Thursday, August 26, 2010

moments of grace

last week after my kiln debacle(s) I decided to take a nice long run with my dog after dropping my boy off at school.  I headed into it happily, hoping to burn through some tension.  Just as I started the last leg, one mile from home, I tripped on a sidewalk crack and landed on both knees, right underneath someone's sprinkler system.  I got up, kept going, finished firing the kiln (glazing the vitrified pieces didn't really work), and got ready for the market on Saturday.  Saturday was miserably hot.  I left early.  And I decided to take an extended internet break.  I'm still on it, technically, because life has been consistently kicking me in the shins.  And I'm terribly, terribly tired of it. 

I think one of the best ways to get out of a slump is to count your blessings.  And as tough as it has been, I can't say that there haven't been good moments.  A friend and I have been planning a one-night sale featuring etsy sellers from Memphis.  We're so close to finding a location.  She also rehabbed my bike.  My sister in law passed on her old trail bike to me several years ago.  It needed a bit of work and I didn't have the know-how.  And I hadn't been on a bike since, um, 1997.  Before that (1997 was a single bike episode), I hadn't ridden my bike since maybe 1987.  Yesterday I took my first bike ride in 13 years, and the first time I've used a bike with gears or hand breaks.  I enjoyed it immensely.  I have dreams of riding though the paths at Overton Park, which is a stone's throw from my neighborhood.  First I need a helmet.

Another friend has been really involved with a new farmers market in town, one that serves an area that could easily be called a "food desert."  Every week for the past three weeks she's been bringing me pounds and pounds of produce.  Okra, squash, tomatoes, lima beans, corn- and I've been able to pass the surplus along to people who could use it.  The okra (one week there was easily 3 gallons of okra) has become pickles- pickled okra is one of my favorites.  Lima beans and black eyed peas have been blanched and frozen.  I've been in high vegetable heaven. 

And this picture- Edna laid her first egg today.  I watched her carefully build her nest (they don't like our egg box, for some reason), step into it, and lay her egg.  This evening we had huevos rancheros for supper- made with our own organic eggs.  Soon we'll have enough eggs to share.

I'm still working on making pots, trying to build inventory.  And I'm heading back off-line now, and into a book.  I've got a list of books as long as my arm that I'm interested in reading.  Right now I'm half-way through Out Stealing Horses: A Novel.  Really enjoying it.  Also on my list is  Lucky Jim and March.  And I'm trying planting my fall crops by the moon phases.  Just to see if it makes any difference at all. 

Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends.  I'll be back in this space soon.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


here's a tip if you're just starting out or if you've gotten lazy about your firing.  Keep a log of how long it should take you to fire your average load.  If it usually takes you 9.5 hours to bisque under normal circumstances and the kiln's been running for 13, something's wrong.  Maybe the little cone that sits in your kiln sitter has melted and stuck to the sensing rod so that the kiln keeps firing to cone 7, leaving you wondering if you should try to glaze the now-vitrified pots or not.  I unloaded my kiln (including one shelf that warped, so maybe -probably- the kiln got closer to cone 10 - that's 2300 degrees, folks.  I usually only fire to cone 6, which is in the 21-2200 range.  this load should have shut itself off at 1800.), test-glazed a few pieces, and went back to bed.  Yes, I called it a day and slept until school got out. 

I've noodled around for some tips and tricks on getting the glaze to stick and I'm willing to try them, but the problem is that once clay has vitrified- meaning that it is as hard as it can get and the pores in the clay are closed- the water in the glaze doesn't absorb back into the clay.  Usually you dip or brush wet glaze onto a piece and all of the water is sucked into the clay.  When the clay is vitrified, the glaze- and water- just sits on the top of the piece. 

Yes, I still feel pretty peevish about the entire thing.  So my plan of action is to test a few pieces and run the kiln again tonight to see if the kiln sitter will work or if I will need to fix it- which would be a handy thing to learn to do.  It's always something, isn't it?  And I'm going to put a log up next to the kiln so that I'll know how long each firing should take and watch it more carefully. 

Yes.  My pieces from Atlanta were in this load.  I lost one of them- the color that I'd used turned completely black.  Not pretty.  The other ones seem to be ok.  So this setback, trip-up, whatever is a learning experience.  I'm going to stop being so irritated by it and pick myself back up and carry on. 

I'll be back.

Monday, August 16, 2010


the heat has broken.  Finally.  Our low tonight is supposed to be 73.  I'm firing the kiln, finally, including the things I made at the workshop in Atlanta.  And not a moment too soon, given my inventory issue.

Have a good week.  I'll see you at the end of it!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's August.

It's been an exciting week over here.  First week of the first grade (it's been just great!). First egg from our little flock (after wondering if my chickens were indeed the type that produced eggs).  My grandparents have moved up from Louisiana and there's been a hurry-scurry to get their space ready for them. 

Oh, and the vapors of hell have ascended and rest heavily on Memphis.  Our daily highs have been 100 and over.  It hasn't been below 80 all week.  And the humidity, which I jokingly refer to as "gracious" has become an iron fist in velvet gloves, clutching at our lungs.  It's hard to get a breath during the heat of the day*.   I'm beat.  And wondering if I can manage to post anything here more than once a week.  I think we can live with that, though.  Don't you? Because fall is on its way, and we'll all have more energy.

But isn't the egg pretty?  My boy was so excited about it.  Ready to check again for eggs roughly every 12 hours.  Our other hen (Edna) will produce a brown egg- speckled or not, we'll find out.  Our old araucanas laid greenish eggs.  Pearl is an araucana. I bought a beautiful speckled brown egg earlier this spring- I still think of it, glaze-wise.  I'm not much of a fan of brown pottery, but this speckled tan was really lovely.  So I'll be working all of that out once it's cool enough to fire more regularly again.
I have been making pots all week and spent a few hours last night drawing on them.  I'm very pleased with what I've made and eager to finish them.  They are tucked away in the kiln, along with the pieces I made during the workshop with Diana Fayt.  These pieces feel more like me, and I'm happy with that.  And I'm close to being out of my regular stoneware, so I moved into porcelains again this week.  I made porcelain mugs and honey pots, a few vases, several eggs.  I have plenty of stoneware in my reclaim buckets, but they need to be rehydrated and wedged.  I had a jones for throwing this week, so porcelain it was.

I'm at an all-time low in my inventory.  It's nice.  But scary.  Really scary.  No mugs.  No berry bowls.  One honey pot.  No butter crocks.  I have work made, I have work made and fired and ready to glaze.  I just can't fire it.  First break in the heat and I'll crank the kiln right up.

I hope that you'll see this form again after firing- it's a new favorite of mine.  It's familiar, but I'm not sure where it came from.  I made this pitcher earlier this spring, and when I was cleaning it up in preparation for glazing the bottom of the handle broke off.  I glaze-glued it back together, hoping beyond hope that it would stick, but it didn't, really.  The crack is both clearly visible and wonky.  I couldn't bear to throw it away, so now it's my chicken feed scoop.  Pampered chooks they are.  I've made several pitchers that look like this- labeled with "syrup" for some friends, and "lait" for the general public.  I expect I'll be making more.

Hope your weekend treats you well.

*If you aren't from the South and you've heard us talk and wonder why we talk slow, move slow- it's because it is too damn hot and humid to do anything fast, especially in August.

Friday, August 6, 2010

branching out

I had the very best lunch today.  Curried tofu salad sandwich with organic homegrown tomato, basil, and spinach.  Tomato-basil pasta salad.  Rosemary-dijon potato salad (it was really nice and zingy, but sadly, not on my plate when I took this picture).  I had a LOT of good food in Atlanta, but this lunch beat it all, hands down.  My good friend Wendy recently started a catering and made-to-order business, and she asked if I'd like to try my hand at food photography.  I jumped right in.

Goodnight Gracie Specialty Foods , first, is delicious.  Second, it's affordable.  Wendy focuses on spreads, ready-to-go dinner-type salads (think Tabouleh or Thai Sesame Noodle Salad), savory cheesecakes, salsas- things you can build a meal around with what you've got in the fridge or pantry.  If you're in Memphis, she offers specials every weekend- you can get the dish on facebook.  She also caters full meals, picnic baskets, and most intriguing to me, savory cheesecakes.  I'm ordering a tomato cheesecake soon. 

I really had a ball taking pictures of her delicious dishes.  Bonus- she asked to use my pottery for the shoot!

I lucked out with the farmers market on Saturday- I'm under the pavilion again.  So grateful for the shade and ceiling fans, and so ready for this triple-digit heat to break. 

I hope y'all have a nice weekend.  I'm working on getting a new-to-me little kiln set up so that I can fire smaller (thus lower amperage) loads and keep my sweet air conditioning on.  And school starts on Monday- so my summer break ends, too.  See y'all next week!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


home home home.  I am so happy to be home.  This trip was fabulous.  It could not have been better.  I met wonderful people, learned so much, reconnected with friends I hadn't seen in a dozen years.  It was good.  But I'm a homebody, and I'm happy to be home.

This photo is a blur (ahem, intentionally) because the weekend felt a bit like a blur.  It went by so quickly.  Diana Fayt is a tremendous artist and a generous teacher.  I feel fortunate to have been able to learn from her in this workshop in real time.  She gave me a lot of
advice when I first dipped my toes into blogging, flickring, and selling on etsy and has been a very real mentor to me.  Meeting her in person was really wonderful.

Here's a little sneak preview of what I worked on at Mudfire.  This workshop was a challenge for me because I'm such a "dipper."  Most of the fun of pottery to me is in creating the form.  I try to get over my distaste for the glazing process.  Decorating the pots- drawing on them- was work.  Drawing is  intimidating (especially when you're drawing on a piece of pottery!), but it's a learned skill.  A skill I've let sit and rust over the years, but one I'd like to brush up on.   I am pretty smitten with this image I drew from an old gardening photo of a bee visiting a blossomed-out pussy willow.  I think I'll continue to play with this motif as I explore this new surface technique.

so.  back to real life.  school begins on monday.  there's trip laundry to sort out, suitcases to put away, a pantry to refill.  And my stars but it is hot in Memphis.  Daytime highs of 103 and nighttime lows of 85 mean there's no pottery firing for the foreseeable future.  No matter, it will wait. 

I hope you'll enjoy the rest of your summer.  Thanks for reading my ramblings.