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A Fork in the Road

It has been 5 years since I started on this journey. It has been a most enjoyable time. I have made thousands of unique items. Last year alone, my work tripled! This caught me by surprise and come Christmas I was quite overwhelmed. Instead of making 4-5 items a week, I was making 30-40 items a week. Instead of making 12 boxes a year, I made 60 boxes. Now most folks say “That’s great!” or “Congratulations!” and it really is great except for the fact that I can only realistically make 20 items a week. The shop in in shambles and scrap wood and dust are becoming a real issue not to mention a health hazard. So I am constantly falling behind and the waiting list grows longer and longer. These are good problems to have as problems go but I feel bad that I have lost some customers and some orders because I just could not get to everyone on time. My friends and family say “Hire some help!”. I am not sure I could find anyone to work in Chaos the way I do. So what can be done? How can I maintain the hands on personal handmade quality and keep up with increasing demand? There is also the issue of burn out and I am tired and I have neglected some health issues for too long. I have worked 7 days a week for more than 6 months now and I worry that inspiration and passion may wane. Growing pains to be sure.

I have decided that I need to change my ways of working. I have always made each item from start to finish. I need to make multiple items and complete the heavy work (milling, sizing,planning) ahead of time and work from an inventory of plaques and boxes that are ready for assembly, engraving and finishing. In the past I built up an inventory of 10-20 plaques and 6 boxes to prepare for Christmas. These were gone before Thanksgiving and I was back in the catch up game. Perhaps if I have 60-75 plaques and 20 boxes I would be in better shape and would replenish this inventory once a month. This will take some time and much work, not to mention some new tooling,shop layout and storage. Of course this will also mean that special custom sizes will have to be on a “As Available” basis.

Therefore, I have decided to close Fishers Laser Carvers for Remodeling effective May 23rd through September 2nd, 2014. This is to remodel the shop, build an inventory and instal a state of the art dust collection and air filtration system. Tools need sharpened, machines need tune ups and I need a break. This is going to be expensive. I have several new items and new methods in mind. The idea here is not to stop making but expand production. So I am leaving for a little bit. You can still contact me as I will be around. I will return, better able to take care of my wonderful clients in a more timely fashion. In the words of the The Tempos, “I Will See you in September”.

Remembering Marina Keegan

By all accounts, Marina Keegan was an exceptional young woman with a voice for a generation. Just a week after her graduation from Yale she was on her way to Cape Cod when a tragic auto accident stole this precious life away. In a heartbeat, this optimistic and most promising voice of a new generation was silenced. This tragic story was widely covered in the national media including the Times and The New Yorker. For her friends and family this loss is intimate and personal. For all of us the loss of her talent and voice is immeasurable. Her words of hope and optimism are truly inspiring. Maple Plaque

I was contacted by a friend and family of Marina. I was asked to create a remembrance plaque for Marina’s mother. I selected a piece of maple and I decided to frame the plaque with a 3dimensional laser carving of maple leaves. I selected this graphic for two reasons. A very old technique that I have always admired is to reflect a reverence for the tree that provided the wood such as maple leaves as drawer pulls on a maple table or oak leaves or acorns on an oak piece. I will talk more about this in a later entry. The other reason is that blowing leaves are a symbol of fate (leaves in the wind, a leaf on the river, the feather in Forest Gump). It is a charming plaque and my great hope that it may ease those broken hearts that view it.

In August, Marina Keegan’s work Independence opened in New York. The loss will never be over come but Marina’s words and thoughts live on. I never had the pleasure of meeting this young woman but I have read her words and I have engraved her thoughts and I feel very privileged to have done so. This is in memory of a fine young writer and playwright gone too soon.

Peace

George

You can learn more about this remarkable life here.

Proudly made in the United States of America

The 135th Airlift Squadron is one of two flying units of the Maryland Air National Guard. It is based at Warfield Air National Guard Base (Martin State Airport) in Middle River, Maryland. Its parent unit is the 135th Airlift Group. The unit flies the C-27J Spartan.
The 135th Airlift Squadron was organized as the 135th Air Resupply Squadron on September 10, 1955 as part of the 135th Air Resupply Group (now the 135th Airlift Group). When it was organized, it was one of a handful of Air National Guard units nationwide tasked with what was at the time called the air commando mission, which included covert infiltration, resupply and exfiltration of special operations troops. It remained a special operations-type unit until 1971, when it was reorganized as a tactical air support unit. In this role, it was tasked with providing Forward Air Controllers to direct air strikes in support of troops on the ground. In 1977 it was again reorganized, this time as a tactical airlift unit. The 135th Airlift Group was inactivated for two brief periods: 1958-1962, during which time the 135th Airlift Squadron continued to function as independent squadron, and 1996–1999, during which time it reported directly to the 175th Wing.

When I was contacted by the Squadron last year about plaques they issue for deployments, I started researching the logos and missions. These folks are involved all over the world. If we have military somewhere, the Maryland Air National Guard is not far behind. The graphics they provided were too low a resolution to make an effective engraving. 135thAirlift GroupI worked on these for weeks before deciding it was best to just redraw them. I did not want to use a black and white outlines as that would look too much like a rubber stamp. I wanted something more along the lines of a carving. Baltimore's Best InsigniaI should probably explain here that I consider cutting (or more accurately burning into the wood) an engraving and cutting away the background and leaving a design standing as laser carving. What I wanted to do was to replicate color with depth and texture. This is the resulting plaque.

The 135th also uses the designation “Baltimore’s Best”. This insignia was even more of a challenge. It features cross lances on a shield which boasts the Maryland State Flag, which is a fascinating and complicated design.The flag of the state of Maryland consists of the heraldic banner of George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore. It is the only state flag in the United States to be based on English heraldry. It took me about 12 different designs and 20 (yes, 20) tests runs to find that combination of deeply cut but not too deep and crisply cut lines. It is a heraldry insignia and the motto “Baltimore’s Best” was adopted in 1987 as a result of the unit being recognized by the Best in Baltimore committee the same year.

I do not think I have ever worked so hard on simple plaques. For reasons I am at a loss to explain, I considered this task most important. The squadron sent me an Arm patch in appreciation which is quickly becoming one of my most prized processions. I enjoyed working with these wonderful and brave Americans. I must say if we ever get into a real scrape, I want them on my side.

I had finished all of the plaques (I made a big batch) and was preparing to wrap them when at the very last minute, I decided to engrave the backs with “proudly made in the U.S.A.” After this experience, I really must say, “I sleep better at night, knowing the 135th and the entire 175th is over head”. May God Bless them all and keep them safe.

Peace

George

Another year with Fishers Laser Carvers

I have just finished and delivered my 500th plaque since I have been on this journey. It was a tumultuous season. Illness and family illness (nothing dire just irratating) prevented me from being as prepared as I needed to be. However, with some late nights and complaining I managed to ship 60 items. hymn plaqueSome very touching and powerful in the personal messages they contain. This once again reminded me of the task of creating these little simple things that touch hearts and send a sentiment. It always gives me pause.prayer plaque

From the special rushed package from one of our boys in Afghanistan to his wife or the simple children’s prayer remembered from long ago, these little pieces of wood attempt to say something. This is an ancient thing. I have been laboring at this for some time and it still pleases and amazes me to have a small part in this process.

We live in a world filled with division and turmoil. The news speaks daily of the angst and fear that people feel in dealing with this uncertainty. I think we need to remind ourselves at this time of year that all are just people. They get their hearts broken, they lose loved ones, they celebrate births, they struggle with jobs and money, they have trials and tribulations and it is not hard in the hustle and bustle of everyday life for folks to start thinking that they don’t matter. They feel as leafs on a river. Well they do matter! I think perhaps that just the reminder that Jesus loves them and I love them can make a burden a little less heavy or a joy a little more memorable. In my poor way I like to think that I play a small part in delivering these messages.Plaque

I received a letter from a customer who wrote; “I can’t begin to tell you what your work has done for me. I was going through one of the worst times in my life and in my hands was the beautiful plaque you made for me. I held the wood and read the words and I began to feel a little better. Don’t ever think that what you do doesn’t matter. I will cherish this always.”

This is my reward. The government and insurance companies take the rest.

Merry Christmas Everyone

George

The Arrow of Light for the Fishers, Indiana Scouts

The Arrow of Light is one of the most prized awards in scouting. It represents a cub scout’s completion of all requirements and the entry into the Boy Scouts. If you have never attended a Blue and Gold banquet, believe me when I tell you it is a very big deal.

Arrow of lightI was a cub scout and a boy scout. I was really into the scouting experience. This is where I first learned to play with knives and axes. We slept outside and learned to build fires. We hiked with the military at Wright Paterson Air Force base. We even camped out in the snow. Of course we also made pictures from macaroni and paper plates and sold a lot of pop corn. Some of my very first woodworking was making pine wood derby cars. If any of this makes sense to you or is similar in your experience, then you know the arrow of light is a transitional moment in a young scouts life.

When I was approached with the idea of making award plaques for the local scouts, I was more than happy to do so. The scout master stopped by and we started making little samples to select a design. The he threw a curve ball at me. How to attach the arrows. Arrows? What arrows? Now it is often customary that the scout receive an arrow head as a symbol of becoming a man. The leaders wanted to mount arrows on the plaque. They were planning to screw cup hooks into my plaques or maybe just holes to tie a string or pegs. I had viewed several similar awards on the internet and they just didn’t seem right to me. I had not really planned on making racks instead of plaques. Now I had to figure out how to mount them. I remembered my vow, “I promise to do my best”, from so many years ago.

Arrow Og Light plaqueNow just off the back of my little basement shop is an unfinished little room. This is where the furnace and water heater reside and there is a wash basin( it is also the laundry room) where I often clean up tools or wash things off. I was standing at the basin looking up when I saw the copper pipes suspended with plastic pipe holders. Hmmmmm, pipes are round and about the same size as an arrow. I wonder. I took one of the pipe holders off the beam (yes I now have a dangling pipe held with a coat hanger) and traced it onto a piece of wood. This might just work.

I fabricated the little holders and mounted them on the plaques with dowels wedged from the back.. These hold the arrow not unlike a gun rack. I thought to myself, “Wow” I just got a lousy cardboard certificate when I passed through!”. But sour grapes aside, I think the boys were pleased. I hope it means more to them later in life than it does now. I rather imagine it will mean the most when their sons reach the same and this is how it should be. Tradition, handed down from father to son, the unbroken cycle in the walk of life. This is the Arrow of Light.

Peace

George

Support your local Scouts!

You will never use that!

During my career in the corporate world the question of education came up from time to time. When I disclosed that my degree was in theology and religion I used to get some pretty strange looks and more than a few questions. “How did you get from religion to sales?” or “What went wrong?”, “Did you fall from grace?”, I would be asked. I had one immediate superior who wrote in my retirement letters ” A degree in theology! Are you kidding me?”. He once told me that he thought this was a waste. “You will never use that knowledge!”
Now, I must admit, the use of ancient greek or latin or archeology seldom came up in the industrial sales game. Not many of my customers knew or especially cared about my educational background and I am fairly certain that no one bought from me because of it. Still, I always bristled at that thought that all education is merely vocational training. There was a time when the study of the humanities, as it called back when dragons roomed the earth, that religion and the arts and the humanities were a prerequisite for all advanced studies. One could not think properly or be morally grounded without being versed in the wisdom of the ages. Of course this was in the days before Wikipedia and the internet. They are right. There is probably no practical application for my unusual history.

Recently, I was contacted by a client who was desirous of a plaque that held the word Hupomeno. She stated that she had heard this word in a sermon and it had come to hold special significance in their family. The word Hupomeno appears more than 20 times in the New Testament. It generally translated as “patience or perseverance”. However, the word has more of a connotation of active waiting and anticipation. In modern vernacular I would translate it as “Keep the Faith” or “Hang in there baby”. Given the fact that the first century church was in pesecution, this is altogher understandable. Because of this meaning of “active anticipation” it is one of those ancient words that has become an iconic symbol for many, particularly evangelical churches. Maranatha (Come Lord Jesus) is another such word, but that is a different plaque. I suggested that we make the plaque in the original greek. “You can do that?”, my client exclaimed. Yes I can do that. This made for a quite unique and interesting piece of work.

It was strange that during the same week I received a phone call from another client who had seen my “Ebenezer” plaque. He was searching for this in Hebrew and wondered if I could do that. Yes I can do that. Now it has been a long time since I studied any hebrew and I never was good at it. Ebenezer plaqueThe last time I interpreted any hebrew, there were no cell phones or any such thing as the internet and computer was that big thing at the Pentagon. But I found this interesting and decided to give it a go. Now, keep in mind that this is actually two words combined in hebrew and of course it is written from right to left. The word is from 1 Samuel and means “Thus far the Lord has helped us”. This name was given to a rock by Samuel that marked the spot of God’s victory over the Philistines. This is another ancient word that has become an iconic symbol of faith. I liked the fact that the simple design to the plaque also gives testimony to the origins of the word.

In my adventure that has become Fishers Laser Carvers, I have been able to revisit the wisdom of my education. I continue to happily revisit the great thinkers and wisdom of the ancients. There is a great need in our world today for wisdom and words of Jesus, Gandhi, Tolstoy, Buddha, Thoreau ,Jefferson, Blake and Burke. As I continue to write my life’s story I think often of the words “You will never use that knowledge!” The Lord does work in mysterious ways.

Peace

George

Veterans Day

I wanted to make something for Veterans Day. I am not a veteran but I am proud to say I am the son of a veteran. A very proud veteran, I might add and rightfully so. Our country has no greater possession than our young people who demonstrate such a sense of sacrifice and such valor that moves us, or should move us, to tears. Valor is a very special thing. It is the ultimate expression of love. “A man has no greater love than to lay down his life for another”. It is impossible for anyone who has not served in the military to completely understand this. Valor requires a complete surrender of self for another. There is, in my opinion, no greater human act. Considering that our country has a volunteer service makes this sacrifice all the more poignant.

MacArtheu Plaque

I often confuse my friends and family with my views on this. They say, “But George, you are always the first to speak for peace!”. You disdain war and are usually among the first to shout ‘Bring them Home!”. “Yet you also go on and on about your admiration of veterans and the military. How can this be?”

These are good questions and does seem to be an apparent contradiction. I think it is because I so admire valor. This most precious commodity and sense of sacrifice is so precious and so valuable that it should never be wasted. The sacrifice of the best of us, should always be most heavily questioned, least it become ill spent. Valor should never be for some ill conceived enterprise, or vague political motive and certainly not on spotty intelligence or hasty decisions. If one is to spend the lives of those whose love and higher sense of sacrifice are willing, then this should be only after all other options have failed. Those of us who came of age during the Viet Nam war struggled with this question. The wasted valor and ill fated use of our brave young men during that time haunts me still. However, I could never help but admire those who, when called, stepped up. I will probably go on being a contradiction.

I am reminded of the words from the movie “The Karate Kid” who when asked why train to fight the answer was “So I do not have to fight.” One should not confuse respect for the military with a love of war. By like token, one should not confuse the love of peace with lack of courage or disdain for the sacrifice made by others. I will continue to urge our leaders to weigh carefully the sacrifice asked, because brave young Americans will, God bless them, never hesitate to make it.

I selected these words from the farewell address of General MacArthur, given at West Point. I have always found this a most moving speech and should be considered, along with the Gettysburg address, as one of the great speeches in American lore. The seal is a deeply carved Seal of the United States Army. This is a tribute to all of our Veterans from a lover of peace. To all who stand on a wall or drive the bomb laden roads or gallantly rush into whatever gore may be required, I have only the highest admiration and gratitude. To those who serve and have served, Thank you, God Bless You and your families and God Bless the United States of America.

George

G’day Mate

It has been a challenge and great fun for me to make so many personalized plaques this year. Some are funny, some are touching, all are intensely personal. We have just added a new page to the website under the new tab “Personalized Plaques” where you can view a few of the many custom plaques I have made. The wonder of the world wide web is that I get to correspond with people from all over the world. I have shipped to Canada and Ireland and Great Britain. Recently, I received a request from Australia.

My customer wanted a plaque that stated “David’s cooking, as always, can be mystifying!”. I do not know if this is a good comment on the cooking skills of David or ill, however I thought it interesting. The problem was going to be shipping. This is just about as far as I can ship an item. Any further and it would be coming back! Shipping to Australia via UPS or Fed Ex would cost so much, the shipping would far exceed the value of the plaque. I inquired about sending it via the U.S. International mail. This was going to be about $16. So we decided to give it a go. The plaque was made and packaged and I faithfully took it to the Post Office to fill out the customs paperwork. They informed me this would take about 10 days.

Twenty days later, I received an email from my customer stating that he had not received his plaque. “Rats!” I thought.mystic cook plaque I went to the Post Office to inquire, fearing they had dropped it somewhere in the Pacific. The nice lady at the Post Office informed me that it had been delivered to Australian Customs 10 days ago and she advised that I call them. I did. It seems many packages get held up in Customs these days. The recent terrorist activity combined with the economic cut backs has really stressed these already over burdened agencies. I started wondering if the terrorist’s real plan is simply to bankrupt us. Making it so expensive to defend against them that we will just give up. If so, I think they are sadly mistaken. Of course, they are crazy anyway.I resigned myself to thinking, “Oh well, I can just refund the purchase and say I tried.” After all, I would only be out the $25 it took to make it and the $15 in shipping. This would not be the end of the world.

Yesterday, I received a happy email from Australia! My customer received their plaque and like it a lot! “Whew”, I thought. I never really intended to become an international man of mystery, involved in the intrigue of international customs laws and security, but here I am. One never knows where a journey will lead. Now I have a new friend in Brisbane.

Peace

George

Snowy’s Box

Snowy was a labrador retriever, who for 17 years dwelt in this place sharing a life of love, devotion and loyalty. The gentle nuzzle at the end of a long day or the playful antics in uncompromising expression of joy, endeared Snowy to the people who shared this unique life. When Snowy died this year there was a great void in the hearts of those who felt so privileged to have participated in this life. They mourned. They missed their friend and devoted companion.Snowy
I have always been a keeper of dogs. I can’t imagine being without dogs. They teach us so much with their ability to unconditionally love and constant willingness to share their lives with us. I have lost faithful petted friends and I know the sorrow that comes when they leave us. So when the friends of Snowy contacted me about a little keepsake box to hold the cremated remains for their departed friend, I was a bit reluctant. I felt I was putting them off. “I have several large commissions right now”, “I could not possibly get to you for 6 weeks”, I would say. All the while actually meaning I was not sure my skills were fit for such a task. They kept insisting and so I decided to send some rough drawings and ideas. unfinished box
One day in the mail I received a letter with a deposit for a small keepsake box and the assurance that time was not a factor. They just desired something special and wanted it made by me. I must admit I am susceptible to flattery so I agreed to take the commission. This began a series of correspondence that brought me into the world of these wonderful people.
As I started working on the piece, hand planing the cherry or sawing little dovetails, I thought of my past friends. I thought of Spooky, my childhood dog who ran along beside me on my paper route or Muffin who was always there throughout my high school and college days always patiently waiting at the window. I thought of Lady, our black cocker spaniel, my daughters puppy and my wife’s constant companion. I remember how Michelle mourned for weeks when Lady died. I thought of Kelsey, our current dog who came to live with us and helped ease our loss. As I started to carefully shape the little legs on the box, I thought about how Kelsey is now 11 years old and having trouble with her hips and I worried. I remembered when I had heart surgery and Kelsey refused to go to her bed but stayed under my feet for six weeks. At times, standing at the bench, chisel in hand I would find tears in my eyes.
Box on bench
Slowly, the box began to take shape. I could not decide on a shape for the top. I think I made about 4 attempts, working through the process of design James Krenov called “composing”. “This is too heavy”, or “This is too flat”, finally arriving at a shape that seemed to please the overall shape. I wanted this box to be something special, something precious, something carefully and thoughtfully made. Everyday throughout the summer, I would toil on the little box filled with anxiety over mistakes, realizing this was not a box, it is a monument. This needed to be a chest for something very precious.

Snowy's Box
I chose for the engraving:

“I thought of you with love today but that is nothing new
I thought about you yesterday and days before that too.
I think of you in silence, I often speak your name.
All I have are memories and a picture in a frame.
Your memory is a keepsake, with which I’ll never part.
God has you in his keeping, I have you in my heart”
Beloved Friend
Snowy

The care and love of our fellow creatures brings us in touch with our humanity. It has been said that “Compassion is the basis of all morality”. If this be so, then dogs may be here to teach us about ourselves, a constant reminder that love may be unconditional and devotion and joy is life. This life that enriched us for 17 years, enriches us still. I know I have been moved and touched. I have been changed. I felt a bit sad when the time came for the little box to leave and make it’s way home. I knew I would miss it. I am a better person for having the privilege to share with these wonderful people and in a small way participate in this unique life that was Snowy. Snowy continues to give and share in that unique way that at times only dogs seem to know. This is Snowy’s box.

Peace

George

September 11

Tomorrow is September 11th. It has been a busy summer. I am finding it hard to believe that September is here. I think it appropriate to take a moment and pause and reflect. I remember September 11, 2001 as being a beautiful fall day here in the midwest. One of those days that makes you think that all is right with the world. Then it happened.

Much has changed since that gorgeous fall day, but I like to think that we haven’t changed. I made this plaque with words from President Bush, which I think were some of the most heartfelt and sincere words I ever read. Bush Speech The quote reads;
“I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, because history
can deliver sudden horror from a soft autumn sky.
I have found you better know what you believe,
or risk being tossed to and fro by the flattery of friends
or the chorus of critics.
I’ve been grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from my parents:
Respect every person, do your best, live every day to it’s fullest.
And I’ve been strengthened by my faith and humbled by its
reminder that my life is part of a much bigger story”

We are not a perfect people. Our leaders are not perfect people. The great wonder that is The United States of America is that we still believe we can be perfect. We argue about it, debate it, fight over it, always reaching, always in “pursuit” of that more perfect union. Other cultures seek a state of being. We seek a state of becoming and that makes us great. I am working on a commemorative September 11 plaque for September 11th. I have not finished it but here is the design. I found it very interesting that The Star Spangled Banner” asks a question. It does not make a declaration, the author is wondering if it could be possible after such a bombardment(the 19th century version of shock and awe) if the symbol of the idea called America could possibly survive. It waves! The symbol of freedom and self determination still waves. The hope and light for the world still waves! The banner of the right of people to pursue their own happiness and beliefs still waves! It has been rough at times. We have struggled and we are still struggling. Battered and torn, poorer and bruised, troubled and worried the banner still waves.

We may never reach perfection. We may never have a time when we do not disagree. We may never vanquish all of our enemies. We will continue to believe. The Star Spangled Banner yet waves o’er the land of the free and home of the brave. God Bless us all and God Bless the United States of America.

George

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