Noteworthy (DIY Field Notes hack)

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During my 17-year career as a newspaper reporter, I developed a symbiotic relationship with the notebook in my back pocket. When not tucked in there, it was in my left hand with a pen in my right.

Important fact? Jot it down.

Great quote? Good god, man. Ink it down, quick-like!

(My favorite quote of all time was when I interviewed a veterinarian to explore theories as to why a red-tailed hawk had begun targeting neighborhood chihuahuas for food, instead of the more typical mice, rats, etc. “Maybe he wanted Mexican,” the doctor offered. That one made the front page.)

Now that I’m in Corporate America, I still like to keep a notebook tucked in there, but it’s typically for creative endeavors that occur to me during the workday to explore later. Or puns. Y’all might have noticed that I like puns. A pocket notebook is great to have handy when on the road, for taking travel notes while staying blissfully off the grid. Or sometimes, your wife wakes up and tells you her dream, and since she’s not keeping a dream journal, these things have to be documented somehow. Particularly when that dream involves her vehemently trying to convince a group of people about one of the world’s great injustices, such as:

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Last week, when I was staring at the pile of printed paper I rescued from trash cans at work to take home and recycle, I began thinking, instead, about upcycling it.

In many cases, the paper was mostly blank — the third page of an email that had only a signature block at the top, or the last few lines of an Excel chart. Then I looked at my nearly full Field Notes notebook and had a eureka moment.

I could use the unsullied parts of the pages to make my own Field Notes.

I think my coworkers must’ve thought I’d gone crazy(ier). I started salvaging the covers of 3-year-old magazines, mailers or anything on thick paper with interesting art that could serve as a notebook cover. It seemed like a natural use for those eclectic postcards I’ve been getting from Flannery O’Connor’s home. I even used a bit of an Angry Orchard 12-pack, which, if cropped properly, evokes the vibe of an Entmoot.

With the help of a paper trimmer and a good stapler, I was in business.

Disclaimer: I l-o-v-e Field Notes. If you’re not familiar with the notepads, they’re 48 pages of 3½-by-5½ magic. The pages come imprinted with graph paper marks or traditional rules. The edge of the inside cover is imprinted with a ruler. Often they come in commemorative editions. Some people collect them obsessively. I feel a little guilty even about making my own, but the budget’s tight this year. And imitation, in this case, should definitely be seen as flattery.

This seems bleedingly obvious, but to make your own, gather these tools:

  • A paper trimmer
  • Packing tape or duct tape
  • A stapler (It needs a slightly longer reach than the cheapest models you find, but no need for a long-arm one)

And these materials:

  • A cool scrap of cardboard, cut to 7″-by-5½”
  • The bottom halves of 12 pieces of paper, also trimmed to 7-by-5½

Pre-fold the cover and all the pages individually in half on the 7-inch side. Nest all the pages in the cover. Open the book, holding it tightly to keep the pages from shifting. Staple on the spine crease, from the cover to the book’s center. I tack it twice, near the top and near the bottom, though three wouldn’t hurt.

Tear off a strip of packing tape to exactly 5½ inches and center it over the back crease to cover the staples and reinforce the spine. I usually go ahead and tape over the entire cover in strips for added durability. But depending on the quality of the stock you’re using for the cover, you might not need to. (Wired magazine covers have proven interesting, design-wise, and durable.)

You’ll find the middle pages stick further out than the early pages, so just run it back through the trimmer to even it up.

If you do one, I’d love to see it, so post it online and tag DewAbides in your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter posts.

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Also, this compost bin plan I sketched out is totally happening. More later.
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