Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rain, rain, don't go away. Again.

I live in Oregon. It rains a lot here or so people think.  But actually, rain totals here used to be about as much as the Midwest city I grew up in. The big difference is that there it really only rained in the spring and here it drizzles and sprinkles and rains almost all year round.  

Except for this year.  We've just had 90 plus days of dry, hot summer. It's not my Oregon. 

So when the rain began to fall, I could feel my body drinking it all in, washing away dust from the sidewalks and my soul. I watch the drops hit the window and slide down catching the light. The crisp, clear smell mixes with the soft patter to create a peaceful resting place. Sleeping as the rain falls is so blissfully cozy and I realize how much I need the relaxing rain. 

Now, I can get out my new clay and play. 

I had to slow down and come to a complete creative stop in August.  The hot, dry weather is not a good climate for porcelain clay. It drys too fast. It cracks. It's frustrating. I did manage to get bisque firing done on the one cooler day but again, those pieces are still sitting on the shelves, waiting. My kiln is outside, but with temperatures in the 90's, it's still too hot to do a glaze fire.

Inside my studio, I'm unpacking from a show, setting up my shelves and moving onward, hopefully. I've bought some new clay and I actually have a few new pieces drying. Another reason, I'm so grateful for the weather change. Slow, slow drying time means happy, healthy new pieces.  

Now I know the season is changing. 

I always have mixed feelings about fall. Change itself is never easy but this year as the water rains down, thunder booms and even, lightening sizzles, I am embracing this lovely shift into a new season. 

Suddenly, I can't wait to put up the leaf wreath. Trim back my lavender for drying. And cook up the last of the tomatoes. I'm sitting here sipping a chai tea and watching the last of the rain drops burst through the screen as the sky slowly shifts and lightens. 

Rain. Rain. Please, oh please, don't go away!  Not today. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Creating Calm.

Two hundred year old trees burned to the ground. Black sooty ash blew on the hot, humid wind dusting the garden, window sills, table tops inside and out. The sun turned orange and the air thickened with smoke. Across the country, hurricanes and tropical storms and earthquakes have devastated lives, homes and whole cities. 

The President promised help some people but refused to help others and hundreds of people were forced from their homes and fire fighters risked their lives battling the flames in my own state. 

Even if, like me, your home is safe, you feel the fear too. 

We are all connected on this planet. We feel the pain of the trees and animals and the people. Unlike our President, I don't deny or blame or hide from that fact. I try to breathe, embrace and help in whatever small way I can. 

I realize I can't do much. I can't stop it or fix it or wish it away. But I can, in my own small corner of the world create some calm. I can sit with that calm, letting it flow through me, around me and like a soft, sweet, clear breeze sweeping past me out into the world. 

Carrying with it my hope, my love, my heartbeat in a rhythm of a meandering, babbling droplets of water that pool, then trickle softly and spurt hopefully reviving us all.  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Life is a Roller Coaster.

This week has flown by. It's been a roller coaster ride of events and emotions, bad and good. 

We had a scare 3 years ago, when the vet told us Jilly, our sweet yellow Lab, had 3 months to live. Last week, at this time, I thought Jilly was dying. Now she's curled up at my feet snoozing in her normal, easy rhythm. Once again, my Jilly proved to me that miracles are possible. 


When I watched Jilly's labored breathing and weakness, all I could think of was death and loss and sadness. I worked to get her to drink water and broth and eat a little rice. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Mostly, she slept and I watched and worried. 

In almost utter despair, I took a walk to my woods, to my favorite tree seeking solace. As I leaned into this old, giant cedar, I immediately felt energy tingle my spine but what I didn't expect was the forceful push from the ground, up through my feet. It was almost hot and so abrupt that I almost moved away, yet I knew better. My cedar was sending me a strong message: don't give up. The life force being literally forced up through my body was not for me. The message was clear: Jilly's life force was strong whether or not she stayed with me in the here and now. 

I felt lifted, calmer and tired as I walked home. I didn't expect improvement but I felt now, I could handle whatever was ahead. 


When I walked into the house, Jilly lifted her head and looked straight at me. Her eyes were aware, awake, almost normal. Her breathing was calmer. Her energy had shifted. 

My husband and I helped her up and outside using a towel under her belly for support. But on the way back in, she jumped up the step on her own. We were surprised and glad, but cautious. She was still weak and not eating. We didn't expect much. 

Over the next two days, she began to eat handfuls of dog cookies. She drank more water. She got up and outside on her own. She was breathing more normally. And she was moving around to her usual spots for naps. Monday night, after my husband had gone downstairs and let her out for the night, he turned around and found her on the upstairs landing waiting to go bed as usual.

Encouraged, I made her a batch of homemade dog food and pureed chicken livers. She laid on the kitchen carpet watching my every move. When I was done, I put a cup in her bowl. She gobbled it up. I fed her 2 more times that day. She gobbled up more. 

Everyday since, she's gotten better and stronger. She's alert, wagging, barking and her usual sweet self. She's drooling for her Sunday bacon waffle. Yes, Jilly is my miracle dog, once again. 

No, I don't like roller coasters but seeing my sweet snoozing, living, breathing Jilly at my feet makes it all worth it. 

Again and again, I learn how much I don't know. How much I assume. How much I fear. How much I love and how much I refuse to let go. And now, how much I need to see and breathe and appreciate all the little things that make up the everyday living of life.

Even the dog hair all over my floor is a beautiful thing. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Creative Experiments.

Lately, something's been shifting in my world of making. I didn't see it or realize it at first because I was coming from a maker's mindset. I thought I was just making slab vases alongside my thrown vases. Then, slowly slab-built jars, oval dishes and platters appeared on my studio shelves. I was still throwing, making my usual mugs and bowls, so I didn't see that in the background of comfortable making, I was experimenting. 

Enter creative fear and frustration. 

I spied my shifting process and decided to throw myself into it on the wheel as well. If these new shapes and textures worked with slab-building, why not take it to the rest of my work? Sounds easy and obvious, doesn't it? 

Well, obvious doesn't follow as easily as I'd like.

I threw some vases and bowls.Then I got out all the things I used to create the slab-built textures to add to the thrown pieces. I was excited and energized and gleeful as I started wrapping things around and stamping things outside and in my thrown vases and bowls. Later, I painted and stained with the same colors as my slab pieces. 

The bisque went well but when I did the clear glaze firing, I didn't get what I'd hoped. I'm disappointed. I'm not sure why I don't like the thrown pieces as well as the slab ones. With the thrown pieces, it's harder to get the texture as deeply into the clay. Maybe that's it? So the staining part of the painting process didn't work the same either because after adding the clear glaze, I got blobs and runs because it didn't sink into the delicate texture. Maybe that's it?

Disappointment led me down another road. 

I found myself making faces. I used to do masks and sculpture exclusively but I haven't really done much in the last few year as my focus has been on functional ceramics. 

One Saturday, I wandered into my studio and next thing I knew, I'd made not just another face, but a small sculptural tree house. 

Yesterday, this new little creature appeared. 

Amazing. I was not happy with my kiln unloading but even as that frustration hovers, I realize I am moving anyway. Almost behind my own back, my creativity snuck out and started experimenting. Like a child put to bed, my creative self crept under the covers with a flashlight and kept experimenting. Will these pieces ever see the light of day? Will I figure out a way to give my thrown pieces the same texture and look as my slab-built pieces? I don't know. 

But maybe, that's not the point. The real discovery is failed creative experiments don't stop creativity.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Mystery: Nothing 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!


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.