My Halloween Plush 2013

The tradition continues!  Halloween Plush 2013 is here!  I’ve been super busy with blogging and traveling so I skipped doing a costume this year (BOOO, I know), but I couldn’t let the best holiday of the year go un-plushed.

My Plush Candy Corn Pattern!

As a part of my ongoing effort to completely crowd my home with plush, I designed a new pattern this year: plush candy corn!

Halloween Plush 2013 candy corn pattern

I love candy corn, and I always thought it’d be fun to create and sell a sewing pattern on Etsy.  At the beginning of October I launched my very first downloadable PDF pattern on my Etsy shop, If you’re a sewing beginner, this pattern’s for you!

Plush Candy Corn sewing pattern pdf downloadable instructions

Plush Candy Corn pattern downloadable pdf instructions


What’s cuter than an albino snake?  A two-headed albino snake!

Lucy might spook some folks but she’s actually super friendly. Lulu (the left snake) and Cici (the right snake) like fluffy blankets and strawberry ice cream.  Lucy’s kind of a one-off design that I probably won’t add to my Etsy shop unless some crazy demand for adorable two-headed plush snakes comes out of nowhere. :)

two headed snake albino pink Lucy cute
Lucy is totally inspired by “Medusa”, a thirsty but conflicted two-headed snake.  This video just melts my heart:

Hesitation Marks: The Upward Spiral! :)

We’re taking a break from home improvement in honor of the recent holy event: Nine Inch Nails has released a new album.

I was 14 when Nine Inch Nails first graced my eardrums.  Since I’m now almost 30, this means I’ve been a Nine Inch Nails fan for over half my life.  I have all the albums, saw Trent perform live from the sweaty floor of the various venues I saw him at (St. Louis LIGHTS IN THE SKY OMG), and I own enough t-shirts to dress as a NIN fan for several weeks without repeating anything.

Trent Reznor could shit in a box and I would buy it. Hard. TWICE.

So of COURSE I WAS THRILLED when Trent came out of nowhere this year to announce a new album AND a new tour, five years after announcing NIN would “Go away for a little while”.  Five years is the usual amount of time between Nine Inch Nails albums, so Hesitation Marks is right on schedule!


Mah big, flat baby. Now all I need is a record player.

First Impressions

My first trip through Hesitation Marks was like coming home but all the furniture’s been rearranged or replaced.  It’s a weird mix of familiar and new, and everything I heard drew an instant comparison to older songs.  All new albums are born into the shadow of their predecessors, after all.

But, as usual, once I got comfy in the album and began to view it as its own work independent of previous NIN, I started to really enjoy it.  No, there’s no “Reptile” or “Last” in here.  It’s definitely “new NIN”, “old NIN’ being everything made before and including 1999’s The Fragile.

But LevelUpHouse is about celebrating the good stuff, so I don’t want to dwell on what’s not here or what Trent is or isn’t doing artistically.  (YouTube commentators have that well handled anyway.)  Let’s talk about what’s great in Hesitation Marks!


“Eater of Dreams” I love you, please show up in concert and, someone, please remix it to be at least four times longer. :)

“Copy of A”, “Find My Way”, and “Satellite” were my insta-favorites.  Modern NIN through and through, these songs fit right in with just about everything Trent’s made since The Fragile.  “Came Back Haunted” didn’t blow me away as a single, but I’m liking it more after repeated listens.

“All Time Low” was weird and uncomfortable when I first heard it.  And then suddenly… I LOVED IT.  Listen to it outside during sunset, or on an airplane while gazing out a window.  It’ll blow your mind.

“Everything” made the fanbase explode when it was released in advance of the album, but it grew on me (in a good way).  Play it LOUD, the chorus is FANTASTIC.  Almost feels like old NIN when the chorus is going.

“Various Methods of Escape” feels like a hybrid of The Fragile (right) and Year Zero, so naturally it’s a winner with me.

“Running” is one of my least favorites. It gets repetitive by its mid-point, but Jim and I enjoy the multiple layers of singing Trents.  Is he running out of Trents for his chorus? :D

“I Would For You”, “In Two”, “While I’m Still Here” sort of blend together for me in Trent’s signature “end of album slowdown”, all good and listenable but sort of lacking the distinct character of the earlier songs.  “In Two” is probably my favorite of the end of album group.

Overall, in a stack rank of Nine Inch Nails albums I’d put Hesitation Marks above The Slip and With Teeth.  It’s about on par with Year Zero, so if you enjoyed Year Zero you should give Hesitation Marks a listen.  If you’re looking for another Broken or The Downward Spiral, sorry, this isn’t it.  (If you have found another Broken or The Downward Spiral, tell me what band/album in the comments. :D)

Lyrical Analysis

But there’s one more thing.  This album, it’s so… not as melancholy as usual!

I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard the word “fun” in a Nine Inch Nails song before.  (Oops, nevermind, he says it in “Big Man With a Gun”.  How could I forget one of my favorite NIN songs?!)  

While I love “Everything”, this mid-album mashup of Jimmy Eat World and Metro Station is definitely new territory. I like it, and I wonder (hope!) it’s a reflection of Trent genuinely enjoying his new Real Life role as husband and father.

I like charts n stuff, so to finish off this new album celebration I picked a sampling of Trent-ish words and counted their occurrences in various albums.  These charts and “analysis” are completely subjective labor of love, just the idle musings of one long-time fan.

Belief/Trust words

God, lies, promises – I always liked the undertones of betrayal and broken promises in Trent’s early works.  Trent wrote the darkest, saddest songs I have in my collection.  When I feel like shit, the only artist who goes dark enough to truly wallow in it with me is Nine Inch Nails.

Lies/Lying is one of my favorite NIN motifs.  References to lies peaked with The Downward Spiral, fell for nearly a decade and then started making a comeback in Hesitation Marks.

God had a strong showing in NIN’s first major album release then cratered circa With Teeth, only to return in the very next release, Year Zero.  But God poofed again in Hesitation Marks with just 1 mention.

God is dead, indeed, but does anyone care? :D


Introspective words

References to “me” peaked during The Downward Spiral before crashing down during the With Teeth and Year Zero eras, but self-referencing was on the up again in Hesitation Marks.  “Inside” correlates somewhat with uses of “I’m / “I am”.

Side note: I’ve always suspected, but never confirmed, that Trent begins more songs with “I” than any other word.

This data suggests that The Downward Spiral, With Teeth, and Hesitation Marks are more personal, or at least use the first person perspective more liberally, in comparison to other Nine Inch Nails works.


Aggressive words

No surprises here, aggression peaked in The Downward Spiral and quickly petered out.  I consider With Teeth an aggressive-sounding album, but the aggression is accomplished more through sound and lyrical imagery than straight-up word choice.


Sidenote: Haha, I never before noticed the word “hate” isn’t used in any of Pretty Hate Machine’s songs.  Come to think of it, “pretty” and “machine” aren’t, either.


Happy/Loving/Kind words

While Hesitation Marks sure sounds happier than previous works, it’s not exactly fun in the sun.  Hope bottoms out and all the love in the world went to With Teeth.




Anyway – THANK YOU, TRENT :)

Summer Recap

Summer’s almost over!  Thank goodness, too – after three months of uninterrupted sunshine I’m desperate to see some clouds again.  We were determined to have a GOOD. SUMMER. this year and not spend it all on house projects and working overtime.  Here’s what we did!

We flew 3 hours north to Alaska and spent a 4-day weekend hanging out near Denali National Park.


We discovered, binge read, and re-read all of Saga. (Do you like life?  Do you enjoy high quality entertainment? If so, get this graphic novel.)


We drove to Leavenworth, Washington to spend a Saturday roasting in the hot sun (and eating fudge).


We walked around this gorgeous park in downtown Bellevue on a break from work during the week.


I caught the biggest spider I’ve ever seen and set it free in our front yard:


We gazed at mountains from our own neighborhood:


I rode my bike into an upscale neighborhood and enjoyed their view of Puget Sound:


I launched DIYCraftPhotography, a how-to site for crafters selling their handmade goodies online and learned a ton of WordPress, CSS, PHP, and HTML in the process.

DIY Craft Photography tutorial website for crafters

We had an amazing dinner at the BeachHouse Bar & Grill in downtown Kirkland as the sun roasted our faces set beautifully over the waterfront.


We hugged giant salmon at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery and tossed food to growing trouts.


We stopped at Houghton Beach in Kirkland on the way home from work a few times to walk the beach path as the sun set.


All in all, a great summer for the only two people in this world who prefer winter and have no idea how to have fun when it’s not cold and raining. :D

8 Ways to Maximize Your Weekend Productivity

Happy Friday!  I love this day.  That precious uninterrupted stretch of free time known as the weekend is in its infancy.  Weekend is full of potential for my projects.  I wasn’t always great at being productive during the weekends, though.

When I started working full time I became outright depressed over the drastic drop in free time.  It seemed like the weekend was just barely long enough to deal with all the chores and errands that piled up during the week.  As soon as I was done putting the last of the laundry away, it was Sunday night and time to before start the whole process over again.  It felt like all of my life, even the part where I wasn’t in the office, was dedicated to serving my employer.

So hour by hour, I reclaimed it.  My weekly goal: hit the weekend running on the project or endeavor of my choice.  The time added up.

In seven years I’ve used the time to chip away at various goals: learned basic programming skills, added art to my portfolio, started a plush toy business, developed an iOS app, fixed up a fixer-upper, and wrote this blog about it!  I’m far from having “mastered” any of these things, but they’ve given me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. If you’ve read this far, I suspect you’d like to do the same.

Below, 8 of my techniques for maximizing weekend productivity.

1. Get enough sleep each night

Crap sleep = crap output.  Being well rested is essential for high levels of weekend productivity.

If you hit the weekend exhausted, it’s probably because your week was exhausting. Don’t let the workweek rob you of your precious weekend. I think this is the most important contributor to weekend success. You must treat the week preparation for an awesome and productive weekend.

Entire books have been written about getting a good night’s sleep. This is what’s worked for me.

  • Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time. Bed at 10:15, awake at 6:45 seems to be my sweet spot.
  • Have an amazingly comfy bed.
  • Don’t let things that delay sleep into your bedroom. No TVs, tablets, laptops. Books and magazines are okay :)
  • Make your bedroom DARK.
  • Challenge yourself physically during the day. This will help make you be tired by bedtime. I typically work out in the morning for 40 minutes and take a 20 minute walk after I get home from work.
  • Don’t work late. If your job is making you work late regularly, find a new job. Seriously. You need your evening, no matter how depressingly short it may be, to decompress.
  • Write down anything that’s bothering you. Emptying your brain onto paper can have a relaxing effect.

If these things don’t work for you, get yourself to a doctor.  Your life is way too precious to spend it constantly “catching up” on sleep.

2. Write down your goals for the weekend

Writing down my goals in a notebook = high weekend productivity

I find it overwhelming to get to Saturday morning with nothing on my “to do” list. It’s too much to think of something, start it, get a decent momentum on it, and finish it all in the span of a weekend.  It’s easier to do nothing, or do less than I would have done had I simply formalized some plans for the weekend.

Keeping a notebook on my desk where I write tasks for my week and weekend has massively helped with productivity. I stare at it whenever my mind wanders and it helps me remember what I wanted to be doing.

  • Break your weekend goal down into parts. For example, if your goal is to work on your app this weekend, then make a list of three features you want to add to it. Or make a list of bugs to fix. Try to come up with about four hours of work for yourself to accomplish over Saturday and Sunday. You can always add more later.
  • Even routine things like “call home” and “wash sheets” are totally fair game for this list.

*Bonus Points*

Prioritize your tasks. Circle your critical tasks, and don’t feel bad if you complete them at the expense of all the non-criticals.

3. Block out time for your weekend project

If you truly struggle with finding time for your personal projects, then you must create time for them. You have time for things like showering and eating, don’t you? Well, your project is just as important as those things!

Pick a couple hours and declare that your project time. Don’t let anything creep into that time. Say no to invitations and obligations that will interfere with being productive this weekend.

4. Start Friday night

As soon as your basic needs are taken care of Friday night, just sit down and get started.

NO TV, NO VIDEO GAMES, NO INTERNET, NO TEXTING, NO ENTERTAINMENT until you’ve put 30 minutes into your project.

It’s okay to start small and be unambitious.

If your goal is to make some new art this weekend, open Photoshop or your sketchbook and draw for 30 minutes.  That’s all.  Give yourself permission to stop after 30 minutes if you’d rather go do something else.  Just remember: it won’t happen if you don’t do it.

If your goal has some unknowns that could slow you down (maybe you’re developing an app, haha), start simple.  Run your code.  If it runs, find something that’s easy to fix, and fix it. If you discover trouble – say, it won’t build, or your computer’s giving you crap – you can get a jump on resolving it. If you didn’t start this until the end of Sunday, you’d spend the whole evening being derailed by these problems and you wouldn’t get to do what you wanted to do.

If your goal is to get organized, start small: pick a closet or a drawer.  Pull out five items you don’t use.  You’re done.  Unless, of course, you want to keep going.

It doesn’t matter how much you do on Friday night, it just matters that you do something. You’ll start to get into the project and you’ll prep your brain to think about the project and any associated challenges. Sleeping on it will give your brain time to process the problems, and you’ll likely wake up Saturday ready to continue and with some new ideas in mind.

5. Announce your plans to everyone

Tell everyone you live with that you intend to work on your app/clean out your closet/lift weights/write for your book this weekend. Especially do this if you’re usually available 24/7 to the people you live with. Tell them you’re taking X hours to work on Z.

If you’re lucky, they’ll hold you to it. ;)

6. Do chores on weeknights

If you usually save all your chores for the weekend, you’re likely to feel obligated to do them instead of your special project.  At least, that’s how I seem to work: can’t do something for myself until the “responsible stuff” is done.

So get it done ahead of time.  Grocery shop on a weeknight, vaccuum, clean your bathroom, sort your laundry.  Do these shitty chores while you’re already tired from work, instead of when you’re well-rested and fresh on the weekend.  Maximizing your weekend productivity means getting stupid things like laundry done ahead of time.

7. Get up early on Saturday morning, go straight to your project

Dedicate a chunk of time to accomplishing your weekend's goal(s)

Get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and then go straight to your project. Don’t stop to eat, don’t check the Internet, don’t do anything that isn’t house-on-fire urgent.  While everyone else is sleeping off their hangover, you’ll be covering ground on something important to you.

Squeeze in as much as you can before you get pulled away by other responsibilities.

8. Do the worst part of your project first

If you’re dreading an aspect of your project, do that first. Start with the unknowns first. You’ll get your brain working on the problem subconciously. Bonus points if you do this Friday night, so your brain can backburner it as you sleep. You might wake up with a brilliant solution in mind. If not, at least you ruled out at least one idea that won’t work.

Honestly, the best way to begin is to begin.  Just start.  And then keep going!

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