These are the halcyon days
of summer here--cool nights and hot days. Idaho leads the nations
in forest fires currently, but they are mostly to the south (as is most
of the state, for that matter), so life here is generally good.
The raspberry season ended with the wasps taking over,
particularly since the first branch I lifted several days ago yielded a
sting. I did pick the first green beans today, but forgot to cook
them for supper, as we were having filet of leftovers, using all four
burners to heat up the leftovers... Other years we get buckets of
green beans, but the deer pretty much decimated it, and although the
makeshift deer fence has prevented further predation, green beans
can only regenerate a bit. The carrots look likelier to make a
full comeback. Meanwhile, in the pottery, orders
and shortages keep me motivated to work daily. Two people in the
last day asked for a covered jar to keep a can of grease in. It
could be coincidence, or it could be the first people talked to the
second about it, but I'm making several to order, and will see if this
is a four leafed clover I've overlooked before (makes you feel like
singing, doesn't it?)...
My son is getting married in September, so I volunteered to make the
Guest Gift. Most of their visit here has been wedding planning
related. Weddings are juggernauts nowadays, and I'm supplying the
jugs... Well, goblets actually. Small goblets, which, since
they are nondrinkers, will be filled with chocolates. I started
making 50 of them today, and will probably make 30 or more tomorrow, to
cover the estimated guest list. Their wedding is at a rather out
of the way location, on the Upper Peninsula of Lake Superior near
Marquette, Michigan, so 80 is about how many are expected. As
father of the groom, I'm the least involved in the wedding plans
(fortunately), but I did offer the things I enjoy doing--pottery,
photography, and music, so I'll be involved when it happens...
I made teapots today. I used to make teapots with handmade rattan
handles. I'd assemble them at art fairs to have something to do.
Eventually I ran out of the caning supplies, and mostly didn't
make teapots. When, after requests, I started making them again,
I decided to make an over the top clay handle. The only problem
with them is that if you bonk the teapot too hard, the handle might
break. The same thing is theoretically true with a pitcher, but
less of it is below the handle. Anyway, people seem to like the
cane handles, so this year I bought some premade slip on ones, and my
teapots have sold better than in years. They might sell better
with hand made rattan handles, but I've looked into the supplies and
can't see it as a profitable business strategy. Of course the
framed nature photos I added this year cost a lot more, and I haven't
sold any yet, so I'm still not the genius entrepeneur...
We made our annual pilgrimage to the largest local arts and craft
festival today. It's gone from being central to my yearly sales,
to on-again off-again as the lottery of the jury decided whether to let
me exhibit, to finally peripheral and just entertainment. This is
the best way to attend an art fair, but of course memories of the old
days cut into it. Mostly I remember some great entertainment
there through the years. Even good sales at art fairs have a
fair share of waiting and boredom, exposure to hot and cold, and
stresses, so I'm glad to leave them mostly behind. They
are valuable for public relations, getting your work seen, whether you
sell a lot or not, but I think that only works if your pottery is
easily accessible later (as mine is). Most of the
family preferred swimming at the beach near the festival, such as my
ski nut son doing the somersault off the pilings...
August 5 August
continues hot and dry after the third hottest and driest July in local
history. Because there's not a smattering of thunder showers on
the horizon, fire danger remains extreme but stable.
Campers can no longer have any form of fire in campsites, nor smoke
cigarettes in the woods... Towns aren't restricted this way, but
at the beach yesterday (where open flames are always banned), we saw
two large flaming grills where the cooks got overly enthusiastic with
the starter fluid. In one case he had to reach through the
flames to get the fluid can, which was getting heated rapidly.
Anyway, barring human malice and stupidity, these fire conditions
often slowly lessen as the weather cools (though that might be a month
still). The lake continues to be pleasant and a
counterpoint to the dryness all around... We canoed the Mill Pond
Some shoppers inevitably ask me, isn't it great that I can do
what I want for a living, and I usually reply that anything you do for
a living isn't by definition fun, or something to that effect.
But for most people who do pottery, the throwing is the most fun,
and glazing the most fraught with peril. Lately things have been
going in spurts, since I glazed two kilnloads today, and have a bisque
load waiting till they're done for firing. The result is no
throwing pottery today. While glazing I managed to do some of the
many errors glazing is prone to, including smearing decorations, drips
going where I don't want, and even punching through a berry bowl with
the glazing tongs (which gets bits of fired clay in the glaze bucket,
requiring additional sieving). I didn't get to packing some pots
for shipping (another less glorious but necessary chore). So at
least I know what I'm doing tomorrow...
August 7 The
weather was only in the lower 80's today, so in addition to the
throwing and shipping pots advertised yesterday, I did some mowing to
try to control the knapweed infestation in one of our yards.
Knapweed is like a wildly prolific thistle, only not quite as spiny.
At times I pull or chop it, but now the best thing to do is to
mow off its blossoms to reduce the seeds. Most of the grass has
gone brown from the extended drought, so the blue flowers make it stand
out at this time. The grass is still lush in the orchard, where
a lovely crop of apples is putting on size...
August 8 It
must have something to do with our lake proximity, but sales seem to be
strongly related to temperature here. Today the high was in the
lower 70's and the sales were cool as well. This could explain
our sales slump through the winter ;-) The cool weather allowed me
to weed our main garden, possibly for the last time this year. In
spite of predations of deer and wasps, the carrots, corn, and tomatoes
look good--may start picking corn tomorrow. There's no corn like
your own corn... Our newest vehicle (9 years old) wouldn't restart
after stopping at the dumpsters (most of our town has no garbage
service, instead we deliver it to some dumpsters 5 miles away). A
jump start got it going again. Auto mechanics is one of my
weakest abilities, but we've had enough bad batteries and alternators
through the years that I'm feeling it's the battery, particularly since
I charged it for a couple hours this evening and it's still dead.
If I replace it and it's not the battery, at least I've got a new
August 9 So
I've put in a new battery, and the battery light is not lit, so that
was good. Instead 4 little blinking lights are on, flashing.
An Internet search yielded helpful info which may fix this, along
with many disparaging reviews of the van in question. Ahh, life...
Today I had a fine time playing music with some of my favorite slightly
older musician friends, including most of the Musicians Anonymous
group. This is a group which knows the standard songs from "5
foot 2" to "I'll Fly Away" and has played them together a lot.
And the weather and sales both warmed up...
I glazed another couple kiln loads again today, and because we're low
on some items, I threw pots, even though I'm going to a bluegrass
festival tomorrow. So I chose the pots I made so they would
require a minimum of cleaning up tomorrow, like pie plates, spoon
setters, and berry bowls. The CD project for
the summer got put on hold because the recording studio in my
"neighborhood" closed its doors, so I've been researching recording
equipment so I can make my own recordings and mixes. This looks
to me like a great way to spend the winter, and I can get started for
about the same cost as I was going to pay to get the CD made (though
with less classy equipment, admittedly).
August 11-12 I've
been listening to and playing bluegrass all weekend at the
Bluewaters Bluegrass festival. The weather was great and I had a
fine time, including jamming till 1:30 last night, and taking my
bicycle and exploring a lot of the area around Medical Lake this
morning. Animals are so territorial that, for the places that I
visited last year, such as the periphery of the lake, I saw the same
animals in the same environs, including deer, yellow headed black
birds, cormorants, quail and kingbirds. I took a lot of
photos, but none of the nature ones seemed worth using here...
I'll be putting up a page of festival photos in the next couple
I fired three bisque kilns in a row, which will probably result in 4 or
more glaze fires in a row. I can't recall them ever clumping so
much before. This evening my son and I went to
see the movie "Stardust." I'd read the book when it came out 10
years ago or so, long enough ago that I wasn't constantly comparing the
movie to the book. The author, Neil Gaiman, is a very talented
fantasy writer. I particularly enjoyed "Good Omens," a comedy
about the endtimes cowritten with Terry Pratchett. I heard an
interview with Gaiman on NPR, in which he said he wrote the book
longhand with a fountain pen to get in the spirit of fairy tales, which
this one definitely was. To me it compares favorably with "The
Princess Bride," combining romance and fighting evil in a highly
entertaining way. Modern film techniques lend themselves to
rendering plausible the impossible, so this film benefits from liberal
use of computer graphics. Like the actual old fairy tales, few
punches are pulled--characters die off frequently to advance the
plot--which makes it a great "guys" movie. But the crossdressing
pirate captain helps us get in touch with our feminine side... On
the other hand there are also lovely young actresses to make us grunt
and go "huh!" in a decidedly macho fashion, much like the pirate crew.
It may be the only movie I'll see in the theater this year. I was not disappointed.
We're getting another venture into the high 80's/low 90's, to assert
that summer isn't over yet. What that meant today was that the 45
mugs I threw this morning were turning white at the top tonight.
This generally means the handles are likely to crack off in
drying. So to reduce losses, I dipped them all halfway in a
bucket of water. You can also use a squirt bottle type mister,
but the water goes on more evenly with dipping. Then I covered
them with plastic to save the finishing work for tomorrow. I may
redip them in water before adding the handles tomorrow, depending on
how they look.
I began the final batch of around 100 small goblets I made for the
"wedding gift" to be given to attendees of my son's upcoming wedding.
They were again so dry by evening that I misted them and covered
them. Currently our street is being torn
up to put in a natural gas pipeline. I have mixed feelings about
using natural gas. In so far as our area uses hydroelectric
power, it's cleaner (though with a cost to wildlife), but as the region
has grown, they've started adding natural gas and even coal plants to
supply electricity, so it makes sense to consider switching to natural
gas for water and house heating, as it supplies the heat directly.
I don't like it for cooking, because I feel I have more control
by setting the electric knobs at preferred settings, although I suppose
I'd learn preferred settings with gas. The biggest issue would
be switching to gas for kilns. Because I'd have to buy new
equipment, and probably switch to reduction firing, I'm not eager to do
it. Even though it may be cost effective, using fuels to fire
kilns seems to me to waste a lot of heat up the flue. I watched a
woodfiring one time, where good sized chunks of wood were tossed in
almost continuously, with fire belching out the chimney,
and it still took many hours to heat (and enough wood to heat our house for months). Electric kilns confine the
heat inside the insulated enclosure, with only a minimal space to allow
gases to escape.
piece of Pine Creek was photographed today on a trip to the Silver
Valley, outside Pinehurst, Idaho. It lies at the foot of a mine
in a major mining area (silver gave the Silver Valley its name, but
lead, zinc, and other metals were mined as well). The question
with many places in the Valley is "How polluted is it?" A friend
of ours reported in his youth hanging a wood handled hammer in one of
the creeks coming out of the smelter, and that the head had
dissolved within a week. Most of the mines have stopped
operation, but their legacy remains forever in this area. I
didn't see any fish in the water, but lichens and algae were surviving.
The old mine had plastic containment walls around to catch
sediments during spring runoff.
is what is left of the mine portal. It has a sort of dignity.
There's a pile of rotting lumber I cropped out of the photo.
There was also some spray painted grafitti about a girl loving
some guy. Although it's not more than a hundred years old, it has
the feeling of antiquity about it, looks a bit like Abu Simbel in 5000
AD. What the mines did was produce the metals we all use,
meanwhile unlocking poisonous biproducts, which, though perfectly
natural, had been mostly secure in the rock matrix. So this relic
is both a monument to progress and stupidity.
August 18 This
was a real up day--lots of sales, a comfortable day for shorts or
long sleeved clothing, and Sondahl and Hawkins played at an outdoor Pig
roast for actual money. We had a good time playing as well.
Things were tense in the days leading up to this--two days ago I
got a sliver on my picking index finger, but fortunately not the exact
part I pick with. Then yesterday I was putting away a wooden vase
that had a metal "frog" in it and it slipped and poked one of my
fretting fingers enough to bleed. These are minor details, but
some guitarists get their fingernails insured, so you can see how
important a few bits of fingertips are to musicians... All went
well with the concert, except the bassist started developing a blister
(both of us have not been keeping our callouses up by sufficient
playing... And you thought practice was to help with musical
ability instead of just toughening skin...)
August 19 Today
pottery sales were 20 times slower than yesterday, but I don't think
I'll jump out a window in a Wall Street style panic, because I might
hurt myself. That datum says more about Saturday's sales than
Sunday. I expect the drizzly rain had a lot to do with it, adding
up to 3/10s inch so far, enough to crank the fire danger down a notch
for a few days. The rain arrived with no lightning, so that
didn't add to the fire danger either. I worked on
snoozing today, and changing the keys to some of the songs I do, having
finally figured out that most of the singing I do sounds better in a
It rained on and off again today, which initially prompted me to work
on pottery in the afternoon, making some items like large pitchers that
tend to have problems with handles in hot weather... But then the
first piece of audio equipment arrived, and I spent most of the
afternoon and evening getting frustrated with technology. The
equipment is so you can hook up microphones and instruments to your
computer for recording, and came with some limited software. The
software took me an hour or more just to find how to make it record.
This shouldn't happen, since that was the main purpose of the
software. The best software requires no manual, and installs and
works immediately. Hard to find that sort...
I heard on the radio that Idaho has 600,000 acres burned this year from
fires. Hopefully the rain will be general enough to improve
In a classic screwball comedy, there are several plotlines, and action
and words pile up faster than one showing can recount. This
evening felt like that. By day I'm continuing to churn out pots.
Meanwhile the corn and tomatoes ripen, and my son's marriage
starts to loom. The corn exists in 4 different plantings. I
wish I could remember the order I planted them in, but they all seem to
be ripening about now anyway. But the first planting was heading
towards overripe, so I determined to pick them, parboil them on the
cob, and cut the corn off for freezing. This worked well last year.
Customers kept coming, so I couldn't get to the corn till nearly
suppertime. While picking corn, I saw the last peas on the verge
of overripeness, so I picked them and some tomatoes as well. I'd
sold a set of DVD's today, the last in stock, so I set about
manufacturing more of them on the computer as supper happened. I
also wanted to print out some pictures for cards, so as usual the
printer needed all the print cartridges changed, and I had to order
some replacement cartridges as well. We had corn and peas for
supper, and I froze the leftover peas and corn. Then I checked
the garden here and found more corn that should be picked, so I pushed
the corn project off a day, onto tomorrow when peach canning
seems imminent. Looks to be a long day. On
the wedding front, I packed up a hundred goblets for the wedding guest
gifts, then found out that about 70 are all that are likely to be
needed. Also I've been chatting about table arrangements for the
wedding dinner with the bride, so the wedding is gaining ascendancy in
August 22 I
only got the corn ready for freezing today--peaches tomorrow? A
couple hours of food processing is enough for one day. Both today
and tomorrow require 50 mile trips to get one or other of our cars
serviced. We're driving to the wedding next month, and the big
question is, which of our 3 cars is likeliest to make the trip?
According to our mechanic, it isn't the newest van we own, which he
says is due to lose its transmission and engine... Time to car
shop again, only not enough time before we leave... The mechanic
suggested trading it in, since it looks good, but I've got ethical
qualms about passing on lemons, which is part of why we keep cars till
August 23 42
quarts of organic peaches canned, no cracked jars... Although it
was about 80 today, there's a distinct feel of late summer, and the
house gets shut up at night instead of opened. My relatives in
the central U.S. report flooding in basements from leftovers of a
hurricane producing 7 inches of rain in a short time. The
hurricane season started late. I think that the storm systems
normally spawned through the summer didn't happen, resulting in drought
in the midwest, as also here.
I bicycled around town this evening, which I hadn't done for a couple
months. There were a couple new homes going up, but the largest
new developments are stagnant. My own understanding of the
current housing/economic mess is that the Federal Reserve put the pedal
to the metal for loans a few years ago, bringing the prime rate down
almost as far as it could go. The result did indeed stimulate the
economy, but resulted in land/property inflation when everyone was
buying, due to the cheap credit. This in turn led to a building spree,
also funded by cheap financing, and the subprime loans, ditto.
This building spree you can think of as a growth ring on a tree
in a wet year--fat, and spread all around. So anywhere the
economy was doing well, a growth ring of new building was happening,
providing lots of construction related jobs and a feeling of well
being. The Fed finally had to reign in the rate, to prevent
rampant general inflation, and the brakes, in the form of tightened
credit, caused a crunch. So their current response is to step on
the gas again, hoping nothing got too damaged to recover.
Unfortunately the billions they pumped in last week, and the
lower loan rates they will probably have to revisit, will probably
work, at the cost of inflation, which hits the fixed income and poor
folks the most. But what do I know?--I'm just a simple potter...
I read a story about Spirit Lake in the Spokane Spokesman-Review this
morning. I was amused to learn I was cited in the article as one
of Spirit Lake's biggest boosters and best photographers, and included
this quote; "According to Sondahl, half the businesses along the
main street have
stood empty for the last 25 years, at least." The author never
spoke to me, just got the info off my website... That does make
August 24 August
is proving to be the biggest month for the pottery this year, and I was
running low on the roll ends of newsprint that I cut up and use to wrap
pots. So I was dismayed to learn that the local paper had just
improved their print process so there was no waste. Of course I
applaud their effort to reduce waste, but I also think a lot of
teachers, artists, and others benefit from their end rolls, which often
have 100s of feet of usable paper on them. I
initially viewed this as a major setback. I know of no cheap
alternative... Then I decided to place a free ad on
Craigslist in the "wanted" category, and within a couple hours I got a
solid lead on free roll ends at a printer in Spokane Valley. So
today I got 11 fairly short rolls for free, whereas previously it cost
$3-5 per fuller roll. This evening I made peach
pit jelly (or syrup) from the leftover peach pits that resulted from
canning. We initially got the idea from an old church cook book.
Pretty often it doesn't gel, in which case it's syrup. Both
the syrup and the peaches are mostly eaten on pancakes, waffles, and
French toast. I tried making two batches at the same time,
one with low sugar pectin, and the other with regular. Tomorrow
I may know which produced better results--they're too hot yet.
The low sugar pectin wins in making jelly--the other remained liquid
syrup, so why bother even adding it? I don't make a lot of jelly,
so I'm pretty behind on the learning curve for this.
The wind's been blowing all day, with a cool day predicted arriving
tomorrow. Traditionally we can expect a frost any time from here
on out. I'm still enjoying the shorts weather today.
The local annual blues festival is in process of moving from half a
block away on the street (where the street band permeated our house) to
the bars for the night. I love blues, but don't like bars, so am
ambivalent. Most of the bands played some classic Willie Dixon
blues, but actually seemed to have pretty short blues lists, turning to
70's rock and roll like "Feelin' Alright," a song covered by Joe
Cocker, written by Dave Mason of Traffic. The pottery sales and
those of other Maine St. businesses tend to go down on this event
day (except for the bars, for whom it's the biggest event of the year).
I've been places where the deer seem tame (and the people there chase
off bears by beating on pots and pans). But I read in the local
news today how an older couple got beaten up by a mule deer which
apparently took exception to their dog. They kept getting knocked
down by the deer trying to get their dog. As the article (and I)
like to point out, such events are frequently related to people
bringing in wild animals by feeding them. (Unfortunately that's
an unintentional effect of my unfenced garden). The fattest
ground squirrels I've seen lived in mountainous rest areas along the
freeway, with lots of free food from passersby. With the food
comes a sense of entitlement. Every time I
open the door to my hens, the distinctive dark red one is always in
front there hopping up to assert its first dibs on whatever food I
brought. They're only afraid of me if I grab for them, and then,
not much. I suppose there's a moral here related to welfare and
international aid, but I don't think I want to stretch the point...
was a nice quiet day at the Mill Pond. I bicycled around to the
big rock, then walked along the shoreline. There were several
shorebirds that I flushed without first noticing them. Then I saw
a hawk agitated at something fly away, so I went to look, and found
this other hawk (probably the source of agitation) about 10 yards away.
It perched there long enough for me to circle around it so the
sun was behind me for better lighting, which is how I took this photo.
I think it's an immature Cooper's hawk, by the stripey tail.
I did wonder if it was wounded, but soon after the picture was
snapped, it flew off. In this photo it's balancing on one foot,
but others show both...
Summer is winding down, although 90's temps are predicted for the next
two days. The lows are in the 40's so it won't take much of a dip
to get the first frost. Since we'll be traveling to my son's
wedding in Upper Michigan around Labor Day, I'll have to get a
lot of gardening done before leaving, such as picking most of the
tomatoes, and freezing corn. As it is, we're eating corn once a
day, since it's so good, and the season for it is so short.
I woke up last night around 3, and walked out to see the total eclipse
of the moon. I considered setting up a tripod and taking photos,
then I thought "naw," and went back to bed. It looked like the
full moon, only subdued and reddish. Since Idaho
senator Larry Craig is in the news, I'll relate my one experience I had
with him (not in a restroom). About 20 years ago, our Spirit Lake
church had a speaker come from a now forgotten Latin American country,
who detailed for us some of the ways our government was causing great
trouble for the poor people of their country, and recommended we write
our Congress people. The speaker made a compelling argument, so I
wrote to Sen. Craig, briefly outlining what the speaker said. For
all I know a staffer wrote the response, but being such a small state,
and considering its vehement tone, I always believed that Sen. Craig
wrote to me himself, saying, if I would send the name of this person
he'd see that he'd be deported.
The weather was just pleasant 80's. I mostly worked on throwing
pots today, pitchers and plates, and unloading two kilns.
I spent a couple hours picking and shucking corn (left the shucks in
the row, just like a corn harvesting machine), then I blanched and
froze about 23 quarts of corn. If there's anything that seems
like harnessing sunlight and turning it into energy, it's corn.
As I peeled back each perfect ear (no earworms around here), the
corn glowed back the sunlight at me. My new
recording microphones arrived today, and inspite of a busy schedule I
set them up enough to be reassured that they'll work well with my
software and hardware interface. I'll have to put the recording
project on hold until at least October, with the busy month I've got
going ahead... Also the weather barely broke 80
degrees here (instead of the 90 predicted), staying cool and overcast
till afternoon. I think this area is one of two places weather
forecasters are sent to suffer. One area is the Southwest, where
they have to say it will be hot and dry every day. The other is here,
where the weather often has a mind of its own.