My Little Free Library

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My Little Free Library

Today I was interviewed on Zoom by a freelance reporter from the Ithaca Times, our local free newspaper. She was writing an article about the local Little Free Libraries. The experience was wonderful in so many ways. We hit it off immediately. She inspired me to write about my experience designing and building my LFL.

An aside: My interviewer is a young CU pre-med graduate living only a few miles from my daughter and grandchildren in the Baltimore area. Talk about small world! We had many other interests in common – fashion for those with disabilities, sociology, medicine. (I’m the daughter of a pediatrician, a retired nurse, a former teacher of deaf children, and my late husband was a sociologist. Imagine that! What are the chances?!)

OK, here’s the real story: Two years ago I rescued an abandoned dollhouse from the side of the road. At the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I couldn’t just let it get damaged by weather or taken to the dump.

Around that time I began to be aware of how many Little Free Libraries I was seeing on my walks and drives around town. Each one was different in some way. Some looked to be made from a kit and some had elements of individuality added by the owner. Sometimes it was an elaborately decorated mounting post, sometimes it was details added to the little doors or windows, sometimes it was a sign painted to attract people to stop and look.

I decided that my neighborhood needed a LFL. There are 44 houses on our long street, with 3 offshooting smaller streets. We are surrounded by a half-dozen large apartment complexes.

It’s a very active scene – people walk, run, bike, skate, roller-blade, parade their dogs, or stroll with babies, friends or family. There are three colleges and many technology businesses within 20 miles. We are “25 Miles surrounded by Reality” (to quote a local bumper sticker). I would guess that every age, culture, race, religion, gender identity, ethnicity, and level of ability or education is represented within walking distance of my home.

My art-making shop’s main activities, hosting parties in the studio or “on-the-go” at other venues, were on pause since March 2020. My Art Maker-Paks were being sold on Etsy, at the Lime Hollow Nature Center and at Brookton’s Market in Brooktondale, NY. I donated dozens of Art Maker-Paks to various non-profits or schools in the area. Other than that, my studio was very quiet. And I was missing all the action.

Looking at that laminated wooden dollhouse, I had a lot of engineering questions: How to cover up the open windows for rainproofing? How to protect the wooden hinged roof? How would readers be able to keep the roof open to get the books out? Where would I put the LFL for best safe access on a busy road?

I went after the practical issues first. No point decorating the dollhouse if I couldn’t put it up in a functional way. My first job was to figure out how to mount the dollhouse. And with my usual focus on using mostly reused materials, I didn’t want to have to buy lumber.

My home is located on land in front of DeWitt Middle School’s woods and soccer field. Fall Creek flows southward through that woods into Cayuga Lake. In my back yard, there is a smaller creek that runs past all the houses on our side of the road, carrying rainwater into Fall Creek.

A friend of mine loved bridges. She lived downtown on a street with no creek, but she had a bridge built for her back yard nonetheless. Her friends called it “The Bridge to Nowhere”. Years ago, after she passed away from breast cancer, I bought her beautiful wooden bridge from her daughter and placed it over that smaller creek.

A couple of years ago, the Town of Ithaca dredged the culvert in front of the houses on my end of Burleigh Dr. and installed new drainage pipes, after neighbors complained about flooded basements. When the culvert was a foot wide, the neighborhood kids on their way to or from school would jump the culvert and often cut through my yard. Maybe some thought it was a park. (There’s a lot of yard art there, and no fence). Once the Town doubled the width of that culvert, I witnessed a teenager try to jump the culvert and miss, landing on the rocks at the bottom of the culvert.

“Not OK,” I thought. “I don’t want someone to get hurt in my front yard!”. So I moved the Sunny Bat-Or Memorial Bridge from my little creek in the back yard to the front yard over the culvert. My husband built a new bridge over the little creek out of recycled lumber that was hanging out behind our shed, left over from some of our home improvement projects.

Now I had a place to put my Little Free Library! My next job was to figure out how to attach it to the bridge once it was decorated. After consulting with my “I’m not a carpenter” husband, we found the four-by-four post and platform which used to hold our mailbox before it was knocked over by a snowplow years ago. Perfect!

I went on a little tour of my art studio, with the goal in mind of finding materials with which to decorate the outside of the LFL Paint wouldn’t do. Too ordinary. Most Little Free Libraries were painted. Besides, as an artist, I’m more of an assemblage/collage person and less of a painter.

Then I spotted the stack of old CD’s. They used to be upstairs in a living room drawer recently downsized; I hadn’t listened to them in so many years that they no longer appealed to me. The closer I looked at each CD, the more differences in reflected colors and configuration of the center hole I found. Some had writing on them, some didn’t. The trick was to find enough similar ones to use a different color for each segment of the wall of the LFL.

I measured the sides and realized I couldn’t use any whole CD’s. For hours I experimented with different cutting methods until I came up with a way to cut them smoothly with my giant paper-cutter without cracking off the coating or leaving rough edges. Then came the jigsaw puzzle part – trying to fit the pieces of CD’s in a uniform way so that there was a recognizable pattern of color and shape

Once that was accomplished, I needed a way to fill the negative space between the CD’s. One of the other hats I wear is as a Home Organizer. I had recently helped a retired professor downsize her office and ended up with a donation of dozens of clear colored plastic folders. I cut them into triangles and Voila! Connections!

After experimenting with staples and glues on scrap wood, I realized I would need tiny screws to attach both the CD’s and the colored plastic triangles to the wooden sides of the LFL. Fortunately, I love to take apart defunct electronics for art pieces, so I had lots of mini-screws.

Now for the open windows. I used to mat, frame and sell my own photographs and sometimes used plexiglass instead of glass in the frames. For rainproofing I cut some plexiglass and acrylic picture frames. After screwing them inside the dollhouse, I used aquarium silicone to waterproof the perimeters. Before adding books to the LFL, I did an overnight rain test. I was thrilled when there were no leaks!

A few years ago, the local History Museum was moving its location and giving away accessories. I lucked into some wooden lettering which had been used for displays. I wanted to make a sign that said “READ”. I happened to have a box frame leftover from my photography days. I cut up some colorful reused play mats to support the letters. I also had taken apart a piano that was about to be driven to the dump and used the parts for art. Did you ever notice that a piano hammer resembles a cockeyed letter “A”? After hot-gluing in the letters, I screwed plexiglass sheets to the sides of the box frame and sealed them with silicone aquarium sealant.

I figured out that when people open the roof, they need both hands to get a book out, so I needed some way to prop the roof open. Piano keys from that dismantled piano were the perfect size, so I printed out an instruction phrase on my trusty label-maker and placed two props in the LFL.

To keep the roof closed during storms, I purchased super-strong recycled computer magnets from our local ReUse Center and screwed them to the inside walls and to the roof. The trick is to stack the books so that the magnets can make contact!

The roof itself is corrugated metal that I obtained from a request on FreeCycle. Its handle is a blingy high-heeled shoe rescued from a friend who is a shoe sales representative before he put his samples in the landfill.

Because I have eight grandchildren ranging in age from 2 to 31, scattered all over the country, I had collected hundreds of children’s books over the years. So far that stash has been my source, since no one is spending the night now anyhow, because of COVID-19. My husband and I downsized our personal book collections and I asked a few friends for giveaways of adult books in the beginning.

I decided that I wanted to register my Little Free Library on the official map for the international organization. The donation for the official plaque with my LFL number on it goes to support others who want to spread this wonderful idea around. Since I am registered, one can find my LFL by my name, my zip code, or my city. I love the idea that one could plan a trip (once COVID is behind us) to visit all the LFL’s in a particular area.

Now, the LFL seems to be self-sustaining. I go out there every few days and there are always new books to marvel at. It’s interesting to see what people are reading. Or not reading – maybe they are giving away unwanted gifts, who knows. Anyway, the whole process is a lot of fun, a way to connect with neighbors, and to give back to those who have helped me in so many ways over the years. Paying it forward feels really good.

To Market, To Market

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To Market, To Market

For two years in the Spring, Summer and Fall, I have spent an evening or two a week selling my Art Maker-Paks at Farmer’s Markets around the county. I always enjoyed the experience and looked forward to Market Day in Freeville, NY or Brooktondale, NY. There were interesting local people to meet and learn from, as vendors, growers and shoppers.

The process of setting up, however, was not so much fun. First, I would pack up the items I was going to sell, checking inventory and adding to it if necessary. Then I would assess whether my displays were in good shape and transport them to my car. Packing the car was like packing a suitcase, where the trip was different every time. Items and displays changed places in the front, back, or trunk area of my van, jockeying for valuable space. Sometimes, if the weather was predicted to be iffy, I would start by loading in my 10 X 10 ft. Easy-Up tent in its canvas bag.

Although the other market vendors were friendly folk, I had to be independent and not rely on anyone being available to help me unload at the site, or reload after the market was over. Nor was I willing to ask my husband to be available on the home side before or after. This was my “thing” and he did his “thing”. So two years of this schlepping and planning and squeezing, squashing and not being able to see out of my rear window was enough.

Then COVID-19 shut down my Art pARTy! possibilities entirely. My shop is an “everybody touch everything” proposition, involving a tight space, cooperative creativity, hot glue guns and cake. So I ramped up my Art Maker-Pak end of the business instead, donating many to non-profits for auctions, fundraisers, and other events. I sold some on Etsy and some locally through word-of-mouth and former party customers or teachers.

Meanwhile, due to my email domain provider raising prices, I switched to gmail. In notifying my hundreds of contacts and emptying out saved email folders before they were lost, I came across an old email from Brookton’s Market, where I had done a pARTy! once before, years ago. “Aha”, I thought, “maybe I’ll try them again!”

The management was different now. Carolyn Ambrose, Co-Manager, herself a weaver and textile artist, was happy to have my Art Maker-Paks as one of the first entries in her gift stash for the holidays. I talked to her about it during a break in the lunch rush on Friday, and by Saturday I had my setup displayed on a table in the front of the store. Since indoor dining was not happening during COVID-19 there, the tables were being used to showcase merchandise.

So, for now, no more schlepping. I’m a happy camper, hoping that Brookton’s Market customers appreciate the opportunity to give the gift of creativity by purchasing one of my Art Maker-Paks. They are filled with Miscellaneous Madness, an assortment of repurposed materials you would never imagine could be used to make art. I like to say there’s “A Treasure Hunt in Every Pak!”.

There are six sizes, from 1 oz. to 1 lb. and folks can contact me to order a custom-made Pak (for example: all one color, all natural materials, all one type of material). Customers can come to my studio, where we will mask and socially distance ourselves while they pick out their own assortment of whatever catches their eye.

We all need the gift of some laughter, imagination and fun these days.

Mass-Produced FLOOF

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Mass-Produced FLOOF

I’ve been making little goodie bags for years, as party favors, or for customers to buy when they want to be creative at home. They’re perfect for a spontaneous session when the client doesn’t have time to accumulate the materials for a project. I call them Art Maker-Paks and I’ve dubbed the contents “Miscellaneous Madness”.

My Art Maker-Paks come in 6 sizes now – 1, 2, 4, 6, 10 and 16 ounces. Each has an instruction card inside with some ideas on how to use the contents of the Pak. I purposely keep the wording vague, because I don’t want to limit anyone’s imagination by making specific suggestions about what to make or how to construct anything.

To fill an Art Maker-Pak, I walk around my studio and pull from the 50 plastic drawers filled to the brim with 80% upcycled and repurposed materials, mostly sorted by color. After 10 years, I now have a few bins that are entirely “Miscellaneous Madness”. Those have resulted when I’ve had a pARTy! in the studio and haven’t had time to resort the guests’ choices into their respective color bins.

With COVID-19 restrictions, I haven’t been able to open my shop for parties. My studio could probably safely fit me and maybe 2 other art-makers 6 feet apart, but it would be a scramble to keep social distance because the space is narrow and we’d all be crossing back and forth between the bins on both sides and the glue gun at the far end. It would be difficult to safely choreograph the dance.

So instead, I’ve been selling Art Maker-Paks on Etsy and locally, and donating a lot to various local charities and nonprofits. I never had to make more than 6 bags at a time to keep my inventory up. Recently, though, I was asked to make thirty-six 3-ounce bags for one customer. Now I needed to assemble a large number of bags efficiently.

“Wow”, I thought, “I guess it’s time to figure out how to do mass production!” So I set to work trying to invent a system. Step 1: pop open 36 bags. Step 2: punch holes in 36 business cards. Step 3: Cut 36 pieces of ribbon. Step 4: Write, print and cut 36 instruction cards

The bags are cellophane and rather floppy until they are about half full of fun stuff. I figured I needed 36 containers of some sort to support the bags until they could stand up with the weight and shape of their contents. I viewed the containers like parents to my little bags – they would hug them until they matured and could stand on their own.

Looking around my studio, I came up with 24 cardboard fruit boxes – 12 large and 12 small. You know – the ones that carry cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and other fruit at your local farmers market. Then I found some small galvanized buckets, Asian food containers, and flower pots. Voila! 36 spiffy containers to cradle my Art Maker-Paks.

Then came the process of filling the bags. After a few attempts to drop one of each item in 36 bags, I decided I needed to set up a way to grab 4 or 5 things at a time to make the pace go faster. For this project, it didn’t matter if all the bags were almost alike. None of the recipients would ever see any of the other 35 bags. That made my work a little easier.

The question was: Did I have 36 of enough items to fill a 3-ounce bag? With a little creative spark on my part, I found a few things I could cut up into 36 pieces. For the rest I used multiples of some of my favorite items I had been gathering for years: puzzle pieces, hardware, little toys, colored paper, fancy office supplies, shells, rocks, beads, machine parts and electronic bits. Plink, plunk, plop. Part of the trick was to make sure none of the contents of the bag obscured the instruction card.

Things seemed to go slowly at first. I’d think I had about a quarter of what I needed, and then I would realize that feathers and cotton balls weigh nothing, although they do fill up space. When the bags seemed half-full, I’d weigh them on my Salton scale, and sigh because I’d vastly underestimated how far I had to go. But as the bags began to be self-supporting, the process seemed to go faster, and before I knew it, I was right at the 3-ounce mark.

Next step in the mass-production was to pull the plastic strip covering the tape off each bag and stick it shut. Then punch a hole in each bag. Then came the part that tried my patience – getting a skinny ribbon to go through a double-sided hole in a cellophane bag. Finally it dawned on me that I could use an awl to push the ribbon through. Whew! Problem solved. Meltdown avoided.

Once I had all the ribbons nicely threaded through the hole, time to attach the business card and tie 36 tiny bows. Thank goodness I had just given myself a pedicure that day but had run out of time before giving myself a manicure. I think if I had not had long fingernails I would have driven myself crazy tying those ribbons.

Fortunately, I just happened to have the perfect wooden fruit crate for carting the bags off to my customer. I didn’t know it at the time, but 18 bags fit in the bottom, and 18 perched safely on the top, peeking just over the lip of the crate. I can’t wait to see her face tomorrow when she sees them. FLOOF Mass-Production for the win!

Grief Camp for Youth -Hospicare

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Grief Camp for Youth -Hospicare

I’ll be providing 6 oz. Art Maker-Paks for kids and/or the adults supporting kids who are grieving a loss.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2646819728871760

Here’s the letter from the Bereavement Team at Hospicare:
Online Grief Camp for Youth with Hospicare

Join us for a week of healing and connection! Grief Camp 2020 will focus on supporting youth who are grieving the death of a loved one, as well as their caregivers. Grief Camp is free and takes place July 20-24. All activities begin at 10am and last for 30-60 minutes. Activities include crafting, story hour, discussion, and circus arts. Please join us for some or all of our activities and offerings!

Throughout the week, Hospicare is offering individual, private consultation sessions with parents, guardians and caregivers of children and teens. These sessions will focus on how to best support your child through the grieving process and can be scheduled after registration.

Grief Camp is presented by Hospicare & Palliative Care Services in collaboration with local practitioners. Camp is free and open to all. Classes and webinars will be on Zoom. Links will be provided upon registration, which is required. For more information or to register call 607-272-0212 or email bereavement@hospicare.org

Monday, July 20, 10:00-10:15am
Grief Camp Opening Session with Laura
Laura Ward, Manager of Psychosocial Services welcomes all to Grief Camp and describes what is happening throughout the week. Laura will introduce the book Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie. All participants in Grief Camp will get a complimentary copy of the book. In addition, Laura will also provide instructions for families about how to engage in our Grief Camp art project which is taking place in collaboration with FLOOF Collage pARTy Art Making. Instructions for pick-up of art project supplies and copies of Lifetimes will be provided in the comments. Video will be posted on YouTube and available afterwards.

Raising Money for Hospicare

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Until August 8th, I will be selling my Art Maker Paks with all profits going toward the virtual Women Swimmin’ event, the 17th annual and 1st virtual.

My two largest Art Maker Paks – 10 oz. and 16 oz.

I have worked for Hospicare as a per diem nurse, and have had personal experiences with the loss of my late husband and other family members as clients. It is an amazing organization which provides resources, care and bereavement counseling for families needing hospice care.

To donate to the Ithaca virtual event, Go the Distance with me and help me reach my goal:

https://www.p2p.onecause.com/women-swimmin-for-hospicare/corinne-stern

Hospicare and I thank you for your support! #womenswimminforhospicare

Welcome to Where the Magic Happens

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Welcome to Where the Magic Happens

This is the front door of my art-making studio. For a peek inside, see https://www.facebook.com/FLOOFCollagepARTy/videos/711812692899487.

 

FLOOF Collage pARTy! Adventures on Etsy

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While my shop had to close due to COVID-19, I saw an opportunity to help families at home. Whether they were participating in distance learning or not, everyone needed something fun to do, something unique and something healing. Something to ward off boredom, something to do with your hands instead of your mind.

What better way to spark creativity and engage in an activity they’d never done before than to make art with recycled materials! I have been selling my Art Maker Paks for a couple of years now, mostly at Farmer’s Markets or as party favors when someone has a birthday or other party at my studio.

For years I’ve been thinking of getting back on Etsy. In 2006, I had been making Yarmulkes (Kippot) for Jewish women for a few years and had made hundreds by then. They also were sold as Renaissance Hats or hats for weddings, horse races, and other religious practice. I had an Etsy account and sold a few.

Etsy has changed a lot since then. I was uncertain about whether it would be a good idea, but fellow artists encouraged me to try it. There were many steps to follow, and with all the other things going on in my life, it took a month to get my account up and running.

I waited patiently, keeping busy with other things. Then I was rewarded with a sale to a homeschooling Montessori teacher who wanted small Art Maker Paks for her child and large ones for the school she planned to open in the Fall. I sent a few to friends and relatives as surprise treasure hunt gifts, since I had a bit of a mass assembly process going in my studio.

The next step was to conquer shipping. The USPS Click and Ship option turned out to be easier than I thought. I happened to have some leftover printable shipping labels from 15 years ago which were, surprisingly, still good. So I was off and running, as was my postal carrier, who has a tiny hike from my street up my driveway and onto my porch, grabbing packages from my little purple bistro table, which I can conveniently tuck under my overhang if the weather is questionable.

I’m hoping to get some referrals from my new Etsy client, and every time I have a Zoom chat with a friend, I mention my Etsy shop. Who knows where networking will take me? You can check it out yourself at https://www.etsy.com/shop/FLOOFCollagepARTy. Happy Arting!



FLOOF Maker-Paks are now on Etsy!

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FLOOF Maker-Paks are now on Etsy!

After years of talking about wanting to sell on Etsy, I’ve done it! My Etsy shop is up. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided it’s not so fun to schlep a car-load of materials around to Farmers Markets near Ithaca twice a week,

I’m not techno-phobic, but I’m a bit dyslexic and a lot ADD, so anything involving reading instructions and following a logical order of procedures is a challenge for me. I’m still not sure if I’ve left some essential feature out. Counting on the admins to let me know, I guess.

I’d welcome feedback from anyone already selling on Etsy or anyone who is confused when they go to my shop. All my shipping supplies are ready to go. Actually, I hate wrapping boxes, but maybe I can whine enough that my husband will agree to do that part. LOL.

Have your own art-making party without having to gather your supplies. Just get them from me! I’ve listed 5 sizes, and customers can also order specific configurations of supplies, such as all wood, all fancy papers, all one color, or all natural materials. Looking forward to hearing from my WordPress fans.