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.
“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:)
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
I believe that there are certain gifts we’ve all been given. Call them talents, strengths, whatever. We’ve all got some. (If you don’t think you have any, please contact me! I’ll help you figure out what they are. No one should go through life thinking they don’t have gifts.)
One of the things that makes life so interesting is that we don’t all have the same gifts. It’s why we need other people. I, for example, have no gift for fixing my car. My uncle, however, was blessed with this gift. This is great when he and I live in the same state, but when my car dies in North Carolina and he’s in New York, well, at least I can call him to vent (I also have a gift for communication).
In my last few weeks at the Folk School, God has laughed as I’ve tried to develop gifts I haven’t been given. I can see him up there looking down at me trying to hammer a nail in straight, shaking his head as he giggles to himself. One of my gifts is making God laugh:)
This is not to say that we are not meant to try new things. In fact, trying new things is one way to discover new gifts you didn’t know you had.
But then there are those of us who – really, truly, deep-down – know there are certain gifts we have not been given nor are we ever meant to have. Making things out of wood is one of those things for me. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had fun trying (and plenty of ups and downs) as these pictures show.
What I’ve also gained:
- an appreciation for builders, roofers, woodturners, and anyone who works in construction or makes things out of wood
- a reminder that it looks easy when the teacher does it because they’ve been doing it for twenty plus years
- knowledge of how a shed gets built, how a wooden bowl gets made, and knowledge that I don’t want to be the one to do either
So thank you to my kind and patient instructors who never doubted for a moment that I couldn’t learn their craft. I could. But thankfully God gave me other gifts, so I don’t have to.
On my first evening in the woodturning studio two weeks ago, I put on the safety glasses the Folk School had on hand. I could feel the plastic digging into my cheeks. Wearing these things for six hours a day for the next five days was not going to be comfortable – and the indented-skin-around-the-eyes look just wasn’t doing it for me. So I decided to head to Lowe’s the next morning to get myself my own pair of safety glasses.
I’m not your typical Lowe’s customer. First of all, I’m female. Secondly, my typical attire includes heels and jewelry and makeup. But this can all be used to my advantage to get in and out of these places as quickly as possible. So on Monday morning, I did what I usually do when I have to step into a home improvement store: I dressed cute, put on a smile, walked in the door and asked the first person I saw where I could find what I wanted. I was in and out in five minutes.
Two weeks later, I found out I’d be heading to Lowe’s again. Twice in two weeks? Who have I become? This time, however, it was a little different. I had missed the first half-hour of class Sunday night as I was doing my host duties. When I arrived, our instructor Tom filled me in: the class had requested we take a field trip to Lowe’s on Monday. This being a course on Building a Garden Shed, the request was not unreasonable.
“Before you go, you should know what you want,” Tom explained to us in our outdoor classroom Monday morning. “Just like when you go grocery shopping.” So I listened as Tom asked us to dredge up our fourth-grade math skills to figure out how much wood we would need.
Our class would be using wood salvaged from the Folk School’s maintenance department to build a garden shed for the school, but my classmates would have to buy their own wood if they wanted to do this at home – which half of them did.
So after our lesson on building materials, I got behind the wheel of the Folk School Suburban and drove us all to Lowe’s. I walked into that store looking almost like someone who belonged there (i.e. dressed in jeans and sneakers as opposed to heels and a skirt). Tom led us into an aisle I never would have dared enter prior to this class: the one full of wood. Tom patiently answered everyone’s questions about two-by-fours, plywood, and roofing materials.
“If we have enough time,” Tom said earlier that morning, “we can head over to Tool World.” I thought it funny of him to call the tool section Tool World. Not til we got there did I realize Lowe’s actually has those very words written on the wall. Tom showed us the tools that were worth the investment and those that were truly unnecessary.
I walked out knowing a lot more than when I walked in, but thinking my life would not be missing anything if I never had to step into Lowe’s again.
An emotional roller coaster. That’s how you might describe a tough week of unexpected things. Or, if you’re me, that’s how you describe your week in the woodturning studio. By 3:30 on Thursday, I’d had enough. I put a plastic bad over the piece I’d been working on (to keep it from drying out) and walked out the door. I hid in a corner of the porch, shed a few tears, and then listened to my heart. The conversation went something like this:
-What do you want to do Rebecca?
-Well, I sure don’t want to make another bowl.
It was that simple. But how to tell the instructor? Ugh. So instead of going back in, I wandered next door to the painting studio. There was near silence as the students painted seascapes and gardens in acrylics. I wandered from easel to easel admiring their work and clearing my head. (Well, figuratively at least. I found out on Monday I’m allergic to sawdust – so it wasn’t possible to literally clear my head.)
Having restored my sanity, I walked back into the woodturning studio. “I’m done,” I told my instructor. “I don’t want to make another bowl.”
“Do you want to make something else?” he asked.
“No. I’m just not having fun anymore,” I said. He had reminded us nearly every day that we were on vacation and we were there to have fun, so he understood my sentiments, but seemed a bit surprised – even a bit crestfallen.
I went over to my lathe and pulled off the hunk of wood that had defeated me. I squirted compressed air over the beastly machine and swept up my plot of studio space as we did each night. My teacher sat in the classroom area a few feet away. It was the first time I’d seen him sit in the studio all week. I couldn’t look him in the eye.
I finished cleaning, walked out, and burst into tears once again. There’s a fine line, I decided, between giving up and just not feeling it’s worth doing something anymore.
The next morning I headed back to the woodturning studio. On this, our last day, all I wanted to do was finish the projects we’d started earlier in the week. This was the first time in my life I’d been the last in the class, the slowest one. While the other students plowed away at new projects, I spent hours finishing the first two we had worked on.
And as I was turning a stem onto my mini-goblet, I remembered how much I enjoyed doing this same technique the first day – experimenting with making beads and coves down a line of pine.
Bowls, on the other hand, were not something I enjoyed. So though I had spent the Thursday night reworking my entire class schedule to avoid wood or traditional “manly” crafts for the next three months, I changed my mind (as I so often do). I even told my instructor I might be interested in a class that focused on spindle work and not bowls. He told me which teacher to avoid – because he’s mean to his female students. Since I’d been near tears more than once in his class, I greatly appreciated his advice.
Next week, I’m taking a cooking class. Unlike the woodturning studio, I have actually been in a kitchen before. I know what a lot of the tools are, and the basics of how to use them. I could even make something with them. So I figure already I’m off to a much better start. And now, I can appreciate every wooden piece I will touch in that kitchen:)