Marsha

Winter

This has been a pretty rough winter. Nine snow days so far (including one six-day weekend in January and one five-day weekend in February), and it looks like we’ll be getting another one tomorrow.

A few weeks ago we had about 18″ of snow over a couple of days. It’s been slow to disappear—we still have about 3″ on the ground, though at least I can (finally!) see decent-sized patches of grass. We’re expecting 6-10″ tomorrow. Goodbye again, lawn!

Marsha

Playing with fire

Many of you know that I’ve been doing pottery for the past few years. I had actually started it in grad school, when my tuition waiver made it possible for me to take Introduction to Ceramics for free. I lasted only a month in that class, however, because I didn’t have time for it: in addition to two four-hour classes per week, I was expected to do studio time as well—on top of my other coursework and teaching responsibilities. (Seriously, how do art students ever manage to graduate? It seems that every three-credit course requires at least fifteen hours of weekly in-class/studio time!)

I came back to pottery a few years ago and have been taking classes at a nearly studio/art school pretty regularly. I’m by no means skilled, but I am getting better! During my first couple of classes, I made a lot of the sorts of pieces that everyone calls “candy dishes” in attempts to make you feel better for producing a squat, lumpy, uneven bowl-like thing. (“Oh! That will make a great candy dish!”) I can turn out mugs pretty well (to the point that pretty much every time I through a 1 or 1.5 pound of ball of clay, it usually ends up as a mug—whether I want it to or not), and I’m not bad with small bowls. Plates continue to elude me, however. Still have a long way to go in that department.

The wood kiln, empty and ready for loading.

My studio uses electric kilns that fire to cone 6, which is considered mid-range. It’s great for the stoneware that most people use there, and the glaze results are pretty reliable. A few times a year, studio members have the option to participate in a wood-kiln firing. It takes a lot of time and work, since you don’t just plug it in and walk away for several hours. Instead, participants have to do all the work (most of which involves shoving small pieces of wood into fireboxes at regular intervals) themselves—and they have to pay an extra fee for the privilege, too.

Here's what my pots looked like after they were glazed but not yet fired.

The results can be amazing, however. After seeing some of the pieces that come out of our wood kiln, I decided to try it myself. So I signed up for the firing that took place over the first weekend of June.

There were eight of us involved with this firing. On Saturday we got together to prepare our pots (which we’d all glazed earlier in the week) by putting little balls of wadding (a special clay mixture) on the bottoms of the pots to keep them from sticking to the shelves and to allow flame and ash to pass under the pots. At the point, the kiln was completely empty, and as we loaded it we actually built the shelves (customizing their heights to suit the pots on them). And then we had to brick up the front door. All of this took about five hours.

There are three stacks of shelves in here, holding about 24 linear feet of pots.

On Sunday, we fired the kiln over about fourteen hours. We worked in shifts, so each person had to be there for only about eight or so hours. At the beginning, the goal is to build up the two coal beds slowly. By midday we picked up the pace, and by midafternoon we were stoking the fireboxes every minute or so. Temperature-wise, the firing went well: we reached our goal of cone 10 and nearly hit cone 11 (over 2300 degrees F) in one part of the kiln.

One of the two fireboxes.

It was hard work, though! (And 90 degrees F outside that day! Blech.) When I came home, even though I was covered in soot and ash and dirt and sweat and really wanted to take a shower, I sat on the kitchen floor for half an hour first, just to be still and not-hot for a little while.

Three days later, on Wednesday, we gathered to unload the kiln. As the door was removed and we started to catch glimpses of the interior, we could barely contain our excitement. This part was kind of like Christmas—over and over again, as the pieces were removed one at a time and examined by everyone. I think everyone was happy with the results (though everyone had pieces that didn’t turn out quite as they’d expected—the randomness of flame and flying ash are both risk and benefit of this process). I certainly was!

Overall, this was a great experience. I really love how my pieces turned out and already have ideas about what I’ll do next time. But because it’s such a huge undertaking, “next time” for me will probably be some time next year.

Taking down the door, brick by brick.

You can see the wadding here. After firing, it crumbles off pretty easily.

My pots

Marsha

Hello, world!

I’m still here.

Are you?

“Facebook is a continuing nightmare of privacy disasters. It’s the bathroom door that resists all efforts at locking, swinging open again and again while you’re trying to poop.”

From: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/02/the-return-of-flickr/

 

 


(from http://i.imgur.com/mSSpuHd.jpg)

 

 

Marsha

Magic glasses!

(from http://imgur.com/gallery/1Frsq6x)

Marsha

Tibet

Ever since I read this article a few days ago, I have been haunted by it. It’s a National Geographic news piece by Jeffrey Bartholet titled “Tibet’s Man on Fire,” and it presents the story of Jamphel Yeshi, one of the many Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in recent years to protest China’s policies on Tibet.

Here he is:

from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/121130-tibet-burning-protest-china-world/

I cannot imagine what it is like to feel so hopeless, so desperate, that it self-immolation seems the only recourse.

In early October, my family visited Washington, D.C., and near the National Zoo we saw some pro-Tibet protesters. They didn’t look Tibetan but looked like aging white hippies. This small group (of four adults and two kids) marched up and down the street, chanting, “What do we want? Free Tibet! When do we want it? Now!”

I don’t doubt their sincerity, but honestly, this was a pretty pathetic demonstration. There was no intent to educate or engage anyone. They seemed to be working on the assumption that “everyone already knows about what’s happening in Tibet.”

The problem is that most people don’t know what’s happening in Tibet. There’s an awareness that the Chinese government claims sovereignty over Tibet, and many Tibetans (and others throughout the world) believe that Tibet should be an independent state.

But there’s more to it than that. And I think the Tibetans who are burning themselves to death over the past couple of years are doing because they want the world to take a closer look at what’s happening there–and maybe do something about it. Self-immolation makes the news, both in text and and in pictures. It gets attention.

Earlier this week the director of Free Tibet published an opinion piece on CNN.com that describes some of the oppression Tibetans face at the hands of the Chinese government. This is the sort of information those Washington, D.C., protesters should be trying to spread. Chants are great for rallying supporters but useless as education.

Marsha

Snow

20121129-004201.jpgThe first snowfall of the season arrived two mornings ago. Just what we needed to ease into the Christmas season after a pretty warm autumn.

Marsha

What a hoot!

I’ve been wanting to knit myself an Owls sweater ever since I first saw it, and over the past few months I’ve done it! My friend Gina was also keen to knit one of these, so we decided to do our own little knitalong. She finished hers in about a week, but mine took a bit longer.

I actually knit this sweater twice. (Fortunately, bulky-weight yarn knits up fast! First, I knit both arms using the size 10.5 needles the pattern specified. When they were done, I decided I didn’t like how snug they were and reknit them on 11 needles.

Then I knit the body, moving the shaping from the back to the sides. (This was Gina’s great idea. We agreed that the shaping lines in the middle of the back just looked weird.) I was about five rows away from binding off when I ran out of yarn. ARGH! This turned out to be a good thing, though, because it gave me an opportunity to reknit the body. It turned out that I wasn’t such a fan of the shaping. A yarn this substantial works best (for me, at least) in a looser garment.

Taking another cue from Gina, who had found the as-called-for-in-the-pattern neckline too wide, I added a few rows of stockinette (with decreases) between the owls and the ribbing. The result is wide enough not to feel constricting but not so wide that it’s calling off my shoulders.

The knitting on this sweater was complete about two weeks before the “official” finish date. I bound off the last stitches the day before cool autumn weather arrived and just had to start wearing the sweater immediately. I thought about omitting the button eyes entirely, but after two weeks of living with sightless owls I decided to go ahead and add the buttons. I did one set of eyes in tawny yellow (to make it stand out from the crowd) and the rest in an amber color. The contrast isn’t huge, but it’s enough–and well worth the couple of hours it took me to sew on thirty-six buttons.

This was a fun knit, and I’d make it again. Maybe next time I’ll turn it into a cardigan!

(Additional project details are available here.)

Marsha

Why, hello there!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this poor, neglected blog lately, and half-writing blogs posts in my head. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to writing them, though, since I’m busy these days with various work assignments (and as a freelancer, I take work assignments whenever I can get them). So rather than let this space languish even longer, I’m doing this quick post to shake some of the dust off this blog and jot down some brief thoughts.

  • Here’s an excerpt from Philip Hensher’s new book, The Missing Ink: The Lost Art of Handwriting, and Why it Still Matters.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that handwriting is good for us. It involves us in a relationship with the written word that is sensuous, immediate and individual. It opens our personality out to the world, and gives us a means of reading other people. It gives pleasure when you communicate with it.

    I love writing things by hand but don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like. Google Calendar is optimal for family scheduling and organization, but I do miss having a hard-copy datebook with handwritten items in it. I still write letters by hand to a number of people, though, and keep a handwritten grocery shopping list.

  • What has NASA done to make your life awesome? Just take a look.
  • Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? I bet you’ve forgotten just how terrifying some of the endings can be.

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