last week at next gen house

SOME FUN INTRO. I got nothin!

Oh wait. Here’s a photo of my friend’s cute grandson’s class alligator, Al, enjoying the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer game on Saturday. Because it’s so cute.

I asked him how Al liked the game and he said Al missed the first half because his face was turned up and he was bird watching. No worries, Al, the second half was more interesting anyway.


Last Week in Running

This was my lowest mileage week in training because I missed two runs. Finally hit my wall this week with exhaustion (you know, the weepy kind) and once I recovered from that, I decided to just go forward doing what I can until the ship can fully right itself. And you know what? I PR’d in the 5K this weekend. I am learning this training cycle that you don’t have to hit every single run and make everything perfect to meet your goals. Rest is so important and when my body screams that it needs to rest and I listen? Both times that has happened, I PR’d the following weekend. I’ll write more about that in a race recap this week, but it’s a lesson that I am always repeating.

Circumstances aligned this weekend to also put me at a place called Thick Bikes on the South Side on Saturday. And I came home with this.


That’s a big girl bike. My first bike since I was a teenager. And one that actually fits me, at 4’11”. Mark has been riding a bike for awhile, doing his first triathlon last year. I was vaguely interested in biking last year, but not enough to actually go buy a good bicycle, especially with marathon training. But this year when I set my running goals, I decided to train more intensely for the Pittsburgh Half and then run more casually in a maintenance style for the summer and fall. Still running races, but not gunning for PRs or going for another full. I wanted to spend 2015 enjoying running again and get to do a ton of other active stuff this summer that I love, like camping, hiking, kayaking….and bicycling? So when circumstances aligned, I decided to make the leap. The good people at Thick Bikes spent a good deal of time with us trying to help me find the bike that felt right, especially when I was pretty wobbly at first. (And apparently my whole life in an effort to ride a bicycle with short legs, I was always putting the seat too low. On a bike that’s made for someone with a small frame, you don’t have to do that to compensate, so I felt like I was high and flying on this thing.)

Sunday the weather was so gorgeous that Mark and I got to ride together on the Panhandle Trail by our house – just under 5 miles for my first real ride on a bike in more than 15 years, but it was so much fun. So. Much. Fun. I can’t wait to spend time out riding this year.

Last Week in Eating

We had some really good meals this week, with a repeat of the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas, but this time with black beans from Weatherbury Farm that we got through our CSA. I don’t know why I have always been afraid of cooking dry beans, but it was virtually no harder than cooking rice, except for a slightly longer cooking time and the fact that they soaked in water while I was at work. Seriously, so easy. And so cheap.

Mark made venison fajitas with a marinade that has lime and tequila in it, so no surprise those were great. I also made a broccoli and rice casserole that’s one of those delicious, cheesy comfort foods that you could eat non-stop and then realize you ate the whole 13×9 pan.

Sunday, I made a chocolate chip cookie recipe that turned out interesting – almost like shortbread balls with a ton of chocolate chips in them. Different, but good.


cookie balls


I am looking forward to a moderate amount of reasonable carbs this week. I say moderate and reasonable in the same sentence so that I remind myself that carbing up is not about eating 52 pounds of pasta.

Last Week in Homesteading

The big win of the weekend was finishing Mark’s t-shirt blanket. It was supposed full length, but apparently I measured for a full length Joanna and not a full length Mark, because it is a little too small for him. But it works as a couch blanket, at least. There’s always next time for correct measurements!

I think the next thing I’m going to sew is an apron for my niece. Just have to think about what kind of fabric to use. And which pattern to use. And hopefully I measure that project for my niece’s size and not mine…

Last Week in Reading

Still listening to Dead Wake on audiobook. It’s long, audio-wise, and several commutes last week left me without my headphones since I got smashed into place on the bus where I couldn’t reach my phone. (And one of those commutes home I got to listen to a man practice his choir piece! While he was wearing headphones! Lucky me!) I’ll get there, but it’s an interesting listen so far. I especially like the stories about individual passengers on the ship, like a famous lady architect. And the stories about espionage and code breaking.

I finished Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was a fun and silly read. I can see why people get into it, that’s for sure.

Started reading Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids this week and I’m flying through it. A lot of the viewpoints don’t represent me or my decision to remain childfree (at least so far), but I am encouraged by a book that seeks to make these voices heard above the stereotypes. Which I feel like I encounter in at least one form every single day of my life. And I have been called selfish, shallow and self-absorbed as it relates to my decision, so that part hits home. If you’re a parent and you just don’t get why someone would choose not to be one, this might be a good book to open your mind.


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Star Trek Quiet Book


I’ve been pretty absent from this space for the past several weeks, due in most part to this project, which took up all of my available free time from early December through Christmas Day. (Literally, finished it about an hour before my family arrived on Christmas.)

The project? A Star Trek themed quiet book for my almost three-year-old niece.

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It’s almost entirely hand-sewed, with the exception of most of the pages being machine sewed together (in lines that aren’t straight! hooray!). I bought the pattern here, after someone sent me a link to this blog awhile ago. My niece is finally old enough to be able to really play with a quiet book, so I thought Christmas would be a good time to finish it.

I’m pretty proud of how it came out, considering that I’ve sewed nothing but a t-shirt blanket before. There are definitely things I’d do differently if I made a second one. And I think I used the wrong needles on my sewing machine for felt, which led to having to hot glue the last couple pages together at the last minute. But all in all, I’m glad I was able to translate my love of Star Trek to this handmade gift.

Here’s a look at the inside pages.

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It looks like this page says “Meet me crew” from the angle that I took the photo, but it actually says Meet the Crew. These are doors to the holodeck. Open it up, and you get…

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Finger puppets! The whole crew is there, including the two ladies that I added to the pattern in the name of accuracy and gender equality. From left: Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, Lieutenant Commander Data, Lieutenant LaForge, Dr. Crusher, Lieutenant Worf and Captain Picard. (I used their rankings as of the beginning of the show, knowing that some of them move up in rank as the show and movies went on. Details, you know.)

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The hole at the bottom of the hand is big enough to slip a tiny hand in.

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Worf’s bat’leth spins on the button.

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The saucer section stays on the page while the battle bridge separates on a snap that you can’t see in this photo. This page took forever, since each of the layers of the saucer are hand sewed together.

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All Star Trek TNG fans recognize Geordi’s visor, though the order of these photos makes it seem like you help Geordi see by removing the visor. Which is not true. Without his visor, you see his foggy (creepy) white eyes. In any case, the visor attaches with snaps.

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The original pattern uses “set phasers to kill” since these little gray things are floating probes to destroy. But this book is for a three-year-old, so I didn’t want to use ‘kill’ because that nuance is lost (that you aren’t hitting a human). So I changed it to ‘stun.’ When you remove the probe, you see the little explosion left behind.

Each of these buttons are from my grandma’s button container (my niece’s great-grandma). I’m glad I was able to incorporate something of her in the book.

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I love this page because it was fun to sew a path for the shuttle. Though it’s crooked as all get out, including the pocket. Straight lines are not my forte. Have I said that before?

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This page was also time consuming because of the tiny clothes all being hand sewed, as well as Picard’s body which is underneath his Locutus of Borg outfit in this photo. When you’re ready to de-Borgify him, you can put on his regular uniform (attached with velcro).

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I need a little break from sewing for a bit to catch up here and on some reading that I neglected in the last few weeks. But then I’ll be back at it again, working on my skills (and getting new machine needles!). Going to do Mark’s t-shirt blanket next, but after that? No idea. Definitely want to incorporate at least some sewing into my week though, since I found it to be really calming.

While I sewed the quiet book, I devoured podcasts, including all of Serial and many episodes of Book Riot. So not only did the project cement my interest in sewing, but it introduced me to more great media to consume. (Now I just need to find someone else who listened to Serial so we can talk about it! Ah!)


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sewing a t-shirt blanket

I did it. After my initial hesitation with sewing, I jumped in on the t-shirt blanket project, in hopes that I’d be able to finish it by Christmas. I surpassed my expectations and had it finished by Thanksgiving!

I started cutting the squares for it and attaching the fusible interfacing back in the summer, so  they were all ready to go, waiting for the machine. (I can’t believe I just used the words fusible interfacing in a sentence.)

I laid them all out on a “flat” surface – the bed in our spare room (which doubles as my work surface). And started sewing them together, one at a time, putting the “good” sides together.

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Once I had five rows of t-shirts, I sewed them together. Which was harder than it seemed, since the pieces started to get really large to pull through straight in the machine. I made use of a lot of my grandma’s quilting pins and stabbed myself not less than 400 times. But I somehow managed to get them together into a big block. Slightly crooked in places, but together nonetheless.

For the backing, I used an extra flat sheet that we had on hand, which was the match to a fitted sheet that had holes in it. I’m so glad I kept it, because it ended up being a good one-piece back. Pinning the back on and sewing the blanket around the outside was the hardest part. A lot of exasperated groans trying to get the thing through the machine.

But I did it. Turned it inside out, closed up the hole with the most crooked line of stitches ever. (I showed Mark the crooked seam and said, I call this the Go Home, You’re Drunk, Seam. You can borrow that name for your sewing projects too.)

Then it was time to tie the squares to the backing by using some yarn. I found some white yarn in my grandma’s desk, so I used that, as well as one of her needles that was called a “yarn darner.” Why? Because it said yarn and it seemed like it would poke through the layers. I’m a problem solver like that.

So after what felt like a thousand ties, I had this.

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It’s hard to see all of the squares, since the blanket is slightly larger than this queen bed, but it looks nice from a distance! I washed it once to get the interfacing to loosen up a bit, and have been using it on the couch ever since.

I love a lot of the t-shirts that are in the blanket for various reasons, but this one wins the prize for most ironic.

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A bacon t-shirt from Think Geek’s random t-shirt bag – that I managed to get grease stains on. I felt like it had to go in the quilt with its grease stains because it was just too funny.

And then one of my favorite t-shirts in the blanket, the one that was my grandma’s. I somehow got this t-shirt of hers, and it had a hole in it, so I didn’t really wear it. Plus it was hard thinking about wearing it anyway. So I put it in the blanket – the first sewing project I made and the first with her machine (and her yarn!).

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So now it’s on to make a second t-shirt blanket for Mark, who is the king of t-shirts. But first, I’m working on a secret project for Christmas, which I think will blow some socks off, but will also take every moment of free time I have from now until December 25. Good thing I already met my reading goal for the year!



grandma’s sewing machine

I had a free day this weekend. I haven’t had an entire free day to spend entirely as I choose in…well, I don’t even know. I couldn’t even settle on what I wanted to do with that day, but one thing kept nagging me – that I haven’t made any progress on my t-shirt blanket to fill my 2014 resolution. Why? Because the next step required the sewing machine. And I was scared of mine.Sewing desk resized


I wasn’t scared in the sense that I would stab my finger with a needle like Sleeping Beauty. I was scared because I don’t know what I’m doing with it. But most of all? Because it was my grandma’s.

jo and grandma

That’s my grandma at my college graduation in 2005 (and my grandpa too). I chose this one even though she’s not looking at the camera because the camera caught her looking at me how she always looked at her family. With total love and pride. With the tail end of a laugh.

My grandpa gave me her sewing machine at least a year ago, as well as the sewing desk that he built for her and the stool she sat on to sew. The desk was built for her older model machine, where it would flip up from underneath. But it still works for this newer (1994) model, and gives me a leaf to fold out. I am the eldest of 17 grandchildren on that side of my family. We’re a brood, for sure. So I consider myself so blessed that he let me care for this machine that she was the master of.

Grandma made all of the grandchildren blankets. I still have mine, even though some of the stitching that says ‘JoJo’ on it has faded in the 25+ years that I’ve had it. When she was done making blankets for grandchildren, I know she made many for Project Linus, which makes blankets for critically ill children. She probably sewed a million hems and fixed a million holes in her life, not to mention the many things she made. I know the Singer Model 5050 that sits on this desk now has seen use at her hands.

So on my day of relaxation, I thought I should spend some time getting acquainted with the machine – perhaps filling a bobbin and threading the needle. I opened the needle plate and found a bobbin already there, with a small bit of white thread left on it. My heart jumped up in my throat.

Because that was her bobbin, leftover from the last project that she sewed. And I suddenly felt that void again.

It always happens around this time of year, even more so than in May, which is when she died in 2009. The holidays remind me so much of her, and the cold weather does too, because her house was always exceedingly hot, filled to the brim as it was with family. And pies.

So in that moment of missing her, I started going through the drawers. The desk is solid wood, and because the drawers have been virtually unopened for years, they still smelled like her house. Like her. Like home and comfort and family. And I sat and cried as I went through the drawers and let the memories wash over me.

A scrap of John Deere fabric, because all Taylors love a good tractor.

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Some needles and random sewing stuff. (And more John Deere fabric scraps.)

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Some quilting things, I think. Some zippers and ribbon.

drawer 1

I kept wanting to look through the drawers, but I’m hesitant to even open them, because the more times I do, the more they will smell like my house, not hers. That bit of her memory will be lost.

After much sitting and thinking, knowing that she would say “golly Jo, there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a sewing machine!” I sat down and got to work. I posted on Instagram about being overwhelmed by the newness of the machine and the missing of her in my life, and Jeni came to my rescue and suggested Craftsy’s beginning sewing machine tutorial. I watched it, I read the manual, and before I knew it, I had this.


My first stitch.

And by the end of the evening, five rows of t-shirt blanket, all connected.

One of the t-shirts in my blanket belonged to her and I think it will be my favorite part. Might have to work in a piece of that John Deere fabric, too.

That way, part of her last project will be part of my first.