The Bespoke Blog

City Guide to Truckee: Stargazing

On a clear night in Truckee, you can see an abundance of stars from your own backyard. But sometimes, it's nice to get a new perspective.

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How about star gazing from the comfort of outdoor hot springs? Sierra Hot Springs is just a 45 minute drive away.

Lodging, meals, and workshops are available for those who want to make a weekend out of it. Stay in a private or dormitory-style room in the lodge or hotel, or set up a tent in the campground during the summer months.

But we think it makes a great night excursion from Truckee, the perfect getaway whether you're a local or just visiting the Tahoe area for a few days. Either way, pack the car with some open-minded friends (the hot springs are clothing-optional) and warm clothing for your walk between the baths.

The Meditation Pool is best for star-gazing. It's open seasonally, so check with the main office before you go. But for daytime soaking, the indoor Temple Dome pool offers equally beautiful views of the valley.

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Day rates are extremely reasonable ($15-$20) and give you access to the pools until midnight-- plenty of time to unwind and watch the stars spill across the sky.

If you want to stay in town, consider a different kind of star-gazing at the Cedar House Sports Hotel. We mean, of course, five-star dining at the in-house restaurant Stella ('star' in Latin and Italian).

Seasonal menus keep things fresh. This spring, start with a crisp beet and tart apple salad topped with spiced pistachios, followed by duck pate and cara-cara oranges on crostini, and a main course of curry-crusted lamb drizzled with habanero honey.

Executive Chef Jacob Burton was a nominee for this year's People's Best New Chef award in Food & Wine Magazine. At only 29, Burton has a lot of training and professional experience under his belt, and it comes across in the simple, yet sophisticated dishes he makes at Stella, often incorporating produce from the Cedar House Sports Hotel's own gardens.

Burton also maintains an online instructional library and forum for Stella called Free Culinary School, where home chefs can browse video tutorials on a variety of professional techniques, from pan-roasting halibut to choosing the right saute pan.

Go for dinner or consider stopping by in the early evening to pick up a loaf of artisan wood-fired bread. Dinner begins at 5:30, Wednesday-Sunday at 10918 Brockway Road.

Heirlooms in the Making at Oaks Bottom Forge

When I walk in the door at Oaks Bottom Forge, blacksmith and owner Pat Wojciechowski is at the design table, talking and laughing with a visitor.

Through the glass wall beside him, sparks fly from a classic open-hearth style forge, where several smiths are busy heating, hammering, and working hot iron into the shop's popular knife blades. There's an aproned smith having lunch on a stool nearby, while another blacksmith polishes a finished blade near the door.

The forge is bustling with life.

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This is the vision Pat had for a community metal workshop, tucked into a revamped storefront in Portland's quaint Sellwood neighborhood. Oaks Bottom set up shop quite literally in the middle of things. There's a video store next door, a cake bakery across the street, a doggy daycare down the block. Straight off the nearby Springwater Corridor trail, cyclists and pedestrians can watch the smiths in action through the thick glass windows. 

He's just finishing a meeting with Bartek Prusiewicz, a local sculptor. Pat's team made a hand-forged miniature harpoon for Prusiewicz, to complete a piece in anticipation of a gallery show.

What better illustration of the continuing relevance of a blacksmith? The doors at Oaks Bottom Forge are always open to the public, and people with all kinds of projects visit the shop to inquire about custom metalwork. 

"I want to show people that this is an art as well as a craft, and that it's very much alive," Pat tells me when we sit down together at the design table.

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Oaks Bottom's primary focus is creating affordable, heirloom-quality knives. Pat had been working alone before moving to the current location. When he realized he was receiving more orders than he could fill, he began looking for a space where he and a growing community of blacksmiths and artists could hammer every day.

Currently, nine full-time blacksmiths contribute to the production process. While a single knife is often created assembly-line style, the smiths each do "a little bit of everything." They also teach basic knife-making and woodworking classes as part of Oaks Bottom's ongoing workshop series.

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Available online and in various retail locations, including Bespoke, the knives are hand forged from 01 tool steel. The blades stay sharp for a long time. A chef's knife the crew uses in the shop was last sharpened in March.

"We literally just sharpened it again the other day," Pat chuckles.

He tells me an Oaks Bottom knife ends up being the go-to knife for his customers. When they have people over to cook, it’s the one their friends automatically reach for and want to use.

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 But it's not just craftsmanship that makes an heirloom.

"It’s not about the knife, it’s about the knife," Pat says. "If you really put yourself into a craft, that creates conversation, and a community grows around that. It’s what happens around the process of making the knife, or using it. Whether it's the workers, sitting around the shop table sanding handles and talking. Or someone buys a mushroom knife, and takes it with them everythime they go out. It’s what happens while you’re using it that’s important. That's what people want to pass on to their children."

Today is for Paper

It must be something in the air. Around this time of year, I start dreaming in water color. My fingers start craving scissors and paper. I get out the box of tangled paper cuttings and scraps and glue, sifting for ideas.

Maybe it's muscle memory. Maybe I associate the shorter days and cooler nights with working on gifts and creative projects indoors. As the holidays approach, our thoughts turn to our loved ones. For those who are far away, we're planning to put ink to paper, tuck a recent photo in an envelope, and maybe a small gift.

Today is for paper. Whether you're going the DIY route, or picking up a stack of handmade cards, Bespoke's got you covered with paper goods from small companies who care.
 
From Florida-based Rifle Paper Company, we carry a selection of gorgeous greeting cards and artful calendars, hand-painted by husband-and-wife-team Anna and Nathan Bond. We think German supplier Stockmar offers the best in classic art supplies that last. Straight from San Francisco's Mission district, we've got beautiful stamp sets from the quirky Yellow Owl Workshop, run by another husband and wife duo, Christine Schmidt and husband Evan Gross. And when you're ready to take a break? Kick back and read a few Tahoe-themed stories, from California press Heyday Books.   
 
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 Clockwise from top left: 1) Stockmar watercolor set. 2)  Yellow Owl Workshop carve-a-stamp set. 3) Scissors, made in Germany. 4) Herbs and Spices Calendar, from Rifle Paper Co. 5)  Yellow Owl Custom Garden stamp set. 6) Tahoe Beneath the Surface, from Heyday Books. 7) Secret Garden calendar, Rifle Paper Co.

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What are your paper traditions?

Do you cut snowflakes with your family, and cover the living room windows? Stamp your own wrapping paper on cut-open brown grocery bags? Pair a handwritten note and a secret cookie recipe with a jar of pre-measured ingredients? 

Now's the time to pick out new stationery, and pore over the stamp options at the post office. Nothing beats a real letter, arriving as if by magic in the mail box. Yes, it takes a little extra effort to jot a note and address an envelope. It's not as fast as an email or a text. But in a fast-paced world, there's no better gift than slowing down, and taking the time to show you care. Writing a real note can be a gift for both sender and receiver.

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Today is for... Mountains

Truckee is a mountain town. There's a kind of grit and grace to living here year round. Mountain men and women, gold rushers, homesteaders, early settlers-- our predecessors knew the meaning of hardship, sacrifice, and perseverance in a way that's hard to fathom now.

Still, there are slivers of that tough pioneer commitment left in the groove and fiber of this place. Those of us who stay are here on purpose. It's not the kind of place you wind up in without intention, without weighing the beauty on one hand and the work on the other. For mountain lovers, the extremes of living at altitude are offset by the extreme privileges of its natural beauty-- from the stunning turquoise of Tahoe on a still day, to the powder of stars on a clear winter night. Here are a few of our favorite things, handmade and mountain-worthy.

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 1. Known for its simplicity and durability, the Opinel hand saw features a high carbon folding blade and safety hook. It's lightweight and portable. 2. If you can't live here, go on Permanent Vacation with this compact anthology from local press Bona Fide Books. It pulls together accounts from twenty writers on the experience of living and working in our national parks. 3. A bottle of backpacker's cologne from Juniper Ridge might not be the best idea for the trail, but it can help you bring the trail back to the world of screens and paperwork. 4. This is your chore shirt for life. From Muttonhead, in wool and waxed canvas. 5. Add a pair of Tellasons, and you might never buy another pair of jeans. 6. If you know a Rhode Islander, you probably know about Dave's coffee syrup. What you might not know is that Dave's Coffee is a family-owned, certified organic roaster. 7. Get extra brownie points with a Faribault scarf: classy and cozy.

 

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1. When the temp drops, you can turn up the collar on your Curator jacket 2. A classic wool Faribault Scarf gets an update with fresh neon stripes. 3. Like a field walk after the rain. Brew a pot of white sage and wild mint tea from Juniper Ridge 4. Make a statement with a Laurel Hill mountain necklace 5. Tuck a box of art supplies away (notebooks, Lyra pencils) for snowbound afternoons 6. A great gift idea: mushroom hunting knife and tools from Opinel 7. Take the advice from Gary Snyder's poem "For the Children": stay together/ learn the flowers/ go light. Gather some friends and learn to cook with Sierra Nevada plants. Living Wild cookbook.

Spotlight on: Krista Tranquilla

This week we’re catching up with local maker Krista Tranquilla, whose popular jewelry line incorporates a Tahoe-rooted sensibility into simple, understated designs. Krista puts a great deal of care into her handmade pieces. She’s as committed to quality craftsmanship and artistic growth as she is to developing sustainable methods for creating. Find her work at Bespoke, or catch her in San Francisco at this weekend's Urban Air Market.

Krista and daughter Gypsy work in Krista's home studio. 

Krista and daughter Gypsy work in Krista's home studio. 

Tell us about your path to becoming a working artist.
I studied business in college, and I took an amazing jewelry class in my twenties. It stayed a hobby until my mid-thirties, when I kind of jumped in without looking. My desk job wasn’t satisfying anymore. I wanted to make things, not be on the computer all the time.

When I was on maternity leave with our second child, I had a lot of time to reflect. I asked myself, Is this it? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? In Truckee there are so many entrepreneurs, so many craft people just going for it. I thought, why can’t I do it, too? It was this place that moved me, being surrounded by the right people who showed me it’s possible. And then it was about my husband and I creating an environment where it could be possible.

Who do you look up to?
I’m very much inspired by my surroundings, so the people who come to mind are local artists. Alanna Hughes. I can remember sitting next to her by the pool one day, just talking. Our girls are the same age. She gave me the encouragement that I could make it as a working artist. It was very motivating.

Mary Burrows had a similar path to mine. She worked in the corporate world for a long time, and I loved her story, how she started with her love of words. Most of my own work right now is also based on some inspired moment.

What else inspires you?
Most of my inspiration comes from being outside, recreating that sense of peace and place. I’ve got two young girls and life is busy. I’m inspired to make stuff that calms me down and centers me.

Do you have any (silly or serious) rituals in the shop?
The one I’m trying to get better about is vacuuming at end of the day! I don’t feel like the day gets started until I put on my shop shoes and my apron. I don’t have a commute and I don’t drive much, so I switch on NPR when I work. Our house backs up to greenbelt, with a window onto trees, so my studio is very calming. There’s lots of light. It’s nice. There’s no bad view in Truckee.

New work in progress: no-solder hoops, woven earrings.

New work in progress: no-solder hoops, woven earrings.

 

 

Tell me how you incorporate your environmental concern into your work.
I don’t have traditional art school training. I’m self-taught, and I’m always looking for ways to be more creative, smarter, and cleaner as I work. For example, I don’t use an acid for etching, just simple household vinegar and borax as a flux. Right now I’m enjoying using my camera and computer to make making images. I make a plate, then use electric etching, which involves copper sulfite. It’s still a chemical, but it’s much less toxic. I keep finding ways to get chemicals out of my studio, which is in my home. And it simplifies things. At the end of the day, you have to deal with whatever chemicals you use, with hazardous substances. I also try to use recycled materials. In fact, the pieces I make from reclaimed metal are my most popular items.

Can you talk a little about your Tree of Life design?
I have two in progress. The first is a classic coastal cypress, from being in Monterey a few weeks ago. I wanted the other to be more local to the Sierra. I chose a local cedar, because I wanted it to be more authentic and meaningful for mountain people. I’m thinking of a John Muir quote for the back: "...for going out is really going in." The Tree of Life symbol means that we are all connected, and I wanted to put a spin on that. It’s about being connected through connecting with the outside. I think that’s why most people come up here— to be outside, whether they’re visiting or they live here.

The Beauty of Process

In a results-driven culture, we're often so fixated on the next goal or milestone that we forget to appreciate the process. We neglect our families and friends in the rush to finish a project at work, telling ourselves, Just one more late night, then I'll clear my calendar for the weekend.  We give more attention to our ever-evolving to-do lists than we give to our bodies, in need of some idle time on the porch swing or a float in the river.

The truth is, we can never keep up with our to-do lists. If we're even a tiny bit ambitious and altruistic, there will always be more tasks, household repairs, and people in need than we can ever tend to in this lifetime.

That's why the vocation of artist is, in some ways, inherently countercultural. The artist willingly pushes out the noise of to-do in an attempt to listen to a deeper, wilder voice inside. This voice is unintimidated by the anxious press toward completion--sometimes frustratingly so. If you've ever tried to hurry along a poem, a story, a ceramic bowl or even a cheese souffle, you know that craft and inspiration are immune to any agenda-based pressure. Sure, a looming deadline or customer order can quickly cure a case of procrastination. But the muse is not a workhorse. If you demand a specific outcome or shape, and you're not willing to move with the creative process, you kill the spirit of creation.

This is both exhilarating and exhausting.

mary burrows of mb studios, at work on a handmade ceramic plaque.

mary burrows of mb studios, at work on a handmade ceramic plaque.

Any artist who makes a living from their art is familiar with this balance. On the one hand, there's the very unpredictable nature of creating. On the other, there's the very real need to sustain and support creativity in practical ways, grounded in good business sense. Most of the time the two needs are at odds, though sometimes the tension itself can be creative fodder. 

That's why it's essential to return to process itself. Process is the still point, the neutral ground between the two sides. It takes a kind of meditation to acknowledge both the fear of not knowing the outcome of the piece in front of you, and the need to pay bills and do the laundry, and then put both aside as you focus on the present moment.

There's an interview with visual artist Ian Boyden in the most recent issue of basalt, an art and literature journal put out by Eastern Oregon University. In it, the interviewer talks about his teacher's apprenticeship in Iran, studying Islamic calligraphy. At first, the artist was told to study the overly elaborate examples of text and illumination that most of us are familiar with. But as he improved, he was shown more and more refined examples, with less decoration. Finally,

"he was taken to a secret room, where he was shown what his master considered the finest expression of the calligrapher's art. He presented my teacher with blank sheets of paper. But as he moved in for closer scrutiny, the text revealed itself as the marks of writing with pure water on the surface of the sheet. The greatest statement had nothing to do with legibility. It had to do with process."

(Quoted from "With Forces Older than our Sun," by T.C. Ely. basalt, volume 9, no 1, pp 22.)