Spinning with grace


“is this the way? is this how you hold it, Aunt Pat? Do I pinch like this?” I was sweating.  In my mind, teaching my 5 year old niece, Grace, to spin had been such a lyrical task.  I would show her the wool, the colors, and the textures, and I would explain how the wool came to be sheared, and dyed and carded.  And together we would learn the parts of the spinning wheel, and I would show her how the flyer spun the wool and wound it onto the bobbin.

It wasn’t going that way at all- she was miles ahead of me and treadling the wheel at warp speed.  I was trying to catch up with her thought processes, still wondering in some small corner of my mind, why she wasn’t enamored into stillness by the colors and the textures of the wool.  Determined to recover, I entreated her to treadle more slowly, giving the wool a chance to spin before it was consumed by the flyer orifice and bobbin.  She slowed a bit.

Taking this small window of opportunity- this itty bitty breather- I asked her to stop.  I peeled a narrow rope of wool from the roving.  Handing one end to her, we drafted from both ends, like a spaghetti noodle between two.  At that point, we pulled it apart in the middle.  With her focused on drafting, i was able to demonstrate how much stronger the wool was when it is twisted, rather than the fibers laying side by side.  This made the critical impression.  She showed everyone else in the house, even her next door friend, what ‘strong wool’ we were making.

Teaching can be challenging. But so often what you teach isn’t the craft itself, but the qualities associated with it- patience, diligence, craftsmanship, and appreciation for other’s work. Grace will never look at machine made yarn in the same way.  And I found that the only way to teach effectively was to abandon my lofty ideas of how it was going to go, and roll up my sleeves, catch up and get to the objective of the whole thing- making strong wool.

tomorrow we are dying with Kool-Aid, and carding…

following my sister

Visiting my sister this week…love her.  We are 10 years apart, she being younger.  She is a poet.  With her being younger, we didn’t really grow UP together…i left home for college when she was 8.  When she was in her teens, we had a dumb argument and didn’t talk for years…absolutely years.  And then 10 years ago, a crisis ended that behavior and i was at her side.  It was awkward.  I wanted to offer comfort, to help, to lead…but how could I pretend to be dependable when i hadn’t been in her life for so long?  I ended up leaving a journal on her coffeetable with one of my favorite pens.  I had written on the first page, that I wanted to be in her life, that I wanted her in mine, and in my daughters’ lives, but would respect whatever she chose.

A week went by, two…then a long letter arrived…it was wonderful.  I wrote back, sending her a CD of my favorite music with a detailed annotated list of why each song was special.  She wrote back and in turn, sent me a tape of her favorites, with a rambling narrative of wisp of memories associated with each song.  This continued for a few more letters and then we began calling…long 2 hour calls.  Finding another human being in the world who shared my birth origins, who understood my fears, shared some of my strange dreams and recollections.  And then realized we both liked french fries with mayo instead of ketchup, neither of us liked heels, and each of us had fond memories of Winnie the Pooh.  It amazed me.

A few years ago she called me as she was following the life flight helicopter that was taking her 5 month old son to Minneapolis.  We spent a month at Childrens’ Hospital together, as they worked to decode Judd’s symptoms.  Crossword puzzles, hours and hours of late night conversation, learning medical terms, eavesdropping on ‘report’ as shifts changed, and researching endless lists of maladies on WebMD…we slowly worked our way thru the month.  She and her husband, Jim, my daughter, Nina and I became a tight knit team.  We took shifts at the hospital, ensuring that Judd was never left alone.  After 5 weeks, Judd was released with a monitor and medication…we breathed relief, even tho there were challenges ahead.

I have followed her up hills, and thru valleys since, stood on mountain tops celebrating, still breathing hard from the climb…treasuring the time, the emails and just the plain fact that there is another human being on this planet that is the other half of my soul.

a whiter shade of pale


so i am letting my hair go gray…i have been naturally graying since i was in my late 20s, but chose to disguise it.  For someone who values authenticity above most other qualities…coloring my hair just didn’t match with me…not to say there is anything wrong with coloring your hair- just didn’t fit for me anymore…  So last November I declared myself ‘done’…my last temporary color of raspberry creme was destined to grow out and be cut off, leaving room my my own natural color, which just happens to be gray at this point in my life.

I tried this ten years ago, when I was 40.  I decided to let my hair grow out long again- to wear it in a long gray braid down my back…such a mother earth, hippie thing to do…Quite frankly, it looked horrible…and perhaps I just wasn’t ready.

and then Merrilee, one of my high school classmates, who is my “friend” on Facebook turned me on to a website called Going Gray Looking Great .  There are people on there that say  we have to get used to the new color, to stop looking for our old color and to embrace the new one…so i have just been trying to ’embrace’ haha, i mean, how often do you just GET a new hair color- a surprise- that you haven’t chosen off of a chart, or off the cover of a box in the Walmart haircolor aisle?

every day i check my roots and see how much longer before my raspberry creme is just all cut off and I am gloriously gray.

this really has nothing to do with creativity- much more to do with courage to be…but creativity springs from many things and one is courage 🙂

enjoy this chilly first day of summer

PS. the beautiful picture of a wolf is from Zahradka Art…seemed to embody my message of courage and being gray 🙂

Love the one you’re with

Did I tell you about the Farmer’s Market!?  Last week i was out and about doing a bit of garage saling, and came across a sign – itty bitty sign- for the Farmers Market here in town.  I thought maybe there might be vegetables, and i LOVE homegrown veggies.  There wasn’t.  But what there was was a little collection of a few souls braving a chilly Saturday morning selling their wares.  There was Herb- selling home made scones and bread, Sarah- selling fiber and handspun yarn- and a wonderful woman (whose name escapes me at the moment) selling home made jams and jellies.  I spent a bit of time talking to Sarah, telling her i learned how to spin last winter, of course buying over $30 of fiber, and asking if the market was open to anyone.  She explained that for the small price of $20, one could set up and sell handmade crafts.

Many years ago I used to sell at many craft fairs- paying up to $300 for a booth fee. There are ins and outs to this game, such as picking the right fair, and time of year, bringing the right merchandise, and gauging your competitors.  I gave up the craft fair circuit, deciding the cost and difficulty of traveling- often with children- didn’t pay in the long run.

But here was an opportunity, right down the street, for $20/week…no travel required…i didn’t have to pack pots for a trip equal to a covered wagon voyage over the Rockies…and only 4 hours of time, not an entire weekend eaten up in travel and sitting.

this could work.

So i finished glazing a load of pots, threw them into the kiln and fired on Thursday, hoping to unload on Friday and take them to the market on Saturday.  It sortof worked out that way.  My kiln didn’t fire the way i was hoping- a pyrometer malfunction late at night left me firing blind til 3am.  The pots were …eh…OK.  Not my best work, but I had a challenge and i was determined to take something to the Saturday morning soiree.

I persevered.  Priced pots, packed them and procured my bags/newspapers and a money box.  Got a table, figured out a way to display and packed the car.

Saturday morning found me sitting in the sun, drinking coffee out of a thermos, eating one of Herb’s home made scones, and chatting with Sarah.  The buying crowd was scant, preferring fresh rhubarb (from Mr. Gordon at the end of the market) and Herb’s bread to pottery.  I sold one mug, which paid for my booth fee.

but you know what? I had a fabulous time!

connecting with people that are willing to come out on a Saturday morning to buy a scone or look at pottery was invigorating!  when i used to do big fairs, it was about the money and could i recoup my booth fee? Could i deal with the fact that a guy next to me who was selling plywood cutouts of women bending over in the garden was selling out, while i was only managing to unload low dollar items?  Was I going to clear enough inventory to make room for Christmas items for the next fair?  It really all came down to money- and it soured me on fairs.

this on the other hand was about sunshine, scones and simply sitting and enjoying the day… i have grown.


Making your own path

When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Can you remember a moment in your life when you had life in yourself and it was wholly strange and new? Can you remember the moment when you stopped walking a path of someone else, and started cutting your own?

As I think back, i am not sure when this happened for me… I am an oldest child, so i really never had anyone to ‘follow’… I think i made my own path early on.  I know that I taught myself to read around age 3 or 4- which wasn’t very popular in the country school I attended for kindergarten.  I kept reading ahead in the Weekly Readers about Zip the dog and Miss or Mrs. (don’t remember which) Hansen was not pleased.  She sent me home after 2 weeks and I didn’t get to go back to school until 1st grade.

As an artist, creatively i believe that this happens for us often…we get to a place in the work, the writing, the painting, the sculpture, where it is good…we may feel that we have reached a place we have never been…and we are feeling that there is more, more, more…we can’t get our mind around where its going, but we are passengers, and all of the sudden the words, ideas, pictures, images are coming so fast that we can’t get them down fast enough…whereas before you had to make a good idea or sketch last until the next one decided to grace you with its presence…now there are ideas galore!

In reflecting upon it, I think these moments also happen when you have a crisis of belief in your life…be it in a relationship, or religion, a vocation or voyage.  When your personal beliefs no longer mesh with the path you are on, you have to stop following and decide which way to go…

Walking your own way, in your own path can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time…you may make wrong turns, but if you are fixed on the goal, you will get there in the end.

I wrote the above as a response to #trust30 writing series

This is a website called Self Reliance; Ralph Waldo Emerson website- every day they give you a prompt to write about.  Bridget Pilloud, who has a blog that I follow – http://www.intuitivebridge.com was the guest prompt writer.

I would love to hear about the times you have followed your own path, forged your own trail…its all part of the journey.

do you believe in wings?

Today Dean and Journi were in the store room, looking at the new kittens we have.  I could hear them in there, visiting about the kitties and how big they were getting.  Made me smile.  And as Journi came bouncing back into the living room, she was carrying a pair of wings.  Nymph wings from a Halloween years ago, wire framed with green panty hose material stretched over them, glittery and wispy.  Obviously she had found them in the storeroom closet.  Journi was quite excited about them- shouting “Weeengs, weeengs!”  When she brought them to me, I helped her put them on, stretching the elastic over her shoulders so the wings flopped on her back.

And then she grabbed my heart… “fly?”

She asked it with such belief and earnestness…it killed me to try to explain that these wings are just for pretty, not for real flying.

That’s the difference between children and adults, you know.

If I found a pair of wings, i would assume they were non functional until proven otherwise.  Yet a child assumes they are fully able to carry them to wherever they want to go.

makes me wonder what sorts of gifts i have, that I have set aside- assuming that they wouldn’t fly…

what about you?


who ya think ur talkin to?!

“the work of art acts like another living person with whom we are conversing” ~ Anton Ehrenzweig

When was the last time you had a project so deep in your soul that it took on a life of its own?  I have had this happen to me a few times, the most notable being  several years ago.  Being a production potter for years- being used to making every piece look alike- it took some doing for me to get ‘looser’ in my throwing techniques.  Yet whenever I would go thru Ceramics Monthly or other art magazines, the pieces that i admired and even drooled over were pieces that had a gestural quality to them, pieces that had tension and edge…grit.  But looking at all of my little pitchers, lined up like nuns, in the studio…they were prim and proper, no edge…no grit.  And really, I myself am not a prim and proper sort (“omg,” you are saying,”…really!?”).  I was at a loss as to how to begin…how to give myself permission to not make every pot the same…tight and controlled…  but the beginning…it happened –in the most hilarious way…

when we lived on the farm, I used to throw pots in the basement of our house.  Dean, my husband, had put up concrete blocks and 2×10 boards and I would line up pot after pot on these boards as they were thrown.  We had a cat, Kadafy (named after the terrorist of the time), who liked to hang out with me walking the ledge above the pottery shelves, or sometimes sitting on the seat beside me.  Kadafy was a very good studio cat!  As you know, pots are very soft clay when they are first formed, and have to sit out and firm up a bit to handle, to cut off of bats, to trim and sign.  I had this bunch of lidded jars sitting on shelves, probably 3 or 4 dozen innocently waiting…I was off doing other things for the afternoon.  When i returned in the evening to trim these pots, i found a half dozen of them in various forms of mush.  On closer inspection, i spied kitty paws in the clay…it appeared that the cat had hopped down from the ledge and landed on a soft clay pot, and in an effort to recover her footing, had hopped to the next pot and the next and so on, squashing them as she went.  When semi-firm clay is squashed, it makes a farting noise as the air escapes and leaves a pretty good fingerprint impression.  As i stood there gazing at the pots, they told the story, and soon I was laughing so hard i was crying, imagining my poor self assured Kadafy, scrambling from pot to pot, as they disintegrated beneath her feet like landmines.

A seed of an idea began to grow(it took a few years to put this into words)…people go thru life encountering different experiences.  Some biblical references consider people as vessels…like pots.  Upon further spiritual investigation, I felt a divine leading- explaining that as people travel thru their lives, they are marked…marked by things that happen to them, by people that they meet along the way, both good and bad…and they are marked by things that they do to themselves…and they may be marked by their maker, if they choose that. Marks can be decorative, or scars…they can be internal or external…marks can hinder how you move-emotionally or physically, or they can make your moves appear lyrical and rhythmic…

This concept blew me away… helped me to look at imperfect pots in a whole new way….imperfect people too.

pat…quiet… cocoon

cocoon, a place where a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly, where the magic takes place that allows a fully grown beautiful butterfly to emerge from a dusty husk…

i have magnetic poetry all over my fridge, words scattered hither and yon.  i love words.

Are you familiar with magnetic poetry?


Its words, each on magnets.  One buys a small case full of words- nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and of course, the conjunctions, pronouns, possessive pronouns etc.  There is a basic set and then additional sets that are specific to certain subjects.  I have additional custom magnets with my daughters’ names, my husband’s name and my name.

Yesterday a couple magnets were lying on the floor in front of the fridge and i reached down to pick them up and replace them on the front of the fridge.  When i looked at the words in the palm of my hand, there i saw “pat” “quiet” and “cocoon”

a message perhaps?  certainly an idea that spending some time in a quiet cocoon could be beneficial…

and i am off to find my quiet cocoon…lookin for some magic on this rainy day…

taking time to play

I have been making pots, and picking wool and soooo enjoying the sunshine!  You know, when its so warm that when you lay back in the sun and close your eyes, you can see the brightness on the inside of your eyelids…ahhhh! been waiting for that!

Yesterday i was putting handles on mugs and pitchers in the studio- hands happily in clay.  Journi had come with me- she is loving the warm weather too.  She had walked out of the studio and i didn’t hear her, so i ventured outside to look for her.  She had found some pans that i use at the edge of the roof to catch rainwater and was pouring water from one to the other.  She was so intent on her task that she didn’t hear me.  Pouring the water from one pot to another would make her giggle, and then she would take a second and just swish her hand in the water…and giggle some more- mutter to herself and then pour water from that pan to another and swish again.  What a good time she was having! 🙂

I paused to watch her, marveling at how entertained she was- but also reflecting that this was one of the first times, at her age, that she had been able to explore her surroundings and make her own discoveries.  It has been winter until just recently, and snowy.  She has needed supervision and a hand to hold in the slippery conditions.  But on this day, she could walk around a bit on her own…that made all the difference.

what do you love about the medium you work in? is it a tactile thing? a visual thing? is it how the words sound? what makes you giggle with delight about creating?

take time to play today…walk around a bit…make some discoveries on your own…

…feeling summer

I love heat…when the summer sun warms you through.  Fantasizing about these kind of days is what gets me through the gray winter months.  Why? Why do i live in a place that can be winter 9 months out of the year, just for these few precious months of sunshine?  At our altitude we can have snow as early as September and as late at May or even June.  I guess cuz its pretty here, and i like the cool summer nights, and the fact that there are no bugs…in the middle of December, i am not sure those things are a good trade-off for the short summers.

But the sun was shining yesterday and i made pots!  The woman at the fiber store in Rapid City said she would put some in her store, so I threw mugs and yarn bowls yesterday.  Felt so good to make!  I also washed a sheep wool fleece in my bathtub- three washes in Dreft and a rinse.  I will lay it out to dry in the sun today…and then contemplate what colors to dye it…hmmm…

Summer is high creative energy time for me.  I think it is because I have a break from work and a few months stretching out before me…it feels like anything is possible! Feels like I could:

  • write a book…not just any book, Vessels and Journeys 🙂
  • make enough pots to sell the rest of the year
  • functionalize my big kiln- finish door bricks, ITC it, purchase enough shelves/posts
  • optimize my Etsy site, follow all of those suggestions in the book i bought
  • spin tons of brilliantly colored yarn that rivals Girl with a Sword’s beautiful miles of wool
  • build a labyrinth in my yard with resting places, a fountain and benches
  • finish making the hammock i started 2 years ago and hang it, so i could rest when i am done with everything!

Our creative rhythms are certainly influenced by the seasons or the weather at the very least, i would think.  When is your creative energy the highest?

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