Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Five Takeaways of Logrolling: Jamie Fischer

For many a Canadian child growing up in the 1980s, the Log Driver’s Waltz by Wade Hemsworth and the accompanying cartoon short created by the National Film Board of Canada are a classic slice of Canadiana. The premise of the Log Driver’s Waltz is that log drivers, who would typically drive felled logs down the river by using their balance and agile feet, could be compared to great dancers.
While we were enjoying this cartoon in the Great White North, down in the US, Jamie Fischer was actually honing his logrolling skills.
“We knew of the Log Driver’s Waltz in the US, but the more popular song for us was I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay by Monty Python,” he laughs.
Fischer’s great grandfather was a lumberjack, and picked up logrolling, only to pass it on to his grandpa, then to his dad, then to Jamie. You might say that the Fischer family has a logrolling legacy.
Fischer was encouraged to take his logrolling professionally, and started Lumberjack Enterprises, a company which serves to increase the popularity of lumberjack sports in local communities.
Below, Fischer provides his five takeaways of logrolling.

1. The historical practice of logrolling was extremely dangerous.
“Logrolling was traditionally a way to transport logs – essentially, after they were felled in the spring, the logs would be put in the water, and rolled down to the city. Competitions emerged when say, two opposing camps would finish for the day and see who was better or faster at logrolling,” explains Fischer.
“At the time, log rolling was very dangerous – since it was the spring, the water was ice cold and there were risks of hypothermia. Literally, there would be chunks of ice floating in the water. Also, the logs were huge – if you fell, you could potentially be crushed between two logs, and drowning was very common at the time,” he says.
Occupational safety was probably not at the top of everyone’s list then. Nowadays, competitions take place in fairly temperate places where there aren’t any waves, large boats or logs, or exceptionally cold water.

2. Logrolling is a predominantly east coast Canadian and Midwest American tradition.
Not surprisingly, logrolling is popular in areas that used to or continue to be areas for heavy forestry activity.
“The Midwest of the United States is probably 95% of the world’s logrollers. The west coast of the US has some, and Japan used to have some in the 1970s. But overall, you’ll find that most logrollers are from the Midwest,” says Fischer.

3. The best logrollers are either small and quick, or big and strong.
“In order to win a logrolling competition, we’ve seen either those small people with quick feet to roll the log, or bigger people who have a lot of strength, who can control the log. However, we’ve noticed that people who compete in logrolling competitions usually weigh 200 lbs or under. That way, the log doesn’t just sink if they stand on it,” explains Fischer.

4. There is a whole host of lumberjack related sports.
Within lumberjack related sports, there are two categories. Water events, and chopping events. Birling, or logrolling, is one of these water events, while the other is boom running.
“In log rolling, competitions involve two logrollers standing on a log and trying to roll the other off without going touching the centre line or touching their opponent– whoever falls off first, loses,” says Fischer.
“Similarly, boom running is like logrolling. A bunch of logs, maybe half a dozen, are tied to a dock on one side and the person has to run to the other side and back again without falling into the water.”
The booms were originally put in to build a barrier, or a giant bridge to prevent logs from scattering across the river.

The other events are chopping events. There is an event to see who can chop down a tree faster, or nowadays, chopping a block of wood horizontally and vertically. There is also a ‘Crosscut saw’ event, where two people cut logs into specific dimensions or lengths, where the object is to cut a disk off of a horizontal log, forming a block that resembles a “cookie”, in the shortest amount of time.  An event called  ‘Hot Saw’ is similar, except competitors use saws with modified engines.

5. Logrolling, if you can find somewhere to do it, is physically and mentally challenging exercise.
After Jamie Fischer finished college, he wanted to start his own company to increase the availability and popularity of logging programs, which turned out to be Lumberjack Enterprises. Since then, he has gone around the country introducing these programs at different community centres and universities. There, he trains staff and faculty, and then encourages them to take over the program. To date, he’s started 25-30 programs around the US.
Learning how to logroll can be tough, though.
“When you’re learning, there is a huge learning curve. It looks really easy, but it’s actually very frustrating at first. Usually, people stand on the log for three or four seconds, and then boom! You end up falling in, wondering ‘why can’t I stay on the log?’”
However, those that do stay with it find that it’s extremely challenging, both mentally and physically.
“It is a great form of exercise when you get the hang of it, and at the end of the day the camaraderie you build, and the people you meet are a lot of fun to hang out with,” he says.

More information can be found at Lumberjack Enterprises and the US Logrolling Association.


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The Five Takeaways of Touring: Mustard Macklovitch

If you’re a music aficionado, you’ll certainly know who DJ A-Trak is.  In a nutshell, DJ A-Trak was a Montreal-born  DJ prodigy who won all the major DJing championships in his teenage years.  Years later, he became Kanye West’s touring DJ, started a record label called Fool’s Gold with Nick Catchdubs, and became well-known for his live shows, remixing, and producing.  He is also a prolific blogger, regularly documenting his travails and travels, and posting up the odd hotel review.  A-Trak has spent plenty of his almost 15-year career on the road.
A recent addition to A-Trak’s shows is his trusty steed, Mustard Macklovitch. Mustard Macklovitch first appeared in summer 2009, when he accompanied A-Trak on his 10,000 lb Hamburger Tour across North America. They toured and trotted together for a month, explored the whole continent, and of course, made new friends together.
However, don’t be fooled by the cuddly exterior.  Mustard, with some guidance from A-Trak, is a touring warrior.
“Sometimes when I meet people they ask me for some travel tips. They say they want to hear it from the horse’s mouth… I guess that’s me,” he neighs.
On break from touring and at home at the Fool’s Gold stables, Mustard Macklovitch provides some advice and his five takeaways of touring below.
1.  See as much of you can of each city.
“It’s so easy to just stay in your barn and sleep until showtime, but every time you make the effort to go out and explore it’s instantly gratifying,” he explains.
“If you’re a clotheshorse like me, you can often find some unique pieces on the road.  It’s good to get to know the history of the places you visit too, it gives you a better understanding of local customs.  I love discovering new cuisines.   Sometimes when we’d pass a fast food chain, some of the other guys on the bus would settle for that yucky food, saying things like ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.’  First of all that’s a terrible thing to say.  And second, once you make the effort to find the good local spots, you build up these great memories of the cities you visit,” he whinnies.
2.  Take care of your body: eat well, sleep well, exercise.
“Touring is exhausting.  Your days fly by so fast, you can literally forget to eat sometimes.  You can go out after the gigs, get carried away with some horseplay and end up sleeping 3 or 4 hours every night.  That’s not good!  You have to take care of yourself, and it’s not that hard.  All you need to do is prioritize these basic things that you body needs.  As long as you sleep decent hours, eat your apples and whatnot, you’ll be fine.  I’m lucky, I actually like to exercise.  I’m trying to get A-Trak to run laps with me but he’s always playing with his Blackberry.  Next time he does that I’m going to eat it,” he neighs.
3.  Be nice to the people you meet.
“They’re so appreciative when you’re kind, and it’s simply the right thing to do.  I’m not asking you to put on a whole dog and pony show.  Just be courteous, get off your high horse and you’ll quickly realize that the people you meet aren’t that different from you and your friends.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than making friends,” he explains.
4.  Pack light.
“The rookie mistake is to show up with 2 massive suitcases packed with every saddle you think you might need for different weather conditions.  Then you just end up wearing the same 3 outfits on the whole tour and you find yourself lugging these big heavy bags for no reason.  When you’re getting your bags ready before leaving home, resist the temptation to bring useless stuff.  If you get that urge, hold your horses.  Bring your essentials and leave a bit of room for things you might buy too!” he nickers.
5.  Blog.
“I’m a modern horse.  I embrace Web 2.0.  I take a lot of pictures with my new friends and love sharing my experiences with the world.  There are lots of people out there who might know one or two things about you, but when you really start writing about experiences, the bonds that you build are so much stronger.  Now I really feel like I know a lot of you even though we may have only met for a few hours.  What’s more, all my memories are crystal clear since I wrote about them!”  he whinnies.
Mustard Macklovitch adds some closing thoughts.
“I just wanted to mention that this is my first interview and I’m so excited about it!  I hope to continue making new friends, you’ve all been so nice to me.  As long as I continue to travel, gallop on new trails, meet nice folks and eat local delicacies, I’ll be happy.  So long!”
Mustard has a Facebook Fan Page.  More about his owner and friend, DJ A-Trak, can be found here.


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The Five Takeaways of Craft Shows: Benita Hsueh

Many of us dream of one day quitting our day jobs and doing what we love instead.

Several years ago, Benita Hsueh did just that.  She worked at a large computer company, and decided that she was tired of working for the man.  Instead, she decided to craft.

“It all started when I was little.  When I was growing up, I would make paper cutout dresses for my dolls – either doll clothes were really expensive to buy, or I always found something wrong with what was out there and wanted to make something I liked,” she explains.

All this designing and experimentation led Hsueh to build House of Hsueh and We are Wedges, her bag/accessory design and stuffed toy ventures, respectively.  Craft shows have been an integral vehicle to showcase her work and to earn a living.  To date, Hsueh has participated in over fifty craft shows, and is something of a Toronto craft show veteran.  Below, Benita provides the five takeaways of craft shows.

1.  The best time to do a craft show is hands down, Christmas.

When I ask Hsueh when the best time is to participate in craft shows, the question is a no-brainer.

“Christmastime!  Christmastime!” she says emphatically.

“Spring is okay, there’s more browsers then.  But Christmas, the time from September to the end of December, people are always looking for unique or odd gifts.  Any other time of the year is pretty hit or miss.”

2.  Participate in the established shows – if they build it, people will come.

“To figure out what show to participate in, I check with the organizer if the show is established.  The way to know is if these people know what numbers come through to the show each year, or the ones that I see who do advertising, both online and in any popular local papers,” she explains.

Otherwise, there are craft shows where the only thing moving through the aisles are a couple of tumbleweeds.

3.  Never underprice your work.

“I definitely encourage people to craft, however when doing this, I recommend that people don’t underprice their craft.  Selling for under cost doesn’t help anyone – you, because you’re not making your money back, and second, because it’s damaging for people who make a living out of this kind of work,” says Hsueh.

4. Etsy is often used as a supplement to craft shows, and can be both a bane and a boon.

Many crafters often use the website Etsy to create an online presence beyond craft shows.

“Etsy has made it really easy to set up an online store, and it is very user friendly.  The nice thing about it is that it makes the world your market.  However, Etsy is something you have to work at.  There are millions of products on Etsy, and there are so many new products every day that you have to pour hours of work into it.  It’s hard to keep up.  Also, if you’re trying to make original items, it’s really hard to keep it original, and it’s often a place where your ideas can be taken.”

5.  Lastly, at craft shows, never forget tape (especially of the duct variety), a pen, change, and coffee.

For those people who prefer to stick to physical craft shows, the above items have been necessities for Hsueh in a variety of scenarios.  Duct tape is good for sticking and fixing.  A pen is great to jot down information.  People always run out of change, and coffee is a godsend for early mornings.

And of course, don’t forget your crafts.

More information about Benita’s work can be found at House of Hsueh and We are Wedges.  Benita’s work is also going to be at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto.

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The Five Takeaways of Soapmaking: Teresa Mak

Soap is something that we often take for granted, yet it’s something we can’t live without.  We pick it up at the pharmacy for a couple dollars, it cleans, and somehow melts away, only for the process to be repeated again.  Soap has existed for centuries, yet the average person knows little about how it is made, save for glimpses of the process in the movie Fight Club.  Of course, there’s no better way to create interest in a hobby than having Brad Pitt’s face attached to it.

Brad Pitt was not the reason that Teresa Mak, my sister and an engineer by trade, got interested in soapmaking.  Teresa was given a gift of handmade soap several years ago, and she realized how much she liked it – it lasted much longer and was much more moisturizing than a conventional bar of soap.  However, upon a return trip to the store to pick up another bar, she was dismayed to find that the soap was no longer available.

What else is an engineer to do?

“I decided to make my own soap.  It turns out that if you had the ingredients and you experimented enough, it wasn’t so hard, and actually it was really fun!”

Leave it to my sister to find soapmaking fun.  She ended up turning this side experiment into a sometime business venture called Sherlock Soaps.

Below, Teresa Mak provides her five takeaways of soapmaking.

1.  Basic soap is made from a combination of a base and fat.

The essence of soap making is a process called “saponification”.  As Mak describes, “Saponification is where a strong base, the lye in this case, reacts with fats to form soap.  As a by-product, glycerin is formed, and it naturally occurs within the soap.  I’m not sure how true this is, but apparently in ancient times the way that soap was discovered was that ashes were accidentally mixed with animal fat and then formed suds, and Romans would wash their clothes with this mixture.”

The miracle of the whole process is that the mixture of strong bases and fats, which on their own seem so useless, can create something so useful.

2.  Most commercially distributed soaps are made of unsavoury fats and/or strange chemicals.

Soaps these days rely on the supply of cheap fats, in which today it is often beef fat, palm oil, or petroleum by-products.  Which seems odd, considering that these products on their own are things that one wants to keep away from their body.

“I’m not sure how comfortable you are with rubbing saponified beef fat onto your body, but essentially that’s what it is when you’re using Ivory Soap,” explains Mak.

So much for that pure image of a baby bathing with Ivory Soap.  Mak prefers to use fats like olive oil or coconut oil.

If not strange fats, then commercial soaps also contain a whole range of synthetic chemicals.

“In a commercially available soap, detergents help to clean, sodium laureth sulphate helps to bubble, and artificial fragrances help to make it smell nice.  This combination creates something ‘soap-like’, but isn’t quite soap,” says Mak.

3.  Making a bar of soap takes about an hour, but the whole process can take a month before it is completely finished.

If you are one of those people who are interested in making your own soap rather than buying it off the shelf at the store, Mak explains the soapmaking process below.

“The process of getting the soap to react initially takes about an hour.  Here, you have to melt the fats, add lye, and mix until initial saponification.  After you ‘cook’ the soap, you pour it into the moulds, after which it goes through the gel phase.  As the name suggests, the gel phase is where the soap goes through a crazy reaction where it gets very hot and starts looking like gel.  After about an hour, it cools down and turns into a harder piece of soap.  What it hardens, that’s when I cut it into smaller pieces.  As for curing the soap, after I cut it I let it sit for about a month before it’s ready to use.”

4.  You can tell if a soap is done by tasting it.

The prospect of tasting soap does not sound particularly tempting, considering that many years ago washing your mouth out with soap was considered a punishment.  However, Mak assures me that tasting your soap is the way to tell if your soap is done.

“Glycerin is slightly sweet, and nice hand formed soap with glycerin should taste sweet.”

5. Always remember to keep some vinegar at hand for any safety mishaps in soapmaking.

If the above process hasn’t deterred you from making your own soap, it is important to remember that when making soap, lye is a very strong base and should be treated with caution.

“I recall one time I tasted a bar with what I thought was glycerin on top, but it was actually lye.  Gross!”

Vinegar, an acid, helps to neutralize any lye splashes.  And of course, when the soap ingredients are mixed, it is close to neutral.

Barring burns, the time commitment, and labour, making your own soap is a great way to build an appreciation for something we so often take for granted.  Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all.

You can also keep yourself clean with Teresa’s soaps, which can be found online at

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