Friday, June 29, 2012

Ten Things to Smile About

June has flown by... and guess what time it is again!

1. Having a piano. We don't play it every day, but it's so nice to have it there when I need to de-stress or when Nathan gets the urge to play.

2. Going to my family reunion! It was so awesome to see so much of my family and reconnect with them.

3. Learning how to do silk painting and creating an awesome wall hanging with Nathan.

4. Doing a little better at making dinner more often. And not always chicken, either! I made tacos, hamburgers, pizza, pork roast with twice baked potatoes, white chili, and hawaiian haystacks, which all together fed us for nearly half the month (maybe more!), and we were out of town for a week. Not bad at all (for me).

5. Discovering perler beads and the endless possibilities for crafts! And consequently, lots of quality time with my husband. :)

6. Spending time with friends and staying up far too late playing (and sorting beads... lots and lots of beads).

7. Finding a new sound system for a really killer deal - $60 when it was originally over $200

8. Cutting my hair super short

9. It finally being warm enough in our basement apartment to sleep with only one blanket on the bed instead of 2 or 3

10. Having the highest average score on my team at work for the surveys we get back from customers rating our service (even though it doesn't really do anything except make me feel accomplished...)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Perler Beads: Castlevania

The next showcase resides on the wall over our laundry closet. Because really, who doesn't think of skeletons, vampire bats, and Dracula when it's time to do the laundry (again)?

From Castlevania 1: Stone snake head and Simon throwing an axe at a bat

From Castlevania 2: Skeleton, Simon, and a mummy

From Castlevania 3: Trevor vs. Death

Close-up of Death because man, he turned out really well.

And finally, the whole thing to give a sense of scale.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Perler Beads: Megaman 2

One of the first things we made with perler beads (once we had all the right colors) was Megaman. After all, we had a light switch that was just perfect for him to stand on, just like in the opening of Megaman 2. And then we had to make some other guys to go along with him...

From left to right, marching across the living room wall. Quick Man, Wood Man, Metal Man, and Air Man.

See? Perfect light switch to serve as a building for him to stand on. Heat Man, Flash Man, Bubble Man, Megaman, and Crash Man.

And the final touch... down below, an extra life over the internet jack and an energy tank over the power outlet. Strangely fitting...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Perler Bead Fun!

It's time to fess up to what I've been up to for the last week... a friend introduced me to, and on their site I rediscovered... perler beads! Perler beads are little plastic beads that you put on a pegboard in cool designs and then iron to melt the beads together. I used to have them as a child and make all manner of useless coaster-like objects. They were pretty fun back then, but geekcrafts made me reconsider their entire purpose in life. Turns out they are absolutely perfect for recreating 8-bit sprites from old video games!

You can probably see where this is going... what with Nathan's retro game collection and  my crafty tendencies (and an affinity for projects that you can finish in an evening), perler beads became our new obsession. All my remaining gift card from Christmas was devoted to buying beads. (Yes, I still had Christmas bonus money. It's amazing how long you can make an American Express gift card last.) Best of all, we both enjoy making perler creations, so it's good bonding too! Within the last week we've worked on new creations every night, and we have an ever growing list of things we want to make from our favorite retro games.

The question then became, of course, what we would do with all of them. But that was easily solved: a bit of sticky tack on the back, and voila, wall decorations for the whole house!

Feature 1: Dr. Mario and accompanying viruses around the door to the closet under the stairs 

Feature 2: Final Fantasy I, showcasing Black Belt, Red Mage, White Mage, and Thief against Garland on the wall between the writing room and bedroom

But where are Black Mage and Fighter? Wonder no more...

Feature 3: Black Mage and Fighter talking to Sarda above the mirror by the writing room (inspired by 8-Bit Theater)

I'll be featuring other sets as we finish them, so stay tuned for more awesomeness! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Twice Baked Potatoes

I tried a new recipe on Sunday - instead of (relatively) boring mashed potatoes, I felt extra ambitious and went for twice baked potatoes. Here's what I did, modified slightly from the recipe on that link:

Twice Baked Potatoes


4 large baking potatoes
1/2 c bacon bits
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4-1/3 c dried onion


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  While it's preheating, scrub the potatoes and poke them with a fork.

2. Bake potatoes in preheated oven until a knife slides in easily and they are kind of squishy. This took about an hour and a half for me, though I bumped up the temperature for the last half hour to 400 degrees F. Leave the oven on at 350 F when you take out the potatoes.

3. When potatoes are done allow them to cool for 10 minutes. While they are cooling, measure out the bacon bits, sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 c shredded cheese, and dried onion into a medium-large bowl..

4. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into the bowl with the other ingredients; save potato skins. Leave about 1/4 in of potato in the skins to make them a little sturdier.

5. Mix potato goop with a hand mixer until well blended and creamy.

6. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese.

7. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Makes 8 potato halves, which is about 8 servings if you serve it as a side dish. I hear you can easily modify the recipe to use with small potatoes if you want to serve them as appetizers, too.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture before they were all consumed, but they were really good. I served them with pork roast (cooked in the crockpot with 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 packet of Liption onion soup mix, and 3/4 c water for about 6 hours on high for most of the time) and fresh pineapple, with homemade donuts for dessert. Which reminds me, I'll have to post about homemade donuts sometime too...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Silk Painting

Final post about my family reunion, I promise. :) But silk painting was cool enough that it definitely merited a post all to itself.

In a nutshell, silk painting is where you take a piece of silk and paint a design onto it. The Estes Park craft cabin had tons of designs they had created that you could choose from, or if you were really ambitious you could draw your own. Being not-so-artistically-inclined in the drawing realm, we opted for an abstract design they had on display (abstract so that, as Nathan said, if we messed up nobody could tell).

Once we chose a design, we got our piece of silk (11"x60" I believe) stretched onto a wooden frame, and we began tracing the design with this liquid wax substance called resist.

Drawing the pattern with the resist.

It was a two person job. Well, it could have been one person but it went much faster with two...

Next, we had to let it dry for about an hour. It was conveniently lunch time, so that worked out well. Then came the fun part: painting it.

Here it is about a third of the way into it. Nathan's side is on the bottom of the picture, and I'm working on the other end.

There are a few different techniques you can use during the painting process, but it's pretty straightforward for the most part. You can either put the fabric dye onto dry silk for a deeper, richer color (but it's harder to get it even), or get the silk wet first and then paint it for a more even paint job but not as deep colors. We mostly did wet painting, because that also allowed you to do cool techniques like making gradients where the colors shaded from one to another.

We kind of went crazy with gradients. But they were really awesome. You can see my sister's in the background too; it looked absolutely amazing when it was finished!

The last technique we utilized was salt - if you put table salt or rock salt on the paint before it dries, the salt sucks up some of the paint and makes cool patterns (big ones with rock salt, and small ones with table salt). We used rock salt primarily on the black background to add some fun textures (and disguise our uneven paint job). It ended up looking very cool. In fact, the guys working in the silk painting room kept coming over to see how it was coming and exclaiming over how sweet it was. (One said it would make an awesome cover to a Coldplay album.)

Once it dried, the silk painting guys washed out the resist for us, and it was ready to display!

The lighting is not doing the colors justice at all. Oh well. They're much more vibrant in person.

Though we would have loved to hang it in a window, there weren't really any that would have worked well in our basement apartment. :) So we opted to hang it over the entryway connecting the living room to the rest of the apartment instead. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. I did the side on the left, and Nathan did the side on the right, and miraculously the two sides mesh very well. It was more fun for me doing it together with Nathan than it would have been doing two smaller ones separately, especially since it allowed us to get a bigger project done in a decent length of time. (It probably took about 3 hours for us to make, 4 if you count the time for the resist to dry, but it was projected to take 5-7 hours if you made it singlehandedly.)

I also want to add that 3 of my nieces and sister also made silk paintings of their own, and they all turned out lovely. I wish I had pictures of the final products for each of them to show you how talented they all are.

So final verdict: I'm glad Nathan convinced me to do this with him rather than make some jewelry, which I do at home anyway. Hooray for trying new things!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Survive 9 Hour Car Trips with Six Children

To save money on gas, we opted to drive with my brother's family to get to the family reunion last week. It was in Colorado, an 8.5 hour drive. The situation in a nutshell: 1 twelve passenger van, 4 adults, 6 children (well... 5 children and 1 infant). Overall, it went quite smoothly, but I thought I'd share the games we came up with to pass the time.

Game 1:

Starting with A, go through the alphabet letter by letter and find something outside the car that starts with that letter. Examples: A - airplane, B: bus, C: car, D: deer, etc. It must be something visible (we didn't let them count "wind" for W, but "valley" was okay for V). Once you reach Z, go backwards. Then look for numbers (primarily on license plates, trucks, and signs). We got through A-Z, Z-A, 0-13 before they lost interest.

Game 2:

Earn 1000 points to get a prize (in this case, the prize was watching me play Plants vs. Zombies on my iPod Touch for an hour). The rules of how you earn points will vary depending on your location, but essentially you earn points by finding certain things outside the car. Here are a few examples of things we used:

- speed limit signs (10 pts)
- passing a semi (20 pts)
- counting 10 moving semis going the opposite direction (20 pts)
- lakes (10 pts)
- rivers (5 pts)
- livestock (1-3 pts per animal)
- trees (1 pt each)
- fire hydrants (20 pts - but they are worth 100 pts if the 2 year old notices them!)
- motorcycles (50 pts)
- absolutely nothing (20 pts) (We drove through Wyoming. It was really empty.)
- road signs (15 points for every 5)
- not whining if it's not your turn to earn points earns you bonus points (up to 100) for when it is your turn.

The point values shifted somewhat depending on how rare something was; they also all decreased after the total points earned got over 900. Once they reached 1000 points, they had to do a finale. The finales we had them do were:

- all say "oooooooohhhhh" every time we went around a curve for 5 consecutive curves in the road
- find semi trucks with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple cabs
- figure out approximately how many semis we have passed going the other direction (and counted) throughout the day (at least 200, probably more)
- get the 2 year old to say "fire hydrant" even though there weren't any for miles and miles in any direction

When it wasn't their turn to play the points game, the rest of the children read books, worked on puzzle books or Sudoku, or played with travel Tangrams. Poor baby S got the raw end of the deal, having nothing at all to do the entire time. When she was really bored I held a rattle in front of her and turned it back and forth, which was apparently fascinating enough to keep her content until my arm got tired. Young T took a lot of naps (to the detriment of bedtime) and worked on a block puzzle when he wasn't spotting fire hydrants.

What were your favorite games to play in the car as children?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Family Reunion Recap part 2

Back for more? It's time for the rest of the family reunion recap. I bet you're super excited to read about our other adventures. This one's a lot more picture heavy - apologies in advance!

Wednesday: The first activity on the agenda after breakfast was mini golfing. Estes Park has a mini golf course available for any guests to use for free. So we rounded everyone up and headed down for a round of mini golf. Of course, it would have taken far too long to go in one big group, so instead we opted to split into 5 groups of 4 and go from there.

Group 1: my sister, Miss M, E1, A1

Group 2: E2, T, me, Nathan

Group 3: Mom, PMJ, Baby S, Young T

Group 4: PJJ, Miss E, Young M, R

Group 5: Dad, A, G, A2

We all had a lot of fun, and nobody got heat stroke. I didn't get the lowest score by a long shot, but I did respectably well. (The final scores in our group for 18 holes were T: 58, N: 59, me: 62, E2: 156. E2 was very meticulous at counting every stroke.)

Here are a few of my favorite action shots:

T helping E2 hold the putter correctly

Young T playing shuffleboard.

Wednesday afternoon we had a private archery lesson scheduled for the older kids and any interested adults. It was probably my favorite activity.

PJJ, G, Nathan, Mom

Miss M, A1, me, E1

I didn't do that great, but at least on one set I got all four arrows in the target. Someday maybe I'll figure out how to aim.

Wednesday evening we rented two puzzles from the game lodge and did one of them in the cabin, staying up til 11:30 to finish it while it thundered and flashed lightning and poured rain outside.

Proof of puzzle completion.

Thursday: Thursday morning we had someone T&G knew come to Estes Park to take professional pictures of our family. It was supposed to be Thursday night, but we moved it up when there was a 50% chance of showers that evening (remember the campfire incident?). Turns out it didn't rain that evening after all, but we were still glad to have gotten it done in the morning.

After pictures, we finally got around to visiting the craft cabin, which is chock full of fun things to do that cost money. My niece Miss M wanted to do everything, of course, but if she had to pick just one, it was the most expensive one - silk painting. First hearing about it, silk painting didn't sound all that thrilling, but I soon changed my mind... Nathan and I ended up spending a good chunk of the day doing one of our own together. I think I'll make a post about that on its own so I can do it justice.

A little preview of A1's silk painting for the impatient. You can also see E1 working on hers in the background.

Once we finished our silk painting (and I resisted the jewelry station), we finished the second puzzle we rented. As we left to take both puzzles back, we passed my nephew outside the cabin who immediately exclaimed "you can't take them back, I wanted to help with them!" with a quivering lip. So we took them back and got another one he could help with instead. Of course, he chose the 1000 piece one that was in the shape of a deer instead of a normal rectangle... and then when we opened it up we discovered pieces from two other puzzles mixed in, so we had to sort them first before we could start working on the puzzle we actually got, and then by the time we began working on the deer it was time for dinner. And then we decided to forget it and took it back (with the extra pieces in a separate bag, so it wasn't all fruitless). We played more Poohead instead and packed all our stuff up. We all stayed up way too late (E1 and Miss M, who were in the same room as me, Nathan, and my sister, were up til at least 10:30 talking), but you know, that happens on the last night of a family reunion.

Friday: The morning was spent eating breakfast and packing the cars. We headed out around 9:30 and arrived home (home at last!) at 7pm, by which time I had a splitting headache and was pretty much useless the rest of the evening. But it was so nice to have a weekend to recover before having to jump back into the daily grind.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Family Reunion Recap part 1

Sorry for the long hiatus; I've spent the last week in Colorado at a family reunion and was too busy having fun to post anything. :) But don't worry! Now you get to read all about it in my painfully detailed recounting!

Saturday: woke up at 7ish with a goal to leave by 8am. We all knew it probably wouldn't happen. Miraculously, Nathan and I were ready at 8, but the van wasn't packed completely, nor were all the kids totally ready. (We rode with my brother's family. The ride itself merits a post of its own.) We ended up heading out around 8:45 am - not too bad, really. We only stopped twice on the drive to Longmont, CO, and made it in 8.5 hours. T&G fed us dinner, we talked a bit, and then we all crashed for the night. My other brother arrived earlier that day, meaning there were 17 of the 20 that were coming to this shindig gathered at that point.

Sunday: Church at T&G's ward (including a Sunday School lesson by my brother T - we all sat on the back row and tried not to be too disruptive :P) followed by lunch. Then we had a rather uneventful afternoon of talking, game playing, and children only getting a little bit hurt as they played in the backyard. We also went for a walk.

Us on a walk.

My niece E1 made tasty Norwegian pancakes for us to eat for dinner (and I definitely want to get her recipe!). They're similar to crepes but somehow more delicious. 

Monday: Nathan and I decided we both needed haircuts badly. We actually meant to get them before leaving, but 1) ran out of time and 2) didn't know of any good places in our area that were not expensive. My brother recommended a place that was decent. 

Taken Tuesday on our hike. I got mine cut super short in an A line and Nathan just got a few inches off the back and cleaned up the sides a bit.

Mom and Dad and my sister got in soon after we arrived home from that little adventure, thus completing the gathering of the Jenkins family (with the exception of one brother and his family who couldn't make it).

We packed up and left around 2:30 to drive to Estes Park, a YMCA park in the Rockies where we were staying. Monday evening was spent settling in to our hotel rooms, playing on the playground, eating dinner, and having Family Home Evening in the small cabin we rented as a gathering place. (I made some of those yummy granola bars as the treat, and helped G make some gluten free brownies too as an alternative. Both were a hit!) Some of the adults stayed up late playing Poohead in the lobby of the hotel as well.

The view outside our balcony.

The cabin. And some people, too.

Tuesday: Tuesday started with breakfast in the mess hall (yes, they fed us 3 meals a day as part of our package, and yes, I ate too much every single meal) followed by a hike in the mountains. First we hiked up the service road on accident (past the manure dumping ground from the stables), then half the group peeled off to head back while the rest of us hiked Bible Trail.

My dad took the picture.

On the service road we saw a garter snake, which elicited many screams from my nieces (something I found vastly amusing). On the actual hike, we didn't see much in the way of wildlife, but I did get a good workout hiking up the relatively steep trail.

After lunch, some of the kids went to participate in some activities/classes that the YMCA people were doing. Nathan took a nap, and I read in the hotel room and watched the ground squirrels tussling and running around on the grass below our balcony.

Pictured: one ground squirrel.

Dinner was followed by a brief respite (and an elk sighting!) before heading over to the campfire pit we rented to build a fire and roast some marshmallows (and make s'mores). While we were getting the fire going, it began to storm (well, it had actually been raining off and on all afternoon, but now it started to thunder and lightning). Then it started to pour, and hail, and we all looked at each other and laughed at our bad timing. Fortunately, the rain/hail stopped after 15 minutes or so, and the weather cooperated after that. (No pictures of the campfire though.)

We played more Poohead that evening in the lobby of the hotel, rounding out the day quite nicely.

And that concludes the first half of the family reunion. More to follow.

Friday, June 1, 2012

New Thing

To celebrate Nathan finishing the GRE (and also because we've wanted one for a really long time), we finally decided to purchase an electric piano. Why electric? We'll likely end up moving several more times before we settle down for good, and I'd really rather not mess with moving an actual piano. We'll probably end up getting a "real" one eventually, but for now this meets our needs quite nicely. (Plus I don't have to worry about changes in temperature from being next to the door making it go out of tune this way.)

We have to sit on a kitchen chair with a book on it to make it the right height. 

We basically rearranged half our living room to make it fit right, but it was well worth it and we're both happy with both the new set up as well as the piano itself. Changes we made: a bookshelf used to reside where the piano now does. We moved that bookshelf to another spot where a smaller bookshelf had been, and moved the smaller bookshelf to the wall next to the piano (where the picture is being taken from, essentially). Maybe I'll get a better picture when Nathan isn't using his phone for talking to people. :P 

My initial impressions: I can still tell a difference between it and a regular piano, but this particular model is much closer to a real piano than any other keyboard I've touched. It has about 500 different sounds and a bajillion options. I fiddled around with them a bit tonight and I'm pretty sure I'll never figure it all out completely, but it seems to be extremely versatile far beyond what we'll use anyway. The keys feel almost right (they are weighted) - not exactly what I'm used to but within an acceptable range that you'd expect from different kinds of pianos anyway. I like that you can plug in headphones; I love listening to Nathan play, but it's nice to have the option if we need it (like if he wanted to play in the middle of the night, or when I was exercising to Dance Central). I do have a bit of trouble getting dynamics right, but that's never been my forte (get it... forte? dynamics?) anyway. The sound as a whole is very piano-like... well, it is when you have it on the piano setting at least. XD

Now all we need is a proper bench and we'll be set! Until then, my college organic chemistry book on our extra kitchen chair will have to fill in. Hooray for music!