Monday, September 30, 2013

Just a Quiet Weekend

I can't say I've been documenting my life much lately, mainly just because there isn't that much going on. Unexciting things, prep for bigger things to come, laundry, season premieres, but nothing worth noting.

At least this past weekend, we were actual people. We got out of the house and did stuff. Nice change of pace.

So, on to what we did! First, we went out for a lovely lunch at a new place down on campus. It's called 'The Fix' and it only serves fancy and customized versions of macaroni and cheese. Dan had jalapeno and bacon and I had tomato, mozzarella, and basil. It was yum yum yummy.

Also, Saturday was free Smithsonian museum day, meaning any museum associated with the Smithsonian was 100% free entry. We chose to use our tickets for the Arizona State Museum. Do you know what it has? Lots of baskets and pottery from Southwestern Native Americans. Yep, baskets. Tucson's history is baskets. I guess it's ok, but I really wish he had more momentous and significant exhibits and sites.

Dan did learn how to weave a basket.

I learned that this lovely little owl pot was somehow significant.

We also learned about the ten types of Native Americans in the Southwest, their history, and where they are now.

We rounded out the day with a trip to the grocery store, a trip to the mall, watching a football game on TV, helping Dan's friend shop for a new car, and watching the season premiere of SNL. It was a good way to spend a weekend before the craziness that is October starts. {Sidenote: since October is like one of two nice months in Tucson, there are a million freaking things going on. Plus trying to tile a fireplace.}

Monday, September 23, 2013

Project House Update: Pimping Turtle's Crib

I mentioned it last week, but it was time to update Turtle's house. Building Turtle's first house was the first update we made to our house when we moved in. It stood up really well for two years. That was until a pack rat moved in and made a mess of things. Here, look at this lovely comparison:

The pack rat found a nice little place and tried to make it his own. With winter coming in a couple of months, I became paranoid about repairing it before Turtle needed to hibernate. (Sidenote: this post could have also been titled "How to Build a Sonoran Desert Tortoise Habitat". We're getting pretty good at it given this is our third Turtle house in three years.)

Off we went to Home Depot and picked up $20 of 2 x 8s. We measured and cut five pieces to 28 inches and screwed them into place. I also insisted on adding a thin strip to one edge to keep dirt from eroding over Turtle's doorway.

As an added bit of weather and termite proofing, we caulked between all the boards and painted with exterior paint.

We did reuse as much as we could from the previous house. We didn't move or remove any of the cinder blocks. Once Turtle crawled out for some lunch, demo on the old house began. And guess who we found in it? A little squatter!

Don't worry, the little rat ran off and hid under a cactus. If he comes back and gives us more problems, we'll trap him in our humane trap and release him in the desert.

We filled in the cinder blocks with dirt and rocks, place the newly build roof, and piled the earth back up. Doesn't it look so much better now?

We stayed around and watched until found his way home. (Sidenote: after we were done building, I crouched down and stretched my arms out to Turtle and he came running. And by running, walking as fast as his little legs moved.)

With this house, I've got to be better at routine maintenance. I'd really like to build up some plants around it to help fight erosion.

He's the best little pet and I love him so so much!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fan of Friday: Week of 9/20/2013

And now for something slightly different. This week it's not my favorite, it's Turtle's!

Odd little story. Wednesday, I got home from work and Turtle was out and about, walking around. Usually he's a morning guy, so I was a bit surprised. Any time he's out, I try to feed him because I have yet to really figure out his schedule and I knew the produce wouldn't go to waste.

Unfortunately, I had no lettuce. I was going to stop for salad on the way home, but what were the odds he would be out? Very slim. Luckily for everyone involved, we did have half a bag of sugar snap peas left over from our pool party over the weekend.

Once I taught Turtle what they were and how to eat them, I have never seen anyone as happy as Turtle was eating his peas.

The peas made this little popping and cracking sound as he mowed through them. He must have almost eaten his body volume in peas. Doesn't he have the cutest little pink tongue? Desert tortoises are just the best. You can even feed him out of your hand.

His eye sight must not be that great because he also tried to eat the pea bag, my shoe, and my thumb. He also does this cute thing that I really don't understand. He loves to just sit under you, between your feet, smelling your shoes. Our best theory is that he's using you as a temporary human shelter.

This may be a Turtle heavy week. Over the weekend, we plan on renovating his shelter before the temperature starts to drop. I'm pretty sure a pack rat has taken up residency as his roommate and is doing quite a bit of damage. After building two burrows, we think we're finally starting to figure out the design. The hardest part of the process will be figuring out how to get Turtle out of it before we tear the burrow down. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Babies Paradox

Last weekend, Dan's best friend and his fiance had a baby girl. I've had cousins have babies and high school friends have babies, but this is the first baby with a real impact on my life.

(Major sidenote: I am not nor want to be expecting a baby any time soon. We've got a good two+ years before we even think about really thinking about it.)

Dan's best friend and his fiance have been on pretty similar relationship ship pace as us. They started dating roughly five months before I met Dan. She had a son from a previous marriage and he filled the gap of surrogate father very quickly. Her parents bought her a condo and the three of them moved in together and formed a little family less than a year after getting together. Flashfoward five years and not much had changed for them as they had basically plateaued. Dan and my relationship evolved more conventionally and slowly by getting engaged, married, and buying a house together. They, however, were relatively unchanged. That is until last Christmas when they received an accidental little present in their stockings. They quickly got engaged and they just had their first daughter, Dan's best friend's first biological child.

My husband's best friend is officially a dad. Since Dan doesn't have any siblings, this is the closest he'll get to being an uncle until my sister has kids. Nothing makes you think about growing up and starting a family than your family growing up and starting a family.

I put a lot of thought into having kids because, honestly, I don't think I'll be very good at it. Babies scare me. They are so unpredictable and needy and delicate. How am I supposed to take care of something like that when I am also all of those things?

I've only been focusing on all the negative and controversial parts of having a baby. The potential backlash from inducing, having a C-section, or using pain medication, breast feeding versus bottle feeding, cloth versus disposable diapers, how soon is too soon to go back to work. I already worry that I'm not strong enough to take the criticism of having a baby and raising a baby how we will want. Add to that all the challenges every new mother will most definitely have: how torn up your body will be, no matter which type of delivery you have, the utter exhaustion from no sleep, the smelly, smelly baby poop, and the very real risk for me of post-partum depression.

No wonder the idea of having a baby has become this terrible future burden that I don't fully understand why we want to put ourselves through.

Oddly enough, it really threw me when our friend the new mom was already posting baby pictures two days after returning home. Granted, this is her second kid so she's got a bit of an idea of what she's doing, but the fact that she has the time and energy to post pictures baffled my negative little brain. It's like she's actually enjoying having a baby. In the years of fearing babies, I don't know how it never occurred to me that there may be some enjoyment in those first few months.

Then, the happy little anecdotes of babies started to warm my cold, cold heart. The chubby cheeks and dimply thighs. The giggles and first smiles. The cuddles and naps. The excitement over every new experience. The idea of seeing a little Dan snuggle up with big Dan or the cats. 

What is even the point of having kids if you aren't planning on enjoying it? No matter what, babies inherently mean a catastrophic amount of change and I absolutely abhor change. My instinct is to fight it. Any previous thought of babies has felt like I've been preparing for battle, bracing myself for the pain to come. If I am to ever have kids and be a good mom, my mindset has got to change. I don't think I'll be officially ready for babies until I'm looking forward to the good things and prepared to handle the bad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Project House Update: Keep Away From the Cats

Since we repainted the workout room, I've been thinking about shelving for the room. Between the cat box and all the workout equipment, there's always some sort of odor. And given my love of candles, I needed to create a spot where I could put some without worrying of potentially setting fire to a tiny cat.

I found this shelf and it inspired me. We've got plenty of lumber just sitting around in the garage and I'd just bought some metallic paint for another project, so all I needed was some leather strips. Fortunately, Hobby Lobby sells 42 inch strips for like $5.

(Sidenote: make sure to pick a board your husband has no problem parting with. I found a board of the dimensions I was looking for and it was pretty beat up, so I assumed he wouldn't mind if I used it. Apparently, it was a good piece of wood and he was kind of pissed. Thankfully, the shelf turned out amazing so he got over it.)

Start by prepping your board. Depending on the quality and dimensions of your board, you may need to cut it down or sand it. I liked mine a bit rustic and I'm a bit lazy so I left my wood untouched (that's what she said). 

When determining the dimensions and design of your shelf, you'll probably need one of the following formulas. In these formulas, the width of the board is w, the overall length of your leather strip is L, and the length of the strip past the mounting hole is p. (Sidenote: these equations are just for one side of the leather support, not both. Also, this is for a shelf with a leather support at 45 degrees.)

If you have limited leather and you can alter the width of the board, the width of the board is determined by:
If you have limited wood and you can alter the length of the leather, the length is determined by:
So, I was limited by the amount of leather I had. Each piece was 21 inches (L=21) and Dan punched the holes were a little over the half inch I asked for (p=0.6), so the width of my board should have been roughly 5.8 inches (w=5.8). The board I found was 6.5 inches wide so we decided it was close enough and if it ended up looking bad, we would cut down the unpainted edge later. (Sidenote: the length of my wood is roughly 28 inches.)

Once your wood is ready, paint the thin edge. Since Tucson is copper country, it holds a special place in my heart. I didn't tape anything off. I just used a foam brush and went over the edge three times. Using the Martha Stewart paint, it took three coats to really be opaque. I propped the wood up with rolls of painters tape to keep it from sticking to the newspaper.

Because this shelf is so simple, the most complicated part of these instructions is how to punch the holes in the leather for your mounting screws. Other tutorials I read recommended using a drill with a small drill bit. If you have leather working tools or a belt hole punch, you could use that. Or, the method I would recommend, have a husband with some muscle power and have him nail the leather to a piece of scrap wood. 

Then, all you need to do is install your dry wall mounts, screw your pieces of leather to the wall, shimmy your piece of wood into them, and straighten it out. (Sidenote: since there may have been contact with the painted edge and the freshly painted wall, I gave it a good two days to dry so there wouldn't be any transfer.)

At some point, I will take a tiny brush and paint the screws copper to match.

Lastly, style it up with everything you want. For me, it's everything little that I'm trying to keep away from my cats. Like my Japanese mobile that I just finished repairing from the last time I accidentally left it out and they ripped off one girls head, my tiny little plant, and some yummy smelling candles.

I wish I could tell you how much this shelf will support, but it will be a function of the dry wall anchors you use. However, I wouldn't recommend putting over ten pounds total on it.

I'm so proud of this little shelf. This is the first thing I've DIYed that doesn't really look DIY. You know what I mean, sometimes DIY stuff just has that look. This shelf is just so cute and I can't believe I did this all myself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shaping Future Minds or Somethin'

Last week, I had some time off. In between trying to be productive and failing pretty spectacularly, I returned to my high school for a lecture. A lecture I gave. How weird is that?

I have a friend who teaches an AP engineering class and he wanted actual engineers to give the kids some insight into what an engineering degree and career look like.

Can I start by saying how absolutely jealous I am that this classes wasn't offered when I went there? I really think it would drastically changed the course of my life. Not that my life is bad, but I would have been much more prepared for what was to come. I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but I was very naive to how intricate and complex engineering can be.

I can't remember the last time I was as nervous as I was. It wasn't that bad once I was talking to the kids, but on the drive over, my hands were shaking and I couldn't breathe right. It felt like the first day of school all over again and the nerves were rattling me to my core.

To prepare, the night before I tried to put together a presentation of all the highlights of my engineering career, but quickly gave up on that. Pictures of engineering really aren't that exciting. Look! Another picture of me sitting in a lab!

That being said, this picture of me is amazing and I love it.

I showed them my old solar car pictures and some videos of my robots running from YouTube and we rounded it out with a whole lot of questions and answers. I didn't realize how many questions they would have about college, not just getting an engineering degree. Most of them probably don't have someone who can tell them what the whole college experience is like in recent history.

After 45 minutes, things wrapped up remarkably quickly. I could have talked so much more. There was so much I forgot to say. In case I ever get the chance to do it again, here are all the things I wish someone had told me at 17.
  • Only 20 to 30% of your actual work will be designing new stuff. The other 70 to 80% will be trying to fix problems in other people's designs. It will be an effort to find and fix problems in the field with as little time and money as possible. 
  • No one will tell you this, but if you are concerned about the prestige of your degree, it really only counts on your LAST degree. It doesn't matter if you put time in at a community college or if you get your BS from a big state school, if the name on your degree is very important to you, interviewers only notice the last one. If you don't get into your dream school for undergrad, you may just get your ducks in a row by the time grad school roles around.
  • If you think you might even be slightly interested in grad school, learn as much as you can about the process as early as you can. It's like apply for college and a job all rolled into one with an all or nothing shot at scholarships. The more you know, the better.
  • TAs are your greatest untapped resource. Not only do they basically give you free tutoring every week, but mostly likely they also took the same classes you're taking. If you don't have any older friends with your major, go to them about which classes to take and which professors are good. 
  • Even if you're not 100% sure that you want to be an engineer, an engineering degree is a great skill set that can be applied to a lot of different fields. I accidentally went to an interview for the business side of a large engineering company and I've never had an interview go better. Being an 'engineer' means you can solve problems, use logic, and handle a lot of things that are thrown at you. 
  • 100 and most 200 level engineering courses are equivalent to AP level classes. Expect a similar amount of work. The only main difference is that, in college, the right answer counts for a lot more than the work you put in to get it. This means if you do a lot of work and miss the answer, no one will take the time to go through your work to give you the partial credit you probably deserve. 
  • Having connections will get you a job after graduate more so than your grades. Most jobs will have a GPA requirement, somewhere between 3.0 to 3.5 minimum, but if you can get an interview, they usually won't hold your GPA against you. That being said, in this economy, experience and networking have become essentials for starting your career. Starting after your sophomore year, if you aren't interning or co-oping, you're behind. Even low paying jobs like grading papers and running labs will get you connections and show you have some ambition. The more related to engineering the job is, the more points you get (internship > retail store, but anything is better than nothing). Pull the strings you have and round out your resume. 
  • Most engineers really don't need a PhD. The people who will really need to consider them are people who want to go into research or who want to teach at a university level. While being called "Dr." is great, is it worth another three years of hell for it? 
My sister sat in on my little talk and said it went well. I hope it went well enough that I can get invited back next year. I absolutely loved every single second of it and I'm already itching to do it again. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Project House Update: Step 2 of a Million

So, you know that one friend you have that's really in shape? The one who works out all the time and is all about healthy eating? The one who probably boasts about how they could probably run a marathon if they wanted to? And then they do try, without any training, and maybe made it two miles?

Yep, that's us when it comes to house stuff.

We're incredibly handy and great planners and designers, but in all honesty, we haven't done any of this before. Everything is new to us, even two years in, and we're still ridiculously naive. We've seen the home improvement shows and get paid to work with our hands, so tiling a fireplace should be easy peasy, right?

Anyway, intro aside, here's where we left things. We've gotten all of two tiles on the base of the fireplace.

We ran into two problems very quickly. First, it looks like our floor isn't level so the height of the hearth is roughly five inches on one side and six inches on the other. Second, the hearth surface isn't perfectly vertical. It's like we're trying to tile a thin, crooked strip on a really large cone. And because of this, we kept finding that there was either a gap between the tiles while leveling them with the hearth or tiling at an angle without the gap.

Here's Dan's thinking face as this annoyed the crap out of him.

So, after a stressful few hours, here's some conclusions we made.
  • If you've got a gap between two tile sheets that you can't really get around, remove a couple of the edge pieces and place them afterward to hide the gap and shift it a bit. 
  • Mix the thin set pretty thick to keep it from sliding on the vertical surface.
  • Cut and make sure all the tiles mesh before actually sticking any of them up. 
  • Apply thin set to both the wall and to the tile sheet to minimize possible air pockets and hollow spots. 
  • Once the tiles are placed, secure them in place with painter's tape. 
  • Set the top with an extra bit of thin set, if you're placing tile on the top surface.

When all is said and done, we're starting, just barely starting, to get the hang of this. And doesn't it look pretty, all finished and professional?

You can barely see where two tiles meet. Any gap vertically is shifted to the bottom to (hopefully) be covered up by the carpet when it's installed. The side edges, which Dan just clipped with what can only be described as a giant pair of nail clippers, will be hidden by wood trim.

The next step will be tiling the top. We've been thinking about something like white marble, but Dan isn't sold on it anymore. It will probably take me quite a long time to completely convince him of a tile, so who know when we'll actually make more progress.

(Sidenote: I should state that Dan did do most of this. I really wish I was more helpful, but I did do things like tearing off pieces of tape and handing him paper towels. I'm more of an ideas girl, anyway.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: L'Oreal Matte Nail Polish

I have been on the hunt for matte nail polish for months. Although I've had this Essie top coat saved on my wishlist, I just couldn't force myself to pull the trigger. I don't know, I never really intentionally buy nail polish. It's always an impulse purchase on my way out of Target. To order it online somehow seemed like a big commitment.

Anyway, true to fashion, walking around Target I discovered that L'Oreal carries now two matte polishes: one in deep teal and one in black. Dan talked me out of the black one, but I happily skipped along home with the teal one.

There are a lot of great things about this polish. It goes on like regular polish, but it seems to be more pigmented, so one coat is enough. Also, because it's matte, you can tell when it's dry when it goes from shiny to matte. And it dries really fast.

However, there is one very big downside. The stuff chips like crazy! This is after less than two days of wear!

And you may say that it's because I only applied one coat, but I did apply two on a couple of nails and they look just as bad as the rest. The twisted thing is that there is no way to seal them, either. Any top coat I have is shiny, completely negating the matte effect.

I'll probably try to keep touching it up for a few more days, but it just refuses to hold up. Next time, I'll just pull the trigger and get the matte top coat, giving me the ability to just make any color I want matte.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mara Jade Halloween Costume

I know there's still a fair amount of time before Halloween, but I'm already working on my costume. Hopefully, the earlier I start, the cheaper I can make it. Also, it gives me more time to work out and actually be able to pull off my costume.

And that's because I'm going to attempt to be Mara Jade, from the Star Wars universe.

Image Source
I'm so excited! I love the novels and I love the character. It's a perfect fit for me. A angry redheaded Jedi who used to be secretly one of the most powerful people in the Empire. How is that not me?

Anyway, I've been researching cosplay and costume components and I was afraid that it would get very expensive. I wanted to buy as many pieces as possible that I could use again in every day outfits or pieces I could make.

Here's the inspiration for my costume and a breakdown of components. 

Image Source
And here's mine, so far.

Mara Jade Star Wars Costume
  • Suit - Obviously, I'm not going to be able to wear a skin tight cat suit to work or the mall, so I wanted to find one as cheap as possible. Since I've never purchased one before, I was afraid it would be a $100 or more investment, but I've found several cheap ones online, like this one, for under $40.
  • Boots - I've been lusting after black leather motorcycle boots for quite some time, so I'm not really worried about these. I'll get a ton of use out of them. Cost: roughly $50.
  • Light saber - It's got to be purple. Amazon carries one for $20. I really consider this an investment piece, too.
  • Hood - I'll be making my own cowl hood using this tutorial. All I need to do is find a clearance shirt in a color I like now. Cost: roughly $2.
  • Harness - I've got quite the plan for the harness. Combine some engineering resources, spray paint, and some discount belts, I think I may be able to make this harness for $10.
  • Belt and Blaster - Maybe I will make this out of some discount belts and a spray painted toy gun, or maybe I will wait until it's closer to Halloween and find a costume one at Target for under $10.
  • Shin Guards - The only thing I've thought of so far is going to a used sporting equipment store and spray painting some soccer padding black. Has anyone seen a good online tutorial on how to make these with maybe some cardboard? Cost: roughly $10.
  • Hair and make up -Wild, red hair and natural make up. That'll probably be the easiest part of this look. 
  • Cape - maybe, if I'm feeling really fancy and come in under budget, I'll add in a cape. 
Total Cost: $142

Total Cost for Pieces that probably won't be reused: $72.

Ouch. This will definitely be the most expensive Halloween costume I've ever had, but hopefully, if I make it right, I can wear it for many years for all sorts of occasions. Let's be real, there's always a reason to dress up as a Star Wars character.