Category Archives: Fatherhood

Christmas Barn

 

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Amidst all the holiday gift-giving, certain gifts stand, gifts of more than things but also of the heart.  My son Hyrum’s gift to his sister Hannah was one such gift, a gift to always remember. Hyrum (14) conceived of the idea, drew the idea, and saved his money for the materials. Together we engineered the structure, bought the materials, and began construction.  His gift: a miniature barn with hinged roof.  This series of photographs shows each step of the construction process, culminating with Hannah (10) opening her gift on Christmas morning.  I think of Hyrum’s gift as a miracle gift, for he gave part of himself along with the present.

The base frame, 18″ x 18″, allowing for a two-story central main building with an attached lean-to on each side.

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Adding posts to support the main barn roof.

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Completing the barn and lean-to frames.

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The completed frame with the interior floor installed and the wall siding begun.

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Wall siding and lean-to roofing completed with lathe.  The roof frame sit, hinged, on the main barn structure.

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The completed hinged roof frame atop the barn.

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The completed barn, prior to painting.

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Hyrum painting the barn.

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And . . . the completed barn project.

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Most importantly, Hannah on Christmas morning opening her special gift, inside which Hyrum placed a wrapped bucket of perfectly-sized farm animals.

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Hannah’s Christmas barn became my favorite Christmas gift, too.  I enjoyed working with my son for weeks to engineer, construct, paint, and wrap the barn.  I witnessed the joy on my daughter’s face (and on Hyrum’s face) as Hannah opened her special gift.

Life Ethic

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As a boy I collected butterflies. I hunted them, killed them, and mounted them in an impressive display case. I knew their names, their habitats, their habits. Over 100 species. Unhappily, worms destroyed my entire collection. I see now that my youthful intention had been to capture the butterflies’ beautiful essence. I have outgrown my need to capture butterflies. I am content to view them alive and free, awed by their living beauty.

Working in the yard one day I watched my son Brian, then 9 (now 26), chasing a butterfly with a homemade pillowcase net. “I caught it!” he exclaimed. I held my breath as he peered into the net to examine his prize. He soon released the butterfly to live another day. A smile of wonder lingered on his face. I breathed a relieved sigh to see him possess the maturity I had lacked at his age. I had taught him to love beauty. And he had learned. Learned to love beauty without needing to clutch at it, control it, kill it, and mount it on a board, only to lose it in the process. He had learned a Life Ethic. Here is the poem I wrote about that occasion.  (Happy birthday Brian.)

LIFE ETHIC

“I caught it! I caught it!” cried the boy
over my weed-whacker whir
after waving his pole-clamped pillowcase
across the sky.
Two wide eyes and a victory smile
raced to the porch where
two trembling hands
coaxed the delicate creature
through the screened bug-box door.
A bundle of awe,
the boy sat still and stared
at this astonishing bringing-together
of color and form,
at this life.
Father watched from the garden rows,
remembering his own youth’s hunt
for small, helpless prey,
whose fate was to rot
with a pin through the thorax,
and a tag with a name and a date.
But the magical fluttering rainbows had faded
fast behind their showcase.
“Nice catch, son,” father admired
with a pat and a ruffle.
“What are you going to do with him?”
“Well, I think I’ll watch him for a while, and
then I’ll let him go.”
Good boy, father sighed, as
a boy released his heart’s hold and
a captive rainbow again
graced the sky.

(I took the above photo of a Milbert’s Tortoise Shell in 2007 on the banks of Duck Lake in the high Uinta Mountains of Utah.)

No Diving

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Photo by Liddy Mills

I live in an apartment now.  My children come to visit.  Mostly I am alone.  But I have books, music, poetry, crock-pot dinners . . . and a hot tub.  My children and I sit in the roiling 110-degree water even when the ambient air is 20 degrees F, and the steam has condensed in frozen icicles hanging from the hot tub railing.  We talk about life, their soccer goals and rugby tries, sore muscles, ornery pimples, church dances, dates and the prom, stubborn cowlicks and bad haircuts, good books, good movies, hopes and dreams.  We flex our biceps and splash steaming water at each other and laugh.  Sometimes after work I soak alone, watch the steam rise, and write a poem.

NO DIVING

in the hot tub
three feet deep
no diving sign in the tile
ice clings to the chrome railing
steam, and contemplations,
billowing, billowing

Wood Lamp: Stone

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Stone by Hyrum Baker

Though made of wood, Hyrum and I thought Stone a good name for this little gem of a lamp, perfect for an end-table or night-stand.  Stained a dark Jacobean, we thought its swirls reminiscent of cooling magma on some ancient volcanic seashore.  Note the brass electrical tube wound tightly with jute twine.

This was one of our early wood lamp projects, before we embarked on more ambitious projects like Waves and Smoke, both masterpieces envisioned by Hyrum (then 12).  Waves sold for $500.

Along with Reach, we traded Stone for in-kind services, provided by my journeyman friend Justin, to power my chicken-coop studio.  We had set the price at $145.

Wood Lamp: Little Guy

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Little Guy by John Baker

Not all of Baker Brothers lamps are large (like Dolphin and Grace) or ornate (like Smoke and Waves).  Some are small and simple, but still beautiful, like Little Guy, pictured above.  Made from a fairly flat piece of drift wood, it resembles a small floating barc.  A decorative stone placed just so balances the lamp perfectly on the wood’s natural three contact points (don’t worry–it won’t fall over without the stone, just tip slightly, as if riding a wave).  The brass tube containing the wire and holding the shade is wrapped with jute twine for a rustic, seafaring look.

Little Guy can accompany you on your next maritime imagination adventure for $180, proceeds to fund the Bakers brothers’ attendance at the National Boy Scout Jamboree and their college funds.  (An assortment of lamp shades is available.)

Wood Lamp: Grace

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Grace

The piece of driftwood that became the lamp Grace leaned against my shed for about a decade, a temporary decoration with which I might do something someday.  It joined my other decorations, antiques, hanging from the shed by nails, though the wood lay on the ground, frequently obscured by weeds and grass.

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This lamp posed the special challenge of mounting its lithe and twisting form to the base.  At first I used a single nut and bolt, with washers at each end.  But no matter how tight, the lamp still wobbled.  Eventually, after staining and wiring, I added another bolt, and the lamp now stands firm like a ship’s mast to a ship.  While drilling such a lamp for wire would normally be a challenge, only minimal drilling was required.  The wire follows mostly natural cracks running down the back of the wood.

At 4.5 feet tall, a possible companion piece to Hyrum’s lamp Dolphin (4 feet even), we suggest a value for this lamp of $850.

Not just my sons have raised money for the National Boy Scout Jamboree.  I join them in both the fund-raising and the scouting efforts.  I attended in 2013 as an assistant scoutmaster, one of four men accompanying a troop of 36 Boy Scouts.  I will attend again in 2017 in the same role.  I am pictured here with my sons John and Caleb, in the Salt Lake City International airport, exhausted but happy after our three-week adventure.

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I will post pictures and stories of additional wood lamps soon.

Wood Lamp: Dolphin

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Dolphin by Hyrum Baker

Hyrum (14) and I have worked on Dolphin for the better part of a year.  This lamp began as an unassuming piece of weathered drift wood, distinguished by its beaver chew marks at both ends.

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Not owning an air compressor (yet), Hyrum devised an ingenious, low-cost method of cleaning the wood of sand and dust: a bicycle pump fitted with a ball needle.  Quite effective.

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Drilling this piece of wood, 48 inches from nose-tip to tail, was a challenge, due both to the length and the twisting curves of the wood.  We bored several holes with a long 5/16″ bit, then enlarged the holes with a 3/8″ bit.  Having the end of one bore meet the beginning of the next bore was indeed a challenge, but we made it work.

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For convenience, we decided to stain the lamp wood laying flat before mounting it to its base.

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With the lamp stained once, we were prepared to mount it to its base.  I learned the hard way on another tall lamp that a single bolt leaves the lamp wobbly, no matter how tight.  So we used two bolts, ratcheting the nuts down hard, with large washers on both ends, and with a little lock nut to keep them tight.  Black caulk filled the holes and covered the bolt heads.  We drilled and routed the base to accommodate the electrical chord.

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The next challenge was to thread the lamp wire through the several angled drill holes.  We first used a coat hangar to thread a length of electrician’s tape through the lamp, then used the tape to pull the wire through the lamp.

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With all the hardware work complete, we now applied more coats of Provincial WiniWax stain, then three coats of gloss polyurethane.  We often use different color stains for the base and the lamp in way that highlights the lamp (see Waves, Smoke, and Reach), but for Dolphin, a floor lamp, we thought using the same color stain for both was more effective.

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(Dolphin, in the final stages, is pictured in the background, with Grace in the foreground, and Smoke looking on from the sidelines.)

With black felt on the bottom and a simple but pretty shade on top, Dolphin is ready to swim into someone’s home.  We suggest a value of $850 for Dolphin (though we are confident that it would fetch more in many boutiques).  As a reminder, Hyrum is making these exotic wood lamps to fund his way to the 2017 Boy Scout National Jamboree, and then to college.

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Making these lamps together, while each one poses its own unique challenges, has been a true father-and-son joy.  I hope to continue our hobby into the future and Hyrum and his brothers become fathers themselves.