Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

One pint lighter, bank hunting, bad pottery day, exit interview

On the night of my last day at Microsoft, April 15, I didn't really start working until I got home. I had to finish up a business proposal to one of the companies I want to work with, and there was a lot more work left than I remembered. I was up until about 3 AM focusing on that.

Saturday and Sunday I jogged in incredibly good weather around Greenlake... I also made some plates at pottery lab on Sunday.

Today I went to the North Seattle branch of Puget Sound Blood Center for the first time. I've usually donated at the Bellevue location, which was across the street from my old apartment, or at the mobile donation bus that came to Microsoft every couple of months.

I also had to go bank hunting. I have been operating from my personal account, and that's very confusing and also not good to do since I'm organized as an LLC. I wish I had this figured out 6 weeks ago... talking to banks and trying to make sense of their fee structures, especially when my stuff will involve international wire transfers and so on, is not the most entertaining part of this job.

Actually, I did start developing a lead for one or two products I want to sell when I stopped to get some tea. It would be small volume but potentially a good thing.

In the late afternoon I went back to Redmond to do my exit interview with an HR person. I played nicely... and turned in my cardkey, parking pass, corporate card and all of that stuff.

Somehow I had a series of disasters at pottery class tonight... I guess my hands weren't steady enough or something... I kept on ruining simple cylinders. At least I was able to finish up some pots that I had started last week.

Sales call

Most of the morning I spent sorting samples of ceramics to show to a gallery owner in Pioneer Square. I had to run to the office supply store to get some labels so that I wouldn't lose track of which item is which, and I got another big box to make it easier to carry things around.

I finished everything by afternoon, though I didn't have a proper lunch. I nibbled a little bit, and got something small at Essential Bakery before my appointment.

Everything went reasonably well, so I've got to pack up a few other things from Akutsu-san and Senda-san (see my earlier post about the Mashiko buying trip for more details) and make a few revisions to my pricing schedule, then come back tomorrow to show the rest.

I made a few phone calls after returning and made a simple dinner. Unfortunately, I was so hungry when I got home I didn't gather the required gumption to go running. I'll try to wake up early and make up for that...

Short trip to Mashiko

We made a little trip to Mashiko on the weekend before coming back to Seattle.

We went, in part, so that I could replenish my ever-shrinking ceramics collection on YuzuMura.com. I was also looking for some new artists to consider for later in the year.

Minowa Yasuo passed away a couple years ago, so I haven't been able to buy anything he made for a long time. Besides, my original plan to sell my ceramics to galleries morphed into a mostly web-based sales model. My previous habit of buying a few remarkable pieces per artist doesn't work very well on the web, since the burden of photographing something I only have one or two examples of becomes rather exhausting. By next year, I expect I'll have fewer choices but a better ability to handle larger orders for them.

Large bowl by Akutsu Masato

Akutsu Masato large bowl

During Golden Week, Mashiko has one of two annual pottery festivals, so many artists and production kilns were out showing off their wares. We made our way to my favorite galleries first, and we were pleased to stumble upon a show by Akutsu Masato and the rest of his family at Moegi. I hadn't done much advance planning on this trip, so it was a good coincidence... I discovered that I brought the wrong contact information for him anyway, so if it hadn't been for the show at Moegi I might not have been able to get hold of him.

Masato's father, who is incredibly charming, also had some very nice pieces at the family show, and Masato's mother's work is very compelling as well, so now I'm considering importing work from the whole family... While all three seem to work from a related palette, they each have very distinctive styles.

I also discovered some Minowa Yasuo pieces at one gallery, and I was so surprised by that that I ended up buying a number of pieces. It will become increasingly difficult to find anything else he made, so I took advantage of the opportunity.

Fortunately, the gallery was kind enough to extend me a reseller price, which means I'll be able to offer the new pieces at roughly the same price as similar items I still have in stock. I was expecting I'd have to dramatically raise prices on the new pieces, but it doesn't look like I'll have to.

One unfortunate side effect of my good fortune on this trip was that I didn't have time to meet up with Senda Yoshiaki, and I couldn't buy any of his pieces on this trip. I am almost completely out, so I really need to do something about that. I think I'll send Hiromi to Mashiko once before fall to remedy that.

I didn't buy a huge amount of ceramic pieces on this trip, but enough that it wasn't possible to transport things on my back... so I have to wait a few weeks before things arrive. I'm looking forward to it...

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Working and even networking

Taking care of this gallery sale has occupied most of my time the last few days, but everything is almost finished, so I'll report more tomorrow.

I made an appointment to meet with another ex-Microsoftee whose background has a few other interesting parallels with mine; he moved on to create a consulting company, and he has hopped back and forth between the Seattle area and Japan for the last few years.

Yesterday I got in touch with Tony, my uncle, and talked shop a bit. He had been in L.A. recently doing some work on a department store catalog. I also talked to Eugene, the green tea importer, and he pointed me in the right direction at Uwajimaya, and we talked about a couple of other ideas. I called up another Tony, a serial entrepreneur who is half Japanese and half German I met at a Starbucks a couple of years ago, and after talking a bit we made some plans to meet up and catch up over food.

The convoluted schedule of the last couple of days has left me eating irregularly, not jogging at all, and covered with newsprint stains from sorting through hundreds of ceramics pieces, but it's been pretty energizing.

Mrmph... Software

I remember there was a time when I enjoyed exploring the features of software even when I didn’t need to know a specific feature for any particular task or work I had ahead of me. In fact, I’d say that most of my life, “playing” with software has been a fairly important learning method for me, and made it possible for me to accomplish all sorts of things relatively easily that other folks I knew would have considered hopelessly complex.

I’m not sure when exactly my attitude changed… I know that at Microsoft, it shifted a bit. If a solution didn’t seem eminent and I had other things I should have been working on, I would give up on whatever esoteric solution I had in mind, stop tweaking and just move on. It was a necessary project management technique. If it wasn’t critical to the task, I’d just step away, regardless of how interesting the solution to my problem might have been.

As a business owner, I have slowly noticed an increasing drift toward impatience with software and with hardware idiosyncrasies. If something didn’t work as I expected, and it actually matters to me, I yell and scream and vent at my computer, which of course isn’t really listening. It provides a kind of stress relief.

I was doing some work with my online store over the last few days, uploading dozens of new products, including some really beautiful bamboo tea trays, some very stylish Yixing teaware, and some tea oil-based soaps and cosmetics. Unfortunately, some of the categories were getting unwieldy and confusing, as Hiromi rightly pointed out to me. Many of these problems are tough to solve without doing substantial code modifications to software that I didn’t even write, and I’m not that comfortable sacrificing a lot of time writing code for small benefits these days.

But I knew in the back of my mind that a feature to affect the display order of products within a particular category was supposed to be in the software. I knew how to adjust sort order of the categories themselves, but I never did quite figure out where in the UI this feature for sorting products within a category fell, though I had seen evidence of it in the database backend.

Finally, today, as I was doing some more manipulation of the categories on my web site, I found it. It allowed me to group things within some categories slightly more intelligently, roughly in conceptual groups rather than by something more haphazard, like alphabetical order, or pageviews/popularity-based sorting. Years ago, I would likely have discovered this feature way before I actually would have needed it. I’m clearly not that excited about learning the intricacies of the features of my software anymore…

I felt rather stupid that I have been using the same software for about 5 months and never noticed it. Actually the effect is rather subtle, but it at least allows me to group things in an order that makes sense within my mind, instead of just an apparently random list of products.

La Medusa Re-dux, and new ceramics arrivals

Hiromi arrived safely, and somehow I arrived at the airport at exactly the right time, just as she had picked up her baggage. I think I was in the Seatac parking garage about 6 minutes.

We unpacked and inspected some ceramics she brought from Minowa Yasuo and Senda Yoshiaki, which I’ll put on YuzuMura tomorrow or at least within a few days, as I made quick work of photographing most of the pieces.

I cooked a simple lunch (did I mention how many tortillas and how much mango salsa I still have?) and then I took care of a couple of small office errands and a delivery to Uwajimaya. We made our way to La Medusa in Columbia City, where only a few weeks ago I enjoyed a nice meal, and we hoped to have an equally pleasant experience this time.

We were not disappointed. We had a small amount of overlap with what I last ate there, but this time we had a nice grilled cioppino salad with some soft Quillisascut cheese, greens and pine nuts, and a nice pasta with pickled fava beans and a fava bean cream sauce. I was particularly fond of the salad. The chickpea croquettes and fig and fennel pizza were as good as last time.

Temmoku Matcha-JawanSenda combined clay tokkuri and ochoko pair
Minowa niji-yuu tsubo vaseMinowa-san tall kabin niji-yuu

Lamps and Yakimono

I kept promising myself to photograph more ceramics for YuzuMura, but I’ve only been making small dents in the work… there’s just too much to keep up with. But I really need to do it, because there are still a hundred or so pieces in my inventory. So I’m slowly catching up...

Yakimono 001-240wYakimono 111-240wYakimono 061-240wYakimono 071-240wYakimono 093-240w

Most of these are Senda’s work, but I got a few Akutsu and Minowa pieces also.

And I succeeded in taking photos of a dozen or so lamps, most of which will be on YuzuMura by tomorrow or so. These are all made in Thailand from sustainable or recycled woods.

Enbl03940-5-240wEnbl045-7-120wEnbl012-2-120wEnbl004-2-240wEnbl064-6-120wEnbl003-9-120w

Tonight’s dinner was a simple, potentially very bland soup made of a puree of mirepoix, some cannelini beans, and some broccoli. At the last minute, I added a splash of sesame oil and I snuck a little bit of chili oil from an olive-oil marinated piquin chili batch I made about a month or two ago, and it worked wonders.

I like to think "busy" and "productive" are related

On Sunday I actually took most of the day "off", in the sense that I didn't have a business agenda until I started reading email at night.

During the day, I stopped at my pottery lab to try to pick up the last bits of work from this quarter. A couple of recently glaze pots were ready, but are nothing to write home about. A ceramic "train" that I made was still on the greenware shelves, waiting to be bisque-fired. I suppose it will be ready next week. I don't plan to take the class this summer due to the demands of my business interests and, to be honest, due to the fact that I enjoy taking advantage of summer weekends, whether that means running to meet customers, networking, or jogging in the good weather.

In the afternoon, I met with a friend who had expressed some interest in promoting soaps from Japan. We chatted about different things and then I decided to stop by my grandparents' house. Along the way, I bought some stuffed figs from Fran's Chocolates in old Bellevue.

In the evening I tried to follow up with some outstanding concerns I have related to my project to import a Hong Kong sweet. I've mentioned the candy here before... the big secret that I haven't mentioned is what it's called... it's called dragon beard candy, and it's made with thousands of strands of pulled sugar and maltose. In fact, it normally only has a 15-30 minute lifespan after it's made. The version I found is high quality, beautifully packaged, and has a reasonable shelf-life. I will be the first, or at least one of the first, people to import this into the United States. Work related to this ended up keeping me later than I planned.

Today I met with a couple of banks. Alas, in spite of all of my running around a month or so ago in attempt to pick a bank, I still didn't pick one. I must do that this week. I made an appointment to talk with one of them a little bit more tomorrow.

By the end of workday (by the standards of the alternate universe that is the 9-6 world) I had made a bunch of appointments for the rest of the week. I'm meeting with a friend of a friend tomorrow who can introduce me to some people I should be talking to. I'm having dinner later midweek with Patrick, whom I've mentioned recently. Thursday, I'm meeting with a candidate to help me out for sales of dragon beard candy, meeting a friend visiting from China, and having a conversation with a manager at a local specialty supermarket. I'm also having dinner with a tech entrepreneur, Tony, whom I've mentioned before, mostly to catch up on things. One of these evenings I think I'm meeting with an acquaintance of mine from back in the day when I worked at the Northwest Asian Weekly. I should have Wednesday morning open to run errands.

In any event, this will be a busy week. One thing I learned at Microsoft was that busy doesn't always mean productive... I think, though, that everything I'm planning to do this week is valuable in one way or another. Everything looks like progress, so far.

Onsen tamago with truffle salt, crumpets with fig jam

Last night I was hunting down some heavy cream at Fremont’s PCC, which was out of stock at Trader Joe’s. I had already bought some eggs, but then I noticed duck eggs, and decided that I ought to have some.

This morning for breakfast I poached one of the duck eggs and grilled some asparagus, inspired by dinner at Columbia City's La Medusa last Friday. I wasn’t in the mood for a fried egg, but I followed La Medusa’s lead and sprinkled the asparagus and egg a bit of truffle salt from Ritrovo. I toasted a crumpet, upon which I spread a liberal amount of butter, and ate it with a bit of fig jam.

If I had any morels I think they might have found themselves sauteed in butter and somewhere near my poached egg.

If I was more in the mood for a Japanese vibe, I might have skipped the truffle salt and used some grated daikon, mustard and soy sauce for the egg and asparagus. Then it would really be “onsen tamago”. But somehow I thought the dish would taste best in a small Karatsu-ware bowl, along with a contemporary Arita plate for the crumpet.

Ahiru no onsen tamago with truffle-jio, crumpet with  fig jam

Pioneer Square gallery sale completed

This afternoon I completed a sale of ceramics to Azuma Gallery, a Pioneer Square gallery which carries prints, screens, and ceramics. It's my first sale of note, so I'm very happy. To the best of my knowledge, it's also the first venue where the work will be seen by an American audience. The two artists whose work Azuma Gallery has bought are Minowa Yasuo, who does gas-fired work, and Akutsu Masato, a 27-year old whose work combines rural, organic textures with a surprisingly modern feel.

Minowa Yasuo's kaki-yu (Persimmon glaze) pots, which are gas-fired, sometimes have a tenmoku-like appearance, and sometimes a striated rainbow reddish pattern, which can be matte or have a metallic luster, sometimes even on the same pot, depending on the clay body and the kiln atmosphere. The results are pretty striking, and although Minowa can control the basic "tenmoku" vs "niji" effect, no two pots are exactly alike.

Akutsu Masato's work has a lot of youthful energy and has four main textural motifs, a "doro" or rough clay look, a tetsu-yu brownish, wood-like brush pattern, a white sandy texture often adorned with sgrafitto or sometimes rough, evocative stained three-dimensional contrasting textures, and a gyokuro-yu glossy dark green glaze which references more typical Mashiko or Kasama ware.

If you happen to be in Seattle anytime soon, please stop in and take a look at Azuma Gallery, located at 530 1st Ave. S., and ask about the work of Yasuo Minowa and Masato Akutsu (the order used in this case is the customary US given name followed by family name).

Later in the day, I met up with Kaoru, a friend of mine who works for a community college program north of Seattle, and we had a little dinner at Djan's, a Thai restaurant in a little house in Wallingford. We had a nice, simple meal with cold spring rolls, green papaya salad, an eggplant dish, and a not-very-spicy red curry with tofu. We skipped the "fusion" or "specialty" dishes since none of those appeared to be vegetarian friendly. The best thing about that place is the careful, but simple presentation, and the feeling that you're really eating in someone's house. The dishes that we had would probably be easily obtainable at any kind of Thai restaurant, but overall I would say it was a pleasant, unpretentious dining experience with a little more attention to detail than the average Thai restaurant.

We stopped at Masalisa in Ballard, a tea shop which transforms into a sake place on weekend nights. At first I was inclined to order some kind of nomi-yasui sake, but in the end both of us decided to try their "sake smoothies", one with strawberries, and the other with matcha. These were interesting concoctions, reminiscent of amazake except for the icy texture.

In the morning and early afternoon, I chatted with Patrick at Vivace's, an ex-Microsoft guy I've previously referred to indirectly, who contacted me after reading my web journal. We drank too much coffee and talked about various ways we might be able to work together. I was a bit surprised that our conversation shifted into discusssion about my ambition to do a little cafe/restaurant, as I have hinted at before, and there's a distinct possibility that this may be feasible sooner than I had previously calculated. He also has some useful connections that might make it possible for me to study cooking under some chefs in the Kyoto area. In any event, we'll keep on talking over the coming weeks.

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