This blog follows my exploits in Hood River, Oregon through late October until Thanksgiving. For the next month my energies will be largely consumed by one thing: building a hand made canoe to give to Mr. John Childs so that I might ask for the hand of his lovely daughter Kristen N Childs in marriage.

Monday, April 16, 2007

It seems like it has been a very long time... indeed, it has. My dad called to congratulate me a few days after our one year anniversary. He said, "365 days, huh? That's almost something." My grandparents were married over 60 years before my grandpa died last fall- now that's something. He was just a young gun coming home from a war in the trenches of Europe when they got married. I wonder if he felt like Odysseus finally returning home after an adventure that had lasted far too long. And I wonder... now that he's in a quiet home with his new wife, does he ever miss the adventure of the trenches?

What I wouldn't give to have the opportunity to know my grandpa before he was my grandpa- before he was even my mom's dad. In my short life, I only knew him as the man in the comfy La-Z-boy with an encyclopedic knowledge of any question that could be asked by Alex Trebek. I only knew him when his world was caught up in Thanksgiving Turkies and grandkids and birdfeeders and embroidered sweatshirts which said to any literate onlooker, "I'm from Northern Michigan." But What kind of trouble would young Edwin and I get into if we were young men together? How had marriage and kids and the minivan and the mortgage changed him over those sixty years? Was he a different man before? Was I?

One year of marriage has changed me in many ways. This process, I believe, is what Christians often refer to metaphorically as "God's refining fire." God turns up the heat, throws his little clay pots in the fire, and hopefully they come out the better because of it. Maybe not prettier (indeed... ten pounds fatter), but more useful to the Creator himself. Maybe this is also why it is said of people in love that they are "burning with passion" etc etc. God's biggest kiln seems to be the one called marriage- and it is HOT in here! (You can interpret that however you want.) God does a very good work when two people come together, despite their differences, despite the inevitably that they will never really understand each others deepest dreams in the way lovers always seem to in the movies, despite the many freedoms they will give up, and they commit to staying together.

You've probably heard this before, but it is both the hardest and best thing that I personally have ever done. The really amazing thing about it, is that it is the only time in my life where I have made not just some promise ("I promise I'll do the dishes first thing in the morning!!!) but a covenant. That is the real gravitas of marriage to me. You get to imitate your Father in Heaven and say like he does, "I will never leave you... this is my covenent."

Sunday, January 29, 2006

December 19, 2005
She said yes!!!!!

January 7

Two weeks ago today the grand conspiracy was completed. The canoe was delivered, the trade was made. John (Kristen’s dad) got a canoe, Kristen got a very special ring, and I became engaged to the loveliest bride-to-be this century has seen. On Monday, December 19, exactly six months to the day since I first set eyes on Kristen, I asked her to marry me… and she said yes. (By amazing coincidence, the loveliest bride of the previous century is married to John, my future father in law. What are the odds?!)

It has been a while since I last updated the blog and much has happened, so let me start where I last left off. After 4 weeks secretly building the canoe in Hood River, I was still not quite done, but I had to return to Philadelphia because Kristen was flying in for Thanksgiving. I flew in on Friday, disheveled my room, and collaborated with Allen and Heather to get our stories straight so that when Kristen flew in on Sunday it had looked like I had been there the whole time.

She never suspected a thing. She arrived on Sunday night, and then we left on Monday morning and drove out to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Now the plan was starting to get exciting; phase three was beginning and her parents were about to be let in on the big secret. I printed a couple of pictures of me and the canoe and then sealed them in an envelope where they would wait until I was to reveal them to John. This was the step the entire plan hinged upon. Was the canoe good enough? Would he let me take him up on his offer and give me his blessing to ask his daughter for her hand? Would he still agree to make the trade? Would the canoe fly off my car and shatter into a thousand pieces on the highway somewhere between Hood River and Tucson?

Phase 3: In-laws and Conspirators

I decided that Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to ask Mr. Childs for his permission to ask Kristen to marry me. Kristen flew in to Philadelphia and we drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over the next two days. We spent Thanksgiving with her entire family and uncle at her grandparents’ house. The day after Thanksgiving, Kristen, her mom, and sister went out to do some holiday shopping.

I asked Mr. Childs if he wanted to go on a little excursion of our own. We drove in to town and looked through the various shops in the weathered winter mining town of Hancock, Michigan. We went through gift shops, furniture stores, Christmas knick-knacks galore, picture galleries, and the like… and still I waited. Finally we ended up at the outdoor store. We looked around and drooled at the overpriced biking and outdoor equipment that we are both so allured by. As we walked out the rear exit a long green canoe hung overhead. That was my signal. Now was the time to enact phase three.

Upon leaving Philadelphia I printed four photographs and placed them in a white envelope, which I presently carried in the left pocket of my jacket. The contents of the envelope were simple yet poignant: four photographs of a sixteen foot wood strip canoe with me proudly standing beside. With one brief life-changing slide of hand I pulled the envelope from my pocket and presented it.

“I have something for you… if you want it.” A curious but knowing smile painted over his face.
“What’s this, Jay?”
“Open it up.” He pulled the pictures out and paused for a moment.
“Is this for real?”
“It’s quite real.” I was about to explode from the nervous excitement.
“You know what this means, don’t you?” he says knowingly.
“I know exactly what it means.”
“You want to make the trade, don’t you?!”

A lot of hearty laughter and rejoicing ensued, and I laid out the whole conspiracy to him; the month of secret canoe building on the other side of the country, the ring, kidnapping Andrea, the plan to drive it down to their house and propose on December 19, exactly six months to the day since I first met Kristen.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

We put in the final piece of the canoe on Wednesday at midnight!

Now I am back in Philadelphia and Kristen is going to arrive in about 3 hours. As far as she knows, I have never left.

Unfortunately, I've got to go pack for our Thanksgiving trip and erase all the pictures of the canoe from my computer. The grand deception is not over, however. Only phase one is complete. Tomorrow Kristen and I will drive to Michigan to spend Thanksgiving with her family and I will show Mr. Childs a picture of the canoe and ask him if I could exchange it for one daughter. I really hope he hasn't changed his mind or raised the price!! If he gives his blessing, phase two will be complete.

Once we return from Thanksgiving Kristen will fly out of Philadelphia to go back to Tucson and I will drive back to Michigan to kidnap her sister, Andrea, from her college campus. Andrea doesn't know it yet, but she is going to be with me when I pick out a ring for Kristen. Kristen and Andrea together is an experience that everyone should see. Like the old song says, "there were never such devoted sisters." Kristen loves her sister, and I wanteed to have Andrea play a role in this monumental deception, so she gets to help me pick out the perfect ring for her sister whom she loves and knows so well. Once the ring is chosen, phase three will be complete.

The day after we get the ring I will return to Hood River to finish the canoe. The body needs to be sanded and then a clear fiber glass coat will be applied to the inside and outside. This should be another 4 or 5 days of work. Once the fiber glass has hardened, phase four will be complete.

From there I will strap the canoe on top of Tom's 87' Subaru and drive it from Hood River to Tucson. The 87' Subaru, me, and a 16 foot canoe are unlikely traveling companions, but if none of us fails, we should all arrive in Tucson to ask Kristen the question of questions two days after we take off from Hood River. If she says yes, phase 5, along with this grandest deception of my life will be completed... and a new chapter of life will begin with my dear friend, and sister in the Lord, and love, Kristen.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The first frost of the season in Hood River

Canoe- Shop 101: Basic Principles of Canoe building

Principle #2- Generally speaking, you will want to give yourself longer than 4 weeks to build your wood strip canoe, especially if this is your first. It can be done, but one should expect putting in many 16 hour days in a row in order to work with such a strict time budget. If at all possible, build your canoe in a small rainy town several thousand miles away from your home so that you will have absolutely no distractions… Well, maybe just one…

The thing about mistakes is that you only learn from them after you have made them. In retrospect, you wisely say, “I wouldn’t do it that way”, or “You should do this.” Needless to say, my second canoe will be built with much more time and labor-saving insight than this canoe. Still, no canoe builder has ever been happier to build a canoe.

Most canoe builders temporarily staple the long wood strips to the frame to hold them in place while gluing. After the glue is dry, you pull out the stapes and fill the tiny holes. However, I decided that I wanted this canoe to be visually flawless. No staples- No little holes. The canoe builder across the river in White Salmon told me it would take more time and I decided it was worth it.

So instead of stapling the wood strips to the frame, I have been using a complex system of vice grips, clamps, tape, shims, and improvised Norwegian clamping systems in order to hold the wood strips tightly together strip by strip while the glue dries. It works like this- I lay down my line of glue on the strip that I am about to attach. Then I lay it on the frame and frantically clamp, tape, grip, and manipulate any system I can to keep the wood tight to the previous piece before the glue sets up.

This process is much more difficult than it may sound. The wood is not simply being laid one piece on top of the other. It follows the hull of the boat, so each piece has to be bent outwards in the middle and back in at each end. In addition to the bending, the wood strip must also be twisted. At the bow and the stern the strips remain vertical, but then as you bend the wood towards the middle of the hull you must also twist it so that the strip is now laying horizontally in the middle and then vertically again at the other end. Sometimes you really have to fight with the wood in order for it to twist AND bend to the shape of the boat. The wood simply doesn’t want to do it; it’s just not natural. It’s like forcing my uncle Dave to fit into a string bikini. It will fit… but it’s not easy.
Dave "donning now his gay apparel" last Christmas

The factor that complicates this process is that I have chosen to use sitka spruce while most canoes are made from red cedar. Cedar is generally used because it is less dense than sitka spruce, so it is much easier to work with when you have to bend and twist it. I chose the spruce for the color and also because it is stronger than the cedar. In the end, I will have had a bit more headache but Mr. Childs will have a stronger boat.

Once we laid the wood for the sides of the canoe I decided that I would use staples for the bottom. With less than one week left, this decision has proven to be a miracle. Using the stapling system, yesterday Tom and I laid out almost as many strips in one day as I have in the past week by avoiding staples. Right now it is Sunday and I am flying back to Philadelphia this Thursday which means I have to have the canoe done by Wednesday night.

Today we will finish laying the wood and then I hope to stay up late in order to sand the outside of the boat. Tomorrow we will begin the fiber glassing process. A fiber glass cloth is laid out over the entire boat and then epoxy is saturated in to the material. Three coats of epoxy are added and the cloth and epoxy dries absolutely clear so that the wood finish is completely unmarked.

Then Tuesday we will flip it over and sand the inside. Wednesday we will fiber glass the inside and then I will hop on a plane back to Philadelphia early Thursday morning. Kristen will fly in to Philly on Sunday night and never be any the wiser that I have been living a double life for the past month.

Living a secret life has been fun, but I cannot wait to let Kristen in on the big secret. I will fly back to Hood River in the first week of December and then drive it down to Tucson. I’ll leave the canoe with Mr. Childs and I’ll ask Kristen to live this life- no more secrets- with me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Tom's 87 subaru with the canoe strongback on top and the Hood River foothills in the back.

Noah has got nothing on me. Hood River has been flooding for the past 4 days and the forecast has no end in sight. If it gets much worse, I’ll be using this canoe before Mr. Childs ever does. Okay okay so Noah built his ark to save humanity all life on the planet, etc etc, and I’m building a canoe as a brideprice. Not exactly working to rescue humanity, but it’s nice work… if you can get it.

The problem I’m facing is that I am building a 16ft canoe in a 19ft garage. Not much room to wiggle around. And, there is a very important math equation that I didn’t realize until now: when you are stripping 14 foot boards you need 28 feet of space. You start at one end of the saw and push it through to the other. So, needed space = board length X 2.

I had been stripping my board outside until it rained but not anymore. If the boards get wet the wood expands and then when I am setting it on the canoe the wood changes shape. My friend Tom and I ran in to one guy in town who tried to build a canoe last year at this time and he said that he had put all his boards on the canoe but when it got cold and wet the wood expanded and the canoe snapped. I promptly bought a few heaters to place in the garage after hearing that story.

At any rate, there have been many unforeseen obstacles and many of God’s provisions up to this point. The guy above was one of those provisions from God, I think. We ran into him the day before it started raining and it is just so weird how he happened to have built a wood strip canoe this time last year. If he had not told us to be so careful of the temperature and moisture we wouldn’t have bought the heaters and the canoe would probably have been ruined before I finished it.

Second, there is this guy in town who builds wood strip canoes. We had left a couple messages with him about buying boat designs and some material from him. We never heard from him so we started to give up on him. But then the other day he called us. He had been out of town driving one of his custom canoes from here to New York. I told him about the brideprice canoe and my difficult mission and he tells us to come over to his shop that day and pick up some materials and he shows me some really helpful hints for canoe building. Saved me a couple days worth of work at least.

So now as this rain comes down and makes my difficult job seem even more difficult, I am reminded that God has already provided help in making this canoe happen. He has put his hand in it and now I pray that he will continue to provide for my unexpected needs and canoe building hurdles until the end. I’ve come this far and the rain will not stop me.

And the fact that I’m out here has God’s handwriting on it, if you ask me. Tom is a big example of that. Tom is the guy who God used to allow the building of this canoe to happen. I couldn’t build a canoe alone; I’m just not that handy. I met Tom this summer when I took classes at the University of Oregon. He lives here in Hood River and builds houses and is just generally good with things like this. When I started thinking of how I would build this canoe we got in touch again and he offered his shop up to me, his help, and a place for me to stay for the entire month. How many people can do that? Plus, he just happens to be on the west coast which is necessary because I would have to transport it to Tucson to present it to Kristen’s dad. From here, it’s only a 2 day drive. From Philadelphia it would be at least 5. I feel like Johnny Appleseed: “The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the apple seed, the Lord has been good to me.”

My friend Tom helping me set up...before the rain.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Canoe-shop 101: Principles of Canoe Building

Principle #1- Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Costs and time involved are significant, to say the least. Count on a few 14 hour days, about ¼ lb of sawdust in your lungs, countless splinters and one gashed index finger. If you are building the canoe in a secret location on the other side of the country prepare for the locals in your temporary villa to say, “You’re the guy!” and frequently refer to you as “the canoe guy.” They will make jokes about how crazy you are and wonder why you didn’t just take her out for a fancy dinner and a play.

Don’t worry. If you are crazy enough to build a canoe in exchange for the hand of a charming woman, chances are you are learning something about love. The costs and time involved, though great, will almost seem inconsequential when you hear her voice at night. In the end, if you show her even the tiniest picture of how precious she is and how thankful you are for her, any and all costs incurred will be instantly reimbursed. When you finish, you will wonder how you ever ended up with someone like her for only the cost of a handmade canoe.

The Canoe
Week one in Hood River has come to an end. The canoe is right on schedule. Last night the canoe finally began to take shape as I finished aligning the moldings onto the strongback. This essentially is the skeleton of the canoe. The strongback is a long, thin table that runs the length of the canoe (in this case, 16 ft.) which the moldings are then aligned off of every 13 inches.

The wooded strips are then run along the outside of the moldings for the entire horizontal length of the canoe. Yesterday I spent most of the day making these wood strips, which will be the canoe itself. For the wood, I’ve chosen Sitka Spruce. I have chosen it for its light weight, it’s light color, and strength. It is a tiny bit heavier than red cedar, which is often used, but I have chosen the spruce for its strength just in case Mr. Childs wants to take the canoe on some rougher waters.

The Sitka Spruce comes in 1X6 planks, which are then cut down to create many ¼ inch strips. Now that the strips are so thin, they can easily be bent to conform to the curves of the canoe’s geometry. By the end of the week, you should be able to see the actual canoe put together in its rough form.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

So that's how it all started. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to work on that project with her. I had no idea that it would send me here- to Hood River, Oregon- to undertake the building of a handmade canoe for her father, or rather, for her. Mr. Childs gets a handmade canoe, and I get to ask for the hand of his delightful daughter. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

I didn't take it seriously at first; this whole canoe thing. When I was first told about it, marriage seemed to be a thought that was a long way off. And the whole idea seemed ridiculous to me. Could Mr. Childs actually be serious? I mean, it's kind of funny to say that your daughter has a brideprice, but come on! Who does that? And who actually builds the canoe?

But then I started thinking. This is the best deal I am ever going to get in my entire life. A canoe for Kristen?? I would build a thousand canoes if it meant I could go through all the adventures of life with her by my side. If one handmade wooden strip canoe is all it is going to take for me to end up with this most beautiful, kind, intelligent, Godly woman, then I was going to take him up on his offer before he changed his mind. The fool! If he had required it, I would have built him a yacht.