Thanks for stopping by!!!!

Following a series of traumatic events in my life (the deaths of my grandson, followed by my son, as well as numerous other major travails), my life went into a dramatic tailspin and I lost my enthusiasm for living. After reaching the lowest depths of despair, however, something within me cried out to do whatever it took to pull myself up and move forward. Happily, I am recovering slowly but surely by grasping life by the horns and not only holding on for the ride, but relishing it every step of the way.

In an effort to recover the joie de vivre I'd once known, I have found that through pushing myself to live fully (even on the days when I don’t particularly want to), I am rediscovering the wonder that can be found by simply moving forward. I'm "making it" by, in part, making it! In other words, unleashing my creativity through myriad projects has proven to be cathartic and healing to me. Included in this creative drive is a passion to write, so while I don't consider myself to be an especially gifted writer, I do so for the joy it gives to me. Sometimes, though, I have been known to stir something in my readers now and then, as well. Thus, I offer you a glimpse into my world by sharing my journey. I hope you'll find something in my musings to move you, amuse you, inspire you, or intrigue you as I post the occasional missive about my mission to move forward from tragedy through the healing powers of creativity, adventure, and living life to the fullest.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Making...A Totally Groovy Bathroom!

DISCLAIMER: The following post goes into far greater detail about a project I am currently undertaking. If you aren't interested in the details and the thought processes that occur to me as I work, you might want to just skim through and focus on the photographs. One of my pleasures is in writing and chronicling my undertakings, and I may perhaps drone on in more detail than what interests you. But if you want to know, read on!

I’m tackling one of the biggest projects of my life: a bathroom in our pool house. This is a project that has been 13 years in the making (ever since we moved in and I originally conceived of the project). I've no doubt that I could have finished it in a matter of months had I devoted myself fully and frantically to it, but to do so was an impossibility for a person such as me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I honestly think I’m ADHD. I can’t seem to stay with any single project---especially lengthy, repetitive ones--- from beginning to end, hence I have myriad projects scattered throughout my house here in Austin, my house in Colorado, and my ranch house in Boerne, Texas. Granted, I think I get more done than a lot of people, but any given project, except the simplest of undertakings, takes me a loooong time to complete. I tend to burn out and lose interest, moving on to something else, only to return to it days, weeks. months, or even years later, until the process repeats itself. Eventually things do get done (MOM!)…eventually being the key word here. I've often thought of trying medication for ADHD to see how it affects me, but I’m so afraid it will dull my drive that I haven’t done so. I should try it just to see what happens. Maybe it will help me to focus on one thing at a time, but if it dulls me in any way it will be an unacceptable result. I intend to discuss this with a physician soon and just see what happens, but that is a topic for another day.

In addition to my presumed ADHD, I've had four children to raise, and they've been my primary focus for 25 years. They still are, but they’re adults now and don’t need me (as much) anymore, so I have more time to devote to my almost innumerable undertakings. Now I am able to spend more time on my projects, but not (I hope) at the expense of my family.

One big reason that I don’t have the time to devote to my projects is that I happen to live in an 11,500 square-foot house (when you include the pool house, which is where this project is happening) and for some reason, a certain someone in this house doesn't believe in hiring a maid. He believes a maid is a frivolity and that we should be able to handle the housekeeping tasks ourselves. Hence, the house is never as clean as I’d like, though I try. Good lord, this house has eight bathrooms alone! This is a bone of contention between us to say the least, and one day soon I will have my way about it. I’d rather get a job that I like and hire a maid with my own money than undertake these mundane and tedious housekeeping tasks that overwhelm me. Would that I could market my creative skills! I would be in heaven creating something that people would actually purchase, giving me more autonomy in this matter. How I envy those who have found a way to get paid for doing what they truly love!

Pool House Bath Window #1: Didn't fabricate it myself, but I did design it and oversaw its execution

Next, as many of you know, I experienced a sort of fracturing of my psyche when I lost my beloved grandson and then, three years later, my beloved son. Those consecutive tragedies brought my life to a screeching halt for these past five years and I simply wasn't motivated to do much of this sort of thing. I’m making a conscious effort to change that because I have discovered that in forcing myself to do the things I once loved, even when my heart isn't in it at the moment, I am rediscovering myself and my passion and what gives me purpose and direction. The creative urge defines me. It’s who I am and it’s a drive that is more than a hobby---it’s a compulsion. I HAVE to create! I simply have to. This is the reason I changed the name of my blog to “Making It.” I’m making it, literally and figuratively: by making it (as in creating or doing something creative), I’m making it (as in surviving the tragedies I referred to previously), and rediscovering the person I once was.

Pool House Bath Window #2: Again, didn't make it, but the design is mine

SO…now that I've bored you with that long, drawn-out prelude, let’s get back to the pool house.

Our pool house (guest house) is a charming little house with a bedroom, kitchenette, living room, and loft. My vision for the pool house was to create a space filled with a sense of fun and whimsy. I’ll give you a pictorial tour one day soon but in the meantime, the focus now is on my bathroom project. Oddly enough, the bathroom has actually become the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance of the little abode. I wanted a bathroom that was fun, whimsical, and a riot of color, like the rest of the little house! But the bathroom, when finished, is a room that will take one’s breath away: most, I hope, with joy and wonder; others, perhaps, with bafflement that I might do such a thing.

The sink is wholly my own creation. I found a company that sold raw, unglazed sinks and tried to
decorate it myself. F&*%ed it up royally so I mosaicked it instead.

I am a ceramic artist (among other media---jack of all trades, master of none), and I am fascinated with architectural ceramics. I have friends whose skills in architectural ceramics are just phenomenal and they are an inspiration to me (Xinia, Peter, Patrick: a respectful nod to you!), but I am limited by time, studio space, equipment, and ability at this time so the best I can do are tiles or perhaps the occasional ceramic table. Still, I think I make the most of my abilities, and I’d like to show you what I've done.

This bathroom is (or soon will be) decorated with literally thousands of handmade ceramic tiles---handmade by none other than yours truly! And now without further adieu, here’s how an idea becomes a reality:

A good start
I buy my clay in bags from a local supplier, Armadillo Clay. I have hauled probably hundreds of pounds of clay home for this project. The clay must first be rolled into approximately ½” slabs, which I score on the back to give them a better “tooth” to grip the wall when it comes time for installation. Next, the slab is cut into circles of assorted sizes using an assortment of biscuit and cookie cutters I bought from a baking supply.


These tiles are allowed to dry slowly in the metal cutter forms, because to try to push the wet clay out of the forms would be to distort the tiles. Hence, I have dozens of the cutters so that I can make tiles in reasonably large batches.

After each tile dries, it must be sanded. Again, this is done one tile at a time, a long and somewhat tedious undertaking.  I sand using a piece of window screen and a green scrubbing pad in a cookie sheet. Yes I'm doing it in my kitchen here, which is not typical---but my studio space is overrun currently so I have to do things in any way that I can right now. I tend pass the time by listening to music or to a favorite movie as I work. (I never put on a movie I’ve never seen, because I wouldn’t see it; I’d only hear it. My eyes are on my task, so I just listen to oft-watched favorites like The Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, Chorus Line, Fiddler on the Roof, etc. Yes, musicals are among my favorites---but my number one favorite is The Full Monty, a British comedy. If you haven’t seen it you should, but I digress…)

When the tiles are fully dried and sanded, they are loaded into the kiln, again a somewhat time-consuming task (remember I said THOUSANDS of tiles?) The kiln-firing process takes about two days. The kiln must reach  nearly 2000 degrees, which takes about 10 hours or so, then it must cool to about 100 degrees, which takes about another 10 hours or so, before I’ll take my pieces out to avoid thermal shock. Probably overly cautious, but that’s what I do.

After the fired tiles are cooled, they are ready to glaze. Again, this is a long, slow process, as I usually apply three coats to each tile by hand. Lots of music to enjoy during this step! Thank goodness for Pandora! My station of choice is Adult Alternative. Gooooood stuff!


After glazing, those tiny little tiles are once again loaded into my kiln to be fired for a second time. Again, this is a two-day process. After they are fired and cooled for the second time, they are ready for installation.

Previously I have been handling the installation myself. What you see in these photos is my work up until this point. One tile at a time, I’d butter the back with adhesive and attach it to the wall. Long and slow. I installed them as I made them. But recently I decided that this project has become a burden on my spirit---not because I’m not having fun, but because it is simply taking too long and it weighs heavily on me that I haven’t finished it in (gulp) thirteen years! How on earth has the time passed so????? So I have decided to hire a professional to help with installation. He arrives on Monday. And, since I fear I may not have enough tiles stockpiled to finish the job, I have also enlisted the help of a friend who, under my guidance, will help me to make the last of the tiles necessary to complete this project.

You have to imagine this with black grout. You think the colors pop now? Just wait...
Between my assistant Kelly and me, the house has become a veritable tile factory. There are tiles in the kitchen. Tiles in my studio. Tiles in the driveway. Tiles in the loggia. Tiles on the deck. Tiles tiles tiles! We have a somewhat frantic work-flow going and I am trying to rush the job as fast as I can by drying tiles in the sun and in the oven (a risk, as breakage or warping can occur), because I have to be ready for my installer! But the deadline forces me to focus, and the prospect of completion is exciting. I look forward to giving you a photographic tour when all is completed.

There is a great deal of work yet to be done even before the tile-setter arrives, and in fact I've put out a plea for my friends to join me for a Glazing Party on Sunday and Monday after Easter. I need help in applying glaze to the final kiln loads, and I'm hoping to have a little army of friends show up to help apply glazes in exchange for a fun evening of wine and cheese and, later, a thank-you pool party PLUS an art lesson in mosaic at my home.

Come hell or high water, in two weeks' time I'm putting this baby to bed!


Monday, November 3, 2014

Making...a Vertical Garden!

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to keep busy but sometimes I slip into periods of low-motivation. I’m coming out of such a period right now, and tackling a project I started a couple of months ago.

One day my mother and I drove by a Whole Foods market and I was intrigued by a cinder-block planter I saw in front. I’d never seen such a thing and I found the concept quite appealing. Although I found the Whole Foods project rather plain, I could envision its potential, so I photographed it for future reference.

When I felt ready to give further consideration to the project, I began to do Internet searches to see what others had done. I was surprised at how much I found. This was an idea that had been explored by others far more extensively than I’d imagined, because until the Whole Foods project, I'd never seen one before. Clearly this was something others found appealing too, and for good reason, as far as I’m concerned. It’s versatile, attractive, relatively easy to do, and offers infinite possibilities for composition. Here are some of the ideas I saw that I found most appealing:

When I finally decided to tackle my own version, I bought about 50 cinder blocks and began stacking them experimentally.

I was enthusiastic about what I came up with, but I felt that the blocks lacked a certain rustic warmth I was after. I think brand new blocks would be ideally suited to to the sleek lines of industrial-inspired modern architecture, but they didn’t suit the warmth of my Tuscan environment.  I wanted something that looked old and well-weathered, so I dismantled my stacked composition of new cinder blocks and set to work making them something more akin to my personal tastes. I was particularly inspired by this particular version I'd seen online:

I got out my hammers, chisels, a protective drop-cloth, and just set out to beat those cinder-blocks into submission. I beat them until I’d raised blisters on my hands and I'd even bloodied my hands and feet and bruised my legs. I dropped the blocks on my feet a couple of times---and it being summer, combined with the fact that I typically wear shoes only when absolutely necessary, naturally I was bare foot. I guess you could say that I literally put my blood, sweat, and tears into this project. Jeremy and Toby helped me with some of the distressing process, but I took the lion's share of the job upon myself.

After the blocks were distressed, I restacked them. I was fairly pleased with the look, but there was still something not quite right. It occurred to me that the blocks needed more than just a distressed texture. They needed a patina that would lend them a believable illusion of age. So I dismantled my stack once again, and set to work giving those cinder blocks the patina I felt they needed. I bought three colors of cement stain and, using a sea sponge, set about applying the colors in such a way as to simulate moss, lichen, mildew, and age. I went overboard on the first few cinder blocks, then discovered that a light touch went a long way.

I was finally ready to stack the blocks for what I thought would be the last time. And believe me, I was tired of stacking and dismantling time and again. Cinder blocks are heavy, and they have a very rough exterior. Each time was a workout, and I was growing weary of the repeated exercise. But upon stacking them once again, I decided that I thought they would look best if they were permanently placed with mortar. So I deconstructed the composition one last time and sought the help of a professional for the actual masonry work, which I knew was beyond my skill levels.

Each deconstruction and reassembly produced a composition different from the previous, and the final assembly proved likewise. I directed the bricklayer as to the placement of each cinder-block, making adjustments here and there until I’d created a structure that I found appealing. In fact, I am happy to say that I do believe the last design was the best of all.

As you can see below, I decided to add a finishing touch: a sort of "drip tray" to minimize the look of runoff water. I think it adds a nice touch. It's made from 2 x 6 cedar planks filled with river rocks.

This project was completed in August and I've really been enjoying it since then. I'm happy with how it looks, and I've received numerous compliments on it. And I think that it will only improve as I continue to fill the openings with assorted plants, and those plants begin to grow and mature.

My plants are currently being held in place by pots I fashioned out of landscape wire lined with landscape fabric. I couldn't find anything ready-made that fit the openings satisfactorily. Unfortunately, these makeshift "pots" are fragile and have the unfortunate side effect of causing my plants to dry out far too quickly in the incessant heat of Texas summer. I knew this would likely be the case, so those wire pots were only a temporary measure, which brings me to the newest phase of this project: making custom clay pots for my vertical garden.

There are 27 openings in my little cement garden, so I need to make 27 pots, plus a few extra in case of breakage down the road. After much trial and error, I decided simplicity was the best approach, so here is the design I came up with:

It's made of a locally manufactured low-fire terra cotta clay. I think that the rough gray cinder-blocks, combined with smooth red clay pots filled with plants of assorted greens of varying textures and accented with flowers in a variety of colors, will make for a nice final composition. But these pots are really time-consuming to make, so I'll make a few then move on to something else; make a few more then move on...

(I honestly think I might be somewhat ADD; it's hard for me to complete a task start to finish. If you were to watch me in action you'd see me bouncing around between tasks because I am so easily bored. Thankfully I tend to bounce back and finish a task most of the time, but more on that another time.)

Soon I'll show you, in more detail than you probably ever wanted to see, how these pots are constructed.


And now, on a personal level, I am excited to share some photographs from Rhiannon's baby shower which took place this past Saturday. Rhiannon's mother-in-law Pam, sisters-in-law Allison and Heather, and Aunt-in-law Liz put together a really nice celebration with a tea-party theme. A good time was had by all, and Rhiannon received some lovely gifts in preparation for John James' late-December arrival.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making...a Three-Stage Composting System!

In keeping with the "Making It" theme, I'd like to tell you about a project I recently completed of which I am pretty proud: A three-stage composting system.

I got online and did quite a bit of research about composting, which is something that I have been interested in for years but never actually implemented---until now. Did you know that depending on your diet, 30% or more of your kitchen food waste is compostable? Imagine how much waste could be kept from landfills if every household practiced composting! I'm not encouraging it for everyone, but it's something that resonates with me and my desire to reduce waste and improve my little patch of earth, so I have decided to implement it.

After my research, I decided that a three-stage active composting process sounded best. The first stage is where new organic non-animal waste is collected: kitchen scraps, grass clippings, tree trimmings, fabric scraps, coffee-grinds and filters, sawdust, newspapers, even dog hair in small quantities! All of it, and more, can be used to make compost. All of it is tossed into the first stage until that bin is full, at which time it is transferred to the second stage.

The second stage is the active stage: it's where the magic happens, if done right. No new stuff is added to this bin. The magic mixture needs to "cook," and if handled properly by keeping it moist and aerated, friends such as myriad beneficial microorganisms and bacteria come to join the party and break down your waste into a beautiful humus to enrich your soil.

The final stage is where the lovely rich humus will be transferred, ready for use when needed. Meanwhile the cycle has begun anew in bins one and two. Beauty, huh? And one special little trick I have implemented to make it possible to turn my pile less frequently: I buried a section of perforated PVC pipe in the middle bin to allow air to reach the middle of the active pile. Air is crucial for an aerobic pile to thrive, Otherwise it becomes anaerobic. Anaerobic gets the job done, but it takes far longer and it STINKS! The micro-critters involved are different than those of the aerobic system. I want aerobic action, so I implemented the PVC as well as turn the pile every couple of weeks. (Without the PVC the pile should ideally be turned about every week.)

I sketched a three-stage system that I thought looked good, using the information gleaned from dozens of websites I visited. My design consisting of seven 4' x 4' segments that I actually constructed in my foyer with the benefit of air conditioning! I did the sawing in the unconditioned workshop, but the screwing, gluing, and clamping all happened inside. Guests were certainly surprised to see a compost pile being constructed in my foyer!

In my mind, the seven segments would be parts of a sort of compost-pile kit, which would magically come together at the end. Ha! After completing 3 segments and setting them up inside I realized that it looked like I was constructing a small house. The segments were HUGE!!!!! So I cut them down by a foot  on each side (doesn't sound like much but it made an enormous difference), then proceeded to complete the other 4.  (Wish I had pictures of the foyer part of the job.)

Next I made the floors: three segments each lined with landscape wire and landscape fabric, to help air reach the pile from beneath. I decided to drill a few holes to help this process along. Overkill, I'm sure, but that's what I did.

When it came time to put all the elements together, I enlisted the help of my landscapers to dig the holes. I told them exactly where they needed to be, then trusted that it would happen. Then, of course, I'd planned to effortlessly attach my segments into place, attached to cedar 4' x 4's, and all would magically come together without a hitch...NOT!!!!!!

The holes were off a bit each, which required about an hour's worth of additional digging. Then I realized that I'd forgotten to take the slope of the yard into account so I had to make some modifications. Next I realized that none of my units were truly perfectly square (damned close, but not perfect), nor were the 4 x 4 uprights, so tweaking was in order all around. It took an entire day to assemble the thing, but once assembled I added the final touches: u-shaped slots in which to put removable panels to serve as front covers, copper finials on the posts, flower pots which have yet to be planted, and other decorative touches. Yes, it's the most over-the-top compost pile ever, but I'm proud of it as my first "big" construction project and I look forward to doing more projects. I know I went overboard but I like even the most utilitarian items to have a beauty about them if possible. It just makes my environment more appealing.

 I thank Habitat for Humanity for helping me to become comfortable with power tools, and Pat for helping ti improve my proficiency and skills, and for offering helpful suggestions when consulted.

Yes I can!!!

And so can Rosie...

Bracing the walls..

Now it's time to put the bottoms in place...

These u-shaped channels allow the front panels to be removed when working with the bins.

Removing the front panels...

Not bad but could be better...

And...done! Unless I paint flowers or a smiling sunshine of the front, which I might do.

This project wasn't simply about making a compost pile, which was the desired end result of course, but it was also about trusting in my own existing skills and aquiring new skills; learning from my mistakes; greater independence (which will be useful in the days, weeks, months and even years to come as Pat and the boys move on and I decide what to do in the next chapter of my life), and seeing a project through to completion, even when I became frustrated a few times. It was a confidence booster too. I look forward to new challenges.

So there you have it: more info than you ever wanted to know about composting in general and my project in particular.

I don't know how much, if at all, I'll be posting in the weeks to come. I'm off to Greece with my youngest son, Toby, in celebration of his high-school graduation; I come home September 30th, home for one day, then off to Utah for my first-ever Marathon, mere days before my 53rd birthday. I'd hoped to complete this goal by age 50 but life had a few twists and turns for me. But it's happening October 4th, and I'll do my best and I look forward to the experience.

In the meantime, Happy Trails!

Thanks for stopping by...

Following the deaths of my grandson in 2010 and my eldest son in 2013, my life went into a dramatic tailspin and I felt a sense of hopelessness and despair such as I'd never known. Frankly, I was fully ready to check out. After reaching the lowest depths of despair, however, I resolved to pull myself up and move forward. Happily, I am recovering slowly but surely by grasping life by the horns and not only holding on for the ride, but relishing it every step of the way.

In an effort to recover the sense of joy I'd once known, I have found that through pushing myself to live fully I am rediscovering the wonder that can be found by simply moving forward. I'm "making it" by, in part, making it! In other words, unleashing my creativity through myriad project has proven to be cathartic and healing to me. Included in this creative drive is a passion to write, so while I don't consider myself to be an especially gifted writer, I have been known to evoke emotion in my readers now and then. Thus, I offer you a glimpse into my world by sharing my journey. I hope you'll find something in my musings to move you, amuse you, inspire you, or intrigue you as I post the occasional missive about my mission to move forward from tragedy through the healing powers of creativity, adventure, and living life to the fullest.

Fun in New Orleans

My best friend

Mom and Tami During our Alaskan Cruise

Flycatcher (Tessa), a good hiking buddy and real trooper.