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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Two Cowboys: Life's a Lot Like Bull Riding at Wicked Willow Log Works in Carstairs, Alberta

Bull Riding and Small Business

You never know where you're going to land. One day you're on the back of a bucking bull and the next you are starting a small business in Alberta. These endeavours have more in common than you may think. It happened to Rodeo Star Beau Brooks in 2014. In his words, "You have to stay on top to get paid."


In bull riding, you need to have the guts to climb on the back of a monster beast. Then you hold on for your life and to earn your pay. When you fall, you can only hope to land on your feet to avoid humiliation and injury. Finally, if you have what it takes to succeed, you do it again. Getting back up separates the champions from the "never to be heard from again". Every ride is a learning experience. You learn about your limitations, and you gain respect for the beast. Even if you finish the ride with success, the whole endeavour is set to claim a toll on your body. It will leave you with scars and life stories of a hell of an adventure.

Entrepreneurs don't often see or get to know the small business beast they are climbing. If they did, many wouldn't dare to even try. For the enterprising few that do get on, it is a daily struggle to persevere and maintain focus. Many cards are stacked against their success. As they hold on for life, they become familiar with the all-consuming monster of hard work, at all hours of the day and night. Then there are the regulations, taxation, minimum wage, quality control, financials, staff, and customer complaints that are set to wear you down. With every fall you get to know yourself a little better. When you get back up to try again, you become the backbone of society. That is why there will always be special people that ride bulls, and those with the guts to start businesses. Not many will be able to say that they've done both.

In 2014, as a rodeo star riding bulls and a father to be, Beau Brooks built for his wife Nerissa, a yard swing set and a bedroom set. Friends and family saw the items and wanted the same. The garage was quickly turned into a workshop, and the fledgling business called Wicked Willow Log Works took flight. As demand and requests for new products grew, they had to expand. Since then, they've outgrown the garage. They added some friends to the crew and started to chase the dream of building log cabins in 2017, with the first one delivered and another in process.


It is striking to see the core values of the Cowboy culture in Beau and Nerissa's business. You have two humble, committed, community focussed, and hard-working people with big dreams and big plans. Judging by the pace set by Nerissa, they also have the energy to pull off. They are succeeding in building a flourishing business during one of Alberta's hardest economic downturns.

The products are as unique as the materials they use. They do it with Alberta lumber and take pride in every item that leaves their store because it is rustic and authentic. It is hand-made in with a lot of Wicked Willow talent and commitment.

I asked Nerissa and Beau about their goal for the near future. "If we can build our own cabin like we do for other people, it will be wonderful!", was Nerissa's reply. I have every bit of confidence that the cabin is a lot closer in their future than they expect if you judge it by the demand for their work.

We look forward to visiting them soon in their own home.

Hendrik van Wyk
Log Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to publish our premium content. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other local maker stories.









Saturday, January 13, 2018

Traveling Cowboys: Trying Out New Hat Styles at Calgary's Only Custom Hat Manufacturer, Smithbilt Hats

It's a Fedora

Some people will call just about anything with a brim and a fixed crown a “fedora”. For the purist, a fedora is a felt hat with pinched sides and a lengthwise crease down the crown. It gives the front a familiar wedge-like shape.

One of the big advantages of a fedora and one of the reasons for the style's popularity is the wide flexible brim. Fedora brims are flat with no constructed edge or curl. The brim can be bent up or down as the wearer pleases.

The crown and the brim can both be moulded to the wearer’s taste. It means one can extract a lot of personality from these hats. The shape of the hat always communicates personality. So does the way it is worn. For example, it can be tilted down over the eyes which gives a mysterious "I mean business" look. It can be angled slightly upward for a more open and approachable form.


We love wearing out Cowboy hats. Brian Hanson from Smithbilt Hats shaped them for us and over the years it's become a part of who we are and a key element of our brand.

There are many practical reasons for wearing a hat and we don't need fashion to convince us to do it. We wear hats because without it we're not dressed properly. It enhances our personality, keep the sun out of our eyes and it means business.

Enhancing personalities with hats is something Smithbilt has done for almost a hundred years. They've done it for many, many celebrities and visitors alike to Canada's largest western city. We are glad to be counted among them and glad that we can support one of the last hat makers in our country.

There's a saying that goes, "Never touch a Cowboy's hat". We are quite happy with ours, so don't even try touching or interfering with the way we look. However, Brian invited us to find out more about some of the other, more contemporary, styles of hats manufactured and shaped by this iconic company. We were introduced to the Baby Grizzly and the iconic Fedora.

If you want to see more of the "newer" style hats we recommend a visit in person to their new more contemporary building. If you cannot make it in person, check out their hat collection and accessories in their recently launched online store.


We wear hats and we encourage more people to do so. Remember, that when you wear a hat there is an etiquette.

For example, it used to be polite to take your hat off when entering a building, but the loss of hat-check girls (what an era!) and hat racks means this is no longer a rule. No one wants to put a hat that costs hundreds of dollars on a seat a greasy countertop or hold it in your hands trying to go about their business.

Take your hat off when eating. A real cowboy still takes it off in the presence of a lady, or in church. Tip your hat to a gentleman the first time you meet him and to a lady every time you greet her. Tipping your hat to a man thereafter becomes "weird". For a lady, it continues to be a sign of respect.

One last and important rule, never touch another cowboy’s hat. That’s just asking for trouble.

Hendrik van Wyk

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to publish our premium content. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other local maker stories.


The Hat



Hat Shaper


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Traveling Cowboys: The ¡Perfecto! (Best) Margarita at Aroma Mexican Restaurant in Canmore, Alberta


The problem with our line of work is that our palates are spoiled. We have the privilege and plenty of opportunities to eat the best and drink the fantastic wherever we go. The result is that our expectations are high. It also means that our standards are ever-increasing.

We do have our favourites, though. Ever-so-often, we have to circle back to what we refer to as "our people". They are our friends where to we travel. Visiting them, eating and drinking the best they have on offer is like wearing a familiar pair of comfortable shoes or sitting in a favourite chair. There is no pretence. It is the casual and a part of us.

This is how our love affair started with Margarita, until Laura at Aroma Mexican Restaurant in Canmore, Alberta made it enduring.


A margarita is a cocktail consisting of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, often served with salt on the rim of the glass. The drink is served shaken with ice (on the rocks), blended with ice (frozen margarita), or without ice (straight up). Although it has become acceptable to serve a margarita in a wide variety of glass types, ranging from cocktail and wine glasses to pint glasses and even large schooners, the drink is traditionally served in the eponymous margarita glass, a stepped-diameter variant of a cocktail glass or champagne coupe.

There are various stories about the origins of the drink during the earlier parts of the last century. However, most people know its murdered cousin found at the typical all-inclusive Mexican hideaway or passed-off as a drink-of-choice for riotous partying Springbreak youngsters in warmer climate locations.

We've discovered that the real Margarita is a drink with character and a power that should not be underestimated. Laura at Aroma Mexican Restaurant in Canmore introduced us to her. Aroma is now our favourite place for our Margarita-time because we've not succeeded in duplicating their version. This spurred us into action. We had to find out more about the secrets behind their particular version that makes it so uniquely delicious.

Chef Jose Castillo and Laura Matamoros were both born in Mexico City and raised in the kitchen. In 2009 they introduced the Bow Valley to their authentic and traditional Mexican cuisine in the Bow Valley. The restaurant has a warm and cozy atmosphere. It emulates the intimacy felt around a Mexican’s family kitchen table. Jose, himself is behind the stove in the kitchen.

He offers a fusion of Indigenous and Spanish cuisine, traditional sauces, tortillas, and desserts. All are artisanal homemade and slow cooked from scratch for each order. It is worth the wait if you are lucky to get a seat during the busy times. We know Jose and Laura personally, so it is our weekly culinary gourmet trip to Mexico. There is always a special table reserved for us, the "familia".


Laura took us on an expedition of Margarita discovery without divulging a single secret. From that perspective, we failed in our quest to know how to make an excellent Aroma Margarita.

Instead, we journeyed through the traditional, the flavourful, the herby, the fruity, smokey and the savoury. Just as our faculties began to fail at number four (or was it six), Laura managed to wake us with the kick of a spicy Jalapeno signature Margarita. After that, it all became a blur!

Aroma is not a "fancy" restaurant. Jose and Laura succeeded in keeping it personal and homey with really good traditional, but refined food. If you take time to get to know them, you will find it quickly turns into a friendship. For us, it is a welcome friendship because it includes frequent rendezvous with the fabulous Margarita.

P.S. Some Margarita's are only available when Laura is in attendance, and you won't find it on the menu. She guards her recipes that closely ;-)

P.S.S. If you have the guts, ask for the Two Cowboys version. See what happens!

Hendrik van Wyk
Mexican Cowboy

We earn our livelihood by producing great content and supporting inspiring people, businesses, and communities. We use Patreon to publish our premium content. Please become a patron at if you want to see more of this and other local maker stories.


Order is Up!




The Perfect Time


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