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Brad's Blog

    April 1
    Today was very busy, being Palm/Passion Sunday, having company visit, and my going into a jam in Spokane for a couple hours.  So it wasn't till this evening I checked my email and my son Forrest was announcing he was engaged.  Being April Fools, this was received locally with a fair share of scepticism.  A year ago his girl friend emailed saying she'd become a Fruitarian, eating only seeds and fruit.  And Forrest, also on April Fools, announced once he was going to do an internship in South America.  There were several things in the email that were hard to believe, but also some facts (such as first asking her two years ago) that I knew to be true (and not something widely disseminated).
    So, being the modern world, I chatted with them typing, through the internet, and am now convinced they were telling the truth, but that they decided to cleverly post it on April Fools'  Day to leave people wondering.  No wedding date has been set.  Here's a link to a picture of them last Halloween, with my wife and Susa's mother to the right...

April 2
    So my son has sent out a clarifying email, explaining that they are in fact getting married, in spite of the apparent April Fools prank.  I wrote back:  "Well, I'm left wondering whether I am particularly astute, or particularly gullible, since I took it seriously from first reading.... "
    While they stipulated they may get married any time in the next 6.5 years, his fiance has started thinking about guest lists.  This is where the bribe to encourage them to elope should be proffered.  (I'm not one for awkward social gatherings, of which weddings and funerals top the list...)  One theory has it that they will get married before their current leases end on their respective apartments.  That's probably too practical...

    
April 3
    I've gotten this order from some nuns...  It's for some bowls and tumblers.  What's unusual is that they've provided drawings with exact dimensions, sometimes as many as 3 measurements per item, including stipulations such as "must pour well," or "must stack easily."  In fact, I've never gotten nearly so many stipulations on a single order before.   Being contemplative, they've been thinking about it quite a bit.  I'm still thinking about how to respond, since I'm not even sure I could make them to all their requirements.  When a customer starts designing pottery, they don't have 35 years experience to fall back on, but they know what they think they want.  I'm not convinced they'll look particularly good, but I'll probably give it a try.

   
April 4
I unloaded an overfired kiln today.  This happens approximately annually, and is nearly always a surprise.  The kiln sitter, which is a very simple device where a little bar of clay gets melted at the appropriate temperature which lets a rod slip downwards.  At the other end of the rod is a weighted switch which is released and swings down and breaks the electrical contact, shutting down the kiln.  Every once in a while, for unknown reason, it fails.  At least one technician for a kiln company that makes the modern computerized shutoffs admits that the same thing happens with their product sometimes also.  My solution this time was to order another ton of clay and replacement porcelain tube assemblies, which is the part that failed.  When it arrives I'll totally overhaul the kiln, with new heating elements, and replace the kiln sitter parts as well.  A new broom sweeps clean...
    Back to the kiln load.  It was pretty uniformly overfired, probably to cone 11.  Only a few pieces developed bloating, where ugly bubbles appear in the clay itself.  Only the crystalline glaze, which was fortunately on few pots, ran off the pots and stuck to the kiln shelves.  The shelves themselves were not warped, as can easily happen if it got much hotter.  Most of the pots can sell as seconds for about a quarter of their original value.  Given other times where all the worst case things happened, it was not a bad overfiring.  The timer was what shut the kiln off, as it's supposed to do.  The elements, being at the end of their life cycle, have been taking longer and longer to fire, so I probably put an hour more on the timer than would normally be prudent (around 13 hours).  With new elements, a cone 10 glaze firing can take 8-9 hours.
    One of the reasons I like electric kilns is that they are small enough (7 cu.ft) that a lost kiln load is not a disaster.  I was present at a kiln unloading where bad clay had caused spalling, or edges of pots to break off with a pinging noise.  It was at least 5 times as many pots as I would have in a firing.  It multiplied the anguish for them.  So I don't feel too badly. I spent the afternoon writing a nice letter trying to explain my worldview to the nuns...

    April 5
    Kiln overfirings result in a two steps forwards, one step back sort of day.  That is, I had to remake a number of pots that got overfired, so I'm back in last week, so to speak.
    On the other hand, the weather is verging towards screen window season, so it was easy to do a few outdoor projects today.  The cabbage seedlings have been up in the greenhouse for nearly a week, in suspended animation.  They should start growing rapidly with the warm weather predicted, as should the wildflowers.
    The warm weather, combined with spring breaks, seem to be bringing out lots of shoppers.  Currently sales are similar to an average summer day.

April 6
grass widows
I walked up on the ridge today, and the grass widows were blooming in bouquets on the sunny side of the mountain.  Buttercups and glacier lillies were starting as well.  It was over a week and a half since I'd been up there.  Spring happens, but if you aren't paying attention, it happens without you...

April 7
Due to a complexity of schedules, my one Easter Service was the Easter Vigil tonight.  I played guitar while people came in the church following a brief litany with candles.  There was a series of readings detailing the history of salvation, then a reaffirmation of baptism.  This service is not used in a number of churches, but the more liturgical ones (like Lutheran) do have it as an option, and it's a lovely transition from the solemnity of Good Friday to the celebration of Easter morning.  Anyway, Happy Easter.

April 9

These are the Easter lillies this year, called Glacier or Yellow Fawn lillies.  They grow like dandelions everywhere that hasn't had the ground disturbed.  So on the way into Coeur D'Alene today for a potters meeting, I saw how in the soon-to-be-developed woods they were abundant, but in the suburban lawns across the street from them, there was just an unnatural even green of bluegrass.  I'm glad that Idaho on the whole, second after Alaska in the amount of wilderness, isn't all as threatened by development as the rapidly growing area around here is.
    I cut a hole in the fence between the single chicken and the rest of the flock.  It came in and was promptly attacked by them all, including some of them standing on it.  So I decided to put it back into its own side.  It then became like a logic puzzle. The white kitten loves to go into the chicken coop.  I picked up the hen and couldn't close the main coop, so the door swung open.  By the time I walked around to the other pen, several hens had gone through the hole into the solo hen's coop, along with the kitten.  So I had to chase the other hens out through the hole, keep the kitten from  getting anyone too excited, close the hole in the fence, and shut the main door before the chickens figured out they could go free.  It all worked out fine, insofar as we now expect that hen to live apartheid from now on, enjoying the proximity of other hens without the pecks.

April 10
    The Phil Steen presidential candidacy is sputtering right along.  Phil has now delivered his standard stump speech, from the roof of a house, wearing a tin foil hat.  Phil continues to be the stealth candidate, with 5 people so far having viewed his rebuttal to the Ultimate Liberation Front's scurrilous attack.    Tin Foil hats are much more in vogue, so we're hoping for a big response, so we won't have to refer to women athletes with derogatory slurs to boost Phil's name recognition.

April 11
    Yes, the Tin Foil Hat speech, likely to go down in history with the Checkers speech, has brought in one pledged vote already, making a total of two pledged votes.
    We had some friends visiting overnight, whose daughter, getting married in August, sent them with a list of pots they'd like.  I glibly assured them that this is the best time of the year to shop, since my supplies are brimming, although I then qualified it by saying usually whatever anyone wants I tend to be out of.   This, of course, proved to be the case in point.  With all the decorations, I have over 300 distinct items I produce, so it's no surprise I can't keep them all in stock.  At least it gave me a little list to work on, after they left, since I was feeling all caught up...

April 12
    Quemiln Park
I travelled a bit today, to the parks at Post Falls, and this was typical of the glacier lilly blooms everywhere in the parks.   I looked for wildflowers driving the 30 miles to get there, but the "Rathdrum Prairie" has been mostly rendered wildflowerless by tilling and herbicide.  When I arrived at the park, before I had my camera turned on, I got to see a bald eagle carrying a stick to make a nest.  It was like this one, previously featured in a blog, only an eagle instead of an osprey:


 April 13
My son is having a great week.  Extreme trick skiing isn't as well known as many sports, but some of the top world skiers (like Sammy Carlson and Andreas Hatveit) are at Birrion's home mountain this week, filming for an upcoming ski movie.  So he's been up there every day, watching, and volunteering to help groom the jumps.  He's about the only person there who isn't official, so he's got front row seats for great tricks, such as jumping onto a rail over a ski hut, or across a swimming pool.  If they weren't up there, there's a good chance Birrion would have been anyway.

April 14
I got the income taxes in the mail today, so this is my tax day grumble.  It's bad enough that I need an $80 program to figure out my taxes.  The government would like us all to file electronically to save them scanning in our forms, but the tax program charges $16 extra to do that, whereas the Post Office (which is of course a government agency) only charges around a dollar to mail the forms.  So they'll get my form electronically when they price it competitively, like free, since it saves them money.
Even though they say a sales tax is regressive because the poor are more affected by it, I think with all the current loopholes I'd be happier if there were a federal sales tax as the government's main revenue source.  I'd be so happy not to do all the bookkeeping currently required...  They could exempt food, but nothing else.  They can figure out other ways to alleviate the suffering of the poor--ie, health care and food and housing aid.
No one is talking seriously about this, so I suppose it's a bad idea, but it sounds good on tax day.

  April 15
   Some friends' baby got baptized today.  My wife performed the rite in a church service, and I took photos (at their request).  Being part of an aging church, baptisms don't happen very often, so it was nice to participate in it.  

April 16
The deadline for getting studded tires removed in Idaho is April 15.  We have 4 vehicles, and the old worn out van which we use for things like hauling firewood, lumber, and clay, was the last in line to get its winter tires removed.  Several times I've changed the tires myself, since there's no tire shop in town.  Since I'm expecting a load of clay, I decided to change the tires myself.
    Several times, when changing the tires myself, I've broken off lug nuts or had other problems with them.  Over time, there are now 3 outer sizes of lug nuts on this vehicle, which means that if there were a flat, the one lug wrench the car came with  would not help much.  Tire shops just switch the sockets when dealing with this.  I went and got another sized lug wrench from another of our vehicles.  Then I ended up twisting off two lug nut studs, so I expect to spend some hours at a tire shop tomorrow, trying to get it all squared away.
    Spirit Lake used to have a tire shop, in a building now occupied by a rustic chair manufactury.  There's a new business going in at the north end of town, which I learned today manufactures woodstoves, and in the industrial park below it, a body shop, realty,  and storage units all rolled into one business.   A graphic design shop is replacing the taxidermy, where my dog's hackles would rise significantly every time we passed it, from the cougar and bear scents.... A bookstore will be opening this summer on the highway (the owner of which has been reading this blog).   It would be nice to have a tire shop again someday.

April 17
    I got the tire situation squared away, with a new 4 hole lug wrench, so I'm ready to get clay and supplies, just in the nick of time.
I still have several hundred pounds of clay, but one kiln overfired the bisque, and the other is barely functional, both awaiting parts in the next clay shipment.  An over fired bisque means the pots don't absorb the glaze as well, so the pots (firing now) are likely to be second quality.
    osprey
On a hike today, I first saw a hawk carrying a squirrel, later a woodpecker making a nest hole.  A red breasted nuthatch sat patiently while I clicked out of focus photos of it.  So the best photo of the day was snapped of this osprey, flying near at the mill pond...

    
April 18
I'm thinking about the elephant in the room that I'm not talking about.  News is a weird thing.  Last week the decline and fall of Don Imus, with sputtering twists like the 90 mph accident of the governor going to a meeting about it, was all the rage. I'd never heard Don Imus, so felt pretty distant from that event.  Of course the murders in West Virginia are predominating everything else right now.
    I've never been to Virginia.  Not that that particularly matters.  People are affected by this all over the world.  News is mostly about bad stuff happening.  Local news is mostly car wrecks, fires, and murders.  It's national or international news when it's lots of car wrecks, big fires, or lots of murders, or national politics.  Or a celebrity is involved in any of those...  Especially if a celebrity is involved with any of those...
    The point is that bad stuff is happening around the globe all the time.  There was an earthquake in Japan last week, a tidal wave in Indonesia.  I'm enough of a news junkie to know these things happened, and that US news hardly made note of them because there is always a regional bias to news.
    Most of it isn't really news you can use.  Political news can, if accurately reported, help inform one for the vote every couple years.  Currently flags are at half mast around the nation, and people are feeling very bad, when there's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING you can do about it, except FEEL BAD.
    Since news is almost always bad, people who watch the news either have to develop a tough skin, or feel depressed all the time.  I prefer the tough skinned approach.   The newshounds will strip all the meat off this bone, then the next big thing will happen and the news and the world will march on.
I would prefer the news were more balanced, but the networks do what the market demands.  
    Meanwhile, back in my neck of the woods, I drove up and got the 2800 lbs. of clay and materials, so my own work is ready to march on.

    
April 19
    I spent 5 hours today maintaining my 2 electric kilns.  A lot of that time was pulling out the old heating elements (they resemble screen door springs stretched out), which expand with age and come out of their grooves very reluctantly, like an inch at a time.  I also replaced the porcelain tube assembly of the kiln sitters, so the kilns should run like new for a fairly long while.  It had been a year and a half since I replaced the elements, or about 180 firings per kiln.  Deciding when to replace the elements is easy if the elements start burning out.  Otherwise the firings just take longer and longer, which means you're wasting more electricity per  firing.  So it would sound logical to replace the elements frequently, but they cost hundreds of dollars, so at some point you just bite the bullet. However, it's no fun to rewire a kiln when it's below freezing, so I tend to prefer to change them in the spring or fall.  Now you know how a professional decides when to fix the kiln.
    Of course, for many years I was a poorer professional, and would replace them as they burned out, one at a time, keeping note of which elements had failed most recently.  Every time an element burns out, part of the firing tends to get too hot, so that resulted in a fair number of damaged pots.  So this approach was sort of penny-wise, pound foolish.  I still keep track of how many of which firings I do (for tax purposes), and at the top of that sheet I still make notations of when elements are replaced, just to keep on top of things.  As I get older, habits like that will hopefully prevent me from changing the elements twice in one year, or something equally foolish...

April 20
    The lone hen is back in the local news today.  She started eating her eggs,  which I figured occurred  because she's in the same living space as her nest, whereas typically chickens leave the nest area after laying.  So I opened the portal between the two cages, and she's gotten a quite a few pecks , but seems to be adjusting.  Besides pecking, hens try to stand up taller, and even jump up to appear bigger to the other one.  In so doing, one of them broke the lightbulb in the laying area today.  Fortunately the light wasn't on, so no pyrotechnics happened.
    Meanwhile, in the kiln refurbishing department, I read a suggestion today on the pottery newsgroup that might have saved me some trouble.  Heating elements are very brittle when old, so tend to break in pieces as you remove them.  But if they're heated sufficiently, they temporarily lose their brittleness.  So one person uses a propane torch to heat the elements as they're pulled out.  That made me think that if the elements are still working, you could briefly turn them on high, then remove them with needlenose pliers and thick leather gloves.  But I haven't tried it, and will probably forget the technique before I change elements again.

April 22
Today's entry is  a link to the photos I took of local bluegrass last night--
http://www.sondahl.com/thang2007.html

 April 23

The frogs started croaking yesterday, and the bugs and spiders are coming out abundantly.   But this bug, which I think is in the shield bug family, and a relative of the stink bug,  is a frequent winter visitor in the house.  I'd guess it's also a true bug, related to boxelder bugs, by the way it mostly hangs around passively.  Those are all very unscientific guesses.  Anyway I put this guy out of the new screen porch today, and I think it's quite beautiful in its mottlings.  
Long ago we started calling them sapper tickers, after a Dave Barry column on the stupidest rock lyrics of all time. The one that cracked us all up had the line, "Howdy Hoody Sapperticker" in it.  Since we never knew the name of these bugs, at some point we started calling them sapper tickers.  When they fly, they emit a low drone that can be mistaken for a bee's buzz, but otherwise they move around fairly slothlike.
    It was a fine spring day today.  I was going to take the riding lawn mower a friend gave us last year to get it worked on.  It starts great, runs like a charm, until you take your foot off the brake thing, at which point it always shuts off.  It reminds me of a black box a friend in junior high had that when you flicked the toggle switch on top, a little hand would come out of the box and shut the toggle switch off.  Anyway, it turned out it's too large for my trailer (which has two tires that go flat between uses).  I'd loaded some garbage in the old van we use for pulling the trailer and hauling stuff, so decided to take it to the dumpsters (about 5 miles) anyway.  (This reminds me that a local boy was impressed on moving to the city to learn you don't have to haul your own garbage there...)  Although sunny here,  it started raining near the dumpsters and was a major cloudburst just as I had to dump the garbage. To add to the excitement, the car started making an urgent wheel bearing noise, and I felt fortunate to make it home without having a wheel fall off.
       So I guess it was a regular spring day...  

April 24
Columbian ground squirrel

    There was another new suburb to Spirit Lake I only noticed last week Spirit Lake Village, which I rode my bicycle around today.  Like the others, there are lots of unfinished houses, particularly the yards, which are mostly gravel, since the existing vegetation was bulldozed off.  I'm not sure my attraction to these suburbs, except that they have smooth streets for riding on.  I bring my camera in hope that some natural bit survives.  So I took this picture of a pair of Columbian Ground Squirrels.  We have some voles and gophers in our garden, but nothing to compare with these guys.  They may survive on cuteness--there's  a rest area on the Montana-Idaho border where the ground squirrels waddle from tourist treats.  Although my stock phrase is, "no rodent is truly your friend," and I see most feeding of wildlife as detrimental in the end (even our kittens are becoming manipulative for tuna), I wish them well.
    The main vegetation in the photo is mullein  which is a slightly invasive exotic weed found mostly on disturbed soils.

April 25
    I spent 3 hours in a recording studio today, recording about 45 minutes of guitar instrumentals and songs.  The selections were partly based on ones I've posted at Youtube that have been popular (I just past the quarter million mark in overall views between Youtube and Google).  I've been practicing them for a couple weeks daily, as some of them are among the hardest that I play.  I'm planning to invite some other musicians to contribute to some of the tracks, including a friend who plays oboe in the Spokane Symphony.  Because of the variety of tunes and styles represented, I've decided to call it "Completely Different" which is of course a Monty Python quote.  I also thought of calling it "New and Improved," but several CD's already used that name, not to mention many soap products.  Adding extra tracks will take a month or so, to let the musicians hear the bare bones CD and practice with it.  I also plan to use the CD in the same way, to see what other instruments I can add myself.  It's a completely different concept than how I've made my CD's previously, although it's pretty standard as CD's go.

April 26
    I keep a box of bicycle parts around.  In the last couple days, I had to replace the brake lever on my bicycle, and one pedal and 3 spokes on my wife's bike.  I used to keep a few parts bikes as well, but it does sort of junk the place up.  So the box just has parts that are fairly universal, like brake pads, handlegrips, and cables.  This is especially useful since it's 30 miles to a bicycle shop.
   So it was that kind of day--work in the pottery, go for a walk with the sound engineer for the CD, shovel manure around the garden (2 loads of horse manure arrived today), unstop a couple drains, fix a bicycle, and work on music on the new CD this evening.  Can't say I've ever had a day exactly like that before.  Life always has new permutations...

April 27
The first carrots and spinach and peas are up in the pottery workshop garden, as the last carrots of last year are getting consumed.  Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, the broccolis and cauliflowers and cabbages are getting big enough to transplant.  Speaking of transplant, we moved what turned out to be a cluster of 3 giant rose bushes away from the house today, by hooking a rope around the root ball when it had been dug down, attaching it to a trailer hitch on our van, and driving slowly to pop it loose.  Their new home will allow them to grow into the 10 foot or more column that didn't work under the eaves, assuming they survive the transplant.

April 28
The spring flowers continue to be great, but the weather is being drier than average for spring.  I leave a couple plastic garbage cans under the eaves of my greenhouse, and other years I've had enough water to water the seedlings till well into May.  I suppose this is just a way to complain about the pleasant days we've been having.  Can't do anything about the weather, may as well enjoy it...

April 29
There were two different sorts of church experiences today.  In the liturgical calendar, this is Good Shepherd Sunday, so my wife wanted to have a sheep at the service, and enlisted me as shepherd.  When we went to pick up the sheep, the people had given up trying to catch one after an hour or so, and settled for a pygmy goat, which was given to us in a pet carrier.  On the way into town, I theorized how we ought to keep this goat and get another for pets.  However, on arrival there, I relearned that goats may look cute but they are their own masters.  The goat took off at a run with a when the rope slipped out of my hands, and it was all I could do to catch the little bugger.  Then instead of being friendly to the parishioners, it huddled in a corner, obviously uncomfortable (as was I with it).  So I was glad to return it.
    This evening I joined some church people in a small gospel singing group for the community Spring gospel concert.  It was nice, but 2.5 hours without an intermission, so I was quite happy at the end, for it to be the end.

April 30

    I spent most of the day building a new chicken enclosure.  Yes, that makes three I've built in the last couple of years.  The problem with the old one (and its recent addition) was that it was right under the tree house where we're inclined to sleep when the weather is amenable, and even though hens don't crow, they do cackle and make lots of other sounds, starting at daylight, or around 5 a.m. in the summer.  So they're moved back behind the pottery workshop, in a wonderfully makeshift space that's twice as big as their old place.  I used 5 pallets, which slowly accumulate here, one with every load of clay, and lots of wire and boards from the old enclosure.  In the photo you can see the hen which was ostracized (sounds like it was made into an ostrich) by the other hens, settling in to the nesting area.  Her hen pecks seem to be healing.  The hens scratched the new yard up well and even found a worm or two.


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