Renoir 104

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 104 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




Femme Nue dans un Paysage, by Pierre-Auguste R...

Femme Nue dans un Paysage, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, from C2RMF cropped (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 1890 he married his longtime lover and muse Aline Charigot. They moved to a farm at Cagnes-sur-Mer near the Mediterranean to help alleviate the effects of Renoir’s rheumatoid arthritis. The condition left him wheelhair-bound, his joints were so swollen he couldn’t hold a brush and his limbs were misshapen. “In the advanced stages of his arthritis, he painted by having a brush strapped to his paralyzed fingers.” [Pierre Auguste]  He died at the age of 78 on December 3, 1919.


Self-portrait, (1910)

Self-portrait, (1910) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)




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Muffin Monday: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip


just baked

Two of my favorite flavor profiles combine in these muffins.


  • 2 1/2 cups White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 3/4 cup  Almond Meal/ Flour
  • 2 teaspoons of Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon of All Spice
  • 1 teaspoon of Cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 (15 ounce) can  Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 1/2 cup of Maple Syrup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 cup Chocolate Chips (plus extra to top)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep 18 muffin cups by spraying with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl mix all ingredients.

Pumpkin chocolate chip batter

3. Divide evenly into the muffin cups and top with a few extra chocolate chips.

4. Bake  for  25 – 35 minutes until tops are golden brown and muffins pass the toothpick test.

5. Let cool a few minutes before enjoying.

beauty one

My special guest  tasters Margie and John like the texture and taste. But their purest pumpkin loving relatives strongly voiced a “no additives” opinion . (NOT EVEN CHOCOLATE! –what was I thinking?)  My regular taster Bill, however, liked the combination of Chocolate and Pumpkin. He liked the crunchy top and moist middle, and happily ate a second. Both Margie and Bill commented that they didn’t miss the dairy.

Beauty 2

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Secondary Character Sunday: Disney Side Kicks


Continuing the theme I’ve got going this February on Disney… this time it’s all about the SIDE KICKS! (Thanks to Maggie and Jenny who helped me come up with list.)

Disney Side Kicks come in three general categories…

  • The ones we love deep in our hearts. Those Side Kicks who help our protagonist and share knowledge along the way. They’ll likely risk their life to save the hero or heroine. It’s all part of the job.
  • Side Kick genre number two is the Bad Side Kick. Not quite the villain in the film, but not the good guy either. They always seem to cause trouble. And sometimes revel in getting our heroine in deep do-do (Lucifer, I’m looking at YOU.)
  • The last category of Disney Side Kick is the Comic Relief Side Kick. You know who I mean… the wise crackers, they don’t do much to advance the plot but they sure bring the funny for the kids. These Side Kicks are generally the most annoying, but you still gotta love ’em.

Here’s our top lists. Please write in and let me know who we forgot.


  • Meeko (Pocahontas)
  • ZaZu (The Lion King)
  • Cogsworth & Lumeire (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Gus & Jaq (Cinderella)
  • Baloo (Jungle Book)
  • Sebastian (Little Mermaid)
  • Pascal (Tangled)

And drum roll please… Maggie’s best  of the best Good Disney Side Kick’s is… Meeko; Mine is  ZaZu.

Zazu,_The_Lion_King_(2) copy


  • Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, The Hyenas (the Lion King)
  • Percy, the Pug (Pocahontas)
  • Iago (Aladdin)
  • Hiss, the snake  (Jungle Book)
  • Floatsom and Jetsam (Little Mermaid)
  • Lucifer (Cinderella)

Maggie’s pick is Iago; Mine is also Iago.

Iago (Aladdin)


  • Abu (Aladdin)
  • Scuttle (Little Mermaid)
  • Muschu (Mulan)
  • Genie (Aladdin)
  • Terk (Tarzan)
  • Dory (Finding Nemo)
  • Olaf (Frozen)

Maggie’s pick … Olaf; Mine is Dori (OMG I couldn’t love Dori more! She’s the best, so just keep swimming every body!)

Finding Nemo (video game)


Bonus category: BEST DISNEY EQUINE Side Kicks:

  • Samson ,Prince Phillip’s Horse (Sleeping Beauty)
  • Maximus (Tangled)
  • Sven (Frozen)
  • Major (Cinderella)
  • Angus (Brave)
Maggie’s pick is Sven; Mine is Samson.

Secondary Character: Disney Villlains Click Here!

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Grace on Ice — Carolina Kostner

Carolina Kostner of Italy took my breath away yesterday.

[Carolina Kostner skates her short program during the Sochi Olympics [Image courtesy Yahoo Sports]

[Carolina Kostner skates her short program during the Sochi Olympics [Image courtesy Yahoo Sports]

She received not one but two perfect tens from the judges (one judge awarded her a 10 for Performance/Execution and another for Interpretation.) She is just .80 points behind the leader (and reigning Olympic gold medalist) Kim Yu-Na and a hair behind Russian spinning sensation Adelina Sotnikova.

Kostner was the only skater to receive a perfect score for any portion of their performance. If I’d been a judge I’d have given her additional high scores for GRACE and RESTRAINT.

While other, younger skaters swirled, popped, jiggled and flailed every move they had on the ice in front of the judges Kostner’s performance was absolute minimalism and control. And she proved that control doesn’t equal robotic automation and grim concentration. This young woman (at 27 I’m happy to say Woman’s Figure Skating has at least ONE woman in its ranks) skates with such pure joy invested in every move that those of us at home had as much fun watching her as she had on the ice.

She almost quit skating after a dismal performance at the Vancouver Olympics, but stayed with the sport because, she   ” ‘because I love it …The hard times make you understand what you really want and I’m really glad that I continued and honored to have experienced everything that I have in the past years.” [] She went back to the training rink and rethought her program. She retooled the routine and tightened her technical moves.

“So long we have been thinking of Carolina as the artist,” added 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski, …a NBC Sports commentator, “but her technique; she took everything down a grade and then built it back up these last four years. That was the whole package. ” [Ibid]

As of this posting there isn’t  video on a You Tube of her brilliant performance last night, [there may never be an official NBC video as she isn’t in first place and she isn’t an American] but here’s the the same short program from earlier this year. Enjoy:

I’ll be routing for Italy tonight as Carolina takes the ice in the long program. She’ll be skating to Ravel’s Bolero.

Muffin Monday: Simple Blackberry Muffins


Yeah, muffins, looking good.


  • 2 cups of White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 teaspoon of Salt
  • 1 tablespoon of Baking Powder
  • 1 tablespoon of Cardamon
  • 1 stick of softened Butter
  • 3/4 cups of Sugar (plus 2 tablespoon for topping)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 3/4 cup Skim Milk
  • 2 teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1 cup chopped Blackberries


1. Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep 12 muffin cups (OK this took 12 regular cups plus one large cup… so BONUS muffin!)

2. In a large bowl stir the Flour, Salt, Baking Powder, and Cardamon together.

3. In a smaller bowl cream together the Butter and Sugar. Add the Eggs, and carefully add in the Milk and Almond Extract.

4. Combine the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until smooth.

5. Gently incorporate the Blackberries.

in muffin cups

The muffin batter topped with a bit a of sugar and ready to go in the oven. Is it me, or does the one on the bottom left kind of look like a muffin Angry Bird chick?

6. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups.

7. Sprinkle with the additional sugar.

8. Bake for 25  minutes until tops are golden brown and muffins pass the toothpick test.

Beauty Shot

My crack team of tasters at dinner tonight really enjoyed these muffins when I brought them out for dessert. Gerri — who claimed she was too full to eat a whole muffin and asked for a half. Then she ate that and slyly went into the kitchen and got the second half.

Mikey proclaimed that “the moisture level was just right and the sugar on top was a nice counter balance to the tartness of the berries.” He also liked the balance of sweet, sour and spice with the cardamon.

Bill summed it up with “Yummy…”

Secondary Characters Saturday: Disney Villians

Gaston 2

Well, I’ve got a kind of Disney thing going for February, so I thought I’d do Disney villains today. There are plenty of characters to choose from (“125 different villains from films, sequels, television, video games, books and even the Disney Parks” [

I did a totally unscientific survey by asking my friends on FaceBook who they though deserved the Disney Villain crown. The major culprits seem to be:


  • Maleficent — curses an infant to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die before the sun sets on her 16th birthday. Then she imprisons and tortures Prince Phillip.
  • The Evil Queen — Queen Grimhilde is another child killer in the making. She’s a shape shifter too.  She employs magical, talking furniture to spy on her subjects. According to she ranks #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time.” The scene where she create the poisoned apple is still one of the scariest scenes out there.
  • Ursula — She’s manipulative and sinister. She can shape shift. She’s shrewd when she striking a bargain (some might even say she cheats.) She has magical powers which includes turning people and merfolk into worms should they fail to fulfill the terms of their contract.


  • Cruella De Vil— Unlike the first three on this list Curella is fits squarely into the HUMAN category. She has not supernatural powers, she’s not a witch or magician. She’s a villain by her sheer ability to be bad, vain and greedy. She’s used to getting what ever she wants and in 101 Dalmatians what she wants is a coat made of dalmatian puppy fur. Any woman who hates puppies this much strikes a chord of horror in any young girls heart. She scored high in the survey, especially in those of us of certain age group who remember seeing the animated film when it first came out in the theatres.
  • Gaston &  Claude Frollo — Cruella wasn’t the only human to make the list. Gaston and Claude Frollo bring a male perspective to villainy. While Gaston is all brawn and misogyny Claude Frollo is lechery and hypocrisy.



So who made you quake in fear as a kid? Who do you think holds the crown as best Disney villain?



All images courtesy Disney Corp.


Da Da Da Da Da I’m Lovin’ It — What makes a classic love story

[Image copyrighted: ]

[Image copyrighted: ]

Holy cow it’s Valentine’s Day! Put aside the snow shovel. Say no to the champagne and roses. X-nay on the chocolate-ay. Lets talk “Love”…STORIES.

Just in time for this years fondness feast Book has come up with its comprehensive list of  “The Best Love Stories of All Time (As Voted For By Our Customers)” [Book].  It is similar to one that Fly High by LearnOnLine put out in 2o12.

As I cradle my hot cup of tea on this cold and snow bound winter morning and contemplate this blog post, I realize that I could produce a score of comparable list, but I wont. I’ll just relish in the fact that my girl Jane  is so well represented here and make a note of the books I need to put on my Kindle. Here’s my combined chart of the Book  Depository and LearnOnLine lists — there was a lot of duplication. (you’re going to have to click on it to read it, sorry).

I guess a romantic lead doesn't have to actually be ALIVE at the end of a story, but for me its always a plus. I'm just happy no Vampires or Shades of Gray made the list.

I guess a romantic lead doesn’t have to actually be ALIVE at the end of a story, but for me its always a plus. I’m just happy no Vampires or Shades of Gray made the list.

It seems to me there are an awful lot of dysfunctional relationships and dead people are  on here. You can thank the Sisters Bronte for that, but they aren’t the only ones. Do we really need death or dysfunction for something to be romantic? I think not.

Do we need friction to make good fiction? Yes! And there’s plenty of that in P&P, North and South, The Princess Bride. But, does it have to tip the scale to melodrama and angst that Jane Eyre and Great Expectations does. Must it, further,  jump over the (heath)cliff into despair as  in Wuthering Heights?

Why does everyone assume that if I love Jane Austen that I'll love Charlotte Bronte too?

Why does everyone assume that if I love Jane Austen that I’ll love Charlotte Bronte too? Bronte didn’t like Austen. I think I can return the favor.

I try to like the Brontes, but whenever I read them (or watch a movie based on one of their works) I find myself wishing for Austen. I LOVE Austen. I never wish I was some where else when I’m with her. Strangely, I really like Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of North and South, Cranford, Ruth, and Wives and Daughters (and lots more). Gaskell was friends with Charlotte Bronte and her biggest advocate. [You can read her biography of Charlotte HERE.] But I find her (Gaskell’s) prose much easier to read.

And I’m not saying a romantic story can’t be sad or end in the death of 1/2 the couple. I think John Green did a lovely job with Hazel Grace and Gus’ love story. And I was glad to see The Fault in Our Stars made the reader’s list.  It just doesn’t have to be overwrought. Neither of those teens would put up with it.

Anyway I’m wondering what would make  YOUR top five romantic novels. (Feel free to cheat and lump all of an author’s love stories into one  pick — like ALL of Shakespeare’s love stories.)

In the mean time I’ll just leave you with this and hope that you’ll consider being my literary valentine…


Special Snow Day Muffins– Nutella Zucchini Muffins

A little Nutella surprise is hidden in side these zucchini muffins. The perfect way to warm up on a snowy day.

A little Nutella surprise is hidden in side these zucchini muffins. The perfect way to warm up on a snowy day.


  • 2 cup Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 1 stick softened Butter
  • 3/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Milk
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup grated  Zucchini
  • 1/3-1/2 cup Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Prep 12 muffin cups by spraying with baking spray.
2. In a large bowl combine the Flour, Salt and Baking Powder.
3. In a smaller bowl cream the Butter and Sugar together.  Add the Eggs, Vanilla and Milk and mix until well blended.
4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients with a spoon.
5. Fold in the Zucchini.

Add the Zucchini to the batter.

Add the Zucchini to the batter.

6. Split the batter between the two bowls. Divide half the batter evenly into the 12 muffin cups. (They will be about halfway filled.)
7. Using a small scoop or teaspoon put a dollop of Nutella onto the top / center of each half filled muffin.

To put a bit of Nutella in each muffin I used my small melon baller. (I could have used a teaspoon -- probably would have licked the spoon then too! What was I thinking! OK -- You should totally use a teaspoon!)

To put a bit of Nutella in each muffin I used my small melon baller. (I could have used a teaspoon — probably would have licked the spoon then too! What was I thinking! OK — You should totally use a teaspoon!)

8. Divide the remaining batter to cover the rest of the muffins.

Action shot of me covering the muffins with the rest of the batter.

Action shot of me covering the muffins with the rest of the batter. I’m employing my larger melon baller here.

9. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on the tops. You can try the toothpick test but you’ll likely hit the center of Nutella. (Of course you could then lick off that Nutella before discarding the toothpick. So… maybe.)



These would be delightful as just zucchini muffins. The addition of Nutella puts them in a whole new category of wonderfulness. Why haven’t I made these before?

Judy Blume 2.12.14 Thought of the Day

“My only advice is to stay aware, listen carefully and yell for help if you need it.”– Judy Blume


Judy Blume was born on this day in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1938. Today is her 76 birthday.

She was always an avid reader and remembers making up stories in her head as a child, but didn’t really start writing until her own kids were in preschool.  Her first book was The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo.

Bored with suburban life, she developed a creative outlet in writing and illustrating children’s stories. She published Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970), Blubber (1974), Tiger Eyes (1981), and several other novels for teenagers that dealt frankly with sensitive issues. []

She found a new audience in 1978 when she began to publish for adults. Blume hit the New York Times Best-Seller list with Wifey in (1978) and Smart Women (1983). She continues to score big. Her latest novel, Summer Sisters, sold over 3 million copies and  5 months on the NYTimes Best-Seller list.

More than 82 million copies of her books have been sold, and her work has been translated into thirty-two languages. She receives thousands of letters a year from readers of all ages who share their feelings and concerns with her. [Judy]


Judy Blume at NPR (Image Courtesy NPR.)

Judy Blume at NPR (Image Courtesy NPR.)

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