Can’t keep a good woman down

While the pandemic has raged, my so-called life as a potter has become a difficult balancing act. For example, I threw two mugs and a bonsai pot almost a month ago – a whole month ago! The bonsai pot, I trimmed the next day, according to a Facebook entry I posted on May 6. The mugs, however, I wrapped in plastic to slow the drying process, because I knew it would be a while before I would get to them.

That weekend, Saturday, May 8, I participated in my first raku firing of the year. I fired three of five Warrior Goddesses. Those were spoken for (also referred to as “sold” – hooray!). Two were not quite dry enough for me to comfortably bisque. One fractured during the firing. Another, I may refire to correct a small glaze issue.

I finally pulled a couple of handles last Sunday, May 30, and left them to set up as I trimmed the mugs. I gently blasted them a couple of times with my blowtorch and then, after a couple of hours, I attached them to the mugs. They’re still covered in plastic so they don’t dry unevenly, which could cause the handles to break off.

Two mugs.

My point is, I haven’t been able to make much, but I’m not making nothin’. And I had the very best intentions.

See, I’d been looking forward to taking my wobbly Shimpo Aspire to the out of doors to set up a little throwing station on the back deck. I wanted to make pots in the cool morning hours, waiting for the sun to rise and warm things up. I imagined myself listening to the birds chirping or popping in my earbuds to tune into a podcast (I’ve an endless lineup of faves: My Favorite Murder, It Was Said, Milk Street Radio, Blindspot, This Podcast Will Kill You, The Moth, This American Life, Serial) or sing along to my songs on my playlists.

Like most mornings, on that particular Sunday, I woke up before the rest of the household, and descended the staircase to do whatever I wanted. I stepped outside – temperature check – then strolled around the grounds to check my trees – cherry, lilac, fig, peach, magnolia – and the garden – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. The peonies were budding. My peach tree had four fuzzy little peaches emerging. The hellebore has another transplant about 10 feet away near my hydrangeas, so eventually there’ll be two baby hellebore plants, along with the big mamma-jamma original.

Satisfied with all mine eyes adored, I went back inside, made a hot cup of tea, and started to whip up some potato salad and rice (special requests from family members) for the next day – Memorial Day. Sachi and Harry were coming for dinner. Harry wanted Spam Musubi, and Sachi wanted rice balls and potato salad. I put the potatoes on the burner, and as they simmered, I washed the rice. I was excited about making a Japanese picnic for the family. I was excited about getting outside with my wheel, daydreaming about all the pots I’d make. As I rushed to drain the rice in a colander, I forgot that I’d left my Shun chef’s knife on the dish basin to sharpen after soaking the whetting stone. The pinkie on my right hand moved across the blade, and I felt the bite of the blade as it cut into my finger – deepest at the top of my finger. I couldn’t stop the bleeding, but did’t want to get stitches. Dane took a look and insisted. Because the bleeding wouldn’t stop, I sighed, reluctantly agreeing to have it looked at by someone who might actually know how to stop the blood flow.

The physician’s assistant tied a makeshift tourniquet around the base of my pinkie. She prepared a syringe of lidocaine, in case the bleeding didn’t stop. When it did, she glued the cut flap to cover the wound and added a tiny steri-strip across the cutline. Honestly, I didn’t care about a thing she said except, “You’re going to want to keep it dry – out of water – and don’t let it get dirty.”

Pinkie trauma.

“So,” I asked, with a lump in my throat, “That means I can’t do pottery, I suppose?” I already knew the answer.

The PA looked at me apologetically and said, “You won’t want to do that, no.”

“How long before I can?” I asked.

“The longer the better. At least five days, but it’ll take about 10 days to two weeks to heal.”

Monday morning – Memorial Day – I rolled out of bed around 6 a.m. I made a hot cup of tea, went outside for a temperature check, strolled around the grounds and checked on all the trees and plants in the garden. I got in my car and drove to Whole Foods, loaded up on berries, went home and proceeded to can 9.5 pints of delicious Strawberry-Vanilla Jam and 5 pints of phenomenal Berry Jam (blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and gooseberry). Then I made Harry his Spam Musubi, and I made a stuffed eggplant for J-Dawg. Dane fired up the grill, threw on some New York strip steaks for the carnivores and Not Dogs for the vegetarians. We all sat down for conversation and dinner.

It was 10 p.m. when I finally made it to bed. I was exhausted. My feet and shoulders ached, but my heart sang. I smiled as I drifted off to sleep, thinking to myself, you can’t keep a good woman down.

“Old. Old is relative, girl. No, what makes them special is that they are books from history.” – Hannah Crow

Update – June 8, 2021: Ten days after my injury, my finger is healing nicely. There’s still a tiny speck on the tip of my finger that is exposed – where the gash was deepest. I won’t risk tearing it open with grog from clay, nor do I want to introduce any bacteria. My urgent care PA was spot on, though: ten days to two weeks to fully heal. Maybe this weekend, I’ll be able to throw again.

It’s all about process

Most of you know, I’m a transit marketer and PR chief by day. By night and on weekends, I spend hours in my studio, cleaning and organizing; measuring, wedging and throwing clay; hand-building pots or warrior goddesses; slowly and evenly drying my work; trimming, smoothing and applying textures; recycling clay; and constantly learning about my craft.

It is, after all, a process, this work we potters do.

Few similarities exist between my two worlds, save one: Process. It’s a must for both.

For my work as a transit communicator, whether the task at hand is to change, update or tweak our services; create a simple poster; write an op-ed; or partner with municipal, state or federal agencies on a major campaign or, more often than not, all the above, processes exist in all the departments I oversee. Customer Experience receives ‘plaints and plaudits, they enter them into a database, status them by type; if warranted, they assign them to street supervisors for investigative purposes; supervisors have 14 business days to complete their investigations. In Marketing, we apply the same tried-and-true processes to most tasks and assignments – who is our client? What is the current situation or problem to be solved? What is the client’s ultimate goal? Who is the target audience? What are the obstacles? What’s the budget? Deadline? Recommendations to help the client achieve his/her goals, within budget and on time? What’s our execution timeline? How will we measure success? Who are all the parties that need to be involved in order to help our client successfully implement the project? Who on my teams will champion the project? We fine-tune our brief and review it with our client, kick it to our creative folks and wait for them to share their concepts. Once we approve a concept, we traffic all assets, on time, every time.

My two worlds tend to collide at the end of a particularly challenging work week. And, let’s just cut to the chase: Every work week is particularly challenging in transit – and in public service in general. Sure, we pride ourselves on operating on time, according to defined schedules and routes, but work as a communications pro is completely unpredictable, with one exception: There is always, always more to be done than there are resources (time being the most fleeting of all). It takes discipline, persistence and patience, plus a certain je ne sais quoi to love this line of work and excel at it.

Being a potter, on the other hand, is solitary work. Yet, it requires as much discipline, persistence and patience. As I’m whiling away the hours, listening to a podcast or a playlist, my mind drifts to my day job, contemplating the past week, anticipating the weeks ahead, projects, deadlines. At some point, muscle memory takes over, and without a conscious thought, I’m wedging, centering, opening, pulling, shaping, compressing … following a prescribed, fine-tuned, step-by-step process. Am I paying attention? Absolutely. Attentiveness in a clay studio is a necessity, for safety’s sake. Allowing my thoughts to wander, helps me let go of the stressors and pressures of the world outside my studio nest.

I’ve had the honor of learning from many of our region’s most dedicated, creative and prolific clay artists, as well as those from faraway places like Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania; and farther-away places like Japan and Italy. Every potter, I’ve found, approaches the making process in his or her own unique way. There are also preferences, like whether to reclaim clay scraps in a plastic bin or throw them out (alas, I do know potters who don’t recycle clay); whether to dry reclaimed clay on a plaster bat or in the legs of an old pair of denim jeans on a concrete slab; whether to wedge clay using the spiral, ram’s head, or cut and slam method. To each his own. The point is, clay must be wedged, and wedged properly to rid it of pesky air bubbles; to facilitate the melding of the clay body itself so that it can be thrown and fired. Clay must be centered on the wheel before it can be thrown. There’s no getting around some steps of a process. It’s laborious, to say the least, yet understanding and adhering to tried-and-true processes is a critical part of every successful potter’s journey.

Refining plate rim.

In a word, the secret to my success in the office or studio (kitchen, garden, craft spaces) is process.

“Follow the Crow” – B. B. Griffth

Tea for boo 2

Mommy called this past Monday morning. She had seen a photo of the ugly duckling teapot I made the weekend before and wanted to offer constructive feedback – none of which surprised me.

“Try again,” she encouraged me. “You can do it.”

I decided to go with a more circular body form this time. My inspiration? This teapot from toirokitchen.com.

My teapot inspiration, from toirokitchen.com.

You can see below that my teapot lid more seamlessly follows the pot’s body line, including a much smaller, lower-profile knob than the ugly teapot I threw last weekend. The handle is attached at an angle, which I was shooting for, but the handle may be too wide and chunky. Fortunately, it is comfortable in hand. Still, it seems disproportionate to the pot itself. You can see that my spout protrudes too far from the body, making what should be elegant a little too clunky. I should also point out that, in my haste to get out the door in time to take my daughter (this teapot’s commissioner) to the airport, I failed to smooth out the clay where I attached the spout. No worries. Like so much of my work – this is a concept pot. It’ll help me understand the adjustments I want to apply here and there, and make it my own.

My teapot–Teapot No. 2.

In other news, one of my clients from Hawaii – an artist – tagged me in a recent Facebook post about the Big Ass Ramen Bowls I made for him. I sent them just before Christmas, and after about one month, he finally received them, along with some teacups. He immediately whipped up a bowl of soba, which looks delicious.

Carl also made a bowl of buckwheat noodles with seared pork.

“Crow calls to awaken you to your true soul purpose … to remind you to follow your heart.” – Soul Wolf Journey

Tea for boo

Jenny asked for a teapot – another artifact that I don’t often make, mostly because I don’t have the space in by cupboards or on my countertop for teapots and their appendages. Therefore, my teapot-making skills leave much to be desired.

I’ll keep at it, though, because practice really does make perfect. Additionally, I actually learn something about my work every time I make a pot – even those that I think are very well-thrown or made. Adjustments here and there lead to improvements.

Such is my journey.

Teapot and teacup.
My pot bottoms are pretty decent. And the lid isn’t half bad, except that it doesn’t match the overall design of this pot.
My ugly duckling pot.
Teacup and ugly teapot.
The spout’s stocky, the lid’s knob is too tall, and the handle is an abomination. And maybe I should have expanded the belly of the teapot out a bit more. Plus, Jenny wants a multi-cup teapot vs. a single-cup pot. Back to the drawing board.
At least I have an awesome mark.

“There is a bird who by his coat, And by the hoarseness of his note, Might be supposed a crow.” – William Cowper

Wobbly wheel – Part cinq: Final resolution? Not.

Thirteen weeks after placing an order for a portable Shimpo Aspire, I finally – finally – received the replacement wheel head for the wobbly wheel I’ve periodically posted about. I willed myself to wait, patiently and calmly, for resolution.

When I opened the box, I eyeballed the replacement plate. It’s surprisingly lightweight – constructed from aluminum. Makes sense for a portable wheel.

Dane had all the right tools, so he did the honors. Then I took the wheel for a dry run. Not sure that the wobble’s better. There’s still a shimmy. It’s noticeable, but possibly less so than the original wheel head.

The shimmy isn’t as much a side-to-side movement like before. Rather, it’s a lopsided up-and-down wobble. It was a little challenging to throw even the smallest amount of clay. Centering was fairly easy, but I found I had to slow my wheel speed down significantly to center and pull the clay.

Take a look.

Overview of Shimpo Aspire with replacement wheel head.
Side view of Shimpo Aspire.

I wonder if I can dink around with it to make some adjustments. Another option would be to have a tool and die shop make a new plate that is precisely planed, drilled and calibrated.

Here’s my dry-run cup – not the best camera angle, but I wanted to show my work at center to edge.

Dry run.

Overall, I’m disappointed in Shimpo and this particular product. I’ll test it out over the weekend and decide whether to return it.

All your life is such a shame.
All your love is just a dream.
I dreamt I saw you walking up a hillside in the snow,
Casting shadows on the winter sky as you stood there
Counting crows.
One for sorrow, two for joy.
Three for girls, and four for boys.
Five for silver, six for gold and
Seven for a secret never to be told.
There’s a bird that nests inside you,
Sleeping underneath your skin.
When you open up your wings to speak,
I wish you’d let me in.” – Counting Crows, “Murder of One

Cold outside? Find me in ‘The Nest’

A winter snowstorm blanketed our region in several inches of snow. Photo edited by ©TimeFramePhoto.com.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here in Southeast Michigan, it’s a winter wonderland. We got walloped yesterday by a storm system that brought an abundance of snow and rain, followed by more snow. Around 6:15 p.m., I headed out to Frandor to pick up a custom-framing job, and found my car and our little corner of the world glazed in a thick sheet of ice. I made it home before the rain made the roads dangerously icy. After making dinner and taking care of the dishes, Dane and I watched a few episodes of Star Wars Rebels. I awoke this morning to a beautiful blanket of pristine, undisturbed fluffy stuff all over everything.

When I’m not doing transit work, I routinely wake up in the early morning hours while the rest of the household sleeps. I love this time to myself. I tuck Dane in, give him a kiss and steal away to the kitchen. There, I brew myself a spot of tea – the English way, with a splash of whole milk and sugar. I prepare a little plate for breakfast – buttered toast and homemade jam, scrambled eggs, or an apple, pear, orange or grapes. As a side note to those who are serious tea lovers, I recommend Creamy Earl Grey from Light of Day Organics in Traverse City, Mich. (https://lightofdayorganics.com/order/creamy-earl-grey-tin_3191/). Be warned though: At $44 per 3.75-oz tin, it’s a luxury. Still, it’s the very best Earl Grey you’ll ever taste.

Full cup of tea in hand, I burrow in “The Nest” – home base for Crackin’ Crow Pottery, aka, my studio.

This past week, Daner installed little hooks in the floor joists and strung lights and ornaments overhead. I absolutely love what he’s done with the place. Sure, it’s still an unfinished basement, but it is perfect for my clay space, and these are a cheery and welcome addition. Stream my favorite music or podcast from my laptop, and I’m in business. Today I listened to NPR’s Short Wave about none other than the intelligence of crows – so relevant, wouldn’t you agree?

The Nest, my refuge.

Jenny, my LA Daughter, has been longing to return to her life in LA as a pyrotechnic professional. Like many others, hers was disrupted by COVID. She’s grateful to have been on assignment for a Justin Bieber concert since shortly after Christmas. When she’s here at home, she frequently seeks solace in The Nest. You’ll find her there, quietly sipping tea, watching movies online or reading.

I recall years ago a noise that came from the basement. Startled by it, I went to investigate, only to discover that she was the source of the noise. I was surprised, because I thought she’d gone to school. She admitted, when she didn’t feel like dealing with the pressures and stressors of high school, she’d hook out and hide in the basement. Only after Dane and I left for work did she emerge to enjoy the run of the house. Little did she know, I’d taken the day off. She’s 31 now, and I smile to see that she still retreats to the same basement to get away from it all. She returns from her Bieber concert Wednesday. I know she’ll be pleased by the lighting update, which makes The Nest significantly more inviting and cozy. By the way, Bieber’s crew was so impressed by her stage work that they invited her to be part of his year-long international tour in May 2021.

I’ve been tinkering around in The Nest, organizing, throwing, wedging, trimming and cleaning. Here’s what I’ve been working on.

Big Ass Plate – Attempt No. 2. Fingers and toes are crossed.
One of two commissioned Warrior Goddesses in the making.

“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” – Henry Ward Beecher

Fired up

There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a kiln firing that goes off without a hitch.

For several Barnies, that happened Saturday, Dec. 19. Jane, Barb, Sid, Liisa, Leah, Jim Reinert (every potters’ mentor) and I – participated. It was the first firing for us in many, many months, due to COVID and a transition in ownership at the Red Barn – both of which slowed some of us down.

I had nearly 11,000 cubic inches of ware to bisque and glaze. I loaded two electric kilns to bisque my work. I then spent a grueling 14.75 hours at the Barn on the 5th, waxing pot bottoms and glazing my work.

Barb and Janice loaded everyone’s pots into the kiln on the eve of our firing. Jane candled the kiln that night, and I met her around 10:30 the following morning. It was chugging along at around 900 degrees when I arrived. Our goal was to keep the temperature rising; to achieve and maintain reduction.

Our fire was a beautiful, cloudy orange, and the pressure inside the kiln caused the flames to flick out of every opening, which told us we had successfully balanced the gas and oxygen levels inside the kiln to achieve a reduction atmosphere. Jim stopped by at around 3:30 p.m. After checking all the peepholes, he gave us an encouraging thumb’s up and estimated that we still had at least five hours to go. Cone 07 was flat, Cone 6 was at 11 o’clock, and Cone 8 had softened. At the top peephole, our witness cone softened as well.

“Maintain reduction, and you’ll be in great shape,” Jim said. And that’s what we did. Our progress couldn’t have been better orchestrated.

Shortly after, the fire turned a bright whitish-yellow, and the kiln temp gradually crept upward. By 9:30 p.m., Cone 10 was at 3 o’clock, and Cone 11 was at 2 o’clock. We turned off the gas and shut things down. The proof would be in the pudding.

Pottery pickup was Tuesday, the 22nd, and it was like waiting for Christmas. I’m thrilled with the quality of our firing – I think everyone was. In Jim’s words, “Segar Blue is a good indicator of reduction – and your Segar Blue turned out perfectly.”

Jim congratulated us all for a perfect kiln firing. It really was the best firing at the Red Barn.

My ware was either commissioned or requested as holiday gifts, so I felt tremendous pressure to produce results. I’m pleased to report that they’re all on their way to homes in Hawaii, New York, Denver and Michigan, where I hope they’ll make meals a little more joyful.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

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

Wobbly wheel – Part quatre: Still waiting for resolution

Quick update: I ordered my Shimpo Aspire Oct. 16, and have traded emails with a couple of employees at Clay-King and Vijay at Shimpo. Vijay promised to send me a replacement wheel head and belt.

I have yet to receive my new, balanced wheel head. I reached out to Vijay at Shimpo again on Nov. 30. He reported that, due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the container shipment was delayed and that he hadn’t received any updates.

I emailed him again – on Christmas Day – just to remind him that I’m still waiting and would like an update. I received an out-of-office email, indicating that he’s on holiday until Jan. 4 – not a big deal. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be traveling anywhere anytime soon to make pots with it, now that winter (and 20-degree temps) have settled in. I can throw in my home studio or at the Red Barn.

I’ll wait to hear from Vijay in early January about Shimpo’s progress. With COVID and businesses shut or slowed down, I refuse to be the asshole customer. I do want resolution within a reasonable time frame, but I am also a reasonable consumer.

“Be like a crow, in patience, hard work and efforts.” – Vijay (not related to the Vijay referenced above)

Wobbly wheel – Part trois: Dialoging

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