Jumping through hoops…








When I started the renovation of my building for the new studio, I thought it would just be a simple process of gathering ideas, talking to the contractor and getting to work. Not really so.

When the housing boom came through our county in 2005, our town didn’t have some of the precautions in place to keep some properties from being razed and developed. And not really in ways that they were in favor of. One old house was taken down, which could’ve been renovated to be replaced by townhouses. So the town couldn’t stop it because they didn’t have regulations in place. They quickly got to work and did just that, getting the county involved and forming a committee of their own that made it harder for that kind of change to happen again. This was a good thing. The house that is directly behind our property was scheduled to be next and they have prevented the same from happening there. Although, now, the developer that owns the property has abandoned it and it is now gradually falling further into decline. It is a beautiful old Victorian house that would take lots of money to fix up but would be doable. I’m grateful that the town saved it and they have told me that they have plans to get the developer to make some moves on the property.

SO, now I am close to starting work on the building. Given the committee has to be involved, it has been a bit more complicated than it would’ve been a few years ago. My initial plan was to add an addition to my building to house the kiln (s). I prepared drawings and took this to the town to show them what I was doing. You see, the building sits exactly on the property line and that is a big no no. You have to put a building, a new building, at least 15 feet away from a property line. So my addition had to be okay’d by the committee. Given that I was renovating the old building, it can be grandfathered into the regulations and is automatically okay to do the work to, but the addition had to have permission and a waiver to proceed.

Then my contractor gave me his first quote…. OUCH! The kiln room had to go, as did my concrete floor. In order to bring the project into my budget, I had to shave things off the project. AND, even though I was no longer doing the addition, I still had to get permission from the town to proceed. In the meantime, my contractor is running out of work before the meeting of the committee. He wants to get to work and they want me to hold on a few more days to give it a go ahead. They needed revised drawings of the project and 7 copies of the drawing and a check for $25. The meeting is March the 7th and I should be able to have permits in hand by the 8th since I also started the process of obtaining the permits with the county. This will get my contractor working early in March rather than have to wait until April.

Code for the county is also something that I have had to follow for safety reasons. The inspectors came out and looked at the property and gave me more insight as to what I can and can’t do. A local business sells used and odd sized windows which I had found some really cool triangular windows for the eaves but they are too big and aren’t a tempered glass, so those had to come out of the project. Also, windows have to be at least 18″ up from the floor and the triangles are just too big. They would’ve been really cool though, giving my moved stairs the much needed light.

Enter, Craig’s List. I spent a day working to find some windows that would suit me to add the whimsy to the building and give me plenty of light but also save me some money on new windows at Lowe’s or Home Depot. I found some half rounds, quarter rounds and an arch window up in Maryland that I am planning on going to purchase tomorrow. They are a major brand of window, but at a fraction of the cost that I would have to pay if I had to buy them from a retailer. I just have to drive a bit to get them.

So I spent yesterday working on revised drawings and using the dimensions that are on the Craig’s List listing, figuring out where I can place the windows to give me the light that I want inside the new space. And making sure that I have the proper distance from the floor to the window to meet the codes. By placing the half rounds in the eaves, I get a window that looks a bit like an orange slice or a smile, which I will be doing a lot of, come March, when I can see the changes start to take place.

Garden Bottle Stakes

Last weekend I went to meet John’s fiance’, Erin’s parents in Mt. Airy, NC. Yes, that is the town that makes it’s claim to Mayberry and Andy Griffith. In fact, when you go into the town proper the theme music to the show can be heard as you walk the streets. It is really a fun place to visit. But my visit was focused on meeting the family, which I absolutely loved, and talk about where to put things at the wedding.

Erin has always wanted to get married in her parents yard and, after the visit, I certainly see why. The landscaping and the yard and setting will be perfect for a small wedding and a fun party afterwards. There won’t be much need to do a lot of decorating because the yard is just so pretty but, there is a simple path that Erin will walk with her dad to get to the front yard. Alison, Erin’s mom, showed me a photo of an idea that she had seen in a catalog that she thought would dress up the path and add some color to the backdrop of greenery. So this post is to show you what I have come up with and to show you how that you can make your own wine bottle flower vases for a party or just to add some interest to a part of your yard that you want to add some color.

at west end bottle vase @ $40 each, YIKES

The photo here shows the vases from the catalog that Alison showed me. And at $40 a piece for 6 of these it would be really silly to spend that much money on such a simple idea. By the time you add shipping and tax to this you are looking at about $300. YIKES! I just can’t imagine spending this for these.

Last year we had some really strong winds and when that happens there is usually trees and branches that get broken or dislodged from the area. Our neighbors below us had a crepe myrtle bush that was almost destroyed and the branches from that enormous bush have been in the alley way between the houses since then. I simply put some of those branches to use. This project cost a total of $12.75 and will make use of old bottles and will keep some brush out of the landfill. Every little bit helps, right?

What you will need...










For this project you will need:

  • old branches or twigs, you could use bamboo, I suppose if you have access to some of that. I used old crepe myrtle branches that were fairly dried out and brittle but were of good size and were strong.
  • a saw for cutting your branches to length
  • some stainless steel rods. I bought 6- 36″ rods and cut them in half to 18″ with a hack saw for 12 finished pieces. ( I only made 8 though)
  • some twine or sisal
  • some cable ties
  • a utility knife to cut the twine
  • and some old bottles, I used beer, root beer and wine

stack of branches


The first thing I did was to go through the stack of brush and discard the really badly crooked ones and look for straight ones or ones with character. Then I cut them to about a 4 foot length. They are all a bit different but that adds to the overall look.

Then I cut the bottom of the branches so that they were flat to the ground. I cut the rods in half and took the cable ties and attached the rod to the bottom of the branch leaving about 9 inches below the bottom of the branch and attaching about 9 inches to the bottom of the branch. The cable tie will help to stabilize the bottom so that you can tie the upper part of the rod with the twine. You will have a cable tie at the bottom of the branch, but it will be in the grass and closer to the top of the rod you will have the twine. The branch can slide up and down on the rod but you want it to be fairly tight.

To attach the bottle. I used two pieces of twine that were about 36″ in length and wrapped one around the bottom perimeter of the bottle and one around the top perimeter of the bottle. Tying the twine as tight as you possibly can the bottle will be sturdy against the branch.

bottom with rod attached

Stand your bottle stake upright and take it out into the yard and, with a hammer, tap the rod into the ground. Make sure that everything is upright and sturdy, fill your bottle with water and add the flowers of your choice. I used the flowers that were blooming in my yard.

I think these will work nicely against the shrubbery at Alison’s house and will add some color to the path as folks take their seats and give some floral decoration to the walkway that Erin and her dad walk in on.

Another option would be to paint the branches white… I might end up doing that, but for now I think the natural look works well, given the setting.

root beer bottle with flowers



three bottles with flowers


group of bottle stakes

Making Dilly Beans July 15, 2011

In the spring, I was reading some gardening blogs and came across these beautiful canning jars made by Weck. They are European canning jars that have apparently been around forever yet I was unfamiliar with them and fell in love with their shapes and simplicity. They are pricey compared to the American classic Ball jars but I wanted a few of them so I bought a selection of them here and when they came I was excited to put some of my homegrown vegetables in them this summer. As I see my tomato vines becoming trees, full of fruit, I’m thinking tomatoes for the winter months in some of these beautiful jars. Maybe some salsa. I also have an abundance of cabbage that is really tasty that Herb has been looking into chow chow recipes that would also be pretty in these jars.

So when I had picked a larger mess of beans than we could eat, ( ever wonder where the phrase “mess of” vegetables came from?) I decided to look into putting some of them up in the Weck jars. After some internet searching, I discovered that I needed to do pressure cooking on the jars to properly can the green beans and to avoid botulism. We have a pressure cooker but not one large enough to do the jars in.  I also came across a forum about Weck jars stating they were uncomfortable doing pressure canning with these jars. This meant that I needed to find a recipe that involved the water bath sealing method of canning.

I located a dilly bean recipe and adjusted it to my needs given that I wasn’t using the Ball jar version of canning. So I have included the recipe in case you want to try out a bit of canning.

I didn’t get photos of the filling of the hot liquid into the jars because there was a bit of panic at that point in the kitchen but basically I used a ladle and funnel to get the liquid in there and then carefully centered the rubber rings ( they get put into a pan of hot water to soften them up) onto the glass lids, and clicked the clips onto the lids. Three clips per lid. I let the jars cool overnight and the next day took the clips off and tested to make sure the lids had sealed. Gladly, all of them had sealed but if they hadn’t, the directions say that you can put them back into the water bath and try again.

So now, I am just waiting on the tomatoes to ripen up and become plentiful so that I can put them into the round version of the jars. YUM!






Another site to purchase Weck jars is here.

Dilly Green Beans

6 Easy Earth Friendly Thanksgiving Ideas

Herb carving the bird, circa 1988

As the holidays are fast approaching, I thought I would share 6 things that I have done for years, not just at the holidays, but simple practices that will help save resources. (and maybe a little $$$ too)

  1. Cloth Napkins are something that we have used for as long as we have been married. We have an old farm table with a drawer in the side and we have always kept the cloth napkins there. They get thrown in the wash and put back into the drawer.  We have never bought paper napkins and, over the years, I’d say the only occasions I have ever bought paper napkins were for a party that I wanted to have a theme and found some that matched the theme.
  2. Don’t make too much food. Try to plan for your meal so that you don’t make too much food. The extra energy that is consumed in doing so is wasted and even though leftovers are awesome for a few days, you will still end up throwing out some food which is wasteful and takes up landfill space. If you have a compost bin, you can compost everything except dairy and meat products. Those are the items that could end up in the landfill.  And even in the landfill, because they don’t receive any air, they never decompose.
  3. Buy Local…This one can be tough. We try to do this but some things you just can’t find. Local pumpkins and apples, of course, my greens are out in my cold frames, but we will probably purchase a Butterball turkey, which I know isn’t local. Reading a food magazine from work yesterday, there was an article where they  had a contest for winter strawberry recipes. What bothers me about this is,the fact that the magazine was promoting an out of season item for areas such as Nebraska due to the strawberries having to travel from Florida. So, my goal is to try to find food that hasn’t had to travel far to get to my table. This is where eating foods that are “in season” is the important goal. If something isn’t grown in your area, bananas or pineapple or lemons for example, then maybe you look for a different recipe that is something “in season” and is grown or produced within a 100 mile radius of your house.
  4. Real Dishes, no paper plates or plastic. Break out the good stuff. Don’t use paper or plastic plates. Yes, there will be dishes to wash but it is a holiday and you want it to be festive anyway, so be kind to the earth and use a reusable item instead of a throwaway item. Try to use aluminum foil as opposed to plastic wrap to cover your leftover dishes if you don’t have lids. The aluminum foil is recyclable and the plastic wrap isn’t. Here is a video about the effects of plastics on the oceans.
  5. Watch your water usage when washing dishes. A pet peeve of mine is when I see people who have dishwashers, but insist on washing their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher. Dishwashers today are so efficient that they will usually take all the food off of your dishes so that you don’t have to waste water by washing your dishes twice. If you are concerned about a dish that may have had something baked on then, by all means, pre-scrub that dish before loading it into the dishwasher but turn the water off while you scrub. This is not to say that some things may need some additional cleaning but you will be saving a very valuable resource if you try to do more with less. You might take a pitcher and catch the water that you are rinsing and use that on your houseplants. Every drop is valuable and if it goes down the drain and not being used remember that you are still paying for it. Watch this 2 minute video on Youtube Also, remember to only run the dishwasher when it is full. Dishwashers actually save more water than washing dishes by hand. Another tip is to not allow your dishwasher to go through the drying cycle and just open the door and stop the process.
  6. And finally, use reusable bags when you go shopping. We keep them in all our cars and so they are readily available. Get in the habit of taking them with you even if it means putting a note on your door to remind you to take them with you. And another note on the dashboard of your car to take them into the store. You will eventually remember them all the time.

Styrofoam Cups


Image via Wikipedia

I went to work early yesterday for a Quality Management System Auditor meeting. I have been asked by upper management to serve on this committee as an auditor of our processes of producing a magazine. RR Donnelley is doing this in all their manufacturing plants and it is a way to make sure we have processes in place to produce our product and are following these processes to produce a quality product.

At this meeting were 18 individuals of our upper management that are the leaders of this QMS task. As I looked around the table of the 18 individuals, 9 of those had brought a beverage with them for the 2 hour meeting. Seven of those beverages were in a company provided styrofoam cup and the other two were plastic bottles, one was juice and the other was water. Throughout our plant are posters with environmental facts so that employees will turn off lights, use less water, and be mindful of our impact on the planet. That is what I find disturbing about the continued use of the styrofoam cups in our plant. I understand they are cheap and they are readily available so that if we have a customer in the plant we have a way to serve them coffee or tea, but this meeting room contains a kitchen equipped with a dishwasher so our company could provide the customer with a ceramic mug and then collect them at the end of the customer’s visit and put them in the dishwasher. Then, within the plant, encourage all employees to bring in a mug and wash it in our break rooms. In my own department, I am proud to say that many of my coworkers already do this. We have a policy in our work area that drinks are not allowed without a lid so that has forced the use of personal cups due to the company not providing lids to the styrofoam. Plus, our spillage is a problem around the keyboards on our computers.

According to the EPA’s blog, polystyrene is non-biodegradable which means that it will never go away. And if it does break up and “disipate” it runs the risk of contaminating our ground water and having harmful effects on the animals that might decide to eat it or to leach into the plants surrounding it. And it also releases chemicals into our air.

In 1986, the EPA identified 57 chemical byproducts that were released into the air through its production and many of the pollutants are known to cause serious health effects such as the reduced functioning of the lungs and nervous systems. Check out Earth’s Resource’s website to learn about the ways polystyrene can affect our health and environment.

Green Irene offers a sugarcane biodegradable product that is similar to the styrofoam cups but when I researched this product last year for the Friends of the North Fork’s Fish Fry you have to find a facility that composts this product in order to compost the product. You can’t just put it in you outdoor compost bin and they disappear in 90 days. My facility was about 3 hours away and we would have had to transport the used product to the facility, which defeats the purpose of composting locally. We chose to talk to our caterer about using “real” dishes and have them wash them and place pitchers of water on each table to eliminate the need for bottled water.

So, my recommendation to my workplace would be to eliminate the styrofoam cups and encourage employees to bring in their own mugs or stainless steel water bottles. I do. I also have a container that I now take to restaurants with me so that I can avoid the styrofoam take out container. I got it at Reuseit.com and you can see it here. I usually ask for a piece of foil or wax paper to go on top if there isn’t one on my table.

So if those 7 employees that were using the styrofoam cups decide to use a new cup every workday at 5 days per week, for 52 weeks per year (not including their vacation time) that would be about 1820 cups used. We can only hope the two plastic bottles in the room got recycled, right?


Creating Fall Leaves for Thanksgiving

Several weeks ago when Thomas was here and we played in the clay together, I made some leaves out of stoneware to put on the table at Thanksgiving. I have been wanting to make some of these for a long time. So today, I glazed them and have them firing in the kiln. I am also experimenting with using some stained glass and adding it on top of the clay item and letting it turn to liquid in the kiln. I have never done this before and a friend at work who does stained glass gave me some of his scraps so that I have several colors to place on the leaves and on a plate and see how they do. I am hoping that on the leaves that the glass will liquify and run into the veins that I drew in the leaves. I used fall colors and am hoping that the reds will really work.

The leaf is curved enough to hold the liquid glass and hopefully won’t run off onto my kiln shelves. On a few of them I put a shelf liner down to catch the glass in case it does run off.

The glaze colors that I used are a fire engine red, a celadon, lustre gold, lacy mauve, and a metalic gold and agate. The glaze colors are on test tiles that I make when I get a new glaze so that I know how it is going to fire in my kiln and to use as a reference to know what the color looks like. I have lined out the colored tiles as you can see here, as my fall palette.

I had made a platter with my fossil frog on it and am experimenting with the glass on this platter. This is how it looks before it goes into the kiln with pieces of glass just laying on the plate. I am wondering if the colors will all run together or will they move together and mix.


The kiln is then loaded with glazed items.  The leaves, the garden markers and a few of the frog tiles that I made at the same time I was working on the bench.  In a glaze firing the pieces aren’t allowed to touch each other or the kiln shelf if they have glaze on their bottom sides. The leaves are sitting on little stilts and the markers and tiles are just sitting on the kiln shelf. The firing will go for about 7 hours.

Late tomorrow (or maybe sometime Monday) we get to see how they look!  Giving them plenty of time to cool so that the glass won’t crack when exposed to the air.