Thursday, December 26, 2013

Progress on the Home-front

We finally got around to tiling around the other two windows in the studio!  Next week we’ll grout the tiles; but we’ll have to replace the big picture window before we can finish it.

Which won’t be this year.

We used an old sliding glass door as our picture window; the seal around the two sheets of glass has broken (as it also has in the apartment picture window) so it has a streaked film inside from moisture getting between the glass.

I think we’ll probably do a more traditional finish on the picture window, though. It took a very long time to make and mount the tiles.

In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the new tile work on the small windows.


Applying tiles over the mastic


Applying mastic


And more tiles


We laid the tiles out on a piece of sheetrock to make the process quicker and easier


Setting tiles on the outside framework


The finished job. Ben did all the work; I just took the pictures. After the mastic dries thoroughly, we’ll apply grout. will be helping on that part of the project

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chocolate-Toffee Cracker Brittle

I highly recommend this recipe. It’s quick and easy, but it’s so good it’s hard to stay out of it. The slightly salty crackers add a nice touch to the sweet chocolate and toffee.




24 saltine crackers

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips

4 ounces toffee bits


Line a 12” by 9” baking sheet with  heavy duty foil. You’ll want to use a baking sheet with shallow sides, not a flat cookie sheet, since this stuff tends to run a bit in the oven. I strongly suggest using heavy duty foil, not the cheap,thin stuff. This brittle is so much more enjoyable if it doesn’t have bits of foil stuck to the bottom.

Lay the crackers out on the foil.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, add the sugar, bring to a boil for a minute or two until the sugar is melted. You can use all white sugar, but the brown sugar gives the cracker bottom a nicer color and a little better taste.

Pour the mixture as evenly over the crackers as you can, since you can’t really spread it once it’s on the crackers. It starts to soak in and run in between and beneath the crackers immediately.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes until the sugar and butter mix is bubbling all across the crackers, not just on the edges.

Quickly sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot crackers and let sit for a few minutes until the chips are melted. Then spread the chocolate out in a fairly even layer over the crackers.

Sprinkle the toffee bits over the melted chocolate as evenly as possible. I used Heath toffee bits which comes in an 8 ounce package, so I used about half of the package (which means I can make another batch next week!).  Press the toffee bits into the melted chocolate with a flat spatula so they don’t fall off when you break the brittle. Put the brittle in the refrigerator for half an hour or so to let it cool before you break it into serving size pieces.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Breakthrough on Writing

I just finished studying this book yesterday. I have never studied another book on writing that I would recommend as highly as this one.

But keep this a secret.

There are hundreds of thousands of would-be writers that have not yet learned how to write well enough to get published (if you don’t believe me, just join an on-line critique group) and if they all learn what I learned from this book, there will be far too much competition for anyone who isn’t directly related to a high-powered editor to actually get published.

I’m not saying I believe I am going to get my novel published just because I studied this book, but now I have a much better chance.


Stein leaves no doubt that he knows how to write, edit and teach. The pride he has in his personal skills juts up throughout the book like the mountains that surround me.

But the man is brilliant. And with the light of his knowledge, he breathed life into my mummified brain.

I have studied a tall stack of books on writing, books that attempted to crack through to teach my old, stubborn, lazy mind. But of all the authors I have sweated with, recited, and stored notes from, Stein alone knew the value and power of his own words.

Wielding his control of language with stealth, he cut through the tough-as-lead casing around my head, sliced through layer around layer of petrified mush until he found the lone kernel inside my head that can still learn.

And there, with his words carefully on humble, white paper, he planted the seed that sprouted in the well-fertilized soil of my mind. So many other authors of writing books had attempted to help by carelessly tossing a handful of seeds that landed in my face.


My introduction to Sol Stein was a recommendation from an article in Writer’s Digest magazine to read his novel, The Magician. When I found a copy on Amazon, I also found Stein on Writing and ordered it at the same time. That weak moment of impulse buying, which I so rarely indulge in, turned out to be one of the luckiest moments of my life.

I read The Magician first. I was not entirely enthralled with the book, though I must say it was masterfully written. It just isn’t my kind of reading material. I’m the kind of guy who likes to read books with a little more fantasy, those in which the protagonist fights against the system and wins. The Magician is about a family who learns to fight using the flaws in our system in order to win, because that’s the only they could succeed.

I suppose, for me, that kind of story is much too real and if I want reality I can follow the news. The book was very popular, though; it sold over a million copies.

Still, I cannot recommend his novel and I doubt I will read any more of his novels. Had I read The Magician before I ordered Stein on Writing, I would never have ordered the latter.

But before I was even finished with Stein on Writing,  I ordered his other book on writing, How to Grow a Novel, which I will begin studying today. I’ll report on it when I’m finished, which may not be for awhile, since I don’t have a lot of time for reading and studying.


Just to show you what I learned: I was printing out what I have written of my novel to have a hard copy to use for my latest revision and groaned silently over page after page of drivel. But what I also learned from Stein is that, with extremely few exceptions, every writer’s first draft is “top of the head” crap and needs to be revised or rewritten. The first draft is the skeletal system, so to speak (my words not his) which gives a framework to do the “real writing.”

Anyway, I read the first two sentences of Chapter Six, which is the last chapter I have written, and that last kernel of brain that remains inside my head kicked in as soon as I groaned and said, “Hey, I know how to cure that!” And I honestly had never instantaneously experienced that before.

So here are those two sentences: Suvio roused Kirian as the carriage pulled up to their apartment building. His head was groggy from the long trip and he was hungry.

Definitely “top of the head crap.”

Here’s my quick revision: A gentle nudge pushed Kirian out of a dream that evaporated when he opened his eyes. He blinked the fog away and focused. He frowned at Suvio, then saw that the carriage had stopped in front of their dormitory. He let his head fall back against the seat and groaned as the sides of his stomach grated together, snarling up at him.

It still needs a little work, but I’m actually editing this scene out of the book. I just couldn’t resist revising it since I now have the knowledge to use skills that have lain buried beneath ancient stratified layers inside my head for far too long.

Monday, December 9, 2013

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies



Since I can’t eat oatmeal, Ben devised this recipe and I made them last night. I’m so proud of myself for not sneaking downstairs during the night for a cookie snack.

These are the BEST Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies I have ever tasted.

And one of the best cookies I have ever eaten. They are certainly the best no-bake cookies ever.

They’re simple to make, so give them a try. I used chunky natural peanut butter, the kind you have to stir the oil in before you use it. Once you use the natural peanut butter, you’ll never want the other stuff again. If you use a commercial peanut butter in this recipe, you may want to reduce the sugar since those kinds of peanut butter are already sweetened.

This recipe makes around 18 to 24 cookies, depending on how wide and how tall you make them. I got twenty cookies out of the recipe and from the look of my cookie jar, I should have doubled the recipe. They look so lonely with the jar only half full, don’t they?


1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups peanut butter

1 cup powdered milk

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla


Thoroughly melt the chocolate chips in the microwave in a mixing bowl on half power (or use a double boiler if you prefer). I used half power in our microwave and set the timer for two and a half minutes, stirred the half-melted chips and then put them back in for another two and a half minutes,

Stir in the peanut butter and mix thoroughly.

Add the powdered milk, the sugar, and the vanilla and hand whip the mixture until thoroughly mixed. If your mix hasn’t lost the melted chocolate luster and doesn’t look fairly dry, add more powdered milk. (Because you probably accidently semi-deliberately added extra chocolate chips.)

Spoon two inch wide by one inch tall mounds of the mix onto waxed paper or parchment spread onto a tray or a cookie sheet and place in the refrigerator for thirty to forty-five minutes until set. If you’ve been sampling the melted chocolate or the peanut butter, resist sampling the soft cookie mix until your palate is cleared or you may think it needs more of something.

These cookies will begin to melt in your hand if you take too long to eat them.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

. . . but we’re getting a bunch of work done in the pottery

Like much of the nation, we’re locked in an arctic weather pattern, so we’re staying at home, indoors, and just working in the studio. Well, not “just;” we’re baking cookies, and cooking other fun food, too.

I love winter.

Weather like this also stimulates my creativity (or maybe it’s the cookies and fun food), so I’ve been working on my novel a lot, and making fun pots.


Here’s a photo of a teapot I just uncovered to let it start the drying process.

We got an order from Joyce to make a teapot with our pine design. I usually make Dano ware rather simple to put more emphasis on the hand-painted designs, but I couldn’t stop myself after I got going.

When Ben came back into the studio he looked at the teapot and said. “Hmm, I see you’re getting creative again.”

I felt my face flush. But he said I should leave on the accent pieces when I asked if I should cut them off.



Here’s a freshly made pot I built from all thrown parts. I had made parts for two very different complex pots, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to execute them, so I made this one instead. I may add some texture after the pot is leather hard.

I’m making these kinds of pots while I’m working on another article for one of the ceramics publications on building complex pots using only thrown parts, so this is one more for my “research.” (Good excuse, huh?)

I’ve made a few other complex pots and now I have to decide on one to photograph for showing the steps of how to build them for the article. This article, unlike my last one, will have to be for more advanced potters, since making complex pots this way is fairly complicated. I’ll make it as simple as possible, but it’s just too much for a beginner.


We haven’t been firing the kiln this week since the kiln room isn’t heated and firing in the bitter cold is hard on the kiln in the initial stages, before it heats up enough to warm the room. We’re thinking, though, that tomorrow we should be able to bisque fire so we can get started on glazing special orders that people are hoping to get for Christmas.

Today the weather is finally breaking and we’re enjoying a balmy high temperature of just above zero for the first time in a week. It’s cloudy and sifting a little snow; otherwise this heat wave would be tempting us to dig out the sunscreen and bask out there nearly naked in the sun. Maybe with a beach umbrella.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Glaze Problems . . . Not

Here is a picture of the speckling in our glaze, as I reported in the last post:


Snowstorm in the pines.

This is a particularly spotty example and it makes us grimace every time we see pieces like this one.

But after a lot of sweating and fretting, Ben finally came up with the idea that we might solve the problem by painting slip on the pieces we had already thrown. It was the only way we could get a good number of pots to Joyce, in Wyoming, in time for her shows this fall. The slip we’re using is a recipe we got from a demonstration we went to in Red Lodge about a year ago.

So we gave it a sample trial. It seemed to work really well, so we painted slip on a good kiln load of ware.




Then we bisque fired them again – to sinter the slip so we wouldn’t have problems with it peeling when we dipped the piece in a tub of glaze – then glazed and fired them to cone 6. While we waited for the load to fire and cool, we painted slip on another load.

When that first load came out we didn’t exactly sigh with relief, though. There was still some speckling and we had some pitting as well. I figured out, after a couple of loads, that too much slip will cause the drying glaze to pit, while not enough will still allow some speckling. It’s a fine line that we haven’t entirely figured out, but now all the ware we had on hand for white ware with the old clay is slipped and ready to fire again.

But the pieces we’re firing now are far better than the ones we fired before we painted on the slip, so we carried on and will have a pile of work to deliver to Powell, Wyoming this Wednesday, just in time for Joyce’s first holiday show this weekend.


But we’re glad we got some different clay from Helena, even though we are not especially happy with this particular clay body. We won’t have to fire the ware three times, which makes our pots that much more expensive to produce.

The texture of the clay from Helena is so fine, though, that I cannot throw platters unless I add some coarser grit material (I use what we potters call grog), since my platters out of this clay have all cracked in half, and the clay is a bit too dark for our white ware.

It is, however, the only real choice we can get without shipping it in, which can take two weeks or longer as we wait for a local truck to travel to and from the right places (otherwise shipping costs more than the clay); so we’re just going with it for now. We have enough to get us through – so long as I can get started soon – while I work through some experiments to come up with a recipe for a new clay body that we hope we’ll like a whole lot more.

Then we’ll be able to figure out which glaze recipe will be most compatible for the new clay.


Wow, impressive. How many run-on sentences did I just write?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Porcupine Year

This morning when Ben crossed the creek to give the two steers some range cake, he found one of them had encountered a porcupine. The poor critter’s lips and chin were covered with dozens of quills.

Situations like that always stress me out terribly, but we got the steers across the creek and into the corral without a problem. Then we rigged up a squeeze chute and lured the quilled steer into it and secured him so we could pull the quills out.

It didn’t exactly come off without a hitch, but we got the job done.

I was actually able to relax my stress level before we even got the steer secured in our makeshift chute, mainly because I laughed to myself when I realized that this incident was one more piece of evidence that this year – which I have now labeled The Year of the Porcupine – that something was released from hell and wrapped itself tightly around 2013.

We started working outside the studio in January and didn’t finish until yesterday. We didn’t get any of our goals for the studio done and my writing came to a complete and exhausted halt late last spring. Then today the steer got nailed by a porcupine.

In between all that, the designs on our Dano ware, the pottery we make for Dano Youth Camp, went completely the way of the porcupine year from hell: the pine boughs and flowers were coming out speckled with white dots.

We changed our glaze twice, then tried seven more recipes and still we got the speckling. Just last weekend we finally had enough time to figure out that the problem was with the clay body rather than the glaze recipes. So we got Monday off and zipped up to The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena to get five hundred pounds of a different clay body to tide us over until we can get our own recipe worked out – one of our goals for this past year – and get some of it ordered.

Unless, of course, we have another porcupine year.

Between now and the new year we’ll be swamped just catching up with pottery orders. So, now our goals for next year will be the ones we had for this year.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Rhubarb Pasta Sauce

I have a hard time digesting tomatoes, so I have been trying for a couple of years to come up with a pasta sauce made from rhubarb.

It turned out to be simpler than I had imagined and it is so good (I wanted to grossly overeat on this stuff) that if you don’t have a rhubarb patch yet, this alone is good enough reason to start one. It’s just tangy enough to be a little addictive.

I don’t have an exact recipe, since I was just experimenting and didn’t write down the amounts of what I used, but here’s how I did it:

Brown hamburger with onions.

When the burger gets dry enough to start sticking just a little to the pan, pour in some water and diced rhubarb. There should be at least three or four times more rhubarb than meat at this point. Add Italian spices and some salt and pepper. Add a few cloves of garlic. I also added extra oregano and rosemary.

At this point I also added some cumin, because I love cumin; and some turmeric because it is so good for many things, but especially for the brain and memory (and since my mother has Alzheimer’s . . .).

Then I simmered it for a long time, nearly two hours. I had to add more water a couple of times. I doubt it actually needs that long to simmer, but Ben was late getting home from work (I didn’t go because my back is still misbehaving).

Nope, no sugar. It honestly doesn’t need it.

I think it could be stretched out a little with a bunch of mushrooms. I’ll try that next time; the two of us ate a whole batch with a pound and a half of burger in just two meals: last night for dinner and today for lunch.

New Car

Ugh! The transmission went out on the old Subaru Legacy so we had to buy a new car (another Subaru, of course, but an Outback this time) and we spent more than we had hoped we would have to. It’s not new, it’s a 2007 and it has 122,000 miles on it.

I’ve never really had much pride in the cars I drive, but I really like this new car. It’s certainly the nicest care I’ve ever had. It has better clearance than the Legacy, which is good for our road.

But because we spent so much on it, we probably won’t be going to Canada this fall.

And I do see a problem with it. We never hesitated to use the old Subaru like a pickup. I’m going to find it rather difficult to do some of what we did with the old one (like piling sand in the back end) in this new one.

2013-07-11 001 009

The dealership washed it just before we drove it home, but one trip up our gravel road and it’s so covered with road dust that it looks like we’ve been driving it for weeks without a wash. Poor thing, it isn’t used to that kind of treatment, but it seems to be taking it all in stride.

2013-07-11 001 010

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Quests of Everyday Life

Most of us think our lives are pretty dull. We read or listen to stories  and watch the news about others; some of us gawp at accidents; we watch movies and television; all as a way to vicariously experience the excitement of another’s life.

In truth, however, most of us are on an almost constant quest, journeying to seek what it is we want. Sometimes the quests are as simple as putting food on the table or earning the money to buy something we want. Almost all of us, though, are on another quest that we hardly acknowledge for various reasons – excuses – that we choose individually. This quest is to improve our lives and the lives of those people most important to us.

There is no more noble cause.

This quest is the foundation of the most fascinating stories ever told. When we want something better than what we have, we struggle first to motivate ourselves to step beyond our comfort zone, because we cannot obtain it from within that zone. But there are impediments. Most often they come from those people we love. They laugh at our dreams; they ridicule us for trying to be better than they are; they tell us we’re not good enough, though usually in different terms.

But they’re simply telling us the lies they want us to believe, because they don’t want us to succeed and make them feel uncomfortable enough to have to begin the process of leaving their comfort zone to embark on their own quest.

Another impediment, an even greater one to overcome, is the lies we tell ourselves. “Oh, that would be nice, but I’m fine, really, just the way I am and I am content staying right here.”

Perhaps we are fine, but couldn’t we be so much better?



The last few days have cooled off, but more heat is coming. For awhile the summer temperatures were getting unbearable and the reprieve was wonderful. One of the saving graces of summer for me is the beautiful landscape we’ve created around us.

Here are some yellow roses Ben and I brought to Montana from the Stockwell family farm in Wyoming. It’s been growing here for eighteen or nineteen years and is one of our sources of pride. Ben took this photo just a few days ago and already half of the roses have shed their petals, so we have to enjoy them quick.

The rose below, from a bush still tiny because it’s only two years old, Ben grew from seed we took from a rose bush growing in the flower beds of the Food Coop parking lot. To you it may be just another simple red rose, but red perennial flowers are difficult to cultivate around here, so we’re quite delighted.




We have a break now, which may even last until September, from landscaping. We’ve been building fence, but I over-extended my back and have been out of commission for a few days. And now we’re getting back to a little studio work and I’ve decided to use this time to work on writing up that pottery article we took photos for last winter, but never had time to work on then.

We’re also sampling some more new glazes, too. We’re still working on developing some new glazes and glaze patterns; we’re a bit more desperate now, since one of our favorites, the turquoise-green glaze, has gone to hell. It’s pitting terribly, which I think I could overcome, but since one of our glaze ingredients has changed, the color and visual texture has changed as well, giving us a completely different look. Unfortunately, several experimental re-trials of that glaze have not rendered improved results.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sizzling Summer

It’s summer. It’s hot. We need more rain.

And I’m getting just a wee bit cranky.

Personal experience has taught me that there is not always a silver lining (or even a black lining when you need one). But in the present case, because of all the rain we got earlier this month, there happens to be a very bright silver lining: the flowers and wildflowers are spectacular this year. In the bright, cloudless light the colors sizzle as hot as the temperatures.



Poppy in the east garden



Wild geranium


On another up side, Ursula gave us a couple of weeks off from landscaping so she could work on her metal art for two shows she’s doing.  In the heat of the afternoons I’m taking the time to write out the changes to the first chapters of my book and then I’ll move on to writing out what I worked on as we drove to town each morning on our way to work. When we open the windows at night and close them up during the day, our place stays much cooler, quite chilly actually, than outside until quite late in the day, so it’s much more pleasant to be indoors when the temperatures soar. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Joys of Summer

Okay, I know: it’s not officially summer yet. But this is my favorite time of summer because it’s not hot yet. We have had great rain the last few weeks. The landscape is the greenest we have seen it in many years and the wildflowers are spectacular.

Despite all the rain we’ve had, we haven’t had many rain-outs on our landscaping job the last couple of weeks. That makes Ursula happy because she really needs to get into her metal shop to create more of her metal art – she has a show coming up on the Fourth of July and is the featured artist at the artist’s coop in Livingston for the Livingston Art Walk. She has nothing on hand.

So, while Ursula is in her metal shop, we’ll have a couple of weeks off. We’re very happy about that. Still, Ben and I have been so stiff and sore doing heavy rock work this last week that we’ve been doing various rain dances so we could have a day off. The older we get the harder landscaping is on our bodies. And even though I’m a little younger than Ben, I take longer to heal than he does.

At any rate, I agreed to go hiking yesterday with our friend Lori. It was a spectacular day on the mountain and I’m glad I went. I am, however, a little gimped up today and Ben wants to get a lot of things done outside. I’m doing laundry instead. And trying to do a bunch of stretching without groaning too much. The not-groaning part is as difficult as the stretching. I have to keep reminding myself of the benefits of stretching.

I had a P. E. instructor once that said the sensation you get from stretching is not pain. What an idiot.

We did have Friday off because of rain, but we had to deliver pottery to Butte; then we spent the rest of the day shopping. Shopping is about as much fun for me as having a debilitating toothache. There are few activities I dislike more than shopping. So, today is my only real rest day this long weekend. Tomorrow we go back to work.




Sunset through rain clouds



On the mountain

Monday, May 27, 2013

As the Days of Spring Pass

Rain showers have painted the landscape green;

cherry blossoms are gone, now,

but apples are blooming and plums persist

though they never ripen fruit.


Tomatoes and peppers are stretching up

and forming buds, convinced the

greenhouse is the whole world, giving

them illusions there will be no late frost.


But the wildflowers, hale and hardy,

sprout up to wink at the sun and

wave at the rain, happy just to be alive

as these days of spring pass.




These days are also the final days of getting out special pottery orders before the long, hot, dry days of summer keep us working. So long as the rain chases us home from landscaping, we’ll have time to work in the studio.

This is one of the picture frames we made for the Dano fun run down in Wyoming.



Here Ben is painting a special order platter for Delia in Nevada. The one he’s painting here is a Rope for Hope piece for a breast cancer fundraiser. The platter and mugs below are for a fundraising dinner also in Nevada.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

And Summer Begins

We branded for Val on Sunday and then she put the cows out to pasture. So, we’re through with the daily feed chores.

Yesterday we worked for Ursula landscaping, and now we have the rest of the week off to catch up in the studio. We have a lot to do. On the weekend we fired a kiln-load in the small kiln and it overfired. Ben spent hours painting a beautiful platter for a fundraising event in Nevada, now it’s a dull clay pigeon; a lot of the color fired out to a murky clear mess.

So it goes . . . and we try not to take it personally.

I’ve been writing with pencil and paper (my favorite method) during the hour it takes to drive to town to work at either Val’s ranch or for Ursula; and I have gotten a remarkable amount done. Soon I’ll be ready; as soon, that is, as I have time and both physical and mental energy to write it all out on the computer. I have it completely mapped out (minus all the nitty gritty details that make writing so much fun for me), so I still feel like I can get the entire book written by the end of next spring. It may take another year (with a cooling period included) to rewrite and finalize the novel or it may take only a few months, but that will depend on our schedule and what we’ll have to do to still make a living: I’m not sure how much work Ursula will have for us this summer. But since we did work in January and have our steers paid for by working for Val, I think we’ll be fine and I can write more.

But I will have to start writing publishable articles. I’m also toying with the idea of trying to self-publish some short stories to sell Amazon. But I have a lot of work to do before I’m ready for that.

In the meantime we’re enjoying summer weather, and spring weather and maybe we’ll even get a little return-to-winter weather now and again before summer decides to stay. I won’t mind, we really need the moisture.

And It’s all good. Since we don’t live where we would have flooding, tornadoes or hurricanes, the weather is the least of our worries these days.



This morning Ben made picture frames for a Dano Camp fun run fundraiser coming up


The lean-to greenhouse is nursing this summer’s garden alongside our houseplants




And the mountains are displaying the temperament of the spring weather


What a beautiful world we live in.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Time


During this time for spring, the weather patterns dart, rather than flow, across the charts. I love this time of year, because it can be so unpredictable.

Stunning days of sunshine, wind howling until I’m sure I’ll go crazy, and low pressure systems that drop rain or snow with the merest sneeze of mother nature all work together to create spring weather.


Ben snapped this picture a couple of mornings ago. Less than fifteen minutes later, the sun rose lighting up a spectacular morning. We rejoiced the time of spring all the way to Val’s ranch.



But the best part of this time of this particular spring is the that I am studying a book on plot development. The book amazes me because no matter how much talent you may or may not have, you can learn techniques of writing that will improve your story and the way you write it while saving a lot of time and tears.

Early on I had some idea of what my ending should be, but then I changed the setting and time period and my old ending wasn’t going to work for that. I sort of developed a new ending and thought I would work out the details as I wrote along. Well, nearly halfway through the novel I realized I was rambling and meandering along, just the way I did with my first attempt at writing a novel several years ago. What I ended up back then was a massive pile of crap. I wanted to avoid that happening again, so I ordered and am now studying the book on plot development.

I also pulled out a similar book my mother had from years ago and I finally figured out why I had actually learned next-to-nothing in all the classes I took in college way-back-when. They didn’t have good material, really, for teaching that gave solid, useful techniques for actually accomplishing what they were “teaching” students about writing. They were saying “show, don’t tell,” but they were ‘telling’ what to do without ‘showing’ the way to do it.

Okay, I’m rambling again. But what I’m getting at is that I’m actually learning something and I’m developing a solid plot as I am making my way through the book. In doing so, I have also come up with a very exciting ending, the ending I really want. And I now know that I have to condense what I have already written into about half of what it is, because what I have so far is only a quarter of the plot instead of half of it. I haven’t crossed over the threshold into what should be happening a quarter of the way through and in this modern era a first novel  of two hundred thousand words would not get even a polite, silent smile from an editor.

The moral of this story is that if you want to write a book without wasting a lot of time and energy by churning out a pile of post-digestive drivel, study plot development and work on developing your plot before you begin writing. If you’re the ‘no-outline’ style of writer, then you don’t have to create an outline, but believe me, it will save you a lot of time and heartache (the heartache of having to throw away at least half of your work when you edit or get edited) if you work extensively on developing the plot first.

I’d say, “Wish me luck!” But now I know that luck has nothing to do with any aspect of the writing process, nor does faith or hope or prayer. It all comes to buckling down and doing the work, so I say, instead, “Keep reminding me of that fact.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Springtime Renewal

Today I had a couple of e-mails to a friend returned by the mailer daemon, the phone bill and the credit card bill came, and the nation is still deeply embroiled in a political civil war. But the sagebrush buttercups bloomed, enlightening me with what is truly important in this life: the beautiful, everyday events in this world that surround us.



A few days ago, after several days of warm, sunny weather that made me passive and happy, a storm rose up on the horizon.


That night it snowed, which thrilled me. Yes, I love the snow, but we needed the moisture, too.


But then the snow melted, a couple of rain showers came through, the grass sprang up and then, today, the buttercups bloomed and I didn’t care so much about all the other crap and then I couldn’t help but smile.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Passage of Time

Have I truly written so few posts this year?

The days seem to be drifting past lazily, like living on a raft floating along a sluggish, warm river. And nothing much seems to be happening.

In reality, time is passing by rapidly and we have never had such a busy winter since we’ve been in Montana. These past few months have left me with less and less time to do the things I want to get done. Day-to-day life is taking up the bulk of my living; this day-to-day life is very important for pleasant survival in the world of today, of course, but I want so much more.

And that’s the problem.

Val has been very good to us, letting us keep going out to the ranch even though, really, she could do it all herself these days, but we have thoroughly enjoyed living out our fantasy of ranch life, and being there during the highly romantic days of calving has been like a dream.

Soon we’ll go back to landscaping, which we are looking forward to, since we love being outdoors and need the physical work to get back into some semblance of the physical shape and fitness level that people were born to be in.

And, besides, we’re looking forward to hiking. Ben and I are considering going back to Canada this fall. Our Canadian National Parks passes are still good through September . . . so, what better reason do we need?

I have been writing a little bit; writing out individual scenes and making more notes, mostly. And I have been reading a little (and collecting books, both borrowed and purchased, much faster than I am reading): I’m reading A Passage to India, which was recommended to me because the themes of this book are so similar to the themes of the book I’m writing (but the plot, characters and setting could not be more different). We’ve gotten a lot of pottery done; our latest semi-experimental firing turned out to be very disappointing. We had fired that set of glazes once before, in the little kiln, but when we fired a much larger load in the bigger kiln . . . well, let’s just say we’re not too pleased about the results.

So on we go, drifting along (and, truth be known, loving our lives even though we’re not getting everything done we want).


Ben fencing on one of those bright, sunny, lazy-warm days.



The cows just after we fed this morning in a glorious rain.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Want to get busier?

Do you ever feel like your life just isn’t busy enough? Here’s an excellent way to increase your workload and stress level: set down a few goals and start seriously working toward them. Soon you’ll find you’re also seriously needed in other places.

Here’s the proof. My goals: write half a novel by the end of spring 2013; write a monthly column; write in the blog at least once a week, but preferably two or three times; continue work on the short stories I started last winter; put out a new line of pottery; experiment to create at least one entirely new glaze pattern; tile the three smaller windows in the studio; put carpeting on the stairs; work on my list of possible ceramics articles (i.e. experiment with the methods and start working on photographing the processes) and write at least one article a month for the first four months of 2013.

Now this was, according to our usual winter schedule, very possible.

But then reality happened: we got pottery orders that kept us busy past Christmas; then we got a few more orders and the glaze on most of the pieces from one order went on a trip that drug us to the depths of Hades and hasn’t allowed us out of that infernal disaster yet; Val, our rancher friend had an accident so we’re helping with her morning chores until she’s back on her feet (and we’re sorry she’s not physically well, but we are intensely enjoying taking care of her cows even though {or maybe even partially because} it has kept us from reaching our winter goals); and we did house-sitting and fed the horses for Fred and Barb for a few days (which we also enjoyed very much, though we are glad to be back home and sleeping in our own space, with our own routine and habits and pantry . . .).

And that has brought us up to the present. I’m still working on chapter seven; you already know how the blogging has gone; we’re still trying to work our the glaze problems; we’re still behind on our orders; I haven’t even begun writing my first ceramics article, for which I have all the photos taken; I have done only a few preliminary new glaze experiments; we haven’t yet gotten the other two windows tiled in the studio yet; we had only one stair carpeted, which Ben tore back off so he could paint the back and sides of the stairs before replacing the one and starting on the rest; and I haven’t even looked over my short stories since last spring.

And as for my cooking and exercise/lose fat goals . . . well, let’s talk about something else . . .


Like the beautiful new calves at Val’s ranch





And how the cows come running for range cake





And how well Ben swings an axe on an afternoon after chores when the sun came out




And how dramatic the mountains look with the clouds resting on the peaks


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happiness Quotient


The full moon rising



How do we decide what method to use to measure our happiness?

Science has repeatedly proven when we say we’re happy there are parts of our brain which are stimulated to give us an actual sense of happiness. I don’t know how long that effect lasts, but I would guess that it would have at least as long of an impact as buying something that we don’t really need.

For years I didn’t fully appreciate the life I have. Every time Ben and I talked to others about what we do and where we do it, we evoked friendly envy. Just a few years ago, I finally listened to what they were saying and looked deep at  our lives here, rather than giving my usual put-downs about how we don’t have any money. Upon examination through  a pair of non-tinted lensed I finally realized that we are doing exactly what  we wanted, exactly what we had set out to do, and are living the lives we very deliberately designed; but I had believed, according to the gospel of capitalism, that since we were not rich we could not be happy.

How foolish I was.

In retrospect, I think I had always felt guilty for being so fortunate and only told myself I wasn’t happy. But I always look back with very fond affection at our past.

Fortunately I woke to reality. And I’m telling you today that, despite a lack of financial abundance and excessive consumerism, it’s very easy to be happy if you don’t follow the ideals that most economists evangelize as being the true path to happiness. Science has also proven, repeatedly, that money doesn’t buy happiness.

I’ve relaxed a great deal in the last few years – perhaps that is merely a result of aging, but I believe it has to do more with enlightenment on what happiness actually is. Although many of us don’t realize it, we all end up living the lives we design for ourselves by the choices we make. Many of us – I used to be one of them – feel like we’re thrust along the river of life by the flow of the stream, but we each make decisions every day that affect the route we follow.

We just need to make sure we’re making the right choices.

The lives we’re living today is the consequence of the choices we made yesterday. It is foolish to regret the past, which is gone and irretrievable. What will be best for our futures will be to make the choices today that will result in consequences which make us happy tomorrow.


Ben cleaning up the grout on the new tiles on our studio window



Monday, January 21, 2013

Slooow Mo

So, with time zipping by so fast, I feel like I’m in a sluggish state these days. It’s a perspective problem, actually. I’m getting the normal amount of stuff done, it just isn’t all the stuff I wanted to get done to accomplish my goals for the winter.

When I was young my dad used to tell me and my siblings our heads weren’t screwed on tight. He wasn’t being funny at the time, but it certainly is funny now. The images I conjure today, along with the memories of my sister and I joking about how she or I must have forgotten to screw our head on at all and left it somewhere, make me laugh. But there are days I feel like I must have bent over at some point and my head just fell off and rolled into the corner. There it is, over there, watching from a different angle than I usually see things.

And it’s all very funny.

I was getting frustrated over the photo requirements of the magazine to which I wanted to submit an article with photos, because everything I learned was that new techniques were so different that the photos would lose a lot of quality if I followed through with those specifications. I wrote e-mails and called a couple of times to get clarification, but didn’t hear back from the magazine. So I studied and researched everything I could find about digital photos and had decided that I would have to buy some expensive software in order to do the required formatting on the photos. I was bummed, since it was so expensive, but a couple of articles would pay for the software and I have a list of about a dozen articles I want to write in the next couple of years, so I braced myself up to make the expense.

Then I got an e-mail from the magazine editor. I would not, after all, need to format the photos other than what the most basic software would do. Wow, after all that . . .

Meanwhile, the work on my novel was going so well I was floating on a cloud – but it turned out not to be Cloud 9. I had written the first draft of the first five chapters, which was about a fourth of the way through the novel, but when I read them from a freshened perspective, I realized that two of the chapters would have to be dumped. They were the chapters about the second primary character. It would all come together much better in the end if we don’t see what is going on behind within those scenes, which were actually slowing down the pace of the book anyway.

And I certainly don’t want to slow down.

So I had to toss a big chunk of my work and that’s when I figured out my cloud was number 13 or maybe 17 instead of number 9. And now we have another pottery order, which we’ll have to squeeze out between days working for Ursula, so we have a bit more of a challenging time crunch.

But we have started tiling the studio windows (which only took us 18 years). We made a lot of tiles last winter. We knew we didn’t have enough glazed to do all three of the smaller windows, though we figured we had enough to do two windows and I was getting excited to get them done, but then spring and landscaping came too early to begin the tiling process.

So, yesterday we got the tiles up on one window and discovered we only had enough tiles to do one window. Wow, after all that . . .

But we did get started:


They look a lot like our bathroom tiles, but with a different texture


And the studio tiles are blue and green, rather than just green like in the bathroom


We still have to grout them, but already it’s feeling a tiny bit less like we’re living and working in a warehouse

(That’s our old water heater outside the window, which we still haven’t hauled off . . .Embarrassed smile)