Sunday, January 16, 2022

Frozen Slugs on the Towpath


Delaware River from Scudder Falls Bridge

16 January 2022

Early last week, Tom, Jim, and I went back and forth about this weekend's ride-leading plans. Jim asked me if I was out of my mind. I told him I was born out of my mind. In the end, the consensus was, "yeah, no."

Hearing a whole lot of nothing by late in the week, Pete G put out a feeler. "I hear the call of a loon!" I responded, and from there, a ride was born:

The Hill Slugs will be studying the Venn diagram of crazy and stupid on Sunday morning on the towpath. We will start from Washington Crossing, NJ, cross the new Scudder Falls bridge, ride up the PA side to New Hope, and return on the NJ side. The route is approximately 20 miles. Wear all the winter clothes you own.

Rickety, Pete G, and Tom signed up, and then Ken G. I know Ken is that special kind of crazy, and he lives nearby, so I asked him if he was planning to ride in from home. It would be ten very cold road miles. I'd do it if he'd do it. Neither of us did. At 8:30 my outdoor thermometer was reading 9 degrees without the wind chill mixed in. Seeing these temperatures, Tom bailed. 

My car's thermometer was reading 18 degrees an hour and a half later as I pulled into the Washington Crossing lot.

Another PFW ride, led by either Ron or Ken W or Chris, was also ready to go. Their plan, as it had been listed, was to go south to the Calhoun Street Bridge and then north to New Hope.

They left before we did, our start delayed because Jack H and Dorothy were in the parking lot too. They were about to hike up the hill and over to Baldpate Mountain. I zipped my jacket all the way up to my chin. The zipper got stuck there; Dorothy helped un-stick it.

Ron's group was a little ahead of us. They turned up the Scudder Falls path. We followed and caught up with them at the bump-out in the middle of the bridge. Ken W was taking pictures with his phone.

"I thought you guys were going down to Calhoun Street," I said.

Ken gave the thumbs-down.

"Ah," I said, "A bridge too far."  (ba-dum tsssss!)

I had the camera advantage, being able to work it through my lobster-claw gloves. There was a thin layer of ice on the water, some of it moving with the current.

I took one last shot through the railing.

Ken G had never been over the bridge before. Last time, it was Jim and Ricky's first trip. But it's Martin's name that's tied to this crossing. He's in a Strava competition with some guy who claims the towpath as his kingdom. Martin is skiing somewhere now. I guess that means the other guy won.

We turned north on the Pennsylvania side, separating from the Ron-Ken-Chris group still on the bridge.

Pete and I got into a discussion about winter clothing. My entire outer layer dated back to the early 2000s, the shoes and booties newer than that by only a few years. What works, works.

"I've got toe warmers on the tops and bottoms of wool socks. A toe-warmer sandwich."

"Technically," Pete said, "It's a toe sandwich."

"Right," I said. "Toeducken."

For once, my feet were warmer than my hands (glove liners under lobster-claws), which were also plenty warm.

The trick is not to stop.

Unless you have to pee. Then there's the maintenance barn a little south of New Hope. "Someone needs to open a coffee shop here," Pete said.

I wonder how many people have ducked behind this place. 

Right after I took this picture of Pete, Ken G, and Rickety, we heard a loud crack coming from the canal.

It was the ice doing whatever it is that ice does when it's taking over a canal.

To the south, the sky was clouding over.

I hadn't tried to drink from my Camelbak yet. The tube was empty, but whatever little water had been in the bite valve had completely frozen. "Yeah, mine too," Pete said. "Forget it." I shoved the end into my jacket with the hope it might warm up.

As we were about to leave, the other guys crunched by. We rode as one group for a mile or so, but got ahead of them as we approached New Hope. We stuck to the road there, the main street through town. 

New Hope is the sort of place I'd need to visit around noon, without breakfast or coffee, because I'm pretty sure I could eat my way south to north, filling myself with sugar and caffeine before reaching the bridge.

We didn't stop, though. We walked our bikes across to the Jersey side. Somehow, we reached Titusville in what felt like five minutes. We took the road along the river. We like looking at the houses and the water.

The Camelbak's bite valve was still frozen.

The storm that's going to dump a lot of rain on us tonight was making its way in, and even though the temperature was now a balmy 28 degrees, I didn't feel any warmer than I had two hours ago.

I walked across the grass to take some pictures of the river. Ricky followed with his real camera. He's challenged himself to one artistic photo per day this year. 

In the thirty seconds it took for me to open my phone and take one short video, my fingers froze.

I used my other hand to take the next one.

The worst part about a cold ride is the drive home. My toeducken feet stayed warm. The rest of me, not so much. What's worse than cooling off in the car is getting out again and having to haul the bike back inside. Next time there's a Washington Crossing start, I should just suck it up and bike over.

Friday, December 31, 2021



Wargo Road, Fog

31 December 2021

The roads were still wet when I set out on Miss Piggy, one of my glass vases wrapped in the massive back pocket of my 21-year-old winter jacket.

I handed the glass off to Jack H in the Twin Pines parking lot and shed my glove liners and cap. New Year's Eve in the low 50s? Welcome to the new normal. Or, as we might say in ten years, "back when we thought 50 was warm for December."

I lulled the group -- Pete G, Racer Pete, Plain Jim, Jack H, Rickety, and Mike G -- into an easy start around the Pole Farm and up to the north of Pennington.

On Wargo Road, Jim and I stopped to take pictures of the fog.

As we neared Hopewell, Jim made noises as if he wouldn't mind our skipping the Sourland Mountain and going straight to Boro Bean.

But I'm too much of an asshole for that. We went all the way up Stony Brook, cut across Van Dyke to Rileyville, and continued climbing to Ridge Road. We turned south onto Lindbergh to do that annoying little asphalt wall around the bend, and then that other wall that is actually worse than it looks, the one where the road splits into Province Line and Hopewell-Amwell.

From there, it was back into the Hopewell Valley and over to Boro Bean. I filled my muffin pocket with two muffins. It was just cold and clammy enough that stopping might not have been the best of ideas. Nobody complained, though. Peter F's fast group rolled in a few minutes after we did. 

Pete G left early; home was only about four miles away. The rest of us had ten-ish to go.

We went up Crusher, where Jim stopped to admire the sheep and goats in the field across from the tree that has the half-gall (the other half having fallen away years ago; I've been riding so long I remember when the gall was whole).

We were just up the rise before Titus Mill when I noticed how bumpy the road was feeling. It took me all the way to the farm stand near Elm Ridge to realize that my front tire had gone flat.

Thinking it would be a quick fix, we got to work. Racer Pete did his best to pry the tire off the rim by hand. I knew this would be a challenge. I know these rims; it takes metal levers. I fished them out of my saddle bag. 

I've been fixing flats for over 20 years. So has Racer Pete. Keep that in mind. 

When the CO2 cartridge left us with an empty tube, I figured the tube was pinched, because that's what happens every damned time I try to change tires on these rims. They're Michelin tires, and they don't play well with these Mavic Kysirium Elite rims. One needs red tire walls for Miss Piggy, though. Sacrifices must be made. 

So we loaded in another tube. We'd already taken turns running our fingers over the tire, not finding anything. When the second tube went flat, we checked the rim as well. Nothing.

A third tube went in, but not before I sent the group on its way, leaving Racer Pete and me standing on the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail next to a farm stand, tools and tubes splayed out around us. The plan was for Jim to come back with his car, driving the route in reverse to get here, lest we get back on the road.

We checked the tire and rim again. Tube number four met the same fate, or was about to (I lost count) when Jim arrived. Pete set out for home.

Jim drove me to my house, which worked out well, because he'd planned to stop by after the ride anyway, to help me put a new chain on Gonzo, who has been on trainer duty for a year and a half now. I'd swapped cassettes in September, but the chain wasn't staying on some of the bigger rings. 

Not only was the chain ready to be retired, but the cassette was also a few foot-pounds under-torqued. The wrench I have wasn't quite up to the task, apparently. That, or, as usual, I'm too chicken to go full-weight when I tighten bike parts. The derailleur needed aligning, too; I hadn't bothered, thinking I might take Gonzo outdoors on his dedicated wheel and I didn't want to mess that up. But when I showed Jim that the steering tube and the stem seemed to be operating independently of each other, we agreed that, as long as I have this stem, Gonzo will remain on stationary bike duty. 

After I cleaned up, I called Michael at Wheelfine. "I'm like a bad penny," I said, and explained the tire situation. An hour and a half later, I was over there, wheel in hand. I'd just been there yesterday, picking up Kermit, and the week before, fetching Miss Piggy, both of whom had been way overdue for tune-ups and the sort of OCD attention Michael gives each bike.

Michael was putting a new chain ring on a Bianchi frame, upgrading the look from black to silver, to give it more aesthetic appeal so that it might sell. The frame was Celeste green. "Love it or hate it," he said about the color. Hate it. But the silver made it look a little pretty.

It didn't take thirty seconds after he got the tire off for him to find the culprit. As he answered a phone call, he dropped a flat, triangular piece of stone into my palm. 

(And yes, my skin is that dry. This is what happens when you wash your hands a lot.)

After he hung up, he said, "It caught on my nail, that's how I found it."

Derp. Racer Pete and I had checked the tire how many times?

The sliver of rock had slowly worked its way in from the outside of the tire, through the threads, and out the other side just enough to stick its pointy end into whatever tube was pressing against it at the moment.

He showed me the hole. On the outside, he had to bend the tire to expose it.

On the inside, it was barely noticeable.

He put a dab of Krazy Glue on the inside of the tire to patch the hole, re-seated the tire with the tube I brought with me, and sent me on my way for $5.

"Y'know," I said as I made my way to the door, "If I keep coming up here, I'm gonna walk out with that pretty little blue Basso under my arm." It's right by the front door. It's rather fetching for carbon.

I'm not looking to replace Miss Piggy quite yet, though. The frame, six years old, is still in good shape. The components, some from Miss Piggy's original 2010 frame, are in good working order. I don't know how long carbon frames last these days. Given how long some bikes have been hanging on display at Wheelfine, I'd lay even odds that the little blue Basso might still be there in five years.

And so I end 2021 with not some snazzy round-number of miles, and not with as many as last year, but in the general neighborhood of where I usually wind up since I've been keeping track.

My 2022 playlist is ready to go. I'm signed up for Jim's ride on Sunday. I'm bringing Kermit. 

Tomorrow will be rainy. I suppose I should run through Gonzo's gears on the trainer, slowpoking my way up some Italian mountain pass. Why start the year on fresh legs?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Towpath, Reservoir


D&R Canal Towpath, Lambertville-ish 

28 December 2021

With a week off from work, I was hoping to get a lot of biking in. The weather has not been cooperating.

We had a good day on December 23, or at least it was good enough to ride on the towpath. I drove to the start, a box of glass goodies needing distribution in the back seat of my car. 

It was cold and still a little muddy from recent rain. Pete led Jim, Rickety, Martin, and me from Washington Crossing south, over the Scudder Falls bridge (a first for Rickety and Jim), then north on the Pennsylvania side. Pennsylvania's mud is red.

When we got to Pennsylvania's Washington Crossing, Martin took us off the path to a grave site where Revolutionary War soldiers who didn't make it across the Delaware were buried.

We continued north to Stockton, walked across the bridge, and turned south on the NJ side. There's a bridge out in Lambertville; the detour is a somewhat less well-maintained path on the western side of the canal.

Eventually, we passed the bridge that Ida tore apart:

South of this is where the abandoned railcar is:

The path was muddy. New Jersey's mud here is gray. It sticks like plaster to a bike frame.

The detour ends at a parking lot behind "where River Horse used to be," which helps me not at all. I'm pretty sure I couldn't find this if I were headed in the opposite direction.

Christmas Eve's forecast had a rain-free morning. I took Miss Piggy out for a recovery ride. She'd just been tuned up at Wheelfine and I wanted to make sure everything was in working order. The bike was, indeed, in working order; my legs were not. Grinding on the towpath always takes more out of me than I expect. It was all I could do to get a meager 20 miles on the road.

Christmas was rainy. Plain Jim led a ride on Boxing Day. He had a large group again, but this one was well-behaved. I'd had a rare, full, 8 hours of sleep and was riding a freshly-tuned-up bike, so I was in better form than usual.

We had rain again the next day. 

Tom invited us over to his house for a ride on Tuesday. The plan was to do a short ride, eat homemade cookies, and then, for those who wanted to, swim in the clubhouse's indoor pool. There were six of us: Tom, Jim, Rickety, Blob (finally off the disabled list), Pete, and me. Jack H, having been exposed on Christmas to someone who later tested positive, was in self-imposed quarantine. 

The day was one of those murky ones, with a thick cloud cover after overnight rain. Some of the roads were damp. It felt colder than it was. 

We encountered a lot of traffic, and Tom swore that it was our fault. He never sees this many cars when he's out by himself.

We took a detour into the Manasquan Reservoir's marina, where the murk was on full display.

This is the causeway we usually cross when we're on our Belmar rides:

Tom and Lori had a plate of cookies ready for us when we returned. We hung out inside, socially distanced and some of us masked, for a little while. None of us wanted to swim. It was too cold to contemplate. 

Tonight promises more rain. The rest of the week is iffy, and Saturday looks like a wash. Gonzo, on the trainer, needs a new chain. I guess I'll be stretching it out some more this week.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Nightforms on Boxing Day

Grounds for Sculpture

27 December 2021

We did a Covid-safe, non-biking, social thing last night! We went with two local friends to Grounds for Sculpture's Nightforms event. Running at night until the end of February, the exhibit is lights superimposed on existing sculptures, timed with electronic music. 

The displays changed so quickly, and sometimes subtly, that it was difficult to capture with a camera.

This one was called "Three Phased Monster."

I took video with my phone. Unfortunately, the microphone picked up much of our conversation and the chatter around us; I removed the audio at this display. Imagine droning electronic dance music and me saying some stupid shit about how the sculpture isn't the sculpture anymore.

This one, called "Frog Head Rainbow," was my favorite.

This is the best I could get of the frog heads:

The rainbow was my favorite:

Standing in front of the circle, the observer sees the lit metal sculpture as two three-dimensional geometric shapes that change color:

From the side, though, it looks like this:

Even though it's ten minutes away, we rarely go to Grounds for Sculpture. I'm not a big fan of Seward Johnson's work, which is much of what's scattered about the grounds. However, when we do go, I seek out the ring of whimsical creatures I call the "tail-y guys." On this night, they were purple.

We had dinner reservations, so I didn't have time to go around circle to photograph them all.

I could have stayed at the metal sculpture in the pool a little longer, waiting for the beat to drop. The beat never dropped.

This one reminded me of an over-boobed fertility doll.

The restaurant, Rats, reflected on the water:

Although our reservations were for outside, under heaters, we had to walk through the restaurant to get to the host desk. The place was packed and I did not feel safe at all. None of us did. 

The temperature dropped noticeably as we were finishing up. The slight discomfort was worth it though. We hadn't seen these folks since September, and we probably won't again until spring. That's the way the virus rolls.


Friday, December 24, 2021

Hot Mess Part Twenty-Five: The Perfect Game

Fall 2021 Final Critique

I: Feathering

Every Tuesday evening begins the same way. 

I arrive well before 5:00. Glass Ninja is already there, choosing the playlist from his phone, his color warming in the little oven between the glory hole and the annealer. I dig through my giant rolling toolkit for the colors I'm going to use. I pull out a couple of rods, ambivalent.

All The Glass comes in, wheeling his guitar-case-sized toolbox behind him. 

He asks, or I ask, "You threading today?"

He always says yes. 

I always groan. 

If he is, I am, and one of us drags the metal sawhorse with the pulleys on top to the middle of the room. I cut some slices off the rods and place them in the little oven.

Poor EDM, who always arrives after we're mostly finished setting up, has to watch me go through this every week. I let her go first while my color warms up.

I'm convinced that, despite Glass Ninja's ability to feather at the bench in under a minute, I need to do what All The Glass does: put on the barbecue glove and feather at the glory hole.

There are so many steps that go into this, so many places to go wrong. I've made all the mistakes. 

I'm still having trouble laying down the threads in thin, even strands as I deliver the bit to All The Glass, who is always the one rotating the pipe on the pulleys on the metal sawhorse. I need to pull away before he starts turning in order to control the thickness. This is best done with a pointy bit, and I'm not so good at getting the bit pointy. I deliver the glass in a blob, which, if I'm lucky, is far enough up the pipe to be cut off when I put the jack line in. We do this twice for each piece because I'm using two colors now.

Then it's time to make feathers. Pulling towards myself is finally easy. The trouble starts when I try to pull away, in between the towards-me pulls. Sometimes the thumb of my glove starts smoking; I've put my hand too close to the glass. Sometimes the glass is too cold and the tool stalls. Sometimes the glass is too hot and the whole piece starts to rotate, sending my threads diagonal. Each time, I think I've pulled all the way down, only to discover much later that I haven't.



This is a blob that didn't get cut away:


As I attempt to shape each piece at the bench,  EDM says, "It looks cool!"

"Yeah, but the feathers are crooked. They need to be straight."

"It still looks cool."

"It has to be perfect," I explain. "I can't break the rules until I can follow the rules." 

EDM doesn't care about rules. When I post photos of the finished pieces, my friends like what they see because they don't know that there are rules. But there are rules, and final critiques.

So I feather at least once, usually twice, every time I'm in class.

II: A Little Time for the Fun Stuff

I spend so much time feathering that the fun stuff happens mostly on Thursday nights, the official class night, when we work with whoever is around and the classroom is noisy chaos. 

One of those nights I play with colors, mixing three together, hoping they'll react with each other.

In a giant ornament, they sort of do:

(keeping for now)

The effect is better in the cat, where the colors are inside and not blown out as much:


III: Not Enough Time with Rods

One thing I'm neglecting is rods. On a Tuesday, after threading, I pick up a chunk and try to make something, anything. The opening is beyond thick on this one, so I pull it and trim it. I've got it entirely mangled, to the point that there's no way it'll ever look good as a straight vessel. When in doubt, spin it out. The wavy edges create a neat effect, but I'm not bringing this one to crit. It's a hat; Our Instructor does not like hats.

(keeping for now)

I'll take it home and put my cracked tomatoes in it.

IV: Yeah, No

On one of the many Monday nights I've filled the empty slot in, I watched Extra drop clear glass into a mold, then twist and pull into a tapered ornament. She uses two gathers; the final piece is heavy. We agree that if I try, I should use color so we can tell each other's apart. I aim for one gather to make the final ornament lighter. I fail spectacularly. They're all awful. I abandon the project.

(mailed to Massachusetts)

V: Ornaments

I have more success rolling clear glass over the scraps leftover from threading.

(outside on the bottle tree)

I'm getting faster at making ornaments. They're bigger, lighter, and rounder than the ones I churned out last year.

(sold two, kept one)

(on my Christmas tree)

VI: Tall Vase and the Pumpkin

On a Thursday night, about two weeks after Halloween, Tall Vase comes in carrying a carved pumpkin. He says he wanted to use it as a mold. Our Instructor is skeptical. The first thing he'll need to do is saw the thing in half to let the glass out. Tall Vase disappears into the bowels of the 3D Arts building and comes back with the pumpkin cut top to bottom. With Pumpkin Master as his partner, he gets to work. Classmate's Partner and I pull out our phones. Extra, at the other bench, tries to work during this chaos.

Tall Vase loads on a lot of glass. It barely fits into the pumpkin.

He adds air.

The pumpkin starts to split as the glass expands into it.

The hot glass pushes the halves apart to reveal something that doesn't at all look like a pumpkin.

The inside of the gourd is scorched.

Tall Vase dumps the glass and tries again, using less glass this time.

The mold emits a plume of smoke or steam or both. 

The hot glass has nowhere to go but up. Tall Vase ditches this one too.

The classroom smells like burnt something now, and we're all laughing. Our Instructor says, "You need to use less glass and have it almost all the way blown out before you go into the mold." That way, it would only push on the sides a little while maintaining its shape. 

The rest of us take our turns at the bench. After we've all gone, there's still time, so Tall Vase sets up for something not involving a burnt pumpkin. He's at the bench, shaping the glass, when Our Instructor says, "Now that's the amount of glass you should use." He walks out of the room, and Tall Vase takes his glass to the glory hole. He looks back at Pumpkin Master, gesturing towards the pumpkin mold in the back of the classroom. Pumpkin Master shakes his head.

I'm struggling too, trying to pick up a rod, blow it out evenly, and get a thin top. I'm using Cherry Red, my favorite color. The top is thinner than last time, for sure, but it's still thick. The whole thing is thick. But it's centered and very red, so there's that.

(didn't sell, might be a gift, dunno)

The thinner it gets, the more the red turns to orange. I like the red. I don't know what I'm going to do with this heavy thing. 

VII: Sending Off the Rejects

I have a very creative friend in Massachusetts. She can turn a pile of found objects in to sculptures and mobiles. She's turned two of the cups I'd practiced drilling on into chimes.

She says she'd be happy to take the rejects I've had hanging from the bottle tree outside since last spring. I put holes in the bottoms of most of the pieces to make her work easier.

While I'm at it, I drill three clear rejects and, taking a hint from her chimes, string them together. I make a mockup first. When it survives the night, I tidy it up and hang it for real.

That takes care of the rejects, but what about the pieces that are decent enough to set loose upon the world? It's time for the Hot Mess Fall 2021 Glass Sale. This involves lugging everything outside for a photo shoot, then uploading each one to my Etsy shop, all in all the better part of a weekend. After that, it's the shameless plugging on social media, with a charity sweetener for the cats and ornaments. Etsy and postage eat up about a third of whatever I bring in. I raise my prices.

VIII: A Storm in Glass

There's a color that the sky makes when the sun reflects off a storm front. I want that color in glass.

I don't have anything like it, but All The Glass and Glass Ninja let me use some of their gray frit. All The Glass has Opal Gray powder. It doesn't turn out the way I'd hoped, at least under these mercury vapor lamps. At home on a window sill it's less yellow and more gray.


Glass Ninja doesn't know where his gray powder came from or what it's called, but I give it a go. It's less stormy than the frit. I'm going to give this one to John K, my companion on the ride that inspired all of this.
(gave to the friend I was riding with when we got hailed on)

Glass Ninja suggests I mix black powder with the gray. The black I have is frit, so at home I grind it down with a hammer. There's as much newspaper scrap as glass when I'm finished, but I bring it to class anyway. The paper will burn off.

The result looks like a forest fire.


Okay, never mind the black frit thing. 

What if I try autumn under a blue sky?


I'm keeping this one! A friend likes it so much she asks me to make one for her. To prove I can never do the same thing twice, I botch it royally:

She says she likes it anyway, so I send it to her. She's less than happy with it when it arrives; I offer to try again next semester.

While I'm on this season kick, I spend a class period with Extra, trying to create a winter scene with snow. It does not go well. 

On my first attempt, I try to melt a piece of white rod onto the bottom of the not-yet-shaped piece. Having forgotten that the bottom needs to be what we call "cold," which means "it'll still burn you," I load the snow on and it doesn't spread, leaving a white puddle on the underside of the piece. I blow it out into a giant, heavy vessel that will have to spend the rest of its life as a planter.

Next, we try rolling the piece in white frit sprinkled onto the marver table. That works better. In the right light, away from the classroom, it does look a little like evergreens behind a snowstorm.


What if I used opal white instead? I try the next night. Nope. At home, it goes into the reject box.

IX: Other Stuff to Do When Not Feathering

I've settled into a pattern. Feather first, do whatever next.

Sometimes whatever is ornaments, from leftover thread scraps or colors I'd had out for the season vases. I've decided that the large scrap thread ornaments all need to live on the now-empty bottle tree. They're too big and heavy to sell or hang indoors, and the clear glass catches the morning light in a way that the previous crop of outdoor rejects never did.

(outside on the bottle tree)

Some ornaments are going directly into the fall sale. Others I'm keeping for myself. 

(on my Christmas tree)

Red and green look better on a white-champagne background:



(outside on the bottle tree)


I make giant ones now and again.


(didn't sell, maybe keeping?)


Glass Ninja leaves some dichroic scraps behind for me to mop up. He's disappointed in the black because it loses its sparkle. The same thing happens to me when I make a giant ornament.


(outside on the bottle tree)

(hanging in my office window)

(outside on the bottle tree)

X: I Hate It

I have to keep doing this feathering thing because sometimes I mess up so spectacularly that redemption is necessary. Like today, when I thought I'd get fancy and cut off the bottom to hide where I don't pull down all the way. I end up twisting the whole piece in the process, the top gets away from me, I try to spin it out, and when that only half works I put it back in the glory hole, where the inside cracks. It's off-center, uneven, and the threads are now on the underside. I put it away anyhow, but I know it's going straight into the smash bucket when it comes out.

I'm left with a wreck of a bowl and an off-center, squarish marble that I don't know what to do with.

(sitting in my locker)

(at Alchemy's house)

Gah. I take it home, but it never leaves the bag. It's going straight back to the smash bucket. I do this on a Saturday, making sure Our Instructor, who is working at the time, doesn't see it. Alchemy is at the other bench, assisting one of the beginners.

I place it in the bucket. Alchemy says, "What did you just do?"

"It was too ugly to live," I call back to him as I make my way outside to photograph the pieces I've just picked up.

When I turn around, he's cradling the disaster bowl in his hands. "I love it!" he says. 

"It's yours!" I tell him. Class is almost over, so I wait for him and we walk to the parking lot together. He opens his trunk and pulls out a dark, heavy, purple vessel. It has swirls over swirls that reveal themselves when I hold it up to the light. "I hate it," he says. "It's yours."

We agree that we should give each other all the pieces we hate from now on.

XI: Other Things I Forgot How to Make

Paperweights. Too much color left on the punty, no top color, but at least I trapped a bubble. Try again.


That's better.

Try again. Ha! There are seven bubbles trapped in this one!

("I like this!" Jack says, so it's on our bureau.)

At the end of one class, I decide to mangle clear glass. I'm enjoying twisting and poking layer after layer of hot glass. It's a very satisfying feeling. Alchemy calls it "anger management." 

(on my office window sill)

It's so much fun, I do it twice.


Let's try that rod thing again. Let's try for a thin top. No? Okay. Next semester then.

(didn't sell; now a pen holder on my home desk)

This happened to me last semester too: I figure out how to make long necks, and then I forget how to make long necks. 


XII: I Got a Locker!

I thought they were only for the hotshots. All The Glass says they're not. Two are empty. "Just take it," he says. 

I decide to ask Our Instructor instead, by text. He writes back that I can have one, and also could I give up one of the extra Mondays for Pumpkin Master since I've been taking so many extra sessions? I reply that it's no problem and apologize for being greedy.

But I have a locker! No more dragging fifty pounds of rolling toolkit back and forth from home. I can leave all my colors here.

Right. These lockers are hella skinny. It's all I can do to fit everything in. I've got freezer bags full of little containers, each bag sorted by color. I have a handful of rods. I have barbecue gloves, alcohol wipes, masks, several pairs of heat-shield arm protectors, my glasses, my notebook, scrap threads, stuff!

Glass Ninja shows me his locker and I feel better. He has a wider one and it's still a mess. My locker is next to All The Glass' locker, also a skinny one. His is chaos too. He brings his color with him each time, in a suitcase, in Gatorade bottles.

Glass Ninja, a carpenter by trade, says, "You know how long it would take me to build a shelf? Twenty minutes. But I still haven't done it."

I look to the Container Store and Amazon instead. I have six inches of width and about a foot and a half of depth to play with. There's a rod about five feet up, and two hooks on either side. What I find is something I'd never, ever use in real life because I'm not that kind of girl: a hanging handbag shelf.

It's perfect, and $17.

The rods sit on top, and I can get two color bags on each shelf. The bottom holds my box of scraps, and there's just enough room to cram the tube of larger thread scraps in front. The notebook slides along one side. The only thing that doesn't fit is a large tube of stringers Jack bought me last Christmas; I've barely used them anyway, so they go back home with me. 

All The Glass is impressed. 

XIII: I Am So Done With Feathering.

The one time I get it right I use a color combination that turns out to be invisible. I sand-blast the inside, which helps a little.

(foisted on Plain Jim)

On a Monday night with Extra, she tries the spots trick. I've already feathered for the evening, so I give the spots trick a go. We both end up with spots on the top and swirls on the bottom.


But, hey! The feathers are pretty close to straight on this one!

(on my office shelf)

Next up is white on black. This one goes tilted on me.

(gift to the friend who sent me two kilos of glass)

I try spots again, and it's looking pretty good: there are dots all the way down. We're all excited. It explodes in the glory hole.

At the last minute, I jump into a Saturday morning slot with Tall Vase. I try using a rod for the core color. The feathers, bronze, go on straight, but, once again, I have trouble with the top. It's very thick and uneven.


I try a rod again, for spots. Once more, it's spots and swirls.


I try again, but the bottom cracks out. Class is over.

I'm running out of rods for feathering. Rods are better than frit: the color is even and the rod slivers heat up much faster than loading a punty with frit would. I've used up a couple of the blues that had been in my little box for years. Now I'm down to the end of the remaining blues. The slivers are so small I don't even know for sure what colors they are.

The last of a deep blue goes onto a white core for dots that go all the way down. I leave the dot thing here for now.


Two more blues see the end of the supply in a vase that convinces me I should stop feathering.

(two people wanted to buy this, but it's not for sale)

On second thought, that one line is crooked. 

Do it again.

But not on a Thursday night. We're getting close to the end of the semester. I can feel myself burning out. Working with Pumpkin Master, I mess up a scrap thread piece that I've put into a mold. He lets me try again. We get a thin-for-me cup out of it. I consider bringing it to work as a drinking glass.

(kitchen window sill, currently being used to root plants)

Two more blues see the end of the supply on my next feathered vase. I'd had a longer neck, but it broke off the pipe poorly, and now I'm stuck with a stubby vase again. At least the feathers are straight.


Really, I'm done now. No more feathers.

On a Thursday night, as I gather the week's feathering attempts from the cabinet in the hallway, I tell Our Instructor how I keep saying I'm finished with feathering but that I keep right on doing it. "It's becoming a running joke between me and EDM," I tell him.

Glassblowing, he says "is the perfect game. It's hard enough that you keep trying, not so hard that you give up, and not so easy that you lose interest."

He's got that right. Sounds like addiction. 

Which it is. 

My house is full of glass. The Window Sill of Judgment is full. It's spilled downstairs onto a Shelf of Judgment. I can't take any more extra classes. There's no more room for what I'm bringing home.

But the minute I walk in to the classroom, I check the calendar for empty slots.

XIV: The Glass Sale

I need to get rid of this stuff.

I start the sale the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which, in retrospect, seems to have been a bad idea. Nobody is online. 

But then I sell all three blue feathered vases, and a cat, and an ornament. My creative friend in Massachusetts takes a threaded vase I made early in the semester. A few more ornaments go out the door, including a couple of giant ones. Then two more cats.  

After about three weeks, I end the sale, leaving only one vase online because it's apparently in somebody's cart. 

It takes several days to sort out who is getting what for Christmas. Some of the unsold pieces get boxed up; others I'd set aside as gifts before the sale. 

The pieces that fall into the no-man's-land of too messed up to sell, too ugly to keep, but too pretty to smash, end up in a box that will go to Massachusetts once I drill some holes. 

That leaves the ornaments. There are more than what I'd put online, well over a dozen. I don't count. I pack them into two boxes and, at the end of a Sunday ride, sell them out of my car for a $5 minimum, all proceeds going to the Trenton Bike Exchange, which is staffed by bike club member volunteers. I'm too busy pocketing cash to take a picture; Plain Jim takes one for me.

Half an hour later, I'm down to five.

I round the $80 up to $100 for the donation. The Lost Dog Foundation and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen get similar amounts from the cats and ornaments. 

The rest, whatever Etsy and the post office haven't taken, is going to pay for replenishing my supply of glass. If I can replace those colors at all, that is. We had three main manufacturers: two in Europe (Kugler and Reichenbach), and one in the US (Gaffer). Gaffer just sold out to Reichenbach. Neither has much in the way of supply right now. Whatever we can get, we get through Olympic (Kugler) or Hot Glass Color (Reichenbach and Gaffer), both in Washington State, both with massive shipping charges (glass is heavy). Pumpkin Master clued me in to a distributor in South Carolina called Spruce Pine Batch. They carry all three, but they don't have the full color range, and they're out of a lot too. But at least the shipping is half the cost, which is something. I place an order with them to replenish my supply of white glass; they send me two broken pieces of rod. I might have gotten the last of what they had. They're out of my favorite blue. Everyone is. I fill online carts with the Washington suppliers; much of what I'm clicking on is backordered or just plain unavailable. 

XV: One More Thing

A friend who got stung by jellyfish during her Ironman competition this summer tells me that the ornament she's buying reminds her of the jellyfish.

I can do her one better. If I can remember how. The last time I made jellyfish, all two of them, was in May of 2019, with Sleepless. 

One of them is on my window sill at work. I take it in my hand and stare at it, trying to piece together the steps and writing them down on a sticky note.

Using whatever thread scraps I have in my bag, and with the help of Glass Ninja, Classmate's Partner, and Our Instructor, I squeeze out two. This is our last Thursday night before our final critique. Whatever they look like, they'll have to do.

It's the white-topped one that's going to Buffalo. The other will live on the Window Sill of Judgment until I make better ones to replace it.

Before I pack it, I put a note on the bottom. She thinks it's hilarious and posts a photo on Facebook:

A friend of hers sees it, and I end up selling another ornament.

XVI: Last Class, Last Feathers, Burnout

I feel burned out, ready for the semester to end. It's the Sunday night before my last class on Tuesday. As I drift off, I see strands of green going onto a white base.


EDM is going to miss her beginner's class final crit, so Our Instructor is coming to class to evaluate her. My friend from California has sent me one kilo each of Honey Yellow and Emerald Green powder. I'm playing with those tonight for sure.

I'm going to play with the new colors first, while EDM waits for Our Instructor. I layer the new green over the bottom of the new yellow and try to spin out a bowl. The green all but disappears; the edges are thick and barely rippled.

(keeping for now)

I'll try again later, but first...

I'm up at the glory hole, pipe in one hand, feathering tool in the other, when Our Instructor comes back from the evaluation.

He looks over at me and says, "I thought you said you were finished with threading."

"I lied."


EDM leaves halfway through class, leaving me to fend for myself and ask All the Glass or Glass Ninja for occasional help.

I'm tired, and the scrap thread vase I'm working on snaps at the neck during transfer. I go with it, bending the long end to make a spout. It doesn't pour well. It goes in the Massachusetts box.


A couple of scrap thread ornaments go better, including one that I layer the last of my threads onto a white background. I decide to take this one into my office, where I can hang it from the shelf over my desk.

I try the new yellow again. It's the perfect shape for spinning into a bowl. I lose it during the transfer.

I really am burning out. I try again. This time around, I remove it from the glory hole before it's ready, and the top doesn't flop well.

(keeping for now)

At least I know what I need to work on next semester.

XVII: Final Critique

Omicron is coming. Our Instructor doesn't want all us, as spread out, masked, and vaccinated as we are, to be in this room together for very long. 

We all have sample pieces spread out in front of us. Our semester's assignment, which we found out about after Thanksgiving, was to emulate an artist. Half of us did it; I'm not in that half. I've had my head down, feathering, feathering, feathering. 

Low Key didn't pick an artist either. She's been swirling rods together and trying to spin out. She says it hasn't been going well. A good setup for a spinout is screaming hot glass that's thin at the top. Her pieces are thick, like mine.

From the far corner of the room, behind a dozen perfect pieces, Glass Ninja says, "You're not hot enough and you're not thin enough."

Low Key says nothing. 

I look over to Glass Ninja and say, "Well that's an insult."

The room is silent for a second, and then everyone gets it.

If nothing else, my pile is the most colorful. I start by explaining that my learning curve is measured in geological time.

I've brought the stormy sky, the autumn scene, the dots, the yellow floppy bowl, and six "this is my last feather I swear" pieces.

Our Instructor hates working with aventurine. It's brittle, and can look muddy if it's used the wrong way. I point out to him, thumb on my masked nose, that my latest piece is made with aventurine. Up close, it sparkles. "I brought it in white hot," I offer.

After the critique, I go back to my locker to take home all my jars of glass. I need to figure out what I've used up and to replenish the jars if I have anything left at home. I have a little bit of a lot of colors. I take my notebook, too, in case I have any ideas.

Extra is still in the classroom when I'm finished, so I go back in. All The Glass and Our Instructor are there too. We get talking about next semester. I mention that All The Glass and Glass Ninja are okay with me being on Tuesday nights again. Thread Sherpa is coming back next semester. He's been All The Glass' partner for years. "That's gonna be one hell of a lab," Our Instructor says.

I agree. "Who's gonna sit at the kiddie table with me?"

Extra and I walk out together. She just got an electric bike and I want to hear all about it.