Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The winds of change........

I had high hopes of blogging once a week but alas that thing called life keeps getting in the way.  Today is rainy, blustery and an extra cup of coffee is in order along with a bowl of oatmeal topped off with last summers blueberries.  Maybe a quick blog before I head out to the studio.  (good god, oatmeal is hard to get off a keyboard!)  I really could use a few more hours in the day.  But as the days grow shorter and temperatures cooler I feel myself falling into hibernation. 

Every time I fill the canner, I say out loud; "This is the last batch!!"  Step away from the jars, Sandy!  Then I hit the farmers market and see all the pretty colors and the prices because the gardens are doing their last explosion before the snow flies!  Decanting the hot coffee at O-dark:30 on a cold Saturday morning; I think what can possibly be left to sell at the market?  I pull on my boots, grab my bags and push off to one of the last farmers markets.  Fewer stalls for sure but the abundance is still there!  Squash, peppers of all varieties, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, kale, garlic, onions, shallots, herbs; be still my heart.  This week I have company, Butch!   I ask him what he is looking for this week and he gets excited; "Hope the meat girl is there!!"  Insert eyeroll.......

I spent a little over $26.00 and I love when the farmers throw in extra stuff because it's the end of the season and you chat with them every week!  

Last stop, "meat girl".  Butch usually indulges in sausage or one pork chop ( I'm just not much of a meat eater)  and if you're gonna eat meat I would buy it from this gal who loves her herds and does it the way I wish all animals were raised and harvested.  Plus she drives over from Pennsylvania lugging a freezer.  This is what he pick out:  

it's $18 a pound and worth every penny but he is the only one eating this pork tenderloin.  I try to steer him to his one pork chop or maybe some sausage in a cute little bag but I see him drooling as he hands her a $20 and she says; it's $38.  I am standing by with another $20 and I see the shock on his face.  Clueless just clueless. This is the guy who refers to cucumbers as zucchini and garden herbs as smelly green things.   Walking to the car he keeps asking why is this so expensive?  Ahhhhhh the lessons of good farming practices.  Meat is a luxury and in this house eaten very sparingly, if at all.  Chicken stock is about as far as I go in the fur and feather category.  And always fish ....... from anchovies to halibut.   We have decided to keep it, the tenderloin, frozen and haul it out to Colorado for family Christmas festivities.

And my garden is still producing too.  A few tomatoes, loads of peppers, potatoes, swiss chard, cucumbers, dill, parsley, well loads of herbs and of course KALE.  We are finally getting badly needed rain so the garlic will go in tomorrow along with a few flower bulbs.  

Yard clean up is upon us too....... the cucumbers are gone!~!  happy dance!  I just could not look at one more cuke.  There is a major side out rotate coming to the garden too and it needs to be happening now!   Speaking of cleaning out..... they are still coming; cucumbers and groundhogs, what a year! 

the parade to the basement continues.....and bread season :) 

Scarlet runner beans.  I love these beans!  I took these out to my middle school pottery class last week.  The brown dried pods are not so attractive but when cracked open an incredible surprise!  I gave each kid a bean and watched their faces.  This is what I want to see in your creations, the element of surprise.  Something that makes you smile!!  Life is too short for boring pottery :) 

The pottery is busy too.  Although I cancelled one of my biggest shows I have been busy with orders and holiday shoppers already! 

My little gallery is cleaned and open for business and I have enjoyed people stopping by. 

 I did my books last week and was surprised at the amount of work that had sold.  My little nest egg was growing but knowing how my life seems to go I said to Butch;  the universe is filling my bank account because I'm gonna take a hit.  I never seem to have abundance of cash or fat bank account but I almost never come up short and get my bills paid.  But the cushion is such a luxury!  I used to marvel at how things worked out but now I just think it's a balance.  I always seem to have what I need when I need it ....... my definition of a miracle.  

Thursday morning I woke up to this face:  

Panic at the disco!!  Call the vet...... "well it's worrisome but since he is already blind, not an emergency."   Excuse me?  In my humble opinion sir: THIS IS A FUCKING EMERGENCY!  Yesterday we were off to the canine ophthalmologist.... again.  Ya, last time it cost me $350 to let me know he was blind.  But I love and trust this guy and he is really good, scary good!  We sat in a dark room, they stained his eye, puffed his eye and found out the cataracts are so bad the lens of his eye had detached and was now laying on the floor of his eye.  The pressure in his eye had tripled too.  
Next Tuesday he will have his eye removed, silicon implant put in, the other eye accessed and hopefully stabilized and my little nest egg/cushion will cease to exist.  But I had it and it's enough to pay for his surgery and all the vet bills.  And why didn't I go into animal care instead of pottery?  Hey Bernie Sanders does medical for all include my dog?  Can I put glasses on him and pass him off as my kid?  When it's all said and done it will be over $3,000.  I drove home asking myself so many questions..... and here are some of the answers.  I spend more time with Kirby than anybody else on the planet,  he has never left my side in 3 years, he has had some pretty shitty humans in his short life and I need to be the good human, I shop on craigslist and at Goodwill, work way too many hours and am quite frugal.  I don't have closets full of clothes or shoes and my underwear is pretty holy so I feel pretty good about the choice I have made.  He will just be a somewhat expensive alarm clock and the alternative sucks. 

Saturday, October 5, 2019


Fall has arrived, finally!  Two days ago the air conditioner was blasting.  Firing kilns and throwing pots on a 92 degree day is my idea of being plunged into the 7th portal of Hell.  How can you look at the Fall sunsets, hear the geese honking goodbye and know you are sweating in your socks? 

So much going on here at Happy Acres it's hard to keep up!  The current theme seems to be about filling shelves. 


And speaking of the 7th portal into Hell, also known as my basement, also known as the vault for all things squirreled away yummy and in a jar.  I was making my morning run to the basement last week to stack jars on shelves.  One of my rituals is emptying the bucket on the dehumidifier.  I jerked the bucket out and trotted over to the sink and noticed a small bit of "dirt" in the sink.  This is where my mind just spaces out, not dealing with what is really in the sink and proceeds as usual.  Dump bucket, put jars on shelves and scramble out of the basement as quickly as possible.  I can't believe I used to crawl down here to do laundry!  Up the rickety stairs, slam the door shut and sprint to the kitchen or studio.  Next day, repeat.... only to find the pile the "dirt" even bigger and stinkier.  Yup, override the few brain cells I have functioning at 5:30 am and say out loud; "Holy Crap"!  Because it is a rather large pile of poo.  What the is living in the 7th portal of hell and pooping in my wash tub?  As it is a substantial pile of poo that I cannot wash down the drain. My brain went into stutter short circuit.  Is it here now, how did get in and wow these jars of goodness are so good I have wild animals tunneling into my basement!  I better call for back up!!

 All jars were secure but in the darkest corner of the retaining wall another pile of poo.  I do the unthinkable......... I turn out all the lights, stand in the pitch black darkness and listen for scurrying or snorting or even snickering; nothing.  Next step, look for light and sure enough the little bastards have excavated the fieldstone foundation in the front corner of the house and I can see just enough daylight for some critter to wriggle his fat little butt into my own personal portal to Hell.  Game on! 
I turn the lights back on and stare at the pile in the wash tub...... what is it?  Who left this?  OMG I have a mug for that!!  I make poop mugs!  They are field tested by the Lane Bryant Lumberjack and Ginger is Fly up in Alaska!  I have one for myself out in the studio, I sprint to the studio and stand with my mug, matching up poo illustrations on my mug, determining it's a freak'n groundhog!  Set the trap in the basement....... ok who sets traps IN THE HOUSE?  Run to the hardware store for mortar to repair the foundation and pray I am sealing the critter out and not in the basement!

It's been a week now and the trap sits empty.  I have moved it to the outside because I have made the furry bastard so mad he is now pooping all over my porch and front walk.  Nothing says; Welcome like steaming piles of poo on the porch! 

Ok enough poo talk ........ in other news I have taken a job.  Who takes a job when they are 65 years old?  Who decides it's a good idea to revamp a ceramic studio at school that has been abandoned for 2 years?  I took a week to think about this while I was trapping varmints in the basement.  Wrote down lists of pros and cons...... the pros won.   I will be working one day a week at a Montessori School with middle and upper school kids.  It's a farm school and on the day I interviewed we walked in the kitchen and the kids were learning to can garden produce.  They had just butchered 50 chickens....... these are my people!!!  Then we walked to the chicken coop, past the milk goats and up to the "ceramic studio".   Thought I was in Nirvana until we reached the "ceramics studio".  I walked around and then looked at the 40 year old kiln.  Sometimes there are just no words or understanding as to why a place hasn't burned down.  The kiln had a cloth cord!!!  When you use it, you had to plug into the wall.  I opened the kiln and looked at the imbedded clay in the elements and elements hanging to the floor of the kiln.  The kiln was also butt up against a wooden wall.  Why hadn't this place gone up like a tinder box is beyond my comprehension.  Told the art dept. head they really did not have ceramics program as they did not have a kiln.  Not taking the job until I could figure out what was there in the piles of "stuff".   On a lovely hot Friday I went in to start poking around, seeing if anything was salvageable.  Low fire clay, purchased through Walmart and about 100 jars of dried up, low fire glaze.  I start on Wednesday......... wish me luck!  or maybe they just need a good gardener?   It would be easier than pulling a ceramic studio together.  I'm hunting for a kiln if anybody has one laying around! 

The craftsmanship at this place is beyond amazing...... kind of like Amish Hogwarts.

So yup things are kind of nuts and all the balls are spinning, the bread dough is over achieving but hey that is just how we roll around here!  

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Back in the Groove...........

The year is three fourths over and I feel as if I am finally getting my feet under my body again.   Cancelling a big 4 day show I think has a lot to do with my blood pressure dropping and finding my feet again.  I just did not have the inventory I needed for that show and not enough time to produce that inventory.  Hindsight bites me again.  I really though I could do an 8 day show in June/July, head to Alaska for a 12 day trip, crank out 200 bowls, do all the canning and gardening and still make enough inventory for a four day show.  Ok, I really did not see how crazy this was until I just wrote it all down.  I also am having a hard time recuperating on the fly like I used to...... 

I went to breakfast for a yearly catch up with a dear old studio mate and was truly hobbling around, you know like an old person, which I am NOT!  One knee was quite swollen and I kept thinking sheesh; I eat all this healthy stuff, garden surplus, organic, no milk, very little meat, no eggs, no soft drinks or sugar, steel cut oats and cucumbers galore and I can hardly walk.  Then over breakfast I heard the magic words...... foods in the nightshade family.  I have been eating massive amounts of; tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, peppers and paprika (because I am Hungarian and it's a food group).  Hell I just filled the basement with all those things.  On Wednesday I banished all nightshade foods from my meals.  It's now Saturday and my knees are much better, I can touch the floor without bending my knees, I walked three miles yesterday and worked most of the day in the studio.  So I will stay off the nightshades for a month or so and re-introduce it in very small increments around Christmas, when I can blame my stiff and sore joints on cookies!   

The canning is winding down but the recipes are still stacked high, so many more things I would like to try this year that will just have to wait.  This morning I dashed out to the orchard to pick up another "final" basket of peaches but alas they had been replaced by apples, squash and pumpkins.  I've added to the shelves in the basement; 6 jars of cowboy candy, maple peach bourbon butter, peach butter, more caponata, tomato jam and still a few more jars of soup need to be filled. 

 Here is the almost finished inventory list for anyone interested.  I think there are right around 360 jars on the shelves and probably close to 400 by the time the canner goes back in the basement. 

Oh and when worlds collide!  
I watched a YouTube on the "new pear corer" promised to save loads of time when canning pears.  YES, a new gadget I might need to add to the kitchen artillery.  When I can't listen to one more hour of NPR or audio book I watch YouTube videos on gardening, canning, pottery etc.   I fervently waited in eager anticipation for the visual of this new gadget.  OMG I had one in my hand as I was trimming pots and watching YouTube, drum roll .........

Hey fellow potters, does this thing look familiar, as in, your favorite loop tool?
In case you need a designated kitchen gadget, here is the link:

I scrubbed and bleached my Dolan trimming tool for de-seeding jalapeƱo peppers and it worked like a charm.  I will be trying it on pears next and then returning it to the studio.  Oh and I am positive the Dolan loop tool is a lot sharper than the pear corer listed above.

So happy the crisp northern winds have started blowing in; nice to head out for morning a walk before the world wakes up.   
Finally seeing a few honey bees!  I can count on one hand how many honey bees I saw in my garden this year, so scary.  This one was in a feeding frenzy on Ageratina altissima or more commonly known as White Snake Root (and it is poisonous to mortals, cows, goats, horses and sheep,  contains the toxin tremetol, causes milkfever).  No bees, terrifying.  Poisonous Plants and botany, way cool...... 

It's cool enough to get back from walking and do a little weeding.  Head down, butt in the air and moved through the backyard pretty fast.  Fast enough to be in the studio by 10 am.  Sat down to throw and my hand was on fire!  Have no idea and never saw anything but my hand sure was breakfast for some critter living in the weeds! On a good note, a bucket of cool water and clay slip took care of this by evening.  Amazing and again proof I'm doing what I need to be doing, although a bit of smashed up plantain and comfrey would have worked too. 

Speaking of snakes, this cute little garter snake showed up to sun himself on the rocks next to the studio.  In the 35+ years of gardening this property I almost never see snakes so this was awesome!! 
I have a feeling Rufus the tail-less, killing machine and neighborhood cat has done his fair share of snake wrangling in the garden but this one has escaped the jaws of death so far. 

I had lunch on the patio yesterday and I saw the orange flash out of the corner of my eye.  I left the seed heads of the echinacea up for the goldfinches.  The orange flash, Rufus rocketed into the garden and yellow feathers were flying.  I jumped up from lunch and chased him on a good run to his house.  His owner and I cornered Rufus in the bushes.  In complete disgust he spit out the tiny yellow fluff ball.  Disoriented and dazed the goldfinch flew high into a white pine to recover.  Rufus has not been seen in the yard since.  

Speaking of worlds colliding or maybe it's just that time of the year.  
Rachael's, Fancy Lumberjack got a moose for the freezer this year.  And on the exact same day I finally got one of the groundhogs, (not in the freezer)!  Winning! 
The Mom: 1
Fancy Lumberjack: 1

Although Rachael is going to need two freezers for her winter meat supply.  
Moose burritos, moose stroganoff, moose bacon, moose chili, moose for everyone!  

I am finally in the studio daily.  Catching up on orders and getting ready for Holiday shows. 

 I am working at a nice pace and not burning the midnight oil.  There is a wonderful cadence to the day, the week and the month.  I am happy and Kirby is very happy!  

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Winding down........

The Victoria Salvia, Hydrangea Paniculatas and Autumn Sedum Joy (doesn't that just roll off your tongue)  are doing their thing and the bees could not be happier.  It should be Sedum, Autumn Joy but Autumn Sedum Joy is more fun to say; my garden my rules. The pollinator activity is frantic at the moment, a sure sign we should all be a little frantic getting ready for the impending whatever...... I have given up trying to expect regular weather patterns.   However all the signs are there, squirrels are in hyper-gather, the groundhog is so fat he doesn't fit in the trap and moonwalks out the door, the deer are BIG and growing antlers, bird traffic is changing, the dog is pretty springy in the mornings, the geese are honking and the Monarchs are migrating. 

I wake up one morning, do a garden walk about and say out loud........ "it's over" and where are the CARBS?!   

Time to drag the canning stuff out of the basement and get busy!  It takes about a month to get the shelves in the basement full.  It's not day in and day out because I am not that kind of girl.  This year I had a hard time getting my canning gene kicked into gear.  Normally there is a rhythm or cadence to this time of the year, especially in the kitchen.  I stalk the garden and farmers markets relentlessly, starting in early August.  I always, always, always kick off the season with dilly beans, this year no beans!  I drove, I called, I banged on the doors of all my old haunts and no beans when beans were supposed to be happening.  Gotta say it threw me off my game!  Luckily my tomatoes were gaining and corn was around the bend.  And then there were the cucumbers....... holy cucumber season, it was overwhelming this year.  I fermented and made enough relishes for 5 families, I donated, I did cucumber drive-bys and they are still coming on strong; although slowing down thankfully!  I tried to trap the groundhog with cucumbers but he just wasn't having it, he was over cucumbers too.  He did love the watermelon and grew so fat his butt kept the door wedged open while his front part ate watermelon, carrots, greens, and anything else I put in the Hav-a-Heart trap.  I no longer have a heart and thinking giant paint balls might be in his future. 

Finally the pots bubbled, the dog had tomato stains on his big yellow head and got stuck to the floor twice but licked his way out.  I had more than one vinegar facial this year and the compost pile grew from the cast offs.  

There are still a few jars that need to be filled but the majority of the canning is done for this year.   It's time to type up the inventory sheet, attach it to the clip board and hang it on the basement door.  When, He Who Shall Not Be Named, is rummaging through the cupboards or fridge, I hand him the clipboard and see if anything looks good in the basement without actually descending into the basement.  Now if the troll, giant spider or occasional mouse would hand up a basket of jars filled with goodness we could all live happily ever after. 

In other news...... the Peace Corps bowls were delivered!  Another order was delivered and the studio got cleaned!  

I also learned my super fantastic dog will lay on his bed while I use my rotary Dremel sander on his nails!  This is revolutionary over nail clippers and a game changer for both of us!  I am now the very pretty nail lady who sits on the floor for doggie pedicures.  A swim in the lake, a warm hose-down in the driveway, a Dremel pedicure and Doggie Spa Day is complete.   

What would Mrs. Swan say? 

And in the pottery world....... I cancelled a show, gained two shows and really need to get in the studio but I think I'll bake a loaf bread first because it is CARB season!  Bring on the sweaters, wool socks, backyard fires, bowls of hot steamy soup, cooler weather, pumpkins and wands, swirling leaves and a good glass of bourbon.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The great slog of 2019.......

I am missing my blog..... and as a dear friend is winging his way to Uganda and he likes news from the home front, it appears to be the perfect time to sit down and review this slog of a year.

The midwinter slogged into Spring, pretty wet.  I planted beans three times and finally gave up.  The local farmers had a little better luck:  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FARMER!  The planting never was fast and furious this year and the weather was just crazy! I saw bugs I have never seen before, so many pests and very few honey bees.  Beans tanked but cucumbers were the garden over achievers.  From 6 plants; 45 pounds donated to the Salvation Army, 3 1/2 gallons of pickles, cucumber salad every single day, neighbors feed, friends delivered too and they are still producing!

Wet, hot, a couple weeks of no rain and watering.  This must be the greenhouse effect that goes with climate change.

I applied to both weeks at Boston Mills in Peninsula, Ohio, back to back 4 day shows, now that is a real slog!  It’s a lovely art show and as I didn’t get accepted last year I applied to both weekends this year and got in both weekends.  What to do?  Thought about this long and hard and decided to do both.  The first weekend with the new functional transfer ware.  It’s pretty labor intensive with carving etc. The second weekend I got in with decorative work..... also labor intensive.  The grand plan, see what sells the best and start to wean myself off the other work.  This would simplify the studio and give me a little more sanity in my life.  I have never worked so many hours in the studio in an extended stretch of months.  There was no time to blog and it was pots, kilns and clay, 24/7.   Honestly, all the way to the stroke of midnight as I backed out of the driveway.  Both weekends were incredibly hot, over 100 degrees in the tents and then the biblical rain arrived.  Both weekends I had storage boxes floating in the back of my booth.  The first weekend my booth was on the outside edge of the tent and we had a tick invasion.  Ticks look great on white curtains ...... OMG!  I totaled out at then end of week two and my total sales were only $70 apart.  No decision was made, I will stay in the state of total confusion.

I off loaded everything in the studio, slammed the door and madly packed for my first ever trip to visit daughter #1 in Alaska.  It was a welcome break from studio burn out!  I came away gobsmacked by the opportunities available in Alaska. We toured the farmers markets, visited Rachael's college farm I have been hearing about forever, toured a musk ox farm, fished the Kenai and ocean, finally got some camping in and dragged 50 pounds of fish home and we canned Alaskan produce around Rachael's kitchen table and cleaned fish at her sink.  And somewhere in the wilds of Alaska I lost my wifi hotspot so I suspect there are bears ordering pizza.  If if you're a climate denier, get yourself to Alaska!  It is scary what is happening in Alaska.  I fished in a raging river with smoke all around us.  The river is raging from the melting glaciers and yet the fires are from little or no rain.  The spruce beetle, Dendroctonus rufipennis is leaving its devastating mark on the scenery too.

Missed my dog way too much and he apparently missed me.  It took two weeks to get him back to his happy self but we got there.  And yes, Alaska is as beautiful as everyone says........ it is a wonderful place to run away too.  

It has been hard getting back into the swing of the studio, even with the 200 bowl project for Peace Corps looming over my head. I have been making bowls for this project since 2006 and I am done.  It’s time consuming and this year truly has been a slog from the start.  The only reason I did it this year ...... they couldn’t find another potter interested.  I suppose if Rachael hadn’t been in Peace Corps and understanding the projects that are funded are pretty good endeavors I would not have stuck with it this long.

But wait!  It's canning season!!  All that stuff I canned last year is pretty much gone!  Time to replenish the shelves.  I learned a lot looking at what was left on the shelves as I started this years list.  We like food in jars that give you immediate gratification.  It's not your Grandma's fruit cellar anymore.  Now my shelves are filling with Bruschetta, Marinated Mushrooms, Dilly Beans, Peach Salsa, Cowboy Candy and  Eggplant Puttanesca but still rounded out with tomatoes, peaches, mincemeat, green beans and soups, lots of soups!  Canning is evolving and now that technology is catching up to canning it makes it much safer.  In fact the more I read the more I wonder how anybody lived through the early 20th century before mass grocery store feeding began.  If I didn't need to pay bills I would wander farmers markets, buying baskets of produce, come home and can away my life.  I just love this time of the year.  The colors, the vibrancy of all things coming from the garden!  It's an amazing way to say farewell to summer.  I love stuff socked away (specifically food) and this year with fish in the freezer too, well I am feeling pretty good.  The one place in my life I have a wee bit of control .  No added sodium, sugar or other things I can't pronounce, just pretty basic stuff.  Hmmmm maybe my next career I will be a canning coach....... I know I have a whistle around here somewhere.

And some things stay constant....... back to Craigslist and bought a bigger pressure canner! 
Another brand spank'n new canner that was used once maybe twice.  Now I can double stack jars!!  Saves me so much time.  Rachael will be getting the other canner.  

It's just been one hell of a slog this year. The year has not gone as planned, not even close and I don't see much changing.  I am contemplating cancelling a show but won't know until I see a couple shelves of mugs in the studio because if you don't have mugs, what's the point of setting up?  There has been so little time to blog and I have to say the state of the world has me left speechless.  I am just out of words on climate change, politics, human rights, stupidity on a scale I never thought we were capable of as a species.  We have the ability to do so much good and make this place a spectacular planet, spinning through time and space but we can't seem to stop fighting and tromping on one another.  Tread lightly....... 

Maybe not like this guy somewhere in Alaska who just couldn't manage to encounter the wilderness without.....