Thursday, August 28, 2014


I sit in my camp chair outside of our kabin at the KOA in Douglas WY, musing on a life of adventure. My child is still snoozing in the kabin, Buttercup is pacing the confines of her tether (two leashes tied together attached to the bbq grill pole), and Gallifrey is lounging on the porch behind me on his big dog bed. Jessie shared with me last night that she doesn't like this place, with this place defined as Wyoming (too wide open and empty--she likes cities) and the campground (too primitive--she likes 5-star hotels). The experience is somewhat different for me.

On the one hand, it's total luxury compared to the camping I did growing up, but on the other, it’s a weird kind of primitive. Maybe it's just been too long since I stayed at a campground. Admittedly, I have only stayed in a campground a couple of times because my parents would have considered camping at a campground a luxury vacation and not at all like real camping. Our camping was done in the woods with gear you carried in on your back after hiking all day. Food was cooked over a little fire in a thin aluminum pot (we had two pots--one for water, one for the meal) and it was some freeze-dried ration in a light-weight packet. All of you slept together squashed into a tiny tent that wasn’t even close to tall enough to stand up in, in sleeping bags on thin mats (if you were lucky).

Since then I have had occasion to camp  in a campground a few times. Once at Enota in GA with Jessie, all of her classmates, and their parents. We drove in with tons of food, firewood, big tents, air mattresses, chairs, linens, pillows, camping lanterns, extra clothes, etc. There was a communal bath area with flush toilets and hot showers, and there was even a dining hall for people who didn’t want to cook their own food. I have also camped in the Glacier and Waterton National Park campgrounds. Some of those sites even had electricity to them and their own firepits.

But nothing can compare to where we are now. This campground has sites for tents, hook-ups for RV’s, three kamping kabins, and stalls and a corral for campers’ horses. There are communal bath areas for men and women, a laundry room, a general store, an outdoor swimming pool, a fenced dog run, a volleyball court, a basketball court, and a mini-golf course. Our kabin (though only about 12 X 12) has a double bed, a bunk bed, a tiny table, a porch with two chairs, a fire pit, a picnic table, a path of grass, a bbq grill, a wall mounted flat-screen tv (very small, but hey!), electricity, a ceiling fan, and wi-fi. Does that even count as camping?

Now off to Wellington to check Buttercup into her stables and get settled into our hotel to get ready for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Irish Wolfhound Association Specialty Show, Puppy Sweepstakes, Obedience and Rally Trials.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Good Morning Sunshine!

In the midst of planning my part of the homeschool curriculum for last year, my laptop has decided to stop charging its battery and only work when the power cord is plugged in. Now all of life is fraught: You never know when a dog running through the room or a snag on a chair leg will rip the MagSafe cord from its mooring and plunge the screen into blackness. I am saving work every 30 seconds and biting my nails...

So, homeschool curriculum. As Jessie wants to graduate from 8th grade with her Waldorf class, this is our last year of homeschooling, and I approaching it in a more organized, methodical way than I did last year. We kind of winged last year and focused on teaching to how J learns and tailoring our teaching methodology to fit her style and interests. Her biggest problems before last year were a complete lack of confidence in herself, a lack of interest in the majority of the subject material and the way it was presented, and no study skills or or habits what-so-ever. With one-on-one attention and an adjustment of the subject matter we were able to build her confidence in her abilities and engage her interest in the materials. At the end of the year, we finished up with the Iowa Basics standardized tests for math, languages arts, social studies, science, map reading, etc.

In hindsight, we should've administered the test at first the summer preceding homeschooling and tailored our core curriculum a bit to focus on areas where she was struggling, but we'll address them more intensely this year. And J is invested in putting in the work and succeeding at the tasks presented to her as she knows going back to Waldorf for 8th grade hinges on her performance. She has got to demonstrate the ability to manage her time and schedule, work independently on tasks, and pay attention and focus even when the material is not necessarily interesting to her.

Based on our upcoming family fieldtrip of a Mediterannean cruise this fall, her interests, and national core competency guidelines for her grade, here is a list of her courses for the year:

Social Studies
Special Unit: The Mediterranean Region
Areas of Study
Monte Carlo
Ethics of Science
Physical Education
Rock Climbing

We will evaluate and adjust as we go, and she may end up taking additional or substitute classes at LEAD or elsewhere starting in January, but I'm pretty happy with what we have, and finding the materials to support this curriculum has not been difficult.

I love the Internet! It is a bountiful mine of information and resources. My first find was a free (in my situation) app called Common Curriculum Planner (Cc). It is the perfect tool to break a mass of information into the manageable chunks of units and lessons and then plug them into a schedule. There's also a web interface for the students (in this case just one) to get the lessons, homework, etc. each week as we do them. It can be set-up for self-paced study with all the lessons available from the beginning, but Jessie wanted to work in a more traditional approach in regards to both her daily class schedule and her work so that's the way I did it.

After Cc, I found Teachers Pay Teachers "A open marketplace where educators buys, sell & share teaching resources". There are some great materials there for all the subjects I want to cover. I especially love the resources  (1, 23, and 4) I found for teaching biological taxonomy. Instead of having to commit to a book with way more material than I could use for more than I wanted to spend, I was able to buy materials from real teachers (subsidizing the teachers directly), that had been peer-reviewed, and were very inexpensive. Win-win-win!

Other sources for materials were the History Channel (videos on Ravensbrük and Buchenwald, and the Navajo code talkers) for our WWII unit, an on-line game site for Grammar Ninja, and for Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach--A Student Worktext.

I'm not done yet, but I have two more weeks to plan and tweak and prepare for a great year. It WILL be a great year.


*NOTE* I wrote this post uesterday morning and forgot to put it up. Then this morning I realized school for us starts one week from today--not in two weeks. Ack! I'm a bit more rushed now, but I'll make it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Looking Back: The Sad Orphans

Part of getting back into posting involves seeing in the blogger interface the list of all the posts I've started and left languishing unfinished and unpublished. Periodically I go through and delete them, and today started as one of those days. But, instead, I found myself reading those ever so naive words from months (and years) past and I decided to share them here in the hopes that they will help me stay on the path of enlightenment i.e., it's okay to spend a day playing Bejeweled or Solitaire if I am enjoying it, and remind me to learn from my hubris.

From 12/29/11: I have to laugh. This was BEFORE the most difficult two years of my life...

And finally, the long-awaited (at least by me) post on what's to come at Siyeh Glass and Siyeh Studio in 2012. If I weren't finishing it up (which means actually writing it from the notes and scribbles I've made throughout the week) on a day when I am struck low from a horrible cold (this is part of the post-time-warp-thing and I am actually writing on Saturday the 7th and posting on Sunday the 1st--now I just need to figure out how to trick networked blogs to put it up on Facebook. They don't seem to like pre-dated posts) it would probably be less rambling and more expansive. As it is, the ourlook for growth at Siyeh Glass and Studio is cautiously optimistic for next year.

Obviously for me personally, the book is going to take the lion's share of my focus and energy this year. After researching and writing 240 pages by May 1, I am going to need a break and a rest. I can easily see myself sliding through the rest of the year and waking up Rip-Van-Winkle fashion just in time to do the Sleigh Ride. But maybe I can avoid that fate with a little pre-planning and advance scheduling. (In my Nyquil hazey daze I am sooo tempted to jump of into the semantics of pre-planning vs. planning and advance scheduling vs scheduling, but this post is going to be long enough so I am going to resist.) So let me talk about the what of the year and the why, and then, for the first time, let's try to figure out the how IN ADVANCE.

Expanding torchwork classes
metalsmithing and jewelry-making
new teacher for kiln-forming
expanding one-day workshop offerings
regular newsletters
regular website updates
new hours
new pricing with constant specials
satellite studio in Montana

Then from 4/18/13--after the decision was made to homeschool, but before we were actually in the thick of it, smack in the middle of writing the book, and helping Mom through her surgeries:

I thought earlier this morning that I might have (maybe) just enough time before teaching a  beginning kiln-forming class to get in a quick post. I also wanted to get in a load of laundry before heading to the studio. I got the laundry in, but not the post done.

Life continues to be a juggling act. It took me a couple of years to settle into my forties and figure out that it was okay to be what I was when I grew up; I didn't need to be or want to be something definable or something other than I am. Now, as I settle into my fifties, the epiphany of this decade is shaping up to be that it

is neither my occupation nor how many hours a week I work at it that actually either define either me or my

I do not have to be defined by how many hours--and which actual hours--I "work". I don't have to be live  in eight-to-twelve-hour work-shift blocks, I do not have to do specific things at specific times in order to be effective or able to define my results as success, and I don't have to work a set number of hours at the glass studio in order for me to define it as my work. In fact, I am finally coming to see that I am defined as much by the intangibles I do as by the tangibles. My "job" is not to have an equal but separate career to Dave's and to bring in as much money as he does, and to maintain my ability to do everything he does in our life so that if we split back into two entities, I would be I *can* set some things up at some times--pottery on Monday mornings, jewelry fabrication on Friday mornings--and I can also let everything else fit into whatever time feels most appropriate.

Jump ahead to 7/17/13 when a curse turned into a blessing (thank you post facto Spruill):
Today registration for fall classes at the Spruill Center For the Arts opened up and I eagerly went on-line to check out my class descriptions... and they weren't there. Mystified, I called to see if there had been en error somewhere, but, nope, that wasn't the case.

In the spring when the fall schedule was being put together I approached the educational director of the center about teaching and not only did she want me to teach, but she sat me down right then and there and gave me a space (classroom assignment and a date and time) on the spot. She also gave me a bunch of forms to fill out and asked me to write up the class based on our discussion. So in the throes of getting ready to head out for Montana I filled out a bunch of paperwork and wrote up a survey class called "Around the Kiln in Eight Days", targeted at both existing and new students and introducing some of the techniques detailed in my upcoming book.

Today when I called I was told--not by the eduction director as she is on extended leave, nor by the interim director, nor even by the person who works on the course catalog who requested and filed all my materials... and the rant ends here. Too bad I can't reconstruct the end of the sentence.

Moving right along another six months to 1/26/14:
In the midst of everything else that's going on at our house right now, it's time to start a new semester of homeschooling. Sure, with homeschooling you don't have to follow quarters, semesters or any other defined timeframes. But Jessie also takes classes at LEAD, and they start a new semester next week so it’s a good time for us to evaluate our schedule and current classes and tweak them. One of the tweaks we are doing is adding a class on Anime Studio Debut software. I’m teaching it and I’ve never used the software so it’s a stretch, but I think a reasonable one. I watched a really good tutorial yesterday and found references to others so I think I can knit together a curriculum that will take Jessie from blank canvas to full animation (including multiple voice and music tracks) with her own anime characters by May.

The schedule going forward looks like this:
And life took over from there with no time left to post about it.

Then there were two more danglers in quick succession in the spring of 2014 as I struggled to get back to regular posting:

Standard home microwaved coffee from yesterday in the Chicago mug and energy to burn in my soul. It's been a long time since I've posted, but only lately has the creative fire pushed me to do it. The creative fire has been pushing at me a lot lately--a welcome relief after the past barren, soulless year (plus). I will not harp on the past, and I definitely learned from my choices, but I cannot express the joy I feel in having my studio back to myself. Don't get me wrong--I love the people with whom I shared it daily when it was seemingly always open to the public, but the act of sharing--of opening up my creative space to the constant presence of others--wore me down and took away every single solitary spark of divine fire I ever might have had.

Now, my studio not just messy but having descended into actual dirtiness, is my nest; the creative place I go bursting with too many ideas and too much energy to fit the time constraints allowed by real world and real life. I still share it, but not everyday and not with everyone. Bliss. The front formerly-bead-making-classroom is now the home of Finley Point Soap Company. It will also soon hold the metalsmithing tools and the jeweler's bench currently tucked into the shipping room, and a single glass beadmaking station...


Life has taken some very interesting twists and turns and meandered through some thorny woods in the past couple of years. First, I got lost in the bowels of (writing) a book and that experience truly was like being swallowed whole and spat back out covered in smelly slime. It wasn't the people I worked with that made it so difficult...

As I read these posts there is something comforting about recognizing my continuing moth-like-ness: Even though I know I can't get to the light, and if I could it would fry me to a crispy (dead) critter, I keep battering myself against the glass in search of something... more. I am still over-enthused, over-committed, under-funded, and abundantly optimistic about life. I still try to plan and end up winging everything, and whatever I do, IT'S OKAY. No point in I-could've-done-it-this-way or I-could've-done-it-betters. It's over, move on, enjoy it, learn from it. Now off to plan the rest of the year ;-)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Success or Failure?

As I put together my portion of this year's homeschooling curriculum I look back on last year to evaluate my successes and failures. At first pass, my main contribution to homeschooling last year (other than driving her around to swimming, archery, film-making, and LEAD classes) which was a class on starting the soap business Finley Point Soap, looks to have been a failure. It was our first year of homeschooling, and I thought it would be good idea to do a class on creating and running a business. My goal was for Jessie to have a fully realized business that would provide her with on-going revenue and responsibility by the end of the year.

As yet, the webpage is still half-created and wholly unpublished, the Facebook page languishes, there is no Etsy shop, we aren't doing the Farmer's Market here in Montana, we haven't made soap in months, and Jessie is lethrgic when I bring up working on the project. I am frustrated as we still have a considerable materials inventory, and invested moderately in equipment and infrastructure. And yet...

Earlier this summer Jessie asked me to take her to a bead store so she could get some materials to make jewelry that she could sell on Etsy. She had watched me set up my Etsy store for Farm2Yarn and wanted to have her own store. I thought Finley Point Soap would make a fine Etsy store, but what do I know? So I took her to Mission Mountain Studio, the bead store here in Polson, and she bought a bunch of stuff. I did not buy it for her: She bought it out of her savings.

She made a couple of pieces, and then got her grandmother to take her to WalMart so she could get fabric to use as a backdrop for photographing the work, a velvet bust on which to display the necklaces, and a few more components to make more pieces. However, as is so often the case, she felt she needed still more findings and beads so I took her into Missoula to Michael's and the Garden of Beadin'. (It's all about the stash, baby.)

As we drove home, I stressed (gently) to her that in order to have a business, she really needed to track the costs of all of her inventory so she would be able to accurately determine the retail price. I then made her a deal that I would finance the day's purchases if she would not only calculate the cost of every single item she had chosen (from the first t-pin to the last spacer bead), but would continue to calculate the piece costs for all future purchases. She is a tight-fisted little thing so I was pretty confident she would go for the deal, and indeed she did. I'd like to say it was because the lecture was a review of material we'd already covered for Finley Point Soap that she took the deal, but I know better. What's important is that she spent the evening and much of the next day sorting beads, reviewing receipts, dividing the cost of a package by the number of items in it, and labeling containers with item prices. I admit to helping her a bit, as after several hours she was completely overwhelmed (but it was a good life lesson).Then, after she had her materials stowed away she treated herself to making a few pieces.

Since then she has alternated between making pieces, photographing them, and then putting them up on Etsy. Putting them on Etsy (or any sales site) is a tedious process. You have to come up with a name for the piece, write a description, put in materials tags, measure and record size information, and price it. And she just keeps going. She starts each day making, and ends each day either on Etsy or facebook.

So maybe Finley Point Soap wasn't the right venture for her, but it introduced her to the tools she needs to create the business she wants, and--after creating her initial product offering--she was able to take the business live and make her first sale in under two days. She knows how to choose materials based on both quality and probable return on investment. She understands the importance of branding and can create logos, banners, backgrounds, and the other graphical elements used in print and electronic media. She may not like writing marketing documentation, but she knows how to do it. She knows how to use Etsy, Facebook, and Weebly (web design). Her photography is first rate: She put together a set with good lighting and a variety of backgrounds, composed her shots, and took gorgeous photos of the finished work with her digital SLR--several images per piece. Before last year she couldn't have done any of it. Maybe this is a bit of post hoc ergo propter hoc on my part and she would've been in the same place now if she had continued in Waldorf, but I don't think so.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Summer (Life): Glass Half Full, or Half Empty?

Woke up this morning from a vivid dream in which I left Dave and ran away with James McMurtry (who in the dream was madly in love with me and already had been married and divorced nine times) and headed out to give Princess Buttercup her morning bottle. It's an overcast, chilly late summer day here in Montana, and as I fed the Buttercup, I reflected on my dream, my summer, and my life. Reflection led me to thoughts of posting, and I naturally fell into old patterns of "what haven't I" and I nestled into a sky chair on the deck and began thusly:

I intended to do so many things this summer. For example, I intended to have coffee when I sat down to write this post. I put water in the reservoir, a filter in the basket, grounds in the filter, adjusted the water spout, and turned the coffeemaker on. And yet when I came back from feeding the yak her bottle, there was no coffee--the coffeemaker was not plugged in. Now the summer in Montana is 3/4 over and we go back to Atlanta a month from today.

Back in the spring when I was planning the summer and making my packing lists, I had grandiose plans for making shirts for Dave out of the fabric I have bought over the past 11 years for just that purpose, spinning up all my fiber, weaving a rug, finishing crocheting an afghan I started for Jessie last year (the year before?), and setting up a soap studio for Jessie and me and a production glass studio for me. I was going to walk every day and take Gallifrey to the dog park at least three times a week. I was going to post every day. I dreamt of sunny days munching on fruit and salads and gradually shedding excess weight slowly, easily, and naturally. 

One of the projects I had planned was finishing the garden I started last summer. I got the area cleared and weed cloth put down last year, this year I needed to build a small retaining wall in back, fill in the dirt, and plant all the roses. So far on that one I bought the stone for the retaining wall and had it delivered. I also had a big project of tiling the downstairs bathroom which needed a lot of work after the house flooded in December. That project did get done, but not by me. I wimped out and let the tile guys lay all the tile for the floor, shower and walls. Sure, I chose and picked up the tile, designed the layout and made some fused glass tile to go in the accent strip, but then I just peeked in occasionally and said "looks great!".

Then I started to write how I hadn't done anything on the projects starting with the section on the tile and then backtracking to the preceding paragraph so I could write how I hadn't walked, was drinking lots of wine and oj (I know, it's odd, but I'm getting more vitamins, minerals, and water than I would be if I just drank the wine) and eating lots of heavy carbs and buttery sauces...

And then I had a Cher/Nicolas Cage moment where I was both of them in Moonstruck and I slapped myself while yelling "Snap out of it!". Sure, I brought a lot of things out from Atlanta that I'll have to schlepp back again untouched, but so what? In the grand scheme of life, so the f*k what?!?! This summer I am on the grand adventure of bottle-feeding and raising a baby yak to be an Irish wolfhound. I helped shear 24 alpaca. I started a new business (farm2yarn) including setting up a webpage, an Etsy site and a Facebook page and store. I mined for sapphires, rafted on the river, learned to use a GoPro camera, did some crochet, some spinning, and some glass.

Some days I just play solitaire on my laptop or bejeweled on my iPhone for most of the day. Some days I read. Some days--like today--I start a post and then get distracted by helping J with Fireking Creations (her new jewelry business) and then it's time for a glass of wine as I finish the post. After I post I'll dine, then I'll feed and commune with the yak.

This is life, with all its sloth, and gluttony, and joy, and bursts of frenzied activity, and things left undone, and things left unstarted... it's MY life! And it's okay to live without commemorating, and live without doing, and live without exercising or enriching my mind or bettering myself in any way. It's enough if I believe that what I am doing is living because if it is living, it's worthwhile. Amen.