A craftsman's ramblings on making art, food, love and adventure

Category: Rural Life

Green House

A much anticipated box arrived at Wagmore last week. Like Jack dreaming of his Beanstalk we peruse this cardboard vessel no bigger than a shoebox filled with our seeds of summer promise. While many gardens have come and gone in Carolyn and my lives, it still seems remarkable that in these tiny packages weighing only ounces lives the potential of hundreds of pounds of sustenance destined for our kitchen cutting boards.

The snow still lays in blotchy patches in the yard. The geese are the first to find nutrition in the old grass between. The dogs too have found foul bits of rotty…decomposing earth to wear as spring cologne…pew!

Today we started our first indoor seeds…the calendar does not lie! The snow will go…the soil will warm and sometime in May these little pots filled with infant flowers and food will head to the gardens to perpetuate this ancient ritual of the grower. An act of faith and hope we delight in!

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Brand-aid

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Things are heating up at Roaring Dog Studio! I would imagine that there are not many dogs held in such high regard that they have been immortalized in a brand….even fewer celebrated as a brand-brand!

Check out our multi talented craftswoman Lori Holmes…or Curly Cherry as we like to call her (mostly behind her back)….as she works out on our new branding iron. Roaring Dog is getting ready to launch a whole new batch of products in the next couple of weeks and our snazzy logo will be proudly displayed on each.

I showed Fiona the real Roaring Dog these pics and…yawn…she was most unimpressed…tough audience!

Goats, Books and TV

I have a quirky collection of Blogs that I subscribe to and try to read most days. As a ‘maker of things‘ I am always interested in like minded folks. One that I have been reading for a while is ‘the art of doing stuff‘ written by this precocious Canadian named Karen. She is terminally irreverent and writing mostly for women…how and why I got involved remains a mystery…although Carolyn does on occasion suggest that I have a bit of estrogen flowing through my blood stream. As a hairy 260lb man this is potentially not a pretty picture but so far the side effects have been mostly positive.

Last year Karen posted a blog maligning a small but apparently deviant segment of society that does not own a TV. I am sure if she knew that her loyal closeted blog reader and writer here was a ‘no TV deviant’ she would have been nicer…maybe. I still like Karen and I also still have no TV….

So…what are a couple of empty nesters to do without a remote to share? We are relearning to read…out loud to each other. We don’t curl up in one another’s laps…remember the 260 lb. hairy guy from paragraph one…but we do listen and enjoy.

So where to the goats come in you ask? We are just finishing up a book recommended to me by my uber-literary mother called ‘Goat Song’ by Brad Kessler. We have been lusting for a goat or two of our own but are desperately looking for distractions like this book to sate us before we end up adding to our menagerie with our typical reckless abandon. This book helps in the self restraint world…no bucolic jaunt down the path of barnyard idealism here and…a tough read. The last book we read out loud together was ‘a dirty life’ by Kristen Kimball which we enjoyed without reservation.

Tonight Carolyn is off delivering a baby and I am wishing our dogs could read to me!

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A Remarkable Sunday

While our brothers and sisters in New England took the brunt of Nemo’s fury…we in central New York had a proper 8″-10″ snow storm…just enough to leave our landscape looking lovely and inviting. We awoke this Sunday morning to a warming sun and for a couple aging hippies who live in a home both heated and energized by these rays this is special gift.

Our friend and gifted artist Tara Hogan (the creator of the Roaring Dog brand) had asked me to take some photographs of our home Wagmore to share with a stylist friend of hers. Apparently Tara thinks our handmade house might prove interesting to folks outside of our immediate world. There is not much in this house that we did not create ourselves often with reclaimed materials saved from the landfills of America.

Here is a small sampling of today’s camera exercises. If anything strikes a cord of curiosity…feel free to ask.

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Gratitude List

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I so want the last thought for today to be a grateful one. Every couple of weeks I have to remove myself from the often creative work of our shops to make a blood sacrifice at the alter of Quickbooks. This is the dark side of small business… taxes… insurance… payroll… purchasing… inventory… cash flow. Carolyn calls this part of the job ‘soul-sucking’…a perfect description.

Last Sunday our son Ben and his girl Erin (who is also part of Team Roaring Dog) came for an early dinner. I caught this picture of them from our living room window strolling back from a visit with the geese and ducks at the pond’s edge. The dogs were very happy to see them and we had another of our many Sunday dinners together.

I am grateful for moments like this and truth be told my life is filled with an overabundance of them. I need to make a gratitude list in my mind…maybe even on paper…a persistent reminder to keep the dark side at arms length.

I so want the last thought for today to be a grateful one…

‘The Soul of a Tree’

“Each tree, every part of each tree, has only one perfect use. How to acquire logs and what to do with them calls for creative skill. There is need always to select and to search, even to look underground where the most fantastic grains can often be found.”  George Nakashima

I have been a woodworker for most of my adult life. Early on this path I was blessed to encounter a show featuring the work of George Nakashima who also was a woodworker for most of his life until his passing in 1990. That was a seminal moment for my evolving design sensibilities and from that point forward, there has been no stronger influence in the art and craft of my work.

Much of the work from Roaring Dog Studios evolves in similar ways to that of Nakashima Studio. The following photographs illustrate a journey from log to finished piece. The logs seen here are remnants from the veneer industry, short offcuts from the ends of logs in the final sizing before processing into veneer. Inside each log is a unique personality and it is our goal to celebrate this ‘Soul of a Tree’ by creating something uniquely beautiful to live on for generations.

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MINI…PickupMan

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I read a blog a while back bemoaning the disappearance of a 1970’s vintage 45mpg pickup truck. I remember the little VW diesel pickups and can’t imagine why we don’t see some modern version of that efficient hauler today. In my day to day life as a cabinetmaker and maker of things I am the proud owner of not one but two big-ass American V-8 GMC trucks.

Truck people like my trucks…I unfortunately am not a truck person. Worse yet I am a ‘not a truck person’ who owns two trucks and a new home in the country some 30 miles from my shop (this is the dark underbelly of bucolic life…big commuting!). Granted…I need a truck from time to time but honestly most days the monsters travel pretty light. Add to this a sizable dollop of eco-guilt plopped on top of my smoldering wallet every time I pull up to the pumps in one of my beasts.

Well friends…meet my new truck… a sweet 2009 35 mpg MINI Cooper Clubman. No…I didn’t ditch the GMCs but I do park them most days in favor of the funky little gas sipper. Eco-guilt is assuaged for now and damn if this thing isn’t a flat blast to drive.

Best yet, the little MINI and I just made our first pilgrimage to the Home Depot contractor’s loading dock. Anyone familiar with this bastion of American truck prowess knows that this is the place where building supplies, testosterone and horsepower meet in a daily dance of territorial chest beating and metaphorical butt sniffing. While I am in general a gentle-man…I am an unquestionably a large man so when my MINI and my 250 lbs frame rolled into ‘the zone’ nestled between a Ford F250 and a Dodge Ram to load a flat cart full of concrete blocks and sand…the dazed looks of the ‘hammer swinging set’ were priceless.

Until some enlightened auto company picks up the pickup where VW left it some 40 years ago…me and my MINI are going to be regulars at the big box rodeos for some time to come.

Immigration Reform

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Please meet our motley crew of illegal immigrants…

We are blessed to live on a beautiful 11 acre parcel with a critter-filled 2 acre pond in front of our house. We call this mini-Ponderosa Wagmore.  Normally this time of year our little pond is frozen solid and the sensible water fowl have either flown off to warmer climes or if domesticated… not opted to run away from home just as winter’s grip begins to stiffen. This crew seems to have done just that!

What we have here are 3 African Geese, 2 Khaki Campbell Ducks and 1 Pekin Duck…no…before you ask smarty-pants…no ‘partridge in a pear tree’. This crew literally sauntered across our field this fall and took up residence in our pond. No visas…no passports…no job prospects. We thought they would wander off soon enough…perhaps their people-parents would come looking…nope…just swam around with not a care in the world. They mixed gregariously with wild ducks and geese until the skim ice started to form…the sensible birds saw this as a definite sign to vacate. Not our little gang of delinquents!

So now what? I know…let’s buy them a bubbler to keep a bay in the pond open all winter…build them a custom lean-to at the shop and buy a couple hundred pounds of cracked corn to walk out to them each day. So here we are…foster parents to a veritable UN of water fowl. Who played who…I think the winged-ones knew exactly what they were doing…Life at Wagmore bubbles on.

Oh Mom…Kale Again???

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So far the two most significant reoccurring subjects in my fledgling blog-life are dogs and kale. I mean…who doesn’t love the occasional dog post…but Kale…give me a break!

So…here’s the deal…we planted a couple of beds full of kale sometime in early summer. FYI…we checked our records and this super-Kale variety is Winterbor from Johnny’s Seeds. It is now almost the end of January and we are still picking perfectly lovely leaves from these plants!

Last week I picked a bag to bring to my Mom as evidence that… despite the multi-day deep freeze we are enjoying in upstate NY…fresh leafy greens can be something more than a fading memory of a summer long past. So Mom sends me an email a day later telling me about these Kale Chips she had made as her homage to the sun gods (I made that homage part up but I think my Mom will allow me the poetic…or blogetic license).

I have heard mention of these little devils in the past however… despite having controlling interest in several metric tons of Kale…I have never made them…until TONIGHT! Three words for you…EASY AS HELL! Just clean the Kale, cut out the largest part of the stem, toss with some decent olive oil, spread evenly in a single layer on a cookie sheet, season with salt and pepper and put it in a 290′ oven for about 1/2 hour. This action shot above is the whole scene unfolding in real time on one of our styling ‘Chef Boards’ in our Roaring Dog Studios test kitchen (which doubles as the kitchen in our house).

‘Really…that’s all there is to it. Crispy, tasty and I guess better for you than a half bag of Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Potato Chips!

Forks?…we don’t need no stinkin’ forks!

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Almost every time chopsticks find their way to our table I ask myself why we reserve these most basic and satisfying of utensils for Asian fare. Clams Linguini with chopsticks…why not? Applesauce??…OK…maybe a stretch. Bottom line…gotta love a nice pair of chopsticks…especially when they look like these!

The crew at Roaring Dog Studios has finished our first run of handmade chopsticks. This batch of sticks are crafted in Curly Maple, Bubinga, Wenge and Yellow Heart hardwoods. I hope to have these up on the roaring dog studio store this weekend.