Korean-esque pumpkin seeds!

So I’ve had these two pumpkins sitting on my kitchen counter since the third week of October. Fortunately, pumpkins are kind of self-contained and long-lasting, if you don’t carve them. I finally got around to doing anything with them this weekend. And by “anything” I mean, of course, “the best thing.”

First, I discovered something that is in retrospect self-evident but was very exciting. I put on a yucky old t-shirt and got ready for slimy upper arms and then I realized that since the time for jack-o-lanterns is long over, I didn’t have to stick my arm in the pumpkin! I could just whack that puppy in half and scoop it out like a civilized person!

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I washed the seeds to get rid of most of the yucky stuff…

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Then I sprinkled them liberally with salt and left them to dry overnight.

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After browsing recipes online for forever, I decided to ditch them all and try my own. This is about creativity, right? So I decided I wanted to start with gochujang as my central ingredient, because I have been on a kick with this stuff in the last couple of months. It’s this fabulous spicy pepper paste used in a lot of Korean dishes, and I buy it at H-Mart.  You can put it on anything and everything is improved by it. Seriously, get some. (And note: it also comes in squeezy bottles!)

But I knew applying gochujang directly to seeds was going to make them very painful to eat, if it didn’t start an outright fire in my oven. So I scrounged around in my fridge and came up with some dumpling sauce (which is NOT soy sauce, but a bit more complex and more oily). I also added garlic powder because more garlic is always okay.

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I greased the bottom of a glass pan, using sesame oil to keep the flavors sort of in the same Asian family.

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Then I baked at 300° for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10. I should say that the recipes I was looking at called for a full hour of baking, but at 40 minutes these guys already looked seriously done. Not burned, but almost.

I also just realized I forgot to take a picture of them when they came out of the oven, because I was too busy eating them. So here is a picture of a small portion on my desk at lunch today.

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To be honest, most of the spiciness seems to have baked away, and they mostly taste salted. But they do have a really pleasant, very mild afterburn. All things considered I’m pleased, although next year I might triple the amount of spicy paste!

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The perfect creative storm

So a couple of things have happened since I last posted!

  1. I went to Los Angeles. The reason for my trip was sad, but I got to hang out with friends and family I love. And I also got to do some things that were really interesting, because it happened to be the weekend the Olvera Street historical people were running their Dia de los Muertos festival.
  2. My husband has decided to go for it and officially launch his own private financial services business! (I’d link to the website but it’s very much a work in progress. Later post!)
  3. I have decided I need more art in my life. I am not an artist and “art” may only be loosely relevant as a term to describe what I produce, but that’s my goal. And I want to proclaim that publicly and post about it because an imaginary audience makes me keep doing it!

These three things combine to give us the perfect creative storm. Because Dia de los Muertos is one of those things that gives me major cultural envy, and boy is it colorful and inspirational. And so I am beginning not one, but two projects about which I will blog.

The first involves a couple little souvenirs I picked up:

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The one on the right is my husband, see? Because he’s in a suit and holding a bag of money? And the one on the left is me because… I am also a lady! Although I very rarely wear pretty ladyclothes like this lady, but whatever. Imagination, people.

Here is a better look at the shrine table:

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IT HAS BANANAS. How cute is that, people??

So I really wanted to buy one of the full-scale wall-hanging shadowbox shrine things, but there just wasn’t one with the right sort of “people” going on in it. Lots of mariachi bands and newlyweds but I wanted this one to be a commemoration of the new business. So I figured I’d just have to put these guys on a shelf or something.

Then I happened to be at a store full of crafty things, because I have an addiction (but don’t worry, not Hobby Lobby!), and I saw these:

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Perfectly-sized boxes! And not just pressed cardboard… they’re papier mâché!*

My imagination began to run wild and I bought a whole lot of other things, most of which sparkled. I have way too many supplies for this project, so we’ll see if that trickles down!

One of the other things I had to have and will definitely use is this picture frame, which was exactly the right size.

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I am also using this project to practice patience. I have been doing one (or, okay, two) coats of paint a night and no more. The box helps remind me because it actually starts to bubble if it gets too wet.

So as of last night, this is where we are.

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Be excited, folks. Be very excited.

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*Dude, yes, I’m going to be pretentious about this phrase, because I don’t get to use it nearly often enough. Now go about your day hearing a gavel bang down and the voice of a distinguished gentleman saying “665, ladies and gentlemen: a papier-mache musical box, in the shape of a barrel-organ. Attached, the figure of a monkey in Persian robes playing the cymbals. This item, discovered in the vaults of the theatre, still in working order…”

Enfin!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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!

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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?

Progress!

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…)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And tentacles.

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Ohhhhh yeaahhhhh.