Breathe …is there anything more important?


First Glaze ! ! !

Last spring I asked my husband, "Gee honey, if I buy a kiln, will you help me install it?" His answer, "Sure no problem. So what kind of money are we talking here?" When I told him, he didn't bat an eyelash. "Wow," I thought, "Wonderful! What-a-guy!" So I ordered the kiln.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

It was a bit of an ordeal when it was delivered. The truck couldn't negotiate our driveway and we had to carry it the last bit with our tractor. It was also a bit of an ordeal installing it. The summer was filled with negotiation, compromise and joint problem solving that, we as a couple, had to navigate. We hadn't decided exactly where this kiln was to live. Kilns emit a host of toxic gases, so they need to have good ventilation. They also need to have level ground and an adequate electrical supply. What turned out to be the deciding factor in placement of the kiln was the cost of electrical wire, so we poured a slab behind our hangar near the circuit breaker box and for now the kiln lives there.

I fired the first test firing on August 14th and have since done two bisque firings. Yesterday I unloaded my first glaze firing. What was very hard was knowing those finished pots were out there in the kiln but that the kiln was still too hot to open. Kiln unloading is the final step in a long process and can filled with wonderful surprises or not so wonderful surprises. This kiln unloading was very special because it was the culmination of all those discussions and concrete evidence of lots of hard work.

My favorites below

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Dog Dharma and Grasping

A couple weeks ago Sora, the Vizsla, found a gopher hole. Since then she has been spending most of her waking hours standing sentry over this soft mound of dirt watching for movement. Much of this time she has been standing, as above, on  three legs ready to pounce. When I say most of her waking hours I'm not exaggerating. I admire her persistence and determination but when I call her and gives me a pained look.

I am reminded of my brother who was the same about fishing. He'd be out on the pier all day long trying to catch a fish. My mother would go out and plead with him to come eat dinner. He'd say that if he just had ten more minutes, he knew he'd catch a fish. The ten minutes would go by and he'd be negociating for another ten minutes. It would be getting dark and he'd still be out there grasping to the idea that he couldn't leave because if he did he'd miss out on catching a fish.

The Buddha taught that:

  1. In life there is suffering.
  2. Suffering is caused by grasping or attachment.
  3. The end of suffering is attainable.
  4. The path to the end of suffering is eightfold, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

These are the four noble truths.

How many times have we grasped onto something or some idea and stubbornly refused to come in and eat dinner?

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The Great Transformation: from Clay to Dinnerware

The following are pictures of some favorite pieces made this Spring in Larry Clark's ceramics class at North Idaho College. Most of them pieces came out the the kiln too late to share with classmates - so I am sharing them here.

Tea for the sea creatures

I like this cup - wild and crazy glazing.

We eat  asparagus and green beans often. Until now the our serving dishes for them have been boring. Shown below are two serving dishes I made especially with vegetables in mind. I used a tenmoku glaze which was supposed to fade from brown to black on the one partially cropped in this photo. It came out a dark brick nice.

The other serving platter is not boring.

Vegetable Platters

Below is a pitcher glazed with a blue-green glaze; the recipe given to me by my friend Joel. He calls it a "butter matte." It is a nice glaze. Thank you Joel! We are liking having another color to play with. Since I was the one who brought it to class, Larry gave me the privilege of  naming it. I thought the color looked a lot like the semi-precious stone chrysoprase but we were all in wild mood that day and we have a tradition of giving glazes names like "Body Parts," so we named it "Green with Envy."

Green with Envy Pitcher

The following are a couple pictures of what I've been doing in the last couple of days. I call these pieces my "Wonky and Warped" series. They are very fun to make. Hope they are fun to look at as well.

Wonky & Warped

Wonky & Warped

My current studio is a multi-use garage. My wheel is on one side and my wedging table is crammed between the cars. Despite this, I have made some very cool things.

My garage studio

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Play within a play, within a play

Thanks to my daughter Lauren, who is interested in theater, I recently worked on a stage crew for the production of The Real Inspector Hound, at North Idaho College. This experience was completely new for me and following are some of my observations.

The play, The Real Inspector Hound, is a spoof on the Agatha Christie play the Mousetrap. In the Real Inspector Hound, there is a play within a play. Some of the characters are theater critics who are lured into the play - a murder mystery.


Lauren and I were prop masters. Among other things, I made a replica box of Black Magic Chocolates. (It appears that product placement has been around for a while.) The research was fun but unfortunately didn't include eating chocolate.  I also made a fog horn from a transmission fluid funnel. I loved this part. I felt my creativity was a huge asset in doing this kind of work.


What I found just as interesting was the play involved in producing the play. It had all the elements of a good story: suspense, drama, mystery, tragedy, triumph.

I learned that the actors are only the tip of the iceberg of those involved in producing a play. There is a substantial support staff: costume designer, set designer, stage manager, lighting designer, lighting crew, running crew, properties, director and theater manager.

I was very nervous and unsure when the technical rehearsals and stage crew tasks started but thanks to some great help from Megan Gallegos, by opening night and through the run, we became a well-oiled machine.

Theater has such an ephemeral quality. In the production of this play, one essential part of the set was not finished until thirty minutes before curtain time on opening night. I found out that this is typical, and not ten minutes after the last performance was over the set was being dismantled. I was reminded of how Tibetan Buddhist monks carefully construct beautiful sand mandalas and then ceremoniously sweep them up and pour the sand into a nearby body of water. Both are reminders of impermanence.

One last thought:

I am in awe of the director Joe Jacoby for his ability remain calm and sleep at night, to seemingly herd cats, and what can I say; I am in awe of his hair.

Joe Jacoby

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Next time you bring the marshmallows

Originally published on, summer 2009. Republished here because no longer exists.

This blog and the pictures are for everyone who told me they were interested in the results of my first barrel firing. To make the kiln and do the firing I used the instructions from the book, Alternative Kilns & Firing Techniques, by Watkins & Wandless. The downdraft kiln originated in Europe around 1800, then was widely used in Japan. Randy Brodnax is given credit for this kiln design. For me this  was a "scrounge" project. I made an attempt to scrounge and reuse materials.

I coated my pots with terra sigilatta or sealed earth, which is a mixture of ball clay, EPK clay, sodium silicate and water. To make the "terra sig" the ingredients are mixed and left to settle. The top layer is then siphoned off, the second siphoned and used. The bottom layer is discarded because it has larger particles.

Down-draft barrel kiln

This my downdraft barrel kiln made from a 55 gallon drum. A downdraft firing is supposed to be hotter than a regular barrel firing because of a downward airflow. The pipe going across the bottom is slotted. I found this double walled pipe at the Habitat store.

Bottom of barrel kiln

I loaded the barrel with a variety of combustibles: kindling, construction scraps, cutup boxes, lavender stalks, a couple banana peels, pine needles, newspaper, Miracle Grow and sawdust. Amongst this melange of flammables I placed my pots. I used foil saggars, or compartments for my pots and sprinkled in a tasty mix of the colorants: copper carbonate, copper sulfate, and red iron oxide. It seemed that I was whipping up a yummy lasagna. I also put chicken wire between layers so if a pot fell during firing it wouldn't hit one below it. (Marlene's tip.)


I went through my checklist: water hose, matches, lighter fluid. (Things I should have had on the list, a comfortable chair and a cold drink.) I finally lit him off asking forgiveness from Mother Earth for doing all this burning. The barrel burned for most of the day and put out a lot of smoke. This is probably not something to attempt in town.

Fire it up!

Things didn't work out exactly as pictured in the book. The downdraft never happened. I tried priming the pipe as instructed by putting burning charcoal directly into the pipe. Since my husband Charles securely fastened the pipes together with screws, this entailed climbing a ladder.

Smoke in the stack?

Maybe the air got confused because my pipe was double-walled rather than single walled? Maybe the slots I made were not big enough? Perhaps it was the way I loaded the barrel? I have an idea of what I'll do next time. Perhaps the air needs a clear shot down the barrel. Think I'll use some cardboard tubes placed vertically.

Barrel-fired pots

I unloaded the next morning and despite my dysfunctional barrel kiln, this is the result. These pots look kind of like instant artifacts. In a few places the "terra sig" was put on too thick and flaked off but nothing cracked or broke; and the big surprise is that a couple pieces were greenware. I put them in just to see what would happen. The fact that they survived certainly gives me more creative possibilities for making decorative pieces.

Barrel-fired globe

Next time you bring the marshmallows.

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Chinese Circadian Rhythm

Circadian Rhytmdiagram copyright 2010 JWBokman


This information came from my acupuncturist. At my last visit I mentioned that I liked to meditate in the mornings, my thought being that meditation is a great way to start the day, and starting the day for me is about 8 AM. She explained that in Chinese medicine, the day actually starts at about 3 AM. I must have looked at her a bit cross-eyed. I thought that the Chinese can certainly be circuitous but this idea seemed absolutely contrary.

She then drew a diagram similar to the one above. She said that the most Yin part of a day is at 3 AM. The day is divided into two hour segments and a recommended activity best suited for that time is suggested. I started my list with lung - breathing. This is, according to Chinese medicine, the most auspicious time to meditate.


What goes around comes around

My intention for writing this blog and hopefully a few more about artists is to let everyone know about them. They are very special people...

I love it when I find evidence of karma and vipaka. Karma being action and vipaka being the result of action. In the following I'll relate two stories of how this has happened for me.

Last spring I was at the North Idaho College student art show. This brought me back in time to a student art show 40 years ago at UC Santa Barbara. I had had a piece in that show. A friend of mine named Kim bought my piece and told me about how it was the only one to sell; however, he didn't tell me he was the buyer. I remember being very happy and excited but probably did't say much to Kim about how I felt. Recalling this was like water for a seed planted way back then. I decided that it would be nice to finally get around to thanking him.

Well, I found Kim and what is so cool about this story is that Kim is an artist. I seem to have found an old new friend who is also a kindred spirit. He was always operating on the creative edge and still is. In college he published a collection of poems on a roll of paper towels.

Now, among other things, Kim makes braille jewelry, candlestick holders from recycled plumbing fixtures and rubbings of manhole covers. He will not be pigeon holed into doing just one creative thing. (Much like me.)

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Manhole Cover Rubbing by Kim Christiansen

Copyright Kim Christiansen

His mind seems to go out there, grab the unusual or the ordinary, for that matter, and figure a way to make art out of it.

Who knows when a kind act will bear fruit or what form that fruit will take.

And also:

A while back someone with the user name TheBuddhaBuilder left a nice comment about one of my photos posted on Flickr. A simple act, but this simple act set off a chain of events. I became interested in who the person was that made the comment. I followed the links to her blog and found out that her name is Anita and she makes wonderful raku clay statuary, mostly Buddhas. I couldn't resist buying one. Anita is a zen practitioner and she also writes poetry. It's great to know about her. This happened because of her of act of kindness.

Raku Buddha by Anita Fend

Copyright Anita Feng

Buddhas @
Books @
Blog @

Anita said in an email, "It is something akin to magic in the way connections are made these days."

Yes, indeed.


Feng Shui Mandalas

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A better version of this video  is located here:




I finally made something that I like in ceramics class.  This jar was a bit more of a challenge that anything I had made before because it is bigger and the shape more graceful. It came out almost exactly as I had intended - the shape, the glaze. I'm happy about it.  As I was making it, the subject of  urns came up. A couple people thought it would make a good funerary urn.  After bringing it home, as I admired it, I said to myself, "Sure this jar would make a nice urn and I like it so much that, I wouldn't feel bad about spending eternity inside it."

Lauren spied me examining my jar and said, "You know mom, when you die perhaps we'll cremate you and then put your ashes in this jar."  I looked at her and smiled and laughed and I told her that was just what I had been thinking. What a  coincidence. We both laughed and laughed and were filled with joy. I only hope that when my time to not be here any longer comes, we will both be able to laugh like this.....and that many years pass with many more beautiful jars before then.


In the time of dark, let there be light…

Copper pipe candelabra

I just made this candelabra. I like working with copper and have made several things from copper pipe - racks for hanging things, a toilet paper dispenser. Someday I'd like to make a chandelier from copper pipe. I use copper rivets to attach the components.

The base of this piece is made from a junk pressure washer assembly. I bought it for a dollar at Habitat for Humanity. My husband says I got ripped off but I like it. A half inch pipe fits nicely in the top and it is heavy enough to be a sturdy base.

My friend Kim Christiansen also makes candelabras from recycled plumbing fittings. You can see his here:

In the time of dark, let there be light.

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