Thursday, December 26, 2013

Progress on the Home-front

We finally got around to tiling around the other two windows in the studio!  Next week we’ll grout the tiles; but we’ll have to replace the big picture window before we can finish it.

Which won’t be this year.

We used an old sliding glass door as our picture window; the seal around the two sheets of glass has broken (as it also has in the apartment picture window) so it has a streaked film inside from moisture getting between the glass.

I think we’ll probably do a more traditional finish on the picture window, though. It took a very long time to make and mount the tiles.

In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the new tile work on the small windows.


Applying tiles over the mastic


Applying mastic


And more tiles


We laid the tiles out on a piece of sheetrock to make the process quicker and easier


Setting tiles on the outside framework


The finished job. Ben did all the work; I just took the pictures. After the mastic dries thoroughly, we’ll apply grout. will be helping on that part of the project

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chocolate-Toffee Cracker Brittle

I highly recommend this recipe. It’s quick and easy, but it’s so good it’s hard to stay out of it. The slightly salty crackers add a nice touch to the sweet chocolate and toffee.




24 saltine crackers

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips

4 ounces toffee bits


Line a 12” by 9” baking sheet with  heavy duty foil. You’ll want to use a baking sheet with shallow sides, not a flat cookie sheet, since this stuff tends to run a bit in the oven. I strongly suggest using heavy duty foil, not the cheap,thin stuff. This brittle is so much more enjoyable if it doesn’t have bits of foil stuck to the bottom.

Lay the crackers out on the foil.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, add the sugar, bring to a boil for a minute or two until the sugar is melted. You can use all white sugar, but the brown sugar gives the cracker bottom a nicer color and a little better taste.

Pour the mixture as evenly over the crackers as you can, since you can’t really spread it once it’s on the crackers. It starts to soak in and run in between and beneath the crackers immediately.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until the sugar and butter mix is bubbling all across the crackers, not just on the edges.

Quickly sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot crackers and let sit for a few minutes until the chips are melted. Then spread the chocolate out in a fairly even layer over the crackers.

Sprinkle the toffee bits over the melted chocolate as evenly as possible. I used Heath toffee bits which comes in an 8 ounce package, so I used about half of the package (which means I can make another batch next week!).  Press the toffee bits into the melted chocolate with a flat spatula so they don’t fall off when you break the brittle. Put the brittle in the refrigerator for half an hour or so to let it cool before you break it into serving size pieces.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Breakthrough on Writing

I just finished studying this book yesterday. I have never studied another book on writing that I would recommend as highly as this one.

But keep this a secret.

There are hundreds of thousands of would-be writers that have not yet learned how to write well enough to get published (if you don’t believe me, just join an on-line critique group) and if they all learn what I learned from this book, there will be far too much competition for anyone who isn’t directly related to a high-powered editor to actually get published.

I’m not saying I believe I am going to get my novel published just because I studied this book, but now I have a much better chance.


Stein leaves no doubt that he knows how to write, edit and teach. The pride he has in his personal skills juts up throughout the book like the mountains that surround me.

But the man is brilliant. And with the light of his knowledge, he breathed life into my mummified brain.

I have studied a tall stack of books on writing, books that attempted to crack through to teach my old, stubborn, lazy mind. But of all the authors I have sweated with, recited, and stored notes from, Stein alone knew the value and power of his own words.

Wielding his control of language with stealth, he cut through the tough-as-lead casing around my head, sliced through layer around layer of petrified mush until he found the lone kernel inside my head that can still learn.

And there, with his words carefully on humble, white paper, he planted the seed that sprouted in the well-fertilized soil of my mind. So many other authors of writing books had attempted to help by carelessly tossing a handful of seeds that landed in my face.


My introduction to Sol Stein was a recommendation from an article in Writer’s Digest magazine to read his novel, The Magician. When I found a copy on Amazon, I also found Stein on Writing and ordered it at the same time. That weak moment of impulse buying, which I so rarely indulge in, turned out to be one of the luckiest moments of my life.

I read The Magician first. I was not entirely enthralled with the book, though I must say it was masterfully written. It just isn’t my kind of reading material. I’m the kind of guy who likes to read books with a little more fantasy, those in which the protagonist fights against the system and wins. The Magician is about a family who learns to fight using the flaws in our system in order to win, because that’s the only they could succeed.

I suppose, for me, that kind of story is much too real and if I want reality I can follow the news. The book was very popular, though; it sold over a million copies.

Still, I cannot recommend his novel and I doubt I will read any more of his novels. Had I read The Magician before I ordered Stein on Writing, I would never have ordered the latter.

But before I was even finished with Stein on Writing,  I ordered his other book on writing, How to Grow a Novel, which I will begin studying today. I’ll report on it when I’m finished, which may not be for awhile, since I don’t have a lot of time for reading and studying.


Just to show you what I learned: I was printing out what I have written of my novel to have a hard copy to use for my latest revision and groaned silently over page after page of drivel. But what I also learned from Stein is that, with extremely few exceptions, every writer’s first draft is “top of the head” crap and needs to be revised or rewritten. The first draft is the skeletal system, so to speak (my words not his) which gives a framework to do the “real writing.”

Anyway, I read the first two sentences of Chapter Six, which is the last chapter I have written, and that last kernel of brain that remains inside my head kicked in as soon as I groaned and said, “Hey, I know how to cure that!” And I honestly had never instantaneously experienced that before.

So here are those two sentences: Suvio roused Kirian as the carriage pulled up to their apartment building. His head was groggy from the long trip and he was hungry.

Definitely “top of the head crap.”

Here’s my quick revision: A gentle nudge pushed Kirian out of a dream that evaporated when he opened his eyes. He blinked the fog away and focused. He frowned at Suvio, then saw that the carriage had stopped in front of their dormitory. He let his head fall back against the seat and groaned as the sides of his stomach grated together, snarling up at him.

It still needs a little work, but I’m actually editing this scene out of the book. I just couldn’t resist revising it since I now have the knowledge to use skills that have lain buried beneath ancient stratified layers inside my head for far too long.

Monday, December 9, 2013

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies



Since I can’t eat oatmeal, Ben devised this recipe and I made them last night. I’m so proud of myself for not sneaking downstairs during the night for a cookie snack.

These are the BEST Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies I have ever tasted.

And one of the best cookies I have ever eaten. They are certainly the best no-bake cookies ever.

They’re simple to make, so give them a try. I used chunky natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir the oil in before you use it. Once you use the natural peanut butter, you’ll never want the other stuff again. If you use a commercial peanut butter in this recipe, you may want to reduce the sugar since those kinds of peanut butter are already sweetened.

This recipe makes around 18 to 24 cookies, depending on how wide and how tall you make them. I got twenty cookies out of the recipe and from the look of my cookie jar, I should have doubled the recipe. They look so lonely with the jar only half full, don’t they?


1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1 cup powdered milk

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


Thoroughly melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in a mixing bowl on half power (or use a double boiler if you prefer). I used half power in our microwave and set the timer for two and a half minutes, stirred the half-melted chips and then put them back in for another two and a half minutes,

Stir in the peanut butter and mix thoroughly.

Add the powdered milk, the sugar, and the vanilla and hand whip the mixture until thoroughly mixed. If your mix hasn’t lost the melted chocolate luster and doesn’t look fairly dry, add more powdered milk. (Because you probably accidently semi-deliberately added extra chocolate chips.)

Spoon two inch wide by one inch tall mounds of the mix onto waxed paper or parchment spread onto a tray or a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator for thirty to forty-five minutes until set. If you’ve been sampling the melted chocolate or the peanut butter, resist sampling the soft cookie mix until your palate is cleared or you may think it needs more of something.

These cookies will begin to melt in your hand if you take too long to eat them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

. . . but we’re getting a bunch of work done in the pottery

Like much of the nation, we’re locked in an arctic weather pattern, so we’re staying at home, indoors, and just working in the studio. Well, not “just;” we’re baking cookies, and cooking other fun food, too.

I love winter.

Weather like this also stimulates my creativity (or maybe it’s the cookies and fun food), so I’ve been working on my novel a lot, and making fun pots.


Here’s a photo of a teapot I just uncovered to let it start the drying process.

We got an order from Joyce to make a teapot with our pine design. I usually make Dano ware rather simple to put more emphasis on the hand-painted designs, but I couldn’t stop myself after I got going.

When Ben came back into the studio he looked at the teapot and said. “Hmm, I see you’re getting creative again.”

I felt my face flush. But he said I should leave on the accent pieces when I asked if I should cut them off.



Here’s a freshly made pot I built from all thrown parts. I had made parts for two very different complex pots, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to execute them, so I made this one instead. I may add some texture after the pot is leather hard.

I’m making these kinds of pots while I’m working on another article for one of the ceramics publications on building complex pots using only thrown parts, so this is one more for my “research.” (Good excuse, huh?)

I’ve made a few other complex pots and now I have to decide on one to photograph for showing the steps of how to build them for the article. This article, unlike my last one, will have to be for more advanced potters, since making complex pots this way is fairly complicated. I’ll make it as simple as possible, but it’s just too much for a beginner.


We haven’t been firing the kiln this week since the kiln room isn’t heated and firing in the bitter cold is hard on the kiln in the initial stages, before it heats up enough to warm the room. We’re thinking, though, that tomorrow we should be able to bisque fire so we can get started on glazing special orders that people are hoping to get for Christmas.

Today the weather is finally breaking and we’re enjoying a balmy high temperature of just above zero for the first time in a week. It’s cloudy and sifting a little snow; otherwise this heat wave would be tempting us to dig out the sunscreen and bask out there nearly naked in the sun. Maybe with a beach umbrella.