Bites of Inspiration

   

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In Italy, food is transformative.  It moves from simple nutrition to becoming the essence of life itself.   During our Beautiful Truth Retreat, we had the chance to  cook with one of my most lovely friends, Carla, who, together with her husband has one of the most lovely restaurants here in Acqui Terme. She taught us so much, she made us laugh, and gifted us moments we'll never forget.

 

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There are more beautiful bites this week:

I am honored to be featured as part of a free interview series called Inspiration Bites, the brain child of the wonderful life coach Alison Ottaway.  The series is completely free, you just need to go and sign up.  There will be an interview recording from international life and change experts every day for two weeks, Monday through Friday.    It starts tomorrow, so don't delay!

your creative calling: what would you do if you weren't worried about being judged?

pursue some path

 

Your idea is your capital.

I don't mean that in strictly a financial sense (although, yeah, that too..).  I'm talking about the capital on which you can focus your energy and open doors to your authentic path.  Your idea is your soul capital. 

Coming to your specific idea of how you would like your future to look professionally and personally feels really complicated and fraught with obstacles.  We don't just block the idea;  we block the manifestation of the idea.

No money.

No time.

Too many other commitments.

I'm not selfish enough to want to live my own idea. 

My partner won't agree.

My friends/family will think I'm crazy.

I won't be able to do it perfectly. I'm not so good at it. 

Look, here's the bottom line.  You  have no idea what will happen if you manifest your ideas and call the forth.  You can't know the lessons that you will learn, the people you will attract, alienate, piss off or laugh with, you have no idea what kind of personal development is in store for you.

You don't know how it will go.

So if you judge your idea as not worth pursuing before you even explore it fully, you've closed the door.  Locked it.  Thrown away the key.  Is that what you want?

It really doesn't have to be that complicated if we lay to the side our self doubts.  And if we stop judging how we're going to be judged for going after our idea.

Often we don't manifest ideas into action because of judgment.  Not strictly the fear of how others will think about us, but the fear of how we will react to people judging us.  Our judgment of judgment.  What we think of what people think of us.

Because judgment will always be there.

It's what we do with judgment that will determine our path.

It's that inner voice that keeps us locked in place, that convinces us the risks are too great, we aren't that good, we don't have a chance, we won't follow through, we just shouldn't bother.

We need to shut her up, that inner voice, because she's so busy judging the judgment of others that she couldn't care less about our authentic selves.

We are the shamans of our own energy, the creators of our own light.  We ourselves determine the doors that open for us.

How do we start?  How can we open our hearts and minds to our best idea?

Enter Wendi Knox.  

Wendi is a magical doctor/artist of authenticity, a magnetic energy medium, a colorful, authentic beauty who has reinvented not only her path, but the paths of women everywhere.   Here's what she has to say about this very subject.

 

I'm working with several women on bringing their idea to cohesive fruition.  I am absolutely and whole heartedly committed to this work.  Do you have an idea you'd like to develop but don't quite know where to start?  I'm here to help you do your best work.  

I cannot believe that Di Mackey and my  Your Beautiful Truth Retreat is less than three weeks away!  Energy will be flying on our little hill in the Italian country side.

And last but not least, I'm scheming with my beautiful friend Barrie Davenport on a new course and on-line workshop about this very subject - calling forth your creative idea and manifesting it into your work.  The launch will be spring 2014.

So now it's over to you:

What would you do if you weren't worried about being judged?  What is your idea?  If you felt free from your inner Edna, as Wendi calls her, what would you do?

 

creative release

porcelain pot
porcelain pot
I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it  - Pablo PicassoI've been screaming inside.

For calm,  for a rock on the head,  for anything to move me out of a sense of superficial frantic activity coupled with spiritual and creative inertia.

I know something new is coming out of a sense of WE. 

It started two weeks ago with a 20 pound block of porcelain clay, a clay I never worked with.  I cleaned my studio and opened the sack - and started to work with it.  At first - frustration.  Turned to anger- almost tears. Because it was different than anything I ever did before with clay. And my ego was such that I thought I could work with porcelain without even thinking about it.  Ten pieces ended up on a blob on the middle of my work table before I really thought about what the problem was.  The problem was how I as approaching the process. I stopped - worked my way through the complexity of my own reaction. And started again.

"Have fun with it," I said to myself.  "Stop taking this so seriously."

porcelain 6
porcelain 6
porcelain 4
porcelain 4
porcelain2
porcelain2

These pieces are different than anything I've ever made. I posted a couple of shots on Facebook and the reaction was immediate.  People reacted to these raw, just thrown forms straight from their emotional center.  That reaction broke loose something inside of me that made me want to create.  Sculpt. Write.  Bring my work to the next level - and share all of it with you.

Gather your thoughts.

Look at how you live. Your sense of self expands into all that you touch.  Loving that with which you are surrounded will expand your capacity to grow.  Your life is yours to curate and manifest.  The more you dream about what can be, the more you are able to call those dreams forth into your daily life and try new things that can bring you joy.  The Universe will put things in your path to help the trip. But you have to put in the work.  You have to try what you don't know, what you're not sure of.  You have to be willing to be bad at it before you get good at it, and bless the bad stuff as being a beautiful part of the process.

The Universe will give you a green light and let you walk across your own path.  

 

create. here's why you should do it.

a heart on a wall in Genova.  taken during an amazing photography course with Camera Journeys 

 

You need to create. 

Do it for all the ones who came before and couldn't because their lives were tied up in keeping children warm and fed .

Do it for the times your heart bled with pain from being misunderstood and powerless.

Do it as a prayer, or as an answer to your own prayers.

Do it because by doing it you can never be a small person.  Creating expands you.

Do it because you'll get feedback, and feedback will make you better.

Do it so you see how hard it is.  You'll never judge anyone again.

Do it so that those who've judged you can see how wrong they are.

Do it so the ones who love you unconditionally can see how right they are.

Do it because in doing it there's honor and justice and just the process of doing it makes the world a better, more wholesome, more healing place.

Do it because if you don't, it will never get done no matter how many times people tell you there's nothing new in this world.

Do it because people will see who you really are.  Your truth shines through in your art more than it does in anything else.

Do it because you might inspire another.  You might mentor  a broken heart with words, soothe a broken spirit with painting, give a broken life a reason to try once more.   You have the power to do that.

Do it because putting yourself on the line and letting the chips fall speaks volumes to your character as a human being on this planet.

Do it because doing it makes you vulnerable and whole and accepting of the efforts and foibles of others.

Do it to make yourself happy.

Do it because creating is energy, and energy begets energy and energy is the Eternal Spirit.

Do it because by not doing it, you are not honoring your true purpose.

Do it because, well, just do it and find out your own reasons to add to this list.

 

What I'm creating:

I got my Etsy shop up and running.  (I hate that things cost so much to ship to the USA.)

I'm grateful as can be to Lori at Tiny Buddha for allowing me to guest post on her beautiful blog... and I welcome all the new readers that have come here as a result, have bought my ebook Your Truth (now at a reduced price of 2.99!!), and have commented.

I'm loving Tammy Strobel's wonderful audio blog about my book, True Vines, and  Karol Gajda's new app project - it's all about gratitude and love.

I also feel very grateful for all the amazing reviews I have gotten on AmazonBarnes and Noble and Goodreads about True Vines.  Watching this book take flight is amazing.  I'm planning my postponed trip to the states to indie bookstores - I'll be heading out at the end of February, and hope to meet some of you in person.

I'm working hard on my Mentoring program for 2013.  I've received many requests for coaching and mentor services for the upcoming year and I'll be sending out information in  January.

We're preparing for visitors during the holiday season and looking forward to long evenings chatting, eating and drinking wine in front of the woodburning stove.

I'm awaiting the winter solstice of 2012 with a full and grateful heart.  Thank you, my friends.  Your love has helped make the year a very special one for me.

 

 

 

meaning and purpose

This morning I woke to perfect quiet.  

The B&B season is over. The golden tinge of the distant fields revealed itself as the morning mist was driven away by an ever descending sun.  I made my way, coffee in hand, to my pottery studio, where a greenware  platter awaited me. I'm trying something different this time - a traditional piece.  It's not in my normal repertoire, but I'm doing it for three reasons.

First:  discipline.  These classic pieces, well ornamented, require dedication and patience.

Second:  improvement.  I want to improve my skill level, and there is no better way to do that than by focusing on the technical skills of a craft.

Third:  this piece uses a material called copper carbonate.  Copper carbonate is a raw material that farmers use in the Piedmontese country side for a variety of purposes. Mixed with water, they spray crystalline copper carbonate on vines to keep fungus growth from multiplying.  The local contadini also make a paint from copper carbonate, chalk and linseed oil that is used to paint wood.  This mixture creates a paint of a sea green color and protects the wood from wood worms over generations.

The technique used on this piece is the traditional European art of sgraffito. I've painted something called an engobe (which is a mixture of clay, water, quartz and colorant - in this case, copper carbonate) onto a hand built 15 inch platter, and then I've literally scratched away the excess, leaving a slightly raised design in the leather-hard clay.    Once it's dried, it will be bisque fired, and then I will glaze it with a tin-rich glaze (this helps copper to develop into a green color), and fire to 1240 degrees C.  This high temperature causes the glass in the clay to vitrify with the glass in the glaze, forming a chip-proof bond - the essential characteristic of stoneware.  Here's a more contemporary sgraffito piece that I made a few years ago:

In keeping with this tradition, the internationally acclaimed artist Alzek Misheff  and his wife, architect Eleonora Ricci have created a project entitled La Corte del Verderame (the Court of Green Copper).  They are in the process of restoring an ancient cascina outside of Acqui Terme using natural materials such as limestone and copper.  The cascina will be used for major artist events and installations.  I sat down recently with Alzek and Eleanora and discussed the project - and am now working to create ceramics that celebrate the use of copper.

With La Corte del Verderame, Alzek and Eleonora are providing the chance to participate in an artistic movement that is based on values I hold dear:  reusing existing materials, connecting with the fundamental goodness of the zone which I call home, restoring derelict buildings using low carbon impact materials and techniques, and creating beauty that is at once simple and meaningful.

This is good. It's really, really good. I find it impossible to dismiss that since the day I opened my pottery studio in Hamburg in 2000, copper carbonate has been the single most important coloring agent I've used in pots.  Anyone who knows my work knows how many acqua, turquoise and soft green pots I create.  Almost of those are created using copper carbonate.  And now, I've run with my arms wide open in to a project put together by international artists in my own home town of Acqui Terme who consider this material to be so important that they've designed an entire creative movement around it?

I move lightly in this world, amazed at what I've uncovered, and how things ultimately join forces to move me forward. I'm humbled by the events I experience.

When I feel so tired that I don't think I can go on, my words are on the verge of being published, of being released internationally, and I don't even really completely understand how that happened.

When all I can think about is laying my head down and closing my eyes, I experience one of the most satisfying and beautiful season of guests that this bed and breakfast has ever seen.

And now, when I just want to relax an aching back, I open myself up to a creative movement that speaks to everything I believe in as an artist and a woman on this planet.

These things remind me that this short existence can be packed with meaning and purpose.  And every day that we wake up, regardless what we wake up to, is another chance to manifest that meaning and purpose.

What I'm reading this week:

 Satya Colombo's amazingly timely post about having changed perspective through travel and discovering what's crucial - and worth fighting for. 

What I'm listening to this week:

Buddha Bar 5

What I'm doing this week:

Guest blogging for my new book True Vines, working in the pottery studio, walking in the vineyards with Micha and Max, cooking fall foods like pumpkin soup, lentil stew, and polenta.

Wild and Crazy

Some weeks are tougher than others.  Sometimes a few days in the B&B business can humble a person, especially when the temperature won't go below 100.  I have had one of those weeks.  In fact it has not even been a week, just a few insane days.  

It all started on Thursday.
Max got something in or near his eye.  We assumed it was a wasp sting, because it swelled up.  It seemed to annoy him more than hurt him.  I iced it down.
I made a large pot of sugo rosso, to use in preparing a pot of chicken cacciatore for a guest dinner for Saturday night. Guests from Texas had invited friends from the area to join them here for dinner, and our other guests from Australia had decided to have dinner at the B&B as well. I went to the polleria and ordered up 20 chicken thighs to pick up on Friday, since Saturday would be a legal holiday, Ferragosto.
On Friday, Max seemed ok, the eye was not really looking too bad.  I made breakfast for four, cleaned the rooms and kitchen together with Micha and Mimi  (our helper), ironed a mountain of sheets (yes, I know, I could not take not-ironed sheets, they really bothered me) and then went and did the shopping for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including the chicken thighs.  In the late afternoon I made the chicken, using the sauce, and set it on simmer on three of the six burners. 
Micha came out to the kitchen and said that Max's eye looked worse.  I went in to look a it.  It was swollen shut, and he seemed lethargic.  We rushed off to the vet.  He had gotten a long pine type  needle stuck in his cornea.  It had to be surgically removed, and I had to assist in by holding his eye open.  The first half of it snapped off, and then the vet had to dig for the other half.  It was horrendous to watch.  Poor baby was just coming off of having stitches the week before in his hind quarter from being bitten, and now this! We put him on a gurney and brought him home post surgery, still under full anesthesia.   
I had forgotten to turn off the burners under the chicken before heading to the vet, in my emotional state.  Everything was burnt to a nasty black crisp.  By now it was 6.30 pm, the day before a holiday.  Micha tore down the driveway, searching for 20 more chicken thighs.  He hit four butchers and managed to assemble the necessary quantity.  He also brought home a case of tomatoes, donated by the neighbors, and we started, at 9 pm, to make the same sugo that we had made the day before.  I also made the polenta for the appetizer, and we got to bed a little past midnight. 
I got up at 6 on Saturday to start the breakfast, and to prepare for a room changeover.  A room changeover might not sound like that big of a deal, but it is for us.  One changeover means two complete hours of work -- we literally gut the room every single changeover.  Since the rooms are furnished and decorated as they are, every single light fixture, vase, candle and decoration has to be handled and cleaned.  Fresh flowers need to be picked and arranged.  Guests left, and others arrived.  At 1 pm I started with the dinner preparations, being careful not to burn the chicken this time.  Dinner was served at 7 and everyone seemed to enjoy it:   Polenta served with sauteed mushrooms and gorgonzola on a bed of rucola,  chicken in tomatoes, wine and herbs with roasted potatoes, zucchini and string beans, and fresh fruit with Brachetto for dessert.  Everyone was in the pool until 11.30, and I crashed shortly thereafter.
On Sunday after breakfast service I got myself organized for the week.  There would be a check out on Monday, and a check out on Tuesday.  On Tuesday, four would be arriving from Germany.  Dear clients who were returning with friends.  This was a good plan, because Monday we could change over one room, get it ready, and then do the other on Tuesday morning, when our adorable Australian guests would be leaving.  Having convinced myself that I was ahead of plan, I took a long nap, over two hours, the kind where you don't know where you are when you wake up.  It felt great.
So today, on Monday, we said goodbye to the three Texans for whom we had made the dinner, cleaned the room, and took a deep breath....only to hear the roar of two big German cars coming up the driveway.  I had misbooked the Germans.  I had them coming in on Tuesday, but they had booked for Monday.  Only one room is free, the other is still booked until tomorrow. My mistake.  Absolutely my mistake -- my first booking error in four years.  I went tearing down the hill, got a room for two of the Germans at Relais dell'Osso, did a massive shopping spree for dinner tonight (dinner for eight:  the Australians, the four Germans, and us) and am now trying to catch my breath.  Our German guests are being wonderful about it, but I feel awful.  They are all out by the pool now, relaxing in the 120 degree heat. In about an hour I will be making the dinner which I had planned for the Germans' arrival tomorrow.   Tomorrow the two that are staying in town will come up for breakfast, and hang out by the pool while we get their room ready, and then their vacation can start-- for real. 
Max's eye is much better (moral of that story:  I am going to become a dog hypochondriac an bring him to the vet for every little thing now). I am exhausted but I have done everything I can to make up for the booking mistake, including double check every reservation I have for the rest of the season.  Micha is doing a wine tour with the Australian ladies and.... tomorrow is another day.  

The Gratitude Friday Club: The Guests

I have a pretty good day job.  I work hard, make things nice for other people.  In return they thank me, they laugh, they relax, they enjoy themselves.  The more they laugh and relax, the harder I try to make it nice.  They come from all over the world:  America, Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand, China, Switzerland, South Africa... and they bring me news of their corner of the world.  I am richer for their being here, and I don't mean in my piggy bank.  

They forgive when things don't go according to plan; they wait, taking in the view if breakfast is a little late.   They don't realize how much they make my day by writing a few simple lines in my guest book.
How many people have a job where they get to be their own boss and have so much positive feedback?  Not that many, I think!  
Like I have always said, the guests make the magic here.

How We Eat What We Eat



Ceramics has constituted a large part of my life for the last ten years.  I have tried to understand my own fascination with ceramics, and what it comes down to is this:  When I see food, the first thing I see is what type of plate it should be presented upon.  It does not have to be pottery, and it clearly does not have to be mine.  It can be fine china, porcelain, metal, glass.  Wood.  I just see the surface the food should be on.  Das Auge isst mit.   Your eye eats just as much as your mouth does, and visuals are important.

But it goes deeper.  It is not just what we eat, or how it looks.  It is about how we eat.  It is about how we hold our cup of tea in the winter, the steam rolling off as we blow on it.  It is about how the foam from  frothed milk sits in the cup.  It is about feeling warm, and good, and lucky to have such good food.  A plate can deliver a lot of feelings.  
For me, the right plate can give a meal a sense of home.  
So making plates seems to be a natural for me.  I love looking at something beautiful, like a peach, and seeing what kind of plate it should sit on.  I like a little pattern, but the pattern should never compete with the food.   It should be subtle.  
I love hand craft, I love to see the hand in creations.  I love it when people turn my plates over, check the weight of them, wonder when I made them.  My ceramics are an extension of our life here on the hill, and I am fortunate to have the time and the place to work on them.
I will forever, as long as I am healthy, try to improve my craft.  It gives me such a sense of peace.

A Similar Plate...



For those who like the first pattern, here is a somewhat similar (less detailed -- the design is painted on but the negative space is not sculpted out) plate design to that first small dessert plate.  I did this back in 2007 as a special order for clients from 2006.

You can see here how stoneware differs from low fire majolica - the glaze is much harder, and the general effect is more hazed, softer, muted. That is the effect of this particular type of engobe which I make in the studio.

Studio Ceramics: Perspective Photos




pasta plate

dinner plate

dessert plate/ antipasti plate 

tea/rice bowl

coffee cup


Thank you for your comments about the pottery prototypes.  I am now posting photos of the pieces which show them in relation to other things -- my hand, some typical kitchen items -- to give an idea of actual size.

Dana -- I am toying with the idea of making the dinner plate a little larger, but not too much.  Since "secondi" typically are not too huge, I am thinking that this plate should be able to sit comfortably on a glass charger plate.
Francesca -- I am doing some prototype designs and patterns.  Here are three I am trying:
Here the copper (celadon green) engobe is painted in a pattern, and the negative spaced is carefully carved away, leaving a slight relief.  The relief will diminish after the glaze is applied.
Here the engobe (cobalt blue) is applied and the pattern is scratched into the plate (scrafito)

Here the pattern is scratched into a naked plate.  The engobe is applied into the crevices and then the plate is lightly sanded with steel wool to remove any extra engobe.

Note:  You cannot see the actual color these plates will be until after the second, or the glaze, firing.  The color comes from the reaction of the metal oxide (in these cases, cobalt blue and copper green) with the chemicals in the glaze.  So you have to use your imagination a bit. This is the part of ceramics which can yield the most interesting surprises....
I will do a few other design techniques and we will see how they come out.  Now everything has to be bisque fired and then glazed, and then high fired.  Lots to do!

Studio Ceramics: Form Follows Function

As I mentioned, I have been working on pottery prototypes for a line of dinnerware.  Here are my pieces which I have settled on as part of this first line of plates:

Muesli Bowl and Rounded Pasta Plate

Tall Latte Cup and Dinner Plate

Tea Bowl and  Dessert Plate

Coffee Cup and Dessert Plate

Four Piece Place Setting:  Muesli (or Soup) Bowl, Dinner Plate, Dessert Plate, Coffee Cup
These prototypes, which are leather hard now, will be painted in a specific pattern and then I can go about loading up for a bisque firing.
There is something about the simplicity of the lines, and the rounded elegance that I like.  Please let me know your (honest, please) opinions.

Studio Ceramics: Zen and the Art of Clay

Dinner Plate still on the wheel

Various coffee mugs, tea cups, and latte cups

self portrait after a morning of throwing on the wheel

freshly made and dry buttons

polished soap dish, leather hard

polished soap dish 2, leather hard

Dinner plate (left) and dessert plate (right), freshly thrown (both will get cleaned up tomorrow)

Years ago, when I was first contemplating opening my own ceramics studio in Hamburg, Germany, we took a ride on my birthday out to the beautiful Niedersachsen artisan village of Fischerhude.  There, I visited the studio of Claudia Craemer, Master Ceramist (Keramikmeisterin) who makes individual porcelain and raku fired pieces. Her porcelain pieces are so fine that light shimmers through them.  Here are some of her light fixtures:

photo: claudia craemer
I asked Claudia what she thought was the most important thing in having a successful pottery studio (other than talent).  She thought a minute, and said that having an established ritual for working is a very important thing. She did not go into detail, leaving me to believe that every potter has to establish her own ritual. Claudia's words  stuck with me over the last nine years -- mostly because I have never really acheived it and never really fully understood the importance of it, until recently.
For me, ritual in the studio is becoming everything.
First, there is the ritual how a person works if having a day of throwing fresh clay on the wheel.  This involves taking care of old clay (getting it back into a form to work with again), weighing out clay balls for different vessels to be made on the wheel, working on the wheel, cleaning up and discarding the excess clay into the clay pile to be reworked again.
Second, there is the ritual of how a person works if having a day of cleaning up pots thrown the day before.  This involves cleaning up the pots, gathering the excess clay and discarding it into the clay pile, cleaning up the tools, and packing the greenware in plastic to be worked, sculpted, painted, etc, when it becomes leather hard.
There are the rituals for hand building ceramics, making mosaic pieces, buttons, decorative tiles, and soap dishes.
The one thing these rituals all have in common are:
Start in a clean studio.
Take care of your old clay.  If you don't you will have mountains of it - none of it ready to use.
Have fun and take breaks while working.
Work as cleanly and as carefully as you can.  You will not have as much clay to rework if you are careful.
Use as little water as possible, but as much as is necessary.
Clean up after yourself so that you can start in a clean studio the next day.
These rituals are absolutely necessary to having a successful studio which is a pleasure to work in.  I think these rituals can translate into any type of creative venture, including cooking.
I am in process of working on pieces for orders, but I am also doing something else -- I am creating my first line of stoneware.  I am busy calculating how many grams of clay need to go into each tea cup, coffee cup, latte bowl, muesli bowl, dessert plate and dinner plate. I am making multiple samples of of each of these six pieces.  It's a fun phase.  When I am through this, I will be selecting glazes and designs for the line, and then making the prototype set.
It would not be possible to even contemplate a project of this measure if I do not follow Claudia Craemer's well heeded and simple advice -- it is all about the ritual.

Gratitude Friday: Friends


This week, an old dear friend came to visit us with her husband and kids.  Laurie and I met at Sprachenschule, language school, when we had both first  moved to Hamburg, Germany in 1994.  Laurie had come over to live with her new love, Oliver, and I was there with Micha because he had just been promoted to run the German Division of Staples.  Both of us were bewildered and out of our element.  Our morning classes turned into lunch dates. Soon Laurie and I were unpacking her freshly arrived goods from the states and we were laughing about becoming German Hausfrauen.


Laurie always had an incredible eye for antiques, and soon she and Oliver were making trips to Sweden to scout the local markets for cool things to bring back and refinish.  I was the witness at their gorgeous November wedding, at the Witthues Restaurant in the Hirschpark of Blankenese, one of the most beautiful parts of Hamburg.  Micha was the official translator.
A few years later, Claire came to the world, and I would spend Wednesdays at Laurie's house, because Oliver had to work late.  We drank coffee and walked through the streets with the baby carriage.  
We both ended up moving close to each other, us in an apartment in Blankenese and they in a lovely historic home which they completely renovated.  We would walk to each other's house and bring breakfast.  Soon Eliot was born. We made each other cakes, we would dry each other's tears, we coped with all the changes in our foreign lives - together.  
And we both decided to leave Hamburg in 2003.
Me for Italy, and her for Washington.  My last nights in Hamburg were spent at Laurie and Oliver's, talking and eating, helping Claire with her homework.  They are unforgettable moments for me.  I will always remember the taxi which would take me to the airport when I departed for Italy -- I looked out the rear  window and saw Laurie standing in the street, crying.  We had just been through so much together.
So you can imagine what it meant for me to have the family here, even for three short days.  Claire is a leggy, gorgeous 11 year old, and Eliot a bright eyed and animated 8 year old.  We talked late into the night, drank too much wine, ate too much food.  It was heavenly.
Those of you who have been here have seen Laurie's antique picks from Sweden, they dot the rooms and the kitchen.  It was fun for her to see the pieces again.  And of course, I think of her every time I see them.
I am so thankful for this short visit, and that we both have put our time in Hamburg into historic perspective, and realize the growth opportunities it has given us.   We have both grown older, and wiser.  It was a gift, one to be very grateful for. Old dear friends.  Nothing like them.
Please visit more Gratitude Friday Club posts by my friends whose names are in the blogroll to the right.  It always pays to be grateful. Always.

Studio Ceramic Series: Painting the Bowls





Today I made ceramic high-fire paint, called engobe, to paint the bowls I made this week.  I made  7 different paints:  a soft turquoise, a stronger turquoise, a soft blue, a stronger blue, a rust brown, a soft green, and a white.  This paint is made by mixing grog (fired clay which has been milled to a fine powder) and clay powder.  To this mixture we add oxides  -- chrome, cobalt, iron and copper -- and carbonates (copper and cobalt --- these are the softer colors) and dilute the mixtures with water.  In the picture above, the bowl to the left was painted with cobalt oxide engobe, the next with iron oxide, the third with chrome oxide, and the fourth with copper oxide.

I know, too much information.  
I then carved into the semi hard clay and made some designs.  Each of these bowls requires a different glaze, and these are basically tests.  They first now need to be bisque fired, then glazed, then high fired.  
I am particularly excited about the iron oxide bowl, the orange-brown one.  If this one comes out as I think it might, I will make a series in this design.
I will keep you posted!

The Gratitude Friday Club


In the grand scheme of things, being grateful might be small, but it is very important.  I started the idea of posting the things for which I am grateful really for myself -- to get my gratitude out of the world of the nebulous and into concrete words in cyberspace that I could go back to them and read them when times get tough. You all responded with warmth and enthusiasm.  Thank you for that.  And today, I introduce the Gratitude Friday Club, made up of bloggers who want to participate.  If you have contacted me and said you want to actively participate on your blog and I somehow missed linking you up, or if you wish to do so and don't see your name on the blogroll, just leave me a comment with your link -- I will get you right on there.  I don't want anyone to feel compelled to do this, it is just as wonderful if you read and get joy out of the comments of others.  

You just need to write a Friday post about the things you are grateful for, and link it back here to me at Creative Structures.
This week I have gads of stuff to be grateful for. After fighting the bureaucracy and running from office to office, my Permanent Residency Permit to stay in this country arrived.  Whew.  And, although the law has changed concerning foreigners and health coverage, I managed to get my insurance here renewed for another five years-- with the help of some very nice people at the Commune.  They conspired to help me, and I am very grateful.  
I got back on the pottery wheel after more than a year. For so many reasons, I could not work on the wheel -- the extreme weather, the construction which turned the studio into a warehouse, the work, and my own not feeling great or creative.  That's all over.  I am  back at it, and it is wonderful.
We had a wonderful week with our guest Diana who flew home yesterday. Today we get guests from Germany and Great Britain.  The pool and the fried sage leaves await them.
My brother in law lost his mother this week, which was sad.  But she lived to be 90 years old and only suffered one day before passing.  We should all be so lucky.  My sympathy and blessings to the family.
The elderflowers have turned into elderberries and I will be making elderberry soup this week as a dessert, with mascarpone cream.  The markets are so full of gorgeous stuff, if I go there with a 10 euro bill, I come home with enough fantastic produce to last us for days.  
And I slept thru. Twice in a week. That is a record. I do not believe I have done that in many years.  Boy, does good sleep make a huge difference. 
And my friends, I am grateful for every single one of you.  For making me feel like this is a good idea.  
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
 

Eating Like a King (for Pennies) In Italy Part 2



I have heard of cheap but this is ridiculous.  One kilo of baby zucchini with flowers attached, that would be 2.2 American pounds, for 1 Euro, or $1.40.  I found them at the farmers' market.  We have an area of the market which is strictly dedicated to local farmers who bring their ware.  They do not have to pay any taxes on their income-- they have a special permit and can just bring the things out of their garden, whatever they have, and sell the produce in this one area.  This time of year, going there is such a pleasure!  I am going to try to hit the market after breakfast next Tuesday and bring my camera.  For now, these zucchini photos will have to suffice.

Besides making grilled zucchini, I dipped the flowers in  a batter of flour, milk, egg, salt and pepper, sauteed them in olive oil and made these beautiful snacks for our guests' aperitivo in the evening.
This delicacy, for 4 people, minus the cost of the actual zucchini (which I used for something else) cost me approximately  1 euro, including the olive oil, the eggs and the milk.  And a bit of love and time.  You GOTTA love that!!

Studio Ceramic Series: Behind the Wheel

After what has been a very long hiatus, I finally got behind the pottery wheel yesterday and started working. I am busy making things to fill the oven for a long-overdue bisque firing.  One order is for guests who bid and won three pieces of ceramic artwork during Gina DePalma's Cowgirl Cure Auction to benefit Ovarian Cancer Research.  Two others are for a mixture of muesli bowls, plates, cups, and serving pieces.  
People often tell me that they would love to learn how to use the pottery wheel.  It is so intriguing.  The reality is that the only way to learn how to throw pots well is practice and patience.   It  takes time and concentration.  One must be able to clear one's mind.   If your mind is too busy when you work on the pottery wheel, the piece will go off-center because you are not focused enough.
It takes a centered mind to throw a centered pot.



The next phase is cleaning the bottoms, removing any excess, and painting with engobe, which is a mixture of grog, quartz, a bit of clay, coloring oxides and water.   Then they will dry for a couple of days and it will be time for the first firing, during which I will mix the glazes to prepare for the second firing.