Friday, December 29, 2017

Adventures in Glass Blowing

Ever since I saw artisans blowing glass in Italy, when I was twelve years old, I have wanted to learn how to do this.  I've been retired six years now, and I finally have gotten to take a glass blowing class.  Everyone says it's a difficult and expensive thing to learn, and they are right.  It's also dangerous!

I'm taking a four-week class that meets once a week for three hours.  Normally, class size does not exceed six students, but I'm in a class with just one other student, a woman who's in medical school.  

You have to take this class in winter because it's hot in a workshop with a glass furnace heated to 2000 degrees.  This is a sweaty hobby....

We were introduced to our teacher, a guy with dreadlocks down to his waist.  He gave us a booklet with all kinds of definitions and safety rules.  Zack made it look so easy, but when we had our turn to put the punty rod into the molten glass, it was with a certain amount of apprehension that we approached the furnace.  I encouraged the other student to go first, and I watched over her shoulder as she dipped the punty rod into the liquid glass, gathering glass by turning the rod, until Zack said, "OK."  She brought it over to the bench, the work station, and used a jack, a tweezer-like instrument, to make indentations in the glass.  It was just a simple thing that we first made, but it was surprising how hard it was to work the glass.  The finished product looked like a very small snowman.  

When it was my turn, I found out that I have a heavy hand when using the jack.  Zack instructed me, "Lightly, lightly."  After the initial gather of glass and making the first indentation with the jack, we put the punty rod into the glory hole, a smaller heating furnace, to "flash," which heats the glass to be able to further work the glass.  

There are so many little things to remember when you're doing this, and you definitely learn by making mistakes, which is where the dangerous part of this hobby comes to play.  

You have to be super-aware of all the people around you when you're working with molten glass.  There was another class going on at the same time, the advanced class, and although there were only two students with their teacher, that's three other people. You need to know of their presence so you don't run into them while you're carrying a rod with molten glass.  

You have to wear safety glasses, in case the glass explodes - more about that later.  Tie your hair back - that furnace is hot!  Wear long pants and sleeves to protect your limbs.  I wore my heavy-duty hiking boots to protect my feet.  And have lots of water because you're going to perspire.  I brought three bottles for each class.  It doesn't hurt to do exercise with weights because of the amount of glass you're working with on the end of the rods.  

So back to "it looks easy when the teacher does it, but it's a different story when it's your turn."  I put the punty glass into the glory hole to flash heat my snowman, and when I was taking the rod out of the heat, I hit the furnace door on the way out - oops!  Nothing broke, but that's something you want to avoid.  When you hit the door, your glass picks up little bits of debris that you'll have to remove, very carefully.

We used a wet pad of thickly folded newspaper to shape the glass.  Even though the newspaper is wet, the glass is so hot, it's making the paper spark and sizzle, and little bits of paper are catching fire and flying into the air.  It gets pretty smoky.  Then flash in the heat again, and back to the bench to use the wooden block to shape the glass.  There's a lot of team work involved in glass blowing.  Someone can use a wooden paddle to help your skin not to take the full brunt of the heat in the process of shaping the glass.  

Zack really did make all this look effortless, but for us, it was a process of trying to remember everything we were supposed to do.  I guess it's similar to learning to drive a stick shift, except more immediately dangerous in a different way.  

When we were satisfied (as satisfied as we could be with our beginning attempts), we brought the punty rod over to another table and used a knife to drip water at the "break line."  Then we hit the rod with the knife, and our piece fell off the rod.  Voila!  We used a blow torch to heat the place where it broke off the rod, and then pressed the tip of the blow torch into the glass to make it smooth.  We used asbestos covered tongs to pick up the piece and place it into an annealer, a kiln where the glass could gradually cool.  If we didn't do this, the stress would be too much for the temperature differential of the glass exposed to air, and the glass would explode.

The following week, we could pick up our pieces and see the fruit of our labor.  Oh happy day - our first pieces!  In addition to making a snowman, we made paperweights, and we had gotten to add two colors.  

When you have the glob of molten glass on the end of the punty rod, you dip the glass into tiny bits of colored glass as if you're pressing sprinkles onto an ice cream cone.  You have no idea what it will look like until the next week.  The glass is so hot, it's glowing red, so it's not until it comes out of the annealer that you can see what the actual color looks like.  

The next week, we got to use a blow pipe to make a bubble into the molten glass.  This was much more difficult in actual execution.  Neither of us were very successful the first time, but that made it all the more joyful when we got a bubble in the glass.  

I got to do this on my 64th birthday, which was a milestone, because my dad died when he was 63, and I was leery of my approaching 64th birthday.  Anyone who knows me knows that I like to make a big deal of birthdays, so this was such a cool way to celebrate - I got to blow glass!

The piece I got to make was supposed to be a shot glass, but the finished product looked more like a juice glass because I got too much glass on the end of the blow pipe.  But I was so excited when I blew into the pipe and saw the bubble form in the glass!  We used a punty rod to transfer the piece from the blow pipe onto the other rod.  Zack told me to put the blow pipe in the bucket, and I didn't hear him, so I put the blow pipe into the bucket with water.  Big mistake!  Thank God he saw what I did, and he started yelling, "Get it out of there!  Get away, get away!"  I freaked out, and took the pipe out of the bucket with the water and leaned it up against the wall, just in time to avoid scalding water forming in the blow pipe and shooting out of the top.  I also avoided the glass that was left on the rod from shattering and exploding.  Neither of those things happened, and I can only attribute it to the angels watching over me.  Thank You, Lord!

At the end of the class, I told Zack, "Thank you for not letting me get hurt on my birthday."  I told him about the devastating accident I had on my 30th birthday when I went horseback riding and the horse side-swiped a tree at full gallop.  The horse escaped without injury, but my right leg caught the impact of the tree and knocked me clear out of the saddle, and I sailed through the air, with me landing sprawled out on the ground.  

That was not the only accident I avoided before the course was completed.  The next week, while watching the other student complete the piece she was making, the glass exploded off the rod and hit my hair on the side of my head.  Again, thank God for safety glasses and all the angels watching over me.

Here is a picture of the things I made.   

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Life With Cats (and Other Critters)

I have always loved cats.  Anything furred, actually, but cats have always been in my life.  I don't know if my grandparents had pets, but my mom had scores of photos of all her animals.  

The first cat we had was Samantha.  We found her when we were helping to paint the church.  She was a black-and-white tuxedo cat, and we had to have her.  Mom was fine with it.  I don't remember Dad's reaction.

Anyway, Sam was the beginning.  Along the way, there were cats named Persuticus, Vercengetorix Montmorency Arbuthnot Vandergriff III (yes, all those names for one cat), a raccoon, a possum, a dog (Mom, look what followed us home!), a baby alligator, a bigger alligator that my brothers kept in the baby pool, many mice, and all kinds of tropical fish.  I don't remember having any guinea pigs or hamsters.

My mom used to cook a scrambled egg every morning for the cat.  Yes.  

I wish I could find my list of all the cat names. We had quite a few.  Whe we were kids, people used to drop off their cats in our yard, and I think the same thing happens today.

When I lived in my first apartment, pets weren't allowed.  Same thing with our first apartment when we got married, but our next door neighbors used to have a gray cat named Laura, and she would climb our screen door, until we'd open the door and pet her.

When we bought our first house, we lived next door to a man with two dogs and I don't know how many cats.  He told me that one of his cats had kittens, so I went to see them.  There were three in the litter.  I told Wayne I was just bringing them home to give them a bath and get rid of their fleas.  I fully believed that.  Wayne knew they were going to be our kittens.  He's allergic to cats, so he said we could keep them, but they had to stay outside.  We fixed up a little area for them on the back porch, but every time we opened the door, they'd run into the house and pee on the carpet under the kitchen table.  We named them Max, Schroeder, and Schuyler.  Max was a gray and black tabby, and Schroeder and Schuyler were apricot beige - they were all long-haired.  We gradually allowed them into the house, and as long as Wayne washed his hands after petting them, his allergies didn't bother him.  

The man next door died, and his son moved in, but he wasn't doing a good job of taking care of his animals.  We ended up taking his dog, a reddish Chow-Lab mix, and we named her Poochie Girl.  We got one more cat from his colony, Minimax.  She looked just like Max, but smaller.  Many of the cats tested positive for feline leukemia and had to be put down.  Poochie Girl hadn't been fed much since the man had died, but she was very territorial, so we weren't sure how easily she's adapt to us.  She became our first dog, and immediately cost us $600 because she had hematomas in both ears.  She was a good dog, and she got along with the cats.  

When I brought home a tiny kitten I named Mozart, none of the other cats would have anything to do with him, but Poochie Girl adopted him like he was her own baby.  He used to "nurse" on Poochie Girl, and even when he grew to 13 pounds, he still liked to "nurse" on her, and she didn't mind.

Schuyler disappeared, and months later, we found out that the little boy down the street had taken her.  After all that time, we didn't have the heart to take her away from them.

So that was our first animal family:  Poochie Girl, Max, Schroeder, Minimax, and Mozart.

When we moved up to North Carolina, the vet had given us Valium so the cats wouldn't have a hard time in the car.  Luckily, I tried it on them before we left.  They staggered around the house, yowling like little furry drunks, so no valium for the road trip to North Carolina.

From North Carolina, we moved to Hattiesburg, and Minimax had kidney problems.  When she died, we buried her in the back yard of the rental property, but when we moved back to New Orleans, I told Wayne I couldn't leave her in Mississippi, so he dug her little body up and brought her with us.  She's buried in the back yard (along with several other pets who died over the years).
She was only 6 years old.

Poochie Girl was next to leave us.  We estimate that she was about 13.  She'd had a long and full life and was a good dog.  I didn't even know I was allergic to dogs until many years later.

Max, Schroeder, and Mozart lived to age 13, too.  Max had kidney failure and congestive heart failure.  Schroeder had liver problems.  Mozart had seizures.  We took over care of the cat who lived behind us.  They'd left the poor cat outside when they'd evacuated for the hurricane.  We re-named the cat Linus.  He was an orange and white tabby.  

We were down to just one cat.

Then I got a job teaching high school, and to reward myself, I asked Wayne if we could get another cat.  One of the ladies at my church (June) told me about her neighbors who'd brought their cat to the shelter, so we went to get her. When we got there, one of the shelter workers had already adopted her, so I called Wayne and asked if we could get two kittens.  
We sat in the adoption room, picking up and playing with all the kittens.  At one point, I had five kittens in my lap.  June said, "Wayne said you can only have two kittens, Debra!"

My first choice was a seven-week-old gray kitten named Henry.  He didn't have a litter-mate, so I chose Harry, a mostly white with gray and black tabby splotches, who purred so loudly, I couldn't resist him.  He was ten weeks old.

I brought them home, and they had the run of the house.  They played so hard, that they would overturn the glider-rocker, the garbage can, and the lamp.  When I told the vet that they needed ritalin, she suggested buying cat toys.  I did that.  Still VERY active.....

A year or two later, one of the feral cats decided to take a chance and come inside.  She was so skinny.  She has never even ventured outside to this day, and she is the fattest cat we've ever had.  Her name is Violet.  We nicknamed her "Violent" for a very short time, because of her reaction when we tried to put flea treatment on her.

A year or two after that, I heard a loud meowing when I was walking in the neighborhood, and I saw a very tiny calico kitten in someone's garden.  I knocked on their door - no answer.  I thought it might die before I got it home.  Its tail was broken in two places, and there was blood on its chin.  I nursed it with a baby bottle and kitten replacement milk.  We called her Zoe.  She's not very good at being held, but she loves to sit on your lap.

When I retired, I wanted a dog so he could be a visiting pet.  I found Walter's picture on the SPCA website, and we picked him up on a Saturday in January.  He's a little too hyperactive to be certified as a visiting pet, but nonetheless, he does a good job when we visit people in nursing homes.

I volunteered at the local animal shelter, promising Wayne that I wouldn't bring any more animals home.  Well, you can guess how that turned out.  Of course, I wanted every single one of the animals.  But there was this one kitten I couldn't stop thinking about, and when I found out she was still there after coming home from visiting my sister-in-law, I told Wayne I wanted to adopt Paisley.

So now we have one dog and five indoor kittens.  Linus, Sally, and James Bond, Jr., make up the feral cat colony in the back yard with occasional visits from Jeremiah and Black Panther.  Various raccoons and possums eat up their leftover cat food.  I just found a garter snake this morning - I think the cats must have killed it, although I didn't see any wounds on it.  So many birds come to visit - I love sitting and watching them fly from one bird feeder to the other.  Hummingbirds flit to and from the red blossoms of the hummingbird bush that grows underneath the bird feeders.  

I hope I will always have animals. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Duncan & Cesar Taught Me About Death

Written October 22, 2015

We're visiting Niagara Falls.  I don't know why, but I've been thinking a lot about Duncan, our feral cat, while we're here.  I remember how sick he was at the end, and I remember what Cesar Millan wrote about how animals accept death.  Duncan demonstrated this to me.  He used to come running to see me as soon as I unlocked the back door.  He'd gobble down his food and head butt me, looking for affection.  But in the last few days, he remained sitting, too weak to do much of anything.  He allowed me to use a baby wipe to stroke around his face.  I brought the food and water to him, but he didn't want it.  On the last day, when I went outside in the morning  I didn't see him.  I called and called.  No response.  I let Walter  out in the back yard, and he ran in circles around my friend's car which we'd parked in the back yard while she was traveling.   I figured Duncan must be there.  I looked but couldn't see him.  I got a flashlight to help me see better, and there he was.  Oh...

Wayne had gone fishing, and I wasn't sure who to call.  I'd need to move the car, but didn't want to back over Duncan.  I called my friend, Beverly, and sobbing, I told her, "Duncan's dead."  She said, "I'll be right there."  The day before, I'd asked Wayne to dig a hole because I figured Duncan's time was close.  

Beverly came with her husband, Tim, who's our minister, and still crying, I opened the front door and showed them where Duncan was.  Tim moved the car back carefully, and there was Duncan, sprawled out in death.  I couldn't stop crying. 

I'd put on gloves, and I picked up his lifeless body, laying it on a sheet.  I curled him so it looked as if he were sleeping.  I wrapped him up in the sheet and laid him in the hole.  Tim put his hand on mine, and Bev put her hand on my back.  Tim prayed, and I sobbed through the prayer.  We both put the dirt on Duncan and filled the hole, patting down the dirt.

I don't know why, in the midst of all the beauty of Niagara Falls, I keep seeing poor little Duncan's lifeless body.  He died three weeks ago on October 1st, so I'm probably still processing his death.  

Cesar said animals accept the natural order of life and death.  That's not to say they don't feel sad if their human dies.  I really do think animals feel emotions.  Duncan seemed resolute in his acceptance   He ate and drank until he didn't want to any more, and then he found a quiet spot to take his last breaths.

It still brings me to tears, but I appreciate what Duncan and Cesar taught me.  

Take care of those around you, and when it's their time, prepare yourself for what needs to be done.  Cry when you need to. Write about it, pray about it, talk about it, walk it out.  Eventually it will be your time.  We'll meet again on the other side.  Duncan just got there first.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Best Part of My Life

This morning, I slept until I woke up - no alarm clock woke me.  This is one of the best parts of being retired.  For more than 35 years, I woke up at 5:45 every morning, and probably hit the snooze button on my alarm clock every single day, and more than likely, hit it not just once, but several times.

There is such a pleasure in being relaxed in the morning and not having to rush around getting ready for work.  I padded in my fuzzy-socked feet to the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee.  Wayne left the creamer out for me so it's not cold when I pour it into my coffee, and the temperature is just right.  That pleases me, too.  I bring my coffee back to the bedroom and set it on the shelf of my headboard.  All four cats are either on the bed or the floor or the dresser, enjoying a lazy morning with me.  Then I get out my current book and read until I please.  

What could be better?

Right now, I'm reading Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson.  When the librarian called to tell me that the book I had requested had come in, I asked which one, and when he told me the title, I reacted with such delight, that he probably thought I was inordinately happy, or maybe he thought he'd better get on the waiting list to read this book, too.

I love this author.  Her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, made me laugh so hard and so often, that my husband kept coming into the room where I was reading and asking, "What are you laughing about?"  I told him, "You just have to read this book."  The only other book I ever read that made me laugh this much is Dav Pilkey's The Adventures of Captain Underpants; actually the whole series is hysterical in a way that probably only third-grade boys would find funny, but that's my sense of humor sometimes.  I laughed so hard at those books, that the cats kept coming into the room to see what was going on.  

I don't remember how I found Lawson's book, but I loved it so much, I bought it to give to other people and insisted that they read it, too.  The cover has a picture of a little mouse in a cape, and if that's not intriguing enough, you're just not curious.  

Lawson's second book cover has a picture of a raccoon standing up with his arms held high, and the best smile you've ever seen.  Racoons are some of my favorite animals, so I knew I would love this book, and how could you not love the title, Furiously Happy?

(I love lots of other authors:  Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons, Cassandra King, Anne Lamott, David Sosnowski, Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, just to name a very few.  I love to read and to listen to audiobooks.  I'm always amazed when people tell me they haven't read any books since high school.)

So, if you haven't made Jenny Lawson's acquaintance, I highly recommend reading her books.  They're funny, and they're serious, too.  Let me know what you think after you read them.... 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

My Favorite Time of the Day

I love the light at a certain time of the day.  I don't know the technical term for it, but this is what it looks like:

Momma Raccoon

It's been a nightly occurrence:  after the feral cats in the backyard eat, if there's any leftover food, the raccoons and possums finish the food, which starts Walter barking, warning us that there are dangerous wild animals threatening to kill us if we do not heed his alarm.  We tell Walter, "Good boy!  Thanks for letting us know!"  We look out the window and observe the critters.  It's always a good show.

For the past few nights, a small raccoon has been showing up, and we thought it was a youngster or at least a teen raccoon.  Well, she showed up with three babies in tow!

We had no idea she was a momma raccoon.  I love shows in my backyard!  


Whenever I see my cats focused on something, it's a signal to me that's there's something they're hunting.  That's how they let us know there was a snake in the house a few years back - another story for another time.  (Actually, there have been snakes in the house on three separate occasions.)

This is an example of what that looks like:

On this particular night, they were hunting a baby gecko.  The fact that it was a baby did not prevent me from screaming when I saw it.  I couldn't wait for Wayne to come rescue me from the monstrous baby gecko because the cats would have mauled the poor thing, and the next step would have been eating it!

I grabbed a paper towel and used it to grab the baby gecko and throw it outside.  Live, baby gecko!  And don't come back in the house!