Building a Backpack Part III

My buckles finally came in and so I was able to go out and get the strapping material I needed to make the compression straps.  I took some time this last weekend to sew the straps in and sew up the bottom of the bag.  I used an X Box pattern to secure the straps (not pictured), but hid that under the bottom layer of fabric in an attempt to keep the outside of the bag looking more pristine.

The next steps for this project are to create 4 more external pockets (two on the front, 1 on each side), secure the bottom portion of the backpack straps to the sides, sew up the sides, turn the back right side out, make backpack straps and secure them, and finish making the compression straps.  I’m planning on making the backpack cover a double layer of canvas to give it some weight and durability.  So I’ll need to cut and sew that in, but that can be one of the final things I do.

Recipe: Arroz con Pollo

Steph and I are terrible at keeping an organized recipe catalog in our home.   Oh, we have plenty of cook books and fantastic recipes, but when we find one we like, we often forget to keep a record of it in a safe place.  So in an effort to keep a record of the best recipe’s we’ve discovered, I’m going to write them into my blog.  That means you get to benefit!

One of the best dishes I’ve surprised Steph with is Arroz con Pollo.  And while the original recipe I found is good, it has some short comings, like not making enough seasoning for the chicken and a tendency for the rice to come out undercooked if you don’t do things perfectly.   I’ve modified the recipe a bit and you can find it below.  For purists, a link to the original recipe can be found at the end.

Arroz con Pollo is a dish of Spanish heritage.  As such you’ll find it full of delicious flavoring!  I was amazed when I made this the first time, the flavor was so amazing and the effort it took was pretty minimal (by most people’s standards).  It’s hard to beat an easy recipe with delicious flavoring and good portion sizes!  I hope you’ll give this recipe a try and report back on the success of any modifications you try.

Now, I’m about to share one of our favorite recipes with you, but before I do, let me give you a challenge.  See this picture:

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These are all the spices in our kitchen that we don’t seem to use.  I’d like to go through these this year, but I need help!  What can we possibly make with these ingredients that will be delectable to our palates?  The spices in this picture are:

Herbs de Providence, Saffron, Mild Curry Powder, Cardamom, Cayenne (this one is a mistake, we go through it just fine), Whole Nutmeg, Turmeric, Coriander, Curry (yes two bottles of curry, you can see we’ve made curry twice in our marriage…) Harrissa, Garden Salad, Ground Nutmeg, Ground Ginger, and Ground Coriander.

Do these ingredients spark your imagination or reverberate your memories?  Shoot us a recipe in the comments below!

Arroz con Pollo

Details

Time – 90 minutes

Skill – None

Servings – about 4

Cost – $10 or less (unless you don’t have any spices, in which case I pity your kitchen.)

Ingredients

Chicken Rub

4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dried cumin

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

8 serving sized pieces of chicken – skinless

3  tablespoons vegetable oil

1 onion diced

2 bell peppers diced (choose your favorite colors!)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt (skip this if using bouillon cubs for the stock)

1 1/2 cups rice

2 cloves garlic finely diced

1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/2 cup tomato sauce

 

Directions

I’m a big fan of Mise en Place.  I can’t make a meal without getting all the steps done ahead of time.  If you’re like me it helps to break down those steps first and organize them on the counter.  Steph makes fun of me for how bad my Mise en Place needs are.  So many of you more skilled cooks might ignore the ordering of this, but I find it helps me a great deal to know that everything is ready long before I need it to be.

Mix chicken rub ingredients and spread on plate.

Dice all fruits and vegetables and set aside.

Place rice and garlic in a container to the side.

Begin dissolving your bouillon cubes in water or if using a real stock, measure out the appropriate amount and add in the teaspoon of salt.  If using bouillon cubes for the stock, don’t add additional salt.  Combine the water, stock, and tomato sauce in a medium bowl.

Pat the chicken dry and then thoroughly coat with rub.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch high-sided skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking.  The skillet size is important as all the ingredients will be placed in the skillet covered.  Add the chicken to the pan and brown on all sides ~ 3 – 6 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate, using tongs.  Reduce heat to medium high and add the fruits, vegetables, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet.  Cook while stirring, until soft ~ 7 minutes.  Add the rice and garlic cooking until rice begins to turn gold in color ~ 60 seconds.  Add the water/stock mixture to the skillet and stir to make sure the rice is covered in liquid.  Nestle the chicken in the rice, adding any juices from the plate.  Bring the rice to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook until the chicken is cooked through, the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed ~ 35 minutes.  It’s important to not remove the cover during this portion or the rice won’t cook through.  Let the skillet stand covered for 10 minutes before serving.

Find the original recipe here.

Review: Who Moved the Stone?

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The last few weeks have been crazy busy.  I haven’t had much time to blog, but I impressed myself with finishing another book at the end of January.  That means I read 4 books in as many weeks.  This latest one was called Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison.

Frank Morison was a journalist during the late 1800s.  He was a naturalist who wanted to disprove the resurrection.  So he some time looking into the historical record using his journalist training to discern what really happened.  He writes about his take on the week leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion and ends a week after.

Morison dissects the psychological ramifications of the events, the way stories tend to be told and develop, and the historical facts of how the religions and governmental bodies of the day worked and where this story deviated from they way they were supposed to operate.

Morison moves through these points with remarkable depth and clarity.  Some of the things he points to I had never thought of despite these events being a matter I’ve pondered for ages.  I’m not sure my words can possible due Morison justice.  He went into such remarkable depth in his study that I’m not sure it could be said that anyone else’s study compares.

If you have ever pondered these events and wonder what actually happened during the week before and after Jesus’s death, you owe it to yourself to read this book.  It’s $11 retail or free at your local library.  And with its brevity you can easily read it in a week.

Now Reading: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

On Self-Criticism

Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one-one that would do nobody any harm.

In February 1931, Francis Crowley and two of his friends went to a party in New York, sans invitation.  After awhile, some men proceeded to remove them from the party, and in reaction, Crowley pulled out a gun and shot two men before departing.  A warrant went out for his arrest under the charge of attempted murder, and Crowley went into hiding.  Several months later, police found and confronted him, but he shot one of the detectives and got away.  Later, he broke into a house, and shot the owner five times using two guns, giving him the nickname “Two Gun” Crowley.  Just three months after this story began, Crowley was sitting in a parked car with his girl, when a pair of police officers came up and asked him for ID, Crowley drew on the officer and killed one and wounded the other.  The following day, the police surrounded his hideout and fired tear gas and bullets into it, trying to drive him out.  While resisting their efforts to capture him, he wrote: “To whom it may concern, under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one-one that would do nobody any harm.”  It seems crazy, doesn’t it?  How could he believe so earnestly that he could “do nobody any harm” when he had shot several people and killed another?

As crazy as it sounds, you’ve seen this kind of behavior before.  Haven’t you?  Someone you know has done something remarkably foolish, but they can only regard it based on their intent.  The fallout of their actions was not their intent; they had no intention of events unraveling as they did.  So they blind their senses, and tell everyone they did the best they could have.  Sometimes they go as far as saying they did no wrong.  Crowley shot six people and yet he regarded himself as someone who wouldn’t harm nobody.

Al Capone, one of the greatest mobsters of all time, is quoted as saying:

I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping people have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.

Think about that for a moment.  Here’s someone who organized crime, killed police and citizens, and couldn’t fathom why anyone would be hunting him down.

In politics we see this same principle with Rosevelt.  Theodore Rosevelt broke up the Republican party in the early 1900s when he got into a tiff with Taft.  He started the Bull Moose Party and ran against him.  The consequence was that the votes were split and the democrats won.  In the end, Rosevelt could only say: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”  His actions ensured that democratic party would take office as he split the votes of the republicans, but instead of acknowledging that he could only say he did no wrong.  Now I’m not saying that Rosevelt was in the wrong for running against his party, he may very well have been right.  But his intent ensured that someone he felt worse about being in office took office.  The point I’m making here is that doing what you feel is right, may result in something very wrong happening.  (This is also not a commentary on the Woodrow Wilson, who did enact some great changes to this country.)

Many great disasters have come in the wake of some person or another not examining themselves.  Their inability or inaction to judge their own mind and heart and see where they were going wrong led them into peril.  When faced with the self-justification of villains, criminals, and politicians how can we continue down the same path?

It’s not easy to examine ourselves, is it?  In one way or another we’ve all made the mistake of pursuing one goal and totally botching it in the method we pursued.  I know one guy, who wanting to stay in touch with a particularly flaky friend (let’s call him Ben), would call and leave voicemails expressing a desire to talk to the him.  When Ben didn’t return the calls, likely due to the busyness of college, homework, making new friends and life, he added a joking line at the end of voicemail.  That line when something along the lines “Call me back or I’m going to come down there.”  He thought it was particularly funny because he wasn’t a violent sort, and his presence wouldn’t normally be seen as a threat.  And he chuckled to himself thinking about how he might not return the phone call because Ben wished to see him in person.  As time went on, he still received no return call.  His voice mails got sassier and the joke more physical and in the end Ben communicated to a mutual friend, that he had no interest in talking to someone who threatened him.   And that, dear reader, is how I lost my first high school friend.  My joke wasn’t funny, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late.  I certainly analyzed many of my actions at that point in my life, but in regards to Ben I wasn’t analyzing them well enough.

So what’s the solution?  I believe it’s threefold.  1) We must be analyzing our actions and making sure that they are working in the way they are intended and that there is little to no room for them to go wrong. Or as “Mad-Eye” Moody would say:

Vigilance, Constant Vigilance!

2) We must include friends and family in our criticism process.  We must give our trusted allies the freedom and permission to call us out when we err.  Getting self-defensive only serves to further hamper our growth and our ability to effect the changes we want to see in the world.  For the Christian this principle is not only common sense, but a command from God.  Matthew 18:15 states:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

The implication is that there will be times when you need to point out the error of your friends ways.  And the further truth of that, is that there are times you will need to be corrected for wronging your friend.  Each one of us, from time to time, need to be stopped, and pointed back in a proper and good direction.

3) We must acknowledge when we screw up and properly apologize for it.  I’m not talking about saying: “I’m sorry” as those words mean virtually nothing in today’s world.  I’m talking about a full on apology.  Where we admit where we wronged the person, tell them why it was wrong, and earnestly promise to not repeat that behavior.  That threefold apology will mean much more to them than saying “I’m sorry” or worse “I’m sorry you feel that way.” A proper apology also restores a relationship to a better place than it was before.

There is, perhaps, a fourth aspect to this process.  It seems so obvious to me, I didn’t even become aware of its necessity until I pondered how various different people might respond to reading this blog post.  And that is that each person must have a standard to which they are trying to attain.  Without a standard, there is no way to measure success or failure in your day to day interactions and no guide for your friends to use in keeping you accountable.  For the Christian, this standard is Jesus and living a life as perfect as His.  For my non Christian friends, I’d be curious what that standard of living is.  I know you wish to grow and become a better person, but what is the standard by which you measure goodness?  What is the standard by which your friends can hold you accountable and you can measure success or failure and become a better person?

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:38

I’ve been mulling this over for a few years now.  I see people going down the wrong path, and posting about it proudly on facebook or talking about it in social settings.  And I, being only an acquaintance, do not feel I have any place pointing out that their actions are working against their best interests.  It was only when I picked up a book the other day, How to Win Friends and Influence People, that I felt I had to speak out.  The author shares all the stories I listed above and he makes the point that people don’t take criticism well.  If we want to help fix their errant behavior, it is better to get there by asking questions and being gentle than to confront them face to face.  There’s truth in that.  Don’t we find it easier to change if we feel we are the ones that started the thought process ourselves?  But I also think that these stories point to another truth, that if we want to be good and admirable people, we must also be willing to take criticism face to face, and that process begins within.

Review: The Goblet of Fire

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Three books in three weeks!  Maybe reading isn’t as hard and as terrible as I thought…

The Goblet of Fire is the first book in this series written for adults.  I think it’s officially classified as a Young Adult novel, and that’s fine.  While reading this book I laughed, I thought, I tried to figure out the mysteries before they resolved in the books, and I think I got something in my eye towards the end.  It’s twice the length of any of the prior books in the series, and the technical writing skill of Rowling steps up a notch to match the page count.  There is also a lot more differences between the book and the movie and I’ll talk about one of those in a minute here.

The whole story is fanciful and magical.  Rowling spends many chapters describing amazing events and how various characters approach them differently.  This book grapples with the fact that we don’t all think the same, and it still works out well!  The rest of this review will contain spoilers, so you may wish to stop here if you plan on reading it.

I only have two complaints with this book.  The first is that there’s a scene the movie did better.  In the movie Neville Longbottom gives Harry some gillyweed to get him through a challenge, but in the book Neville doesn’t not help Harry at all.  Why is this important?  Because Neville is a klutz in the early parts of this story; he is literally the worst wizard at Hogwarts.  But from seeing the movies we know he grows into one of the bravest wizards in the school.  The scene where he helps Harry out is one of the very few places in the movies where we see any growth in Neville’s character.  Granted there’s still plenty of time for Rowling to prove me wrong, but that scene is so crucial to the movies, it’s a shame we don’t see it here.  In fact, we see very little character growth in Neville in this book.

The second complaint is really more with a character than with the story at large.  Harry has some terrible challenges in this book and he knows someone is trying to kill him, but he puts practically no effort in to making sure he can survive.  I know there are people like this, and it’s just that I don’t relate to them.  I just can’t fathom how someone could spend their time lying to their friends and avoiding trying to solve a riddle just because it’s easier.  Your friends would help you if you let them!  Don’t die you foolish little boy!

Overall, I give this book five stars.  It is absolutely fantastic!

I have a lot to do in the next week or two, so I’ll probably going to put my reading on hold and switch my focus to getting stuff done.  When I come back to reading it will be February 1st and I’ll be starting The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I was originally skeptical of being able to get through its 1300 pages in 28 days, but considering I’ve read three books in the first 18 days of this month, I might just have a shot.

Review: The Prisoner of Azkaban

I was originally going to review of The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan as my second book post of the year, but my birthday was a little bit ago and my wife, Steph, gave me the rest of the Harry Potter collection as a present.  I quickly put down the Lady Trent Memoir, and continued my quest in the world of Hogwarts.

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J.K. Rowling continues to improve in each book, and the further I get into these books the more the deviate from the movies in very subtle ways.  For instance, in the books the Dementors hover, but don’t fly.  They remain on the ground while they do their work.  In some ways that’s more terrifying as it shows they have some range with their powers, in others it makes them less terrifying as you can more easily escape them.

Rowling does a good job of introducing fanciful things and events and making you wonder how they work, but then she doesn’t explain how it works, it’s magic after-all and it doesn’t need explaining.  This is a good trait for the fact that this is a kids book, but if you’re a Ravenclaw at heart, you’re going to wonder about the paradoxes she creates.

Of the first three books this is the first one that starts to have solid plot points and story development.  I’ve noticed that Rowling adds more to each of her characters in each books.  Judging by the movies there is a cast of some 20 or 30 characters to develop, and Rowling adds just a sprinkle to the depths of each in each book.  In the first book, there’s only really character depth to about three characters, but in each one another characters shines through without seeming to bog down the story.

What will I read next?  Well, I must confess, I’m already half way through The Goblet of Fire and without giving a full review, I’ll say The Goblet of Fire transitions the story out of being a kids series and into being a young adult series.

To get me through the rest of the year, I’ve chosen a handful of books:

  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
  • And of course, the rest of the Harry Potter series

To reach my one book a month quota, I’ll still need another 7 books, so please feel free to make some recommendations below.

Building a Backpack part II

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I’ve been taking the backpack building slowly, not because of a  lack a plan, but more because I bought some special buckles and it’s taking them forever to ship to my house from Mars (presumably).  So far, I’ve built the outline of the bag (above) and one pocket.

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You may notice the top seam of the pocket is not yet sewn, that is because I’ve decided to use snaps to hold it shut, and I’m waiting to choose the color of the snaps until the buckles arrive.

The buckles I bought are an antiqued brass metal.  So they should be ruddy and match the pack.  It took them a week before they shipped and here we are a week later and they haven’t arrived yet.  I’ll be attaching the pocket sometime this weekend.  It is 15″ wide so it will go at the bottom of the main flap seen above.  (Though the back is currently inside out, so good pictures of its location may not be in the next update.)

Book #1 The Chamber of Secrets

I read my first book of the year in 3 days!  Granted it was a kids book, and shallow, but nonetheless I read a book!  Harry Potter is like a softball to my reading goals.  I only have a few books picked out for the year (so far) and one of them is 1000 pages longer and at a much higher reading level than Harry Potter.

I’m committing to myself to read The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson in February.  It’s daunting, at 1252 pages of much smaller print (and no pictures), it could take some effort to get through in a short 28 day month.  However, it was given to me by a good friend and comes highly recommended by several other friends, so I will plunge in with glee…

The truth is I’ve liked the Sanderson books I’ve read before (the Legion series and the first three Mistborn books), and I’m excited to read this book.  It’s just that every book I’ve tried to read over 1000 pages has bored my be the mid point and I’ve failed to finish.  Granted Les Misérables & The Count of Monte Cristo are both classics and have translation issues and word choices that you have work through, whereas The Way of Kings was written in English and will be much more approachable.  But it still plays on my bibliophobia, I’d hate to have another book thrown in the pile of books I couldn’t finish.

 

Book Review – The Chamber of Secrets

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Don’t let the title of this post confuse you.  The Chamber of Secrets is the second in the Harry Potter series; it’s just the first book of the year on my quest to read a book a month.

If you haven’t read Harry Potter before, you probably should.  Steph gave me the first one as a Christmas Eve present, and I read it easily by the 27th.  J.K. Rowling writes in an easy to read style chock full of wonderful British sayings!  (You can’t go wrong with British vocabulary!)  Each book takes place over the course of a year, and Rowling is really good at moving the story along without drawing too much attention to it.  She’s also able to bring awe to the story both by drawing attention to awesome things and by ignoring them.

Having seen the movies prior, I was not shocked at the turning of events.  These first two books line up nearly perfectly with the movies, with only one scene being done differently (if my memory can be trusted).  Steph thinks I might be remembering it wrong, but I’m sure (spoiler alert) that our little house elf gets his sock slightly differently between book and movie.  It’s quite possible I do remember it wrong, as I definitely forgot some of the major plot points in this story.

I only wish I had read the books first, I don’t like how hard it is to rid myself of the memory of the character’s faces and actions.  The imagination is much more craftily utilized when it doesn’t have direct resources to draw from.

Have ideas on what I should read next?  Let me know!

Experiment #1 Building a Backpack

For January’s experiment, I thought I’d start off with something entirely different, sewing a backpack.  I’ve been frustrated with the bags we have when riding my motorcycle, so it’s time to make something better.  Sure, I could go out and buy one, but they’re expensive and predesigned.  So I’m going to make my own, designed solely by me, to meet my needs.

I’m going to make it from canvas and a fake leather (real leather would set me back more than buying a motorcycle backpack).  You can see the materials below:

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For those of you who are experienced with sewing, you may be wondering what those needles are doing in the picture… I’m going to hand sew my bag.  Everyone I’ve mentioned this to has called me crazy.  And perhaps I am.  That’s all part of trying an experiment.  The truth is hand sewing is much stronger than machine sewing… when a thread snags and breaks on modern clothing and you yank it, it unravels.  But if a thread snags on something hand sew and you pull the thread, you’ll actually cause the whole seam to cinch up even tighter.

What do you think?  Am I crazy?  Let me know below!

Changes in 2017

I’m not a big fan of New Years resolutions.  The truth is, we should always be aiming to improve and growing into better people.  However, there are many things I have been wanting to change in my life for sometime, but have felt tethered by life from accomplishing them.  Things are changing, and it’s time for me to change too!

So, with the changes in my life I’m going to work on making the following changes to my life:

  1. More Reading!  I have not enjoyed reading much in the years following college.  The shear volume of books and intense schedule of the time grew in me a fear of books.  In the intervening years I have referred to myself as a Bibliophobe, but in this last year I did something extraordinary (for me anyway, you will perhaps not find it so) I read 7 books!  That’s 7 more than I had read in the preceding 5 years!  And so, this year I am resolved to read at least 1 book a month (12 total).
  2. Less TV.  I am disgusted at how much TV I watch.  The new fad (and I know I’m not the only one that does this) is binge watching.  Where once we used to watch a show once a week over the course of years, now we watch the whole show in a matter of days.  I don’t like how antisocial this makes me nor how much of my life it consumes.  So I will be greatly reducing the number of hours I allow TV and Movies in my life.
  3. More Experimenting!  I want to add an experiment a month to my routine.  An experiment (for my purposes) only means something I’ve never done before.  It can be scientific, crafty, adventurous, or a matter of another kind.
  4. More devotional!  In Christianity, the husband is commanded to love and lead his wife in Spiritual matters.  I have not been so good at this.  So, it is my goal to do daily devotions with my wife and guide us both to a stronger relationship with Jesus.
  5. Less social media.  I have been consumed more and more with Facebook.  It has been an integral part of my job these last few years.  As I move into a role where that is no longer necessary, I would like to cut back my social media presence drastically.  Instead of hours of facebook a day, I’d like it to be minutes.
  6. Blogging & Socializing!  As I make these changes to my life, it is important to me that I remain connected to my friends and family who choose to remain in the social media world.  Therefore, I will blog about my life and hope that you will comment here, call, text, email me so that you and I can remain connected.  We will still be doing our normal monthly game night, and you are invited as always.

I’m certain there are many more ways in which I will be changing my life as the time ticks on.  For instance I know I want to fix the motorcycle in the garage, go on more frequent hikes, get in better shape, et cetera.  But the list above is a good starting place for all the changes I wish to make.  So beginning January 3rd, 2017, I will make these changes active and do my best to keep up with this blog as the year winds on.

I have 12 books to read this next year, and have 0 of them chosen.  What would you recommend I read in the new year?  Let me know in the comments.