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?

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.

On Gifts

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.

My first time using a circular saw! (For those of you saying, "What's a circular saw?" Well, that was my question, too.)


Hammering nails in straight is harder than it looks... (L to R: Louse, Jane, Matt, Tom, Francois)

Skydiving? Done that. Roller coasters? No problem. Standing on a scaffolding while hammering nails into tin? Nope. I got up on the scaffolding, realized how scared I felt just walking along it, and promptly decided this was an experience my classmates needed more than I did:) (L to R: Jane, Matt, Francois, Cecily, and Louise)

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.


A Trip to Lowes…again

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.

Me at my lathe in my fancy new safety glasses.

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 outdoor classroom. Tom, our instructor, is at the chalkboard.

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.

Field trip to Lowes! (L to R Francois, Cecily, Louise and our instructor, Tom)

“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.

There really is a Tool World.

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.

Decisions, decisions

How is it that one chooses fourteen classes out of one hundred forty?  This isn’t like college where a lot of the classes are “required” and in some area that is of no interest to you.  No, the John C. Campbell Folk School is a place where nearly every class is of interest to me.  Who knew such a place existed?

So how to choose?  Well, some Student Hosts pick a theme.  Maybe they have an interest in blacksmithing or jewelry making, so they take mostly those kinds of courses.  (And indeed, there are classes in both of those subjects nearly every week.)  I, however, can’t imagine only focusing on one craft during my time at JCCFS (surprise, surprise).  Instead, I have just a couple rules that I’ve come up with to guide my decisions.  And since I’m not a big follower of rules, the first rule is that any rule can be broken at any time.

1 – Take classes that don’t have any physical end product that I have to lug on to my next destination. The garden shed class fits this quite well – we’ll be building a garden shed for JCCFS.  So all I take with me after the course are the things I’ve learned:)

2 – Try something new and/or something I’ve always wanted to learn.  Thus, my list includes learning to play the mountain dulcimer and learning to spin yarn.

3 – If a class has me making things I’ll have to take home with me, take it only if what I make can be easily given away.  Thus a class on making wooden toys and blacksmithing.

4 – Take only classes that are of interest to me.  Thus, quilting will never be on my list.  Nor dying fabrics.  Believe it or not, there are actually some things in this world that I don’t have an interest in doing.

How wonderful is a life where my biggest decision each week will be which class to take the next?

All levels welcome

The class is called “Building a Garden Shed.”  I don’t have a garden.  Nor any property on which to put a garden.  In fact, I’ll be living “on the road” for the next year, so it’s inconceivable that I will need to know how to build a garden shed anytime in the near future.  Despite all of this, it is one class I’ll definitely be taking during my four months at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Why?  Well, because I still have it in the back of my mind that I may one day want to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  And I may just want to build it myself (well, with help of course).  There is just one small hurdle here: I have zero home building skills.  You might think building a garden shed is quite different from building a tiny house.  In which case I ask if you’ve seen a Tumbleweed?

My class covers use of hand and power tools (the only power tool I’ve every used is an electric screw driver thing), framing, trusses (I think those are the things that hold the roof up?), shelf building (I imagine this could be useful even if I never build a house), and window and door installation (because just about any house I live in will have windows and doors….though now that I think about it, maybe not…)  And when it’s all done, we’ve built a garden shed for the Folk School to use for years to come:)

Building anything is so out of my element that I just love the idea.  I mean, how else would I learn all these things?  You might think JCCFS would want only experienced builders on such a project.  And you would be mistaken.  Because one of the things I love most about JCCFS is that so many of the class descriptions, including this one,  end with the words “All levels welcome.”