Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chickens for the Cure

It's kind of buried at the end of the previous post, so here it is again: For every $50 that you donate to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on behalf of me or my team, I'll send you a unique, handmade, wheel-thrown and altered, wood-fired, North Carolina chicken. Details and rambling in the previous post.

Wattles, rattles, and the Race for the Cure

Last weekend, E and I went to visit our friends R and Ie. We finally met their chickens, including the intrepid Batty, who survived a horrific stray dog attack last month. You can follow the saga on R's blog.

Ie is an accomplished Chicken Whisperer and patiently allowed me to photograph him holding various chickens. Later, he walked into the kitchen with a pocketful of eggs--five in all. Those are industrious chickens.

Inspired, when we got home I added wattles to some birds-in-progress. I meant to do just a few, but then the wattleless chickens looked naked, so I did the whole flock.

Given the pictures I post, it must seem that I spend all of my pottery time making chickens and Klein Bottles. I do make mugs and bowls and plates and other fine functional pieces, but they're not as entertaining to photograph. Maybe that should be my new goal.

Why all the chickens? I'm planning a wood firing with some friends in June, and we never seem to have enough small things to tuck into the empty spaces between bowls. Chickens tuck well. And everyone can use a chicken.

You can't tell from the photos, but most of the chickens contain a clay egg or two, so they rattle. Rattles and wattles: two words that ought to rhyme but don't. One member of this flock is eggless because the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure organizers phoned at a critical stage in her formation to tell me to pick up my team box, and I forgot to drop in the egg.

Which got me thinking. Want a chicken? For every $50 that you donate to the Race for the Cure on behalf of me or my team, I'll send you a unique, handmade, wheel-thrown and altered, wood-fired, North Carolina chicken. That's right, one chicken for $50, two for $100. What the heck, if you donate $150, I'll send you four. Sure, it would be cheaper just to buy chickens directly from the artist, but then you wouldn't have the satisfaction of supporting the quest for a cure for breast cancer or helping to fund early-detection, education, screening, and treatment programs for under-served women.

We're loading the kiln the same day as the Komen race--June 12--so chickens will be available by the middle of next month. Depending on the clay and the spot in the kiln, chickens will range from white/smokey grey to cream to brown.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A new style for A Long-expected Party

Given that my childhood experience with Tolkien began with The Hobbit, I now understand, as an adult, why it also ended there. Nonetheless, tonight our quest for cultural literacy entered new territory as E and I commenced The Fellowship of the Rings. Happily, we can already tell this book differs considerably from its predecessor. Indeed, a mere five pages into the tale, we came upon this remarkable sentence:

"The flowers glowed red and golden: snap-dragons and sunflowers, and nasturtians* trailing all over the turf walls and peeping in at the round windows."

Yes folks, there's a colon in that sentence--the first of several in just the opening chapter alone! And semicolons abound in the book, not to mention commas and all other variety of punctuation. And there are italics and ALL CAPS to add emphasis and clarify meaning, and verbs and subjects enjoying intimate proximity, and pronouns pointing to clear antecedents. Just as Bilbo provides a rich abundance of foods for his birthday feast in Hobbiton, so Tolkien provides a rich abundance of linguistic cues in his prose, contributing greatly to the ease of reading out loud and, consequently, to our overall conviviality. Let the next adventure begin!

*According to the OED, "nasturtiums" predates "nasturtians," but it is nasturtians that grow in Middle Earth.

Plastic wrap

While we were living in Germany last fall, we recycled almost everything. After four months, we had accumulated a mere cubic foot or so of actual trash--non-recyclable stuff headed for the landfill.

Back in the U.S., we've nostalgically been collecting all of our plastic wrap. Plastic wrap is ubiquitous. Newspapers, grocery store foods, mail-order books, metal screws, the gaps between lids and containers, subscription magazines, computer components, paper towels, safety goggles, factory clay, dry-cleaned clothes, printer paper, new pottery kilns, pet fish, you name it: it comes in polyethylene bags or wrap.

Durham's recycling program does not take polyethylene thinner than a milk jug, so once we have a full [plastic] trash bag of plastic wrap (it doesn't take long), we drive it around in the car for a few weeks before sneaking it into the Good PR Plastic-Wrap Recycling Bin at Whole Foods. Whole Foods also has a Reality Trash Bin with a pictogram of plastic wrap as landfill material, so I suspect it all goes to the dump in the end, alas.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Grammar in Esgaroth

My friend Susan, who is well versed in religious and epic texts in assorted languages of old, insists I would appreciate Tolkien's prose more if I were better read in Middle English and Icelandic. Every sentence I threw at her, she read smoothly, without batting an eye or stumbling over a single missing comma.

So I decided to continue on with open mind after the death of Smaug in Esgaroth by Bard's last and best-aimed arrow [<--see what I in the narrative, that unfolds within the improvisational mind, have learned about strings of prepositional phrases!]. Full on the next paragraph I fell, and read aloud with epic voice these sentences: [<--apologies for the colon, I'm new at this]

"[The wind] twisted the white fog into bending pillars and hurrying clouds and drove it off to the West to scatter in tattered shreds over the marshes before Mirkwood. Then the many boats could be seen dotted dark on the surface of the lake, and down the wind came...No, dagnabbit. Wait a sec...and down the wind came...and down the...Ah, got it...and down the wind...came the voices of the people of Esgaroth lamenting their lost town and goods and ruined houses."

Reading with the epic voice helps.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grammar at Bag-End

A geek's confession: I have never read The Lord of the Rings, and I only know The Hobbit because my fifth grade teacher read it out loud over several weeks of "quiet time" in 1977.

Recently, in post-Harry Potter and Percy Jackson 2010, the eight- and nine-year-old males in my son's peer group have started carrying around assorted Tolkien books. The paperback covers are worn and tattered, mainly from falling out of perpetually unzipped backpacks, but I suspect some of the boys are actually reading the books too.

So I decided it's time for some mother-son bonding: I would nip E's potential cultural illiteracy in the bud, and (long overdue) make up for my own, by reading the books out loud to him.

We are now nearing the end of The Hobbit, and I think I've discovered the reason I never felt any affinity for it. It isn't because most of the book is about a long arduous slog, nor because the peoples of Middle Earth somehow managed to procreate (as evidenced by the existence of characters) without there being any females around. No, even the book's admittedly good moments--like Bilbo's riddle duel with Gollum--aren't enough to make up for its thoroughly annoying grammar.

I've therefore taken it upon myself to decipher some of Tolkien's rules, so that the path might be easier for other wannabe LotR fans.

Rule 1: After introductory elements only weak minds need commas.

Exhibit A: "In spite of the dangers of this far land bold men had of late been making their way back into it from the South, cutting down trees, and building themselves places to live in among the more pleasant woods in the valleys and along the river-shores."

Exhibit B: "Following him they found themselves in a wide hall with a fire-place in the middle. Though it was summer there was a wood-fire burning and the smoke was rising to the blackened rafters in search of a way out through an opening in the roof."

I suppose it doesn't make sense to say it was summer in a wide hall with a fire-place in the middle. Still, I wouldn't have had to back track from "Though it was summer there" to "Though it was summer, there" had Tolkien included a comma.

Exhibit C: "As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive eyes got used to seeing things he could catch glimpses of them whisking off the path and scuttling behind tree trunks."

Fun with back-tracking! Find your favorite introductory element:
a. "As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive eyes got used to seeing things he could catch glimpses of,"
b. "As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive eyes got used to seeing things he could catch,"
c. "As Bilbo's sharp inquisitive eyes got used to seeing things,"

Rule 2: Ambiguous pronoun references add depth to them.

Exhibit D: "Then at last they [Bilbo and the dwarves] said good-bye to their ponies and turned their heads for home. Off they trotted very gaily, seeming glad to put their tails towards the shadow of Mirkwood."

E and I suspected something was amiss when Bilbo's party headed in the wrong direction, and we confirmed it when the hobbits and dwarves sprouted tails.

Rule 3: Separating subjects and verbs over as vast a distance as possible, and recalling thus certain tape-worm-like sentence structures composed by authors in the German language and also sometimes apparently even in English, gets readers' attention.

Exhibit E: "Occasionally a slender beam of sun that had the luck to slip in through some opening in the leaves far above, and still more luck in not being caught in the tangled boughs and matted twigs beneath, stabbed down thin and bright before them."

Rule 4: Remember this, colons are bad.

Exhibit F: "All the time they ate, Beorn in his deep rolling voice told tales of the wild lands on this side of the mountains, and especially of the dark and dangerous wood, that lay outstretched far to the North and South a day's ride before them, barring their way to the East, the terrible forest of Mirkwood."

This is a nifty example because it deals with several of the rules and their exceptions: "All the time they ate, [surprise comma!] Beorn in his deep rolling voice [observe delay of verb] told tales of the wild lands on this side of the mountains, and especially of the dark and dangerous wood, [this unnecessary comma confounds the reader] that lay outstretched far to the North and South a day's ride before them, barring their way to the East, [colons are bad, but a colon would be helpful here] the terrible forest of Mirkwood."

Rule 5: Because an idle mind is the devil's workshop to figure out your meaning, make your readers struggle.

Exhibit G: "The barrels now all lashed together creaked and fretted."

You choose the error: is it (a) lack of commas separating items in a list ("The barrels now all lashed together, creaked, and fretted"), or (b) missing commas around a participial phrase ("The barrels, now all lashed together, creaked and fretted")? (Ooh, ooh, choose (b)!)

Exhibit G occurs about two thirds of the way through The Hobbit, by which point you are no longer likely to be surprised by such comma-less constructions.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day

First come the eggs...

Then come the muffins...

Best Mother's Day surprise ever.

When I was a kid, my brother, sister, and I would make my mom dry rice cakes with cold cottage cheese on top--just like she always made for herself, so we knew how much she enjoyed it. E is wiser than I ever was...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Another flock in the works

First come the eggs...

Then come the chickens...

It's true, eyes are the windows into chickens' souls.

Next in line

Next up in the Spring flower fashion line: rhododendrons and the Larry Fafner Memorial rose bush.

When our cat died in 2002, we went to Witherspoon's Roses and asked for a bush that would require absolutely no care. After the salesperson finished laughing, he said, "oh, actually, we might have one variety..." It was orange-pink, kind of like Larry, and it has thrived despite our neglect.

"[Larry Fafner] is in the ground and he's helping grow flowers. You know, I said, that's that's a pretty nice job for a cat."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kissed by the kiln

Hip, hip, hooray! Last year, I submitted photos of three vases to Lark Books for consideration in their publication 500 Vases. Yesterday, I got a letter saying one of the images was accepted--my first pot in print. This is such good news, I'm not going be bothered that the two pots that were rejected are more representative of my current aesthetic than the pot that was accepted.

A few years ago, when my throwing skills were finally good enough for me to tell the clay what to do instead of vice versa, I gave myself an assignment to learn to make round things with narrow necks. It was a great exercise. When I was done, I glazed all the bisque ware with Pinell's Weathered Bronze and yielded the collection to the Cone 9 kiln gods at Claymakers. But wouldn't you know it, after I had gone through all that effort to make symmetric round things with narrow necks, the glaze came out uneven. It had dripped and run, and there was a stripe cutting across this particular pot because the kiln had fired unevenly.

As I was busy being disgruntled, looking at my collection of pots that had turned out all wrong, my teacher and friend, Leonora Coleman, walked by and started oohing and ahhing about how the glaze had come out uneven, how it had dripped and run, how there was a stripe cutting across this particular pot because the kiln had fired unevenly. "What serendipity! You couldn't repeat that if you tried!"

I have, of course, spent much of my potting time since then trying to make pots that look wonky and more fluid--a delightful path of self-discovery that has helped me come to terms with and finally accept being an uptight control freak. The other round pots with narrow necks have long since moved on to other homes, but this particular pot is still with me, reminding me of Leonora and of how there are all sorts of ways to let go.

(Photos by Laura Korch)