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.

Made

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/

Humping

Today at Moosejaw in East Lansing, Sara – sales associate extraordinaire – said, “I have a tendency to use the word “warranty” like a verb. For example, I say, I’m going to warranty my Cerium.” In addition to her outstanding customer experience skills, she gave me permission to use nouns as a verb – so today’s topic is humping … you know, as in making hump molds.

Rasped Styrofoam to create my square-plate template.
Shaped Styrofoam into a oblong dish.
A stack of Styrofoam templates. This Saturday, Jan. 18, I plan to apply the PoP and give it time to set before smoothing the whole thing.

New year; new beginnings

Happy 2020, readers!

This is my first post of the new year, and it’s a been a while since my last post, because I have had an incredibly busy but very wonderful holiday season. Am I ready for 2020 and all that it has in store for me? Bring it, baby!

In December, just before Christmas, we at the Red Barn Pottery – where I rent a small studio space – prepped, stacked, fired and then unloaded the big gas kiln. I was surprised to learn that I fired more in cubic inches than my fellow potters, especially after having worried that I hadn’t contributed my fair share and would disappoint my awesome potter friends. Zoiks!

It was a great firing. Having spent the bulk of my time working in my home studio, it became glaringly clear that I missed the Red Barn potters – their friendship and companionship, their brilliance and tendency to inspire – all of it. Working at home alone is … well, lonely. It’s wonderful to have my own space at home, but also wonderful to have a place where like-minded artists can exchange ideas, chat about whatever comes up; laugh, advise, help one another and fill voids.

On that happy note, I wish everyone a happy, safe and prosperous new year. Oh, and please check out my pots from the latest kiln firing – tons of great information to apply to my next firing.

Bouncing back

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Hope you’re all in a happy place, celebrating in meaningful ways all that you are blessed with and thankful for.

Today, Dane and I celebrated Thanksgiving with his family. Of course, we Facetimed my side of the family as well. I’m so grateful for the whole lot of them – my husband, my children; my dear parents and siblings; their significant others and children; my in-laws and all of my cousins. We’re a huge and diverse clan whose celebrations always include the making and bringing of food.

The love of my life, for whom I am eternally thankful. Aren’t we adorable?
My Mommy, Miyako Sumi Hirano – the Original Goddess.
Photo courtesy Janice Hirano.

One of the things I love about food – especially those of the potluck variety – is that it must be transported or served in a vessel. I make vessels!

My youngest daughter, Sachi, and I cooked together this morning – she made roasted Brussels sprouts and roasted carrots; I whipped up some mashed potatoes. I am thankful that she and I had that time together, chopping, cooking, mixing, tasting, mmm-ing, plating and washing dishes. It reminded me of my time in the kitchen with my mother who, I’ve decided, I want to be like when I grow up, because she is so badass. At 86 years old, she’s sassy, brassy and energetic (she does Zumba, weightlifting, Body Pump, high-intensity interval training and pilates). She is amaza-zing, and I’m so thankful for her and all that she taught me. Everything I’ve learned from her has been a gift to my adulthood and parenting.

I’m also thankful for my health. Since mid-October I’ve been bouting the blahs. First, the skin around my cuticle on my left middle finger started itching, my nail started lifting off of my finger and breaking off. I didn’t know what was going on with it, so I kept an eye on it.

On Oct. 30 I got my annual flu inoculation. I immediately started feeling a tickle in my chest and by mid-afternoon, I was coughing a dry, unproductive hack. By evening, my cough was incessant and my throat was sore. I gargled with warm salt water several times that night and by morning, my throat felt rough but better. The coughing continued.

After work the evening of Nov. 1 – a Friday – I went to urgent care to have my finger and cough looked at. Doc said I had a bacterial infection in my finger – or paronychia – caused by a manicure I was given, coupled with long and recurring exposure to water, somewhat inherent to making clay pots. He prescribed two doses of Keflex a day for 7 days to take care of my finger. These are horse-sized pills, mind you, and they didn’t go down easily. He listened to my lungs and said I had bronchitis. “It’s a virus, so you’ll just have to let it pass. It’ll take about two weeks,” he said. I asked if I was contagious. “No need to stay home from work unless you want to,” he said. “Yes, you’re contagious, but there’s little risk as long as you keep to yourself, wash your hands frequently and don’t cough on anyone.” I didn’t. I mean, yeah, I washed or sanitized my hands and did my best to keep to myself, but I didn’t cough on anyone … at least not that I know of and, certainly, not intentionally. There were times when a cough unexpectedly erupted, but not on anyone (again, that I know of), thank God.

Tuesday, Nov. 5, I was still feeling poorly – worse, in fact – so I worked from home and went back to urgent care. My bronchitis had worsened by then and I had some major drainage oozing down my throat. My lymph nodes were inflamed, and I was experiencing a throbbing, constricting pain in my throat. Doc told me to stop taking the Keflex; it had done its job on my finger but wasn’t designed to help with the bronchitis. For that, he prescribed Zithromax. The coughing subsided, but the throbbing constriction in my throat continued, so I booked an appointment the following day with my primary care physician, who referred me to an ENT (I’m still waiting for an appointment) and recommended that I start taking an over-the-counter antihistamine. The appointment is pending, but the antihistamine seems to have helped, along with a daily dose of acid-reflux meds.

It’s been almost two weeks since I was feeling poorly and now, I’m just exhausted. I’ve gone from the blahs to the blehs. And to banish the blehs, there’s nothing like throwing clay, so that’s what I’ve done these past few days, working on concepts.

A few weeks ago, I made a couple of “talking bowls,” a design I learned from Maryland Potter Mea Rhee of Good Elephant Pottery. I decided to use this pot to test a hanafuda card design. I started by carving chrysanthemums and leaves in my pot at the leather-hard stage, outlined in slip. When the pot dried to the point where I could really hold it, I added an electric-blue underglaze over the carvings, then wiped it all away, leaving behind faint blue lines in the carved areas. I layered a variety of underglazes to “paint” the flower petals, leaves and stems, and got accustomed to my paint brush. I’m still considering whether to add some reds and blues before I bisque the bowl, after which I’ll add a clear glaze.

I also threw a cup using a design I love. Still, I’m going to keep refining it … because why not, right?

You can see that I’m still making a lot of single pieces. While I can do production pottery (and at some point I plan to), I am still searching for my voice as a potter; still conceptualizing. I haven’t landed anywhere yet, with the exception of my Warrior Goddesses, but even they continue to evolve. Anyway, more to come, y’all, so stay tuned here for developments.

Lastly, I cranked out a slab of clay and compressed it over a hump mold – an idea I copped from Bill van Gilder, and then gave it my own spin. Unfortunately, I don’t like it as much as I’d hoped I would, but it’s still early. I’ve got some ideas that may give it a little more interest.

Finally (yeah, I know I said “lastly” in the previous paragraph, but I meant “Lastly, I worked on this plate” :-P), please accept my personal invitation to LIKE my post and FOLLOW my blog at crackincrow.com. On Dec. 31, 2019, one of my followers will be randomly selected to receive a Lolo pot, with my deepest appreciation for giving me and my blog a chance. If you actually do follow me, I’ll at least know you read the whole post!

Thank you – here’s to an awesome Thanksgiving for all, especially those who are less fortunate. Wishing you the blessings of the holiday seasons.

My adventure with a pregnant torso

I must have been born to play with clay. There’s something about the ooey-gooey goodness of it that speaks to me. Sculpting is an altogether different kind of clay play, but just as incredible.

I had the opportunity to give it a go Tuesday last week (Nov. 19) at The Florence Studio. The studio is owned and operated by Canadians Tom Rekrut and Laura Thompson, who moved to the city in 2010. Laura teaches drawing and painting, and her work is amazing. She smiles a lot and is very encouraging. Tom is the sculptor and, therefore, was my instructor. He, too, is a very talented artist. He’s a bit of a pisser, though; a curmudgeon. Apparently, he’s prone to do the work for you instead of teaching you how to sculpt, which I always find to be a challenge. Laura scolded him a few times, playfully shooing him away. “Stop doing the work, Tom, you’re supposed to be teaching her!” He argued that he was just getting it started for me. She said, “She doesn’t even have any clay on her hands yet, because you’re doing the work.” He’d tell her to be quiet. “I’ve been married to you long enough to know exactly what you’re doing,” she persisted. He growled unpleasantly, “Yeah, thanks a lot for reminding me how long we’ve been married,” suggesting that it’s been misery for him.

Laura came back to check on me a few times. She taught me to use a sheet of paper to quickly eyeball my symmetry and true-up my lines. “It’s the same as in drawing,” she explained. She taught me how the eyes see what it wants to see sometimes, referring to light and shadows and contrast.

I gave it three hours and did my best to not get irritated when Tom worked on my piece and to ignore him, at Laura’s insistence, when he’d say, “Don’t worry about making the surface smooth,” then come back 20 minutes later and say, “You really need to work on smoothing out the surface of the clay.” I watched silently as his thumbs smoothed my clay for me.

All in all, I didn’t do too poorly, and I discovered that there just might be a sculptor in me trying to get out. In the end, both artists gave me their stamp of approval.

Before I left, Tom promised to wrap my sculpture in plastic and told me to come back “Friday or whenever” to pick it up and take home with me. “We’re here every day, so come anytime,” he said. I asked, “Will it make it through Customs?” He shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

Dane returned to the studio Saturday to retrieve my pregnant torso while I packed. He returned to the hotel and said, “That guy’s a dick.” He said Tom growled at him; that he’d written me off after I failed to show Friday. Laura told him to behave, but he continued to growl. Dane said, “Look, I’m just here to pick it up for her.” Laura found it, apologized for her husband’s behavior, and Dane quickly moved to extract himself from Tom’s banter, which remained sullen albeit sprinkled with a desire to chat. He brought my clay torso to the hotel but, as it turned out, I had no room in my checked suitcase or my carryon to transport what now seemed a massive artifact, so I left it there on the floor, next to the small garbage receptacle, certain it would never have made it through Border Patrol or Customs anyway.

At least I have these photos by which to remember my pregnant torso and the two lovely kooks (well, one lovelier than the other) who introduced me to the art of sculpting. The torso was modeled after a woman named Camille, by the way. There’s a life-size version of it at The Florence Studio.

Hardened model of a pregnant torso on the left (no idea who Linda is); my work on the right (needs more lean; marked “Spike” on wood base).
Foreground: My work of left side of the body (needs more twist); model in the background.
Right side of model in foreground; my work in the background.
Finally, on the left (needs more lean), my work of the back; model on the right. Mine looks more like the back of a man. My apologies to Camille.
Overview of my sculpture on the left; model on the right.

La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte – Montelupo Fiorentino

Salvatore Mirenda poses with me and the vase he helped me throw. Off screen, Dane, Salvatore’s wife Betty and son Matteo took photos and chatted with us. Photo courtesy ©TimeFramePhoto.com.

Meet Salvatore Mirenda, owner and master ceramicist at La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte in Montelupo Fiorentino. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting him and, more important, learning from him how to make a vase – about a fifth the size of one he’d already made, which I used as a model.

But first I met Salvatore’s son, Matteo, who speaks English pretty well. Matteo took me on a one-hour tour of La Galleria’s production facility – absolutely fascinating. There are eight employees, including Salvatore, who are responsible for all the work produced through La Galleria. Each has a specific responsibility on the production line.

Foreground: Alberto trims a very large bowl. The clay is a light grey when wet and a little lighter when leather hard. Behind him, another potter is throwing kiln stilts. In the far background, baskets are thrown round and then modified to hold magazines, flower arrangements – really, whatever one does with a basket..
Gianni’s job is to apply slip to leather-hard bowls after they’ve been trimmed.
Alberto (standing on left) and Gianni (seated) take a break to pose with me.

Then, Matteo took me to the showroom, which was stunning. The sheer volume of pots and varied designs in this room made my jaw drop. I commissioned a large spaghetti bowl and two spaghetti plates with a traditional Montelupo design. Matteo told me, “Usually, the item you make with Salvatore is limited to a single glaze color, but because he had to take care of his father the day you were scheduled to work with him, I will offer to have your vase glazed to match the design of the bowl and plates you ordered. It’s my small way to say thank you for your kindness and understanding.” That was over-and-above customer service, which is what La Galleria strives to achieve. I cannot wait to receive my souvenirs in January or February 2020.

Matteo also explained that La Galleria works directly with William-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Olive Garden on exclusive designs that are sold or displayed worldwide in their retail stores. I relayed to Matteo that, years ago, when Dane and I were dining at Olive Garden, I remarked that I loved the large Italian ceramic pots displayed throughout the restaurant. I asked the manager where Olive Garden procures its pots, but he didn’t know. Mystery solved!

I asked about Deruta pottery, and what the difference was between those and the pots created in Montelupo. Very matter-of-factly, Matteo said, “It’s different. Montelupo pottery is from Montelupo. Deruta is a type of pottery from the Umbria region. Different clay; different design.” Ho capito, Matteo.

Hand-painting glaze on a fast-drying white glaze. This pot will be bisqued then glazed again.

Montelupo is about a half hour’s train ride from Firenze – far from the tourists and the hustle and bustle. “If you want to experience a real Italian town and see the true way we live and work, you have to get away from Firenze and visit a town like Montelupo,” Matteo said. The Arno River runs through both Firenze and this sleepy little town. In fact, all the clay used to produce ceramics with the Montelupo mark is harvested and produced in Montelupo.

Montelupo Fiorentino, a comune or municipality in the Metropolitan City of Florence, in the Italian region Tuscany, about
12 miles southwest of Florence. Photo courtesy of ©TimeFramePhoto.com

I found the clay to be dryer than that which I’m used to throwing. It requires the constant addition of water, whereas the Laguna 900 clay I throw, I use as little water as possible. Another unique practice: Salvatore doesn’t use a sponge. Matteo offered to give me a sponge, but I said I’d try to make my vase without one – “Come fai a Montelupo,” I said to Salvatore, which made him laugh in agreement.

Our visit to La Galleria was truly one of the highlights of our trip to Florence. The Mirenda family made this experience memorable. I am grateful.

From Firenze with love

Couple selfie with the Ponte Vecchio in the background.

Made it home from Firenze, safe and sound. The only missing ingredient on our trip was the comfort and familiarity of family and friends; the ones you’re reminded of when you see a certain something or who would have loved to have experienced taking a class with you (you know who you are); or the people you miss seeing every single day, because they somehow always find a way to make every moment with you extra special (you also know who you are). The trip home was uneventful and smooth. I watched Shaft and Yesterday on the way over, and Beautiful Darkness, Booksmart and Bottom of the 9th on the way back, which took care of about 6 of our 7.5 hours in flight. Just to prove how shallow I am, the best line in all those movies was the part where Shaft’s ex-wife’s date says, “He’s a bad mother …” and she says, “Shut your fucking mouth!” I laughed so hard, y’all, and everyone on the plane looked at Dane apologetically. Yup, that’s me! Anyway by the time we landed at DTW and got off the plane, my butt was so numb it needed a few rounds of squats just to get the blood flowing in my glutes again.

It truly was a wonderful trip. A delicious way to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. As I’ve grown older, travel has become less about things to buy and much more about the richness of the experience – what we learn about other countries and their people; how the kindnesses of a single individual or the dismissiveness of many can make all the difference. It’s also about what we learn about ourselves – about appreciating all that we have – what we’ve worked hard and fought for – our relationships, our jobs, the challenges – our lives; and how we react to the affects and influences of other forces in our little universe.

Our hotel room – No. 511 at the Hotel Laurus al Duomo – was so cozy. Our queen-size bed was perfectly firm. Even the pillows were remarkably comfortable. The shower was too small for Dane and the water a little to tepid for me, but we made do. A concierge was available 24/7. A complementary breakfast was served each day on the 6th floor from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m., comprising coffee, tea, juices, toasts, jams, fruits, cheeses, scrambled eggs, sausages and cooked ham. The cafe and tea rooms connected to the hotel were quiet and convenient. Throughout Florence, meals were highly affordable and, for the most part, delicious. The sights were incredible – breathtaking and truly mind-boggling. It took 140 years for the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore to be completed. What history and beauty! We saw riches beyond our imagination. And poverty – women – most of them advanced in years – sitting quietly or walking about wrapped in blankets and plastic bags, collecting coins from tourists adorned in high-end, high-fashion jackets or furs. We were approached by several individuals from other countries, “giving” away handmade gifts, then asking for a couple of Euros, and one man who said he has a passport and two young children and was just trying to get home; he promised he wasn’t a drug user or a bad person, he just needed a few more Euros to get home. Poverty, climate control, hunger – we saw first hand that these concerns exist in Florence just as they do throughout the United States.

I learned a lot about myself – my love of language and etymology, both English and foreign; my love of art. If I could afford to do whatever I wanted to make a living, I’d have been an artist and a writer. I have a deeper appreciation for those who chose art as their profession, whether they’re able to make it work or struggle to be true to their choice. It’s not easy.

Our trip affirmed that Dane and I are two very different individuals. Our differences sometimes irritate (me) and exasperate (him), but they’re also what makes us tick. Like most normal couples, we argue about silly little things. After 25 years of marriage, we got to know each other really well. Yet, Dane and I are still discovering new things about each other, which I love. Marriage takes a lot of effort to get right. And patience and understanding. Trust. Honesty. Commitment. Luck. It takes a lot to not lose yourself and to maintain your identity as an individual but to also remain deeply in love and in sync as a couple.

His curiosity; his desire to ponder and understand how things work are so innate to him. What appears to be his aversion to change and perplexing phenomena is prompted by his need to understand the difference, not an intolerance FOR the difference. That’s just how his brain is wired. My big, lumbering, scraggly man of a man takes time to smell and understand the roses, the stars, the universe, people and things. If we don’t get to it all, at least we got to what we did. I, on the other hand, smell the roses and all the flowers, along with the perfumes and foods – down to the precise ingredients – onions, fennel, pancetta and the aroma of coffee – commingled with the horse dung, sewage and garbage. I smell every single thing all. at. once. I am impatient. I want to walk faster, listen harder and see everything, so hurry and keep up, and say what you have to say, because I’m soaking it all in. I’m seeing and absorbing everything before time runs out, and I always feel like we’ve got to finish it all, because if I we don’t, we’ll run out of time and still, I don’t want to be pushed and I don’t want you to interpret what I’m seeing for me, so … shhh. I want to see for myself what I want to see. You could otherwise throw off my groove and once it’s in my rearview mirror, I may never, ever get the chance to see it again. When I ask a question, I’m not looking for an explanation, I’m on the fast track for the answer. If you don’t have it, just say so. Don’t explain to me what I already know; I’m not an idiot, and frankly, I’d prefer to figure it all out on my own. I don’t like being asked questions for which there is no way I could possibly have an answer, such as, “Why is he going that way?” Don’t ask me, ask HIM! I speed through life and you have to keep up or get out of my way. I’ll come back for you but I can’t stop moving forward. If you want to help me, do it well or you’re not really helping at all. Talk less. Don’t tell me what I should see or do. Yes, I readily acknowledge that I can be a difficult person, and I’ll keep going until I or we get it done. If I need to recharge, give me four, maybe five hours of sleep, and I’ll give you up to 36 solid hours. I am disappointed when my to-do list cannot be completed. I’m harder on the people I love than on others, because I expect more from them, but I am fiercely protective of them, and my love knows no bounds.

My brain is conditioned to get shit done. I work in a world where deadlines constantly nag me; where the workload is intense and where there’s little tolerance or margin for error, especially from the perspectives of our customers and taxpayers; where problems arise and I am expected to solve them. I’m sort of like mission control but on a lesser scale. I’m about process – have one that works infallibly, and stick with it. Keep an eye on and tweak it when needed. Dane’s more about the best process. Figuring it out may be a journey. When he became grumpy about not wanting espresso or any coffee with milk; that he just wanted a good dark-roast coffee, I inferred it as an intolerance for Italian coffees and became irritated by what I perceived was an inability on his part to accept that his version of American coffee doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in Italy. He explained that he doesn’t even like American coffee, based on his experience; he’s been searching for the perfect dark-roast coffee that even he has difficulty trying to explain, and for which no one – not even the good old USA – has an answer. But our son, Kiffer (the barista) did. He wanted to call Kiffer and ask for a recommendation.

Cin cin – saluté to us!

Dane’s on a different plane. Thoughtful. Deep. Philosophical. Intelligent. He reads for knowledge; keeps up with politics, world events. He doesn’t necessarily want to understand; he NEEDS to understand. I’m more like, ain’t nobody got time for that shit. But the truth is, I wish I could be more like him. He’s everything I’m not. Smarter (like genius-smart). Sweeter. Chattier (way, way, waaayyy chattier). Likable. Lovable. Got a problem? You want this guy on your team, because he’ll find the answer. He’s got people with people who’ll help him find the answer. It might take a few hours, months, years, but he’ll find the answer or tell it to you straight – no one has an answer. If they do, it’ll cost you a ridiculous amount of money, time, resources. Practical. He’s a good person. A great father. He is definitely the better half, and I adore him. My hands were made to fit in his. He tells the corniest jokes – like seriously bad dad jokes. Sometimes I tell him I don’t get it, and then I have to endure his explanation, but when it clicks, I’m howling. And the best part of that is the sheer exuberance on his face. He’ll look at me lovingly (possibly on the verge of tears) and say, “I love it when you laugh.”

I love that something as simple as a smile or a laugh can make this man so happy and that I am the one lucky enough to do that for him.

Here’s to the next 25 years together, babe.

Countdown: Firenze, Italia

In about 120 hours (or five days), Dane and I will board a plane for Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance. We were married Aug. 13, 1994, and this trip is our belated celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

I lived in Italy for years and used to be semi-fluent in Italian. Not having spoken the language in more than 30 years, however, it’ll be a challenge. It’s not like riding a bike. I’ll fall back on the phrase, “Parla piu lentamente, per favore” (Please speak more slowly).

I’m registered for two clay classes by Italian masters. On Monday, Nov. 18, Matteo, a master potter with La Galleria Nuove Forme d’Arte in Montelupo, will teach me how to make handmade Tuscan ceramic. The following day, I have a sculpting class – my first ever – with Lilla of Artviva in the Piazza del Limbo.

The rest of the time, we’ll visit the Duomo – our hotel is within walking distance, and we’ll see it right outside our window; we’ll see Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia; and Galleria degli Uffizi. We’ll eat great food, drink great wine, take great photos (well, Dane will), hold hands and revel in each other’s company.

One hundred twenty hours. Five days and counting. When I wake up in the morning, it’ll be four days, three, two … and then the first day of the rest of our next 25 years together. I cannot wait.