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Brad's Blog

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May 1, 2007
    A friend of the family brought us flowers and a candy bouquet for May Day.   We had decided to go to Granite Falls, and it was a lovely sunny day.  Unfortunately the road to the falls was still blocked by long snowy/icy patches, so we settled for a walk in the woods and a snack by lovely Priest Lake.


 May 2
    Our old 1992 van has gone from nickel and diming us, into its death throes.  A wheel bearing sounds ready to go.  The driver's door won't stay shut. The windshield's cracked.  It's leaking or burning oil at a rapid rate--220,000 miles on its original engine.  The stereo has been one channel only for years.  We tend to be the last owners of cars.  Most of them were technically still drivable when we gave up on them, only perhaps the transmission was hit or miss, or the radiator was leaking.  One car with the transmission going out we gave to our neighborhood mechanic, and he drove it in town for another year or so, till he lost the key.
    It seems like auto wrecking yards have a tacit agreement to make car owners think that taking their cars is a favor, instead of a paying proposition and their lifeblood.  When I called today, because it's 15 miles to the wrecking yard, they figured they'd have to charge $45.00 to get the van.  So we're tempted to gamble on the wheel bearing making the 15 miles, or if it doesn't, that, being on back roads and driving slowly, nothing bad will happen when the bearing goes.  At this point it's not the money, so much as the sense of adventure we used to always have when driving around in our beater vehicles, that makes this idea appealing.  We still drive mostly beaters anyway, but slightly more reliable ones.

May 3
    Old van transporting didn't happen today--I went to Spokane to run errands and check a 12-string guitar that was for sale.   It wasn't the guitar for me, not that I really need a third guitar-like instrument.  So probably the best thing that happened was a dollar store (I think it was the "Dollar Store" brand dollar store) had the kind of sponges I like to use for cleaning off glaze, which was good since I'm wearing out the last ones now (every pot that's glazed gets its bottom wiped off once or twice with these sponges, not to mention all the other glaze clean up uses, which is why I wear them out regularly).
    There's a chance of snow tonight (more likely frost, as it's clearing off at sunset).  The seedlings are still in the greenhouse, so frost isn't a gardening issue, yet.  
    Our riding lawnmower returned from the shop today.  I'm already envisioning turning it into a float for the 4th of July parade.  It's still about a week away from lawnmowing time...

May 4
    I chickened out on trying to move the old van to the junkyard myself today, after not being able to budge either (theoretically) removable part of the trailer hitch, nor siphon out any of the 12 or more gallons of gas. So then I had the thought to offer it free on Craigslist.org, a free online wantad place.
Results if any, I will report.
    The weather continued cruddy and cold today, so I made a bunch of pots.  It's supposed to be sunny and warm by Sunday, so the pottery business looks to slow down next week...
    At a new farmer's market  in Spirit Lake, we bought homemade salsa and tortilla chips, anticipating having them tomorrow (Cinco de Mayo).  At supper, we made some guesses as to what Cinco de Mayo is about.  Independence from Spain was a likely guess, though we figured it had been independent for quite a while.  I thought it might have something to do with Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (details of which were also fuzzy).  So it actually commemorates a victory against Napoleon's superior French forces in 1862.  There's a world of history I don't know about...

May 5
I've gotten one email inquiry about getting the old van so far.  The weather being pleasant, I did some outside chores, like finishing taking down the old chicken coop, in the afternoon.
    We still have a few carrots from last year in the fridge, and we already have more of this year's spinach than we need, so the circle of gardening is complete.  I dug up 6 rhubarb plants that were growing volunteer, selling them to would be gardeners.  Usually rhubarb doesn't spread much, but we let them flower (large white clumps of flowers), and later the seeds blow around the garden and come up in midsummer.   I used to think it would be nice to add flowers as a sideline to the pottery, becoming a flower and gift shop, but I don't really like the idea of cut flowers too much.  I do leave starter petunias in their plastic pots and set them in the planters, and for a few weeks it makes a nice flowery display, but then the rootbound petunias start suffering, so we plant them.

May 6
camas flowers
    A guy came and got the van, and insisted on paying $40 for the privilege.  He has the same model van, and will use it for parts. So, considering the junkyard would charge $45 to get it, I'm up $85.00 on the deal.
    It's Camas blossom time on the ridge.  The bulbs of this flower were a staple for natives in the area.  Lewis and Clark described seeing blue flowers like a sea on some of the prairies.  Our local ones are less deep blue than some, but still pretty.  Spirit Lake is in the background.  We used to live on one of two prairies in Idaho called "Camas Prairie."  On one of the farms I saw a large patch of the flower in a marshy part of the field.  I mentioned it to the farmer (who'd lived there all his life), and he didn't know what Camas flowers were.   It takes all kinds to make a world...
   
    May 7
    Today was transplant day for the brassicas--cauliflowers, cabbages, and broccoli, about 70 in all.  They're frost hardy,  so there's no need to worry on their account.  It's a bit early for things like green beans and corn, but I may plant some corn this week on a gamble.  If it doesn't frost, it'll mean early corn.  If it does, it'll just mean I'm out  a few seeds.  So it's not a bad gamble.
    My son and I are working our way through a set of Sci Fi movies (50 for about $20.00, to let you know the incredible bargain and quality).  The cheesiest so far was called the Robot Monster, where the robot had a can on his head, and a gorilla suit body.  We figured this was because in the late 50's taste was changing from Tarzan to Buck Rogers. Some of the special effects in this movie were equal to the parody of these films I made in high school, Robots on the Rampage.   Most of them have some cold war subtexts, and all of them have atomic something or others, such as atomic brain transplants.  We enjoy these as we enjoy the classic science fiction novels, also written in the 50's and 60's, in spite of some of their quaint predictions and hilarious pseudoscience...  I grew up watching the original Star Trek, and thought the communicators were cool, even though they only ever had one person talking at once, like walkie-talkies.  It's ironic that the Star Trek communicators inspired the invention of cell phones, which have now outstripped the originals...  Now if only my sliding doors would scritch open and shut for me...

May 8
immature golden eagle
    I got to thinking of nearby marshes for wildlife watching, and I'd never seen Upper Twin Lake up close, which is the nearest lake after Spirit Lake (about 6 miles).  So I got my son to help me canoe there today, and we saw a couple golden eagles, ospreys, and a very pretty lake, though mostly not as marshy as I expected.  But the marshy part, when we got to it, was a floating mat of peat and grasses, floating in 10 feet or more of water. We could walk on it, and did, though your feet got wet if you stood anywhere.  In the photo (below) the flat grassy area going back to the horizon is the peat bog, with the small bushes tending to grow next to holes in the mat.  On the way back, we fought a headwind, which, after we got back home, turned considerably stronger.   Headwinds make lake canoeing a challenge.  But it was  a fine clear day in the 70's, and my son took his first plunge of the year...  One other interesting note--it's been dry, so the pine pollen is coming out early--it makes a coating on the water, and we could see, when the wind blew, it looking like a yellow fog rolling off the pines...
twin lakes bog

May 9
    Back to work today, firing a bisque, and glazing pots for a second firing today, a glaze.  I don't feel like I have enough electricity coming in to fire two kilns at once, so if I'm firing two kilns in a day, I try to do a bisque firing first, as it's shorter, and allows more time to turn the glaze kiln up before bedtime.
    I also mowed for the first time this year, with the riding lawnmower a friend gave us.  It doesn't really mow very well, compared to a regular walk behind type, what with its large turning radius, but if you put it in about 5th gear, you can certainly have fun mowing a lawn.  I'm still considering how to decorate it for use in parades this year.  I suppose to be less environmentally hypocritical, I should push it in the parade...

May 10
    Today was a repeat of yesterday (two kiln firings), except for doing some garden work instead of mowing.  At this point, in the pottery workshop, the shelves are about empty, but out front in the display the shelves are full.  I plan soon to add a wall on one side of the outdoor display to reduce wind exposure, and change from funky slab shelves to wider pine board shelves, which will allow more pots on display.  More pots is good, but it means more to dust.   This is the worst time of year, during the pine pollen season, for getting the pots dusty.  So I ordered a high power blower from a surplus website yesterday to try and blow the dust off the pots, since dusting about 500 pots by hand gets old fast...

May 12
    I played music with my bassist friend outdoors without amplification at a large garden expo today.  It's nice to be an acoustic musician, to not have to deal with electrical equipment, but the temptation is always there to conform and get at least a sound system.  Then you have to contend with issues like feedback, weird noises, and proper balance.  Ideally it's best to play venues where someone else is worrying about those things, but those kinds of gigs are hard to come by.  
    I weeded the part of the garden that's planted for the first time today, and it's shorts weather.  My son went swimming up in Sandpoint (but I'd guess not for very long, as that lake is always cold, even in August...

 May 13
    You should never work on Sunday, because, besides it being against the 10 commandments, you might find a bisque kiln badly overfired, meaning that when you really get to work on Monday, there will be lots of disappointing pots to glaze.  It looked as though a pot in the kiln shifted against the kiln sitter rod, holding it up so it wouldn't shut off...
    I was also doing gardening today, but that's a pastime.  I manured a large plot and planted it to corn, with a row of transplanted volunteer cosmos along the side fronting the street.  
    I saw a crow apparently attacking a cat today.  As I bicycled closer, I saw that the cat had a mouse, and the crow was just trying to steal it, like seagulls do from ducks at the duck pond.
  
May 14
    Due to the overfired bisque yesterday, I decanted some of the water off the top of two of my glazes to make it thicker, and used those two glazes to decorate the whole kiln load.  I had to leave some of the pots to dry for hours before they could be handled.  Fortunately my noon Potter's Guild meeting gave me the time to do that.  I also got materials to improve the new pottery display shelves.  The wood slabs I used last year were free, but too narrow to do a good job of displaying, so I got conventional spruce boards.  Also we decided to add a windscreen on one side to reduce dust and wind damage.

May 15
    A fine day in the upper 70's today.  I made mugs in the morning, moved the last manure around the garden before lunch, and started building shelves in the afternoon.  It was a good day to be busy.
    In the orchard the apple blossoms are at their best.  Only a few bumblebees and small (probably native) bees are pollinating.   The bee colony that lived in our cottonwood tree disappeared last winter, as did thousands of cultivated hives across the country.  If you wanted an ominous sign of potential ecological collapse, this might be the Silent Spring Rachael Carson was writing about...  However, taking a less apocalptic approach, there weren't a lot of bees last spring either, but there were enough that I had to spend a lot of time thinning the orchard anyway.

  May 16
    Serious garden planting today.  I save seeds from peas, green beans, and spinach, so there are always lots of those planted.  I also planted zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins,  potatoes, and carrots.  About half the tomatoes and peppers were transplanted out--the rest will wait a week or so in case of late frost.  Because of all the horse manure we add every year (3 large trailer loads to the main garden this year), which makes a loose top soil, I don't till the garden except for the rows where carrots are planted.  
    I make several plantings spaced two-three weeks apart of spinach, corn, and peas, since they all ripen and are finished, rather than producing an ongoing crop. The new addition this year is pole beans--to get a few for late in the season after the main crop is past. I've grown them in the distant past, and didn't like the way the pollen above my eyes affected my allergies...   Potatoes is a reintroduction, since a blight several years ago made us rotate them out until (hopefully) the disease is gone.

    
May 17
    While working on the shelves for the improved display space today, I suddenly became aware that there were lots of bees in the cottonwood where I've been mentioning in the blog there had been none.  Just then a deliveryperson parked about 10 feet from the swarm, and headed towards me with a package.  I yelled, "There are bees," and he ran into the street.  After calming him a bit, he came around and gave me the package but left worrying if he could get into his truck.   In retrospect, I remember hearing of people getting covered by a swarm of bees without incident, so I expect we both overreacted.  But after he left I grabbed my camera, and took a bunch of photos (just try getting  1000 bees in focus),  and some movie footage, which I made into a 1 minute video for Youtube.
    The shelving project is done, except for cleaning up the shelves, and cleaning up the pots.  A section of clear roofing was added as a wall to reduce blowing through the display.  I had to cut off some pieces of the plastic to match the slope of the roof, and the scraps worked perfectly in another area where rain splashes in (assuming it ever rains again, which seems doubtful currently).

    
May 18
    I set pots out on the new shelves, and spent a couple hours cleaning pots as well.  That's a problem of expanding our showroom, more pots to get dusty, probably around 1000.  
    I also went on the first walk for a week, having gotten my exercise lately from gardening mostly.  The flowers are at a whole new stage, with phlox,
two kinds of false solomon's seal, rock penstemon,  death camas (a poison bulb similar in appearance to edible camas). and several other deep woods flowers that aren't in my reference books.
    I got the master for my new CD today. I'm calling it "Completely Different," since there are many genres on it.   I decided to release it in two flavors--solo guitar only, and with added instrumentation.  Since the instruments haven't been added yet, it's only hope that leads me to call the added instrument version "Completely Different--New and Improved."  I've got it ready, including a page for it with 30 second samples of the songs...

 May 19
    It rained about half an inch today, ending the long dry spell.  The dry spell was invisible in the emerging green of Spring, but would have shown up soon in drooping plants if it hadn't rained.   Although the inland western U.S. is mostly semiarid, there are pockets of higher precipitation, mostly on the west side of mountain ranges, such as where I live.  Most people would acknowledge Southern California's climate to be the best overall, but the millions who moved there for the climate seemed to have created their own nemesis with crime and pollution, as well as a high cost of living.   Seattle and Portland are also popular, but wetter, places to live.  Current high growth is occurring in dryer places like Las Vegas, Boise,  and central Oregon, as well as here.  Being as far inland and north as we are, the summers are definitely the best here, so a lot of retirees that live here go south to Arizona or California for the winter.  
    In all of these locations, water is the critical factor.  California diverts water from a huge area for its huge population.  Most of North Idaho is a large gravel filled basin which collects a huge amount of water in the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which supplies North Idaho and Spokane as well.  Even with record droughts in recent years, the aquifer has held up so far, but with recent figures of 13 % growth in Idaho just since 2000,  water resources will inevitably become stretched thin.

May 20
false solomon's sealstar solomon seal
    I don't really understand the mathematical concept of fractals, except that one corollary is that as you zoom in on something, more layers of complexity emerge.  This is like cleaning a room.  First you haul out the major trash. Then you vacuum.  Then you notice the cobwebs. Then there's the dirty windows.  Then there's the floor, and the place where the floor meets the wall.  Then there's the ceilings.  Then you quit and do something else.
    As an observer of nature, everything is that way.  I dabble in lots of interests.  Each of them could be life consuming individually.  I look for wild flowers, but if I look carefully, new species appear regularly.  There was a new white flowering bush I just noticed today, where I've walked regularly for years.  Also, a common forb (woodland plant) is false solomon's seal, but only last week I noticed a different bloom indicating it's star solomon's seal instead of the standard type. I've included the regular one on the left...

May 22
    I found and added the second photo above...  I went for another walk in the drizzle today, and saw about 20 different species of wildflowers.  Drizzle and mist are about the same, but drizzle implies wet and miserable, while mist implies romance...
    Back in the pottery saddle today--glazing two kiln loads and throwing 80 pots before lunch.  Just when I think I've got plenty of every kind of pot, I get an order and find I'm out of half of what they want...

May 23
red necked grebe
    We have a friend visiting, so it was an excuse to revisit the Upper Twin Lake floating marsh today.   As before, there were golden and bald eagles, ospreys, and other water birds.   But this was the best photo today--a red necked grebe.  It's a relative of the loon with a pointed beak, a diving bird with a raspy laughing call.  You can see that the yellow water lilies (a native plant) are starting to blossom as well.

May 23
what is it
    This is a "What is it?" photo I took today down at the mill pond.  I know what it is, but I'm leaving it for you to guess.  I'll show a second photo of it tomorrow...

May 24
And the answer is:
muskrat
A muskrat.  In my pre-digital days I took a  photo of a moose feeding underwater with only its shoulders above the water that was probably more puzzling...  Anyway, this muskrat answered my own question as to what was cutting willows along the shore of the mill pond.  I was hoping for beavers, since they're somehow more cool (and may yet be sighted), but muskrats will do.  And here's a bonus picture of an unusual view of a red winged black bird:
red winged black bird

May 25
     I was back in the recording studio for a couple hours today, adding banjo, harmonica, and tin whistle tracks to the new recording.  Yesterday I heard from a producer for the HGTV cable tv program, That's Clever, which is coming to Spokane and invited crafters to put in proposals.  Since I got an invitation by email (after deciding it wasn't spam or a Nigerian scam),  I put in a proposal, and was among those likely to be featured.  The producer still has to present the proposal to one higher level, so it's still a bit iffy.  If it happens, I'll be demonstrating making a berry bowl, which for some reason intrigued them...  I proposed showing how to make a disk vase, which is a bit trickier, but one goes with the flow...
    The last paragraph makes my life sound fairly illustrious in nature, but I'm well aware that neither of these events is going to catapult me to stardom.  The music project will most likely lose money, and no money has been mentioned for the tv appearance, just a link off their webpage.  That doesn't surprise me too much, since I'd never heard of HGTV (Home and Garden network) or the program before (small wonder, since we don't have cable.)  I guess I should have held out for  "Who wants to be a millionaire?"

May 26
Memorial Day weekend is busy for us, as lots of people are coming out to their cabins for the first time, with family or friends.  Fortunately my wife rearranged all the pottery yesterday so it looks great, and freed up room in the storage area so I can still make some pots without stacking them...  It was a lovely short sleeve day today...

May 27
Holiday weekends make me feel a sort of prisoner, as the wild places I like to frequent when empty have people in them on these sorts of days.  So I did some yard work and planted the second date of garden.  Although we have plenty of garden space, I couldn't resist double planting--planting corn where some rows of spinach will soon be overripe...  Our garden flowers are coming in strong now, with irises and columbine abundant, and lilacs at their best...

May 28
    Oh that weather!  Global warming, do your stuff!  It was a high of 48 today, and I've covered the tomatoes and squash with plastic bags or potting containers that will help with a light frost overnight.  Meanwhile the weather service predicts record heat (90's) by the weekend.  This is actually pretty typical Spring seesaw weather around here, except it's been drier than usual.  We got a bit of rain today, but not a deep soaker...
    In the orchard the blossoms are all gone, another marker ticked off on the annual clock.  It'll still be a week or so before the apples and pears have swollen enough to tell which ones will survive, and which need thinning.  

May 29
mallard and ducklings

    I got a little walk in down to the Mill Pond, in time to see this mother mallard and her 9 ducklings, always a heartwarming Spring picture...
    This evening I heard by phone and email that I've passed the second hurdle to being on the TV program, That's Clever.   I expect to hear the final decision within a week or so.
    Meanwhile I'm doing regular pottery stuff and I painted a sculptural wood contraption I built to hang planters from, as part of the pottery display.  I'll probably take  a picture when the flowers are looking good on it...

    And for the potters of the world: For glazes, like I imagine most potters in the world, I use the metric system, but for clay I use a spring loaded scale marked in pounds.  Every once in a while I wonder about other potters and weights of clay.  I weigh everything I make (except off the hump stuff) using pounds and fractions. All the pots I make range  from 1/8 lb to 6 lbs.  Most of the items I make are to the nearest quarter pound, such as mugs weighing 3/4, 1 lb, or 1 1/4.  A few items fall in the cracks so I make them like 5/8 lbs. The scale isn't all that accurate, but by measuring, for example, 3 lbs, then dividing it in half, and dividing each half in half again, I get fairly uniform 3/4 lb balls of clay (and considerably faster than weighing each one individually).
So this is stuff I've mostly figured out for myself over the years.
But I wonder about people who are all metric--do you make 400 gram balls for mugs, do you use fractions of kilos or decimal amounts, or how closely do you measure? Because the two systems are inherently different in proportion, I'm guessing that although we use the same amounts of clay to get similar results, we approach the weighing differently.

May 30
    It was shorts weather all day today, but never too hot.  I hiked to the top of the ridge, where you can view both the Mill Pond to one direction and the main part of the lake off to the other side.  Two red tailed hawks were circling near me to catch the thermals.  What seemed like a hairy and a downy woodpecker worked their way up the same tree.  It was a good day for a walk.

May 31
I practiced in Spokane with some friends for the CD tonight, outside till the mosquitoes started to be a bit too much.  All I'll say about the practice is that even really good musicians don't always sound great the first time through...   I mention mosquitoes because the first one of the year was sighted herelast night.  The blog from last year listed the first sighting in the first week of June.  I mention this for the Minnesota readers, who might wonder why anyone would leave Minnesota to live elsewhere...
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