Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrate Life! It’s a New Year!

Here I sit on New Year’s Eve looking out the window wondering what to write. Should I talk about this year’s accomplishments or next year’s goals? Should I reminisce or resolve? Should I select a self-help guru to guide me through the process of living or trust myself to live my own life.

There’s so much out there telling you and me how to live our life. How to lose weight. How to be healthy. How to get married. How to make money. How to raise our kids. How to organize, prioritize, socialize and commercialize ourselves and our work. Even how to die.

But after the events of the last month, shootings that killed little children, teachers and fathers and mothers, I realized there’s no guru, goal, resolution, or how-to-book that can bring them back. Ever.

So, this year, I am going to do one thing: Live.

Breathe and look up at the sky. Watch the little white flakes of snow float down slowly one at a time. Sip my tea. Savor the homemade chocolates I make only once a year.

Listen to the soft snore of my dog, Jilly. Pet my kitty till she purrs. Kiss my husband. Hug my daughter and my son and my son-in-law.

Watch the eagle fly across the lake. See the Heron fish. Notice all the green growth right alongside the bare tree branches and frosty fallen leaves. And along the way, notice that my own growth happens right alongside my own bare roots.

At the store clerk, bank teller, bread baker, truck driver, jogger and walkers who pass by and around me every day. Because, today, we are all alive.

Celebrate. Life!

Happy Today. Happy Now. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Cheers!

It’s that season again. And I have a confession to make: I love it.
Scented candles...
and fresh greens.
Getting out the Christmas china.
Twinkling lights inside and out.
Trains circling the trees and tables.
Rows of Santa’s marching in and among the Christmas book collection. Oh, look it’s art and writing right there together in one room!
Even 'adults' become kids when it's time to unwrap presents
There’s many reasons to love the season. It brings together family and friends, food and fun, cheer and happy memories. Maybe there’s two more reasons I love the season so much. It also brings together two of my creative loves: art and writing.
Here’s to everyone! Cheers and love and light and creativity for now and forever!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Today, the world did not end.

It was predicted. But the world does what the world does, it went through a transition. Naturally.

Today is the solstice. It marks the shortest day and longest night in our earth’s rotation. But it also marks the shift from long nights to longer days. From now on, each day will bring us all a little more light and less dark. I think we need it now more than ever.

It’s been a difficult week for many, many people across the country. Today, their lives are changed forever. Their hearts, along with many, many others are heavy.

It’s especially important today, then, of all days to remember to bring as much light into the world as we can.

Day and night. Now. You and me. Us and them.

Light a candle. Hug someone you love. Say thank you to the universe. Give your neighbor some cookies. Open a door for a stranger. Let someone else have the parking space. Smile at the very weary store clerk. Let someone ahead of you in line.

Look at all the tiny lights in your life. The ones that seem insignificant and meaningless…like the green light in your favor, the parking space when you need it, the just enough that allows you to be generous …and thank them.

Thank them all. For breath. For hearts beating. For love. For coffee and tea and chocolate and shortbread and stew and hot rolls.

But most of all, thank them all for life. For light. For you. And for me… Right here. Right now.

Celebrate life, light and joy.
Happy Solstice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Birthdays and Tragedies.

Last week was my birthday. I got pretty presents. I got taken to lunch and dinner. I was cared for by people who love me.

But I have to admit, at one point I was having a private little pity party. I was feeling somewhat sad for my birthday and the fact that I was one year older. I have grey hair and wrinkles and an empty nest. Pitiful.

Then, life woke me up.

I got a text from my son in law. He and everyone in his store, including customers were locked in the staff break room. The mall was in lock down. There were shots being fired. People were killed. And the police were surrounding the mall searching for the shooter. My husband was on his way to the scene to do his job, reporting on news events and my son in law was trapped inside the mall. My family was in harm’s way. And there was not a thing I could do about it.

I was scared.

Then, I got another text. My son in law was safe. My husband’s voice was on the radio, live. The mall was evacuated. The shooter was found, dead. But, that afternoon, while I celebrated living another year, two people were killed and one wounded in a bizarre shooting at a mall 20 minutes from my home.

I was shocked.

What we didn’t know then, was that one of the two people killed was a man that my husband worked with for many years. He was a kind and well-loved man who will be greatly missed.

I am still sad.

I have avoided writing about this for a week now. I still can’t believe that there are people so crazy and evil that they would gun down innocent men, women and children. Senseless, evil things happen around me all the time. And this time, it happened in my own town. I don’t want to believe it.

I want to stop it. But I can’t. Any more than I can turn back the clock, change the past or the future. I can’t change birthdays or tragedies.

I can only be here. Now. In the present.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cheating on one love with another.

I feel guilty about it. I have two big loves in my life: art and writing. But lately, I’m spending way more time with art than I am with writing. I know, feeling guilty about not writing when I’m busy making pots and sculptures. It does seem ridiculous because they’re both ways to create. Right?

But. Oh don’t you just love that word?

It feels a little like I’m cheating on someone I love with someone else I love.


Introducing one love: Art.
My artist self loves throwing clay around on the wheel. Making bowls, mugs, vases and plates. She also loves that I’m back to hand building but she’s a little impatient because sculpture just doesn’t move fast enough at least not in comparison to the wheel. On the wheel, I can make 4 pieces in about 2 hours but hand building and especially sculpture can take days, weeks or months. On the wheel, the bowl either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I smoosh it up, throw on another mound of mud and move on. On the sculpture stand, a piece may be working or not. I don’t always know, even after years of practice. I might hate the piece and think it a total failure in process and love it later or love it now and hate it later. I’ve been known to throw a piece in the trash after months of work because, well, it just doesn’t work.

Introducing another love: Writing.

My writing self loves the flow of words from fingers to pen to paper. Writing my thoughts and feelings in a journal comes naturally to me. Words flow onto my blog just as easily. Sometimes she’s a little impatient that my fingers just don’t type fast enough. Sometimes she’s shy and really doesn’t want to write about what’s really going on. Sometimes, she sees something that she just has to get down on paper. My essays move on their own it seems, effortlessly they just appear. My novel just started one day, I don’t know where it came from just that I was supposed to type. Life circumstances got in the way for a few years, then, just when I thought it was time to end the relationship, it started up again. But, my writing self feels completely left behind lately. Oh, I write in my journal and on my blog, but the other writing has slowed to a stop. The collection of essays hasn’t been touched in months. The novel is waiting for me to create the bad character that the story needs to move on. I know what and who I need to write into the story, but I haven’t done it. The truth is that I don’t like antagonists and I don’t want to create one in my book. I want life to be good not evil. But all the great books I love to read have good and bad characters. In order to make my book work now and later, I have to be willing to make a mess in the lives of my dear characters. Or maybe it’s time to throw it in the trash. Either way, my writer is feeling stuck. To keep my writer happy, I take her to writing meetings, author talks and buy books. I read good books and even joined a book club but it’s not working. Now or later.

So, here I sit and sip my tea with my yellow lab, Jilly at my feet and type away at the keyboard. I’m writing. But my writer self sighs at me, wondering when I’m going to get serious.

Ah, well, maybe that’s a clue.

Because when my artist self gets serious and tries very hard to make a bowl or vase or sculpture work, it doesn’t. The clay wobbles off center or flops or cracks or gets smooshed up and thrown out. But my writer self holds onto every word and seriously worries whether it works or not. The essay and novel pages keep piling up in rows of neat computer file folders that sit waiting to be read, edited and, yes, maybe thrown out.

I see three things going on here.

One: Working very hard and being serious creates work that doesn’t work.
Two: Throwing out bad work leads to better work.
Three: I don’t like bad guys, so I don’t want to create one.

Ok. Before I go and smash all the pieces I don’t love and delete all my writing files in need of editing, I need to gather my artist and writer together and give them both a hug. I can love my creative self and all the creative ways in which it creates. What I really need to throw out here is my serious, trying too hard, pushy energy because that’s what’s really throwing me off center.

And my writer self knows it. She’s smiling right now, because she knows that I’m not writing because I’m having fun with clay. And it’s not that she’s jealous, she just wants to remind me to have the same kind of fun with writing. (And that, maybe, just maybe, writing a bad guy into my story might just be fun.) Now there’s a novel idea.

Ok. Now that line can be thrown out!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving thanks. Everyday.

I’m thankful for all the many blogs talking about turkey, pilgrims and thanksgiving because I’m not going to do that here. Because, for the last 1, 095 days, I’ve been filling a journal with thanks.

Every night, before I go to sleep, I list all the things I’m grateful for that day. What I’ve realized after doing this for three years, is that it’s all the small stuff that makes my life worth living. I hope that after reading my list for today, you’ll be inspired to get a notebook and start your own list of everyday thanks.
Today and yesterday, I am grateful for:

Looking out the window and seeing blue sky and no hail or rain for the moment.
A self-cleaning oven that didn’t set off the smoke detector this time.
Getting to all three grocery stores, everything on my list and home before noon.
Arranging flowers around the house in my own handmade porcelain vases.
Talking to my daughter about everyday kinda stuff.
Waterproof jacket, pants and boots.
Leftover homemade tortilla soup and seafood chowder to reheat and eat tonight.
A thrown clay sculpture form that finally came off the bat.
My husband’s joke about buffalos.
My silly Jilly dog who loves to have her belly rubbed.
No leaks in even with torrential rain and hail.
Baking pumpkin custards.
Stash Vanilla Chai Decaf Tea to sip as the hail hits the windows. Again.
Warm cinnamon buns.
Eggnog lattes.
Macy’s parade.
And as always, my loving family and friends!!

So when the day has dark clouds and hail, there’s one way I can always find a silver lining. Open my journal and give thanks.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Passed the test. Failed to use it.

About 25 years ago, I took a test and found out I was a VKA. That stands for Visual, Kinesthetic, and Audio. It’s a learning style. Mine. And although I thought it was interesting, I didn’t see the point for me because I was ‘done’ with school, right? Wrong.

It went something like this: I took the test as part of a volunteer orientation at the local Children’s Museum. They wanted to show volunteers the importance of learning styles and how they used that in their exhibits. It was fascinating, especially since my original college major was early childhood development. At the time, I had one pre-school daughter and another boy on the way. I couldn’t wait to test them, find out their learning styles and use it to help them learn and grow.

After I was tested as VKA, I was told that I would be very good working with my hands. Creating art, especially, functional art because my test showed that I was good at seeing not just form but function and putting the two together would be natural for me. The tester, a woman with great insight, asked me, “So, do you love to work in clay?” I nodded because I had worked in clay in high school and college and I did like it. She went on, “You’re a potter, aren’t you?” I shook my head because using the wheel in ceramics class had been an embarrassing nightmare.

Here’s where I failed: Not using the information for myself. Because I thought I was done with school.

Surprise, a few years later, I went back to school. I took art classes in everything but clay. Why? Fear. My fear of failure with clay was so great because my love of clay was so great. I made clay masks and small sculptures but they became parts of my bigger mixed media pieces or sat unfinished in my closet. I switched to working in copper and window screening giving up on clay, once again. Until one day a generous man came to my studio, saw my clay work and gave me his kiln and wheel. I got the kiln up and running, but the wheel gathered dust for several years. Fear, again.

Another surprise, I went back to class again. This time, I took wheel throwing. I struggled, not just with the wheel, but with my fear. One day as I was folding laundry, I’d had enough. I had two choices- never use the wheel again and live with my fear of failure or get out there and conquer it.
I threw down the towels, went outside, pulled the wheel out of the dusty corner and slapped a ball of clay on the wheel head. I sat down. Somehow, magically, a bowl appeared on the wheel. Then I made another and another and another.
Today, in my studio, I have two 6 foot shelves filled with bowls, mugs, vases and more stashed in my kitchen. I made so many this year, I donated bowls to support the local food bank. And, the biggest surprise of all? People actually want to buy my bowls, cups and vases. For the first time, my kids ask if they can have some of my pieces.
I passed the learning styles test alright. But I failed to see what it was trying to show me. If I’d listened 25 years ago, who knows how many more bowls I’d have made by now?

So, here’s my word of wisdom to you. Take the test here. Figure out what learning style you are. Then, take a look at your life and see if there’s a way to put it to work for you. Now.

Oh, and give the test to your partner, kids, grandkids, best friends. Why? Because it might help them see themselves in a much clearer light. And it might help you see why they are the way they are.

And to the woman in charge of the Children’s Museum in Portland, Oregon 25 years ago: THANKS!

Because of the seed you planted all those years ago, today, I’m proud to say, that yes, I am a ceramic artist creating functional and sculptural work in clay!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Art & Life: Rearranged.

My studio has been completely rearranged. I’m surprised and delighted and a little overwhelmed at the moment. I didn’t plan to totally rearrange my studio space. But then, I didn’t plan for clay to take over my life, either.

This is the way my studio looked a year or so ago.
My painting easel is by the window. There is a metal mesh mask on the easel waiting to be painted. My rolling cart is nearby filled with palettes and paints in oil, acrylic and watercolor.
On the other side of my studio is a countertop where I did repousse work in copper sheeting. The drawers below were filled with metal scraps, tools and wire.

This is the way my studio looks today. My table is covered with a canvas board rolling out clay and there’s a vinyl tablecloth to cover that when I’m glazing. My rolling cart is nearby filled with palettes and under glazes, finish glazes, mixing bowls and measuring cups, spatulas and brushes. The shelves along the wall are filled with a mixture of finished work and pieces in process.

On the other side of the studio is a countertop where I now hand build or set newly thrown wheel work to dry for a few days.

Where is my easel? It’s in the corner. My clay aprons hang on the sides and underneath are plastic bins filled with paints. On the front hangs the finished metal mesh mask.

Here it is a year ago.

Here it is done. Finally.
Why did it take me so long? Because I’ve been busy working in clay. Throwing it. Sculpting it. Building with it. Doing sgraffito. Painting and glazing it.

Now, my clay tables and supplies have moved from the back of my studio to the front. My easel has moved to the back. My studio space, my art and my life has been rearranged. And that’s a good thing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Life, Travel and Yoga = Health and Happiness.

I do yoga. I started because my legs, back and jaw ached. It helped. So I kept doing it. I take classes and I do it on my own before my walk in the morning and sometimes before bed. I feel better when I do it. It seems I am not alone.

Brian Leaf, the author of “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, started doing yoga in college. He found that the more yoga he did, the better he felt. It helped heal his colitis, calmed his nerves, helped him avoid the debate team and find his way to happiness. For Leaf, it involved a lot of different types of yoga classes, a van, a roadtrip and ultimately to studying yoga, meditation and Ayurveda.

Here, in his own words, is what Brian Leaf learned:
“From yoga, I learned how to stand and how to breathe.
From yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, I learned how to eat, how to poop, and how to sleep.
From meditation and Kripalu yoga, I learned to awaken my feelings and my intuition.
And from Jerry Garcia, Misha the yogi, and a scary shaman named Genevieve, I learned to emote, to connect, and to love.”

I like the open, honest, conversational writing style in this memoir. I agree with Brian that honesty is, indeed, the best way to live a good life. So, I must admit that the travel section was a long, winded and winding road that I decided to not travel to the end.

I do want to share one golden nugget from the book that I honestly believe in.
Here are 6 of Brian’s 8 Keys to Happiness:
“Do Yoga. And if you already do yoga, do more yoga.”
“Follow your heart.”
“Cultivate and follow your intuition.”
“Connect with your heart and interact with others from that place.”
“Speak and act from your true self.”

I do agree. When I do yoga, I do feel better. So why not do more? I have followed my heart many times in my life and the only time I’ve been wrong is when I failed to follow. If you’ve never done yoga and need a light hearted, personal guide, try traveling the road with Brian Leaf in “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.” It just might help you find your own road to happiness.

Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Come play with clay.

Pinch it. Roll it. Stamp it. Watch me carve into it. See mugs and vases from this week’s throwing session. Feel the difference between wet clay, leather hard and bisque clay. Learn about the transformation from a wet mound of mud into a glazed, finished bowl or vase.

I’m opening my studio to friends, neighbors, and the whole community for free from 11 am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday during the Washington County Open Studios Tour in Oregon.

I’ve been a working artist for over a decade now, but making functional clay work is new to me.
Here’s a little story about how I got started on this new path.

Four years ago, a wonderful gentleman and his wife came to my studio. As they looked around at all my mixed media work, the man spied several of my clay sculptures. When he asked why he had never seen them in the gallery shows, I told him I only did a few, not enough for a show and had stopped working in clay because I didn’t have kiln access. Right then and there, he offered me his kiln. For Free.
When I went to pick it up, he insisted I take his wheel, too. I tried to explain that I had failed at the wheel way back in art class, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Here’s what my studio looks like now. Full.
Notice the overflow of just thrown and handbuilt pieces with no place to go. Thanks to one man’s kindness and generosity, I am happily throwing, sculpting and hand building. That’s why I’m so excited to be hosting an open studio this weekend. I can’t wait to share the wealth.
So if you’ve always wondered what goes on in an artist’s studio, here’s your chance to find out. You can come, play with clay and see how my art works. And best of all, it’s free!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Talking to the Trees: Resting in Motion

(This is the second essay from my collection. To read the first one, click here.)

Leaning against the Mother Birch Tree, I rest in the curve of her trunk with my eyes closed, I listen. I don’t know if I’ll hear anything at all. The trees I visit all have incredible energy, knowledge and wisdom but how and when they share this with me is up to them. All I can ever do is be there, be open and listen.

Today, the sun is shining and there’s a crispness in the air signaling the change of seasons is coming. I love summer. The blooming flowers, ripe fruit, lush greenery makes me feel safe in an abundant universe. When the crispness starts to creep into the summer mornings, I feel melancholy. I don’t want to see the leaves fall off the trees, the flowers fade and the greenery die back. I know the cycle of the seasons is important for all life. I know the flowers will bloom again. I just feel a sense of ending and I don’t like endings.

I want my life to keep going and growing and blooming. I want a cycle of spring and summer without the loss of fall and the emptiness of winter. I want to be reborn again and again without the darkness and unknown of the womb. What I really want is to not be afraid, again, ever.

But that’s not how life works, is it? Growth leads to blooming, yes, but without harvesting we would never smell the sweetness of the flowers or taste the juices of the fruit. And in order to harvest, fruit must fall from the trees, leaves swirl down to compost below the frost in the winter to enrich the roots of the trees so they can, once again, blossom and bear fruit. It’s a never ending cycle or beginnings and endings, so why can’t I take comfort in that knowledge? Why ever year do I fight against the natural flow? Why don’t I welcome the changes and enjoy the harvest and feel safe in the bounty I have through the winter? Why am I so afraid?

We live in a culture that insists on its own cycle, one that is up, up, up and never down. We must live, live strong, live fast, live better. But the fact is we do die. We all have weaknesses. And many of us, myself included, live fast wishing to create the space for us to slow down and relax. Being able to relax and take a vacation is what most of us see as a better life. Interesting.

Today, with all this circling around in my head like leaves blown by an autumn wind, I lean against the Lake Mother Birch Tree and listen for her wisdom. How can I embrace this new season, these changes and live comfortably with the endings and still move on in my life? Her answer is simple and clear, “Rest in motion.” I can feel my face scrunching up as I puzzle this out in my head, while my body relaxes into the wisdom of the words without question. “How is it possible to move ahead and rest at the same time?” I feel the tree smile and hear, “What do you think I do when my leaves have fallen and the ground is frozen? I rest, yes. But at the same time, my roots are moving in search of water, my seeds are settling under the dense leaf mulch and old limbs that are no longer needed are breaking off.”

Once again, I see the tree wisdom but how does it apply to my life? In my mind, I’m not sure that this would work at all. After all, if you don’t push, you don’t get what you want, right? But my body, knows differently. I have pushed and pushed and pushed in the last few years and yes, I’ve made progress. But lately, that approach isn’t working for me. And although my mind continues its endless whirling motion, my body wants to rest. My heart wants to dream and take in the changing season and create.

Resting in motion, yes, I can do that. I can rest on the bank of the lake and watch the geese practice their fall flight patterns. I can move through the woods with my dog and let myself see the beauty at the edges of the crinkled leaves and seed pods. Instead of frantically working out of fear of the future and running away from the changing seasons, I can to be in the change, right here and now. I can learn to rest in motion.

(This is an art mask I sculpted, inspired by Mother Birch)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

More patience. And the pay off.

Last week, I was glazing my clay pieces. And I was chomping at the bit. I wanted to race to the finish and not have to blend and pour and rinse and repeat. Then wait for the glazes to set up and be ready for firing in the kiln. I hate waiting but I like good work.

After a few days for the glazes to set up, I started the loading process. Loading a kiln is like doing a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle. There needed to be enough space between the pieces, shelves and kiln sides for good heat circulation. A balance is needed between large and small, short and tall pieces. And I tried to load certain glazes closer together.
This took patience to get it right.

The kiln was loaded, fired and unloaded twice. It took about 6 to 8 hours to complete a firing in my kiln. I have an older manual kiln, so I have to be there to turn the dial from low to medium and, at last, to high. I pushed in the plunger, set my timer and turned up the heat every two hours. I held my breath and prayed to the kiln gods and goddesses.

And I waited some more.

Even after the kiln finished firing, I waited even more. If I opened the kiln before the interior and exterior temperature was the same, I’d crack my pieces.

More patience.

Finally, it was time to unload the kiln.

This was the first firing.
This was the second firing.
When I opened the kiln, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I picked up each piece, inspected the glaze, admired the colors and glossy feel. Then, I set each one on the tray and carried it into the studio. What was once soft, lumps of clay are now bright red bowls, teal blue vases and black and white mugs.
Sometimes patience does pay off.