Painted Fruit Bowl, Inspired by Romero Britto

It's time for the next project in my "Inspired By" series, where I make a piece of art in the style of another artist. This time, I was inspired by Romero Britto. Britto is a Brazilian artist who has spent his adult life painting, sculpting, and printing in Miami. He is the founder of the Happy Art Movement and aims to spread happiness, fun, love, and optimism through his colorful artwork. He is one of the most famous living artists and is thought to be the most licensed artist in history. 

My painting is called Fruit Bowl

Before I started painting, I made a list of the characteristics of Britto's paintings that, to me, best define his style.
  • bold, bright colors separated by heavy black lines
  • happy subject matter 
  • pops of glitter and gold
  • doodles, especially circles and hearts
  • swoops of color over the black lines

Britto's subject matter is broad, so I selected one piece, called Banana Split, as my inspiration: 

Rather than make my version of his Banana Split, I used the banana as inspiration for a fruit bowl. If I were teaching this lesson to a group of kids, I'd challenge them to think of other items that could be sitting in a dish like that besides a banana split or fruit. It could be other foods, but there are countless other options. It's always so much fun to see what creative things kids dream up!

I did a light pencil sketch of the bowl and the fruit, then painted blocks of color. 

When that was dry, I painted some gold and silver dots and hearts in a few of the color blocks (affiliate link here and below). 

Then I rubbed Stickles onto just the fruit and let that dry. Then I used Testors' Black Gloss Marker to draw my lines. 

In retrospect, I should have done the black lines first and the glitter afterward. The paint marker went over the glitter just fine, but it bled a little. It's particularly evident on the banana. I totally should have known better. 

Finally, I added some big swaths of gold to the painting. I wish I'd given their placement a bit more thought. I'm particularly unhappy with the one in the upper left, as it leads the eye out of the painting instead of into it. 

The whole painting could have benefitted from more thought, to be frank. I made some choices I would definitely change if I made a second attempt. But that's a good thing because it means I learned a lot in the process.


My Perfect Puzzle

I love jigsaw puzzles. A puzzle is one of the first things I thought of when I made a scrapbook layout about my favorite things. I love word puzzles and logic puzzles too, but today I want to talk specifically about this:

The 1000-piece Great American Roadtrip puzzle by TDC Games (affiliate link here and below) is as close to my perfect puzzle as I've ever seen. Obviously, the subject matter appeals to me as we close in our goal to visit all 50 states. But that's not nearly enough for me to declare this my perfect puzzle. I don't love all puzzles equally. Not even close. I don't enjoy puzzles that are too big or too small, too hard or too easy. Call me Goldilocks, but my perfect puzzle is Just Right. 

So what does that mean to me? These are the characteristics of my Just Right puzzle:

  • Between 500-1500 pieces. I've never actually done a puzzle with more than 2000 pieces, but I don't know that I would love doing a puzzle that large. My go-to is 1000 pieces. I'd not opposed to trying a 2000+ piece puzzle; in fact, I'd be willing to give this or this a go. 
  • Interlocking. I get really frustrated when I can't pick up sections of completed puzzle and move them into position. 
  • High-quality. By that, I mean sturdy puzzle pieces of a decent thickness that are cut cleanly, have no peeling, and fit perfectly. (Basically, the opposite of this.) Ravensburger is one of my favorite manufacturers.
  • Colorful. I like puzzles with plenty of color. I worked on one of those spilled paint puzzles with my dad when I was a kid and it was torture. I don't like muted puzzles nearly as much as brightly colored ones. I hate clear acrylic puzzles. 
  • An interesting design with identifiable objects. I prefer putting together Charlie Brown, or a kiwi, or the state of Arizona as opposed to an abstract design or huge swaths of color. 
  • No false fits. When I put in a piece, I don't want to find out later that I was wrong. I want to be wrong from the get-go (or, ideally, not at all).  
  • Single-sided. I've done those puzzles where the design is printed on one side, then printed on the backside but rotated 90°. Those aren't fun for me. 
  • Minimal glare. My eyes aren't getting any younger. 

The Great American Roadtrip puzzle meets all my requirements. The quality is great, it's the perfect size, and the irregular border made it challenging without being unpleasantly difficult. I usually start with the border, but that was definitely not the case with this puzzle. As you can see below, I was still missing border pieces (Oregon, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Mississippi) when the puzzle was nearly complete!

But what I love most of all is the design. I love the colors and the icons that represent each state. I love the variety of the text. I love the clues that the borders provide. And I love all the wonderful travel memories I had while completing this puzzle. 


Family Fun with City Cruises Sacramento

While Steve and I were exploring Grass Valley, Trevor stayed with his grandparents. On Memorial Day, the five of us met up in Old Sacramento for something none of us had ever done - a narrated Sacramento River Cruise aboard the Capitol Hornblower. 

City Experiences provided me with the tickets to experience this cruise and tell you all about it. I'll give you all the details below, but let me say right away that we all loved it! I would happily have paid full price for the hour-long river cruise. It was really interesting and a great way to spend time as a family. We weren't the only multi-generational family aboard. While City Cruises offers some 21+ options, the Historic River Cruise is a great choice for all ages. 

The Historic River Cruise starts and ends at the Old Sacramento Waterfront

Before boarding, we strolled the entire length of Old Sac. It's a fun place, with lots of shops and restaurants, as well as a few museums. We've been there many times, but I don't remember the Old Sacramento Waterfront branding being so prominent. 

I'm not sure what this says, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it says Old Sacramento Waterfront. 

I couldn't resist - I had to decode it. Or try, anyway. A few of the flags don't even exist. I ended up with SLE??SI ?JN?R?N. Huh?

Then I realized I was viewing it from the wrong shore. From the other direction, it spells ISABEL S NARANJO. After a bit more sleuthing, I discovered that this art installation, done by Joshua Sofaer, honors local grandmother Isabel Naranjo. She was a migrant farmworker before settling in Sacramento and was well-known for her efforts to distribute food and clothes to farmworkers and provide childcare for their children. There is a similar installation on the other shore honoring Etenesh Zeleke, who immigrated to West Sacramento from Ethiopia and guided her family as they adjusted to a new home. Mystery solved! 

Not only did I not recognize all the signage and this new artwork, but there was something else that had changed in Old Sac since the last time I was there. As I looked toward The Ziggurat, I heard a familiar but unexpected sound.

Could it be.....?

Sea lions!! I had no idea they could make their way this far up the river, but apparently they follow the fish and hang out here. 

We watched them until it was time to board the ship for our cruise. You can buy tickets at the kiosk by the dock, but to guarantee space, I recommend getting them online ahead of time. If you do that, you can bypass the kiosk entirely. 

The Capitol Hornblower is a beautiful ship. It (I've never embraced calling boats "she") holds 120 people, with seating on both decks. Food and drinks are for sale onboard. 

We chose to sit upstairs, which I highly recommend. Dave and Pat sat at a table, while the three of us sat on the barstools that looked out the open windows. If you have the option, sit on the starboard side. Even though the ship follows the same route up the river and back down again, the narration focused primarily on the starboard side on the way upriver. It's easier to get pictures of what you're hearing about if you're on that side. 

We pulled away from the dock and passed the Delta King Hotel. I've been aboard twice and know a bit about the history, but I still learned a lot from Captain Jack, our narrator.  

Captain Jack was full of interesting stories and facts. And even though not everyone was quiet and listening (grrr), the speakers were loud enough that we could all hear without straining. 

I have to interrupt myself to beg you not to speak over the guide when you're on a narrated tour. Not YOU, of course. YOU have manners and common sense. But not everyone does. There are few things more frustrating than paying for a guided tour and not being able to hear the guide because other passengers aren't interested in listening. That's fine - don't listen. But don't talk! 

Rant over. Like I said, it wasn't an issue on this cruise because the ship was well-designed to allow everyone to hear. 

No matter where you live, you are probably aware that California had an unusual amount of rain this winter. All that rain means that the Sacramento River is quite full. Not record-breaking full, but full enough that they had to open the I-Street Bridge for us to pass through. In normal times, the Capitol Hornblower can sail beneath it. 

I've never seen the I-Street Bridge open. I assumed it was a vertical-lift bridge like Sacramento's more famous Tower Bridge. Nope! It's a swing bridge. 

Seeing the bridge open and learning how it works was my second-favorite part of the whole trip. I strongly recommend taking a river cruise now while the water is high so that you can watch the process.

So what was my favorite part of the Historic River Cruise? It was not this line of goslings...

... nor was it learning about the important work of DART Sacramento.

It wasn't the native plants growing along the shore. 

It was this, the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. 

If you look at a satellite image of Sacramento, you can see the two rivers meeting. And you can clearly see that the color of the water is different. That's the Sacramento River flowing from the west and then south through Sacramento. The darker American River flows from the east. 

I've seen the convergence from the air, but I've never seen it from right there in the water. It's crazy how well-defined the boundary between the two rivers is. 

Unfortunately, this isn't a natural occurrence. The silt in the Sacramento River is a result of hydraulic gold mining upriver in the 1800's.  

All too soon, we were back at the I-Street Bridge. The time flew by during our hour-long cruise. 

As we approached the dock, you can see the Old Sacramento Waterfront from the other side. At the far left of the photo, you can see ISABEL S. NARANJO the way it was meant to be seen. 

Whether you live in the Sacramento area or will be visiting, I highly recommend the Historic River Tour! It's not always easy to find an activity that kids, parents, and grandparents will all enjoy, and this was exactly that. We learned so much and thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing tour along the Sacramento River. If only our drive home from Sacramento fighting traffic on Memorial Day had been as relaxing! 


A Weekend Getaway in Grass Valley, CA

Each year, Steve and I select a different California city for an anniversary getaway. We stay within about 2 hours of home so that we’re not spending all our time together on the road. This year, we chose Grass Valley

Grass Valley is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas at an elevation of approximately 2500 ft. It dates back to the time of the California Gold Rush. Gold was discovered in what is now Grass Valley in 1850, with a post office established in 1851. Grass Valley was home to the largest gold mine in California (more on that later), with most of the laborers coming from Cornwall, England. Grass Valley maintains its Cornish history today. 

Because our anniversary destinations are relatively close to home, we don’t feel like we need to see absolutely everything. We could come back any time, even as a day trip. It’s a much different pace than when we travel out of state. We sleep in, stroll aimlessly through downtown, eat leisurely meals, play games and watch movies together, and relax. 

We had two destinations planned for this trip. The first was North Star Mining Museum. The museum does a great job educating visitors about the area's mining heritage and the impact the industry had on the area and its people. 

Outside, you'll find a bunch of large mining equipment and signs to help you understand what you're seeing. 

A fun note about this 20-man skip. It hurled its passenger into the depths of the mine at a 72° decline. I can't imagine being one of twenty people packed into this thing as it flew through a narrow space in the darkness for up to 30 minutes. 

Inside, you'll find just about everything relating to gold mining in Grass Valley and beyond. The exhibits are fascinating and the many interpretative signs are very helpful, as are the docents. 

I enjoyed the minerals and California Gold Rush stamps (affiliate links). 

Steve reluctantly put his toes on the grate for this photo. If the grate failed, it would be a very unpleasant fall. 

The North Star Mining Museum is deceptively large. As you go further back, the space opens up significantly. Here's a Pelton wheel, with me in the righthand photo for scale. 


The museum houses the second-largest collection of Pelton wheels in the world. (We asked the docent where the largest collection is, but he didn't know.)

There is so much to see at this museum. 

This old cash register is fascinating. To use it, you drop the balls into the appropriate slots at the top as you make a sale. At the end of the day, you total up the balls in each slot and that should match the cash you have. 

Wooden pipes. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how many hands-on things there are. 

The North Star Mining Museum is located along Wolf Creek. There are two small bridges (one a former aqueduct) that take you across the creek to the Wolf Creek Trail. It's a lovely place to stroll. 

Our second destination, which we visited on Sunday, was Empire Mine State Historic Park. Empire Mine was the largest gold mine in California. During its 100+ years in operation, it extracted nearly 6 million ounces of gold from 367 miles of underground passages. It has operated as a State Historic Park since 1975.

Steve and I have both been to Empire Mine before, but it’s been around 25 years for me and over 30 years for Steve. It feels strange that I’m old enough to have visited something 25 years ago as an adult, but it is what it is. A lot has changed in 25 years, but my love of history, museums, and state parks has not. 

There is a lot to see at Empire Mine SHP. The visitor center is interesting and informative. 

Hey, look! I found another place to see a moon rock! It's only been a month since the last time I saw a moon rock (two, actually). 

Perhaps most interesting thing at Empire Mine is "The Secret Room." The entire room, named for its blacked-out windows, contains a scale model of the 5 square miles of the mine's workings. The grey and black portions are structural only. The colorful parts are the shafts and workings. The red, orange, and yellows were the richest areas, while the greens and blues were less productive. 

The park has a lot of the original buildings from the mine's operations, including the owner's home and gardens. They're gorgeous. 

Hi, Lizard!

Empire Mine SHP offers three tours: a garden tour, a cottage tour, and a mine tour, all included in the low admission price. We started with a self-guided tour of all three, then took the guided mine tour. While you can get most of the information from the brochure and many interpretative signs, there are definitely some perks with the guided tour. The main one is the chance to climb into this skip...

... and experience a "ride" down into the mine. I put ride into quotation marks because the skip doesn't actually travel, but clever lighting and shaking of the skip makes it feel like you do. It's really neat. 

When we weren’t learning about the mining history of Grass Valley, we were exploring downtown or relaxing in our hotel room. We stayed at Grass Valley Courtyard Suites, which I highly recommend. We had a King Balcony room. 

Our traditional anniversary selfie:

We ate very well during our time in Grass Valley. There are a lot of great options just a few blocks from the hotel. We quite surprised by the enormous portions at Grass Valley Brewing Company

The food at Cirino's was superb. The risotto with brie, grapes, and rosemary was to die for. So, so good. And their bread - I'll be thinking about that warm sourdough for a long time. 

You can't come to Grass Valley without eating their most famous food: the Cornish pasty. We got one to go from Grass Valley Pasty Company and enjoyed it on our balcony. One was enough for the two of us to split. 

We chose the pot roast pasty, but they have a lot of other tempting flavors. I would return there again and again. It was so delicious. 

As is always the case, our anniversary trip went by too quickly. We said goodbye to Grass Valley and went to go pick up Trevor from his grandparents. But we had one more super fun activity to do before the weekend ended. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.