Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April Homestead Update

As for life in the country and efforts to be self-sufficient, we are kicking into high gear this month.  Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like, while we keep moving forward, we also fall back.  We might be learning how to make better use of our space, getting a greenhouse and hoop-houses built, learning more and more about beekeeping, and enjoying an increasingly established garden, but there is so much to maintain!  Garden gates are sagging, paint is peeling, weeds find new places to push through, and our barn walls are rotting into nothing.
This is our goat barn.  We've been ignoring the problem for too long.  But the solution is daunting!
We finally, after YEARS of working at it, have the pasture fenced for the goats.  (It was finished in 2007, but two winters of severe flooding took it all down.)  Now, the pasture is a short walk down a hill via a switchback, but the goats have all become very comfortable in a fenced area close to the house.  They love to graze just outside of their enclosure, but they get nervous when I take them down to the pasture, and they panic if I put them inside of the fence and leave.  So far, they have always found a way out, and will work their way back up to our driveway, sometimes limping as if they went to desperate measures to escape.  Yesterday, I believe I secured all exit points by stretching chicken wire across any slightly wide openings and putting concrete blocks under the gates.  They stayed put, bleating as if their hearts were broken, for a couple of hours.  The goal is to have them grazing down there during the day, reducing our need to buy feed by about 90%.  (It's about time!)

This is just a small area of the pasture; a giant goat buffet.
This is part of our effort to make sense of having goats.  Until now, they have been expensive weed-composting machines and sweet pets.  We recently bought a baby boy goat named Thorin.  In a few months, he'll be old enough to impregnate our 3 does.  We plan to sell the offspring when they are weaned (we have enough goats) and milk the does.  Yes, we have had goats for 10 years without successfully milking them.  It's a long story.  So, if we can cut cost of feed and have fresh goat milk, it will justify my choice to keep goats.
Introducing Thorin.  He is very shy and nervous around people.  He sure is adorable, though.
We lost 2 ducks in early spring to raccoons.  But the remaining 3 include a female, and I'm still hoping she'll hatch some babies.  So far, she has no interest.  I find her cold eggs scattered all over the place.  But, they wander around all day and through the night munching slugs.  Tomorrow, I will be picking up a pair of baby geese to live in the veggie garden.  Ducks and geese are excellent slug control.  We also have 2 teenage Buff Orpington chicks and 2 baby Polish chicks living in the greenhouse with Blind Chicken.

Blind chicken was attacked by our cute little lap dog last year and, while she recovered her health, she can't see.  I put her in front of food and water every day.  The other chickens are incredibly cruel to her, so she lives in the greenhouse for now.  We have a new coop in progress, which needs to be completed soon so that we can put plants into the dirt in the greenhouse without them being eaten by the chicks.  Blind chicken will live in the old coop with the ducks and geese.

We spend all of our spare time trying to keep up with weeds, failing gates that are tied together with bungee cords, seed planting, and general cleaning.  As usual, we are late getting the garden tilled and planted, but Mike is advisor for his school's horticulture club, so we get starts from them each year at the plant sale, and that helps us catch up.  Then, Mike has a couple of months during summer to spend working the garden and taking care of all of these huge projects.
This is a section of the perennial garden, which is interspersed with herbs, hops, grapes, strawberries and raspberries.

Sometimes, I think I should keep two blogs: one for homesteading and one for art.  I'm not very good at writing about why they are inherently connected.  But, I use each to support the other, if that makes sense.  I earn shockingly little income from my mosaic at this point.  My daughter is still young enough, and we are so remote and lacking a support system, that the cost of getting a job outweighs the benefit.  Through my efforts  splitting my time between homesteading activities and trying to grow the business, we are able to squeak by on Mike's income.  Plus, we get fresh, homegrown food and best of all, a really great lifestyle.  Our daughter has grown up with a mom who creates almost every day and she has been by my side at art shows and festivals since she was a baby.  She is very proud when people come to see my work, or when I make an appearance in a newspaper or magazine.  She has also helped harvest a lot of our food, and she helps herself to food straight from the garden, happily snacking on kale and fennel and using chives as straws.  So, I am considering starting a separate blog just for art, but I don't know if it's necessary.  I would be curious to know what my nine followers think.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April Mosaic Whirlwind!

After hibernating through winter, just working on projects for myself and not dealing with the business end of my mosaic business, April was all about breaking out of my shell.  I was in charge of one part of the American Mosaic Summit that took place during the second week of April, plus I was one of the presenters.  The weeks building up to the conference were filled with frantic computer work, collecting and documenting a record number of entries for the annual mosaic salon and auction, and finishing my powerpoint presentation.

Each year, the Society of American Mosaic Artists has a conference in a different host city.  We take over a conference hotel, hold an international exhibit demonstrating the quality and diversity of contemporary mosaic art, host a wide range of workshops and presentations, provide a vendor marketplace, and give SAMA members an opportunity to meet each other and spend 5 days straight talking about andamento and smalti and double indirect method and all of the other things that no one else in our lives understands (or wants to.)

This year, the conference was at the beautiful Murano Hotel in Tacoma, as well as the Tacoma Convention Center.  Over 500 people attended, many from as far away as Australia, and a whole contingent from Ontario.  The Mosaic Arts International exhibit took place at the Museum of Glass and several regional mosaic exhibits took place nearby.  The summit was a big success, and it was a huge relief and satisfaction to see my own part of it come together.
This is the SAMA salon before crowds filled the room.  This is a time for members to show off their own work, and it is  also for sale in a silent auction.  Over 140 members participated - a third more than any previous year!
This is one of my favorite mosaic pieces in the Salon, by Tammi Lynch-Forrest.
The conference was a whirlwind, as usual.  I enjoy the company of fellow mosaic artists, getting to know more members of the organization each year, and filling every recess of my brain with mosaic information.  During this week, most of us get very little sleep, and we leave with our minds spinning with new ideas.  It can be hard to integrate all of the new information, and I usually find that it takes weeks for me to re-adjust.

My presentation took place mid-way through the conference, and while I was incredibly nervous, all feedback from the audience has been incredibly positive.  I was surprised how moved people were, some of them approaching me with tears in their eyes afterward.  I told the story of the Artesian Well project from a very personal perspective, including the many challenges and culminating in a triumphant outcome.  (I documented the project in this blog exactly a year ago, in detail.)

A group of 15 Pacific NW mosaic artists held a group exhibit at the Handforth Gallery in Tacoma coinciding with the conference, so that we could strut our stuff a little bit.  This was a great opportunity for local mosaic artists to connect, the show was very successful, and I hope we can continue to create similar shows in the future.  I was approached by a Tacoma gallery and will be participating in exhibits there in the future.  I really enjoyed meeting the owners of B2 Gallery and I look forward to branching out and showing my work in Tacoma.
This is Gimli, one of my pieces in the Handforth Gallery exhibit.
As soon as the conference was over, I had to focus on getting ready for Olympia's Spring Arts Walk.  I hoped to finish a large, sculptural egg mosaic in time to use it as a centerpiece for a show in the window of a local boutique.  So much of my work would still be in Tacoma, and I wanted to have a big, beautiful, eye-catching piece in Arts Walk.  Unfortunately, I had to face the fact that I wasn't even close to being on schedule with the egg.  So, I asked permission to work on the egg in the window, and the shop owner loved the idea.  So, I hung a body of older work on the walls behind me and set up a teeny-tiny work space in the window.

And it was a hit!  Crowds gathered outside while I worked, and I could see by facial expressions that people were very excited to see how the mosaic is made.  It was very strange to be on display while working, but also kind of nice to be able to just focus on my work while all of the mayhem floated by outside.  A photographer from the local paper, Tony Overman, took his time getting a shot so good that it was on the front page of the Olympian on Saturday morning.
I worked on that egg for 5 hours on Friday and over 4 hours on Saturday, which is normally not a big deal.  But, working on low makeshift tables (a bucket with a 12" tile on top), sitting on a little folding seat, in cramped circumstances with crowds of people staring in... it was exhausting!

Since I had applied fresh thinset on Saturday, I had to leave the egg in place.  The shop would like for me to leave the show up for a bit, especially since people were calling to say they wanted to come from far away to see the mosaic they saw in the paper.  (So: the shop is Hot Toddy at 410 Capital Way in Downtown Olympia.)

It's Monday and I have a long list of things to catch up on here on the farm.  I plan to take this week off from mosaic to tend the animals, fix the chicken coop, get the garden planting started, and prep for my daughter's 10th birthday party on Saturday.  I expect May to be much less intense, and that is just fine.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Follow up to my presentation at the 2013 American Mosaic Summit

This post is a follow-up to a slide presentation that I delivered at the American Mosaic Summit in Tacoma, WA last week detailing the challenges and rewards of facilitating my first community mosaic.  I had to talk fast because my time was limited, and I was so nervous I failed to tie up some loose ends in the story.  I've been asked a lot of questions over the past few days, so I'll try to answer some of them here.

The most popular question: "Would you do it again?"
  • Yes!  I hope to continue to create mosaic in communities at least once or twice each year.  This first project was hard and had some challenges, but now I can anticipate some of those problems and plan ahead.  
  • I would pre-grout the individual fish before adhering them to the substrate (so the thinset couldn't push through.) 
  • I would insist on doing outdoor installation in summer and avoid a steep deadline.  
  • I would do more to disseminate information about the project before and during execution.
  • I now have a posse.  I know who to call when the next project rears it's head.
  • I would probably even do the work indoors on mesh, then do the installation myself (although that doesn't allow for passers-by to get involved, which felt essential in the case of the Artesian Well.)
Next most common question:  "Did you stay in touch with Thor?"
  • Yes, Thor and I stay in touch via email and facebook.  After the project, he moved out to my friends' goat farm and worked as a farm hand, but since it wasn't on the bus line, he had to move back to town after the summer and his housing situation continues to be tenuous.
  • I had Thor and my other core volunteers out to my house for a mosaic workshop as a thank you for all of their dedication.  I gave him some tools and materials to work with, though it can be a challenge for him since he doesn't have a place to keep his stuff or a work space.
  • I did a little fundraiser for Thor last October, which was originally intended so that he could attend the conference.  However, his immediate needs have to do with housing, food, and a way to keep making art, so I used the money I raised to buy him some mosaic books and supplies.
  • Thor owns very little, but he does have a laptop and vinyl cutter and he does freelance work making signs and designs that can be adhered to just about anything.  His goal is to get back into graphic arts school so that he can get back on his feet.
  • If you have any ideas for a vinyl design (Your logo for your car or laptop?  Signage?) here is Thor's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jasun.thor  Send him a message.  Keep in mind that his email access is intermittent, but he usually responds within a couple of days.  Hopefully, he'll be in a solid living situation soon with his equipment all set up and ready to go.
  • If you are in the Olympia area and you have a lead on a space that Thor could use to keep his equipment and work on art, please contact him.
People asked, "Why is there such a large homeless population in Olympia?"
  • Ok, I don't actually know the ins and outs of this topic, but here's my take:  For one, there are homeless folks in every city.  I think many cities do more work to hide the homeless.  There are strict ordinances against loitering and the services for street dependent people are placed far from the business districts so that "regular people" don't have to interact with those suffering from mental illness and drug addiction.  (I could expound on the influence of Reagan-era changes to the mental health system and how that created our current situation, but I'll spare you.)
  • Yes, it does have a very devastating impact on the downtown businesses.  Those "regular people" avoid shopping in that area.
  • The climate in Western WA is temperate, so people are less likely to freeze to death without housing.
  • Olympia is a very "earthy-crunchy" place, where Evergreen State College students and graduates are working hard to subvert the dominant paradigm and laws are being passed on the capital campus, so there is a lot of activism.  There are a lot of compassionate people who pass out sandwiches and try to help however they can.  And there is a free source of water for washing and staying hydrated.
And the loose ends that I didn't tie up:
  • I started out my presentation describing myself as introverted and shy, lacking in leadership skills.  Through doing this project, I learned that I have quiet leadership skills.  I can mediate and diffuse.  I am flexible and open to ideas.  I overheard someone telling a reporter that I was "the only person who could have done this project successfully."  I'm still trying to wrap my brain around all of this, but I see myself a little bit differently now.
  • My own relationship to the well:  I moved to Olympia in 1988 to attend college.  I've always seen the Artesian Well as a sign of hope.  As we get more and more bad news about the Puget Sound (Oysters are dying, sea lion babies are starving to death in droves, the water is full of phosphates and acid...) there is still clean, pure water flowing out of this pipe in a parking lot.  Somehow, it makes me optimistic.  When the water starts failing the monthly tests, or the pressure starts to drop, I will really start losing hope.  Water is life, and the Artesian Well is a constant reminder that we have to protect it.
One more thing: I blogged regularly while I was doing the project.  If you go back to March of 2012, I was just starting, and you can read about the progress in more detail.  Here is the first entry about the Artesian Well project: http://cosmicbluemonkey.blogspot.com/2012/03/olympia-artesian-well-mosaic-beginnings.html  

Recovering from the American Mosaic Summit of 2013

I just returned from another whirlwind trip to the annual American Mosaic Summit.  This year, we met in Tacoma, WA, which is only an hour and a half from me.  This means that I was much more intimately involved with the hosting of the conference than ever - in fact, I've never had to concern myself with the inner workings of the conference at all.

While I did not, like a couple of friends of mine, spend the past two years working very hard to secure the hotel, convention center, exhibit space, meal arrangements, multiple tours, and much more, I was in charge of one of my favorite parts of the conference; the Salon Auction.  It was a bigger job than I expected, but since I was saving so much by not flying to another state, I was happy to be part of the team.  And while it was sometimes very frustrating and stressful, it was also rewarding.  The night of the Salon, we had about 140 beautiful and diverse works of art on display.  Many of the participants sold work and the event was a big success.  There were no disasters!

The end of the Salon was very gratifying, because a huge responsibility was completed and over.  However, I had to get up early the next morning to give a presentation in front of, potentially, 500 conference attendees.  I was terrified, and no less because many in the audience have as much or more experience than I do with my topic.  I was worried that my little story would be boring for this crowd.  Plus, I was following one of my favorite people in the world of mosaic: Laurel True.  (Laurel True's website.)  Laurel has done amazing work in facilitating community mosaics, and I hope to someday spend some time working alongside her.

Although I am very shy and I find it hard to stand up and speak to large groups, I've been doing a lot of it in the past few years.  I've spoken to a rotary club, the Association of University Women, Olympia City Council, and I gave a lecture to a college class all within the past couple of years.  Each time, when I look out at the sea of faces, I feel like I leave my body and hover somewhere behind myself.  My mouth starts moving, I can't see my notes, I'm not sure what I'm saying or whether it makes sense.  But afterward, people approach me and tell me it was great.  So, I guess I'm not so awful at public speaking.

This time, I heard compliments over and over for the rest of the conference.  People said they cried!  They told me I was funny, that the delivery was smooth and concise, and that I didn't seem nervous.  Ha!  Take that, Inner Voice!  Despite all of this great feedback, I know there are things I failed to say and that I left a few parts out that I've been asked about since.  I will post a follow up page with some of that information, so if you were in that audience and you have some questions about my story, look for the next post.  I will try to answer them as well as possible.

So, I'm home and  back to stacking wood and wrangling goats.  Unfortunately, I wore myself out over the past week and I now have a nasty cold, so I'm dragging.  And as much as I already miss all of the amazing friends I get to see each year at the conference, I am so glad to be sitting in a quiet house in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees and creeks and animals.  Time to re-fuel and get back to making mosaic.