Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Go Around It

7:4:4:1 plus honey

That's my recipe for lip balm. 7 parts beeswax, 4 parts coconut oil, 4 parts sweet almond oil, 1 part vitamin E oil, pluse a teaspoon of honey. A little spash (maybe 1/2 a teaspoon) of flavoring (these are chocolate) and, in this case, the TEENSIEST bit of gold mica - a bit the size of a grain of rice. I measured this batch in grams, which made 13 tins of balm. That's a lot for just us, so I will freeze most of these & bring them out as I need them. 

I wrote earlier about a creative blockage I've been feeling for a few months now. It's been so hard to push myself into the studio. But making stuff? That's who I am. 

The creative urge itself isn't exactly gone, though; I still feel a desire to make stuff, useful stuff. Since it wasn't working, with clay, I'm making other things: cookies, soap, lip balms. I'm not fighting the blockage; I'm going around it. 

And it's working! I don't know why I've been creatively constipated specifically around clay, though I have some theories. Since I've been making other stuff, some of the blockage around clay has lifted, too. Last night I went in the studio & assembled all the leftover bisqueware - you know, the extra pieces you always have that didn't quite fit in the glaze kiln? Every firing, there's a few. I think I have enough "extra" pieces to fill a glaze by now. It doesn't take a lot of creative mojo to dip a pot in flashing slip, or to wax a bottom, or to mix up wadding, so I started doing those things. Soon I found myself humming, thinking of glaze ideas for the pots. 

Beam says all may yet be well

ETA: This mixture was still too hard! Usable, but not easily. Gonna try a 1:1:1 plus honey (Beeswax, coconut oil, sweet almond oil. Nevermind the vitamin E)

Resolution: Normal


I've been working on my 21 for 2021 list, because that worked so well in 2019, but honestly having trouble coming up with goals! Maybe because all I really want for 2021 is to have a normal year. I don't really care about the "upward" part of "Onward and upward." Mostly I want to have a year in which I make pots, teach classes, see my friends and family, pet my cats, and nobody gets sick. (There are a lot of things I want for the world, too, and while I will do my bit -have been, for years - those are largely out of my control.) 

With that in mind, many of the goals on my list are quite modest. I want to continue to use my Fitdesk 100 miles a week, to write 5 or more postcards to voters every month, to add a fruit or vegetable every meal. In 2019 one of the goals deeply-introverted me set was to do one social thing a month (outside of family), but while I think that was a good idea & helped me strengthen friendships, I probably can't commit to that in the New Year. I don't know when I will be getting the vaccine. 

One of the more ambitious goals on my list is to get my last credit card balance paid off next year. I've been struggling with that debt for idk, like 20 years, and I think I can finally slay that dragon. "Get house painted" is also a big one. (If I can get a painter to return my phone calls, that is!) I've also got continuations of traditions like birthday and anniversary adventures, and a canoe trip - an once-event that has rather fallen by the wayside. 

Those are all personal & household - I also have some professional ones that I'll write about later. 2021 is gonna be all about doable goals. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Week of Reflection 2020

We've almost made it, out the other side of this difficult year. The Week of Reflection has arrived. 

My annual tradition is to use the super-chill week between Christmas and New Year's to assess what worked & what didn't in the old year, and set some intentions for the new. Assessing 2020 is a little different, of course, because what counts as a win - still alive! roof over our heads! income more or less intact! - would be the bare minimum any other year. I can't even take credit for any of those things; it feels like it was just a matter of luck that we didn't get sick, or that the studio where I teach did not have an outbreak. 

Nevertheless! 2020 was not just a pandemic shitshow. I learned some things! In the early months, I learned how to snowshoe, or rather, I learned that I love to snowshoe, since there's not much to learn: it's more or less just walking, with snowshoes strapped on  your feet. I learned how to make royal icing, and to decorate with it; I learned how to roast garlic. Not to be too treacly, but Doug & I learned that we really don't get tired of each other's company! The four months of shutdown went pretty smoothly for us, aside from the natural anxiety of the situation. Maybe because we each have a space - studio & office - to retreat to and to call our own. 

I plan to spend this week thinking about what I would like 2021 to look like, keeping in mind there may be large factors out of my control. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Great Garlic Roast-Off


I am thinking of adding garlic roasters to my line up of items for the spring 2021 season, so I made a couple as class demos, and so that I would be able to take them for a test...roast. The big question: hole in the lid, or no? 

Today is the big day: got the garlic, got the oil, got 2 stoneware roasters, one with hole, one without. Let's give this a whirl. 

I started by removing all the paper skin that I could without disassembling the head. Then I cut off the pointy tips (not the root end!)

Then I put a teaspoon of water into the bowl of each garlic roaster, and placed the garlic root side down into it. I drizzled some olive oil over it (I just used the cheap, pale kind; you may want to use extra virgin) and covered it. I place the roasters in a cold oven, turned it up to 400°, and let it roast for 45 minutes. 

There was not a great deal of difference between the two, but I think the one without the hole was easier to wash - the garlic didn't bake onto the dish. Also, bonus: roasted garlic is amazing! I thought it was just like regular garlic only soft and spreadable, but it's not! It's much milder, nutty and almost sweet. 

One of these heads we spread on bread to enjoy; the other I mixed with some olive oil, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese and dressed some pasta & greens with it. 

For the potters: the roaster is thrown in 2 parts: the bowl is a shallow dish with a gallery for the lid to rest on, and took about a pound of clay; the lid was thrown as a deep bowl whose rim matched the outer edge of the gallery (you'll need calipers.) It required about 1.25 pounds of clay. At leatherhard the lid is trimmed to a smooth dome & the knob is added. They are fired together during both the bisque and the glaze firings. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Well, If I Needed A Reason


If I needed a more motivation to get into the studio & make stuff, my youngest feline just provided it. My favorite mug & pitcher are both visible - or, you know, chunks of them are - in the center of the carnage. 

My husband is quick to point out that we don't know it was SkinnyCat who did the deed - it could have been Bobcat Goldthwaite or the ghost of Jacob Marley, who knows? I mean only one creature makes a hobby of knocking things off tables, but - true! - usually small things, not loaded dish-draining racks. 

Ah, well. Cats are spirit guides, sent to make sure we don't get too attached to our material possessions. Anyway, I can always make more. 

This Explains A Lot!

This seems appropriate for the shortest day of the year: just read this fascinating article in The Guardian, suggesting that early humans may have hibernated like bears! You know that winter feeling, that it's so so hard to get going & be productive? You wake up ready for a nap. Or is that just me? I especially have trouble doing anything more strenuous than petting a cat after the sun goes down at, like, 3:56 PM. (NOT JOKING.)

This is a bit problematic for me, as a self-employed potter with a part-time gig teaching classes. The stuff I need to get done doesn't fit in daylight hours! At least now I have an excuse, flimsy as it is. 

Perhaps I shall resort to the strategic use of coffee. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Getting My Sh!t Together

This year has been so weird & unlike any other I have lived that it sometimes felt like I was living in the dot of the "i" in Jeremy Bearimy, not in a good way!  I let a lot of things slide in that feeling of unreality & disconnectedness, but this year was real and it is connected...and now I have to sort out everything that I put off, starting with my accounting. 

In 2019 - a year when my sh!t actually was together and my ducks in tidy rows - I started using QuickBooks Self-Employed and was delighted with how easy it made my taxes. Turns out it only helps if you actually keep up with categorizing the transactions - how wacky! And, boyoboy, were my transactions a mess in 2020. Between the shutdown, the unemployment snafu, losing my wallet, and having my laptop stolen, I was just using whatever card was working & available at the moment I needed it. So, yeah. It's a dumpster fire. 

Nevertheless, the arrival of the 2021 art fair applications has jolted me out of the dot of the i. Life is recommencing! I can't just keep us afloat for today & let tomorrow take care of itself. And oh my god, do I need to put out that dumpster fire in my bookkeeping. 

SO, to-do list for today:

  1. Apply for the Common Ground Country Fair. It's a more complicated application than most & even has some essay questions. 
  2. Work on that QuickBooks Shitshow. Better make a fresh pot of coffee first.
  3. Get some glazing done
  4. Maybe make more cookies? I have a new design I want to try. 
  5. Since life is recommencing, I want to do a thing that worked really well in 2019, and set some intentions: My 21 for 2021. Even though that got laughed out of the universe in 2020, not giving up! 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Holy Crap It's Time Already

In the random way of things - and it is at least a little random - last year I got into every fair to which I applied. Then God said, "HA!" and all of them were cancelled. I took a moment...maybe two...or perhaps as many as four...to be bummed about that, then set it aside & got on with the business of surviving. 

Well, the time has come once again to start the application process. It will be an act of hope, tinged with a bit of anxiety; what if it was a fluke? I know there's a random factor, what if the dice all roll the wrong way for me this time? 

To complicate matters, in August someone stole my laptop, which contained the images which succeeded so well last year. Three of them I had stored in Dropbox, but I have not succeeded in recovering the 4th - so I will not be applying with the exact some images. Maybe there was some alchemic magic in those 4? 

Well. There is one way to find out, I guess. Topping today's to-do list: Apply to the Common Ground Fair

Wish me luck! 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Brain Fog

I have been suffering from a terrible creative constipation since at least September. I managed to make a few ornaments, class demos, & some pretty nice cookies, but anything requiring real focus - basically all of my normal body of work - has been out of reach for me for months. I keep reading about how chronic stress affects creativity (spoiler alert: BADLY) and boy, does it sound familiar. But then I feel guilty: what have I got to complain about? Other people have been harmed so much more. 

I've been lucky. I know this. My teaching job has been back since July (on break now), and my studio is in my home. Though our daily covid-19 case numbers are getting scary (over 600 today), Maine has one of the lowest rates in the country. 

Nevertheless, we are all living the pandemic. I fear for my mom, who's 87, and for my 2 best friends, who both have conditions that put them at higher risk for bad covid outcomes. (Such conditions are very common! Asthma, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, even pregnancy)  One of them is in Minneapolis, an essential worker who has to take public transportation to work every day! Nor does one have to be in a risk group; covid sometimes kills young, otherwise healthy people. 

On the economic side, because things are getting steadily worse here in Maine, I fear my job will be suspended. (I know the governor won't do that unless it's necessary, but I hope it won't be necessary.) Even in good times, worrying is my hobby, which comes in handy when things are not so good. I have saved every spare penny since March, knowing I would have few or no sales events, and that my job could be eliminated at any time. (And it was, for a few months. Nancy Pelosi saved my ass then.) 

Anyway I am getting off track. What I started to say was, my creative juices have basically dried up. I was feeling guilty about this - after all, my go-to fix for troubles is always: I will work harder - but it turns out I'm not alone. Many people are feeling a lack of creativity as a direct side effect of chronic stress. I saw a post on facebook that explained it beautifully, and I wish I could find it, but I can't, so I'll try to sum it up: your brain understands chronic stress as: you are in a dangerous environment. It reallocates resources away from creative energy to keeping you alive. You don't feel like doing anything because your brain is all: Conserve your strength! Keep your head down!

This is somewhat reassuring to me, because that means it will come back. Looking forward to that day when we walk together in the beautiful sun, and we get it together and we get it undone. Hopefully this blog will get more interesting again, too! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


♫ Ooh child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh child
Things'll get brighter
Ooh child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh child
Things'll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We'll put it together and we'll get it undone
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter
Ooh child
Things are gonna be easier
Ooh child
Things'll be brighter ♫

Sunday, December 6, 2020

And Now For Something Completely Different


Well. Not completely. 

I watch a lot of cookie decorating videos. I started because they give me ideas for slip trailing, and they sort of became my stress relief. You can only watch so many cookie decorating videos before you want to try it yourself! 

It just so happens that this year I have more time than Christmases past (guess why) so now seemed like the perfect time. I mean, Christmas and cookies go together, right? 

I wanted to do something a little less stereotypical, so I chose a couple of images related to carols: In the Bleak Midwinter (the bare trees), and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. The metallic highlights are cake paint; I might skip that step next time, and also the little churches need work - they are kinda janky! But overall I am quite pleased. 

I've posted the cookie & royal icing recipes over at Wicked Cozy, and some in-process pics. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Snow So Wet It's Almost Rain...

...rain so cold it's almost snow. We are having both at the same time, here in Central Maine, and where am I? Why, carrying bricks from the kiln yard into the studio. I have to get them under a roof before they are frozen under a foot of snow. 

I'm not doing that right this second, of course, but I was, five minutes ago. We've just come off a multi-day dry, relatively warm spell when I could have gotten it done in comfort but nooooo. Laziness doesn't pay, kiddos. It always comes back to bite you in the ass. 

In my defense - not that tu m'accuse, dear reader! - I have been dealing with a very sick cat: several vet visits, pills, even subcutaneous fluids. Which really did make her feel noticeably better! I thought she would recover, but we lost Snowball last night. I had checked on her around 8, and she was resting but her breathing was labored. She was with her favorite co-cat, Jack. When I looked in on them 20 minutes later, she was gone. 

Snowball was 18 years old. The length & comfort of her life will be some comfort to me, maybe in a day or two, I suppose. She came to me 6 years ago after she lost her people, both within a year, and the family could not take her. While it's commonly known that the term for a male cat is a tom, fewer people know that a female cat is called a queen; and if you knew Snowball, you'd know why. Seems appropriate that we'd have bad weather today, like how it always rains in TV funerals. 

Rest easy, sweet girl. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

But What Am I Gonna Do With All These Ornaments?


As the numbers of coronavirus cases rise in Maine, we are implementing extra precautions. One casualty: the Portland Pottery Holiday Show & Sale. Back in October it seemed plausible that it might happen but the virus had other ideas. I am bummed about this but I know other people have suffered real losses, and I can't dwell too much on minor disappointments. (The loss of income is another layer of suckage but my planning assumed poor sales this holiday season, and they have not been as bad as I thought; so I'm covered.) Anyway it will be twice as amazing next year due to pent up demand. 

It leaves just one question: what am I gonna do with all these Christmas ornaments? 

There was a time I would have stuck my nose in the air at the idea of making something as cutesy as Christmas ornaments. What a stick I was! Painting ornaments is a ton of fun & they make people smile. "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution!" and if having fun is some kind of aesthetic sin, I don't want to be taken seriously. Although to be fair I put a lot of that on myself. Glad I relaxed a bit in my old age. 

Monkitree in Gardiner is carrying ornaments in addition to my function ware as part of the Holiday Pottery Shop. If they get a mad run on ornaments, I'm ready for 'em! Otherwise I'll sell what I can online (only 'til December 11, because the USPS is saying they can't guarantee delivery before Chirstmas after that date) and be well ready for next year.