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.


Water Usage…




My oldest son was home for a visit back in April. They moved to Seattle last November after their October wedding. They love Seattle and I am hoping to see their new home this summer when I take a trip there myself. The story that my son told that I thought was fun about their new home, other than Seattle being an incredibly “green” city, was that his new bride had embraced this green-ness by competing against the other residents in their apartment building with overall water usage. The funny part of this is that the other residence weren’t aware they were in a contest. Thomas and Bell live in a building that houses about six apartments that all share a garage like space on the bottom level for their cars etc. Each apartment’s water meter is also in this garage and as they would come into the garage, Belle would look at each apartment’s numbers on their perspective meters. She was trying to gauge how much water they were using in comparison to her neighbors. When she realized that the numbers didn’t reset at the beginning of the month, she kind of gave up because it would mean that she would have to set up a spread sheet and do a daily check of the numbers to see if they were ahead or behind. I just got a kick out of this story and the competitiveness of my new daughter-in-law.

Belle came to visit this week and I brought up this story and we laughed about it. She then said that I would be disappointed with how she washed dishes after I shared how I had noticed other people’s dish washing habits. I’m now wondering how this trend has come about and if people even think about their water usage in terms of what is going to save them the most. The way I look at it, every drop that comes out of my faucet is paid for by me and I want to make that money count with every drop. So, I thought I would share how I try and conserve water in my house and see if I can get any of you to help all of us to save even more water.

This trend that I spoke of to Belle, and which she confessed to doing, is washing dishes with the faucet running the entire time, no stopper in the sink and a continual stream of water going down the drain. I have witnessed this on many occasions, mainly with my kid’s generation.

When I was growing up, you would clean out the sink, and add the stopper and then fill the sink with your hot dish water and soap. Your companion sink, either to the right or left, depending on how your set up is, is filled with hot rinse water. As you wash your dishes you then dunk them into the hot rinse water and stack them into a dish drainer. NO additional running water. I would estimate that you probably are using about 3 gallons of water total. Two for the washing and maybe a gallon for the rinse.

In times of drought here in Virginia, I have used a plastic dish pan in the sink to wash the dishes in and rinse the dish above that dish pan of wash water capturing ALL the water and then that water in used to put on the garden in the evening to help keep a plant alive during those dry spells. I believe this is probably the best way to truly salvage all the water and not let any of it go down the drain.

I’m told that using the dishwasher is absolutely the best solution because it uses the water in the most efficient way. However, I see people washing their dishes in the running water method BEFORE they then load them into the dishwasher. While most dishwashers, mine does, should be able to handle the dirty dish without even rinsing off the foodstuff, I understand that some don’t and the dishes may need a little help before they go into the dishwasher but I believe that you could probably get away with a good scraping with a rubber spatula into the compost or trash instead of involving any water at all. I worked at a YWCA camp one year in college and each table had a rubber spatula that the kids were required to “squeegee” their plate before stacking them up, eliminating the extra pre-washing before loading them into the commercial dishwasher in the kitchen area.

I use a lot of water conservation techniques in my pottery too. I have a dishtub in the utility sink in our basement and try at all costs to avoid any of my chemicals going down the drain. That dish pan gets really full of waste water and maybe gets dumped out into my grass once a month. That same water is used to wash out brushes, containers, glaze buckets and even rinsing off my hands before I finish for the day.

Drinking Water Brochure Outside

Drinking Water Brochure Inside


This topic could obviously be a completely new post due to all the chemicals that get flushed down the drain daily and end up in our watersheds.

My hope is that you will share your dishwashing techniques with me and help others to think more about their water usage and maybe even get into the competitive spirit of my sweet daughter-in-law, who is having fun trying to save the planet in her small way in Seattle. Good luck Belle and I hope you can figure out a way to get your neighbors involved in your game! I really love the spirit of this idea!

Quilts I’ve made…1981-present

As it gets cold outside, I start getting quilting fever. Of course, it doesn’t help that my friend Jackie is always quilting and sending me these awesome photos of the quilts she is currently working on. Thanks, for sharing your wonderful quilts with me, Jac!

one of my friend jackie's wonderful quilts

So when I get catalogs in the mail that have pretty quilts in them, I never want to buy them, I want to make them. Now the thing with quilting is that it takes FOREVER to put one together. At least the ones that I have done in the past have been seriously timely affairs. So I have chosen a coverlet size to tackle this time so that I get quicker results. That doesn’t mean I will have a quilt to cuddle under next week but maybe by February.

I receive catalogs from a company called Garnet Hill and I saved one of them with this simple design.


So Sunday night, after painting on Jan’s cows most of the day, I went to the fabric stash. Quilters have a saying that “the one that dies with the most fabric, wins”. I think Jackie is way ahead of me there but I have a pretty good assortment. The key, I think is to rarely throw any of them away because you can still cut a section out and use it, especially for a quilt like this one that has lots of different patterns. So this is about a 4′ x 5′ size coverlet with a black fabric as the background and I had to cut out a total of 96 circles for the pattern on top. I used a Pyrex lid for my pattern and simply drew the circles on the fabric and started cutting.

color laid out

I love the way it looks. It is so colorful and in the winter months will be a happy quilt to sit under. Each of the circles will have to be hemmed and then appliqued to the top. This is a similar technique that I did on the quilt that I did for Thomas.

Thomas' finished quilt

My plan then, was to make each of the boys a quilt for their high school graduations. Of course,neither got  finished until they were almost finished with college. Thomas had requested a black quilt.  We compromised and put black in it and lots of color on the interior. The border on this one is appliqued and has a vine that runs around the edge with fan-like flowers on the vine. I think it turned into a quilt that he will cherish for years to come and it is also a very happy quilt.

Thomas with his quilt

Over the years, I have made many quilts for friends and family and you can see more of them  here at our family website. For awhile, I was doing baby quilts for my co-workers and one year there were so many babies born that I was wondering if they had it in for me. I finally had to resort to pillows.

John's finished quilt

John’s quilt took on a more nature theme. He is a forestry guy so I found a quilt on the web that I really liked but had to draw out the pattern because there wasn’t one available. The quilt shop in Staunton, VARachel’s Quilt Patch had these wonderful batik fabrics and the lady helped me to choose them for the pattern. The border on this quilt has appliqued trees, frogs and fish. I think it will be good to do a simple quilt now and not take on something so complicated.

John with his quilt on his birthday


detail of John's quilt

Season’s Greetings?

1990 card

When Herb and I got married in 1980 we didn’t have a computer and it would be several years before we did. Home printers were not really something everyone had and if you did it was the old dot matrix kind that were not what you would think of to do a Christmas card with.

My first computer job in printing was in the day of film and laminated proofs and I was able to do our Christmas card that year as a stand up tree. It was mailed out flat and the recipient would be expected to fold it into a triangle and tape it so that it would stand as a sort of pyramid tree. I was able to get the scanner operator at my workplace to scan the photos of my family and then I assemble the card on a Scitex computer system and then output film and sent it to a proofing department.

back side right

If  I remember correctly,  they had some old materials they were not going to use for production and they made me about 10-15 cards. This would have taken them forever to do because each color would have to be exposed and then the next color laid/laminated on top of that one until you build up the 4 colors to create the four color image. These proofs don’t exist anymore and technology has advanced to where proofs are now viewed remotely, meaning that you send the customer a virtual proof that they now add virtual sticky notes onto to request their color corrections.

back side left

Then came the digital world and my boss now refers to us as the Jetsons because we are really into the ability to produce projects on a home computer and printer.

2002 letter

Over the years, we have sent out cards that have chronicled our previous year in photo form. Some years they take on the collage look like this one from 2002. That year, Thomas had gone to China for 3 weeks with George Mason University and John had graduated high school and he and his buddies did a trip up the east coast and into Canada so the background was a map and photos of their trips placed onto the map.

Over the years we have gotten cards from people saying they are in anticipation of our cards. So every year the pressure is on. I think the trick to doing a successful Christmas letter/card is to not send out something that is single spaced, several pages of babble that the recipient has to stand and read and read and read, but to give them a visual of the year with maybe a few sentences telling the highlights. I don’t think they care that we took brownies to a picnic in the spring. (We have actually received similar letters)

2005 card

In 2005, the card was a structured collage and each thumbnail was numbered 1-14. Then the inside of the card listed the numbers in red and green with a caption of that photo. That way they could look for the number and figure out what that part of our year was about.

2006 Andy Warhol inspired

And in 2006, the family photo with John at graduation from VA Tech was the inspiration. I cropped each of our mug shots out and posterized them in the style of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe painting.

And in 2009 we had taken on the task of painting our 100+ year old house and so that year had to be the story of the house colors and the process of painting. We also had to say good-bye to our sweet dog Bill of 15 years and so a panel of the card was also in memory of him.

2009 outside

2009 inside

Handy An's Business Card

So, as Thanksgiving is fast approaching, it is time once again to think about what this year’s card will be. My friend HandyAn sends out a card to her clients that she has done work for during the year and she always comes up with clever cards too. This one she sent last year and the year before that she put herself up on a steel girder with construction workers on a skyscraper, probably in NYC. She was sitting there with her lunch bucket just like one of the guys.

I went to the Netherlands in the Spring so maybe I need to find some Dutch master paintings and put us in one of those. What do you think?