Keep Calm and Color On

Coloring Book






I have a hip new hobby. I didn’t realize it was hip until recently.

For Christmas, my kids gave me a coloring book and a set of colored pencils. (They gave me some other things too, like a totally cool lamp for my office.)

I was intrigued by the coloring book, but not thrilled. Do they think I am ready for the old fart farm?

My talent lies with putting words on paper, not drawings. As much as I wanted to paint and draw as a kid, I could never get beyond black, claw-like winter trees. (There were plenty of those in Montreal.)

A few days into this new year, I opened up the book on my dining table – Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure & Coloring Book by Johanna Basford. I felt a little silly. Memories of being bored in kindergarten, Brownies and high school sewing.

The pages seemed overwhelming. All those sea bottoms and weird creatures and castles and hidden treasures. Where to start?

The answer is with one pencil stroke, of course. And then another. And then a pleasurable feeling of accomplishment as the black and white illustrations – including crabs with claws – came to life. Pages filled with color and the stroking motions to get there were soothing.

Soon I was looking forward to new pages, new color combinations, and whenever I had a spare few minutes, the book called to me. Waiting for a friend or a phone call? Color. Finished work, but not ready for dinner? Color. Feeling jittery watching all the terrible news on TV? Color. I found I could balance the book on my legs, even if sharing it with a cat, and color away. It is a relief not to have to look at any more car crashes, shootings, fires, ribbon cuttings or anchor women in sausage dresses and yet still keep informed. Beneficial multi-tasking.

I texted my kids with an illustration (my best work yet) and the message “I have become an addict.” And then I needed my fixes, new pencils. I couldn’t pass a stationery or art supply store without going in to check out their supply. Nor could I pass up the small art sections in the drug and grocery stores. Who knew there are now 25 kinds of crayons? I found some great push-up pencils by Crayola that don’t require sharpening.  And a set of metallic pencils at Aaron Brothers that add a soft gleam. Recently spotted unusual colors in an expensive gift store. I picked up one in a gorgeous chartreuse and rolled it around in my fingers like I used to do cigarettes. But at $3 a pop, I can do without. For now, anyway.

I’ve also learned that certain instruments do not work, for example, markers. Except for highlighting tiny spots, they are too saturated, not subtle enough.

It’s the closest I come to being a real artist. Working for years in desktop publishing, as an adjunct to journalism and technical writing, I have a good eye for balance, color and design.

And the meditative benefit is a bonus!

In a few weeks, I finished the book and drove up to Book Star for a new one. To my surprise, the whole front window was filled with a display of coloring books. Inside, there was also a huge display – larger than sections for self-help, relationships, addictions and diets. And so many subjects to color. Birds. Animals. Flowers. Mandalas. Ethnic designs.

I picked “Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book,” also by Basford.

“I love to color,” said the young clerk as she checked me out. “And this Johanna is the woman who started it all.”

Then, of course, as often happens when you learn something new, you see it or hear about it everywhere. From friends and family:

“We use it in our stress management classes at work.”

“My daughter has a coloring group in her college dorm.”

Maybe the workers and students who color together stay calm and carry on together.coloring book

And now I see coloring books popping up in unexpected places, boutiques, newsstands. Even a blurb in the latest (May ’16) “Westways” magazine:

“Who says coloring books are just for kids? Trendy adults are taking up this hip hobby as a way to pass the time on long car rides or plane trips … intricate and soothing drawings will put “big kids” in vacation mode in no time.”


Help! Yelped Out …


images[2]Is Yelping helpful or harmful?

Me, I love Consumer Reports reviews. Items, from cars, stoves and lawnmowers to pharmacies and power bars tested and dissected. Results corralled into colorful graphs, easy to read or even tear out and carry in purse or pocket when I brave the Best Buy or Staples printer aisle. Those reviews appeal to the logical, objective, practical side of me.

But Consumer Reports does not review local shops and restaurants or that lamp or blouse I am considering online. So I reluctantly scroll down to reviews, comments, ratings. Occasionally they are helpful. Fifteen in a row, for example, about Chipotle’s Montezuma Revenge Burrito. Or a dozen ALL writing that the cheap table is made of cardboard and falls apart as soon as you set down a drink.

However, most reviews are a mixed collection of rambling, opposing opinions and reactions. At first they amuse me, then they annoy me, then they tire me, and finally they make me lose hope for humanity. Yelp ReviewI mean, if we cannot find some civil common ground on the neighborhood bakery, how can we debate clean water, good schools, and other policies?

How can several different people walk into that same bakery and see it so differently? One calls the owner “The Donut Nazi” and another refers to her as “a snobby bitch who ignored me.” The pastries are like rocks. To another reviewer, the owner was a cross between Mary Poppins and an Italian grandmother. The biscotti is the best she’s tasted since living in Tuscany.

Comments about restaurants are even more subjective. Terrible service, great food. Great service, terrible food. Loud, uncomfortable setting. Hip and friendly place. “Stacie our waitress forgot to write four separate checks.” “Stacie our waitress spilled wine on my husband but was so cute and bubbly we gave her a big tip anyway.” Suddenly everyone reviewing online is a food and wine expert – and most have never worked in restaurants, you can tell.

Clothing items are also confusingly rated. Too small, had to send back. Ran large so I gave it to my aunt. Itchy material and the buttons popped off. Nice for the price, extremely comfortable and I loved the buttons. Would I recommend to a friend? No, never. Yes, in fact I ordered two more in different colors. With such mixed reviews, it’s hard to know where the truth lies and whether to charge ahead or pass.

I refrain from writing nasty reviews. Only once did I complain online – about a florist. I had ordered a floral bouquet for my sister’s birthday and was picking it up on my way to Los Angeles. When I stopped to pick it up, my car loaded with clothes and other getaway items, the owner was not there and the clerks had no record of the order. They kindly offered to assemble an arrangement. It was beautiful. I was annoyed at having to wait before getting on the freeway, but no big deal. I thought the owner would call me to apologize, but she never did. So I logged into Yelp! and complained. She then called me, saying she had neglected to write down my order and my phone number and had no way of contacting me until I posted online. She offered me free flowers and I took down the comment.

It IS tempting when someone in a store or restaurant is rude to rant and yelp. The equivalent of tattling when we were kids. Does it accomplish anything? Maybe the clerk was having a hard day, maybe his rent check bounced or his hours got cut or a girlfriend dumped him. Not that bad behavior should be tolerated forever, but I honestly believe most clerks are doing the best they can (see my blog post, These Clerks, They are A-Tryin’).

So as fascinating as it is to delve into the world of retail trolling, I look forward to my next issue of Consumer Reports. Yelp Footer