Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Holidays!

Announcing our most ambitious DIY project yet:

A Baby!! We plan to welcome the wee one in mid-June 2015.
A few FAQs:

  • I'm feeling great! We are both so super excited, we often find ourselves smiling for no reason.
  • No, we don't know the gender yet
  • Yes, we probably will find out with the ultrasound. But we don't actually care.
  • Yes, we do have names picked out! They are awesome.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

She Lives!!

Well that was an unexpectedly long hiatus. I have a good explanation though. I've been doing school! Back in May, I quit my dead-end receptionist job and enrolled full time at the local community college. I'm working toward an Associate's Degree in Software Development; and I took 17 credits (5 classes) in both the summer and fall semesters. Hence, no time or spoons for blogginating.

But it's been worth it! I've learned a bunch of different programming languages. I got on the dean's list last summer. And I got all A's again this fall (so maybe I'm staying on that list).

My dean's list certificate in a place of honour

I've been taking all of my classes online. This has been great because I get to do work on my own schedule, and I don't have to be around people all the time. (I'm an extreme introvert.) It has also been a challenge because I have to set my own schedule, and I have very few reasons to leave the apartment and see people.

My study-buddy

I've been very blessed to have a few people who kept me sane during this time. Good friends checked up on me, and got me outside. (Special thanks to LuAnn for coffee dates!) My programmer pal Seth was a huge help: giving me advice, encouragement, and sometimes a second set of eyes on more sticky programming assignments. And my incredibly amazing husband was super supportive. For instance, he took on all household chores by himself for the better part of the fall. I bet he's really happy to have me helping with the dishes again!

Beth brought the party to me for my birthday

Next semester, I'm only doing school part-time. If all goes well, I should be graduating in May! I hope this less-demanding course load will allow me to take on a few other projects. (Like blogging more maybe?) Graduation will come just in time for me to finish another big-deal project that I've been working for a while now. (Shane's helped with that too.) I bet you're curious, but that's a story for another post. ;) (...hopefully, that post will be up sooner than 8 months from now...)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Yoga and Meditation Retreat

Two things I very rarely do voluntarily are difficult exercise, and spending time away from my husband. Last month, I did both, and I felt great about it! (Don't get me wrong though; I still missed him, and my couch.)

When some folks at our church announced they were hosting a Yoga and Meditation Retreat, my first thought was, "That's great for other people." My second thought was, "Actually, I would probably benefit a lot from this." My third was, "Quick! Sign up now before you talk yourself out of it!" So I did.

Photo (and subject) courtesy of organizer Lauren

The thing is, I've never really done yoga or meditation before. I wasn't too worried about the meditation, but the yoga was another story. I bought a mat and found a free video guide online. It turns out my new living room is pretty much perfect for yoga in front of the TV. Just move the coffee table aside, and you're ready to go! (A side bonus of this practice is I'm motivated to clean the floors regularly.) The end result: I certainly didn't become a yogi in the time between sign-up and retreat, but I wasn't totally lost either.

The retreat was held at Raccoon Creek State Park over a weekend. (I went tent camping there last summer.) The facilities were much nicer than I expected, and we had the place to ourselves.

Our lovely little cabin

We started out Friday evening with yoga and introductions. Then we went to our cabins with instructions to stop talking to each other as soon as possible, and keep silent until lunch on Saturday. This idea freaked a lot of people out, but it was like heaven on earth to me! It freed me from social pressures so I could really concentrate on what we were learning. I was sad when lunch ended and everyone started talking again. I actually went back to the cabin to be alone and try to stretch it out a bit. That's one thing which really impressed me about the way the retreat was run: They made it very clear that you could skip out on anything if participation was not in the best interests of your self-care.

(Apologies: I cannot recall this instructor's name)
(Photo stolen from Lauren's Facebook)

One of the things that surprised me about this retreat was the large amount of focus placed on meditation toward mindfulness. I was geared up for the yoga beforehand, but it turned out to be just a tool for mindfulness itself. I knew a little about the practice going in, but not as much as I thought I did. Brandi worked with us on basic principles and gave us a great hand-out. (It may be a helpful introduction if the idea is new to you.) She also put us through an intense yoga session to practice mindfulness in discomfort. Neil coached us in mindful walking and eating, and hosted a fascinating presentation about emotional mindfulness.

Brandi teaching
(Photo stolen from Lauren's Facebook)

The experience was peaceful and it was also a lot of work. The weekend blew by quickly. In the month or so since then, I've had a hard time incorporating what I learned in my daily life. We were warned that would be the case. Still, I can see some benefits which have stuck with me through the last month. I have been more calm and focused. I've had an easier time becoming calm and focused when I'm not. And for the first time in forever, I'm hearing music in the back of my mind again. (Those of you who know me well will know that's a big deal.)

Thank you, friends and strangers who organized this retreat! And thank you friends, strangers, and new friends who participated along with me. I hope this can become a regular recurring event. (...and I hope next time I can talk Shane into joining me!)

(Photo stolen from Lauren's Facebook)

P.S. My new background image is courtesy of the Graphics Fairy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Embroidered Christmas Gifts

I promised you a post about the things I made for my family this Christmas, and here it is!

A bit of background: My mom made beautiful cross-stitched Christmas stockings for all of us kids when we were babies. A while back, she made two for her parents too. Starting last year, I got to hang mine along with an almost identical one she made for my husband! The thing is, Mom and Dad have never had their own stockings. I decided it was high time that changed.

Starting last spring, I worked on the stockings off and on all year. I learned  a lot along the way, and there are a few things I'd do differently if I were to do them over again now. For one thing, hand-sewing them together made me seriously consider buying a sewing machine! Anyway, without further ado, here are the finished products:

Patterns: Urban Threads and Craftsy

I wasn't in Minnesota to see my parents open their gifts, but I think they liked them!

(Those are their "Oh my gosh!" faces. Yes, Dad too. He's Norwegian-American.)

I made lots of tree ornaments for everyone else. Much more manageable! Also, it turns out I really enjoy sewing on felt.

Patterns: Wild Olive
My apologies for the poor picture quality.
Maybe after that sewing machine, I should get a new camera!
Just like in my most recent post, I saved the best for last. This time, my joy comes courtesy of my niece, Kaitlyn. She's super crafty and known for her interest in art. So I made her a DIY ornament kit. She totally nailed it!

This picture was, hands-down, the best gift I got this Christmas. Thanks, Kaitlyn!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Christmas (Or: When I Didn't Hate Winter)

Since Pittsburgh is due for a big snow storm this weekend, I thought it was a good time to reflect on my Christmas. It was a happy time when winter was new and snow felt appropriate. Let's go back two months together. (cue time machine noises)

There it is! Your first sneak-peak at our moved-into apartment. So festive!! We had plenty of room for our giant tree in the living room this year. Of course, we've since bought a big, beautiful sofa. So next year's decorating might require a bit more creativity.

One of my proudest finds this year was the stocking hooks. They're engraved with holly berries, and coated in brass, and they don't hurt our new hutch! Also, check out our vacation souvenir from Jamestowne on the tree. I hung it in a prominent place. Maybe we can make a tradition of finding a new ornament every year from someplace nifty. (Credit: Ornaments as souvenirs is an idea I got from my mom.)

I made Shane sit on the floor to open presents. This was a moment of whimsy on my part. It made me feel more Christmas-y some how. He gave me a coffee grinder (which is really for both of us). No more suffering through pre-ground beans!

I got him a watch a whole year ago on Kickstarter. Which means, of course, it still hasn't been shipped to us. Sigh... So to tide him over, I got him two books (which are really for both of us) and a journal. The man loves him some words; 'tell you what.

We opened a few other gifts from family. Then we called said family on the phone while we walked to the nearby Indian restaurant. When we got home, we played Upwords. It was a perfect way for our little family of two to celebrate.

I had the following week off. So I took advantage of the extra time to make a big traditional holiday meal. Shane gets all of the credit for the turkey. We also had Norwegian lefse (potato bread) courtesy of my parents!

I have saved the best part of our story for last. I decided not to take the time to make the topper I had planed for our tree this year. It was pretty without it, even if it did have something missing. Lucky for me, Shane's brother Avery came to the rescue! The wrapping might give you a clue if you're nerdy like me.

That's his gift to us from last year in the background of the second picture. So what's inside? Only the scariest tree topper ever! DON'T BLINK!

(Explanation: It's a weeping angel, which is an evil alien from the Doctor Who TV show.)

Thank you, Avery, for making our Christmas complete!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Bit by the Embroidery Bug

Last year, I decided to make a few of my Christmas presents. Most of my original ideas were scrapped in the end. (Everyone I know may get DIY coasters from me someday. They're still half-finished in a box under my bed.) But one project stuck: embroidery.

About ten years ago, my mom decided to sew embellishments on plain dish towels for her mom, and she asked me to help. I haphazardly completed one or two, and forgot about it. When I was looking for DIY ideas for Christmas 2012, it all came back to me; especially how happy Grandma was about those towels. I figured after all that time she could probably use some new ones! So I bought a bunch of flour-sack dish towels (her favorite), a value pack of embroidery thread, and a hoop. Et VoilĂ !

Towels for Grandma

To my surprise, when I was done with the towels I still felt like sewing. I was officially hooked. I bought a few more supplies (like embroidery-specific needles and a threader... who knew?) and thought up some more ambitious projects.

Black-work (in bright colors) for Beth
(Pattern from Mr X Stitch)

Since those worked out, I just kept going! This one was completed on the train to Grandma and Grandpa's for Thanksgiving.

For my sister (Pattern from Urban Threads)

As is typical for people my age, a lot of my friends are having babies. What did I decide to give them for a welcoming gift? Embroidery!

(doggie pattern from The Baby Gardner)
(sloth mama pattern from Wild Olive)

It snowballed quickly, and practically every gift I gave last year was something I made or embellished with a needle and thread.

Going away gift (pattern from Wild Olive)
...Not bad for my first ever attempt at French knots.

Wedding gifts
(design on the right adapted from a Scout Creative poster)

Moving out gifts for the housemates; (top two are tote bags)
(patterns from Urban Threads: Sheep, Rex, & Nom)

I have learned a ton about the craft in this short time. There is a lot more to learn too.  It's a great way to decompress, and be productive at the same time. My go-to phrase to describe how it feels is "like coloring for grown-ups". I'm excited to share more of these projects with you too. For instance, this year I made all of my Christmas gifts! But that's another post.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Snow, Snow, Go Away...

I really hate winter. As soon as the weather dips below freezing, I just want to crawl into bed and stay there until spring comes. But society won't let me. What gives, society!? Anyway, that general malaise is why I haven't written anything new in a while. (Does that count as an apology? Probably not...)

The view from my office today (why!?)

To make it up to you, I'd like to do a quick run-through of some things I wanted to blog about last fall, and never got to. I also have a few "real" posts in my head. I'll work at extracting them for you soon.

Kick the Debt Party
In October, four of our friends threw a party to celebrate finally paying off their student loans. (...a joy I hope to know myself someday...) There was a bouncy castle, and kangaroo meat, and there were lots of old friends. It was like a family-of-choice reunion!

Rooke Wedding
The next weekend was the most beautiful and amazing wedding I have ever attended. Our friends, Amber and Dylan tied the knot on his family's farm. They did everything themselves, and on the cheap. It was absolutely genuine, and truly their style. The warm glow of it made my whole life sweeter! Amber has put up lots of posts about it on her blog if you're curious. (Her pictures are much better.)

Parental Visit
At the end of October, my folks drove all the way from Minnesota for a visit. They took the whole week off so they could spend two weekends with us, and the in-between days touring the East Coast. By all accounts, they had a fabulous time! We visited lots of nice Pittsburgh restaurants, they brought us farm-stand apples from Ohio, and we went furniture shopping at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Me & Mom in our natural environment: a coffee shop

Murder Mystery Dinner Theater
Remember last year's show? This one was done a bit earlier to accommodate a Christmas theme. I played a wreath. Jim described the character as like the furniture in Pee-Wee's Playhouse. Shane got into the act too this year. He played grown-up Cindy-Lou-Who's damaged boyfriend. I got to put together both of their costumes. Yes, got to. I LOVE making costumes!

In Charge? Me?
That's right. I'm an officially ordained ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church now. Crazy, right? I was nominated to serve on our church's finance committee. After much careful consideration, I said "yes". It is a big commitment. The term is three years long, and I'll be helping make some difficult decisions. Furthermore, I had to kneel in front of everyone at the all-church meeting and promise to do my best to be awesome.

Coming Up
(Hopefully!) I plan to catch you up on my Christmas and a couple of projects I've been working on lately. I have lots of exciting things planned for 2014!!