Category Archives : Better Than Yesterday Personal Project


Stairmastery

MNiC Feat Stairmastery2

Stairmastery

2 AM, the gym is almost empty. Everyone in the place is there because they’ve got a good reason, or because they’ve got nowhere else to go. I’m one of the former, I hope. I’m training for the Big Hike. Any time you’re on a Stairmaster the metaphor is there; you know, walking and walking, going nowhere. Working so hard to go nowhere.

Then a thought strikes me, Stairmasters are everywhere, someone became a millionaire by inventing this. 

So, that’s kind of interesting, right? I mean, things don’t pop up everywhere unless there’s a need for them. Even AoL could only pull that off for a few years. So that breeds the question, Why is there an overwhelming need for a way to climb stairs, without going anywhere, in a particularly compact manner?

Why does our society place such an emphasis on stairmastery? The answer, of course, is that the need to prepare for mountains significantly outpaces the occurrence of actual mountains. I’m not working hard to go nowhere, I’m working hard to that, when I get to somewhere, it won’t kick my ass.

The problem with mountains is that when they are there, they are there, and they’re not moving. The only way to be ready to climb the big ones is to climb small ones, or fake ones, whatever you can climb to practice for the push that really matters.

A lot of life is like that. We go through the boring (algebra, comma rules, etc.) so that we are ready for the things that matter. I wish people made that point more often, or earlier, or maybe just louder when I was younger.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

The reward is pretty fun. I can climb half again as many stairs a third faster than I could when I started training. I did 40 reps on the inclined leg press with eight 45lb plates on it last week, and it wasn’t especially difficult. My 28th birthday is next week, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to break past 500 pounds before then — and not that thing people do where they bend their knees five degrees, and then call it a rep. The full motion. I’ve never, in my life, been at a place where I can move a quarter ton with my legs before. I still don’t feel like I can do it when I look at the plates all stacked on there. I mean, that’s lifting myself, plus another of me on each shoulder. But the math works out.

On a (thematically) related note, I’m now a member of the team over at First Site Guide. I make actual money blogging as Connor Rickett. There were a lot of blogs I didn’t get paid for leading to this moment. And a lot of blogs I did get paid for, floating around out there with other peoples’ names on them.

So anyway, what I’m getting at is that it’s not about the journey, and it’s not about the destination, it’s about developing the necessary musculature and endurance to decide on whatever journey or destination you want.

 

 


Life Less Than 30

MNIC Feat Less Than 30

“Less than thirty.”

“It can’t be that small,” she said. Technically, since we were talking about length, it wasn’t small, it was short. Oh, the insecurities of youth, right?

Normally, letting that pass without comment would have been about as possible for me as licking my own elbow or singing opera. This time it went by without a word or even a snigger, because I was concentrating on something.

I’d just done the math in my head, so I was seriously entertaining the thought that I’d made a rounding error; I was checking it by doing an easier problem:

“One hundred times three-sixty-five-point-two-five is . . . thirty-six-five-twenty-five. It’s right. Less than thirty.”

Twenty-seven is an important year, though we don’t really notice. That wasn’t the bit she was commenting on, though—and no, it wasn’t that bit, either. She was commenting on what I’d said moments prior, “Less than thirty.”

The math there wasn’t really too hard to do: Twenty-four thousand, plus four thousand eight hundred, plus four hundred, plus twenty, equals twenty-nine thousand two hundred twenty. Less than thirty.

It can’t be that short.

And it does seem short, doesn’t it?

Most things, they seem smallest when lumped together into a few large aggregates, but eighty years seems so . . . vast. There’s a lot of time in eighty years. Time to change, time to do the things you’ve been putting off, time to go back, time to go forward, time to dream and to fail, and fail, until you succeed, and time still then to enjoy that success. Time to recline and bask in a life well-lived, even though we haven’t yet found time for the living.

27

Like I said, twenty-seven is an important year. I’m twenty-seven. Twenty-seven is young. Old enough to have watched friends die and watched friends have children of their own, but young. Twenty-seven is the year you turn ten thousand, and ten thousand days, that’s old, when you probably won’t see thirty.

Somehow, thirty thousand is less than eighty. It works by months, too; you probably won’t see a thousand months pass you by. Suddenly each month is a tenth of a percent of your life ticked off with each turn of the calendar page.

Like most people my age, I think, I see myself as independent, adventurous. I take risks, and I’m willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of future goals. I move a lot. I mean, I’m the guy who dropped out of chemistry grad school to live in his car, travel, and write. Wanderlust is my defining feature.

On the second day after I left, I stopped at a waterfall—well, actually, I drove past a waterfall—in the Rockies. Then I turned around on the shoulder of the road, stopped to talk briefly to a guy who was rollerblading across the United States (he’s still the only person I’ve ever seen with calves bigger than his quads), and drove about a mile back to the fall. I parked in between an army of RVs, most with little Jeeps being towed behind, like remoras. I walked down the trail through a sea of retirees, and stood for a moment at the barricade with them. Then I walked past it, up a narrow trail, mossy and slick from the mist, and climbed up along the side of it. The roar was defining, the rocks were sharp, the water everywhere, and so cold I was sure it wasn’t water at all; it was just ice that needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

I looked back, and I saw them down there, little white heads behind the barricade. People who had worked their whole lives so they could afford to view life from a distance someday, safely behind the railing. That was the last time I had a single doubt about whether leaving grad school was the right choice.

That was then. It’s harder to justify that view staring at 10,205 days, gone. I . . . what have I done worth noting, really? Here I am, probably staring at a third of my life in the rear view, and do I actually know who I am, or where I’m going?

Stop.

I just stopped writing this to talk to a college friend who walked into this random Starbucks—small world—and he’s doing physical rehab now. He was another chem guy back when we were in school together. As he put it, “I know what I want to do, it just took me six extra effing years.”

Serendipity is the best part of life. I was going to write about the difficulty of plotting a path. That was stupid, and my friend reminded me why.

See, I’ve got that much figured out. We’re lots of people, each of us, and we’re going lots of places. It’s not a lack of paths which besets us, it’s a lack of inner certainty. Our lives are nothing but paths tangled all over one another.

Life is a buffet where they serve everything but you only get one plate; it’s easy to be paralyzed by the decision.

Let’s be clear, here, it’s not about fear of where we’re headed, for most of us, it’s about fear of missing what’s on the other path. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that standing there, staring at the fork in the road sign costs us both paths. There’s a you down both paths; the question is, Which you would you rather be?

Most of life is not finding answers, it’s finding the right questions, and I think that’s the right one.

Is the me who stays here the me I want to be? Or is it the me who goes there?

The truth is any one path can get you almost anywhere. They overlap, over and over. You can scale cliffs and slide down slopes, cut across trails, and duck under railings. Pick a direction you like, and take whatever trail will take you there. If don’t know which direction to go, go see what this one or the other looks like, you can always work your way around.

There’s that stupid old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, screw that. Wherever you go, there you’re going.

You’ll get where you’re going. Just—you know—walk, because you’ve only got thirty thousand days to spend getting there. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean it’s small.

At the end of the days, it’s not really about how many days you lived, it’s about how many days you loved.

 

MNIC paths


The Life Lottery

Note: This was written Tuesday. 

Field Trips

Well, I got lost this morning for awhile. I was on my way over to pick up my housemate from the mechanic, and I took a wrong turn, and went on adventure. I guess I still have a bit to learn about Phoenix. We’ve been sitting in a coffee shop for a few hours now, and it’s probably getting on towards done; I figured it might be time to throw together today’s blog.

Work Life

Work life is good right now. I’m the good kind of busy, and I’m loving it. I’m riding that particular high that comes from already having enough money to pay rent next month. A distinct and lovely lack of stress–it’s sort of like turning off a vacuum cleaner; the world is suddenly so quiet and peaceful. I hadn’t even realized someone had been standing on my chest the last couple months, but, hey, I  can breathe.

The first savings goal is to acquire enough to pay for a decent pair of boots.

Applying for Trail Permits

Matt and I applied for trail permits today.

It’s actually a really involved process. There’s a lottery for the Whitney Permit. We need to get that, and once we have that, we can apply for the wilderness sections of the trail. There’s an element of luck involved in just having a window to set the record.

The only choice, though, is full steam ahead, because I need to be ready to go long before I know whether or not I actually will.

Training for Record Attempt

This is going places. I’ve been working out steadily, I’ve found a place to write with a bar setup, so I can work standing. This is important. Feet need to get used to the idea of supporting your body for hours and hours at time.

I’ve not used them yet, but I’ve bought two fifty pound bags of gravel. They’re going to go in my backpack. I’m going to be going on regular walks, first with the fifty, then the hundred, while continuing to train at the gym. Eventually, the stair-climbing in the gym will be combined with the pack.

Right now, I’m doing sessions of half an hour on the stair climber, at a pace that takes me about 2.5 miles, then another couple on the treadmill, and a few bodyweight exercises three times a week. The other days are either rest or weight training days.

I’ve been doing research, and I see I need to do step-down exercises as well. The trick is to shake things up, as well. As the training ramps up, I’ll also be climbing actual mountains in the area more and more often, because that’s how you really get in shape for climbing mountains: climbing mountains.

Already Happy

I’m already really happy with the training. This regimen encompasses a lot more cardio than my usual workouts, and I’ve already noticed a lot more muscle definition, which is pretty cool, but this isn’t about looking fit–this is about endurance. Not even running endurance, but plodding endurance.

I will need to be able to carry 50-60 pounds at a fast walking pace for eighteen hours, several days in a row. That’s going to take some work.

The real key is sticking with it. I can walk fast enough, I can carry the weight, I just need to get to the point where I can manage both at the same time, and that’s just an incremental affair. Like most things in life, it’s not a training montage, it’s constant and continual work until the goal is reached.


The John Muir Record Attempt 1

The Overview

So I have a good friend who wants to set a record. The record he wants to set is actually the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but we’ve decided to start with the John Muir Trail. We’ve done the math, done the research, and we think we can do it. We’d be making the attempt (if we win the lottery for it) this summer.

The John Muir Trail (which I’ve already hiked part of) runs from Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48, through the Sierras, including King’s Canyon and Sequoia, and into Yosemite. It’s actual part of the PCT, so it will be a good test run, no matter what happens.

 

 

You can find out more about both trails here.

 

The Hike

This isn’t an easy hike. It’s 211-ish miles through altitudes as high as 14,505′. And we need to do it in less than 78 hours. This is back country, wilderness .  .  . the trail is clearly marked, but you share it with deer and bears. That sort of place.

It’s also a hike through the parts of the country that inspired the national park system. Some of the most beautiful country on the planet. It’s a place out of dreams.

 

The Campaign

We are planning to go all the way with this record attempt. We’ll be filming it; Matt’s even got a camera drone. We’re going on an adventure, and we want you to come along for the ride. We’re also planning on grabbing as wide an audience as we can. We’re planning on a social media campaign, maybe some crowdfunding, definitely sponsors if we can get some.

 

The Training

Here’s the truth: We should have been training for this all year. Instead we’ve go six months. I think we can do it, but that means we’re going to be training hard. I’ve been hitting the gym almost daily since the end of January. I’m even doing cardio.

I hate cardio.

But I’m doing cardio, because in six months I’ll need pistons for legs and gas tanks where my guts go. I can already keep up the pace we need to keep up easily, I just need to be able to do it with a 50-100 pound pack above the treeline for 70-something hours.

We’re also, starting a month before our hike, going to switch to the Uberman sleep schedule.

 

What You Can Expect

Well, the journey starts here and now, not six months from. We don’t know for sure if we’ll be able to go, or when, yet, because there’s a lottery system for selecting backcountry permits. Still, we need to start training last year, so that’s going to be happening. We’ll be logging progress, looking at the things we need to do, and so on.

I’ll be saving up for a decent pair of boots.

Our thinking is that, worst case, we have to settle for being in awesome shape and walking through one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I think we’ll do a bit more than that, though.

 

More to come,

Connor Rickett

 


Now and Then Goals 2

Oh man, I have so little time today, but I need to keep up the blogging schedule. No more slip ups!

What should I talk about?

How about goals?

MNiC Feature Now and Then Goals

Why Goals Matter

Well, they don’t, intrinsically, really. In the same way a thing is worth what someone will pay for it, goals are exactly as important as they are. The goal of posting every Tuesday and Thursday on this blog is important to me. It forces me to blog about non-work stuff (because I save that for the other blog) and it’s a place to talk get more personal, which I sort of like, and sort of hate.

Mostly it’s a spot for random thoughts, which is why I tend to leave it until the last moment, rather than queuing posts up. I am going to queue up the Super Bowl hike for Tuesday, sometime this weekend, with lots and lots of lovely pictures, and I know what I’m going to talk about Thursday, too.

Goals matter, though, because without them, we don’t have goals. And how do you keep score of your life and its progress without goals? You don’t. You’re just an object in motion, like some sort of Brownian phenomenon. And that’s lame.

So, yeah, goals matter because the lack of goals is bad. So sue me, I’ve got like fifteen free minutes to write all this into a coherent post.

Now and Then Goals

The Now Goals

You have to have “Now Goals”. I’m actually awash in goals today. I have to finish two guest posts (at minimum the final of one and a draft of the other), I have to wrap up another paid project, and edit a web page for another client. These are small, immediate, goals, but they’re not bad ones. This is a good day, because my career and my bank account will both better facing a brighter outlook shortly.

I’ve started making lists of To-Dos, mostly because they seem to work for my girlfriend. So far, when I remember to consult them, they’re doing alright.

The Then Goals

Small goals only exist to serve the “Then Goals”, and to balance them. Without the “Now Goals” the “Then Goals” would be entirely impossible, and that would be sad.

They feed each other, though. Then inspires now, now becomes then, and when then is now, there’s a then, right there and waiting. I want to be more successful. That means making money, keeping clients happy, getting things done, and expanding my presence in the writing world. Sure.

But that’s not my whole life, either. I need adventure goals. That’s why going to the gym is on the list today, too. I’ve got a good friend who wants to set a record, and I’ll talk about this a lot more in the near future. For now, let’s just say it involves me getting in shape to walk a very long way with heavy weights, very quickly.

I should probably have had a year to train for it, but I don’t. That’s okay, because I need to be better, anyway. The worst case here is that I’m in really good shape, but not quite good enough, by this summer.

So that’s part of what this blog will be about. Becoming stronger, faster, better. As a writer, as a person, as a body, and so on.

I do what I do now so I can be what I want to be then. 

That’s what goals are for, really; they’re just something to aim for. I may not succeed in all my goals, but I’ll certainly be better for trying.

Ten minutes are up, so . . .

Take care, and be awesome,

Connor

 


Antler Carving Project

I’m a writer. My funds are often. . . limited. Yeah, limited is a good word for it. But I’m supposed to be creative and stuff, and fortunately everyone in my family likes gifts that err on the side of thought and effort, rather than spending a bunch of money.

I decided to use the rest of the antler I found out hiking to make something for each of them. I debated exactly what I was going to make. I considered a bunch of things, and I wanted to make something cooler than just a polished lump of antler, yet also something I could do without screwing up miserably. My mom, gram, and sister all have names starting with ‘S’ so I figured I could probably work out how to carve one letter without too many mistakes and discarded attempts–an important criteria, since my supply of antler was quite finite.

Carving antler turned out to be easier than I expected. And harder. Easy to carve and shape, difficult to do without throwing up due to the smell of burning bone. Oh deer god did it smell! On the positive side, that did discourage them from coming out to the garage and snooping on my work.

g 1 full antler

 

I clamped the antler and cut it into sections about two-and-a-half inches long.

 

G cross-sections

 

You can see the thin layer sheathing the spongy bone beneath. The first order of business was grinding out that spongy inner material, which was the really really smelly part. I actually quit and found some menthol rub to smear under my nose to block out the smell.

SAFETY NOTE: If you do this, wear a mask, at least, a respirator if possible. Bone dust can cause nasty lung infections!

I had to cut the sections in half lengthwise to do that. I used a hacksaw and it wasn’t too terribly bad, although making the cut straight was a bit tricky at times.

 

G 2 Antler cutting

Then I got to the carving, which I didn’t take pictures of, because I didn’t feel like getting my phone coated in bone dust, plus it took some serious concentration not to screw up.

To my surprise, I got roughly what I wanted on the first pass through. I tried three different stains to seal the pieces, since they’re fairly porous and fragile–and I figured that might make them smell less “bony”.

 

 

 

G Makeshift Dremel

 

I needed a small grinder for the work, so I improvised a bit. This arrangement was much easier than trying to keep the big Dremel steady and clamp tiny bits of antler. If you try this, please note that this method does put your fingers in proximity to tips specifically selected for their ability to cut and/or grind through bone. So be careful. And not stupid. Mostly the latter, really.

I had enough leftover to make some keychain decorations for other people, include one for my dad (the side pictured here is the back, so you’re viewing the letters from behind).

 

g finished

 

The little stick figure dude is the little logo dude from a game called Kingdom of Lothing my housemate has been playing for. . . at least half a decade. As long as I’ve known him.

So I made a couple of those for friends, and I even had enough left over to make a small one for myself.

G compass

 


A Project for the Birds 2

My girlfriend got me my Christmas present this week. We hadn’t seen much of each other, with one or the other being gone for most of the three weeks. I think it’s pretty cool, and, if things go as planned, you’ll be seeing a lot of it on here.

Also, she needed my help mounting it.

 

Wrapped up with a bow!

 

Anyway, she’s a bit of a bird nerd. A nird, if you will. Our other whiteboard contains a growing list of birds we’ve (she’s) spotted in and around our house, and so on. So I thought, while I was home Christmas, I’d take advantage of the Garage of Wonders–a perilous cave stacked high with tools of every description, where brave souls can simultaneously test their  I Spy and Jenga skills, and their luck–and make something cool for her.

 

First, I needed a log. Fortunately, my family being my family, my sister had an assortment of logs in the back of her car through lucky coincidence. I carefully peeled the bark off (because I needed to put it back later) and was pleasantly surprised by how pretty the grain was.

My dad helped me work out the way to actually do the job, and it went pretty smoothly with his advice.

 

Drilling

Drilling

I drilled and cut out as much as I could, for the sake of saving myself hours of chiseling.

This is the fun part, though.

This is the fun part, though.

Even then it took an entire afternoon to hollow out.

 

Getting there. . .

Getting there. . .

 

Then a simple matter of gluing the bark back on. I really wish I had thought to take a picture of this process. The log was about an inch too wide for the clamps to fit around, so I ended up balancing a nexus of sledge and building hammers on it, to provide pressure.

 

Finished!

Finished!

I think it turned out a pretty cool, actually! Here it is mounted. I might update it with a better picture later. Among other things, I’ve made the rope look a bit fancier.

 

Looking gooooood!

Looking gooooood!

I managed to get in the one spot you can see from the kitchen window on the first try, which was probably as much luck as planning, and was feeling very satisfied with myself. Lauren loves it!

Of course, the birds are all scared of it, and won’t go anywhere near it. Stupid birds.


Pain Tolerance Test w/ Special Guest 1

MNiC Feature Pain Test 1Tolerating Pain

 

I was looking up pain tolerance a couple weeks ago, because my back’s been hurting, because I am old, and it’s been preventing me from working out as much as  I’d like. I’m poor, so not using my gym membership is like pulling teeth. As you can see, it’s just painful all around.

And that’s just no good. Since it doesn’t seem to be getting better from resting it (I think it has more to do with posture and spending too much time staring at a computer, I got to wondering about just working through pain. I’m not really concerned with the pain itself, I just don’t want to seriously injure anything. And that got me wondering about pain tolerance. I came across an interesting article on Runner’s World‘s website, regarding pain tolerance and thresholds; more intriguing, the testing method they used was simple to replicate.

The test was simply to plunge the individual’s hand into a bucket of ice water and see how long they could hold it there (up to a 3 minute limit) and then ask to rate the pain on a 1-10 scale. According to the article:

The runners–all of whom lasted the full three minutes–rated the pain an average of 6 on a scale of 1 to 10. Most of the nonrunners in a control group, by contrast, gave up halfway through the test and rated the pain as 10.

So I thought, I wonder how I would do on that? Note they don’t say anything about sample size, and it seems to me this measures cold tolerance rather than general pain tolerance. Also, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question going on here: Are athletes tougher or are tougher people more likely to be athletes? As it turns out, a bit of both.

Lauren volunteered to help out with the testing, because she’ll do what needs to be done In the Name of Science, because she’s awesome. The results were pretty entertaining. We didn’t film my first run, but I didn’t think it was too bad. So out went the camera, with Lauren volunteering for the filmed version.

 

The Test

 

Lauren had, as you can see, a rough first round, but she stepped it up on the second round to go the full three minutes. I noticed it hurt less the second time, too. I’d rate it about 5, the first time, maybe 4 the second. I may have a slightly warped scale. My family has a documented weird reaction to several pain medications, which has caused a few problems. I remember when I had my wisdom teeth removed, whatever was supposed to knock me out the first time didn’t (the second worked juuusssst fine), and let’s just say, I know what it feels like to have a cavity filled without much in the way of numbing from Novocaine.

The first time she let me go for almost five minutes, which wasn’t very nice.

We hypothesize this divergence is due to various painkiller-type chemicals being released by our bodies after/during the first go. It seems possible that my higher tolerance might have something to do with my own body being more used to pain, and therefore more inclined to churn out the chemicals needed to tone things down. Sort of like how people sweat more if they’re in shape. Working out regularly, even moderate exercise, apparently increases pain tolerance by up to 20%, so that does make a certain sort of sense.

In the meantime, I’m searching out a few more possible tests to do, just to see, as I get back into working out, how much, if at all, my pain tolerance changes.

 

Possible Complications

 

Researching this, I did find a few interesting things, and they might cause disruption and ruin the already dubious scientific rigor of these tests. First off, regularly experiences pain can actually increase sensitivity, according to Wikipedia . . . apparently through strengthening neural connections. That makes sense, really, when you think about it. I mean, using your fingers for dexterous tasks increases dexterity, right?

Second, less surprisingly, pain tolerance is partially physical, and partly mental. I suspect much more the latter than the former, not that they’re truly as separate as we like to pretend they are. Any kind of endurance is rooted in the ability to disconnect the mind from the stimuli telling us we’re bored, tired, in pain, etc.

Third, I don’t want to actually cause harm to myself. So I went and found some scientifically accepted methods of pain tolerance.

 

Methods

 

Cold Water Immersion Test – I’ve already done this, so I won’t describe it, but I will do a follow-up in the next month or so.

Hot Water Immersion Test – Exactly what it sounds like. The literature I found for it used a 47*C/116*F temperature, which should be easy to reach since our hot water tap releases water that might be more accurately described as “steam”.  Some time in the next couple days I’ll try this one.

Electrical – This one’s a little more iffy. I’m not sure there’s an easy/safe/cheap way to do this, so I probably won’t. And I doubt I can afford to rent one of the army’s experimental pain rays.

 


Killing Time

I’m killing time right now. Writing’s great for that. Sometimes the single most rewarding experience is to just let your thoughts flow onto a page. I’m going to be picking up my girlfriend from the airport in a little less than an hour. I just sent off an invoice for some work I’ve done.

I realize this blog has been a bit downbeat of late. It’s been a stressful couple months. There are ups and downs in life, and the fact of the matter, one of my best friends is shipping out into the military, my rent is about to double, business has been slow, I haven’t been enjoying the projects I have gotten, several projects I was very excited about fell through, and, of course, I’ve  been balancing a long distance relationship in the middle of it all.

As the rather relevantly-named (except in the sense that I am quite happily alive) Dead American Writers put it, “It’s not one thing or the other, it’s all these things at once.”

 

Sometimes things get a little rough, which is okay. Somewhere along the lines I was taught or I learned to keep pushing, or maybe that’s who I am; it seems like I continuously gravitate to things that are difficult, and absent a challenge I find myself drifting, and I think I’ve always been that.

It doesn’t always work out. That’s the flip-side of seeking out honest challenges in life, that you fail now and then, and then fail all over again. It shows up in my career choices. I went after chemistry because it was one of the few subjects I ever felt was honestly challenging, science because so much is unknown and it’s the one place you can be right or wrong in absolute sense. Most my relationships have been. . . challenging. Even now, I’m dating someone who’s together and practically perfect — and just generally wonderful — and I’m faced instead with the challenge of how to make it work when we both move all over the place, all the time.

Now, I’m trying to support myself in a field where I have no background, training, or connections, but is statistically as competitive as professional sports, in one of the most challenging economic climates of the past century, with barely a damned penny to my name. What I do have is a strong network of friends and family to keep sane and grounded. I don’t think there’s anything in life quite so important as that. It’s not the only thing that matters, though. I live for those moments of solitude and challenge. I like hikes where I get caught in thunderstorms and end up with blisters and bleeding.

I think maybe that’s important, too; recognizing your weaknesses and making them strengths. I hate failing, and I can’t count the times I’ve dragged myself through mud, misery, and worse to reach goals I didn’t want, just because they were difficult.

From that perspective, I’m in a good place right now. A place where what I am isn’t quite good enough, and I have to be better, and I have to make sacrifices. So I apologize if I’ve seemed a bit morose. I’m still here, I’m still pushing, and if I’ve gotten some scrapes and some blisters over the course of the journey, or found myself stuck in a bit of a storm, well, I’m limping along, and I’m enjoying the rain.

I don’t know if that’s the right place to end this ramble, but I’ve got to go pick up a pretty girl from an airport, so that’s it for today.

Actually, I take that back. Life gets cold now and then, and the only way to get through is to stay close to things, be they jobs, hobbies, people, or causes, that light a fire in you.

 

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A Wand for a Hufflepuff

This whole thing happened better than a month ago, I just didn’t get around to writing it up until now. One of my friends is an avid Harry Potter fan. I say “avid fan” because I like understatement. If Harry Potter was a real person who she could stalk, she’d be incarcerated. That’s the level of her interest in all things Harry Potter.

I decided, since I was working on my burn bowl project, anyway, (which involves a lot of sitting around outside by a fire pit)  I might as well go ahead and carve her a wand while I was working on that, since I was headed to her birthday party that night. I found the best branch I could on our pine tree, but I’d recommend a straighter one with fewer twigs if you try this yourself.

wandbranch

Now, she is a Hufflepuff, apparently, which we all know is a lame house–although they hold the House Cup for most avada kedavras caught–but there’s no need to hurt her feelings by pointing that out in the comment section.  When I picked branches, I picked a thicker one than I needed, which meant extra carving time, but I wanted a nice dense piece of wood so that it wouldn’t snap or break and would have a solid feel to it. I used a hatchet to strip off the park and soft outer layers.

wandroughcut

In their defense, I’ll have you know that Hufflepuffs are very important. The world needs Hufflepuffs, so that there can be a team for the people we don’t hate, but know aren’t about to go winning anything. Yes, nerds, I know that the Hufflepuffs won a Quidditch match, but this is more metaphorical. Besides, it only happened because a Gryffindor was being attacked by soul-sucking monsters. The next step was to pull out the trusty K-bar, and start to shape the wand and handle.

wandhandleblank

Carving is really very relaxing. Some care should be exercised not to amputate any fingers; this really ruins the zen aspects of the experience, as pain and blood will tend to do.

I finally finished with the main shaping of it, so the next step was start carving the badger, because this is Hufflepuff, and their coat of arms is a smelly creature with notoriously anemic social skills that lives isolated in a hole in the ground. This was really fun, as I’ve never done any real wood carving before. Luckily, I do have some carving chisels I picked up about five years ago for another project.

wandunstained

Michelangelo once said that sculpting was about finding the shape within the object, as if he were just freeing a shape already contained within the stone. He was a lot better at carving things than I, but I was actually fairly satisfied with out it turned out. I considered carving in some little badger legs, but I was afraid I’d mess it up. I’d pushed my luck far enough. Plus I had blisters and I was tired.

The final step was applying stain. Dark for the stripes and the handle, a nice subtle sealant for the tip and the light bits of the badger.

wandcloseup

A work of art? Hardly. A pretty cool birthday present? I think so.

wandfulldone

 

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