16 September 2013

She's Crafty: DIY Wall Decor

 I have been in the processes of redecorating my front room since sometime in early 2013. One thing I had decided to do was decorate wood letters with maps -- ideally, spelling HOME and showing all the places I've lived.

Doing this myself, I figured, would be the most cost-effective way of doing it (also, at that point I hadn't seen these in stores...that has since changed); it would also be the best way to personalize them.

The first thing I did was head to the craft store to find my wooden letters. I was a bit disappointed to see that the thick cut letters I wanted were not available in wood, so I had to go with paper mache. Ultimately, this was the better choice -- they were fairly inexpensive (plus my mom had coupons...thanks mom!), and they were super light to hang on the wall. Unfortunately, they were also out of the letter "H," which is a rather critical part of spelling HOME. So, I went with what was available, and spelled CASA...same meaning, different language.

Then,  I figured out what maps I wanted to use, which places I wanted to represent my life. I then ordered them from AAA, because, as a part of my membership, I get maps for free. I had some older ones, also, from these areas, so...recycling!

Next, I took a rather long hiatus. Funny how life gets in the way! I stared at those non-covered letters, and the maps sitting on my counter, for probably over three months. It got a little ridiculous!

Finally, I was fed up with the mess, the blankness, and, on a nice Sunday while watching football, I decided to tackle my project!

I took all the maps and laid them out, figured out the order, and then started cutting. There was a little bit of moving things around, and tilting the letters just so -- it was important to me to get particular towns/cities represented. I used a straight edge razor to cut the maps...if I were to do it again, I would use a razor pen; my lines were a little uneven and not as exact on the letters as I would have liked. Lessons learned.

I then painted the letters. I used a darker color -- the leftovers I had from painting my accent wall. I painted everything but the side that would be up against the wall. In doing this first, it added a background to the letters in the case my maps didn't fit perfectly (which, they don't) or I cut things a little off (which, I did).

After letting the paint dry, it was time to start putting the maps on. I used Modge Podge (leftover from a project I did a few years ago). I covered the front of the letters liberally, then worked quickly to get the maps lined up and stuck on. Modge Podge starts to dry quickly, so there isn't a lot of time for readjustments.

I quickly realized just how poor my cutting had been...because of this, I had to do a lot of trimming on the letters (I used a sharp pair of scissors, and snipped slowly). I also had to add a bit of map to parts where I had undercut. I tried to match the color/terrain/routes, but they are not perfect. I know this will end up bothering me, but I don't think it is super visible unless you're looking for it.

I again let this all dry before hanging it on my wall. To try to ensure that everything lined up correctly, I measured from the top of each letter, then poked a hole at the same spot on each letter. Actually hanging the darn things was tricky...being short and only having two hands made measuring a challenge. But I did my best to line them all up on the wall, and then center each letter.

I've got them up, and am going to let them sit for a bit before moving things. I am pretty sure my S is upside down, and they are a little more squished than I would have liked. But overall -- not too shabby!

Total cost: Approximately 15$.

Represented: San Leandro, San Luis Obispo, Sevilla, San Francisco

11 September 2013

We Remember

It is hard to believe -- 12 years have passed. 12 years since the relative ease of the world I lived in changed. The day that made it impossible to look in the sky at planes flying over my city and not to wait to hear if it crashed into a building, to wait for the boom.

I've already talked about my experience on 11 September 2001 -- 9/11. The feeling small, the feeling lost in it all. And, above it all, the kindness of people.

I recently came across these pictures again, and was again kind of tripped out by them. One of my first trips to New York was apparently in September 1999, and I went a day or so early to check things out -- that day being 11 September 1999. A few coworkers and I went to Ellis Island, and were treated to this spectacular view of the NYC skyline. I was (and continue to be) amazed by how tall the buildings were -- I had never seen them so tall! And, standing above the rest, were the Twin Towers.

Later that week, we actually went to the top -- there was a bar and a viewing area. I stepped out to look but almost got sick when I realized how high up we were, so I quickly stepped back. Who knew that, just two years later, this view would no longer be available? That I should take advantage of it right then?

I'll never forget that experience, of seeing the one of the greatest cities in the world from that perspective. Just as none of us will ever forget the experience of watching that view topple down, a massive crunch of steel and concrete collapsing upon itself.

And we will always remember the innocent people who were taken from this world that day -- the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, grandparents, sisters and brothers, best friends, husbands and wives. Some taken just by the circumstance of where they work, or happen to be, and some because they went to help, or took down a plane to save others.

We remember. #911

08 September 2013

Best Things: Garmin GPS Watch

I have tried many different things to figure out my running pace -- various apps on my phone, pedometers, old-fashioned watches...but it was not until I got my Garmin GPS watch was I truly able to gauge and improve my times.

A year or so ago, I was somewhat pleased with the performance of one of my apps in telling me my time, distance, pace, and all that good stuff. However, I found that often times it had my route wildly wrong, the GPS having fallen out somewhere in the middle of my run, or I found myself constantly pulling out my phone (or wrenching my arm to see) what I was doing. I needed to find a different way.

I read a lot of reviews pointing me towards GPS watches, and my research landed me on the Garmin Forerunner 110. There are other models -- some more expensive, some that sync wirelessly to the computer, some that give a lot more details than this -- but this one hit had what I needed, and hit the right price point.

What did I need? I wanted to know how far I was going, and how quickly I was doing it. Added bonus of this watch was compatibility with a heart rate monitor, which helped me gauge my exertion at certain points in my run so I could adjust accordingly. This was definitely not necessary. The face was large enough for me to easily see things at a quick glance while I am running, and the wristband was small enough to fit on my wrist (I have rather narrow ones).

05 September 2013

Take a Moment

Taken by my travel partner, A
One of my favorite things while traveling is just to be. To be present in the moment, to be part of what is going on around me, to be relaxed and
take it all in.

We got the chance to do this on the Saturday of our travels to Ireland. It happened to be an important day on two levels -- it was the third anniversary of my dad passing, and my travel partner's birthday. Kind of a weird thing, no? Two very distinct celebrations, and, almost, appropriately opposite. Without one we cannot have the other.

I had my time to go visit a church, light a candle, do an ugly cry, and make peace, again, with things. It was good...I found a lovely church which reminded me very much of one here at home where my dad always tried to get me to attend mass (and said he would come join me, though he never did, even when I took him up on the offer).

So, because of the day, the importance of just being became even more so to me. It was important to just take part and be alive in what we were celebrating -- and I for one was completely focused on that. A & I found the cheese shop he really wanted to visit, and grabbed a bunch of cheeses, bread, meats, and what nots needed to have a little picnic. Then we made our way over to St. Stephen's Green.

I think both of us were expecting a bit of a bigger park -- a la Central or Golden Gate Park -- so we searched for a bit for the right amount of green space. We landed on a plot near the bandstand; I am so glad we did.
Picnic time!

We laid out our spread as people started to congregate at the bandstand. As luck would have it, those gathering were there to practice a little swing dancing. There were only a few people around us -- period -- when we first arrived, so we had found the best spot.

And this is where I started to think the universe has a funny way of letting itself be known. We sat and ate & drank, all while watching swing. This was one of my dad's favorite dance styles, and one he always made sure we danced to (when I could fight off my aunt). Soon, a song came on that we always danced to...the last time we had, he lectured me on drinking water between my actual drinks, and reprimanded me on not being a great follower... and all I could think was how strange and appropriate it was that this song -- that I hadn't heard in years -- would be playing here, on this day. I had struggled a bit with decided to stay extra time in Dublin, and this just made me feel at peace with my decision.

As I watched the people dance, and had another little cry, A took a nap, and the teenagers beside us had a great time chasing and flirting with one another (and reminding the rest of us that being a teen is hard work). More people arrived to sit around us, and it was such a great experience of just sitting and being. There wasn't a lot of talking, rather, there was a lot of just being a part of what was going on. From the teens playing "I have your hat" to the man on the phone allowing his baby to crawl around after him, it was such a great moment.

To just be.

03 September 2013

Pour a Perfect Pint

Most people who drink it will tell you, there is a real method behind pouring the perfect pint of Guinness, though, I would venture, not many of us know just what that method is aside from pour some, let it sit, pour some more. Then, of course, wait until it settles to drink it (or risk getting yelled at!).

If you visit Dublin, it is well worth it to visit the Guinness Storehouse and learn the exact science behind pouring a pint. The Guinness property spans many blocks -- on one side of Thomas Street you'll see the old factory buildings on one side, and the current factory on the other. It is quite amazing to think all of this is made so close to the City Centre (just a quick walk away).

As you walk up to the Guinness Storehouse to begin your tour, you'll be traveling across very old cobblestone streets. You'll also be dodging some horse-drawn carriages (and the treats they have left behind), so watch your step. Throughout the days I was there, I could often smell a heavy scent of yeast... if it turns your stomach a bit as it did mine, don't worry too much as it does let up once you get inside.

The tour experience itself is fine -- you start by looking at the 9,000 year lease that was signed (great rent control!), they have some cool motion-sensor story tellers, and you can walk through and read all about the various mechanisms used to make Guinness. Then, finally, you reach a floor where it is time to taste!

Despite my great concentration... I still messed up
We first went to the tasting room. It was a cool chamber wherein they first have you smell the various essences that make up Guinness, then give you a small glass of Guinness. As they talk, they ask you to taste -- very similar to a wine tasting...roll it around on your tongue, wait for the finish, etc. It was a cool little detour from the main event...

...of pouring the perfect pint! You stand in a quick-moving line, where they instruct you, several times, to write your name clearly on this little notepad they are handing out. The importance of this becomes apparent later. You end up in a group of about 16 people, and are soon directed to a bar counter with two working taps. The kind bartender explains the method to the madness, then a few volunteers get up to pour the first pints.

But, never fear, everyone in the group gets a chance. I guess I should have paid more attention, as I was the only one to get reprimanded for doing it wrong. Go figure.

About 5 minutes later, the pints are poured and settled, and we are all now certified Guinness pourers. Armed with this knowledge and our perfect pint (which...I pity the person who mistakenly took my pint because she didn't pay attention to where she set hers down, and moved to quickly for me to grab it out of her hand -- it probably didn't taste too good because of the aforementioned wrong pour), we were free to roam in this little pub-like space, or head upstairs to the bar.

I highly, highly recommend doing the latter. You will never get a view like that of Dublin, and being able to enjoy it with a pint of Dublin's city drink.