December 31, 2019

My Top 19 Moments of 2019

When I started the tradition of writing this New Year's Eve post, it was 2011. Each year, I've added one more item, and it gets rather difficult to choose more and more "top" moments of the year. This year is especially difficult, because it wasn't a very exciting year. I spent a lot of time working on projects (which I love and am proud of!) but as far as my top moments, I had to sort through photos to remember.

In no particular order, I present My Top 19 of 2019:

1. Finally finishing the complete DIY remodel of my house! The kitchen was definitely the most dramatic change, and I am thrilled with how it turned out. I feel so proud that I did about 95% of it by myself.

2. Befriending the squirrels, and gaining their trust. They are such amazing animals! It started with just one squirrel a couple of years ago, Tuck, who eventually started to take nuts out of my hand (after a long time of gaining his trust). He must have told all his friends, because now we regularly have about six squirrels that come around every day for walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts.

I learned that squirrels have individual personalities and they are so much fun to watch. At first, I thought they all looked identical; but now we (Eli and I, at least) can tell them apart and we've named them.

3. Getting to see Aaron win his final race on my cross country team. He'd been on the team longer than anyone (since second grade, and he's in fifth now). I've always loved coaching him because he was one of the few kids who really put his full effort into the races and was always willing to go to the extra mile (literally) at practice.

The best part of this season with Aaron was watching him not only win our first race, but beat "Ferris", the kids he'd been chasing for three seasons! Ferris always placed one or two ahead of Aaron (who was usually in the top five or ten overall), and each year, I gave Aaron the goal to beat Ferris at a race. After the first race this season, I told him I can retire happy ;)

4. Having the honor of knitting this stocking for my friends (Eric and Maris) who had a baby this year. Maris's aunt knitted a stocking from this pattern for Maris when she was young, and then one for Eric when they were married. Well, her aunt can't knit anymore (I'm assuming arthritis?) and Maris had posted on Facebook one day a photo of the stockings, asking if anyone would be able to knit one for Ada, their new baby.

I get really nervous about making things for other people, because I want it to be perfect and I tend to just focus on the flaws. I also hadn't knitted anything with fair-isle color work in about a decade. However, the responses she got on Facebook were saying that they may be able to crochet it, or they might have a friend who could do it, etc.

So, I volunteered--I was happy to do something for Maris, because she was so kind to me when I was going through a bad period of anxiety and mild depression. She is really into essential oils, so she mixed up a "potion" (haha) to help with anxiety. Whether it actually works or not, just the gesture really made me feel good. So, being able to knit this for her felt nice. (I haven't actually given it to her yet! Hopefully this week.)

5. Accidentally finding these baby bunnies in the backyard (thankfully before Eli cut the grass!). Could they be any cuter?! (I could have sworn I wrote about this, but it must have just been on Instagram.) Finding them made me want to research rabbit nests, and I learned that rabbits like to make their nests in the middle of fields because they are basically hiding in plain sight (larger prey usually like to stay hidden).

The mom rabbit digs a hole for the babies, and covers it with fur and dried grass (it literally looked like a patch of dried grass on the ground--Eli only uncovered it because he saw a little fur and hoped he hadn't run something over with the lawnmower). The mom will usually only go to the nest to feed the babies once or twice a day so that she doesn't draw attention to it.

We covered it back up and I checked on them two more times (like a lot of people, I was worried they'd been abandoned, until I read up on them). But they were growing just fine! I saw the mom one time, and that was when a squirrel got a little too close--mama ran over and chased the squirrel away.

When I checked on them the final time, they weren't in the hole anymore, but scattered around it. The grass had gotten long in that spot, because we set stakes up so no one would cut the grass there. They were old enough and big enough to be on their own. It was so fun seeing them and learning about them!

6. Watching Eli play baseball all spring, summer, and fall. I feel like the only mom that goes and really gets into watching the games, but I love it. I even bought a scorebook to keep score (I happen to really enjoy doing it). Eli was the best catcher on all three teams he played on, and I was so proud every time I'd hear a parent or someone say, "Dang, that catcher has a good arm!" or something like that.

However, his fall baseball coach told us that he needs to work on hitting if he wants to continue to play on the team--Eli was hitting great in school ball, but once he played on the fall team with all the kids who play travel ball, he had a harder time hitting the different types of pitches.

For Christmas, Jerry and I paid for a one-on-one coaching lesson from a former Detroit Tiger, and his lesson is this Thursday. His confidence was really down about not being able to continue with the fall team through the winter, and it was heartbreaking for me. So, I really hope that this lesson will help (and if it does, maybe we'll do another for his birthday present; his birthday is January 7th).

7. Getting a lesson from dad in how to change the oil in my car, as well as checking the levels of the other fluids. My dad has been a car mechanic his whole life, and I wanted to learn it from him before he's not able to teach me. I wish I'd asked to watch him work on cars years ago, so I could learn to do it all myself. I can't tell you how much money I've saved over the years every time I've had to fix something with a car. Having a dad who is an auto mechanic is fantastic!

Anyway, not only did I get to learn how to do all that (the question is will I remember it??) but I got to have some cool bonding time with my dad. We don't have a lot in common, so it was fun.

8. Having a successful cross country season, even though I lost Renee as a co-coach before the season started. We'd started the team together five years ago, and this was my first solo season. I was so worried I was going to screw things up! She'd always taken care of the paperwork and administrative side of things with the school, and I just planned the training schedules.

Thankfully, partly due to a smaller team, I only had fourth and fifth graders this year, just to make sure I could handle it. It was great being able to really get to know the kids better than I had in the past. With a team of 30+, it's hard enough just making sure they are on task. With just 12 this season, I could focus on each kid's strengths and weaknesses.

9. Speaking of cross country, another "top" of 2019 was the generosity of so many blog readers. I had no idea when I posted the link to the Amazon Wish List I created for the team that so many people would donate awards and training gear! It was AMAZING, and I got so emotional every time another package was delivered.

The kids LOVED the different awards--the compression socks were the hottest item, I think--and it made them work harder. If there was an item they wanted, they had to earn it in various ways. I can't say thank you enough for the donations!

I also want to mention the donation of your old Garmin watches--we used them at every practice and it made keeping track of mileage so much easier! THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of you who donated a watch, a gift card, or something from our list. It was appreciated more than I can describe.

10. This completely random practical joke that my dad played on me. It's a little lengthy to describe the whole thing here, but I wrote all about it on this post. It was so random and hilarious!

11. Making a bed frame from scratch for Noah. He needed a new bed frame, but I just couldn't find one I liked. He frequently sat up on his bed to do homework, and I thought a daybed would be cool, if I could find one that wasn't too girly. Well, they're insanely expensive!

So, I headed to Lowe's and bought the materials to make my own. He loved it, and it's a very solid piece of furniture. I also made it tall enough for quite a bit of storage underneath, if needed. Here is the post with the details.

12. This one is so odd, and kind of dumb, but I just had to include it if I am being honest about my Top 19. I was SO excited when I found this Paslode finish nailer (Amazon affiliate link) on Facebook Marketplace. It's a very expensive tool to buy new (just under $400), and I knew I'd never be able to justify spending that much on one. I'd been borrowing one from my brother as I worked on the house.

Anyway, I saw one on Facebook Marketplace for $110--which included not only the nailer, but THREE batteries, the charger, a nice carrying case, three fuel cells, and about $100 or more worth of finishing nails of various sizes. It was an insane deal!

It was insane enough that I immediately messaged them saying I wanted it and I'd pick it up the following morning. It was a two-hour drive into Ohio, but I listened to my favorite podcasts and I really enjoyed driving the back roads (to the middle of nowhere, honestly).

I was so thrilled with the find! I now love having reasons to be able to use it. And it feels so odd, but my dad actually asked to borrow a tool from ME for once, and not the other way around, haha.

On the way home, I had to pee SO badly, and I saw a sign for a rest area. Holy cow, this was an experience in and of itself. You can read about that (and see the surprise on the inside of that building, haha) on this post ;)

13. As a parent, this was a challenge for me--but I sent my kids on an airplane all by themselves to go visit my parents who were vacationing in Hilton Head, SC. I was grateful that I could go with them to the gate and that my parents would be waiting at the gate in SC, but I was still an anxious parent. It didn't help that there was a horrible snowstorm (in April!) on the way home from the airport, and it took much longer to get home.

When I got home, I saw a text saying that the flight was delayed and they'd been sitting in the plane all that time! I desperately wanted to talk to them. I'm so glad that Delta has free texting, because the kids were able to text me from the plane. They had fun, and they felt very grown up traveling by themselves!

14. I've raved about it a trillion times now on my blog, but buying a Kindle Paperwhite (Amazon affiliate link) this year was life-changing. I've read more books since getting the Paperwhite than I had in about a decade--I bought it in April, and I've read 13 books on it since then--including three books that were over 1,000 pages! For someone who was not a reader, the simple act of switching to a Paperwhite instead of paperback turned that right around. Here is a pretty recent list of books I've read.

15. When my kids were in Hilton Head, Jerry and I took Luke to see PJ Masks at the Fox Theatre in Detroit (with a yummy dinner at McDonald's first, of course!). It was super fun to get to spend some time doing something special with Luke, and I loved watching him dance along to the songs. I know he won't remember that day, but Jerry and I always will!

16. As a total surprise, Amazon dropped off a package addressed to the following:

It was obviously for me from Jerry, and when I opened it, I was so excited to see this squirrel shirt! It was extremely thoughtful--not only am I obsessed with squirrels, but it's a bit retro looking, which is very much my style. It's rare that Jerry can pull off a surprise for me (usually when he buys me something, he can't help himself but tell me the second he orders it, haha).

17. Going muskie (also spelled musky) fishing with Eli and a family friend, Andy. Eli's biggest dream in life is to catch a muskie (a ginormous fish that is basically a fresh water shark). They are known as the "fish of 10,000 casts" because you literally just cast over and over again with a lure the size of your arm and reel it in until you catch one.

Lake St. Clair, about an hour and 15 minutes from our house, is frequently referred to as "the best muskie lake on the planet" by fishing websites and magazines. I was considering paying for a charter trip for Eli (and the rest of our family, but basically for him), which is an insane amount of money ($700!). When my sister heard that, she asked Shawn's best friend if he could take Eli out on Lake St. Clair because he fishes there every so often and he's caught several muskie. He was so kind to agree!

I wanted to go along in case Eli caught one, so I could witness it and take photos and all that. Andy's girlfriend was with us, so I spent the time getting to know her while the guys fished. We were out on the lake all day, and usually, I hate being on a boat. Eli and I are total opposites in that respect. But I desperately wanted him to catch a muskie.

He didn't get to hook one that day, but Andy hooked two and gave his pole to Eli to reel them in. Eli was super excited! He doesn't "count" it as catching his first muskie, but he loved the experience and I loved getting to see him in his element. Andy is going to take him out again next year.

18. Speaking of firsts, I had the pleasure of being with Noah when he drove on the expressway for the first time. As an anxious mess in normal circumstances, I'm surprised how calm I was while he was driving! Of course, I'd put a magnet saying "Please be patient... student driver" on the back of my car ;)

Just the fact that Noah is old enough to be driving is crazy to me! I cannot believe how fast the last 15 years have gone. It's bittersweet. I'm super proud of the teen he's become, but I so miss his tiny little voice. I came across the sweetest video while I was watching some home movies on Christmas. He was in line to walk into preschool, and he turned around and said, "Bye Mama! I will miss you!" These days, it's clear he's embarrassed of me sometimes, but what teen doesn't go through that phase?

19. I decided to end with this photo, because I felt SO content and happy in this moment. I was sitting alone, people-watching, with a peppermint mocha latte in hand (I never ever buy Starbucks, so I don't know what possessed me that day).

The weather was nice and I wasn't worried about anything. My anxiety was the lowest it'd been for as long as I could remember. The moment didn't last forever--I only sat there for 30 minutes or so--but I snapped a selfie so that I could remember how I felt in that moment.

And there it is! My favorite 19 moments of 2019. (I'm sure there are lots that don't come to mind, simply because I don't have photos of them. Usually, the best moments go without being captured on camera--as it should be! When having fun, pulling out a phone tends to break it up.

Anyway, per tradition, I like to do the same "fun facts" every year on this post, so here goes:

I ran 182.6 miles this year, down from 279.16 miles last year. Rather than feeling ashamed of this number, I feel proud. Over the last 13 weeks, I ran 3+ miles three times per week. And I feel like I got my running mojo back!

The food I consumed the most of this year was definitely ice cream. Since I quit drinking on January 1st, 2019, I found a replacement that is almost as unhealthy. Since I was able to quit drinking for a whole year (which I am working on a post about), I am going to see if I can go a whole year without ice cream in 2020 (the only exception being a cone or sundae from McDonald's). I'll write more about that on my Goals for 2020 post tomorrow.

My most memorable meal was dill pickle pizza. I LOVE dill pickles, and when I came across this recipe on Pinterest, I decided to give it a try. It was AH-MAZING. If you try it, make sure you make it as-written. It wouldn't be nearly as good with any substitutions!

My current favorite breakfast is toast with butter or coconut oil.

My current favorite TV Show is Shameless. It's been a favorite since the day I watched the pilot ages ago, but this season has made me laugh out loud so many times. I can't get enough!

My current favorite evening treat is ice cream (surprise surprise).

What I am most looking forward to in 2020? Working on my health! Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, I have plans to work on feeling better in general. I know my diet has a lot to do with it (as well as the extra weight) and I want to work hard on that in 2020. In August, it'll be 10 years since I reached a "normal" BMI, and I want to be back there before that anniversary!

Happy New Year, Friends! I'll be toasting the new year with non-alcoholic sparkling wine ;)

December 30, 2019

3-3-3 Running: Done! A Recap of the Last Three Months (and moving forward...)

Well, I made it!! I ran three miles three times per week for three months.

I missed doing a recap of Week 12, and since I was already halfway into Week 13, I figured I'd just wait until I was done and put it all together.

For anyone new, 3-3-3 running (in a nutshell) is: Running 3 miles, 3 days per week, for 3 months. My friend Thomas suggested this to me when I expressed interested in running again (after a two year hiatus), but was having such a hard time committing to it. He had to take a year off due to psoriatic arthritis, and when he got back into running, that's how he did it... 3-3-3.

I chose to do heart rate training based on Dr. Phil Maffetone's 180 formula. I used his method in 2015-2016 when training for a 10K PR and it worked so well that I wanted to do it again. However, since I was so out of shape to begin with three months ago, I decided to do ALL of the runs at my MAF heart rate and no speed work at all (which is actually what he suggests--the idea is to build your cardio system by training at a low heart rate, even if it means walking.)

The data from all this is going to be screwed up a little lot, so I'll explain that as I go.

First, I started on September 30th with a MAF heart rate of 143 beats per minute (180 minus my age, which is 37). However, I listened to Dr. Maffetone on a podcast explaining that the formula can be slightly off from that for various reasons, and since I had such good results with a heart rate of 146 bpm in 2015-2016, I ended up changing it a couple of weeks into this current training period.

So, my pace was slower for the first couple of weeks due to the fact that I was keeping a lower heart rate. Once I changed the MAF heart rate to 146 bpm, I felt more comfortable with my stride and I was able to go (slightly) faster.

The biggest problem with all this data is the discrepancy regarding running on the treadmill versus running outside. The distance on my Garmin is completely inaccurate when I run on my treadmill (on my Garmin, running at 5.0 mph will show the same pace as running 4.5 mph, for example, even though I can feel a big change in the speed).

Also, I was never sure if my treadmill's distance was correct. I did a test recently, which I feel is pretty accurate based on the way I did it, but rather than correct the distance after each run, I decided to log the distance that is on the treadmill. If the test I did was, in fact, accurate, I was actually running slightly farther and faster than the treadmill showed; but to be safe, we'll just call the distance on the treadmill at face value.

The timer on the treadmill, however, is too fast. For every 10 real minutes that pass, the treadmill will show that roughly 10:10 has passed. That's a big difference! So, I used the timer on my Garmin (which is 100% correct) and the distance on my treadmill (which is close enough) for the results.

HOWEVER, making it even more complicated, I did not do that for the first few weeks. I was assuming my Garmin was more accurate than the treadmill, so I didn't log what the treadmill said; I just logged what was on my Garmin. I have no idea how far the actual distance I ran was, except that it was most likely more than what my data shows.

Basically, what I'm saying is, the treadmill data from the whole month of October is garbage 😂

I feel that the most accurate data comes from outdoor GPS runs, and unfortunately, I didn't do many of those. For some reason, I developed anxiety about running outdoors and it causes my heart rate to be higher.

Here is a chart of all the data from when I started the 3-3-3 plan (you can click to enlarge it, but it's basically a bunch of numbers that aren't at all helpful; the yellow highlighted runs are the outdoor ones):

You can tell when I started watching the TV show 24 while running because I started running more than my required 3 miles, hahaha. I wanted to finish the episodes, which are roughly 40-42 minutes long.

When I did graphs of my pace (separately for the indoor and outdoor runs, just to be more consistent) it wasn't very helpful either. There IS a slight trend of my pace getting faster, though, which is encouraging. The red line is the overall trend, and the slope downward means I got a little faster.

This first graph shows just the outdoor runs, and begins with the first outdoor run on 10/4/19. My median pace outdoors for the three months was 13:13/mile. (I thought median would be more helpful than average in this case.)

And here is my mess of treadmill data (which I started counting from 10/31, after I started logging the distance shown on the treadmill).  So, this is only the last two months of data. I'm glad to see the overall trend being faster, but I guess it's a lot like weight loss--many ups and downs due to different variables. My median pace for the treadmill was 12:50/mile.

Unless I consistently run outside using GPS, with similar variables, it would be very hard to get accurate, helpful data.

Thoughts about the last three months:

I definitely don't dread running as much as I used to. I still have the "I don't wanna" feels before a run, but it's nothing like before. Occasionally, I look forward to it! And I always feel good afterward.

I hoped to see a bigger improvement, but like I said, the data is so inconsistent that I can't really put too much thought into that. I've been reading Dr. Maffetone's Big Book on Endurance Training, and I'd completely forgotten about doing the MAF test run. I wish I'd have remembered. I'll write more about that later.

Running at such a slow pace was frustrating at times--I felt good most of the time and wanted to speed up, but as soon as my watch beeped that my heart rate was too high, I'd have to slow down. I did not "cheat" on that part at all, however. I consistently did everything in my power to keep my heart rate below MAF.

Despite the slower pace, I really enjoy using the MAF method because it's not miserable. I don't have to gasp for breath, and I don't feel like my legs are going to buckle. While it doesn't feel like a cakewalk, it definitely feels like I could keep going for a long time. Besides, it's nice to have an excuse for a slow pace ;)

Doing this 3-3-3 running plan has made me want to continue running. I didn't look at the final run of the third month as an "end" to the goal. It was the beginning of refreshing the old habit I used to have--running regularly. I feel better about myself when I'm "a runner".

Moving forward from here...

After diving into his book, I want to jump in with both feet for January as far as the MAF method goes (this includes nutrition and lifestyle). This is going to be a HUGE challenge, but I feel ready to take it on. It's going to take an entire post for the explanation, so I will do that later this week.

As far as the running goes, it will continue very similarly to what I've been doing. I definitely want to keep running, and after reading more about the MAF method, I've changed my mind about how I'd planned to do things (adding in speed work). At least for a while. But I'll still continue running at MAF heart rate (running 3-4 days per week).

I'd really like to do more outdoor running, so I'm going to try to make myself do that at least once a week. It's going to be really hard in January and February here in Michigan! I've turned into such a baby about the cold.

Anyway, I'm very glad that I did this 3-3-3 plan (thanks, Thomas!) and I feel good about continuing to run into 2020 :)

Here are all of the (mostly) weekly recap posts of 3-3-3 in case you're interested.

December 26, 2019

TUTORIAL: How To Make Your Own Headboard (out of scraps!)

Since I've been doing a lot of DIY projects (my new favorite hobby!) and several people expressed interest in seeing posts that describe the process of my projects, I thought it'd be fun to highlight my projects step-by-step when I do something like this.

Jerry and I got rid of our headboard and footboard a couple of years ago because they were large and bulky, and I just felt like they were very outdated (even though I'd spent a ton of time painting them when I was in a hypomanic state).

When we got rid of those, we ordered a bed frame from Amazon, which I was very happy with... but it didn't have a headboard and I had no idea just how much I'd miss not having one. There was a gap between the mattress and the wall, so our pillows would wedge down in there. And if we wanted to sit up in bed, it was nearly impossible without piling a ton of pillows on top of each other.

I'd been wanting to make a headboard for a long time, and I had an idea in mind of what I wanted to do, but I just never got around to making it. Finally, I was feeling energetic a few days ago and decided to see if I could build a headboard entirely from scraps in the garage.

And I did! I didn't spend a single cent on this, because I already had everything.

Here are the materials I used:

  • 3/4-inch particle board (enough for 10 pieces that are 12" x 12")
  • An old fleece blanket
  • A large piece of canvas fabric that I'd bought when I was going to try my hand at reupholstery (I have a HUGE roll of dark gray that I'll never be able to use in a single lifetime)
  • One 2x4x8 board
  • Two 1x2x8 boards
  • Upholstery staples
  • Screws (#8 1-1/2 inch and #8 2-inch)

Tools used:
  • measuring tape
  • pencil
  • level
  • straight edge
  • circular saw
  • Kreg rip cut guide
  • drill/driver
  • staple gun for upholstery
  • Kreg pockethole jig

First, I measured the area above my bed where I wanted the headboard to be. I wanted it 60 inches wide and about 24 inches tall. That worked out perfectly, because I could easily divide that into two rows of five 12"x12" squares.

I measured and marked the wall with pencil (using the level and straight edge) so I knew exactly where the studs were and where the center of the wall was (to center the headboard). I also wanted to make sure I placed it the correct distance from the ground, so that it rested just an inch or so below the mattress.

In the garage, I found a few large pieces of particle board that I had leftover from when I made the kitchen countertops.

I cut them with a circular saw using a Kreg rip cut guide. Using the guide helped it go much faster than if I had to carefully cut freehand for each piece. When I was done, I had 10 squares that were perfectly even.

I knew I wanted a little padding between the particle board and the fabric on top, and I happened to have an old fleece blanket in the garage that I didn't mind cutting up. So, I laid the canvas fabric down first, the blanket on top of that, and then all of the squares on the blanket. I spread them out on the living room floor a few inches apart for cutting, to allow room to fold the fabric around to the back of the square.

Then, I cut out the squares (just freehand--they didn't have to be perfect).

After that, I used the staple gun to secure the fabric to the squares (holy hell, that was hard on my hands! It's a manual one, so you just have to squeeze really hard--I wound up with blisters and my carpal tunnel flared up that night.)

I laid the canvas down first, then the fleece, and then I placed the particle board on top of that. Then I pulled the sides of the fabric up and around to the back of the particle board, where I started stapling the edges.

It was kind of hard to get the corners to lay nicely, and after the first square, I started working corners first. I trimmed off some of the fleece to make it less bulky where I was stapling, too.

The stapling was the most painstaking part of the whole thing. But when I was done, I had 10 squares that were covered with gray canvas fabric, with a light padding underneath. And of course, they were covered with stray fibers of fleece (and dog hair--let's not forget that).

Next, I had to decide how to piece them all together. I didn't have a solid sheet of wood that was big enough to attach them all to, so I decided to make a frame out of a couple of 1x2x8 boards. I cut two pieces that were about 59 inches (just short of the length that I wanted the headboard to be) and some smaller 10-inch pieces to connect them.

In retrospect, I wish I'd built the frame first. It would have been easier and faster. But as it was, I placed five of the squares facedown as tightly as I could next to each other. Then I laid one of the long 1x2 boards across the center of them, and I screwed that into the squares (squeezing the squares tightly together with each screw).

Then I repeated this with the other five squares, so I had two sets of five squares that were linked together with a 1x2 across the back.

I laid the two pieces facedown on the floor and butted them right up against each other (so that there were five squares across and two down). Then, using my Kreg pockethole jig, I connected the long 1x2's with shorter 1x2's (again, squeezing the frame together as I went).

I know that the boards aren't spaced evenly, which will drive some of you crazy, but because the boards were slightly warped, I had to place the cross pieces in the spots where they needed to be pulled in the tightest.

When I was done, I was pretty impressed with how good it looked!

However, I had no idea how I was going to hang it on the wall. After some research on the web, I found a solution that worked perfectly for me (because I already had the materials).

Basically, you rip a 2x4 at a 45 degree angle right down the center. Then you'll have two long pieces of 2x4 that each have a 45-degree angle on one edge and that fit together perfectly. The idea is to screw one of them into the wall, and the other onto the headboard, and then you hang the headboard by placing the 2x4 back together. (The photo shows it better than my explanation).

The headboard is HEAVY because of the use of the 3/4" particle board (1/4" would have been much easier, but I had so much extra particle board that I wanted to use up scraps).

I wanted to make sure the 2x4 was super secure on the wall, so I screwed the 2x4 into two studs and three anchors in the drywall.

I placed the other half of the 2x4 on the back of the headboard and screwed it into several places to make sure it was good and snug.

I didn't want the headboard to wind up angled down at the bottom (with a 2x4 at the top, the top of it would be farther from the wall than the bottom). So, I used a scrap piece of 2x4 to place along the bottom, just to keep it the same distance from the wall. (I plan to either paint the 2x4's or put a trim along the sides to hide it. But for now, it just looks like this when you look closely. It's not as noticeable as the photo makes it look.

Jerry came in to help me hang it, and it was perfect! I love it. It makes such a big difference in the room. I'd still like to get a painting or photo or clock or something over the headboard to fill that space, but this headboard made a huge improvement. (The bed is against a different wall in this photo than it was in the "before" photo, but typical me--I forgot to take a proper "before" photo when I started working on this.)

Again, here is the before and after. A headboard isn't just practical, but it really makes a difference in how the room looks!

And now...

Pretty fun, right? I love making things out of scraps!

I asked recently on Facebook if anyone has suggestions for topics for me to blog about next year. One of my goals is going to be to blog daily, even if it's super short. But it's nice to get input, so if you have suggestions, please let me know!

December 25, 2019

The Best Christmas Gift Ever

Jerry had to work today, so we celebrated Christmas yesterday instead. He works in a factory that runs 24/7/365, so occasionally he gets hit for holidays. We are very used to it, because he's been working there since 2002. Thankfully, my kids never believed in Santa (just my personal choice) so we didn't have to try to explain that one ;)

I have been sick the past few days (again!) and it's annoying. This time, I just have a sore throat and I've been blowing my nose almost constantly. I was sick at this time last year, too. My friend Audrey's dad died on Christmas, and I couldn't go to the funeral because I had bronchitis and was having terrible coughing fits.

Anyway, aside from the annoyance of having a cold, Christmas was great yesterday! This year, I wasn't feeling too sure about gifts for the kids. Usually, I am super excited about something in particular to give them, but Eli's wish list was nothing but Rubik's Cubes and Noah's was nothing but socks (I'm not joking about the socks--he loves novelty socks, and those are his "thing").

Eli collects all sorts of different Rubik's Cubes and has solved all of them, so he's always looking for new ones. He has two obsessions--Rubik's Cubes and squirrels. A couple of days ago, I was still just feeling unsure about what I'd bought for him (several Cubes that were on his list), so I decided to look for one more gift that would be more unique.

I searched on Amazon for "Rubik's Cube", thinking I'd find a cool shirt or pajama pants or something. And then I saw it. The most perfect gift I could possibly have found.

A hoodie with a picture of a squirrel solving a Rubik's Cube!

When I saw that, I was SO excited and bought it immediately (it was due to arrive on December 24, which is when we were going to celebrate Christmas, so it was cutting it close--but I love Amazon). While I was looking, I asked Eli what he hopes he gets most--and he said it was something that he would never get because it's too expensive, but his pipe dream would be to get the 13x13 Rubik's Cube.

When I saw the price ($260!), I told him I was sorry, but he was definitely not going to be getting that for Christmas. He laughed and said he never expected it, but he'd just put it on his wish list anyway.

After he said that, I started thinking more about it. Eli is a REALLY all-around good kid. He's super grateful for everything (he even thanks me for dinner every night) and he never gets an attitude with me. He's the most compassionate kid I've ever known, and if there was ever a kid who deserved a special Christmas gift, he was certainly one of them. (Remember this heartbreaking story? I still get sad when I think about it and would have given him the world back then if I could!)

So, I looked on eBay to see if I could find it cheaper, and had no luck.

Finally, I just ordered it from Amazon (the guaranteed shipping marked it arriving on the 24th). Not only was I crazy excited about the hoodie, but to see his face when he got the Rubik's Cube would be worth the insane cost.

I had invited my parents over for dinner and to watch the kids open their gifts. For the last few years, we've had the rest of the family over on Christmas morning, but since we were doing Christmas yesterday instead, we thought evening would be nice. I cooked a lasagna (I need to post that recipe, because it's amazing), and while that was baking, we opened gifts.

The first thing Eli opened was the squirrel hoodie, and he kept exclaiming how PERFECT it was. I literally couldn't have thought of a more perfect gift for him. He loved it! Noah opened his socks (I bought several pairs and put them together in a box). I got him a Kindle Paperwhite, too, and some other things, but he said his socks were his favorite, haha.

Since Eli and I share an obsession for squirrels, he picked out a great gift for me, too--a pair of squirrel slippers! I always keep a pair of slippers at the back door for when the squirrels show up for their nuts--I can slip them on quickly and go outside to feed them. I love the slippers he got me!

And Noah actually MADE his gift for me, which I love. Handmade gifts are the best! He (with the help of my dad) built an amazing bird feeder:

I think I'll put it in the front yard to avoid attracting hawks again (when we had a bird feeder in the backyard, the hawks were attracted to the birds--and since the squirrels hang around there, too, I had to stop feeding the birds after seeing a hawk go after a squirrel.

Jerry bought me a sewing machine, which may sound odd, but there is a story behind it. A couple of months ago, I was helping Eli work on a project for school. He had to make a diary that appeared to have been written by a kid who survived the Holocaust. It had to look old, and one of the requirements was to have a fabric cover (such an odd request for an 8th grader!).

We cut up paper grocery bags to the size of a journal and he used those as pages. We crumbed them up and then flattened them out to make them look old. Then we made a fabric cover and I planned to use my sewing machine to stitch the pages and cover together.

Jerry went to retrieve my sewing machine from my closet, and while he was bringing it into the dining room, the latch must have been loose on the cover, because the cover came open at the bottom and the sewing machine fell out and slammed on the floor, breaking several pieces off of it. I was super upset--I loved using my sewing machine and I used it frequently! Jerry tried fixing it, but the pieces that broke were irreparable.

I'd been looking on Facebook Marketplace for another machine, but my heart just wasn't in it and I didn't want to spend the money to buy a new one.

Most of the time, I have some sort of idea what Jerry is going to get me (if we buy each other gifts--we don't always do that). But when I opened it, I was so surprised! I laughed about it, but it was perfect. Jerry knows nothing about sewing machines, but he did research on it and ended up picking out one that I probably would have chosen myself! And he was able to get a flash sale on it on Amazon, so it was $50 cheaper than it's currently listed.

My other machine was 20 years old, and things have changed a little on the machines since then, but it looks simple enough to figure out. I'm going to have fun working with it, and I'll have to think up a fun project.

Ever since Jerry's had this issue with his stomach, and throwing up all the time, he's been talking about drinking protein shakes for breakfast and/or lunch because the liquid is easier to digest than something solid. (All of his tests have come back normal, so we're back to square one with figuring out what is wrong with him.)

So, I had the idea to get him a more convenient way to make shakes to take to work with him. Our blender works great, but it's not very convenient when making shakes to go. I remembered the old Magic Bullet blenders from the infomercials way back when, and I looked it up on Amazon. There are lots of newer versions, so I compared them all and ended up buying this one with a couple of extra to-go containers.

I hoped he'd like it, and he seemed excited about it. He made a shake last night and said it was going to be much easier to make and take shakes that way. I bought protein powder and lots of frozen fruit. Hopefully it'll help with the stomach symptoms. (You can see the blender in the background of Eli's photo below.)

Anyway, after we opened gifts and were sitting around chatting, the UPS truck FINALLY pulled up with Eli's Rubik's Cube! I quickly wrapped it (I didn't want to give it to him unwrapped). And he was even more excited than I'd hoped, so it was perfect. He immediately got to work scrambling the cube so that he could work on solving it. I told him we needed the proof that it was scrambled:

At around midnight, I noticed that there was still a light on near the boys' rooms, so I went to check it out. I figured Eli fell asleep with the light on (as he often does), but he was still awake working on his Rubik's Cube! I told him good luck, and I went to bed.

This morning when he woke up, he showed me the cube and said that he stayed up until 1:30 AM, but he actually solved it! I couldn't believe my eyes.

(In the photo behind him is the headboard I made a few days ago, so I will post about that soon!)

Today, the kids and I are just going to have a "chill" day (I'd like to work on some of my blog posts for the week--I have several things I want to write about as "end of the year" updates and goals.)

Tomorrow, we are going to Brian and Becky's for Christmas at their house, Friday we are doing Christmas with Jerry's family, and Saturday, we are doing Christmas at my parents' house because Jeanie and Shawn will be in town. Lots of celebrations! :)

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

(Random tip for Christmas time: Ever since Jerry and I started doing our zero-sum budget plan, we use our credit cards to pay for everything and then we pay it off each month, as I explained in this post. We use the cards to get the benefits--cash back--and I hoard the cash back until Christmas. That way we don't have to use our regular budget toward Christmas. We have several hundred dollars saved up to spend on Christmas, and it never really felt like we were setting aside money! It just comes from the cash back on the credit cards. I'll have to write an updated post about the finance stuff--I've been using credit cards to actually save money in the long run, and it's kind of awesome!)

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