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April 2012

DIY Mailbox - Tutorial

I wanted a red mailbox.  Someday I want to live in a red house with white trim (like the classic Swedish country home). Red makes me happy. Deciding what to do on the red to make it unique and maybe even say a little about me, that took more time. 

I didn't want to buy a lot of supplies for this little project, which quickly lead to the decision to use spray paint.  That way there was no paint thinner to buy (and then figure out how to dispose of), no brushes to purchase, no temptation to buy lots of colors and then potentially worry about if I had the painting skills to make my ideas happen.

In the end I decided I would make my mailbox into a quilt block - wonderfully geometric and an example of one of my hobbies.


Painters tape

Flexible Ruler


Outdoor gloss spray paint: Main color, Secondary Color and Flag color.  You won't need much paint (especially for the flag) so you may be able to use leftovers from other projects.

Drop cloth/cut open trash bag - to protect the ground


  1. If the mailbox has been in use, wash it with your choice of cleaners.  This may take some work if there's pitch or other resistant dirt.  Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer is often effective in loosening pine pitch.  I also had to remove some paper that had been decopaged on to my mailbox by a previous DIY mailbox decorator. 
  2. Open the mailbox and slide out the pin that holds the flag on.  Place the three pieces (pin, flag and circular base for the flag) somewhere safe.
  3. Spread out your ground covering, make sure there's no breeze (I learned the importance of this the hard way) and spray the entire exterior  of the mailbox in your secondary color.  Allow to dry according to the directions on the spray paint.  I admit I didn't do this step so my secondary color is the mailbox's original, slightly faded black.  It worked, but the color looks a bit dull compared to the fresh primary color.
  4. Using the painter's tape, make a design.  There are many (more exact) ways to do this than what I did, but I know myself.  If I started trying to measure exact angles and the like, I would have given up in frustration and never completed the project.  Instead I opted to use the lines of the mailbox as my guide.  IMG_4573
    On my mailbox there was a rectangle embossed across the top and sides.  I followed the lines of that rectangle with my tape to get started, then used those lines as a point of reference for any lines I added.  IMG_4575
  5. Feel free to experiment.  Drawing with tape is very forgiving.  I found having a flexible ruler was helpful in making my design reasonably symmetrical.     IMG_4576

  6. No matter what design you make, there are a couple things to keep in mind. 1) make sure your tape ends overlap other pieces of tape.  This will create a clean, square end and guard against any primary color finding a way under the tape.  IMG_4574
    2). When you're done taping, take the time to rub all the pieces of tape, to ensure the edges stick to the mailbox completely.  Otherwise you can get some bleed through.
  7. When you're satisfied with your design, spray the entire box in the primary color and allow to dry.  Now is a good time to paint your flag too, if you want to.
  8. When the paint is dry (really dry, not just tacky) start removing the tape.  If you liked peeling dried glue off your hands as a child, you're going to love this. IMG_4581
  9. Reassemble the flag.  Sit back and enjoy what you've created.


DIY Mailboxes

One of the fun things about walking, is seeing the creative ways people have found to personalize their space.  There are the houses painted in bright, fairytale colors; tree forts complete with glass windows; weather vanes ( I have such a weakness for weather vanes); statues made from found objects and of course the ubiquitous mailbox.  As long as the door stays shut and the flag is well attached, there's very little reason to think about these oddly shaped boxes, until someone makes them worth noticing. 

About a year ago I did a post about a walk I took in Lincoln, where I was surprised at the number of unique, home decorated mailboxes.  There was one mailbox that I debated whether or not to include in that post.  It was gray, with just the name Frost painted on it.  There was really no reason to give it a second glance except that it was the spitting image of the mailbox in front of Robert Frost's home in the White Mountains.  I decided this was more likely coincidence, than an homage of any sort and left the mailbox out of the post.  This spring, that gray mailbox went through a major transformation.  I decided to explore the neighborhood and see what (if any) other changes had occurred.

Circles mailbox 042112Formerly the Frost mailbox

I started out in the parking lot of the Lincoln Exchange, one of the few public places to park near Tower Road.  You can click on here to see my route.  The Exchange is home to one of the town's post offices, and I always feel like I'm stepping back in time when I walk through those doors to buy stamps or what not.  We'd had a week of summer weather (in April mind you), so it was a pleasure to walk under stone colored skies through the occasional shower.  It's the sort of weather I imagine when I think of the Pacific Northwest, great for a visit but I wouldn't want it everyday.

Post office 042112
The lilacs are in that wonderful inbetween stage where the closed buds are one shade and the opened blossoms another.  If I were an impressionist painter, I would paint lilacs the way Monet painted water lilies, one after another, trying to capture each change in light and growth.

As I headed to the Frost mailbox (as I think of it) I realized I was just steps from a cute little tree lined road I pass all the time and have wondered about.  I didn't have a schedule to keep, and I figured if it didn't come out somewhere I recognize, I could always retrace my steps, so I took a left on Upland Road and immediately discovered more DIY decorated mailboxes!  Don't you love serendipity?

Butterfly mailbox lincoln 042112
I like the easy, sketch-like look of the ladybug.  Whoever painted this was Ok with imperfection, and in that created something lovely.  I wonder what the inspiration was to create a house around the mailbox.  Maybe the house was originally the mailbox, but the post office decreed they needed a USPS approved receptacle?  Maybe they needed something to help the mailbox stand out so plow drivers wouldn't hit it?  I have seen one other similar to this in Lexington (next town over).  In that case the wooden exterior was intended to look like a house and garden.

House mailbox 040612
The picture is a little dark, but can you see the painted window, complete with lacy white curtains on the front?

As I continued down Upland to Beaver Pond, I saw several boxes decorated by kids.  Think back to being a kid and just how few things you had complete control over.  Now imagine being given permanent paint, part of the family home and permission to do what you want.  What a heady opportunity!  And then that art work is on display for everyone to see: the mailman, people driving by, anyone coming to visit and of course their friends on the bus.  What a great idea.

Butterflies etc lincoln 042112
Hand flowers lincoln 042112Notice the difference in hand sizes?  It's like a much more personal version of those stickers people put on their minivans to show how many people are in their family.

More hand flowers lincoln 042112
These hand flowers make me smile.  Kids grow so quickly that artwork which makes those stages of growth a little more permanent are a wonderful idea.  When I was three or four I was at camp with my family.  There was an organized children's program so the parents could go off and do things on their own.  One day we were all given white t-shirts and the counselors traced our hands on them in permanent marker.  Mine was green.  I loved that shirt.  When I outgrew it I dressed my dolls with it.  Sometimes I'd place my hand over that earlier tracing and try to imagine I'd ever been that small. 

Blue mailbox lincoln 042112
This garden mailbox was in front of an artist studio.  One side was clearly done by children, and then the other has a bit of an adult's touch.  I wonder if they crafted that roadrunner shape themselves.  The spirals and zigzags behind it make me think of a meteor shower.  Looking at that mailbox, the way it's been warped over time and has started to rust, I can imagine the painting as an effort to beautify it in its last days of use.  Then again, maybe it was new and shiny when those little hands drew rabbits, flowers, dogs and curly ques.  The kids may have kids of their own by now, but this reminder of their younger selves remains.

Roadrunner mailbox lincoln 042112
There was one mailbox that looked like a great steamer trunk, the sort George Bailey dreams of traveling with in It's a Wonderful Life.  Now it's just an unadorned mailbox, bought from a store, but imagine what it would look like with old-timey stickers from around the world and passport stamps painted on it.  

Trunk mailbox lincoln 042112
When I got to the end of Beaver Pond I realized it intersected with Tower Road, the place where I'd found so many unique mailboxes a year ago.  What prompts one area, in a rather traditional, historic New England town to create so many works of public art?  I believe residents gain inspiration by driving past each other's creations each day.  It's the same logic that drives people in economically depressed areas to clean up a corner or a vacant lot and by doing so inspire neighbors to take on their own beautification projects. 

As I walked Tower Road back to the exchange, it was nice to see a lot of my favorite mailboxes still standing.  There was the shocking tiger striped box, the Grandma Moses style red fox and more.  At the end of the street there was a new addition, a yong girl's dream mailbox, all purples and reds with fluffy white rabbits and a shiny moon.

Bynnt moon box lincoln 042112

What do you make of those little running figures?  They remind me of Crockett Johnson's character Harold, who with the help of his purple crayon sets out in his pajamas each night for all sorts of adventures. 

As I drove home I thought about all the personality and creativity that went into the mailboxes I'd seen, and I wanted a bit of that for myself.  For the first time in my life I live in a place where the mailbox is a box (not a wall of doors with tiny keys).  What could I create that says a little something about me?

Check back for the next post and you'll see.

Battle Road - Minute Man Historical Park (Part 2)

Trail avenue 040712
When we look back on history, it's hard to see events without a sense of inevitability.  We think of the siege of Fort Sumter as intended to launch the Civil War, when in fact other southern forts had been ceded to southern control without launching a war.  The chain of events is only obvious in hindsight.  This is true too of the American Revolution.  The colonists did not set out to start a new country.  They intended to work within the system to gain more equitable treatment.  It was only after their complaints were ignored (or greeted with punishment) and the crown rescinded their right to self govern, that the idea of separation started to take hold.  This is just one of the little tidbits of knowledge I gained while walking Battle Road.  I grew up in New England where there is only one war that matters, in a school where the Revolution dominated any discussion of history, daughter to a woman who enjoyed visiting historic homes of that period; so the fact that I learned something new about this topic I thought I knew so well, was truly exciting.  Did I mention that Johnny Tremain was my favorite book in 5th grade?

Battle Road does a wonderful job of showing how ordinary people make history.  There's the Nelson's house (Ok, doorstep and well at this point), where a member of the family heard steps on the road, went out in the dark to ask for news of the soldiers' advance, and was shot by those very soldiers.  

Thomas nelson junior 040712
There's the field where a farmer waited for the line of soldiers to pass, and shot at them from the relative safety of the boulders.  As I looked at this "field" full of new growth, I was reminded of something Bill Bryson said in one of his books.  Modern day New England is a veritable forest compared to the same land a couple hundred years ago.  All those stone walls hikers come across in the woods once marked the edge of a field.  Of course back then the cleared land was not covered in strip malls and parking lots, so our current abundance of trees is not a clear win for Mother Nature.

Boulders for cover 040712

Not far from here stands one of the many memorials along the route to the British soldiers who died in the fighting.  I heard a battle reenactor explaining that many of these impromptu graves were found when digging began for Route 2A (relatively recent history).  As he explained, the colonists didn't want any sign of the enemy dead to remain near their homes, out of fear that the British would come back and take vengeance. 

British burried 040712
Just think about that for a moment.  This was not a battle fought in the open, far from women and children.  It was fought over thirteen long hours, along a well travelled road, from behind hedges and stone walls,  across farmers' fields, and  just steps from civilians' homes. 

Farmed since 1700s 040712
Hartwell tavern 040712

There's a scene in the miniseries John Adams that illustrates the proximity of the war to civilian's lives beautifully.  This is a bit later in the war, but you an imagine it playing out hundreds if not thousands of times.  In the scene, you see Abigail Adams tending to the family farm, feeding the chickens, hanging out clothes, and then she and her children stop what they're doing because they've heard something in the distance.  The rumble of drums and footsteps, the sharp squeal of a fife and before you know it there are soldiers marching down the road just a few feet from her and her babies.  If you have any interest in this period of history, I highly recommend the miniseries and of course the book it was based on, by the same name.

One of the best known structures along Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park belonged to one of Abigail Adams' relatives. 

Cpt william smith house 040712
The Captain William Smith house stands in a meadow abutting the intersection of Route 2A and Bedford Street.  Runners can often be seen using the stone wall to stretch.  Children run happily through the field, after the relative confinement of the wooded trail.  The house is closed to the public, but people peek in the windows to see what's there.  

Several of the houses in the park have this saltbox silhouette.  It's a style that originated in New England in response to the weather.  The bulk of the house's windows were on the southern exposure, taking advantage of the sun's light and heat.  The northern exposure was low and often windowless, ensuring that precious heat wasn't lost.  The sloped roof helped heavy snows slide off, rather than accumulating and endangering the roof.  

Cpt william smith door 040712

Saltbox house 040712
If you've ever read or seen anything about the Revolutionary War, you are probably aware of the disadvantage the Bristish army's red uniforms placed them in.  This year, spring came early and the landscape is unusually lush for April.  Even so, those red coats stand out like a beacon.

Bristish soldier 040712

As you can see, I was lucky enough on my walk to run into some pre-Patriot's Day events in the park.

Brits and colonists 040712
I'm assuming the white uniforms were the equivalent of the dress whites today's navy wears on formal occassions, but that's just a guess.  If you happen to know, please be sure to leave a comment.

Woman and soldiers 040712

Lincoln minutemen 040712
The colonists may not have had the same gun power as the soldiers, but they blended into the countryside (their clothes dyed using local plants).  They had the advantage of knowing the terrain, and were fighting for their lives.  As I write this I can't help but think of the similarities between these early patriots and the people our modern day military is battling overseas.  Yes, there are important differences, but the similarities give pause.  Our national heroes, the original patriots, the people who everything (and I do mean everything) is named after in this region were rebels and terrorists in the eyes of the King. 

Minutemen potty 040712
Yes, that's a patriot on the side of a port-o-potty.

Minuteman sign 042412

Today, a good section of the park borders Hanscom Air Force Base.  At some points on the trail you look down through the trees onto base housing, at the families who today continue to place their security and happiness second to the needs of the country.  I often see solderies training together, running the Battle Road trail, and I wonder if they give any thought to the events the park commemorates.  Do they see themselves as inheritors of that tradition?

Candidate 040712

The Minutemen who answered the call some two hundred years ago, didn't know what the outcome would be.  They didn't know that their actions would become the stuff of legend, or that their actions were one step along the way to the founding of a new domoctractic nation.  their legacy is alive in this man.  He's a candidate for the state legislature.  While people gathered to listen to music and hear the details of Paul Revere's capture, he was making his way through the crowd, introducing himself and talking with potential voters.  As I watched him I marvelled at his willingness to go up to stranger after stranger and insert himself into their day.  Everyone I saw him talk to was polite, but I'm sure that's not always the case.  No matter our political system's flaws, the people who get elected really have to work for that office.  There's beauty in that.

  Clouds over barn 040712
When I set out to walk the Battle Road trail, I did it more out of a sense of duty than pleasure.  So I was surprised at just how moving I found the experience.  As I walked, read the signs, and listened to the audio tour, I found myself wondering if I would take the kind of risk Mary Hartwell did, when she left her children asleep in their beds, to get the message of the British advance to the Minutemen leaders in time for them to act.  I was made uncomfortable as I realized that our bitter enemy in the late 1700's, is today our closest ally.  While this gave me some hope for a more peace-filled future, it also highlighted just what an inevitable waste enmity between nations is.

By the time I got home again, I was tired and sore (I really hadn't realized just how substantial a walk it would be), but it felt like a day well spent.  I had no idea how much I'd see and learn when I left the house that morning, and for that, the surprise of life, I'm grateful.

Swamp walkway 040712


Battle Road - Minute Man Historical Park

Visiting a place like Gettysburg is powerful, not for what you see, but for the experience of being in the very place where world changing events took place.  Touching the mundane reality of the place, the roll of the earth, the slant of the sun, the birds that swoop across the sky, helps turn the people who fought there from story characters to flesh and bone people, with lives that stretched beyond that moment in history. 

Liberty flag 040712
I think that's why any day when the sun shines bright, you're sure to see visitors at the site of Paul Revere's capture along what's now known as Battle Road in Minute Man Historical Park.  There's little to see.  It's a small field split by busy route 2A.  There's a stone circle, where parents and children, Boy Scout troops and folks walking their dogs, all stop to read the inscription and learn of how Revere was taken into custody, but Prescott bolted into the woods and evaded pursuit.  It's just a field, like a hundred others, but there's magic in imagining what that field looked like in the predawn hours of April 19, 1775.  What amazes me the most is that Revere was taken unharmed, and according to his own account willingly answered the soldiers' questions about his intentions that night.   

It's these little additions, to a story I thought I knew, which made me glad I decided to walk the length of the park last weekend.  Prior to that I'd visited several parts of the park, trying with nominal success to understand what people saw in it.  Based on these visits I'd concluded visitors were either tourists looking for a bit of history or locals who appreciated the wide, well maintained paths, six parking lots and proximity to Rt 2A.  It was really because I write this blog and Patriot's Day is the biggest event of the year around here, that I decided to give it one more shot.

Battle road marker 040612
The park stretches across three towns: Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord.  Parts of the park (The Wayside and the North Bridge) are satellites, unconnected to the main Battle Road Section.  I opted to start my walk not far from the Lexington Battle Green, where the first shot was fired, a couple miles from the actual park.  You can view the route at GMap if you like. 

Fiske home 040712

When I set out for the walk I figured it would be good exercise and I'd finally be able to cross this blog post idea off my To Do list.  My expectations were not especially high, but then I arrived at the eastern edge of the park, the Ebenezer Fiske house site, a place I'd never been.  I know it doesn't look like much, but these stones put a smile on my face.  Here's a place where you can step into history.  Walk over the doorway and notice just how small the house's footprint is.   From that front step look to the right where a small orchard still exists and imagine the family gathering its fruit.  Out behind the house see where the Fiskes dug into the hillside to house their animals, and reinforced that structure with stones so heavy that they stand to this day (look near the treeline in the photo). 

It was through this yard that British soldiers and the local militia continued the battle that had begun four hours and many miles earlier.  Just steps from the house, there's a well where it's said that two opposing fighters met, one told the other that he was about to die, the other said, you are too and they shot each other at point blank range. The British soldier lived for some time and was taken in and cared for by the Fiske family.  A reminder that the colonists were still part of the British Empire and that not everyone in New England saw the King's Regulars as the enemy. 

Let me take a moment to set the scene.   The British had set out from Boston under cover of darkness, to capture the militia's arms supply in Concord, some twenty miles away.  Nothing went according to plan.  They left late, their approach was announced well in advance and when 77 militia formed a line in Lexington "to make a display of patriot resolve" (park map), someone fired on them.  By the time the British got to Concord and started searching houses for arms news had spread, more shots were fired and the British had to fight their way back across the 20 miles they'd just hiked. 

The bluff 0400712
There are many points along the trail devoted to the fighting of that day.  Along with the stone markers there are also signs which depict the route, the number of troops on both sides at that point.  In addition there's an audio tour available via cell phone.  I'd never run into one of these before and I was impressed.  You can take a listen right now, wherever you are by dialing (978) 224-4505. 

Thorning boulder sign 040712

To be continued...

Patriot's Day

If you don't live in Massachusetts, you've probably never heard of Patriot's Day, but people here are getting ready.  Hotels are at or near capacity, signs to direct the waves of visitors are being posted and anything that doesn't move has been draped in flags or bunting.  You see Patriot's Day, the third Monday of April,  commemorates the battles at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775) which started the fighting of the Revolutionary War.   It is also the day when the finest long distance runners in the world take on Heartbreak Hill as they compete in the Boston Marathon.  The marathon may get more television coverage, but you can imagine which event is considered more important here in Lexington. 

Flag reflection 070111
Each year that I've lived here I've watched, intrigued by the town's excitement, but unable to share in it.  I love living in a place where history remains a part of modern day life; I pass the tavern where the Minutemen awaited the arrival of the Regulars (they didn't call them the British then) on my way to the bank,

IMG_6453Buckman Tavern

and the field where soldiers faced off, is now a place where families play Frisbee and have picnics. But I've never been all that interested in the actual fighting.  It's the idea that farmers, blacksmiths and teachers put their lives on the line to right an injustice, which makes my mind swirl and my eyes shine with pride.  So I've steered clear of the festivities, unless you consider being woken by musket fire "taking part".

Minuteman from behind 070111Minuteman Captain John Parker

Of course, now that I write a blog where I talk about exploring home and finding the richness close at hand, it feels disingenuous to ignore Patriot's Day.  So last Saturday I decided I would walk from one end of Minute Man park to the other and see what draws so many visitors there, not just on Patriot's Day weekend, but throughout the year.  The walk, and the park were more than I'd expected. 

I'll save the telling of that story for tomorrow.


PS The links in the final paragraph will take you to a schedule of this year's events and an overview of the historic sites of Lexington.

Easter - Starting Over

I know January 1st is generally seen as a chance to hit the reset button on life,  but last night standing in the darkened church of the Easter Vigil service, hearing story after story of love, grace and second chances, I saw the holiday in a new light.  Instead of seeing it on the usual grand scale either of miraculous events thousands of years ago, or the celebration of new life unfolding around us, I saw in it a reminder that each of us can start over, at any time. 

And so today is the perfect day to announce the new life of this long hibernating blog.  The blog began as a way to write about walking and exploration.  It still is, but I've realized those words refer to much more than the physical act of putting one foot in front of another and looking around.  Each day can be an exploration of what life has to offer.  With each new path I encounter, I can take a few steps down it, decide if it's where I want to be, and if not turn back, all the richer for the trying.  This means the content of these pages will be a bit more varied, but the updates will be more frequent and the themes of slowing down, taking a closer look and and finding joy in the exploration will remain.

And now before you go, here's a glimpse of how people in my corner of New England have been getting ready for Easter. 

Easter dec 040712

Did you see that cute rabbit sculpture?

Rabbit steps 040712

Blossom on tree poor farm 040612
Cafe setting Lexington 040412
Fuzzy bunny door 040412
Don't these steps look like they have Easter eggs on them?
Easter egg steps 040612
Golden bunny 040412
Sparrow blossoms 040612
Easter porch mass ave 040712

On Being has a great interview that weaves together Easter and gardening.  You can catch it today on your local NPR station, or stream it from their website.