Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bisqueware Economy

It has been a very strange week.

Writing has gone well and we’re finally catching up in the studio. We still have a few things to throw and some more to glaze to fill orders received so far, but it won’t be long and then we can finally get on to experimenting on new patterns and new kinds of pots, mixing new glazes and getting ready for spring. But I’ve had a weird sort of attitude, mostly because of the jury selection, but also because of changing the setting for my novel, which was a setting I had been creating for several years. I miss the old setting, but the novel itself is more important than the setting, and I do also love  the new setting.


Now, about that Bisqueware Economy:

In the pottery process of creating stoneware, we first throw pieces – wetware—and then dry them – greenware – then we fire them the first time, the bisque fire – bisqueware – to a fairly low temperature, as far as ceramic firing goes, and finally we glaze and fire them a few hundred degrees hotter, the glaze fire – glazed ware.

At the bisqueware stage, the pots have sintered enough that they are not so fragile to handle for applying glaze. They’re not stoneware yet  because they haven’t been fired hot enough; and, so, they’re  not as strong as the glazed ware, but they’re absorbent, which helps an adequate amount of the glaze slurry to adhere to the pots.

At this stage of bisqueware if you put water into the pot, it will slowly seep through the walls and bottom of the pot. This process of seepage is what “the trickle-down theory” of our economy is actually like. If you put a bisqueware pot filled with water on a newspaper it will slowly begin to saturate the paper, but will never create a puddle, it doesn’t seep that quickly. If you hang the bisqueware pot filled with water for a long time, you may get an occasional drip from it, and if you lick the bottom of the pot you may soothe the heat of thirst from your tongue, but not really the thirst and certainly not even the heat in your throat.

“The trickle-down theory” has repeatedly been proven not to work as a method of spreading wealth any better than a bisqueware pot filled with water trickles water to the thirsty, but we continually insist that it does work. I guess I shouldn’t say “we” because so many of “we” already know, from extensive experience, that it doesn’t work, but it’s those who benefit financially from “the trickle-down theory” who insist it works. They are the people who accumulate vast amounts of wealth that stays in bank accounts and investments that increase that wealth and doesn’t, for very obvious reasons that create the very foundation of wealth accumulation, spread around.

In reality, our greatest source of wealth, which is also our greatest resource, is human capacity, but unless we dramatically change a wide swath of our entire economic system, we will continue to under-utilize and discard that wealth, and all those people who cannot scramble their way to the top of the heap. I don’t see that happening any time soon on a grand scale.

But if I were, for whatever reason, able to accumulate adequate wealth, I would start up an employee-owned company that would give the profit to the people who work for it, rather than the people who already have vast amounts of wealth and can afford to invest in stocks. I would also use that company as an example of what we can truly achieve in fully utilizing our most valuable resource.

I’ve been reading about employee-owned companies lately and I cannot imagine any better system. These companies invest not only in their own workers, but in their local economy as well. The profit doesn’t go to the already-wealthy, and it also doesn’t go to corporations far, far away; it isn’t sent away from the community wherein that wealth was generated and, so, doesn’t deplete the local cash-flow, doesn’t increase financial drought or make locals more and more dependent on those far, far away corporations for their livelihoods.

In short, an employee-owned company helps create a local economy rather than siphon away its life blood.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

With Purpose I Write

On a more open and cheerful note (cheerful? not cheerful, actually much more sober and healthy) I am making good progress again with my novel. After deciding to write in  a setting much less science-fictiony, I had some lost time working out the details of the change. I have transcribed the first draft of the first chapter onto the computer; since it had to be redrafted, I decided to type it in. I’m working on the second chapter now, which is a bit more difficult to make the change, but today – as I was contemplating my personal place in life and my purpose for writing – I made a dramatic mental leap into my new setting. It was very exciting and is leading me to take a bolder stance on my message.

Christmas is just around the corner of next week and I’m a bit blown away that the year is so nearly over. I never seem to get as much done as I would like to, but this year was worse. Partly because we worked much later for Ursula than we imagined we would (which was really good for the bank account and getting through this month with all of our extra expenses), and then we had a flood of pottery orders that has kept us busy well beyond what we normally work in the studio catching up for the year.

So, I haven’t started on working with our new glazes, haven’t started new projects and designs and forms, and haven’t started on the pottery articles I want to write this winter. But how can I complain when it works well for our bank account? Well, because I’m ready to move on into the future I keep seeing at a distance no matter how much deeper I get into the calendar.

My number one goal, though is the novel; and since I am making good progress on that, I feel soothed and filled with holiday joy.

Outside the snow is glistening on the ground, stars are glittering in the sky, a coyote is singing, and in a few days we’ll be celebrating the solstice, when the earth will once again turn it’s course to bring us an increase in light each day.

Beauty, peacefulness, and joy all available in abundance if we just strive for it. And if we don’t do it, who will?

Politics on Trial

After sleeping on and not sleeping on the jury selection experience I had yesterday and then mulling further all day today, I have figured out part of my cynicism of the whole process has, at least somewhat, the whole atmosphere of cynicism I’ve gained about our whole political and governmental system. I believe there is still potential in our form of government; but, at least in our present era, that potential has been nullified in favor of personal agendas funded by the extremely wealthy and corporations.

One of the questions the prosecuting attorney asked yesterday was whether we had ever been lied to and whether or not we ever knew we had been lied to. An almost ridiculous question in light of what the position on truth at which our entire world has come: truth is not nearly as important as ones agenda, whether it be political, religious or for personal gain. We have, as we all experienced so well this year, been lied to and deceived about every aspect of our lives.

It was, therefore,  difficult for me yesterday to even listen to two lawyers trying to fill our heads with their own agendas. Like so many Americans, I’m angry, bereft over the loss of a life of trustworthiness, at arms over the lies and deceit, and isolated even further into my own safe, little world of how life could be.

So, yesterday when I got home, I was grasping at the beauty available in the world and already fantasizing about camping and hiking next year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jury Selection

I was called in for jury selection today. Had to be there at 8:30 and was there twelve minutes early, my mistake. They didn’t even open the doors until 8:37 and didn’t get started until well after 9:00.


So impressive that I was in a bad attitude state of mind before they even started asking questions. What I was thinking of while I was waiting was that the first time Ben and I went to the city/county building – I cannot recall what for exactly, but we had to go for some county business reason – we went into the office we had to report to and there were five or six people in there. Three were reading books, one was knitting or doing needlework or something and the other one was talking with the needlework person. They ignored us until we practically shouted out a question.

I guess we were a bother in their busy schedules.

So, as you can deduce, I was actually already quite impressed with our county workers before today. Then, albeit quite late, the show began. The case was an attempted murder being prosecuted by the state and we were warned early on in the prosecuting attorney’s period for questioning the potential jurors that there were pictures of the victims having been stabbed depicting various knife wounds and intestines hanging out. The victims, obviously, survived and were in the courtroom, sitting at the very back. I was thinking of those grisly pictures when the attorney asked us to raise our hands if we felt the defendant deserved an impartial jury. I couldn’t raise my hand. It became more and more apparent as the morning slogged on into the defense attorney’s questioning that the question was not whether or not the defendant stabbed the victims, and no one seemed willing to even say he might not have done it. The question was whether or not the defendant was guilty of attempted murder. Semantics? Anyway, the defense attorney asked me a few questions because I hadn’t raised my hand and I evidently failed the test, because in the end they didn’t select me to be on the jury.

The case was a bit intriguing to me, not because I believed, from what they “told us” that the defendant could be ‘innocent,’ but because I wondered how he could be considered ‘not guilty.’

I honestly do believe everyone deserves a fair trial and though I intend never to do anything that would land me in a court as a defendant (my conscience would be far worse on me than the jury ever could), I deeply appreciate that our system was not based on the old systems of the old countries which took not the attitude of the defendant being innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but that their defendants were guilty until proven innocent.

However, I do find it rather dismaying that our court cases seem to have turned into a game between the lawyers: may the best lawyer win. I saw that game played in part today as they were ‘questioning’ potential jurors by asking questions that actually told us what they hoped we would not only say, but believe throughout the trial. While questioning me about not raising my hand, the defense attorney asked me if I believed it was possible that ‘a defendant’ could be found innocent even though he or she may have wielded a weapon better than the other person or people involved, who may have come out worse; that it could be self-defense. While most of the other jurors agreed that, “of course” it was possible, I could only say that it would depend upon whatever other evidence came out about other weapons and so forth.  Maybe I’m cynical, but most of the potential jurors fell for the game and played their positions as pawns quite well. They proudly repeated what each other said about being impartial and non-judgmental with phrases the attorneys planted in our minds. Perhaps, then, I’m a heretic, not believing some concept simply because it was presented to me as Truth and is the popular concept to believe.

I think it would have been very interesting being a part of this trial, but I guess I don’t play this game well enough with others – and maybe not any game, since so many of the personal questions they asked us were evidently posed for them to discern how well we do play with others.

But, then, on the other hand, since this is our busiest time of year in the studio, I am a little relieved I wasn’t chosen this time. Perhaps some day I will get the chance to witness firsthand how the rest of that game is played out. This is, though, the first time I have been requested to attend a jury selection, even though this year is the fifth time I have been selected for jury service; maybe they know something about me not being the kind of game-player they want and they’re not telling me. S’pose?


Sunset a few hours after I got home today.



Hungarian Partridges in our front yard a couple of days ago.



And the evidence is in: life can be so beautiful if we just let it be.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On Reading Ben Hur

What a week! Last Saturday our water heater spouted a leak just a few hours before Ben got home. Then, with the new snow, we finally figured out that the truck needed new tires; Ben’s winter boots went the way of the water heater; and the starter went awry in the Subaru.

Merry Christmas to us: we have a new water heater, new tires on the truck, Ben’s new boots, and a new starter in the Subaru. So this week we contributed heavily to some sort of economic stimulus plan.

Amidst all this chaos and between writing sessions I am reading Ben Hur. Or, rather, I should say I’m wading my way through it. It was written over a hundred years ago and  the author decided to us a lot of less-than-perfect antiquated language even for his time. I’m reading it because one of the publications on writing that I subscribe to published an article wherein that author told of how nearly perfect the plot was formulated. Yes, I see that already and I’m only a third of the way through it. Other than the difficult language that forces me to fully focus on the writing, the story is a very good one and I would recommend it in spite of the author’s prejudices and liberties with reality. (Near the beginning, which was when Jesus was born, he describes Mary, the mother of Jesus, {keep in mind we’re discussing a Jewish woman long before they were so widespread throughout Europe and marrying into European families and bloodlines} as a stunningly beautiful blond-haired, blue-eyed girl of about sixteen.

I nearly slammed the book down, but quickly passed by those early passages as though someone had passed a cloud of highly fermented flatulence. A lot of older literature I can read with a grain of antiquated discretion, but Mary as a blue-eyed blonde? That has nothing to do with cultural differences, other than  northwestern Europeans making Jesus look northwestern European because it makes them more comfortable being in his ‘presence.’

Right, then, I’ll stop shouting and climb down now.

From a different angle, the book has helped me re-think the setting of my own novel. I’ve been a bit . . . what’s the right word . . . hesitant about the setting I had chosen: a foreign planet far, far away. Part of the plot was even how humans ended up there. My problem with that distant planet is that it ostracizes a lot of people who just don’t, won’t, or can’t connect with something so foreign and exotic – rather like Jesus being a Jew with black hair and olive skin, rather than being a blue-eyed blond European – and my underlying message, which is rather important to me, won’t make it very far out of the chute before I’m bucked off.

So, out with the planet Haedeortha, the nearby planetary system of Pevliad, and the older, home planet Elysion. Out with all the purely exotic, dangerous and foreign native animals with varying levels of intelligence. Out with the continents mapped out with deserts, forests, mountains, jungles, and secrets held by the more intelligent native animals. It was a lot of fun creating it all, but it’s time to let them go. Swoosh! Gone with the wave of an eraser.

I  had toyed a few weeks ago with changing the setting to Earth, but hadn’t considered an ancient era, so I nixed it. A current or near-future era on Earth would not have worked; the plot would have been too controversial for too many people.

My new setting will be in a fairly early pre-Christian era of eastern Europe; I haven’t quite decided how long before our current calendar system started, but probably at least a thousand years or so. And I have some research to do; the challenge before me is that research for this particular setting is purely based on archeology, since it’s in an area that had no written language at the time, so there’s no recorded history. To be truthful, doing research is much easier than creating a planet, the animals, plants,  terrain and the results of interactions between them all. So I’ll be writing about someplace midway between a wholly new, self-created world attached to some distant star and someplace already created for me. It will be here at home, and the terrain will be very close to what it is now and most of the animals won’t be too foreign, but the people, the actual architecture they created, and the way they viewed the world will all be true fiction.

It’s time to get back to work, so I’m off and running . . .

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Landscape of this Writer’s Mind.

I woke this morning to a vivid, fluid landscape of my mind, a place I rarely visit and such visitations always correlate to Ben being gone from our homestead.

Ben went down to his childhood hometown in Wyoming to take care of his sister’s two children while she was off on a business trip. And it’s not like we have extensive chores that need a lot of care, but somehow it seems everything takes me a lot longer to accomplish alone than when Ben and I are working together. Actually, I’m not much of a morning person; I don’t have too much of a problem getting out of bed, but to get the fire started and breakfast cooked is a bit much for me. Long ago I didn’t really eat breakfast, I just had coffee and showered and left for work. Ben has me spoiled now, though, I have to eat a good breakfast or I’m starving by the time my workday starts. So, by the time I get up, start a fire, have my coffee, cook and eat breakfast and do chores it sees like the morning is half over.

And this morning I woke to that strange landscape. My mine took off on philosophical tangents that led me off in directions and lands so foreign that I felt I was living in one of the fantasy places I write about. Within that landscape, of course, I had all the world’s problems figured out and knew how to deal with all the negative people who would have a problem with a viewpoint different than their own. Gradually I woke up and realized I was on planet Earth with people who fervently believe in things that are not just improbable, but impossible beyond the wildest fantasies I could imagine, filled with magic and miracles so fantastic I wouldn’t even dare to write them in my novels.

That reminds me, the preliminary writing on my novel is going well. I’ve written out the characterizations for all the major characters and a rough outline of the first five chapters;the plot is moving along really well with a fluid and rapid flow. I want to do as much writing as I can this week with Ben gone – I’m not sure what Ben being gone has to do with anything, but it’s a good diversion for me to have such a plan. The deeper I get into the story, the more I realize how much work it really is, but I’m enjoying it immensely. The rough outline is the easiest and most fun part of the process, but now I have to get down to the nitty gritty of the actual work of fleshing out the characters and making the plot not just feasible, but realistic, plausible and naturalistic; which, for fantasy/science fiction, can be tough, but also critical.

This isn’t my first attempt at writing a novel. I wrote another one a few years ago that taught me a lot – mostly about all the things a writer shouldn’t try to do with a novel – and helped me move on to work on something that would be reader friendly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012



Ben saw it first. The moon had risen behind clouds, leaving us in the dark despite its promise. But then the clouds split and when the moon rose higher and peeked out at us, it gleamed on the snowscaped land and illuminated the dance of life more brightly than it would have if the clouds had never been there.

Food Hangover

Thanksgiving was really great, both times we feasted: once in Montana and once in Wyoming. It was terrific spending time with so many friends and family members, many of those we see only once a year. I ate more this year than I have eaten in many, many years and I was suffering for it.

But now it’s Tuesday and I still have a food hangover.


This week in the studio we’re trying to cram in some last blast efforts to get a few more pieces done for Christmas orders and requests. The glazing table and the drying shelves are full. Unfortunately we’re still having trouble with our old glaze and have to re-fire quite a few pieces, which takes the profit out of them, but we want to do some more experimenting before we choose which sample glaze to use for our new base glaze. We’ve whittled down to three promising glaze recipes and will put some samples of them in the next glaze load with our fingers crossed.

And I’m writing every chance I get.

So we have a hectic schedule for a few more days or so. Then Ben will be a manny for Mel-and-Mark’s kids next week and I’ll be taking care of the home front and writing like a maniacal wild man as much as possible.

It’ll be quiet around here without Ben, but that will be good for a week of immersion with my novel, which is actually going very well well. More than a week though and I might go bonkers.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Writer In Me

This morning a flood of ideas on my novel disrupted my calm morning, which was very exciting, and I filled out a couple of pages of notes. Yesterday I began writing the first few pages of the book, which was actually a prologue, but I read an article a couple of years ago, written by an editor, that he had never read a prologue that was necessary or that actually helped the book or the reader. He said, rather, that prologues, which get the readers started in a certain flow of thought only to abruptly hurl them into another time frame, would better benefit the flow of the novel as backstory. I was so fond of this backstory/prologue episode that I really wanted it in the book, but it was way too much information to fit into backstory, so I was going to put it in as the first chapters. Then in one of the books I studied on characterization, the author said that if you have the kind of information that is from a different time frame than the rest of the novel and cannot fit comfortably into backstory, it must be put into a prologue. So I was working on a prologue, ignoring what I had read earlier by the editor.

Yesterday I read an article in Writer’s Digest about backstory. The author gave a few tips about how to determine if the backstory is necessary and actually needs to be in the novel or if it would merely stop the flow of the storyline, and then how to decide if it could actually be a mere mention, even if it takes two or three places in the book to fill the reader in on the whole backstory , rather than disrupting the flow of the novel by stopping with a long chunk and filling in some larger bit of a character’s history.

The information in that article made me stop and really think about my approach to this prologue I’ve been writing and I decided that it really should be a separate short story and the episode, which is still important information, only mentioned in the novel. It would make a very nice short story, but the entire episode really isn’t necessary in the novel and would serve to thrust the readers into a separate time frame. IT would also come across to some as a gimmick for a hook to attract reader attention. I’ll already have some disruption in continuity because I have two viewpoint characters on different continents, so I think that would really be enough for readers and editors to deal with.

So this morning I tucked away the notes and what I had written yesterday in a separate file and will work on it later as a short story, maybe when I need a break from the novel. Today I’ll decide on what to do for my opening chapter. I recall having written out several notes on a possible beginning, so I’ll pull those out and start on them. Ben will be going down to Wyoming the first part of December to tend to Melody’s kids for a week, so I have already plotted to play hooky in the studio and write like an obsessed maniac to get as much done that week as I possible can. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself, but that’s still two weeks away . . .

And I still have to write my column, which is due tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Winter, Pottery and Writing

We went to Butte today, to deliver pots that will be taken to Idaho this weekend and picked up next week to be hauled to Nevada for shows the next few weekends. I’m glad that it’s Delia, in Nevada, and Joyce in Wyoming rather than Ben and me in Montana doing the shows. I’m weary of doing shows and they just don’t pay off so well anymore. I’m quite happy making the pots and sending them out to Joyce, Delia and the galleries.

We were able to drive out because we hired a plow to clear last week’s snow off of our driveway a couple of days ago. After the snow storm, a lovely wind arose, singing all day and night for several days in that sweet, haunting timbre with which only the wind can sing, in tones and lyrics that roused us fully awake at night as it echoed our fears of being snowed in until the end of the world. Which, according to some ancient accounts could be in a couple of weeks; and that wouldn’t have been so bad because we have enough coffee to last that long. But we opted to have the road plowed so Delia could get her pottery and we could get more coffee just in case the world doesn’t end.

Today, while we were gone, the sun shone on the parts of the road that the plow scraped clear and, so, now we have deep mud and slush which made our drive back in, late this afternoon, quite difficult. We’ll drive the car out again tomorrow morning while the ground is frozen; that way we’ll be able to get out for more coffee next month. And, yes, of course for the big Thanksgiving pig-out-feast next week.

On a less festive note, I’m studying a couple of text books on characterization. So, now it’s time for my confession: I have a goal to write a novel over the next two winters and I wanted to brush up on how to create powerful characters. I’ve given myself the two winters because during the summer, when we’re landscaping, I can barely drag myself home with enough energy to fix and eat dinner before dragging my worn and tired body to bed. (The upside of that weariness, of course, is that it burns a lot of my winter fat off, helping me to fulfill another goal.) There is, therefore, no mental energy left in me at the end of the day to write and we leave so early in the morning that I couldn’t get up early enough for time to write and make it through the long work day. Summer’s off for writing, except maybe editing on the weekends some of what I wrote during the winter. I’ll have two winters of about six months each for writing this novel, which is one full year and that year, though broken, started a couple of weeks ago. And with all I’ll want to accomplish in the studio, I’ll need the full year.

I can explain my decision to quit waiting for miracles to change my life for me and start writing this novel now with an example of life we witnessed today when we stopped in Three Forks to have lunch: We walked in and checked out a table on one side of the room, but I was a little cold and opted to take a booth instead chairs knowing there would be less draft in a booth. Next to the table and chairs we first looked at sat an old man that I thought was scowling as we walked past him a second time going toward the booth. I sat down facing the scowling old man and soon realized he wasn’t scowling at all, but had a little difficulty seeing and had to squint a bit. When he picked up his glass to drink or his fork to eat, he had a tremor in his hand. It was never enough to spill his food or his drink, but he did have some trouble getting the straw and the food into his mouth sometimes.

I guessed, by the lines on the old man’s face, he was in his late seventies or early eighties and I felt a little sad for him. Perhaps he’s still glad to be alive and if he is then I’ll be happy for him, too; but perhaps, actually, it isn’t so much that I was sad for him, but, rather, for myself, for my own future. As I’ve written before, my parents are in a nursing home. Mom has Alzheimer’s, so she’s as happy as she could possibly be, not remembering from one moment to the next what she might have to be sad about. Dad has severe dementia, but he’s also in very rough physical shape and, honestly, I don’t know how his body continues on. Mom and dad are roughly the same age as that old man at the restaurant and he is certainly in better shape than my folks are, but when he got up to leave he had a difficult time walking, though – probably out of a stubbornness I know I would have if I were in his shoes – he  didn’t use a cane or a walker. He got into his little pickup and drove away and I was worried for the other drivers on the road, but at the same time I couldn’t fault him for not relinquishing his last bastion of true freedom. Perhaps he lives in Three Forks because he feels safe driving there, because without his little pickup he would be completely dependent on other people to either take him everywhere he needed to go or bring him everything he needed to survive. He would still be in his own home, but his life would be so much like nursing home residents.

Also as I’ve mentioned, Ben and I built and moved into our place over eighteen years ago. Those years have gone by more quickly than I could ever have imagined possible and there’s still so much more I would like to do with our place and with my life. But, and here’s the real issue, when we have lived in our place for another passage of time equivalent to what we have already lived here, Ben and I will nearly be in the same age category that the old man in the restaurant is in now and very likely in a similar state of health.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and have decided to start pushing myself rather than to continue waiting for someone to pull me; or at least, looking back, it seems like I’ve been waiting. In reality, at least in part, a lot of my complacence stems from being so damn happy with my life. And I am happy, but I’m also in a crux; some days I don’t want to change anything: I want to keep everything the way it is now; and some days I want to change everything: there’s so much more out there. Since there are things I still want to do, though, and writing is at the top of the list, I know that if I don’t change anything, then when I sail with the high winds of time into the age of the old man in the restaurant I’ll look back – so long as I still have my mind – and won’t be so damn happy anymore.

And what, really, could be worse than that?

So, if I may be so bold, I want you all to hold me accountable. I will finish that novel, at least a first full draft, by the spring of 2014. Question me, bug me, needle me, but don’t let me be complacent. If I don’t let you know how I’m doing every week, harangue me. Likewise, if you have a goal you want to accomplish, let me know and I’ll pester you as well.

Deal? Okay, deal!

Friday, November 9, 2012



We woke this morning with the first glimmers of dawn filtering through heavy layers of clouds sifting snow onto the landscape. While we were drinking our first cup of coffee hunkered beside the wood stove, the light gradually exposed branches of trees and boughs of pines fat with piled snow. The bushes and our automobiles had become puffy mounds. Snow was spread thick across the landscape the way I, as a child, would spread frosting on a cake.

“You’re putting on too much,” mom would say.

Too much? I wondered, thinking I had been frugal with the frosting. The way I think I’m being frugal with my emotions, though I want to giggle with glee, but as we step out into the weather Ben looked at me and grinned, softly shaking his head.

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

“It is beautiful. It’s a wonderland,” he said. “I wonder if we’ll ever get out again.” But then he smiled and kicked up a puff of snow.

Nature had certainly not been frugal frosting the land overnight, adding nearly another foot on top of what she had piled yesterday. I giggled as we plowed with our legs down to the meadow to do chores. I giggled while I was scooping snow away from the hen house. And I giggled sweeping snow off the woodpile. I haven’t seen snow this deep since the early years after moving to Montana. For now we have coffee and food enough to last through this storm, so I don’t even care if we can’t get out. It’s still a wonderland for me.

I know the weather is going to warm back up again next week and at least most of this will disappear, but perhaps that helps me enjoy it all the more. I feel like I just shed forty five or fifty years and I’m a little boy again.




The greenhouse imitating an igloo



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Election is Over!!

Hooray, hooray!!

I am so glad all the attack ad bullshit on the radio, flyers in the mail, from phone calls, and in the newspaper has finally ended that I almost don’t care who won. Isn’t that pathetic? (Not near as pathetic as what our political system has become.)

Yes, I did vote.

The overall outcome could have been better, but it could have been much, much worse, too.

Between dipping, cleaning up and painting pots, Ben and I have been racing around to get a few things done today in anticipation of the storm coming in. I’m rather excited about the possibility of a bunch of snow, even though it looks like we may only get half a foot. But what more can I ask? The election is over and snow is on the way.

Hooray, hooray!!

Think Snow!


Isn’t it beautiful? I’m ready to hunker down for the winter, so bring it on, baby!

Mary Barringer Demonstration

Mary Barringer fires her ware in an electric kiln to Cone 6 like Ben and I do, so the workshop was especially pertinent to us. Mary hand-builds all her pots, Ben and I hand-build only a small percentage of our pots, and the slip-decorated surfaces are something we will probably do on a very limited basis, but it was fun to watch her and to have the weekend to associate with a roomful of potters.

Most of the bases of Mary’s pots are press-molded slabs of clay, as are her plates and trays. She doesn’t use a slab roller, but takes a wad of clay and slaps it down on the table top or the floor at a slight angle to extend the slab. After peeling up the slab of clay and slapping it down again and again, she lays it on a piece of cloth (something called Pellon {sp?} that Ben is familiar with, but I am not) that looks like a very thin layer of artificial felt and rolls it out a bit further with a rolling pin. She said one of the main reasons she doesn’t have a slab roller is because every flat surface in her studio is always covered with stuff and she would have to clean it off every time she wanted to roll a slab. Both Ben and I could relate to that . . .

When the slab is the right thickness and large enough for the tray or base she wants, Mary presses it into or onto a mold. One of the molds she used was one she made earlier in the day by laying a slab of clay on a piece of wadded up newspaper shaped to form a convex oval, then she let the slab dry until it was leather hard. After she pressed the pot slab she made over the leather hard mold slab and let it dry and let it dry enough to handle it, she picked it back up and built a pot on it with coils.

I was surprised she used coils to form her pot rather than with slabs, since it takes so much longer, but she prefers to take more time in the state of mind she’s in when making the pot to let it tell her, by the finished shape and texture, what the surface color and thickness should be. And Mary is never in a hurry when she’s making a pot. So, then when the pot has dried a bit she scratches and scrapes texture patterns on the surface. When that stiffens up enough that she can clean the debris out of the etched subsurface areas without gumming it up, she paints a first coat of colored slip over the entire outside surface. When that dries, she adds a second color and sometimes she adds a third.

While she is laying the color on the pot, she is also deciding which areas should have which base colors and starts forming a pattern with the colors.

Okay, so this is boring to anyone who isn’t a potter, but it was very exciting for Ben and me to watch. We were surprised, too, when we visited the Red Lodge Clay Center gallery, since Mary’s pots weren’t nearly as expensive as we had imagined they would be. No, we didn’t buy one, but we certainly did admire them all.

Monday, November 5, 2012

. . . and a pottery workshop.

Actually we attended a two-day demonstration, not a workshop, on the weekend.

Last week was hectic. When Ben logged on to the Red Lodge Clay Center website last weekend so we could ogle the latest pottery porn (lots of luscious pots) they had posted, he found out Mary Barringer was demonstrating her techniques of hand-building pots and putting clay slips and vitreous engobes (clay slips that become vitreous in the firing and, so, have a little sheen; which, according to some sources, is actually what our base glaze is) on the surface of her pots instead of glazes. Her work and her surface treatment are so different than ours that we decided we would like to see how she does it. The demo was great; it was fun and interesting to watch Mary’s techniques and hear her philosophy about pots and pot making. And it felt good to connect with some of our fellow pottery tribal members. Mary fires in an electric kiln to cone 6, which is a little under 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, like we do, so it gave us some ideas for certain kinds of decorative pots we have periodically worked on, even though the pots Mary makes are certainly not the kinds of pots we would ever make; and yet, of course, we love her pots. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take our camera, but you can see her work and a even a blurb on the demo if you Google Mary Barringer. We’ll post examples of what we try with some of what we learned at the demo, but that won’t be for a few weeks.

I’ll write more about the demo later, but Ben is baking an onion pie and I can’t concentrate.

Part of our justification for leaving when we’re so busy getting work done for Joyce/Dano Camp was that we would have the chance to deliver several box-loads of pots late Saturday afternoon, since the demo ended at 3:00 on Saturday and we didn’t have to be back until 10:00 on Sunday (with an extra hour because of the daylight savings time change). Since we didn’t yet have several box-loads of pots to deliver to Joyce, we had to scramble to get a few kiln-loads of pots glazed up before the weekend.

Along with that, I worked up recipes and mixed eight different samples of a revision of our base glaze. A few of them turned out fine, but one in particular looks like it will be a great choice with only a very minor alteration.

Just after we packed up the car late Friday, so we could head for Red Lodge at 6:00 Saturday morning, we got an e-mail note from Joyce’s cousin, Delia (who sells Dano Pottery in Nevada) asking when we could make a delivery to Butte. She’s waiting for some pots to do shows and has put in several special orders. So, this week, along with a larger experimental batch on our replacement glaze, we’ll be scrambling to get a few box-loads of pots to deliver to Butte next week.

And it’s all good; even though I’m anxious to get some other experiments and work started, we’re glad to have work that actually pays us now.




And there will be a lot more of this to come. It’s a good thing we love doing it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Typical Winter Days in the Pottery

It snowed again today. Sigh Open-mouthed smile. The temperature this morning was eighteen degrees and the snow was filtering softly down with a light breeze, gradually dusting everything with a deepening layer. It lasted for a few hours, but didn’t amount to much, really.  If the weather clears up, we’ll probably have a couple more projects to do with Ursula, but in the meantime we’re in the studio. I know it’s only late October, but with the snow, the cold weather and the work in the studio it feels like our typical winter schedule already.

Yesterday Ben got up, washed his face, turned on the coffee pot and started a fire in the woodstove well before dawn. I got up a few minutes later and we sat beside the woodstove drinking our first cup of coffee. After breakfast it was still cold in the apartment side of the studio so we sat by the woodstove for our second cup of coffee, watching the cloudy sky begin to lighten. We then moseyed to the bathroom to brush our teeth and then pulled on our boots, coats, hats and gloves to head out for chores: fed the barn cats and chickens, haul in firewood, and sweep snow off the deck.

Finally in the studio, Ben threw mugs and saucers for the berry bowls he threw on Monday and I threw some platters and teapots. In the afternoon we painted the pots I had dipped the day before and then loaded the kiln. We’re behind on our orders and still have to throw a bunch, but if we don’t concentrate on getting pots glazed we’ll never get enough Dano pots done for the coming holiday season shows for Joyce and Delia, so we have to keep the kiln hot even though we would both rather just throw pots. After we loaded the kiln Ben baked the bread he had been tending to all day, making the sponge and then the bread dough before baking it, and did afternoon chores: gathering eggs from the chickens, feeding the cats again, and chopping more firewood When we came back inside the whole place smelled of freshly baking bread. I don’t do so well eating either wheat or yeast, but I couldn’t resist having some warm bread and butter with dinner. After dinner Ben waxed up some more pots and rinsed them off so I could dip them this morning.

We started in the studio today by filtering our main base glaze. I had filtered it right after mixing it late last winter, but some tiny granules had formed in it over the summer. These granules make tiny hard lumps in the fired glaze and we don’t know what glaze ingredients formed the granules, but when we flick them off the pots after dipping them, they leave a small pit in the glaze. When we rub our base glaze the surface gets powdery and it’s hard to paint the designs on, so I filtered it before dipping this morning. We have to put a fan on the pots to dry them quickly, because our glaze is picky about drying time and causes problems if it dries too slowly.

We have been having more trouble with our glaze lately. A couple of years ago we decided to lower our firing temperature from cone 7 to cone 6, since it the elements we get these days burn out so quickly. It used to be that elements lasted for several hundred firings, now we get less than a hundred and replacing them is not only expensive, but takes us away from glazing or throwing for much of a workday. So, we figured if we could get the elements to last a few more firings by lowering the maturation temperature by a cone, it would be well worth the effort.

We took the easy route to lower the temperature and added a frit to our glaze. Frit, for those of you who don’t know, is an artificially manufactured flux for glazes and glass. Well the frit did what we wanted and lowered the temperature and even had a couple of nice side effects: the glaze doesn’t get quite as powdery  when you rub it as it did before and it doesn’t chip in the dried, pre-fired state so easily while we’re handling it. On the other hand, the frit has boron, which gives the mixed glaze in the barrel a thicker, almost pudding-like consistency. Which means it dries more slowly. We had, in our tests tried a non-boron-bearing frit, but the fired surface wasn’t as nice as it was before.

Now it’s back to the test circuit. I formulated the original glaze about eight or ten years ago and used it until we changed it without many surface problems, so I’ll  try to reduce the firing temp by another means, it might be just a simple change in the feldspar and increasing one or adding another flux while slightly decreasing the amount of clay in the recipe.

Then, too, our clay is getting harder to get to the studio. Our trucker doesn’t charge very much to get a ton of clay here, only $250, but also doesn’t put a priority on it, if he has room he picks it up, if not we don’t get it until the next week or the next. We’ve been waiting about a month now. We are really happy with our clay body, but another trucker would charge well over twice that much. So, we’re thinking I should revisit the clay body I was formulating several years ago before we found our current body. I nearly had it perfected, but now I can’t recall much about it. If I can get the body perfected, we can have the Archie Bray Clay Business mix it for us in Helena and we can just drive up and pick it up ourselves.

So, with this and our regular throwing and experiments for new work and my goals for writing, it’s going to be a busy winter. I hope it’s a long one.



Trimmed and handled pots drying on the shelf


Bisque ware (fired once to bisque temperature) waiting to be glazed and fired (to glaze temperature).


Pots dipped and waiting to be painted in our good old designs.


Finished Dano pots waiting to be sanded on the bottoms and boxed up to be shipped out.

(Dano is a youth camp that sells our work as a fundraiser through Joyce and Delia.)

Monday, October 22, 2012


Monday, October 22 and we have snow. This afternoon it snowed, fell wet and heavy across the landscape, piling a squishy, cozy and beautiful blanket across my world.


It is beautiful.

The weekend was a blur. Friday we herded cows and calves for Val. That was another beautiful day, but on an opposing side of the weather spectrum than today: partly sunny and cool. Ben and I rode horseback while Val and Joe M. rode their Japanese quarter horses (four wheelers) and we got the cows and calves down from the upper pasture to the lower pasture much quicker than any of us thought we would. Val fed us apple pie and coffee, then we were on our way.

From Val’s Ben and I went to a memorial service for our good friend Velma. V was one of those people that made all her friends feel like we were a special part of her life – and I’m still sure we were – but we, along with everyone else, were rather shocked to see how many special friends V actually had. Over three hundred people showed up to the memorial. V was involved in several groups and circles of friends, so most of the people there were actually representing many more than showed up from all across the Western States.

The organizers of the memorial had someone from each of V’s groups speak; so, although it was nice to hear each of them tell a bit about what V meant to them, the service got to be a bit long and tedious. I find it strange that, after a person dies, we humans tend to think,”this is what V would have wanted.” Projecting our own desires on the deceased is some way of keeping them in our hearts, I suppose. But I believe, from the long and tedious service held in V’s memory, that the V Ben and I knew was either very different from the V so many others knew – V, from our perspective, wouldn’t have wanted any service at all, but would have wished that everyone would have gotten together with a few beers and some good food and gotten to know each other in a more personal way – or else she was eulogized and held up to a public standard to suit personal needs.

Much like Jesus. Jesus was all about peace and love and forgiving, but so many leaders over the time since Jesus was crucified have used his image to wage war and intolerance and hatred. In V’s case it isn’t (yet) so dramatic as the case of Jesus, but she was definitely used to let the speakers tell their own story. Don’t get me wrong, though, I appreciate everyone who spoke. It’s just that the service was for those of us left behind, not for Velma.

Anyway, after the service we went over to Sue’s place for a little get-together with Sue and Lori, since Sue’s daughter, Sonja was here last week and was leaving on Saturday. Friday night was the last chance we had to see Sonja and her four month old baby, Ginny. And what a cute baby. No pics, sorry; it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to take a camera.

Then, on Saturday morning Ben and I got up at five o’clock to get to Val’s ranch by seven so we could help herd the cows and calves from the lower pasture to the corrals next to the ranch house. We separated the cows from the calves, loaded the calves into trailers and hauled them to town to sell them. Val treated us to a late lunch in town, then we went back to the ranch to take back the few culled calves and again medicate two that had had pneumonia, let separated off a several old cows that Val will sell at market to buy some young, bred heifers; then we let the rest of the cows back out to pasture. En and I unsaddled and brushed down the horses while  Val prepared a pot roast; finally, we sat, tired and happy, and drank a couple of glasses of wine while we caught up on each other’s lives and ate dinner. It was a very long day by the time we got home, and we were exhausted, but we’d had a great day and went to sleep that night very happy we had experienced a day of real ranching and had been so much a part of Val’s day.

Sunday we caught up around home: Ben mucked out the garden and greenhouse and I mucked out the house and did laundry. No, I’m not the domestic type, but I think I appreciate a clean house and clean clothes a little bit more than Ben does, so I took those chores on when Ben went outside.

Today we got back into the studio – threw pie plates and mugs – much to our relief, since we’re so far behind on orders and fall inventory. Then it snowed all afternoon. I grinned the whole time we were out doing chores, grateful for such a great week followed up by a beautiful snowfall.

Ben just called me to dinner. He made biscuits and gravy out of the rest of Val’s pot roast and apple salad, so I’m off and running. I hope you enjoy the snow photos half as much as I enjoyed being out taking them.




Ben sweeping off the canasphere.




The Barn Cats, probably enjoying the snow much less than I am.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back to Reality

We’ve been home from Canada for three weeks and three days and I still think about the Canadian Rockies every day. Ben and I have been in a whirlwind since we returned, but the past week has been the busiest: we worked for Ursula five days and helped out a crew cutting and chopping firewood for Sue, who just had surgery for breast cancer.

I suppose a big part of why I can’t stop thinking about the Canadian Rockies is that vacations are a period of unreality. We lived with only the most basic needs and spent everyday hiking or traveling for two weeks and a day, but it was living on money we had earned beforehand and were not replacing. I have to keep reminding myself of that last part, the unreality part, because I would love nothing more than to live that way for the rest of my life.

But now we’re back to reality. We thought we were done working for Ursula and we’re glad for the extra paychecks, especially since we spent a lot of money in Canada, but we’re also trying to catch up on orders that came into the studio over the summer so Joyce and Delia can get them to their people before the holidays. This week Ursula and Dee Dee went to Oregon and so we will have time in the studio, but we’re also going to cut down trees burned on Nancy’s place during the Pine Creek Fire and then we’re going to help round up cattle and then separate the calves from the cows so Val can ship out the calves on Saturday morning. That’s three days we can’t spend in the studio; three days we’ll have to make up somehow. But that’s our lives right now and, truthfully,  we wouldn’t trade our lives for any others. Our schedules are hectic and I’m getting anxious and nerve rattled to get started on some new projects in the studio and tiling the studio windows, but living the lives we’ve set up for ourselves is as good as life ever gets, so I would be foolish and counterproductive to our cause and livelihood by complaining.

So, with one last longing look back at our time in Canada, it’s time to move on.


Morning Shadows

Morning shadows as we headed out on an early hike

And here are a few more photos we took from the highways as we drove to and from places along our route:

Hiway 7

Hiway 14


Hiway 18

Goodbye for now, Canadian Rockies.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 7

The last few days of our vacation slipped away far too quickly. On Thursday, September 20th we awoke in Waterton National Park, on the border of Glacier Nat’l Park in Montana, and drove to the trailhead to Bertha Lake. Just as we started up the trail a couple from Wisconsin was scurrying toward us. They said a young black bear was coming down the trail and despite all the clatter they created, the bear wouldn’t leave the trail but continued toward them, so they came back down. We decided not to press our up-to-now great fortune and headed down to Montana.

We ended up camping in the Lewis and Clark Nat’l Forest campground, Cave Mountain, near Choteau and stayed two nights. We hiked on Friday up to the pass into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, a steep and somewhat arduous six mile hike, which we enjoyed immensely because we were lengthening our vacation with an extra day and knowing we would be home the next day. But while we were in Cave Mountain Campground we met up with someone we knew from Rec Lab back in ‘95; in the same group of friends gathered from Conrad we also met a man who was married to the niece of a good friend of ours from the Livingston area. Small world: coincidence? We just don’t know.

The following day we loitered in Augusta on our way home to have a cup of coffee and were home by late afternoon. Not too many days passed before the time we had spent in the Canadian Rockies seemed more like a fantasy than an actual event; had it not been for our pictures, the time we spent in Canada would have been more difficult to believe had actually happened. It has now been two weeks since we returned, a time equal to the time we spend camping and hiking, and the wonder and beauty we experienced and remember seems too fantastic to be real, but isn’t that the way all great and wonderful events and periods of our lives seem when we return to our regular schedules? It always seems that way for me. But because of our pictures, the time we spent in Canada will always have a connection to our fantastic reality.



On the trail above Cave Mountain Campground


We saw a group of eight mountain goats across the ravine grazing around this cave, stopped a few times and watched them for several minutes through binoculars. The picture is fuzzy because of the distance. All eight goats are here, but one of them almost blends into the rocks and one is partially hidden by the trees.

CMH 12

The end of our hike


The following pictures, our final reminiscence, are of the Canadian Rockies we experienced just driving down the highways of the national parks.

Highway 2

Hiway 2

Hiway 4

Hiway 5

Hiway 6

Hiway 9

Hiway 10

I, too, wish they could have continued on indefinitely.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 6

On Tuesday, September 18, we hiked to Helen Lake. The trail started just across the highway from Crow’s Foot Glacier. We had awakened that morning with a sense of the dread, since this was the last day before heading south, toward home. I began to realize, too, that I had been utterly overwhelmed by the spectacular beauty of the mountains here and was only now beginning to absorb them. As if to compound the problem, the leaves of trees and shrubbery were, each day, displaying more and more of their wondrous autumn colors.

Sleep had, the entire time in Canada, been disrupted by that sense of being overwhelmed and trying to put all we had seen into some semblance of understanding. I had seen pictures of places – Alaska and the Himalayas – that had seemed to be what I was experiencing, but I’d had no physical experience to base understanding and realization of what we were experiencing upon. We decided that, indeed, we would have to return and spend even more time in these Canadian Rockies to more fully experience the majesty of the mountains.


Helen Lake Trail

Fall Colors along the trail

Crowfoot Glacier

Crowfoot Glacier


Helen Lake

HLT 13

Water tumbles from the lake

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 5

On Sunday, the 16th of September we drove further into Yoho and up to Emerald Lake. As we were strolling around the lake we found a trail up to Emerald Basin and, so, got in a much better hike than we had anticipated. Emerald Lake was a truly beautiful lake and we enjoyed the walk around it, but because we love hiking so much the trail up into the basin made the day feel like a great success. The hike was wonderful and the basin was, in its own right, just as beautiful as the lake.

EL 1

EL 9

Emerald Lake


Hiking up the Basin trail


Hiking down from the Basin

We packed up our camp the next morning, Monday the 17th, and drove up the Icefield Parkway in Jasper National Park. The Parkway had too many fun and interesting stops along the way to list, but we finally made our way up to the Icefield Centre, which had extensive information on glaciers. After heading out to set up camp at Wilcox Creek, we drove back up to the Icefield Centre and hiked up a paved walkway to the roped-off edge of Athabasca Glacier, which was the closest we got to a glacier our whole vacation.The Glacier was huge and came off a humongous icefield atop the mountains, but it seemed amazing to us how the air temperature dropped as we walked closer to the glacier. It had been downright hot in the parking lot of the Icefield Centre by the time we left to hike, but was quite chilly up near the glacier.

Icefield Center Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier from the Icefield Centre


Athabasca Glacier from the roped-off end of the trail

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Canada Vacation–Post 4

On Friday, September 14 we hiked up the Iceline trail. The first few hundred yards was tough climbing, but the view across the Valley to Takakkaw falls was stupefying and the glaciers and glacial melt and pools struck awe in both of us. By this time, perhaps because we were starting to feel the crunch of half of our time gone, we were getting jaded and merely expected to continue to see the high, rugged peaks we had seen every day since entering the National Parks and this trail did not disappoint us. We had not only the view of Takakkaw Falls, but up and down the valley and despite the trail kicking our butts we gaped at the spectacular views until we finally had to descend down into the trees again as we took the trail to Lake Celeste. The lake was beautiful, really, but the creek leading to the lake and the Yoho River in the Yoho Valley at the bottom kept our spirits up.

Iceline Trail


IT 6

IT 5

IT 8

IT 22

The next day we hiked back up the Yoho Valley to Twin Falls. It was an easier hike and didn’t have the valley views, but we had a great day all the same. The river and all the tumbles of water were gorgeous. I could hike this trail many times and never tire of it.




Twin Falls


Laughing Falls

Twin Falls Chalet

Twin Falls Chalet. The single story part was built in 1904, the two story part was built in 1923. This sits near Twin Falls and is accessible only on foot. During the summer season it is open for coffee and tea, as well as backpackers who wish to stay in nearby cabins overnight.