Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Bouquet of Freshly Sharpened Pencils.

"I wish I could send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils." This quote is stuck in my head this week.  It's quote from the movie, "You've Got Mail". It was voiced by character, Joe Fox(Tom Hanks) as he is writing an email to Kathleen Kelley(Meg Ryan) about the wonders of Fall.  

It's the beginning of school for many families.  I've had years of the ritual: new shoes, binders, backpacks, notebooks, crayons and, yes, freshly sharpened pencils.

I didn't think I'd miss it but I do.  And not for the reason you might think.  

Of course, I miss my children's cute, freshly scrubbed faces twinkling with hope and excitement.  But what I really miss is starting a new year, a new grade, in a new classroom with a new teacher which all adds up to a new beginning.

New beginnings are exciting.  They're full of potential and opportunity and wonder.

As I work away in my studio day after day, there's no marker for my work days or time.  There's no bell to signal the beginning of the day or a bus to take me home at the end.  There's no anticipation of hunting for the perfect studio outfit or getting just the right shoes.  I don't need a backpack filled with new school supplies.

And while, I love my life and seeing life as my own teacher, I sometimes get so busy I forget to let myself out for recess. With my studio as part of my home, I can forget to get on the bus and leave my work behind. 

My new beginnings happen all the time, but I don't have a designated day.  So, I don't stop and see it.  Or let myself wonder at the potential or opportunity or discovery.

So, maybe it's time to do it.  Officially, designate a new beginning, everyday start my own first day of school by living it.  And maybe, honor it by getting something new?

Here's my very own bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils.  Recess anyone?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Change to smile about.

I've changed.  Over my life, it's happened in many ways, some expected and some not.  But one thing I thought would remain the same was my art. 
Why am I smiling?
Because I'm glad I've changed my media.  I love working in clay.  It feels like coming home after years of being away and being greeted by an old friend.   
I started doing clay work in high school and college ceramics class followed by watercolor, ink, jewelry, beading, embroidery, fiber art, oil painting, pastels, masks and copper repousse. In my professional life, I was a writer.  I still enjoy creating with words which is probably why I love my blog.  

Working on the wheel creating functional work is just peaceful and meditative.

Making masks and creating clay sculptural work inspires my imagination.  Adding color to all of this is just plain fun!

Which is why, I now have a brand new website.  Created by my talented son, it showcases the new feeling in my studio as well as my new work.  

And after many years of watching other artists on Etsy, I've opened my own store, SusangtCeramics.  

Yes, I've changed.  And I'm still smiling about it!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

As The Wheel Turns - The Finish Line.

​Finishing.  It's not my favorite part of the process.  I know it seems weird to hate it because you'd think that seeing a finished piece, the end result would be the best part.  It is.  But getting there in those last stretches of the waxing, glazing, loading the kiln and firing is just no fun.  Here's why.  

First: Mess.  

While I love throwing wet clay around on a wheel, I hate glazing.  There's mixing the glaze with a drill mixer.  Measuring out the right amount and remixing with water.  Setting up newspapers, papertowels, rinsing bowls, gloves and towels.  Then, no matter how careful I am with all of the above, there are always drips, splashes to be mopped.  

Second: Boredom.

The process is boring but it must be done.  And done correctly to ensure a nicely finished piece.  Here's the process:  Position the pot.  Mix the glaze.  Pour glaze over pot.  Wipe excess off the bottom.  Catch drips.  Scrape left over glaze back into container.  Repeat. Dozens of times.

Third: Waiting.

don't wait well.  But, this process cannot be rushed.  Glaze has to be mixed properly.  Pieces have to be waxed and the wax has to dry.  The glazed pieces have to sit on the shelf and dry. Even after loading the kiln, I have to wait for at least three days to give the pieces time to cool off before I can see how they turned out.  

But it all must be done.  So that in the end, each piece is finished.  Hopefully, it will all turn out well and be well worth it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Summertime = Ripe, Juicy Tomatoes.

As a kid, I never tasted a really ripe, juicy, sun-ripened tomato.  In the midwest, tomatoes came in a can.  In the northwest, tomatoes are available year round but they are usually underripe, hard and tasteless.  
I've never been a big fan of fresh tomatoes.  Until now.
Now, I grow my own in my little backyard garden.  I'm not an experieced gardener but I've managed to grow lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, chard and tomatoes.  I've learned along the way what works and what doesn't.  I've figured out that there are good years and bad years for some veggies.
This year has been very good tomato year!  I have a mix of juiciness to choose from this year's bumper crop.  From sweet, orange cherry tomatoes to huge, juicy beefsteaks.  
Recipe ideas abound, of course.  But my favorites are among the basics because they show off the purity and juicy flavor of a truly sun-ripened tomato. 
1.  BLT
What a classic.  Toasted whole grain bread, mayo, homegrown lettuce, thick sliced tomato from the garden and crisp, nitrate free bacon.  Yum!
2.  Fresh garden greens topped with ripe tomato slices and tossed with vinigrette.
3.  Tomato Mozzarella and Basil Salad
Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella.  Arrange on a bed of fresh basil leaves.  Drizzle with olive oil and top with salt and pepper.  Eat!

4.  Tomato Fritatta
Beat 4 eggs.  Add olive oil to a skillet, saute green onions and garlic.  Add eggs.  Arrange sliced tomatoes on top, sprinkle sliced black olives and mediterran spiced feta.  When bottom's done, broil the top under a broiler until the cheese is melted.  Serve with crusty bread!
5. Slice the ripe tomatoe, sprinkle with salt, pop in your mouth and close your eyes.

Now that's summer!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


​I'm sitting in a cool room on a sunny, summer day.  Wondering...why?

Why do such amazingly, talented people kill themselves? 

Why do smiling, healthy, loved mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers kill themselves?

Why, with all our technology and health miracles, can't we stop suicide?

I don't understand it.  I'm sad and mad and bewildered. 

And I know I'm not alone in how I feel and what I question.  This is a cross-cultural, multi-generational, human problem.  It happens everywhere around the globe since humans began. Many more eloquent writers have written about it than me.  Many of them provide insight and resources and personal experiences.

I don't have that.  I only have a question. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Talking To The Trees: Go around or through?

(This is the 8th from my collection of essays. To read the other 7 go here,  here  here and here and here and here and here Or click under Topics, Walking in nature) 

Jilly and I were walking through the woods enjoying the sweet sunshine and light breeze.  She was sniffing here and there.  I was watching the leaves shift and shimmer.  Meandering along familiar path, we were forced to stop, our route blocked by a large clump of fallen birch branches. 

Last week, the path was open and Jilly and I went our merry way.  This week, the path was blocked and Jilly and I could not go down the path to the big tree I call, Father Birch. 

I felt disappointed.  I don’t like not being able to go the way I want.  I considered how much time and strength it would take to clear away the branches, then I had a better idea.

Go around.

I remembered a path up the hill to my left, further ahead, that wound back into the woods by Father Birch.  Jilly and I turned and went that way.  Leaning my tired and tense left shoulder against Father Birches huge, multi branching trunk, I breathed in the fresh summer air and listened.   Here’s what I heard Father Birch say to me.

“You are strong. You don’t have to tense your shoulder, arm or wrist to protect yourself.  It’s strong enough, so are you.  Trust it.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I took in the wise words.  I wasn’t protecting myself from future injury.  I was holding onto my old injury, weakness and pain that came when I broke my wrist 7 years ago.   I am healed.  I am strong.  And it’s time now, to let go of that old wound and trust my healed bones and muscles.

I walked up the slope and along the winding path from Father Birch to visit the other, smaller birch near the water I call, Mother Birch.  We stopped.  Blocked.  Again. 

This time, it was a pile of bare branches long and short, thin and thick from a variety of bushes and trees.  There was no other way to get to Mother Birch, because these branches were piled directly in front of her.  Again, I felt disappointed.  But this time, I was mad.   I looked down at the pile in front of me and made a decision.

Go through.

I asked Jilly to stay and reached down to the first branch in front of me, picked it up and threw it into the brush beside the path.  One by one, I lifted each branch, big and small, and placed it beside the path to my right.  I slid the bigger branches down the slope to my left.  The last branch, the biggest, had to be lifted up and over my head, around the tree and pushed down the slope and finally came to rest next to a large fern.  I looked up at Mother Birch, down at the ground newly cleared in front of Jilly and me.
I walked forward, reached out and patted Mother Birch.  Then turned and leaned in.  I felt her kind, strong warmth supporting my back.  I sighed and listened.

Mother Birch said, “Yes.  He’s right about your strength, of course.  But there’s another thing you need to know.  You don’t always need to use it.  But, then, you just proved that, didn’t you?”

I wasn’t sure I’d proved anything.  I’d just taken a different path to Father Birch and cleared some old branches in front of her.  What did that have to do with being strong?

She said, “Knowing that you are strong, believing in your own strength gives you more choices.  You know you don’t need to run and hide.  And you know that you can fight, but you can choose not to.  You can choose another path, or you can clear the path.  It’s up to you.”

Suddenly, I saw what the wood was teaching me today.

First, the path to Father Birch was blocked.  It was big.  I felt it would take a long time for me to clear it on my own.  Then, I realized that I didn’t have to clear it.  I could take another path and still get where I wanted to go.  By going around.

The other path to Mother Birch was blocked, too.  It was a pretty big pile of branches.  I’d heard Father Birch’s words to trust my strength.  I did.  I decided to clear the path so I could get where I wanted to go.  By going through.

Life’s journey takes us down many paths.  Some are hard.  Some are easy.  Some are open.  Some are blocked.  When faced with the blocked paths, now, I realize I can believe in my own strength.  Trust it.  And with that strength and trust, I can make a choice.
Go around.  Or go through. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rooms to grow.

​Here's the update on the redecorating of my daughter's room.

This room has grown with her from little girl lavender and bunnies to teenage magenta, teal and music posters to a young adult room.  When she moved out for college, I redid it (for me) in chamois and red as a writing room.  She moved back in and so did a black platform bed.  

Here's what it looked like after she moved out again, emptied of the platform bed with the wicker chaise, chairs and desk.  It felt out of sync and a little empty.

Here's the new room under construction.  

Completion!  Rosy off white walls.   A white sofa bed that opens to a full bed.  Two new tables one black, one white with the legs switched to make Ikea more interesting.  A big, brand new desk (for me) with a shelf/storage unit beside it.  New pillows on the window seat.  New lamps.  

I realized the other day, that this is the first time in over 20 years that this bedroom has had completely new furniture!  It's a little amazing, wonderful and, ok, nostalgic.

Our homes are containers of our lives. 

They hold within their walls all those days and nights that will forever be frozen in our memories.  Good ones like our first romantic, couple bedroom(ok, glad the waterbed was a fad) and anniversary toasts, my children's first yawns in this world, Cinderella birthdays, Thomas the Tank Engine themed bedrooms, prom and wedding dresses, and all those Christmas trees and decorated cookies and non-turkey dinners.

All of these memories aren't just inside our heads, they're inside our rooms and closets and garages.  I don't know about you, but my home is like one big evolving scrapbook of my life and the lives of my husband, daughter and son.  

So redecorating is a bittersweet trip down memory lane along with a joy ride into the future.  

As I sit here on my new, pristine white sofa bed, I smile and sigh and know that this is yet another room that will grow more memories.