Wobbly wheel, part deux

I recently posted that the wheel I purchased from Clay-King wobbled. I emailed Clay-King on Oct. 23 about my observation, attaching video proof of the wheel wobble. Three days later, I received a response from Shane at Clay-King:

“We are sorry to hear about this! We have contacted Shimpo about your wheel, and we would like to see a video without the bat on the wheel head before replacing. If you don’t mind, please send a video with the bat removed from the wheel head.”

I could see where this was going.

I replied, “It is hard to tell from the wheel itself, but if you look at the shadow to the right of the wheel, you can clearly see the wobble, which is affecting every single Dirty Girl bat in the 10-pack I purchased, as well as the two blue plastic Shimpo bats that came with the wheel. All bats appear to wobble substantially more at their edges than the wheel head itself, which is far more discernible to the naked eye.” I closed with a polite demand: Replace my wheel or give me a full refund without restocking fees or shipping.

This time Erin responded: “I don’t see a wobble from the video. I sent it over to Vijay at Shimpo and he doesn’t either. If you want to take a video from the  side that would be helpful.” Erin asked me to email the next video to Vijay.

Me to Erin: “I clearly see the wobble, and so do two others who have seen the Shimpo. I don’t otherwise know how to explain the fact that every single bat I’ve tried wobbles, including Shimpo’s bats. I acknowledge that it’s difficult to see the wheel wobble in the video because of the glare on it, but the shadow very clearly shows wobbling.” I told Erin I did not want a refund. I wanted my wheel to work properly.

Vijay to Me: “Thank you for those videos! They were perfect.”

A good start, but then Vij writes, “I hope you’ll agree with me in that the issue is more in the bat than in the wheel head itself. That is, there is no appreciable amount of movement up/down – side/side in the wheel head, without the bat. With the bat on, yes, I definitely see movement. Regardless, I can send you a replacement wheel head and a new set of bats if you would like.”

Me to Vijay: “I strongly but respectfully disagree … there may be a mechanical defect … concerns about its integrity, useful life … how is it that all twelve bats are the culprit, not the wheel? … haven’t been able to use for two weeks … disappointed … something is wrong … do not want my money back; want equipment that is problem-free … Shimpo must account for product quality. Nothing less will suffice.”

I then called Runyans in Clio, Mich., and asked if Tony could take a look at my Shimpo. Granted, I didn’t buy it from Runyans which, at that point, I regretted. Tony said he’d take a look but would have to charge me $48 for the first half hour; more if more time was needed. I chucked the wheel into my car and drove 71 miles northeast to Runyans. Tony took a look at my wheel, then at the two Shimpos on display. It was immediately clear that all three wheels demonstrated the Same. Exact. Problem. Tony grabbed his tape measure and measured the distance from the rim of each of the three wheels to the outer-most rim of the two bat pins anchoring the wheel heads in place. In each case, there was at least a 1 cm difference in the distance measured. Mystery solved. And while Tony devoted more than a full hour of his time to attend to my dilemma, he wouldn’t charge me the $96 I rightfully owed. He wouldn’t charge me a cent.

Before I left Runyans, Vijay was in my inbox: “I informed our warehouse to pull and test an Aspire to replace the one you have. It will be fully inspected before we ship it.” Vijay promised to send two replacement Shimpo bats.

Me to Vijay: “Given what I learned from Tony, I would prefer Shimpo to consider a replacement wheel head after all, making sure that the plate is completely level and the bat pins are properly drilled and equally distanced to eliminate the wobbling. I think this would be the most efficient solution for Shimpo, Clay-Works and me. I will not require replacement Shimpo bats as the wheel head appears to be the problem and not the bats.”

Vijay to Me: I will make sure we send you a new wheel head and confirm the holes are drilled properly. As well, that thumping is likely a “kink” in the belt. It occurs when the belt is sitting for a while (from our factory, across the pacific, then to us) in one position. The “kink” develops at the point of the small pulley.  More often than not, through use, the thumping smooths out as the belt warms up. If it doesn’t, a new belt can remedy the thumping. I will send you a new belt as well.”

They say persistence pays off. It can, I agree, but the path to resolution requires a willingness on both sides to meet somewhere in the middle. Vijay is innately a standup guy. His reputation precedes him. While it took us a hot second to see eye to eye, he was professional, polite and respectful. As soon as the replacement wheel head arrives, I’ll take her for a spin – fingers and toes tightly crossed – and share my impressions.

The crow commands, the captive must obey. – George R. R. Martin

Maker’s masters

Whilst I am a potter, I have a number of interests beyond the art of ceramics. In that realm – the realm of clay, that is – I enjoy sculpting, for example, though I’m not ashamed to say, I am a horrible sculptor. I love the human form, but I’ve never really studied it – human anatomy, musculature, bone structure, body proportions, etc. Had I taken the time, I’m certain that I’d pick it up quickly. I realize and accept, however, that I may never truly master pottery or sculpting. As long as I enjoy the journey, I’ll immerse myself with reckless abandon in these pleasures – it’s time well-spent.

Honestly, when you get right to the heart of the matter, “making” things – keeping my hands and my mind busy – well, it’s so fulfilling. I also enjoy knitting, which I learned when I was nine – 51 years ago! My family lived in Sagamihara, Japan, at the time. I was in fourth grade, and a classmate taught me how to crochet a chain. That’s it. I would do the chain stitch until I ran out of yarn, unravel the chain and start over. I had no idea what to do with the chain or what its functionality was, let alone how crocheting might be useful. I had no concept of stitches or patterns. I’d just learned how to make a slipknot and a chain.

On weekends, Mommy took my siblings and me by train from Sagamihara to Tokyo, where we’d visit her sister, Auntie Wako. During one of our many treks to Auntie’s home, she watched as I made a chain and unraveled it repeatedly. She asked if I wanted to learn how to knit.

“Sure,” I answered.

Auntie gave me a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, and she taught me – very patiently – the basics of knitting: how to cast on, how to knit, how to purl and how to bind off.

It consumed my time and attention. My work was horrible. My rows were askew. What was supposed to have been a square was a misshapen mess. I was so proud of my work.

“Keep practicing,” she said. “Don’t give up. It’s hard at first, but you’ll get better.” So I knit on. Eventually, my misshapen mess became a neat little square or rectangle. My stitches became more even and my rows, straighter. She’d fix my dropped stitches, and I’d carry on. I knit headbands, mostly, and dish towels.

I kept those needles (I still have them), and I kept knitting headbands and dish towels. I went from elementary school in Japan, to middle school and high school on Okinawa. Along the way I learned to sew, thanks to Mommy, who is still a phenomenal tailor. Sewing has and always will be her thing; the thing that brings her joy and helps her find peace. She taught me how to purchase fabric, the importance of neatly pressing my work; how to cut my fabric, how to mark it, how to sew and how to finish. I sewed an wore clothes she made me, and then I sewed and wore clothes I made.

I graduated from high school on Okinawa and went to college in Denver. I got married, moved to Italy and got pregnant with my son. I sewed my maternity clothes and his baby clothes. After he was born, I picked up my needles again when he napped. I borrowed a knitting book from the library. It had patterns for children’s clothing in it, so I knit a sweater for my son. Then I taught my neighbor, Maria Trexler, how to knit the same sweater for her two daughters. I borrowed another book from the library with patterns written by Kaffe Fassett, ordered one of his sweater kits and started knitting a pullover. Unfortunately, in the move back to the United States, my sweater kit went missing. For the next 20-some years, as I raised four children, balanced a full-time job and went to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and pursue a master’s degree, I worked off nervous energy by making towels again. I sewed a bag for a yoga mat and a multifaceted yoga pullover for my daughter; I sewed a knitting-needle holder for myself, for my two daughters who took up knitting, and for a niece who also loved the craft. As my sewing skills evolved, I got a little more adventurous with yarn and needles, and made hats, scarves, wraps, sweaters, tunics and ponchos for family, friends and for me.

A pair of sleeves, knitted two up to make sure they’re a precise match – components of a cropped, boxy cardigan with a refined collar – one of several works in progress. A ceramic knitting bowl I made holds a couple of yarn balls.

Auntie and Mommy are now in their 80s. After knitting so many gorgeous sweaters for so many decades, Auntie’s hands ache with arthritis. She stopped knitting. Ma still sews, cooks and bakes. She is the oldest member at her gym, and loves Zumba, high-intensity interval training, Pilates and body sculpting with weights. She’s given up gardening and pottery. Like her sister, her hands are arthritic. Her knuckles are knobby now, and her fingers are “ma-ga-teru” or bent in places.

One day, I know arthritis will cripple me as well. My vision will start to go, and I’ll tire easy. For that reason, I feel an incredible sense of urgency to cram as much as I can into my life and to do all that I want while my hands can still make. I want to sit with my husband, my mother, daughters and son, and hold their hands while mine can still show them I love them … to grow flowers and vegetables and trees before age and time makes me too frail.

One of the women at the Greater Lansing Potters Guild who assisted my instructors in the past popped by our raku firing yesterday afternoon. She and her husband are getting ready to travel to Florida for the winter.

“My hands ache so much when I throw clay, so I’m just not throwing any more,” she said.

I’m committed to making with intention. The dinnerware set I’ve been wanting to make for my family, well, I’m making them. I like seeing Mommy’s blue chawans in my cupboard, next to the brown plates I made. Whether in my clay studio or my various projects bags, I have several works in progress – a one-armed wrap for my oldest and youngest daughters; a shrug, a longer sweater; fabric for a wool skirt; dog-eared recipes in books and magazines; bulbs and seeds – all organized and ready for my hands to make them into something.

What I love most about making is showing my Mom what I was able to do because she took the time to show me how. I see the sheer joy on her face, and I hear it in her voice when my daughter asks, “Can you show me how to make this, Grandma?”

Her legacy lives on in each of us. What were labors of love for her, she has passed on to us and, in doing so, has made our lives richer and so much more fulfilling.

“We cut over the fields at the back with him between us – straight as the crow flies – through hedge and ditch.” – Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist

Wobbly wheel

As I suspected, there’s definitely a problem with my brand-new Shimpo Aspire. It’s off center, but I can’t determine where. You can actually hear or feel the wobble as the wheelhead spins. It emits a gentle “whompa, whompa, whompa,” almost like a washing machine whose contents were unbalanced in the basin … except there’s almost no sound. I tried to throw some clay on it, but as soon as I made the first pull, I could see that the wall of the pot was thicker on one side than the other.

I grabbed my level and checked to make sure my workbench, which the machine was situated atop, was level. It was, as was the wheel, in all directions. I’m going to have to research this wobbly-wheelhead problem. In the meantime, I emailed Clay King , where I purchased the wheel from.

“The wheelhead spins, but it actually sounds like it is off center,” I wrote. “Please advise.”

“Angels and crows passed each other, one leaving, the other coming.”  Jerry Spinelli.

Wobbly Shimpo wheel.
Wobble wheel.

Portability never hurt anyone*

Two words: Portable. Wheel.

Walking into the house after work tonight, I was greeted by a box that contained my new Shimpo Aspire. She can go from zero to 230 rpms and weighs all of 25 lbs., the same as a bag of clay, which means I can chuck it in the trunk of my car and take it on the road. Or, next spring and summer, I can set it up outside and throw pots on the back deck. Tomorrow, the Dirty Girl bats I ordered for this particular wheel head (which, at 10 inches, is smaller than my two Skutt wheel heads) are scheduled to arrive. I’ll give her a spin over the weekend and see how she performs.

Right out of the box, I plugged her in, and she sounded a little “warpy.” The Shimpo comes with a 5-year warranty, though I’m not sure yet what, exactly, that means. The two plastic bats that came with it are obviously off center, so I may find out soon how the warranty works. I ordered mine with a foot pedal, which is massive, especially for my size 4 feet. So, yeah, I’ve got a shrimpy l’il Shimpo with a big foot.

Details soon, but don’t expect me to write a product review – there are far too many as it is on the Interweb.

We heap up around us things that we do not need as the crow makes piles of glittering pebbles.” Laura Ingalls Wilder


Introducing: Shimpo Aspire.

Potter’s weekend

Hate to post and dash, but I’ve got to turn in before midnight – not because I’ll turn into a pumpkin but because my brain will be like mushy pumpkin tomorrow if I don’t get some sleep.

I managed to throw a couple of pots yesterday morning. I let them set up for a few hours, exposed to the cool temperature. By the time the dinner dishes were washed, they were leather hard and ready for me to trim.

My favorite is the short one that’s tapered at the bottom and flared at the top. Which of the two do you like most?

Lidded jar.
Flared lidded jar.
Lidded jar showing one of three brackets cut out of the foot ring.

“Nothing is unreal as long as you can imagine like a crow.” – Munia Khan

Getting away; going home

Dane and I are home from a relaxing and much-needed vacation up north, commonly referred to as “the U.P. (Upper Peninsula).” As the novel coronavirus has raged in our great state, we’ve sheltered in place and have mostly kept to ourselves. I say “mostly,” because I’d reported to my physical work place every day of the work week, save for a day here or there when I worked from home. It’s true, there’s no rest for the wicked … or, more aptly, the weary. COVID-19, you see, has demanded my full attention at work since March 10. Relentlessly. Unceasingly. And I’ve embraced every moment, because the work my colleagues and I do is fulfilling and meaningful. Dane and I committed to following our governor and county health officer’s masking, hand-washing, distancing and sheltering-in-place orders. After seven solid months of challenging and rewarding work, I was in dire need of a break.

In September, Dane and I decided we needed to plan our annual Get Out of Dodge Anniversary Getaway or resign ourselves to a getaway-less year. He searched for hotels in the U.P., which resulted in exorbitant per-night rates. With COVID-19, tourism in our state (along with everything else) had waned, and the hotel industry was scrambling to regain lost revenue. Dane asked his friends, Roger and Lee, who own an adorable two-story lake cottage in St. Ignace, if they would consider renting “The Tree House” for a week.

“If you bring the furniture in off the deck, throw out all the condiments in the refrigerator and unplug it, you can stay there for as long as you want,” Roger said. He refused to allow us to pay for our stay.

It was about a 3.5-hour drive. We arrived shortly after 6 p.m. The house was cold. Dane opened the blinds and let the sunshine in, then wandered down to the basement to turn the water on. He read the owner’s manual for the gas stove, and the house started to warm up. I spent the next couple of hours stripping off the bedsheets in the master bedroom and washing them; organizing our toiletries, electronic devices and clothing; cleaning the stove, countertops, tables and bathrooms; sweeping and wiping down the kitchen floors; and freeing all the leaves from the foyer and the garage entrance. Dane helped me remake the bed. The Tree House gave off very cozy, well-lived-in vibe.

Our first night in St. Ignace, we made a grocery run to Family Fare. It was late, so we grabbed dinner at Clyde’s – an old-fashioned drive-in restaurant on U.S. 2. I ordered the whitefish dinner and Dane ordered a burger. We each got a milkshake – his was chocolate malt, mine was strawberry. Fifteen minutes later, we were back at The Tree House, sucking air through our straws. We sat at the small kitchen table and ate our entrees, which were forgettable … but the milkshakes, I confidently proclaimed, we would indulge every single day of our vacation.

Our unspoken goal was … to do nothing. By “nothing” I mean, we placed no expectations on ourselves or each other. We had nothing specific that we had to do and nowhere in particular to be. If we wanted to sleep in the entire morning (Dane did), there was nothing and no one to stop us. I got up before the sun each day – by habit rather than by plan, and I couldn’t wait to fill my mornings on my terms … beginning with a cup of sugar-sweetened hot tea and a healthy splash of whole milk. Breakfast was a slice of toast with butter and jam, a couple of scrambled eggs or a handful of peanut M&Ms. I watched the sun rise as I knit, read the news, caught up with friends on Facebook and Instagram, listened to a podcast or Glenn Gould’s Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – accompanied by the rustling of trees in the wind. We went for long walks on the beach, skipped stones, held hands and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

I cooked twice – spaghetti (and milkshakes from Clyde’s) for dinner on Day 2, which was also lunch and dinner on Day 3. Day 4, lunch was a pastie from Lehto’s on a ferry to Mackinac Island; dinner was beef stew (bought a beautiful chuck eye roast – an excellent, leaner, more tender and less common cut of chuck). We had McDonald’s for dinner on Day 5, and another round of milkshakes. Leftover beef stew was lunch on Day 6, and before we knew it, we were homeward bound.

It was a wonderful escape – a desperately needed break. Home, they say, is where the heart is. No matter where I go, my heart remains with the people I love. When I’m having a great time, I miss the kids, because I want to share the experience with them. I missed our firm bed and the familiar comforts of our home. I missed drinking water straight from the tap, and washing my hair and cooking with municipal water. In fact, I went six straight days without washing my hair at all, because the tap water was extremely hard and I just didn’t want to bother. I forgot to pack my pottery works in progress, so I missed the rejuvenating and creative benefits of my clay play.

I’m going to pack a go kit for my throwing, trimming and sculpting tools. I’ll chuck it in the hatchback of my Subie II, along with a bag of clay. I’ve also got my eye on a sweet little portable pottery wheel – the Shimpo Aspire. It’s 25 lbs. with a 1/3-horsepower motor, capable of handling 20 lbs. of clay.

On my wish list: Shimpo Aspire with foot pedal.

I’ve been working on little fairy houses (for fairies, frogs and toads), which will go in the fairy garden next spring. I’m not sure yet, but I think I’ll do a Cone 6 firing for them, but need to make some test tiles first.

Froggie house for fairy garden.

For the kiln at the Red Barn in Williamston (where my studio is), we potters are making kiln gods. I, on the other hand, made a kiln goddess to watch over our pots and ware while they’re being fired. “Protect all within,” is inscribed in her base. Elements of my original warrior goddess are present – she’s tall, with an elongated neck, representative of her inner height, strength, power and pride. Familiar spiral rosettes are pressed into her shawl but also randomly added as reliefs – she is feminine and a feminist. Unlike goddesses my traditional goddess, however, she is largely unclothed and bald – her nakedness represents honesty, truth and acceptance.

I looked forward to going home after a restful getaway, so that I could work on this unfinished projects, which calms and fulfills me in a very different way.

Warrior goddess for kiln – to be raku fired.

F*ck COVID-19 and the Horse it Rode in On

Since COVID-19 arrived like a storm in Michigan, my day job has pretty much consumed my every waking moment, Monday through Friday. With the exception of very few Saturdays and Sundays, however, I have vehemently guarded my weekends as time for me, from sunup till sundown, to focus on activities that I love or need to take care of, including … especially … time with my husband. We go for long walks each night unless I’m at work super late. He reads me the latest headlines of the day to get me caught up on the political shit-show that’s been brewing. He and his dad built me a sweet little vegetable garden, and I filled four large City Pickers, four Grow Bags and every available garden space with additional goods – yellow peppers, Thai peppers, banana peppers, shishito peppers, San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatillos, red and yellow onions, chives, shiso leaves, lavender, basil, cilantro, oregano, dill, lettuce, beets, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, kale, cantaloupe, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. We planted three Yoshino cherry trees, a fig tree and a peach tree. I canned tons of jams and chutneys, salsas, pickles, relishes and sauces. I’ve been baking bread, making homemade tortilla from masa and learning new recipes – my favorite is Bang Bang Beef, which is mouth-watering delicious; and I’m in the middle of knitting a tried-and-true one-armed wrap called The Marley. And wishing I could play with clay.

Since fall 2019, Dane and I have been working hard to manage our home, repairing broken things and getting rid of junk that’s accumulated in the basement over the course of our 20 years in what, when we moved in, was a brand-new house. Most people have a junk drawer. Having raised four children and accommodating all of our various interests, we have a junk basement. Yup, the whole thing.

I decided to move my pottery studio into the basement while COVID-19 ravaged our county and executive orders precluded public gatherings.

But junk can be found throughout the house. Therefore, in early spring, I tackled my closet and purged long unused items and donated two shopping carts mounded with gently used business suits, dresses, casual and active wear and shoes. There was none of that self-introspection as to whether items brought me joy, just a lot of sorting, folding, chucking and dusting. As a reward, Dane installed a lovey closet chandelier and a matching chandelier in our bedroom. I hired a sustainable junk hauler to dispose of two old recliners, an old coffee table, Dane’s sweet Grandma Pugsley’s older-than-the-hills side table with an attached lamp, old lamps, old pieces of wood from an old Ikea bed (forgot to give him an old broken sewing machine, old chest of drawers, old plastic fencing and other old, useless items). He even took our piles of cardboard boxes and styrofoam that we were saving for recycling centers.

In late May, Dane and I successfully (finally!) moved my KM1027-3 Skutt Kiln (which I’d purchased used on New Year’s Day 2019 from a divorcee in Ypsilanti who was moving to The Villages in Florida) from our second-floor office into my basement studio and hooked it up without much ado … the bonus is, it worked, despite having been disassembled and idle for nearly two years and our going by feel to put it back together. By June, we’d done all the necessary prep work to allow our contractor to install my Utilitwin sink, Bailey Air Cleaner system and my Skutt’s Environvent2 system, only to have him go completely dark after all that work. Missing. In. Action.

I get it – COVID-19 happened, and suddenly the construction industry, like many other businesses, was forced to close, and as soon as our governor slowly reopened the state, all the contractors had to catch up on backlogged projects. Dane reached out by email, phone and text. No response. We figured he’d say, “We’re three months behind, but we can get to you in September or October” or a “Yeah, we’re not interested.” Maybe something happened to him? Maybe his business didn’t survive the shutdown? Maybe he got COVID-19? Maybe … well, anything is possible, and it’s all very unnerving.

Later in May my sister and Denver Daughter (Hännah) visited. They descended on my kitchen like Marie Kondo. My husband and kids mostly stayed out of the way, because it was kind of scary. I dropped $1,000 on new shelving units, large storage bins, small storage containers, shelf organizers, drawer organizers, pullout racks for cupboards and cleaning supplies.

For my birthday, my sister and my daughters visited to help me organize my kitchen. Not sure what was up with the dark sunglasses, but it works.

My two LA daughters – Los Angeles Daughter Jenny and Lansing Area Daughter Sachi – assembled and installed the shelves and the drawer organizers, and everything had a place. We sorted each adult offspring’s refrigerator and pantry items in their respective bins. The countertop was completely cleared of any evidence of life. Seldom-used Chinaware was stored; anything that was chipped or faded was tossed (Jenny objected and reclaimed them for herself) or replaced. We sorted into storage, donation, recycling bins or the Granger (Dumpster) whatever we laid eyes or hands on. Expired dry and canned goods were tossed, beans and dried fruit were poured out of torn bags into glass containers. This, my sister proclaimed, was my birthday present, and I was inspired, thrilled and exhausted.

In June, Dane and his dad built me a small but charming vegetable garden, and I filled it – along with four City Pickers, four jumbo-sized Grow Bags and huge old pots – with lettuce, broccoli, kale, cabbage, dill, cantaloupe, cilantro, chrysanthemum, chives, lavender, basil, shiso plants, green and wax beans, sweet peas, green peppers, shishito peppers, Thai peppers, banana peppers, red and yellow onions, eggplant, grape, San Marzano and Amish Paste tomatoes, tomatillos, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. We gave the Magnolia tree a much-needed pruning. We battled deer, chipmunks, groundhogs, rabbits, cabbage worms, scale, blackspot, slugs, grubs and bugs of every kind.

I grew pink geraniums and vines, and the family deck was a welcome refuge. I started a fairy garden in a shady area on our property. One day, I hope to have grandchildren who’ll enjoy it on hot summer days. Throughout the summer months, I canned jams (strawberry, blueberry, peach, fig), chutneys (fig and onion), sauces (tomato, peach habanero), salsas (peach, salsa verde), relishes and dill pickles. They now fill some of the shelves in our basement and our bellies. Additionally, we’ve enjoyed fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.

I learned to make homemade tortillas from masa; took turns making dinner with my husband, son, daughter; learned to make Bang Bang Beef (so delicious), spicy vegetarian burritos and honed my bread-making skills – enough to rationalize the purchase of a bread lame.

We’re still looking for an electrician, HVAC professional or general contractor who can install my 200-lb. air filtration system and EnviroVent. I’ll now add to that list a gas stove. There’s no shortage of things that need to be taken care of (and I haven’t even begun waxing about my transit job yet, which is normally quite demanding. COVID-19 has amped up the demand quotient exponentially).

In September we planted three Yoshino cherry trees, a fig tree and a peach tree. We’ll need to dig up a dead maple seedling and care for a mulberry tree/bush, which we translated from the vegetable garden. We cleared dead brush and suffocating frost grape vines from hawthorn that grows around the fairy garden.

Last weekend, I started preparing my vegetable gardens for winter. Tomatoe vines were cut back, unless they were still producing fruit. City Pickers and terra-cotta pots were emptied and disinfected. I gutted Sachi’s old playhouse, which her grandpa lovingly built when she was about 5 years old. She refused to use it, because of the creepy-crawlies in the dark places, so I use it as an adorable garden shed. I recycled a bunch of old plastic containers that once held potted plants, organized my shovels and rakes, swept out all the leaves and brush, and added them to our compost pile; rerolled landscaping and hardware cloth, and rolls of edging. Before the first snowfall, we’ll wash the house, clean the gutters and, likely, find more things that need tending.

Life is a balancing act. COVID-19 makes achieving balance so much more challenging, but we’re learning that we can achieve it if we focus and remain disciplined. With my sink installed, I’m back in my studio, making pots and goddesses on order for old friends and new, for my children and my family. I used to spend hours and days on end in my studio. Now, I get up in the wee hours when the household is still fast asleep, quietly slip downstairs, turn on the radio to listen to news, a podcast or music, and immerse myself for a few hours in clay work. Then, as my honey or kids start to stir, I wrap up and spend the rest of the day with them.

We remain safely masked and isolated, completely avoiding those who do not reside with us. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and, given that the Michigan supreme court has challenged Big Gretch’s (our governor) executive powers, we’ll take extra precautions to stay and keep others safe. Doing the things we’ve been doing and, in the process, rediscovering our peace, joy, happiness and love is our way of shooting COVID-19 the bird.

So, from this old Crackin’ Crow, f*ck you, COVID-19 and the horse you rode in on.


Like much of the rest of the world, Michiganders have been under a governor-mandated stay-at-home quarantine. In Ingham County, the first two pre-emptive-positive cases of COVID-19 arrived March 10. Individuals were permitted to leave their residences for life-saving and life-protecting purposes, and critical infrastructure workers were permitted to work.

As a public-transit professional whose reporting employees are answering calls from members of the public wishing to book trips for dialysis or chemotherapy appointments, as well as trips to grocery stores and work, I too am reporting to work as a mission-critical employee.

Weekends allow for time with my family – and opportunities to dabble in clay, but it’s all I can do to get out of bed, I am so exhausted. Dane dotes on me, preparing a lovely cup of hot tea each morning. just the way I like it, and breakfast in bed. So for now the clay awaits a time and day when I my mind is clear and settled, and I am better able to take advantage of its rejuvenating qualities. For now, my heart aches and my mind is shocked by this most devastating and perplexing virus; its horrifying trail of destruction.

Meet me in the middle

I’ve said before that I am constantly juggling my day job as a marketing/PR professional and my night job as a clay artist, not to mention the everyday demands of my family and home. I’m not complaining; I love my life – the blessings and the challenges (there’s a lot of both but many more blessings).

Since early January, my CATA team and I have been busting our arses to address critical projects, including a community report to nearly 140,000 residents about what we achieved in 2019, prior to our millage renewal appearing on the ballot tomorrow; our 2020 census campaign launch, which featured Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Statewide Census Director Kerry Ebersole Singh, representatives from our congressional legislators (Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin); three state legislators (Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., Rep. Sarah Anthony and Joe Fedewa, representing Rep. Angela Witwer); City of Lansing Mayor Andy Schor; and my boss, CATA CEO Bradley T. Funkhouser, and our board chair, Nathan Triplett – along with many dignitaries in the audience, the entire Capitol press corps, two government television stations and our two local TV broadcast news – WLNS TV-6 and WILX TV-10. It was a worthy feat, and my employees and I accomplished it all together as part of a team.

Tomorrow CATA will kick off the relaunch of a downtown route (Route 17 Grab & Go Express) with fanfare and a remote radio broadcast. Tuesday, we’ll watch with confident hope as voters support our millage renewal. Then, I will switch gears to work on communications for our audiences – internal and external – about how coronavirus (COVID-19) could impact operations and how we will address safety concerns related to the virus. We’ll do that as contributors to a team.

On weekends, I’ve also been busting my ass to clean out the basement, where we’ve accumulated 20-plus years of treasures and junk. My goal is to organize and allow my artist son to carve out his own studio space. He, my husband and I have made a lot of progress over many weekends, hauling stuff upstairs, outdoors and into the dumpster. It’s hard to see our progress, because we still have a way to go, but we’re getting there. Once we sweep, wash and disinfect the basement, our contractor will return to install some electrical outlets, my massive 200-lb. commercial air-ventilation/purification system and a utility sink, which will make clay play a whole lot more enjoyable. I couldn’t do it alone, and I am grateful for my boys’ willingness to roll up their sleeves and help me with an altogether different kind of dirty work.

I write this entry while watching the MSU Spartans battle The Ohio State Buckeyes, having just remarked about the Spartans’ hustle and teamwork. Our beloved Spartans won 80 – 69, clinching its share of the Big Ten title.

Teamwork makes the dream work, the saying goes.

Today at the Red Barn, our membership met for its quarterly meeting. I missed the last one due to a work commitment, so it had been a while since I’d seen most of my fellow potters. It was so nice to see everyone’s friendly face and to catch up.

My good potter friend Jane Hildebrandt and her husband Max are in the process of buying the Red Barn from the current owner, Ruth Zimmerman, who is moving to Traverse City. It was a bittersweet gathering wherein we took time to celebrate Ruth’s good work to advance pottery in our region. We also discussed our upcoming spring kiln firing; the opportunity to invite other non-Red Barn potters to fire ware; teaching potters who have expressed an interest in teaching others about this art form; creating test tiles for a Cone 6 reduction firing, scheduling raku firings; reaching out to the Greater Lansing Arts Council (where I serve on the board of directors and chair the Artist Committee) as a resource; and educational and funding opportunities for Red Barn members, along with potters in and outside the community.

There’s a member in our group who tends to rub me the wrong way. Always. She’s extraordinarily confrontational. My problem? I despise bullies; it’s one battle I simply cannot acquiesce to. One’s desire or need to be perceived by others as more relevant and more powerful but utterly failing to back it up with substance, character or fact – makes me dig in my heels and prepare for battle.

I chair the Artists Committee for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. It’s an effort to identify the needs of local artists and communicating how the Council can be a resource. Our dialog is positive. The exchange of ideas is marked by a high level of respect, enthusiasm and excitement. We don’t cut each other off midsentence. We don’t dismiss others’ contributions to the dialog. We consider them thoughtfully. We smile – genuinely – and encourage as much sharing as possible.

The tone of the meeting today was, at times, tense. She tends to be opinionated, freely and dismissively pooh-poohing ideas offered by others. My tendency is to bark back. A nasty encounter with this woman last year was the primary reason that I’ve spent far less time at the Barn and more in my home studio. Today, as I weighed in on ideas, she repeatedly argued against my position and my contributions to the dialog. It reminded me why I’ve stayed away.

But staying away makes clay play lonely, and that makes me less productive. I find that I hurry to finish my work, instead of getting blissfully lost in it. Of course, at the Red Barn, I miss my family, who I rarely see or spend quality time with, because of work. All I know is, life is short and we can choose how we interact with others, especially those who mean so much to us. We can choose whether we will work as part of a team or in isolation. We can choose whether we cut people off or listen. We can choose to build walls and close others out or let them in; to be misunderstood or to try to understand. We can choose to reject the kindnesses of others or … to be kind.

I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll do my part to contribute to our clay community – to the building of a team. It won’t be easy for me to restrain myself when bullies rear their heads, but my contribution and reaction to the exchange is all I have control over.

Maybe she’ll meet me somewhere in the middle.


In my last post, I wrote about these cool Styrofoam hump molds I was making. I made some progress, but I’m still trying to perfect this process. For the first three pieces – two oblong pickle plates and one 11-inch square plate – there were some areas where the Styrofoam poked through the dried plaster when I smoothed the surface with drywall screen. I’ll have to try to patch those areas, but because it’s been a concern with each of the three molds I’ve made thus far, I’m afraid it may be more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps the Styrofoam hump requires a thicker coat of plaster? Until I figure it all out, I still have several un-plastered Styrofoam forms to coat.

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Freshly poured plaster over Styrofoam hump molds.

I’ve also been working on some tapas or luncheon plates, each 8.25 inches in diameter. I threw eight of them a couple of weekends ago, trimmed them and – for the first time – opted to go without a foot ring. I brushed them with a white slip, and then embossed each with a handmade ginkgo-nut tree-leaf stencil.

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One of eight 8.25-inch tapas plates, ready to trim.
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Marking my territory.
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White slip and gingko leaves – a winning combo.

Last weekend, I threw two 9-inch plates, which I’ll trim this weekend with a foot ring. I’ll likely make more of these so that I have a complete set at some point, and then throw some dinner plates to 12 inches to match.

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Two matching 9-inch luncheon plates.

Today I will make some test tiles from Laguna 900 and B-Mix for a matte-grey glaze that I made last year using hardwood ash. I will test them in both reduction (firing to Cone 10) and oxidation (firing to Cone 6). If they turn out the way I hope they will, I will use this glaze, layered over another, on my plates. Oh, what fun I am having!

I’d also like to test a clear glaze over the underglaze test tiles I made just before the holidays last year, which Anny Unbehaun so kindly bisqued last Sunday before she moved out of her studio at the Red Barn Pottery. Her hike to Williamston from Ann Arbor just got to be too much for her. We’re going to miss her.

I’ve also made good progress on my basement studio but still have a long way to go. Last Sunday, with Dane’s help and muscle, we fashioned a wedging table from our daughter’s old dining table, half-inch Hardie Backer board and a partial tube of Goop.

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My new wedging table. Choice!

We continue to haul old junk out of the basement. There’s a lot of unhealthy dust down there – not in my studio space, which I’ve carefully cleaned. I am being extra-careful not to disturb it without wearing a P100-grade respirator. My old 3M respirator was too big for my head, so I replaced it with a size-small 3M, which not only fits better but is far more comfortable.

Slowly but surely, I am getting the basement converted into an artists’ studio so that my son can also move down there and set up a space to paint. Unfortunately, the process is moving more slowly than not, because after putting in a hard week at my day job, I’m exhausted and just want to relax by throwing or hand-building clay.

This weekend, Dane and I will finally move my Skutt kiln out of our home office into my studio. I purchased it on New Year’s Day last year, so it’s been sitting up there, hogging up office space for 13 months. I don’t know if I’ll even remember how to reassemble it, but it needs to happen. I just hope our backs hold up to the weight of each part, especially the lid. Well, we moved it from the original owner’s home, then from my car to the office. Guh! Why didn’t we just move it all the way into the basement, right?

And, as soon as I finish clearing out this large area next to my wheel, we’ll have a general contractor come out and install approximately four to six more electrical wall outlets and my heavy-duty commercial-grade air-ventilation system. This should greatly mitigate the presence of particulate matter in the air and studio, which is quite unhealthy but otherwise inherent to a clay studio. I want to make sure the air we breathe at home is clean and safe.

Finally, I was going to purchase The Cink for my studio. The lowest retail price that I’ve seen for it is $2,195 from Diamond Core Tools. While I do plan to invest in my studio to make my work space as efficient and enjoyable as possible, I’m concerned about The Cink’s inability to emit both cold and hot water. That’ll be problematic for me during the winter months.

I got to talking to my boss about this the other day (where clay play helps me maintain my sanity, fixing up his house helps him relax). He suggested I buy a utility sink, tap into my home’s hot- and cold-water lines, add a clay sink trap kit and drain the filtered water through my sump pump – all of which would save me hundreds of dollars.

I’ll have to read more about all the different clay traps here: https://www.theceramicshop.com/store/category/17/134/sink-traps/