Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Ben saw it first. The moon had risen behind clouds, leaving us in the dark despite its promise. But then the clouds split and when the moon rose higher and peeked out at us, it gleamed on the snowscaped land and illuminated the dance of life more brightly than it would have if the clouds had never been there.

Food Hangover

Thanksgiving was really great, both times we feasted: once in Montana and once in Wyoming. It was terrific spending time with so many friends and family members, many of those we see only once a year. I ate more this year than I have eaten in many, many years and I was suffering for it.

But now it’s Tuesday and I still have a food hangover.


This week in the studio we’re trying to cram in some last blast efforts to get a few more pieces done for Christmas orders and requests. The glazing table and the drying shelves are full. Unfortunately we’re still having trouble with our old glaze and have to re-fire quite a few pieces, which takes the profit out of them, but we want to do some more experimenting before we choose which sample glaze to use for our new base glaze. We’ve whittled down to three promising glaze recipes and will put some samples of them in the next glaze load with our fingers crossed.

And I’m writing every chance I get.

So we have a hectic schedule for a few more days or so. Then Ben will be a manny for Mel-and-Mark’s kids next week and I’ll be taking care of the home front and writing like a maniacal wild man as much as possible.

It’ll be quiet around here without Ben, but that will be good for a week of immersion with my novel, which is actually going very well well. More than a week though and I might go bonkers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Writer In Me

This morning a flood of ideas on my novel disrupted my calm morning, which was very exciting, and I filled out a couple of pages of notes. Yesterday I began writing the first few pages of the book, which was actually a prologue, but I read an article a couple of years ago, written by an editor, that he had never read a prologue that was necessary or that actually helped the book or the reader. He said, rather, that prologues, which get the readers started in a certain flow of thought only to abruptly hurl them into another time frame, would better benefit the flow of the novel as backstory. I was so fond of this backstory/prologue episode that I really wanted it in the book, but it was way too much information to fit into backstory, so I was going to put it in as the first chapters. Then in one of the books I studied on characterization, the author said that if you have the kind of information that is from a different time frame than the rest of the novel and cannot fit comfortably into backstory, it must be put into a prologue. So I was working on a prologue, ignoring what I had read earlier by the editor.

Yesterday I read an article in Writer’s Digest about backstory. The author gave a few tips about how to determine if the backstory is necessary and actually needs to be in the novel or if it would merely stop the flow of the storyline, and then how to decide if it could actually be a mere mention, even if it takes two or three places in the book to fill the reader in on the whole backstory , rather than disrupting the flow of the novel by stopping with a long chunk and filling in some larger bit of a character’s history.

The information in that article made me stop and really think about my approach to this prologue I’ve been writing and I decided that it really should be a separate short story and the episode, which is still important information, only mentioned in the novel. It would make a very nice short story, but the entire episode really isn’t necessary in the novel and would serve to thrust the readers into a separate time frame. IT would also come across to some as a gimmick for a hook to attract reader attention. I’ll already have some disruption in continuity because I have two viewpoint characters on different continents, so I think that would really be enough for readers and editors to deal with.

So this morning I tucked away the notes and what I had written yesterday in a separate file and will work on it later as a short story, maybe when I need a break from the novel. Today I’ll decide on what to do for my opening chapter. I recall having written out several notes on a possible beginning, so I’ll pull those out and start on them. Ben will be going down to Wyoming the first part of December to tend to Melody’s kids for a week, so I have already plotted to play hooky in the studio and write like an obsessed maniac to get as much done that week as I possible can. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself, but that’s still two weeks away . . .

And I still have to write my column, which is due tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter, Pottery and Writing

We went to Butte today, to deliver pots that will be taken to Idaho this weekend and picked up next week to be hauled to Nevada for shows the next few weekends. I’m glad that it’s Delia, in Nevada, and Joyce in Wyoming rather than Ben and me in Montana doing the shows. I’m weary of doing shows and they just don’t pay off so well anymore. I’m quite happy making the pots and sending them out to Joyce, Delia and the galleries.

We were able to drive out because we hired a plow to clear last week’s snow off of our driveway a couple of days ago. After the snow storm, a lovely wind arose, singing all day and night for several days in that sweet, haunting timbre with which only the wind can sing, in tones and lyrics that roused us fully awake at night as it echoed our fears of being snowed in until the end of the world. Which, according to some ancient accounts could be in a couple of weeks; and that wouldn’t have been so bad because we have enough coffee to last that long. But we opted to have the road plowed so Delia could get her pottery and we could get more coffee just in case the world doesn’t end.

Today, while we were gone, the sun shone on the parts of the road that the plow scraped clear and, so, now we have deep mud and slush which made our drive back in, late this afternoon, quite difficult. We’ll drive the car out again tomorrow morning while the ground is frozen; that way we’ll be able to get out for more coffee next month. And, yes, of course for the big Thanksgiving pig-out-feast next week.

On a less festive note, I’m studying a couple of text books on characterization. So, now it’s time for my confession: I have a goal to write a novel over the next two winters and I wanted to brush up on how to create powerful characters. I’ve given myself the two winters because during the summer, when we’re landscaping, I can barely drag myself home with enough energy to fix and eat dinner before dragging my worn and tired body to bed. (The upside of that weariness, of course, is that it burns a lot of my winter fat off, helping me to fulfill another goal.) There is, therefore, no mental energy left in me at the end of the day to write and we leave so early in the morning that I couldn’t get up early enough for time to write and make it through the long work day. Summer’s off for writing, except maybe editing on the weekends some of what I wrote during the winter. I’ll have two winters of about six months each for writing this novel, which is one full year and that year, though broken, started a couple of weeks ago. And with all I’ll want to accomplish in the studio, I’ll need the full year.

I can explain my decision to quit waiting for miracles to change my life for me and start writing this novel now with an example of life we witnessed today when we stopped in Three Forks to have lunch: We walked in and checked out a table on one side of the room, but I was a little cold and opted to take a booth instead chairs knowing there would be less draft in a booth. Next to the table and chairs we first looked at sat an old man that I thought was scowling as we walked past him a second time going toward the booth. I sat down facing the scowling old man and soon realized he wasn’t scowling at all, but had a little difficulty seeing and had to squint a bit. When he picked up his glass to drink or his fork to eat, he had a tremor in his hand. It was never enough to spill his food or his drink, but he did have some trouble getting the straw and the food into his mouth sometimes.

I guessed, by the lines on the old man’s face, he was in his late seventies or early eighties and I felt a little sad for him. Perhaps he’s still glad to be alive and if he is then I’ll be happy for him, too; but perhaps, actually, it isn’t so much that I was sad for him, but, rather, for myself, for my own future. As I’ve written before, my parents are in a nursing home. Mom has Alzheimer’s, so she’s as happy as she could possibly be, not remembering from one moment to the next what she might have to be sad about. Dad has severe dementia, but he’s also in very rough physical shape and, honestly, I don’t know how his body continues on. Mom and dad are roughly the same age as that old man at the restaurant and he is certainly in better shape than my folks are, but when he got up to leave he had a difficult time walking, though – probably out of a stubbornness I know I would have if I were in his shoes – he  didn’t use a cane or a walker. He got into his little pickup and drove away and I was worried for the other drivers on the road, but at the same time I couldn’t fault him for not relinquishing his last bastion of true freedom. Perhaps he lives in Three Forks because he feels safe driving there, because without his little pickup he would be completely dependent on other people to either take him everywhere he needed to go or bring him everything he needed to survive. He would still be in his own home, but his life would be so much like nursing home residents.

Also as I’ve mentioned, Ben and I built and moved into our place over eighteen years ago. Those years have gone by more quickly than I could ever have imagined possible and there’s still so much more I would like to do with our place and with my life. But, and here’s the real issue, when we have lived in our place for another passage of time equivalent to what we have already lived here, Ben and I will nearly be in the same age category that the old man in the restaurant is in now and very likely in a similar state of health.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and have decided to start pushing myself rather than to continue waiting for someone to pull me; or at least, looking back, it seems like I’ve been waiting. In reality, at least in part, a lot of my complacence stems from being so damn happy with my life. And I am happy, but I’m also in a crux; some days I don’t want to change anything: I want to keep everything the way it is now; and some days I want to change everything: there’s so much more out there. Since there are things I still want to do, though, and writing is at the top of the list, I know that if I don’t change anything, then when I sail with the high winds of time into the age of the old man in the restaurant I’ll look back – so long as I still have my mind – and won’t be so damn happy anymore.

And what, really, could be worse than that?

So, if I may be so bold, I want you all to hold me accountable. I will finish that novel, at least a first full draft, by the spring of 2014. Question me, bug me, needle me, but don’t let me be complacent. If I don’t let you know how I’m doing every week, harangue me. Likewise, if you have a goal you want to accomplish, let me know and I’ll pester you as well.

Deal? Okay, deal!

Friday, November 9, 2012



We woke this morning with the first glimmers of dawn filtering through heavy layers of clouds sifting snow onto the landscape. While we were drinking our first cup of coffee hunkered beside the wood stove, the light gradually exposed branches of trees and boughs of pines fat with piled snow. The bushes and our automobiles had become puffy mounds. Snow was spread thick across the landscape the way I, as a child, would spread frosting on a cake.

“You’re putting on too much,” mom would say.

Too much? I wondered, thinking I had been frugal with the frosting. The way I think I’m being frugal with my emotions, though I want to giggle with glee, but as we step out into the weather Ben looked at me and grinned, softly shaking his head.

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

“It is beautiful. It’s a wonderland,” he said. “I wonder if we’ll ever get out again.” But then he smiled and kicked up a puff of snow.

Nature had certainly not been frugal frosting the land overnight, adding nearly another foot on top of what she had piled yesterday. I giggled as we plowed with our legs down to the meadow to do chores. I giggled while I was scooping snow away from the hen house. And I giggled sweeping snow off the woodpile. I haven’t seen snow this deep since the early years after moving to Montana. For now we have coffee and food enough to last through this storm, so I don’t even care if we can’t get out. It’s still a wonderland for me.

I know the weather is going to warm back up again next week and at least most of this will disappear, but perhaps that helps me enjoy it all the more. I feel like I just shed forty five or fifty years and I’m a little boy again.




The greenhouse imitating an igloo



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election is Over!!

Hooray, hooray!!

I am so glad all the attack ad bullshit on the radio, flyers in the mail, from phone calls, and in the newspaper has finally ended that I almost don’t care who won. Isn’t that pathetic? (Not near as pathetic as what our political system has become.)

Yes, I did vote.

The overall outcome could have been better, but it could have been much, much worse, too.

Between dipping, cleaning up and painting pots, Ben and I have been racing around to get a few things done today in anticipation of the storm coming in. I’m rather excited about the possibility of a bunch of snow, even though it looks like we may only get half a foot. But what more can I ask? The election is over and snow is on the way.

Hooray, hooray!!

Think Snow!


Isn’t it beautiful? I’m ready to hunker down for the winter, so bring it on, baby!

Mary Barringer Demonstration

Mary Barringer fires her ware in an electric kiln to Cone 6 like Ben and I do, so the workshop was especially pertinent to us. Mary hand-builds all her pots, Ben and I hand-build only a small percentage of our pots, and the slip-decorated surfaces are something we will probably do on a very limited basis, but it was fun to watch her and to have the weekend to associate with a roomful of potters.

Most of the bases of Mary’s pots are press-molded slabs of clay, as are her plates and trays. She doesn’t use a slab roller, but takes a wad of clay and slaps it down on the table top or the floor at a slight angle to extend the slab. After peeling up the slab of clay and slapping it down again and again, she lays it on a piece of cloth (something called Pellon {sp?} that Ben is familiar with, but I am not) that looks like a very thin layer of artificial felt and rolls it out a bit further with a rolling pin. She said one of the main reasons she doesn’t have a slab roller is because every flat surface in her studio is always covered with stuff and she would have to clean it off every time she wanted to roll a slab. Both Ben and I could relate to that . . .

When the slab is the right thickness and large enough for the tray or base she wants, Mary presses it into or onto a mold. One of the molds she used was one she made earlier in the day by laying a slab of clay on a piece of wadded up newspaper shaped to form a convex oval, then she let the slab dry until it was leather hard. After she pressed the pot slab she made over the leather hard mold slab and let it dry and let it dry enough to handle it, she picked it back up and built a pot on it with coils.

I was surprised she used coils to form her pot rather than with slabs, since it takes so much longer, but she prefers to take more time in the state of mind she’s in when making the pot to let it tell her, by the finished shape and texture, what the surface color and thickness should be. And Mary is never in a hurry when she’s making a pot. So, then when the pot has dried a bit she scratches and scrapes texture patterns on the surface. When that stiffens up enough that she can clean the debris out of the etched subsurface areas without gumming it up, she paints a first coat of colored slip over the entire outside surface. When that dries, she adds a second color and sometimes she adds a third.

While she is laying the color on the pot, she is also deciding which areas should have which base colors and starts forming a pattern with the colors.

Okay, so this is boring to anyone who isn’t a potter, but it was very exciting for Ben and me to watch. We were surprised, too, when we visited the Red Lodge Clay Center gallery, since Mary’s pots weren’t nearly as expensive as we had imagined they would be. No, we didn’t buy one, but we certainly did admire them all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

. . . and a pottery workshop.

Actually we attended a two-day demonstration, not a workshop, on the weekend.

Last week was hectic. When Ben logged on to the Red Lodge Clay Center website last weekend so we could ogle the latest pottery porn (lots of luscious pots) they had posted, he found out Mary Barringer was demonstrating her techniques of hand-building pots and putting clay slips and vitreous engobes (clay slips that become vitreous in the firing and, so, have a little sheen; which, according to some sources, is actually what our base glaze is) on the surface of her pots instead of glazes. Her work and her surface treatment are so different than ours that we decided we would like to see how she does it. The demo was great; it was fun and interesting to watch Mary’s techniques and hear her philosophy about pots and pot making. And it felt good to connect with some of our fellow pottery tribal members. Mary fires in an electric kiln to cone 6, which is a little under 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, like we do, so it gave us some ideas for certain kinds of decorative pots we have periodically worked on, even though the pots Mary makes are certainly not the kinds of pots we would ever make; and yet, of course, we love her pots. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take our camera, but you can see her work and a even a blurb on the demo if you Google Mary Barringer. We’ll post examples of what we try with some of what we learned at the demo, but that won’t be for a few weeks.

I’ll write more about the demo later, but Ben is baking an onion pie and I can’t concentrate.

Part of our justification for leaving when we’re so busy getting work done for Joyce/Dano Camp was that we would have the chance to deliver several box-loads of pots late Saturday afternoon, since the demo ended at 3:00 on Saturday and we didn’t have to be back until 10:00 on Sunday (with an extra hour because of the daylight savings time change). Since we didn’t yet have several box-loads of pots to deliver to Joyce, we had to scramble to get a few kiln-loads of pots glazed up before the weekend.

Along with that, I worked up recipes and mixed eight different samples of a revision of our base glaze. A few of them turned out fine, but one in particular looks like it will be a great choice with only a very minor alteration.

Just after we packed up the car late Friday, so we could head for Red Lodge at 6:00 Saturday morning, we got an e-mail note from Joyce’s cousin, Delia (who sells Dano Pottery in Nevada) asking when we could make a delivery to Butte. She’s waiting for some pots to do shows and has put in several special orders. So, this week, along with a larger experimental batch on our replacement glaze, we’ll be scrambling to get a few box-loads of pots to deliver to Butte next week.

And it’s all good; even though I’m anxious to get some other experiments and work started, we’re glad to have work that actually pays us now.




And there will be a lot more of this to come. It’s a good thing we love doing it.