Okay, where were we?

Right… I was itching to do more work and being foiled by the humidity and the rain.

I did my best to be patient, but: I am not patient. I finished the quote one night under plastic.


I also used the rainy days to pull apart the lock mechanism. I wanted a spring and I thought it would be kind of cool to use the vending machine’s own bits as much as possible to keep the project kind of organic (so to speak). A before-and-after:

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But then I really had to wait, because in addition to rain I also had Life Things to do. So I stayed itchy — literally and figuratively, thanks to the mosquitoes — for a few more days.

Then came Saturday. After a full day elsewhere I found myself with a few precious hours of sunlight and got back to work. I glued on the official Little Free Library sign I received and I tried out the shelves my husband had kindly made for me. Good thing, too, because the door wouldn’t actually close with the lower shelf in place, so modifications were required.


Then I invited my sister and her family over to add a bit of a personal touch to the project. We all traced our hands around the top.


While the tracing was going on, I had this conversation with my niece.

MG: What’s that?

Me: It’s a stencil. I use it to make the shapes look prettier. Want to try one?

MG: Yes. I want to try a PINK one.

Me: Well, the color of the stencil doesn’t matter as much as the color of the paint. Here, let’s use this blue stencil and do a flower.

MG: Okay, but I want to do a PINK flower.

Anybody want to guess what color MG’s handprint is?


Her mother did a fantastic job decorating her own handprint (blue) and my nephew’s. Incidentally, having his hand traced was apparently the scariest thing that has ever happened to my nephew, and involved a lot of screaming. So that was fun for everybody!


I finally managed to tear myself away Saturday night only because I knew I had nothing to do yesterday and could spend the day working on FINALLY FINISHING. So I got up bright and early and got to work blacklining. I caulked the random holes all over the inside (they were obviously deliberate, so I don’t know: maybe newspapers need air?). I also played around with a bunch of options to make the coin-return button ring a bell. This is why I wanted the spring.

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Unfortunately, I just couldn’t make it work right. I tried a variety of ways to extend the bells away from the wall of the box, but I think it needs more engineering than I wanted to spend on it yesterday. That shall be Project Part 2. (And if I have any readers at this point and any of them are engineers and can think of a simple fix, I’d be super-grateful!)

After caulking, outlining, plexiglassing, and shelving, I sprayed the whole thing with clear sealant. I should mention that I’m new to spray painting and I seem to overdo it. The clear is, obviously, invisible, so it’s even harder to see what you’re doing, and… some colors ran. I frantically tried to clean up the streaky parts and it just got worse. It was a rough hour or two.

In the end, I reminded myself that this is an exercise in creativity and having fun, not a competition. So I took a deep breath and declared the thing Done. (For now.)

Oh, also, I decided at the last minute to add the English translation of my quote on the inside. So you have to open the box to see it.


Next came the very funnest part! This puppy hasn’t moved since I dragged it to its current position on Memorial Day. Nobody was looking forward to moving it. But this is where my need for immediate gratification comes in handy. While others might have brainstormed and planned the best way to move 300+ lbs of metal and concrete around a house and down an embankment, I just grabbed the dolly and the husband and we JUST DID IT.

Husband also kindly provided balloons.



Yes, we came DOWN that slope, because it was going to be literally, physically impossible to lift this thing the two feet required if we’d tried going UP. I’m not kidding, y’all: it’s really heavy! I was a little worried that we would drop it and whoever was on the downhill side would be crushed to death. Fortunately, no death-crushage occurred.

Oh yes… a closeup of the tentacle. It’s glued to the plexiglass I used to close up that coin-return opening. It’s just the tiniest bit of randomness and I love it. 🙂


Now I am going to have to control my urge to check outside six times a day to see if anybody’s come and left books!!


Is this what creativity feels like?

I know it’s just yellow paint and stencils and this isn’t really the most creative thing you’ll ever see. But I’ve been interested to observe my own emotional interaction with this stupid mailbox. I’m OBSESSED with it.

It’s been too rainy or I’ve been out too late to do much work on it. Well, except for the one night I decided to cram in a little lettering right after work, but because I was in my work clothes I skipped the bug spray. Let me please whine for a second that that was a baaaaaaad idea. I’ve been itchy all week. (The upside is that I’ve had some thoughts about another piece for my Jordan blog, but that’s a small upside when you itch so much!)

But I did finish the quote!


Also, my official plaque arrived yesterday in the mail, so I’m going to Gorilla Glue that puppy on there tonight in all likelihood. And tomorrow evening and Sunday are going to be all about the library.

And I’m excited. That’s the fun thing! I don’t think of myself as a very artistic person. Partially that’s because I have a sibling who is a flat-out artist, and partially it’s because… I’m just not very artistic. I’m very self-critical. I like doing arty things: unopened paints or virgin sketchpads delight me. But as soon as I start doing anything I start wishing I’d done it better, and that’s really hard to turn off.

I know this box has mistakes. There are smudges and there are places where you can see I freaked out and deleted something with yellow spray paint. Some of the oil paints are on too thickly because I didn’t like the coloration and redid it. The quote looks totally hand-lettered. There’s stuff that bugs me. And I’m actively, deliberately not caring. It’s supposed to look fun and grab your attention, and I think it does that. Everything else is (possibly lumpy) gravy.

But I hadn’t really thought about how much I was going to enjoy doing this, and looking forward to working on it in the evening. I’m going to MISS this project when it’s done. And I keep thinking that it’s materially different, somehow, from my usual artsy projects (knitting and embroidery). I like knitting and embroidery and I’m not putting my needles down forever or anything. But a tiny part of my brain has suddenly wondered how one goes about taking welding classes. I think learning to weld things would be awesome. Anybody want to teach me?

I’m Not Alone, Thanks: A knee-jerk reaction to Jonathan Safran Foer

My Facebook feed has been riddled recently with editorials about how we’re losing something in our lives as we plunge ahead into the iWorld. This sentiment seems pervasive: witness the high-larious Toyota ads that remind us how silly the internet is when compared with “real” life. It’s annoying to me. And while it isn’t exlusively the point of his piece, Jonathan Safran Foer’s “How Not to Be Alone” is blowing up my Facebook feed this week. Congratulations, Mr. Foer: you have officially damaged my calm.

I read a really interesting piece dealing with privilege a couple of weeks ago. I recommend it highly, even if the word “privilege” scares you. Seriously, it won’t hurt you. Check it out. Basically, Doug Muder analyzes privileged distress through the lens of the movie “Pleasantville” and its patriarch, who finds his world crumbling around him.

George never demanded a privileged role, he just uncritically accepted the role society assigned him and played it to the best of his ability. And now suddenly that society isn’t working for the people he loves, and they’re blaming him.

We can feel sorry for George. We can acknowledge that he’s not a bad person and doesn’t want his loved ones to suffer. But at the same time

George deserves compassion, but his until-recently-ideal housewife Betty Parker (and the other characters assigned subservient roles) deserves justice. George and Betty’s claims are not equivalent, and if we treat them the same way, we do Betty an injustice.

See, there are all these other people in Pleasantville who eventually come to the realization that life could be better if they stepped outside the framework making George’s life so beautiful. And those people and their preferences exist and matter.

I think Mr. Foer is the George in this stretched metaphor. I think he, and millions of people like him, likes human contact. It may even be true that for Mr. Foer and his ilk human contact — profound, in-the-moment, personal contact — is the optimum kind of social stimulation. That’s great. You’ve had thousands of years of human civilization in which it was pretty much the only kind of social stimulation, and the culture that’s created (in a very big sense, where “culture” encompasses every culture of human history) is a thing. It’s not malevolent. You didn’t decide to participate in human society in a way that makes other people miserable. It’s just the privilege of people who do well in those contexts to have enjoyed those contexts, if you see what I mean.

But I’m going to postulate that throughout human history there have been people for whom your happytimes have been work. Way back in the cave of our hairy foremothers, I bet you had one or two protohumans who really didn’t like chatting much. Maybe those were the people who ended up doing most of the doodles on the cave walls or inventing arrowheads because they were banging rocks together. I believe they still had things to contribute, even if they weren’t inventing dance and reenacting mammoth hunts around the fire. And I believe they existed, and I believe they mattered, and across the millenia I would like to give them a hug.

I’ve often thought that I’d like to go out for a drink — because yes! I do occasionally enjoy in-person outings! — with Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. I think both women were frustrated and bored by the drawing-room cultures that were their lot. I think both women found solace in their odd little hobby of writing, and I imagine that a lot of their contemporaries thought they were kind of weird. I bet a few of the Concord socialites of the day worried that Louisa May just needed a little encouragement to fully blossom as the social butterfly they knew was in there somewhere. I like to imagine Louisa May wishing she could escort them handily outside into the Concord snowdrifts.

I’m not knocking the argument that we all need to slow down. But we all need all kinds of things, and we each need those things in different quantities. Some of us probably need to party less, and some of us probably need to go out more. Some of us need to put our digital devices down on date night. Some of us need to learn how to upload photographs already because it’s really frustrating that they can’t share pictures they take of their grandkids (ahem, MOM). But the fundamental truth is that we all need to figure out this new culture… and we all need to figure out how it works best for us.

Because the thing is, Mr. Foer: I’m not alone. I’m the exact opposite of alone… when I choose to be. When I wake up at 3am after a gut-wrenching nightmare and I want a community of people online playing Candy Crush, I can find that. When my guinea pig dies, I know where to find a community of people who know exactly how I’m feeling, and even “knew” my guinea pig personally through my stories and posts. When I’m bored someone’s around to chat. When I have an insightful thought about a Dr. Who episode, there are legions of geeks ready to explain to me why I’m wrong. I’m not alone. And I absolutely, positively refuse to concede that the way I and my kind socialize is somehow less worthy than your preferred networking.

I am working on quieting my own ADD-y mind now and then, and being in the moment. I find those practices refreshing and helpful. They are useful tools in the toolkit I use as I navigate adulthood. Most of the time, I find having sixteen windows open on my desktop and three or four IM conversations going on even better.

“Shooting off an e-mail” may, in fact, be easier for me “because one can hide behind the absence of vocal inflection” — but that condescendingly implies that vocal inflection provides useful information for everyone. In this day and age of autism awareness, I’m disappointed that you don’t see this condescension yourself. Not everybody easily understands social cues. And people who use atypical vocal inflection in their own communication find themselves misunderstood, ostracized, and lonely. But they exist and they matter.

As we learn more and more about the permutations of the human brain, I wish we could stop bemoaning the technology that allows some of us to finally feel socially successful. If you took away my Facebook, Mr. Foer, I don’t believe I would actually develop the skills needed to flourish in your drawing room. I think I’d end up in the back of the cave, banging rocks together and being pretty damn sad. Why wish that on me? If you don’t want to come play in my chat room, feel free to go for a walk instead. The beautiful thing about the diversification of our culture is that now we both have the option to pick activities that feel good to us.

That’s the bottom line for George in Pleasantville, too. He has two options. He can feel betrayed and bitter because he’s no longer king of his little patriarchy and he can go form a political party that says offensive things about women. Or, he can try to build a life that is maximally enjoyable to him while also not oppressing Betty. Maybe if he talks to Betty about why she likes her life better now, they can learn things about each other and benefit from each other’s experiences. Maybe they can even work something out where she makes the occasional pot roast if he’s on perpetual standby to come kill the bugs. But if he just runs around yelling that Betty’s headed on a path of inevitable destruction — that our digital future, if you will, ends in people who exclusively “communicate without speaking or moving” — he just kind of seems like a jerk.

Betty likes her Facebook friends just fine.


Okay, so it took about ELEVENTY more coats of yellow paint. (And with each can of paint I buy, this project gets less and less cheap…)


But finally I managed to spray on enough yellow to eliminate the patchiness, as well as to coat my driveway and my arms semi-permanently. And look how shiny and yellow it is!


I’m not bothering to spray paint much of the HIDEOUS BLOCK O CEMENT because it’s going to be under a shelf. Also, before you ask, I have no idea who (or what) TW is.

The next thing I did was take my snazzy oil paint pens (thanks to my sister!) and re-color each of the griffins from the “Griffin Daily News” logo. I like the design, but also I like that it highlights the history of the box. I felt like I had to get rid of the actual text logo because it was going to confuse people too much; I don’t want people thinking I’m actually selling newspapers. But I liked keeping the griffins. So I did that on each side, plus a little doodling/stenciling to get a feel for the paints.


Yesterday was a fabulously typical southern day: oppressively humid alternating with actually pouring. Fortunately these are oils and they dry pretty quickly. So I’d cover the project with a tarp when it got really really rainy, and then get right back to it as soon as the sun came back out.

I stenciled for about six hours.


On the right side of the box, we have dogs/cats/farm animals on the lower panel, and birds on the upper panel. Plus what I hope came out as a cheerful clown as opposed to a scary killer clown.


On the left side there are dinosaurs (I love how these came out!) and robots.


And on the front, so far we have sea creatures and seasonal icons. The upper door will probably need some art too, but I want to install the official Little Free Library charter sign before I do too much up there.


I feel like it looks a little chaotic right now. When I finish outlining everything and adding the quote, and when I finally feel safe enough to remove the paper and tape covering the various windows, I think it’ll start looking a lot tidier.

But that may have to wait a while. Not only is it back to the work week, but I’m not sure how well I could even hold a paint pen today! Turns out that six hours in various contorted positions on gravel (albeit also on a yoga mat) does weird things to your wrist. So it may be next weekend before I get back to paints.

In the meantime there are things I plan to do with plexiglass, springs, and cat toys. Also, of course, the tentacle.

Cutting and colors

Yay! Unlocked machine! Now the real renovation could begin.

Firstly I wanted to remove several things that were ugly. The sample-copy rack had to go. The crosspieces popped right off when I applied a little pressure to the solder holding them on, but the main frame was stuck down beyond my strength.


In that picture you can also see a bendy-metal… wait, no, let’s go back a second. You know what you can see in that picture?


You can ALSO see the bendy-metal shelf thing inside that I could just bend out of the way, but that was ugly and kind of sharp. I don’t want neighborhood kids cutting their wrists.

Clearly it was time for Husbands With Power Tools.


I will say here that I’m perfectly capable of handling tools myself. This is not a gender issue. I just don’t like things that make sparks, and I suspected that this was going to make sparks.

See? Sparks.


So that stuff is all removed. With the help of a vacuum cleaner and about six rolls of paper towels, the dead bugs and dirt were all removed too. I sanded down the roughest rusty spots and then it was TIME FOR PAINT!

Or primer, at least.


I had grand plans involving leftover house paint and rollers and brushes, but after I was half done getting a coat of primer on this beast, I knew I wanted to spray the base color.

I’m also not a fan of delayed gratification. So I was standing there, sweaty and gross and covered in primer, and I did the obvious thing: I sent my husband to get the spray paint. I said “Get two contrasting colors, for the inside and the outside.” He said “How will I know which colors?” I said “Two NICE colors!”

He looked terrified.

A little while later he came back with a rocking fluorescent orange for the inside and a flat-looking yellow for the outside. I will admit that I was a little disappointed. It didn’t look all that exciting: just yellow. Then I noticed the name, which is “John Deere Farm Equipment.” That? Is awesome.

Here’s what it looked like after two coats. To the right you can see the cap of the fluorescent orange, which unfortunately just didn’t work, so it’s actually yellow inside and out now.


And honestly, after a third coat, I am in LOVE with this color. It’s shiny and bright and it will definitely attract attention.

Now, if it will just not rain after 6pm one darn day this week, I’ll get the last coat on and get started on the FUN stuff. Like stencils.


And tentacles.


Taking things apart

So I found myself in possession of a big old newspaper vending machine. It took me an hour to figure out how to open it, which I did mostly by sticking my arm in the available crack and seeing if I could find anything that felt like a latch. That was fun. I definitely did feel things that felt like dead bugs and spider webs!

Eventually it occurred to me to see if the thing just worked. I grabbed some quarters and discovered that for the low, low price of $.50 I could open the door! The locking mechanism worked perfectly. And it was even fairly self-explanatory; with only a few minutes’ consideration I was able to set the price to $.25, or to $1.50. What I wasn’t able to do was set the price to free, which is kind of important in the making of a Little Free Library.

Obviously I did what I do best and turned to Google. I discovered that the maker of the whole thing still exists — in case you’re in the market for a brand-new newspaper vending machine of your own. (I will add that they do NOT respond, at least not quickly, to frantic emails saying “Help! I need to take apart a lock you sold in 1976!” So thumbs down on that customer service, Kaspar Wire Works!)

I discovered the patent for the lock mechanism (here, if you’re bored). It had fun patent drawings and one of them was clearly my exact device. But there were a lot of parts labeled!


Unfortunately… I mean, I’m a word person. I looked and looked at the lock itself and at the schematics and the only real result was that I am now absolutely in awe of lock designs. I know there are digital versions out there now and I can’t believe they can be half as beautiful. I put a quarter in this thing time and time again and I watched the little switches and arms move and they moved gently and with no force. And yet somehow at the end the whole operation depressed a latch-tongue that actually takes a good degree of pressure to depress by hand. I have no idea what’s going on. But I’m glad Mr. Knickerbocker and his kind exist!

I am, however, laser-focused when I encounter Very Important Problems like this. (Just don’t ask me to clean my closet.) I wasn’t going to give up, even when it was pretty obvious that I was in over my head. I’m smart! I have technology! Specifically, I have an 8-megapixel camera on my phone! I closed the door as far as I could, so as to enlist gravity in the operation, and wedged one arm into the machine and under the lock. I took pictures. Then I inserted a quarter with my other arm and took more pictures. I did it again with video.

I got a couple great pictures of my nose from underneath, and some stills that might make interesting desktop wallpaper, like this:


But at the end of the day they didn’t make a whole lot more sense to me than the patent drawings and they definitely didn’t unlock the door.

One friend suggested leaving a container of quarters next to the machine. I’m still laughing about that one. I suppose the guy who checks out local pharmacy-by-mail packages to see what’s in them (he always returns my thyroid drugs!) would be pleased, but I’m not convinced it would actually help people in the neighborhood have easier access to books. So that wasn’t on.

In the end, I resorted to a skill I picked up way back in my days at Kalamazoo College Recycling, where our basic MO was to locate anything that could be unscrewed and unscrew it. (Hi, Rob!)  I unscrewed lots of things. I’ll admit I also had to bend some bits and bang on some other pieces but finally the whole lock mechanism came off. The door’s heavy enough that it sits shut without a real latch, so that’s the plan for right now.

And there was much rejoicing!

How I acquired a vending machine. Or: Griffin is far, and cement is heavy

Here is a new law of the internet: Craigslist transactions are weird, 100% of the time. Even if they end up going off more or less without a hitch, they’re WEIRD. This is a truth.


My sister found the ad for this sucker and mentioned it repeatedly while I shopped online for something that would make a good Little Free Library. I had this fun idea that I was going to make a library for cheap. Hahahaha.

So after a dozen emails and texts I had more or less arranged to go buy this newspaper vending machine. I drove south and my GPS had me get off the highway much sooner than I’d anticipated, with like an hour left to drive. Not a great sign. But the weather was lovely and I was in a great mood so on I drove. In my Honda Civic, because that’s relevant later.

I managed not to stop at ANY of the yard art and folk art places I drove past! Somebody please give me some kudos for that.

I finally ended up at what my phone assured me was the right place, which was halfway between nowhere and nothing as far as I could tell. Seriously, I was driving along amidst nothing, and suddenly there was an airport and a couple neighborhoods. I love remembering that America is full of these places. I found the correct house and found a tall gentleman working in the yard outside.

Y’all, this guy was SOUTHERN. And not in the redneck way that television would like you to understand Southern. He reminded me of high school football coaches. He had the accent and the vibe and I wanted to hug him.

He took one look at my car and he said “Is someone else coming with a truck?” And to his credit, although it must have been immediately apparent that I was totally clueless, he didn’t even make fun of me.

See, it turns out that when they installed these vending machines back in the day, they kept them from wandering off by putting them where they belonged and then FILLING THEM WITH CONCRETE. This sucker weighs over 300lbs if it’s an ounce. And there I was with my Civic and my two hands!

Bless his heart, dude helped me figure out how to wedge the horrible beast into the back of my trunk, heavy end first, using the bumper as a fulcrum (the paint is fine, Mom! haha! totally fine!). We cleaned out everything that might blow away on the long drive home and threw it in my back seat. And I tied the trunk shut, sort of, using the rope that my father insists on leaving in the trunk of every car he’s ever owned. (I should add that this is not the first time that rope has come in handy. So thanks, Dad.)

I wasn’t too worried about the trunk coming open or the machine falling out because 300 LBS, PEOPLE. I was more worried about my rear axle. I kept telling myself that I must have had 300lbs of passenger before, this couldn’t be that bad, right? and I drove home very slowly. And in fact I spent the whole drive home trying to figure out how the hell I was going to get this beast OUT of my car. I knew I couldn’t do it by myself, so it was rapidly becoming a real possibility that I was going to have to leave it there for two days until my husband got home. I was envisioning picking him up at the airport with the rear end of the car looking like this:


Haha! Welcome home, honey! Please wedge your suitcases into the back seat because VENDING MACHINE!

Fortunately, one of my lovely soon-to-be neighbors was home and came over to find out why there was a vending machine hanging out of the back of my car. With the help of gravity, simple physics (the fulcrum again!), and brute ladystrength, we managed to wiggle the beast out of the trunk… and onto my foot.


Ohhhhh yeaahhhhh.