WHAT IS TRUE STRENGTH? On being a maker with muscular dystrophy.

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People who known me know that I am a maker. It sort of defines my entire life and how I live. My basic values, my mantras, my need to upcycle and reclaim. What not everyone knows is that I also am defined by something else. Something that is invisible on the surface, yet constantly reminds me it is there every minute of my life, and that is muscular dystrophy. My whole life, up until my diagnosis at age 12, I knew something was not quite right. Be it lagging behind in track or weird muscle cramps after gymnastics. Something felt off. After my diagnosis, it had a name, McArdle’s Syndrome. I found out I was part of a small community of people throughout the world, nearly 1 in every 100,000 who suffer from this disease. It changed my life. No longer was I able to wrestle, run, or do competitive sports like my peers. I would immediately cramp up and then live in a hospital bed for weeks at a time recovering. Suffice it to say, I had to find other passions to sustain me.

I took up guitar, shrugging off the constantly cramped fingers and hands that would turn into claws from twinged muscles. I took up swimming and bike riding, everything had to be low impact and low strain. Since I had always been crafty and into making things, I found this a good activity to keep me active and my brain engaged.

I built everything as a kid. Potato canons, slingshots, rockets, robots, rope swings, tree houses, skate ramps, motorized scooters, you name it! As  young teen, I even enrolled in a local junior college to learn electronics. I was hooked on a trade that would be low impact with high yield. Making was my outlet. Yet I had to be careful to not overdo myself as building supplies can be heavy and sometimes require a lot of effort. Over the past few years, I have definitely found myself in the hospital multiple times after a bad fall or accident or pulling a muscle. Thankfully nothing life crippling has happened and I continue to make every day.

While this disease affects me every second, I do not let it dictate my life. I still get into the shop to carve, sculpt, weld, grind, cut, and sand. I may go slower than other makers and my projects might take me longer to produce because I need more breaks, but when you have a passion and a drive, why let anything stop you? So when you see me rubbing my cramped and clawed hands after cutting dovetails, or sitting down because my back has seized up after grinding for a thirty minutes, know that I am happy as hell doing what I love for as long as I can do it.

For me, true strength does not come from brute strength, it never has. True strength to a maker with muscular dystrophy, comes from perseverance, hard-work, and being maker-enough to go slow and take my time.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make more content like this!

Thanks for reading.

Urban Picking- Lite Edition- Community Forklift and Architectural Salvage Shops

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Following up on one of my latest blog posts, The Secrets of an Urban Picker, I have been getting a lot of questions regarding the difficulty of finding quality things to turn into projects, so I thought I’d address this with another post.

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One of the greatest things about living in a big cramped city is the availability of tons and tons of quality curb-crap. Piles of discarded loot fill the alleys and dumpsters to the brim every week, only to be flushed away and filled back up again the following week. If you’ve read my article, The Secrets of an Urban Picker, you will understand a little bit about this problem. I will continue to write about this topic and flush out some interesting ideas in the coming posts.

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This post deals with an issue that many people have and that is they cannot find anything worth picking in the city. First, this seems impossible to me, but looking harder at the issue, not everyone can look at a pile of muddy steel and see a 1940’s typewriter table. Some people just see muddy steel. But alas, you are not alone! Sometimes you are looking on the wrong day or in the wrong locations or after a Good Will truck has recently descended upon the carnal scene.

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It is this very reason that places like Community Forklift exist. According to their website, Community Forklift is a secondhand shop selling a variety of building materials & furniture including cabinets & tables. Basically, they are an architectural salvage shop located near enough to Washington DC to be accessible to most everyone. What they excel in is bringing the hard-to-find loot to one central location and charging you for it.

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It was at this very shop that I began my journey of furniture restoration many years ago. Back then, the store was just getting started and was selling amazing antiques and salvage for super cheap prices. Since then, and with the explosion of the DIY scene and YouTube, they have seen a steady rise in customers, which in turn drives up the prices and lowers my expectations.

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To say it plainly, I love architectural salvage shops. They provide you with a great selection without having to actually dive in dumpsters looking for rusty gold. On the other hand, by scouring the city to sell their much love needed items back to me at a 100% markup makes me want to stay grimy in the alleys and dumpsters. Don’t get me wrong, I whole heartedly support enterprises like this, and I might even like to own an architectural salvage shop in the future. My one beef is that the prices have gone up to a point that making a living selling upcycled furniture has gotten harder over the past few years. So while I am happy to see such a rise in the DIY community, it also makes it harder to find the good stuff for cheap cheap and make some dinero.

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So every time that someone asks me for more advice because they don’t have the creativity or time to pick alleys and dumpsters, I tell them about places like Community Forklift, Habitat for Humanity ReStores and other local architectural salvage shops, or “picking lite” as I call it. Hopefully by diving into a world of manicured isles and presorted picker gold, they too will get “the sickness” as Jimmy Diresta calls it and will become an urban picker, foregoing the florescent lighting and squeaky second hand walmart carts for the sounds of squealing rats, of stubbed toes on nailed boards, and for the thrill of unearthing a truly godly piece of american historical tradition from a pile of road junk.

The sickness is real.

I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!

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How to Stay Motivated When You Are Feeling Lethargic

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The past few months have been quite difficult for me to stay motivated. At work and home, I find myself becoming more and more depressed due to many factors, professionally and personally. I think it all started during my time in the Peace Corps last year. I was having depression and anxiety issues around the work culture and issues at my site. This led to my wife and I eventually leaving Peace Corps and coming home earlier than expected.

After much therapy and healing time, I thought I was over it. I felt better, I was getting back on my feet and the heavy, foggy, weighed down feeling of depression was lifting. And then I started work in the federal government and those crushing feelings came back. The feeling of sloth, of weight on my shoulders, of anxiety nearly paralyzing me. I was trying to deal and cope until I found myself crying one afternoon in my cube and knew it had gone on long enough.

I’ve never been one to have depression issues or need medication to stay level. Heck, I come from the disaster management field where high stress is the norm. However, over the last year, I find stress to be really stressful. It is something that I am dealing with differently now and I am learning how to cope with a whole new set of problems. For instance, finding motivation to go to the shop after work has been hard the past 2 months. I used to go all the time, but I have trailed off lately. Sometimes I feel so tired and down after work, I need to come home and lay on the couch and not move for an hour. My brain needs more time to recover and that in turn manifests physically and affects my muscle disease making me more tired and lethargic.

All this to say that my coping mechanisms have changed. I can no longer just assume that I will be going in to the shop, I need to force myself. I have put off projects due to the fear and anxiety of not making them great, but when I have just forced myself into the shop to start the project, the fears recede and the fun and joy return. I just finished up the restoration on a 1960’s typewriter table. I have been sitting on this project for 3 months. Forcing myself to put the materials in the car and promising myself that I will take them into the shop after work was a very scary thing. Once I got my hands into it though and started grooving, I felt like myself again and the project came out great.

Stress, anxiety, fear, these are all things we deal with differently. Forcing myself to just start a project until I get into a grove has worked so far for me but won’t always work for everyone. I’d love to hear what works for you so that we can help each other to stay proactive and motivated despite our lethargic feelings and various issues.

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I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!

The Secrets of an Urban Picker

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There are a lot of people that call themselves pickers. To me, it is not like the tv show at all. Personally, picking is something that happens in alleyways, backyards, and in dumpsters. I hardly ever approach someone in their house to sell me their junk like in the shows. To me, picking is free and a vital way of life that gives possibility and a new life to thrown away objects. There is no way I can rescue everything thrown away, but every time I go out picking, I come home with a car full of good usable material.

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Living in a large city like Washington DC, there is so much movement of people to and from the city, gutting historic houses, and just clearing out the grandparents belongings that it is a picker heaven! A normal day for me is driving in ever enlarging concentric circles out from my apartment down every alley. Of course, I have some secret stashes that are usually pretty good and areas of town that are better than others.

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Here are some of my secrets:

First, get there before the trashman. Find out when trash day is in the neighborhood and ALWAYS get there before. In my area, it is Friday mornings around 11am. If I can get out there by around 9-10am, I am usually good. For all the small stuff that can fit in a trash truck, this advice is good. For larger items or a complete garage or basement gutting, they require a special permit to pick up the extra large items of trash and it takes a few days, so you’re safe for a while.

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Second, find areas that are recently gentrified in the last 10 years. Usually these homes are bought by more affluent people who either took over a home from a relative or bought from an older person in a historic neighborhood. Since we have become an Ikea generation, I tend to see the best treasures come from these homes.

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Third, closely related to number two, watch the streets for signs of a new house being gutted. I LOVE seeing a dumpster outside of a gutted house. Oh man, SCORE everytime I see this. Sometimes they close up the dumpster, but that doesn’t stop me. If you can gain access to these treasure troves, you will always find gold. From old single paned windows to huge metal and wood beams, to brass door knobs and socket plates. The list of amazing things thrown away in bulk is astounding and usually I cannot fit it all into my car. Always watch for signs in the neighborhood, displayed work permits and even for sale signs on an old house that is going to get flipped. On average and in my experience, the new tenant hires a contractor to rip everything out down to the studs without care for worth, so for people like me, this is our mecca. There is nothing like filling up a hatchback with reclaimed beams, solid wood casings, and brass knobs. I salivate just thinking about it now.

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Fourth, keep an eye out for large apartment buildings. Especially in this area, apartment dwellers are for those that are up and coming financially and are constantly upgrading everything in their lives. In the days of Amazon, no one is fixing older things and people are getting new things constantly. I have found perfectly great flat screen led tvs, a desk made during WW2 in England, so many antique chairs that need some glue, screws and love and so much more. Big apartment buildings usually have an overflow or large object room for bulky trash. If you can, get access to these or wait for them to throw it outside in the dumpster. I hunt in these areas every time I go to see a friend in an apartment and 6/10 times I am rewarded with picker gold.

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Alright, I think those are enough tricks of the trade for now. I will write more about this soon but can’t give away everything or I would be out of business.

I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!

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