Shipping Materials…

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I have been a full time potter now for about 3 years and while I have had some friends donate shipping materials to me, I have found that I have not had to purchase these materials. First, I can’t imagine doing that because I just don’t have the funds for it and second, there are items in all of our houses that will cushion fragile items without spending pennies on that kind of thing. I thought it would be helpful to other potters to showcase the way that I ship an item, or more to the point, what I use to ship an item.

  1. If your house is like mine, there is lots of junk mail that gets delivered to your house every day. What do you do with it? Do you recycle it? Do you just pitch it and it ends up in the landfill, ultimately causing your county taxes to rise? Do you compost it? My solution to packing material is to shred the junk mail and store it for packing. I bought a small shredder at Target for about $40 and each day, or when the pile gets too large, I shred it and store it as packing materials. If you don’t have a need to ship something to use it in this way, you could also compost it. Many printers now use a soy based ink that would be fine in the compost pile and it can line planter boxes to use as a mulch. You could cover it with a wood mulch so that it doesn’t blow away but, I have used it as a weed barrier in my cold frames.
  2. Plastic bags are something that I have eliminated from my local grocery store but that doesn’t mean that other food substances don’t make it into my house in some kind of plastic bag. Think apples, potatoes, onion, oranges, granola, coffee, the list can go on and on. So, I reuse those bags and stuff the shredded paper into those and they work just like those air filled bubble pillows that sometimes come in a package. My paper stuffed bags may be a bit heavier than the air filled pillows when I have to figure the cost of the package but that cost is offset with not having to purchase a shipping product.
  3. And wrapping paper. I have a great source for my wrapping paper. My old employer just so happens to toss a wonderful brown and white paper and I occasionally can connect with them and pick up a large batch of this to have a substance to wrap a package with.
  4. My clay boxes are great to ship in so those get used a lot to send out wares. There always seems to be boxes here as well so I have not reached a point in three years that there has not been a box somewhere in my house that I can ship an item, both large and small. There might come a time that I might consider purchasing some nice gift boxes but so far there has not been a need for that either. Make do with what you have is always been my motto, as many of you know.
  5. Clay comes in a really heavy plastic bag and if you go through a lot of clay, as I do, you have lots of those bags lying around the studio. I will take those bags and run them through the washing machine. As the washer is filling up, I catch some of the water in each bag so that they get good and wet and then I hang them up to dry and they make awesome packing material or transporting wares inside the shredded paper.

I will admit that the only item that I have purchased for my wares has been “orange bags”. I found an online source to purchase a net bag that looks like an orange bag as a branding tool given that my company name is Laughing Orange. I promote the bags at shows by hanging them from my tent and give each customer my speech about the importance of recycling, explaining the shredded paper in the bag and ask them to use the bag at the market for their produce and to reuse the bag. Because the bags are red, they draw customers in and they are curious about what their purpose is.

Tape is the only material that I am having to purchase at this time and I wish I could find an alternative to that but I don’t see that happening for a while.

So, if you are a fellow potter and are curious about how you can use what you have to pack your wares or are just looking for ways to avoid having excess junk mail in your house, I hope you find these tips helpful when you are packing or shipping a box of something to someone else.

This Small Space…

It has been a while since I have done a blog post and after time lapses, I start to panic a bit because I know that I need to find something to blog about. But a subject jumped out at me this morning.

Designing My New Small Space

Since I have started on my new endeavor of inventing my new life as a potter, I have been working in the basement of our 105 year old house. The ceiling down there is about 5’6″ where the beams hold the floor joists that hold up my first floor and about 6 feet in other areas. I am 5’4″ tall. Herb is 6’2″. I can work down there and not bump my head, but there is the feeling of that ceiling being very close to me so subconsciously, I am scrunching my shoulders and at the end of a long day, my neck and back ache horribly.

old building

old building

We have two outbuildings on our property and one of those buildings used to be a garage and we now use it as a workshop that houses things like saws, drills, hammers and the like while the other building is basically a storage shed. It is a story and a half with a saltbox sloped roof on it. It is in pretty rough shape and so I am in the midst of trying to get help to convert that building into a space that I will use and move out of the basement.

In the process of doing all of this planning, which I seem to be spending a lot of time on these days rather than working with my clay, I am seeing and finding a lot of great posts on smaller spaces and how to utilize them. Our country is finally realizing that more isn’t alway better and that small can be a good thing. I love the idea of built in furniture and multipurpose uses for storage or furniture. Here are some of the sites that I have come across lately that have helped me to get a vision on how to use the small amount of square footage that I have…

  • LifeEdited is a site that features scaling down and living with less.
  • The Minimalists I heard these guys interviewed on NPR about becoming  minimalists and letting go of a huge house, car and lifestyle so he could be happier with less to deal with. Their blog is full of great info about living with less. You can also listen to more from them here.
  • Shrink Your Super-Sized Life and Become a Better Neighbor  A challenge for all of us to live with less energy. When we think about it, it is really all about being a better  community rather than the race to see who can own the most. Right?
  • Felice Cohen goes from 90 sq ft to 500 sq feet This woman shows how she went from 90 sq ft – 500 sq ft. I think what strikes me most about this video is that  it is her mindset about how the space is used. Especially when she was in the 90 sq foot space
  • Apartment Therapy This article on Ten Tiny houses is one that shows some great use of space.
  • And of course, one of my favorite authors, Sarah Susanka’s the Not So Big House. Sarah is an architect that realized that bigger isn’t always better and has used that philosophy in her business and yet puts a large emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

The building I’m going to move into is only 580 square feet total. That is both stories combined. The upstairs has a sloped ceiling that is not going to be useful for much else but storage of shipping materials, an office space and possibly a sleeping space if my son brings a bunch of people for a visit and there isn’t a bed in the house for them. So my new work space will amount to about 240 square feet.  The good thing about this new space is that the ceiling will be a consistent height of 7 feet and I won’t have to deal with working around support poles. So I will have a large rectangular room and can move freely about.

And of course, there is the recycling that I want to do in order to keep the trash from the landfill or to reuse as much of the old parts of the building as possible. I have found a cabinet maker locally that is interested in the lumber that is going to come out of the building. I have been searching for used items to put back into the building and am trying to have the least impact possible on the natural resources. At first I was going to add plumbing because there isn’t any in the building now. Now I am challenging myself to use as little water as possible, even though I am a potter and need water to make my craft. I am looking at, in the future, if needed, adding a composting toilet in the upstairs, just so guests might not have to come into the main house in the middle of the night.

So, as I work through this process of converting a small work space and getting the dust out of the basement, hopefully, I will blog more about this process and keep you up to date as the building is transformed into a simple minimalistic space that I can spend time creating and enjoying the my new endeavor even more.

 

Woodchuck Woman

woodchucks

two woodchucks

Claudia spent the entire summer storing up food and herbs as winter’s rations. Her hard work has paid off and now she gets to reap the rewards. When I spoke with her last Thursday it was 1° above zero and she was telling me about all the layers of clothes that she was wearing at the time. I’m sure that is what got her thinking about feeling like a woodchuck. I just hope that she remembers to come above ground in time for Groundhog Day on February 2nd. If not, she will at least have a wonderful batch of soup to keep her warm for another 6 weeks of bad weather.

Dear Susie,

I’ve been thinking about woodchucks lately, or more accurately, wishing I were one.  It was 1 degree above zero this morning. Here in New Hampshire we are sure to get colder weather before winter is through, but still it made me reluctant to go outside for my morning walk. I waited until the temp climbed to ten to do that.  If I were a woodchuck, right now I’d be slumbering away below ground, protected from the cold by my thick fur coat and generous layer of fat. The fat would feed my body as well as keep me warm until spring, when I would awake nice and svelte and ready to eat as much as I wanted all the long spring and summer. What a life.

Claudia's pantry

Claudia’s pantry

I’m afraid that over the holiday season I have put on quite a generous layer of fat myself,  but I don’t need it because my burrow is filled with plenty of put-up food.

A few days ago I boiled up the ham bone from Christmas Eve supper to make a nice broth and added a jar of tomato sauce, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn, green beans, and a handful of herbs to make a nice vegetable soup.  All that I added, either I, or my friends grew.  It feels good to have a pantry full of put-up food, a freezer full of frozen vegetables and fruits, and dried herbs  in jars as well as fresh herbs from plants on the window sills. This may not be as convenient as living off my own fat, but almost.

Claudia's Dried Herbs

Claudia’s Dried Herbs

Like woodchucks I love greens and I have to say that I am envious of your cold frames full of greens. I’m afraid that the lettuce under my heavy-duty row cover has finally turned to iceberg. Next year I hope to perfect the Eliot Coleman double-tunnel system so I can have salad with the soup. If I can do that there will be much less reason to venture far from home to get previsions. I can now add eggs to food we don’t have to go to the store for. The hens from our little urban chicken project are laying enough for me to have half a dozen a week. I’ll write more about that later. For now I am enjoying eating up the last of the Holiday cookies with family and friends here on the 12th day of Christmas. I’ll start on that weight loss program come February. Right now, I’m looking forward to a long woodchuck sleep tonight. If you haven’t heard from me in a week or so you might want to check and see if I’ve gone into hibernation.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

I hope that you are cozy, and have stored up plenty of winter previsions. Remember that sensible animals should be doing plenty of sleeping in winter, just like Badger advises in the Wind in the Willows.

Claudia

Dave the Potter, a Google + chat

pottery jugs similar to Dave’s

Herb teaches elementary school in Strasburg, VA at Sandy Hook Elementary. He is the librarian there. He absolutely LOVES the children and is always looking for new ways to interact with them and engage them with books and learning. For about a year now, we have been using Google Plus to communicate with our boys and their new wives and Herb had the idea that maybe he could combine this technology in his classroom. He had gotten a book in the library about an African-American potter named Dave that lived in the 1800’s during slave times. Dave is known for the poems that he would carve into the pots that he made and many of Dave’s pots are still around today.

So, this is where I come in. Herb wanted to use the technology to let the kids learn about what Dave did by doing the Google Chat with me while I was demonstrating to them how to throw a pot. We did this for seven days straight and each day we learned a different aspect of the process in order to allow the children the best viewpoint for seeing into my basement through my laptop and Herb’s smart board in the library.

In order to do a chat with someone you first need:

  • to be in each other’s “circle” in Google. This requires that you have a gmail account and then find the other person and put that person in your circle.
  • then there is an entire menu of options on your Google page at the top offering links/tabs to
  • Once you set up a Google Plus Profile Page, which is similar to a Facebook Page, then you have the option of starting a hangout
  • There will be a hangout link on the right hand side of the page in Yellow
  • Clicking that link takes you to a page that allows you to invite others to your hangout. You will notice that a person is online if there is a green dot in the bottom of their thumbnail or if there is a video camera icon by their name in the list of names on the left hand side of your screen.
  • If you are planning on publishing your video to Youtube as we did for Dave the Potter, you will need to get code from Youtube site and register with them, otherwise this box can be left unchecked as can naming your hangout.
  • At this point, you will be taken to a screen that will activate the call to the other friends and they will come online and join you in the hangout.
The children were really into the chat they did with me and if I couldn’t hear their questions, Herb would re-ask it for them. They were not always close enough to the microphone for me to hear them properly. The nice thing about this is that because kids are so used to this technology, they didn’t see it as a technology advantage as much as a way that they could instantly see and talk to someone that was doing what the character in the storybook was also doing. Instantly, they could ask me what the clay felt like, why it didn’t fall over, when do I “paint” the pot or how many pots do I make a day?. They didn’t care that they were talking to a screen. They didn’t even see it that way. My generation is still amazed at the “technology” because we can remember a time when only the Jetsons were doing what we can now do today.
I have made some screen shots of the screens to get a hangout of your own started so you can know ahead of time what to look for and I’ve also included our final video with the children so you can see how they interacted with me. It was really a fun project to do with Herb but I was really glad when the 8 days came to an end.

 

 

Additional information on this topic:

Building Community

Claudia has been busy making sauerkraut using the cabbages from her garden. She refers to a video that she found four years ago to learn how to make sauerkraut.The little girl in the video is adorable and you will enjoy learning how to make your own sauerkraut, just like Claudia did. What is your absolute favorite food and can you make it for yourself or is it a food that you can only get at the grocery store? Building a community around our love of a special memory or food is something we all can share and enjoy. I hope you enjoy Claudia’s letter about Sauerkraut as much as I did and I wish I could’ve seen the look on Franz’s face when he tried the kraut that she took him when hers was finished. I think she made a new friend in her community.

 

 

Here’s a Challenge for You…

Claudia and I have been trying to chat on Google + or via cell phone each Thursday morning and yesterday she told me about a book that she was reading called Making Home by Sharon Astyk. Claudia is living the life that we all should be living. By that I mean, she makes things for herself and her family rather  than going out and purchasing those items. Essentially, she is homesteading. Claudia lives in a small city in New Hampshire and up until recently, she and her family had been renting but were able to purchase a home. Still, she and Steve, her husband of over 20 years, are living a life we all should be living. They don’t have a lot of money. Steve is a nurse and brings in the money for the family but Claudia and Steve together add to that by instilling a handmade philosophy that I truly believe we all need to embrace to a certain extent.

So, in having my weekly inspirational chat with Claudia, I looked online for a Kindle version of “Making Home” and it wasn’t available digitally so I looked at other books by this same author, thinking that Claudia and I could share and trade ideas that we each gathered from the other’s book. I purchased Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front [Kindle Edition]. I just started reading it yesterday so I haven’t gotten very far but I like what I am reading so far and I just want to set out a new challenge for you today. Just something to think about as I read and learn about how we, as a nation, can come together to help resolve some of the issues that we are going to face in the future as our fuel consumption takes on a different life for us.

The Challenge: Find a local person that has a skill (that you spend money and fuel on to go and purchase) and become an apprentice to that person to learn that skill. Be it sewing, canning food, gardening, cleaning, growing a food that you can’t buy locally, and share this with the community so that we can release some of our independence on consumerism.