Lessons from Pottery Class: Week Three

I don’t believe in beginner’s luck.

It’s a myth. If you get something right the first go around, it’s just your starting point, a place on which you can improve. It may be better than your neighbor’s, but it’s rarely better than your next attempt.

In class, we are asked to do things in fours: four bowls, four mugs, etc. Part of this is for practice, and part of it is because so much can go wrong between throwing, trimming, firing, glazing, and glaze firing. You play the odds by making four of something in the hopes that one will survive.

This week, we were asked to make four vases. My attempts were great examples of the evolution of getting better:

Four vases

Four vases

Voila! Vase-ish.

Voila! Vase-ish.

The first one is barely more than a bowl. Then I managed a little bit of a lip on the next one. Then I actually created a shoulder on the thing, and lastly, it kinda looks like a vase. When I threw the first bowl/vase, I was rather pleased with myself. Clay naturally wants to lean out, hence why bowls are great to beginning projects. Attempting mugs next is the fight to get the clay to go up, not out. Vases involve getting the clay to go up and back in. I was quite proud of it until I looked at #4 and thought, “hmm, so that’s what I am trying to do.”

I am hoping I have time in the coming weeks to go back and throw some of the starting pieces in class, just to see what a bowl or a mug look like after I moved on to the more advanced pieces. By the end of this class, we are supposed to be building a teapot. I think I will be just as excited if I have a mug that doesn’t look like my six-year-old made it.

It’s only week three, and I think I have already decided to sign up for classes again. This is the beginning of an addictive hobby.

Lessons from Pottery Class: Week Two

Sometimes, mistakes can be beautiful.

Ok, it’s week two. I am not expecting perfection, but I would be happy if I didn’t slump every damn mug I try. There is a definite mojo when you are throwing, and I can already feel when I am off. Tonight, I was off. I am hoping lab hours are more productive this week than class time.

Since my hands were covered in slip, I was not prone to grab a picture of my latest failure, so bear with a rudimentary artist’s rendering (perhaps crime scene photo may be more apropos):

Depiction of my oops.

Depiction of my oops.

When you are throwing a pot, you can start to feel when it’s going wrong. It starts as a slight wobble, then a big wobble, and then…flump. My grandmother started with pottery when she was my age, I learned. I wondering if she sat at the wheel looking at the blob of clay in front of her that had just collapsed, swearing like I do. The truth is, my grandmother was always a little more optimist, a little more creative with what could be. And perhaps I might be able to see the potential in the carnage in front of me if I weren’t trying to adhere to a syllabus for class. Either way, when I saw the felled pot in front of me, I thought of this little one of my grandmother’s:

Grandma Lamp

Grandma Lamp

I don’t think this was a mistake that grandma turned into a small hurricane lamp (the wick comes up through the small hole from the reservoir of oil), but it might have been. There are plenty of other pieces of my grandmother’s that I believe might have been rescues she just didn’t want to give up on, like her mother with stray dogs.

What I do know is that when a pot slumps on my wheel, I try to see what I might be able to make out of it. At that point, no one has any expectations that it will be a mug, so what could it be?

Lessons from Pottery Class: Week One

When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a studio in a small outbuilding in my grandparents’ backyard. I’m sure previous occupants used it as a garden shed, but it was grandma’s pottery studio, complete with kiln, wheel, and a ton of clay. I walked into my first pottery class at the Potters’ Guild, and that smell of the clay swiftly took me back to that little studio.

bowlsAt our first class, we learned the steps in throwing a bowl. Center. Enter. Open. Throw. Shape. Growing up watching my grandma throw pots, I didn’t realize there were steps. I just thought there was magic.

As I attempted to form the semblance of three bowls, I was reminded of a very simple fact: my grandmother had incredibly strong hands. She was not a tall woman, and she had the most delicate looking hands, hands that belied their strength. As a prolific bread maker and potter, my grandmother had hands that could knead twenty pounds of clay or an entire loaf of cinnamon rolls with ease, and any conversation with her usually included one of her hands gently gripping your arm. But don’t be fooled; she could pull you into a hug faster than anything.

In the picture, you see my bowl attempt #1 (top middle), attempt #2 (right), and attempt #3 (left). The thickness (or thinness, which is the goal) is from drawing clay up between your thumb and middle finger. Let’s just say that my left hand fingers have never had such a workout before.

I was filled with memories of my grandmother the whole drive home after class. looking at my hands on the steering wheel that seem so clumsy and oafish compared to what those mothering, delicate hands could create. I’m enjoying walking in her footsteps in even a small way. I’ll have to attempt the cinnamon rolls next.


Feminism includes Fathers

The other evening, my partner, Brent, and I were discussing a Buzzfeed list (yep, I have read a few) that included the things that dads really do on a day-to-day basis that you don’t see on TV or in movies, like change diapers. We were lamenting the absence of seeing dads do anything but be comic relief on TV. I can provide an eye-witness account of the MANY things Brent does to make our house run and our children healthy and happy. But I am more concerned about the message we are creating by not making those Regular Dad things public.

Gender inequality hurts men, including the awesome dads I know who are every bit part of the equation of a family. Most dads are not the bumbling idiots when mom walks out the door that commercials would have us believe. Wonderful kids are being raised by moms and dads, single parents and double dad households all across the world, and dads are rocking it. Promoting gender equality cannot discount the amazing partners, allies, and mentors we have in fathers.

I want to thank my husband for just some of the amazing things he does that make our girls stronger and healthier for the future:

  • He’s goofy with them, not just in an embarrassing-dad sort of way, but he really plays with them. He was the first customer at their recent Soups N’ Such restaurant, and he is always ready for a trek to the park. He is also not above an impromptu dance party, even if the girls didn’t ask for one.
  • He commits to me everyday. The girls see that our conversations with each other as just as important as hearing what cool slime they made at summer camp that day.
  • He truly enjoys his daughters. He is genuinely impressed by them. I catch him just watching them and smiling. He regularly shares a conversation from putting one of them to bed, and he will tear up and say, “our kids are just so awesome.”

My girls are growing up seeing a true partnership (although I have been known to slack on the dishes), and they know they are loved and valued, not just by their mother, but by the guy who is never fazed by wearing a tiara for a living-room-theatre-performance or who, like this morning, made cinnamon rolls for breakfast – just because. They will be stronger women because of their dad.

Thank you, Dove, for providing a real depiction of dads…but not for making me cry.

What Feminism Looks Like

I have to admit something of which I am not proud. Almost ten years ago, after a not-so-glamorous but otherwise healthy pregnancy, I delivered an amazing baby girl. When the doctor, knowing that we were leaving this surprise until the end, excitedly stated, “It’s a girl!” I responded,


Now, let me clarify. I was perfectly happy with either a boy or a girl; I had just prepared myself for a boy. Everyone who pulled out any old wives’ tale had declared I was having a boy. I have an older brother and three stepbrothers. Of all my cousins on one side, there are all boys except for me and my awesome Meaghan. Even I, myself, was a tomboy.

But three seconds after I realized the circumcision discussion was moot, I distinctly remember this rush of anxiety at the thought of bracing my girl for the world.  I had prepared to raise a feminist son, but I wasn’t prepared to raise a feminist daughter – a woman who knew her worth, a woman who was tough-minded but knew not to walk alone at night, a woman who was proud of her body but knew how to protect it, a woman who valued her intellect even if the world didn’t.

I was reminded of this internal conversation today at lunch with a colleague in the final weeks (days?) of pregnancy and a colleague fresh off her honeymoon, who has already received ten questions about when she is having kids. We talked about how we each had to defend our decision to or not to take our partner’s name, yet our husbands never received those questions. We talked about how open everyone is in their opinions of epidural or not, baptism or not, breastfeeding or not.

And all I can think is: this is 2014. Why are we still telling women what to do and shaming when they choose for themselves?

I am now incredibly honored to be mother to two rockstar girls, who could not be more different or more insanely awesome as sisters. Everyday, I try to show them what feminism looks like. I show them how much their daddy and I try to clear the way for what they want their life to look like. I know we are getting it right most of the time. While watching Dora the Explorer, Dora called to her friends, “hey guys!” and my then 4 year old said, “They aren’t all guys; Isa the Iguana is a girl!”

photo (32)I also try to show them my path to feminism: education, working full time, married to my best friend, and being a mom. I even have the damn white, picket fence. I also show them women who have chosen not to be a mom, who’ve stayed at home to be with their families, who’ve followed their passions on their own. I am honest with them about the struggle, but also share the joy about being a girl.

A few weeks ago, my oldest and I were talking after her final health class at school. As with everything, I asked her about the information she heard and wanted to hear her questions and reactions. She matter-of-factly sighed and said, “girls have to deal with a lot more than boys, don’t they?”

Yes, baby girl. The superhero capes come with a cost.



Resolutions. No resolutions. One word. No one word. To each her own. For me, my #oneword formed in my head as I was planning my husband’s 40th birthday surprise party in the middle of December. I had never planned a surprise like that for my husband in the almost 20 years we have been together. Truly, birthdays had always been a pretty low-key affair in our house. It was nice to step it up this year.

Over the past few years, I have moved from the final stages of the dissertation (focusing on Next and Push) and transition into life after the dissertation (Curious). It has definitely been a curious year: defending my dissertation in January, completing my first year in my new role as Director of Student Affairs, and reading 42 books in the last 5 months. But this year, I wanted something more active, more proactive, rather than reflective. As I thought of the fun I had in trying something new with Brent’s 40th, as well as focusing on my professional development and my personal journey as a wife and mother, I decided that this year, my #oneword will be Raise.

My "raise the bar" necklace.

My “raise the bar” necklace.

…Others up.
…My voice and words.
…Two strong girls.
…My hand.
…My glass.
…The bar.

So that is my focus for the year: to raise things in a positive direction. Whether it is celebrating a friend’s accomplishment, sponsoring young professionals, helping my children become their best selves, or challenging the status quo, I look forward to what the next year brings. I hope 2014 raises you up.

You can see how I remind myself to raise it up on Pinterest.