Changing My Mind

I am very good at completely changing my opinion on something – sometimes in the space a few seconds, sometimes in a few years.

Example #1: In college I remember thinking, “I could never date a vegetarian.  I wouldn’t know what to cook for him.”  A dozen years later I’m not dating a vegetarian – I am one myself.  And can come up with plenty of great things to cook on any given day.  But I reserve the right to change my mind again: A year from now, don’t be surprised if I’m a meat eater.  Or a vegan.

Example #2: I thought for a while I wanted to live in a Tumbleweed Tiny House.  One hundred twenty-eight square feet.  On wheels.  I even went to see one.  With my parents in tow.  And shortly after that decided I couldn’t live in one.

Or did I?  One year after seeing my first Tumbleweed, I took a class called Building A Garden Shed.  Because there’s a book that says you can build a Tumbleweed with just fourteen tools.  So I thought I’d get an idea of framing and such.  In class, I learned I have no interest in physically building it myself. God has given me many gifts.   Working with wood is not one of them.

But I still find myself tempted to own a Tumbleweed.  Especially when I read Tammy Strobel’s blog. She started by moving to smaller and smaller spaces, eventually transitioning to her one hundred twenty-eight square foot house on wheels.  Think it’s too small for one person?  Well, she lives there with her husband.

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Yesterday I walked into a friend’s studio apartment.  The bathroom is normal size.  The main room is about double the size of the bathroom.  I loved it.  The closet thing threw me though – one was filled with the washer/dryer, the other with the hot water heater and such.  Zero room to hang anything. I laughed when I realized a Tumbleweed actually has more storage space than this apartment.

Will I move to a Tumbleweed one day?  Who knows.

There are a lot of people going smaller.  Some of them then change their mind.  And thanks to them, I can spend hours perusing Tiny House Listings.

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.

Adventures in Woodturning

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.

-So don’t.

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.

My workstation for the past week

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.

My finished mini-goblet

Experimenting with beads and coves on Monday night.

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:)

A Birthday Present – Times Three

I am always a little late to the first night of classes.  I hate being late for anything.  But I have Host duties to attend to, so I always arrive about a half hour late.  My co-host Cory says the worst thing about this is that you miss the introductions.

My spinning teacher over the weekend caught me up herself – she went around the room and basically introduced everyone to me as a way to remind herself of who we all were.  Tonight, when I bounced into my woodturning class at 7:15 and took my seat, the instructor asked me to tell everyone a little about myself, “but what I really want to know is why you signed up for a woodturning class.”

“Because I’ve never done it – well, except for eighth grade shop class,” I said.  The guy next to me laughed and pointed at our instructor, Steve.  “You, too?” I asked.  He nodded his head.  Later I found out Steve did some woodturning in middle school, too.  Then years later he took a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and now he’s here teaching.

I finished my introduction by explaining my host position with my standard spiel: I’m here for four months working for the school in exchange for room, board, and a class every week.  That last part elicits gasps many times – people spend years dreaming of coming here and taking one class, and here I am in the midst of taking fourteen.  But my three classmates – all men – weren’t as emotionally reactive to my statement, which was fine by me.

Steve went on and told us how the week would go, then he led us over to a side room and doled out canvas bags with our tools in them.  We picked our work stations, opened our cabinets, and placed the tools in their holders.  I had no idea what any of them were.  Thankfully, this is a beginners class, so I’m not expected to know anything.

But I wanted to know this: Were my classmates all true beginners, too?  As Steve came to each person’s station to be sure we had all the other devices we needed, one of my classmates said, “I have a hostess question for you, if that’s okay.”

“Sure!” I said.  I can’t tell you what joy I derive from being a resource to people – someone they can go to  for the answer to a question.  It was one of the things I loved about my park ranger job, too.

“I’m staying locally with my wife and parents,” he explained.  “We rented a cabin.  I see there are evening activities here – can they come to those?”

“Definitely,” I told him.  “They can come to the demonstrations in the afternoons, too.  They can come anytime and take a look at what you’re doing, or walk around to the other studios and see what else is going on.”

My woodturning classmate gave me a look that said he wasn’t so sure he wanted the family around that much.  So I changed the subject and got into what I really wanted to know.  “So have you ever done this before?” I asked him.

“Nope.  This is my first time,” he said.  I was relieved.  Sometimes experienced folks take beginner classes – because it was the only week they could come, or because they like the instructor, or they just want some studio time.  This is fine because sometimes these folks are another resource for you, but can also be intimidating.

Turns out none of my classmates have ever done this before.  But all three have something very unusual in common: they’re all here thanks to birthday gifts.  One guy got a trip here as a gift from his wife.  One guy gave it as a birthday gift to himself.  How fabulous.  I’m a big fan of giving yourself a birthday gift.

“How’d you hear about this place?” I ask him.  It’s my default conversation-starter here at the Folk School.  (On a plane, I ask “Are you coming or going?”  When I was a park ranger, it was “Where are you visiting from?”)

“I picked up a catalog in a doctor’s office about twenty years ago,” he explained.  “I’ve gotten the catalogs on and off since then.  Next month’s my birthday so I decided it was finally time to come.”

So here they are: three men celebrating their birthdays.  With me:)

 

A Visit to the Woodturning Studio

As if it weren’t already hard enough to choose which classes I’d like to take, here’s something that makes it harder: studio visits.  Anytime there are classes going on, anyone can go into the studios to see what’s happening.  If you happen to find yourself in Brasstown, NC (though this is not a place one usually “happens upon”), you can wander from studio to studio watching the students work and asking all the questions you want.

So today I took a stroll over to the woodturning studio – not to be confused with the woodworking studio nor the woodcarving studio.  What’s the difference?  Well, as far as I can tell the woodcarvers do just that – take a sharp object to a piece of wood and carve something – freehand.  This week, it’s caricatures.  The woodturners use big machines (think of the lathes from junior high woodshop) and they take sharp objects to a spinning piece of wood.  The wood workers: well, this week they’re making Shaker boxes.  I have yet to learn how to describe what it is that goes on in there.

So here’s my pictorial on taking a block of wood and turning it into a bowl.  As you’ll see, these instructions are by no means definitive, but they’re what you can learn if you spend a half-hour in the studio:)  This is also how a woodturning class got added to my list of possibilities…

Step 1: Head over to the woodturning studio (just a short walk from where I live).

Step 2: Listen to the guy on the right. He's the instructor and has the deepest, calmest voice you will ever hear.


Step 3: Pick up a block of wood.

Step 4: Affix your block to one of these machines.

Step 5: You may want to sharpen your blade.

Step 6: Work on the outside of the bowl first.

Step 7: Then start on the inside

Step 8: Continue working on the inside

Next, they’ll take them off the machine, cut off the bottom projection, then do something to make them pretty (stain? I’m really not sure.)  I’ll see them all finished at the Show and Tell on Friday:)