Monthly Archives: January 2013

Shopping for Blinds

Yesterday I had errands; three stops from home east to United Grocers at 170th street. Mostly stuff we need all the time… toilet paper, Sharpies, hand soap, garbage bags; but there were a couple of other things on the list to finish up the office painting and clean-up project.  I wanted several cork-surface bulletin boards so we wouldn’t have to stick pins right into our freshly painted polychrome walls.  And Sally had asked for some new window blinds for her office.

I went to Office Depot first, then east on TV Highway to United Grocers, then back to Home Depot.  I thought I’d go there last, so I could idle around and look at tools while my blinds were cut to size.

You’ve probably experienced a recent trend in big-box customer service – a virtual assault at the entry of the store by some well-meaning employee who demands to know what you wish to locate in the store, and sets out to lead you there.  I resent this.  I like to cruise around with my cart, reviewing the general inventory as I circuitously make my way to the wood glue or drill bits or window blinds.  I know where everything is located in every hardware store with in a ten mile radius of my farm, and a few beyond, such as Winks’ – the Bloomingdale’s of Portland hardware.

Since I came to the realization a decade ago that I had enough fabric to last until the end of my life, any shopping inclinations I now experience are fulfilled in hardware stores.  When travelling outside the US, I find them to be the best place to really get a sense of the country I am visiting.  My very favorite is a hardware store in Sausalito, California, where I once travelled to sell my pottery. I believe that they have some kind of municipal ordinance there stipulating that no buildings can be enlarged or changed from what they were in 1964 or some equally arbitrary date.  I have some pictures from within that very special hardware store; they would be worth 1,000 words in the context of this humble blog if I could find the dang things.  I will tell you just one thing – there is more stuff hung from the ceiling of that establishment than many other stores might contain in total.  Anyway….

Once I had shaken off my annoying personal greeter, I went directly to the area where the window treatments were located and selected the correct size, material, and color.  Sally’s office is on the west side of the building, and the sun is bright and hot in the summer.  We wanted off-the-shelf metal miniblinds that would better restrict the light.  The blinds needed to have ¾ inch trimmed from each end, so I went in search of assistance.

The help wear orange aprons at the Depot, and a few aisles over I found an aproned and radio-bearing employee.  I waited patiently for her to explain to two women – clearly mother and daughter – about their selection of cabinet knobs.  To her credit she even told them how to get to Rocklers, a woodworking store in Beaverton.  Naturally, I wanted to introduce myself and suggest that they go on line to  for the really good stuff, or even make their own knobs in a variety of ways that I would be more than pleased to describe.

Instead, I just asked the employee to call someone to Window Treatments for me, and returned there to wait.  Ten minutes passed; I was alone in a wasteland of Chinese goods just one decorating epoch from the thrift store.  Despairing, I went looking for help again.  Near the rack of rolls of floor coverings, there were three orange-clad employees fiddling around with the controls that move giant rolls of vinyl into a position to be cut.  A young couple was making a selection; both of them were wearing work clothes splashed with paint.  Hmmmm  …  a remodel, most likely.  Perhaps their first home together?

I asked again, “Could you call someone to help me with blinds?”  One of the three looked up.  His apron was densely decorated with embroidered patches reminiscent of Scouting, and he said “I will be RIGHT there!”   He said something else I didn’t quite catch, but his tone insinuated that it was very bad form to ask for help in Window Coverings more than once.

I stepped away, chastened, and watched the floor covering transaction conclude.  I drifted back to the blinds section and waited my turn.  Just as they came around the corner, another customer captured the attention of all three clerks.

He was a short but sturdy man, with a military haircut, maybe 35 years old.  He was wearing the footgear known as fisherman’s slippers, which are mysteriously only worn by loggers in my experience.  He also wore one of those hickory shirts  – with fine gray and white stripes with a quarter zipper, that are also seen on men who work in the woods.  The sleeves had been cut off, or “stagged” in the parlance of loggers and smokejumpers.

He was extremely distressed.  He needed help, and his wife had sent him on his day off.  She was frantic about their child and the terrible news that other children had died because blind cords had wrapped about their necks and killed them.

He repeated all that he had said about his wife’s fear of injury to their child, and asked “What should I do?” One of the clerks stepped over to some shelving and pulled out a small handful of plastic objects in tiny bags, and began to demonstrate their use.  Homeowners  were to cut the cords off near the top when the blinds were fully extended, and then clip the plastic thing onto them, from which depended a single nylon string with an oval bead at the end. The “thing” was designed to break away when a small amount of force was applied to the cord.  These were free – a manufacturers’ low-cost acknowledgement of a tragic problem.

The distraught Father took all the packets – there were only three or four – and wanted more.  He was trying to understand how they worked, and kept repeating that his wife had sent him, their baby was 18 months old, and the mother had seen him playing with the cords. But the clerks could not make them work… and they were hovering like hens.  The Father with the packets seemed to be growing more and more agitated.

I tried to make myself small – stay out of the way – and knew that there was no hope for making it to the checkstand with the blinds until this storm of angst had subsided.   At this point, the Father was striding back and forth down the aisle, with the three employees moving back and forth with him like flotsam.  He bumped into me, and said, “Excuse me, Sir.”

It took a minute for this to work its’ way to my brain.  I was carrying a purse, dammit, albeit a pretty practical messenger bag.  In his milieu, it would have been a purse. I even have girly hair, for the first time in a while.   How fast the mind can work! In an instance, there was an avalanche of thoughts and memories.

I turned to address him, as much because I felt that the three aproned ones – yes, still all in a little gaggle – were not really dealing with his needs.  I said, “They’re expensive, but there are really nice custom blinds now that are completely cordless.  Maybe your wife would like those?  Maybe you could buy some inexpensive roller blinds to use for a few years.”

He looked right at me and said “But children have died, Sir!” and I knew from the way that Sir! was a staccato exhalation that something had damaged him;  that he would never see me as I am, and that a truly frightening thing was lodged in his mind, and that everything in his present was shaped by something from his past.  In that moment, I hoped more than anything that his child would be strong, and healthy, and lucky….

“But yes, that’s a good idea, yes, all the custom blinds are cordless…” said one of the three, and he and the Father were suddenly gone..  I was left in quiet with two Home Depot clerks, and without the moment of recognition where my dear feminine personhood might have been  acknowledged.

After what had just happened, it seemed incredible that my attempt to have blinds trimmed could yet be thwarted.  But then began a Stooges-like interchange, of which I was a part – bringing the number back to three – about how I had arrived at my 70.5” measurement.  It became clear that one of the men was a trainer, and comically self-important, and the other was a trainee.  Everything had to be stated to me, and then repeated nearly verbatim to the trainee.  My measurement techniques were questioned.  I was about get out pencil and paper and draw it for them when the trainer was called away again, and the trainee helplessly took my blind out of the cutter.

Miraculously, a fourth man appeared wearing the orange apron.  He also had orange hair, and a black baseball cap.  He methodically commenced to cut my blinds while the trainee dithered about him.  He even took me at my word about the length of the blinds.  When the trainer returned, the orange-haired one was done, and all the trainer could do was place the cut blinds back in their boxes.

I wanted to tell him, the competent clerk, that I recently learned that red-headed people are hardly ever committed to mental hospitals.  I love bits of information like that, and sometimes share them.  But just in time, I realized that I had read that assertion last night in “The Dog of The South”, and it was the utterance of a crazy person.

Cutting the Blinds


I couldn’t make this up.


Stiff slab handbuilding with porcelain….

I’m still working on pots for my March show of white salt-fired porcelain.  I’ve got just about enough, but thought I would make a few more handbuilt vases for the load.  I’m working with Georgie’s Crystal Springs cone 10 porcelain, which has turned out to be a decent working clay if dried carefully.  Last night, I sliced a bag into three thick slices and let it start drying – or conditioning, if you will.  I am very particular about the stage of dryness for my handbuilt work.  I work with much stiffer clay than anyone else I know, and make just one pot at time so my clay stays just right.

Sometime back in the 60’s I took Soils 200 at Oregon State University; part of my education as horticulturist-to-be.  I remember that the Cove clay soil – which I was soon to know intimately –  was considered to be the archetypal Oregon clay soil, “2:30 Soil.”  At 2:00, too wet to plow…  at 2:30, too dry to plow.  My handbuilding clay is like that, with a teeny perfect window of time to work.  It has to dry enough to stand, but moist enough to flex a bit and join to itself on demand.

If I am stamping, or using texture mats, I will apply texture when the slab is still a bit soft; then dry it to the same stage as my clay to be carved. If you a reading this because you’d like to try this stiff-clay handbuilding stuff, you’ll have to find your own way with it.  At workshops, I pass bits of clay around so everyone can get a sense of how stiff is just right.

So here’s some just-right clay, twiddled around, covered and uncovered for a couple of days, and rolled out just a hair under 1/4″ thick.  I use paper SlabMat, so I don’t have to remove the canvas texture.1 Layout toolsHere are some of my layout tools, a big right triangle and a quilters’ rule.  The rule is 18″ long.  I want to make some tall standing rectangular vases, so I cut front and back each about 7″ x 12″. The end panels are 3.5″ x 12″.2 Score and Moisten

I don’t use magic water, vinegar, or any of that goo for joining.  I score all edges to be joined with a serrated rib, which is much quicker than one of those silly little metal brushes.  I line the pieces up and stick them together.  You can see that I have dressed the inner seam at the right of the image with the black water-buffalo horn tool – it’s better than a finger.

3 Stand it Up

Here are the two sides and the back, stuck together and standing up.  The clay has to be stiff enough to stand!  I do not use coils, they are a colossal pain and way too much work. These are approach joins, and they work well for me.  I have also beveled the edged in various ways, with various tools that I have gleefully invented, but in the end this method is faster, stronger, and looks just as good.4 Applying the Base

It’s easy to put the bottom on – you can see the slight distortion where the serrated rib has roughed up the clay.  No sweat!  We will fix that in an hour or so when the box/pot has set up a bit.  You can also see that there is a finished pot right behind that has already had strips of clay applied to the top edge to give a more refined appearance and strengthen the pot.  When I was learning to handbuild, seemed like everyone wanted to whack on their pots with wooden tools to strengthen the joins; all that has ever done for me is distort the pots.  Here’s a picture of how the strips go on the top.  If I am in a fussy mood, I will miter the corners by eye, but it works just as well to lay them in square.5 Trim the Top

I did put a couple of stamps on each front and back slab, couldn’t help myself.

Here’s that same pot about an hour later – er, part of it.  I used to try to finish all the surfaces at the time I did the building but have learned to leave the pots alone for a while and clean them up when they have set together strongly – at least 1 and maybe 2 hours.  I  keep a toasty studio in winter  and I keep the pots well away from the stove so drying is even.  6 Rough Joins Ready to Scrape

As you can see, I work on lots of clean newspaper and often on an old bath towel.  These edges are ready to clean up.  I will also take care of that little nick in the pot too, don’t need that….7 Microplane Smooth

The first tool I use is a fine microplane from the cookware store.  These tools are super for handbuilders.  I use mine for dozens of tasks, and they are especially good for working on square work because they are so flat and plumb. It’s fine if joins – or feet – extend a bit; they clean up fast with one of these tools.

The next image is a bit hard to understand, but it shows the tool I use to finish up the joins; a smooth oval rib.  Carefully applied, it scrapes away the texture left by the microplane.  I do like the microplane texture – and use it sometimes to surface small objects.  But I want a smooth surface on these standing vases.8 Oval Scraper

With all the edges finished, it’s time to apply the surface imagery.  Gotta start somewhere.9 Start Somewhere

I’m getting a bit weary of these flowers, but since people still want to buy  the pots I will keep making them.  I am a slave to commerce! 10 Handbuilt Dogwood Fin

Done with this one…  a similar design on the reverse, and geometric figures on this sides.

12 Finished HB Vases

Here’s the group from the work session, about 5  hours in at this point.  You can see that the one on the right is wearing a little bandage to compress the top…  I noticed that the top trimmers were separating a bit, so I filled the void with some very heavy body paste and bound it up with nursery flagging tape.  Every potter should have some on hand….   That pot came out of the bisque a couple of days later with the top tight and perfect.  Incidentally, I always make these pots last to fill my kiln, because they dry super-quick compared to thrown pots.  They are so even in section that they can dry overnight if needed.  I dried these under plastic just because they are not my usual compliant grey stoneware clay.

Here’s the one I like best….11 Geometric Box Fin

Drawing on Pottery

I’m working my way towards a load of pots to fire in early February.  I need white pots for my Valley Art show, and also to build inventory for summer shows.  I’ve been working with Georgie’s Crystal Springs porcelain – a nice throwing clay.  I have had some losses in handbuilt pots; I’ll have to be more careful if I want to continue to use it…  Drawing texture onto the surface is heavenly  – crisp lines and a nice soft finish.

I decided to make a blog post about how I put imagery on my pots during a recent conversation with another potter.  “You just stamp the whole surface, right? Jeez…  how I wish that I could. I do use some stamps from time to time, as part of a design, but to cover the entire surface of a pot with stamps just isn’t possible even if I wanted to do such a thing.  For the clay to be tender enough to  give a clear stamp image, it must be quite soft, and, you have to have your hand or a tool inside the pot to prevent the wall from being deformed by the pressure.  Work that is thin enough to be pleasant to use is pretty much demolished by all-over stamping.  I speak from experience.

1 Trim the edge

Here’s the lid of a casserole I want to decorate.  I don’t say carve, because that implies a dimensionality to the activity that isn’t there.  I really am just doing a sort of relief drawing – drawing off the top of my head.  I do have some set pieces in my “design vocabulary” – the magnolia/dogwood floral stuff, and a variety of geometric riffs that come easily to my hand.  Doodling.

2 Bending the arcI use  a heavy plastic arc guide if I want to duplicate arcs or curved forms on my pot.  I also use a compass, but this is right for what I have in mind.  You can see that the lid is sitting on a banding wheel, that makes adding certain types of lines very easy.  I have added some edge detail that will look nice where the lid fits down into its’ seat.

3 Lines on TopThe most important part of the design – lines that divides the space – are in place.  I don’t require high accuracy in line placement, allowing a little irregularity makes tedious work bearable and ads a liveliness to the design.  The clay needs to be leatherhard…  it’s consistency completely determines the line quality. I often getting the pots all ready, and bag them for several days until the stage of dryness is just right.

6 Cotton CompleteThis is a new pattern that I think of as “algodon”, cotton.  I make the dots with the green felt-pen body at the top of the image.

8 Brushing the CrumbLater!  I have defined the cotton boll form with back-texture, added a border, and filled spaces.  You can also see that I am using a nice little soft brush to finish my drawing,  There are always crumbs and fine burrs, removing them makes the surface of the pot more beautiful.  The salt will dissolve the finest of them.  The green porcelain is a lovely surface…  I can’t wait to see the fired pots.

9 Finished TopWhen to stop decorating?  Now that’s the $64 question.  When I am decorating my pots, I am creating an imaginary universe that is the object in my hands.  I am it’s Deity, and what I say goes!  Yes, at this time I am terminally afflicted with Horror Vacuii, fear of the unadorned space.  And yes, there really is such a thing….., have a look if you don’t believe me.

10 Bottom DetailNot even the bottom is safe from my tool.  I feel a great affection for the people who buy my pots, voting YES! to all this insanity with their money.  I like to think of him/her, cleaning up after a family feast.  Although my pots are tough; fine in dishwasher and microwave, lots of dishes are still washed by hand.  She/He washes out the inside, and then turns the pot over to finish the washup.  The image pleases, my pot is part of their domestic universe.

11 Finished CasseroleAll done.  I couldn’t leave that knob alone…..

12 Carving ToolPotters, wanna play?  The tool is the Kemper WS, wire stylus.

Johnny Comes for Junk

Last Saturday morning I was up late, 8:00.  I’d been out to the office read my email and check on Alex, who was supposed to be painting the office floor. He wasn’t there, and I’d come back into the house to make cookies.   BANG BANG BANG nobody who works with me knocks on the door like that.  Possibilities present themselves; it’s most likely someone who with a road emergency.   My employees knock so timidly at the door sometimes I don’t hear them. They stand on the porch and call my cell phone.

I opened the door and there is a large black man standing on my porch. This is a great rarity. I have no black customers in my business, no black potters in my guild, no black friends in my circle. I am a hopeless old whitey. I grew up in Eastern Oregon and never knew a black person, in fact when I was growing up there was only one person of Mexican descent in my school, Andrea Zaragosa. She was a beautiful, sober girl with long face who rarely smiled.

Now my world is full of people from Mexico and in fact I speak respectable Spanish, but I still don’t know any black people. The guy on my porch was very tall, had a wide smile, and was charming in sort of a raggedy way.  He said are you Ginger and I said yes I’m Ginger what can I do for you? He said your man said I needed to talk with you, I’m a scrap guy, and I want I want to buy metal. You have some stuff here that I’d like to buy from you. I’m Johnny.

I thought for a minute, and said my neighbor Richard is a salvage guy too, and he hauls all that sort of stuff away for me.  It’s true, Richard comes around with the big old trailer with a come along attached to it, and loads up stoves and refrigerators and scrap metal onto his trailer. Johnny said well, I just have a little truck and I’ve come a long way and from the easy way he spoke, and smiled – so completely at home on my porch asking for junk I knew at once that he had kissed some sort of Blarney stone of scrap men.  But running in parallel was the realization that he had already driven around my dock and viewed the realms of stuff necessary to operate a nursery.  How would he know what there is to haul if he hadn’t had a good look?  Robbery is a terrible problem these days, the meth people will even steal your sprinkler heads and sell them by the pound.

I thought what the hell, Richard is sort of out of commission right now, and this guy is here. So I put on my coat and walked back with him and see what it was he wanted. I saw Santiago off behind the dock, and knew it had been Santiago that had sent him to the house.  Johnny more or less led me over to the open shed where we keep all kinds of stuff. He was looking at dead unit heater, a Modine, with another aluminum cadaver right behind it. They only last about five years, and then the heat exchangers rust out. A replacement heat exchanger costs as much as a new unit heater, so we don’t fix them

Johnny says something to me about the motors, do you want to keep the motors? Santiago walks towards us and I ask him in Spanish, do we want to keep the motors?  Johnny says to me, how much do you want for these two heaters, and I think about it. They’re aluminum, I have no idea what it’s bringing per pound right now. Richard just hauls stuff away and then come back later and peels off bills. I tell the guy 20 bucks, because I don’t want to just give him the danged things. Johnny and Santiago turn their attention to the motors.  Santiago is seems distracted; Johnny says, I have tools and will all pull them off for you. They will work it out; I head back to the house, with my 20.

I am just finished making the cookies when I hear BANG BANG BANG BANG. It’s Johnny again, and he says your man has a bunch of old electric motors, can I buy those too?  Santiago is with him this time; half his size, smiling.  The scrap guy is working his blarney on Santiago across the language barrier. I say okay….

I’m almost ready to head to Portland when I remember we may have some cuttings coming in today. Cuttings on Saturday is a big problem, because there’s no one to open the boxes, cut open the bags, stick the cuttings.  They fester in there with their own evil ethylene, not good.  I had arranged with some ladies to come in today but somebody needs to call them when the cuttings get here. Alex was supposed to do it, but he’s not here.  I think, I’d better set it up with Santiago before I leave. I walked out to the green barn where Santiago keeps tools, and still more of the farm’s junk.

Johnny’s truck is backed up to the barn door, it is a little truck. It’s dinky dark blue Ford pickup, plenty old, with rear springs shot from hauling scrap. I hear Santiago and Johnny inside the barn, not talking but banging stuff around. Santiago is standing up on a ladder hauling down cantaloupe-sized electric motors with both hands and passing them to Johnny. There are a lot of them: poor deceased gadgets, for which I paid hard-gotten petunia dollars on some forgotten day.

They’re not talking, just working.  Johnny has a big grin on his face.  How much for these he says?  I say 30, he gives me a 50 and I give him back the 20. Santiago seems to have a secret joke.  Johnny asks me about my Spanish, he is deferential but confident.  I want to talk…  he has a way about him that I can’t quite figure out.

As I drive away from the farm, I think I should have taken his picture.  Johnny had some crazy mojo that made you like him, want to help him, sell him your scrap.  If I had his picture, I could show it to the law if I get robbed.  But mostly, I just wanted to look at it and think about Johnny’s way of being in the world.

Johnny did give me a card, it says: Call Johnny if you have any scrap metal, washers, dryers, stoves, ovens, water heaters, refrigerators, or any metal you do not want.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Richard called me the very next day to tell me that he’d been over to visit.  He said, I left you something I found scrapping.  You’ll like it.

Pie Wheel

I do.

Happy New Year, launder the dawglet….

It’s New Years’ Eve, and there is a beautiful full moon rising over Portland’s West Hills – off to the east for me.  I go outside into the dark to fetch something from my office, and hear the sounds of  thousands of ducks and geese clamoring together on the ponds that surround my home.  I don’t know why they are sometimes so noisy at night; it must be high times for the winged population.  I like to sit in my hot tub and listen to them; the duck lake at the west of my farm overfills fills its basin most of the winter and becomes home to many kinds of ducks, geese, and swans.  Maybe they like the full moon, too….

Today was a bright and sunny day.  The grass was crisp with dense frost at first light.  Fine weather is rare here in western Oregon, the land of the winter monsoon. The temporary lake at the south end of my farm has been up over the road for the past week or so, and the county has posted “High Water,”  The locals just move the barricades and drive through, especially those with jacked up trucks.  I think they wait all year for the opportunity,  As one of the three residents south of the usual locaion of the road closure, I get to move the barricades with impunity, or just drive around them in my dinky Prius.

For the ducks, it’s a just a new playground.  Today, I could see hundreds of water fowl down there, but couldn’t identify,  There seemed to be a lot of serious splashing…what could it be?  For a moment I imagine that fish – maybe giant, interesting fish – were trapped in there as the water fell,  I collected Chi and we went to have a look. About half way there a big flock took flight at once, and wheeled away to the north.  Within a moment, the water was calm as a mirror,  So much for the fish theory….

It was quite beautiful, in sort of a muddy way and I took a picture of it.  I’ll save a copy in my file where I now keep images I might like to paint.  I think about how i might paint the fingers of sunlight stretching across the pond. Color enhancement – false color imagery to the GIS informed – seems to be an acceptable part of pastel painting. I’ll consider the possibilities for this scene.


I had my rubber boots on, and it was sticky going.  I imagined the consequences of a slip and fall, and walked carefully.  Chi ranged along on her stubby Cairn legs, undercarriage dragging in the water and mud.

PuddleTrekkerAlong the way, Chi found something truly appalling and anointed herself with it,  Most likely a poor varmint that drowned and was carried along by the flood; and now in an advanced state of decay.  Stinkum!

My dawglet anticipates that there will be a nice game of chase around the back yard after a bath in the studio.  I am expected to pursue her as she dashes about barking gleefully for at least ten minutes or so. I can’t remember the origins of this ritual, which has never been witnessed by anyone but the geriatric cat-boys..  It was just too dang cold for that late this afternoon.  I spent the obligatory ten minutes rubbing her down with towels,,,,

The other day, I was going through image files and came upon this one…  another lake.  I took this photo years ago when I was in Playa de las Ventanas, Mexico – down in the Baja on the western shore of the Sea of Cortez.  I spent a week there with my brother Don and his windsurfer pal, who was less than half my brothers’ age, All the folks down there assumed that Don and I were man and wife, and that his buddy (whose name escapes me) was our son.  I speak good Spanish, and tried to dispel this fiction, but it was just too easy for other travelers – especially gente – to believe that he was our son,  No son of mine would ever mix avocado half and half with mayo and call it guacamole,but that’s another story. When I try to remember his name, all I can think of is how pissed I was when he insisted on listening to Jimi Hendrix all the way back to the States.

Don and his bride-to-be Kelly are down there right now, at the same beach, and I get regular communiques.  They even read this blog, HI THERE, Y’ALL!  I am envious.  I don’t know how this image came to be floating around in my computer, I cannot, in fact, even remember what year I went down there.

Sunset Playa de las VentanasI do remember that it had been the first rainy year for a while, and the vegetation was lush and many incredible plants were in bloom.  Seventy-five percent of all the plants in Baja are endemics, and I wanted to see every last one of them up close.  We were driving north on our way home when the botanizing was best, but Don was keen to be home.  So I didn’t get to poke around in the vegetation as much as I might have liked.

The ocotillos were especially fabulous, covered with their wacky little ephemeral leaves in celebration of the temporary abundance of water.  They look like Dr. Seuss designed them.  There was another woman with a big bag of camera equipment at one stop, a fellow botanist.  She was racing around, photographing everything,  and all she kept repeating “It looks like the Willamette Valley on LSD, It looks like the Willamette Valley on LSD.”

Now, that was a trip…..