Friday, October 23, 2009

Maiden Firing of the Salt Kiln

I'm happy to report that I have fired the kiln!! And lived to tell about it - that's always a plus!!

I will post some pictures of the firing and the finished pots......

This is a photo of me introducing the salt into the kiln....
Still hot pots with the door just unbricked.......

Back half of the stack.........

I would say it was a successful firing, especially when you consider I've never fired anything but an electric kiln myself. I have participated in a few woodfirings and salt firings, but this is the first time I've had my own atmospheric kiln to fire!! I feel as if I've learned a LOT!!

Of course I could've never undertaken such a project on my own!! I'm very thankful to those who helped me, either physically or with material or with advice, either in person or via e-mail! In addition, the internet and several good books on salt firing were imm
easurably helpful in firing the kiln!

We did have a little trouble with one back corner not heating up as quickly as the rest of the kiln. I think that trying to even out the temperature caused a little more reduction in my work than I would've liked. But we achieved what I thought was good salt distribution throughout the kiln. We did use more salt than we needed to, again because of the cool spot in the kiln. I used canning/pickling salt which was introduced on an angle iron through 2 salt ports in the back of the kiln above the burners.

We started salting when cone 9 was down and 10 was bending in the front. Cone 8 was stoutly refusing to move in the back of the kiln, but we didn't want to wait too long since the front wa
s ready. We would push the damper in and turn the burners down, introduce about 1-2 pounds of salt per port and let it waft about the kiln for 5 minutes, then we would open the damper up and turn the burners on full for about 10 minutes. "Lather, rinse, repeat." Every 3 or 4 saltings, I would pull a draw ring to see whether we were getting salt coverage. It seemed to happen pretty quickly considering this was the first firing. My husband sprayed the inside of the kiln and door bricks with a coating of ITC. I think this made it more resistant to the salt, and consequently there was more available to juice up the pots!

Due to the problems with uneven temp. we ended up introducing about 40 lb. for this firing, even though according to the draw rings, we probably could have gotten by with less than half that amount. (My kiln is about 37 cubic feet total.) Scott thinks if we move the target bricks toward the back of the kiln a few inches, we'll get more even heat distribution. We never did get the back part up to temp, but after using that much salt and firing it for about 20 hours, I decided it was time to cut our losses, shut it down and analyze our results.

Something neat happened in the midst of the firing. I stepped back to look at the chim
ney and right at that moment, a shooting star streaked across the sky and looked almost as if it went right down the kiln's chimney!! I thought that seemed like a pretty good omen!!

And apparently it was because I'm pretty pleased with
the results over all and ready to fire it again. Now I just have to get some more pots made!!

Is that glow from the sun setting or the kiln firing???

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Too busy to blog!!

We've been gettin'er done the last couple of weeks!!!

I now have hot and cold running water in the studio (and a new double laundry sink with a fancy, schmancy faucet that pulls out and sprays!!) I have shelves and I have my glaze ingredients somewha
t organized. It's the fun part now!

I also have the capacity to fire my electric kiln and I have propane running to the kiln, house and studio!!! Most of the work was done by our local gas company!! They had the equipment and the know-how
to make it go smooth as a gravy sandwich! They got most of it done in 2 days and Steve had to work an additional couple days to tie it all together! (I do believe I've worn him out, he's snoring like a freight train in the easy chair as I'm typing!)

I have been happily potting away for the last couple weeks!! The weather's been g
orgeous, the garage door has been OPEN!!

The list of what still needs to be done has grown shorter.......finish the chimney and roof on the kiln shed. I've ordered extra kiln shelves and posts for the electric kiln. I've also ordered
cones and a protective cover for my pyrometer. I keep trying to go over things in my mind so I don't forget anything important once I start the firing!! Will have to paint kiln wash on the shelves, build the bagwalls, make wadding, mix up my glazes. What? What am iI forgetting? Probably it will turn out to be something really obvious, stupid, and necessary!!!

And now for a few photo updates.....

...nuthin' says "get-r-done" like a man with the proper equipment!!!

Big pile O' dirt = PROGRESS!!

This is a deep freakin' hole!! See where the hose is going in?? Well, you can also just barely see the top of the workman's shaved head. I think he was kneeling, but still, a deeeeeep hole!!

Trench digger came in handy too!

Bless their hearts, they put the dirt back from whence it came!

New gas tank residing behind the kiln...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creative Juices are Flowing!

I feel like we're making progress!! The chimney is nearing completion. Today, a rep from the local propane company came out to give us an estimate on installing a tank and piping it to the kiln. He's also going to price piping it to the house (for the faus fireplace, so we can remove that little tank, and piping it to my studio so I can have heat this winter!!) They can also run the water line and electric for it. They charge so much a foot to dig the trench and run the gas line, so it shouldn't be a whole lot more expensive to have them also run the electric and water line. We would still have to buy the product. I think it will get done much quicker this way, even if it will cost a little more. Hopefully they don't price it too astronomically!! Steve said that the gas man wants to get it done by the end of the week because after that his help is going to be harvesting the local crops. I'm all for that!!

It's been an exciting week around here. Scott came out Sunday and we sprayed a coat of ITC on the interior of the kiln and the inside of the door bricks. ITC will protect the bricks from corroding as quickly from the salt. That should make it last longer. (Scott, you're such a trooper, thanks for coming out even though you threw your back out. I know you were hurtin' and I appreciate it!)

I am also excited because I have FINALLY started making some actual pots!!! It's been about 6 months since I've been on the wheel and it was making me pretty cranky! I suppose I could'v
e started sooner, but I wanted to wait until I could get a rhythm going. I wanted to be nearing completion of the kiln and get my studio somewhat organized before I started anything so I wouldn't have to break my momentum once I start producing. Of course, my momentum is so slow and sporadic that it might be difficult for the casual observer to tell the difference between broken and un-broken, momentum in my production schedule!!

I still need to do some organizing in the studio but I finally reached a point where I felt like if I didn't start making some pots I was going to tear someone apart limb from limb. Not anyone in particular, it would have been quite random, unexpected, and unjustified. Perhaps the UPS man, or the president of the Optimist Club. (And they both seem like really nice guys.)

And now I must quit blogging because I'm completely distracted by re-runs of The Office on TBS and must give it my full, undivided attention.

Working happily at my wheel......

I have an inspiring view from my wheel when I open the garage door......

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It Patiently Waits.....

I haven't been worth a plug nickel the last 2 days! I either caught a bug when we were out of town for my father-in-law's 80th birthday, or I got a sinus infection from the dust I've been exposed to while building the kiln. I have been wearing a mask while grinding and cutting bricks (for the most part) but it's just a dirty, dusty job. I'll be glad when that part of it's over with!!

During my recuperation (when not napping or blowing my nose) I've joined a couple of discussion groups for potters who salt and/or soda fire. It looks like there are several other people "out there" in cyber land, who, like me, are at various stages of building a salt or soda kiln. It's interesting to read about their similar trials and learn some alternative solutions. It's encouraging to know that others are experiencing the same frustrations as I am, but keep plugging away at it. I don't think I've come across a scenario yet where someone claims their kiln went up without a few obstacles and problems that had to be worked out. I think if I did read about a kiln-building project without any problems, I'd have a little trouble believing it, unless that person builds kilns for a living!! For most potters, kiln building seems to be an activity that is only participated in every few years. And it probably happens this way for a reason. I'm thinking it's for the same reason that family's space their children a few years apart - you need that time in between so you don't recall how intense the "labor" actually was!!

I only hope that firing this kiln will be half as rewarding as being a mom is, and I hope my kiln turns out half as good as my kids have so far! I used a lot of trial and error in raising them, and somehow they survived, so that gives me yet more encouragement about my kiln building venture!! Although I'm not sure if kilns (and the pots we fire in them) are quite as resiliant as kids!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Arch is done!

The kiln is really starting to take shape and look like a kiln!! I must apologize to my loyal reader for my former pessimism!! We're making great progress, I should be in the studio very soon!

I'm actually starting to feel a little nervous about producing again. The pressure's on.........will I be able to produce? More importantly, will I be able to sell?? Or is it all just yet another expensive hobby?

Here's what we did on the kiln yesterday.........

In this photo, we've are laying the last course of the arch bricks. Scott built the form out of wood using the kiln's measurements and some extremely complicated algebraic formula. (Of course any algebraic formula seems extremely complicated to me!) According to Jack Troy (kiln guru, he wrote The Kiln Book) a kiln should be as close to a perfect cube as possible. Of course it's a little off because of the shape of the arch, but we're about as close as we could get. In order to make the arch the correct curvature, we had to lay a row of straight bricks in periodically. They're the darker colored bricks. So the pattern was, 3 rows of arch bricks on either side, then a row of straights, then 4 rows of arch bricks and a row of straights, then 4 rows of arch bricks in the middle.

I found the whole arch process somewhat fascinating. The arch bricks have an ever so slight taper to them and it amazes me that they're all made consistently enough to fit together so perfectly. After all the
measurements and leveling and re-measuring, and pulling out bricks, and pounding on the wall we did, I thought the arch would take a long time to complete (and wondered if we'd be able to make it work.) I guess all the anal activities I just mentioned (and have complained about) the whole time actually paid off in the end, didn't they?!

The kiln is called a "Sprung Arch" kiln; it gets its name from the process in which the arch is built. The bricks are laid starting on either side and working towards the middle. In the above picture you can see that the final row of bricks in the middle looks as though it's not going to fit. That's how it's supposed to work. You tap the bricks down gently into place and the shape and weight of the bricks actually causes the arch to "spring" up off of the form ever so slightly. Thus, the bricks are now holding themselves in place because you can't use any type of mortar on the arch, it could filter down onto the pots when the kiln's firing and ruin them.

How did anyone figure this out? Like I said, fascinating! Ok, it ain't the pyramids or stone henge, but it's the First Wonder of My World right now. And totally makes me wonder how in the hell some of those real wonders were ever conceived, let alone actually built!!

Here's a shot of the arch after we took the form out. I think it's a work of art!!

In this picture, if you look at the back wall, you can see where we cut and ground bricks to fit under the arch. There's just a small sliver of space left that I'll probably fill with soft brick and mortar. Then a layer of soft brick on the outside for insulation.

Next step is to layout the door configuration and the spray the interior, the arch and the inside of the door with ITC, a chemical solution that will protect the bricks and give them a longer kiln life. Also need to finish the chimney and get the burners hooked up.

Hopefully I'll fire it up in just a few more weeks!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel

Beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel....
We're in the home stretch now.....
Making some headway....

Today we finished the walls and put the arch form up to see how hight the top will be and make sure it's going to be square and plumb and all dat dere! Those 2 words, "square" and "plumb" have been a thorn in our side during this project, but I'm happy to report that, it's pretty durn close to being both.

Between now and next kiln building day Steve needs to drill some holes in the channel iron and do some welding so we can tie the 4 corners together. I need to clean and scrape the mortar from the inside to get it ready to spray with ITC. We still have a lot to do, but it feels like we're getting close to the point where I'll be able to start firing it.

In addition to the progress that's been made on the kiln, Steve and I built some ware shelves and al
most finished my work table last week. In the next couple weeks he will upgrade the wiring to the garage so I can start using my new electric kiln for bisque firing. We will have to figure out what we're going to do about propane, I think we'll have the local propane company install a tank on site for it. We have a small tank next to the house for a gas fireplace, but we would have to pipe it under the driveway to tap into it. That doesn't seem like a great idea. We're also going to need propane piped to the garage, my studio, so I don't freeze my li'l fingers off this winter. But that project can wait a few more weeks.

This is a shot from inside the door looking up through the arch form. Something about it makes me think of a cathedral. Or a prison where they put someone who's in solitary confinement. Remember Cool Hand Luke? But I digress.........(and I think of pottery as anything but a prison!! More like an escape!!)

In other news, the garden is producing a bumper crop. Things are a little late, due to the fact that we didn't move here until Memorial Day, but I've got veggies coming out my ears. The broccoli and lettuce is done for now. Well, I'm trying to sneak in a little more lettuce, we'll see if it survives the heat.

The tomatoes and peppers are just about ripe and I saw some cucumbers and squash making an appearance. And some late green beans should be ready soon!! It's my first garden that's been what I consider somewhat successful so I'm pretty excited (especially when my lack of knowledge and experience is taken into consideration!)

Here are some pictures I took the last couple days.

I may have planted a little too much broccoli. I ate and froze as much as I could and there were a few "heads" (?) left that are flowering. I pulled up all but one, it was kinda pretty and the bees seemed to be enjoying it. Here are a couple pictures; Broccoli Bouquet and Broccoli Landscape:

Butternut squash against a big, blue, Indiana sky.....

Some baby tomatoes at the top of my plant. I can't even count how many tomatoes are on it! I hope the vines don't break when as they get bigger, they're past the top of my cage now!

If you look closely to the left of the bloom, you can see a li'l baby cuke, all prickly and full of attitude!

And finally, I wanted to include a few pictures of my quest for baking the perfect chocolate chip cookie. During this kiln-building experience, I learned that Scott and I share a passion for said cookies. So, every couple weeks I've been baking a batch to earn some brownie points with him (and add a few more pounds to my already ample frame. The cookie dough ripples will compliment my beer gut!)

Last night (as I told Scott) I believe I came close to chocolate chip cookie nirvana. The ingredients were all at the right consistency, I got the oven temperature right, the size and thickness was perfect, the planets were aligned. So I took a few pictures of that too, 'cos #1) I have no life and #2) I have no life!

I hope your mouth waters a little and I apologize to Scott for this blog, 'cos it's basically pictures I already emailed him and stuff he already knew. Well, guess what, there ain't much else goin' on 'round here!!

Cookies cooling on the counter.......

Ultimate Cookie (I was trying to get a picture with the chip all melty and a strand of chocolate, but I let it cool a little too much. And I had to keep eating my photo subjects, so I had to give up before they were all gone!!

Just Add Milk!!!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Four more courses

We are making some head-way on the kiln. Today we laid 4 more rows of bricks. It's amazing the little things that go wrong or you forget to do, that can turn into big things. I'm so thankful to have some experienced help, or I can't imagine how things might turn out!! My help doesn't consider himself to be very knowledgeable or experienced, but he's much too hard on himself (and I know he's one of 2 people on the planet who reads my blog, so I thought I would take this opportunity to tell him that!!)

Also, since he reads my blog, he took my last somewhat whiny post seriously and encouraged/forced (?) me to become more involved in the process. Beeeeeg mistake!! I'm not known for my accuracy. So, the corner that I laid the brick on somehow got itself "out of plumb." Luckily Scott and Steve were able to fix my faux pas without having to remove al the bricks and re-lay the whole corner and side!! That was a relief 'cos we already re-did a row where we had miscalculated something, I can't remember what now!
Building a kiln sure requires lots of calculating (and re-calculating!!)

Since neither Steve or I have every built a kiln and Scott only builds one every few years, it's hard to remember all the little things that are actually pretty important. We almost forgot to put the burner ports in. (yeah, those are pretty important!) But we did remember!! We have a few soft bricks in spots that should probably have hard bricks. They'll just need to be replaced sooner. We remembered the salt ports, but after we got them in, Scott realized that my burners will block be blocking them. Steve thinks he can take the "elbow" out of the burners or modify them so they won't directly block the salt po
rts. Now we have to be sure to remember to put the spy holes in next week when we lay the next course.

Scott is extremely dissatisfied with the brick joints. He feels that too many of them are lining up, they're not staggered like they should be. The boys told me I don't understand. Apparently, as a woman, I don't take pride in my work, at least not as much as they do. (Ahem!!) I told them I think I'm more concerned with functionality than perfection. I don't think perfection is possible! And even if it were, well, it's somewhat fleeting. Bricks will shift, crumble, etc. etc. I know, it's better to start out with it square and plumb, but I don't know if it's worth loosing a lot of sleep over. So, ok, I'l let them think it's a guy thing......or a perfectionist thing......or a perfectionistic guy thing. But I started looking more closely at pictures of kilns in Fred Olsen's book, The Kiln Book, and I noticed that most of the kilns that are pictured in it look as though they were built by human beings. It's probably the same as the reason why I like hand-made pottery in the first place. It's not perfect, it's not machined, it doesn't look mass produced. Same with my kiln! I know that some parts of it have to be as accurate as possible, but as long as it does the job for me, it doesn't have to be 100% perfect!!

I was sitting on the deck drinkin' a beer thinking about how lucky or blessed I am to have reached this point in my life! I'm doing something I've always wanted to do, I'm living on the farm I always dreamed about, and then I have the audacity to make my last post whiny and bitchy when I should be extremely thankful for what I have and what I'm able to do right now!! Reality check!!

Even if I get to the end of this project and it turns out that I'm not good enough at
pottery to make a go of it, at least I've given it my best shot. I'm learning a lot in the process, and not just about kilns, but about myself, my abilities, my limitations, and my attitude (which occassionally needs adjusting!)

happy, muddy gal!

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."
Beverly Sills

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kiln progress, or lack thereof and ensuing excuses

I have neglected my blog! I knew it would happen eventually. I was doing pretty good at updating it at least once a week, but I got caught up in some other things.

Making a photo book for my father-in-law's 80th birthday has kept me occupied most of the last month. I used so I could do all the layout online and everyone in th
e family can order a copy if they like it. I enjoyed the process, looking through all the old photos, seeing some I had never seen before, and seeing some I hadn't seen for years!! It brought back a lot of memories, I hope it does the same for my father-in-law. But it was a bit of a daunting task, and projects like this always cause my obsessive-compulsive persona to raise its ugly head. That means that many late nights were spent on the laptop with me cursing and groaning my way through hundreds, maybe thousands of photos, trying to narrow it down, trying to make sure I included everyone equally and didn't show any favoritism. Trying to figure out the graphics, trying to figure out what to put on the jacket, on the cover, I got carried away with the project, which is what I tend to do in this situation. But, I finally got it finished and I'm having one printed right now, which should arrive next week, just a few days before the big celebration. I'm sure I'll find several typos and other mistakes when it arrives which will drive me nuts, but at least I did it and didn't just say, "Oh, I was going to put together a book of photos for you, but I didn't have time." Nope, I did it!! Yay me.

I've also gotten a little carried with facebook. I think I've been using it to fulfill my
blogging desires, in a faster, easier way. (instant gratification?) I've uploaded photos and I can check on friends and relatives and share my tidbits of wisdom in a few minutes. I have a sneaking suspicion that tidbits are really all anyone wants to read any ways. Who has time to wade through this incoherent rambling of what's rolling around in my head?!

I really need to update my kiln progress. I noticed in a previous post I mentioned that I was surprised at how quickly we seemed to be progressing. I guess I shouldn't have said that because the last
few days I've been restless because I'm ready to start potting and it seems like it's going to be awhile. The kiln itself is going up at a steady pace, but I need to start getting the studio set up and organized so I can start making some pots. It's my own fault, really. I've been procrastinating because it means I'll have to carry a bunch of junk into the house and figure out where to store it. And I'll have to buy some kind of storage units for the garage and I've been trying to avoid spending a lot of money. And we do have a lot of other projects going on, plus, of course things always come up with family and friends. Excuses, excuses!! I'm going to try to focus next week completely on the kiln and my studio. (I'm taking a big chance stating that because I feel like I might jinx myself.) But we'll give it a whirl.

I also saw in a previous post that I thought I would only need one more session to get al
l the bricks cleaned up. Well, as usual, I underestimated the time and effort that project would require! I was grinding bricks yesterday and still have more to go!! We had enough to get started laying them so I quit grinding them. It's such a hot and dirty job!! I was trying to grind in between helping Steve put up roof sections. So I'd just get going on the bricks then he would need a hand so I'd have to remove the goggles and mask and go help him, then back to the pile, put on the goggles and mask and grind a little more. I wonder if the goggles and mask are really helping all that much. I figured out the goggles weren't fitting properly when a chunk of brick flipped up and somehow landed inside my goggles!! The mask was preventing me from fitting them snugly against the bridge of my nose. So if a big chunk can get in, how much dust must've been getting in?? I don't want to think about it.

So this is where we're at as of this morning......

The roof is almost "done." We'll cut out sections for the chimney as it gets high enough to warrant such measures!

This is how far the walls have progressed. We're using 2 1/2" hard brick on the inside (those are the bricks I purchased used, that I've been cleaning and grinding.) The outside is soft brick. They're 3" tall and are making it "fun" to line things up. Every so many rows you need a "header" course (I think that's what it's called.) It's where you lay a row of bricks that spans both walls to tie them together. Since the outer and inner layer of bricks aren't the same size, it took us 5 rows before they actually lined up. (You do the math, it's too algebraeic for me!) And now that we're finally there, they weren't actually lining up, but at least they're purty darn close! The soft outer layer seems to be just a tad lower than the inner layer. So we're going to try to compensate with a thick layer of mortar on the soft bricks. Hope it works!

It feels like we've had too many instances of figuring out how to make something work. Not only with the kiln, but with the kiln shed as well!! But it will eventually least I'm hopeful that it will!! Only time will tell!

I feel as though I've not been as involved in the process as I'd like to be. It's my own damn fault. I'm letting myself become a little intimidated by my husband and my friend who are both involved in the process. It's a good thing they're both involved, or I'd never be able to accomplish this thing, BUT, they're both a little anal (which is probably a good thing in the long run) and we're all somewhat competitive, so I'm afraid I'm going to do something wrong and I find myself hanging back and doing the grunt work rather than rolling up my sleeves and really getting into it. They probably think I'm being a lazy bum but that's not it, really. I think I'd be more involved if I was working with just one or the other of them, but the fact that there are 3 of us working together does make the situation start to have a "too many cooks spoil the broth" kinda flavor.

Of course this is the first kiln I've ever built and the first kiln shed too, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to stand back and let the guys go at it and learn from what I see them doing. Being a wife and mother, I'm used to doing alot of grunt work, and to be honest, I don't really mind doing it. I absolutely hate to stand around and do nothing, so if I can be productive cleaning and sorting bricks or handing tools to someone, well.....somebody's got to do it, right?! And then when I build my next kiln, I'll feel more confident about being more hands-on, right? That's the way I look at. Plus, if there are any major problems down the road, I can bask in the smug satisfaction of knowing that "it wasn't MY fault." Hmmmmm, perhaps that's my main motivation for keeping a low profile!

So, I suppose I need to get my butt out of this chair and get out there and do some organizing in the studio. Scott's coming out tomorrow to help us lay more brick. I'm sure he'll be stunned at what little progress we've made this week!! He's a trooper!! Yay Scott.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ancient memories

I love diggin' around in the ground. (I suppose that's why I got into pottery) There's nothing better than havin' my hands (or feet) in the dirt! Yesterday morning I hoed and raked the garden. The weather was absolutely perfect and the the dirt was too. I have romaine lettuce coming out my ears, and have unfortunately discovered that I don't really like romaine lettuce. It's a little too pungent. But it looks so pretty out there in its crooked little row, I don't mind weeding around it, and just leaving it for looks. I hope I have some broccoli soon. I saw a few little green tomatoes have made an appearance.My rows are a little too wide, but I got a late start and knew I wouldn't be able to plant everything I'd like to, so I kinda spread everything out a bit.

I like my tomato cages. I made them out of branches we had trimmed earlier. I think they look kinda "zen" and earthy.

I do lotsa thinkin' when I'm hoein' and rakin'. I was thinking about why I love working in the garden and why I love being a potter. Of course there are the obvious similarities, both involve handling dirt. But I wonder why some people enjoy the earth more than others.

When I was in high school, I enjoyed painting more than potting. I actually went to a commercial art school for about a month and I thought I would make a living drawing and painting. Well, that never transpired. (Not only did I never make a living drawing and painting, I basically never made a living, period!) But, my point is that over the years, I drifted away from the painting, but got more and more interested in the pottery.

I think that what I like about pottery is that it involves 3 of the most basic elements, water, fire, and earth. I like that.

And I think I like gardening because I come from a long line of farmers and my mother always had good things to say about growing up on the farm. I don't believe in reincarnation, but I do think that we retain some sort of sense of remembrance from what our ancestors did. I don't know if I'm expressing myself clearly, but I think that if we can pass along things in our genes like eye color, hair color, and things like that, why can't we pass along some sort of sense of what our ancestors experienced and loved? My ancestors were farmers, they hoed and raked and planted and now I do it too. And I think that somehow they passed on their love of the earth to me and I look forward to passing it on to my grand-kids. I had Jaedon out in the garden with me the other day in his car seat. He fell asleep. But next year, I'm sure I'll be yellin' at him to quit stepping on my beans and don't pull the blooms off the tomato plants. Yeah, it'll be fun. (I think!)

I think that what got me to thinking about that is a book I'm reading. It's called Speak to the Earth, and it's by a local Indiana woman who wrote for a newspaper named Rachel Peden. She says:

"A farmer's heart leaps up when he beholds a well-tilled, fertile field in any stage of production. If a non-farmer's heart leaps up at the sight of a field of ripe wheat or a cornfield sparkling greenly in sunlight, it is because in his subconscious ancient memory he associates it with his own food. A preservationist's heart leaps up at the sight of any kind of, wilderness, jungle, tundra, prairie, or swamp just lying there with no harvest being exacted of it. For true earth lovers the most heart-upleaping sight of all is the sight of abused land showing that it can heal itself and being given the opportunity to do it."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Corn and Concrete

It's been a busy week, yet again. Today Megan and Jaedon came out and we put up freezer corn. I haven't done it for probably 10 years!! It brought back a lot of memories! It had been so long, I almost forgot the procedure!! I found my old recipe scribbled on a sheet of paper stuck in my cookbook. It called for 12 C. of corn and luckily I had written down that it would take approx. 4 dozen ears of corn. What I didn't write down is that I really only needed about 18 ears of corn to end up with 12 C. of corn kernels, but I bet I used to buy 4 dozen ears so I could make 3 batches. It's not really worth going to all the trouble if you don't make several batches!

I did remember how messy it is! So we shucked the ears and cut the kernels off the cob outside. There was silk, and corn husks everywhere and we both had to clean our glasses off because the juice from the corn tends to spray everywhere!

Putting up freezer corn is a great thing to do with a friend (or family member - or BOTH!) When Megan was a little girl, my friend, Becky would come out to the house and bring all her kids, and they would run around and play outside while we did the corn. The shucking is probably the most time consuming part, but it provides a great opportunity to have some meaningful conversation and enjoy a beautiful day!

I would imagine that when women used to can and freeze on a regular basis, it would
turn into a bit of a social event with a friend or neighbor. It makes it more fun! Usually when I make freezer jam, I do it alone 'cos it's pretty quick and easy. But freezer corn is definitely a job for 2 people.

Jaedon was his usual angelic self for us and slept like (what else?) a baby!! He's really starting to get smiley and even is beginning to laugh out loud! Grampa made him happy by playing peek-a-boo.

The kiln is still progressing too. Scott came out again last Sunday and Steve used the second grinder we purchased and we ground more bricks. We've
made a pretty good dent in them and should be able to finish with one more session. The weather was cloudy and cool, unfortunately it wasn't as windy as the previous week, so the dust and sand didn't blow away as easily. We all looked like tired ghosts when we were done, and I noticed a slight cloud of dust hovering behind us as we moved around the yard. It reminded me of the "Pigpen" character on Charlie Brown.

Day before yesterday Steve and I got to work preparing the area where we poured the slab for the kiln to sit on. We decided that the sandy site where the above ground pool sat would be the perfect spot for the kiln. We spent most of the morning digging the footer, a trench about 9-12 inches deep and about as wide as a shovel. We're making the slab 10'x18' in size. The kiln will be quite a bit smaller than that, but we're going to put a roof over top and will use it for a picnic area when I'm not firing.

Steve probably dug 3/4 of it and I helped with one corner and the short side. He thought it would be funny to hold his "achin' back" when I took the picture. It turned out to be a prophetic pose because the next morning when he bent over to tie his shoes, he threw his back out!! I had tried to talk him into renting a little back-hoe but he insisted he could do it. I told him that I had no doubts about his abilities, I was just concerned about his back. So, I must've had a premonition (or wifely intuition or whatever "ition" you want to call it!) I knew exactly what had happened when he walked into the bedroom to put his shoes on and a minute later I heard him say (through clenched teeth) "D - &*%$# -!! Son-of-a-b&*%$!!!"

"Did you throw your back out?" I hollered. He a
nswered with a disgusted sounding yes and I walked into the room to find him lying on his stomach on the floor arching his back and groaning. Uh-oh, the concrete is supposed to arrive in a few hours!!

Luckily he wasn't rendered completely immobile, and my trusty friend, Scott, had offered to come out and help us get the job done! He also told us we'd need to rent a "bull float" for the initial smoothing (after screeding.) I've learned a lot about concrete in the last couple of days! Steve's using the bull float in one of the photos below.

With 2 male perfectionists on the job, not only did I feel like I wasn't needed, I'm pretty sure that the general assumption was that anything I could contribute to the process would be woefully inadequate. So, I weeded the garden, filled drink containers, and generally piddled around. The boys screeded and floated and troweled and watered, and after a few hours, they called it a day! And my beautiful slab is ready and waiting for us to start building the kiln upon it!

I'm not sure if we'll start building the kiln first or try to get the 4x4s and the roof put up so we can work on the kiln in some shade. As usual, we'll fly by the seat of our pants and see what happens. It's worked for me so far, why change now?!

I'm somewhat surprised at how quickly we're getting things accomplished. (Or maybe my goals aren't lofty enough!!) Not having to work full-time is definitely helpful. Hopefully we'll get most of our major projects done over the summer and fall, and then with a little luck, I'll sell some pots throughout fall and the holiday season. Once we get into heavy winter, we'll have to assess our situation and decide if Steve's going to continue his "life of leisure." (I'm sure he would argue with that description right now!) But eventually we will get a handle on things here, and I t
hink even he will get bored with sitting around the house all day! I suppose if the pottery does start selling, he could take over the household chores and give me even more time to spend in the studio!

Worst case scenario: pots don't sell at all and not only does Steve become a WalMart greeter, but I have to find work based on MY experience, which would mean waiting tables, cleaning houses, or working in a daycare facility! Not my idea of fun career choices! But hopefully the lucky penny that Scott said we should lay in the concrete will get the potting career off to a good start!! (Nobody would leave a hand print in the cement to commemorate the occasion so the penny had to suffice.)

I guess we'll just have to wait and
see what happens! I'm just trying to enjoy the present, and so far, I would say I'm succeeding!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Only in Indiana

The summer is flying by!! It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the 4th of July.

We are in the midst of several projects around here (I think that will be the norm for awhile.) We're grinding bricks for the salt kiln. They're used bricks and have a layer of mortar on them that needs to come off. Grinding seems to be the best method, although I am going to try using a power washer on them, at least on parts that don't have a heavy, baked on coating. My good friend, Scott Shafer (an extremely talented potter - I'm laying it on thick 'cos he's
designed my kiln and worked his butt of last week) came out and helped me grind. It's a messy, back-breaking job and the day was hot and windy. The wind was good for 2 reasons though, it cooled us off and it blew the dust away.

Steve is building a form for the concrete slab to be poured into. We're going to make it a little larger than necessary and also use it as a picnic area. It will have a roof over it eventually. I'll try to remember to take pictures as we progress.

Last week-end we had a visit from some good friends, the 2 ladies who introduced us to geocaching. We spent a couple days in New Castle looking for caches. Our first day of caching included spending several hours hiking around a local lake that was encircled by a mountain bike trail peppered with caches. Unfortunately, we didn't take into consideration the fact that the
trail was 10 miles long and the day was extremely hot and humid. We also didn't think about bringing anything to drink on the trail. Well, one of the ladies brought a styrofoam cup with a couple inches of ice water and a wedge of lemon.

Four and a half hours later, at around mile marker 7, we were all sitting on a log, sucking on a tiny section of the lemon she had divvied up between the four of us. (I felt like Survivor Man.) We were trying to figure out if we were going to make it back to the car before dark and we were ready to throw in the towel, except it didn't look like an option. I could envision the headlines in the paper, "Inexperienced hikers from Ohio airlifted out of New Castle park." Luckily for us, a friendly biker shared some of his sport drink with us and told us how to get to the road, which saved us a couple miles of hiking. It made for an adventurous day and will give us exciting tales to tell to the grand-kids.

While we were out and about in New Castle, we came across a statue of a rather large, blue man in front of one of the local liquor stores.

I did a little online research and found a website that lists various roadside landmarks, or places of interest. Indiana seems to have more than its share of bizarre roadside statues.

I came across this one about a month ago, on our way to the closing on our house. When we drove through Fortville, I saw this pink elephant!! (And I hadn't ad a drop of any beverage that might cause this type of hallucination.) I would've stopped and taken a picture, but we were running late. I did find one online, so here it is, The Pink Martini Drinking Elephant of Fortville, Indiana:

I gotta say I admire the sense of humor of whoever put the statue there! It's in front of (you guessed it) yet another liquor store!! (I especially like the geek glasses!)

I hear there's a Paul Bunyan statue in Muncie, I'll have to to check it out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

One brick at a time

Today is rainy and dreary. At least the temperature's a little cooler.

Yesterday most of Steve's family was here for Father's Day. We cooked out and played Hillbilly Golf and Corn Hole. Our niece and her husband and sister didn't make it. She got nailed in the face with a line drive when she was pitching for some softball league they're in. It was pretty serious, but could have been much worse. It appears that nothing is actually broken in her face, but she's getting her teeth checked today, she had to have some stitches and couldn't eat solid foods for a day or 2. I hope she's doing better and doesn't pitch anymore softball because this is her second incident, and few years ago our son had to have major surgery on one of his fingers when he was pitching and got hit in the hand with a line drive. I told my niece that I've come to the conclusion that organized sports are of the devil! I've held this belief since I was a young (fat and un-athletic) child. These incidents only prove my instincts to be correct!

Today we got a little mowing in before the rain and then I was planning to start grinding the crap off of the bricks that I'm planning to use to build the salt kiln. They were used before in a gas kiln, and have a lot of crud on the edges that needs to come off. They should be smooth as possible so the kiln is tight and doesn't let a lot of heat out. But the weather deterred me from starting.

I feel like I've been putting off getting started on the kiln and I'm trying to figure out why, since it's really the main thing I want to focus on at this point in my life. I think part of it has been wanting to figure out what's the best location in regards to accessibility, but keeping in mind that the firings will produce some smoke, ash, and fumes that we may not want blowing directly over the house. After conducting some research online and emailing a few potters whose opinions I value, I think I've decided on the location.

But I think that's only been part of what's keeping me from digging into this project. Ok, another surface excuse has been that there's just so doggone much that needs to be done around here. There actually were some projects that I put a higher priority on than my salt kiln. But now things are somewhat squared away, we can at least live in the house and we've made it presentable for guests, so I'm at a point where it's time to kick ass and get this kiln built!

So today when I was mowing (I tend to do my major philosophizing on the lawn mower or when I'm shoveling horse manure, which I don't have the opportunity to do much these days.) So, while I was mowing, I was trying to figure out why I'm dragging my feet about this and I think it has to do with age and experience. I would bet that if I had been in this situation 10 years ago, I would be tackling this project with reckless abandon!! But now I know a little more than I did back then, I think that I know enough, to know how much I DON'T know about kilns and firing, and pottery and clay!! Am I making sense?

I feel like I've reached a major fork in the road of my development as a potter and while part of me is extremely excited about the opportunity, another part of me knows how much time and effort (and of course always the cold hard cash) is going to have to be invested in this venture. At 47, I think I'm just a little more aware of the effort and the possibility for failure. I know I've lamented this before, maybe I'm starting to sound like a tired old broken record.

I have a friend who's an artist (and may be one of the 2 people on the planet who is actually reading my blog!) He works full-time as a commercial artist and does his writing and painting in his spare time. A few months ago (in my former blog) I was
whining about the difficulty I was experiencing in coming to a decision to buy all this pottery equipment in the first place. At that time I mentioned my "fear of failure" as one of the hurdles that was making the decision so difficult. Big shock, that hurdles back. We think we've cleared them, but they always seem to pop up again, don't they?

I guess that means it should get easier to just get on with it. My friend said that he tends to look at his "failures" more as "learning experiences." He says he feels like he experiences his greatest growth during these periods, and if he didn't take the risks, he wouldn't experience the growth. I know he's right. (It's probably where the term "growing PAINS" is partially derived!)

I guess as I get older though, it takes more umph! to get myself to take the risk!! It's a helluva lot easier to sit on my duff and pontificate about my options. (Kinda like I'm doing right now, perhaps?!)

It's also easier to look at other people's so-called "failures" as learning experiences. My friend told me about a personal experience that he had, where he considered himself to be a huge failure. I disagreed with his assessment. Without going into detail, I told him that if he had actually "succeeded" at what he was attempting, he would have failed greatly in another area of his life that probably had much more importance and significance, even if he was questioning it at the time.

It seems like life is typically a balancing act. We try to strike a balance between doing the things we need to do and the things we want to do. Sometimes they overlap, which can be both a blessing and a curse! Unfortunately I think that often society in general tends to get the priorities turned around. Society looks at a successful athlete, or scientist, or artist and admires them for their accomplishments. But society doesn't take into consideration whether or not that person's family life is in a shambles due to the amount of time they had to dedicate to their chosen profession. I'm sure there are hundreds, maybe thousands of "average" athletes, scientists, artists, etc., who could have neglected other obligations to put more time and effort into their profession, but instead decided to put that time and effort into their relationships and never achieve the fame they might have had, if they'd focused on their profession a little more. It seems unfortunate to me that we don't consider these people to be the true examples of success!

My friend says we're probably just rationalizing! He may be right. But sometimes I think it's almost easier to neglect the priorities that are typically considered mundane, like going to your kid's soccer game, or taking your spouse out for a date, or taking care of an aging parent. I believe that some people use their desired profession as an excuse to neglect doing the mundane chores that often drain us of the energy we need to do the things we consider fun. How many people who are considered to be a success at their profession have failed miserably at being a spouse, parent, son or daughter? It boils down to priorities.

So I guess all this is just my rationalization for why I'm not outside right now sanding the crud off those kiln bricks so I can start building that kiln. The sun has come out again, I've got no excuses. Well, I am waiting for Steve to get back with a handle for the disc sander. I could probably lose a finger or two using it without a handle and that's not very conducive to potting! But I'll get out there, I swear I will!

My goal is to have the kiln firing by the first of September. Yeah, I don't wanna push myself, do I? I figure that gives me time to pour the slab, clean the bricks, get it built, have propane piped out there , get the electric upgraded in the garage so I can fire the electric kiln, hopefully get water run out to the garage, get some pots thrown and bisque fired, and get my new shelves, get the kiln coated with ITC, build the kiln shed..............................OH MY GOSH!!! I'm not so sure about the first of September now!!! Ok, deep breath, one day at a time, one brick at a time.

I'm gonna go do something more productive now!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Odds 'n Ends

We are now officially "moved in." We finally have a mattress in the house so we don't have to sleep in the camper anymore!! And we even got a couple LazyBoys, but who has time to sit on their butt? Well, we do have a little down time!

Let's see, since my last blog we've made a little progress. The ro
om we're going to use as our closet has carpet and storage shelves now. Here are the before and after pictures:

We put down some cheap berber, the cheapest we could find. The room was just a little too big to find a remnant. We were going to put it down ourselves, but the guy at the carpet store offered to install it for 65 bucks (first it was $75, when we hesitated he said $65, I talked Steve into letting them do it. He had some idea for coming up with a makeshift stretcher, sounded scary to me. Now, it's done!)

We got the shelf kit and corner piece at Lowe's. We're going to put a few more shelves in on the right, a storage bench under the window, and a make-up table to the right of the window.

We also found a nice old 8N tractor with a finish mower! We had been looking on Craig's List and we found this guy in Alexandria who had about 10 old tractors in various stages of restoration. His name's Clyde and he apparently loves anything with a gas engine, 'cos besides the tractors, he had 3 motorcycles, 3 late 60s model Camaros (one for each of his daughters and his own) a '70-something corvette, and countless lawnmowers, both riding and walk-behind. Everything was in pristine shape, including his garage, and he kept meticulous records on everything he owned. He gave us the logbook he kept on the tractor and he recorded every part he replaced, the date, and the cost, and everytime he started it up he would write the date and the outside temperature!! Talk about anal! But that means we got a tractor in really good shape. It was a little more than we planned on spending on an old 8N, but like Steve said, if we take care of it, it will easily retain its value, if not increase in value! So, we christened the tractor Clyde Jr. and Steve spent a few hours on Tuesday getting the yard mowed.

Here's Clyde on Jr. You can see one of his camaros in the garage, and if you look closely, you'll see the corvette is actually stored above it on this crazy hydraulic lift thing!!

And here's a shot of Steve and the long, long trail which is our driveway! That's our house looking teeny-tiny to the left of his head!! (click on the photo for a bigger view.)

Here's a close-up of him:

While Steve was picking up the tractor, Megan and Jaedon and I made freezer jam. Megan noticed a sign up the road for strawberries, so I went and picked some Tuesday morning. At first the guy who owned the place didn't seem to think I'd be able to find enough berries, it is getting to be a little late in the season. But he saw my dissappointment and told me I could try to find enough. There were actually plenty. And after I started picking, about half a dozen more people came out and picked too. The owner of the farm used to be the football coach at the high school in New Castle and this is what he's doing as his "retirement." One of the people picking tod me he had heart surgery at the beginning of the strawberry season, but it didn't appear to have slowed him down. No wonder he wasn't really in the mood to pick though!!

We made 2 batches of freezer jam, I had forgotten how easy it is to make (and how delicious!!) Between the jam and the new tractor and getting our chairs and mattress delivered, it was great day!!

Wednesday we went to the Optimist Breakfast, we're thinking about joining the group as a way to get to know people in the community. They're a really nice bunch of people. The Optimist is an organization that does things for kids. This was our 3rd meeting, so when they mentioned a volunteer opportunity I thought we should probably offer to help. So that's why we found ourselves waking up at the butt-crack o' dawn (as one of the optimists called it, which was actually 4:30 a.m.) so we could make pancakes to serve at a youth camp for "at-risk" kids that was sponsored by the Henry Co. Sheriff's Dept. It was fun, Steve and I both made pancakes, so of course it got a little competitive, to see who could make the best ones. Unfortunately, there were some problems with the batter, seriously! so the pancakes didn't brown very well and looked pretty anemic. But they tasted fine!!

We met our neighbor who lives at the other corner of our road. He stopped in to say hi. It looks like we've got 2 pretty good neighbors!! He talked to us for about an hour, filled us in on the local gossip that our other neighbor, Jeff, hadn't already told us about! He also gave us his phone number and said that since we're all kinda out in the middle of nowhere we watch out for each other and if we see anything strange, like a car going real slow, or someone we don't know pulls in, he said just give him a call. He said if I'm ever here alone and think someone's messing around, just call him, 'cos he "carries." (as in weaponry! Gotta love these Indiana boys.)

I got another definition of a Hoosier from one of the guys in the Optimist Club. He told me that a Hoosier's someone from Kentucky who didn't make it to Michigan!! (Wow, I think we have Hoosiers in Ohio too!!)

Tomorrow we're having a cook-out with Steve's family for Father's Day. We thought everybody was going to make it (except Danny's girlfriend, Ainsley, who had a wedding to attend.) But we were informed today that my neice in Cincinnait was injured in a softball game. She was pitching and got nailed in the face by a line drive! Several stitches and a swollon lip mean she's just going to take it easy at home tomorrow. The ironic part is she had almost exactly the same thing happen a couple years ago when she was playing intramural at Asbury. That time, the batter was her boyfriend (now husband.) He's swearing that he was playing short stop when today's incident occurred. But he does have a propensity to nail members of our family with softballs! A few years ago he hit a line drive at a game our son was pitching in, and shattered Danny's pinky. He had to have major surgery done in Louisville, and wore a strange contraption on it for several weeks hoping that he'd retain some mobility. I suggested they just lop it off, his dad told him that it would be cooler than a tattoo, but no one agreed with us.

So, anyways, we've been trying to get the house somewhat organized and I've been on a cleaning binge, 'cos the place has literally years of grime and filth!! I've been doing lots of vacuuming, mopping, and washing. It's a little better,
but still needs work.

Here's a picture of the stairway that I took from a weird angle. I kinda like how it looks......

Danny came up today and is spending the night tonight. We took him to the Wilbur Wright Birthplace Festival. We got there just as the skydivers (both of 'em) were jumping out of the plane, that was probably the most exciting event of the day. It was a little too breezy for the R/C guys to risk wrecking their 1/4 scale WWII replica model planes. One guy flew a helicoptor, but he hadn't been flying long, so it it was kinda boring. Then another guy flew a little "park model" corsair. It was fun to watch. And one of them flew an acrobatic kite.

Came home, had spaghetti and Danny and I played a little frisbee golf out in the field. It was my first time, but I did ok! Later this evening we saw a huge buck out in the field by the woods!!

So, now I do b'lieve I've caught my blog up for the week, and I'm going to hit the sack!!