Making is the New Watching

Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.

Mary Ann’s been gone all weekend (she’ll be back tomorrow, praise God), so I’ve been stuck trying to figure out what to do with myself once the kids are asleep. Option one is the old go-to:  TV watching, but there are so few things that really keep my interest these days the tube is kind of a bummer. I mean, I could watch Sherlock (again) or Dr. Who (I quit after David Tennant), or go to PBS.org for the latest Wallander (which Mary Ann and I watch together), but . . . I’m kind of over television. I’m sure there will be another show that captures me, but I don’t think it exists yet.

Option two: Music making! Now that’s a little more like it. But I’m looking for late night activities. Like I said, the kids are asleep, so I can’t exactly record that one man version of “Blue Moon” I’ve been planning.

Option three: Stuff making. In the past my creativity has mainly involved one of three things: writing, drawing, and music. I still love those and still do them, but lately I’ve started to get swept away on the “maker” bandwagon. There’s something about learning a new skill and getting a bit creative with old junk from around the house that animates me. I feel a bit like a mad scientist.

I’ve always been the type of guy who jokes about how pristine his tools are. I also tend to disparage my handyman skills, and I pretended not to care, but I’ve got to confess: I have always longed to be a good craftsman. There is something magical about taking a bunch of disparate parts and cobbling together some device that solves peoples’ problems.

I can’t do that. But I want to.

In order to achieve that goal, and in order to fill my wifeless evenings, I’ve been trying teach myself some “making” skills. I’ve started small, but I’m having a lot of fun on the way.

Challenge 1:

Nerd on a Wire. I bought a soldering iron a couple of summers ago when I planned on building a robot with Max. Two years and a cardboard box full of parts later, the robot remains unassembled. But the story is still unfolding. My mother-in-law Patti, being the awesome lady that she is, bought Max two robots kits for his birthday. Both are pretty simple, but both are also easily damaged by overzealous boys. In particular, the wires connecting the motor to the battery break with rough handling.

These robots are good gifts, and they’re not cheap. So–step one–I swallowed my anger, and–step two–I heated up my neglected soldering iron. The connection looked a bit globbier than the factory’s, and I had to put up with the disappointing performance of my desoldering bulb, but I reconnected the broken wire. Max and I finished the assembly. We threw the switch and the robot performed like a dream. Success!

I have yet to fix the other robot they broke, but I’ll get to that soon. I’m already enjoying that one because it gave me the chance to buy the wire stripper I’ve been wanting.

Challenge 2:

Indiscriminate tree murder. Finn loves to put pencil to paper, so at the Duncan house there are always a lot of loose sheets flying around. This doesn’t count all the crap we receive in the mail, so when you add those two to my pack rat-ish tendencies, our house could end up looking like a landfill. But we don’t want all that paper to go to a landfill, whether at home or abroad.

Yep, you guessed it, folks. I’ve started a little home-recycling deal. On top of my undeniable soldering skills, I am now becoming a paper artisan. Here are some pictures of the process:

Mary Ann sacrificed these two picture frames for the cause.

These are the mold and deckle I made to form my pulped paper into a new page for Finn to draw monsters on.

The hardest part was deciding which of my college class notes I haven’t looked at in a decade I was willing to part with.

The paper is currently soaking, and I will be turning it into mush tomorrow. Stay tuned for the results.

Challenge 3:

Boys always–ALWAYS–need pointy sticks. A stick is the perfect toy. Finn had two sticks, which is twice the perfection. But Finn also had a dream: if someone could somehow unite those sticks into some sort of dagger shape, and if one of those sticks had a vaguely pointy end, well that would be double-super perfection. So Finn sought a craftsman of immense skill to make his dream a reality. Unfortunately, I was the only one available.

I decided I wasn’t going to just duct tape these sticks together. No, that would be too easy. Daddy needed overkill. I was going to notch those sticks, fit them together and bolt ’em! I was able to notch the sticks with my hacksaw (not the best tool for the job), but when I started drilling the hole for my bolt, all my drill could manage was a weak quarter-turn. Dead battery. I hung my head.

But there was still hope! I remembered that instructables.com, that haven for makers of all kinds, had a few instructables on lashing. Yes! I got to practice a bona fide old-timey skill. And I used way too much twine, so I also satisfied my desire for overkill. Here is the result:

It doubles as a cross to keep away all those Halloween vampires.

I have no idea whether he’ll like it or not. Twine is certainly not as shiny and futuristic as duct tape, but hopefully the fact that it’s a dagger will overwhelm any disappointment with the materials I chose.

This is just the beginning! Already my mind is casting about for more excuses find creatively overcomplicated solutions to what goes on around the house. For now, though, it’s time to retire. Mary Ann will be back tomorrow, so I’ll be glad to get back to the usual rhythm of our lives. Maybe in time we’ll find some crazy stuff we can do together.

Insert mad scientist laugh here.

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