Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We're Back!

I'm finally back from the conference! I was hoping I would have something to post about the house but I'm having to wait on my architect right now (ahem) so we'll have to make due with some more clay stuff. I thought this might be somewhat interesting to some of you. The photo above is a small portion of the mugs brought in for the annual Mug Swap. You draw like in a raffle to get your mug. I got a pretty good one and a fellow I went to school with got mine. He seemed happy with it; I hope his is. I saw several people I went to college with (which was fun)and got some good info.
The biggest portion of the time was spent at a conference center but on the last day we went to the University of Montevallo campus to unload the anagama kiln. The clay students fired it 2 weeks ago and we were allowed 1 piece each to put in it. I am standing at the back of the kiln (near the chimney) looking towards the front. The kiln is almost 40 ft. long and has over 300 cubic feet of interior space. This kiln was built in 2001 and they only fire it once or twice a year. It takes 4 and a half days, around the clock, and up to 14 cords of wood to fire! I'm almost glad the thing wasn't there when I was!
The kiln is built on a slope, into the side of a hill. The anagama is an ancient Japanese design which is built to resemble and promote the natural shape of a flame. Some of the ware is glazed but part of the purpose of such a long firing, design of kiln etc. is to let the kiln glaze the work with the ash deposits that result from so much wood being burnt. The flames traveling up and along the length also register gold and orangey "signatures" on the pieces. The temperature inside the kiln reaches somewhere around 2,400 degrees F. At this temp. ash becomes liquid and coats the surfaces that it lands on.
Here is a shot of just a little of the ware that has come out. As you can imagine, it can hold alot of pottery! Another reason its only fired once or twice a year. There's lots of congrats for the lucky people who received gorgeous pieces from the kiln and sympathies for the ones who were not so lucky. The largest pieces you see in this photo were not glazed at all before going into the kiln but received wonderful color during the firing.
This is a close up of a little cup that I thought was really nice. My piece came out okay but was not as toasty colored as I was hoping. There are very few kilns of this design and size in the U.S. and only one other that is fired by undergraduate students exclusively.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Time out!

I'll be gone for the weekend to the Alabama Clay Conference! Its a pretty good conference they have once a year that the universities in the state, that have good ceramics programs, take turns hosting. They bring in some really big name artists. And you can always pick up a good glaze recipe or two. The photo is of the little creek that runs beside my driveway and is the property line on one side. Not as big as Rurality's but I have often wondered if its the same creek since we are so close. ?? See ya'll later!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

My Other Job

Things are going a little slow with the house right now so Rurality suggested I show some photos of what I actually do for a living at least part-time anyway. These are pictures of my little studio and gallery. All of the crafts are completely hand-made here in Alabama only. No, I don't have a website BUT I am actually having one worked on as we speak (type?). The building is in the old downtown area which they are trying to restore to an alternative shopping district. Lots of the business owners have fixed their stores up really nice. Mine was built somewhere around 1920 and was originally a feed store.
Another view of the other side. Its kinda small but the back half of the building is my studio and office.
A close up of the variety of what I carry. This is probably a horrible faux-pas on my part, but those soaps there are not Karen's! Sorry!! Its an old photo. I don't carry those anymore and just carry Natural Impulse; which is great stuff. I have several different books too which are written by Alabama authors. There are lots of really talented folks here! Some of my artists are nationally known.
This is one of my pie plates. I do all wheel thrown pottery. Its a mid-range stoneware. Microwave, dishwasher safe and of course, oven-proof. My sister caters alot and she uses my stuff so she tests alot of it for me. I'm not much on making pies but these work great for cooking biscuits too!
This is a little lidded jar about 3.5"x3.5" (to the top of the handle). These are great for sugar or salt or whatever. But you can cook in them too.
This is just another little jar. Its about 4.5" wide x 3.5" tall.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Long and Winding Road

These photos were taken at the end of summer I think so the road is more finished; there is gravel on most of it and its wider and smoother in places. Some of them show a little more progress. I got these photos in backwards so if you scroll down to the last summer picture and then scroll back up , thats what it would look like driving into the property. This section is much more finished now and just as you go around that last slight curve it opens out to the house site. Those are wild hydrangea on the left bank. They are everywhere here.
This was the toughest spot to get in. We had to clip off the end of this rock line and roll some very large boulders away. To the right, down that slope is a little creek that comes from 2 of the springs that come out of the mountain. We used some of the large rocks that we had to move anyway to shore up the dirt that we pushed over there. The cut you see at the top of this hill is about 15 feet high. We may put in a retaining wall one day if it seems to want to start sliding. So far its okay. I was really nervous this first time we had a concrete truck come in on this curve. But he made it fine. Some of those drivers are really good.
This is another view as you are driving in; if I had done the sequencing right it would be in order but we are going backward actually. On the left are some large trees we had to cut and on the left is the creek. You can see it when you are in a vehicle and its real nice. When we took down the old dam we uncovered a very long section of 12" dia. steel pipe (probably 60' or more) that was a drain or overflow. Another serendipitous find! So we cut that up into 3 sections and used it for the culverts under the road. One of them is in this photo although you can't see it. It has a really cool, huge gate valve on the end that we left for a souvenir and it still works! This section has alot more gravel on it now and Allen loves to run Oliver up and down the driveway with the box blade. It makes it really smooth though. I was suprised how well those things work.
This is closer to the main road as you are driving in. The wall of dirt on the left is the old dam or whats left of it. We have planted some azaleas and ferns on the little hump on the right. Ferns grow wild all over the place here though so you can get as many as you want.
This is looking from the other direction at the same spot. Dam on the right; we tried to grade it down so it looks kind of natural but we need to plant some kind of ground cover or something. This was taken just the other day. We have a couple of spots here and there in the road that are holding a little water but its still settling in some. There is alot of water seeping down off the hills right now and I think we are going to have to dig a couple of little ditches to divert some water. We still have alot of clean up as far as cut trees go. We have tried to give away as much as possible for firewood but most people don't want to have to split it. There are a couple of really tall, straight trees down that I would like to use in the house if we can. They would make great interior supporting columns.


Just want to thank Rurality for so graciously mentioning my blog on her great site and sending folks over! If you are one of mine and have not checked hers out you should go to www. rurality.blogspot.com. Great photos!

Fun With Machinery.

I'm going back in time a bit here, but I wanted to show a little about the drive. Also, I noticed on some of the other blogs I visit, the subject has been the occasional trespasser and I have a story about that.
This photo is from the very beginning of the driveway, as you can probably tell. I have to say, I have been extremely blessed with very opportune circumstances regarding this land. Someone must be watching out for me! One instance is with this drive. In the 1950's, about a third of what is now my land, was a man-made lake and then in 1963 (I think) a huge rainstorm came and it rained for days on end and the earth dam that had been built for the lake, broke. It was too much to rebuild so they just left it. When we arrived, there was no other good way to bring a road in except by this old earth dam. (I am land-locked and have a 500' long easement back to my place.) So, by some twist of fate, this old dam provided all the dirt we needed to build this very long driveway back to our home site. There is no way we would have been able to afford to have this much dirt hauled in. Well, it would not have made good financial sense.
Now, we had gotten about half of the drive in and had connected to the main road but it was not really passable but with a machine, when some person decided they wanted to come see what we were doing. They did not ask but just went tooling down the road, on a muddy day no less, and got back up in there and just about got stuck. There was no where to turn around and a creek on one side. I t could have turned into a very bad situation but they managed to get out although they rutted the road up something awlful doing it. Now when I saw this I was furious! It was bad enough they didn't ask but somehow it was made all the worse because they DROVE on my land. I told Allen we were going to go get a gate that day! I knew there were several large gates up at my parents that were not being used anymore so we went up there. Allen said I should just calm down and that they (trespasser) had learned their lesson and probably would not be back but, NO! I was pissed! So, we had to drive into the pasture at Mama's to get the gate I wanted (remember what I said about it being a muddy day) and we noticed right away that maybe this wasn't a good idea. Well, we made it down to the gate and loaded it up but in my infinite wisdom, I told him to take a different route out. We almost made it. We got about 30 yards from the exit and marred up so bad the mud was up to the axle of the truck. We pushed and shoved and crammed everything we could find under the wheels but it wasn't going anywhere. Did I mention it was dark by now and about 38 degrees? This went on about an hour and Allen finally just gave up and said we were going to have to get someone to pull us out. But I said NO! we were construction workers! we've seen worse! we've gotten concrete trucks out of worse mud before! So I told him to get in the truck and just go when I said. He was so exhausted he went along with it. So I worked for another 30 minutes but was really starting to crash; I was exhausted, freezing and muddy from head to toe. In despair I said (outloud), God if you'll just help us get out I'll try to NEVER act so ugly again about something so trivial! And then I threw a couple more rocks under the tires and told Allen to floor it and don't stop. And he did! He drove right out! I couldn't believe it. I was still laughing when I got up to the house and he and Mama asked me what I was laughing at. I told them and they said that's what I get for being so pissy and ungrateful. So we went back home and the next morning Allen went down to install the gate. I told him he should not pull in all the way but he said, oh I won't get stuck! Well, you can guess what happened. Now, down here people will generally stop if they see a motorist who needs help and so this man stops and pulls Allen's truck out with his truck. The clincher is that it was the same man that I was accusing of being the trespasser to begin with! Generally speaking, I am so hard-headed that I have to learn lessons this way. My brother, who is a preacher, thought this was a very good story.

Monday, February 20, 2006

New Steel

Okay! We have fabricated all the steel posts that the house will sit on and have set most of them but not all. Some of them are just sitting where they go but are not fastened down yet. As you can probably tell, the house will sit kind of high off the ground. The tallest post is about 7'-6" and some of the shorter ones are 3'-6" to 4'. There are several reasons why we did this. Our original idea for the house was that it would be a pole frame, and it still is technically, but the poles are steel instead of timbers. Usually pole foundations are cheaper than tradtional (which was one of the reasons initially that we wanted it)but I don't think this one is going to be. Anyway, we did the foundation this way because: 1. It does not disturb the landscape as much as leveling an area to dig continous footings. 2. It elevates the house more which helps to catch breezes. With the passive cooling design (dogtrot) this is very important. 3. Aesthetics; you get a nice view of your property from inside the house.

This is just some of the steel before we put it together. It doesn't cost too much just to buy it like this. If you have to have someone else fabricate the designs though that's what cost you.
This is me welding the columns up! All women should learn to weld. Seriously. It gives you alot of confidence in yourself.
Because of the mud, you can't really see the footing that this pier is sitting on but it is there. I am going to have a rock wall underpinning the house on the front and one side so we poured a continous footing across there. We primed the bottom of the posts before setting them and I will prime the rest of them as they are standing. Much less messy that way.
For those not familiar with construction methods, this is an example of the wedge anchors we used to bolt the columns down with. Now, so far we have been using more commercial construction methods of building rather than residential methods. Anyway, you drill an appropriate size hole (width and depth, depends on the size anchor) and then drive the anchor down in the hole with a hammer. It had better be where you want it too because it ain't coming back out! When you tighten the nut down on the plate of the column, it pulls up slightly on the anchor and those little prong-like things and collar you see on the end wedge the anchor in tight.
There are also chemical anchors but they are expensive.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Ain't She Sweet

This is Grendal, my sweet kitty. She is giving me her usual look of condescension. She is actually a pretty good cat. She doesn't get into much, mainly because its just probably too much effort on her part, but is very loving too. She loves strawberry yogurt.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

In the Beginning

I went back and scanned a couple of photos we took when we first started clearing land so if the quality is not too good, that's why. I didn't have my digital camera at the time. Being set in my ways, I resisted the digital ones at first but now I grudgingly admit they are cool. In this photo you can hopefully see just how thick the undergrowth was. It was like this everywhere! You really could not walk across the property without a machete to hack a path through with. That's Allen on the dozer. He got to have all the fun with that but I did get to run the front end loader that we got later. That was interesting because with that particular model you have to steer with your feet and you operate the bucket with your hands. It took alot of getting used to. But there is nothing quite like the feeling of power you get from those machines! Arrggg!! We did control ourselves though and did not go rampaging through the whole place.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Beast of Burden

This is why he is called "Oliver". I know, that's not very original on our part! He is also a '52 model not a '51 as I had previously stated. I didn't think I was right.
This post is for Allen! this is his pride and joy...Oliver. He is a 1951 model I think. He works very hard but he has had a little trouble with all of the rocks in these parts. He broke a tooth on his box blade and tore holes in another box blade. (yes, I'm almost finished repairing that, David) He has even gotten stuck a couple of times but nothing too bad.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The house site!

The first thing you have to know is we are only building half of the house right now. Is will be (hopefully) a passive solar house with a dogtrot in the middle for cooling. This side of the house contains the living and dining rooms, kitchen and 1 bedroom and bath. We will build the dogtrot but for now it will just be a porch. So thats why this looks kind of small for a house. What you see here is the back foundation/retaining wall, spot piers in the middle and a continous footing with piers in the front. I'm calling the downhill side the front but actually the house will not have a front or back really and you will enter through the dogtrot. On this end you can just barely see a giant hole with some walk boards laid over it; thats where the concrete truck almost got stuck! It was a little softer than we thought. But we poured him out fine.

Okay, Here I am standing at the house site looking out across the front yard or what will be the front yard one day. Its not so messy now; we cleaned up the other day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The driveway!

Okay, basically I'm just trying to figure out what the heck i'm doing here with the photos. I'm not the most computer literate person around! This photo is the part of the road going in that gave us so much trouble and also the prettiest part. This is where we had to move a bunch of boulders.