Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wrap 2009

I was at the shop 'til well after 7pm tonight. Mrs. KintlaLake was done working six hours earlier, and as soon as she got home she put a bottle of champagne on ice.

I love that woman.

A year ago today I
wrote about standing on a ridge, forging ahead and not turning back. I'm fresh out of metaphors at the moment -- reality will have to do.

When my wife and I raise our glasses at the stroke of midnight, there will be a sense of "good riddance." I mean, this was a year full of trials and tumult for us, and she'll be kissing off a decade that began in another marriage, long before she and I met, an abusive environment that she and her boys fled five years ago.

Good riddance, indeed.

But tonight we won't be toasting the past's departure -- at our ages, both of us closer to the end than to the beginning, we know better than to celebrate days that won't come again. No, we'll clink and sip and savor in anticipation of new beginnings, this and every dawn, moments too few to squander.

"Only that day dawns to which we are awake," Thoreau wrote at the close of Walden. "There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star."

We stand in welcome before that star.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Swedish lawyers

Mrs. KintlaLake's car, a seven-year-old Saab 9-3 that she bought used, has been hinting recently that its battery was on the way out. Yesterday I put the family jump-starter -- one of those portable power-pack things -- into her trunk, just in case.

Sure enough, on this sub-20° morning the battery refused to spin the starter. Dutifully I donned my coat and gloves and came out to help. I pulled out the jumper-gizmo and shut the trunk, hooked up the cables and...wait for it...success!

After disconnecting the cables, I walked to the back of the car and rapped on the lid, signaling my wife to pop it open -- after all, she might need the power pack again and I wanted her to have it along. Thing is, this marvel of Swedish automotive engineering wouldn't allow the trunk to open while the key was still in the ignition.

So my wife switched off the engine, removed the key and opened the boot. I stowed the jump-starter and closed the lid. She re-inserted the key and turned it.

Nothing productive happened, of course -- the car still had a dead battery. We repeated the process (leaving the trunk lid open this time) and soon Mrs. KintlaLake was on her way to work.

My wife loves her Saab and so do I. The older spawn has a '99 9-3, essentially a re-numbered version of the '96 900SE that I once owned, and it serves his teenage purposes well. (Now that I think about it, perhaps too well.) We're disappointed that these days the company is, at best, an orphan.

But if you see one of those old ads claiming that Saabs are "Born from jets," don't you believe it.

"Born from lawyers" is more like it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The resolve of Thomas Paine

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated."

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

"It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death."

"If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace."

(The American Crisis, a series of pamphlets published in London between 1776 and 1783 by Thomas Paine, called attention to the tension between the American colonies and England. It seems to me that as we approach the New Year, Paine's words provide us with worthy raw material for our resolutions.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Off the clock

It takes a lot to keep me from going to work, even when my take-home pay doesn't depend on me showing up. For the last two days, however, I've been battling some something-or-other that refuses to go away -- so today, atypically, I'm home.

That's not to say that I've sentenced myself to bed rest. Before dawn this morning I walked the dogs, followed by liberating my wife's car from the ice and four-ish inches of snow that fell on us overnight. Next I did the same for my TrailBlazer and drove to the drug store, bringing home a handful of over-the-counter cures for what ails me.

Had I been less bullheaded and done that yesterday, I might be at work today.

The streets between here and the store were snow-covered and slippery, making me wonder what my country-roads commute would've been like this morning, especially the 15mph S-curve by the old one-room schoolhouse. There will be other winter's days, other snowfalls.

I suspect that at some point today a short walk will do me good. Depending on how things go, later I may pull on my boots and head down to the nearby
common space. We'll see.

For now, and to my regret, I'm staying put.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Real time

The shop where I work closes at 5pm on Saturdays. Today, however, we locked the doors two hours early and routed incoming calls to the answering machine. We cranked up random blues on the sound system, adjourned to our small break room and feasted.

Alongside my pot of chili was a crock of pulled pork and another of baked beans. There were plates stacked with cheeses and fresh venison sausage. As if deer-harvesting was some sort of theme, one of my co-workers moved through the group doling out hunks of peppery venison jerky. Dessert consisted of pumpkin pie, cherry cheesecake and Christmas cookies, all homemade.

I ate too much. Everyone did.

Just eight of us, including the owner, keep this humble enterprise humming. Our ages range from 17 to 62. This afternoon we talked of family, farming, hunting, old cars, places we've lived, races we'd won and lost -- anything but work.

It was relaxed, friendly and inescapably real.

As the fete was winding down I said goodbye and walked out to my truck, carrying the empty slow-cooker under my right arm. (My chili was a hit.) In my left hand was an eight-pound ham, the shop owner's "Christmas bonus" to each of us.

I don't know if it's my age, an evolving perspective or something else, but compared to the high-flying, fine-dining, executive-suite-dwelling life I once lived, more and more I find myself reveling in days like this -- simple, right and real.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Spark of inspiration

Checking out with my purchases at the drug store last week, I glanced over the selection of mints and chewing gum. Next to the regular-sized tins of Altoids was something called "Altoids smalls."

The tiny cinnamon mints appealed to me. The tiny stamped-metal package inspired me even more. Unable to resist, I bought one.

Fifty mints later, left with an empty tin measuring 2-3/8 by 1-5/8 by 5/8 inches, I set about building an ultra-compact (and yet effective) fire kit that'd nest inside.

Some of the contents were no-brainers: an eighth-inch firesteel blank two inches long; a four-inch stick of fatwood, quartered to fit; a length of jute twine; and a piece of bicycle inner tube (a.k.a. the multi-purpose "Ranger Band").

I struggled a bit with what to use to strike the little firesteel, ultimately choosing a knockoff of the Victorinox Classic, a freebie that I had hanging around. If I'd had an old LMF striker or a hacksaw blade to cut down I might've done that -- smaller, lighter and arguably stouter -- but this knife will do in a pinch.

It occurs to me that the el cheapo pocketknife can be used to shave the fatwood, too, and make small fuzz sticks. It was a tight fit for the Altoids mini-tin, so I filed-off its key-ring tab to make it a bit easier to stow.

With a firesteel and striker, jute, fatwood and yes, rubber -- that Ranger Band not only keeps the tin shut, a chunk of it also will burn for quite a while -- I've got a useful pocket-sized fire kit. It may not be ideal or perfect but it'll work, and the whole thing cost me less than a buck in real money.

That's damned near free.

It's Christmas Day

The KintlaLake family opened presents last night, as is our holiday tradition, and unstocked stockings this morning. I'll spare readers a rundown of our modest booty -- there's way too much of that sort of thing going around.

I will say, though, that the missus and I are grateful for gifts of thermal underwear and wool socks.

We breakfasted today on sausage-and-egg casserole, another tradition. Right now I'm finishing a 24-hour batch of
KintlaLake's Slow-Cooker Chili, which I'll serve tomorrow to my co-workers at the shop. My mother-in-law is preparing this evening's dinner.

On this Christmas Day, a tumultuous year for my family and me is drawing to a close. It finds us well, safe and together. As ever, our spirit thrives.

I wish the same for you and those you hold dear.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Christmas Eve

Whatever you celebrate this holiday season, remember to celebrate home, love, family and freedom.

Give thanks for life's blessings, great or meager, and know that there are others who have less.

Find those people. Serve them -- and then don't tell a soul.

Give more than you get. Don't give back -- pay forward.

Watch children. See this night unfold through their eyes.

Christmas Eve is special, no matter how you hold it in your heart. So keep it, embrace it and make a memory to recall as long as you live.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Birthday girl

"Thank you, My Gift, for your support, your sanity, your example to all of us and, most of all, for your love!" (inscribed on a card accompanying the flower arrangement presented this morning to Mrs. KintlaLake)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday break

With Christmas and New Year's falling on Fridays, and since our shop closes Wednesdays and Sundays anyway, these two weeks were bound to be strange and, since I punch a clock, less lucrative.

'Tis the season, of course, so it's all good.

Making this week another day shorter, the shop's owner encouraged my parts-counter colleague and me to trade "eves" -- he's taking off New Year's Eve and I (because I'm "a family man") get Christmas Eve to myself.

After 30 months without a regular job -- and arguably all the time in the world -- seven weeks into this one I have three straight days off. I'm not sure why that seems like such a windfall, but it does.

Light snow fell on the gritty little village throughout the day, adding holiday ambiance but little accumulation. Walking across the street midday to refill my coffee, even trudging outside after dark to fetch an oddball part, there was a feeling of peace.

Maybe it was the falling snow. Maybe it's the time of year. More likely, the sense came from within.

I think I'll carry that feeling through the next few days.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Addendum: Preparations

It's been six months since I offered KintlaLake's Top Five Old-School Preparations. Time to add one more to the list, even though this particular potion has been around for less than 30 years.

Burt's Bees Hand Salve touts itself as "an everyday miracle" and I can't dispute the claim. A three-ounce tin of this concoction of plant oils (almond, olive), herbs (rosemary, lavender, comfrey) and beeswax costs nine bucks. It's worth every penny of that.

Used sparingly a couple of times a day, supplemented with the occasional dose of Corn Huskers Lotion (#2 on June's top-five list), this salve has won me over. It smells good, too -- lots better than Bag Balm, I'd say, but the Vermont-made stuff in the green tin still holds my top spot for its sheer versatility.

Burt's Bees Hand Salve is made here in the USA. Get some.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The online community over on KnifeForums is pretty cool. Beyond lively participation by rank-and-file users, it benefits greatly from the active involvement of retail dealers and real-deal experts, cutlery-company execs and small-scale artisans. Like BladeForums, JerzeeDevil and similar boards, it's a great place to learn.

I spend most of my KF time in the Bark River Forums, but the other day I learned that was conducting a Christmas giveaway. The lucky winner would get a set of gorgeous crotched maple scales with feathered figuring. On an optimistic whim, I made my post and entered the contest.

When Mike and Christina (aided by their little girl and a pair of housecats) held the random drawing late yesterday, they decided to give away not one set, but five -- and I won!

I don't yet know what kind of wood will be coming to me from British Columbia, but when it arrives I'll be sure to post a photo on KintlaLake Blog. And when I decide (eventually) what knife those slabs will grace, I'll unveil that here as well.

Merry Christmas, Mike and Christina -- and thanks!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm dreaming of a...

It snowed here last night. It snowed this morning. It snowed all day long -- sort of, anyway.

Unlike areas to the south and east of here, namely the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic states, we got more of a dollop than a wallop, more wet than white. Temps danced around freezing, perfect for gloom and slush.

My morning commute to the shop was entertaining nevertheless -- for me, entertainment goes hand-in-hand with the season's first drive in wintry conditions. Business was slow today, though, and trudging out to the sloppy yard brought the promise of wet boots and chapped, aching hands.

But it's work, after all, and today was payday.

Regular income is good. Today's mail brought something better.

In April, I wrote about getting a badly needed
win -- convincing the bankruptcy trustee to accept my offer to buy back the non-exempt equity in my TrailBlazer and motorcycle over 12 months. And if that was the victory, today was the trophy presentation.

This morning, with trembling hands, I tore into an envelope from the trustee. Inside were the titles to the two vehicles -- mine again, free and clear, liens lifted.

Making that happen four months ahead of schedule was no mean feat, considering. Scrimp and save, scratch and claw. The job helped, sure, as did my share of our garage sale proceeds. An unexpected end-of-year bonus from a client and friend put me over the top.

Mrs. KintlaLake's trust, support and love kept me believing.

Today isn't a material triumph -- it's far more personal than that. I'm reminded of the closing lines of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:

"...there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things."
Legal and financial matters have been discharged. I'm working again. My family and I are together, safe and well.

Yes, it’s going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Follow-up: EDC reconsidered

When I posted about juggling my everyday-carry lineup last month, I speculated that I'd "make more adjustments as time goes by."

I already have.

The Nite Ize Clip Case Cargo remains, as do the Victorinox One-Hand Trekker and Palm Centro. The Nite Ize pouch, while anything but slim, is convenient and capable. My Centro gets used only once or twice a day, maybe, but it stays with me regardless.

The OHT, which replaces my Victorinox Farmer on workdays, is the EDC tool I turn to most often. Its screwdrivers and one-hand-opening blade keep me from having to run to the rollaway cabinets. None of my co-workers carries such a pocketknife -- or, for that matter, a knife of any kind -- which I find positively puzzling.

Until I signed-on with the motorcycle shop, I hadn't held a job requiring portable light since I worked campus security in the 1970s. Back then I carried a massive Kel-Lite; these days something much smaller is in order.

I decided on the iTP C7T for a number of reasons. First, like every other iTP I've used, it's an extremely solid, high-quality piece at a reasonable price.

Second, I chose the "T" (tactical) version for its momentary-on feature and because it lacks the silly (to me) strobe and S-O-S functions found on the "R" (regular) C7.

And third, although I considered the more-compact iTP C9 (powered by one CR123A battery) and larger C8 (two AAs), I picked the mid-size C7 because it takes but a single AA -- a common cell, especially around the shop, and if I run out of juice I don't need to score more than one battery to get my light up and running again.

In use, the C7T is great. It's just the right size and throws a powerful, practical beam, whether I'm rummaging for a 1950s-vintage final drive buried at the back of a dark shelf or locking the gates and storage containers after nightfall. The power-saving adjustable-intensity feature is a plus, too.

Speaking of adjustments, I did make a change to my back-up folding knife. A week ago I swapped the Gerber Ultralight LST for a plain-edge Spyderco LadyBug3.

The littlest Spydie is a more costly choice, for sure, but thanks to the thumbhole it can be opened easily with one hand. To me, that feature alone is worth the additional expense -- and besides, it's a VG-10 Spyderco. 'Nuff said.

Finally, a
Bark River Bravo Necker -- in the standard-issue Kydex sheath, with firesteel, suspended from a hardware-store ball chain -- has joined my EDC kit for the last few weeks. I don't know if it's a lifetime commitment, but the rig rides so naturally under shirts and sweaters that it might well become permanent.

Just in case, I mean.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sharps: Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter

Andy Roy is a craftsman. He makes his Fiddleback Forge knives by hand, and now I have the rare pleasure of holding a sample of his craftsmanship in my own hands.

At first blush, the Fiddleback Forge Bushcrafter looks like it might've been inspired by the classic Kephart pattern sold a century ago by Colclesser Brothers. Truth is, Roy didn't know of Horace Kephart's iconic knife when he designed the "Bushie" -- he says it's simply the knife he always wanted when he was a Boy Scout.

It's 8-3/4 inches long overall, 4 inches of which is a spear-point blade of O-1 carbon steel. The full-tang, convex-grind blade is 5/32 inch thick, quite broad with substantial belly.

My Bushcrafter is fitted with ivory paper Micarta handle slabs and black liners, and it's slightly handle-heavy. (The balance point is between the first and second fingers.) The sheath is the larger version of the
KSF Leather Modern Classic, a secure fit but a tight one. As we've come to expect from KnivesShipFree and Sharpshooter Sheath Systems, it's very well made.

As much as the blade appeals to me -- it's an extraordinarily useful take on the spear-point pattern, begging me to reconsider my preference of a drop-point -- what really shines is Roy's amazing handle.

Rolling and flipping and choking from one grip to another, I've found no position in which my fingers, thumb and palm don't index perfectly.

Until now, the Bark River Bravo-1 had the most comfortable handle I'd ever gripped, but this Bushie is giving me some serious second thoughts. The Fiddleback's handle is slimmer than the Barkie's but broader, like the blade, and it's ever-so-subtly sculpted in a way that I can describe only as natural. It's as if Roy made this Bushcrafter especially for me.

Honestly, I don't recall ever being so taken with a knife so soon after unwrapping it.

I really wanted to get to the woods today with the Bushcrafter -- it deserves better and so do I -- but that'll have to wait for another day. What couldn't wait was offering my initial impressions of what I believe is a spectacular knife.

Fiddleback Forge
Fiddleback Forge (BladeForuns)

KSF interview with Andy Roy

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Sitting idly in my truck before work this morning, I watched the comings and goings across the street.

At one point a Cadillac XLR, dark red with a black ragtop, rumbled past me and turned into the post office. An elderly man climbed out of the low-slung roadster, walked over to the mailbox, deposited a stack of envelopes and got back into his car. He performed an impressive burnout as he left.

Oh, by the way -- this gentleman was dressed in a red warmup suit, black boots and black gloves. On his head was a distinctive red-velvet hat, trimmed in white fur. He had a large snow-white beard.

Santa drives a hot Caddy -- who knew?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day off, day on

My regular job gives me Wednesdays and Sundays off. Fridays and Saturdays the shop shuts at 5pm; the other three days I work 'til 7pm.

Yesterday, my mid-week break, was one of those weird weather days when a departing warm-air mass gave us our warmest temps at dawn. An approaching cold front took it downhill from there -- a 5am high of 52 degrees skidded into the teens by nightfall. High winds made it brutally cold throughout the day.

I had no desire to go out and, but for quick runs to the post office and the older spawn's school, I didn't.

I returned to work mid-morning today, chased by a steady 35mph north wind and powdery squalls. The last four miles of my workday drive wind through farmland, and skiffs of snow laced the long fields this morning. I was struck by the sight of the thin layer of white drifting over a green haze of winter plantings.

As usual, I stopped at the gas station across from the shop, bought a cup of hot coffee and parked my truck in the village grocer's lot to sit for a few minutes and collect my thoughts. As I settled in, the snow became heavy and the wind picked up. I watched as a mini-blizzard blanketed the humble little town, softening its rough edges.

An hour later, much of the snow had blown away or melted in the midday sun. The mercury stayed in the teens all day, however, and the wind persisted. My regular forays into the shop's salvage yard were exercises in endurance, bundled and braced against the cold.

Beyond reminding me that I'm alive, the (relative) discomfort has its advantages. I'm using it to teach myself -- a 52-year-old man who piloted a desk far too long -- many things that I'd forgotten. Staying inside the shop isn't an option, regardless of the weather, so I've resolved to wring lessons from the (relative) adversity.

I slid my parka-clad self back into the truck around 7:15pm tonight for the commute home. The cold engine was reluctant to turn over. The windows were frozen shut. I was ten minutes down the road before the interior had warmed enough for me to take off my gloves.

A steaming pot of vegetable soup, along with the warmth of my family, greeted me at home.

Honest labor brings rewards. Present challenges bring bright perspective. Strange as it seems, I've never known such riches.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heavy heart

Eddie's gone.

Once my co-worker, always a friend to me and eventually to my family, Eddie flashed into my life and thousands of others -- a gentle, funny, gifted soul, an incomparable human treasure to those of us who knew him.

Eddie lost his life last night, in a motorcycle crash on I-75 in Atlanta. Mrs. KintlaLake, the saddest of messengers, brought me the news this afternoon.

I am...we are...all of us are profoundly heartbroken.

Ride on, Rev. Eddie -- ride on!

Sharps: Sharp

Our teenage spawns have watched a number of knives enter and leave my hands over the last year or so. Sometimes they're impressed with a particular blade, at other times nonplussed. You'll have that.

They're quite familiar with my penchant for keenness, too, often observing me slicing paper to gauge a new knife or assess my progress in honing an old one. It’s fair to say that they expect it.

The younger boy was around last week when a Bark River Mountain Man arrived in the mail. I opened the box, pulled out the knife and turned it over in my hands briefly before passing it to him.

After a minute or so he returned it to me, knowing what was coming next. I picked up a single sheet of printer paper with my left hand, holding it out in front of me between thumb and forefinger, and with my right I poised the Mountain Man over the upper edge of the sheet.

Bringing blade into contact with paper, I let the thin convex grind cleave the fibers effortlessly, a sliver of the sheet falling to the floor at our feet.

The 14-year-old watched the ritual intently. His eyes followed the knife, then the curled sliver. He stared at it for a moment before looking up and speaking softly, with a tone approaching reverence.

"That never gets old."


Saturday, December 5, 2009

An old friend's gift

Almost 30 years ago, I shared many musical hours with a friend and fellow college student -- he on piano, me on guitar. Strange as it seems now, we actually performed together as a duo at a campus coffee house.

These days he's the musical director at a church in the western Pennsylvania borough of Zelienople, and I learned last night that he'd just released a solo-piano CD of Christmas music. Curious, I scooted over to iTunes and downloaded all ten tracks.

I hadn't heard Bruce's hand in nearly 30 years, but the first eight bars brought a wave of memory from my heart and a flood of tears from my aging eyes -- what a gift.

I urge you to go to iTunes or Amazon and download David Bruce Smith's "Arrival: Piano Meditations for Christmas & Advent" yourself. As this holiday season unfolds before us, please join me in reveling in my old friend's seasoned genius.