Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Mystery: It doesn't start as anything but it becomes something.


I love starting a new piece. Whether it's thrown or sculpted or slab, it's just clay. I pick it up and move it around listening, feeling, wondering. I have no expectations. I'm just exploring and improvising with textures and forms until the piece surfaces into reality. 

Somewhere in there, something happens. 

It becomes a vase or a bowl or a jar. Then I work with it adding colors on top of colors and textures on top of textures. I put it in the kiln to set one set of colors. Out it comes, cools off and gets another set of colors. 

I love all of this but there comes a time when the end is near. 

Glazing is not my kind of fun. It takes mixing and measuring and careful attention to get the glaze just right. There are all the usual chemistry requirements to make a proper solution with the right viscosity to achieve an even glossy glaze that people expect in a functional piece of ceramics. 

Then there is the mess, drips, equipment to set up, use and clean up after. With my studio set up this means two separate rooms across my house. That means lugging of buckets back and forth from my utility room to my studio and back again. Towels are everywhere and even then, drips abound. So there are counters and floors to wash and mop. 

Loading the kiln and crossing my fingers. 

Kiln loading is a logistical puzzle that is both nerve racking and intriguing.  It's a challenge to get a wide variety of pieces in one load and I'm always glad when it all fits, finally. 

Closing the lid and turn on the kiln is hard, because it's time to let go. I have to put them in the fire and hope for the best. Will they crack?  Will the glaze cover evenly and smoothly? Will the colors meld together? Will the jar lids come apart? 

These pieces that started as nothing but clay have become something.

I'm attached to them, to their shapes and colors and their future. Now all I can do is wait. And hope. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sweet, Sweet Summer.


Summer is my favorite season for several reasons: blooms and fragrances, juicy peaches, berries, fresh lettuce and tomatoes from my own garden. I love cooking with it all and eating it just as much, of course. So, I decided this week's blog is going to celebrate the lusciousness of Summer. 

Hail Berries!

And peaches, too!  We are now growing our own blueberries, so when we feel the urge for blueberry waffles, the main ingredient is just steps away. My sweet granddaughter Meyer loves blueberries, too and this year I introduced her to a summertime family tradition: Frozen yogurt shakes. 

For her snack this week on Mondays with Meyer, she was presented with her Daddy's favorite, frozen banana, blueberry and plain yogurt shake. She hesitated at first, but after I took a sip, she did too. Then it was more, more, more Gram!   

Peaches are now coming on at our local Farmer's Market and I wait for this every year. My absolute favorite recipes are a peach blueberry cobbler and a peach galette. My daughter inspired me this year to increase flavorings in my filling. So this year, homage to Caitlin, the peaches were mixed with brown sugar and bourbon along with nutmeg. Delicious!

Tomatoes. 

This year the challenge with our tomato crop is our dog, Jilly. You see, Jilly has decided she loves not just the blueberries and strawberries, but tomatoes, too. We found her yesterday in the middle of the garden box eating all the low cherry tomatoes!

Let's just say the low output of ripe tomatoes is no longer a mystery. 

Of course, a big clue was the bright green stains on Jilly's face. Yeah. 

Anyway, Meyer is a tomato lover, too. Although she likes tomatoes cut up with her lunch or dinner, her favorite way is straight out of the garden. As you can see, she likes hers plain with nothing added. 

My favorite is the classic Capressa salad. I have basil growing on my patio and tomatoes in the garden, so all I do is add Trader Joe's marinated mozzarella. Voila! Dinner. 

Patio heaven. 

The best place for summer is hanging out on the patio. Yes, it's been a hot year here, so afternoons are out of the question. But evenings after 7pm are wonderful. Eating on the patio or just sipping a chilled Pinot Grigio is just about perfect. 

It takes me back to those lazy days of childhood. Playing games. Reading books. Sipping lemonade on the back porch. Running through the neighborhood backyards playing ghost in the graveyard as the sun sets. 

Now I get to light candles, enjoy sipping a Chardonnay and watch the lights twinkle on my backyard sculpture. 

I do love Summer. 
 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What's Too Hot? What's Not.


Is it ever too hot to create? That's the question this week as temperatures in the moderate Pacific Northwest soared into the triple digits. I'd like to believe these temperatures are an anomaly but with all the changes across our earth, I know it's not. So the question is not just how to survive but how to thrive. 

Into the cool cave. 

Three years ago, we broke down and bought an air conditioning unit. We said we bought it for our dog, Jilly, who was 9 years old and had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor that was supposed to kill her in 3 months. We were told to make sure she stayed calm and didn't run or jump or get too excited. Since hot weather made her really stressed, we bought the AC unit. 

At first, sitting in the sun-blocked room with the AC on was somewhat delicious. We were cool and calm. I worked on my computer and read. But this year, I just couldn't settle into it. My computer work got done. I read all the news. I just couldn't binge watch another TV show. I was restless. I finally realized: I was bored. 

Sweating through the day anyway.

I have shows coming up and work that needs to be finished. But I can't run the kiln because my space isn't totally air conditioned. Making new work in very hot, dry weather is problematic when you work in clay, especially porcelain. I learned the hard way that forcing work is never a good idea. But porcelain needs to dry very, very slowly to prevent cracks and that's just not possible with dry, hot weather. 

I had to work. Not just for production purposes, but for my peace of mind. My hands need to brush, pinch, draw. My mind needs the centered calm of clay, color and texture. My soul lives to create. 
Yes, sweat was pouring into my eyes as I stood there under glazing my jars, mugs and flowers. It might be too hot outside, but inside, my hands, mind and soul were connected and content. Showing me that it's much better to be too hot in the studio than to be cool and bored. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Creating Strength.


In the last two weeks, I've been put through a series of health tests. Not because there was anything wrong but because I feel the need to check things out every few years. Bottom line: I'm fine. 

But the medical establishment fueled by the drug companies would, unfortunately, like me to be fearful, worried about random sets of numbers on an ever sliding scale that they set up to scare us into taking drugs. In my case, though my weight, blood pressure, diet and exercise regime is very healthy, the arbitrary 'cholesterol' numbers are now considered high. Of course, they want me to take statin drugs, which cause a whole set of very unhealthy side effects. 

Say no to drugs.

In case you're wondering, I have studied the whole cholesterol scare since I was in college. My uncle, a biochemist, actually studied food, like eggs, and cholesterol. His conclusion: food is not the problem. Even with those findings, a whole marketing program began in the 50's to sell the American people on fake eggs and margarine. We all know now, how that really turned out. My uncle was right and the medical establishment was wrong. 

The bottom line is cholesterol is essential to your brain health, as well as other things, and while there is some debate as to its effect on heart health, it is only one of many factors to consider. I won't go into it now, but if you're curious Google, The Cholesterol Myth, a book written about how the facts have been re-written for a number of reasons including medical and corporate profits. 

Celebrate health. 

That's what I've decided to do. How can I do that and can we all do that? Yes. 

Instead of adding up calories or following the latest advice trends, why not listen to my body. Everyday, I can ask myself: what does my body really want? Sometimes, it's food, sometimes, not. Sometimes, my body wants a good, long walk. Time in the studio. A bubble bath. A yoga class. A good book to read. Or a silly video that gives me a good hearty laugh. 

Walking in the woods revives me in so many ways. Yoga moves both in and out of class make me feel both strong and flexible. Taking time to still my monkey mind from swinging from thought to thought creates clarity. A good hug, kiss or giggle lifts my heart. 

Creating strength begins with me. 

From the inside out, I strive to honor and create strength in body, mind and soul. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? For me, it takes conscious thought, action and awareness everyday. 

I choose as much as I can, moment to moment. I try not to get sucked into the fear surrounding me. When I see a drug commercial, I turn the sound off.  When I hear food fears or ageist thinking, I try to see it for what it is: propaganda.

My life isn't about sculpting a perfect body with diet, exercise, surgery or drugs. My life is about living, loving, creating and most of all, enjoying the beauty and strength of being on this earth right now. Today. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Confessions of a Technophobe.


I admit: I'm technophobic. When it comes time to push that post, upload, or share button, I cringe and expect it to all crash. I know it sounds crazy because I've had a blog, Facebook page, Instagram and website for almost a decade but I still fear the worst. 

I'm terrified of websites. In my nightmare, I push the button and KABLAM, my site turns black and my computer blows up into bits all around the room. I lose everything, my blog, my passwords, my photos, all of my writing. Everything.  

Time to jump off the website building.

I've had a website, thanks to my talented son, for over 10 years. He's had computer graphic design classes and knows how to use Adobe like a pro. My websites have always looked amazing and I'm very grateful. But now he's busy with work, his daughter and studying for his MBA. 

So it's time for me to figure this out and I'm terrified and it's not the first time. I bought a website builder 3 years ago that was advertised as easy, quick and simple with drag and drop templates. If I could design my blog on blogspot with easy templates, surely I could do this website builder, right? Wrong.  It was awful. Nothing worked as advertised and the money back guarantee only meant a guarantee I'd never get my money back. 

My son, once again, came to my rescue. But, this time, I am on my own. 

I searched the web for easy website builders that would allow me to use my own domain name that I've had for 10 years. Just in case you are as in the dark as I was about all those 'free' website builders out there, let me shine some light for you here. They are NOT FREE. 

They do offer free template designs. But you have to pay them for a domain name and hosting and also in some cases, carry pop up ads on your site. I also found out that you don't own your own content, so if they decide to close down, you lose everything you put into and on your site. 

How to conquer computer terror? Sneak up on it.

I froze for quite a few weeks but in the end, I had to have a new website. Period. I was tired of spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. I wanted to feel in control of my online content, it was time to learn to control my technophobia. 

After much surfing, which is code for procrastination, I chose Wordpress. I read through the start guide, which promised a website in an hour. Ha. Maybe for non-technophobes. The only way I could approach this project was to go very slowly like a teenager learning to drive. 

Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Go.

First, I got out my trusty pen and notebook and outlined all the elements I wanted on my site. I outlined the pages I wanted. Created an album of photos I'd use. Wrote my copy. That's my comfort zone - writing on paper. I had my notebook beside me as my security blanket when I finally opened up my Wordpress page and every time I worked on the site.

While my husband watched golf, which I find relaxing, I sat down and worked on it online for maybe 2 hours. Then I took 2 days or more off. I'd do another page or two. Take more days off. Carefully very carefully, I'd click on create a menu. Take 2 weeks off. Edit a page or two. Take more days off. In between, I'd visit it just to make sure it hadn't blown up, crashed or disappeared. It didn't.

Today, my website: susangt.com is UP!

Yes, it took me 30 days to get my website designed, uploaded and running. I had to push that UPLOAD button many, many times and each time, it got a little easier. The panic slowly subsided and morphed into accomplishment. But not confidence, not yet. 

Hello, my name is Susan and I'm a technophobe. 

Because I'm still holding my breath and wondering if I can wrap it in bubble wrap. Just in case. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Mondays with Meyer: Be Lazy.


As I write the headline, I realize there is a big pull in my gut against the word, lazy. It brings up many bad thoughts, words and pictures from deep within. I know it is societal conditioning from early childhood to always 'do' something. And by doing something I will 'be' someone. 

Do. Be. Do. Be. Do.

Hmmm, I wonder what if the line started and ended with Be?

This week, Meyer was in a different toddler mood. Some might call it clingy or insecure or tired or mellow. She wanted to sip juice and listen to a music on the Raffi channel. We sat and read the same two books over and over.  Both my favorites by the way, "Frederick" by Lio Leoni and "The Very Hungry Catepillar" by Eric Carle. She made soup from rocks and splashed in a pan of bubbly water but mostly, we nestled together in the big, black, cushy leather chair. 


She dozed, snacked and sipped and listened to the wind chimes. After lunch, she napped. We picked blueberries and ate them. We made peanut butter and graham cracker sandwiches. And watched an episode of Daniel Tiger on PBS Kids while she sipped and snuggled some more. 

Be. Do nothing. 

It occurred to me after she left to go home, that I would never in a million years call a toddler, lazy. Instead, I saw her as needing rest and at the same time, in her stillness, watching her hear her world around her. The neighbors lawnmower. Crows cawing. Ringing wind chimes. Airplanes flying overhead. She was truly be-ing in the moments of her day. 

How often do I even hear the wind chimes, airplanes, crows? Or pick warm, fresh blueberries and pop them in my mouth? Or swish sweet-scented bubbles around with my hands for the pure feel of it? Or close my eyes and just take a nap?

Doing nothing doesn't mean being nothing. It means being in every moment without having to do everything. Try it. Put yourself in a comfy place, let your head flop back, and close your eyes. 

Be. Brave. Be. Lazy. Be Do Be Do Be. 

Another lesson learned from my Mondays with Meyer.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Filling Empty Bowls with Hope.


Fourth of July means many things to many people but to me, it means volunteering for the Oregon Food Bank. I help set up a Oregon Potter's Association booth at the Waterfront Blues Festival where donated pottery and glass is sold and 100% of the proceeds goes directly to the local food bank. 


I donate over $100 of pottery I make as well. I volunteer 12-15 hours or more each year onsite during the 3-5 day festival. I stock shelves, put up displays and wrap up purchases. Yes, I also sell my ceramics for the last few days of the festival. But I lower my prices by 50%, as well as give another 25% from my sales directly to the food bank. 

It's not about making money. It's about giving back. 

You see, for years before I made bowls, cups, or vases, I bought them at the Empty Bowls Booth to benefit the Food Bank. Even when I was scared for my own family, I bought a bowl because I needed to hope. 

I know what it's like to fear for basic survival. To wonder if I'd have enough to feed everyone in my home. When my husband was laid off a decade ago, we had two children living at home and going to college. We couldn't afford Cobra healthcare and have a roof over our heads and eat. We all worked part time jobs to keep us going. And still, we found a few dollars to buy a bowl at the OPA booth. 

Hope. 

My husband bought a blue and black bowl that year. It wasn't very expensive, because it couldn't be. It wasn't big, either, just a cereal or soup bowl size. But I saw it as a symbol of hope. 

I filled it with some pennies, added water and put it on the small table by the window. When I found a few blooming flowers in the garden, I added them too. And every day, when I walked by, I saw that the bowl wasn't empty but full. I saw it as a symbol that the void in our lives would be once again, filled. That we would all survive. That we would all be safe. That maybe, just maybe, we would even thrive. 

Fulfilled. 

A decade has passed since then and we've survived and thrived. It's not been an easy road, and it's continued to twist and turn, but in the big picture, we made it through. Jobs, graduations, opportunities allowed us all to move onward and upward. For that, I am very grateful. 

On this 4th of July, I am once again in the OPA Empty Bowls booth. But in addition to buying a bowl to feed the hungry, I'm filling shelves with my own bowls to feed the hungry and my soul. 

This is what makes America Great, not again, but always: the spirit of generosity in all of US.