Fairy Garden

I can not resist messing with the kids.  When Francis told me she was making a fairy garden in the window well from the basement, I started looking around for things to put in it.  Now I just need to contain my desire to call attention to it and hope she notices on her own.


10 Year Old Road Trip

I can’t believe that Francis is 10.  This year has been sort of rough in the girl-friends-at-school department, so we decided to do something special for her with just our own family.  We took a train trip to the big town of Centralia!

First we gave her an owl puppet for her birthday.  It blinks its eyes and turns its head in a sort of freaky way.

IMG_6087Then off to catch the MAX to Union Station and then the North-Bound Cascades train that will take us through some lovely countryside and into Washington.

The train ride was really the perfect length—- just a bit over an hour and a half.  I don’t know what it is about trains, but they lead me into a deep meditative state where all I want to do is stare out the window.  The kids are excited about trains, but don’t seem to care what is happening out the window.  Brad too is happy to be on the train, but would prefer to read or work on his computer.  I am the only one who wants to get a good seat (facing forward, please) and zone out.  Francis complained about a hour into the trip that I was “seeing all the animals” and she kept missing them.  Hmmmm…. I wonder why?

Once in Centralia, we quickly discovered that there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot in Centralia.  There are antique stores and barber shops, and along with the McMenamin’s hotel that we were staying at, that is about it.  Speaking of McMenamin’s hotels, I generally like them a lot mostly because of the charming paint jobs and historical interpretations.  I like my art to jump out at me from pipes in the ceiling and dark hallways.  It is thrilling to me that the McMenamins chain actually employs a team of artists FULL TIME.  Who does that anymore?  I feel the need to support them!  The Olympic Club had a lot of the same eclectic touches as other McMenamins joints, but was truly the loudest place I have ever stayed in my life.  Our room was right above the movie theater, so we were a part of GI Joe even though we had no interest in his (their) redemption.  (Brad taught me this weekend that GI Joe is not just one guy, but actually a “team” of army dudes.  I didn’t know this, so it is difficult for me to not talk about “him”— you know, Joe.  Is “Joe” his last name or first?)  I am not really a complainer about loudness where I sleep— in general, if the noise is not sudden, it doesn’t bug me much.  But it was loud.

IMG_6098On the other hand, when you went to the bathroom, you had 15 choices of which faucet to use.  We Americans like choice.

IMG_6092 IMG_6096There was not a whole heck of a lot to do in Centralia.  We spent a bunch of time in the city library, which was well-organized, light, and had a huge children’s section with a spacious couch.  I popped my head into a public lecture on Big Foot, but the presenter, while winning in a sort of hickish way, tended towards reading every bullet of his power-point slides.  I love Big Foot and would have liked to learn more about people who believe in him, but as I can read myself, (fairly proficiently, I might add), I was overcome with boredom waiting for the “investigator” to meander through his slides.  I left early.

There are some 30-ish antique dealers in Centralia, and it was sort of fun to see what things they were pedaling and for how much.  I bought a great pair of boots thinking they would go with my prairie dress.  Later, using the power of the internets, I looked them up and discovered that they are 110 years old!  It occurred to me that my boots could have been worn by the original lady of my house.  Now I am re-focused on the imperative necessity of  coming up with a really good Victorian outfit. Or maybe I need something more Steam Punk?  But enough about my costumes!

The next day, we boarded the midday train for the trip south.  Centralia, we’ve done you!

IMG_6101IMG_6104Happy Birthday Francis!


How We All Love Pinch Pots

If you are one of my ceramics teachers just arriving here, pop on over (or down) to the last post.  That is where I want you to start.

Pinch pots are pretty awesome, right?  They really are, and they are quite useful, especially when you make them into things more interesting than just an actual pot.  Kids like to make them and could make a million of them.  It is an important skill, but maybe one to consider NOT firing.  As I said before, we don’t want to keep every little thing, and sometimes the charm of making the pinch pot is greater than the desire to actually HAVE a pinch pot forever.  After all, we don’t need that many little pots to hold our safety pins in.

But kids are going to want to make at least one little pot that remains but a pot.  A couple tips: teach kids to roll a SMALL ball.  Those pots grow bigger than you expect!  Then, have them jam their thumb into the pot.  Keeping the thumb in, have them hold the ball in one hand and pinch with the other.  Kids seem to do better with keeping the thumb in.  I think it has something to do with the control of the pincher grasp.  And, have them keep the pot in their hand to avoid the deadly flat bottom.  This one has a flat bottom, and I suppose it isn’t that deadly.  If the pot is going to become something else though, (like a bird or figure), then you don’t want the bottom to look all flat.

This is more interesting with the star stamped on it.  A kindergartner did this work.

Once you pinch it, you can make all sorts of fun shapes.  An parent in class did this one.

If you are teaching a K-1 Ceramics class, definitely do a little bird project.  These are easy and charming, and you can accessorize the bird with a nest, making nest texture with tools or even a garlic press.  The bird is a tiny pinch pot with added wings and beak and pressed in eyes.  I think these are pretty dang precious.

Never forget:  SCRATCH AND ATTACH!  Some classes might like monsters even better.  My 1st grade son did this one last week:

I think it will look super great glazed.  I tried to encourage him not to just draw the mouth in, but he was determined.  It just is not as strong a look, nor are the designs deep enough to catch the glaze and really show up well.  He did a good job keeping the antennae nice and thick so that they aren’t as likely to break off.  Now imagine how fun this would be with big fangs attached?  Huge lips?

Here is how it looks from the bottom:

While we are talking about the bottom, this is a good time to mention how we will identify student work.  Believe it or not, they totally forget their own stuff.  I have run all over the school holding cute little pieces asking, “Is this yours?  Yours?!”.  You MUST remember to put their names on their work.  They won’t remember, you won’t remember, and Pam certainly won’t be able to help you get stuff back to students if there is no name on it.  As a team, we should make some sort of code to identify our classes.  I think that parents like to see the year the piece was made, but if you forget that, it isn’t a catastrophe.  You do get extra points for remembering the year.

More advanced classes can launch into animals built upon a basic form of pinch pots.  I did this turtle project with PK, which was something of a disaster.  They were too young, and even though the end product was good, I needed far too much parent help.  I think this would work well half way through the session or with a class that seemed to have mastered some basic skills.

The kids made a large and oblong pinch pot, then turned it over and attached three large coils to the underside.  The coils became the head & tail and the four flippers.

It is always super charming to see what the littlest kids come up with.  This is an anemone made by my 4 year old daughter.  Yup, it is just a pinch pot, turned upside down and with tentacles attached.  I can’t wait until she glazes this one.  She has all sorts of little mermaid dolls waiting to play on this.

As I am sure you can see, the possibilities are endless for animals starting with pinch pots.  You can go simple or complex.  From the simplest ghost and monster, to the more complex peacock sleeping, you can probably tell that you can spend a good three or four class sessions just on pinch pot animals, and you should!

The iguana and the dog in this photo are actually “spud” projects, but those are just two pinch pots joined together to make a hollowed out cylindrical form.  This is not really recommended for kids until they are closer to the 3rd grade range.  It just requires too much dexterity.  I can show you in class how to do this if you are interested, or you can check out this really great YouTube video on making ceramic birds.Oh yeah— one thing that might come up is that a kid will wonder :WHY must I make this animal out of a pinch pot rather than just lump a bunch of clay together in a solid form?  The reason why we make these sculptures out of a pinch pot is that it allows all parts of the sculpture to dry evenly.  We need the air to reach every bit of that animal so that when the piece goes through the kiln, no moisture is remaining that is trapped.  Trapped moisture finds a way out—by cracking or blowing up your sculpture, so we don’t want any stuck in there.  We put a hole in the bottoms of the spud-style sculptures to allow air to escape.

Please ask any questions that come up in the comments section!

Ceramics Photos (Skill building Activities and Slabs)

Hey everybody– I interrupt the usual purpose of this blog (to brag, to complain, to pontificate obtusely), in order to post some photos for some really good folks who are willingly giving their time to share the joy of CERAMICS with kids.  Now isn’t that super awesome?  These are really lovely people whom I am quite grateful to.  I’m going to put some pictures up here to help them come up with clay projects for their classes.  Cheerio!


You will get a paper hand-out at your class with me on Tuesday night.  This will be the bulk of info necessary to negotiate the treacherous waters of Elementary Ceramics classes.  I got sort of stuck on hand illustrating the techniques, so here are some photos of what I am talking about.  Forgive the truly wretched organization.  Along with drawing little hands holding chunks of clay, I don’t have much of the afore-mentioned particular skill either.

The hand-out starts off by listing some skill-building activities.  Skill-building is invaluable, especially for the first class where kids might just want to play around with clay, and for the last class when you don’t want to make any new projects.  It’s always good to have some tricks up your sleeve to pull out when you need an activity, so come up with some variations of your own!  Some “props” I like to have in my bag: matchbox cars, little wooden people, little plastic animals, animal flashcards, plastic snakes.  All of us have too many of these things kicking around our houses, and they are good for story-telling.  Lord knows they aren’t good for much else.

Here is how I would use these props-

“This little guy in the red car really wants to go on vacation somewhere.  He is interested in mountains and trees, but sort of afraid of water.”

“This snake is looking for a warm place to spend the winter.”

“I am going to draw a animal card and you need to make a home for it in 10 minutes.”

Make sure to tell kids ahead of time that you are just playing around today and will not be keeping anything.  Developmentally, it is hard for the little kids to destroy their work, so they need adequate preparation.  You can even come up with games for smashing things, which is quite satisfying!

Here are some photos of these particular activities:


Essentially, a slab is just anything that starts off flat.  You can roll a slab with a rolling pin, or you can “throw” a slab, which is just tossing your clay against the table until it is flat.  Kids get carried away with the rolling and the throwing of the clay, so make sure that their work does not get too thin.  Too thin stuff is just a potential disappointment as it is likely to break or crack in the kiln.  Okay, truthfully, I am likely to break it in my efforts to get it into the kiln, and the kids are likely to break it when they carry it home after firing.  Unless you like crying kids, don’t let things get too thin!

Some cute little faces. These could be done larger as “masks”, but their intent here is to hang on the wall, so they are smallish and with a hanging hole on top.

A slab project can be focused on adding details on top of the slab (“additive”) or stamping, pressing, or carving into the slab.  As I noted in the paper hand-out, try to get kids to add images to the slab rather than just scratching words into the slab with a pin tool.  Scratched stuff tends to be rushed and not all that interesting in the long run.  We want the kids to plan out their work and execute designs with thought.  (And just between you and me, I don’t want to fire a bunch of ugly stuff.  Not that we will share this with any precious darlings.  Or their parents…. everything they do is entirely brilliant, yes?!).  But we want their best work.

The fish are stamped with small blocks and tools.  One is only stamped and the other has an eye and lips added to the design.  (PK & K)

Here are some just-created funny faces are waiting to go into the kiln.  I leave them on the work cloths while drying which keeps the work from sticking to the table or work board while it dries.  Clay shrinks as it dries, so sticking can make work crack.

The “Zephyr” room sign was an activity I did with K-1 Ceramics last month.  He made enough lengths of coil to spell his name, then scored where his name would go and his coil.  He cut coils to length as he attached them.  Note the position of the holes— 1/2″ in.  Don’t forget to put holes in.  I have made that mistake pretty often.

This wall planter is also technically a slab project, although it does not turn out flat in the end.  We stuffed newspaper in between two slabs to make a pocket, then attached the sides and bottom.  It is sort of hard to tell, but it hangs on the wall and could have a small potted plant in it or a bouquet of flowers.

Here is a little sample of some of my work, which is mostly stamped, additive, and some carving.  I like those slabs a bunch!

Okay, slabs are great fun and we all love them.  Please throw questions or comments my way in the comment section.

Tune in next time for pinch pots!


Inez Can (kind of) Read

We went to Newport to celebrate Inez’s 4th birthday.  Would she climb up on the municipal electrical boxes so I could get this shot?  Nope.

This is what she saw on the box I was asking her to climb on:

“Uhhnt-uh, Mom.  Noooooo, look at that!”

“Oh come on honey!  That is just telling you about how commercialism and Disney princesses permeate and destroy your soul.”

“No, it says you die, Mom.  I’m not gonna’ climb on that box.  You guys gonna be a dead guy!”

So young and yet so skilled at interpreting iconography.  Happy 4th Inez!

I’m NOT tired!


Inez has been slightly sleep disrupted lately.  The nice, regular naps of her babyhood have given way to the herby-jerky starts and stops of late toddlerhood.  She needs a nap, she doesn’t want a nap, when she finally gets the nap, she messes around at night until 9:30pm.  It is trouble.  As an imperfect parent, I don’t know whether to cut the naps out and aim for a decent bedtime or hold the line and not worry about when she nods off at night.  Ahhh….year three.  How you torture me.

Knowing that whatever I think of doing will mostly likely be wrong, I have decided to take each day as it comes.  Some days we are going so hard that we just cruise on through nap time.  Some days I think we won’t take a nap and then find this when I sit down to read a book on the couch at 10:30am—

And then there are days when she does get the sleep she needs and then at night we can hear her tiptoe all over the upstairs bedroom long after her brother has fallen asleep (that’s about 2 minutes by my count).  She messes around, she pulls out all the books, and as we still have the crib there, she moves from bed to bed looking for a more comfortable spot like the princess and the pea.  Invariably though, she finds the place she is most comfortable; asleep in front of the door on a bed of tiny board books, looking much like a murder victim.

And About that Chicken….

We named her Eva and she is about the cutest thing ever.

Eva is a modern game hen, which means she is tiny, long-legged, and super friendly.  Here is a comparison photo so you can see how she measures up in our backyard—

This is not a fantastic photo of course, but you can see the stark contrast between Eva and the other monsters around here.  She’s the one who looks like a little crow.  She’s small.

And I got her at church!  After church I usually have a lot of “business” to do—volunteer positions that I have stepped into, people dying and needing attending to, babies to rejoice over, music to learn, friends to chat with or arrange dates with, kids to plan activities for—that sort of thing.  This means that I stick around for awhile chatting while my kids run like dervishes through the community center.  While hanging out, I was approached by a homeless man looking for a bathroom.  When I pointed him towards one, I noticed that he had a CHICKEN poking out of his pocket.

ME  “Hey!  Tell me about your chicken!”

HIM  “I got her out on Alberta Street.  I had to chase her all over the place but she is the sweetest thing now.”

ME  “What’s your plan for that chicken?”

HIM  “Uuuuuhhhh, I guess take care of her.  She’s so nice!”

ME  “You know, I have chickens and could take her home and take care of her if you wanted to part with her.”

HIM  “Oh.  Could you kick me some change for her?”

And so we walked home, Eva snuggled safely in Francis’ coat the whole way.  Poor Eva smelled strongly of alcohol but I knew she would dry up once in our flock.

I’ve got to say, I REALLY like this chicken a lot.  When I walk outside, she jumps up on my shoulder.  If I am sitting still, she snuggles into my lap.  She puts our numbers over our permit limit, her breed are not particularly great layers, and she would make a really quick lunch for a passing hawk, but she is the sweetest thing.  And that was not just the alcohol talking.

Only Half Dumb

I love my chickens.  Well, of course I do, right?  But unlike horsey people who are always professing how SMART horses really are, I am under no similar delusions.  Chickens are kind of stupid.  They have teeny-tiny brains to match their teeny-tiny heads.  Despite this, or maybe because of this, I feel benevolent towards them.  Like a class of retarded young adults on the city bus, they remain charming even while freaking out.  I forgive them when they peck my toenail polish thinking it is a treat.  I forgive them for shitting on my welcome mat at the back door.  They are forgiven all sorts of poor behavior because of their quintessential ludicrous chicken nature.

The other day I was working in the yard when the chickens suddenly bocked-pocked-fwocked (credit to Big Chickens by Leslie Helakowski) and took off for the henhouse.  I saw nothing alarming.  “Those silly birds!” I thought.  “They must wear themselves out being so skittish all day.”  Much later in the day, I spotted it.

A good distance away at 9 o’clock was this dude:

I couldn’t get a good shot at him from so far off, but he is probably a coopers hawk.  Maybe they aren’t so dumb?  Nah….

Vanity of Vanities

I spent my free time today trying to figure out how to hang up the ceramic heads in the bathroom.  This involved math.  Math that I find I am still not so great at.  Fortunately I have learned to measure thrice and drill once… or twice.  Okay, so I mis-drilled in one spot, but I figure I can fix that eventually with some spackle, right?  The spot would have been fine if only there was a stud behind there like I remembered.  (Where did that stud go?  Where?)

It made me think about how some math is really taught all wrong.  It would be useful to have math like this:

You had a very beautiful and expensive remodel done in your bathroom.  Now you find that you need to add towel hooks.  The wall space measures 31 3/4.  If you are trying to hang three hooks equidistance a part in this space, where will the first hook hang?  Give the measurement that marks the center of the hook, which measures 4 1/2 inches wide.

Why am I doing this job?  The truth is that I’ve been played by my contractor.  He is smart and I am not.  I showed my hand too readily, eager to show off—I asked what type of cordless drill I should buy, I made small talk about hardware places I had been in town, I told stories about cabinetry work I did with my dad.  In short, I tried to be cool and competent, so at the point where he said, “You can totally handle hanging those heads, right?”, I was stuck.  And I thought, “Yes I COULD handle doing it, but I sure don’t want to.  That will truly take me forever.  Forever.” But what did I say?  “Oh yeah.  I think I can manage.”  Eager to impress handy men, I really overstate my skills.  A good looking man with a hammer will get me every time.

He could have done this in an hour tops, and here I am going on trip two to the hardware store and month two after the finish date for the remodel.  And so I drill.  I break bits.  I strip screws.  But I think I just might make it.  I’ll let you know next month when I finally finish this damn thing.

I need to put two more of these under the window sill. The plan is that next I will slather the spindle part with epoxy and then attach the ceramic heads to that. I then have decorative screws that I will CAREFULLY put in to further attach the heads to the wall.

In Portland on Saturday?

Those of you who know me well know what an amazing addition the St Andrew Gospel Choir has been to my life.  It is rare that something you have to do regularly (like a meeting) can so thoroughly nurture the soul.  Once having kids, I sort of shunned these more regular events, but gospel choir has been nothing but good to me.  Sometimes I go to practice feeling sort of downtrodden and tired, but it never takes long before I am smiling and belting out the tunes.  The whole thing is truly cathartic.  I love it.

We’re doing a concert on Saturday.  It is a sort of rare thing, so if you can at all make it, please do!

Gospel concert flyer half page