In the winter, I interviewed Louis-Phillipe Leonard, co-founder and marketing manager for Leon Lebeniste, for an article in about-to-land Coast Mountain Culture magazine.
Now that summer’s here, and I’m man-handling my bike onto its wall hooks in the garage after every ride, I’m coveting their signature bike rack even more.
Here’s the story behind it.
Jon and I had always dreamt of doing Leon Lebeniste in BC someday, though I had taken a couple years in a different direction from Leon Lebeniste and was starting a new career in TV hosting in Montreal.
Jon had shipped all the machinery out to Squamish and set up shop there. He called me from BC and told me to come for a few days and even offered to pay for the flight. He said: Come. If you like it, you stay. If you don’t, go back and do the TV hosting in Montreal.
It took me 3 days to realize that Squamish was the best place in the world. I decided to stay and that was the best decision I ever made.
The story behind those racks – after moving to BC to room with Jon we ended up renting a new place in Amblepath. The landlord, when we visited, was pointing our each little tiny scratch on the walls from the previous tenant and was asking us to sign everywhere on the lease so that we’d be responsible for any new damage..
After that, owning 4 bikes myself, Jon 2, skiis and snowboards (all leaning against the walls), I was like, how am I gonna do this without ever scratching anything. So then I thought, Okay, I have access to the coolest woodworking tools in the world… Let’s make a bike rack.
- Load 4 bikes
- made of Europly (multi-layered baltic birch)
- easy to assemble and disassemble
- no tools required
- flat pack so I can store it in a closet or underneath the bed or ship it easily all over the world, and it doesn’t take to much space to store in a bike shop
- Lots of hanging on both side for gear and equipment so you’re not looking for your helmet of pads all the time when it’s time to go for a ride, it helps drying wet equipment and keeps everything off the ground.
So it started that way. I made a few prototypes and improved all kind of details on it and I can say that they work really well now.
Usually when I explain all these details, people look at me and say that’s very smart.
The bike racks are cut with the CNC machine. We’re on to the 9th version of the original bike stand. I would say, especially for “LE GARDE” our most popular one that is made for 4 bikes front loading, there’s maybe 150 hours of design time in it.
A work of art and a talking point all by itself. Eric Goodwin
So nice I didn’t want to put it into the garage. Graham Bolenback
I love my stand, and my neighbours comment on it all the time. Chris Kiely
7000 photos later, I have a 7 week old baby.
(Apparently, he crossed over from being a newborn to being a regular garden variety baby at the 6 week mark, a milepost we came upon like rally car drivers, speed-whipped and vaguely stunned, leaning hard into the next turn.)
There is a new quality to my days (apart from the Monty Python moments, like 5 minutes ago when I backhanded a half litre mug of tea over, onto a storybook, notepad, camera, desk calendar and box of colouring pencils piled neatly on the kitchen counter. Sippy cups – clearly not originally invented for the babies.)
It’s a shining, ice-cream headache kind of quality (which may be the abrupt assault to my circadian rhythms perpetrated by the lovely but hungry Wee Dictator and his marble-sized stomach)…
or maybe has nothing to do with sleep and is just the halo effect of the boy who strikes me as peculiarly brilliant – not in any IQ, developmental fashion, just in a radiant illuminating kind of way.
His existence seems to affect everyone around us:
my father in law stares at a tape measure laid flat on the floor, unleashed to 90 inches, pondering his 65 inch notch in the tape and how little time he has left compared to his grandson who has barely even registered on the timeline;
my mother is packing together five generations worth of family heirlooms and 35 year old babyclothes that she has had hidden under the stairs to bring for her first visit, even though all we really want from Australia is Vegemite and sun-kissed cuddles form Grandma;
my 6 year old niece and 3 year old friend are obsessed with looking at the baby, especially when he’s asleep. “Can I see the baby?” they ask, (and call him “she”, which makes me wonder momentarily, ‘too girly a name? too girly a wardrobe?” or maybe they just see him as a miniature version of themselves.
Don’t we all.)
My husband’s 90+ year old grandmother says wistfully, “he’s right at the beginning of things. Everything to come will be a first.”
And everyone else says: Enjoy it. It goes by so fast.
A cliché I turned my nose up at before…
but I watch his changing face and try and decipher his grunts and squawks and leg kicks and headflops,
and I think about my friend Ronan, who died suddenly at just-turned-two, (and his parents who carry that with them like a second skin,)
and about my friend Ange, who died on Friday at 38, (and whose brand new baby girl will carry that with her, into her brave and barely begun life,)
and I’m crying for us all, and how goddamn fast it really feels.
And I’m hoping the post-natal depression screen doesn’t pick me up; that this isn’t labelled as anything other than an almighty dose of love, life, and whiplash at the barely-bearable fleetingness of being.
When my father-in-law first left us in Home Renovation Wilderness, he was worried.
But he had to let us fall out of the nest on our own, so he distilled all his worry and advice to this:
Every day, make a to-do list.
Start it fresh, every single day. On a clean sheet of paper. And just work your way through it.
We went through a lot of scraps of paper.
But we came out the other side – health, relationship and renovation project in tact.
It’s a simple survival tactic that has subsequently gotten me through several major Events Marketing and PR gigs, three more house builds, life as a freelancer, and a bout of stress-induced insomnia.
(The only cure for the 3am Monkey Mind is to get up, write that shit down on a piece of paper, and go back to bed. It’s amazing how pathetic those to-dos seem in the light of dawn.)
Recently, I read a great piece in brainpickings, on how to further refine the list.
A psychologist was invited to give a talk at the Pentagon on managing time and resources. He decided to warm up the generals with a short writing exercise – to write a 25 word summary of their strategic approach.
The exercise stumped most of them. None of the distinguished men in uniform could come up with anything.
The only general who managed a response was the lone woman in the room. She had already had a distinguished career, having worked her way up through the ranks and been wounded in combat in Iraq. Her summary of her approach was as follows: ‘First I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three down.’”
The bottom line: get it down to 3 things.
Behance’s Action Method notebooks are a fancy way of facilitating that, you could become a disciple of David Allen’s Getting Things Done process, or you could try a free app like WunderList, but ultimately, a post-it note, or the back of the envelope will do.
Just realise that a 50-item list, no matter how helpful or authoritative it purports to be, is about, oh, 47 entries too long to be useful. Unless, of course, you are trying to build an entire culture from the ground up. If you’re just trying to get through the day, keep it to 3.
The Passenger is still on-board, so technically I haven’t survived pregnancy yet, but 260 days into this gestation-thing, I’ve distilled it down to this: surviving pregnancy doesn’t require any more gratuitous advice from any more well-meaning self-declared (“I’ve had a baby/been pregnant/read a book, so I know all there is to know”) experts. So I’ll keep this short.
Like a snowflake/fingerprint/bundle of human cells, every pregnancy experience seems to be completely different and unique, making the single the best piece of advice I received to toss the What to Expect when You’re Expecting bible into the trash-can. Along with any expectations. The roller coaster ride begins now. (Honestly. If someone tries to give you that book, burn it. And if someone gives you a copy of Tina Cassidy’s Birth, set yourself on fire. Self-immolation is the only way to purge your mind of the images of early surgical interventions. Instead, get thee straight to Pregnant Chicken’s website.)
couldn’t have made it wouldn’t have wanted to try making it this far without 3 things:
1. Coconut oil.
Stretching skin itches. Coconut oil, straight from the grocery store, was this caterpillar’s saviour. (Skin is your body’s largest organ. So I don’t really want to put anything on it, that I wouldn’t eat.)
You’d think the biggest benefit of coconut oil is the chance to smell like tropical paradise in the middle of winter, but it’s actually unscented – another bonus when your sense of smell and taste goes on overdrive.
According to the Authorities of the Interwebs, there are well over 101 uses for coconut oil, beyond the edible and nutritive, including managing cradle cap and treating other tender body parts. (Guess I better get another jar.)
Something awesome happened in winter 2010 – an awesomeness that passed me entirely unnoticed until a few months ago, when the rules and regulations over who can assist with your birth suddenly became relevant to me.
Vancouver Coastal Health announced that the Squamish General Hospital would welcome midwives.
Whatever journey it had taken to get there, and I imagine it was quite the ride, this has meant that my pre-natal care was covered by MSP, and that I can elect to birth in a hospital with a midwife attending, effectively enjoying the best of both worlds.
Recommended by a new mom friend who is also a public health nurse, I met with a midwife at Roots Community Midwives early in my pregnancy, with a million questions and no freaking idea what I wanted or needed. I still had questions when I left that appointment an hour later, but I had a sense of being listened to, that someone was tasked with my care who was medically trained in maternity care and whose philosophy centres around empowering women and couples as they become families and are masterful at holding space for that transformation to unfold at its natural pace.
6 months later, I pulled my partner in to an appointment. He’s the logistics guy in our relationship and had started to have a million questions that I couldn’t answer.
He’d been talking me down from the ledge for the past 180 days, and now had a chance to enjoy the same support. Leslie listened and answered all his questions. When we left he said, “Wow, it’s like there are no stupid questions, even when you’re asking something you know is dumb. They really hold space for you.”
3. A sense of humour.
When you go from feeling like this:
in anticipation of this:
a sense of humour is all that you can really count on.
I figure, if I can’t see the funny side of this ride, I am well and truly hooped.
At approximately 34 weeks, the gestating woman enters what could otherwise be termed the “holy shit” phase of her pregnancy… as in: “holy shit, only 6 weeks to go,” or “holy shit, that’s the size of a newborn baby’s head?” or “holy shit, this is really happening, isn’t it?” or “holy shit, could you get off my bladder, please?”
As a deadline-driven person, I’ve been stunned by the ferocity of focus that a baby’s due-date brings with it. Everything about my life, as I know it, seems particularly fleeting right now. This could be a our last 6 hour road-trip (without having to stop for breaks or endure endless “are we nearly there yets?”). This could be our last completely spontaneous bike-ride/conversation/moment together. This could be our last meal where no food ends up on the floor and walls.
So, when we headed to Silver Star for a long weekend with friends last month, solidly in the “holy shit” phase of our child-free life, the trip had an added poignancy. A feeling of last hurrah. As one friend pointed out, it was our “babymoon.”
I’d never been to Silver Star before, and it charmed me utterly with its ski-in, ski-out village, candy-land colour scheme, and network of downhill, Nordic and snowshoe trails. The place is so pretty it should tinkle.
But it also occurred to me that someone should let Will and Kate in on the secret: a ski resort is actually a great place for a babymoon.
1. Pregnancy is about making space – physically and psychically. Ski resorts are fundamentally “made” spaces, designed to let you shift into a different gear. Silver Star is a completely manufactured resort – but it creates a sense of magic and whimsy and escape masterfully.
2. Your inclinations are suddenly in perfect sync with everyone else’s. Case in point: 3pm nap-time on the couch in front of the fire with hot chocolate on the coffee table and snow falling outside, is as equally sought by the pregnant as the non-pregnant people. (But the pregnant can always pull rank on limited real estate.)
3. Time stops – even with full wifi, a ski resort is full of signs of Bygone Days – a VHS collection in the corner, a fondue set, a shag carpet, retro photos. 8 months pregnant is a funny balancing act: you don’t really want to get any more pregnant, but you increasingly want to be on the other side of this incubation project. A literal time warp is a nice place to be for a few days.
4. All kids look cute in their full ski gear. Lots of cute kids ripping around, especially at a place that is as family friendly as Silver Star is (ice-skating rink, tubing park, trails everywhere) makes you kind of optimistic about all the adventures you’ll have as a family.
5. No housework or chores. No bikini buff bodies. And no reason not to go out for several delicious grown-up Last Suppers.
It certainly helps if you are an expert skier, not on bedrest, and can still slide around. Nothing like gravity and perfectly groomed runs to make you forget how much you resemble a Heffalump.
I recently had the chance to profile the design wizards – Louis-Philippe Leonard and Jon Hewitt – behind the Squamish woodworking and finish carpentry studio, Leon Lebeniste, for the upcoming summer issue of Coast Mountain Culture… and we digressed into a conversation about labours of love and honouring the life-force with our work.
Co-founder Jon Hewitt shared these images of what he refers to as “the more meaningful work we’ve done,” including a mantle for Rory Bushfield to remember the late Sarah Burke and a maple vessel for Jon’s late grandma.
We’ve had a few personal projects that have been labours of love. Those that stick out are those that have meaningful stories attached to them. Last year when Sarah Burke passed away, Rory and Gordon Burke dropped by a week or so after. Rory brought us some wood that he was gonna use to build a mantle in their home. Ryan Westfahl and Jon made a beautiful piece to hold the urn that Gord made. We were pretty honoured that they would come and see us for something important like that.
Here are a few other notes from an edifying back and forth with Louis-Philippe on behalf of him and Jon…
LR: We’re living in an era of disposable cheap furnishings and super contemporary design. Where does woodworking and traditional handcrafted furnishings fit into that? Is it a tiny niche? A growing one?
LL: I would say it’s a growing one. Now you can buy good looking furniture that is made for cheap overseas in stores all over the world. The purist will see the difference from miles in between a real handmade, crafted high end piece versus one made quick and fast. A well designed + made piece that can last for generations is an investment. Lots of people don’t know the difference but that’s the way it is. We educate them if we can. Our niche is definitely growing well and fast.
LR: What type of person seeks out custom work?
LL: We have a lot of fun working with our clients. They’re people who are looking for something that they get to participate in creating. They get something that has a story to it, and we put so much passion into each piece we create that it kinda gets a little of a soul of its own.
Often they have unique functional or aesthetic requirements so custom work is the obvious route.
LR: I’d like to believe there is a slow renaissance of craftsmanship brewing in the world, as a reaction to the extreme impacts of globalisation and the hyperkinetic pace that our world and economy operates at. We can only have the pace of growth we’ve sustained over the past 20 years, if most of what we consume is disposable. But we can also slow everything down and sustain craftspeople, working on products that are meant to last forever. What do you think it’s going to take for the model to actually shift in that direction?
LL: That’s a big question. I’m curious to see what direction we can take things in the future. Clearly pursuing our current direction has some significant issues that come along with it.
And just in case you were thinking about dropping by and asking for Leon, here’s the story behind the name.
LR: Who is Leon Lebeniste?
LL: The Leon Lebeniste name came to be on a cold winter day on the St-Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands (where we started the company). Prior to starting Leon Lebeniste, Jon and I were roommates while studying in Montreal.
Sitting around a wood stove at the end of the day while having a couple strong Quebec Unibroue beers, Jon + I were having fun and trying to come up with a name for our company. A few beers deep we were having a blast hanging out but we were still without a name.
At first we were considering the obvious names to do with architectural millwork, fine furniture, woodworking but nothing that really spoke to us..
Jon has a really nice tall black Labrador named Leon. Leon is a really fun dog, a very animated character. Leon was hanging with us in the original workshops on that night. After trying so many names, we looked over at Leon chewing a large piece of wood and said looks a Leon L’ebeniste.
The french word ébéniste was one who worked with ebony, a favoured luxury wood for mid-seventeenth century Parisian cabinets.
We kinda both laughed thought that it could be cool, different and nice to name the company with his name in it.
We decide to tweak the name a bit by adding the L in front so it looks more uniform and we removed the accents on the “e” so it would be more multi-lingual.
It’s funny ’cause people often call or drop by and ask for Leon. We say sure! We call Leon ’cause he’s always with us every day, since the first day. He’s been part of the crew for almost every single of the thousands and thousands of hours that have gone into Leon Lebeniste.
The most amazing thing about working as a journalist is the chance you get to have great, insightful, curiosity-stoking conversations with people – conversations which you document.
(This has turned me into the kind of person who hates to let a funny or insightful comment go unrecorded – I am forever reaching for my notebook through tears of laughter, to capturing a witty quip or hilarious moment. My workmates are so used to it that they have developed this collective Pavlovian twitch. When something comedic is said in the studio, they jerk their heads around to see if I’m getting it down. My husband has become desensitized to my pen-reaching reflex, although every now and then he’ll yell, “No! no! Don’t write that down. You’re just going to use it against me.”)
I write stories about mountain life. And people. In this small way, I’m doing my best to stop time. Or at least, slow it down, just a little. And when people die, as they are sadly all too wont to do, I am so grateful for the chance I had to sit with them, our attention completely focussed on the single conversation at hand. I think of the late Florence Petersen, Doug Deeks, Bruce Edmonds, Wolfgang Klautt, and Sarah Burke – and feel grateful.
The one year anniversary of Sarah’s passing has just passed, and the twittersphere and interwebs are abuzz with remembering and news of the foundation launched in her honour.
I interviewed Sarah back in 2008, as I was starting to do a bunch of pre-Olympic stories. She was 26 and one of the most recognizable skiers in North America, having won every major competition in superpipe and slopestyle in the previous two years, with golds from the X Games, the Nippon Open, the World Skiing Invitational, Japan World Cup and the FIS World Cup. Powder magazine had named her one of the most influential skiers of the past 35 years, FHM magazine named her one of the hottest women alive, and she was the first skier ever to win an ESPY award for Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year 2007, from the American sports cable channel ESPN.
As for me – I was pretty much a nobody, writing for little publications and grassroots magazines and constantly hustling for another story, another byline. Sarah returned every call or email or request I sent her on frantic deadline, from wherever she was on the road, without any suggestion that my bona fides were less than A-list.
She was a star, but her sport wasn’t yet an Olympic discipline. Going into the winter of 2008-2009, the 2010 Games was a year away and buzz was building about lobbying attempts to get halfpipe recognised as an Olympic sport, something that was looking increasingly unlikely for 2010 because of the molasses-clogged machinations of the IOC.
Sarah, a veteran at accomplishing the improbable, (at 18, she had begun a lonely campaign to have women included in the X Games, competing against the men in order to be part of the field, and then saw women’s competitions added to most of the major events), was 100 per cent behind the campaign to take bring ski pipe into the Olympics.
“All of the top pros would be honoured to compete in the Olympics,” she said. “X Games is great, and a lot of fun, but the Olympics has something to it that makes it pretty special. It’s all the best athletes in the world. You can say to someone that you have an X Games medal and they’re like, ‘Oh cool, what’s that?’ People know what an Olympic medal means.”
Sometime in early 2011, my hard-drive was wiped clear and I lost everything. The first decade of my career, vanished into the ether. All I had left was a couple of notebooks and a box of magazine and newspaper clippings. I channelled Annie Dillard: “Process is nothing. Erase your tracks.”
But yesterday, I pulled out my old notebooks to see if I had any transcripts from those interviews with Sarah. I found 2 pages of my hard-to-decode handwriting with Sarah’s name scribbled across the top and re-read a skip-around-conversation that was rooted in a long-gone time and place. It didn’t amount to much, really.
Just one golden pull-quote, and an enduring sense of admiration for a true trailblazer. Hail the Queen.
Two things I know:
1. The secret to an awesome adventure is always an uncomfortably early start. I’ve learned this from ski days, climbing trips, epic mountain bike rides, and road trips.
2. All artists steal. Marketers steal the most. So do it, and do it shamelessly.
These two things came together for me the way water and espresso beans do… to create the copy for this ad for the Mount Currie Coffee Company’s brand new Whistler cafe.
The shout-outs belong to Lisa Ankeny of Sumire Design, who builds beautiful ads and brands, Chris Ankeny, the Coffee Maestro, whose commitment to killer Early Bird Specials, quality coffee, thoughtfully-sourced and crafted foodstuffs, and the Coast Mountains, has turned his cafe into THE pit stop/launching point for slednecks and backcountry adventurers, and finally, to Laura Ogden, a mutual friend of Chris and Lisa’s who I travelled with on a mag assignment to Revelstoke last winter. Laura spent last year working as a nurse in Mt Currie, and squeezing in quick solo laps up the Duffey before work. She called it Dawn Patrol. And like any good writer (magpie/ poet-thief), I wrote it down and vowed to steal it for myself.
Confession made. Conscience clear. Coffee, anyone?
I am having a baby.
It was a slip-up. Seriously. In 17 years, my husband and I, who like each other a lot, and have been officially ambivalent about having a kid that entire time, had unprotected sex, once. It came after a lot of cocktails. Bam. A little stowaway snuck past the Gates of Vigilance.
We figured it was meant to be. If it chose us, then we would step up. And be the best parents we could. Which means, we’ll probably be pretty mediocre. In fact, I fully expect to suck at this. But, I’m good at sucking. I’ve been rock-climbing for 17 years and I still flail around if I have to lead a 5.9 or 10, but I’m kind of proud of my own tenacity at sticking with a sport that I am so profoundly mediocre at. The thing is, what I get out of climbing, I would need to do 6 or 7 other sports and practices to replace it. So even though I’m not naturally gifted at it, and will never be featured in a magazine or represent as the poster-girl for womens’ climbing, I still do it. And enjoy it. When I’m not thinking I’m going to die.
I kind of think parenting might be a bit like this.
My girlfriends, none of whom expressed much ambivalence about parenthood, and who all leapt into in over the last decade, are all smart, strong, talented, brilliant women. They’re physiotherapists, veterinarians, lawyers, film producers, journalists, potters, teachers, guides, skiers, doctors, and they went into parenthood planning to be as good at parenting as they are at everything else they do.
Problem was, they weren’t. They couldn’t always get that baby to cooperate. Sometimes it just cried all night and they couldn’t quiet it down. Sometimes, it would turn into a little ratbag and bite the other kids at daycare. Sometimes, it would become the kid who always wanted to go hide in a dark room with the other kids and look at each other’s penises.
My mom friends, I think, feel frustrated that they aren’t doing the things they were brilliant at, and are spending all their time parenting and not feeling particularly brilliant. They’re not getting any recognition for what they’re doing, even though I personally think that the very nature of their love and service is fucking mindblowingly brilliant, their patience is fucking brilliant, their tenderness, their ingenuity, their ability to wing it, their ability to dig deep and find a bit more extra give when they feel like they’re completely empty – all brilliant.
And when I say to them, “Wow, you’re so patient…,” they say, “Oh, you should have seen me lose it last week. I actually spanked him.” And there’s a shadow of guilt that drops over their faces like a cloud when you’re at the beach desperately trying to get an all-over even tan, and I think – 895 days you have logged, in this tour of duty, averaging 4 hours of sleep a night, and you lost your temper once and you feel bad about that? Girlfriend, you deserve a medal. You deserve to be inducted into the Heroes Hall of Fame.
The problem as I see it, is, we don’t value that kind of “power” – the quiet enduring yin power that motherhood demands. Our culture celebrates the yang, the loud clanging stand up in front of the room and own the microphone and the spotlight and give a rousing speech and be as inspiring based on your outfit and your tone as by the substance of anything you say kind of power. We are a culture that celebrates the gong and the glory and the clanging bell and the here today and gone tomorrow and the goal-scoring record that lets you coast on that career peak for your entire life, and the ability to make tough decisions like laying off 600 people and outsourcing manufacturing to China. We are a culture that celebrates the “sacrifices” a fanatical workaholic career-achiever makes – look at what he/she gave up, all that time with their family, to become the coverguy/girl of TIME/BC Business/a supreme court judge etc. What dedication.
We don’t live in a culture that celebrates the person who actually gets the work of tending human beings done.
So there are two things working against women today.
One, our own expectations of brilliance and perfection, which, in a world of moving parts and random variables like parenthood, is impossible, and not something I’m even going to aim for.
And two, the culture of the world that places no value in unpaid work, in love, in service.
Oh sure, we all say Mother Teresa was amazing. But truthfully, we’re more inspired by Madonna and Sheryl Sandberg and Adele and Jacqueline Novogratz, because who really wants to die owning only a bucket and two saris? We crave the spotlight and the recognition and the glamour, and how could we not? We’re creatures of our own culture and we’ve been absorbing those messages all our lives.
I don’t want to be a servant. I don’t want drudgery. I want to be a self-actualised fulfilled interesting human being. Kid or no kid. But, I’m okay with mediocrity and failure being part of that. And I’m actually okay with no spotlight, because there are a few people who watch me like I’m the star of the movie, and they’re the audience that counts. And anyway, it’s my movie, and when it flashes back before my eyes in the moment of my death, the only person it has to be interesting to, is me.
So thanks little stowaway, for the chance to embrace messiness and randomness and to officially be a clusterfuck for the next bunch of years. We have called you The Experiment, because really, that’s all life is: a series of hypotheses followed by some trials, followed by a slightly refined thesis and then a new hypothesis… And we might accidentally blow some shit up, but we’re going to try our best to have some laughs while we’re doing it.
Penelope Trunk says the most revolutionary thing we can do for women right now is to stop celebrating women who choose to work 120 hours a week when they have a new baby.
But I say, let’s stop perpetuating the myth of brilliance – full stop. Everyone shines, at certain moments in their life. And for the other 99% of it, we’re just getting by. And that is totally fine.