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Brad's Blog

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Books read  this month:
Books read this month
What's so Funny?by Donald Westlake
Alias the Catby Kim Deitch
In Honey's Roomby Elmore Leonard
The Pirate's Mixed Up Voyageby Margaret Mahy
The Last Colonyby John Scalzi

   Oct. 1
       We were traveling with a tour group mostly of Midwesterners, and as we went towards Rothenburg, it was frequently remarked that the landscape resembled Wisconsin or Minnesota--rolling green hills, farms with corn, large round bales of hay, etc.  There were also familiar
invasive weeds like scotch broom, tansy, etc. Even the church steeples would sometimes look similar, since many German immigrants copied the styles of their former home churches. But the roofs of the houses were mostly red tile (instead of steel or composition as we have), and occasional really old buildings would stand out as we drove by.
Rothenburg DE
    Rothenburg was a medieval walled city, complete with drawbridge (and scary face with portal to pour hot pitch on the enemies), and perfectly restored by the revenue of a million or more tourists that visit it each year.  As we walked up the hill from the bus parking area, the streets were lined with souvenir shops. But fortunately the central historic district was still quite scenic, and not overwhelmed by its tourist success.   This town had several clock towers, including the one featuring the legend of the mayor downing a huge beer to stave off an invasion (sort of a challenge by the opposition).  The clock pictured is more sedate, but I choose the picture as showing the ancient charm throughout the walled city...

Wurzberg
Oct. 2
Wurzburg was a testimonial to overcoming the ravages of war.  This view, from the grounds of what was the center of church and secular authority in medieval times, shows a few fine old buildings in a progressive downtown which was mostly rebuilt after Allied shelling leveled it in 1945.  (It was reported by our guide that Rothenburg was spared because an American commander was aware of the historical treasure of its architecture).  The downtown area was the most modern that we were to visit--electric lines for trams and buses strung above the major streets, and various street cars coming almost continuously through the downtown area.  But they chose to restore most of the buildings in their antique style, which was commendable.
    Our tour concluded with a winetasting in the basement of a huge palace built to rival Versailles in France.  The wine cellar was loaded with 10 foot high casks, one of the largest and oldest working wineries of Europe.  It was all lit romantically with candles, and there were many stories of  winedrinking, and the shares preserved for the priests.  Several of us, not so alcoholically inclined, wished we could have stayed in the gardens behind the palace which we wobbled past on the way to the bus...
   
Oct. 3
Marienbad
    On our bus trip to Prague, we stopped for lunch in Marienbad, just over the Czech border from Germany.  The name often rings a bell because of a movie using that name (which I think I've seen but don't remember).  Like Bad Kissengen, the baths and springs were its call to fame.  During the communist era, it clearly lost its cachet, but now with tourism reviving, the stately 5 story facades around the central park square are being restored.  These buildings made quite an impression on me at the time, but when we arrived in Prague, buildings like this seemed the norm.  
    While eating lunch here, my mother only ordered soup, and had the waitress scowl and take away her cloth napkin in favor of those of us ordering more substantial fare...  It was always interesting encountering small differences in culture...  Cloth napkins and cloth tablecloths were the norm, even in the sidewalk cafes.  We saw a lot of Burger Kings and MacDonalds, but usually only from the bus at the periphery of the towns.  Aside from our tour group, most of the people in Bad Kissengen  were Germans, enjoying eating out and shopping at the market in a way that has changed little in a hundred years.


Prague
Prague was the reason originally for the trip, as my well traveled mother had never been there.  It was  indeed impressive, but on the whole our situation was better in the small town of Bad Kissengen.  Partially this was the hotel--in Prague we were in a 25 story hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the City, and fairly isolated by a major road and a goodly distance to downtown.  We did ride the Metro one day to tour downtown at a pace suitable to 80 year olds.  The day before I'd scoped out the scene with a guided walking tour, including the palace and cathedral shown in the background of the photo above, and the Charles Bridge (pictured) and Old Town center, so I led them to the best easily accessible areas.
    The palace and cathedral are both impressive and beautiful structures.  The cathedral seemed a melding of church and state, with tableaus of city history depicted as well as Christian themes.  The palace entrance was flanked with harsh sculptures of foes being decisively vanquished--a vivid version of the glory more commonly and subtly displayed with neoRoman architecture.
    Being a city of over a million, it was astonishing to see how much of Prague was 100 year old 5 story brick buildings, rather than the glass and steel skyscrapers more common to most city centers.  Many of the old buildings looked weather beaten and gang signed, but in the center of the city things were kept neat and clean for the many tourists that flock there.  Being a medieval city, narrow cobbled streets without any discernable grid pattern  were the norm, which made navigating a bit tricky, although there were often signs pointing to major tourist sites to help remain oriented.
    Part of my enjoyment of Prague was tempered by the record low exchange rates for the Czech currency (and Euro).  As a result, eating out would cost $20 for a small plate of spaghetti and a glass of water.  This was partially from eating in the tourist district, but with the language issues (no discernable common words), we benefited from the English menus available at the tourist cafes...
    In the photo, you can see the bridge is covered with people on the top, including two rows of vendors, buskers, and a steady flow of tourists.  I'm not much of a shopper, so when I started seeing wax museums, souvenir shops, and huge crowds, I started to feel a bit managed, like Yellowstone Park feels like a zoo.  But then, great and worthy sights draw inevitable crowds, so that is the price one pays...

Oct. 5
European birds
My last European journal is on the birds I saw (and didn't see, such as American robins).  Most of the places I visited were pretty urban, so a number of the common city birds like pigeons, magpies,  and English sparrows were to be expected.  I also saw chickadees.  Of the birds I photographed above, I don't know what the two top ones are.  The black swan was by a white one, and I mostly assume swans to be tame ones raised by communities (Prague had dozens in their river). The gray bird on the right is, I think, a moorhen, listed as common in my North American bird book, though I'd never seen one before, and the one on the bottom is a coot, which looks identical to the American coot listed in my book, and probably is, since it was with lots of mallards, which I think are also North American.  The coots and moorhens don't have true webbed feet, but feet with little flat extensions to either side, which seem to serve them as well.
    I would have had to take a different trip to see the real diversity of European species.   As it was, it seemed more the same to my American experience than I would have guessed.  It whets my apetite to someday see extremely different ecologies, such as Australia, Asia, and Africa represent.  But I've had enough traveling for the present.  Now if only my internal clock would get back on local time...
Footnote:  Lyle Lofgren writes: "the chickadee is called a Coal Tit in Europe. In comparing the top two pictures with my copy of Heinzel, Fitter & Parslow's "The Birds of Britain and Europe," I think they're a Jackdaw and a White Wagtail."

Oct. 6
So back home while I was gone, the weather turned rainy, ending the fire season, and starting the winter wheat for the farmers.  The carrots in our garden had been growing little hairs in search of moisture--hopefully now that will stop.  There's a fall cornucopia of garden foods briefly, with peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, and potatoes from the garden, and apples, pears, and grapes from the orchard.  Our smallest dwarf apple tree yielded two boxes of apples--the largest red and yellow delicious trees will probably yield 6 boxes each.
    The heating season started with the rain, so we're now having fires about half the day.  We still need to get a couple cords of wood before winter.  We have some wood from a friend available for taking, but it's an hour and a half drive each way...
    Since today was Saturday, I made turtles and rabbits and crosses in the pottery.  The crosses were an order, and the figurines are a low priority item, but one that doesn't require clean up work the next day, which in this case is Sunday, when I prefer not to work. They were all made of porcelain clay, which I reserve for figurine use as it looks best and works best for small figures.
    I've been having trouble with my stoneware clay for about a year.  The clay I use is mixed from various clays from around the country by a supplier in Seattle.  Once, years before, I got some which had feldspar chunks which would melt out in the firing, forming little pimples through the glaze.  Something similar happens too frequently currently, leaving little sharp bits sticking up, one or two per pot, which can generally be carefully fixed, but cause a lot of irritation for me.  The key to successful production is the controlling of variables.  So if I change my clay, the glazes may not fit as well, or the colors of everything will most likely change, so I'm not eager to change.  The last two shipments have had this problem, so I don't think the clay supplier is likely to fix it on their own.  But it's a subtle thing--I rolled out a clay sample hoping to see the effect when firing it without glaze, but very little was noticeable.   I'm tempted to switch suppliers, but that would mean changing supplies of all the other raw materials, which introduces more variables...  Ah, the joys of being a self employed business person...

Oct. 7
There's work, and then there's work.  While I prefer not to do pottery work on Sunday, I do have a potter's group coming for lunch tomorrow, so I spent a good share of the afternoon cleaning.  The day was overcast and misty, so I never took a walk, which I'm beginning to miss.  It's unfortunate that the flow of the seasons inevitably leads one inside  in the fall, where baking makes great sense for warming the house, but also the consumption of said goods results in lassitude and weight gains.  I only baked granola today, in addition to making chili from scratch...

Oct. 8
buskers
I cooked two kinds of soup and fresh buns, and demonstrated decorating pots on the wheel to the potter's group (of 11) today.

    While on the trip to Europe, I was always interested in the street musicians, or buskers, which were generally ignored by the travel guide.  They ranged from a semiclassical group playing Mozart on accordion outside the palace in Prague, to the one man bands shown on the left.   The small inset was really the equivalent of an organ grinder, not a musician, on the Charles Bridge in Prague.  The foreground musician had rhythm instruments tied on with the green kerchiefs, and clearly was playing up his idiosyncratic nature...  The musicians on the right, on the Charles Bridge in Prague, were playing fairly straightforward Dixieland jazz, although the horn attached around the shoulder to the fiddle made it a bit unusual.  
    Spokane has a dearth of street musicians, except for one weekend in the summer when a newspaper columnist recruits them for collecting for charity.  I think I'd enjoy doing it, if I didn't expect harassment from the police.   I'm pretty sure two of the three groups pictured were paying, like nearby artisans, for a space on the bridge...  Anyway, I think the free music, with or without contributions, is a great addition to a cityscape.

Oct. 9
Autumn Spirit Lake Idaho
I went into to Spokane today to deliver a pottery order and go to the library.  I ran into a musical friend, who asked why I had my camera.  I talked about it being a beautiful day, and how I like to photograph downtown Spokane, and that was all true.  But afterwards I thought, I take my camera to make me see.
I haven't hunted animals since I was a boy, but I think it's like when you have a gun walking in the woods, you're alert for game in a way that's totally different than without a gun.  So the camera gives you a way to "bag" whatever you see, and when I have my camera, I make much more effort to be aware of my surroundings for their intrinsic beauty than I would without the camera.
That said, I didn't see anything Downtown today that would have improved on previous Downtown photos. but I did take this photo of the colors turning on the ridge viewed out the back door of our Spirit Lake cabin.  Since many of our trees are evergreens, we don't get the bright displays of the Midwest and Northeast, but a while later the Tamaracks (or larches) turn golden before losing their needles.  Currently it's mostly cottonwoods and maples turning gold in the photo.
   This was reportedly our one day of summer's return, with rain predicted for tomorrow again.
    I made things with knobs in the pottery today--casseroles and dometopped butter dishes.  At the potter's group yesterday, others  reported current bad clay experiences as well, which helps me feel better when I soon have to negotiate whether to try another load from the pottery supplier.

Oct. 10  Do you ever look at a star performer or athlete and think, "it's too bad they're obsessive?..."  No, you probably don't, but you should.  The athletes that get caught doing steroids or Human Growth Hormone, the classical musician, the rock diva, all had to be obsessed to do what it took to get there.  It's little wonder so many of them burn out, like the Lindsey Lohans and Britney Spears of this generation, or Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix of mine.  
I'm only writing about this because I'm sort of obsessive, but my obsessions are spread too thin to help me succeed in any of my endeavors.  I mean, it obviously took a lot of practice to learn to make pots like I do, or play guitar like I do.  But in neither instance do I have the combination of skill and whatever else it takes to stand out above the host of my fellow musicians and potters.  But it's okay--I'd rather settle for balance, than obsession and fame...
What brought this all to mind is that I agreed to play next week one set to start a jam at a Spokane pizza parlor.  And weeks can go by without playing guitar if I'm busy with other things, like going to Europe.  (I went to Europe as a young man, and carried a guitar along with me, along with a backpack, parking them both in youth hostels while seeing the sights by day, playing in the evening).  You do lose a few bits of skill by not practicing, but the most important thing you lose is callous on your fingers.  Without callouses, guitar playing soon becomes a painful experience, particularly if you don't use picks, like me.  So I'm trying to play daily again, to get back in shape for performance.
    That included going to Savageland Pizza tonight to check out the setup for next week, and join in the jam for 2 hours.  It was a fun group, and more fun than listening to myself...

Oct. 11
 I mentioned a few days ago about the importance of controlling variables for successful production.  The limits of that are that you never go outside your safe zone.  
    When I started as a potter, the clay suppliers had about a dozen clay bodies to choose from in the cone 8-10 range, including porcelain and several shades of stoneware.  So I went  with the cheapest white stoneware, since a light body makes glazes brighter, and that's what I've used for 30 years.  The downside of that included a gritty finish on the pot bottoms, which I've dutifully sanded to make it smoother, with a special abrasive stone the supplier sells.  I've known there are smoother clay bodies, but felt that this one was okay.  So the recent troubles I've had with clay have thrown the ball in the air again, enabling me to look farther afield than I've considered for years.  There are a couple continental clay companies (one from Canada), but with shipping they remain pretty expensive.  The clay supplier that I'm having trouble with has about 40 locally mixed clays, some of which may be do not have the ingredient causing the trouble I'm having, or the rough pot bottoms.  So I may switch clays and actually end up happier.  I still have to talk to the clay supplier...
    It reminds me of the issues related to genetic diversity in crops, where as more of the world switches to a few lines of corn or whatever, due to genetic engineering or other enhanced yield techniques,  the genetic monoculture means the whole crop could become susceptible to a blight or disease, like the Irish Potato famine.  Only a few farsighted researchers in the world are working to preserve a wide variety of germ plasm which would be necessary to find the genes which might stave off the disease.
    So I've been monoculturing my clay, and it's probably time to diversify...

Oct. 12
  A favorite poem of mine is A.A. Milnes' The Old Sailor, which was in a Better Homes and Gardens collection from my youth.  (You can find it by googling Milne and Old Sailor)     The gist of the poem is, there's this shipwrecked sailor, who figures out a lot of things he needs to do for survival , but can't decide which to do first, so he just lies on the beach and takes it easy till he's saved.
    I've got a pretty long list of things to do before winter, but then we got our latest upgrade of cell phones, and I frittered away the afternoon, first getting them set up, then learning about the new features.  In the end, all I gain is a camera, since we don't want to pay for web access, music downloads, and  other entertainment options.  Mostly we want them for phones...

Oct. 13
    I took a bike ride around the Mill Pond today.  This included riding on the spongy dried lake bottom, and carrying the bike over fallen trees and on steep trails. I found a muskrat or beaver lodge I'd never noticed before, including the canals they dig for low water times, although the lake is low enough that they were dry.  I took some pictures, but they all seemed overexposed.  So I dug out my manual, and found how to change the default exposures, which I'd set to allow more light when photographing indoors at the last Folk Festival (a year ago).  This is just one way I prove I'm not a professional photographer, like forgetting the extra memory at the motel so I didn't get any photos at my son's wedding.  Still I managed to get a few good photos through the last year, in spite of my unmastery of the camera...

Oct. 14
        This was the first year we had enough pears off our own trees to preserve, so I canned 27 quart jars today (one blew up in processing--it happens...).  We still have about 30 pounds refrigerated pears to eat fresh (not to mention hundreds of pounds of apples still on the trees).  Since the canning took all afternoon, I conceived a simple supper that didn't require much stovetop use, since the canning takes up most of the stovetop.  I wrapped skinned chicken breasts in aluminum foil with a little soy sauce, and baked them in the 400 degree oven for an hour with potatoes from the garden.  We  had  home frozen sweet corn, fresh carrots and grapes we grew as well.  
    From what I saw of it, it was a nice fall day, although frosty this morning...

Oct 15
    We were given a cord of wood earlier by a friend, but it usually takes two cords to heat through the winter, so I ordered some off a notice at the grocery and it was delivered today.  I like to buy locally, since it helps support the local bars.  ;-).  One of the two sturdy  older ladies who unloaded the wood from the pickup said, "This is what I went to college 6 years for?"  
    When we used to live at 25 Mile Creek, half way up 50 mile long Lake Chelan in Washington, we would get our own wood, with a 1965 truck and a 65 chainsaw (and this was 1980).   From our place we could drive straight up steep 25 Mile Creek about 10 miles to a burn area where there was lots of wood lying around.  One of the times we finished loading only to discover the brakes were out on the truck.  So we used the low gears on the truck to get us all the way home.   (Another time, a few years earlier, we were using the gears to slow us with a load of wood going down a pass, and the engine threw a rod).  By the way, it turned out a lot of the wood we got was punky--we were greenhorns for sure.
    Anyway, life's a lot tamer now--I mostly prefer to get my wood delivered, and my car worked on by professionals.  They're sticking in these natural gas lines around town, and a lot of neighbors are jumping to hook on, but besides the cost of converting to gas appliances, we're happy with heating with wood, which creates a warm core of the house, and cool bedrooms.  They both create CO2 emissions--theoretically wood is sustainable, and there's still plenty of it around here (lumber trucks rumble by each day).
    The gold standard for wood hereabouts is Buckskin |Tamarack, which means larch wood with the bark removed (buckskin) by standing dead a long time.  After that Red Fir is right in the running, and it was the fir I bought today, for $160.  A couple years ago it would have been $120.  Last year I bought mixed (pine and whatnot) for $125, but the extra heat produced by red fir makes the extra expense worth it.
    One last wood anecdote.  We bought a used modern airtight EPA stove when we moved back to Spirit Lake a few years ago, replacing the Monarch wood cookstove that had dominated our kitchen previously.   The cookstove was  a work of genius, including pipes for hot water on the left side of the firebox (which we unfortunately wrecked by leaving them unconnected), and the traditional water reservoir on the right side of the oven, for dipping in.  For years I'd wash clothes by siphoning the hot water out of the reservoir into an old  wringer washer on the porch.  Anyway, the genius part of the cook stove was the way the hot gases from the fire would be forced down around the whole oven, and out the back, making it so efficient at extracting heat that you could usually put your hand on the chimney pipe coming out of the stove.  The only drawback was the small firebox, which wouldn't hold a fire more than an hour or so, making feeding it in cold weather a steady chore.  

Oct. 16
    The weather is headed towards rainy with snow in the mountains.  We've started our apple harvest.  Looks like it's apples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner this year, with  400 lbs. or more of them likely.   We'll be looking to give some away...  Instead of salads we're just eating fruits with our meals.  Salads were mostly an invention of the 20th Century anyway, as I understand it, for most of us northerners anyway.
    Back to wood anecdotes.  When we lived in Minnesota, home of seriously cold winters, we were living in a wood heated granary with no running water and no back up source of heat.  Returning from our honeymoon, the train was 6 hours late, and our roommate, who had been keeping the place warm, was stuck in the Twin Cities waiting for us, so we were greeted with a frozen house on our arrival.
    I think it was that winter that we saw a sign by the side of the road for free wood, so we dug into the snow and brought home some willow, which was cut green, and tended to put a fire out if added too soon. The leftovers next spring sprouted.
    So we helped a friend move to the Pac. NW with our drafty beat up old truck, and stopped in Spokane to visit my wife's family.  I was amazed by the low wood prices, and felt we had to get a load to take back to Minnesota.  It was a good idea, but the extra weight proved too much for the old truck, and coming down from the Continental Divide in Montana, we threw a rod and had to leave the truck and wood there and take the bus home.
    So times have gotten considerably better, but we're still heating with wood, nonetheless.

Oct. 17
    I finished the apple harvest today, and stored away some of the best (golden delicious) in some of our various refrigerators.  
    Sondahl and Hawkins played to start the jam at Savageland Pizza tonight.  Most of the audience was pickers, and family of pickers.  They were politely attentive and positive, but it's still a pretty noisy environment to play at.  The best venues are quiet and attentive, and have paid you lots of money to perform, but I guess one out of three isn't bad...

Oct. 18
    When the potters group was here a few days ago, one of them asked if it's hard to keep making pottery day- in day- out.  I replied that it's sometimes like jumping into a cold lake to swim (which I mostly don't enjoy), but that things like orders keep me going when I'd otherwise put it off.  I have a Godchild who has been considering pottery as a career, and while doing a potter's residency this summer she realized she didn't really enjoy making pots all the time.   
    A frequent customer comment is, "You must love making pottery--it's so fun."  I mostly throw cold water on their fantasies by pointing out that anything you do as a job is A JOB.  I think I am mostly happy with pottery as a career, but I wouldn't be able to stick with it without having something to think about while making 50 of this or that pots.  That is particularly driven home to me during public radio's pledge drives, during which time I  listen to recorded music while working (Fall pledge drive just ended).
    The thought I had today was that it's impossible for me to have a "potter's block" like a "writer's block," because most of what I do with pottery is not a creative process. Nearly all the pots I make are repeats of designs created years ago.  I may not feel like working, but sit me down at the potter's wheel and I can make pots.   This is one of the distinctions between craft potters and artist potters--craftpersons repeat, artists try for the individual result.  Good craft will help produce better art, just as good art will inspire better craft.
    
Oct. 19
    After the potter's group planning meeting today, I was invited to see a new pottery workshop one of the members was building, to give advice.
    I didn't know the person previously--she hadn't been to many of the meetings.  So I didn't really know what to expect.  I did know her address was one of the better neighborhoods of our county.  I guess she knew of me at least by reputation.
    So first she showed me around her house, which is very nice, and was in process of  having the bathrooms redone in granite.  It was a lakefront house, including, I'm told, a tram to get down the steep hill to the beach.  Then everywhere in the house the walls were covered with beautiful original art, including some famous local artists, and some realistic painters from the 1800's whose names I should have known from art history. Some of the art was also hers or her husband's (who took up painting a couple years ago).  They both enjoy playing piano, including a grand piano, a harpsichord, and a pump organ in their living area (all of which would probably get me playing keyboards more again, if I had them).  Finally we went across the street to their supplemental cottage, where her clay studio is taking shape in a double garage.  There was little I could offer except encouragement, which she accepted graciously.
    So there I was, hobnobbing with the hoi polloi.  I actually also have some lake view property now, but there is still a large gulf between us in our fiscal realms...  So afterwards I wondered if that's what I'm aiming for here.  I wish everyone could have a lake- or riverview--water appears different continously, and is a major source of visual delight.  In fact, most of the artwork on their walls paled with the beauty of the picture windows overlooking Hayden Lake.   When I was doing painting (college), I covered the walls of my dorm room with my paintings, because they made me happy to see them.  In our pottery house, there was hardly ever any wall space not used in hanging clothes or bookshelves--there are mostly ski posters stuck up on the few flat spots.  But I do like original art...  Chances are I will remain land rich and cash poor, so no major life upgrades are likely.  But it was a nice visit.

Oct. 20
    Television is rapidly merging with the Internet.  We only get one channel on TV, but because our provider has a deal with ESPN (the site is ESPN360.com), we can watch 4 or 5 college football games at once on the computer.  There are fewer ads, and you can pause the game and catch up with it later, as well as watch many other games after they are over.  One of the ads has football announcers pretending to be potters, covering pottery like it's a sports event (which I should probably be incensed at their treating pottery so cavalierly, but actually I found it pretty amusing).  This has multiplied the possibilities of wasting time on Saturdays, including even watching a game on TV and another on the Internet simultaneously.  So guess what my son and I did today...  
    Aside from that I still found time to work in the pottery workshop most of the morning, and dig some potatoes and carrots this afternoon.  It's been raining a lot the last few days, and turning colder, so it feels important to be continuing the harvest.  We inevitably leave a lot of carrots in the ground, which we can dig as necessary assuming the snow doesn't get too deep...

Oct. 21
    William Kotzwinkle, an author best known for writing a successful novelization of the E.T. movie, wrote an edgy satirical book called The Fan Man back when I was an impressionable young artist.  The only thing I remember is the chapter that began, "It was a dorky day.  Dorky dorky dorky
dorky dorky dorky dorky dorky dorky
dorky dorky...."  It continues on saying "dorky" for the rest of the chapter.
    So it was  a dorky day today--overcast, cold, and not willing to do anything to success.  I'm cheering myself up eating fresh chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.
I did have the idea to make note of what I read, since my own memory is bad, and I'd hate to forget a good author for lack of memory, and others may be interested.
I'm posting the list of books at the top of the blog page, but I'll describe them as I think of it.
    I just finished Alias the Cat by Kim Deitch--a brilliant but no doubt troubled cartoonist, growing out of the underground comics movement of the 60's.  The book is a compilation of several comic books he produced, in meticulous detail, with an  homage plot to serial caped crusader cartoons of the early 20th Century.
    I'm still reading In Honey's Room, by Elmore Leonard, who usually places his novels in Detroit, southern Florida, or California, about modern day U.S. Marshalls and the intriguing low lifes they pursue.   He's able to spin a good tale with humor and great dialog.  This current selection departs from his formula only in placing the story in Detroit at the end of WWII, with spies, nazis, and a Too Good but Human U.S. Marshall.  It's a page turner...

Oct. 22
    I burned a pile of canes, branches, and sawdust today.  It was certainly a mixed experience.  I felt good getting the trash out of the way.  I also watched the smoke drift off, and slowly haze the valley below us, and thought about carbon emissions.  It was probably about 100 lbs. of material.  There's a lot of stuff we burn in our woodstove to make use of its energy (avoiding plastics and other things that burn toxic), rather than ship it off hundreds of miles to the regional dump.  This stuff could have been burned in a stove, but it's way too messy to bring inside.
    This is also the time of year people are burning their leaf piles.  That's one thing I mostly resist--I compost the leaves on our garden, and even collect them from others at times to add.
    Meanwhile I hear that corn is a poor source for alcohol, while sugar cane is a good one.  The last I checked they still burn off the sugar cane foliage to make harvesting it easier...  I wish there was a great solution to the energy blues...

    One more book worth mentioning from this month's reading--over many years New York author Donald Westlake has written comic heist capers about some Chaplinesque burglars led by a guy named Dortmunder.  They're all worth reading (I've read them all).  The latest is called What's so Funny?  The plot revolves around being blackmailed by an expoliceman to steal a stolen jeweled chess set  for its somewhat more just owner.  Morality is an exercise in situation ethics in this finely worked gem.

Oct. 23
Varied thrush
    There aren't a lot of people that drive across Washington State both ways in a day, that I know personally, but I that's what I did, to get a variety of new clays to try.  It was about 650 miles.  The weather was lovely, the drive quite nice, and I relistened to one of my favorite children's stories, Margaret Mahy's The Pirates' Mixed Up Voyage, which combines a study in free will versus determinism with pirates and swordswinging English teachers.  
    The bird is (I believe) a varied thrush, a relative of American robins.  I got the photo at a rest area, which resembles an oasis in the dry desert of the Columbia plateau.  Since I'm not going anywhere for a while, I'll include more pictures through the rest of this week...

Oct. 24
Vantage Washington
    What a month, to see both Prague, a Varied Thrush, and Seattle...  But before we get to Seattle, here's the view of the Columbia River near Vantage WA.  The bridge is where I-90 crosses its dam sired fecundity, to turn a peculiar if exact phrase.  Two dams south of here begins the Hanford Reach, one of the few free flowing parts of the Columbia, through a contaminated nuclear reservation.  That last part has always made me reluctant to go there, although other parts of me would like to float it...  The hills along the Columbia are full desert, but canals and government programs have converted a large part of the Columbia basin to productive agriculture, making Washington the world's apple basket, and one of the leading potato producers (in spite of Idaho's Famous Potatoes).
    Leaving off the travelogue (an antiquated concept in the days of Google Earth), I made 60 goblets in the pottery today, and started trying Sea-Mix clay, which I can only guess was Seattle Pottery Supply's answer to Laguna Clay's B-Mix, one of the better known pottery clays of North America.
It was much smoother to throw than Columbia White (my 20 year standard), making it likely that it would be harder to make tall forms, but I only started with mugs anyway.  Besides how the clay acts when throwing, there are several other critical qualities to judge, including how well handles and knobs attach (and don't later crack off or detach), cracking in drying or bisque firing, final color of the clay under the glaze, and how smooth the clay is as it comes out of the kiln.  There are technical concerns such as shrinkage and how permeable the finished clay is, which affect how well the glazes fit, and whether pots made of the clay will be good for baking and microwave use. So I plan to mark each sample pot with a code letter and make notes on each step of the process.  I got about 6 new clays to try yesterday, and will try to make samples of all of them in the next week or two.
   
    Oct. 25
Seattle Sculpture Park
After picking up 1200 lbs of clay and materials south of the sports complex in Seattle,  I drove up Alaska Way, which takes you along the bayfront in Downtown Seattle.  My goal was not the gleaming skyscrapers, but some patches of park along the shore I'd noticed on the map.  It was when I noticed a large typewriter eraser sculpture, that I figured out I was near the new Olympic Sculpture Park, which I read about last winter.   I'm out of touch with the art world, but still willing to know what I don't like, and it seemed to lead to the beach, so I went through the park.    The red thing I was able to identify by the style--Alexander Calder, famous for mobiles and stabiles, and I just learned today this was called "Eagle."  It was more fun to look at them some of them, that seemed chosen based on their durability more than their aesthetics.  (The other one I guessed at correctly was the Giant Typewriter Eraser, which reminded me of Claes Oldenburg).  
    From the photo you can see it was a calm and clear day on the Puget Sound, and I enjoyed my walk into the nearby park, with the Olympic Mountains and cargo vessels on the west side, and the Space Needle and towers of glass and steel on the other.  I hoped to cut inland to return to my car, but a set of railroad tracks isolates the park from urban Seattle for a long enough stretch that I had to return the way I came...  My stay was limited by new fangled parking meters that I could have used a credit card on, but didn't, and used up all my change instead for an hour in the big city.

Oct. 26

Surf Scoter
The bay in Seattle had a lot of these ducks--apparently called Surf Scoters.  There were also a few cormorants and gulls.
    We had a hard freeze (25, or minus 3C) with no frost last night--dry cold moved in.  I picked the last of our grapes today--only the carrots and potatoes are left to harvest.    They store best in the ground, but they're hard to get at with 3 feet of snow on top...  I had the idea to cover some with leaves, then make a lean-to of two pieces of plywood over them, that could be spread apart to access the carrots.  We'll see if it happens.

Oct. 27
    Linda from Australia writes that open burning isn't allowed in her area, due to air pollution.  That's true here, in the next county over (Spokane), which is in a valley and very urban.  But Idaho has until recently been very rural, and relied on burning of fields, and wood slash piles as standard practices.  Just this last year large scale grass field burning was outlawed due to health concerns...
    But it's interesting how things vary from place to place.  When I was in Europe people frequently brought their pets in the restaurants with them (mostly not allowed in US), and at least in Prague I didn't see a dog on a leash (the few I saw, even downtown, were walking beside their owners without a leash).   Then, too,  smoking has gone in a generation from being widely accepted to widely outlawed, but is still very common in Asia.  In the small town where we stayed  in Bavaria, I saw more people wearing suits than I'd see in a year in Idaho, including church. But my mother didn't comment on it, because suits are more common in the Midwest where she lives.
    I guess customs are fashions that resonate with a local people and are retained.

Oct. 28
    I've been working in my spare time on cleaning out the shop of some property we acquired this summer.  It was full of wood materials and hand tools, mostly spread all over.  I like both material and handtools, but I like to be able to find them, so I've been organizing it.  I've got 3 trash cans full of steel cans and misc. unusable hardware that tempt me to make a funky metal sculpture, but since I don't weld, it would probably just be a pile of interesting trash, which it already is, so why bother?  I plan to recycle the steel sometime.
    The weather gets up to the 50's (10 C), but continues hard frosts at night.  The tomato plants in the greenhouse finally froze, ending the garden season. I've seen some local jack o'lanterns  (carved too early, perhaps), turned to mush from the freeze thaw cycle.  Ours still look good--only needing to last a couple more days.

Oct. 29
    I guess my life wasn't interesting enough lately, so I dropped a kiln shelf on my toes this morning while unloading a kiln.  I've dropped shelves before, but previously avoided my feet...  Although industrial workers often wear steel toed shoes, I prefer soft toed moccasins, so the shelf, with the weight of a concrete block but less than an inch thick, dropped about a foot onto my foot.  On the plus side, it didn't break the shelf (or my toes).  But I do have a couple very sore toes.  I kept working all morning, mostly on my feet, glazing, but when I stopped for lunch realized this was something I need to deal with, so I took the afternoon off and napped and read.  
    I finished a good science fiction novel by John Scalzi called The Last Colony, theorizing how a new colony might react when threatened with extinction by a multiplanetary consortium that proscribed any new colonies from Earth.  
    I also worked on getting my fingers and brain ready for performing at the Folk Festival this weekend...  I usually walk many miles making circuits of every venue taking photos, so I'm hoping my toes recover by then...

Oct. 30
    I've posted a lot of new videos of some fun old-time songs at Youtube, all available from my video page. http://www.sondahl.com/video.html
    My toes are somewhat better today, so things are looking up, although I limp a bit.  
    I glazed another kiln load today, including the first samples of new clay, so I'll be interested in seeing the results tomorrow.
    Our washer broke down yesterday.  I called a repair person first thing this morning, got called back immediately, and by noon both it and a noisy fridge were fixed.  It was fortunate he'd already scheduled a call for our town this morning, so he worked it in.  The fridge had a fan bearing going out, making it squeal sometimes when starting.  It wasn't annoying enough to make a separate service call about, but was nice to have fixed before it failed totally, which he said would have resulted in no cooling for the fridge.  The washer pump was taken out by a screw from my pocket not being removed before washing, then lodging in the pump and breaking it... Pennywise and pound foolish--I'm always sticking loose screws in my pocket, intending to add them to the supply sometime when I'm in the vicinity...

Oct. 31
    The new clay, Seamix 10, seems whiter and smoother than the old clay, but since I got all these other samples, I spent the morning making a variety of forms from each of theother  6 sample clays.  The main difference in throwing was how smooth the clay was--one of them was noticably sandy.  A lot of the proof is in the pudding, or the final fired ware--how the handles and other additions adhere without cracking at the joints, how the glazes look, etc.   So far, though, it looks like the Seamix will be a big improvement, without being so obviously different that pots made with it won't match older pots, which is important for my many repeat customers...
    Oh yes, Happy Halloween!  We had about 10 trick or treaters here tonight--I'm sure I ate more than 10 packets of M and M Peanuts and Snickers while waiting for them.  It's also my mother's 85th birthday--she's very spry for 85.  I've always thought it must be tough sharing a birthday with a holiday--I think she's spent most of her birthdays giving out treats...
   
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