Garden update

So far, this year’s garden is doing quite well, even though it was started nearly a month late. We had a delay because Jan rebuilt our four raised beds, which are now 8″ high (instead of 4″) high and contain strategically placed vertical PVC tubes that let us add trellises, hoops, and other PVC structures wherever we like. The rebuilding and having to wait for our garden soil to be delivered (the supplier had a delay because of the extremely wet spring) meant that seeds for my peas, lettuces, and other cold-weather-loving plants didn’t go into the ground on March 17 as they’re supposed to.

But in spite of the late start—and thanks to a pretty cool summer so far—we’ve been enjoying plenty of home-grown produce! In bed #1, the peas and lettuces are nearly spent, but the mizuna, lovage (a perennial), parsley, and pole beans are going strong. This year I set up the bean teepees directly over the lettuce, figuring that (1) lettuce doesn’t mind shade, and (2) by the time the beans started the dominate the space, the lettuces would be ready to come out anyway. I’m pleased to report that this has all turned out according to plan!



Bed #2 has Swiss chard, carrots (two kinds), basil, cilantro.


Bed #3 has tatsoi, beets, cherry tomatoes, and basil.


And bed #4 has cucumbers (slicers and picklers), pattypan squash, basil, cosmos, sunflowers, and zinnias.





I’m glad to see that science is backing up the need to continue teaching handwriting in schools. Happily, my daughter is learning it in school—our district hasn’t yet joined the ranks of those who are ditching handwriting from the curriculum (though I think she may not get more than the bare bones version of this instruction). I know that keyboarding skills are vital these days, but I’m sorry to see handwriting disappear from our schools and much of our daily lives. The two fulfill such different roles that one isn’t a substitute for the other.

I can type pretty quickly and accurately (except on a mobile device, when I become the World’s Worst Thumb Typist), and for my work I spend a lot of time hunched over a keyboard. But when I want to write something thoughtful and really connect with a far-off friend, I will almost always put pen to paper and write something by hand. The deliberateness of the action, the tangibility of the tools—I value their ability to make me pause and slow down.



Last June I wrote about participating in a wood-kiln firing at the clay studio where I’ve been doing pottery for the past few years. I haven’t done a wood firing since then, but I have been experimenting more with surface treatments for cone 6 firings a regular electric kiln.

Here’s a recent effort that I really like:



I drew the cheetah freehand onto greenware (brown stoneware), carved in the design, then applied yellow and black slip. After the bisque firing, I painted clear glaze over the cheetah, covered the cheetah with aftosa wax, then dipped the whole thing in Dragon Green glaze. (The wax prevents the Dragon Green from covering the cheetah, and it burns off during the glaze firing.)

I love how this turned out! It is my new favorite mug. I have plans to do a lot more experimentation with this decorative technique!



No, not this one.

This one:


Sylvia has inherited her dad’s superpower: they’re both really, really good at finding four-leaf clovers!





Knitting for Sylvia

I originally started this blog as a place to talk about knitting. My very first post (from September 2005!) was about knitting for Sylvia, so it seems right to return to that topic.

I knit a February Lady Sweater for myself three years ago, and at the time I mentioned that one for Sylvia was next on my to-knit list. I didn’t have appropriate yarn on hand, though, and she wasn’t clamoring for the sweater, so I put it on the back burner until last fall. Sylvia and I chose yarn together: she’s not a fan of wool, so we settled on KnitPicks Shine Sport in a bright green.

Before I could start that sweater, though, I had to finish the “rainbow cardigan” I started for her last August. I based this pattern on the top-down raglan in Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters: Basic Designs in Multiple Sizes and Gauges.


I love how this sweater turned out, though I am not a fan of the Mary Maxim sock yarn I used for it. (I’m pretty sure it’s the splittiest yarn I’ve ever encountered!) But Sylvia loves it, so dealing with annoying fiber was worth the effort.

With the rainbow cardigan done, I was able to start her February Lady Sweater in January. Basically, I just took the regular pattern and knit the second-smallest size in sportweight, keeping all the stitch numbers the same. The result has plenty of growing room, so Sylvia should be able to wear it for a couple years (I hope!).


The body came together in a breeze, but the sleeves took forever to finish. That’s because I had to use DPNs for them (my 9″ circular doesn’t have sharp enough tips for this yarn), so I spent a lot of time and effort on yarn and needle management.

When I was finished, I raided my button box and laid out all the threesomes I had on hand. For fun, I also put out set with one red, one orange, and one yellow button. (They have slightly different textures, but they are the same diameter and all have four holes.) Of course Sylvia beelined for the colorful trio! They are definitely the best choice for this sweater!





Publishing humor

(I don’t know who originally wrote these, but they’ve been circulating for a while and never fail to make me chuckle.)


Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: I can’t tell whether you mean “change a light bulb” or “have sex in a light bulb.” Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?

Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.

Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!

Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?

Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.

Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn’t too late to make this neon instead, is it?

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren’t supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.

Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?

Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.

Q: How many booksellers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, and they’ll be glad to do it too, except no one shipped them any.



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!


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

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