Friday, August 30, 2013

Que Desastre

Love the hairdo and the hypnotic eyes...

While on vacation with my sister's family in Ecuador, my brother in-law coined one of my favorite phrases. We were trying to get to the airport in Quito, and were stuck in the city of Otavalo. Indigenous protesters had blocked the Pan American Highway, and were not letting any cars or trucks through. In a hired truck, we traveled the back roads. Small bands of protesters were on every road. They had chopped down trees, and used them to build roadblocks. It was then that I first heard "Que Desastre" muttered.

Today, while completing our first ceramics project, I had cause to use this handy catch all phrase repeatedly. We were making slab faces. I had the six steps drawn on the board with simple pictures. Then, I demonstrated all six on the projector at the front of the room. So, it seemed like all was going to go well. NOT. I've never seen greater chaos. Keep in mind that there were 33 children in the room. Almost each child that I stopped in to check with, was doing something other than the steps. Each time I stopped, I'd ask the student to look up at the steps, and to tell me what step he or she was on.  He or she couldn't tell me what step. There were a couple of students using the slab rolling sticks to angrily beat the clay. Not sure what that was all about! Many students weren't using the slab rolling guide sticks at all, but were just rolling out the clay to potato chip thickness, and then were surprised when the slabs stuck to the desks. When it came time to clean up, everyone was wandering around, touching everything in the room with "clay hands".  Of course, no one was following the clean up directions. 

I left the entire mess, which is really hard for me to do. I like things to be orderly. Okay, I have OCD, so there! But, they are going to clean it all up on Tuesday. Almost all of our navy blue chairs are covered with clay handprints. It's going to be an eye opener, I hope. A definite learning opportunity… I thought back to all of the different elective clay classes that I've taught. Even the class with 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students went more smoothly. 

There were some nice projects that emerged from the chaos though. I realized that no matter how prepared you are, and how well everything is planned there are still many variables. I'm kind of nervous about glazing. I can't imagine trying to teach them to clear glaze with care. So, we'll wait and see! Upon arrival at home, a double chamomile tea with some aspirin seemed to make the situation more hopeful!

Awesome hair and eyes...
Love the nose...
Big eyes on these ladies...
Some thoughts for Tuesday morning...
But, my desk IS clean...
Make mine a double...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Al Fresco / Ce Soir

Starting to make some organic shapes...

When I arrived home after the usual staff meeting, it was toasty hot in my shed/studio. So, I decided to work al fresco on the patio. I found these large jars from a container sale. They are Hungarian, and each jar has a beguiling number eight molded into the bottom. I'm working on some organic shapes that will fill the containers. Work was very stressful today. Sitting in the backyard, after a dog walk, making giant beads, was just the ticket. I still have many more shapes in my mind, that I want to add to the jars.

I also bagged up some dried clay chips. We are going to work on our first clay slab project on Friday. Hopefully, I can just store the slip, and use it all year. It is going to be fantastic to work in a room with a sink! Now, off to grade papers. Oh, an employee who is tardy almost every day (I am almost an hour early each morning), said to me in a snarky voice, as I was heading out to my car, "It must be nice to be done for the day." Unbelievable… Spelling tests and math quizzes await!

Large jars that will house the organic shapes...

Bagging up some slip fixings for our first clay lesson...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Maitre Corbeau

I keep hearing a quote from French class in 7th grade running through my head: "Maitre Corbeau, sur un arbre perche, tenait en son bec un fromage…"  Our teacher made us memorize fables.  Even though I can't even remember any numbers over three digits, my brain has retained many songs and tales that I had to memorize in French class.  It's a line from the famous tale about flattery called "The Raven and the Fox".  In the story, the Raven is eating a large piece of cheese.  The Fox flatters the Raven into singing.  When the Raven sings, it sounds terrible, and he drops the piece of cheese, which the Fox immediately eats.

Lately, I've been meditating on the difference between flattery and praise.  I grew up in a home where praise was only given for a job very well done.  I think it kept all of us humble.  We tried our best to please, and were rewarded only when we gave our best effort.  It made the praise seem sincere and heartfelt. Recently, my mom and dad sent me a birthday card.  My dad's handwritten comment made me actually start to cry.  His comment was not typically something that he would say in person, which made it even more meaningful to me.

When I first started working in display at Macy's department store, my first real job out of college, I had an incredible boss.  She is the yardstick by which I compare all other bosses (no one has yet measured up).  She used praise sparingly, and so when she complemented your work, you knew that it was your best work.  I think that all of us on the staff knocked ourselves out for her.  I know that some of my best and most creative projects were done under her supervision.  Flattery was completely alien to her.

Flattery often feels cheap.  It makes me feel distrustful.  A brilliant quote by Edmund Burke sums up my feelings: "Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver."  Spot on, Mr. Burke!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Repair Shop

Secret Sauce

While I was setting up my classroom, the temperature heated up in my shed. Unfortunately, this caused a bit of cracking on some pieces that were drying while covered. I was able to repair all of the minor cracking with my existing small batch of paper clay as spackle. However, the rope-like border on one of my wall hearts actually pulled away. I am going to try performing surgery on the piece. I will cut away the rope part that isn't attached. Then, I'm going to make a paper clay rope, mixed with the above secret sauce. Then, I'll attach the new rope in place of the portion that pulled away. Hopefully this will work, because I really like this piece!

Drying Clay for Paper Clay Batch

The Problem

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What I Learned This Summer

A dissatisfaction with shiny or inconsistent clear glazes lead to a little exploration of cold finishes, and to other options. My friend, Liz, had a wide assortment of clay bodies. So, she made tiles for each clay body. I only use two different clay bodies, so I made tiles for those. Then, we fired and glazed and experimented. Here are some things that I learned:

-    I don't like the lack of porosity of the clay, when it is bisque fired to Cone 3. The underglaze
        doesn't readily absorb into the work.

-    I will now be firing my first bisque at Cone 04, then the second at Cone 3, and the finishing
        firing back at Cone 04.

-    I like what Cone 3 does to the clay, so it is essential to fire at this higher temp. It makes the colors
        more vivid, and the clay vitrifies more fully.

-    I learned that the matte stoneware clear glaze looks kind of cool, when it is fired way too low at
        Cone 04. It has a snowy, ashy look and feel. It might be interesting to try it out on a piece.

-    I learned that I can melt wax and spill it!  I'd like to try using furniture paste wax on some
        smoother, textureless pieces.

-    I learned that tile sealant gives a nice finish.

-    I like the finish that a coating of Delta Matte Varnish gives after a piece has been fired.

-    I'm going to try a couple of clays that Liz made tiles for, just to see if I like how they feel.

-    I learned that using cafeteria trays helps to transport work.

-   This was a no brainer: I learned that Liz has an awesome studio, and that she is an amazing
        person to have in my clay community!

The Jones Brothers

I recently learned that my Uncle Gordon passed away. Last night, I was lying in bed, thinking about my mother's brothers. There were three Jones brothers: Richard, Gordon, and Sherm. They grew up in a family of older sisters, five, to be exact. The Jones home was not a large one. I often wondered how they all managed to get along, in such a compact house. I noticed that my uncles were all very close knit. That probably came from being bunkmates together in the big basement. Imagine a one bathroom house with five sisters. Torture. They had to stick together.

As a child, I observed that Uncle Richard and Uncle Gordon were always smiling and laughing. Anytime our families got together, there was humor and laughter, with Richard at the center of it all, and Gordon nearby.  When Uncle Richard passed away, it left a hole in our family. He was a great entertainer and storyteller. He was a man of many interests, and a lover of animals.  Now, Uncle Gordon is gone, too.  I'm so very sorry for his family, because I know that the loss of him will cause much grief. He was a warm, caring, and trusting person. The kind of person that could be referred to as "the salt of the earth".  He was the heart of the Jones family, and he will be greatly missed. I wish his family comfort and peace at this difficult time.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Classroom Set-Up: Day Three

Generic exterior...

Today was kind of exhausting. It involved climbing to great heights and repairing stinky fish tank filters, among other things. All of the pets were bundled up and prepped for the forty minute commute. It's nice to have them back in the classroom, because I was totally out numbered by animals at home. I picked up a lavender plant for outside the classroom door. When kids are upset, or when I'm upset, this plant comes in handy. Just grab a stalk and inhale. Instant aromatherapy calm. 

Most of the moving and decorating is now complete, except for a few finishing touches. Next week, when I'm actually on the clock, I'll start doing the detail work with my class list in hand. That includes labeling a myriad of objects with student names: call-on sticks, file folders, name tags, job cards, workbooks, journals, and much more.  I'll keep you posted.

Snorkel is back in town...

Fish tank, up and running...

Missed seeing this old friend...

Mrs. Rains and the kids did a super job on the quilt last year...

Can sharks really eat school buses?  Seeing is believing...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Classroom Set-Up: Day Two

Basket samples are hung on the wall behind my desk...

Day two of setting up my classroom went well. It included some special guest cameos by Richard and Manuel, our school custodians. They carried away the two heavy, horseshoe shaped tables that I didn't want in my room. Chris and Jana came by and took me out to lunch at La Hacienda. Then they came back and helped out. Chris hooked up my outdated computers, and Jana put together my new swivel chair! 

Tomorrow's action plan: The class pets and plants return to school! Also, the hardest bulletin board to install will be tackled, and the group signs that hang above the student seating groups will be hung. This will be a lot like a high wire act.

Chris made the computer lab happen...

The only thing that I laminate now days, student name tags...

Social Studies and Birthday bulletin boards with bird nest...

Geology bulletin board...

Homemade planet drapes and plastic papel picado...

My favorite photo of Abe, near the local agriculture quilt...

A cozy corner for some alone time, in a crowded room...

Looking toward the door to the connecting classroom...

My sister put this chair together with just her bare hands...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Classroom Set-Up: Day One

My Desk

Yesterday, I read a blog in which the author was describing the work in setting up a classroom. An angry person responded by mentioning that he was tired of hearing teachers whine about their jobs. Believe me, I understand, because there certainly IS a great deal of whining in the world of education. His point was that teachers shouldn't complain because they get the whole summer off, they go home early every day, and they just use the same lesson plans over and over again. As I read, I couldn't help but think of the extreme amount of extra effort that good teachers put in, so that the year is pleasant for their students.

My classroom set up process usually takes me three days. These days are unpaid. The way that my classroom looks is a point of personal pride for me, not professional pride. I just moved into a new room back in June, so that I could have a room with a sink (about eight days of unpaid work). So, my job today was to set up the furniture, and to take down some of the old bulletin boards. This classroom had a giant homemade paper tree attached to the wall and ceiling, because it was a kindergarten room many years ago. The tree was filthy and took up a lot of room. So, I took it down today, along with a lot of spider habitat. Then, I spent the rest of the day putting up some bulletin boards. I also got to see some old teacher friends in my new building. It was good to take a bit of time to talk and visit with them.

I listened to Bill Bryson read from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid on cd all day. That man is a genius. Can't wait to hear more tomorrow...

Tomorrow's plan of attack: Finish all of the rest of the bulletin boards!

Unstacking and Arranging Desks and Chairs

The Back of the Room

Starting Integer Number Line and Math Board

Magnetism Bulletin Board

Helper Extraordinaire

Monday, August 12, 2013

Open Studios Slideshow

I decided to make a slide show of my shed and work areas to play during Open Studios. Unfortunately, the quality is kind of fuzzy, both on YouTube and on Vimeo.  Hopefully, it will look much better on my laptop. We'll see. The smaller you keep the screen, the better it looks. This probably has something to do with my photography skills!

Basically, I do all wet clay work in a shed that's in my backyard. The glazing is done in my kitchen or in a room of the house that I call "The Study-o". The firing is done in my garage. It's a pretty sweet arrangement!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Waking Up Early on a Saturday

Today, I woke up early in order to attend an estate sale, and a French antique sale. Both sales were taking place in Corralitos, a small town just north of where I live. Corralitos is a lovely place, full of strawberry fields and apple orchards. The estate sale had mostly horrible stuff from the 1970's. It was very disappointing. But, the home was located near some beautiful fields. The French antique sale was amazing. The antiques are in small sheds or are rusting away in the open air. It's fun to walk around and look. Then, a trip to the toy store yielded read aloud time play-doh, and this year's totem animal: a chimpanzee. Students with the top homework scores each week, get to have a chimp on their desk. Last year's totem animal was a meercat. But, at the end of the year, the last student to have the totem animal gets to take it home. I was kind of sad to see the meercats go, but we'll see if the chimps become as endearing! Finally, the last errand was to purchase a plan book. That is when you know that summer is officially waning. On the return home, I popped the kiln from Thursday night's firing, and lifted out some goodies! Many pieces fared well...