Friday, October 20, 2017

A Good Firing.


Firing is not my favorite part of my art-making process. I know it's because I have to give up and give in to the kiln. It's scary because even if I've done everything right: wedging, throwing, rolling, underglazing, bisque and final glazing, everything can go wrong. 

Maybe there's another reason I don't like firing. I'm officially done. It's over. The piece is out the studio, out of my hands and on its own. My studio shelves look a little empty.

When the kiln lid closes and firing starts, I'm finished whether I like it or not.

I like to finish projects. I love the feeling of accomplishment. But I struggle with that part of myself that doesn't like to let go. I always see possibilities: more color or texture or lines to add. But even though my pieces go through 2 or more kiln firings before the final glaze firing, I still put it off just in case. Oh, I know I'm procrastinating and finally, I can't stand it anymore. 
I turn on the kiln, set my timer and wait. I have an old manual kiln that was gifted to me by a very generous man. I thank him every time I load, fire and unload it. But it is getting older and will soon need new coils and some bricks fixed, which is very costly, and that adds another layer to my kiln-sitting stress. Will this be the time the kiln decides to quit on me?

I don't peek for four days. Honest. 

Why? Because I use porcelain and I've learned that opening the kiln up before my pieces have totally cooled to the surrounding temperature both in my garage and in my studio causes cracks. There is nothing sadder than putting all my heart and soul into my work only to hear the awful sounds of popping and cracking because I lacked patience. And I do lack patience most of the time, but not when it comes to kiln cooling. I keep my cool. 

This time, lifting the lid was joyful. 

I tried some new ideas in this group of bowls. I wanted a landscape feel that reminded me of the watercolors and oils I used to paint. I added more texture inside and out. The spirals and trees in the middle of the bowl feel like the drawing I used to do. I used the under glazes like watercolors creating a sky surrounding the tree landscape. 

As I opened the lid, I saw the colors were even better than I'd hoped. As I took each piece out, I examined it inside and out for cracks, glaze slips or bubbles. It looked good. Whew. 

Now, there's always a piece or two that I know have some kind of issue going in. It might be a weird bump or a slight crack, so I don't expect those pieces to be perfect. I hope for the best and sometimes, I'm happily surprised. Sometimes, not. This time, one bowl made it out better than I thought it would but it's not up to my standards, so it will go on my 'seconds' shelf.  

I'm still happy, though. Because 22 out of 23 pieces came out whole. 

It was a good firing and that's a very good thing. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thoughts of the Week.


I don't know what to write about this week. Is it that after 10 plus years of writing blogs, I've run out of things to write about? Is it that everything I think of to write about sounds too boring? Is it that somethings are either too close to home or too far out of my field. Since I can't come up with a theme or idea, here's a few thoughts.

Home. 

My home isn't just a place, it's my sacred space. It's where I imagine, dream and create. It's where I've watched and guided my son and daughter from mastering Legos to master's degrees. It's where my 5 four-footed companions have lived and died. It's full of memories and dusty stuffed animals and stacks of paintings, masks, mugs and, now, toddler toys for my granddaughter. It's scuffed and worn around the edges in places, but that's because it's well loved. 

Health. 

I sometimes take this for granted. I know I shouldn't. And it seems when I do, the universe gives me a reason to be very grateful for my health and those I love. I am so grateful my yellow lab, Jilly, is healthier now. She's gained weight and strength and is walking all the way to the park!  I am so grateful my daughter, sons, and granddaughter are strong in spite of the stress and strains that life has thrown their way this year. I am also so grateful, that my dear husband and best friend got an unanticipated full physical this week and was told, that we should all be that healthy.  

Country. 

I have rarely written about politics. Not because I don't have opinions and beliefs about what's right and wrong in our country but because I didn't want to bring more controversy into people's lives. Instead, I want to bring more creativity and hope into the world. But, the ongoing embarrassment from Washington is so awful, I can't ignore it. All this ugliness and greed and hate spewing from not just our embarrassing President but all who surround him, is disgusting. Our founding fathers crafted our freedoms carefully to allow us to live better lives. It seems all our leaders want to do is make not just our lives worse but threaten to kill life on our planet as well. It's got to stop. 


Love. 

As I sit on my window seat looking out at the autumn colors changing with the sunset, I wonder and wish. I wonder at the blue sky that arrived minutes after hail, rain and wind. I wonder at the marvel of gravity, allowing us to walk this gorgeous globe as it spins. I wonder at time ticking by second by second, air breathing in and out, days beginning and ending on opposite ends of the world, it's still wonderful. 

I wish for an awakening for all of us. I wish for rising from the political and social muck to a fertile new day. I wish for true sight so we can all see the connections that bring us closer together. I wish for my thoughts and yours to go beyond  home, health and country to enfold the universe.  
 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Mondays with Meyer: "I no like that."


This is my granddaughter's favorite phrase right now and I can't think of anything that typifies the two-year old better. It's a time for challenge and discovery and daring-do's. It's watching a human being emerge from it's chrysalis baby stage into a beautiful, caring, bold, adventurous little person. 

You can call me crazy, but I find two-year olds amazing. 

Yes, even when Meyer says no. Even when she climbs my furniture. Throws my throw pillows. Pokes my paintings. Picks my flowers and digs in the dirt. Ok, maybe I get a little scared when she grabs for the lamps or other breakable objects. So I 'toddler proof' my home when she is over to keep her safe. I plug outlets, gate stairs, lock cabinets and drawers. 

But I say yes to as much as possible, even when it makes a mess. Why? Because the job of a toddler is to learn about her world with her own bare hands. Whether it's smooshing play dough or stirring a pot of cold cereal, picking tomatoes, examining a leaf or making bubble pie with abandon. That goes for grown-up things, too. When she wants to touch something, as long as it's not dangerous, I say yes. She's touched bushes we pass on our walks, roses and orchids, sculptures, ceramics, paintings and masks. She loves to smell the different soaps and herbs, too.  

Everything is done with energy and zest for living.

Eating, walking, talking, running and, yes, even napping is done by diving in. That does make life a challenge for both of us. She wants to take risks and I want her to stretch her wings but she needs my protection. I am always there for her.

But sometimes, I have to let her go. I, quite literally, have to put her down, give her a kiss and say, go play. And sometimes, she looks at me and says, "I no like that."

She waits for me then, to get mad, to push, to prod, to bargain with her. I don't. Because I know she is not being bad or trying to make me mad, she's learning about the power of attention, intention and limits. So sometimes, she will try something wild. Or she will scream or cry or throw a tantrum. 

And many times, I have to keep myself from laughing. 

I have to remember, she wants limits to feel safe but she has to push limits to grow. I have to let her know I love her even when she's mad or sad or tired or dirty or makes a mistake. I have to let her try out her world and be ready to catch her before she falls. 

Or when she does fall down, I kiss it and make it better knowing that is when, "I no like that."

Friday, September 29, 2017

Creating Time.


Sometimes, we've all just got to get out of the everyday blur and into the minute by minute. Behind me I hear the tick, tick, tick of the clock reminding me that life is moving whether or not I am on the move.  

Speeding through life doesn't make more minutes.

It just seems that way to me. As I whiz through my usual life, checking off my list, I feel energized by my productivity. I'm getting things done: food purchased, weeds pulled, dust dusted, steps counted. But it's an illusion. And although I know it in real time, the speed and motion keep it in the background.

Like my step app, life moves forward whether I click on it or not. 

Taking a vacation slows it all down. I sit and sip and watch the squirrels scurry up and down the trees. I see the sun shift and the grass move. I wonder and wander through the pathways outside the condo and inside my mind.

I slowly, very slowly let go of routine and begin to explore. 


What? Where? How? Why? It's all turned over and examined. I'll admit, I am always trying to learn from the past whether it's my own history or the evolution of the world around me. There are always connections to be made, causes and effects, lessons to learn that can launch new thoughts, understandings and bring revelations into the present.

Seeing from the past to the present gives me hope for the future. I explore new paths while holding onto the old. Will my life or work or love change? Probably. But I can't and don't need to see all that now. 

I only have to be aware. 

Hearing the tick, tick, tick of time and move with its beat trying as best as I can to create in tune with my heart.



 

   

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. 

Down.   

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. 

Up. 

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!

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.