Autumn prompts Susan's culinary curiosity, artistic creativity

Susan Manzke
Susan and Rebecca holding onto their newly crafted Zen Rain Chains.

Yesterday it was rainy, a great day for making a pot of soup. The end of gardening season means I throw a lot of different things in the pot. Potatoes, carrots and onions were the main vegetables that went with slices of brats.

But that wasn’t the end. It had a secret ingredient, sauerkraut. I wasn’t so sure about adding the kraut to the pot, but it turned out to be the perfect addition to the sausage soup.

More often, as autumn progresses, I find myself making soup or stew. Sometime my soup comes out kind of thick so I call it stewp, a mashup of soup and stew.

But before winter has me trapped at home I like to go off on an adventure. Last Saturday, I joined daughter Rebecca for another art class at Swanstone Gardens. This time we made Zen Rain Chains—you can’t get farther from soup making with these chains that is unless you compare it to making stone soup.

There were tons of stones and art glass to choose from to make individual projects. Even before students were guided to pick through for our own stones, I started gathering a few favorites I found.

I shocked my daughter as I began picking blue glass and knobby rocks for my rain chain. “Mom, you should wait for the rest of the class to get here before taking some stones for yourself.”

Of course, I didn’t listen to my daughter. I had wanted to do this class especially to use the colorful art glass the first time I saw one of David Calhoon’s hanging Zen Rain Chain models. That day I almost bought one, but decided it would be better if I took his class and made my own.

The rain chain project included rocks and art glass that had been etched so the wrapped wire would stay in place—the person who did all that etching has the hardest job of all.

Even though I picked up a few pieces to include in my chain right away that didn’t mean I didn’t change my mind on what I had. There were too many neat items and then I had to contend with my own vision.

I wanted a perfectly beautiful artful rain chain—I know, I wasn’t asking for much.

In the end I picked art glass rocks that represented a rainbow. Rebecca gravitated to glass the shade of purple—I had thought she was going to center her chain on green, but today purple was her color.

The pattern for the rain chain was pretty art glass rock and next interesting river rock. Every other was a colored glass followed by a knobby rock—I had a hard time choosing my rocks, too. I used a few smooth river rocks interspersed with rocks with personality.

Closeup on glass, rocks, and tools of the trade.

I stood over the boxes of glass and rocks a long time, trying to make my decisions. Some actually called my name. A few I took back because the lower chain additions had to be smaller than the top ones.

I ended my chain with the addition of a bell. This was not part of the class project but the cost wasn’t much and I really wanted the bell.

As we worked, our chain went from a low hook above the table, but as mine reached seven feet, it had to be hung from the ceiling. When it came off, I couldn’t believe how heavy the completed work was. Of course, the weight was expected. We were working with rocks after all.

No two rain chains looked alike. All were unique, except how they were attached together. Some artists had similar glass colors. One person had rocks colored like the Caribbean Sea, a light green.

I could have hung my Zen rain chain outside, but decided to put it on my back porch. Maybe one day it will find a place in my garden, but for now I can walk out and look at it whenever I want. My rain chain makes me happy.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;