Almond flaxseed bread

IMG_1531“…give us this day our daily bread.”  We have come a long way with this stuff, and it’s still evolving.  Twenty years ago, I was making cornbread from packaged mixes and realized that the leftover Irish oatmeal from breakfast could be added in for a bit of texture.  Soon enough, I discovered that making cornbread from scratch was relatively easy.  A short step from that to experimenting with various shortbread combinations, grinding all sorts of grains and seeds into meal and using a bit of salt and baking soda for leavening.

Like most of my generation, I grew up on Wonderbread; living on a farm, we fed wheat shorts (that’s the bran and germ) to the hogs, not realizing that they were getting the better part of the grain.  White bread eventually lost it’s appeal and I started searching for alternatives, once making my own sourdough pancakes for an entire summer (add a bit of baking soda and sourdough will expand like a soufflé).  My sister gave me a book about baking bread for Christmas one year, there were loaves everywhere that winter.

Eventually, our household began moving away from wheat altogether (the gluten thing), and in time rye, oats, barley, buckwheat were marked off.  Corn (maize) is mostly starch/sugar to begin with, when you consider the probability of GMO contamination, off the list as well.  It’s comforting to assume that Native Americans had cornbread as a staple, or that Jesus ate buttered croissants for breakfast.  More likely, acorns were the staple meal for most pre-Columbian aboriginals as well as our European ancestors, supplemented with chestnuts, walnuts, pecans, chinquapins, beechnuts, hazelnuts, and whatever fresh or dried fruits were available.  Leavening would have been the result of natural fermentation, and salt was a matter of survival not taste.


Almond flaxseed bread:

2 cups almond flour  (~100g @ $5.39#…$2.37)

1 cup flaxseed meal  (~60g @ $2.99#…$.75)

1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt

2 eggs, 1 pint milk  (~…$1.50)


½ cup currants or raisins

½ cup chopped nuts

zest from an orange

combine ingredients, mix the dry stuff first, add milk slowly until the batter is just pourable.  if you have a sweet tooth, try a bit of honey.  heat a cast iron skillet until butter sizzles, lay in the batter, shape it to the pan, bake for 30 minutes at 350º  makes two 1-pound loaves, costs under $5/loaf.   enjoy

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How and Why

Actually (to clarify the last post a bit), this began much earlier, but the photos from that phase aren’t digital, and I’ll eventually have to dig them out and scan them.  For now, the brick part is original and we added all the parts with green metal roofing: IMG_0005 The model: IMG_0980 the porch model: and not quite finished:  (a lot of things are not quite finished here…) IMG_0805 The back room needed a new roof, so we decided to build a timber framed second story instead. IMG_0342 As this expansion progressed toward a finished space, IMG_0505 the roof inevitably took shape, the intersection with the existing roof solution was barely adequate, the runoff spilling onto a skylight over the downstairs bath, and splashing on the French doors.  So, I devised a gabled roof supported by brackets to protect the doors: IMG_1513 And the cricket which I had built to resolve the original roof intersection, IMG_0378 became this: IMG_1516

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Roof Valleys

Trigonometry, once you understand the basics, is fairly easy to use.  The sine curve/cosine curve model works great for electrical engineering, but isn’t very useful for building math.  Really, just the ++ quadrant of a unit circle is sufficient for every trigonometry problem you’re likely to encounter as a carpenter.


This is the intersection of an 8/12 roof and a 5/12 roof.  The cricket has an 8/12 slope on one side, and a 5/12 on the other.  Two of the valleys are regular, they are at an angle of 45º to plan.  The other two valleys are irregular, one side is 5/12, the other 8/12, and the valleys lie at an angle other than 45º to plan.  This requires a slightly more sophisticated approach than the conventional solutions.

Here’s a simple isometric of the basic idea, with the individual triangles lined out in colors.  The trick is to determine a common numerator, multiply through by twelve, then factor down by ten.  These numbers will allow you to calculate all the lengths and angles necessary, then multiply by a factor to arrive at the actual measurement of the project.


The drawing at the bottom is effective, but works better like this:


This drawing can be cut out and folded into a model.  The perpendicular lines drawn across plan and roof plane represent the relationship of roof slope to level plane, and can be used as in the upper right drawing to determine backing angles.  Backing angles are complement to decking bevels, and the roof plane triangle will produce decking angle.

Rise/run=tangent.  Inverse tangent=angle.  A few keystrokes will produce sine and cosine, note them down and use the formulae below to solve for length.


That box in the middle of the roof…Rhenish helm.


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At first, I thought it was just about being alone on the water, floating in a small boat far away from the noise of people.  Yesterday, it occurred to me that air movement lifts ozone out of the water.  In that oxygen-enriched atmosphere, cobwebs clear out of the brain.  The change in the atmosphere before a rainstorm…

[I have been sending all or part of this to various people in the NEA, just trying to get a rise out of somebody. There’s no response so far, and in fact I don’t really believe that anyone cares…people who have never done anything with their hands just can’t understand how much it matters.]

Two years ago, I received an NEA grant from the Arkansas Folklife Program, ostensibly to support training an apprentice. I used most of the money to build a timber framed structure, employing a promising young artisan and teaching him the trade (he has been working in Little Rock for the past three years, but is moving to Colorado because the opportunities are so much better). We photo-documented the project in detail, hoping someone might be interested in what we were doing, but found that the grant administrator (Mike Luster) only distributed the money, and took no further responsibility or interest. (That is truly unfortunate, actually irresponsible as regards the apprentice. Without follow-up and supporting context, you simply lose them to a richer environment.)

On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of support for visual arts, performing arts, documentation, writing projects, etc. but very little support for actual hands-on work. From where I’m sitting, it appears that we are rapidly losing our genuine craft culture. Most of my peers are retirement age, few of them are actively passing on their skills, and the current generation shows little interest or motivation.

I was quite impressed to see Robert Runyon chosen for the Living Treasure Award. I have known Robert for many years, and actually have worked with him. Much as I admire and appreciate Robert, he epitomizes the rugged individualist. His work is not in any real sense replicable, scaleable, teachable, or affordable (if you disagree, I encourage you to prove me wrong). If you were aware of Tim West (he was Robert’s neighbor), he’s a classic example of a well-educated artist encountering the opportunity cost resulting from desperate poverty, alcoholism, and lack of cultural context or support.

Over the past several years, I have managed to become persona non grata with the Department of Arkansas Heritage, beginning with the blacksmith shop project which resulted in a breach of contract suit. Which I won, effectively sacrificing any future status with Heritage (such is principle/politics) and more recently I asked way too many questions about the demise of the Preservation Program at Helena. Heritage continues to use their failure at Helena as an excuse for not pursuing other possibilities.

It is simply inexcusable that Arkansas’ premier state arts organization is incapable of encouraging any sort of comprehensive craft education program. From North Bennet Street to Blue Ox, examples abound of creative, vital efforts. Heritage Crafts Association in Britain is growing, and UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage directive is as applicable to our culture as it is to anyone’s. What do we do???

My efforts to revive craft education in Arkansas have so far encountered:

Department of Arkansas Heritage put a great deal of time, money
and effort into trying to make a trade school work. Despite all that, it
did not succeed. The department has no plans to try to do it again, and
any further dialogue with you on this subject would not change that. [Melissa Whitfield]

I have been thinking about what does work. For years, Little Rock had a perfect example in Becky Witsell. When I visited there in 2007, her studio was involved in restoring the doors and floor-cloths from Lakeport Plantation. She had four or five young workers, all of whom were moving on into graduate school or working as self-employed artisans. Meanwhile, they were earning wages, and acquiring high-level conservation skills.

83. Master and Apprentices*— The fundamental learning situation is one in which a person learns by helping someone who really knows what he is doing.

France has a long history of Guilds and apprenticeship, still providing opportunities for young people. In fact, the Tour de France originated with young men on the journeyman phase of their education taking a walking trip around France, visiting and working in other shops. Germany still has a similar approach to craft education. I have met and worked with several French and German journeymen through timber framing. How about a “Tour de South”?

Markets: There are only a few retail outlets in the state for craft; the Craft Guild shops, Arts Center, Historic Museum, Crystal Bridges, and the seasonal craft fairs. Art galleries focus on 2-D works and modest sculpture, but rarely show furniture or functional craft.
Some years ago, Fine Woodworking had an issue about a venture in New Hampshire, evolved from the Guild of Craftsmen. A selection of furniture makers were invited to participate in a gallery show of their new work. The condition of entry was that the exhibited piece must already have a buyer (not solely speculative). I think there are several levels of incentive in this approach.

The digital landscape has evolved since Heritage’s ill-fated venture at Helena, and it is now practical to manage and market an enterprise with little more than a laptop. Investment in a campus requires massive continuing support (most likely from a private foundation these days), and the classic master-and-apprentice relationship won’t scale into a 30-student classroom.

Old-fashioned thinking about vocational education is just wrong. The fundamental issues are, and always have been, about culture and the development of human capital. As I look at our rural and small-town South, it’s painfully obvious that we are rapidly losing on both fronts.

*A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander et. al.

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Looking for Water

I went for a drive on a recent summer afternoon, looking for a place to fish.  Out of town on Hwy. 45 to Goshen, we passed Twin Bridges, the first possibility.  Headed up Blue Spring Road, there are several places to access Beaver Lake, but it was hot and windy and I thought the river would be better.  No access at the hwy. 45 bridge over War Eagle Creek, so we turned back and took a dirt road around Hindsville, ending up at the old WPA bridge on hwy.  412 east of Huntsville.

The pool below the bridge is deep, heavily fished, fairly clean.  Further down, in clean shoal water I caught sunfish and found a big healthy mussel.  Chippy ran the riverbank, splashed and swam until he was tired out.  I figured out that the paddle blade slips under the foot brace or the seat and I can push upstream in really shallow water with very little effort and lots of control.  I honestly think I could live on a small river like this.

Back in the mid-70’s, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, for a while.  Part of a series of misadventures that had begun with me joining the National Guard to avoid Vietnam, then joining the Army to escape the tedium of monthly drills and dead-end jobs.  Summertime in Columbus, Georgia, with a broken car, I found a bicycle shop and soon had a nice used ten-speed.

Not too far outside town, a likely-looking creek enticed me to wade upstream casting a fly for panfish.  Within minutes, I was beyond the sounds and sight of “civilization” and marveling at the huge tulip poplars.  Realizing that a relatively undisturbed natural world could be found nearly within a stone’s throw of four-lane America helped to keep me what still passes for sane.

There, and in many other places I have found that people just don’t bother to explore upstream.  Following old roadways, stream crossings are often at a relatively shallow place in the river, where they could be forded by oxen or wagons.  Where there were no accessible shallows, ferries came into being.  The place names are often still used.  What we seem to miss entirely is how often streams actually were the roadways, river bottoms the smoothest and most reasonable routes for foot traffic, small boats moving easily through slow currents and shallow water.

IMG_0324Looking at John Singer Sargent’s Under the Willows, then out of the gallery at Crystal Bridges®, I was struck by the irony that the water there is inaccessible by design.  No shallow edges, no punts floating lazily beneath willows, just water and lots of concrete and glass.


Fisher Ford, on the Illinois River near Siloam Springs, is a Walton™-financed effort to bring more people into contact with water.  Lots of concrete again, weeping willows and lazy punts are nowhere to be seen.  Fisher Ford apparently caters to a sort of high-tech athleticism, excellent for beating upstream in roto-molded plastic kayaks, but certainly not very relaxing.


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Mending Fences

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”  Maya Angelou

As an artisan, the tools and materials you work with are concrete and finite, predictable and dependable. Humans can be capricious, contradictory, vain, temperamental, and (occasionally) refreshingly decent.  Some people just are not honest, and neither handshake nor contract will make it so. If you do succeed in dragging them up to the line, they will forever damn you with faint praise. One of the most insidious manipulations is essentially a twist on the classic victim-persecutor-rescuer triangle in which the disappointed patron switches from loyal supporter to victim of the artisan’s bid for independence. [Don’t hesitate to use your wand, a stupefying spell works wonders here.]

This morning at the Farmers’ Market, I came across several people that I have fallen out with over the years.  Individuals whom I no longer trust to be fair-minded or whose affect is so consistently cynical or sarcastic that their company became intolerable.  Do other people have similar experiences when they live someplace for a really long time, or is it just that I expect too much?  Several of these folks have a substantial improvement to their homes at my expense, and they’ve never made the first move to compensate me.  The others have for a short time made work less than enjoyable, and I’ve done with them.

A meeting of the minds requires effort from both sides.  Eye contact, a smile, an open heart.  Forgive, don’t forget.  “…good fences make good neighbors.”  Several years ago, I was thrown into a living and working arrangement with Clay O’Reilly, a zealous follower of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program.  Not ordinarily a drinker, contrariness moved me to buy a six-pack, go to the lakefront dock and work out tunes on my guitar.  Clay came down later, and told me this story [he was from Arizona, and had married into a Navajo family]:

“I set out for a walk one morning with my brothers-in-law. We came across a break in the fence, and I started back the way we had come to fetch some tools.  A short way down the road, they called me back to resume our walk.  Having found some pieces of wire and a couple of sticks, they had mended the fence.  Just like that.  You learn to work with what comes to hand.”

This summer I replaced our sewer line, after years of living with clogged drains and litigious, entitled neighbors. I seem to have so little in common with these people, but managed to begin mending fences. We share boundaries, love dogs, fly-fishing, and enjoy a certain pride of place. We just won’t talk about politics: immigration, rights of minorities, rise of the capitalist oligarchy, excesses of US foreign policy, inexorable decline of democracy, or the systematic destruction of public education. For now. For now, the plumbing works and I haven’t precipitated a lawsuit.

In the early 90’s, I spent a winter in Maine working for a struggling publication called Joiners’ Quarterly.  We rarely published on time, payroll was irregular as well. The housing market had taken a dive in the late 80’s leaving the owner/editor/publisher financially embarrassed.  Irate building clients, hungry creditors (his father-in-law among them), and a litany of subscribers’ complaints occupied most of his time.  I took to visiting a local roadside diner, where I fell into a conversation with one of the patrons. Something on the order of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” ensued, and I had a minor epiphany:  all small towns are essentially alike, everybody knows everybody, they have all had dealings, and some people can only be trusted if you are willing to work at keeping them honest.  Caveat emptorCaveat Artisan!

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The Parthenon Enigma

“Thus, over the course of the fifth century, a new Athenian identity emerges, one carefully constructed to glorify Athens and incite fear in the hearts of its enemies.  The trappings (and overreach) of empire continued to bloat Athenian self-regard.  Still, it must be said that the picture that Athens consistently projected of itself–in funeral orations, speeches in the law courts, dramatic performances, and the sculptures of the Parthenon–stands in contrast to the self-image expressed by other cities.  We continually hear from the Athenians about their exceptionalism, how they are resilient, competitive, aggressive, quick but thoughtful in action, innovative, aesthetically aware, and open to engaging outsiders on the world stage.  And many non-Atnenians accepted this characterization…”

Joan Breton Connelly, The Parthenon Enigma Knopf 2014

This is a brief comment in a fascinating work about the interpretation of the Parthenon’s sculptural frieze, much of which has been looted by Lord Elgin and others.  It is in part an eloquent plea that the pieces be restored to their home, and a magnificent contribution to our understanding of classical Greece.  It just struck me as ironic that the Athenians appear to have been as vain, contradictory, and self-serving as Americans today.  Exceptionalism…Hubris!


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