Walter and Sara on the road to who knows where


January has roared past in a flurry of pottery making, household adventures and a few side trips to make things interesting.

We started the year with a lovely sunset on New Year’s Day off to the west.


And to the southeast.


The first weekend of January, I finally had all my projects for the new Rancho Resort Clay Club enough under control that I could actually start to build things myself. I set up a little mini-studio in our garage where I could work any time I wanted (as long as it’s not too hot or too cold out there) and set to work. Last summer, I had decided that what I would make this winter was a series of luminaria to put on the low wall the encloses our front yard. I made one to test the idea and came to the conclusion that they needed a lid to stay square while they dried. So I cut clay on Friday and let it dry overnight in our in unplugged back-up frig in the garage (it’s climate controlled for even drying).

Then I assembled the pieces and put it back in the frig for another night of drying.

Luminaria construction step 1 

Sunday I trimmed the top and bottom and made everything all nice and smooth.

Luminaria construction step 2

And put little feet on the bottom so you can snake a cord under it to bring a full-sized Christmas light inside to light it up.

Luminaria construction step 3

And then I used a nifty little circle making tool (like a mini-apple corer) to cut holes in it and then cut the lid so it comes off nicely but will only go back on one way.

Luminaria construction step 4

Hip hip hooray, no cracks and no problems and it only took about 8 hours of work—the first one took more than 12. I know, I know but this is not about efficiency, it’s about the joy of playing in the mud and making something fun in the process.

Monday January 6th, I loaded the Rancho Resort kiln and fired it. On Wednesday January 8th we unloaded it. It’s always so much fun to open up the kiln when it’s full of glazed goodies.

Kiln unloading

Here’s most of the load (a few folks had come and snatched their things before I got this photo taken.

Pottery just out of the kiln

Yet another Clay Club project was finished when I mounted our glaze sample board on the wall and hung all the samples I’d made up on it.

Glaze sample board
The top row are semi transparent glazes that show off texture really well. The middle row are opaque glazes that make nice bright solid colors (and hide a multitude of sins). The bottom row are underglazes that you put on greenware (clay that hasn’t been fired the first time). They’re two toned because on the left is what they look like when they come out of the bisque firing and on the right is what they look like with two coats of clear glaze over them. The very bottom row on the left are samples of our clear glazes. And of course here we are at the end of the month and we’ve added a few more and I just made a whole new batch of tiles to make samples of our future purchases.

The weekend of January 12th, I made a new luminaria with a whole different kind of design. The little stars were cut out with nifty little brass cutters I got for Christmas. I learned a lot making this one which has informed my approach to the next few a great deal.

Luminaria Luminaria
Wednesday January 15th, we drove up to Tucson to take the drive over Gates Pass to the west side of Saguaro National Park. On our way, we spied a blimp. It wasn’t a full-sized one like the Goodyear Blimp but it wasn’t one of those little ones they tether over used car lots either. The closer we got to Tucson the better the view until we could clearly identify it as the Carnival Cruise Line Blimp.

Carnival BLimp

Once we were downtown, we turned west and headed up Gates Pass Road.  

Gates Pass Rd

There’s a nice saguaro forest along the way along with these lovely craggy mountains.

Gates Pass Rd

There’s a parking area at the top of the pass and a nice viewpoint looking west.

Gates Pass Overlook

I took a trail that I thought would take me up to a nifty little viewing hut. It circled around to the north.

Gates pass area

And gave you a nice view of the mountains to the east.

Gates Pass area

But it headed off northwards along the ridge so I followed the little kid-trails that took me up to the upper viewpoint with another nice view to the west.

Gates Pass view

Here’s the view southward where you can see the mountains and the parking area and viewpoint down below.

Gates Pass      
I scrambled back down this way and stopped to take photo of the little hut where I’d been.

Gates Pass viewing hut

There were a few fairy dusters (Calliandra eriophylla) in bloom already in among the warm south-facing rocks.

fairy dusters (Calliandra eriophylla)

We hadn’t come over Gates Pass before because they advise against taking trailers and RV’s over it. Right past the parking area we discovered why: the road takes a couple of very sharp turns that would be a real challenge if you were towing. And then it returns to a nice gently sloped road down into Tucson Mountain Park. We drove north until we reached Saguaro National Park (West) and stopped to take a nice little nature trail just off the main road.

Saguaro National Park

Along the way we spied a Gila Woodpecker on the top of a big old saguaro.    
Gila Woodpecker

Here’s the view of the mountains to the east from the trailhead.

Saguaro National Park

That evening we had a spectacular sunset.


It toned down in time but it was till gorgeous.

That weekend, I set to work to apply what I’d learned while making my last luminaria. This one went together without any major mishaps so I must be doing something right.
Luminaria Luminaria
On January 20th, I loaded the kiln once again. While it wasn’t full, it was more than ¾ full which isn’t bad for two weeks of work by a group of about 10 people. It was mostly bisque ware this time but we did have those two lovely vases to greet me when I opened the lid.
Kiln load Kiln load Kiln load
Here’s the entire load on the shelves. The first two luminaria look pretty nice. This week I’ve glazed them and they will be fired in our firing next week (I fire every two weeks).

Pottery fresh out of the kiln

I’d made this silly sign for the studio since the other people who use the Crafts Room had started calling us The Clay People. And it’s hanging on the wall now.

The Clay People

Walter got an Instant Pot for Christmas so I had to take it out for a spin. I made a nice stew in it. I love that you can brown the meat right in the pot and then add everything else and off it goes. It was faster than the traditional method by a long shot (but longer than the recipe said since they’d neglected to include the heating up and cooling down times in the total time) and it tasted great. The meat was incredibly tender.

Instant Pot Stew

In December, we’d had an adventure where a pack rat had come down our dryer vent (it’s up on the roof) and managed to get caught in the vent between the wall the dryer and die. Ick.

Well, on Monday January 20th, it happened again. But this time, the vent came off the wall and the pack rat got into the house. Walter cornered him under the refrigerator (yes in the kitchen) and our friend, Judy, loaned us a trap and we nabbed him. This however meant that we REALLY needed to put some wildlife screening over the vent. There are two schools of thought about this, since lint can built up on the screening if you put it on. But we decided to live with lint in the screen rather than pack rats in the house!

Judy (who knows EVERYONE since she’s lived here since 2004) found us an extension ladder to borrow (we left our old one behind when we moved from Monroe) and she happily scampered up it and took photos for us since neither of us felt comfortable climbing up on the tile roof). We headed over to ACE hardware and bought ½” wildlife screen and made a cap for the 4 ¾” pipe. Then Judy climbed back up and valiantly struggled to get the cap on. She had to take the little metal hat off the vent to get it on but in the end she won the day. Hooray for Judy, our heroine.  

Dryer vent with wire cover

Another weekend came to a close and I’d tried yet another method for making luminarias. This worked but it could use some fine tuning yet.
Luminaria Luminaria
 The bad news is that this one broke as I was loading it into the kiln the first Monday in February. Just too lacy with not enough support up by the lid. Sigh.

Wednesday January 30th, we had errands to do in Tucson (time to buy more glaze and clay for the Clay Club). Once the errands were done, we took the short drive up Sentinel Peak (also known as “A” Peak). You get a great view looking northeast out across Tucson.

Sentinel Peak View

And yet another great view to the southeast.

Sentinel Peak View

Straight ahead you’ll see a big long white tend that says 22nd Street Show. That’s part of the Tucson Gem Show which had just opened. That’s the section we went to last year. Tucson will be full of rock hounds and fossil fanatics for the next 2 1/2 weeks.

The reason the peak is known as “A” Peak is because the University of Arizona students built an A here back in 1915 which has graced the site ever since. It gets painted different colors for different occasions but currently it is basic white.

Sentinel Peak A

Sentinel Peak was a lookout used by the local Hohokam Tribes who lived down at the base of the peak. A number of years ago it was discovered that the site of the old Mission Garden had been in cultivation for over 4000 years. So it has been restored and a volunteer group is developing the site as a historical education center. We could see it down below as we had our lunch. By the time we got down there, it had closed for the day so we had to leave that adventure for another day.

Mission Garden from Sentinel Peak

Since I had two luminaria to glaze (we shall not discuss how long it takes to get glaze on all those little holes) I took the weekend off from luminaria construction and just got caught up on life instead—what a concept.

The weather this month has mostly been mild with highs in the high 60’s and low 70’s. We’re due for some frost early next week but then it will warm up again. I’ve heard that it was a very, very gloomy, wet (and snowy) January in the Pacific NW and we are happy to be here in sunny Arizona instead.