A New Head Space

 

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my best distraction…. Sadie La Pup

In my studio each day, I try to focus on my art. I set my intentions for the day. Some days this is harder than others because I can get distracted and have trouble getting started. The distractions are many times in my head. Where do I start? What are my emotions for the day? Where did I end off yesterday? What is on my to do list? When is the next show? And, how many mugs do I need? (Do we really need more mugs in the world?)

But, some days, I have to get out of the emotions and find something to help my brain have a place to land other than the days news, family problems or just planning for another event. So, I have found that I can get into a zone much quicker if I have someone to listen to that will evoke learning about a new topic or give me a different perspective of how the world works.

I have found Podcasts to be very good for doing all of this. And I thought I would share the few that I listen to and why, in case you also need to get into a new head space. Here are the five that I have found to be just the ticket to help me to get through when silence or Pandora is just not enough to soothe.

So, first, Waking Up with Sam Harris. I think that he is about to rename this podcast soon though, to become, Making Sense with Sam Harris. Sam is a neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author. He explores important and controversial questions about the human mind, society, and current events. Sam also meditates. I think this is what I most am attracted to this podcast for is because his best selling book Waking Up is about doing meditation without religion. Sam is an atheist but realizes that we can train our minds to have a spirituality that can help with our daily lives. I love that! His podcasts can be very lengthy and the guests have in depth conversations about lots of topics and the perspectives they give are very current and well thought out.

Hidden Brian is a podcast that is sometimes featured on NPR because it is produced by them. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships. Shankar has covered topics from the opioid crises to becoming the change that you want to see in the world.

I just discovered Every Little Thing. This fun podcast is hosted by Flora Lichtman who used to be on Science Friday with Ira Flatow on NPR. She is just delightful to listen to and has a great sense of humor. I binged on this one several days ago and found myself laughing out loud at the history of pirates and the puns that were in the dialogue. Facts are used as the basis for the stories and experts are brought in to help talk about each topic. I highly recommend this one but, if you are sensitive to language or don’t want children exposed to that use caution, but I guarantee that you will really enjoy the format for this one and the topics are so fun.

TED Radio Hour. This show is a spin off of the TED talk series. This is an actual show that is featured on my NPR station each week but the podcast can be a good way to not have the breaks that the station may put in. If you are not familiar with TED talks, it is also a good learning tool and an effective way to gain insight about how others have solved problems. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, in case you were wondering. It isn’t from some guy named TED.

The One You Feed is the least favorite of the five suggestions but this one can sometimes be interesting as well.  This show bases it’s premise of meditation, primarily but, using the parable of the Good Wolf, Bad Wolf the show begins by the guest being asked how they use the Good Wolf, Bad Wolf concept in their lives. If you don’t know the parable, you can read it here. Topics on this podcast range from depression to procrastination and why we do it, to some pretty woo woo topics that tend to make me turn to something else but, I have heard some good authors here with some good information too so I haven’t completely given this one up just yet.

In addition to the five podcasts that are my base, I have listened to the lengthy podcast series S-Town and Serial. Both these are incredible and you really get drawn in as if you have someone in the house telling you a story that will capture your attention. And the  weekly NPR show This American Life has shows that run in three Acts, usually with a theme for the week.

So, if silence is too much, the news is worse, family problems can’t be fixed and you need an aversion, check out my options for a lighter mood to your day.

Because I am planting flowers

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I came across a comic recently that helped me to look ahead to 2019 with some hope and more joy. 2018 was an incredibly hard year for me personally—incredibly hard—- and finding joy is something I have struggled with since losing my son in 2014. The current state of the politics in our country and the lack of compassion from people can leave a person feeling very defeated. I am an empathic person anyway so I tend to feel more than most and then take on more suffering than I should. I have turned off much of the news. I have backed away a LOT from social media and am trying to focus on taking better care of myself and, while that feels selfish, I also feel that I can only give myself what I need, as those around me seem to be doing that for themselves. 

Meditation has been a large part of my life since losing my son. It has helped to wake me up in ways that I had no idea. I can now look at my emotions and watch them flow through my body. That isn’t to say that I can’t still feel them and experience extreme hurt. I do. But I am learning the importance of being alone. Of going inward. Of silence. Of looking at how the selfish behavior of those around me affects how I respond. The importance of taking care of myself. The importance of letting go of expectations from others, to understand my empathic nature, and to realize I need to give myself the love and care that I can’t get from others. The realization that I AM alone and that the things I thought I had, that were precious to me, were NOT really there at all. That it is all an illusion. That the definition of some words are different to me than they are to those closest to me. But the hardest part is that I can’t change the definitions that others have in their heads even when they don’t match my own definitions. And I have let go of ANY communication to this effect as I have learned that it doesn’t do any good. Sometimes it hurts worse to hold ON than it does to let go. 

Soooooooo, I am going to take care of my own garden and am going to plant flowers. It is that time of year you know, when the seed catalogs are coming in and you dream of growing more color in the yard. Of the changes of the season going into the cold part of the year as well as the anniversary of John’s stupid death and knowing that there will be warmer days ahead. 

I have always wanted a greenhouse so that I can start the flowers for my garden. I have had a makeshift greenhouse for many years. The years that my emotions were healthy I have made the effort and started flats of seeds in there and filled my yard with zinnias and marigolds and vegetables that have produced enough to share with friends and neighbors. So, this year, I found a cheap greenhouse from Harbor Freight for $299. With a coupon, I spent $250 on it. There are tons of YouTube videos about how to beef up this little guy so that it will withstand the elements better. I have been watching those and today will go out and start cutting the lumber for the foundation. 

I’ve already ordered some seeds. My usual greens and vegetables and adding some new strawberries, because the bed I have has not been producing much the past few years. And this morning I ordered flowers. Yay!

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Here are a few photos and I’ll post more as it progresses.

I cleared the concrete slab area of all the junk we had on it and filled in the concrete gaps that were on the slab with some quickcrete. I then took an old tent side and drew the dimensions of the greenhouse on it so that I could lay it down and get an idea of the positioning of the house. 

Got my work shoes on and gloves and it is supposed to get to 60 degrees today and by the weekend snow….Let’s see how much I can build today!

Virginia Clay Festival

In 2015, the Artisans Center of Virginia held it’s bi-annual conference, and on the opening day, they held a meeting of juried artisans and other interested folks to discuss the trail systems, Open Door Tours and other related issues that they promote and to share ideas about how things work. As per usual, when I attend a retreat or a conference or meeting, I will take one of my own mugs to use while there instead of drinking out of styrofoam or disposable cups. A gentleman sitting at my table asked where I got my mug and when I told him I had made it, he proceeded to tell me that he was Alan Yost and was the tourism director in Greene County and that they were planning to start a Clay Festival and would I consider being part of the event. I said absolutely. Little did I know what a wonderful event I was signing up for.

The Virginia Clay Festival has been happening now for 4 years and I can’t say enough great things about this show. As an artisan, you can expect to work your butt off getting wares or products ready for a show, pack said work into crates, load it all into your vehicle and then go, onsite, and set it all up. Shows are set up in a way that you are assigned a space and you go find the space and set your work up. You sit there during the event and make sales and hope you can make enough to cover the rent of your space. Shows can range in price, depending on the quality of the show or the reputation of the show. A show in DC can run $1200 for two days while a local small town show or vineyard can be $75. Juried shows are the only shows I will do now. If the show is not juried you end up beside someone that is selling something that you wouldn’t purchase for yourself and it feels that your work is diminished if you have to listen to someone selling birdhouses made from beer cans during the whole event. And sometimes you feel that you are paying the entry fee in order to make someone else money and not bring home a profit.

But the Virginia Clay Festival is very different. These guys make the potters feel like we are the show. That CLAY is the show. And they help you get all your “stuff” into the facility allowing you to focus on the setup. And they feed us pizza while we set up and some of the musicians are playing their Irish music for us as well so it really makes the work feel fun. Greene County Tourism has partnered with a lot of folks who are taking the time to care for and help the artisans in this way.

The first year there were about 23 potters from all over the state of Virginia who were juried into this show. Quality work. All of them. And I felt honored to be a part of this show because I have only been a full time potter since 2011. This year, there were 34 clay artisans. Below is just a sampling of some of the work of the artisans. Each artist has a unique style and their booth reflects the works, in many cases, taking on the same characteristic of the pottery. And it isn’t all mugs and bowls, there are lamps, jewelry and sculptural whimsical pieces.

The show combines Irish music with clay demos by the potters, a children’s clay area along with a Raku demo and firing happening outside. Last year they added a couple of food trucks to the mix. But, the details of providing a hospitality room with food, brought in by volunteers for the artists, and host families for the artists, which allows us to not have to pay for lodging while there, and then they provide us a wonderful home cooked meal on Saturday evening. This year it was held at Julie and Scott Winslow’s home which was a very scenic location where we can relax and rest and socialize with each other is just amazing. As a side, there was a wedding going on in their barn while we were having dinner….

And to remind our customers to come back next year, the staff provided us with a can of pencils, with the theme of this year’s event on the can, as if it were a can of fresh food, to give out with next year’s date of 2019 on the pencil. How fun is that? Mark your calendars now for this fun event next September around the weekend of the 21st & 22nd, 2019. And I hope to see you there.

pencil can

 

Be the Change…

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As an artist, I make things. My boys made fun of me while they were growing up for using the phrase, “well, I can make that,” because, I usually could. It was usually because there was no money to buy the same item and after careful examination, I would make my own item. They made fun until, they too, became makers themselves. Frugal has its rewards sometimes. But, the things I made are just things. They really have no impact on the world, just things that have helped to add to our family budget in small ways or to give as a gift to someone I care deeply about. Artists make, I suppose, to someday be recognized but I gave up on that a long time ago and make things out of my own need and just the enjoyment of seeing others enjoy handmade things.

But to make something that will become a legacy is different. As a woman and mother, I gave birth to two fine men, who will, and have impacted the planet in however ways they decide is important but I can’t really claim them as a legacy or their legacies as my own. My son John died in 2014. He was 30. A forester and an environmentalist. He planted 70 acres of trees before he died in the 7 months that he lived in the state of Oregon. Those trees are his legacy. They will, hopefully, without threat of fires on the west coast, live for many many years to come and benefit the planet that this current administration is trying to destroy.  I will go see the trees my son planted next year before they are destroyed and before I, myself, leave planet earth. But, in the meantime, I can try to be the change that I want to see in the world. Real change of real significance. So, when my friend Jeff Carithers asked me to help with a project he was working on, I saw a way to use my artistic skills to help make big changes in the lives of people in a country that I may never get to see because of my lack of funds to travel the world. My drawings will travel for me, with Jeff’s work, in the form of technology that will make change on the other side of the world. That will be my legacy.

Dr. Jeff Carithers is part of the stateside team at Empower Tanzania and his title is Improving Women’s Health, Community Hospital Alliance, & Beyond Gender-Based Violence Program Manager. I know that in the past he has taken iPads to the village health care associates, to teach them, along with their villagers about taking vital signs to improve their health and well being. He also loaded these iPads with information to help educate them about water health and the importance of healthy clean water, something that we take for granted in this country.

Jeff contacted me back in September when he was looking for help with a program he was assembling on reproductive health. It is an educational program on reproduction and sexual health to be taught to the school students, which will include videos, class discussions, and other approaches. He told me that in Tanzania, there is a big problem with pregnancies in the primary and secondary schools and associated sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In fact, 67 girls have become pregnant so far this year in a district with 25,000 students. You can read about this issue on their blog here.

So, in late February and all through March and April, Jeff and I have been emailing back and forth the drawings that he needed to illustrate the script he was putting together in an amazing training video to take to Tanzania to begin the process of demystifying the process of reproduction and to educate both children and adults what really happens when humans reproduce. We both feel that we have put together drawings that are clinical and yet simple enough that the process is understandable. Even though I have given birth twice I learned a lot in the process. Thank you Jeff!

March 9th is the anniversary of John’s death. I have had a harder time with my grief this year than in the previous three. Jeff knew this and shared several stories with me to  show me the impact my drawings could have. It gave me the strength to get through some rough days of my own grief.  One of the stories is below taken from Jeff’s email to me on March 2nd…

The Maasai told that if a baby has a lot of vernix on it (vernix is the cheesy covering on some newborns, but not all) that this means that the husband had sex with his wife during the last 6 months of the pregnancy, a time when sex is prohibited by them because of the risk. They think the vernix is the semen. The villagers beat the couple if their baby is born with visible vernix on it. They told me of a couple who had a stillborn child and it had vernix in the mouth and nose, again normal. They blamed the man or other men in the village for having sex with the wife and the semen prevented the baby from breathing. They severely beat the couple and every male of that age group in the village for 4 days, nearly killing some of them. 
I told the Maasai men that sex is safe until the last week or so of pregnancy if all is progressing well. I explained that the closed cervix seals the uterus from the vagina and semen cannot get into the uterus during pregnancy because of a plug in the cervix. I also explained the amniotic sac, which would prevent semen from reaching the baby. I reminded them about the water breaking just before birth and they knew about that. I said that if water cannot get out until the very end of pregnancy, how could semen get in? They were very attentive and said they would educate their fellow villagers on this subject. 
This is just an example of how these drawings will help people understand and change lives. It is one thing to explain something, but another to see it clearly in one of your beautiful drawings. 
Another story was of a woman who now helps with the program…
unnamed-3Hilpa, one of the community health educators who does the public health presentations to the community. Hilpa is about 50, has a warm smile and is very friendly. Here is her photo. She is also one of our most engaging presenters. I asked her one time why she was involved in the program. She told me that 25 years ago she gave birth to twin girls and she and her husband were very excited about them.  However, they both died from congenital malaria within two weeks of birth. She uses this tragedy as motivation for her involvement in the program so she can prevent the same thing from needlessly happening to other parents and children. 
This is only one example of the many stories of people who participate in the programs. The programs have huge impacts on the recipients, but those who contribute also gain incalculable benefit. Knowing that tens of thousands of people will see your videos each month, I hope you are one of those, Susie.
I feel very passionate about women’s health issues, women’s rights and the right to choose in this country. But, my impact in this country can be made by donating money to Planned Parenthood and supporting candidates that share my views. Sometimes I feel that we are going back in time in this country and not being critical thinkers about women’s health and reproductive rights. We seem to be pro birth and nothing else. But doing this project feels like we (I) will not just help empower women but also men and children, giving them the knowledge to learn about how their body works and how to be healthy and to empower their government to create positive results to save lives, avoid disease and to have healthy families. And not be ashamed or embarrassed about the topic but to approach it full on and with an open mind and heart.
Jeff had a team of about 40-50 people helping him to put the videos together and my part in the process was to do drawings of the body parts and the sequences of how the reproduction works. After 100s of emails back and forth we are both pleased with the results and hope that the videos can be used by as many people as needed to bring the change that we want to see in the world.
The videos are broken into three topics because there will be different age groups that will view them and depending on the maturity levels needed.
The first one is on Puberty and this one will be show to kids, starting around the age of 7. It is to help them understand how their bodies are changing as they grow and develop hormonal changes. Things like body hair, the need for deodorants and physical changes that are occurring and to help them understand why this happens.
The second is on Periods. This video will show young adults how a woman’s period/menstrual cycle works and why. It answers the many questions surrounding this natural part of life. Jeff said that many young women are never told about this and when it finally happens that it can be a scary thing for them. Hopefully, this video will take some of the fear out of a natural process that women deal with. It also shows them the processes of caring for their body during this time of the month.
And the last video is about Relationships .  This talk is about reproduction, what happens during sex and that it is important to know when is the appropriate time to have a sexual relationship. Important issues like contraception and STDs are discussed in this one and how making a decision to have sexual relations can have consequences for both participants but doesn’t have to if you are prepared with the appropriate contraception device. And how making a baby is a big commitment, as we all know.
So, I am sharing these videos as a way of documenting my legacy because I can’t travel there in person. But, Jeff will teach them what is in the videos and my legacy will be the illustrations that are embedded in the videos to help him do that. Thank you Jeff and Empower Tanzania for being the change and letting me be a small part of that.
So, if you want to read more about Empower Tanzania and see what they do check out this link. There are many programs that they are doing that are having large impacts on the villages and if you have extra income, perhaps you might feel moved to contribute to their programs and help out.

The Hare of the Rabbit Podcast

 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I was interviewed by The Hare of the Rabbit Podcast. I met Jeff and Tina Hittinger at the Virginia Clay Festival a couple of years ago and Jeff contacted me recently about wanting to do a podcast about Tang, my pottery and how the two loves came together. It was a lot of fun to have Jeff and his wife Tina come to my studio and interview me. I learned that they also have rabbits and have a love of anything rabbit as well. So, without further adieu, check out the podcast here…

http://www.hareoftherabbit.com/

Be sure to also like his facebook page, Hare of the Rabbit

Tang and I had a lot of fun. Thank you, Jeff!


Fairy Garden in a Broken Planter

Fairy Garden in a Broken Planter

Once upon a time there was a broken planter in my room. I used it to build a magical mini fairy garden to allow me to showcase the small fairy garden items that I make in clay. That was four years ago. The garden traveled to shows with us and with each show we wondered if it would become like Humpty Dumpty and would never be put back together again. Well, that has finally happened and I am doing this post to show how, if you don’t have broken planters sitting around to work with, you can buy new planters and build the same whimsical world, minus the beautiful patina of the old broken planter.

You will need:

  • A new Terra Cotta planter
  • a dremel tool with a cutting wheel
  • a hammer
  • a dustmask
  • plants and soil
  • and then the Laughing Orange accessories, optional, but delightfully preferred!

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I started by marking on the planter with a pencil the approximate shape of cut that I wanted to make. You will see that this is not an exact science and that your planter may take a look of it’s own as you go. You may also destroy the planter in the process, and have to try again with another planter. I bought two just because I was afraid that this would happen to me.

 

Once Upon a Fairy Garden…