Pottering Around

I recently enrolled in a handbuilding class at a local pottery studio. From my understanding, “handbuilding” basically refers to anything not made using a wheel or pour molds (i.e.: coil work, pinch pots, slab construction, tiles, sculpting, etc.)

I’ve found the class very fun and I’ve learned a lot in a few short months. I figured I’d brag a little and share some of my favorite pieces here on my blog.


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Hump-mold bowl with lace doily for texture.


Glazing is an art in and of itself. Some benefit from a simple glaze that accents textures, others work well with colorful glazes.

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I threw one piece in my class–this tiny bowl.


Other pieces work best with selective glazing or no glaze at all.

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Pinch pot with big red for clay body.

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Crazy coil planter!


Sometimes you can use underglazes to accent textures.

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Tiny jewelry box made using slab construction techniques.


Or you can layer glazes, like I did for the band on this basket.

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NOTE: clay can be difficult to weave into a basket.


Like I said, I’ve really enjoyed this class. I’m hoping to keep it up and make more cool creations like this guy:

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Octopus sculpture.


Great Basin National Park

It recently occurred to me that, what with all the state and national parks I’ve been to in the last year, people may find it helpful if I described a few of my experiences along with some tips and tricks here on my blog. I’ve decided to start with Great Basin National Park, since I was there not too long ago. Keep an eye out for similar upcoming posts!


I’ve actually visited GBNP twice—once when I first moved to the Vegas area and again when I decided to roadtrip across Nevada on The Loneliest Road in America. During my first trip, I mainly paid attention to the fall colors and cool cave structures. The second time around, I finally got to see a bristlecone pine tree, and also Saturn!

Late September at Great Basin means beautiful fall colors (mostly thanks to all the aspens), chilly nighttime temperatures, and ready-to-harvest pine nuts. Truth be told, I had been warned before my trip that pine nuts can be pretty tricky to harvest, so I didn’t even try. Instead, I walked along a couple trails, drove up to Wheeler Peak, and took the Grand Palace Tour of Lehman Caves. I had never toured a cave before and found it fascinating. The Lehman Caves’ claim to fame is a plentiful supply of shield formations (they look like rock chandeliers). Also, people discovered these caves over 100 years ago, so it’s got some human history mixed in there, too.

I spent my first night at Baker Creek Campground. The campground itself was good, but you have to take a gravel road to get there and I have a compact car designed for paved roads. I decided to find a different campsite for my second night. Lower Lehman Creek campground was full and Upper Lehman Creek campground was closed for construction. I decided to set up my tent at Wheeler Peak Campground. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great idea in late September. I had a chilly night, but managed it. I had to leave right away in the morning and didn’t have time to see any bristlecone pine trees during that trip.

Tent at Wheeler Peak Campground

Luckily, I had a second chance several months later. During the week of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I began my roadtrip across Highway 50 at Great Basin National Park. By this time, construction had finished on Upper Lehman Creek campground and I was able to get a campsite there. It was probably the easiest time I ever had setting up my tent—thank goodness for newly-constructed tent pads that haven’t been super-compacted yet! It was one of the few times I’ve ever managed to hammer in all my tent pegs securely. (It’s the little things.)

On Saturday nights during the summer, the park offers a free astronomy program by the Lehman Caves visitor center. I generally try to stay away from astronomy—the sheer size and scale of it all hurts my brain. The rangers did a very good job of explaining astronomic objects and concepts though, so I had a good time. They also have super high-tech portable telescopes. We got to see several celestial objects, but my favorite was Saturn.

The next morning, I braved the drive up to Wheeler Peak. (Have I mentioned I’m afraid of heights? I am.) From the campground parking lot, the bristlecone pine grove is about a 1.4 mile hike away. Much like tortoises, bristlecone pines are adapted to require very little water and grow very slowly, which translates to very, very long lifespans. For many years, the oldest-known bristlecone pine was Prometheus, which was roughly 4,900 years old. Unfortunately, people found this out when they cut the tree down and counted its rings. Luckily, an older tree was recently found in California. The current oldest living bristlecone pine tree known is over 5,000 years old.


The bristlecone pine grove is a crazy place if you think about it—if you had been standing in that same spot 2,000 years ago, you would be looking at those exact same trees! And they wouldn’t even be saplings! They would be adult trees! It’s kind of mind-blowing. Luckily, some chipmunks showed up to distract me.

If you continue down the trail for another mile or so, you can see a small glacier. I decided to save that for another day, however, and walked back to my car and the next stop on my adventure.

Glacier Trail HWY 50


The Basics:

Location: Baker, NV
Entrance Fee: FREE
Visitor Center? Yes (2–Great Basin Visitor Center & Lehman Caves Visitor Center)
Have I camped Here? Yes (Upper Lehman Creek, Wheeler Peak, and Baker Creek campgrounds)
Camping Fee: $12/night **Some back-country camping is free**
Camping Reservation Needed? No
Number of Campgrounds: 5 (depending on season)
**I recommend Upper Lehman Creek Campground, though Wheeler Peak is fun in the         Summer before it gets too cold.**
Campground Amenities: Vault toilets, campfire rings, tent pads, no hook-ups
Best Time of Year to visit: Mid-to-late summer or during the annual Astronomy Festival

Introducing Uncommonly Bound

Hello Beautiful People! I am proud to announce that I just launched a new blog called Uncommonly Bound. Don’t worry, you can still expect new posts on this blog as well!

On my new site, I plan to use each post to compare two or three different books which, on the surface, have little in common. They are often written in different styles, genres, and/or time periods. However, in each pairing I will point out a similarity I have found between these disparate books.


First up: The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin


SQUIRREL! …wait…

I was in Great Basin National Park, trying to take a selfie with a bristlecone pine tree.

I was having difficulties because bristlecones are wide, but also much taller than me. I also have short arms. And it was very sunny.

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I was determined to get a decent selfie, until I was distracted by the chipmunks.


I never did get a decent tree selfie.

A Little Bit of Everything

I’ve always loved collages. There’s something about taking separate objects or images and bringing them together to make something new.

The art pictured above is comprised of petroglyphs–images engraved into rock. These particular rocks show superimposition, meaning that some of the art was etched over already-existing images. To see these petroglyphs and more like them, check out the Crystal Wash Rock Art site near Ash Springs, NV.

I’ve been to a lot of cool places in Nevada since moving here over a year ago.
Here’s a collage featuring a few of them:

NV Photo Collage

Pictured locations include:

The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (A.K.A. Mount Charleston)
Great Basin National Park
Cave Lake State Park
Mount Irish 
Nevada Northern Railway Train Museum
Sloan Canyon
Desert National Wildlife Refuge
Valley of Fire State Park
Red Rock National Conservation Area
Hoover Dam
Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas

Another place I’ve visited is the Neon Museum in downtown Las Vegas (near Fremont Street). It’s basically a neon sign boneyard. They offer a tour and challenge you to write your name in neon. I succeeded.

Neon Jess 2

And as long as we’re talking collages, who could forget this timeless ensemble:

Ceiling of Wonders--Early

Campus, flyers, ads, candy wrappers, hand written notes–all were welcome on the Ceiling of Wonders.

Kolaches–A Family Tradition

Kolaches have always been a cornerstone of my family heritage. No family gathering–whether it be Christmas, a graduation, or even a wedding–would be complete without them. A kolache is a fruit-filled pastry which, like my family, originated in Bohemia (now split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic.) For my family, making and eating kolaches is a way of connecting with our cultural roots. Grandma is the undisputed Kolache Queen, but several of her grandchildren including myself are slowly learning the craft.

The recipe we use is common through out the Spillville, IA region. 

A few years back, I recorded a radio story with my Grandma about kolaches.

Knitted Mermaid Tail Blanket

About this time last year, I discovered mermaid tail blankets. I immediately wanted to make one, but most patterns I could find were for crocheting, and I only know how to knit. After some searching, I was able to find a free knitted pattern called Jean Lafitte’s Mermaid Lap Blanket.  The finished project, was nice, but I wanted to try out a few variations for myself. Here is my version of a knitted mermaid tail blanket. Enjoy!

A PDF of the pattern is available here: Knitted Mermaid Tail Blanket FINAL

3 Mermaid Tail Blankets

Kids to short adults (I sized it to fit me & I’m 5’ 2”) but can be easily lengthened by adding sets of scales (1 scale set = 4 double-seed stitch rows).
You will need:
1) Super bulky (6) weight yarn, approximately 440 yds. ( I used Bernat Blanket.)
2) At least 1* 24in (60cm) or longer circular needles in size US 19 (66mm)
3) Tapestry Needle

*I prefer to use 2 circular needles. It allows me to knit the flat parts like using normal straight needles, and also makes it easier to knit the tighter round sections.

** Gauge isn’t super important, but mine was 3 sts x 3 rows over 2 inches.
Finished blanket measures:
44 inches around at widest point
42 inches long from waist to start of caudal fin
77 inches from tip to tail

k = Knit
p = Purl
k2tog = Knit 2 stitches together
p2tog = Purl 2 stitches together
slm = Slip marker
kfb = Knit into the front and then the back of stitch (creates 2 stitches)
st, sts = Stitches

Pattern Notes:
The blanket is knit top down and begins with a 3×3 rib stitch. The main body consists of a double-seed stitch to create a scale-like texture and the caudal fin uses a 2×2 rib stitch to form fin rays.


Cast on 63 stitches [63STS]

Row 1 k3, p3 to end
Row 2 p3, k3 to end
Rows 3-8 repeat 3 sets of Rows 1&2
Row 9 k3, p3 to end

Row 10 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 11 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 12 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                          Row 13 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 14 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 15 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 16 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                          Row 17 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 18 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 19 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 20 p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 to last 5 sts), k2tog, p1, k1, p1 [61STS]
Row 21 k1, (p1, k1 to end)
Row 22 k1, (p1, k1 to end)                                                          Row 23 p1, (k1, p1 to end)
Row 24 p1, (k1, p1 to end)                                                           Row 25 k1, (p1, k1 to end)

Row 26 Join work in the round by slipping first stitch of row over last stitch of row and
purl. (In other words, p2tog first and last stitches to join the round.)
Then k1, p1 to end. [60STS]

Mermaid Tail Top

Starting out with a straight stitch and joining the ends together creates a slit in the back which makes it easier to get in and out of the blanket.

Row 27 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 28&29 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 30&31 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 32 slm, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1x12)
p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p1 [54STS]

Row 33 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows34&35 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 36&37 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 38-39 slm, p1, k1 to end
Row 40 slm, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1)x12, p2tog,
k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k1 [48STS]

Row 41 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 42&43 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 44&45 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 46&47 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 48 slm, k1, p1, k2tog, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 x12), p2tog, k1, p1,
k2tog, p1, k1, p2tog, k1, p1 [42STS]

Row 49 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 50&51 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 52&53 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 54&55 slm, p1, k1 to end
Row 56 slm, p1, k2tog, p1, k2tog, p1, k2tog, (p1, k1 x12), p2tog, k1, p2tog, k1,
p2tog, k1 [36STS]

Row 57 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 58&59 slm, k1, p1 to end
Rows 60&61 slm, p1, k1 to end
Rows 62&63 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 64 slm, k1, p2tog to end [24STS]
Row 65 slm, k1, p1 to end
Row 66 Lay body of tail flat on the ground. with the slit you created with the first 26 rows centered so that the caudal fin will lay flat. Match up the 24 stitches one in front
and one in back so that there are 12 pairs of stitches. With other needle, slip
back stitch through front stitch 12 times so that there are 12 stitches remaining
and the end of the tail is closed.[12STS]

Caudal Fin

The body of the tail is closed on Row 66 and the caudal fin is created using straight stitches and short rows. Make sure that the slit at the top of the blanket is centered in relation to the caudal fin so that the blanket lays flat.

Caudal Fin
Row 67 k1, kfb x10, k1 [22STS]
Rows 68&69 k to end
Row 70 k1, kfb x20, k1 [42STS]
Row 71 k2, (p2, k2) to end Row 72 p2, (k2, p2) to end
Rows 73-90 Repeat 9 sets of rows 71 & 72

Row 91A (k2, p2) x5, k1 [21STS]
Row 92A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x5 [21STS]
Row 93A (k2, p2) x4, k2, p1 [19STS]
Row 94A turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x4, p2 [19STS]
Row 95A (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 96A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 97A (k2, p2) x3, k2, p1 [15STS]
Row 98A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3, k2 [15STS]
Row 99A (k2, p2) x3, k1 [13STS]
Row 100A turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3 [13STS]
Row 101A k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p1 [11STS]
Row 102A turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2 [11STS]
Row 103A k2, p2, k2, p2, k1 [9STS]
Row 104A turn work, p1, k2, p2, k2, p2 [9STS]
Row 105A k2, p2, k2, p1 [7STS]
Row 106A turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2 [7STS]
Row 107A k2, p2, k1 [5STS]
Row 108A turn work, p1, k2, p2 [5STS]
Row 109A k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 110A turn work, k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 111A k2, p1 [3STS]
Row 112A turn work, k1, p2 [3STS]
Row 113A k2 [2STS]
Row 114A turn work, p2 [2STS]

Bind off 21 stitches. Slip last bind off stitch over the first stitch in the second half of row. Weave yarn through your remaining 22 stitches so that you are starting the next row on the outer edge of the tail rather than the middle.

Row 91B (k2, p2) x5, k2tog [21STS]
Row 92B turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x5 [21STS]
Row 93B (k2, p2) x4, k2, p1 [19STS]
Row 94B turn work, k1, (p2, k2) x4, p2 [19STS]
Row 95B (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 96B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x4, k1 [17STS]
Row 97B (k2, p2) x3, k2, p1 [15STS]
Row 98B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3, k2 [15STS]
Row 99B (k2, p2) x3, k1 [13STS]
Row 100B turn work, p1, (k2, p2) x3 [13STS]
Row 101B k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p1 [11STS]
Row 102B turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2[11STS]                                                                      Row 103B k2, p2, k2, p2, k1 [9STS]
Row 104B turn work, p1, k2, p2, k2, p2 [9STS]
Row 105B k2, p2, k2, p1 [7STS]
Row 106B turn work, k1, p2, k2, p2 [7STS]
Row 107B k2, p2, k1 [5STS]
Row 108B turn work, p1, k2, p2 [5STS]
Row 109B k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 110B turn work, k2, p2 [4STS]
Row 111B k2, p1 [3STS]
Row 112B turn work, k1, p2 [3STS]
Row 113B k2 [2STS]
Row 114B turn work, p2 [2STS]




Road Trippin’

Thanks to President’s Day, I recently had a 3-day weekend in the middle of the week. (I work during actual weekends.) I decided to take a quest to find some wildflower blooms.

I began my journey at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge just outside Las Vegas, NV. No flowers.

DNWR Lizard

Desert National Wildlife Refuge: lizards yes, flowers no

Next stop was Death Valley National Park. Actually, “stop” isn’t strictly accurate. Really I just entered the park via Death Valley Junction and drove south on Badwater Road. There were a couple creosote bushes starting to show yellow flowers, but nothing too exciting.

Creosote Bloom DEVA Mesquite Flats.jpg

The creosote bushes at Death Valley (code Name DEVA) were just starting to bloom.

I left Death Valley through the south entrance and found myself in Tonopah, CA. Now, I moved out West almost a year ago, and ever since Day 1, I have been hearing about China Ranch and their date shakes over near Tonopah. So, naturally I had to check it out.

The shakes were pretty good! Still no flowers, though.

I decided to continue south through Baker, CA to Mojave National Preserve. The Preserve has 2 visitor centers. The closest to Baker is the Kelso Depot, which used to be a train station back in the day. Trains still pass through, but they are all for freight–no passengers.

Day 1 ended at Hole-in-the-Wall campground (and still no flowers).

I began Day 2 with a short hike on the Ring Loop Trail near Hole-in-the-Wall campground in the Mojave Preserve. You basically hike around some rock formations and into a canyon. Then you use metal rings to climb out of the canyon. The climbing part was tricky. I’m 5’2″ and I really could have used a tall person to help me scramble up the top part. I banged up a knee and a pinky toe, and then decided it would be best if I didn’t die. So I clambered back down and walked back to my car the long way around. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is admit defeat.


I still hadn’t found any wildflowers, but decided to try one more spot. I exited Mojave Preserve and drove to Amboy Crater. I spent quite a bit of time at Amboy last year when I was a botany intern in California. There had been wildflowers this time last year, so I figured there was a chance. (Of course last year was a Super Bloom, so it wasn’t exactly the norm.)

Amboy Crater

There were no flowers to be found at Amboy this time around, but it did make a new place to stop for lunch. I briefly considered continuing south to Joshua Tree, but decided to head back instead so I could treat my car to a well-deserved oil change and a wash.

I backtracked through the Mojave Preserve and stopped for gas in Baker. I had neglected to register the day before that Baker happens to be the home of the world’s largest thermometer.

Baker Thermometer

Baker, CA is home to the world’s largest thermometer.


As I was driving past Death Valley on my way back home, I noticed a large white “DV” on the side of a mountain. Someone must have painted a bunch of big rocks white and formed them into the gigantic letters.

DEVA Rock Initials

So I did not fulfill my quest to see lots of wild flowers on my President’s Day road trip, but there was still plenty to see!