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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.  Click here to zoom down to today's entry.

September 1, 2005


Here's a sphinx moth that brightened my evening, frozen in flight by the photoflash. They fly like hummingbirds.

We've been switching internet providers today, making the internet unusable all day.  It's no surprise how dependent we've become on fast internet connections.  When this is posted, you'll know the issues hobbling us have been resolved.

Sept. 2,
It only took two tries from their end, and 2 long calls from us to their phone help, where the 2 minutes the machine voice estimated we would wait became 15, but we now have the same service that our national phone company broadband internet provider subsidiary provided us, but now it's through the national phone company itself and cheaper!  If this confuses you, don't worry about it.
As an excellent catharsis to the modern technology installation blues, my son and I watched for the first time "The President's Analyst," from the 60's, a hilarious send up of spy movies, American life, and the phone company.  It has aged very well...
And I survived two days without the internet, only going to the library to check my email once :-).  I've come a long way from living in a teepee in the 70's...

 Sept. 3
It's interesting that the two things television is best at is presenting news and escapist fantasy.  Some would say the line is blurring as news programs veer towards entertainment.  The third rail that powers television is the ads, which are also a strong mix of fantasy and reality.  For me it all comes together in football, which started at the college level today.  We only get one channel on tv, intentionally limiting our viewing possibilities.  But it's ABC, which provides a lot of college football.
My son Birrion and I enjoy watching college football for the action, strategy, and athleticism.  It helps him get through the many months of the year that he can't ski.  In their shining helmets and flashy uniforms, they present a fantasy spectacle, except for the 4-5 times per game when one of the players must be helped off the field from a real injury.  During those (and many other) moments, the action shifts to the commercials, where one is urged to get a car that can climb a tree, or where a young man leaves his beloved when she tries to drink his Dr. Pepper.
It's an odd world.

Sept. 4
I'm doing special music for church this morning.  A. P. Carter most likely wrote "Keep on the Sunny Side," although one can never be sure, as he put his name to a lot of other people's songs.  Regardless, t is enscripted on his grave stone.  Anyway, I'm going to sing it, as the verses are appropriate to the gulf storms, even though the refrain seems a bit Pollyannaish.  It's usually done in a sprightly manner, but I'm slowing it down, which often changes the tone of a song.  Here are the words:

     There's a dark and a troubled side of life
     There's a bright and a sunny side, too
    Though we meet with the darkness and strife
    The sunny side we also may view

Ref:          Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
         Keep on the sunny side of life
         It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
          If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

     The storm and its fury broke today
     Crushing hopes that we cherished so dear
     Clouds and storm will in time pass away
    The sun again will shine bright and clear

     Let us greet with a song of hope each day
     Though the moment be cloudy or fair
     Let us trust in our savior always
     To keep us every one in his care

Labor Day

I usually march in the Labor Day parade in Spirit Lake.  This year I smeared clay on my arms and face, to show I've been working.
Later in the park I performed some tunes to a tough, mostly unlistening audience.  It turned good for me, though, when I got into improvising on Grateful Dead songs at the end.  Not that more people were listening, but I had a better time, myself.

This evening I noticed that our new young cat, Candide, who plays with small rubber balls a lot, would pick up the ball and carry it to different environments in the house to play with it.  He seemed to like my moccasin the best, deliberately putting it in there 3 times while I watched.  This is better  for us than his favorite game, which is making a dash for freedom every time the door is opened (he's not supposed to go out until he's neutered, which is scheduled for Wednesday.)

Sept. 7

There's a Far Side cartoon that has a dog hanging his head out the window, telling the other dogs how lucky he is to go and get tutored.
Here's Candide the cat, recovering from his tutoring experience.

Otherwise, I made two gallons of tomato puree today, to freeze, which will generally be used to make chili through the winter, after the green tomatoes give out (around Thanksgiving, usually).  There's a lot of food to deal with before leaving this weekend for a trip.

Sept. 8
Candide became an in-and-out cat today, able to go outside and play, so he stayed outside all day.  This was due to a technicality on the adoption contract we signed to get him, warning of a $500 fine if he should escape our clutches before getting neutered...  Despite the fact that previously whenever a door was slightly open he would shoot out and play hard to get, today he was pretty mellow and stayed in the yard.

Continuing the food putting up season, Birrion and I picked about 150 pounds of pears off our two trees today. Since we'll be gone next week, we stuck them all in two spare refrigerators, and hope they'll ripen after we're back.  If anyone ever tries to sell you tree ripened pears, you're being had...  Pears if ripened on the tree, ripen poorly.  They're one crop that's better not tree ripened.  Unfortunately commercial growers use some pressure test to determine the best time to pick them, which is unavailable to home gardeners, so our picking date was just determined by our travel plans.

We don't have any peach trees, so I wish the peaches we bought on Tuesday were tree ripened.  As it is, we'll be canning 3 boxes of them on the day before we leave, whether ready or not...  We also have to pick all the tomatoes, as a frost is likely anytime, although none is currently predicted by the weather service.  Last week one morning when it was 38 degrees F when I got up, there was a coating of ice on the hose, but somehow the squash and tomatoes were not frosted.

For gardeners, life is a bit like the Camelot song, If ever I would leave you.  No time seems good to leave the garden.  Of course you can leave a garden in winter, but then the roads are treacherous...

Sept. 9
I picked about 125 pounds of tomatoes today, and spread them under our ping-pong table hopefully to ripen after we return from our trip.  All this business about amounts of food makes me think about how much we really consume in a year.  We usually can several hundred pounds of pears and peaches, make some applesauce.  Already the freezers are full of green beans, corn, raspberries.  This is the first year we'll have more apples than we'll know what to do with.  I saved an article on someone who custom presses apple cider, in case that comes to make sense...

Since the frost will likely come while we're gone, we removed the flowers from our front pottery display.  The logic of fall decorations is inescapable--in pulling up some sweet corn whose time was past, I invariably put it in a shock and stick it out front with some pumpkins and gourds and stuff.  Later we give the cornstocks to friends with horses, after using the pumpkin at Halloween...

Sept. 10  to 19

We made a trip to take my son Forrest's car and possessions to Northwestern in Evanston Illinois, where he's starting a Ph.D. program in computer science.  So here's a brief travelogue:
It's about 24 hours of driving to get to Minnesota.  Enroute I took a lot of pictures, most of which turned out poorly at 75 miles per hour.  But potters might be interested to see this plant in Colony, Wyoming, which claims to be the Bentonite capital of the world (bentonite is a volcanic clay used by potters to suspend glazes)














US 212, which we take through this corner of Wyoming, is where the deer and antelope play (and occasionally get hit by cars).  We had  to dodge several.  We always see hundreds of antelope in this section, so I finally stopped the car to get this picture:


It's hard to understand their coloration as protective, as they seem easy to spot (but like many plains creatures rely on wariness and speed to deter predators).

We stopped to visit my mother in Northfield, Minnesota.  We saw her do a fine historical rendering of Lydia Pinkham, and had to leave as she prepared to portray the native wife of a fur trader (in this photo it's just my son, Birrion, in a fur hat she was giving him).















Outside of Northfield, I saw some white birds on a small island in a pond.  At the time, I thought they were farm geese, but they turned out to be pelicans...














Then we went on to Chicago, where we stayed both with Forrest's girlfriend's parents, and later his girl friend's apartment in Evanston.  I learned that one difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is that when the professional removes his batteries to charge, he remembers to put them back in the camera before setting off to photograph Chicago.  I'm an amateur.  So I took no pictures of the Science and Industry museum, the Art Institute, or from the Sears tower.  Forrest and Susa got some nice photos, but they can start their own blogs...  So this is my picture of Chicago, from the shore in Evanston...

Here are most of the crew, playing:

Forrest, Susa, Althea, Birrion

After the fine visit, we drove about 32 hours in two days to come home.  There were a lot more blurry pictures, but at a rare rest stop visit I got this picture of bluebirds, which were apparently flocking to migrate, as one tree had about 6 of them in it: 
It was a good trip, and things were in fine shape on return home, even to having some sweet corn still ripening in the garden...

Sept. 20
One goal of a vacation is to make the mundane everyday once more enjoyable, by way of being simpler, if the vacation is complex, or more full, if the vacation was just laying on the beach.  Regardless, the travelling is generally wearing enough to make one appreciate his own environment.
So I'm back to making pots, going the Library, and playing music at the Tuesday Jam.  It felt good, except for the travelling to Spokane (since we drove 1800 miles in two days.)

Sept. 21

Back to the fall routine-- making pots to restock the shelves, freezing 3 gallons of tomato juice, and getting the pears out of the fridges to ripen for canning. It takes a brief fire in the morning these days to take the chill off the air...
Sept. 22
Around equinox days, one can't help but notice the sun if you're driving an east or westbound street at sunrise or set.  It happened to me on Tuesday, where I had to hold a hand in front of my eyes to blot out the sun to see when the light changed.
Even if not driving, I'll note the sunrise in the middle of the street that would run to our door, if it didn't curve first. I've occasionally wanted to take a picture of Maine Street with the sun rising, but it's very hard to get the light right on sunrise pictures.

Sept. 23

Today I finished a front wall on a tool shed I'd begun this spring.  It's built from mostly recycled materials, from when the Baptist church next door remodeled, and from a wood pile behind the hardware that's been a great source for lumber and firewood for us for years.  My father was an inveterate gleaner, stopping by the "free wood" boxes at local cabinet makers.  Mostly he'd bring home particle board, which has the approximate structural integrity of cardboard.  Many of our fireplace fires in our Ames, Iowa home were of particle board, which, in my opinion, is the best use for it.  Having grown up in the Depression, though, Dad built lots of stuff using the free particle board, including my first pottery display tables, that fit together from flat slotted pieces to make relatively nice display racks.  He also built the tool box I was using today, which I especially noticed when one side came unnailed from the particle board end it was nailed onto.  Being busy, I just renailed it, but it made me reflect how most home handypersons use screws and cordless drills for projects, which are much less likely to come loose than the small nails my dad used.  (Of course particle board is notorious for nails loosening also)
When I was first learning to be a potter, I lived in a teepee for a summer while trying to get some old farm outbuildings livable for winter in Minnesota.  Steve and Judy Swanson were both landlords and mentors to us in this period, guiding us on how to ratproof an old granary with can lids (not too successfully, since later we'd watch the rats running around the black plastic walls), or how to take down an old house to get materials to redecorate the "new" one.
Anyway, the methods of construction change, but gleaning goes on...


Sept. 24
Musicians Anonymous played at the Rathdrum Heritage Day today.  We play most anywhere someone asks us to, and a few other places where we have to ask to play at.  It still doesn't add up to that many performances.  Every performance varies a lot, mostly due to sound systems.  Some of them have good monitors, the best have some one monitoring the sound going out, and most all of them sound funny to us, who mostly play music without amplification.  And since we never get to sit out hearing how we sound in the audience, it's always somewhat in doubt how the experience went.  But with our eclectic repertoire and unusual instrumentation, we probably have our niche, if we could find it.

Sept. 25
While most of our pears are still ripening, about a half a box has gotten ripe, and we've enjoyed eating them, but it was time to do something more.  So I peeled and cut them up to put on a screen to dry above the kilns.  There was a bisque kiln firing today, and there will be more firings Monday  through Wednesday, so the timing is good to get them dry before they mold.  I've used the waste heat from the kiln this way on occasion for many years.   Dried pears are almost as sweet as candy--it's been a few years since we've had a surplus to use for drying.

Besides the fall food foray, I also started working on Christmas today--looking at my list of hymns to select a set of them for a Christmas CD, which I want to record in October.  Most of them are well ingrained in my fingers, but I'll try to practice them all a few times before trying them in the studio.  Although the recording engineer gives me a good rate for recording, I feel when in the studio like I'm in a taxi with the meter running, so most of the music recorded is done on the first take, warts and all.

Meanwhile Althea, who has been on leave as a pastor for about a year, has been spending most of her time recently visiting friends and relatives in the local hospitals.  She'd like to be working on a new display area in front, which was started in June, but these things happen...

One other interesting point to the day. We had a brief power outage this afternoon, after which my computer wouldn't start.  Our son Birrion is our techical crew of one, so I referred it to him, guessing that the power supply blew, which has happened before.  He left the house briefly, during which Althea encouraged me to help him, so I could learn to do it myself if Birrion were to not be here.  I was saying that without Birrion I would just take it somewhere to be fixed, when Birrion came in, stuck a different power cord on the computer, and it worked.
That's something I could have done, but would never have thought of, even though one time years ago we had trouble with a power cord as well. I was duly impressed.

Sept. 26
A while ago I heard how car manufacturers had developed the "just in time" supply strategy--ordering parts to arrive just in time for use.  I imagine enough stuff got delayed so they've probably switched to the "plenty of time" strategy.  As a small business person, I'm always having to stock things, from ink for the printer to pottery supplies.  Being a long ways from even a paper supplier makes me more in tune with the "plenty of time" strategy, making sure I've got what I need.
The reason I bring this all up is that 3 of my 6 main buckets of glaze were getting low, so I had to mix 3 batches of glaze today.  Each batch takes about a half hour to prepare, so it cut into my schedule significantly.
Potters probably vary a lot about how many glazes they use.  The more you have, the more there are to settle or dry out between uses.  It's a bit like being an ice cream parlor--you have a limited amount of space to store those round ice cream buckets, and some flavors are more popular than others.  In fact, vanilla ice cream is the most popular, because of its versatility (goes with pie, etc.).  And the same is true for glaze--I use the vanilla (white) glaze the most, as it is a liner (good inside pots), and to good effect against any of the other glazes.
My most popular glazes I actually keep two buckets of glaze--one for the new glaze batch, and the older leftover to be added as the bucket gets lower.  I keep them stacked on top of each other, to reduce confusion.
Sept 27

In Minnesota the sumac turning red is one of the joys of autumn.  At our new house in Spirit Lake, we've got a Mountain Ash tree, whose picture I took, thinking, if I saw this plant in Hawaii I'd be amazed...  When the berries get to a certain point, the cedar waxwings will come and eat them, so that's another plus.
This evening I practiced with the other half of the duo, Sondahl and Hawkins, for the first time since May.  Despite a few clunker notes, we seemed to lock in very well, and prepared a bluesy set list for the Fall Folk Festival.  Right now this association reminds me of Brigadoon, we emerge out of the mists for a day for the Folk Festival, only to disappear again.  It's hard to find good venues to play at.

Sept. 28
I spent an hour or so today replacing tires and doing maintenance on my wife's three speed bicycle.  After briefly trying 10+ speed bikes in the 70's, I became convinced that it was all fashion and marketing to push for uncomfortable racing bikes in a leisure world, especially the low ram's head handlebars.  I did get a 10 speed, briefly, which fell apart within a year or so.  Since then I've been committed to the the 3 speed bike, which may still be the world's most popular, since my parents told me they were common in China when they were there, which is probably the biggest bicycle markct in the world.
With a 3 speed bike, you actually have 5 speeds: the three advertised, plus "walking" for going up hill, and "coasting" for going down hill.  These are adequate for all situations for the average cyclist.  The biggest advantage of the 3 speed is not having derailleurs to mess up on you.  There are a few things that can go wrong, but most of them you can figure out the solution.  Since the bikes are becoming uncommon, one solution is to have a spare for parts, or at least keep the usable parts when abandoning one.  I had to replace 4 spokes today, which was fairly simple since I had an identical spare to raid for the spokes.
All this talk of speeds doesn't worry my wife, who leaves it in second all the time.  There're always those who are simpler than thou.

Sept 30
That kind of day.
    The day started out in a forthright manner--looking forward to trimming and footing about 40 pots, unloading a glaze kiln...  I'd noticed that the kiln was taking longer and longer to fire, so I checked the elements and one was burned out.  I usually use this as the time to replace them all, so I took them all out and removed the side panels to connect the new ones.  I noticed a switch had a wiggily terminal--sign of impending doom for it, and then noticed one of the  main wires coming in to the kiln was corroded, meaning a similar fate soon for it.  "For once," I thought, "I've caught it before it burns itself out."  So I went to the local hardware store to get a replacement range plug, which works for kilns as well.
    The first sign of trouble was that they were out of the 6 foot long ones, only had 4 foot long ones.  I wasn't sure if that was long enough, so I arranged to take one home and try it (I live a block from the hardware, where I'm well known).  It looked like it would be tight, but would reach, so I bought it and cut off the plug, since I always hard wire them into the junction box.  At this point I realized I'd bought a replacement dryer plug, which is too light duty for an electric kiln.  So I went back and bought a range plug.  After assembling all other pieces, I put the kiln together and was ready to hook up the cord to the junction box.  I'd forgotten how it takes about 6 inches off each end inside the box to make the connections, so it was too short.  I finished the pots from yesterday to calm down...
       Since the local hardware didn't have the longer cord, I drove to the next town, where they did have one, and got it.  Next to that hardware is a bakery, so I stopped in, thinking I'd get my family a treat for supper.  There were lots of good looking chocolate items there, but my wife swore off chocolate, so I got a raspberry cake.
    After supper I cut into the cake, to find that the actual cake was chocolate, with just raspberry frosting...  It was just that kind of day.
    So after supper, I go back to my debacle and put the new cord on.  I get the kiln wired again, and gingerly put on the breaker to check for shorts, sparks, pops, and other nasty surprises.
     I got a new surprise--when the kilnsitter was powered up, but the kiln switches themselves were off, one of the elements still was humming away and even glowing red.  It seemed to be on the switch I replaced, so I figured I got some of the wires mixed up. What's more, as I tried to turn the switch to see if it would go off, I heard a loud popping sound coming from the switch, meaning it just got fried.
    So I got inside again, replaced the switch, rechecked the wiring diagram, noticed a couple other wires that had gotten pulled loose in the process, and put it together again.  This time it was a different element, on the same switch.
    I think I'll try again in a couple days...  Did I mention it was raining all day?  It didn't have anything to do with all these troubles, but it set the proper aura...


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