Fueling My Soul

Recently, I wrote a post tiled “The Pull”, and as I was nearing the cursor towards the publish button, I decided against posting it. It was an unnecessary post to share with the world, but was good for me to write as it accomplished some good introspective work. To summarize this post is difficult to do, but basically it was about my self-exploration to finding my soul within me.

Anyways, within this post I declared the need I feel to stop trying to find happiness through buying things, and decided to go on a shopping hiatus. That lasted all about one week, but in a way, is still in effect. This is confusing. What I’m trying to say is that as opposed to buying unnecessary things for comfort (which is really what this goal was aimed at), I purchased some things that I thought were good for the kid inside of me.

In even simpler terms, I dropped $200 on Playmobil.

Playmobil was something that didn’t get introduced to me until I met James, but ever since I’ve thought it was the most wonderful toy a kid could ask for. I’m personally in love with the Playmobil Country themes, because somewhere inside me there’s a girl who always wanted to live on a farm. Playmobil is constantly cycling through products, and for some reason I wanted to see what was being phased out and what was coming in. To my alarm, I noticed the Playmobil farm set was being phased out, and I still didn’t have a tractor or a farmhouse! This lead to a desperate search for these items to buy before they are gone forever. I found the tractor without much problem, but the farmhouse was being quite difficult. Many websites advertised it on the Google, but all were out of stock. I was able to find some through other sellers on Amazon, but to my increasing despair, they were $150+ each. After calling the Playmobil expert (Mama Peg), I was lead to a store in Canada that still had the item in stock, and for not that expensive (like $40 US dollars). So, I quickly jumped into action and bought my farmhouse (update: well, about a week later I received an email from the store saying that they didn’t have the product, sooo I ended up buying it off of Ebay for a somewhat still reasonable but more expensive price), and then 4 websites later bought the rest of the farm set that was lacking from my collection. Oh, and also the Playmobil vet clinic collection. Because why not.

Now, if you know me, this is probably seeming pretty hypocritical. I can be so tight with money that I have been known to get mad at James for buying himself a burrito for lunch. I’m constantly talking about the darned budget and calculating what we will be spending and earning 3 months out. I can’t tell you why I threw everything out the window for some toys, but I kind of just snapped and went shopper crazy. Maybe it’s because I’ve been repressing that side of me for so long that I just went for it. Maybe it was the fear of never getting my farmhouse that drove me to drop those pretty pennies. Personally, I think it was just that little voice inside of me saying, “Go on! It will be good for you!” Plus thinking the later allows me to feel like I’m still an invincible shopper not likely to fold to the manipulations of the system (2 points for my ego).

All of these new toys are just the newest editions to a long list of things I’m doing for personal growth and enjoyment. As I mentioned in the invisible blog post, the following are some things I’ve been looking forward to working on as a way to focus my energy internally rather than externally:

-Learn to knit more complex things than a dishcloth (hopefully eventually clothes!)
-Crochet some pretty shawls that I’ve had on a list of things to make for a few years now
-Bake some muffins and scones to keep in the freezer for breakfasts
-Try cooking with more foods like avocados (because I think they’re delicious) and white beans (also yummy)
-Really, I want to continue my pursuit to break away from traditional Indiana cooking (even though it’s delicious)
-Read some books such as the Anne of Green Gables series, some books by Richard Feynman (I’ve heard they’re hilarious), The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the book Hyperbole and a Half (Another one I heard was a great, light read)
-Draw more, paint more, color more, make more 

It is amazing how actually accomplishing things makes you feel. Instead of just binge watching Netflix and spending all of my spare time on Facebook, I’ve worked on this list and have seen a real improvement in my overall morale towards life. I’ve mostly been drawing, as that is what I’m having the most success with at the moment. As far as the books go, I have read Hyperbole and a Half. It’s a really short read and only took a few hours to start and finish. It made me laugh soooo hard, and I would recommend it to everyone if it weren’t riddled with some f-bombs. (Also, on the topic of books, I mentioned in the still invisible blog post that I read Stargirl and Love, Stargirl; these books are also fantastic and I recommend them to everyone as well).

However, I can’t spend all of my time stimulating the creative side of my brain to fuel my soul, so I’ve also been working on other things which still fuel my soul, but to a lesser degree. Some less artistic/impressive things I’ve accomplished:

-Finally learned how to cut the meat off of a bone-in lamb loin (you’d be surprised how long this has been duping me)
-Washed the sheets on our bed (I heard on the radio that girls wash their sheets 26x/year and boys wash them 4x/year… I decided it’s time to be more like the girls in 2016)
-Booked a ski trip for James and I to Vermont (weeeeeeeeee!)
-Got over a cold that lasted for 2+ weeks (yes, there was greenish-yellow snot at one point)
-Watered all of my plants (they were verrrrry thirsty)

You may be thinking, “pfff, why do I care about any of this because it’s so mundane and boring?” Well here’s why-you might just learn something for it!

-If you are having troubles figuring out how to carve some meat, you should Google it because it’s easy to learn.
-If you haven’t washed your sheets in the last 2 months, you should probably do that because I also heard how gross they can get on the radio.
-If you haven’t taken some time away from your normal life, you should totally think about booking a trip to Vermont, or anywhere else for that matter, even if it’s only for a weekend.
-If you are starting to feel a cold coming on TAKE YOUR VITAMIN C NOW BECAUSE IT CAN DRAG ON FOR A LONG TIME (I wish future me would have told past me this).
-If you have any plants (or living things for that matter) you should probably water them because they need to drink in the winter too.

I’m running out of stuff to say. I suppose that’s a good thing. I have an hour until my next meeting and am only monitoring a reaction today, so I guess I’ll go back to drawing:) Shhhh, don’t tell my boss. Nah, go ahead he won’t care. But maybe don’t just in case.


The Real “General Recap”

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was going to give a general recap of what we’ve been up to the past month. Upon actually writing said post, I realized it was super long, and could be classified as a post of more projects I had worked on.

But, I still want to share with you some of the other fun things we did!

So, here is a general recap of December (sans finals week and Aberdeen).

We went and picked out a live Christmas tree for the 5th Christmas we’ve spent together (and the 1st as a married couple….hehe we sound old)! We always drive down to Sheraton to a lovely little place called Dull’s Tree Farm, and have a ton of fun every year!

Blurry picture, but the best we could do with the darkness and the coldness and whatnot.
James let me hold the saw!
Ultimately, he got to cut it down.
How’s it going down there?
I got to pull it back though…
…through all of the mud of course:)

As always, we had great fun, and were just thankful for the time we had together!

After we got the tree, we really got into the Christmas spirit and set up some apartment decorations!

All the ornaments! I really love the Old World ones that we received from my best friend’s parents as a wedding gift.
I really enjoyed our tree this year! I also wish I could take just one unblurry picture UGH. Oh well. It’s still lovely!
Our beautiful nativity.
Rudolph from 1990!
Our hibiscus tree.
Lights abound!
Playmobil advent calendar!
Christmas Cards and knicknacks

We really enjoy Christmas, can you tell?

Hmmmmm. What else. Well, I’ve been keeping up with the status quo of being a crazy cat lady, and got a few (ha) good pictures of the cats this month!


Oh, to be a cat and enjoy life without all of these complications us humans have to deal with.

Lastly, along with sitting and watching the cats, I also have really enjoyed spending time watching the birds and the squirrels outside of our apartment. We have a single suet feeder hanging off of our beloved pine tree, and it seems to be quite a popular hit among the birds! It is very relaxing to just sit cross-legged on top of the desk and watch them fly about and communicate in there own little bird language to one another.

A chickadee.
Some sort of sparrow?
A downy woodpecker.
A white-breasted nuthatch.
I’m convinced this downy and chickadee are buds!
A red-bellied woodpecker.
Some icy pine cones from the first snow of the year!
Lewis watching the squirrel.
Why hello there!
He’s going to become a chubby little thing.
What a nice stretch!
More eating…
Kind of looks like a chubby bird…
Of course, there has to be a robin somewhere in all of these photos.
Andddd some more stretching!
Such a pretty bird, sitting in the tree.
Now he’s starting to plump up!
Almost too big for the branch.
What adorable little curly feathers!
Sunlight is just so refreshing and healing!

Well, I think that about sums things up. Of course, these were only things we did around the apartment, as we spent the whole last week of December back home with our families, which was a lovely time!



Hmmm… I guess I have more to show!

So, it is the 2nd day back to work from our lovely Christmas break, and I am finding that I actually have a lot to write about! Instead of spacing these out more and inevitably forgetting to write them (or setting them to publish on a later date), I’m just going to give them to you straight.

I did a lot of things in December.

So, I will give you a general recap of all of the things I did that didn’t fit into the posts about our Aberdeen Bed and Breakfast or the Quiet Book I made.

This is going to have to be a…..SUPER POST! (edit: Actually, this post is becoming so long that I’m changing it to a “the rest of the Christmas presents I worked on ” post)

First off, I made some floor cushions following this pattern from Living with Punks. This was a really fun and easy (not to mention cheap) sewing project that resulted in two excellent Christmas gifts for my brothers, Logan and Greyson. Also, it lead me to the discovery that you can buy already made piping! I had no idea. So that was abundantly cool to learn!

Greyson modeling how the floor cushions work. (Sidenote: Logan was not in the mood to be photographed)
I particularly enjoyed the contrast of colors between the piping and the fabric on both of the cushions.
Also, I loved the handles!

So, as you can see, the floor cushions are fun and they aid in the comfort of one’s bottom, so how could you not enjoy them!?

After the floor cushions were complete, I started working on something completely out of my comfort zone:  clocks.  I have never had to sand or stain anything in my life, except for maybe my little CO2 cartridge car that I made in 7th grade Industrial Technology class (and that was just sanding). So, I had to do a little bit of research to figure out how to go about that. I learned about the different grains of sandpaper, and now I feel like a sanding pro! Also, I learned that as convenient as gel stain is smell and spillage-wise, I’m not a fan of how it actually finishes (at least the brand of gel stain that I bought). It had these granules in it that wouldn’t quite dissolve, so when they got wiped on the wood they just smeared in really dark streaks. Next time I do a project that involves staining, I’m going to try using regular stinky, watery stain, just to see if it gives a more even finish. For my sister’s clock, I stained parts of it, and painted the rest. Where each segment meets (and in the case of the bigger segments, the middle) is where a number on the clock-face would be (ex. where the white segment meets the pink polka dot segment, is where the 1 would go on the clock).

Like the floor cushions, I really enjoy the contrast between the colors, patterns, and wood staining shades on this clock.
Unfortunately, I bent the hands a little bit in the wrapping process, but they’re easy enough to straighten out.

Along with learning the wonders of sanding and staining, I also learned how to do a little bit of pyrography. Not much mind you, but enough to burn an image into wood. My middle brother, Jordan, is a big fan of The Office, so I decided to make him an intimidating clock with Dwight Shrute’s face on it… it’s kind of one of those things you have to squint to visualize because I am NOT an artist, let alone a face artist, but I think it does the trick.

Wood burning in large areas to represent shading was quite a task, but hopefully will be improved upon as I get more practice:)
A somewhat gimpy ear, but that’s okay because the hands cover it up at certain times of the day!

Lastly, for Brandon, I wood burned the Kansas Jayhawk into his clock. I was fairly proud of this one, but that’s also because it took the longest and I was just so glad to finally have it done!

Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk – KU!
Ziggy enjoyed using the clock to lean up against… who cares about time?

I feel I should also mention that I had to learn about clock-faces and their movements to complete this project as well. Each movement has two lengths, a threaded shaft length and an overall length. The threaded shaft length has to at least be as long as the width of your piece, so in my case it had to be at least a 1/2″ long. This is what the washer screws onto to hold the movement in place. Then you have to find hands to go along with your movement (if you aren’t buying a set) that look reasonable with the size of your clock. In order to keep correct time, the movement has to have a mechanism that will keep up with the length of the hands. So, a simple clock movement will work with smaller and lighter hands, but at a certain point, a high torque clock movement is needed with larger or heavier hands.

Now. That’s enough about clocks.

But, we will continue a little bit more with the pyrography. I decided that my mom could use a little box to put some extra jewelry she had in, since the pieces have just been sitting up on a shelf in her closet. So, I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a little wooden box for like, 3 bucks or something like that. I burned a design into the top and sides, and then (using that same crappy gel stain) stained the box after a final fine sand.

It ended up with a little bit of a worn/rustic look to it, but we’ll just say that was what I was going for and not think twice about it:) Do you recognize the pattern? It’s the same pattern I drew on the tea towel I made for Mama Peg! It’s nice, easy, and carefree. Not to mention, it’s a doodle that I can just draw absentmindedly while lost in thought, which is wonderful to be able to resort to after a long day of experiments going awry.

Along with making presents that would be from James and I for Christmas, I also helped my mom and dad out by sewing some Purdue blankets that would be for Greyson and Logan from them!

I had some wonderful help from Lewis and Rosie! They were particularly great at wrinkling everything up as soon as I had it all straightened out:)

Presents are always fun to work on, and I particularly enjoyed the ones I worked on for Christmas this year, since they taught me and sparked my interest in so much. I’m already excited to start thinking about the things I’m going to make next year, and hopefully will keep this mentality so that I don’t fall behind or procrastinate as much as I did this year:) What would Christmas be like without a last minute rush? I really hope to find out in 2016!

Shhhh, it’s a Quiet Book?

As I mentioned in my Rainy Day post, I began working on a quiet book for Colton wayyyy back in October. I’m still not so sure I like the name quiet book, because it’s the opposite of what I’m hoping for. I want it to be more of a question book. I want him to explore it, learn from it, and exclaim when he completes a task in it. But most of all, I want him to gain confidence from it. All of those don’t really sound like “quiet” activities to me, but nonetheless, the name quiet book has kind of stuck.

After doing some research on some good page ideas (just google quiet book, you’ll be amazed at all of the ideas), I set in on Colton’s. I did my best to make sure every page was fun and educational to at least some extent. 40ish hours after working, it was finally complete!

Feel free to click on the pictures to pull up a slideshow of them for a better view!

Basically, I bought 9″ x 12″ of felt and cut them into 9″ x 9″ pieces for the pages. I then cut out all of the shapes with the leftover felt I had. Everything was hand sewn, except for the pages and the buttonholes, which were sewn with a machine. Each page has two layers of interfacing in between them, to try to sturdy the book up a little bit. It is really easy to make (doesn’t require a lot of skill), but it does require a lot of patience and time!

This project was particularly fun for me because it peaked an interest in embroidery (not that any of this was embroidered with anything, it was just kind of fun to do a lot of needlework by hand). So, I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a book with all of the different embroidery patterns, and step-by-step instructions on how to do them. Who knows, maybe that will be featured in my Christmas gifts next year:)

This book was so much fun  (albeit a bit taxing) to work on, and I hope so much that Colton can learn and grow from using it!



A Break Away from Home…

During finals week, I hardly saw James at all. It was an especially difficult finals week because there were already some complicating factors going on without the long hours of studying and difficult exams. However, there is always a light at the end of a tunnel, and that light began to beam on Wednesday, when James told me not to make any plans for the weekend.

I knew nothing, but I was excited.

Mostly because, even during finals week, he still has the ability to think about us, which I think is pretttttttty cool.

But also, surprises are always welcome:)

When Saturday rolled around, we were able to have a lazy morning, so I cooked breakfast and we watched Netflix together. (It must not be too far away…)  After doing a load of laundry, we headed out and our little adventure began. (Weeeeeeee!) I wasn’t allowed to look at the map, which hindered our normal “Han-and-Chewie” routine of him driving and me navigating, but nonetheless, he was able to figure out where he was going just fine.

I was a little confused when we got off at the Hebron exit, but also intrigued to see the little town that I have heard of but never visited. It held up to its standards of being a cute little town in Indiana with its lights and wreathes adorning the highway that runs through the middle of it. As charming as it was, Hebron wasn’t our final destination. We kept driving and I noticed a sign broadcasting Valparaiso’s nearness, and could not believe that was where we were heading.  (What the heck is in Valpo?)  I have only ever driven through Valpo on U.S. 30, so I couldn’t imagine there was anything actually worth visiting there.

I was soooooooooo wrong.

James pulled us into a little area known as Aberdeen, and when he parked the car outside of a little bed and breakfast, I was completely elated. I have always wanted to stay at a B&B (but mostly since watching The Office episode where Jim and Pam go to Dwight’s B&B for the night)! I was enchanted from the moment I stepped inside, as it was completely covered with decorations for Christmas. There was even a candy room!

The candy room!

Our room was lovely, and complete with a 4 poster bed, a fireplace, and a Jacuzzi bath tub!

After enjoying the actual B&B for awhile, we decided to head out for dinner. Valpo has a TON of little restaurants and shops, and it made it very difficult to choose where to eat! But, James being James, already had it figured out, and we went to Meditrina, which was by far the most delicious Mediterranean restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t get any pictures of our food, but everything we had was delicious: Feta-filled and bacon wrapped dates with a pomegranate sauce, cucumber yogurt salad with pita, beef shawarma, and 7 spice mussels. Our tummies were rejoicing after being filled with such delicious food.

We were so stuffed after dinner that we decided to head back to the B&B and call it a night, but got distracted by all of the Christmas decorations!

Trees leading into a parlor on the opposite side of the inn from where we were staying.
Fun legs in a very decorated bathroom!
Elves were hanging all around the lobby.

Alas, after walking around and looking at all of them, we went to bed, and woke up the next morning hungry again! We went down to the dining room for breakfast, where we were greeted by a very chipper waitress, some homemade bread, and strawberry parfaits. Again, very tasty food. The main course was also delicious, and was something like a bread bowl with basil, lemon, and eggs cooked on the inside of it.

We had a nice little view to enjoy while eating breakfast.

After checking out, we walked around downtown Valpo for a while, and I was so happy to see how cute of a town it actually is! With a new skating rink and plenty of locally owned shops, I would have to say that Valpo is a wonderful destination for a short weekend getaway, as long as you actually get off of 30 and go explore it!


Homemade Beef Jerky

Finally, a gift for Dad!

My dad has always been the most difficult person for me to get presents for since I can remember.  Even when I was at the little gift fairs they had in elementary school, I could never think of something to give him! But, I think I thought of a pretty good gift this year – homemade beef jerky. For Father’s Day, I bought him a meat injector and a recipe book for smoking meats, and for his birthday I made him BBQ sauce, a jar of dry rub, bread, and jelly. His birthday was a bigger success than Father’s Day, so I have safely come to the conclusion that I can’t go wrong with homemade food (as long as it tastes good)! So, for Christmas I set out to make him some more homemade BBQ sauce, and along with that, some beef jerky.

Already halfway gone!

Beef jerky in the stores is super expensive.  I have a hard time justifying buying it because I can spend the equivalent amount of money on an entire chuck roast that will feed us for a few days rather than a few minutes. However, I have found that making it is quite inexpensive and easy, so we are going to be consuming more of it!

I know, I know.

The WHO has declared processed meats as a carcinogen on par with tobacco. For more reasons than I care to explain, I can’t justify this as a conclusion worth changing my lifestyle for. In fact, I don’t even understand how 22 scientists concluded that eating processed meats is as dangerous as smoking, especially considering the large differences in relative risk between the two factors! I mean sure, if you are going to eat a whole “50 grams” of bacon a day, you are probably increasing your chances of developing cancer, but by choosing to eat anything in excess you are harming your body. Not to mention, if your diet involves that much bacon you are probably going to have other complications wayyyyyyy before the cancer gets to you. At least that’s my view of it.

So, despite what the WHO recommends for me, I’m still going to make beef jerky on occasion and enjoy the heck out of it.

So, how did I make it you ask?

First, I bought a chuck roast, because it was on sale at Payless for $2.99/lb! I stuck it in the freezer for a couple of hours so that it would be easier to cut. People seem to think that you have to cut with the grain in order to have successful beef jerky, but that’s a bit difficult when you are using a chuck roast. I found that when cutting against the grain (as long as it was frozen enough), the meat stayed together and everything worked out just fine. I cut the meat in 1/8″ to 3/8″ thick strips, and placed them into a Ziploc bag.  I didn’t really bother to remove fat from the meat, as I expected it would just kind of cook off in the oven (and for the most part, it did!) To the bag, I added a marinade, and allowed the strips to sit in the refrigerator overnight (and into the next evening).

Spicy Teriyaki Beef Jerky Marinade
for 2 lbs-ish of beef

1:1:1 soy sauce: worchestershire sauce: water (I used about 1/2 cup of each)
1 tsp. liquid smoke
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. red cayenne pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper

All of these are kind of approximations, but as long as the added amounts relative to one another are similar it’s alllllll goooood.

After allowing the beef to marinate for about a day, it was time to actually dry it out. I do not have a food dehydrator, as I usually use the oven to complete such tasks. So, after covering the bottom rack of the oven with foil, I poked a toothpick through a sturdy portion at one end of each of my strips, and hung them from the top rack in the oven. Voila! I made a meat dehydrator. I turned the oven to the lowest temperature (170º F is as low as my oven will go), and dried them out for 2 hours (thinner pieces) to about 5 hours (thicker pieces).

As you can tell, precision is not necessary here… just slop in the toothpicks and you’re ready to go!
Even tiny bits of beef get to be used, because they make the best tasting jerky!

Be sure to cover the bottom rack with foil, or it could be quite messy and stinky!
Toothpicks worked wonderfully for this project!
Hopefully Dad enjoys this Christmas present… and I must say, I think he will! James and I each ate about 5-10 pieces after they were done drying, so it looks like I might have to make more before we even get to Christmas!


Update: I repeated this recipe and noted 2 things:
1. Only letting the meat marinate for 12 hours diminishes the flavor  profile quite a bit in comparison to a whole 24 hours.
2. Do NOT set the beef too far back in the oven when drying. If juices do not land on the foil and instead drip down to the bottom of the oven, things will catch on fire, and your house will smell like burnt stuff and smoke will be everywhere!

Separate Update:
My family ate the whole tub of beef jerky in < 1 day. 🙂



Tea Towels for Christmas

As mentioned in my last blog post, I am making most of the Christmas presents James and I are giving this year.  It has been quite busy around our apartment! So far, I have made these floor cushions for two of my younger brothers, a quiet book for my youngest brother Colton, and clocks for my other three siblings! In addition to these, I have also sewn and decorated some tea towels for my grandmas, James’ mom, and his sister. The creative side of my brain has been very entertained the past couple of months:) So, without further ado, I will show you my tea towels, and how I made them. They may not be the prettiest or most unique looking towels in the world, but I sure had a lot of fun working on them!

First, I bought a ton of unbleached muslin. Muslin is cheap, dries well, and is really easy to work with. I cut dish towel sized rectangles from the fabric (approximately 18″ x 28 ” or something around that), and then pinned about a 1/4″ hem all around it, rolling the edge twice.

Cut to about 18″ x 28″.
Pinned with a 1/4″ hem.
After sewing them, I basically just had a blank canvas to start drawing on.  I used Tee Juice Fabric markers, as they were the best of the ones I tried, and were really easy to write on the muslin with.

My tea towels, long toes, and Dachshund PJs:)
Mama Peg’s tea towel, which matches a ceramic bird house I pained for her birthday.
The “test” tea towel.  A different type of marker was used to color in the tree trunk and branches, and I was much less impressed with its quality compared to the Tee Juice markers.
Grandma Taylor’s tea towel-she loves hummingbirds!
Jessie’s tea towel.
I thought these colors were kind of a fun combination!
Grandma Shurboff’s tea towel.
I tried my best at drawing flowers, they were a little yikes but she’s 91 so I don’t think she’ll mind:)
The Tee Juice markers are set with heat, so after drawing on the towels, I ironed them on high (about 4 minutes/towel) and then threw them in the dryer on high for about 30 minutes. I haven’t washed them yet, so I’m hoping to see that they hold up well and don’t bleed or fade (will update on that later)!

All in all, they were a lot of fun to work on, and I can definitely see myself making some for us when we move into a house someday!