Happy Holz

Tis the season! I’m not particularly religious, but I do like to mark the passing of the seasons and celebrate traditions that feel homey to me. I have a number of things that I really love this time of year:

  • Holiday lights
  • Decorated trees
  • Gingerbread
  • Holiday greeting cards
  • Any kind of miniature holiday display
  • Time off (duh)

I love winter so of course the actual ‘season’ list is longer, but when it comes to the holidays there are a few things that make it feel special to me (we celebrate Christmas in our family, although I actually think of it as the ‘winter holiday’ since I’m not really Christian and I feel like this holiday historically encompasses more than just the Bible story). I can do without holiday music, or movies, or gifts, but I do love twinkly lights and I like doing special things with family and I really, really love gingerbread. So, I’m good with the holidays.

This year we get to celebrate with the nephews. Little Sam (6 months) won’t know what’s going on, but at 2+, Hans will be just old enough to start getting excited. It’s going to be fun. I also expect some tears: holidays are overwhelming! Hans might cry too. Just kidding. We are so lucky that Erin and her girls are spending the holidays with us — I love a big family holiday thing. I know, it’s crazy. But I do.

When we were little, holiday dinners were dress-up affairs. I always liked that. Or, maybe I just like it in retrospect. It started my love of dressing up for occasions.

Keith and I were discussing New Year’s — traditionally a big dress-up night for us. However, this year, I think we might be staying at home. In pajamas. With a movie marathon. And some serious comfort food. And ice cream. Sounds pretty great to me — we are a little worn out from this year!

I feel like this entry reads a little like a “What My Family Is Doing For Christmas” essay, but whatever. I am trying! I have a few goals for next year. I gave up self-improvement resolutions a few years ago (and never looked back — what a relief!) but I do have some goals that I feel inspired about this year. Finding a blogging voice again is one of them — I can’t quite figure out who I am writing for — is it just me? Or a very tiny audience? Or for some other reason? And what do I want to get from it? I loved blogging before, and it totally went away — so many people stopped. But, I felt like it helped me process some things — I definitely process through writing best — and I want to have that outlet. So, I will be continuing to limp along and try to find my voice here.

That, or I’ll just continue writing 3rd grade essays. It’s OK. I was pretty good at them.



So exciting! When we bought this house we knew there were two big projects we needed to get done ASAP. #1, a new roof. Check! The other was to convert the attached one-car garage into an art studio. Our new house is short the one extra room we needed to make this house work for us, so we created it! We wanted to DIY it but that required too much of a learning curve for our timeline, so we found a nice local guy and he and his daughter did it in about 4 weeks. We did the finishing; I love the black floors!

This will mostly be Keith’s space but most of our art supplies will live here and if I need to use it, I can. My office, which is fairly large, currently houses my work stuff and the guest bed, and will be transformed into my work-art office, and we’ll have a guest bedroom again (Keith’s been using the guest bedroom as his studio). Lots of painting and furniture-moving ahead of us but it’ll be worth it.

This house feels like home; I can’t wait to get everything settled finally. A long year of transition.

Candy Store

The kiln my brother found for me at a yard sale works! It’s all set up and ready to go. I went to the ceramics store today to choose some glazed to start playing with. Seriously difficult choices. I got eight; the sample sizes were $4 each so I got a selection.

I want ALL of them but this handful will get me started! What joy: new art supplies!!

Short and sweet

I really wanna blog and I keep falling out of the habit (and falling victim to my own expectations). Anyway, going for the short, sweet, and manageable approach for now.

This is a cute picture, but hopefully it also conveys the leaf situation here. Hence: my weekend project. All leaves, all the time!

In other news, had a very productive and tiring week. Tonight we are having dinner with some neighbors, and then I’m hoping for an evening nightcap in the hot tub. The stars have been amazing lately.

Happy Friday!

Favorite Things Right Now

A couple of favorite things:

Tea Lattes (with coconut milk)

(a view of my tea shelf with a few current favorites)

I was in the Bay Area last week and met my friend Shea at the local Peet’s. (Note: I love Peet’s and wish there was one in Corvallis) I am trying to not drink coffee during the week (too much caffeine) so I was pleased to see their “Fog” selections: tea lattes. I am also trying to not drink full-lactose milk (tummy issues), so I chose coconut milk. Result: absolutely delicious! I had to go back and get another one the next day. I have been experimenting at home. What I’m doing right now is: a tea ball full of Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong (nice and smoky!), put into a cup with just enough hot water to cover the tea ball completely. Let that steep while heating up a cup or so of coconut milk (in the microwave). Take out the tea ball, add the milk: stir. No sweetener needed. It’s not exactly the same (the one from Peet’s was creamier, I don’t know what kind of coconut milk they use and I probably don’t want to to know…) but it is super yummy and a nice way to wake up.

The other current favorite thing is: Super Easy Miso Soup for breakfast.

I discovered how easy it was to make nice miso soup earlier this year. Then, we moved, and all routines went out the window. However, now that the weather is turning, it’s time for warm breakfasts again and this is so cozy, comforting, and feels very healthy. I take approximately two tablespoons of white miso (I get this in bulk from the little co-op in town but I’ve also used packaged miso from the big grocery store) and whisk it with a little hot water in a mug until it’s all blended. I cut up a 2-inch strip of sushi nori into smaller bits, add it to the mug, and fill with hot water. That’s it! I like it a little strong on the miso but of course this is totally adjustable. I used to add tiny cubes of tofu and a bit of green onion, but right now that seems like too much work, so this little 3-ingredient soup is doing the trick right now. I usually have a hard-boiled egg too, for a little protein.

Just a couple of little things making the day a bit nicer.

blog thoughts: RIP Reading Challenge

I am not feeling well and spent a little time today rereading my old blog(s), never-travelled.blogspot.com and never-travelled.wordpress.com. I really enjoyed writing there and when I read some of my old posts, I really see how writing brings out my thoughts in a way that talking just doesn’t (at least, for me). I find myself going places in words on paper/computer that I don’t in verbal words — I need time to think, and process, and work out my own meaning, before I commit. Or something. I miss the outlet of the blog — I have been trying to find a new place here on this blog but I’m finding it hard to make a new habit. I’m still trying. I miss blogs, I miss the old blog reader on Google — I miss my old reading challenges, like RIP (thanks to D’Arcy for the reminder)! Today is October first — my unofficial RIP reading kickoff day. I’m starting by reading The Hunger. I just finished The Willows. I’m doing reading reviews on GoodReads now — they are up on my sidebar. I’m not as good at those as I used to be, either.

Part of it is that I’m a lot busier now than I was in my old blogging days. My world was very small; I had a sick partner, I was home all the time, I didn’t see friends or family much — my blog was my window to the world, in a sense. Now, thankfully, I am fully IN the world — I am experiencing the world in a much fuller way than I was then. This is good. Still, I miss the inner exploration of routine writing. I fell out of the habit of journaling too, although I do keep at that from time to time.

Anyway, trying to keep my thoughts together: RIP — I’m looking forward to The Hunger, and I have a few more books in mind, but these might change. I’m also hoping that Keith and I can watch a bunch of spooky movies this month. Our new house is out “in the country” (not really, but just enough that we won’t get trick-or-treaters) so we have to make our own Halloween fun. I’m trying to do this with my reading, some movies, and a bit of minimal decorating. All our decor stuff is still in boxes, I don’t know where… but I have a little Halloween village that I like to set up, hoping I can find that.

Anyway. Keep on, little blog. We can do it!

21 Years of Love (and a birthday)

Saturday the 15th was my 44th birthday, and our 21st “love-a-versary” — the date we honor as the time when our relationship truly began. We have been in relationship to each other — together, separate, friends, lovers, married, divorced, married again — for 21 years and counting. Even during our times apart, we were still in relationship to one another — that tie was never completely severed, even though we gave it a good try! Looking back, I believe we were making a wide circle back to one another, although it was a VERY wide circle and I really had no idea where it was going and was completely surprised when the circle connected and there we were again.

How lucky we are to have found one another. How good it is to know that our intuition was correct: this is it, baby — we have known it for a very long time, longer than 21 years. There are a lot of other insipid, trite and predictable things I could say about this — all true — but of course there are plenty of other things I could say, about how we have our ups and downs, annoyances and times of anger and hurt, times of everyday routine and times of intense stress. There is a true thread of love and devotion and choice that runs through all of it — we choose to be here. We have claimed one another. As another friend puts it, we have a “no exit” strategy — we’re in it for good. That means choosing to keep on having a good relationship — making choices that make it good. Choosing to let the annoyances go and help each other through the truly rough times. Choosing to do the things that keep each other safe and happy and content. Choosing to do the things that keep OURSELVES safe and happy and content. We know from experience that life is better together than apart, so we make it a good life together.

Happy 21 years to my eternal sweetheart. May there be many, many more.


Sky Farm

Things that are wonderful here at Sky Farm:

1. True peace and quiet; 200 acres of forest

2. No TV (but, internet! Though spotty)

3. So many books

4. Most things are old and worn and much-loved; contrasted with some very fine things like old Limoges china and silver cutlery.

5. A near-complete lack of stress about anything; things are very simple

6. The entire house is slanted; the dining room floor drops 9 inches from one side of the room to the other. If you’ve had a glass of wine too many you can blame the house if you stagger across the floor.

7. The “bug house” (see below)

8. Everything is accepted; things fall apart, people are imperfect, plans change. It’s all ok.

9. There is no shower; just a big claw foot tub. There is also a toilet at the top of the stairs.

10. Best of all, Stan and Lib, my uncle and aunt, who are both oddities and wonderful and kind; I love them both very much and it is such a joy to be here.

My room.

Below: the view from my room.

The toilet at the top of the stairs. This is my dads side of the family, after all..

The “bug house” — a little reading nook and outdoor living room.

The dear relatives in the forest.

More thoughts on creativity: ceramics

(long, rambling post) For the past two years, I’ve been taking a weekly ceramics “class”. I use the quotation marks because it’s not really a traditional class… it’s called “Clay Explorations” and that is exactly what it is. Each class, there is a demonstration on throwing, or handbuilding, or glazing, but there are no assignments, there is no step-by-step instruction (unless you specifically ask for it) and there is no judgment. Really, it’s guided studio time, with hands-on help if you request it. Which is kind of awesome, but also a little intimidating. “What should I make?!?” Many people take this class all year round, and have for years and years, even if they have their own kiln and are fairly well-established in their art and techniques. It’s a great way to get ideas, learn from others, and there is wonderful camaraderie and community. The instructor is the most easy-going person in the world, calm and positive and encouraging and generous and knowledgeable. There are TAs available each class who have expertise in various areas: different firing techniques, handbuilding tricks, etc. It’s really a wonderful (affordable!) opportunity to explore clay in all its forms. Truly a gift.

It’s been an interesting journey for me. I started taking ceramics classes when I was a pre-teen, during the summer. I loved it, even though I found it frustrating. The clay collapsed, or it dried out before I could finish my project, or it cracked during firing, or I couldn’t get it smooth. Much of this was because of my youth and inexperience and impatience: I now know ways around most of these pitfalls. I wanted to continue with it as an adult but couldn’t find what I wanted in the Bay Area: too expensive, too inaccessible for various reasons. So now that I am back in Corvallis, with this wonderful community resource, I have been diligent in going — basically I’ve waited 30 years to have this opportunity.

It is intimidating, however. I have a degree in art. I have been doing art of some kind my whole life. That does NOT make it easy — in fact, it is an impediment, because clay is fickle and you must get used to failure. It is not like pencils or paint: you are literally molding a 3-D object and the clay has ideas of its own. You must constantly negotiate with moisture content, temperature, clay consistency, clay “memory” (yes, this is a thing). My teacher, Ted, is great at explaining this. He says that it is like a dance, and sometimes it goes where you don’t think it’s going to go, and you just have to adjust because you are not 100% in control. Sometimes, you work and work and work, and then for unknown reasons (other pieces in the kiln, hidden bubbles, whatever) your piece will break in the firing process. He urges us to accept this, and “just make another one” or make something out of the broken piece: glue it together with something interesting, paint it, use it as a tile, whatever. It has been a process of learning to make non-precious art.

And it is a slow process to learn. Each piece in class literally takes weeks from start to finish. Even if you complete your piece in one class (usually it takes at least two classes from start to finish — there’s two weeks already), then it must sit on the shelf for a few days to dry. Then it goes into the bisque firing kiln, once there are enough pieces to fire (another week). Then it has to cool, then you have to glaze it, then it goes into the high-fire kiln (another week). Then, finally, you get your finished piece. Literally this can take 4-6 weeks start to finish, because of the once-a-week class structure and because they wait to load the kilns until they have a full kiln. However, even home kiln users must go through this process, so there is a lot of time involved, a lot of waiting.

The class structure, of everyone being in the same class, both experts and beginners, is really helpful because you get to see that everyone’s process is both the same and different, and that EVERYONE has lots of failures. Everyone is very open about being unsure if this is going to work, or if the glazing will do what you think it’s going to do, or trying a new technique and it not going well for the first few pieces.

Personally I find this comforting. I make probably 10-12 separate pieces during each term, and generally only 1-3 pieces turn out in any way that I am even sort of happy with. Sometimes a piece will have great glaze but I don’t love the actual piece for whatever reason (lumpy, lopsided, whatever). Or, the glaze didn’t work out, so it’s ugly. Or, the thing broke or cracked or I just don’t like it. This was hard for the first few months. I felt like I was wasting my time, since obviously I wasn’t “good” at this. But I kept going, because I liked the class. I liked the people, and the atmosphere, and the fact that when your hands are covered in mud, you literally cannot do anything else. No phone checking, no reading, no getting distracted. You just have to keep at it. It is very calming. And slowly, I am starting to find a groove.

Or rather, I find it and then I lose it. Part of the problem with the once-a-week class is that I often feel rushed. I sometimes have to travel and I miss classes, so my time gets compressed, and then I feel like I can’t take as much time as I’d like to work on something (because it starts to get dry, or I need to make a firing window, or whatever). And, during the school year, the class is crowded. I like to spread out, I like to have a couple of projects going at once during class because sometimes you have to wait for the clay to dry to a certain consistency, so you might as well have a few things going. But if the class is crowded, then I can’t do that as well, and it makes me feel anxious and rushed and I don’t take my time and things don’t go as well as I’d like. But when I get really focused, and I take the time to go to studio hours outside of class, then things go better and I am happier with my stuff. I’m starting to see that many people use this class as experimenting time: they have a home workspace and that’s where they do most of the slower, detail work. They come to class to experiment, to talk with others, to try a new firing technique, to play with glazes.

Since my AWESOME BROTHER found a kiln for me for $50, I can think about a little home studio, myself. This is VERY exciting: I think that is the key to really getting comfortable with what I want to do. I can’t wait to get the kiln home and figure out how to get it working.

But anyway, I was thinking about this last night, a busy class night. We were unloading the soda-fire kiln, which is always fun and a highlight, and doing an obvara firing, also really fun (anytime you get to work with burning red-hot ceramics it’s exciting). Each of these is also an exercise in giving up control: you don’t know how they’re going to turn out. Everyone is exactly equal: a lumpy pinch pot can come out of the soda firing kiln with an absolutely gorgeous finish that transforms it, or a beautifully formed vase can come out of the obvara with something non-spectacular and the creator shrugs and it goes onto the end-of-class sale shelf (a kind of Charlie Brown Xmas tree assortment, sold for cheap, to raise money for new equipment, etc.). And everyone just accepts it (with joy or disappointment) and it’s OK to lose a vase or a plate because you just make more. It’s OK to sacrifice something, because you learned something and there’s usually some redeeming feature to the piece, and you can just make more. Each piece is not precious. It’s like cookies. If you mess up a batch, oh well, just make another batch. This way of thinking took awhile to learn but I’m getting there.

Obvara firing

My current big project are tiles. I have an unfinished window sill in my kitchen, and I want to make tiles for it. My idea is to press leaves from the trees on our property into the tiles, so that it’s representative of our natural landscape. Now, I am not at all experienced with tile-making. They are tricky. You have to keep them absolutely flat the whole time, because otherwise the clay will “remember” the curve and your tile won’t end up flat. So there’s all kinds of tricks for that. The leaves need to make a deep enough impression so that the imprint shows up under the glaze. I don’t know what color glaze will look best. I might need to do some underglazing. All kinds of things. So, I am making tons of tiles. I have 15 waiting for high-fire right now — I tried all kinds of glazes, all kinds of leaves. We shall see what looks best. What will I do with all the failed tiles? Some will go in the garbage. Some will get put in my yard, among the flowers and ground cover. I expect to make at least 50 tiles, to end up with probably 16 final tiles that we will use.

Anyway, this is a long post, but I’ve been thinking about why I like my ceramics class so much even though it is hard and mysterious and I fail a lot. But it’s OK — everyone fails a lot, even the teacher. That is what it is. This is a good lesson for someone like me, who likes to do creative things well, is somewhat invested in them turning out as I expected. It is good to learn failure, get comfortable with it, have a beginners mind the entire time. And to slowly find the places that you want to go, and to slowly get better at it. Plus, it’s just fun. The people are quirky, everyone is generous with ideas and knowledge, and you can go at your own pace (mostly). The complete lack of judgment is also so refreshing: there is something to celebrate in every piece, even the failures, and people are so excited when something turns out well, no matter the expertise level. It’s just nice.

Soda-fired gnomes

Little Creatures

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love animals. I love nearly all the animals. I am the spider-rescuer, the snake-stepper-overer, the frog-scooper-upper-and-mover. I do make exceptions for certain small creatures: there is a significant shrew population in our garage that Thomas has been steadily working at eliminating: sorry guys, you’re on your own.

Out here in what we will winkingly refer to as The Country (really only about 2 miles from town) there are many, many little creatures.

Yesterday, as Erin and I hung out in the hammock in the early evening, there was an incredible amount of birds. Flying, swooping, gliding, chirping, diving, swirling. Swallows and bluebirds and I don’t know who all… it was kind of amazing and a little intimidating (I was glad that Keith nixed a vote to watch The Birds last weekend… ). We have lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of birds. Which makes me very happy.

Today as I went out to switch the sprinkler to another part of the yard, I heard little swishings and crunches under the ferns. A snake? A mousie? A squirrel? A stray kitten?

In the evening, bats emerge from the barn/big garage. They fill the sky with little quick-moving black dots. I imagine them cozied up in the eaves during the day, absorbing the hot sun, saving up energy for nighttime mosquito feeding frenzy.

The ponies over the fence, Ochoco and Minnehaha, neigh at me eagerly and paw the ground when they see me. They know I am good for an apple or carrots or fresh green grass.

The cows in the field stare at me, slowly chewing. The teenager calves buck and bounce and run, frisky and sleek.

There are creatures in the dark, making rumblings on the back deck, rustling in the grape arbor, dark shapes in the meadow that make me afraid to step off the path.

So many sweet creatures on this land where we have found ourselves. I want to make it welcoming and nourishing and homey for them all, so that they want to stay and make it their home as well.

well, maybe except the shrews.