Students and Teachers

“So what did you think of blacksmithing?” friends ask.

“I loved it,” I say.  “Though it was one of those classes I could have loved or hated based solely on the teacher.  Thankfully, I had a really good teacher.”

In my ten weeks here at the Folk School, I haven’t just been studying blacksmithing, or cooking, or writing.  I have also been studying teachers, and myself as a student.

During my years of “traditional” schooling, I excelled.  Not because I was necessarily smart, but because I was good at doing what was asked of me: namely memorizing information and spitting in back out.  I was also one of those kids who wanted to please the adults in my life – namely my parents and teachers – and so I did what it took.

Thankfully, I’m mostly over my need to please other people.  But not completely.  Holding the beginnings of what would hopefully become a hook, I asked my blacksmith instructor what he thought of my work so far.  “Well, do you like it?” he asked.  “Yeah,” I said, wondering what that had to do with anything.  “If you like it, it’s good,” he said.  Wait – I determine what’s good here? At first it was a little alarming.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  How do I know if it’s any good? But then the idea started to grow on me.  After all, I was the one that was going to take this hook home and use it.

Later I told another student what my instructor said.  “That’s what so great about this place,” she said.  “You’re not trying to please a teacher – just yourself.”

Tending the Forge

Making a Bottle Opener

A New Use for our Garden Shed

Last month, I took Tom Dahaney’s Building a Garden Shed class.  In five days, we accomplished quite a bit.  What was left undone, we were told, would be completed by the Work Study students with the help of the maintenance department.

By Thursday afternoon, our shed was looking pretty good.

On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding here on the campus of the Folk School.  Our garden shed had never looked so good.  For it’s inaugural use, it served not as a garden shed, but as a bar.


Drink anyone?

Rocking Chairs

Beth and I went to sit down on the porch, overlooking the mountains.  She took one rocking chair, I took another.  “Oh – this is the one I don’t like,” I said as I got up and moved to another chair.   Beth looked at the chair I had vacated and said, “Yeah, I don’t like that one either.”  We conferred for a few minutes about what made one rocking chair better than another.  Then we both paused for a moment, stared at the view, and Beth said, “I love that I’m living at a place where we actually rate rocking chairs.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

A Day in the Life: Tuesday

“So what exactly is a host?” my dining companions often ask when they see my position listed on my nametag.  Where to start? I often wonder.

My short answer is this: I live and work here in exchange for room and board and a class every week.  The “class every week” part stops most people cold, as that sounds like heaven to many students here.  I can see their wheels turning as they then ask me to elaborate on the “work” part.

So I thought I’d do a “Day in the Life” series.  Since I’m writing this on a Tuesday, that’s the first day I’ll do.  I make no promises that I will do all the other days, or any other days for that matter.  Life is too short to make promises you might not want to keep.  But here’s Tuesday:

**Note: My co-host and I do some tasks together while others we alternate each week.

7:15: Eve leads morning walk – I get to sleep in.

7:40: Eve returns from morning walk.  I’m still sleeping. (Lest you feel bad for Eve, I’ll note here that I have had to do morning walk for the last three weeks straight…a long story, one that I’m glad is over.)

8:05: I meet Eve in the kitchen for breakfast set up.  We dish out the bread and syrup to each table, unwrap the brown sugar, yogurt, and raisins that accompany the grits we put out.

8:15: Eve rings the breakfast bell.  Students stream into the dining hall, get their drinks, then stand behind a seat.  Eve and I are back in the kitchen helping the kitchen staff to get the hot food onto the rolling carts.

8:20 : Eve sings the blessing, after which the students sit and we both serve breakfast.  Today is was eggs, potatoes, and bacon.  Then, we sit to eat ourselves, occasionally visited by an instructor asking us a question.  (A lot of our job is answering questions, some of which we know the answers to.)

9:00: We all (me, Eve, the students) head off to class.  Except that this week, I’m not taking classes.  But that’s a story for another day.

12:00: Morning class session is finished.

12:05: Meet Eve in the kitchen to prep for lunch.  We put out salads, dressings, and bread.

12:15: Eve rings the bell.

12:20: Eve says the blessing.  We serve lunch.  Today it’s a Cobb Salad – with all the ingredients I expect of a good Cobb salad: avocados, egg, turkey, bleu cheese.  Eve and I sit to eat, and talk about what we need to do the rest of the day.

12:40: I go to the microphone to do announcements.  This afternoon, after classes are over, there’s a field trip to Blue Moon Elise – a shop in town that makes and sells soaps, lotions, and other potions.

1:00: After finishing lunch, Eve and I head up to the Community Room in Keith House to move chairs.  There’s a cartoon drawing in my room that a former host did.  A person stands behind a chair and the caption reads, “I sing behind the chair.”  We move a lot of chairs as hosts.  Today, we fold them and line them up in stacks of four against the walls to make room for tonight’s dance.

1:15: Eve and I take care of instructor requests.  Today we move tables.  An instructor requested a certain table in her studio, which we did on Sunday.  But at breakfast she informed us she wanted two different tables, so off we go.

1:30: Afternoon class session begins.  Except that this week, instead of going to class, I go off to write and dream:)

4:30: Afternoon class session is over.  I grab the key to one of the Folk School vehicles, walk out to the gravel parking lot, and take the grey Suburban over to the Craft Shop where I meet anyone who wants to go on the aforementioned field trip.  (The transition from driving my Beetle to driving the Folk School Suburban took a little time, but I’ve finally got it down.)

4:45: We depart the Folk School and arrive at our destination.

5:30: We depart Murphy to give me enough time to get back for my dinner duties.  I drop the students back off at the Keith House and return the car to the gravel parking lot.

5:50: I meet Eve in the kitchen for dinner prep.  You’ve got this part down by now.  Tonight’s dinner:  pasta with peas in a cream sauce.  Bell, Blessing, Serving, etc.

6:30 (if I remember, 6:40 if I’m running late): I announce tonight’s activities.  Tonight is the weekly dance, so Bob Dalsemer (our director of dance and music programs) will sometimes introduce that event.  No partners needed.  No experience needed.  From 7-8 (remember this is why we moved the chairs earlier).  I also announce that we’ll be showing Sing Behind the Plow – the documentary about JCCFS – tonight after the dance.  I try not to say, “Sing behind the chair.”

6:50: Eve or I heads up to the Living Room to get out the DVD player and rearrange the chairs for the screening.

7:00: Dance.  If you’ve been here before, you know what the food is like and the need for me to dance at least once a week.  If you’ve been here before, you also know there’s a whole cast of characters at these dances, but that’s a story for another day.

8:05: The dancers gather in a circle to sing the closing song.  They are then encouraged to help us put the chairs back in their original formation.  In the space of three minutes, a hundred chairs get opened up and slid across the floor as Eve and I grab them and try to get them in their correct places. It’s part chaos, part well-oiled machine.  And it sure beats doing all that work ourselves:)

8:15: Eve or I start the documentary.

10:00 (or 9:30 if I’m tired): I close the Keith House.  You would think this means locking it, but you would be mistaken.  “Closing” involves dumping the extra coffee and rinsing the pots, putting the newspaper in the recycling (a bench that opens – classes that need newspaper then go and grab it from there), closing some of the lights (but not all for fire safety reasons), and just all around making sure the first floor of the Keith House looks neat and inviting.

10:15 (ideally): I climb into bed and read.  And pray that no one calls the host cell phone with an emergency.  After all, at orientation I explained to the students that Eve and I are the after-hours on-call people, so if they have an emergency please have it during the day when the office staff are here to handle it:)

A Host Not Like Most?

“So have you made a lot of things so far?” my new co-host asked me. Having taken eight weeks of classes here at the Folk School, one would assume I have a cabinet filled with the fruits of my labors.

“Actually, no,” I said.  “I’ve purposely chosen classes where I don’t make a lot of stuff.  I may hold the record for the Host who produced the least amount while at the Folk School.”

I explained that I’m kind of a minimalist.  It was the first time I’d used that word to describe myself but I felt like it fit perfectly.

  • Scottish Cooking and An Abundance of Appetizers left me with delicious recipes.
  • Nature Writing left me with some blog posts and stories – all stored electronically.  And one hand-made book.
  • My Building A Garden Shed class was tasked with creating a shed for the Folk School – nothing for me to take home except the knowledge that I’m not cut out to be a builder.
  • From my Genealogy class, I gained a destination for my trip to Italy in March: Corigliano.  It is in that class that I learned the name of the town my great-grandmother came from.  I now own a copy of the ship manifest that shows her arrival in the port of New York on the Perugia on June 7, 1913.
  • I have an eight-ounce cup full of Glass Beads, most of which I’ll donate to Beads of Courage.
  • I made five hooks, two bottle openers, and a fork in my Blacksmithing class – all useful things either for myself or as gifts.

In fact, everything I’ve made can fit into my purse.  Which fits my minimalist lifestyle just fine:)

A couple cookbooks, a handmade book, some beads, a ship manifest, a genealogy guide, assorted blacksmithed items


This morning at the Folk School the blacksmiths pounded steel and the woodcarvers gouged bowls. The cooking class fried stuffed peppers and the rug hookers dyed wool.  Where was I?  Lying on my back staring at the clouds – doing “cloud therapy” as my writing instructor called it.

It was while watching wispy clouds flow towards each other that I thought back to the the last time I did this.  I was a child – and it wasn’t called therapy.  It was just something we did because it was fun.  In fact, there are a lot of things we did as kids that, as adults, now have the word “therapy” after them: music therapy, art therapy, physical therapy – even play therapy!  How interesting that when we’re ill, our healing involves going back to those things that we did as kids.

Here’s the good news: you can get all that therapy in one place.  Right here at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  You can hear music every morning at 7:45, every Tuesday night at the dance, every Friday night at the concert.  You can get some physical activity by doing Morning Walk every morning at 7:15 (with yours truly), or by participating in the aforementioned weekly dance.  You can take classes in all sorts of arts and play for hours in your chosen medium.  Therapy, after all, isn’t just for the sick.

Dressing the Part

“Oh – look at your pretty toes!” she said. I smiled as I looked down at my Merlot-colored toenails.  They hadn’t been out in public in quite some time.  No, it wasn’t the beginning of summer.  This was last week.  Weather-wise, we are still in open-toed shoe season, but here at the Folk School I’ve taken classes that require me to do something I haven’t done since I was twelve: wear sneakers for a week straight.

I’m not the sneaker-wearing type.  There was a two year period in college when I didn’t even own sneakers.  In general, I’m not a casual dresser either.  Yes, I wear jeans.  But usually with a cute top, earrings, and nice shoes – heeled boots in winter, platform sandals in summer. I don’t have a floor-to-ceiling closet full of shoes like my youngest sister Meg, but I’ve got my fair share.  Unfortunately, most of them haven’t been worn for quite some time.

Why?  Because I’ve chosen classes over the last few weeks that have an unwritten dress code.  In woodturning, there are plenty of sharp objects that can go flying – or falling.  So close-toed shoes are a must.  So are high-collared shirts for women.  No one mentioned this to me, but I was smart enough not to wear my usual V-necks to class.  What I thought was a high neck-line didn’t cut it, though.  Thankfully, the resident woodturner is a woman.  She understood and had a T-shirt on hand that I adopted as my smock for the week.  Prior to that, I had woodchips in places that I don’t care to get into here.

Also no-no’s in woodturning: hair worn down or in a pony tail.  Getting your hair caught in a lathe spinning at 1200 RPM’s – not good.  Getting anything caught in a lathe spinning that fast wouldn’t be good – so jewelry is also out of the question.

Me on the lathe in woodturning.

After my adventures in woodturning, I took a cooking class.  You would think you could wear whatever you want while cooking, but not in a place that has liability to worry about.  Knives can fall and slice toes, so once again my open-toed shoes were relegated to the back of my closet.

Last week, I was building a garden shed.  Well, trying to learn at least.  You don’t see open-toed shoes on a construction site.

Building A Garden Shed (back row: Francois, Cecily, Jane, Louise; front row: Tom (instructor), me, and Matt)

Thankfully, there is at least one night per week that open-toed shoes, earrings, and even dresses are seen on campus.  Every Tuesday night, there is a Contra and Square Dance in the Community Room.  Locals join students for this weekly event that even has live music.  No experience necessary, and no partner is needed.  In fact, this is the only place I’ve been where I’ve actually witnessed a shortage of women at a dance.

Dresses! Skirts! Jewelry! (Well, except Brad) And a little face paint to celebrate Scottish Heritage week. L to R: Lindsay, me, Victoria, Rachel, Julie and Brad

So on Tuesday nights, the dresses I used to wear so often in my previous life finally get to see the light of day.  I reach into the depths of my closet, pull out my open-toed shoes, slip my feet in and smile at my painted toe nails.