Sunday, December 27, 2009


for Christmas my sister Sara gave me the gift shown above. It is one of my favorite gifts this year. When I opened it I laughed out loud as a swell of memories hit me right across the chest. These are, of course, action figures that I played with for hours upon hours as a youth re-contextualised for presentation in a grown-up world. I am really excited to hang this in our house, and to have these little objects in my life again after 25 years or so.

But of course, this got me to thinking. On the surface, of course, these are exactly the kind of thing that I rail about on a regular basis: Foreign-made plastic gewgaws manufactured and sold to make a profit for a big toy company (Kenner). Rubbish! But these objects contain the kind of emotional weight that pushes me back and back into childhood in ways that are only good. So how do those contrary experiences reconcile?

They don’t, really, of course. All dogma breaks down at some point, some sooner than others. These particular three action figures have many layers and many facets of memory:

-Star Wars itself was the closest thing to a religion in my childhood. My first imaginary friends were the cast of the movie, and I have a memory of laying in bed in our first house in North Carolina (I lived there from age 4 to age 7) and talking to them and really imagining I saw them. I grew as the movies came out, and the religious fervor grew deeper and deer. I was a Jawa for Halloween one year, in a brown cloak that my mom made for me and mirrored aviator sunglasses to be the light-up eyes of the movie character. After we moved to the new house, my friends and I played the parts of the characters out in the woods until it was almost too dark to find our way home.

-The toys themselves were status symbols, in their way, especially with me and my friend Sasha Clapper. When a new set of them was released, we would save our allowances to scrape together the $2.19 (not a small sum to a seven-year-old in 1980) to buy the Bespin Han Solo, or the X-Wing-Fighter Luke. Birthday and Christmas called for lengthy strategy sessions as to which of us would ask for the X-Wing fighter (me, because I had the Luke that went with it) and which would ask for the AT-ST (him, so that they could fight). All these years later, the names and styles of the toys come back effortlessly, the ritual symbology not at all distant, burned as it was into my memory by repetition.

-The action figures themselves were incredibly important to my making as a child: Block buildings and sand castles out in the sand box and improvised tree house villages built in dogwood trees out of twigs and vines. Spaceships built out of toilet paper tubes or scraps of wood. I spent countless hours fabricating worlds or components of worlds for these figures, often spending more time on making the toys than I did playing with them. I still have some photos of the intensely elaborate sand castles and villages that I made, often alone, but occasionally with friends.

-As I grew older, the toys finally became a marker of adolescence, when I finally stopped playing with them all together. I did take a choice couple to college with me, but they became tchotchkes, knick-knacks to remind me of a former time, not toys to play with, per se.

As is true for many people of my generation, Star Wars helps us to identify others in our tribe. One is either a disciple of the movies or one is not, and knowing which side of that line one falls on helps us to make decisions about how we interact. It is one of the things I nerd out on, like wood and American History and old Union songs. I don’t nerd out on it enough to dress up, any more, or go to conventions or play the video games. For me, there is a purity to the original three movies and the toys that accompanied them. They live in a time and a place in my life, sacrosanct, unmoving and unmovable. The newer stuff is just that, the “new stuff,” and does not have the same fuzzy filter over it that the original three movies do.

Given all of that, how does one reconcile the plastic, mass produced toys with the general theme of what I write here? How do they exist so heavily in the same world in which making brings us closer to the world we move through? I am not sure at all.

What I am glad about, though, is that my sister has brought these three back into my life. Mostly because they are such important objects of memory and joy and childhood, totems of no small power. But also because it is important, I think, to stop and realize that there are no absolutes. That mass-produced foreign-made plastic toys can be objects of great creativity, can foster enduring friendships and meaningful world views, even thought they are made halfway across the world from petroleum products ripped from the ground in extremely polluting ways. Lots to think about there, especially as our own son grows and has toys of his own.

Ah, the holidays. Hope yours were as good.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

in other words

one of the colleges at SU is the Newhouse School of Journalism. William Safire and Bob Costas are alums, along with a bunch of other folk. One of the grad students in the Arts Journalism program saw my artist talk and contacted me a couple of months ago asking if she could use me to fulfill a project. The students in the class were told to find a working artist and to do a three minute multi-media piece about them and their work. She did a great job of editing, I think, and managed to sift through all of my words to get at the heart of what I am trying to do and say. Here is what she ended up with:

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


the proprietress of Waypoints wrote about artists operating at a remove, and it got me to thinking again about my relationship to the material I use and how I work. She was writing about the conductor’s remove from the music, in the sense that the conductor uses musicians who use instruments to make the music, and that there is a remove there that is not present for, say, a writer, who crafts words directly to give shape to thought.

What we are talking about, of course, is what filters we use to touch the divine, What lenses we employ to refract capital-T Truth, to portray capital-B beauty in a meaningful and honest way.

This conversation bubbles up frequently in the woodworking world as the conversation about dovetails. It is a conversation about the relevance of what is referred to as “hand work” in a machine age. One camp says that it is more honest and pure to use traditional hand tools and to lay out and cut the dovetails one by one, the implication being that because the tools are not plugged in they are more honest, more direct, and that they speak more about craftsmanship. The other camp says that the tools used are irrelevant , that as long as the end product fits tightly the methodologies used to produce it shouldn’t be questioned.

Both camps are right, of course.

The underlying question that is relevant to what Cheyenna was writing about is the question of operating at a remove from our work. How many tools have to be involved before the integrity of the work is compromised? If I use a table saw (which was invented in the 1850’s by a Shaker woman) am I at more of a remove from my work than if I write with a ball point pen (first patented in 1888)? How about if I use a computer to write, which is a device that is not only so complicated that I have no idea at all how it works, it stores the words I write in a way that without another computer they can not be accessed at all? If I cut my dovetails with using a marking gauge, a bevel gauge, a handsaw and a chisel, am I closer to the work than if I use a routing jig and an electric router? The electric methodology actually requires fewer tools, but is typically seen as being less “pure” somehow (especially by me).

This question of being at a remove, of operating from a distance, is central in my own studio work. The more we are aware of the origins of the things we make and their place in the “enormous long river” of history, the more thoughtful we can be about our own place in the same river. But it is interesting to me how selective I tend to be when choosing in which arenas I can be distant and in which I must be directly involved in all steps.

When I use a guitar to play notes and sing words that some one else wrote I do not feel at all that I am operating at a remove from the beauty of the song. Nor do I feel that I am not somehow making the song. In fact the sense of ownership over singing that song as beautifully as possible in that moment is incredibly raw, and comrades joining in the moment are bound very closely to me as the singer and musician, with them as fellow makers in a very real and relevant way. The fact that none of the craft involved is necessarily mine, that I neither wrote the music or the words, nor made the guitar, does not diminish at all the profundity of the moment nor my sense of ownership of and participation in it.

What, then, makes using non-electric (“olde-timey”) tools allow me to feel closer to my work? What is more “honest” about having to think about every saw stroke than about having to be thoughtful about how I set up a routing jig to make routed dovetails?

Part of it is that it is easier for me to connect to craftspeople that have come before me if I use the tools that they used. This is a limited view, though, as it is thinking about making in a physical sense only. Consider instead the modern cabinet maker whose livelihood is cranking out cabinets: This is a craftsman that has a clear and present need to produce as many cabinets as possible in as short a time possible, which connects him philosophically and practically to his forbears in a pretty direct way, which not only necessitates using power tools, it encourages it. My romantic attitudes about craft and its place in society is actually divergent from the day to day thought processes of the very craftspeople in the 19th century that I wax so lyrical about.

Yet again, we are at an impasse. What it comes down to is value systems, and about continuums of honesty and where we make a stand relative to where others make a stand. And the landscape on which we make that stand is constantly shifting, making it hard to plant a flag anywhere with absolute conviction.

What is important as an outcome of this rather circular thought process is that as makers we have an obligation to continue to be thoughtful about what we make and how we make it. Though these are questions without answers, they are important as questions, and the act of constant questioning is what, in the end, makes possible the most relevant making.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


here at Syracuse University there is a college called the iSchool. It is officially called the College of Information Technology, but iSchool sounds cooler, so that is how it brands itself. Yesterday they had a get-together for people from their school and from ours ("art and design people"). It was organised by a Ph. D. student with a background in art who is looking at communication in ways that doing doctoral work in information technology makes sense.

She said to us that the iSchool deals with the place that “people, information, and technology intersect.” The assumption is that the technology is digital, which of course I find off-putting. As many of you know, my relationship with digital technology tends to be contentious at best, and there are many things about digital technology that I find downright offensive.

But then she said that phrase about “people, information, and technology.” Which got me to thinking about technology. After all, a hand saw is technology, in the common understanding of what technology is. The root of “technology” is the Greek word “techne,” which means “art” or “skill.”

Well, I am interested in art and in skill, that goes without saying. “Techne” is also the root of “technique.” And of “technical,” which describes a lot of things that also interest me.

So now I am intrigued. Because when seen in that light, technology becomes something altogether different. If it is about using art and skill to manipulate objects or materials or data, well, that is what I do too, isn’t it? As a maker I apply art (I hope) and skills (which I am still learning, of course) to materials to make objects that resonate in some way with the end user. That is an intersection of people and information and technology in some way, of course. As an educator, I apply art and skill to leading my students towards a larger understanding of the world around them and of the field into which they are going to go when they graduate. Which is absolutely the intersection of information and people and techne-ology.

I still find the interface difficult. The screen is off-putting. I worry that we as a culture are spending too much time living life at a remove, that we have lost sight of where things come from, how they get to us, and what happens when they leave our immediate sphere. I worry about relationships that exist only digitally, in which two people may seldom or never meet face-to-face, and what that means with regards to interpersonal interaction. But then one of my best friends lives in New York City, and I only see her regularly through the computer, and many of the conversations we have in the digital sphere greatly influence the way I make and teach. So even as I fret about the implications of an increasingly digital existence, it does enhance my immediate life as a maker and a teacher in (what I think to be) positive ways.

One of my jobs now seems to be to figure out how to reconcile my Great-Grandfather’s handsaw with my Macbook Pro. And how do I help my students navigate a world in which the effects of the first are just as relevant as the effects of the second in a way that is not tinged with Luddite rhetoric?

Matthew Crawford wrote somewhat glibly that if you are in the U.S., and need a wall built, you are going to have to hire a local tradesperson, because “you can’t hammer a nail from India.” In his defense of the manual arts, it was impossible for him to separate craft from making, but the implication in that book is that there is somehow less craft in the digital side of making than there is in, say, plumbing. I share that view in the broader sense, but conversations that I have been having here over the past few months have started me thinking more and more about the craft of manipulating data, and the close corollaries that can have to manipulating anything else, whether it is wood or steel or stone or plumbing pipes or a car engine. In the end, it is using tools to manipulate a raw material and provide a finished product. No difference.

This may seem self-evident. It is not, I fully understand, a ground-breaking realization. But it represents a huge step for me, somewhere in the realm of the Catholic Church finally grudgingly admitting that, okay, maybe the sun does not, in fact, orbit the Earth. There is a great deal of thinking that I will need to do now about making and about craft, about the relationship of all craftspeople to their tools and to each other, and how we can all work together to effect positive change.

New bridges all the time, here, and new boats landing on well worn shores, bringing emissaries from a larger world. How lucky to be here now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


it rains a lot in Syracuse. Which we all know, and knew going in. But then, I have never had a big pile of hickory slabbed up and sitting in the rain before, so I have been worrying about that. There has been a constant hum in the back of my brain about what the water is doing to all of that beautiful wood, and how irresponsible I have been letting it sit under a tarp and stay wet for three weeks. This morning I decided to do something about it.

Getting up at 6 as usual was a special treat, because of course it was five, so I got a free hour of work. A lovely gift. I went down to say "good morning" to the lumber, which has indeed already started to show the effects of too much water hitting it. Not good.

I spent the next few hours erecting a drying shed. The place that I am storing the lumber had given me a rusty old steel frame to use as a structure, and this is what the tarp had been thrown over. But water pooling in between the steel had caused the tarp to sag to the point that it was sitting on the wood, and the water had condensed through the tarp, and part of the tarp had blown away, so all in all it was pretty ineffective. So I got some two-by-fours and some corrugated steel and set to work.

One of the things I love about building things is that at the end of a few hours (or days or weeks, depending on what you are building), it is possible to step back and see the fruits of one's labor. At around 11.30 I stepped back and saw this:

Feels pretty good.

Now all of that lumber has a place to slowly dry, to become stable enough to become usable for furniture and to move on to a new life. When the sophomores that I am teaching are graduating, that hickory will be ready to graduate, too. And it will.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

hoosier cabinets

we had some good friends over a couple of nights ago. One of them pointed at the Hoosier cabinet in our kitchen and said "that's a nice piece. Did you just buy it?" With a pride that surprised me I said "No, it was a wedding gift to my great grandmother."

I love Hoosier cabinets. They are one of the few distinctly American pieces of furniture. They were not made or used anywhere else in the world, but in the early part of the 20th century were seen in many (especially Midwestern) kitchens. Named after the Hoosier Manufacturing Company, they were already in major production by 1903, though some historians make convincing arguments for them being popular in the late nineteenth century. Other companies made their own versions of the cabinet, which is what we have. Ours is not a Hoosier Brand, but we love it nonetheless.

In a time before kitchen cabinets as we think of them, storage and work space in kitchens was scarce, which is weird for us to think about. Imagine a kitchen without the now-ubiquitous cabinets and sink, maybe just a table and a sink with a hand pump for water. Now imagine making dinner for a farm family of eight or so. No wonder these cabinets were so popular.

Like many cabinets of this style, Bama's cabinet has slide-out cutting boards just below the countertop, scored with years of slicing and chopping in the pursuit of dinner:

The counter top, incidentally, is a 1950's replacement. Originally this cabinet (like most Hoosier Cabinets) probably had an enameled steel counter top. When these got chipped the steel started to rust, which is probably why it was replaced with the Formica one.

There are also a bunch of
different drawers, with a bunch of different implied functions. We use the potato and onion drawer for its intended purpose, which it still fulfills all these decades later.

This is not a million-dollar antique. Even in pristine condition these are not furniture objects that fetch huge price tags. But this is where "value" and "worth" take on different meanings. Of course I would never sell the cabinet. It IS a million dollar cabinet to us, because it is shiny with thousands of openings by Bama, and by my Grandmother, and my father as a little boy, and now us. As Thomas grows, he will be able to use his Great-Great Grandmother's cabinet, and add the polish of his hands and the weight of his use. Eventually, I will repair the sagging middle drawer support, taking on, as I have, the responsibility of maintaing this particular object in the museum. And so the work of my hands, the love of my family, and my reverence for the past and the future also get woven into this humble cabinet.

Now, THAT is worth a million dollars. And I feel lucky to be the curator of this branch of the museum.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


i got this email from a colleague a couple of weeks ago:

Hello Zeke-

I had a large hickory taken down in my side yard today. My friend with the mobile mill could saw it up for you if you want to buy it. Don’t know how many board feet yet. It was a bit dark by the time I got home so I’ll pace it off in the morning.


Well, of course I wanted to buy it. Last Friday night I went over to his house and helped him roll four huge chunks of tree down the hill around a couple of trees to an access road on his property. It was a solid couple of hours of work, freshly cut trees are filled with water and VERY HEAVY. We figure it was a couple of tons of wood at least. This hickory had been growing for a hundred years in a stand of forest, and had been reaching reaching reaching to get at the sun, so the trunk was long and straight as an arrow, perfect for making into lumber. When we got the four pieces of trunk to their final resting place they looked like this:

The place they came from is about halfway up the hill, which does not seem that far away in the photo, but trust me it was a feat to move these logs around. Yesterday I met George Chrysler. George is a tool maker for a local tool and die company, and "for fun" owns a portable saw mill called a Wood Mizer. Here is George having fun:

A Wood Mizer is a saw mill made by a company in Indianapolis. Their motto is "Making Dreams Come True," and they sure are doing that for me. A Wood Mizer saw mill is made to be towed behind a pickup truck, and George's can handle logs that are 30" in diameter and fourteen or sixteen feet long. Big logs. My hundred-year-old- hickory tree was not quite so big, but it was a pretty good size, about twenty inches in diameter at the base.

So on a beautiful, sun dappled, cool autumn Saturday morning, I meet George out in the woods, and we get started. We had a six hour conversation as we turned a tree into dimensional lumber, about the saw mill itself, about trees, about how I was going to use the lumber, about whether it was more important to get as much lumber as possible or to get more interesting boards. A good time was had by both, I think. And I got to be a part of choosing how the log was made into boards, specifying that some of it be cut for table tops, and other parts to be cut thinner, or thicker. We would turn the logs this way and that to get the best cut, or we would just start at the top of the log and work our way down, slabbing the entire tree into planks.

It was, I have to say, way better than a party. Here is a short video of one way to make lumber:

Here is a video from the other side:

By three o'clock in the afternoon, we had made quite a pile of hickory boards, with its white sapwood and fleshy pink heartwood seeing the air for the first time ever. Hickory has a slightly sour but sweet smell when you cut it, and that smell hung over the whole area as the sawdust swirled in the sun and the breeze and the stack of wood got higher and higher.

Next weekend I will move the pile somewhere that it can sit and season, which will likely take two years or more, unless I dry it in a kiln. Then it will be ready to make into tables and cabinets and benches and shelves, objects "of use" or of beauty that we hope will last another hundred years or more.

Throughout this process I could not help but be put in mind of the way boards were made not long before this tree was planted. The image of a man standing on top of the log and another standing underneath it and sawing by hand board after board was in the front of my mind all day, the realisation that what were doing with the Wood Mizer in forty five seconds at one time would have taken two men the better part of an hour. That looked like this:

I felt lucky to be where I was, to be surrounded by people that understand the importance of what Eric Sloan calls "The Reverence for Wood," to be given the gift of involvement in the process in this way. So few woodworkers or furniture people see the material they use as trees, or live with them through the becoming process, all the way down to the finished object. It is a special responsibility I feel, and a heavy one, to do this tree proud, now that I have been part of making it into lumber. The thing that I try to impart to my students is this, though: All the wood around us came from trees. Even the particleboard. Even the two-by-fours that you can not see behind the sheetrock in the wall of the room you are sitting in. All of the steel was ripped from underground. All of the copper in this computer had a genesis and a venerable life.

Losing sight of those beginnings, disassociating ourselves from where things come from, weakens our bonds to and our understanding of the importance and the impact of the things around us. Strengthening our connection to raw materials and their genesis helps us to understand how tenuous our grip on the world is, and helps me, at least, remember what my place is, and what my duty is.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


it has been a long time since I have written here. A lot has happened, and I have mostly been trying to keep my head above water. This has been (barely) possible. Now it is a cool early Saturday morning, and I am up, because this is when I wake up these days, and I have been trying to process everything and sort it all into the bins it goes in.

I thought I would write a little bit about the teaching, as that has consumed a lot of my waking hours. It has been grand.

One of my classes is a “Sustainable Furniture and Lighting” class. I am starting to hate the word “sustainable” almost as much as I hate the word “green.” Green, that is, as applies to design or to living. I have no problem with green as a color, or as a party, or as a way to be, if you’re a frog. But these labels get co-opted and twisted until even Wal-Mart is using them and they have no meaning whatsoever and are just words printed on plastic packaging that is shrink-wrapped and shipped from China.

So we had to start out by talking about what “sustainable” is, what it means as it applies to furniture, as it applies to life. We are still talking about it. I hope we will continue to talk about it. Lots to talk about, there. Then we go on to our first project, which is a lighting object. This is where it starts to get good.

Habitat for Humanity has a store here in Syracuse called the Habitat ReStore. If you are doing demolition at your house and have something that is still usable that you are getting rid of, you take it to them and they re-sell it and make a little dough and the object stays in use, rather than going in the landfill. Pretty cool. And people donate all kinds of things. Contractors will donate almost a full pallet of sheetrock, sometimes at the end of a job, or a pile of two-by-fours. Then anyone can walk in and buy the stuff for pennies on the dollar. Everything you can imagine gets donated: sinks, lighting fixtures, hardware, doors, windows, cabinets, anything you can think of. Pretty cool place.

The theme of this particular class, the way we are attacking “sustainability,” is through a process called “upcycling.” Most objects are downcycled, that is, the raw material is ripped out of the ground and refined, then made into an object, used, and thrown away. This is a vertical process that I think of as starting at the top and proceeding down into a landfill. Some objects are recycled, which means that some or all of the material is turned back into its raw state and then used again. I think of this as a more or less horizontal process, though usually the end result is that the material is eventually downcycled.

“Upcycling” is the process of taking an object that has been discarded and moving vertically back up to restore it to a useful state. This is what I have been trying to do in my studio practice, and now I have a captive audience of 20 Industrial Design students to do it with me.

It is, as we used to say, rad.

The project brief is to buy an item at ReStore (giving money to an organization that needs it and supporting the local economy) and make it into a lighting object (getting us used to the idea of upcycling to make an object instead of buying a lot of stuff). Pretty fun stuff, and the students have wholeheartedly embraced it, which is encouraging to see.

Yesterday we met in the shop and I gave a lecture and demonstration about how to wire a lamp. I have wired a lot of lamps in my time, and I feel pretty comfortable leading them through this process. Then I walk into the shop, and there are four IBEW electricians working on the wiring in the shop. And here I am about to tell a bunch of students how to do wiring. Hrm.

I go over to the electricians and say sotto voce “Okay, look. I am about to give a wiring demo to a bunch of students. Do me a favor and don’t laugh at me ‘till they leave.” And we all grin at the absurdity of it, and make a couple of jokes, and now I am just as nervous as I was before, but now they are going to surreptitiously listen as I talk.


It all goes pretty well. I show the class how electricity runs in a circle, and how if you interrupt that circle the light does not come on. I show them a bunch of different types of plugs and switches, and demo how to carefully strip the plastic jacket off of the wire and crimp a terminal on the end and screw it to the prong in the plug. We look at the insides of different plugs and different switches. We talk about “hot” and “neutral” and “ground.” I introduce them to my friend Teri’s two basic rules of lighting: (1) “Is the damn thing plugged in?” and (2) “Is the damn thing turned on?” They ask some good questions, and then class ends and they all go their ways, off to do whatever it is they do on weekends, which I do not ask about, because I (vaguely) remember my college days, and I figure I don’t need to know.

So I go over to Chad, who is the lead electrician on site, and say, “Well, what do you think? Should I get fired, or was that okay?” And he grins at me and looks at me sort of out of the corner of his eyes and says, “Sounded pretty good to me. I wouldn’t have told them anything different.” I felt ten feet tall.

What excites me about this is that the students seem jazzed, and they are the ones who are going out to design objects for the next generation. If I can get them thinking about responsible design here in school, If I can get it really under their skin and in their blood, what wonderful stuff can they bring to pass when they are out in the world? Super exciting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


i apologise for the long hiatus. Even today, I find I have little to write about that pertains to making, per se. As I had known would be the case, I have had to shut down my studio for a while in favor of other endeavors: being a father and teaching.

As I have written here before, teaching is really my calling, I think. I am looking forward to Monday the 31st, which is the first day of classes here at Syracuse University. I have been meeting with colleagues and talking curriculum and teaching style and it has really gotten my juices flowing.

The shop is not up and running yet, though I am feverishly trying to make it happen. As with any large project that is timed within an inch of its life, one thing after another has slowed it down. But it will get there. I am confident of that. When it does I will post photos and write about it. The massive yellow Powermatic tools are all sleeping now, waiting for the electricians to plug them in. Walking through the new shop I can feel the air charged with possibility. Great things will be taught here, and great things will be made.

The biggest thing that has kept me from writing for the last three weeks is the birth of our son and first child, Thomas Beaumont Leonard. He was born on August 13. It has not been easy medically for my wife (though that seems to have passed, thank god), nor has it been an easy transition for us, as all parents can attest. Lot of learning here, lots of change.

So I will write when I can. I hope to write more frequently as the year starts. I hope to make it a part of my professional life. In the meantime, you can see the new babe at

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


i am packing our house in Providence.  We had made a lot of plans for this move, but the universe is acting very strongly just now to underline to me that my plans, though entertaining, are not of particular interest to it.  Karen and her mother are in Syracuse, and I am here packing.  This is the first time in our lives that I have been more or less solely responsible for our collection of stuff, and though it is profoundly overwhelming, it is giving me a chance to ruminate about some things that have been long buried.

Bachelard writes about objects being containers of memory, and yesterday and today have been experiences that completely support that way of thinking.  Our 11 year history together has imbued some objects with a lot of memories, years of use layered on to the object, causing it to become worn with the use like an old tool.  And some of these are not objects that we handle, you understand.  Use can be defined in a myriad of ways.

Yesterday I came across a little glass vase.  We never keep flowers these days, as our cats treat them as snack bars, but there was a time that I kept fresh flowers in the apartment all the time.  When we got married, Karen’s parents lived in Qatar, and brought these exquisitely delicate little glass vases to put on all the tables as gifts for those who came to the wedding.  We have a couple left that we have (miraculously) not broken, and it was one of these that got packed yesterday.  It has been living on our dining room table for a while now, and every time I look at it I think about our wedding, and our early years and who we were then and who we are now.  Not, maybe, in a conscious way, maybe a more symbolic way, but truly, every time my eyes land on this little object these thoughts flash through my mind. 

That is what I mean by using something without handling it.   The house is full of objects like that.

Then there are the objects that had not seen the light of day in a long time, that bring back a flood of very specific memories.  Deep in the back of the closet I found a pair of black leather pants.  I know you don’t believe this, but I swear it is true.  In about 2000 or 2001 Karen bought these and actually wore them.  I remember this, clear as day.  I remember standing at the top of the stairs in our apartment in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn and her wearing these pants.  We were younger, of course, and in a very different stage in our marriage, and all of that was contained in these pants.  I had supposed that they had been given away years ago, but no, here they were, stiff with non-use, but carefully preserved in the vault of the closet. 

These memories, these histories of us are written in the everyday objects around us.  Everything is a totem in our house, everything is a record-keeper.  I am so careful about and enamored with the process of making because the objects that we make are not anonymous.  They are not disposable.  They are all endowed through their inclusion in our life with great import.

Of course I realize that the objects that are important to me are not necessarily as heavy with memory and meaning to others.  My sister and her wife were here yesterday afternoon helping.  This impromptu packing process has required us to lean heavily on the support of those who love us, and I have been truly thankful to be so blessed with loving family and friends.  As they packed our kitchen and the stoneware that my mother made for us, I watched story after story get carefully wrapped and stowed away, realizing that in some ways it can be helpful not to feel the weight of the history in each object.  For that reason (among others) moves are easier when someone else packs.  They could wrap and put in boxes objects that I would have had to contemplate individually, a process that can take quite a bit of time.

Now I am moving through a maze of some of the most emotionally brutal objects:  boxes taped shut.  

They are the defining aesthetic feature of this space at the moment, and require a different system of navigation, both physically and emotionally.  The speed with which this move came upon us has not given me time to grieve for leaving this space, which has been the most positive space in my life in years.  I have loved being here, and have learned a lot and grown a lot here, all (I think) to the better. Providence is a good city, and this has been a good house.  And I will miss it.  We are moving on to great things, and an exciting new chapter in our lives, and I know that, but this has been a good chapter too, and I feel that it is ending abruptly.  Too abruptly.

So I will put our memories in boxes, trying to be care-full and respect-full not only of the process of this transition, but also the outcome.  I will do this with the knowledge that all of these objects are not leaving our lives, they are coming with us, supporting us, recording for us our paths toward parenthood and a new environment, a new space, a new part of our lives.

Friday, July 17, 2009


at the RISD library there is a room called the “Picture Collection.”  It is one of my favorite places in the whole school, and I recently had an opportunity to show it off to a couple of visiting students, which brought it back to the front of my brain.

It is like the NYPL Picture Collection, for those of you familiar with that.  It is a series of filing cabinets filled with folders, each of which if stuffed with pages torn out of magazines over the years.  Every folder has a subject matter,   so there is a “Sports-Cricket” folder for example.  As well as an “Animals-Cricket” folder.  And a “Furniture-Georgian” and an “Architecture-Korea” and a “Political Personalities.”  The list goes on an on, it fills a 2” binder, neatly typed and cross-referenced.  You find the category you want to look at and ask for the folder, and you can check out up to 50 images at a time to take with you.  Pretty amazing.  You actually get to take these laminated pages with you to use as reference or as inspiration.  I used it all the time when I was in school.

Part of what I love about this analog approach is that it relies on my object recognition rather than a computer’s.  I was talking with an acquaintance the other night about how we recognize images and objects, about the way that we are able to understand (in a way that a computer is not) that an image of a red vase is an image of a red vase whether it is a digital photo with the file name DSC_00000546 or an actual photograph or an actual object (a real red vase, in this example).  The computer (so far) is programmed only to recognize files named “red vase,” and not to be able to see a red vase in an image of a dining table that is named “Dinner at Dave’s house.” (though my acquaintance is of the opinion that it is coming not too far off, a prospect that is intriguing and terrifying at the same time).

But the real thing I love about the Picture Collection is the sloppiness.  As I am looking at these photos I often will see something in the background or in the corner of the page that is intriguing or helpful, something that sends me off down another path in my research.  It can be linear, on the worst days when I am not paying attention, but it is at its strongest when it is circular or ovular or explodes out across a variety of fields and categories.

In the design process, as in life, an amount of slop is not only allowable, it is necessary.  The creative process and the design process demand that our thinking be kept as open as possible for as long as possible, and they tend only to end in a pleasing and satisfying and thoughtful way when we keep away from the straight and narrow.

There is a similar amount of slop in the way that we are built, slop that allows us to stretch and contort in ways that are not in line, strictly speaking, with our direct biological functions.  This lets us do things like yoga and gymnastics, but also allows us to squirm into the bilge to get at a recalcitrant bolt that is ‘way up in a tight little place, for example, or pick one very tiny screw up off the floor where we dropped it.  It also lets us function with one kidney, and to learn to adjust to losing a limb.  The physical slop allows us to learn new ways of functioning, and to constantly grow and adapt.

When Matthew Crawford talks about being a “knowledge worker”  he recounts being forced to adhere to a “knowledge quotient (how’s that for a terrifying phrase?).”  The system that he had to follow, which is like a lot of systems that a lot of us have to follow professionally, did not account for varieties in understanding and thinking.  It required a codifying of thought and action regardless of the situation to the point that the actual product was not only negatively compromised, it was actually, in its way, harmful.  What he experienced was an intellectual version of the Industrialist’s Creed introduced in “Cradle to Cradle:”  If brute force isn’t working, you aren’t using enough of it.

When I am looking at the planks for a new project, I spend a great deal of time laying out the pieces on the raw wood, making time to try many different options before I cut into the raw material and start to give it a new form.  I look at the color and swirl of the grain of the wood, flipping the planks again and again in an effort to give the wood the greatest possible voice, the most harmonious possible outcome.  All thoughtful woodworkers do this, it is a common beginning step, one that enters into the dialogue with the wood that I am always writing about, and that ensures a beautiful finished piece.  Industrially produced furniture often indicates a lack of sensitivity to this step, being more interested in fitting the largest number of final pieces into a given board and sacrificing a pleasing finished object.

The less slop that gets built into system, whether it is a physical system, an intellectual system, or an educational system, the less likely the system will be sustainable over the long term and the more likely that the end result will be less than it could be.  In our desire to codify and systemise, we often lose the very thing we are trying to achieve.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

a call to arms

we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Two hundred and thirty three years ago a gentleman planter (who was also an inventor, an amateur woodworker, architect, musician, and goodness knows what else) who was all of thirty six years old penned these words. They were terrible and aggressive words, words that started, of course, a revolution. Now we call it the Revolution. Capital R.

From our remove, it is hard to comprehend what he and the other members of the Continental Congress were doing. When we hear or read the words “high treason” these days they don’t have a lot of teeth. There are not a lot of people committing it in our country, lately. At least, they are not getting prosecuted. But for these men (and yes, they were all men. And white. And rich. That does not diminish the enormity of what they did.) the act of signing their names to this particular document was unambiguously taking a stand for which it was possible, and in fact likely, that they would be tried and hanged.

They were putting their lives on the line to back up their convictions (some more quickly than others, we are moving to the only state that abstained from the first vote, New York. They came around eventually, though), which is another idea that a lot of us here have a hard time understanding. There are folks in other countries that understand it perfectly, and are doing it right now, of course. What would you die for? What would you risk loss of property, prestige and life to say publicly?

I have been thinking about revolution, lately. I have been doing a lot of reading that has got me in that frame of mind (Wendell Berry, McDonough and Braungart, Matthew Crawford, Walter Rose). The revolution that I have in mind is not a political one (though that may not be a bad idea, more on that another time), but a cultural one. And it needs to shake things up as completely as did that document two hundred and thirty three years ago.

What the Continental Congress put together as a result of their revolution was a completely unheard-of system, one that they believed to be better than any existing system. They did not have any examples to follow, all they had was their knowledge that the existing system was broken, and that something new was needed. That is where I feel that we are.

Ecologically, we are juggling bowling balls while treading water in a lake that is on fire. Many of the solutions that are being put forth involve putting on a fire-retardant suit, a solution that does nothing at all to change the basic situation, it merely keeps our hair from getting singed before we drown.

The system is broken. Something new is needed. That something new is not an object, I don’t think, especially as they tend to come wrapped in plastic inside a box that is shrink-wrapped. It probably won’t be political. I think it will have to be a major cultural about-face, a complete re-thinking, not of the system, but of our base-line expectations. And I think it needs to happen soon. It may be scary, it will certainly mean a complete re-thinking of how we relate to our surroundings and to each other, and it will have to be a huge.

I want to be clear: I am part of the problem. We have a lot of things. I am typing this on a plastic laptop, we have two cars, we buy things wrapped in plastic. I need to change my expectations and desires just like everyone else in this country, and I am trying to figure out how to do that.

So today, on this day when we celebrate family and country and history, I am thinking about revolutions: The ones that have been, and the ones that still need to happen. Happy 4th of July.

Monday, June 15, 2009

we move every three years. The first three times we moved, though, it was in the same borough, we were just changing neighborhoods, which reduced the trauma slightly. The biggest move was three years ago, when we moved to Providence. Now we are gearing up for the biggest one yet, a move away from the coast for the first time as a couple, as well as a move away from being childless and into parenthood.

It is safe to say that I feel awash in a turbulent sea of change.

There is another move that is happening, a move from being a maker to being a teacher (and, perish the thought, an administrator). I love teaching. It really is what I do best, I think. My father is a teacher, and has been since I can remember. My mother is a teacher and has been since before I was born. Recently, in an effort to place the names of some of the long-lost high school folk who have been friending me on facebook, I brought back from my folks’ house my high school senior year yearbook. Because I am a narcissist, I read a lot of the things that people had written. Lot of the run-of-the-mill “Stay in touch” and “Drama Class Rocks!” Probably not too different from your yearbook. Probably the hairdos were taller in mine than in yours. I would bet that there were a lot more mullets. But the things that people wrote are the same across the country, I bet.

One thing I did notice, though, was that a lot of people said something like “you’re a great teacher.” This struck me, as I do not remember teaching anyone anything in high school. Except maybe how to roll a joint. I don’t remember knowing enough about anything to think that I should be a teacher. I wanted to be a rock-and-roll roadie at the time. So it is a bit of a mystery, but it struck a chord with me because I do aspire to be a good teacher. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to meet and work with the students in Syracuse.

Before I can start that life, though, I have to pack up my studio. I am almost done. I know that I will not really have an opportunity to make things on the level that I have been for quite some time. This has been tough for me to parse. I know I am moving into so many things that are going to be so good, but dismantling my workbench took a great deal of will. It was anticlimactic, of course. Four screws and four bolts and it was leaning against the wall, ready to go on the truck. There was no crashing of the pipe organ, no thunderstorms or rains of frogs. Externally the moment after was the same as the one before. But it was the act that officially indicated that I was no longer an active part of the studio. I have had a great time in this studio, the people are all people that I respect and admire and above all like very much. Dismantling my bench was a statement that I am no longer one of them, I now (for the moment) merely store my stuff among them.


Below is a photo of the bench leaning against the wall behind the stacks of boxes of studio stuff. Tools, hardware, bits of wood, clamps. The box of hammers does not seem any dumber than the box of saws, no matter what colloquial wisdom indicates. The studio books are just as heavy as non-studio books. I have kept out a small collection of tools that will get me by should I have a small quick project, but all the rest are sleeping soundly in their boxes, waiting to see the sun and breathe the air and make shavings and dust in their new home.

I know I should be thinking about this as preparation for a great and good change. I know that I should be looking forward to what promises to be an exciting new time, professionally and personally. But just now, for these weeks before we get up there, I do not seem to be able to shake the melancholy. I am awash in memories, stuck looking back. And I am going to allow that for now. I do not have any choice. It is right to mourn for a time the passing of good things just as it is right to be thankful for the good things that are to come.

Monday, June 1, 2009

storage systems

i love books. I always have. I love the heft of them and the smell of them and the theatrical act of opening one, whether it is for the first time or the 20th. The books to which I return regularly have what a friend called the “patina of Zeke” on them, dogears at the good parts, phrases underlined, worn covers. “Life on the Mississippi,” “The Dramatic Imagination,” “The Hobo’s Hornbook,” these are markers in my life and repositories of ideas or turns of phrase or images that are important to me.

When I started out as a set designer in New York I was not (to put it mildly) internet savvy. I still am not, maybe, but it is arresting to me what a difference twelve years can make. I did not even have an email address at the time, which seems outlandish to me now. And for years, every show that I designed would send me off to the New York Public Library and the Strand. I bought two or three books per show, and checked out several more, the big coffee table books with lots of photos in them, to use as research. Books about the wild west, and about the Louvre, and English Georgian houses. Figure drawing references. “How to Paint” this or that. As my library grew, moving became more difficult, but Karen and I both are comforted when surrounded by our books. In our last apartment, I built 150 linear feet of shelves for our books, which was not enough, as it turned out. We have a lot of books.

In preparation for our move, I have spent tonight going through the big books, pulling out ones that I have not opened in years to donate to the RISD library. I spoke to the head of the Library who said that any books that do not go onto the shelves will be sold to buy more books or other media. Many of these are volumes I have not opened since we moved here, and maybe not for years before that, and so I know that the appropriate thing to do is to turn them over to an institution that will use them, to a place where they will be opened and read which is what they are for, after all.

I have pulled out 88 volumes so far, most of them big picture books. It has been a hard process. Some of them are inscribed from friends along the way, some of whom have fallen out of my life, and seeing their handwriting congratulating me on an opening night or graduating from college or a birthday brought wistful smiles and floods of memories. Here they are, all bagged up and ready to move to their new home:

Books remain a favorite method of mine for storing knowledge and memory. Having now been on the creative team charged with producing a book, and having written and laid out and published my thesis, I have more of an appreciation for what a book is, not just what it says, for books as designed objects, which has given me another layer of appreciation. Cheyenna and I were talking about the need for each generation to produce documentation of some kind, especially, as with the Hobo Hornbook, the need for documenting the thoughts and history of the working class. In an age when so much that is written from person to person is done in a media that does not lend itself to being kept in a cigar box in the attic or pasted into a scrap book to be found and archived by descendants, it is hard for us to see what that documentation will be.

I am learning a lot about storing knowledge these last couple of years. I am learning (though I still have the clumsy absence of fluency that fades with practice when learning a new language) to read the knowledge that is stored in objects that are not books. I am learning to read the adz-marks on an old beam, or to decipher the logic in the way a line is rove through a block and around a pin, or to decipher the collective trial and error that led to a saw’s teeth being set in a particular way. I am learning to read the rings of a tree or the wear on an old tool or the construction of a piece of antique furniture. Pulling all of those books off of shelves and putting them in bags brought into sudden sharp focus all of the other methods of reading of which I am becoming aware. These other storage systems are gaining a credibility in my life that they did not have before, and it took the act of sitting down with books as objects, as “containers for memory” as Bachelard would say it, to bring that into sharp focus.

I will miss these old friends. I will probably regret giving them up. But I will know that they are moving to a new life, and that they will be cared for well.

Friday, May 29, 2009

to be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

-Marge Piercy

Monday, May 25, 2009

back to the shop

we had quite a weekend this Memorial Day. Birthday celebration, wedding shower, and baby shower, a swirl of events. Since we both had family in town, we made the choice to forgo other activities like yoga in order to spend time with them, and I am glad we did. Karen used the word “homesick” to describe my feelings for the South, which struck me as particularly apt. I am also homesick for family. It is never easy to be surrounded by family, and can often be stressful, but the eddies of love and support were well worth the jetsam of long-held grudges and personal issues.

This does mean, thought that I was not in the studio for three days, which began to weigh on me by Sunday, yesterday. I got so twitchy that as Karen was unwrapping gifts, I was cutting the wrapping paper into squares and folding cranes out of it, just so that I had something to do. Though there are some who enjoy the craft of creating events, and there are many who enjoy experiencing them, I get more joy from making things, and my hands eventually decided that if I wasn’t going to use them to make anything, they would make something themselves.

This is not meant to indicate that I am not grateful for all of the work that everyone put into the weekend. It was astounding and lovely. But it was also good to get back into the studio today and to make a little sawdust.

My sister and her fiancé have trained their lovely hound Harriet that there is an invisible fence buried in their yard. She is getting pretty good about knowing where it is and about playing in the yard unchaperoned. Across their front walk they have strung an old dog leash, and she knows now that when it is there, the fence is on, but that when it is not she can pass through. Smart dog.

We were sitting at dinner and my sister was telling us about this and she asked if I had any ideas about a gate that they could use that would look better than an old leash strung across the front walk. Boy, did I?!? Put me directly in mind of Walter Rose, of course: “I would fain doff my hat before such a gate, for it speaks of the craftsman, a carpenter whose work is the expression of his life…” Gate building was, at one time, a very specific task, done in the way that carpenters had done it for hundreds of years, each component of the gate designed by generations of experience in a way that a pressed steel gate, such as you may see today, is not.

I began to think and to scheme about making a gate. Not a full on gate, not a huge farm gate, but a little ornamental piece that would be a symbol of a gate as well as an indicator to Harriet that the fence was on. I determined to use hand tools as much as possible, and to not get over-fussy with it, because as Rose says, “the carpentry of the countryside ought not to savor too much of the jointer’s bench.”

What a pleasant way to return to the workbench after a three day hiatus. I had made sure when I left that all of the planes and chisels were mirror-polished and sharper than razors, and walked in to a swept studio and an empty bench pregnant with possibilities. I had some Douglas Fir left from other projects, and laid into it. Fir gives such beautiful long curling shavings when planed by hand, and the smell that it lets off is intoxicating. I cut the joints and went over to the hardware cabinet to choose the nails. I still have a lot of the nails that I made a couple of years ago, and thought it would be fun and fitting to use clinch nails to hold the gate together.

Clinching nails is a practice that is for the most part gone, but it once was standard practice for a lot of applications. Doors, for example. Dickens begins A Christmas Carol by telling us that “Marley was as dead as a door-nail,” and goes on to remark in passing that he does not know what in particular is so dead about a door-nail. Well, anyone familiar with carpentry certainly does. Exterior doors (and gates) were often nailed together up until the last century, and because the nails were hand-forged and untempered, they were soft. So a hole was drilled, the nail was hammered home, and then “clinched” or bent over on the back side. So installed, it would never come out again, and so was “dead.” Doors made in this way have lasted hundreds of years in some cases, far out-living modern hollow-core doors that you buy at big box stores.

Of course clinching nails is now an exercise in nostalgia. But then, as Garrison Keillor says, nostalgia is my sin. And it is appropriate to clinch-nail a gate together. And I had all of these nails anyway, so it seemed like a good choice. And it is fun, so there.

So I made up the gate and the posts, and a little latch on the other side with a counterweight made of a big chunk of steel that I had around the shop. The hinge is one that I made as an experiment a couple of years ago, and is not terribly good as hinges go, but entirely serviceable. Better that it be used than sit in a drawer until it gets thrown out, after all.

Lugged all of this up to Sharon, Mass, where they live and went to hammer it into the ground. The rocky ground. Very rocky ground. There is always something, and this time the something was that. Rather than pound them 12” – 18” into the dirt, I was only able to get them to go in about 9”. Which is not far enough in my book, and makes the gate too high besides. So I am going to have to revisit this, maybe with a pick-mattock.

For now, though, the gate is there, with a little ornamental jowl cut in like on the gates that Rose shows in his book. A great project to get my hands working again, though, and it is always a joy to make something for people I love.

Here is a photo of the gate:

And a photo of the hinge which is also clinch nailed on:

Here is the other end and the counter-weighted latch. There is, I am sure, a better design, but this is what I came up with, and it works well enough:

This nice little project was the penultimate piece that will be made in the studio. The next (and last) piece will be a birdbath for our new house in Syracuse, after which I will start the bittersweet project of packing the studio to move.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

rites of spring

Spring has finally arrived. It has been getting very warm and then very cold and then very warm again over the past weeks, but that is not the indicator I look to. I look to the trees to tell me about rebirth and new life. And they have been. Over the last couple of weeks the tips of their branches have been deep red with tiny buds, portents of what was to come. And then last week the smallest of green leaves began to unfold.

On Tuesday, we had some driving around to do on a grey rainy day, and it was then that I realized that Spring is here. Grey and chilly, with a soaking rain, the kind that makes you want to stay inside and read all day, the kind that magnifies bright colors, somehow, and makes them stand out. And that is what happened, of course, with the leaves. They are all that callow spring green, the kind that you can only make by adding just a touch of sap green to a lot of hansa yellow light, if you are trying to make it on a pallet, that electric spring green that is full of hope and promise and that thinks it will never, ever fade into the world-weary heavy green of late summer, though we know it will. The trees know this, too, but are tight-lipped, enjoying the optimism of the new leaves and sighing with joy as the wind catches them and waves their branches, yoga for an eighty year old maple.

Up Hope Street is Lipitt Park, which is a riot of trees all showing off their new spring attire. In the grey rain it was just stunning, making me stop the car and hold the camera out the window, shielding it from the rain with my hat. Of course, in the photo the colors get lost, I can not photograph magic like this with something as paltry as a point and shoot, but you maybe get the idea.

Then yesterday I made the drive (lot of driving lately. Maybe this is something I should examine) out to Syracuse again. All the way through the mountains Ii drove under a flat-bottomed roof of cumulonimbus clouds, the kind that are piled high like grey whipped cream with flat bottoms like they are sitting on a pane of glass, pregnant with rain, though I saw very little rain on the trip. As I got higher in the mountains, of course, I drove backward through spring, back to the very first little buds on the trees, and then as I came down the other side I got to watch everything unfold in fast- motion, the car a speeded up camera recording what a friend called “the white-hot electric sex” of spring.

On the other side of the mountain, the clouds started to part a little. The blue dome never looks so blue as when see through grey clouds, and the spots of sunshine hitting the ground seemed that much warmer and joyous for the grey up above. By the time I stopped at a turnout by the Erie Canal, there was enough sun that I could eat my sandwich at a picnic table made of grey recycled plastic without a jacket on, warm and happy and comforted by the history flowing on the other side of the chain link fence. As I sat there in the sun a CSX freight train rolled ponderously by on the other side of the Canal, the same company that sponsors our NPR station, and I smiled as I thought about their claim that they move a ton of freight three hundred miles on a gallon of fuel. It made me think of home, where Karen and our unborn son are, and about the season of birth and renewal and joy in my own life.
Canals and trains, and sunshine and spring. Better than Christmas.