I have a full load on my plate at the moment. The holidays are here, and the slow march toward Christmas has begun. I truly enjoy that. But try to find the darned “early Christmas” box of decorations. The one marked as such was not as advertised.
Then the shop. Yesterday I finished buffing about forty pieces of treen – spoons, spatulas, and forks. Today I have three cutting boards, about ten soft cheese spreaders, and some laser work to complete.
Then there is the portrait of the schooner Ada Bailey lying on the hard somewhere in the shop, demanding that I finish the groundwork so the sails can be carved, and the sails seem filled with wind. A proper carving of a proper schooner, not just a sketch and some half-finished background.
Then in the project box is the thirty-six-inch eagle, its banner, and the uncarved head. It would screech for attention, except I haven’t carved the head yet. I always carve the head, especially the eye, so the birdie can watch what I do to the plumage. But this time of year, there is too much to get out first.
Beneath the eagle, sulking in the project box, are lower-priority items. I do not want to dig down there. It’s too damn embarrassing.
So that’s what I have on my plate. I don’t dare show a photo of what the shop looks like now: sawdust, chips, filter masks, scraps, blanks waiting for the knife and gouge—a mess.
A Stream of Consciousness morning ramble
Saturday Morning, and here I am up at quarter of six. The diabolical Empress has done her work of stepping on my face to climb over to her mother, my wife. Loud purrs of contentment wake me further. My wife had her booster and is sore, so I won’t roll over for a hug. Xenia, H.I.M. looks smugly at me from her perch on mothers shoulder. She seems to be saying, “There, now. Why don’t you just get up and feed me? It’ll be easier that way. I’ll leave mom alone, and you can feed the wood stove. See, kitty knows best!”
I stumble downstairs, rake the coals, add wood, make coffee, and get the cat food. The dog has already been fed but begs for a “…second breakfast; I’m a growing puppy!”
The cat stares at me imperiously back upstairs, ” Where have you been? Giving the hound food rather than taking care of my dire needs for sustenance; incredible?”
My wife is now wrapped in the covers and takes up the center of the bed. It looks like I’m up for the day. It’s too early to get to work in the shop, I guess I’ll check out my blog instead.
Maybe just a bit of a nap this afternoon?
My little office also serves as a storage space, room for my small model railroad, and the Imperial Retreat. Her Imperial Majesty’s unique retreat is cleverly hidden behind some curtains for privacy. Enter unannounced, and she will scold you. However, if you begin working on the computer, she’ll offer her considerable editing skills to add extra spaces, punctuation, and carriage returns.
Since she dines in front of the windows, you will have to accommodate her needs to refresh the delicate consumables flowing from the kitchen. Between meals, the snack box will be raided for the best products provided by the chefs at Purina and other providers of quality goods for the discerning feline.
On occasion, there will be an incursion by a loutish canine. For example, this morning, H.I.M. trapped the foolish pup attempting to raid the snack box. Father had to come to rescue him when he heard the pitiful cries for mercy. She commanded that he be locked in one of the cells below until the miscreant learned that Lèse-majesté would not be tolerated!
After he ran crying from the room, Xenia, the conquerer, decided to take a few moments of repose in front of the computer, watching Cat TV.
Birds are endlessly entertaining.
Personality tests. I hate them. Someone asks, “Lou, what is your favorite word?” and I choke. What if I answer garbanzo bean instead of prevaricate? Maybe I throw a curve and go for topological?
Instead, I ask: do you mean the word that I savor and roll across my tongue in a semi-lustful joy before precisely pronouncing it to a startled world? Or the word I guard because its use is either precious or pernicious?
Perhaps you mean the four-letter Anglo-Saxon word I am about to use as I denounce appalling attempts to commit to a favorite when so many good choices exist? You know those words get a bad rep in our day. But, after all, they are so flexible, expressive, and appropriate for many occasions.
They are also so damn easy to spell, unlike others that need spell-checking all the time.
We talk about work/life balance, relaxation, purpose, and being centered. People dabble in it like a hobby, but it’s just another business for writers, publishers, workshop leaders, and Tik Tok Influencers.
We are a nation of crazes, manias, and attempts. Attempts to rectify our chakras, be holistic, create a successful business, or bring peace to our family through religion. It’s the one element that’ll tie it all together.
Having grown up on TV, tabloid news and educational systems that pass people on to be someone else’s problem, our ability to view reality is a bit compromised.
Maybe you’ve heard of critical thinking, but it’s not too big with the crazes and manias that sweep our social, religious, political, and cultural interests.
I need that fix now! Because in the words of the immortal Howard Beale, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Everybody has a favorite “happy place” or happy places that they’d gladly flee to when the going gets tough. Some are imaginary. I’ll bet that some of you imagine retreating to some fictional never-land that only exists in an author’s mind. Some of these are not places I’d be eager to be stranded. The medical, dental, and social shortcomings of most of Dicken’s canon would be awful to put up with. You know, places affable to visit, but more than a weekend might be a bit much?
I know. I’m such a balloon popper. But think about getting stuck in the wrong chapter of one of the Lord Of The Rings books. Yikes! Not until I get my sword, please.
Then the is the issue of time passing. Is your happy place static or evolving? Mine is sometimes a large mansion on the seacoast, just my wife, the cat, the dog, and lovely summer days. But not having taken climate change into account, I’ll have to worry about sea level rise washing away my boat float. Drat! Not such a happy place anymore! I shouldn’t have to worry about insurance claims in a happy place.
OK, so maybe reality does not intrude on your happy places. But I sure hope that you are not planning on staying too long. Think of how boring a perfect place could get after weeks of habitation. Lying there while grapes are peeled and dropped into your mouth must get old fast.
And life in a tropical paradise? Have you ever spent more than a few days in the tropics? The bugs, lizards, and bats! Try to sleep on the beach if you want; I’ve heard all the stories of crabs on the Pacific Islands.
No, I hate to be a spoilsport, but a nice idle is waking up in New England on a snowy morning to hot coffee and waffles, knowing that the sound of shovels and snow blower is someone else clearing your walk and driveway. So I’ll sit there and watch the flames jumping in the wood stove, my feet on the hassock, and my wife asking, ” More coffee, dear?”
Now that’s my idea of a happy place!
My wife, myself, three adult children, a cat, and a dog; that’s our household. So imagine what the fridge looks like. Don’t even try to imagine how the back of the fridge looks. I view it as a sort of journey into the Heart of Darkness. The trays, drawers, the unimaginable back recesses!
It all gets pulled apart at regular intervals, “who does this belong to?” Because everyone has different food interests, allergies, and diets. I’m lactose intolerant, but it doesn’t stop my ice cream habit; someone else has a hatred for gluten. The dog and the food cans are in there, also. “Where is the…Mayo, BarBQue sauce, mustard, or salsa are the sounds of regular kitchen life.
It grew bad enough that the fridge was subdivided into one in a daughter’s room for her special diet needs and one on the porch for my wife’s food prepping for meals.
But I only have one question. Why the hell am I still lost in the rear of the dammed fridge like I’m looking for Colonel Kurtz in Apocolypse Now when all I want is the damned yogurt!
A hand-carved wooden ring, you say? Actually it was one of my first commercial ventures as a woodcarver. When I was living in Ottawa my girlfriend wanted a ring to seal our deepening relationship, but I was much too poor to buy one. So being a carver I grabbed a bit of rosewood scrap that someone had gifted me and carved her a ring. Of course, it was just a simple ring. But it looked enchanting because it was rather lovely rosewood, and she was pleased to have her finger ringed by it.
It was the sixties, and everyone was into exploration, the natural, and feelings of the spirit. So I started making them on a limited basis for friends to give and receive. Unlike a metal ring, a wooden one needs a bit more heft to provide it with the strength it needs to resist splitting. Make it too thin, and it looks exquisite but not too durable. You had to ensure that the grain had a twist because this was one place where straight grain was not a plus. Grain that was too straight would split right along the grain.
Selecting wood was the key to making it as thin as possible and as lovely as you could make it. I liked very close twisted grain. I chose ebony, teak, and some burl woods that a friend provided from his pipe making.
The tools were a bit string to measure and mark diameters, a drill, a knife, and some gouges. The finish was with sandpaper, followed by steel wool and oil.
Wooden ring-making is still a thing, but I made maybe a dozen or two before moving on to earrings. Unfortunately no photos of that early work survive.
Different likes for different types of woodworkers. Elaborately figured wood is lovely on a cabinet. But kind of problematic for a carver. On the other hand, grain with no swirl or flare can leave you bored. So when selecting a board for carving, I look for a certain amount of balance; an attractive grain pattern without grain running in contrary waves or swirls.
Why avoid all the beautiful ripples, quilting, tiger, and birds eye patterns that look so lovely on a cabinet? Well, they obstruct the cutting and structuring of the carving. Tools run into them, snag, rip out, tear, and mangle.
I know you hear the legends of incorporating these into the carving, just like you hear the myths about studying the wood until you see what it wants to be. Hooey! I’m carving a commission for someone. I love that grain pattern in the cherry because it suggests water and cloud patterns in the sky. But I am carving a catboat, not an impressionistic masterpiece. I incorporate where I can, but that big knot? Firewood.
Firewood? Well, now we have another story. So much of the small cherry and ash wood that I carve comes out of the woodpile. And no, it’s not a matter of economy. It’s a matter of aesthetics. I run into beautiful wood that was not cut for commercial lumber for any number of reasons. I look over the pile while I’m stacking and select likely candidates for examination. These get tossed to a side, and later I open them on the bandsaw to see their potential. Out of this comes my blanks for spoons, some cutting boards, and a few for making into glued-up blanks for boat portraits. About twenty percent is useable, and the rest feeds the woodstove. Ash goes into the garden, so little gets wasted. Even sawdust winds up becoming mulch.
Mulch? Well, when I moved to this glacial remnant of a hilltop, the soil was as much gravel as loam. Over the years, compost, ash, charcoal, and sawdust mulch have turned the garden beds into actual soil for growing food.
Who’d have guessed that carving is a circular economy?
I’ve never appreciated wallpaper. Growing up ” to wallpaper over” something was to hide it. You did it to conceal something you didn’t want to see, which was unattractive. So it made it challenging to appreciate fine art and designer wall coverings. These have about as much to do with frowsy old-fashioned stuff you strip off in layers as poorly slopped on varnish does to a beautiful buffed varnish yacht finish.
I know that it has its admirers. But I remember once dating a girl who asked me to help her select furnishing for a new apartment. After an hour of looking at wallpaper swatches, I knew we were not meant for each other. So I wandered over to the paint. A week later, she took offense to how I hung the wallpaper. I suggested that going without covering was more comfortable, and she indicated that layers were the way to go.
I shrugged, she got angry, and that ended the relationship.
A week later, we met for coffee to try to reconcile; she accused me of wallpapering over the differences in our respective personal styles. What could I say? I was interested in having everything bare; she liked to cover up. In more than one way, it was never going to go anywhere.