Monday, February 13, 2017

Project House Update: Starry Starry Night

One of the things that's taken me the longest to learn and has been the hardest when it comes to house projects is that the ideal solution is very rarely the first solution. As expensive and as long as it takes, sometimes it takes several tries to get it right.

Oh, but when it's finally right, it's so worth it. Let me tell you a story of how we now have this beautiful entryway chandelier.

When we first moved into our house, one of the first things you saw when you walked into the house was this light. Calling it outdated was an understatement. It was one of the first things we tackled when we started our house overhaul.

We replaced the original fixture with this bell pendant from World Market. I like the shape of it with the archway window of our front door. I like the antique brass finish with the Southwestern nature of our house. I like the secret touch of turquoise hidden inside.

However, Dan wasn't as happy with it, his main complaint being the lack of light. Due to its design, our entryway was being lit by a single light bulb and it wasn't nearly enough light. But the pro's outweighed the con's so we lived with it for over three years.

We lived with the brass bell until we repainted the entryway, getting rid of the hideous yellow that was also a 'learning experience'. The light needed to be removed to paint and Dan hated putting it back up. He wanted something better.

For months, I scoured the internet, trying to find the perfect light for us. And since Dan and I have such drastically different tastes, it was an uphill battle. That is until I stumbled across this arrangement of star pendants. The first image was going to be too small for our entryway, but once I got digging, I found some closer to what I wanted.

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Star pendants like this are huge in Tucson. They're very Southwestern/Mexican. My mom has one in her entryway. My sister (after we found ours) went and got one for her bathroom. They are beautiful, timeless, and fit our house. It was an easy sell for both of us.

Dan and I both did some digging into where to buy these star pendants. After I failed to come up with anything substantial, Dan had an amazing stroke of luck. He found this website with a wide variety of styles. Once he gave it to me and I began poking around, I found that the store behind the website is in Tucson. It was less than a fifteen minute drive and we'd both driven past it hundreds of times, every time we would go to trivia.

This next part will really show how lazy we are. On Black Friday, 2015, Dan's parents were still in town for Thanksgiving and his mom loves Southwestern knick-knacks so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and pull the trigger on some lights. We knew we wanted three, for them to be similar but not matching, and of different sizes. We chose a 10 inch star with frosted glass, a 15 inch star with clear glass, and a 19 inch star with Mercury glass.

The plan was to hang all three together, but we didn't know the best way to do it. In the interim, Dan hung the largest one and we went on with our lives.

So the other two lights sat on a shelf in our laundry room, waiting for a good solution. Again, we lived with just one light bulb lighting our entryway for nearly a year. Around Christmas time, 2016, Dan was fed up yet again with have a dimly lit room. And since he is most productive when he has vacation time, I knew it was time to really move forward and not let his energy go to waste.

The solution I had always liked best was a three-light pendant canopy. They are hard to find, but they would allow all three lights to be mounted together and be part of one, singular chandelier. We modeled what we wanted with cardboard and balloons and it helped us determine the size of the canopy we would need. And like most of this story, once I pointed Dan in the right direction, he came through and found the perfect one.

Dan had an electrician wire it all together and then it was just up to us to hang it. He wrapped each star in packing foam and paper so that they couldn't break each other when I lifted it. I don't think I've ever been so nervous during a house project, but at one point, I was standing next to the ladder, on a dining room chair, holding the light bundle up so Dan could secure it. There was over a year's worth of work (kind of) in my weak little hands and the delicacy of it was not lost on me.

But miraculously it survived! And I did, too!

It's so beautiful. I love it. I absolutely love it. The bulbs are hidden in the smallest and the largest stars, but Dan went the extra mile and put an Edison bulb in the middle one, the clear one.

They hang a little low for our tallest friends, but they will heal if they hurt themselves. As long as they don't break my lights, we won't have any issues.

And it's even prettier at night. Through the arched entryway window, you can see them from the street. So it's even classed up the curb appeal of our house.

The Mercury glass and the Edison bulb have a yellower light than the small star, but one day that will bother me enough to swap it out.

I'm so glad, after all our previous incorrect decisions, we finally ended up with the right one.

If you don't happen to live in an area where you can get these cheap and quick like we managed to do, there are a lot of other options out there. Most are fancier and more expensive than ours, like this one from West Elm.

Like most of our projects, it took much longer than it should have. However, the slow crawl of our work doesn't annoy me as much as it used to. It's just what we need to do to end up with the right solution. When we rush, we make poor decisions. I'd rather do something right, and slowly, the first time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tucson Women's March

Saturday morning, I had the pleasure in taking part of the Tucson leg of the Women's March on Washington. It was a last-minute decision between my sister and I. We were both getting over illnesses and the weather was supposed to be terrible, but we rallied anyway. We both agreed that our conscious' would haunt us if we didn't try.

It was raining, actually hailing at one point, and remarkably cold for Tucson, but that didn't seem to hinder turn-out. My sister lives relatively close to the route, so we parked at her place and walked over. It was amazing getting closer and closer to the beginning of the march path and realizing everyone around us was heading to the same place. At the starting point, we slowly gathered the rest of our party of six. It ended up being me, my sister, my sister's friend, my sister's friend's male coworker, my sister's friend's mom, and one of my sister's high school teachers. We were a motley crew but it turned out to be a great, little bunch.

In the grand scheme of things, we were unprepared. We were cold and wet, but more importantly, we weren't wearing any pink or had any knit hats.

I don't know what the projected attendance number was, but the estimation of final count was above 15,000. It must have been much larger than expected because everything happened much slower than scheduled. And that was ok. The march was a slow crawl through downtown, but fortunately the route was fairly short. It gave us plenty of time to chant with strangers and read punny signs.

Going in, I really didn't know what to expect. Honestly, I had no clue. And in hindsight, that was the right way to go. It ended up being thousands of people who were tired and fed up, but positive and proactive. I saw old classmates from high school. I saw a coworker. I saw young children and their parents and their parents' parents. I saw a troop of girl scouts who sang their little song as they walked. We followed behind a woman probably in her sixties wearing a sandwich board of protest signs, a Viking helmet, banging on a tambourine. There was such a sense of comradery. After the walk, three of us grabbed lunch in a cafe downtown filled with other marchers. Even though we were done at that point, many people were still checking in on the other marches across the country. Update after update of how almost every march in the country was underestimated. That they couldn't even march in Washington D.C. because there were too many people.  

I don't know what I expected to get out of attending the march, but I feel like I got so much out of it. A purely peaceful protest demonstrating that there was still a large section of the population who wasn't just going to sit back and let the bullies win. In spite of being called 'sore losers' or being told to 'be hopeful' that things might still be ok, we were still ready for action. We would be vigilant. We would be watching.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fan of Friday: Week of 1/20/2017

Just like nonograms before, I've become obsessed with another little internet puzzle game. Whether you call it 'Slither Link' or 'Puzzle Loop', it's an addicting brain exercise.

The point of the game is pretty simple: you are trying to create one continuous line throughout the space that doesn't violate any of the constraints given to you. The space contains a grid of dots and some blank and numbered squares. The numbered squares tell you how many line segments surround the numbered space. With reason and deduction (and usually a crap-ton of time), you can determine the path of the loop.

It does take a while to get the feel of it, so if it's something you are interested in, start by reading the tutorial page, slowly increasing the size and difficulty, and making notes of tricks and patterns.

Now that I've gotten the trick of them, I race myself. My goal this week was to complete one of the 20 by 20s in under 15 minutes. This was my first success.

On the gargantuan weekly puzzle, like the one below, sometimes the easiest way to solve it is to step back and do something else for a while. Fresh eyes can really help when you are stuck. And I get stuck a lot.

I mean, these puzzles aren't anything special, but they are fun, they are free, and they make me feel like my brain isn't turning into complete mush.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Project House Update: Blinds Leading the Blind

One of the things I love most about my house is the ridiculous amounts of natural light. However, a side effect of that is a lack of privacy. It's hard to feel like people aren't watching you when you've got several big windows facing the street.

The room that made Dan feel the most insecure about being on display was the workout room. When we moved in, it had some horrible vertical blinds. Those survived until we replaced the window with more energy-efficient ones, yet never replaced the blinds. For years, the window had no covering and caused so much debate in our household.

Dan didn't like using the equipment in the workout room because he felt like people could spy on him, especially at night. We talked about hanging curtains to cover the window, but I was concerned that with the treadmill so close to it, the curtains could potentially get sucked up into its mechanism. That left us with some sort of blinds being our only option.

We both agreed that we weren't as concerned with light-blocking as privacy so it wasn't critical to us to block the arched portion of the window. All we really wanted was some way to cover the lower portion of the window. We weighed all the different kinds of blinds we could think of. I didn't want to go back to vertical blinds. We agreed the cats would probably destroy horizontal blinds. I wanted to try a cordless Roman shade, but Dan didn't trust the mechanism, but did like not having to worry about future children hanging themselves on cords.

Dan got so fed up at one point that I told him just to go to Home Depot and get anything that works, preferably cheap, as a temporary solution. If he could find something for under $50 that would solve the problem in the short-term, that was fine by me. He picked some out, brought them home, and quickly discovered how hard it would be to find ones that would work for us.

Because the window is arched, we cannot mount the blinds at the top of the window, on the underside of the window casing. Instead, we needed blinds that mounted on the sides, at the ends of the blinds mechanism. We upped our budget and scoured the internet. However, it is nearly impossible to determine in the details of blinds descriptions how blinds mount. It wasn't a searchable term and most of the time, unless there was a video showing the installation, there was no way to tell. Instead, we got a little fed-up and went back to our local Home Depot. There was no one in the 'Blinds' section to help us, so we basically deconstructed every set of display blinds. Dan walked around and popped the display blinds off their mechanisms to see how they attached. We expect to be able to find a lot of types that side-installed, but we only found one that would work for us. They are Artisan No Tools Light Filtering Cellular Shade by Redi Shade. They mount to the side with adhesive and a spring-loaded plunger. It blew our budget out of the water, but we decided it was worth it to have a good solution.

They are custom-order only and we had to first wait on color samples to arrive in the mail. I wanted white to match the casing of the window to hide them when in the up position, so we went with 'Snow'. Another week later, our blinds showed up and we managed to install them without catastrophe. Trust me, there was a lot of opportunity for it, but we managed. Level and everything.

I love how hidden they are in the up position. You almost have to look for them to notice them.

They still let in a great amount of light, but give us a nice sense of privacy. Our neighbors would have to walk directly up to the house and peer in to see anything now. And that's just creepy.

Since this is one of the cats' favorite views, I like to leave them up a smidge so they can still survey the front yard.

This comparison really shows off how the blinds just disappear into the casing. Yes, they were way more expensive than we wanted, but they are perfect. When we need to pretend we are productive people, we'll order the matching ones for the den.

Seriously, it's like magic. They are invisible or something. I LOVE IT!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Goals for 2017

Well guys, we somehow survived 2016. Traditionally, 2016 should have been a good year for me. I love these odd fourth years with their summer Olympics and the leap years and all the intelligent political discussion. To quote myself, "It's gonna be a good one guys. Leap years always are."

But we came out the other side! Before going on to my feelings about the weird trip that 2017 will be, let's reflect a bit back on 2016: how did I do on my resolutions?

  • Find two doctors: general and ob/gyn. Technically, complete success! I've found two doctors, but I haven't booked appointments yet, so I don't fail on a technicality! Any progress is something when this resolution has lived on my lists for years now. C
  • Take a vacation. Utter success! Kauai was beautiful and we needed that trip. And one of these days, I'll finish writing about it (Parts 1 & 2 here)! A+
  • Be more proactive on home projects. Well, given that the demolition of the blue bathroom was my doing, I stepped up my game. I ripped out the old carpet and started the ball rolling on the renovation. My hands more dirty this year than any before, but it could have been more. I could have completed more, so points off for that. B
  • Blog a new recipe once a month. I was hoping that this goal would get me baking and cooking more and make me more adventurous. It did, slightly, but the problem arose that the only things new I wanted to make were terrible for me. So, while this was a complete success, I may need to find a different way to keep this up if I want to keep wearing my pants. (You can visit my recipe blog here). A+
  • Get a promotion. Well, there are posts upon posts that I could write about this, but short answer: it didn't happen. However, the lack of promotion is not due to any failure on my part. This year made me better at what I do and we'll see in the upcoming months how that shakes out. This will be an interesting year for me career-wise...C
  • Disconnect from technology more. I failed. If anything, I'm more connected now than I was a year ago. I've fallen victim to too many good computer games. It's still a valid goal, but I don't know the proactive way to create lastly change. F
  • Make grocery shopping a priority/routine. This one was an accident that's work out well. I've started taking an early Saturday morning Zumba class and I hit the grocery store afterwards on my way home. The store is quiet, the house is stocked up for all the weekend cooking, and it is no longer an after-work stress point. A
And now, for the future! 2017!

  • Finally, successfully, learn how to drive stick shift. I've got two failed attempts under my belt from my father, so maybe it's time I find another teacher.
  • Write four blog posts a month. I've let my writing slide over the last 12 months and I neeeeeeed to get back into it. I've gotten caught up in whether something is worthy of a write-up and I just need to write anything and everything.
  • Hang out with Dan more. We've gotten into a bad habit of not dating each other and we need to break it. He's a good egg, my husband, and it would be nice to spend some more quality time together. 
  • Read more. In 2016, I stopped caring about what my reading choices said about me. I read good books, trash books, old books, new books, complete series, teen books, anything. I'd like to try to read more books that challenge me, but I don't want reading to become work. This goal will stay ambiguous intentionally. 
  • Find more ways to give back. My life is great. I really have nothing to complain about, but here I am, finding ways to pick at it. I can give back, so I should. I started being conscious of it over the last year, but I want to more. I have the power to give back so it's really my obligation.
A good combination of concrete and fluid goals. 

This will be a weird year. The year I turn 30. Either it will be the year I finally start to get my shit together or the year I throw it all at the fan. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Project House Update: Coats of My Arms

While you would think two people in Arizona wouldn't have much need for a lot of coats, Dan and I could prove you wrong. It is true that Dan only has three or four, but they are nice and big and bulky. Me, on the other hand, I only own one or two nice, big coats, but I must have at least a dozen cheap, light ones.

Up until recently, Dan kept his handful of coats in the closet by the garage entrance. It made sense for him and I've never questioned it. That was until this year.

Over the past year, I've gotten a few more nice coats. Coats that are too nice to just be thrown on my drop pile with all my other crap. I needed to hang them, too. And it made complete sense to me that I hang them in the coat closet with Dan's.

For the five years we've lived in our house, that little coat closet has sat there untouched. Beyond the few coats Dan hangs in it and the big bag of cat food, almost everything in there is just junk. Some people have a junk drawer, we have a junk closet. It was full of spare shelves for shelving units, old baseball caps, pool stuff, a shower curtain, and a deep fryer that we've yet to unbox, to name a few. It was a big pile of crap, sitting on the floor, wasting space that could be used for my lovely stuff.

A few weeks back, while Dan was digging in it, trying to find something, I told him this was our next project. I honestly expected some push-back, but he was on board immediately.

I wish I had remembered to take a 'Before' picture of the big pile of crap, but we feverishly emptied it out before the thought crossed my mind.

The paint was beige and beaten up. There were gaping holes from the work Dan had done on the opposite wall to the dining room. Beyond a shelf across the top and a bar for hanging coats, there was no built-in storage.

Dan had the lovely idea that, since the closet was empty, we should spackle and paint while we were at it. He spent a Saturday spackling, sanding, and repeating. I spent the next day, Sunday, while he was out, giving the space two good coats of 'Polar Bear'. Normally Dan rolls and I edge, but there was very little rolling to be done. My hand was a claw at the end of it because of so many corners and nooks. It probably could have benefited from a third coat, but since it's a small closet, I doubt anyone will ever notice.

When the paint dried, Dan installed some extra outlet plates and I set up the new shelving unit I bought. After that, all that was left to do was to go through the giant pile of crap, that had now moved from the closet into the laundry room, and determine what was going back in.

Some stuff was thrown out, some was donated, some was moved to places it should have been for a very long time now. Between the shelves and some tubs Dan took from the shop, almost everything has a proper home. Helmets get to stay inside with temperature control to extend their lifespan. Beanies and gloves go in a bin. Fold-up chairs fir snuggly in the gap between the shelves and the wall. Spare shelves slide into the space under the shelves, tucked out of the way.

And most importantly, my coats. My coats don't have to be thrown in a pile when I peel them off. Treating your nice things nicely may be the final nail in the coffin that I'm starting to get this whole 'adult' thing.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fan of Friday: Week of 12/16/2016

You know how sometimes you find a great show that's been on for a while, but it's still airing new episodes, so you binge them as fast as you can so you can catch up?

Now, imagine doing that with a show that's got roughly 70 episodes.

And, oh yeah, each episode is somewhere between three to four hours.

Yeah, that fact right there is a huge reason why I am so far behind on blogging...

...but I'm caught up live on my new favorite show! Critical Role!

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Critical Role is kind of hard to explain. It airs live on Geek and Sundry's twitch channel every Thursday night. It's a group of eight friends who are largely voice actors who play Dungeons and Dragons.

On paper, it sounds so boring, but it's incredibly well done. Since everyone has an acting background, they really think through their characters' decisions and dialogue. They know each other so well that they really have a lot of fun with it. And it doesn't hurt that the stories are well thought-out and intricate. Sometimes they battle an evil demi-god dragon, other times they run around a marketplace trying to figure out if they just unknowingly participated in a drug deal.

Poor Dan had to sit there on weekends when I would just stream old episodes for hours on end. He unwillingly became sucked into it with me. He would never admit it, but he enjoys it now.

Fun little story. Since I was so behind, the merchandise advertised on the show is always long since sold out. I even looked for one of the shirts on ebay. Over time, I caught up on the show and one Thursday, which is traditionally our trivia night, I got to watch it live. That night, my first live night, they re-released the shirt I had been hunting. I ordered it so fast. And it was a good thing I did because by the next morning, it was sold out yet again. The universe loves me sometimes.

It's a great show that I've been trying to convince my friends to watch. They may not be quick to watch it, but they are showing great interest in starting our own game.

If you are interested in picking it up, this episode is the beginning of a good arc.

Or if you want to just want for a short two episode arc, this episode features some great guest stars, including my love Felecia Day.

It is amazing how quickly you can figure out the game from just watching some other people play it, so why don't you get addicted like me?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Halloween 2016

On my crusade to catch up on blogging everything, let's jump back to Halloween.

This year, I decided fairly early that I didn't want to be something 'sexy'. And by 'sexy', I really mean 'slutty and uncomfortable'. I didn't want to have to wear Spanx and worry about pantylines and have numb feet from teetering in heels all night.

And when I bought a giant, brimmed hat for our Hawaii trip, my fate was sealed: Dr. Alan Grant from the cult classic Jurassic Park.

It was a remarkably simple costume. I already had a denim shirt, aviators, boots, and my newly acquired hat. I added in a pair of khakis that Dan hadn't worn for more than a decade and some handkerchiefs that I bought off Amazon and the look was complete. My own bit of flare was a dramatic smoky eye, but it was hidden by the sunglasses most of the night anyway.

Dr Alan Grant

The other half of this amazing costume was talking Dan into being my T-rex. Since my dinosaur onesie is so warm and it is his go-to costume, he was Waldo inside a T-rex. He had great fun being both through-out the night. Here are some of my favorite pictures from that night.

Dr. Grant running from the T-rex:

Dr. Grant shooting the raptors as they came through the window of the control room:

All of the Jurassic franchise characters, including Owen and Claire from 'Jurassic World':

Me swimming in Dan's giant, old pants:

And trying to make them and the glasses look sexy:

And one of my favorite pictures ever, of a beautiful Waldo butterfly emerging from his chrysalis:

It was a great year for costumes. I told Dan afterward that I didn't want to do a slutty costume ever again and he was hurt, but it made the night so much better. Maybe next year I'll be a sack of potatoes or something. Oh! Or on theme, a pile of triceratops poop.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Family Pictures...?

Back in August, my parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. My sister and I are usually terrible children and don't get them gifts for it (that's just how we were raised!), but since it was a biggie, a gift was in order.

I had been thinking about it a lot and wanted to give them a memento, not just a knick-knack like I like to do. After some thought, I realized that the last time, and one of the only times, we had some good pictures of all of us were from my wedding.

And it had been five years since those.

So my sister talked one of her photographer friends into giving us a good package deal and we were not horrible children for a change.

The four of us, Dan, and the photographer, Meredith, spent just over an hour on a beautiful October afternoon at Saguaro Park East. Most of the time was spent trying to not fall over as neither my sister nor myself had worn the appropriate shoes for the off-the-trial pictures my dad wanted.

That was probably the biggest surprise of the whole thing was how much my dad got into it. He had opinions on locations and angles and all that stuff. We kind of assumed he was just going to try to get through it, but he was remarkably engaged.

Now, let's get to the outcome. While my sister's friend Meredith was very sweet and has a great eye for cinematography, the direction of the 'models' left something to be desired. Maybe that's the difference between a 'real' photographer like Meredith and the people who have photographed me in the past; I am not a model. I need someone telling me constantly how to make myself look better.

Because of that, here are some of my favorites:

Images Courtesy of Meredith Amadee Photography

And we did get some very nice ones, too, out of the batch.

Images Courtesy of Meredith Amadee Photography

I feel like the weird ones sum us up better. We know we're better than how we come across, we just aren't doing a good job of it. Maybe that should be our family motto at this point...

Monday, December 12, 2016

My First Comic-Con

First of all, I'd like to say that I'm WAAAAAY behind. I haven't felt like writing much lately, but things are still happening. Things are still going on that should be written about. And since I'm feeling inspired right now, I'm going to put as much of it to 'paper' as possible before it leeches out of my brain. There will be posts about things that happened in September, October, and November, mostly out of order, too, but it's high time for me to catch up.

Back in the beginning of November, I was able to cross one of my New Year's resolutions from last year off my list: go to my first Comic-Con.

Tucson Comic-Con isn't on the scale of most cons across the country, but it was probably the perfect size for my first one. I heard attendance was roughly 8,000 people, but that was up almost 50% from last year.

I talked Dan into it at the last minute and we had no plan whatsoever. In hindsight, we should have had a plan. We should have coordinated with our friends we knew were going, but we procrastinated and just winged it.

At first, it looked like it was going to be a complete bust. After walking the entire convention center floor and finding very little that struck our fancy, we were beginning to think that we had wasted our money. We went back to a booth selling CNC-milled brass jewelry then we were going to head to the exit.

Apparently the brass jeweler (check out some of her awesome stuff here) used to work at the company I do and we got to talking for a while. That gave two of our best friends, Shannon and Jeremy, plenty of time to sneak up and ambush us.

Let me tell you, it's so much more fun doing a Comic-Con when you're walking around with the King and the Queen of the Con. After we hooked up with them, we had a fun afternoon. It was great getting to watch all the people taking photos of each other and determining which booths were full of hidden treasures. I ended up with a brass necklace and this shirt:

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We didn't see any panels or get to meet any famous people, but that's ok. Fun fact I learned: a lot of the vendors at these Cons are artists. They bring a lot of prints and pictures of their work, but if you bring a sketchbook, you can commission most of them on the spot to draw whatever you like. I didn't even know that was a thing. How awesome is that? I think I'll do that next time. Now to think up things worth commissioning...