Team Work

I am ambivalent about the partnership between our cat, Xenia, and our dog Max. It has gone from enemies to frenemies to partners in the past couple of weeks. Back in August, they could not even be on the same house floor, but just before Christmas, I came home one evening to find them lounging together on the second-floor landing and looking for an evening snack.
So this relationship has progressed from gladiators meeting on the arena‘s sands to something entirely different. Even my wife, usually much more the optimist than I, admitted it was a surprise.

Then the six in the morning, arias started up again with Xenia in my room singing about hunger, the agony of abandonment by beloved humans, more about the desire for breakfast, and just a bit of a threat regarding what might come next. OK, those we’ve had before. But it was the baritone growls and yowls of Max that surprised me. Damn! They were doing a duet.

I get up, stumble downstairs, make them breakfast, and they slink off to the living room to lie in front of the fire. Obviously, the cat is the dominant member of this partnership. She has years of experience manipulating humans, and she gets results. What more can you want?

More Combs

Why break a perfectly fine comb? Well, to see if it can take some punishment.

January being my month for prototyping and study, I eventually settled on combs as a project. If you view many Youtube videos about making a comb, it appears to be just a one-two-three proposition, and there you have it. But, unfortunately, what seems to be straightforward is not. as is often the case, things can become a little more complicated than they first appear. Yes, anyone can make a comb using the video as a guide. How practical, durable, and effective that comb will be may be an issue, though.

At a show, one year couple came to my booth, and while the wife was picking out spoons, the husband was flexing them to see how sturdy they were. Luckily none snapped, but I was alerted to a tendency of some people to absent-mindedly bend and twist woodenware. Since then, I’ve designed the shafts of spoons to be graceful but strong. With combs, I’ve adopted a similar practice and put a bit of effort into testing the structural abilities of some of the prototypes to bend. Can you still break it? Sure! But I’ll know that much more than average effort was required.

The key to the added strength is making the comb’s spine thicker. It turns out that this also aids in making it easier to grip and use the comb and improves the appearance. You get all this from the cracks and crunches of breaking an otherwise good comb.

Why does a wooden comb need a thicker spine? Because the strength of the comb teeth requires that the wood grain flows the length of the tooth; be perpendicular to the body. Too thin a spine, and the lovely piece of wood cracks.
I am still making prototypes. There is a bit more to test out, and time spent at this stage on structural concerns means fewer issues later in making the combs. My wife has agreed to test the product but insists that the drawings I’m working on of hairsticks for long hair get a priority on the work schedule. There is a certain amount of compersion, a joy in seeing my wife get pleasure from using the comb I made, that exceeds anything possible if the comb had merely been purchased.

Combs of wood, ivory, bone, and shell were probably the origin of good grooming. A good comb can shape, hold, or groom hair into shapes. Combs are found in archeological sites going back thousands of years, but most of us never give more than a casual thought to something essential to beauty.
Like a spoon, a comb is something essential; its utility is valued, but its aesthetics makes it a pleasure to use.

Fakes

I slouch around in loose dock pants, a slouchy beret, or a leather seaman’s cap. No one goes to a museum store to buy replicas of my gear!
So you wonder why my usual demur, sometimes inscrutable style of writing has become agitated? It’s the bloody New York Times.

The Times had an article on people buying replicas of famous artists’ gear. Want to look like Warhol – there’s a platinum wig. You can get Picasso’s shirt if it’s your particular kink. Klimt’s painting smock is also available. They suggest that it’s no longer enough to buy notecards with art reproductions or wear T-shirts with artists peering out at the world. Now you can dress just like the artist. You can be an avatar of Pablo or Gustav.

They have all the panache but none of the angst of trying to create, no sitting there looking for motivation, struggling with technique, and worried about if it will sell.

It’s the ultimate in an already fake society. You can’t or won’t try to create, but you’ll fake it till you make it.

Perfection, not in a day

January is my month to discover and prototype new things. The shop and the rest of life are slow, so taking advantage of this to do something that you may be too busy for otherwise is a good use of the time. But the creation process does not happen in a blinding flash of light with celestial trumpets blaring. Instead, things gradually fall into place, sometimes with a bit of annoyance and pain. 

It helps to have a process. Some of the methods and strategies I use came out of a background in Japanese Martial Arts. As a teenage Judo student, I was taught to examine my technique and progress and strive towards gradual improvements. Unlike cinematic martial arts, students often don’t have spontaneous inspirations or become black belts in a thirty-second montage. Instead, progress is made through good practice and incremental conscious work. Many businesses have heard of this as Kaizen, which has been at the root of many quality improvement techniques.

As I mentioned, I use January and February to investigate and create things I haven’t mastered or want to make. Right out front, I’ll tell you that carvers don’t bury the things that don’t work out. We either keep them around to learn from or use them to heat the house.

The real glaring failures feed the woodstove. Those with “promise” decorate the house. They are imperfect prototypes of things that I later mastered. Some examples are the curves on the little dolphin that are just a bit too chunky or the lovely portrait of the 1900-era trawler not designed with enough negative space for framing.

The prototype combs below are good examples. I set out to make some wooden combs only to discover that lots of the information available were “nuanced.” Some information was not given, some didn’t work for what I wanted, and some were bad when I tried to use it. So after research, I had to take the good information and my insights together and create some prototypes.

Prototypes are not finished products. They are functional but imperfect. Lots still need to be worked out. They say, “OK, it can be done.” Then the tough work of making it pretty and functional starts.

With regard to the combs, some things that needed working out were the wood species, grain orientation, the thickness of the comb along the spine, and the thickness of the teeth. Combs are available in various exotic kinds of wood, and some I have on stock from when I carved quarter boards and transoms for boats in teak and mahogany. But sustainability and material costs are significant issues for me. And I frequently need to apprise customers about how sustainable the products are. Luckily the species I use are both local and sustainable in New England. So my initial choices are cherry and maple. They have the strength and beauty needed.

OK, I have the basics worked out. Now, work on making it pleasing to look at and use. Perfection does not come in a day. We work at it bit by bit.

Xenia Houdini

I don’t care what my sister said. I was not being an impulsive brat! I was merely going out for a bit of exercise. No reason for mother to shriek at me!
That hound, he dropped the dime on me, ratted me out to father. Howling at the door until they came running.
Of course, it was pleasant to watch as they ran to and fro, trying to find out how I had gotten out without their noticing. That will remain my little secret. It’s so endearing seeing them flummoxed.
I’ll have to get on father to do more shoveling. That icky white stuff is soooo messy. I know my cousins in Florida don’t have to put up with the nasty stuff!

In the meantime, I’ll warm up on the heated blanket and ponder how I can precipitate more mayhem. It’s so much fun being an evil genius,

Savy

Is there a Bible quote that the nefarious will always be with us? If not, maybe there should be. Before writing this post, I was sifting through my regular email and found one from an outfit that assured me that I had a relationship with them, and here was my new newsletter. OK, I do lots of business online for my job, blogging, games, and carving. But despite their bland assurances, I sent the post directly to the junk folder where all subsequent SPAM from them will reside.

They just assumed I’d yield to their assurances that they were part of my online family of vendors without verifying if I used their services.

Even if the email were innocuous, once I opened it, I’d be spammed continuously – Dear Louis, such a deal we have for you today!

Not being perfect, I have to admit that I’ve fallen for the routine once in a while. Luckily, without consequences. 

But evil seems to ride on the coattails of the innocent these days. So it’s more challenging to take active steps against. It’s not some weedy-looking idiot at your door, not even some phony on the phone telling you it’s the IRS – at least you can be insulting to those idiots. No, any response at all guarantees a dumpster load of SPAM. They note, “Hey, Harry, this one is alive; sell the email address!”

If only a physical response were possible! A quote attributed to Blackbeard, the pirate, advises, “Let’s jump on board and cut them to pieces.” My reply would be a hearty “Arrr, Matey!”

The Union

OK, take a look at these optics; the Peaceable Kingdom. Kitty and doggie share a minute of peace over a shared family meal. Who’d guess that most of the last nine months have been spent growling, hissing, and swatting at each other? Perhaps the tedium of enduring dispute became too much to bear? Nope, a need to get lazy humans to get their dinner to them by the contractually dictated five PM.

You see, pets in our house have a union. The union has a contract, and woe is to a mere human to violate the agreement. A contract magnifies the God-given rights of Cats, Dogs, and other creatures as defined in the contract.

However, unity is essential. It took some months for Xenia, the Local’s combined Shop Steward and Business Agent, to get the new talent to start paying dues.

So this is how it goes down around quarter to five in the afternoon. The cat strolls into the kitchen. Obstructs traffic, begins to look first at the clock on the wall, and glares at whatever human is in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the dog wanders in, sits in front of the fridge, and starts looking at the clock and then at the humans. Eventually, the thickheaded people get the idea before the grievances are filed, the wildcat strike is called, and the International Teamsters are notified. This flurry of activity typically ends before five, as soon as they are fed. After this, they saunter off to warm themselves before the woodstove, another victory by organized labor over management. I swear I can see the copy of the “CONTRACT” sticking out of the cat’s rear pocket.

It’s important to note that no human in our house speaks cat or dog language. We’d love to. It might explain how two enemies communicated and came to coordinate against management. One can only imagine the closed-door sessions in the kitchen when the house was asleep. 

Unity is powerful!

Yankee Stoicsm

January, as I say every year, is my least favorite month. I celebrate its passing. But it’s a valuable month if you make it so. Whether it’s laying plans for the garden, working on new carving initiatives, or making those long winter nights come alive by reading about topics that interest you, it passes and promotes new value. Because it’s a slow-paced month, you’re a fool not to take the opportunity to use it to recharge a bit.

I hate to say it, but if January did not exist, I might have to invent it. I shudder thinking about it in a week with three snowstorms.

So I try to keep busy this month. But there is a wayward part of me that wants to be away from January in New England – enough Yankee Stoicism already! I want to dance on the beaches! Wet my toes in the tide! Boogie under the tropical moon, and watch the flying fish off the starboard bow of my ketch. Running around my head, this entire month has been old sea chanteys. Earworms about hauling up and sailing away.

 This one in particular:

Rolling down to Old Maui, me boys

Rolling down to Old Maui

We’re homeward-bound from the Arctic ground

Rolling down to Old Maui.

Once more we sail with a northerly gale

Through the ice and wind and rain.

Them coconut fronds, them tropical lands

We soon shall see again.

Our stu’n’s’l bones/booms is carried away

What care we for that sound?

A living gale is after us,

Thank God we’re homeward bound.

Chorus

We’ll heave the lead where old Diamond Head

Looms up on old Wahu.

Our masts and yards are sheathed with ice

And our decks are hid from view.

The horrid ice of the sea-caked isles

That deck the Arctic sea

Are miles behind in the frozen wind

Since we steered for Old Maui.

A well, back to work; sigh.

January Gardening

I sent off the first seed orders. Finally, the ideal time in January arrived, and I sat down with the pile of catalogs for a winter afternoon of dreaming of the tropical wonderland the garden could be. OK, maybe not so tropical for Central Massachusetts in the middle of New England. But one can have dreams. Even if the results will not be so high and mighty comes August.

I’ve also researched elevated garden beds. For durability, you are ideally looking for a cedar or cypress construction. But the ever-deceptive ads on a major online site call anything cedar, even when it’s the soft rot-prone Chinese fir. One critic warned that it seems as though the manufacturers were using the word “cedar” as a reference to the wood color rather than the species.
So rather than trust the onsite evaluations, I went through a number of the “Best of” sites for contrasting assessments. Unsurprisingly, 99 percent of the products were made in China. Buyer beware. A hint concerning reviews; most are done after assembly, not after a bit or a season of use.

Sol is steadily climbing in the sky. Every day just a bit further higher in the sky. While garden planning in January does not seem very topical for this time of year, I expect seedlings will be sprouting in the middle of February.

Now I need to get rid of the snow.

Fabrication

We all tell ourselves little lies to get by. Blunt honesty sometimes doesn’t do it, and we resort to those little white lies that help us justify a gamut of conditions from I’m too lazy, to I hate it. ” I’ll do it as soon as I get home this afternoon,” for taking out the trash. In the back of your mind, you are thinking, ” maybe my son will take it out!”
Other times we need to sweep something we don’t want to face under the proverbial carpet, “Let’s not worry too much about that extra poundage. It’s just from the extra salt, and I’ll flush it out over the next two days.”

Yes, I know you are out there having a chuckle over these. But, of course, you never manufacture such finicky tissue-thin little vanities. So, no, if you are like me, you need the paintbrush and a can of paint to create the necessary procrastination to get through the day this time of year.
Around here, we are getting a two-day snowstorm. I am waiting to see if work-related activities will be canceled and searching for excuses that will allow me to go back to bed.

It’s tough when you are the boss and have no one to call when you’d like to call out sick with a stomach virus.”Hello, Lou. Look, I have this stomach bug that just won’t stop…yeah I’d like to stay home. Yeah, I know I’m in charge, but… OK, I’ll make it in somehow.”
Damn! Now I’ll have to get out and clear off the car. But wait, they canceled schools, and there is a traffic advisory. The governor has asked all non-essential vehicles to stay off the road. Am I non-essential? You bet! OK, technically, it is not a lie I’m telling myself. Instead, it’s an exaggeration of the truth!
See! work hard enough, and you don’t have to lie…just mislead.

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