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The Church of John Deere

Date added: 07-04-2008

We have this lovely young woman from Kenya working for us. She is very interesting, very serious, and very religious. She goes to church every week. She believes. I think it’s wonderful. She asked me once if I would be going to church on Sunday. I replied that I would be in fact attending church, the church of John Deere. English being a second language for her, as well as her youth working against her, she did not understand me.
I have a 790 John Deere tractor with a model 70 loader on the front. Now, this should not be confused with a lawn or garden tractor. We call our riding lawn mower that cuts the grass the mow-mow, taken from our neighbors two year old. My “tractor” weighs about 2500 pounds, is diesel fueled, and has a 30 hp engine. Watch me roar, argh, argh, argh…………….
I find a tremendous amount of mental relief while running my tractor. After a bad day, I have been known to spend 6-8 hours running the tractor, digging holes, moving rocks, grading the driveway, hauling firewood, moving old stumps, and the like. It’s where I do my thinking, escaping, dreaming, and praying. Sometimes I just drive up the driveway and back to sort of get away for a few minutes. I will get myself re-centered, and remind myself of how fortunate I am in this life, and how grateful I should be for what I have. We all have a place like this that we go to from time to time. Where is your place?

Plant Germination Stand

Date added: 24-03-2008

Well, here is the finished plant germination stand. This photo shows the cleats and pocket screws used to construct the stand. This view is the inside area where the “tray” goes. so all the screw holes are concealed by the plastic liner in the tray.

Here I am in my home shop soing the final assembly (Erika took the picture). Notice the wood stove on the left. Keeps us nice and toasty during those long winter days working out there.

I put 10 four lamp bulbs in the shop. It’s very bright in there, as the picture shows.


Here’s a photo of the finished unit. I did some nice wire management down the back leg, so it’s very clean. The lamps are set up on a timer. See my babies…..tomatoes and peppers. As of today, the tomatoes are 10″ tall.

If you would like some information on this project, leave me a comment. Thanks. Mark

Chicken Divan

Date added: 24-03-2008

My lovely wife is the “exclusive” caterer for Hardwood Artisans. This all began several events ago when we had what I considered poor quality catering by another group. She interjected that she could do much better, more personalized, more quantity, for less. This became a perfect match for the company. We required her services for the Chantilly open house we had this past Saturday.
So, in my personal life I need to aid and support my catering wife. I do this by cooking and cleaning up for her during these events. It is, after all, the least I can do (the very least, guys). Normally, the house is all tore up and she’s in a baking frenzy. Last night, I came home to find out that all the baking was done. Most of the dishes were cleaned. Wow. All I had to do was cook. Erika left to go see the neighbors’ white calf that isn’t feeding properly, but that’s another story.
I made chicken divan for dinner. I have made this dish since we were newlyweds, back in a one bedroom apartment in Fairfax. I make three things: spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and chicken divan. And of course I’m the grill master, but Erika doesn’t consider that cooking. The mac and cheese is marginal cooking as well.
When she came home she said she could have bet me money that I’d be making chicken divan. Well sure, since I only cook one thing with chicken, duh. For me, the chicken divan is a comfort food. I love these kinds of simple foods. Erika gets so mad at me. She’ll spend hours making some fancy dinner that is quite good, but throw together some curry in twenty minutes and I think it’s great. The time consuming stuff seldom gets the “great” comment. I think this drives her crazy, but she resists accepting that the simple things in life are often times the best.

Plant Germination Stand And The Brain

Date added: 21-03-2008

About 15 years ago, I made a seed starter station from some plans out of one of those how-to magazines. You know the kind I mean, with florescent lights and liners for the trays to hold the soil medium and seeds to start their germination. This worked out fine for our initial garden measuring 8’ x 8’. Well, since then, we have outgrown its capacity and need to make an additional one for the 80 tomato and 80 hot pepper plants, and the dozens of annuals regularly grown from seed now. The new planting station has become an easy and fun project that my wife and I have enjoyed working on together. Perhaps you need one.

Some simple tools and supplies would be needed to complete this project. A miter saw, a cordless drill with drivers and countersinks, and a pocket screw jig (like a Kreg Jig), glue, screws, some 3/8” luan, wood, and of course lights.

The entire project is just glued and screwed together. We have been working on this now for several weeks, doing bits here and there. I’ve taken some photos of the progression. I should have a finished piece, complete with lighting, done by next week.

Erika does all my cutting, the product of having built a house together, so she started out cutting the vertical parts, and then the cross members at the ends. A funny thing happened about half way through the project. She got confused about the orientation of a board. I explained to her how I wanted the placement, and she stared sort of blankly at me and asked “How do you think this stuff through like this?” I just laughed, because I have always known that my brain processes thoughts and images far differently than hers. She, for example, can visualize colors. I cannot, but I can build and de-construct a coffee table stick by stick in my head. Odd thing, that there brain.

If you would like some specifics on the actual construction, post a comment with your email address and I’d be happy to send you some mildly confusing parts lists and instructions…..some assembly required.

Spring in the Air

Date added: 10-03-2008

The daffodils are poking their little green shoots up through the leaves all around me at the house. This is a very special time for me. My wife, Erika, gets so happy when the first signs of spring arrive. So, for me, the first sign of spring means seeing the joy in my wife’s eyes. This all sounds a little overdramatized, but you need to keep in mind that we have planted several hundred bulbs each year for the last six years. There are probably over a thousand little green shoots poking up. In just a few weeks, the property will be overflowing with flowers……..

The Best And The Worst Day

Date added: 28-02-2008

The best and worst day of a man’s life. No, regardless of popular belief, it’s not when you buy and sell a boat. It’s not the day you’re married and the day you’re divorced. It’s when your television set blows up. Every man hopes this day will come, this one in particular. The only thing that makes this day bad is the fight for the money you will need to pry out of your wife’s (well manicured) hands. But you will prevail. Darwin made sure of that.

I had the blessing/misfortune of having the picture go crazy on my 52” high definition projection TV. Yes, while it’s only 6 years old, for some reason, it decide to go out on me (thanks to that ice pick – I’m kidding honey, love you).

The immediate response – buy new, and bigger. Fix this one? No way. This is a disposable society, right? I’m helping the economy. It’s good for America for me to chuck this one into the landfill and get the newest and greatest and biggest. Actually, I don’t subscribe to any of this, except the newest, greatest, and biggest idea. I am, after all, still just a man. It’s a genetic thing. You ladies wouldn’t understand.

In all seriousness, when we decided to buy this TV, I knew it wasn’t the one for us. We settled on it due to price. The plasma and LCD TV’s were still double the price. The decision was to settle. And I’ve been unhappy ever since. She wanted a cabinet around the TV, but at 27”deep, the case would be prohibitively ugly. Sure, I’ve done it before, but never really loved the end result. The slim line TV’s can lend themselves much better to case designs that don’t look like refrigerator boxes. So, we have been living with a giant TV in the room, and the stereo and assorted components stacked up on an old nightstand. Sound familiar?

I’m so excited, and not over the new TV that will be coming next week (but that doesn’t hurt), but to finally get order in my electronics life. You know, the rat’s nest of wires you try to hide behind the big black thingy over there (that you’re not sure does what). The idea of having a cabinet that will hold all this stuff, and the idea of me not only being willing, but happy to sort out the bundle of wires, is thrilling.

The point I’m trying to make I guess is that life is too short to settle for less than what you want. Sometimes, we need to be a little wasteful. Throw out that old cabinet, or donate it, even though there really is nothing wrong with it. If it fails to enrich your life, why have it? It becomes worth less than worthless because it occupies space in your life and mind that should be otherwise occupied with thoughts of ice cream and sugar plums. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea.

I do subscribe to not being wasteful, and finding ways to re-use, recycle, and replenish all things. I will come to some clever conclusion of what to do with this beast of a TV…….later. For now, I see its demise as a mechanism for me to get my life enhanced and simplified. New TV. New cabinet. Professionally done wire management. Thank you, Lord. The end of one thing really is the beginning of another. I’ve already begun designing the case. I’ll keep you posted.

Service

Date added: 24-02-2008

I’ve always thought the service we offer at Hardwood Artisans to be unsurpassed. But I’ve recently learned that even we can improve. I didn’t experience the ultimate in service anywhere locally; I found it half way around the world in Southeast Asia and throughout the entire journey there.

My wife and I have been amassing airline miles for years, in hopes that one day we could take a dream vacation. But life gets in the way of living and we never got around to planning our trip until faced with the possibility of the miles expiring. She and I, being the products of frugal ancestors from the Old Country, could not let that happen. So we finally decided upon our itinerary that was partially based on figuring how far we could travel in first and business class. The results: Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia.

Being a working stiff, I’ve only flown economy class and never realized the level of service in premium classes was so different. We were especially impressed with the Asia-based airlines. We were greeted by name, offered drinks before we even had a chance to sit down, and served food on stylish china. I think if we’d asked to be tucked in for the night, we would have been happily obliged. The flight attendants were always smiling and acted as if pleasing us was their goal in life. For months I was dreading the longest leg of the trip, the fourteen and half hour flight between Vancouver and Hong Kong. But after being wined and dined, pampered and coddled, I felt like I never wanted to leave the plane.

Little did I know that the level of service I experienced on the flights would pale in comparison to Thailand itself, where they seem to have taken customer service to an art form. We were checked in to the hotel by smiling faces and greeted every morning by more. A special coffee request? No problem. Leaving for the airport early, before breakfast? A box of goodies was packed up to take with us. By the second day, the ladies in the dining area already knew the kind of beer or soda we wanted to drink.

People and businesses alike outside the hotel were equally accommodating. A tailor willing to make a custom suit and shirts in forty-eight hours? No problem. He even took the extra time to re-stitch two seams that I approved but he wasn’t happy with. Boxed everything beautifully for shipment back to the States and delivered the package to the restaurant where we were dining. That is service. Will I return to that tailor if I’m back in Bangkok? Absolutely. Nor will I hesitate to recommend his services to anyone I know.

This is what I strive to do with all my customers: impress them enough that they want to return and refer their friends. I try to remember names and preferences and accommodate each request, within the parameters of the furniture item they’re interested in. It’s not always possible, but I do try to do it with a smile. I genuinely want happy customers, not so much because it’s good for business (though that doesn’t hurt), but I think it’s because it’s my job, and I want to do well at it. This is what makes me happy. Perhaps there’s a little of that Thai attitude in me after all.

February

Date added: 18-02-2008

February. When I was a child, I always dreaded the approach of February. While I know it’s not, for me February is the coldest, darkest, most damp, month of the year. Just raw. And depressing.

Now, I can’t wait for February. Don’t get me wrong. I still think February is a miserable month in terms of the weather, but I look forward to it for one reason. Time to plant the seeds!

You see, in the past twenty years or so, I’ve become a bit of a gardening freak. When my wife and I bought our first house, one of the first things we did was put in a small 8’ x 8’ garden. The following year we doubled it, and the next year we doubled it again. In the home we currently live, the garden occupies about 50 x 50, with an additional couple of hundred feet square for fruit trees and berry bushes . We spent the better part of the summer physically in the garden.

My wife and I have gone a bit ……..insane with the volume of plantings we are doing from seed. We start almost everything from seed, more for the opportunity to see us through February. Today, she is preparing the trays that we use to plant our “babies” in. We will start planting soon. We argue about the date to begin the plantings. Last year, I set my hot pepper seeds in the second week of the month, and the tomatoes in the fourth week. They didn’t get in the ground for 11 and 9 weeks, respectively, so they were a bit leggy at the end, but the act of raising them saw me through the rough patches of winter.

None of this has anything to do with furniture, of course, but there are a lot of similarities I draw between furniture building and building a garden. Both take shape slowly, behind the scenes, starting as bits and pieces of stuff, and eventually coming together as a cohesive whole, and when the piece is finished or the first tomato is plucked, the tangible results are equally satisfying to me.

It may be dank and cold now, but pretty soon when you come to visit me on a Saturday in Rockville, I’ll have a basket or two of my fresh picked veggies for you to sample, all because I took this time now in nasty old February.

Introduction to me and my blog

Date added: 15-02-2008

So, I hired this twenty-something, very bright, enthusiastic, and persuasive woman as the marketing director for Hardwood Artisans, and this is pretty much the net result. She convinced me that my writing a “blog” would be a good thing, that people would find it, and thereby hopefully me and the company, interesting. Hell, I don’t even think of myself as being interesting. Over the past few months, however, I have come to find that some people, for whatever reason, think that some of the things I do or say are different, and thereby interesting. We’ll see about that, now won’t we?

I guess I should have prefaced this all with a bit of an introduction, before I cursed and all that stuff. My name is Mark Gatterdam. I am one of six partners that are the current owners of Hardwood Artisans, a local Washington D.C.- based furniture manufacturer and retailer. We have been around as Hardwood Artisans, or The Loft Bed Store, since 1976. The founders, Greg Gloor and Larry Spinks, transfered ownership of the company to the six of us a few years ago. The six of us helped create the organization. All of us came up through the ranks the same way I did. We employ about 70 people throughout the organization, with about 45 – 50 actual craftsmen building the furniture. Sounds like a lot, but we still consider ourselves small, and I am proud to say I know each and every one of their names. It is still a family-based business.

I have been in the furniture industry my entire adult life. I put myself through college working at furniture retail stores in the area. The hours were flexible, and I thought the product was interesting. I decided to get out of the front end of the business, and take a shot at creation. I was making good money, managing a store, but somehow I still felt unsatisfied – the American way, right?

I have worked at Hardwood Artisans for about 21 years. I took a huge cut in pay to come here. I started by building beds. In the blink of an eye, I became a blue collar “ham and egger”. I was very straight laced, newly married, and still working on my college education. I really didn’t fit in to the hippy sort of artist scene that was in front of me. Everyone had long hair, there were amplifiers the size of humans wired from the ceiling blaring out Led Zepplin, and you were always filthy dirty. Always. But I loved it. And over time, I let the hippy in me come out a little bit, and over time, my work associates cut their long hair and started listening to country music. Go figure.

Currently, I am the Qualifications Director for the company. I handle all the service problems, warranty work, finishing and staining, as well as working in the showrooms on the weekends. I do a fair amount of in-home consults, and as a result, custom design work. I pretty much see myself as a problem solver. That is the best way to describe my day-to-day activities. I feel that my current goal is to find a way to get back into the shop with some regularity doing what I want to do – making furniture.

I feel needed on my current position. There seems to be a large amount of trepidation and downright fear on the part of the consumers I meet. Worries about sizes, fit, finish, damage, cost, value, children, all have led to a lot of correction on my part. So while I want to go off and create, I know I am needed here to help correct.

Bye for now.

Mark

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