I’m a Return Visit

I’m happy to announce that I am now a Return Visit! In case that makes no sense to you whatsoever, first, consider yourself lucky and, second, it’s a Jehovah’s Witness term. Basically, when Witnesses talk to people at their doors, if that person shows any interest in their message – and especially if that person agrees to take their publications – then the Witnesses write down the person’s name, address, and stuff like that, and then they come back a week or so later to talk again.

This particular man has actually stopped by at least twice since I first took his copy of The Watchtower but, both times, I was not home. Yesterday (Sunday morning), however, I was home. He was with another Witness and the three of us talked for about a half hour while Emmett played in the yard.

First, they handed me this magazine…


…then, they asked if I thought the bible was “just a good book.” I said no. Then he said, “Oh, so you think it’s more than just a good book?” Then I said, “No, I don’t even think it’s a good book.”

They asked why, and I listed off a lot of things – there are some very boring chunks, lots of it makes no sense, it contradicts itself in hundreds of places – but we ended up talking about one specific thing I don’t like about the bible: it contains lots of abhorrent violence.

The Witness told me that those disgusting acts of violence are in the bible to demonstrate how far humans have fallen from God. Then I corrected him and said, “No, I don’t mean the violence that humans just do to each other, I mean the violence – the rapes and murders – that God sanctions in the bible.”

At first, they didn’t really know what I meant, which makes me wonder if they’ve ever read the bible. They asked if I had anything specific in mind, so I mentioned both the Noachian Deluge and the wholesale destruction of the city of Sodom. I also mentioned the genocide in Canaan and the subjugation of women prisoners by “God’s People.”

Oddly, after listing off a few things, the other Witness opened her bible and red Isaiah 55:11, which says that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and so we don’t know the whole story. Then the man asked, “Don’t you think having a righteous, just ruler over all humanity is the best form of government?” I said, “No, I think the best form of government is that which allows all citizens to effect change, if that’s what they think is necessary.” I don’t think they really understood my answer, but then pointed out that the bible is really filled with lots of good things that help us appreciate the Creator. Then they mentioned sunsets and puppies as two things that show how beautiful and loving God is.

This was a really weird line of ‘reasoning,’ and I conceded that there are good things in the bible, and there is much beauty in the world. Nevertheless, I compared the god of the bible to several historical figures – I named off Thomas Jefferson, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King – as three people that undoubtedly did much good for the world, but were also so deeply flawed that I could write a 20-page paper just touching on things wherein I disagree with them. “Jefferson was far, far from perfect,” I said, “And so, even though I like a lot of his ideas, I could never worship him. It’s the same thing with the god of the bible. Even if we agree – for argument’s sake – that He does exist and the He has done good things, I could never love – much less worship! – Him.”

On the topic of creation, I told them they were being selective in their evidence. I said that if we look at puppies as a way to inform us about the Creator, we must also look at the ichneumon fly, which lays its eggs in the brains of other insects. Then, when those eggs hatch, the larvae eat their host from the inside out, careful to keep it alive as long as possible while it suffers a slow, paralytic death. Then I asked: “What does that tell you about the Creator?” Then, before they could answer, I added, “Then there’s also the mosquitoes who spread disease, animals that hunt other animals, and even some animals that kill and eat their own young.”

The woman then shared a scripture with me saying that, with God, all things are good. I started to say that using the New Testament to prove the Old Testament is a bit like using Empire Strikes Back to prove Return of the Jedi, but the man stepped in and told me that, ever since humans sinned, the world has spun out of control. “God is letting people do what they want to show how much they need God,” he said. He then noted that we have no way of knowing how this affects the animals. For example, since we hunt them, they need to defend themselves.

So I scrapped my Star Wars analogy and instead just stared at them for a few seconds. “Wait,” I said, “I’m not sure I follow you. You’re saying that because Adam and Eve sinned, that’s why some insects lay eggs inside the brains of other insects?”

“Possibly,” he said. “We just don’t know. We have to wait on Jehovah.”

“Okay,” I said, “I can understand that, if Adam and Eve didn’t want God, that God would say, ‘All right, just do what you want then,’ and that’s why we have murder and rape and war and pollution and child abuse…but I’m not sure I follow you that, because Adam and Eve sinned, we now have animals doing terrible things to each other. And what about earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis? Why are there birth defects? Why cancer?”

“Well, a number of those things are caused by humans. Like birth defects can be caused by leading an unhealthy lifestyle.”

“Yeah, but that only explains some of them. A lot are simply random. And, anyway, what about the other stuff?”

“Humans cause all that stuff.”

“Wait, what? What do humans do that cause earthquakes?”

He then spoke for about two minutes straight about how we don’t know what some corporations are doing. Some pollute the earth, clearly, and this leads to global warming – man’s fault, not God’s. I asked if they understood the difference between human-caused suffering (eg, rape) and randomly bad things that happen because we live in an environment almost completely hostile to us (eg, volcanoes). “Corporations,” he said.

“What possible corporation in ancient Egypt, 3,000 years ago, did something to the Earth that caused volcanoes?”

He said he didn’t know. We’d have to wait to find out.

“Maybe,” I said, giving them a huge benefit of doubt. “But in the meantime, why would I be drawn to worship someone who causes such things.”

They said God doesn’t cause those things, humans do.

“No,” I said, “I don’t see how humans caused floods and hurricanes and earthquakes – especially prior to the modern era.”

At about this time, a car pulled up and parked right in front of my yard. An older man got out and came over to us. I recognized him as the father-in-law of one of my (former) best friends and the sight of him made me nervous! I thought for sure he was going to pipe up and say, “This is James Zimmerman, he’s an apostate, let’s go.” But instead, he didn’t recognize me at all, and simply did the ol’ point-to-you-watch gesture to indicate they had to get going. I looked over at the car and saw three other Witnesses sitting in the back seat, but I couldn’t see well enough to identify anything about them.

Anyway, the man then said the bible speaks about an increase of earthquakes in the time of the end, which conveys exactly zero relevant information, but I followed that up with: “So then God is making those earthquakes, right? I mean, he knew they would happen – at least, if we agree that your bible is accurate – and he supposedly has the power to stop them. Yet he doesn’t. And innocent people die. Because God murdered them. Including babies.”

The women then said God only kills wicked people.

“No, that’s not true,” I said. “God killed almost every human on the planet in the time of the Great Flood, including children, babies, and fetuses. What did they do wrong?”

The woman then said that they could see I was a family man. She asked what my role in the family was. Then she asked if there were certain rules in our house, and if there are ramifications – discipline – for breaking the rules.

“Okay, I said, then let me ask you this: What possible rule could I have that, if my son (I pointed to Emmett) broke the rule, I would be justified in drowning him?”

The man said nothing, he just stared with his mouth agape. But the woman pointed out that I am responsible for my children, just as the adults in Noah’s day were responsible for their children. “And they chose not to get into the ark,” she said.

“Okay, then let me rephrase: What possible law could I break – against the State of Minnesota of the United States – that the government would be justified in drowning both me and my children?”

“Well,” said the man, jutting out his hand, “It’s been real nice talking to you. We appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us on this fine day, but we have to get going.”

I shook his hand.

Not sure if he’ll be back next week.

Posted in Current Events | 6 Comments

4½ Years in Our Home

As of this week, we’ve lived in our home for 4 years. As I’ve done semi-annually since we moved in, I will hereby provide an update on improvements we made to our home in the past six months.

By the way, if you’re interested, here’s the blog post detailing what we did during the six months prior to these most recent six months.


-Removed intercom.


-Swapped out a wall plate.

16Jan16It’s debatable whether this is really an improvement; maybe it’s merely a change. Either way, Isla found these free for the taking at an event we were at back in January. So, the next day, I asked her which electrical plate in her room she wanted to replace, and she selected the one nearest her door. In the photo, you can see her – under supervision, of course! – swapping a boring old white plate for the more decorative option.


-Installed light in closet.


-Installed new toilet seat.


-Swapped out light fixtures.

Okay, here’s what the light fixtures looked like when we moved in:

Blog1I know, I know: it’s solid brass and ornate and Gothic and all sorts of cool stuff. But…it’s also ugly. I never liked this fixture, nor it’s companion fixture at the top of the stairs. So on February 2nd, I changed it out with a model that, granted, is cheaper, but also better looking.



-Removed Security System sticker from window.

IMG_0534Why do security systems always skank up a place so bad? When we moved in, there were ugly, plastic fixtures on the wall and even one on a nice wood pillar. And most of the windows on the main floor had these nearly-impossible-to-remove stickers. I peeled off the other stickers soon after we moved in, but as you can see from the above photo, this one just wouldn’t let go. This is what it looked like for most of the past four years.

IMG_0535So I took some Goo-Gone and a rag to the window and applied copious amounts of elbow grease. The above photo shows what it looked like after about five minutes…

IMG_0536…and here’s what it looked like five minutes after that. All better! (By the way, there’s still one more sticker on another window, but I have to wait until warmer weather to remove it. Jennifer was not pleased with the lingering fumes.)


-Removed built-in stereo/intercom system.

-New doorbell!

Doorbell OldHere’s our old doorbell. The speaker was useless as an intercom. And though it could be used to pipe some music out into the yard, the sound quality was terrible. So, since I removed the intercom system, it seemed only right to also remove this speaker/doorbell.

Here’s the doorbell we now have:

Doorbell NewOkay, two things you might notice here. First, the doorbell isn’t, technically, “new,” it’s just new to us. We bought it at Northwest Architectural Salvage. Second, it’s screwed onto a thin piece of plywood. Yep, it is, and that’s because removing the intercom left a big hole that I had to cover for safety reasons. We’re gonna put all new trim around the door frame – eventually. In the meantime, this will suffice.


-Put lighting wiring into a box.

When my brother-in-law came over a couple months ago, he noticed the wiring for the lights in the commons area was not up to code. So I fixed that.

Not up to code…

OldUp to code...New-Removed excess wiring.

Yeah, my brother-in-law, who works with security systems and is probably mad at me right now for what I said about security systems above, came over and tore out about 100 feet of useless wiring in the basement and helped to clean up some of the remaining cluster of wires.

-Installed three-way switch so light in the commons area can now be turned on/off while downstairs.

-Moved outlet from ceiling to wall.

If you go way back to the post I made four years ago, about the improvements we’d made in our first six months living here, I posted this picture:

New-outlet-in-basement-1024x768My purpose in posting that picture back then was to show that I had moved the light switch (for the light above the washer and dryer) from the ceiling to the wall, and updated it with new features. See that empty spot on the right? That’s because I hadn’t yet moved the outlet from the ceiling to the wall. Oh, I tried, but I couldn’t figure it out. So, last month, an electrician did it for me.


-Replaced hinges on vanity cabinet.

-Installed cabinet door catch on vanity cabinet.

-Replaced toilet paper dispenser.

-Replaced shower head.


-Added chain to light.

A few months ago, I re-discovered that there’s a light under the stairs. I had forgotten about it because it’s sort of hidden, and the chain to turn it on was about 2 inches long. So I replaced it with a chain that’s about a yard long. I even have it going through a loop that puts the chain in a more convenient location. I also added a decorative weight to the chain so that, when I pull it, it won’t retract through the loop. Yep, sometimes I’m awesome.

-Removed fluorescent light fixture.

Yes, I finally removed the last of the fluorescents. This one wasn’t even hooked up to the power anymore, so it really needed to go.

-Removed some wooden planks from ceiling.

Above the fluorescent light fixture were a bunch of planks. They’re ugly and dirty. I removed about half of them. For the rest, I need to get out the crow bar. Stay tuned.

-Added box for light fixture.

Yeah, this one wasn’t up to code, either. Now it is.


-Built stairs for back side of deck.Deck steps BEFOREHere’s the back side of the deck. It has stairs now, so there’s not a 2-foot-plus drop off anymore. No, I don’t have a picture of that. Primarily because I need to fix them, first.

-Removed southern section of decking, and placed on new, all-weather decking that is actually level.

Side of deckThis photo, above, shows the deck boards that were on the southern end of our deck. Not sure why the previous owner suddenly switched from all-weather decking to wood, nor why he didn’t level it, but there you go. It was a real beast removing these planks, but I finally got them all out, put in some thin strips of wood to level it off, and…

IMG_0311…here’s what it looks like now.

-Capped all-weather decking planks.

Look closely:

IMG_0197See how the end of each plank has three rectangular holes in it?

IMG_0198Not anymore!

-Repaired outside light.

Well, not me – the electrician. Now when people come over, we can actually turn on the outside light for them so that they don’t trip on our cement steps.

-Installed little free library.


-Installed bracket to hold up electrical tubing.

Here’s a “before” picture:

Garage Tube 1


Notice the metal tube hanging down? It’s carrying the electrical wiring to the lights in my garage. It’s attached over by the wall of the garage, and it’s attached near the light fixtures, but in the middle, it was sagging about 9 inches.



Garage Tube 2


Here it is now. A close-up is below.



Garage Tube 3

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Happy Leap Day!

Today marks my 11th Leap Day.

For the first time since the 1980s, this is the second Leap Day in a row that I’ve lived in the same house, which I think is a pretty good achievement. If I’m still living in the same house when the next Leap Day arrives (Feb. 29th, 2020) – and I intend to – I’ll have already set a record for longest time living in the same house.

Today also marks the 5th anniversary of my engagement to Jennifer, which is odd because we’ve been married for 19 years.

Anyway, I thought I’d take this opportunity to note where I was in life during each of my 11 Leap Days…

1976: Okay, I obviously don’t recall anything about 1976, much less Leap Day itself. But I can tell you I was just a few months old and living in a mobile home in Burnsville.

1980: At this time, I was a soon-to-be preschooler. Still living in the same mobile home in Burnsville. My mom was pregnant with my sister.

1984: In 1984, I was a student at Savage Elementary School, which wasn’t nearly as brutal as its name implies. Still living in Burnsville, and still in a mobile home, but a different one than last time.

1988: For the second Leap Day in a row, I was still living in the same mobile home. This marked my fourth and final Leap Day living in Camelot Acres Mobile Home Park. In 1988, I was a teenager attending junior high school or, as I like to call it, the nadir of my education.

1992: Lots of changes here. My family and I now lived in Lakeville, and I was attending Rosemount High School, a school barely saved from being the worst school I ever attended by virtue of being slightly better than my junior high school. I was employed at my first job, a book shelver at the Galaxie Library in Apple Valley.

1996: This is the day Jennifer and I got engaged. I was living in a duplex in St. Paul with two roommates while working at Lenscrafters at the Mall of America in Bloomington.

2000: My first Leap Day as a married man, Jennifer and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Apple Valley. I still worked at Lenscrafters, but by this time I was working at their Burnsville location. I was also a college man at this time, about a month-and-a-half into my time at Century College working on an Associate’s Degree.

2004: Jennifer and I were still in Apple Valley, but now we were living with our two cats in a small townhome that we owned. I was employed at Part Three Analytical in Oakdale, but later in the week, I put in my notice that I’d be quitting in mid-March. On this day, we watched the 76th Academy Awards with a couple of friends who, at first, didn’t understand how it could only be the second anniversary of our engagement.

2008: By 2008, Jennifer and I were parents, so on our ninth Leap Day, two-and-a-half-year-old Owen was experiencing his very first Leap Day. I was employed at the place where I still work today. Jennifer and I had been living in Big Lake with our cats for over three years, though the very next day we drove to our new apartment in St. Paul to sign the lease. We left Big Lake ten days later.

2012: During the four years since the last Leap Day, Jennifer, Owen, and I moved twice. First to that apartment I mentioned above, then (in 2011) to the house where we now live. Though our number of cats was now half of what it was in 2008, our number of kids had doubled – Isla was born in 2010, so this was her first Leap Day. I was once again a college student, though this time I was at Hamline. Jennifer and I celebrated the 4th anniversary of our engagement by dining at Buca.

2016: Today, Jennifer and I celebrated the 5th anniversary of our engagement by dining at Supatra’s. I took the day off of work and we watched a very romantic movie this afternoon while kid number three – Emmett, experiencing his first Leap Day – napped upstairs. Our one cat passed away a year ago, but we now have a new cat. I’ve now worked for the same employer for three Leap Days and lived in the same house for two. Still at Hamline, too.

Happy Leap Day, everyone!

Posted in Current Events | 2 Comments

The Little Free Library

The first time I ever heard of Little Free Libraries (LFLs) was October 17, 2011. (Here’s that story.) Back on that day, I had gone from complete LFL ignorance to total LFL desire, but I had not moved onto ownership of such a library.

As of Sunday, November 29th, I have.

But let me back up a bit, and tell you how I made a Library.

The first thing is, I noticed I wasn’t getting anywhere in building a Little Free Library. The kits available for order were a bit pricey and, besides, I wanted mine to be unique. I looked for plans online, but they all fell into two categories:

1) Way too complicated for me given my expertise and tools.

2) So overly simple I didn’t even understand how the plans result in a functioning library (sort of like IKEA instructions).

But really, here was the bigger problem: I just couldn’t bring myself to make those first steps. I mean those really preliminary steps of visiting stores to check out the lumber, buying all the parts, and making the first cuts.

So, at a Toastmasters meeting early this summer, when my coworker Mike mentioned in a speech that his wife has been wanting him to build a Little Free Library, I approached him right after the meeting and suggested we join forces.

So we did. The very next week, we were lunching at Culver’s looking at some too-easy plans I’d found online.

Then we went to Menard’s to search for lumber:

Selecting Trim“Why are you taking a picture of me, James?”Mike asked.

“Because I want to document this process,” I said

“You really think me picking through trim is that interesting?” Mike asked.

2. Cutting sidesMike and I then got serious about pooling our resources. After two more trips to Menard’s, Mike came over to my house…three times. Once in August, once in September, and once in October. He brought some tools and know-how (and beer), I opened my garage and tool box, and ordered pizza.

The work went really slowly at first. After our first day together, we had nothing to show for it but the eight pieces making up the sides, top, and bottom. Of course, we were building two libraries, but…still.

After our three days working together, here’s what we had:

Assembled shellMike’s is on the bottom, and mine is on the top. Notice that Mike’s has the center shelf and trim installed, while my library’s center shelf is leaning against the side and the trim is unfinished (in fact, I later ripped off this trim). This speaks to a key difference between our neighborhoods: Mike is from one of those fancy-schmancy suburbs, and his library will be one of the only ones in his city. To that end, Mike just wanted to make a simple library. His is box-shaped, and he had no intention of painting the inside.

I, meanwhile, live in that bastion of hipster, nerdy, über-literate culture, and I felt I had to keep up with the Joneses. There are at least five other LFLs in my zip code. My library wasn’t even the first one on the block, so I had to go the extra mile (or, inch, I suppose). As you can see, I added a shelf to the right of my library where I intended to put a potted plant. I also didn’t want to install my center shelf yet because I had to figure out something to do to the inside. Paint it, at the very least.

So, after Mike’s departure, here sat my LFL in mid-October on a makeshift table in my garage, just after I’d installed the roof trim, and just before I put on the primer paint…

4. Right before paintHere’s what it looked like after I’d painted the inside, primed the outside, installed side brackets, and laid in a bottom shelf…
5. Back installedDo you notice something really awesome (I mean, besides the US map and periodic table in the background)? Look at the back! It’s a nature scene! “How did you do that, James?” you ask.

Well, I’m glad you asked. This goes back to one day in 2001 when Jennifer and I visited the Minneapolis Institute of Art with her brother Les and his fiancée. The museum was giving out free posters of tree landscapes. Why they would do that, I have no idea. It’s probably something artsy people attach some meaning to. Regardless, I took a poster, rolled it up…and then stored it away for 14 years. Until last month, when I cut it to size and stuck it behind a piece of plexiglass in the back of the library.
6. Painted 1This photo shows some subtle differences. First, notice that there are two thin side pieces (painted white) on the front. Also, notice that I’ve installed the center shelf. Also – and this might be hard to see – I removed the yellow painted pieces of wood that held the plexiglass in place. My wife said they weren’t very attractive. I agreed. Instead, I used some trim pieces that had been laying around in my garage (the previous owner left them behind) and nailed them in instead. The Little Free Library website suggests using “recycled and found materials” when possible. So there. I did.

7. Shakes on RoofMy wife also suggested shakes for the roof. Here, you can see my progress about midway through installing the shakes. The black material you see is tar paper, to keep precipitation at bay. It was only available from Menard’s in a 50 foot roll. I gave Mike the leftovers. He now has about 48 feet of tar paper at his disposal.


6. Painted 2

This picture shows the backside of the library being painted. I guess I just figured, “Hey, why should I paint this myself when there’s a perfectly good 10-year-old standing right here?”

His assistance with that freed me up to work on…
8. DoorThe door!

I borrowed my father-in-law’s table saw to cut these four pieces. After gluing and screwing them together with L-brackets, I laid the door frame on this piece of chip board to prime it.

9. WainscotingHere’s what the library looked like on November 1st. I’d painted the outside, and installed a little box (lower right) that serves both as a spot for bookmarks and as the place where I screwed in the door catch.

The clamps are because I had just glued the wainscoting onto the side in an effort to stylize my library even more. In true Little Free Library fashion, the wainscoting was left behind by my former renter, so I re-purposed it.

11. Door installedThis photo shows the wainscoting on the other side, as well as the door installed. I cut the plexiglass for the door using my father-in-law’s table saw. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to cut plexiglass using a table saw, but I figured I wouldn’t tell my father-in-law about that until, well, right now.

12. Painting TrimThen it was time to paint the trim.

Mercifully, the Minnesota weather held out quite nicely this fall, but by mid-November, it was getting too cold in the garage to work with paint. In this photo, I am painting the trim in the comfort of my kitchen.

It also turns out I’m a lousy trim painter. And not just because I have trouble cleaning the brush:

Paint on brush

…I left globs of paint on each piece of trim. So I sanded lots of it off, then handed the job off to my wife. She sanded even more, then painted the trim for me. For us, I mean.

A. Cutting Post

Oh – I should also mention that building a Little Free Library usually means also building a post, so in this picture you can see me testing the miter saw’s limits by cutting through a 4×4 piece of fence post. Mike took this photo figuring, I guess, that it was my turn to be in an unflattering, inane picture.

B. Making holeI used my lunch break on one of the last warm days of the year to dig the hole for the post. Here, you can see the post-hole digger I borrowed from a neighbor, my wagon for transporting the soil I removed, and a book that tells me how to dig a post-hole. Yep, I’m that big of a nerd that I actually bring a book outside to tell me how to dig a hole.

C. Post in holeViola! Here you see the post is in the ground. On the brick wall to the right, you can see some of the limestone I had to dig out. Another neighbor took pity on my inability to dig deeper than 19 inches and let me borrow her large, heavy metal lever. I continually dropped it onto the limestone until I cracked through to the 24 inches I needed. The bricks you see butted against the post are there to stabilize it while the cement dries.
D. Supporting post as cement dries

But even after the cement dried, it didn’t seem quite stable enough. So I bought another bag of cement and, on an amazingly beautiful day in mid-November, I poured in some more cement. The water I used for the cement, incidentally, was from my rain barrel, so…more recycling!

The 2×4 you see to the right here is to just nudge the post back a bit. It wasn’t quite level, but thanks to this pressure I applied over the course of 6 hours, it is now.
Email 18Nov_a
The only construction step remaining was to paint and nail on the trim, but while I waited for my wife to finish that task, I went to LittleFreeLibrary.org  and registered my library. They sent me the confirmation you see at left.

A few days later, they sent me an email saying my kit was on its way. The email also included this fun tidbit:
Email 18Nov_bThen, on Saturday the 21st, my package arrived! I was so excited!
13. Package arrives
Here’s what came in the package:
14. Package contents
-An official sign, of course. The phrase at the top of the sign reads “We all do better when we all read better.”

-A Steward’s Guide.

-Stickers to insert in the books advertising the library.

-A flyer that talks about the library.

-A bumper sticker.

-The book The Little Free Library Book, by Margaret Aldrich.

-A necktie…which was a complete surprise.
15. All the booksAnother item to take care of while waiting was to assemble the books which would initially stock the LFL (“seeding” the library, to use the library stewards’ parlance).

So here’s the collection! Fiction and non-fiction, board books, comic books, picture books, young adult fiction, memoirs, an atlas, a dictionary (contributed by Owen), DVDs, cook books, a sticker book, and bookmarks. Also included is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing Stress, which we found lying in a cabinet when we moved in to our house over four years ago. Since I clearly have no intention of ever managing my stress, I figure I’d give it back to the community.

All told, this represents about 20 percent of the books I have in stock to contribute. With some luck, it’ll be a long time before I run out.
16. Setting on postFinally, it was time to install. Jennifer and I carried the library out of our house (where it had been for the last week as we nailed the trim).
17. Screwing to postThen, after Jennifer ensured it was situated correctly on the post, I drove eight screws up through the bottom.
18. Screwing to post

Isla assisted by handing me each nail, in turn, as I needed them. Having predrilled the holes, inserting the screws proceeded very smoothly and quickly.
19. Stocking
I then carried two boxes out of the house, which carried the stock. Owen and Isla helped to load up the library. A suggestion I read about in my Steward’s Packet said to not fill the library, but to instead allow room for sifting through the items and to allow others room to donate their own texts.
20. Removing PlasticThe final step in preparing the library was to remove the plastic wrapping that protected the plexiglass. I began peeling it off (I was careful to get it around the fasteners that hold the plexiglass to the door), but then Owen said he wanted to tear it off, so above you can see Owen in the midst of the very last step.

Here’s a video of the library’s installation:

24. Kids demonstratingTa da!

23. Kids reading24. Little Free Library 2

Little Free Library #33249 is now open to the public.

Click here to download a PDF of the basic plans Mike and I followed in constructing our libraries: LFL plans

Posted in Current Events | 11 Comments

Where Have You Been the Most, Dad? (states edition)

One thing I would like to accomplish is to step foot in all 50 US states. I even have a map I keep in a 3-ring binder in which I color in the states as I visit them. Back in 1998, I stepped foot in Texas for the first time. When I got home, I colored in Texas…and that was the last time I touched the map for over 17 years.

Thankfully, 2015 has been most fruitful in attaining my goal. Here, here’s what the map looked like back in March of this year…

US Map 1998-2015

Like an idiot, I just took a picture of my map instead of scanning it in.

See? The same 19 states colored in since before this millennium even began.

But here’s what it looks like now…

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.30.18 AM

Oh, look! I scanned this one in. Bravo, James, bravo.

In case you can’t quite tell, there are now a whopping five more states colored. In April, I stepped foot in Washington, Idaho, and Utah. In June, I visited Rhode Island for the first time. And, just back in September, my wife and I spent a few days in Oregon.

When I showed this to my son Owen, his second question (following “How many have you been to?) was: “Which states have you been to the most?”

Ah…now there’s an interesting question. And not one I had given much thought to. The amount of time I’ve spent in each of these 24 states varies tremendously…from mere minutes in Tennessee, to a single night in Rhode Island, to several days in Illinois, to years in Minnesota. But which ones have taken the lion’s share of my time? The answer surprised me. Here are the top five…

1. Minnesota
Okay, so this one didn’t surprise me. I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life, so it’s my default place of existence. If I say I’ve spent 95% of my time in Minnesota, that might be a low exaggeration. It’s almost certainly somewhere between 98 and 99%.

2. Wisconsin.
Okay, so this was another no-brainer. I’ve never lived more than 90 minutes away from Minnesota’s border with Wisconsin. Besides Minnesota, it’s the only state that I’ve been to most of the years I’ve been alive. When I was three, I spent five days in Milwaukee when my parents attended a religious convention. I spent another week there on a work trip when I was 20. Jennifer and I honeymooned there, and then went back for our 8- and 10-year anniversaries. We’ve stayed at the family cabin there a half dozen times, for several days each time. When I was a teen, I drove with my friends Jeremy and Tim for a weekend trip to a grad party. In 2002, my wife and I went on vacation there with her brother and his wife. In 2012, I was in Jaynesville for a work trip. I’ve also driven out there for the day to visit with friends lots of times. All told, I’ve easily spent 75 days of my life in the Badger State.

3. Florida
Unlike Wisconsin, I know exactly how many times I’ve visited Florida: five.

The first was when I was 12 – my parents, sister, and I spent two weeks there. Four years later, I was back for my cousin’s wedding. That added another six days. I wasn’t there again until I was 27, when Jennifer and I traveled there for my uncle’s wedding. We stayed there for seven nights. A year-and-a-half later, we were there again, and we went on a cruise. Obviously, the cruise ship didn’t stay in Florida, but Jennifer and I spent three days in Florida before and three more after the cruise. Plus, the ship visited Key West one day, so this trip added another seven days to the Florida column. Another year-and-a-half passed, and this time Jennifer and I went down to Florida with Owen. This added another nine days to my time in Florida.

All told, I’ve spent 43 days in the Sunshine State, barely edging out…

4. New York

By sheer coincidence, I have also been to New York five times.

When I was just a few weeks old, I took a week-long trip there with my parents. The very next year, we went again, only that time we drove instead of flew. Just before I turned four, my mom and I went there again. That vacation lasted ten days, though part of that vacation was in nearby Massachusetts. Then over fourteen years went by, until I took a bus trip there. The trip itself was nine days, but much of that was travel, and we stopped in Ontario, too. But we did spend a day in Niagara Falls, another near Wallkill, and then a couple in New York City. But on those days in the city, we actually stayed in a hotel in New Jersey. Regardless, by that point in my life I had spent about 21 days in the State of New York.

But then I nearly doubled that the very next year, spending 20 days in New York City during October and November of 1994, for a grand total of 41 days in the Empire State.

5. Massachusetts
So this was the most surprising state on this for me. The other four, I was able to immediately guess (though I had pegged New York at #3). But after some reflection, I guess this makes sense. Of the other 19 states I’ve been to, many have consisted of only one visit. Some I’ve been to more than once, such as Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois, but all of those have been shorter visits.

This leaves me with Massachusetts. As mentioned above, my mom and I spent a few days there when I was three years old. Back in 2013, I went there for a work trip, where I spent three days there. Then, earlier this year, I spent another four days there, bringing my total in the Bay State to approximately 14 days.

My top five.

My top five.

If I extended this list further, I believe Michigan would lie at #6.

How about you? In which five states have you spent the biggest chunks of you life?

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