Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Happiness is...

image from: http://nerdquirks.tumblr.com/

This Sunday at church, our pastor was talking about joy and the difference between joy and happiness. He asked us to finish the sentence, "Happiness is... " Now, there are many ways I could answer that, but one that sprung to mind after my most recent reading addiction was ..."a good book series and a hot cup of tea." I love reading. Especially the fiction variety. Even better if it is a series. I actually have had to cut out novels for periods of times because I become so absorbed. I have read boring books just to slow myself down. It's bad. Last week, I started and finished The Hunger Games Trilogy. Yes, the whole thing. Starting Monday and ending on Saturday. And it was a busy week. And no, I didn't read at work. (I was really tired though). It got me thinking about all of the fictionally series I have read more recently. I decided it would be fun to do a little comparison of the different titles.

First of all, here are the series I am including in no particular order.
Harry Potter (of course), by J. K. Rowling (Harry)
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis (Narnia)
Twilight, by Stephanie Meyers (Twilight)
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien (LOTR)
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (Hunger)
Mark of the Lion Series, by Francine Rivers (MOTL)
The Space Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis (Space)

There are more I should include here that I have read. There are probably more I should read. But, it's my blog, so whatever. Four of the seven series are geared more towards young adults and children. So, my first ranking is when I would let my (theoretical) child read the series from youngest to oldest. And this list will be in terms of content versus reading level.

Reading Age (Young to High)
1. Narnia
2. Harry
3. Space
5. Hunger
7. Twilight
Narnia is pretty obvious. It was a series made for children, nothing is too shocking, violent or sexual. Harry ups the violence and romance, but still very appropriate for children. Space might be a little on the difficult side in terms of themes, but is far less violent than any of the other books, despite the series being intended for adults. 4-6 are all pretty violent. MOTL is a Christian series that takes place after the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) while Christians are being persecuted. There are parts that get pretty violent, but it is still less violent than Hunger or LOTR. Twilight gets the end spot because of its underlying message to young girls.

Similarly, here is my ranking of the reading level, where I pay no attention to the themes. This is mostly a ranking of vocabulary and sentence structure or the amount of brain power needed to digest the text.

Reading Level (Easy to Difficult)
1. Twilight
2. Narnia
4. Hunger
5. Harry
6. Space
Twilight was insanely easy to read in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure. Even the language in Hunger was easy to get through. Space and LOTR were fairly advanced in terms of reading level.

Addictiveness (totally my personal experience)
1. Harry
2. Hunger
4. Twilight
5. Narnia
6. Space
Here, there are almost two sections for me. 1-4 were crazy addicting. I couldn't stop reading them. And when I wasn't reading, I was thinking about them. I actually read the last Harry Potter book in Barnes and Noble. In both Hunger and MOTL, I found the first 2 books way more addicting than the 3rd and final book of the series. 5-7 were not really that addicting. LOTR has a lot of down time as anyone who has watched the extended edition of the movies knows.

Completeness (how well the series fits together and the individual books complement the series, wraps up nicely)
2. Harry
3. Narnia
4. Twilight
5. Space
7. Hunger
There is actually not a huge variance between top and bottom here, but there are some differences. LOTR weaves a beautiful tapestry, where all the pieces come together and all the journey and sorrows lead to something beautiful in the end. On closing that series, I did not feel as if anything was left out or missing. I felt similarly about Harry, except that I wanted more. Rowling has even said that she wanted to develop out some of the more minor characters further in the stories. Space is a bit more disjointed. The first two books are relatively similar in theme, but the third is quite different, even though it is probably more powerful than the first two. MOTL and Hunger both had the same problem in my opinion. They both had super strong books 1 and 2, but fell short at the end. In both, the third book didn't seem to finish out the promise of the first two and I was slightly disappointed.

Overall (again, just my preference)
1. Harry
2. Narnia
4. Hunger
5. Space
7. Twilight
It's not surprising. I love Harry. The first time I read the books was in November 2007 (I showed up late) and I finished all 7 in a month. I know not everyone agrees, but I just loved that series. It felt like losing a friend when I finished. I think that is how it is supposed to be. Narnia and LOTR are classics. They get top marks in my opinion. Hunger gets a pretty high ranking because it was so darn thought provoking. More on that in a minute. Space was also really thought provoking and quite original. I almost placed it over Hunger. MOTL and Twilight were interesting and kept my attention (and were highly addictive), but were not true classics in any sense of the word.

This is getting long, but I want to delve into The Hunger Games a little, because it is on my mind since I just finished it and because it is so popular right now. I really enjoyed reading them, but I felt a little conflicted when it was all over. If you plan on reading the series or are not finished, I would stop reading my blog now, since the following will have spoilers.

The Hunger Games is set in the future (no specific date) in North America. What was the U.S. has been ravaged by wars, famines, drought, etc. and has been replaced by the country of Panem, which is comprised of the Capitol and 12 districts. The people of the 12 districts are more or less slaves to the Capitol and each district has a specialty - agriculture (11), fishing (4), electronics (3), coal (12), forestry (7), etc. 74 years prior to the start of the books, the people of the districts revolted against the Capitol and were defeated. District 13 was supposedly destroyed altogether. As retribution for the rebellion, every year, each district must sent 2 tributes, one male and one female, between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the Capitol's Hunger Games. These games are set in a large (some many miles wide) man-made arena where the tributes fight to the death and one is crowned victor. The games are part Gladiator and part Lord of the Flies.

In lieu of summarizing the whole series, I am going to end there and start with my commentary. Overall, I really enjoyed reading the books, and thought the idea for the novels was pretty clever. However, I also thought it was a bit of a soulless bloodbath. The third book in the series was the most confusing for me. Katniss (the main character) and her team go into the Capitol with the intent of killing President Snow. Most of her team dies in the mission. But in the end, the war ends before she is able to perform the task of killing Snow. In fact, there is a lot of pointless killing, including children and Katniss' sister, Prim. I kept waiting for all that death to have some big purpose in the end. But maybe that was the point. It didn't. I had to think about the ending a little too. Katniss has an encounter with Snow while he is awaiting execution. And he reveals that the new president of Panem (Coin) was directly responsible for the deaths of the children and Prim. I guess Katniss realizes that Coin is just as bad as Snow, especially when Coin suggests a new Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol as retribution. I am only assuming that Katniss agrees to this so that she is in a position to kill Coin, which she does. She had agreed to help the rebellion on the condition that she get to kill Snow. I suppose Coin is the new Snow, which is why Katniss sees it fitting to kill her. For a novel series, it just didn't feel like enough catharsis for the main characters. I kind of left the series thinking, "well, okay." And I get that Collins is trying to depict that real war, real revolution is never pretty, and veterans have very deep emotional scars. I definitely understand her point. But as a fictional series, it left me wanting something more.

I had some un-answered questions, too. In the series, North America is entirely self-sufficient and there is absolutely no mention of other countries. Since the author is using earth in the future, what happened to the rest of the world? What happened to culture? Collins almost depicts our entire society condensing down to pure materialism. And, while materialism is strong, I don't believe it is the only motivation for society. In general, the world Collins creates seems incomplete. How was the government organized? What did people do in the Capitol? How did the economic structure work? What happened to religion? Katniss deeply struggles with the deaths of family and friends, but there is no mention of any soul. For books so focused on the psyche of losing loved ones, that really struck me as odd to leave completely out. Some of the technology was implausible to me, but Collins is an author, not an engineer, so I guess I will let it pass. I am still looking forward to the movie. The first book was my favorite of the series. I'll also be interested to see how they make these movies PG-13. J assures me they have ways to do so.

I've decided to take a small break from fiction, so this week, I am reading a non-fiction book by Tim Keller. I really loved his book, Belief in an Age of Skepticism, so I highly recommend him as an author. He was also a Bucknellian, which makes him super-awesome in my book (get it? book? okay, I'm done).

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Basement: De-beige-ified

This week was extremely busy for me. I had at least one thing every single day this week (in addition to work that is). By the time I got to this weekend, I was absolutely exhausted. Nonetheless, J and I managed to finish up painting the basement this weekend with our second coat of Urban Nature (3rd coat overall).

So, here she is... all painted and put back together. Actually, I am waiting at least a week before hanging anything on the walls or have anything touch the walls. They need time to fully dry out and harden. Hence why the bookshelf is away from the wall. I am sure I will have decorating updates soon. I plan to replace the curtains downstairs, so I didn't bother hanging the old ones up.

This green is the richest color we have used in the house so far. We really love it. It is light enough so that the basement doesn't seem dark, but it is also bold. I am looking forward to further decorations down in the basement. As a hint to anyone else painting in a darker color, I found using a damp magic eraser worked better than a wet paper towel on the ceiling when I made mistakes. Although, it is better not to make any mistakes. I also used a small craft paint brush (maybe 1/4 inch wide) for tough to reach spots. It takes a while to paint everything, but it looks better that way.

This paint job of the basement has taken up the majority of our past three weekends, so I am super happy to have this task off our plate. I declare this room officially de-beige-ified.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Urban Nature

I am up blogging after watching the end of the games today. Before I get into the main event of this weekend (spoiler alert: it is more basement painting), can I just say that I am pretty disappointed about who will be in the Super Bowl this year? I don't really follow football, but Baltimore versus San Francisco would have been so much more interesting. Oh well. Back to the basement. In our attempt to prepare for this weekend, we had looked at samples on the wall. This subset is probably about a third of the total samples we looked at for the color. We knew we wanted something in the green family. 

After narrowing it down, I painted three samples on the wall. Of these three, we liked the one on the right the most... but we actually were not sold on any of them. We decided that they didn't really fit the room. So, we were back to square one. Our big mistake was not looking at the color next to the pool table originally. We liked the colors on the wall, but neglected to think about how they would work in the space. When we were re-evaluating, we took a look at a portfolio of Benjamin Moore paint samples that I had picked up at Pottery Barn over the summer. Turns out, there was a color in there that ended up working out perfectly. For reference, we ended up going with a color called: Urban Nature (or AF440). And we love it.

Here is a shot of me doing my painting contortions on the stairwell. My dad makes platforms to go on stairs for painting, but I was a dancer so I prefer my way.

Again, J did the rolling. We visited with J's cousin, her family, and J's parents on Saturday for lunch, so we did this coat on Saturday afternoon/evening. I only got about half the edge-work done on Saturday and ended up doing the rest today after church and during the games. It takes about 4 hours/coat for the rolling and 8-10 hours/coat for the edging. But we are loving the way it looks: the color, how it looks with the pool table and the flow from the beige to the green.

Only one more coat to go and we can start putting the basement back together again! I am looking forward to that! We also decided we need more lights in the basement in general. Looks like we have another project! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Engineering Education

Today, I did not do a home improvement project, but I did something I considered blog-worthy, so here we go. I spent my afternoon with some elementary school girls interested in science and math and taught them about Electrical Engineering! It was actually really fun. They asked me questions and everything... and I even got to answer why a microwave oven is called a "microwave"oven! I started off by giving a brief history of EE (from ~the 1800s onward). It was fun for them to hear about times before lightbulbs, radio, cell phones and PCs. Of course, then we got to the lab part. I sort of ... froze. I realized I needed to cover Ohm's Law, Kirchhoff's Law and circuit symbols, in approximately 5 minutes. But we got through it okay, and with a little help a lot of supervision, they got the lab done! And their little LED circuits worked. And I think they at least understand how breadboards operate (though I did get one comment that the lab was hard. Of course, they were doing something I didn't do until I got to college). So, just to share, I am attaching my lab that I made up that goes through the same theory we went through. We had talked about Morse code as being the predecessor to text messaging, so they then could use the push button in their circuit to spell out Morse code messages!
Everyone get that? I hope you all enjoyed my little foray into STEM education! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tea Time and Primetime

This weekend turned out to be quite productive, despite it being pretty cold. First, I did a little mini-project on Friday evening. This one was inspired by Centsational Girl's similar project. I was excited to make my own tea towels for the main floor half bath.

First, I bought same floursack towels from Amazon.

And some craft paint and fabric medium for the stamps.

I mixed the craft paint and fabric medium one to one and rolled it onto my stamps with a mini foam roller. To get each stamp even, I rolled the paint on the stamp each time.

Anyone recognize the stamps? I had gotten these for our wedding - the larger leaves were used for the Sunday Brunch invitations and the smaller ones for the place-cards and program. :)

I think they turned out pretty well and look good on our hook. I still have more blank tea towels, so I may try to find more stamps and make some for the kitchen.

The second project was the start of the very large task of painting the basement. Since our entire house was beige when we first moved in, we have been wanting to add color downstairs for quite some time, especially since the pool table is beige, making the downstairs a sea of beige-ness. We also realized that we would need to carry whatever color we chose all the way up the basement stairs because there was no clear break point for it downstairs. We are not painting the main floor, but the wall that the stairs is on will be painted, so it needs to blend well with the main floor (this will make more sense in pictures). The first step was to prime all the walls. From our experience in painting this bouse, we are well aware how the walls tend to absorb the first coat of paint, so we knew we needed to prime. First, here are some pictures from before this weekend. And yes, family is no longer a journey to forever. We decided to remove the wall decal. J never did like it and I don't really get it. We'll have to find a nice picture to put there.

I washed down the walls and prepped the area on Friday afternoon. And then, we painted all day on Saturday. I did the "cutting in" or the areas by the trim and ceiling, and J rolled for me. It took me from 9 - 5 just to do the detail work, so I am super thankful that J helped me. It took 1.5 cans of primer, which was exactly what we had on hand, so that was nice. We will need two coats of color paint, so we determined that we need 3 cans of paint for the color.

Today, I ended up going back over a few places and making touch ups, and I ended up removing the shelf that is pictured here over the bar.

Now it is gone. We don't know whether we should re-install it or not once we are done painting. What does everyone think? We were having a hard time deciding whether to keep the shelf or not.

There she is - all primed and ready for some color. Of course, we haven't exactly decided on a color yet. We have set ourselves a deadline of before next Friday so that I can pick up the paint on the way home from work. We want to paint the color fairly soon, but next weekend is pretty busy, so we will have to see when that actually happens, but definitely within the next two weeks. We knew this project would take some time and planned for that, so we are okay with our stark white basement for now. Actually, as J noted, it is actually a welcome change from all the beige. More updates to come.

In other news, I tried to sand down the awkward piece of unfinished wood above the fireplace (you can view it from some of the pictures above). And I discovered that sanding indoors creates a lot of wood dust. So, that didn't quite turn out as planned. I still feel like I am smelling the wood dust, but it may be my imagination. I aired out the room as soon as I noticed the problem (which, by the way, made it really cold). *Sigh* I did manage to make it less splinter-y, which I suppose is an improvement.

All in all, quite a lot of work for one weekend, but it was nice to make headway in this large painting job that has been hanging over our heads.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First Snow of 2012

As it turns out, I wasn't feeling too hot today, so I was at home during our first snow of 2012. I was actually quite content to lay on the couch and watch the snow fall. It was nice not having to worry about the traffic, too. Good timing, huh? (By the way, I promise I wasn't feeling well).

Anyway, in the afternoon, I went out and snapped some quick photos of the house. I thought I would share!

Wow - two posts in 24 hours. I think that may be a record!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Change in Plans

We were all set to go to Annapolis this weekend. We were going to see J's cousin and her family and then go to a cookout at a friend's from college. But, as it turns out, J caught a cold from his co-worker and we ended up staying home this weekend. So, instead our weekend was filled with homemade chicken noodle soup, herbal tea, video games, and... finishing up the painting job in the living room. In all honesty, although we were bummed to miss out, it was nice having a relaxing weekend at home after all the holiday running around. We also watched Michael Moore's "Capitalism, A Love Story," which was a documentary about the housing market collapse. He is pretty strongly opinionated, but he brought up some good points about the intertwining of politics and the economy. Anyway, back to painting. I decided that it was high time I got the doors in our foyer to match and to paint that bay window, as I mentioned in blog post: here.

Here is a before shot of the bay window. Notice how the curtains don't really match the color of the molding.

And here is the unpainted closet door next to the painted front door. Yea, that needed to be fixed.

Here is one of the many blemishes I wanted to cover on the bay window by painting.

Check out how peachy the paint was.

See the difference in colors? Sidenote: I was using Sherwin Williams Trim and Cabinet paint in Snowbound.

Here she is all painted. It took about 3 coats to actually get a good covering. I recommend multiple thin coats of paint, especially when using a brush, which can leave stroke marks.

Same color!

Here is the front door with the bay window and J playing on the Wii.

And now the curtains match!

I cannot tell you how much cleaner it looks. I am making sure the base is super dry before I put anything back on it, so that will have to wait a few days. J was really impressed when it was done, and I was super happy with the results. We also finally used up that can of trim paint, which I had used to paint:
the master bath
the master bedroom
the guest bedroom
the kitchen
and now the front door, closet and bay window

Not bad for one can of paint. I will need to get more. I am slowly getting rid of all of the peach trim paint which means it will take me a while to get it all completed.

I thought I would share a few tips, especially when it comes to painting trim.
1. Before painting, take a damp rag and clean off the surface. Wait for the surface to dry. I do not do any other prep work for trim. For walls, I use a damp, almost dry, very large sponge (like you would use to wash your car) to clean them.
2. Have a moist, clean paper towel on hand. I never tape around my projects, but I always have a damp paper towel, so that I can wipe off any mistakes. Before (latex based) paint is dry, it is very wipe-able. After it is dry, it isn't. The key to not using painter's tape is mostly practice. Use it a few times, while you work on perfecting your strokes.
3. Use a small trim roller whenever you can. The coverage is more even and it goes a lot faster.
4. I don't get my painting done in one chunk of time. Instead of washing out my brush and roller every time I take a break, I wrap them in pretty damp paper towels and place them in a plastic bag. Everything stays moist for when you are ready to work again. Don't let the paint dry out.
5. I use a small, angled brush. Smaller brushes give you better control.
6. Paint in the same direction of the trim (parallel not perpendicular).

I hope everyone had a great weekend!