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Brad's Blog

Since blogging is riding a crest of popularity, and I have time to waste, I'm introducing this as a new feature.  I've always viewed my whole webpage as a blog with actual content, but now will try adding comments to this page on a regular basis for the more ephemeral thoughts.



October 1, 2005
The clay guild of which I'm a member had an enameling workshop today with Ken Spiering, a rural Spokane artist best known for his "Radio Flyer wagon" in downtown Spokane.  This photo shows a set of 8 tiles (cut from old washing machine steel) being heated in the side loading electric kiln.
Here's a composite photo of Ken (taken at the workshop) stuck onto a photo of the wagon (in front of Ken is an appropriately sized person standing ready to slide down the "handle" of the wagon.
The workshop was well organized, as was Ken's whole arts enterprise, including his metal and wood workshop, painting studio, and living space, all in a redesigned barn.  Unfortunately, I experienced a sort of "artist's block" when it came to applying bits of enamel on a few small tiles of steel (ironic that I should choke, after decorating 100 pots per day with ease), so I got no great personal results, but enjoyed experiencing the artist, and learning about a venerable technique.

Oct. 3
    On about Sept. 30, I complained of kiln troubles. Today was the day I had to face them, but it proved to be something simple.  The problem was that one of the elements was staying on even when the switch was turned off.  With a fresh start and attitude, I soon figured out that I put the  knob on upside down, so that what should have read "medium" instead read "off."   Until now I didn't know you could put the knob on upside down--other switches that I've had have had a half-moon slot to prevent putting them on in any way but the correct one.  Since correcting the knob orientation, the kiln fired to completion successfully.

Oct. 4
In my workshop, I'm one of the sorts that like to have some music or talk radio (NPR) on in the background to feed my mind as my hands work to feed the rest of me.  Unfortunately I can then get easily distracted during the few times I need to concentrate.  The trickiest thing I have to do (besides fixing kilns) is mixing glazes.  Mixing glazes is no harder than mixing a cake from scratch--just a matter of measuring the ingredients, sifting, and stirring.  However, if I'm distracted by the radio, I can easily lose track of whether I've put in this ingredient yet, grab the wrong bucket of ingredients, etc.  Perhaps it's aging, but I've got a couple of questionable buckets of glaze right now.  The first was a bucket of black glaze, which when I finished adding ingredients, I had a sense I'd stuck in kaolin for the feldspar portion.  So instead of using it on a lot of pots, I put in a test, and the sample came out very matte, verifying my suspicion.  Since then I've been adding whiting (a flux) to soften it up and attempt to resurrect the glaze.  I was doing that today, when I puzzled that the black glaze I was adding it to seemed awfully light colored when I stirred it up.  Later I realized I'd added the flux to the wrong bucket, so now I have two questionable batches of glaze.  It's always possible they'll both turn into neat glazes, but they will be unreproducible, which limits their utility for me.

Oct. 5
    The day was notable for having some relatives from Minnesota drop in for a visit.  They included a cousin I couldn't recall meeting, unless he was a baby when I last saw him, and a couple aunts and an uncle.  They all seemed very spry.  They didn't stay long enough to wonder about feeding or housing them (always a plus when unexpected).  It also wasn't long enough to discuss memories of the old days.
    They did see Grandma Elizabeth's braid rug at the front door of our newer house, and after they left I ruminated that our new house had a few features of Grandma and Grandpa's farm--like an orchard.  Instead of wood heat, they had coal heat, in the cellar, with a big iron grate that you could bask on, and look down to the bucket hanging from a chain where water was put to humidify.  We have never been big on heating the whole house--preferring a warm core and cool sleeping rooms.  In these latter days we warm the bed with an electric blanket--in early days (both in my youth and my marriage), we would have hot water bottles to chase the cold out of the bed.
    Cold was on our minds also today as we shopped for a new woodstove to replace a pellet stove, which trickles wood pellets to make a small fire, and uses a blower to extract the heat.  The heat was never enough, and the blower noise irritating. Of course in a long winter everything gets irritating...

Oct. 6
    As a do it yourselfer, I've learned that it's not necessarily better if you do it yourself.  I learned that about car mechanics many years ago.  The handmade stoneware tile set in cement tub that we made twenty years ago finally leaked at the drain joint, resulting in a wet subfloor, and now finally a new shower.  A sign of the original craftsmanship was that the tub itself never cracked, it just leaked where the drain hooked on.  Hopefully I've learned from my past mistakes, so this one will last at least as long.  It won't be as picturesque, although it still will be mostly wood walls instead of plastic.  If it looks nice when I get done I'll take a picture.

Oct. 7
    I started the day with a two hour meeting about our Clay art guild Christmas sale.  A lot of potters have jumped on board for it--25 currently, so it's likely to have lots of pottery.  Our clay group has a mixture of subsidiary skills, including a P.R. person, and a caterer, so hopefully the affair will be as well attended as intended.
    For lunch I made apple fritters, which for us is large chunks of apple dipped in fritter batter and deep fried, as opposed to the lumpy bismark thing that some bakers call fritters.
    This afternoon I continued work on the shower, finishing the 3 sides with cedar tongue and groove.  Still plumbing and finishing work to do.  It's a good thing there's another shower available.
    This evening I made 4 more gallons of tomato puree for freezing.  The tomatoes are ripening fast under our ping pong table in the basement, so it looks like only a couple weeks more of fresh tomatoes.  We had a few late ears of corn a couple days ago, and there might still be  a meal's worth out there, although the stalks have gone brown from the frost...

Oct. 10
I've been too busy lately to blog.  We have a guest visiting from Bellingham WA, and I have a dinner set order from another person from Bellingham, and I'd like to send the dinner set with our friend to reduce breakage in shipping.  Also music and Christmas sale plans seem to require extra planning meetings currently.
Along the way, I've mostly finished the shower--applying linseed oil today to the cedar.  Here's the way it looks:

It still needs the shower curtain and the ceramic soapholder.  The board on the left hides and protects showerers from the hot water pipe behind it, and also serves as a storage area for shampoos.  After installing the plumbing, suddenly the bathroom sink water pressures for hot and cold became very low, which I correctly attributed to some junk getting knocked loose when doing some plumbing.
I should have taken a clue from the fact that both hot and cold diminished at once...  I took apart the faucet and supply tubes before figuring out it was just the screen on the aerator where the water comes out...

Oct. 11
Our chickens are now laying 6 eggs per day.  It took me while, but I finally tired of trying every day to locate the pie plate I was feeding them in, under the layers of litter that they kick around daily.  So today I added a trough up high enough that hopefully they won't kick it full of litter.  I cleaned the litter out yesterday (you know it's time when it gets so sticky they aren't kicking it about any more, and it starts getting warm from compost action as well.)  Another innovation was using the fall leaves from the yard as the litter for the chickens.  They inevitably eat bits of the litter when it's new, and the leaves may even be nutritious.  We also used some mown grass for that purpose last summer.

Oct. 12
When you get a call after midnight, you expect someone has died.  In this instance, though, it was more like a James Thurber story.  My son called to say that Grandma had fallen down and there was water shooting everywhere.  Whoa! Two nightmares at once.  We rushed over to the other house, where Grandma was in the bathroom.  Since she's senile, it's impossible to know exactly what happened, but she was apparently wandering in the night with a copy of the children's book, "Birds in the sky."  We know this because when I opened the lid on the toilet, there was the book, secreted there just above the water level.  Apparently after depositing the book there (everyone's a critic), she lost her balance, and grabbed onto the toilet water supply as she fell, pulling it loose.  So my wife dealt with the Grandma problem and I dealt with the plumbing.
Grandma's basically okay, a little sore...  The plumbing is dripping a little, awaiting more patience on my part.

Oct. 13
I recorded a CD today, in three hours.  The recording engineer said most people might get 5 songs recorded in 3 hours. I did about a dozen, including several repeat takes and multiple tracks.  It's an album of familiar and less-so Christmas hymns on folk instruments.  I'll make a web page about it when it's ready.  It's both fun and stressful to record.  Part of me hears the meter ticking as I'm paying by the hour, and thinking about how long he'll take mixing, which also I pay for by the hour...  As much as I like music, it's a nonprofit activity for me, mostly playing free venues, and eventually selling enough CD's to pay for the cost of recording another. I've sometimes thought of adding "Master of the unprofitable arts" as a signature to my emails, since I early on honed in on the poorest ways to get rich--art, music, writing.

Oct. 14
Well, yes, I did perform today with Musicians Anonymous.  And yes, I should be more picky about where we play.  On the other hand, judging by how we sounded, it's probably the best sort of place we should play at.  Parlor music doesn't translate easily to playing outside to miniscule audiences by a busy highway.
Anyway, the weather wasn't bad, as I had expected it to be (highs had been in the 50's this week, but made it to 70 for our performance).  So in many ways, it could have been worse.  Like there could have been lots of people hearing us perform erratically...

My son harvested the apple crop today.  He was willing, so I encouraged him.  These are the same apples I'm on a first name basis with, having hand thinned their unluckier siblings several times early in the season.  So it was a little difficult emotionally for me to just let him pick them, but when your son is willing to do some work, go with it, and emotional attachments be damned...  Now we have about 175 lbs. of apples, with prospects for lots of pie and sauce.  They could have hung there longer, but they were starting to get "water core" too much juice in the middle, probably due to the two and a half inches of rain we've had in the last month.

Oct. 15

Every day is special when you see a moose. I was walking from our house to the pottery shop this morning when I saw this cow moose, in the middle of a block.  I ran home and got the camera, snapped a couple shots, then went to tell our friend who is visiting (and into wildlife), but it had moved on before we got back there, so I led her on a "wild moose chase."
Moose are becoming more common in our area, but it'd been about 10 years since I've seen one, so they're not that common.  One got into a city park in Spokane this summer, but again, that's unusual.

 Oct. 17  I had a "challenge to competency" moment today.  I suppose if I'm competency challenged, that implies I'm incompetent. I'll leave it up to the reader:
My new cell phone started beeping, announcing it needed charging, so I plugged it in, left it, and returned to find it hadn't recharged.  It had fallen out of my pocket the other day, but nothing seemed wrong when that happened.  But since that had happened, I guessed that the recharging part had, perhaps, been damaged.  We have two identical phones and chargers, so I first tried the other charger.  Still nothing.
Since the phone was only two months old, I thought I'd better return it.  Whether you use a telephone or the internet to try to contact any company, there are at least 3 rings of purgatory involved, often cleverly leading to dead ends or back to the beginning, without even dealing with a minimally paid human on the other end.  The web page offered in a FAQ (list of Frequently Asked Questions), that if the battery is dead, the solution is to charge it.  The web site also made clear that if you want to return it, it has to be in its original container with a copy of the sales invoice (both of which are easier to require than to produce when needed).
    So I was doinking around with it, having decided I could charge my battery in my son's phone, when I discovered the battery wouldn't charge in my son's phone either!  What is this, a conspiracy?
    Then I got out my magnifying glass to study where I was plugging in the charger.  On the side opposite, a slightly smaller hole was labeled 5V, which I quickly guessed meant that's where to stick the charger.  I'd been trying to stick the charger in the headphone jack.
    One could argue that it's bad design to have two places so similar for the connection.  The fancier phones have a fancier hookup that can only go one way.  Or one could agree that, yes, Brad is getting a bit "competency challenged" nowadays.

Oct. 18-19
It's a rare moment when my wife is gone visiting, my son is gone to acrobatic training (for ski jumping), so I'm just here with my senile mother-in-law.  It's not exactly a "wow--a bit of wonderful freedom" sort of moment, but still rare.
Yesterday I picked up the first copy of my Christmas CD. I've listened to it as background a few times, but now I need to check it track by track and do the final editing.  I got it just before going to my dentist, who, including the hygienist, are fans of my acoustic guitar CD's.  They tolerated having the Christmas music on (as early as this) as background music while cleaning my teeth (and why not--some of the stores are already full of Christmas stuff...)  The dentist asked how many CD's I'd sold in the last year, and I guessed around 50.  My son also got his teeth cleaned and checked yesterday, and between the two of us the profit of the last year's CD sales were pretty much consumed.  But I've already complained of being "master of the unprofitable arts" this month, so I'll resist from whining...  I'm happy not to have to look in people's mouths all day.

Oct. 21
Okay, the Christmas CD is done (I manufactured 20 in an hour), but I've been too busy to make a webpage for it yet.
Fall chores have been calling, as temperatures have been falling.  I painted one end of the new tool shed today, and sawed up scrap wood with a chop saw.  Yesterday I rooted out a large section of raspberries that had become unproductive, and there's still all the rest that need the old canes removed and the new growth trimmed. One thing about a lot of fall chores is that if the snow comes, they wait patiently and become spring chores, at which point being outside and raking or whatever seem like privileges after the long winter...  My wife has started collecting bags of leaves for mulching our garden.  We don't necessarily even rake the leaves in our yard, preferring the nutrients to return to the yard directly, but we do pick up the bags from friends and neighbors, and spread them on the garden.  The only thing left to harvest now is carrots, some of which can survive the winter if covered with a good insulating layer of leaves.

PS
This evening I got a nice note from Linda from Australia, who writes, "I have chooks like you and can't eat them as they are my pets. I am an amateur potter of around 23 yrs practice. I don't sell much and just do it as a creative outlet as there is not much of a market around here anyway, but that's o.k. with me." She says she has enjoyed reading the blog.  From my webstatistics I know there are about 10 people per day reading the blog--it would be fun if any regular readers might email with a bit about themselves to share with the "group."  In some internet circles this is referred to as "unlurking."  Being introverted by nature, I certainly will understand if you don't want to, but if you do, drop me a note at brad2@sondahl.com

Oct 22
No replies beyond Linda's, yet, but I would like to hear from readers...

I just finished adding the "Bethlehem's Journey"CD to my webpages, including a free sample of Hark the Herald Angels Sing...

I also was inspired when back in Minnesota at my mother's, seeing some early sculptures I'd made which allowed for growing plants as part of the sculpture.  So I'm resurrecting the idea--having fun with wheelthrown pieces assembled into sculpture, but still remaining in the functional realm making them planters.

Living where we do, to go see an actual movie is about a thirty mile trip each way.  This evening my son and I went to see the latest Warren Miller ski movie, only to find the show sold out.  Other years it's been crowded, but never sold out.  I think it's a sign of how our area is growing, particularly in Sandpoint, where the ski film was showing.

Oct. 26
I was peeling apples today to dry them over the kiln, and thinking of how it takes longer to peel the apples for a pie than for a group to eat the pie.  The old image of Mom and apple pie includes Mom peeling the apples.  Part of the reason the imagery is old is that Mom probably figured out the same thing I did, and that it mostly wasn't worth it, working two hours to see something consumed in 5 minutes...
But what makes it worth it for me is if the apples were grown on your own tree, without chemicals, and the dried apples will store longer than the fresh apples.

In the same way that making an apple pie requires hidden effort, everything in the garden requires some of that sort of work.  Primeval humans figured out growing their own grain was easier than searching out small pockets of edible grains.  Modern humans figure out it's easier to eat at a fast food restaurant, but easier isn't healthiest...  So the last couple days I've been doing tasks like thinning, trimming,  and removing the old canes from the raspberries.  I was also preparing a new bed to transplant some raspberries, when I broke the shovel trying to pry up a tree root (always a good time to stop, when the shovel breaks).

The weather has switched to rainy and cold also, which means I may not be back in the garden for a while.  Knowing that yesterday might be the last good day for a while, I stopped down to our lake to see if there were any interesting migrating waterfowl.  The camera immediately started running out of batteries, but I got some photos of the first muskrats I've seen in our lake.  We used to have beavers, who dug long canals in the pond to have them deep enough for their own purposes.  Anyway, here's the muskrat:

Oct. 27
Today I heard from Bert from Texas, and Liz from Louisiana, who both read the blog regularly and got interested in my site from their pottery interests.  I also shipped a set of pottery DVD's to Malaysia and Alaska in the last couple days, all proving how worldwide the web really is...

This evening I took a bag down to our second garden to get some carrots, and while walking around noticed moose prints in the garden.  It seems very fond of Swiss chard, which I've mostly had to write off as deer favor it also, and probably shouldn't plant it again, as it may attract them.  I also discovered a couple pints of pea sized grapes on our grape vine, which had hidden them until now in its dense foliage.  The grapes are small, I think, because our climate isn't best suited for grape production (or else I didn't water the vine enough).  Grapes are worth having just for watching them grow in the late spring...   Anyway I put the grapes in the bag I brought for the carrots, so I could only handle them and a couple carrots while riding to the pottery shop on my bicycle.

This was also the day my wife finally took a Chicago style hot dog to the Post Falls Eastern Orthodox priest, from our Spirit Lake hot dog stand (run by an ex Chicagoan).  This event took several weeks of planning, synchronizing schedules, and finding occasionally that at critical moments the hot dog stand was closed.  The priest said the hot dog was good.  This  illustrates how worldwide the world really is.

Oct. 28
It was rainy today, and so, even though I'm practically out of clay, I didn't make the 35 mile drive to go pick up my clay order.  Instead I doinked around doing some figure sculpture with some scrap clay.  Besides the little figurines of animals that I turn out occasionally, I haven't done any figure sculpture since college, and I didn't like to do it then.  Looking at the results a few minutes ago, I understand why.  The human form is generally used for sculpture classes because it's both the most familiar-- and the most demanding-- to create.
I once heard that most people's artistic abilities essentially freeze at about the 4th or 5th grade level.  I'm sure that's true for me, as I can't draw or sculpt realistically in spite of wishing I could once in a while.  This is why I was drawn to pottery and photography, which don't require representational input.
Well, yes, pottery does have to resemble whatever it's functioning as, and yes, I've learned to do that through endless repetition.  But I don't have to make it look like a human face, only an occasional cartoon bunny.
So since I've taken up sculpture in spite of all this, I find my talents are basically where they were 30 years ago, and there's even a continuity of ideas.  Besides the planter/sculpture combination, I also enjoyed making gerbil castles, and sure enough, after making a couple figure sculptures, I threw some pieces to assemble into a rodent palace tomorrow.
A couple days ago I got the idea of wacky wall trophies, so I made a three horned alien head that could be mounted on a wall plaque.  This is easier than making human faces because aliens look different (except the pod people and government infiltrators :-) ).

Oct. 29
Rainy again today, so I had to balance doing a minimum of pottery work with watching our local football team (WSU) get trounced by number 2 USC.  Then this evening my wife and I moved the wood shop to the basement, from its garage home.  This is a trade from poor lighting and cold winter conditions to good lighting, heat, and spreading dust all over with the power tools...  I'm looking forward to getting it organized and making a display for the (now) 8 CD's and two DVD's I keep trying to market.

Oct. 30
I went to practice with my Musicians Anonymous group today, leaving my wife to work outside in the cold on the new pottery display area (her project), and to deal with the guy bringing firewood (her project too, except I saw the ad first).  There were some cold hard realities at practice today as well.  Besides the fact that we seldom manage to play a song the same way twice (even when we want to), our autoharpist's (Toodie's) father is on the verge of death in Texas, so she'll likely miss our concert at the Fall Folk Festival next weekend.  This is a minor consideration for her at this point, but those of us left behind have to make do with 3/4's of a semifunctional band.  In the band, besides adding some lovely melodic strumming on many of the songs, Toodie provides the steady rhythm that keeps us from sounding like an agitated washing machine.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Oct. 31
I got the clay shipment today in spite of a light rain.  Today was the best forecast for the week, as by midweek it might be snow.  I get my clay and other supplies from Seattle.  A long time ago an easy conduit was established for shipping to this area, from the Litehouse salad dressing company in Sandpoint, which hauls freight back after taking salad dressing around the area.  The only catch is that I have to pick up the clay in Sandpoint.  I usually order 3000 lbs at a time, which is more than our van alone can handle, so I bring along a trailer as well.  When the pallet was brought out to me this morning, only the clay was there, not the other glaze materials and kiln shelves that I'd ordered.  I suspected that there must be a second pallet, and had an interesting bureaucratic experience of being passed off to several levels of employees before anyone actually looked in the warehouse (where the pallet with the materials was obvious).
So getting my clay took about 70 miles of driving and two and a half hours.  It also involved moving all the material from the shipping pallet to the van or trailer by hand, then moving them again (with the aid of a wheelbarrow and wagon) to the pottery workshop.  In all it's the hardest work involved in potting, and I usually get any of my family around involved in the process.  In this case, I was planning to do it myself, as my wife needed the van to take and get the studded tires on it, and she'd hurt her shoulder with some of her masonry work.  Instead she claimed to be all better and helped move the clay.



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