Homes for Things for Making Things

I recently found myself looking at toolboxes, the red metal ones with lots of drawers, but not for my tools. My tools already (mostly) have boxes. There’s one for wrenches and one for sanding supplies, one for the angle grinder and one for drywall. I have boxes for electrical and plumbing parts, tiny organizers for screws and for nails, and another just for hammers. I’m planning on building one for my hand tools. And this doesn’t even count all of the cases that my power tools came with. Having all of these boxes, having them all labeled, is really helpful for keeping me organized, but it is also a convenient justification for ignoring the larger issue: I have too many things for making things.

I’ve been buying tools for several years now, mostly one at a time, on sale or for a specific job. I’m very good at telling myself “I need this because…” And they have all been useful, and they have all been used. There just are a lot of them.

The same is true of crafting supplies, camping supplies, cooking supplies, art supplies, brewing supplies. (And I’ll ignore completely the enormous quantity of things I have bought for teaching and for my classroom.) I don’t have two of anything (except for 16 ounce hammers, of which I have four, because maybe someone else needs to be using one at the same time as me?), but I have one of a great many different things. And they are hard to give up. Each one has a purpose and a useful life ahead of it.


Having all of these things means that I have an apartment (and my parents garage!) full of things. I have gone through periods where various collections of things became too much for where I had been putting them, and I was forced to step back, rethink, and develop an organization plan. How many times has Heather come home and found me in the basement, a few hundred tools all laid out on the floor, new toolboxes waiting to be filled? And so, to corral this potential madness, I keep buying containers to put them all in.

This doesn’t mean that my life is as clean and organized as I would want it to be. Anyone who stepped into my studio, my classroom, or my apartment would figure that out pretty quickly. Having things away, organized, and ready is a goal, not always an extant state.

Which brings me to the red toolbox I have been thinking about. While my carpentry tools are carefully put away, the same is not true of sewing supplies, knitting supplies, or art supplies. I have drawing tools in three different places, knitting tools in four, and printmaking supplies in two. If these are going to be useful, they need to be easy to find and quickly at hand.

I am left with a feeling that two divergent ideas can exist peacefully together. I can have tools for making things because they are tools which satisfy a greater purpose. But, I need to stay vigilant in the war against having things just to have them. If I want to buy something “because I will need it later,” I wait. When the time comes when I need it, I can think about getting it then. For now, my things are away, and I am ready to make.

Kanel Bullar

Heather and I are lovers of all things Scandinavian, particularly Swedish traditions and customs. We have an album of Swedish carols we listen to at Christmas, we celebrate Midsommar with a maypole at home, and recite Swedish phrases to each other (and not just “hurdy gurdy furdy bew” a la the Swedish Chef).

So, of course, we make Swedish treats for our fika. These kanel bullar are cinnamon buns with cardamom and pearl sugar, and they are delicious. They are a recipe from Lotta Jansdotter’s book Handmade Living.







Waiting to roll out.

Waiting to roll out.

We got married!

Heather and Stephen in a boat at Mohonk Heather and Stephen on the dock at MohonkIf it is good luck to have it rain on your wedding day, Heather and I must be the luckiest, because we had Hurricane Irene on ours. Most guests were still able to make it, despite warnings of bridge closures, airport closures, and the evacuation of New York City. We had a blast, and we are looking forward to all the many adventures that lie ahead of us.

From Ian's photobooth

All pictures from Ian MacLellan

The Halloween Vegetable

For Halloween, I grew up carving pumpkins, like most people. But this year, we went back to the mythical roots of the jack-o-lantern, and carved turnips. Supposedly, this is also what the Irish did, before adventures to the Americas brought decorative vegetable carving to our favorite bright orange squash.

Really, we just couldn’t think of what to do with the bumper crop of turnips we recieved in our farm share this year. Yikes.

And two years ago, we carved a butternut squash. 

Spooky, scary!


This weekend, we went to the Fluff Festival in Union Square. This event, which is put on by the Somerville Arts Council, is a celebration of peanut butter’s favorite friend. And really, who didn’t eat countless peanut butter-fluff sandwiches as a kid?

Well, it turns out that Fluff is a semi-regional product. Our friend from California had never heard of it, and she ate her first fluffernutter at the festival. I think it might be a difficult product to begin to appreciate as an adult. Just like Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, Fluff is primarily consumed by those of us still in elementary school.

To be perfectly honest, I do have a container of it up on one of the shelves in my kitchen. It is not often used, and I really only bought it out of necessity. The first school I worked at was peanut free, so I tried making an almond nut butter sandwich. People say that it tastes delicious, just like peanut butter if not better. They are lying. It does not. And so, out $6 for the jar, I opted to buy some Fluff to make the whole affair more palatable. We only ate Skippy (smooth, no chunks) when I was growing up, and to this day it is hard for me to eat any other brand. I was a pretty picky eater, and my family is still amazed every time they see me eat pickles or cheese or anything with mayo on it. At Italian resturaunts, I would get garlic bread with no cheese as my dinner and loved it. Sometimes kids do strange things.

And sometimes, those strange things are just fantastically interesting. 

One of the third grade kids in my afterschool likes to make up stories. We start out talking about real things, having an actual conversation, about Pokemon for example. Then all of a sudden he is talking about how he has every card ever made except for one that he gave to his friend who didn’t have any Pokemon cards, and how his best card has 3 million HP and does levels of damage that don’t sound within any realm of Poke-possibility (spend much time around children in middle elementary school and you very quickly become well versed in the language of Pokemon), and how last year he sold all of his brother’s cards on Ebay for $40,000. I know that this kind of behavior is common, but it is just so interesting how he talks about it like it really happened, even as he is making it up on the spot.

It is also a great creative exercise for him. He doesn’t really like writing in school, but it is clear that he loves to tell these stories. In the past two weeks, he has:
- talked to me for 45 minutes about all of his success on World of Warcraft (a game his older brother is very into)
- explained how a science lesson started off by pushing a rubber ball up a ramp (real) and then bounced off several trampolines in the classroom and then out the window and over the school and off roofs and cars and people and then back to the classroom
- told me about all of the fake money he has and has used with success, including a dollar bill on a string that he pulled out of the store’s cash register after he used it to buy some Pokemon cards (when I asked him if that was stealing, he explained that the owner of the store has a fake charity collection jar on the counter for a dog named Charles who is purple and "very obviously drawn with crayons" and is also not the same purple dog that I made up as I was talking to him)

 Now, if I could ever get him to tell me what actually happend at school…

We like to move trees around


H and I put up our little silver tree tonight, so it is starting to feel like Christmas season. I am genuinely glad that I don’t work in retail, because those poor people have been listening to non-stop Christmas carols since before Thanksgiving, and they must be sick of it. I am mean, and don’t want to get a real tree just yet. Probably by the end of the week I’ll relent, but until then, this is what we have.

We have seen lots of people bringing their Christmas trees home this weekend: big ones on cars, a little one on the roof of a Mini Cooper, some being walked, and even one carried by a biker. That’s how you know you’re in Cambridge.

Speaking of things carried on bikes, H and I went to the Taza chocolate factory on Saturday. There were boatloads of people there, all shuffling along in the crowded space, entranced by the ever-present chocolate aroma. This was no Willy Wonka, unfortunately. No river of chocolate. No soda that makes you float. No oompa loomas. That’s all for the better, though. I was worried I would fall in and get sucked up one of those tubes.

Darn those old-timers


I am reading a book (well, actually I’m reading three at the same time, but let’s just focus on this one) right now called Walking Toward Walden, by John Hanson Mitchell, in which he and two friends spend one October day making a trek through the woods and fields of Westford, Acton, Carlisle, and Concord. They are vaguely retracing the route taken by the Westford minutemen on the morning of April 16, 1776, staying as far from contemporary roads and housing as they can. They talk, exploring the history of the place in intimate detail, and are constantly looking around at the birds, plants, and landscape. With Concord as their final destination, Mitchell writes frequently about Thoreau, and his walks and forays out onto the land. Their journey is very much in the same spirit as his, and Mitchell is a keen observer. It is interesting to read a book that is set in a landscape I know, some of it quite well. He walked within a mile of my old house, while I was living there no less. In one of the last parts of the book, he and his friends hike through the Estabrook woods in Concord, conservation land that I have been on many times with my family. When he talks about the old Carlisle road with stone walls on either side, I knew exactly what he was takling about. I had seen the lime quarry, the crack in the earth that they sit by for a while, resting up for their last push. In so many books, I am making up my own picture of what the setting looks like, based on the author’s cues but the picture is mostly an amalgamation of places I have been. With this book, which is so focused on his description of the place, I can have a clear picture of where he is, as if I am right there with them. At one point, he says a sweaty man runs by them with a little white dog. Was that my dad?

In my efforts to stay busy and do interesting things with all this time I have on my hands in these days of unemployment, I am trying to go to new places. Earlier this week, I got it in my head that I should hike up Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. So today, I did.

Monadnock is a thumb of granite sticking up above a sea of low, wooded hills. On a clear day, you can see the White Mountains to the north, the Green Mountains in Vermot to the west, the bump of Mount Wachusett  poking up in an otherwise flat Massachusetts, and the skyscrapers of Boston on the horizon. It is said to be the second most visited mountain in the world, following only Mount Fuji in Japan. It has its share of pilgrims, from the bible fellowships at its base to our own philosopher and wanderer Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau visited many times, camping for several days at a time and taking the train home to Concord after he was done. There is no more train, and the place has changed significantly since the mid 1800′s, just as the entire landscape of New England has. The fields and animal pastures that filled the region have been abandoned, taken over again by the forest. I have heard estimates that Vermont, for instance, was 70% cleared, 30% forested in the 19th century and is today 30% cleared, 70% forest. The farmers mostly moved west, and industrial production took its place. Reading some of Thoreau’s diary entries about visiting Monadnock, he walked up to the peak through fields, with horses and cows following him, smelling the salt he had with him. Families came blueberry picking on Sundays. Now, there is nothing but trees, in every direction.

When I was three-quarters of the way to the top, just coming up above the tree line, I stopped for a moment. Looking out, further on up the mountain, I saw what I thought were a number of birds, perched on a rock outcropping some distance away. They were making a lot of noise, but looked a little odd. Then I realized that they were people, a large group on the summit. And they were all yelling and screaming. Occasionally, some of them would chant something incomprehensible. They were coming down as I continued up. It was a school group, probably fifth or sixth graders. Not birds, just people.

At the summit, there was a lot of graffitti, names and dates and initials carved into the rock. A lot of it was pretty well done, no sloppily carved letters here. One couple that got to the top just after I did said, "Wow, look at all this graffitti up here! Darn those old-timers."

Exactly. Darn those old-timers.


What to do

Seeing as how I have some extra time on my hands these days, not having a job and all, I’ve been trying to do something constructive with at least some of my time, besides sending out cover letters and resumes. Of course, I can come up with all kinds of good ideas that never make it into the light of day because they get sucked away by the evil, destructive forces of The Internet and The Spider Solitaire. I could have such an interesting life if I didn’t get drawn into these semi-mindless, repetitive time-fillers. And yet, there must be more of the internet out there that I missed! I can’t stop now!

Last week, I decided to build some more of the little Swedish stools I’ve talked about before. I made four of them, thinking, maybe someone will buy them on Etsy. I plan on eventually going into production mode and mass-producing them for Ikea (because they’re Swedish, Ikea is Swedish, I see some chemistry…) but I just can’t engineer the flat-pack, which is at the core of all Ikea designs. They’re obsessed with it. I also haven’t worked in any fiberboard or bolts for the ubiquitous Allen wrench that is mandatory with every Ikea furniture product. I’m working on it, though, so watch for them to appear in commercials sometime in the spring.

Here is a nice trio:

They’ve out in my parent’s garage with a first coat of paint, just waiting for some more. Then they’ll be waiting for some nice person (like you) to adopt them and take them home. Just look at their little tails wag. I think they like you!

Ms. H. has also helped me out, giving me little challenges in the last two days. Besides sending out a job application every day, I also have things I need to do. Yesterday there were two things: go someplace new and do something new. My new thing to do was to eat cabbage, which we got in our CSA share. It was pretty good, and purple. We always say that anything would taste pretty good if you sautee it in oil, but hey, who can argue with trying new vegatables. My new place to go was Middlesex Fells, a big chunk of land north of Medford with miles and miles of trails. I hiked up a hill with an old stone tower on it and a nice view of Boston. Clearly, many other people think it’s a nice view, too, because they left all their Coors Light boxes, cigarette butts, and broken bottles up there until they come back to get them. The tower was locked, of course, and someone spray painted "HELL IS REAL JESUS IS SAWIOR" on the door, just so we know. It may be the woods, but it is an urban woods.

The other way I kept it all interesting and new for myself was that I walked there. And not just straight there from our apartment, but all crookedly, going out to Arlington first on the bike path and then cutting back northeast to Medford. All told, I walked 13 miles yesterday, which is a lot. It wouldn’t get me quite to Fitchburg if I was HDT, but it’s a start.



A little while ago, we were at Wendys for a mid-shopping fuel-up.  At the table behind us, a little kid was eating with his parents.  He said these exact words, so I can claim no credit for being creative with the dialogue.

A new project

So, here we are.

This blog is a place for me to put new things I am making and working on – artwork, comics,  woodworking projects, etc. – and I plan to post at least twice a week, maybe more frequently.

To begin, a book, but not just any book:

This book is actually just two pieces of paper, folded: one for the cover and one for the text block. I found instructions in the book Origami Omnibus by Kunihiko Kasahara.