Looking at What the Kiln Coughed Up

I’ve been back at ceramics and slowly glazing the backlog of pieces that I did last session that didn’t get finished before COVID hit. The kiln tech has been working like a fiend to get everything caught up. She proudly announced to me that my piece had made it in one piece. Hmm. Which piece was she referring to? I hadn’t written down the last couple I’d put in the queue for firing. It was a surprise! I remember agonizing over the glaze for this one. I had thought that I’d make each prominence a different color but since it is high fire my color palate is limited. I had quizzed the instructor and finally decided to make it easy on the kiln tech. The clay body is 3/4 white stoneware with 1/4 dark stoneware. I was hoping that I’d get less shrinkage since the dark doesn’t shrink as much as the white stoneware. I can’t tell any difference and so probably won’t make that effort again. I glazed with a concentrated Red Iron Oxide stain in several dilutions. It was a real tricky one to make but that is how I relax. I’m calling it my “Sleeping Hedgehog” orb although one of my classmates (who has a little bit of a sarcastic streak) wanted to know if it was a hairball. …

Looking for Trouble Again

Campus life is played out in front of me. Youth is wont to believe that they are immortal and impervious to disaster. But this is not a rant about people not wearing masks. Instead it is a little observation. I’ve had the opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation as I was queued up to enter the building. I’m always amazed by the lack of decorum as the students discuss the most intimate details of their lives. I probably shouldn’t be as they post their entire lives on FB/Instagram/Snapchat/TicToc. A pretty girl was was showing her friend a nasty looking bruise on her arm while explaining that it was from “some rando guy” that had bought her some drinks and then thought she owed him. Her friend was sympathetic and just a little surprised that she 1. went to a bar and 2. let a strange dude buy her booze. The friend tried not to lecture her but in the course of her description of the events did make some valid points. I hope her friend’s concerns make an impression and that she swears off the rum. The next time she might not get so lucky…

A spot the size of a big thumb
The skin is raised and slightly numb
The result of a pushy man
He grabbed me to pull to his van, I felt so dumb

A firm grip I couldn’t refuse
My arm showed clearly the dark bruise
To the bathroom I begged to go
Out the back I flew like a crow, drunk on cheap booze

The dark circle reminds me how
A few drinks of rum can allow
Complete destruction of my plan
No more drinking Captain Morgan, I do avow

The above is a Florette, a poetry form developed by Jan Turner. It consists of a minimum of 2 four line stanzas. Each stanza has 4 lines with a syllable count of 8/8/8/12 and a rhyme scheme of a/a/b/a where the 8th syllable of the 4th line is an internal rhyme with the 3rd line. Don’t be confused. Just look at the poem.

Looking Notorious

I am devastated. The sadness is akin to losing a parent, a child, a best friend. The notorious RBG has died. She was a champion for women’s equality under the law. She was relentless. When she couldn’t get a job despite being the top in her class, she persisted. When she managed a job teaching she hid her second pregnancy because pregnant women were fired (just as she had been with the first pregnancy). She argued case after case before the Supreme Court and slowly chipped away at the disparity between the way men and women were treated in the work force, by the tax laws, by social security. She was indefatigable. She took care of 2 children while going to law school and keeping house. She was smart. She fell in love and married a man who not only supported her dreams but became an equal partner in raising the family and keeping house. She was a a fighter. Four bouts with cancer couldn’t stop her. Only her last cancer at age 87 brought her down. Even as she was dying, her thoughts were of her country and her responsibilities. I hope her last wishes will be respected, but I doubt it.

My mother cried with the news. I am too sad and shocked to cry.

Looking to Plant a Garden

Let my words captivate
A little prayer offered to the wind
Land, find purchase and germinate
Into fertile soil the roots send

Ideas that propagate
Wrong thinking mend
Racism and hatred obviate
As peace flowers we tend

With love pollinate
So that in the end
All can celebrate
And each other befriend

I have been working and reading and living and dealing with all of the adult things that are somehow required of me. In that time I’ve also been observing my fellow humans. And dogs. We had a house guest for a week. Oreo is a delightful little dog who was so very easygoing. He loved everyone – all the peoples. He liked the old, the young, the happy and the sad. When you talk about “love languages” it was easy to figure out what made him tick. It wasn’t treats although he’d eat a treat if offered, sometimes. It wasn’t walks even if he was always eager to go with you if you showed him the leash. It wasn’t car rides either but he did seem to enjoy a change of scenery. NO, his love language was touch. He wanted to be petted, scratched, rubbed, or just have your hand resting on his head or back. We kept waiting for him to start purring. His favorite occupation other than sleeping was to watch the world go past the back yard on the walking path.

For his size he has a fierce bark. We didn’t realize what he sounded like until a large dog walked by. The little Pomeranian across the path elicited a little whine and lots of tail wagging. Several of the dogs we see around the neighborhood were greeted with vigorous tail wags and a happy attitude but they are all little dogs – Miniature Poodle, Yorkie, Dachshund, and a couple mini mixes. But the big dogs are persona non grata. He would let loose with a terrifying and loud bark and growl that should by rights belong to a dog weighing at least 50 pounds instead of a little 15 pound pipsqueak. The thing is, he has never met these dogs. One of them is a Golden Retriever who is a real lover. He likes everyone and everything. I suppose the worst he would do is drool. Still there is some built in prejudice against big dogs. It is so very human like.

Which brings us to the humans. What can I say? Unlike the canine we have the capacity to overcome our prejudice. We can learn to listen, open our minds and hearts: use our grey matter to reason and come to logical conclusions. But do we? Nope. There is a primitive reaction, a knee jerk if you will, toward any group that is perceived as different. To top it off we start to make smaller and smaller divisions to stratify our world. We start with the big differences based on appearance and then skew to things like religion or geographic region and then it gets to politics and whether or not you like pickles or coffee! We just keep slicing things thinner until we are all alone in a little box. The funny thing is that some folks realize that there are more similarities than differences way before they end up in solitary confinement by their own choice. And that’s the key, some but not all realize that we are all part of Homo sapiens and that we have (currently) no options but to live on this big (but getting smaller all the time) blue marble together. We make the choice to make friends and extend love and kindness to our fellow humans or to strain and bark in a frenzy at anyone different… I choose to make friends. I’m planting that garden. How about you?

Looking for Pizza

Who wants pizza? That is usually a rhetorical question because the answer is everybody. I made fruit pizza on the 4th of July. It was delicious but I forgot to take photos. I decided that I’d freeze the leftover “crusts” and make them again later. And that’s exactly what I did!

Fruit Pizza

Sugar cookie mix made according to the package direction for cut out cookies
1 package cream cheese at room temperature
1 c. powdered sugar
1 nectarine and/or 1 peach (peeled)
2 apricots and/or fresh blackberries/raspberries/blueberries
10 cherries and/or 10 strawberries
1 peeled and sliced kiwi
(really any fruit you like can be used but apples, pears and bananas don’t work very well)

Make the cookie dough according to the directions then refrigerate for 20 minutes (wrapped in plastic). While the dough chills, mix the softened cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Set cheese aside. Wash and slice fruit. The cherries will need to be pitted and cut into halves. Roll the cookie dough into a 1/4″ sheet and cut out circles.

I use a Pampered Chef Cut-N-Seal to cut out individual pizzas (you know because of COVID). It makes a nice pattern around the edge too. If you want you can just roll the cookie dough out and place it in a pizza pan and make it as a whole pizza (the problem with this method is that you MUST cut the crust immediately after removing it from the oven or you won’t be able to cut it without breaking it into a million crumbs). Bake the cookie crusts.  After the pizza crust cools you can assemble the pizza. First is a smear of the cream cheese and then the fruit is arranged on top. I like to make faces or designs.

Anyway the cookies can be made and frozen for use at “the drop of a hat” and if you are lazy or in a time crunch you can buy pre-made cream cheese frosting (but it isn’t as yummy as it is too sweet for my taste). I used to use kiwi fruit all the time but Sparky has an aversion to it so I don’t often have it on hand… The fruit pizza is a perfect treat for a hot day. Who am I kidding? Fruit Pizza is delicious on a cold day, a rainy day, or even if there is a foot of snow on the ground! I’m told that my fruit pizza is delicious so I thought I’d share!

Looking Dreamy

These stars
Meet and scatter
These dreams make bright patterns
Then shatter in chaotic thoughts
Life goals replace nightmares
Day time work yields
Hard knocks

I’ve been reading about the dignity of work. “Work is not punishment or a necessary evil, nor is it man’s means of accumulating control, power and wealth. These ideas are contrary to the biblical view of work. We understand work as something intrinsically good. We are co-creators of Gods world and work is part of our contribution. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected. People have the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.” The quote above is from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. This statement is part of the social justice doctrine that many faiths ascribe to. However as it pertains to minorities, there are built in barriers.

An education is seen as the quickest way to secure a job that pays well. Many people find that they are not given the opportunity to advance in education due to economic road blocks coupled with bias within the public education system and the college and university admissions. It is not a matter of just choosing a college. Application fees and the cost of the SAT/ACT tests must be met. The cost to get to the starting line is often too much for people living hand to mouth. The money for these are the difference between food or electricity, medicine or gasoline.

The American Dream goes something like “hard work and perseverance will result in success”. This was the narrative at the beginning of the industrial age. Young boys selling newspapers were fed the idea that someday, if they worked hard enough, they could own the newspaper. If they just sold more papers, put in more hours, then they could rise from poverty to prosperity. Many still believe that this is the way for those born into poverty to shed their homelessness and unemployment. Even those institutions that tout their good works brag about how they educate and provide employment opportunities – if only people apply themselves. I wanted to believe too.

The truth is a bitter pill. There is a saying that reflects a parallel reality, “Its not what you know but who you know.” Looking at the fallacy of hard work and education being the difference between success and failure, the truth of having the right connections is hardly recognized. And this is where the prejudice starts to seep into decision making. I’ve seen it. I know it is real. This translates to a college educated and degree toting person of color who is unable to get a job in their field. One who settles for a part-time position in a department store in an effort to pay back student loans. They keep looking for that job, answering newspaper ads and even signing on with head hunters. They send out resumes and do phone interviews and eventually get a couple in-person interviews. The interview goes well and they don’t get the job. Rinse and repeat. The call back, if they ever get one, is the standard “I’m sorry but we filled the position with someone better qualified”. This only works for so long before the lie is exposed. Eventually they bump into a classmate who they tutored, who scraped by and barely graduated, who is working in the job they applied for. The “better qualified” candidate is Caucasian. I’m angry.

I’m retired. I’m not involved in the hiring process any longer. But I can think of a possible strategy. What if people of color were able to concentrate on getting degrees in human resources? What if human resource departments were shifted from all white to integrated to reflect the makeup of the population of the job pool? HR departments love and have ingrained in their culture to promote from within. It might take a couple of decades – because change happens slowly but eventually there would be a shift. I know it is a dream that I can’t change into reality. But I can continue to dream…

Looking Dismayed

Today in 2001, two planes flew into the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers bringing them down in a horrific loss of life. Shortly there after another plane crashed into the Pentagon – the headquarters of the US Department of Defense housing the Army, Navy, and Air Force. A fourth plane never made it to the hijacker’s target as the passengers and crew fought and crashed the plane in a field in Pennsylvania. I remember where I was, what I was doing, and my complete disbelief. For many that day will be etched in their minds and on their hearts for the rest of their lives. And for more and more people it is just a foot note in the history books. All or most of the college freshmen were not yet born. In fact I doubt that any of the undergraduates were old enough to really remember the events.

To be fair, we had not appreciated the desperate nature of the terrorists. We as a nation hadn’t considered that civilian lives were at stake. And even more shocking was the reaction and placing of blame. The hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt. They all claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda. Suddenly, instead of putting blame on the actual people involved in the hijackings and crashes, an entire religion was held responsible. I have friends who are Muslim. And just like Christians, they come from countries all over the world. The subsequent vilifying of all Muslims was the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. The US administration on many occasions alluded to Iraq’s support of terrorism and al-Qaeda as a reason to invade that country. I remember hearing President Bush addressing the nation and saying that “weapons of mass destruction” were being built and stock piled in Iraq and would inevitably end up in the hands of al-Qaeda if we didn’t get to them first. The resultant invasion and subsequent military occupation never did reveal any weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, was found and tried and eventually executed. The US was at first hailed as liberators and then hated as a foreign occupier. The area was destabilized but the oil flowed freely for many years until the troops were finally withdrawn.

And here we are today. Trying to remember the lives lost, the people whose livelihoods were destroyed, and the heroes who selflessly ran toward the danger instead of away. There are many who recall the devastation in New York City. They replay the news footage and read the list of names of the innocent and first responders who perished. I remember the series of phone calls that passengers on Flight 93 made to their family and loved ones. Then they stormed the cockpit and the hijackers crashed the plane killing everyone on board.

They sacrificed their lives to save unknown others. That is what I want to believe America is all about. I want to be the America that unites, defends the helpless, helps their neighbors (and you all know how Jesus defined neighbors), and was willing to put others before self, and before money. I want to go back to when corporations were not people and people were the church. I want to go forward still believing and then making it better – eliminating the racism and violence, removing the bad police and holding the police responsible for crimes and deaths of innocent people. I want gun control. Yes, control but that is not taking away all your guns. It means that violent felons, the mentally unstable, those under age cannot buy or own guns. It requires registration and a gun safety course completion. I want an end to abortion but not to eliminate the safe and medically performed option. Instead I want the reasons that women feel the only way out is to kill their unborn child to be eliminated so that abortion doesn’t even come into the equation. That means easy access to effective birth control, educational and financial support for pregnant women, mandatory responsibility by the biological father, safe means without repercussions to surrender a new born, a system to care for relinquished children (that is more than a warehouse/prison for children whose only “crime” is not having a family). It means supporting families with affordable childcare, paid maternity and paternity leaves, affordable medical insurance and affordable medical care. Supporting families means a living wage, education that doesn’t saddle students with crushing debt. It means the ability to secure a decent home or apartment… I’ve ranted enough. We are 54 days until the election. You know what you need to do. If you are not registered to vote DO IT NOW! And when the day comes – vote. Just do it!

Looking for a Nap

I had a headache for a couple days. I hadn’t had one for a long time because I take an NSAID daily thus preemptively preventing that malady. It was a nagging one that had set up camp just beyond my eyes, between my ears, and just behind my forehead. This was not a new sensation. It is my old nemesis – the sinus headache. My usual arsenal had failed me. So I was forced to pull out the big guns. I hate the way it makes me feel but it does really deliver the one-two punch. I’m talking about caffeine. A little ibuprofen with a cola chaser and my headache has retreated. Now I have another problem. I’ve been decaffeinated for nearly 11 years. Even a little sip of Dr. Pepper will make my hands shake and my heart race. So here I sit bouncing one leg and having heart palpitations but the headache is gone. The clock indicates that we have slid from yesterday into a new today. At this rate I may need to look for some nap time… if my mind will just get off the treadmill and chill.

Night sounds haunt my days
Waking dreams keep me awake
Sleep flees from my grasp
The moon mocks me shining bright
Tiptoe to sneak up on sleep

Looking at Rocks

When geocaching there is nothing quite as difficult as finding a fake rock in a sea of rocks. Sometimes it isn’t even a fake rock but a real rock! We’ve seen some very nicely done caches where someone with free time on their hands make devilishly difficult caches. There was one where they had drilled out a space large enough to embed a bison tube on the underside of a large rock. Another was a container that was placed inside a pyramid of rocks that had been glued together. Most have been the fake rocks that are used to conceal a key. They come in lots of different colors and really do blend in.

Then there are the rocks that are found inside the caches. You see many cachers like to trade “swag” and a common thing, especially for kids is to decorate rocks. Generally they are painted but I’ve seen them decoupaged, coated in glitter, drawn on with sharpies, or plastered with stickers or temporary tattoos. My geocaching partner in crime has a penchant for the rocks and has collected several over the years. I had found one in a cache that was painted purple with leopard spots and gifted it to her. That prompted a discussion about making our own…

We tentatively made a date to decorate rocks. Then it got cancelled. But that was okay because I didn’t have any rocks. I figured I needed some relatively round, sort of larger, smooth rocks. Since I don’t live near any rivers that would yield that sort of stone, I was left with the option of becoming a rock thief! Yes, I turned to a life of crime. On my way into work I pass by an area next to the road that is covered in loose stone. This is to avoid having to mow that spot. So as I was walking I happened to scan the area for some appropriate rocks. I found one. Over the course of several weeks, I picked up rocks outside the grocery store, the bank, the Goodwill store, a Taco Bell and an abandoned K-Mart. I washed them in anticipation of the decoration.

I also assembled my painting supplies. I have my “room temperature” glazes (aka fingernail polish), an array of sharpie markers, some acrylic paints, and a small selection of enamel paints. Although I do own glitter it is evil and I refuse to let that genie out of the bottle. I also was looking for and finally found the varathane sealant which I’m debating on using after the art work has dried in an effort to make these weather proof…

So my first efforts:

I attempted a sailboat. Well, it turned out okay. At least good enough to drop into a cache. I was using the enamel paint with the acrylics and found them really hard to work with on the rock surface. I was much happier with the sunflower. This was the sharpie marker and nail polish. The heart was metallic paint pen and sharpie. It worked but the colors were so hard to see until you tilted the rock.

The last 2 were the best (in my opinion). The lady bug was done with the acrylic paint (the only paint that I had in red) and detailed with the white paint pen and black sharpie. The rock with the dot design was done entirely with nail polish. It is colorful and that nail polish will NOT come off. You can’t tell but I made a mistake and tried to remove the polish. The rock is just porous enough that it wouldn’t come off. So I did the only thing possible – I painted over it!!

Now I need to collect some more rocks so when we are able to get together again I’ll have some to paint!!

Looking at Resisting Temptation

There are few things more delicious than eating a sun warmed tomato straight off the vine. Or perhaps your temptation is a fresh pepper to nibble after giving the outer surface a quick rub. Sparky loves both of those but his main temptation is the green bean. He tore out his beans and peas and in the process discovered quite a few that he’d missed. Not being one to waste food, he filled a small bowl. Then he filled his mouth. Repeatedly. As a dutiful cook, I washed and trimmed and steamed his bountiful harvest. Among the beans were some that I’d classify as “shelly beans” or even a little further gone. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, a shelly bean is between a green snap bean and a dried soup bean. They have other names, depending on where you live – green shells, shelling beans, October beans, shellies, shuckies, or fall beans. Anyway Sparky couldn’t resist the temptation in the garden. He must have consumed a sizable portion of raw beans. At least that was the information I was able to pry out of him. I tried to tell him that raw green beans contained a toxin that in large enough quantities or in susceptible individuals could cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas and bloating. He didn’t believe me. Until he did. I’m starting to think that the narrative of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden might be a little skewed. And maybe the expulsion was intestinal, the result of eating too many green beans! From my experience, I’m thinking it was Adam who got duped into picking forbidden produce. Maybe he was the one to take the first bite. Realizing what he’d done, decided that misery loves company and persuaded Eve to have a bite…

Adam and Eve in the garden first felt
That now familiar pull
As in the shade of that tree they knelt
Eating apples til full

That now familiar pull
Sin’s wicked temptation
Eating apples til full
Resulting in ruination

Sin’s wicked temptation
Caused by a devilish snake
Resulting in ruination
When that bite they did take

Caused by a devilish snake
Exiled from the garden complete
When that bite they did take
Taken in by Satan’s deceit

Exiled from the garden complete
Hiding naked but covered in shame
Taken in by Satan’s deceit
Finger pointing Eve takes the blame

Hiding naked but covered in shame
Adam and Eve in the garden first felt
Finger pointing Eve takes the blame
As in the shade of that tree they knelt

Just a little pantoum, a Malaysian form consisting of 4 line stanzas where the 2nd & 4th lines become the 1st & 3rd lines of the next stanza. The paired lines are rhymed. To close use the 1st & 3rd lines of the first stanza as lines 2 & 4 of the last stanza (or close with a rhyming couplet).