Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nobody Got Hurt: A Reflection on Book Design & Self-publishing

It started out with a simple phone call. During my initial client meeting, I had many questions but the main one was,

"How many pages do you anticipate the finished book to be?"

When the response was,

"I really have no idea."

I thought that's a pretty open-ended answer but, ok, I can work with that. We both agreed that we would work from the estimate that it would end up being a 300 page book. In the end, it turned out to be just under 200 pages so at least we didn't guess terribly under!

I laid out some basics to get started but, to be sure, I had no delusions that this would be a simple project. I kept thinking that this would turn out to take more time than either of us expected--many months of work to be exact.

My client was looking to compile all the material written as a biography by her late husband whom she loved dearly. Her husband was a well-known dentist who practiced in the local community for over three decades. However, though he was well-known, my client felt that he had led such an interesting life outside of dentistry and that those life stories should be shared. She encouraged him to write the book and together they both researched and gathered information for it. So, it was a very personal project for her to which I saw as an opportunity to not only help her achieve this goal but provide some additional closure.

My estimation of my time involved in the initial page layout and design drafts resulting from the giant black binder was at least close enough to be useful. However, this did not account for all of re-typing involved for both the hand-written and missing digital copy content for inclusion. In fact, only a very small amount of digital content (less than twenty pages worth) was actually provided to me that didn't need re-typing. Since the author is no longer living, locating the original digital files proved to be unsuccessful.

Original typed and hand-written manuscripts

So, the first major step of the project was to re-type 90% of what was given to me. Glad my typing skills were in good shape! In addition to digitizing the copy, numerous versions and drafts of stories, sections and chapters existed in similar forms. These needed to be sifted, read, and re-read to ensure the entirety and clarity of the content was included and left fully intact. Together, my client and I compared, re-ordered and re-arranged all of the writings to get it just right. This happened over several months but, after much patience, it was all sifted through and we felt like things were really taking shape!

Along with all the writing material, there were numerous old photographs, articles and documents that supported the stories and held significance for the author to include. They also needed digitized. From old family portraits to newspaper articles, I carefully scanned and re-touched them all.

Author's family portraits and photographs

Baby photo of author (ca. 1932)

From there, they needed placed with accompanying captions into the pages to coincide with the appropriate chapters, stories and writings. Once all of the images were placed and in order, the book was really looking more complete!

After reading the writings over and over, I really started to get a feel for the author's life--his values and his adventures. I particularly enjoyed reading the letters written by himself and his siblings when stationed overseas and elsewhere during World War II. What real, amazing and sad experiences.

I also enjoyed the quotes tied to each chapter and interjected into different portions of stories. A few of my favorites being:
It is not good for all our wishes to be filled; through sickness we recognize the value of health; through evil, the value of good; through hunger, the value of food; through exertion, the value of rest.” ― Dorothy Canfield Fisher
At the punch-bowl's brink, let the thirsty think what they say in Japan: first the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man.
I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.”  –Jean-jacques Rousseau
I never knew the author prior to his passing a couple years ago but after reading through the raw, personal and honest writing of this rough-and-tumble cowboy turned dentist I got good insight into who he was.

Initial front, spine and back cover design proof

This immersion in the stories allowed me to design the overall page layout from cover to cover to really fit the tone and intent of the book. My client also had a particular photo of the author that she wanted to include on the cover in some form. When I presented the first design draft of the cover, my client said it brought her to tears to see it. Whew! (as well as an honor to hear)

At the same time as the cover proof, a first draft proof of all of the inside pages was ready.

Proof of inside pages

Once we got to this point, it was round after round of more editing and revising. Back and forth I went to my client's home to discuss changes and edits. Thankfully, it wasn't a very far drive so I got familiar with the view!

When we were finally both satisfied with all the changes, it was time to publish and print. So, now what was once a box of unorganized photos and papers was a finished book!

Original book content and materials
Finished, printed copies

Something my client kept saying to me throughout the process was that many people have stories about their lives and experiences that only a very few ever hear or sometimes others don't even know about. And once that person is gone, so are the stories.

Very few people take the time to write them down. She felt strongly that it is beneficial to do that. Judging from the response to her distribution of copies, she is right. A few months after delivering the books she called to let me know what a fantastic response she received from those that received one. She even thought she might need to order more.

Thanking me again, she shared what a success it had been. She said it really surprised her since she really didn't know what to expect. In her words, "I had no idea it was going to go over this big."

While the thanks for helping design and publish this book is certainly gratifying, it is really the willingness and effort of the author to write and share his life story with others and the dedication of his wife to complete the publishing process that readers are connecting with.

So, in case you are wondering what it takes to successfully self-publish a book, I think that though there are many different aspects and lots of time involved, I think the best way to describe it would be patience, tenacity and a whole lot of heart. While I didn't author any portion of this book, I am happy to have played a part in the process.

And throughout that process, I am also happy to say "nobody got hurt."

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Foam Board...yeah!?

Foam board...hmmm...not exactly an exciting topic let alone blog title. However, what IS exciting is that I am far removed from the process that occurred around this same time 6 years ago. Fall was in full swing and the phrase "winter is coming" that surrounds the now popular Game of Thrones home of House Stark, "Winterfell" would be an appropriate one as my husband and I feverishly worked to finish several home exterior jobs before the snow fell.

To say it was a difficult job is not entirely accurate as the actual process of adding foam board insulation to the exterior of our house was not exactly hard. However, the fact that together with my husband, we covered every exterior face of our house completely by ourselves after our typical 8-hour regular work day did not make it a fast or easy job. Combined with the fact that we needed to tear off the current, original old siding and repair a few places beforehand also complicated the matter. So, as our usual reconstruction process unfolded, several deconstruction steps had to be completed first, allowing us to get to the actual job we were intending to do.

Little by little, each day we removed the old siding and repaired the base beneath so that we had a "clean" and structurally sound foundation to attach the foam board to.

That is where I kind of felt like the "fun" part began because at least we could cover up all the grunginess with something that would add much value in warmth and, to some degree, an improved exterior aesthetic. At least now it looked like we were actually trying to make this old house look like things were improving rather than just making new mess out of the original mess we started with. Plus, it also kind of made our house look like a gingerbread house. That sounded more charming in my mind than what it really was. This was helpful since our house remained in this current state all winter before we were able to finish the job of adding siding that following spring.

The installation took A LOT of foam board and A LOT of spray foam insulation cans--you know that stuff that you spray our of a can and it expands over time to triple its size. It's tough sometimes because in your mind it takes less than you would think but often when you try and gauge you overcompensate, afraid that if you don't put enough in initially it won't expand to completely fill the crevice which is the whole point, and then it expands and spills way over the original space, often makes a big mess and generally wastes a lot of the product.

Anyways, it took a lot of weeknight evenings to get everything covered and since it was late October, it started getting dark earlier and earlier until we were almost beginning work when it was completely dark. I remember going to our local home improvement store and purchasing a couple construction-type work lights just so we could keep working during the week after our regular jobs--ugghhh!

However, we did get it all done over the course of a couple weeks and while I was not thrilled with the amount of time and effort it took to get everything done, I can say that during the dead of winter that followed, I was thankful that we had such a lovely protective barrier between me and the chilling cold and howling wind outside.

I can also honestly say that I occasionally still think of what is behind our siding (mostly during the winter) and can appreciate, probably a bit more than most, the many aspects to a home that are hidden out of sight.

I also think that while I can appreciate these aspects because of this experience, I believe that you, too, can appreciate aspects to your home that are not in plain view. Maybe it's not foam board insulation but maybe it's just the fact that there are reasons your home can function in the ways that matter to you--warm showers, baking in your oven, reading a book with your kids before bedtime. These things happen due to hidden aspects such as plumbing and wiring so that you can enjoy them.

So, to end this thought, I know that come this January, I will thoroughly enjoy a warm cup of coffee inside my cozy living room while watching the blizzard unfold outside.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Walls of Warmth

Wow, it's steamy out today so in honor of the sweat equity that I am still finding myself working on, today's post recounts what I was doing at just about this same time eight years ago. I'll say it again. Eight. Years. Ago. I can't believe it's been that long. I'm soooooo thankful we're way past that stage in our home reconstruction process.

In July eight years ago, we were actually getting to a really exciting place on the house. Installing insulation! Insulation isn't exactly fun to purchase but the significance of that step precluded a more exciting process--drywall! Ha! I'll save that tale for another time.

We were finally ready to cover up all the wiring, plumbing and structural beams in the walls--in hopes to never again see what that looked like post-plaster and lathe removal. Our house was getting closer to looking like something you would want to live in.

The walls were starting to take shape and as you can see all the windows were open and we had a large circular fan blowing because it was July in Nebraska and that means heat and humidity. (you can also spy a magnetic dart board hanging from the drywall jack--sometimes you just need a fun break to pass the time until it's time to quit for the day!)

And what do I get to wear?

A lovely and insulating layer of long sleeves, jeans, hat and gloves. Oh and a respirator to keep from inhaling fiberglass.

Although the job was hot and sweaty, it really wasn't too difficult. I spent days working my way around each room and each wall cavity stapling batts of insulation from floor to ceiling. By the time I was done, you couldn't see much else other than wall after wall of craft paper with the John Mansville logo on it.

Despite the scorching July weather I could still envision cozy winter nights at home thanks to the hefty layer of warmth I was helping add to our home. A bit of security and a solution that would reap benefits down the road no matter the temperature outside. And with below freezing temps really only a few months away, I can still appreciate what this job does continue to provide and also protect us from the outside world.

So the next time you are looking at your own walls, remember that there is a lot going on behind them and hopefully plenty of the stuff that keeps you warm!

Friday, June 10, 2016

"THE" House Project

"THE" House Project began in February 2007. I refer to it as "THE" House Project because that is what the folder on my computer is named that holds all of the photos taken related to this ongoing project. It got named "THE" House Project because just prior to that, a completely different house was originally being considered as our house project and so a folder was named "Yellow House" to contain the initial photos of that house. Here is a shot of the exterior at the time:

Thankfully this house was not purchased and did not become "THE" House as two stories and many more rooms and surely many more problems to deal with would've inevitably arose and I just can't imagine we would get to the conclusion of that project in the same two-and-a-half year time frame it took to complete our one-story bungalow. Therefore, a folder to contain photos of our current abode came to be "THE" one to keep adding to.

Recently it has been brought to my attention that there are folks out there who do not know the stories behind our house and what it took to get it where it is today and those stories are worth telling. Here is a before and after view of "THE" house:

Here are few shots of the inside transformations:

I show these because not only do they show dramatic comparisons but it puts some perspective on how far we have come from our original beginnings. However, what before and after shots fail to show and as HGTV, DIY Network and countless other TV networks and reality shows certainly fail miserably to illustrate are the true realities of tackling projects like this without the help of big budgets, work crews, contractors and numerous other tradesmen.

I have to point out not in arrogance but in truth that between me, my husband, and some generous help from friends and family, we did not hire a single person to do any work (aside from brazing the refrigerant lines of our AC system) to accomplish the results above.  And don't assume that the friends and family were any of the tradesmen mentioned above. While some had construction skills and knowledge, the extent in which they could help was still often limited. So when we say "we" gutted and renovated our 100-year-old home, it is completely true. No contractors. No electricians. No plumbers, HVAC specialists, drywallers, painters, architects, drafters/designers, framers,--you name it, we didn't hire it done. We did it. Ourselves.

Now the point was not to do it ourselves for the sake of pride. While it certainly did result in some satisfaction, it was done primarily out of financial advantage. From the house purchase price to labor fees and supply costs, we saved a ton of money. What we traded in dollars we made up for in time and effort. Two-and-a-half years of time and effort to be exact. From the time we started to the day we moved in, during the days in between, we worked hard and often. Sounds like craziness to many--and they are probably right. But now that we are on the other side of it, we can certainly say that the results are worth it.

What the before and after photos also don't show is the financial foundation that keeps us free from any sort of home mortgage. Does that seem worth it? I have my doubts that it does for some but it was the right decision for us. And I am thankful for it. Is it an mansion? No. Does it need to be? No. It is so often just enough for us--no more, no less--? Absolutely.

So, as this journey continues for us in renovating and living in our home, may we remember how far we have come and what that means for our future no matter what "THE" projects is.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Organizational "Nesting"

Ok, so as everyone says that the urge to "nest" often comes towards the end of the nine months of baby-carrying and that it often involves cleaning such as mopping, dusting or other tasks of that nature. Well, I don't really like to clean in that way no matter the reason but organizing on the other hand does offer some sort of satisfaction or I at least have the desire to start. So, off I went to gather the needed supplies (mostly "trash") to create these two organizational items for our house.

The first being a much more useful way to organize our ongoing collection of plastic grocery bags. The old system for storage was basically to unload the groceries or other items and then literally just stuff the bags under the sink into no container whatsoever until almost the entire left side space underneath our sink was filled with plastic bags from top to bottom/front to back.

To our credit, it was certainly easy to put them there in half a second. The problem, however, became when you wanted just one bag and you almost always ended up pulling two or more out at a time since they were so cluttered together in such an unorganized way.

So, remembering that my husband had just finished chowing through a giant box of Honey Nut Cheerios I headed to the recycle bin to retrieve it.

 I then proceeded to cut the top flaps off so it had an unobstructed opening. Then I took a roll of white duct tape and covered the entire outside of box with it. The thought was to use the box as the container for the bags and I could just stuff them in. However, as you might expect, the cardboard of a cereal box is not exactly the stiffest material so once you start stuffing it with something as simple as plastic grocery bags, the box starts to look like it might burst.

So, to provide extra support, I scrounged up 6 paint stir sticks and cut them to the width of the box. Then I hot glued 3 of them equally spaced across the width of each side of the box and then wrapped additional tape over/around them to ensure they stayed put.

The final step was to attach the box to the inside right door of our kitchen sink so that it was much easier to access and fit nicely in the inset space on the door and just inside the under-sink area. I attached the box using 6, 3M Command Strips and the final result looks like this:

This whole project took about an hour and now we actually have more space under our sink! Plus, it takes the hassle out of finding and getting our grocery bags together when we need them. Total cost for the project: about $4 for the roll of tape (in which I didn't use even half the roll) and about $3 for the box of cereal.

The second project took quite a bit longer.

This project idea I had seen something similar on Pinterest that you could buy but I had no intention of buying something like this. My goal was to make something that would help organize the extra hangers that seem to pile up in our closet and since we have limited space on our actual closet racks, I don't want to have that valuable space on the rack taken up with empty hangers so I usually tossed them into a large, plastic under bed container that I had.

This project, too, involved gathering some "trash" supplies. I actually retrieved a heavy-duty, cardboard box from the office I work in as well as some spray glue. That along with a roll of package tape, leftover fabric scraps, a utility knife, cutting board, ruler and a pencil. I had all the supplies I needed.

I started by dismantling the box so that the top and bottom flaps were not connected to each other. I then measured and folded the sides to form a triangle. This involved some cutting and taping of edges, bottom flaps and piecing-in additional areas on the bottom to create a flat, even surface on the inside and outside bottom of the box. The assemble triangle looked like this:

I used the hangers as a template for the size so that the box would be big enough for the largest of the hangers but small enough to keep them all organized and from overlapping and getting caught on each other as was the case with my current container.

Once I had this part done, I made a separate triangle piece of cardboard to place in the bottom of the container so that I could cover it separately with fabric and then place it in the bottom. This would prove to be much easier than trying to cover the bottom directly with fabric.

My next step was to cover the sides with a pretty floral fabric scrap left over from another project. I used the spray glue and adhered the fabric to the inside and outside of the box--being careful to overlap onto the bottom on both the inside and outside of the box. I worked one side at a time--spraying the glue and apply the fabric around each side. I used one piece of fabric to go all the way around the entire box. I folded the final edges under itself and glued it down so that it would not be in danger of fraying. I also put additional package tape on all the edges inside and out to further ensure the fabric stays in place and doesn't unravel.

I then covered the separate inside triangle cardboard piece with a scrap of black fabric--gluing and taping the fabric as needed. Once that was finished, I slid that piece snugly into the bottom of the new fabric-lined container.

At this point it was basically finished and I tested it out by placing my hangers inside--a perfect fit!

The new container fits much more neatly in our closet and takes up much less space on the floor than the old container, plus it is much easier to use as the hangers no longer get tangled up with each other.

So, success for the day was had by fulfilling a few organizational "nesting" urges and creating some more efficient items for our house. Now, time to wait for the next urge--and of course, the new, little addition to the home.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Bike Trainer: Taking you places you've never been

I had never rode a bike on a trainer let alone owned one before. Those are something for "serious" riders. 4 hour "training" rides indoors? Now that's just insane. But I had ran that on a treadmill before so I guess touché. I can't say I hadn't considered getting one before but in addition to the question of the seriousness of my winter biking needs, several issues always came to mind:

  1. It takes up space. Yes, it is additional fitness equipment that frankly our small, 2-bedroom home doesn't accommodate very easily.
  2. It will wear out my bike! I mean I love my bike, even if it is what 'real' bikers would call an entry-level road bike, and the thought of it wearing out before its time is a sad one to say the least.

However, winter rolled in and come early January, my husband declared that he wanted to get a bike trainer to help him really focus on getting fit. I applauded his enthusiasm and decisiveness so I suggested it be a belated Christmas present to ourselves for the good of our health.

Off he went to research and select the right bike trainer for our needs and our budget. After reading many reviews and specs of a variety of models, he settled on the CycleTEK Momentum1 Indoor Cycling Trainer.

CycleTEK M1 Indoor Fluid Bike Trainer
The CycleTEK Momentum1 high performance indoor cycling trainer uses unrivaled technology for a smooth, quiet, high performance,indoor cycling experience. 

Now this trainer offers several features that I won't go into detail on (you can read more on their website) but one particular feature is how quiet it is. No one wants to listen to a lovely fan, tire or similar 'road' noise continually drone on for the entire duration of their workout so this to me was a very obvious and important factor. And quiet this one is. I won't say there is virtually no noise but when your cat can curl up and take a nap right next to your bike while you ride--I'd say that's a pretty good indicator.

The cost of the trainer plus the front wheel riser block and a home-made floor mat ($17 worth of utility rug runner from our local home improvement store) was over a $100 less than most similar models plus accessories.

So, armed with my Pandora app, a small wireless speaker and a book, off I went to spin along an imaginary road every other night after work. I've gone through several books and well over 200 miles in the last 3 months and I have enjoyed learning how to create variation in my workouts enough to keep things interesting.

Sometimes this involves intervals of hard and easy paces--pedaling in and out of the saddle--and other times a bit of zoning-out while continuing to spin since you don't need to pay attention the same as you would on actual streets and roads.

There is something freeing and relaxing about that. And as I've only scratched the surface of the multitude of articles, training tips and plans available, I feel this equipment is yet to become dull and boring as some have claimed.

I suppose it's all in how you approach it but for me this has been a great fit and worthy investment. Now as the weather turns warmer and I transition to the outdoors, I think I will be well suited for upcoming rides and my body will be thanking me for it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015 Wrapped in Warmth

While 2015 may be filled with hope and promise--right now it is filled with plenty of wind, ice, snow and frigid winter temperatures. So, with that thought in mind, I thought it would be fitting to complete a couple of quilts for cuddling up during those chilling nights of howling winter winds and abundant snow. Never mind that I had started these two t-shirt quilts over a year ago. Never mind that I had promised myself that I needed to finish these before I started on another custom crafting project.

It was cold outside and I wanted those blankets completed dang it! So I dug out all the needles, thread and the sewing machine to get started. Of course, once I had everything laid out and ready to sew, I realized I did not have the right needles or thread. So, one trip to Hobby Lobby (before the frigid winter storm hit) later and I completed my preparatory plans.

Two afternoons later, I am happy to say that I succeeded in finishing both quilts. The result: one quilt representing my collegiate years and one quilt reflecting fun family vacations and memories that span from kindergarten to high school.

My Collegiate Quilt: From team shirts to shirt "trophies" (shirts were often given to event champions instead of medals), this one would have definitely been appropriate for the many cold weather meets I can remember (i.e. the Concordia University Polar Dog Invite).

Now, I do not quilt in the same sense as traditional quilting. I don't know if I have the patience for that so I do the next best thing--I sew giant squares together and connect them to a blanket. This produces much faster results and avoids the pain-staking process of intricate patterns, batting and miles and miles of stitching. This method ensures a warm and cozy quilt in only an afternoon.

My "Vacation" Quilt: This one takes me way back to my early years--camp, summer vacations and even my very first swim team championship meet. Who doesn't remember those "I survived..." souvenir shirts?

As I stitched each square, I recalled a lot of special times and special people. It brought a smile to my face and I guess you could say warmth to my heart. So, as I enjoyed the season premiere of Downtown Abbey, I was able to wrap myself in something that makes me look forward to yet another year of good times and great memories.