Sunday, December 29, 2013

My First Birchbox: Product Reviews

That's my December Birchbox! (all of the photos in this post are from my Birchbox app on my phone, by the way) Okay, so I was pretty sad when my first box didn't arrive by Christmas, but what a surprise to find it in the mail the day after! It was SO cute, too; the box was gold with white stripes on it that looked like ribbon and a little "Sparkle and Shine" blurb in white on the outside. Then you open it up and there's the regular Birchbox box inside that's so perfect (and 100% reusable for gifting!!!) with its tissue paper and everything. It's literally like a present you ordered for yourself but you're not exactly sure what's going to be inside!

I decided to finally bite the bullet and sign up for Birchbox because let's face it - $10 a month for five or six personalized samples (and sometimes full sized!) of beauty and hair products, a possible snack-type item, AND shipping - that's pretty darn good. Since I've decided to end my Mary Kay business, and I've been wanting to make some changes to the products I use, I sort of wanted to accumulate a bunch of samples of high quality stuff to choose from. So, Birchbox it is! (side note about the Mary Kay: I still have a TON of product that I normally use, like cleanser and eye shadows and stuff, so I won't actually be running out real soon, but wanted a bit of direction as to what products are out there for when I DO run out. Products that aren't necessarily found at the drugstore, that is.)

I heard about Birchbox on my friend Lauren's blog, I'm Better in Real Life. Check her out!

So, here we go with the reviews!

This nail polish came to me in the same color as in the photo - it's called Top Shelf. It's a regular polish, not gel-like or anything super fancy, and for $8 for a full sized bottle I'd say it's pretty good. Definitely up there with Essie and OPI, which are about the same price point. The color is sort of a muted copper, with a shimmer that's just perfect for someone who's 28 - still trendy without being like WHOA. It's a more neutral color, so it goes with skin tones really nicely (I'm super pale, so some neutrals can look kind of funny on my see-through-skin, but this color is great on me). The consistency of the actual polish while I was putting it on was great - not too thin, not too thick, and easy to apply even layers with the brush. I didn't apply a top coat, so it did chip after about a day (this is VERY typical for my nails, I think they must be weak or just flex really easily, because this happens to me no matter what brand of nail polish I use), but because the color is so neutral, it's almost impossible to see the chips. I'm going to apply a second coat today to touch up. Also, it dries pretty quickly. Overall, I like this product. The sample size I got might actually be really close to the full size bottle, so I won't be buying this product because nail polishes last me forever! Thanks Birchbox!

Side note about nail polishes: I got a free color change at Nordstrom from the girl who works for Julep (nail spa and nail polish brand), and IT WAS AMAZING. Literally the only regular (read: not Shellac or gel or gel-like) nail polish I HAVE EVER HAD that did NOT chip after day one. She did apply a Julep top coat, and that might just be the secret - I don't know. It was amazing. It's also kind of expensive, BUT the regular polish manicure lasted me about 5 days without chipping - and then it chipped because I was weakening my nails with the gloves at work and hand sanitizer and sci-can wipes (surface disinfectant wipes for health care facilities...). Bottom line: I'd pay for a Julep manicure.

This ChapStick was the Birchbox FIND for this month - every once in a while, the people at Birchbox find a brand new product that is just SO GOOD that it goes in everyone's monthly box that month, and this month it happened to be a FULL SIZED tube of this new ChapStick product (that's why the price says zero dollars). I haven't used actual ChapStick brand stuff in a long long long time (I typically use the freebees from dental conventions and Burt's Bees lip balms), and I never realized just how much of this brand (and probably other brands, too...) are made of chemicals! The ingredients list for a tiny thing like lip balm is ridiculous - and to think it goes ON YOUR LIPS, which you're then going to lick and touch your food to, and...ew. So, some of those chemicals aren't that bad - oil extracts and stuff from various plants like coconut, scents like peppermint or vanilla, etc. The chemical name for a lot of that stuff sounds scary but the actual thing is not. What is scary to me is phthalates and parabens, and other preservatives, and artificial colors and and and...yuck. This product is chock full of chemicals. But I have to admit, it feels good on your lips. If you're a ChapStick/lip balm fiend, you will probably love this product. I like it, I just have to clear my mind of my chemi-phobia before I use it. The good news is that it feels so good that I've only had to apply it once a day (or night).

I don't actually eat pretzels (or any wheat) regularly - I make conscious choices to enjoy a holiday cookie (and suffer the discomfort later), let's face it, but normally I don't eat wheat. The sample of the gourmet chocolate covered pretzels above was truly a tiny sample, about two bites' worth of a single pretzel, so I tried it. The full size pack is of course larger, and contains five regular sized pretzels for $7. The flavor I got was dark chocolate with toffee crunches and toasted coconut flakes - it sounded AMAZING. After my two bites, I can honestly say my expectations weren't exactly met, unfortunately. If you're a pretzel fiend, you will like these, no matter what flavor probably. I wasn't impressed; maybe it was bland when I had expected wonderful flavors of toffee and coconut to accompany some chocolate? Maybe the pretzel was too thick for all the flavors of the coatings to be fully enjoyed? Not sure. This didn't do it for me, though.

The Beauty Protector Protect and Detangle leave-in conditioner - WOW. That is all I can say - WOW. Smells GREAT, kind of a subtle vanilla without being sickly sweet, and the product definitely does what it says it does! Here's the blurb about it from Birchbox: "This paraben- and sulfate-free detangler seals the cuticles (the microscopic scales that compose the outermost layer of each strand of hair). It also smooths and moisturizes, thereby minimizing frizz, while safeguarding color and adding shine. Lastly, it provides protection against UV rays and heat. Happily, it accomplishes all this through a weightless, non-greasy formula that leaves behind an airy floral scent." So, it's without a couple of the chemicals I like to avoid, AND it has super protective features! AND IT WORKS! I used it the last time I washed my hair; I blow-dried my hair (didn't straighten it that day, because IT DIDN'T NEED IT!), and WOW. Felt amazing. So soft (and still is, two days later, and without being greasy), weightless, added volume to my stringy-thanks-a-lot-late-20s-aging hair, and smells wonderful. The scent is NOT overpowering, it's very light, so don't worry. My only complaint - the pump on my sample sized bottle didn't work, so I put a pump on it from one of my travel bottles, and it worked fine. So, that's not even really a valid complaint! This product is FANTASTIC, and I'm seriously considering buying the full sized bottle (the sample bottle is about the size of a normal travel-sized bottle of anything you'd buy at the drugstore). Bonus - because I don't wash and dry my hair every day, it will last me a LONG time. And, a little bit goes a long way to amazingly soft hair! Love this!

This moisturizer from Embryolisse is definitely another WIN from Birchbox!! FABULOUS product!! Also seriously considering purchasing the full size of this product as well - another one that doesn't have several of the chemicals I try to avoid, this moisturizer (can also be used as foundation primer and makeup remover!!) is SUPER silky and lasts all day/night. It's really lightweight, doesn't clog my pores (which are huge, by the way), and feels amazing. I love this product. The sample size is smaller than a normal travel sized tube of lotion, so that's kind of a bummer...another reason I'm seriously considering buying the full size - I WANT MORE! And to me, the price is worth it! Win for the French, win for Birchbox, win for me. Love it.

Alright, I know you're thinking "WHOA, a buck-80 for this perfume?!" Yup, that's exactly what I thought, too. It smells great - again, not sickly sweet like most vanilla-scented things can be. It's a light vanilla scent with jasmine and a hint of lime. Definitely a mature take on the food-scented perfumes (remember the days of vanilla sugar scented lotion and eau de parfum from, like, Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works?! Ya, that's not this...). The sample was not a travel sized bottle of it, it was one of those tiny tubes with the hard-to-remove cap on it with a little info card. Smells good, but I absolutely will not be purchasing a full sized bottle of this, nor will I ever ask for it as a gift for any occasion. To me, that's ridiculous. There are plenty of fantastic perfumes out there for under $100, and although this is pretty unique and does smell's not necessary.

Well, there we have it! First Birchbox product review: CHECK! Hope you enjoyed, and if you already subscribe to Birchbox and received different products in your December box that you'd love to share, please do! Thanks for reading, and until next time - ciao!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

#samelove #keepmrZ2013 #standwithEC

Today we all learned that the vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School was asked to resign because he is gay. He married his husband over the summer, and apparently school admin just found out about it.

Students at Eastside Catholic organized a sit-in to protest the situation and show their support for their vice principal. Buzzfeed reports that a petition has been started in attempts to get their VP reinstated back into their school community. Once social media began buzzing with word of the sit-in, students at both Seattle Prep and my alma mater, Holy Names, also quickly organized a sit-in and even made some awesome posters with hashtags like "#samelove" and "#keepmrZ2013" to show support for the students and staff at Eastside Catholic who are quite upset about the whole thing.

Totally valid. Rock on EC, Prep, HNA. I'm proud to say I can associate myself with King County's Catholic high school community. This is a pretty big deal for so many students to rise up and make this an event that can't be broken up by admin coming through telling them all to get back to class. I'm really glad to see this type of thing happen in a younger group of people too, because so often as adults (even young-ish adults) we stereotype kids and teens into this category of people that we think doesn't care about much aside from drama and pop culture, and doesn't know enough about anything to hold a valid opinion, etc.

Something to note in this situation is the separation of church and state - unfortunately, even with a petition and solidarity in support of this VP and his husband and the school's sense of community, the school admin ultimately is at the mercy of the employment contracts issued by the archdiocese. Technically, a teacher at a Catholic school can be fired or asked to resign for a lot of things that we would consider to be horrific and unfair reasons. While I don't agree with all of the items in the archdiocese employment contracts (my husband read me a lot of what was in his contract), it is the way it is. This thing is bigger than just one school's administration - we're talking the entire city's archdiocese. I do hope that the solidarity of the students in the community will send a message to the archdiocese that change is long overdue.

This is an interesting time, what with our new Pope and all. I wasn't raised devout Catholic or anything, but I went to church sometimes and then more often in high school and college, and haven't really gone in a while. One thing I can say I was NEVER taught in Catholic church is intolerance. I know the church has a reputation for being intolerant, old fashioned, almost exclusive...and although some men in the hierarchy of the church may have written the church's position regarding various social issues, I truly feel that I was never, ever once told in the name of Catholicism that I should not accept or appreciate someone because of their differences - whether those differences be in sexual orientation, lifestyle, race, sex, whatever. NEVER was I told it was acceptable for me to judge a person based on any of those, never was I told that those who are different than me will go to some sort of hell.

That was just my personal experience with the Catholic church, and I realize I'm just one of many thousands of Catholic fish in the sea who may have had very different experiences than me. However, I think it's important to realize that at the root of Catholicism and its social justice values, acceptance and celebration of the world's diversity is by far the best way we can live - if you're more devout than me, you probably strive to live the way Jesus lived, and all of that...and if you do, that was to love, accept, celebrate EVERYONE. [Haha, this reminds me of the Megyn Kelly thing recently...let's just remind ourselves that the Jesus who walked this earth was, in fact, NOT white, and THAT is the verifiable fact...] This might be a strong opinion to hold, I don't know, but I honestly feel sad for those who have resentment, hatred, damning feelings toward people who are different than they are. It just seems like so much energy to be wasted on negative feelings towards our fellow humans, on a purpose that is literally going nowhere in this world of progressive positive change. And I also feel sort of a sad wonder about those who literally have the fear of god in their hearts - how draining it seems to be, to be afraid all the time of doing something and being punished for it? Or doing something good only because there is a promise of a reward? Why not do something good because it's the right thing to do? Why not just avoid hurting others for the sake of taking care of each other? Aren't those the real values we want to preach anyway? And I'm pretty sure it doesn't require a specific religion to teach any of those...Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, you get what I mean...I kind of feel like when it comes down to it, the basic core values are all pretty much the same. But hey, I'm not a theologian or anything either.

Maybe it seems like I'm being a hypocrite and behaving as though I don't accept those with other religious beliefs, so let me clear that up a little - I don't mean to attempt to discredit someone's faith by ANY means, I am literally curious as to what it would feel like to be afraid of a supernatural consequence of my behavior. I'm way more afraid of what will happen to me in THIS lifetime if the government decides to hunt me down for not filing taxes in 2010 because I literally made zero dollars (and if you make zero dollars, you don't HAVE to file taxes anyway. At least not according to my dad...). I'm afraid of the culture of litigation and mudslinging we have fostered. I'm WAY more afraid to see the consequences of irresponsible agricultural practices, unsustainable social welfare programs, and the ridiculous political system we've allowed to come into existence. I'm afraid of the physical world my children and grandchildren will live in. I'm not sure what's going to happen to my body and/or soul after I die, but I'd like to think that the living friends and family I leave behind will have lived in a better place because we enjoyed time together. Did that make sense?

I'm not the most articulate, and some of this may not have great diction or syntax, but hey. This was all written on a whim, because I was so happy to see on Facebook that all my high school friends were sharing the story about current HNA students standing together in support of their fellow Catholic high school students. I have been trying to cut back my obsession with Facebook lately, so I decided to write about it here instead. And you got the long version instead of the abridged Facebook version :)

Anyway, that's my two cents, if any of my three readers care (haha!). Peace be with you, friends! (p.s. When the Catholic church changed the wording of a bunch of the traditional responses a few years ago, I was TOTALLY thrown off, and I don't like it. Just saying. Not that my opinion matters to the Vatican or whoever even makes that stuff up...I'm a great Catholic, as I'm sure you can tell, haha!)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Book Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

As you may already know, I am in the book club at my local library now, and we've now moved on to reading The Whole World Over by Julia Glass. But last month was The Brief Wondrous Live of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (I need to learn shortcuts for symbols in blog posts...). WOW, what a piece of literature. I absolutely loved it. (Cover photo from Amazon)

Now, as I am not a writer, I don't know all the proper terms for his style of writing or for writing in general, so just bear with me. That's not the important part anyhow. The important part is this: READ THIS BOOK! Haha. But seriously.

Diaz's style is very casual, but not without detail. The book is written such that each section is the perspective of a different character at a different point in time. I am not sure that I would call them chapters, although technically I suppose they are, but they are much longer than what we would consider normal chapters and they aren't exactly chronological either. It is almost as though each section is written such that it implies that the narrator interviewed various people and then wrote that section based on each person's perspective of that span of time.

The profanity and vulgarity was, at first, alarming. However, it contributes much to the story. I know some people are offended easily by this, and believe that great literature can be written without resorting to this type of language, but I truly believe that the style and language conveys much about the culture in which the story is based and helps to convey the desperation, drama, and detail that make this story so great.

A brief (and I mean REALLY brief) summary: Oscar is an outcast in his Dominican family, community, and school. He and his sister live in New York; he is overweight, loves video games and sci-fi-fantasy, and is basically a huge nerd who's not actually all that smart. He falls in love many times and is broken with each failed attempt at love. He does not have the stereotypical Dominican male success with women, so even amongst his nerdy Dominican male "friends" he is still the outcast. His sister is a rebel, but deep down cares about him and wants to see him happy. Their mother's story is tragic, and without going into graphic detail, I will say that her aunt took her in after a horrible childhood in Trujillo's Dominican Republic - she lost her parents to the regime, floated around to various homes, and was finally recovered by her aunt who tried to help her become an upstanding woman. She got wrapped up in a lot of drama in her early adulthood, including a romance with one of Trujillo's men who was cheating on his wife, and was nearly killed more than once. Eventually she ended up in New York with her two kids, and they were pretty much raised there.

I don't think it would spoil anything to reveal that Oscar dies in the end - the title pretty much says it all. But the winding drama that has all led to it is so important. The profanity, the vulgar and explicit language to describe everything from sex to the basics of a woman's body to the beatings Oscar and his mother endured at different points in their lives - it really conveys the desperation of the Dominican Republic as a whole as its people struggled to simply survive under Trujillo and then try to pick up the pieces after the man himself was finally gone. The author includes many extensive footnotes, at the beginning of the book mostly, that give information regarding the recent history of the country and its culture, also full of profanity and emotion and explicit descriptions of violence. Quite informative, especially for the white girl who grew up on the west coast and was "educated" with the increasingly inadequate standard history books of our school system. The footnotes contribute to the feeling of desperation and hopelessness that an entire generation and a half felt while living under Trujillo and his cronies. The footnotes also come right out and say, in so many words, that what we are taught about this country and its history is essentially sugar-coated lie - that is, if we are taught anything about it at all.

Now, I understand that the part of history this book refers to is SO recent compared to the standard requirements for history classes (in high school, at least), but I believe the author is making a broader point about history of cultures and countries - our education on these matters is embarrassingly inadequate and we PERPETUATE it rather than change it. Let's keep in mind that this is a fiction book, but it is based in a history that is very real and largely misunderstood. I am no expert on this history either, but this book has inspired me to seek more information.

At any rate, my point is that YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. About half the ladies in my book club said they didn't like it because it was so depressing and they got so wrapped up in how awful the violence was and that the narrative was so hopeless...but I truly found it amazing. And I don't meant to sound morbid at all by loving this book so much; I simply thought the style, diction, detail...all of it, it was all fantastic. I am looking forward to reading more by Junot Diaz, and I would love to meet him if the opportunity arises.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Adventures in Housewifery, a Meltdown, and a Hard Hat

WHOA! Two posts this week...that is CRAY. (alright...I left this in there because I thought it to myself, started laughing, typed it, and laughed even harder at the fact that I sound incredibly stupid saying that...just go with it...)

Yesterday I went ballistic in the kitchen. When I was done, it literally looked like a housewife had exploded. Crockpot, cookie sheet, fry pan, mixing bowls, cheesecloth, multiple glass food-keeping containers, kombucha kit, cutting boards and knives...that's a lot for the kitchen of a 624 sq ft apartment, I will tell you that right now.

When I listed all the things I did, it actually didn't really justify the explosion of housewifey-ness. The crockpot had been used to render lard. The lard got poured into a jar, the crispies (WOW YUM) went onto the cookie sheet and truly crisped in the oven. The chicken carcass with part of its breast meat went into the crockpot, with some melted lard still in the bottom, along with some water, carrots, onions, and spices. Bone broth. The two GIANT bundles of kale from last weekend's farmer's market got stripped of their stalks, massaged with olive oil and salt and garlic powder, and onto the cookie sheet to make three batches of kale chips. The kombucha is ready to go, but we haven't started it just yet...I'm super excited to do it though, I LOVE kombucha and it's so expensive at the store.

So, to recap, all I got out of the housewife explosion was kale chips, lard, and chicken broth...

Fast-forward to bedtime last night...complete meltdown. I'm not even going to try and sugar-coat this by saying it was a mini or minor or baby meltdown - we are talking absolute raging storm of a meltdown. I attribute this to one thing, with many contributing factors: STRESS. About everything. Stress, embarrassment, feelings of failure, worry, hormones getting back on track after giving up my Rx...all of these things, and more, contributing to one BIG STRESS.

The only thing else I'm going to say about this meltdown is that I'm damn relieved that we did sledgehammer swings at the gym this morning. It didn't solve all my problems, but it gave me an outlet for the cortisol build-up to be utilized. Man, sledgehammers are an AWESOME workout. In addition, I killed 135 lbs in a couple dead lifts, 115 lbs in several more dead lifts, about 35 pull-ups, and some serious battle rope slams. So, go me. Everything else is crumbling around me, but I am KILLING IT AS A WARRIOR WOMAN.

Oh, and earlier this week I got promoted to my blue shirt. [There's a progression of colored shirts we are working through; promotion happens via participation in challenges (fitness assessments, must have improved since previous) and regular attendance to reflect dedication to the mission.]

Then a couple hours ago I found a great blog post by the wonderful Steve over at Nerd Fitness. I enjoy his blog because he really doesn't focus on labels of lifestyle, he seriously is all about motivation and creativity and dedication. This, he just seems to always have a post that picks me up right when I need it. Not that Friday is a great day to need a pick-up, since it's the start of the weekend and supposed ultimate relaxation, but still. This post is actually from the other day, but I didn't hunker down at my Feedly reader until a couple hours ago, so here it is!

He's calling it a 30-Day Hard Hat Challenge. It basically says: stop it. Stop whining and complaining and stop feeling like a failure, put your damn hard hat on and get through it. Pummel or crawl or whatever...just get through it. If you go through a single day without getting through something you know you need to do, that's too many days. BETTER NOT ALLOW IT TWO DAYS IN A ROW. Pick yourself up, put your hard hat on, and do it.

If you haven't clicked on that blog post at Nerd Fitness yet, I highly suggest it. In fact, I suggest reading all or most of his posts. Some can seem repetitive because he's basically finding different analogies to help motivate people, whether with regard to health and fitness, profession, or just life in general. BUT, there's always one for whatever off-day you're having. So it's kind of nice that it's repetitive. And who doesn't need to be reminded once in a while to just do it. And if it's worth doing (read: worth stressing out about NOT getting it done...), do it ALL OUT. No half-assing this business. Crawl if you have to (metaphorically, of course). But do it and make it your best crawl ever.

Anyway, I think that's all for now, loyal readers. Haha. Thanks for reading, and enjoy this nice little bit of sunshine trying to poke through the storm from this morning.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Pinterest-Perfect Household

This is going to be another post about Pinterest. But not just about Pinterest; about the things and feelings it implies, inspires, and invokes. (Wow, I'm not a writer but I'd say the use of three "i-" words in a row was kind of awesome. I digress.)

I do love Pinterest, but I spend entirely too much time repinning other peoples' pins. Most of the time I don't double-check where a person got something that I'm repinning, so I probably have a TON of pins that ultimately aren't that useful. That said, I also find it quite useful as a catch-all for things I find all on my own - like articles about food and wellness, craft ideas and things, and all the other interesting things I want to save to come back to from my Feedly reader.

I love it for the inspiration that comes out of it. I like to think of myself as pretty crafty, but I don't always have the imagination and vision that I wish I I use my pin boards for ideas, designs, patterns, printables, etc.

There's always a fashion pin board. I wish I could say that I could go back, click on the site, and add to my closet...but I can't, and I don't, and even if I could, I probably wouldn't. It's one of those fun boards that is just that - fun to look at and add to, but not all that useful. A lot of the photos are from blogs anyway (I think), not to the site for purchase of said outfit or accessory or item, so's just there.

I have gone back through my Reading and Watching board, because I tend to keep blog posts that I want to go back to and read again, videos that I want to reference or watch again later, books that I want to read (this board is definitely NOT all-inclusive, just some that I don't have written down elsewhere), books that I recommend (again, not all-inclusive), movies I like or want to see, etc.

I do pin my own findings quite a bit, because I hope that as I accumulate more pins and my boards and pins start showing up in peoples' searches or browsing screens, I can help people by sharing that piece of information with them. Whether it's health and wellness, a funny, a craft idea, or whatever, I hope it helps someone who's looking for just that something.

Okay, so onto one of the things about Pinterest that is frustrating. I'm totally guilty of doing this, too, I know it. There are a million trillion gazillion pins of ABSOLUTELY PERFECT parties, weddings, furniture, cupcakes, living rooms, wrap-around porches, gardens, closets, YOU NAME IT.

Here's the thing - ya, it's great to dream and gather some inspiration for planning, brainstorm...but it's not great to get caught up in what we think is the IDEAL event, house, whatever. Having a goal or idea in mind for finished product - awesome. Being completely unsatisfied and depressed because we aren't as perfect as these Pinterest mamas and wives and people because we don't have the time to build a sweet sandbox-swingset combo with flags and whistles and retractable rooftops and all of this - NOT AWESOME. Or being sad that our wedding day didn't turn out the same as all of these Pinterest weddings; or not having the time or resources to throw our sister or best friend the cutest, most detailed, intricately-planned dreamy-perfect baby shower...

I'm about to wrap up here, but before I do, this blog post over at So Wonderful So Marvelous is what inspired this post this morning...

So, yes, I pin a lot. More than I should. I may have a problem.

But what resources do I have with which to make these dreamy unrealistic ideals come true IN MY OWN LIFE? I have me. I have my husband. I have my dog, who doesn't like to sit still for the perfect photo op. I have my crafty abilities, and someday, I will have a little bit of disposable income with which to fund my projects and events. But do I or will I have an unlimited bank account? Do I or will I have a personal assistant or two or three to be my party planners and seamstresses and bakers? Will I ever hire a party planning company for my two-year-old's birthday party? GOD I HOPE NOT!

Like So Wonderful So Marvelous said, if you are THAT WOMAN, more power to you. Congratulations, you won the dream life. Or maybe you were born into it, that's fine too. I know a small handful of those women. But most of us are on our own. We've got priorities that we need to keep straight without the help of a personal assistant or party planner or tailor.

All of this, and I don't even have my own kids yet! Imagine trying to do all of these perfect and Pinterest-worthy things WITH KIDS. AND A JOB. Shut the front door. For the vast majority of us, NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

I do enjoy Pinterest, obviously, if you follow me - I spend entirely too much time on there right now. I should only allow myself like 20 minutes a day on there, but ya know, I don't have that personal assistant looking over my shoulder to hold me accountable to that. The important thing to remember is that hey, while these pics and ideas of super parties and decor and houses/McMansions might inspire us to do something different or add a little touch of something elegant, do these ideas invoke resentment towards others with more resources, do we feel less than adequate because we aren't the super cake maker or bow tie-er, does Pinterest make me feel ungrateful for what I DO have?

I admit - sometimes I do feel some of those things. But then I snuggle my precious Doxie who's been curled up in my lab this whole time, and I come back down to Earth and can still appreciate reality.

That's all for now, hope I didn't bore you too much! Thanks for reading! And DO check out So Wonderful So Marvelous, I quite enjoyed her post.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Playing Tourist

Since we've had such free time this summer, and my lack of job thus far has been extremely stressful, we have tried very hard to both find affordable things to do and enjoy what our "new" home city has to offer. Touristy things can sometimes be pretty expensive, and of course anything downtown is more expensive than anything in the 'burbs, but strategies like using student or teacher discounts where possible, sharing food at restaurants, doing flights or tastings rather than full-size of a few things, etc really help in reducing the cost of things. In addition, we took public transportation so we didn't have to pay for parking all day! Go public transport!

(Side note: I saw a billboard on the side of a BUS advertising parking downtown for as low as $3 per day. I'm pretty sure that's not accurate unless you literally use the same garage/lot 7 days a week and 365 days a year, but also I thought it was kind of a hilarious place to post a billboard encouraging people to drive their cars downtown...)

Summer is time for such fun things! From parades to great seasonal farmer's markets to festivals and block parties and reunions, not to mention this summer has had AMAZING weather here in the PNW, so what better time to enjoy the touristy things as well!

The above photos are from the very first Sunday we were here and went to our local farmer's market! Beautiful eggs, lovely bouquets, and much much more was seen that day. We talked with the meat vendors who were there, the dairies, and the produce stands. We bought eggs, some meat, and some veggies, and enjoyed the street musicians who were there. I'm so glad this particular market is year-round, since it is less than two blocks away. We still have yet to go to some other seasonal markets I've been wanting to go to, but we're working on that.

The above three photos are a select few from my parents' gardens. My mom's roses were stunning this year, and my dad's vegetable garden was taking off early this year (these photos were from June!) thanks to the soil taking a year off last year. Since the radishes, we've had beets, green beans, carrots, and snap peas! He planted another row of beets since his were doing so well so early in the season, and they can be harvested until late October - awesome! I was just there the other day and the tomato plants are going CRAZY! I can't wait until they are ripe enough for salad! Fresh food is definitely superior.

That's the three-sausage-plate from Uli's Famous Sausages in the Pike Place Market. [Another aside: I absolutely cringe every single time I hear or see someone say or spell "Pike's Place." It's seriously all I can do do bite my tongue!] Anyway, Uli's is SO delicious! Local-made sausages, in about as many flavors as you can think of, and all but one flavor is gluten-free! I love the little restaurant they've got in the Market, too. So cozy, just three beers on tap, some canned sodas, and then the Market-front display and register. The sides we got were potato salad, red wine vinegar slaw, and sweet and sour slaw. Very reasonable prices as well, whether you're ordering lunch or taking sausages to go.

There was about a week-long period in late-ish June when we had SUPER low tides, like 3.5-4.0 tides. It made for several days of great beach walks on the tide flats! My favorite, especially when I can find the areas of tide flats where the sand has all the ripples in it, it feels SO GOOD to go barefoot! There are some great gray sand beaches around with lots of low tide sea critters to see. Unfortunately, most of the sea life that's revealed at low tide is in serious danger of dying, if it's not already dead. Many of the sea stars we found were protected by the rocks they clung to, in tide pools, and typically in the shade - those ones had better chances, of course, unless they were to get eaten. Anyway, I just love going barefoot on the tide flats, it's literally the best type of pedicure I've ever had! :) 

A friend of mine was able to get club tickets to the Seattle Sounders game earlier this summer, and invited us to go with him. It was so fun! Soccer is now my new favorite sporting event to attend, because it's literally non-stop. Much more entertaining than NFL breaks for commercials or the lulls between any big plays at a baseball game. That being said, I'll go to pretty much any baseball or football game as well as soccer, because honestly I love sports - and people-watching at baseball games is super fun. Anyway, the Sounders game was great; it was only the second time I'd been to Century Link field, and the Sounders won! Plus all the great food at the buffet in the club. Yum.

For the Fourth of July, we went up to Maxwelton Beach on Whidbey Island, my favorite place! Every year there is a quarter-mile-long 4th of July parade, and they have buttons made each year. Gotta buy one! The couple in the photo on the right were just legally married in WA state after being together for 21 years; WA state legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year. A huge milestone, and hopefully setting precedence for other states who have yet to do so.

My mom and I took a little day trip up to Sequim and Port Townsend a few weeks ago. Both really cute little towns on the peninsula. Every time I go to Port Townsend, I've got to go to this diner called Nifty Fiftys. It's been there forever, and the decor is so great! They've even got the classic KitchenAid milkshake mixers! And miniature table-top jukeboxes THAT WORK! On one of the roads we took out to Sequim from Port Townsend, we saw the jerky drive-thru. Just HAD to get a photo! Unfortunately, we did not stop for any jerky, but I'm sure it was delicious.

While the nephews were in town, we went with them on their downtown outing with my MIL and her BF. The nephews are ages 11 and 8, so we had tons of fun going on the Ride the Duck tour and the Great Wheel with them! The Duck Tour was hilarious, mostly due to our silly driver. The Great Wheel was awesome, 11-year-old and I were pretty scared of the heights though! We also walked through the Market, and visited the famous Gum Wall. I was pretty surprised that they thought it was so gross, they're elementary school aged boys...!!! It was funny, though. Then we had a huge meal at the Crab Pot! Yum, yum! It was such a fun day.

Right in our neighborhood there is a huge parade in late July every year, so we just walked right down the block and perched on the sidewalk for a couple hours! In case you can't tell, I LOVE parades! I love the marching bands, the floats (although the main float in this particular parade this year was extremely disappointing...), the drill teams (!!!), and the fleets of motorcycle cops! Pretty much everything about parades is awesome to me. Oh, and the Seafair clowns and pirates, too!! Can't forget them!!

A happy hour double date with another married couple we're friends with, at Maximilien in the Market (are we sensing a theme, here...Pike Place Market, anyone? Hehe). Apparently the menu can change daily, or even hourly, as their ingredients are quite fresh and the chefs do some different things. Their happy hour is pretty awesome, with reasonable prices (we ordered a ton of food and a bottle of wine), and a great rooftop deck looking out at the Sound. It was super hot the day we went, so I was sweating in my chair, haha, but it was great. The food we ordered (center, then clockwise from top left): oysters, escargot (left photo is it in its platter, right photo is it on my plate), foie gras, and cheese platter. I would definitely go there again, and recommend it to anyone seeking a new happy hour hideout, visiting the city, or looking for authentic French food.

Our most recent tourist day was spent in Pioneer Square. We started by walking around and enjoying all the little nooks and crannies like the dives, and some boutiques, and a great toy store. I love the architecture in this part of town, and the cobblestone sidewalks in some parts. Also, there are all sorts of flower baskets and pots everywhere! It just makes it so pretty and nice to walk around in. For lunch we ate at a salad and sandwich shop, the name of which is escaping me now, but there are plenty just like it in the area I'm sure, and it wasn't anything super special. Good, but standard. 

I was so excited to see that Dry Soda has their tasting room and shop in this neighborhood! We totally tasted every single flavor and then each got a can to enjoy on our walk. They have really unique flavors, only four ingredients, and they are so refreshing - unlike typical Coke or Pepsi, which is pretty much just syrup, and tastes like it too! Dry Soda is very crisp, not syrupy at all, and each flavor is so delicious. I had cucumber this time, and husband had vanilla bean. I've also had rhubarb prior to visiting the tasting room, and it's excellent! My two favorites are probably rhubarb and juniper berry. Yum!

For an early-ish dinner, we went to a butcher shop we found, Rain Shadow Meats. Um, AMAZING. The items on their menu were like nothing I've seen or tasted before, and both mine and husband's selections were delicious. They also had a malbec rose wine that I had, which was also excellent. Looking at all the meat in the cases was great too, and fairly reasonable for the types of cuts they had! I just love local businesses like this.

After Rain Shadow, we went to a random little Italian place on a corner somewhere for a bottle of wine before our adult version of the Underground Tour. Great people watching as we enjoyed our wine sitting outside on the corner. On the Underground Tour, it was neat to see parts of the city that have been covered up, and to learn a little of the history of the OLD city. Of course, brothels and prostitutes are not unique to any city's history, but our tour guide was raunchy and entertaining at least, and I'd never done the tour so I'm glad we went. I might say it was a little expensive for what it was, even though it included a "free" drink at the end.

The best part about the tour was that we met three AWESOME Irish ladies! They were all best friends, and one of them had moved here almost two years ago and the other two were visiting her from Dublin. Have I mentioned before just how much I love Irish people and culture and country? Hmm, maybe it's time I mention it again - I truly love Ireland and its people. Anyway, I noticed their accents while we were all on the tour, and then approached them and introduced myself afterwards while we had our "free" drinks. What great ladies!! We totally hung out with them for the rest of the night, and ended up at Fado, a really great Irish pub, just down the street. It ended up being a much later night than we had planned, because we met these awesome ladies and hung out until 1 am! We bonded over Magner's Irish Cider (they told me it's the same as Bulmer's, just the American label is Magner's), and it was fantastic.

THEN, two days later when I was out on the bar crawl in another downtown neighborhood with a bunch of ladies I went to high school with (this year's reunion, haha!), WE TOTALLY RAN INTO OUR IRISH LADY FRIENDS!!! It was great. My reunion was great for many reasons, and seeing the Irish girls is definitely one of them :)

Anyway, this post has been FOREVER long, so if you've made it this far, thank you! Until next time, enjoy the beautiful August weather! Ciao!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Some Crafts and Gifts of Summertime

Well hello!

Again I've noticed it has been a while since a post, and since I still have no job there is really not a good excuse I can use for lack of updating. Funny though, how even without a job and with husband on vacation, we seem to be so incredibly busy! I suppose summer can get that way really fast, and in some ways I'm glad I don't have to be cooped up somewhere during the best hours of the beautiful weather we're having, but this lack of paycheck thing is getting stressful. I now know what it feels like to be amongst the depressed unemployed-and-looking. I don't recommend it. It's exhausting.

Scouring Craigslist and my profession's state association classifieds, responding to anything advertised within 60 miles, networking LIKE A BOSS (but apparently not well enough...??), cold calls, dozens (literally) of inquiries into posted positions with not even a "thanks for your interest and we'll get back to you soon..." even after I've sent follow-up's all very overwhelming and at the end of the day, depressing. It sucks. All I want is to take care of people, improve their quality of life, provide impeccable service and care, and be able to pay my bills. Please?

So obviously I've had plenty of free time on my hands. After sending email responses to classifieds for jobs posted, after driving around with three supply reps to all of their clients, and after making new cold calls almost every day...there's still so much time for everything else that summer has to offer. So, I've filled up that time with crafts, catching up with old friends, cleaning and settling into our new place (still after two months, I know...), and pretending to be tourists in our old/new hometown. If not for lack of income, I'd be having SO MUCH more fun, but I'm really trying to make the best of having free time and still trying to be thrifty as well...

Anyway, down to business! Here's a little project I did to help spruce up our place:

I bought two plain wooden crates from JoAnn with my coupons, and stained and finished them. It took a couple of days to allow time for everything to dry sufficiently. They aren't all that large, the bottoms are about the dimensions of a small TV tray, which is actually perfect for our place. When we moved, we got rid of our entire living room furniture set, and have not replaced it. This has nothing to do with money, it is actually 100% due to the fact that our place is small. So instead of living room furniture, we have several floor pillows, a blanket, and two of these crates. 

We also don't have a television, so instead we use Netflix and Hulu, and have a large flat screen monitor to hook up to our computer and watch movies and Top Gear and British sit-coms. We have five wall shelves, one of which is mounted about 18 inches off the floor, and the monitor sits there. Then we relax on the floor for some movies and cuddles, and we also usually eat dinner during a Top Gear episode or something, on the floor. So the crates come in handy to store some of the pillows, and also to use as little dinner tables. Floor living has been pretty nice so far, except it does make me feel like I don't have a space to use as an "office" or craft area. That is a little tough. But in such a small space, there's not really a ton of room for anything like that anyway.

Moving on...friends of ours had a party for the baptism of one and the birthdays of both of their children, and I wanted to make something they could enjoy as a family in addition to the little books we got the kids for their birthdays. I found the tutorial for the following project at Grow Creative (click for tutorial...) It ended up being pretty easy and turned out great. 

So, a few things I should share about this project. 

1) Yellow is too light...unless your pencil tracing is already super light, you will NOT be able to erase the outline after you've painted with watercolors over it. So, I darkened up the yellow one to more of a golden/light orange and the remaining pencil marks all but disappeared. The other colors weren't as big of an issue, although I would definitely recommend tracing as lightly as possible so that whatever color you choose will cover up the lines completely.

2) The frame I had was 12x12, and since I wanted four images they were each 6x6. I cut my watercolor paper into 6x6 squares, and when I was done painting each one I definitely made sure to use my heavy duty scrapbooking tape runner to then arrange them on and stick them to a 12x12 scrapbook page. Then I trimmed the purple strips to frame each image.

3) Overall I was really happy with this project. One thing the original tutorial on Grow Creative mentions is to pick a photo that has a good balance of shaded and lit areas...but that's actually kind of hard to do. Until you upload the photo into the online editor, it's really hard to tell exactly how it's going to turn out. And I won't lie, I didn't do *exactly* what the tutorial said to do. For her image, she posterized the photo to have only two colors. Well, three of the four photos I was working with didn't turn out that well with just black and white, so I posterized them with three colors, and used a faded version of my main color when I painted. Does that make sense? Just a watered down version of the darker color.

4) I kept small scrap strip of my cropped watercolor paper nearby so that I could test out the saturation of my color before I added it to my image. Helpful.

I think that's it for tips and notes about was a fun project and, especially for photos of kids and pets, is an awesome addition to a home. It made a pretty great gift as well, I think.

Another great gift I put together this summer was a "Just in case..." bag with all sorts of great event-specific-emergency items. I gave it to my lovely bride-to-be friend as a bridal shower gift, and I actually got the idea from a great gift I got from my own bridesmaid for my wedding! I collected the same or similar items that I had received, and then added a few more things that were specific to this lovely's and my friendship together. I found a super cute cosmetics bag, made a cute tag, and just put everything inside! And my lovely bride-to-be loved it :) Oh, and I also made a card with my collection of cardstock, a little snippet of ribbon, lace, and tulle. I made a similar card (with slightly different patterns of how I put the tulle on, and a gray "belt" instead of the white ribbon) for another friend who is also getting married at the end of this summer. I really liked making them, and they were definitely unique; plus I didn't buy them for $6 each :P

Now, I wish I had kept an actual list of all the stuff I put inside. You can see some of it, but that's not even close to all of it! So, I'll list what I can remember:
Travel sized toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, and those little Wisp things.
5-Hour Energy shots
Travel tissue
Travel Tide stain remover stick
A tampon
Lip balm
Bobby pins
Safety pins
Granola/snack bar
Mini box of Altoids
Travel sized deodorant
Gosh, I feel like there was more but I just cannot remember what...! Here are some ideas that you could add also:
An airplane shot of her favorite liquor
Starbucks VIA or other instant or premade coffee drink
Travel sized hairspray
Moist towelettes/hand sanitizer
Sample/travel size of her favorite perfume
Little rubber earring backs
I think that's all the additional ideas I've got off the top of my head right now, but you're creative so you get the point. One thing I appreciated SO much from one of my own lovely bridesmaids was that she brought a PBnJ sandwich and a bottle of water, and she fed me a few bites and sips just before the ceremony as we were hiding from all the guests taking their seats in the chapel. We also had some bagels and cream cheese in our dressing area, but the bagels were really dense; a little hard to chew real quick and get it swallowed before we had to go! Everyone getting ready was able to enjoy a few bites though. Delicious. I then popped a mint, and we were ready to go. It was awesome because it wasn't even something I had thought of - needing a little bit of food between the VERY early breakfast that morning and the hors d'oeuvres at the reception at 2:30 that afternoon. 

Well, I think that's all for now! There will be another post soon about being tourists in our own city, since I've been trying to live up my unemployment time...

Thanks for reading, mates! Until next time, make someone a gift. It feels wonderful to share your creativity, or even just share the fact that you've been thinking about someone in your life.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Update Since Moving Across the Country

Hello! So, I've been pretty bad at keeping this thing updated. I was really hoping that this would be something I could stick to, on a regular basis, but so far that has not been the case. I promise I'm trying to get better at this! (for you three readers out there actually reading my rambles...ha)

Since my last post, we moved across the country from a 950 sq ft apartment with a garage to a 624 sq ft apartment with a parking spot. I knew we had a lot of stuff, but's been a real eye-opener to have to get rid of THIS MUCH STUFF. Five (I think) trips with a full car to Goodwill before we even left our old place, a couple trips since we've been back, and selling/giving away about half of our furniture. Wow, we had a lot of stuff - and the thing is, we literally don't miss anything that's gone. It's pretty nice to start minimizing.

One thing I am having a hard time with, though, is cutting down on my artsy fartsy supplies. I have so many projects I want to do and I actually do use a lot of my supplies fairly often (I don't buy greeting cards, I make them all; I use ribbons and rubber stamps to dress up gifts wrapped in brown craft paper; etc.) that I just can't bear to part with the majority of it. I did go through before we moved and got rid of a couple boxes worth of craft stuff that I had held onto for years and never used - you know, that stuff you look at and think, "oh this would be great for this particular project," and then one day you realize, "I'm never going to do THAT specific project, and if I did, I would want to get rid of it anyway."

So, a month later we're almost organized...there are a few more boxes of artsy fartsy things that won't fit into the hall closet and at this time I don't have a place for they're sitting under the windows in the main room. I have to say it is driving me nuts that things still aren't all the way put away, but we are waiting on a storage unit inside our building to open up - right now we have things like camping gear and a few boxes of artsy fartsy stuff and some other randoms in a 4x4 cage in a room that's off the underground parking garage. Not easy access, and not organized well enough to be very functional. Also, Husband has some random stuff laying about that will go to his work, and I have a box and a couple cases of items that will go to my office someday...hopefully someday soon...anyway, that's that.

Despite the few straggling boxes, I do LOVE where we live now; we face west on the fifth floor of our building, one of the tallest in our neighborhood. We look at the peninsula, Puget Sound, and some small islands in the Sound. We can watch amazing sunsets with a water view. I'm pretty sure apartment living in our neighborhood could only be better if we were on the top floor, the seventh, but seeing as how we're only two floors below that, it's still really freaking awesome. The rooftop garden and fire pit is awesome, 360 degree views of the best Western Washington has to offer: Puget Sound, both mountain ranges, Mt. Rainier, and downtown. So, my mantra lately has pretty much been: "I win." Because this is really freaking amazing.

In addition, we are a block away from great public transportation, walking distance to Trader Joe's, the ongoing neighborhood produce stand, and the weekly farmer's market. Oh, and a bunch of great restaurants and bars, a couple of parks, the hardware store, SIX (maybe more...) coffee shops that AREN'T Starbucks (!!!), great little gift boutiques, our family jeweler, and pretty much everything else we could need or want. Did I mention life is pretty amazing right now?

Except for the fact that I have yet to find a job. It's kind of depressing, actually. And getting worse. However, I do have a lead for an Air Force Medical Dental Group recruiter, I'm going on a ride along with a supply rep to his client offices tomorrow and then with another rep next week, I've been offered a part time hygiene opportunity in a family friend's office (not terrible but definitely not ideal - hey, at least it would be a paycheck! If my license ever arrives, that is). So ya, I did mention my license hasn't arrive yet, right? I won't even go into how I feel about THAT (although I think it's quite obvious). So...trying SO hard to stay positive and keep on chugging!!

We have found some great places and things to do on a regular basis, so I'm excited to start getting more involved in the community! We visited a gym yesterday that we're going to start going to - my initial assessment/consult is in an hour and a half actually. They have a couple different practices of martial arts, boxing, and a thing called Warrior Woman which I'm going to do. I guess it's basically circuit and strength training bootcamp, so I'm really excited to try it out. I'm kind of intimidated that other women are going to have way more of a head start in this than me, but I'm super excited to get back to a community gym where is small enough to be personalized but not nearly as expensive as personal training, and provides a good community of fellow athletes.

Also, yesterday I went to a book group at the local library. I've been wanting to join one for a while, and wasn't really sure how to start my own - making sure everyone gets the book in time to have it finished by the next meeting was what I was having trouble figuring out...oh, and the fact that NO ONE in my building responded to my post in our online portal about wanting to start a book club! RUDE. Haha. Anyway, I went to the one at the library yesterday and it seems like a really good group of ladies. Of course they're all older than me, by at least 8 or 10 years, and some could be my grandmas, but it was a good time! I'm pretty sure they're all bleeding hearts, too, which is kind of unfortunate but at least one seems at least open to the fact that someone might think differently and that what makes the world go round is all kinds of kinds, not just one kind of any rate, the only reason that all came up anyway was because the book they had just finished reading was Mornings on Horseback, the David McCullough biography of Theodore Roosevelt, so there was some political banter but mostly in good fun anyway. The book apparently didn't go into a lot of political detail, mostly his upbringing and career, and how he got into political service - not so much his actual presidency or what he did during it. The general consensus was that the ladies didn't particularly enjoy David McCullough's writing as a historian, wouldn't recommend other biographies written by him, and most of the ladies didn't even read the whole book because they didn't like it. It's hard to tell yet if the reason they didn't like the historian's book was because he actually writes in a manner that's hard for most people to read, or if it's because they might be reading at a much younger level - which is actually really common, unfortunately. Apparently most adults in the US read at about an 8th-9th grade level, so that definitely wouldn't cut it to read a book by an extremely popular PhD historian and political biographer. I mean, the man has written several biographies and has sold tons of copies of all of I may just need to read one for myself and decide.

Anyway, I think that should be about all for now. Sorry I rambled a bit in that last paragraph, I'm super excited to have found a book club that seems great so far! Now we're reading East of the Mountains, by David Guterson. So far it's pretty good.

Okay seriously now, I'm done. Thanks for reading, as always, if you got this far :) Until next time, friends!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Washington State Map Art

So, hello everyone! This is going to be a new type of post for me, because it's going to include photos AND a tutorial/description of a project I just finished. Not only did I finish it today, I only started it less than two hours ago. Yes, it's true, I started AND finished a project in less than an entire afternoon. Which is awesome, because now I have time for another project! Keep reading for photos and the tutorial!

We had been over to our friends' house a couple months ago for the husband's birthday party, and it was not the first time we'd been there. However, because they only moved into that house about six months ago, they were still working on getting all of their decor in place, so this was the first time I'd seen this amazing piece of art - a framed state map cutout of Michigan (where the husband is from) with colorful strips of collage in the background, with about a half inch between the background and the cutout so there was sort of a shadow effect. Amazed at this idea, I asked where they had gotten it, and the wife said a friend of theirs made it for them. Of course, a great project idea! I examined the piece of art and it's been on my mind ever since. For once, NOT something inspired by Pinterest (those tutorials usually lie anyway and the caption will say "super easy, only a couple hours, less than an afternoon, etc." Not true. But I've posted about that before, and I digress...

On to the photos and tutorial!

Materials needed:
Paper cutter/rotary cutter
Exacto knife
Cutting mat
Two pages of white cardstock
Glue stick
Wall frame

1. Collect magazine pages that have little or no writing and people on them.
I used a bunch of cool full-page photos from my husband's Scientific American magazines, plus some advertisements in regular magazines like More, Real Simple, and my seasonal Nordstrom catalog. Some of the pages I only used half of, because I was looking for a certain color scheme as well - blues and greens. I have to admit, the pages from the Scientific American mags ended up being the best, because I could use almost, if not all of, the entire page, and there were some really abstract photos like microscope photos blown up to be the whole page, different types of maps, and stuff like that. Other magazines that would be good for this would be National Geographic and probably travel magazines.

2. Use a paper cutter or rotary cutter to slice the magazine pages into lots of quarter-inch wide strips.
For this, I wanted the images to be unidentifiable and in case an awesome page had like one word on it, I didn't want it to be obvious what it was. So my strips were about a quarter inch wide - it sounds kind of big, but then when you actually start slicing the page, it seems like it takes forever! This was probably the most time-consuming part of the project, and I had done this last week while I was home and in between packing boxes for our imminent move across country. I guess technically, if you did this step the same day as your project, the whole thing would take a lot longer, about twice as long depending on how many magazines you decide to go through and if you can find good pages.
So, cut enough that you have lots of photos and color combinations to choose from for your project. I went through about five magazines including two Scientific Americans (lots of pages from both of those!), for a total of maybe 15 or 20 pages - but for a lot of the More and Real Simple pages, I couldn't use the whole page because part of it was plain white or because of big words or peoples' faces, etc.

All my strips of magazine pages cut into quarter-inch wide pieces. I found an old elementary school pencil box to store them in so they wouldn't get all twisted or crumpled!

3. Search online for a state map outline for whatever state you want.
I Googled "Washington state map outline" and ultimately found the image I used at this website, and there are lots of other states too! Click "Printable version," save PDF if necessary, print to use up the entirety of your 8.5x11in page, and viola, you've got your map.

My Washington state map.

4. Trace your map onto one of the pages of white cardstock.
I happened to have 8.5x11in cardstock in white, but if you have larger cardstock for i.e. 12x12 scrapbooking, you may need to trim yours. You're crafty, so you know how to take care of that. The reason I didn't print my map directly onto my cardstock, which is totally possible, is because I didn't want to turn the PDF into the mirror image of itself - I needed a pencil tracing of my map on my cardstock so that if there were pencil marks around the edge of my map, I could erase them. If you print directly onto your cardstock, make the map a mirror image of itself first so that when you cut the image out, you can turn the page over so you won't see any of the printed edges you left behind. Does that make sense? 
I paperclipped my cardstock to the front of my map page, held it up to a window, and traced in pencil.

5. Use your exacto knife to cut along the edges of your tracing on your cardstock. Obviously do this on top of your cutting mat...
This was WAY easier than I thought it would be. My husband had a couple of awesome knives he uses for building replica models of like cars and airplanes and stuff, so those worked really well. Again, you're crafty so you probably already have awesome knives with which to do this.
Erase any pencil marks that remain at the edges of your map, and set the whole thing aside.

Sorry this is sideways, iPhoto doesn't like some edits sometimes for whatever reason. Cutting around the edges of my map was way faster than I thought it would be, about 10 minutes total, even with all those little islands! I saved my cut-out pieces for another project, yet I'm not sure what that'll be.

5. Glue your magazine strips to your un-cut piece of 8.5x11 white cardstock.
I guess technically it doesn't have to be white. So, what I did for this part is I used the cut-out piece of Washington to sort of mark where my "window" would be on the full 8.5x11 paper, so I would sort of know where my colors would show through and which part of the strip would just be too close to the edge or the middle for my liking. I hope that makes sense. I wanted a general idea of what would show of the strips when I was all done, so indicating the general dimensions of my cutout on my background page was helpful.
I used a glue stick so my pieces didn't wrinkle too much. The final product actually has a large wrinkle on the FRONT page (the one I cut out my map from! Booooo!) from the glue stick, but I was being careless...I guess if you were up to the challenge and mess, you could use mod podge or regular Elmer's with a bit of water and a paintbrush, but glue stick was WAY easy and WAY less messy than other options.
Start in the middle of your page with the first strip. I wanted to make sure my strips would all be straight up and down, and that I wouldn't end up with really awesome strips only half showing because they were on the edges of the cutout or something. I just found it easier than the right or left edge, because obviously you won't need to put strips all along there since those edges won't show!

It looked strange as I was assembling the whole thing; I wasn't sure I liked the order I chose for my strips, and I actually pulled one from the very center, didn't use it at all, and replaced it with a different one. Another advantage of using a glue stick - if you truly hate where you placed something, you don't have to wrestle much with it to change it! I was seriously doubting the outcome of the whole project when I was about halfway through gluing my strips to my page. But, I kept on, and I'm glad I did!

6. Place your cardstock with the map cut out from it over your background piece to see how you like it.
At this point, I realized I did need one more strip on the left side as you could see a little blank area through the cut out. And, the reality of how it would look really was much more awesome than how the strips looked just glued to the page - at this point, I was inspired to actually share this project with you and post a tutorial on the blog and everything. Maybe this will be just the beginning of many more tutorials!
I put a little circle of glue stick on the wider areas of my cut-out piece and pressed it onto my background page, because the frame I used had a pre-cut mat that was just barely big enough to fit the 8.5x11 paper in, and I didn't want all the pieces of it to move around. This will give me freedom later on, since I used the glue stick, to separate the cut out front and the background pieces to fit into a shadow frame if and when we ever get one. Held together, but still with flexibility!

When I put the circles of glue stick on the front piece, I wasn't careful enough with the thickness of the glue and the fact that I was just rubbing it on there - I ended up with a wrinkled circle in the bottom right corner. Hopefully the heat here will pull it out like it does with wrinkles after mod podge-ing, but we will see. Humph.

7. Put the final product in your chosen frame!
I just love how this turned out. Although I wish we had a frame that would allow for the shadow effect between the front and back pieces, I am still loving this. The thing about the frames that allow for shadow effects like that is that they are really expensive. With the move coming up, also, why would I want to buy another frame to pack? We already had this one that has been in its original wrapper from Ikea since before we even moved to Arizona, so it was about time it was used for something...sheesh!

Love it!! I have to admit, I'm a little bit impressed with myself... And I just can't wait to move home!!

Well, thanks for reading today mates! I know this tutorial probably exists all over the Internets and Pinterest already, but hey, I did this without someone else's tutorial with only the inspiration I received from a work of art at a friend's house, so I guess this is just one more tutorial to add to the bunch! Enjoy! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Things People Say to Reassure You

"Everything happens for a reason."
"Don't sweat the small stuff" (and for some reason they'll add "and it's all small stuff.")
"If it's meant to be, it will be."

Yes, everything does happen for a reason - because someone made a choice, whether that person was me or you or someone else. Whatever happened is a direct result of someone making a choice and performing an action. It's not a mystery, it's not comforting to say there's some supernatural reason for things to have happened...because there isn't. The reason is that a human performed an action or spoke chosen words or made some other choice. Or there was some natural disaster.

It's not all small stuff. In fact, most of it is pretty big stuff. If it's truly not a big thing, someone wouldn't feel the need to reassure me. Instead, they should say "get a grip, it's not a big thing, get over it" or something of the like. There could be some explanation as to why said thing is not a big thing, or a question directed at me as to why such a thing is a big thing, and it may turn out to actually be a very small thing after all. In which case, get a grip. Otherwise, it's a big thing and it's something worth stressing over and working hard for in order to gain the desired outcome.

Nothing is "meant" to be. You don't just sit back and count on the things to happen that are "meant" to be. You make those things happen. You choose to act or not to act. If you think you ended up so lucky to have had something amazing just happen to you, think back to past choices you've made - the people you choose to associate yourself with, the job you choose, the location you chose to be in at a given time, etc. Everything else is a result of the choices of other people.

I know that at this point, you're probably thinking "wow, how cynical, how can she ever be happy with that attitude, etc etc etc..." I'm just not reassured when people say any of those above examples to me when something happens. Let's be honest - there are some things that have happened or not happened that I wish I could say "it happened (or didn't happen) for a reason." But that's not actually my opinion at all, so lying to myself about it to try to make myself feel better sure doesn't work. Being honest, making modifications to my actions and choices, trying again, trying differently, putting some sort of WORK into it usually results in the desired (or at least an acceptable) outcome, or at least puts me onto the right path towards the desired outcome.

And sometimes, you just have to know when to freaking quit already. And it's okay to quit. To choose to lose touch with "friends" you don't feel are such good friends anymore, or maybe never were but you didn't realize it until now. To choose to try another career path, to choose to walk away from a project that truly is a small thing but somehow was made into a big thing much earlier and now has drained an incredible amount of productivity that could have been put toward something that actually was a big thing. It's okay to ask for help, to seek more information, to change my opinion about something when it's warranted. Quitting, asking for help, etc - none of that means admitting defeat. It means prioritizing and moving forward.

I could probably keep going on about this and get onto lots of different tangents, but I tried to avoid that this time. I just wanted to share general thoughts on some comments I've heard over and over and over in the past 9 days that, as well-intentioned as their speakers may be, have not been helpful. Of course, except for the fact that I then reflected on those comments and why they were not helpful or reassuring to me.

Anyway, thanks for reading y'all, and until next time...goodnight!