Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Kitchen Backsplash

Our kitchen backsplash was in need of repair. It had the original 90’s wood backsplash which didn’t bother us a ton aesthetically, but having wood right behind the sink wasn’t a great design choice. It was difficult to keep the wood from getting rotten and moldy. We have long talked about a large remodeling project for the downstairs so that always got lumped in, but finally I decided that I should just fix the backsplash even if we end up ripping it out later.

While I’ve seen tile projects done before, I’ve never actually done one myself. Thanks to YouTube, I felt like I could figure it out. After some searching, I found a mosaic tile that would fit in the 4″ gap between the counter and our windows, greatly simplifying the project. I was also able to use pre-mixed adhesive and pre-mixed grout which simplified the project more. And even though I only needed to make about a dozen cuts, I rented a wet tile saw for a day.

The whole project went pretty smoothly. There was definitely a learning curve and I would do better if I was repeating the process, but nothing in the final result made me want to rip it out and start over. The hardest parts were the 45 degree angles in the bump out around our sink.

A day or two before I started working, I realized I didn’t have any tile spacers. While the mosaic tile came on a mat, I figured there would be spots where I’d need the spacers and I also needed spacers to hold the tile off the counter top at a consistent height. Rather than try to find spacers that exactly matched the tile layout, I pulled out my calipers, got the measurements, and 3d printed a huge number of the spaces. Each one cost less than a penny and only took about 3 minutes to print.

During the project, I missed some adhesive that dried onto the wall outside of where it was needed. I had also nicked the wall with a knife in that spot. Whenever we do paint projects in the house, I buy a small sample jar of the same color and keep that, but after ~12 years, would it still match? I was surprised to see that, yes, it matched perfectly!

So now I’ve got a tile project under my belt and I feel more confident to try something bigger. That’s good because our upstairs guest bathroom could use a makeover. Maybe I’ll have a bigger tile project in my future.

Topics Christians Should Be Talking About But Don’t

Tyla and I really enjoy following Pastor Mike and the rest of the team at Time of Grace. He has written quite a few books and recently, he launched a new one called Taboo: Topics Christians Should Be Talking About But Don’t. It’s full of honest discussions about porn, gender identity, homosexuality, depression, politics, suicide, and more. He does an amazing job of taking an honest look at each question, researching all sides of it, and then diving into what the Bible has to say about it. Somehow he managed to write this one book for people who are lifelong Christians and for those who are simply curious about the Bible. If this at all intrigues you, please consider reading it.

2024 PDGA Portland Open

In addition to playing disc golf fairly regularly, Elijah and I have watched a lot of the pro tournaments online. They have a subscription network for live coverage, but we generally watch an edited version of the final round for free on the JomezPro YouTube channel. Most of the tournaments are in the midwest and southeast but there were a couple Oregon tournaments on this year’s schedule, so last weekend we made a day trip to Portland for day 3 of the 2024 Portland Open.

I didn’t really know what to expect and it was going to be a long day (6 hours in the car plus ~8 hours at the tournament) so I was hoping for the best. I had so many questions starting with “What is parking going to be like?” There wasn’t a lot of info available ahead of time about parking but I was thrilled to see that we could just street park within about a 5 minute walk of the course!

The tournament schedule had the ladies teeing off first followed by the guys. Elijah’s disc golf teacher was in one of the first groups of ladies to tee off and that had happened a couple hours before we got there. After checking scores on my phone, we made a beeline back to hole 16. There was almost no one around and we weren’t even sure we were in the right area, but then we saw his teacher come through. She spotted after teeing off and came running over to give Elijah a hug! We watched her through the final holes and got to chat with her after. She made Elijah feel super special and even took him up onto the #1 tee between groups to get a great photo by one of the big PDGA sign boards. You can see it on her Instagram account.

After walking around the booths and grabbing some lunch, we watched the top ladies groups finish up on hole 18. Then we headed over to hole 1 and parked ourselves in a great spot with some shade but also great views of the green.

It ended up being a magical spot. One of the first groups we watched had Niklas Anttila in it (one of Elijah’s favorites.) As Niklas walked by, he fist bumped Elijah and blew Elijah’s mind! It was a tiny act but the unnecessary kindness of it was so wonderful.

That was more than we expected but it certainly wasn’t the end. When Andrew Presnell came through, his caddy handed Elijah a signed trading card. And then when Ricky Wysocki came through, his caddy rummaged around in his bag for quite a while and came out with a Ricky t-shirt in Elijah’s size! Elijah immediately put it on and Ricky gave him a big smile as he walked by. Just being close to all the people he watches on TV was a hit but these extra interactions sent him over the moon. In this image below, we are back against the trees just to the left of the guy’s disc in his hand in front in front of the person in the red shirt.

We watched everyone come through and then we headed further out on the course to watch a few more players come through before finally settling on hole 18 to watch everyone come through again. It was about 10 minutes between groups but Elijah never once talked about being bored or tired even though it was about 8 hours on the course in total.

If Elijah had to pick one player as his favorite, it would probably be Calvin Heimburg. Calvin was in the second to last group. We got to watch him make a stellar eagle on the last hole. You can see us in this photo below to the left of the basket. We are all standing and Elijah has an aqua colored shirt on. Or watch this video for a longer clip of the video that this screenshot was taken from. You can see Elijah jump up and cheer.

If you kept watching that video clip to see Calvin’s putt, you might have noticed that Tyla and Elijah were gone. (I was standing there recording a phone video like a dork.) Earlier in the day, Elijah had picked out a Calvin Heimburg disc as his souvenier. After the round, he waited in line to get it signed by Calvin and even got a picture with him too!

As I mentioned, it was a long day and we were wiped out by the time we got home. The morning drive wasn’t too bad but it would have been really nice to have a hotel that evening. I was really thankful for the autosteer feature on the Tesla as it took a lot of pressure off both of the drives.

If you can’t tell by now, we were very impressed with the event. Yes, disc golf is still a niche sport, but they put on an excellent show. You can tell they’re putting a ton of effort into really polishing it as much as possible. But since it’s still picking up steam, it’s very easy to attend an event like this and tickets were only $21 (plus Elijah got in free.) The only time when a crowd was minorly annoying was on the final hole of the day with the final group, but realistically it was probably only 200-300 people. I was still able to see just fine, and there was zero traffic leaving the event.

Most of these same players will be playing next week a little farther south in Oregon. We’re excited to do this again sometime, but that’s probably a little too soon. We’ll have our eyes on the schedule next year though! Most events are east of the Mississippi but it’s nice to see a couple within driving distance for us.

A huge thank you goes from our family to everyone who made our day special, but especially Corey! She made Elijah feel like a VIP!

Northern Lights

We live just far enough north that sometimes there are hints of the northern lights, but our house is in the middle of the suburbs and there’s so much ambient light that we can barely see the stars, much less the northern lights. However, back on May 10, there was a severe geomagnetic storm and we could see it from our back yard!

I went out around 11pm when it was fully dark and honestly, if I hadn’t known it was there, I would have missed it. It wasn’t intense enough to be immediately obvious and it looked like oddly shaped clouds. But the longer I looked, the more I could see hints of green and purple. Our phone cameras took really nice pictures in “Night Sight” mode which takes multiple exposures and combines them. So while this is nowhere near what it looked like it real life, the pictures look pretty.

I’ve always wondered how fast the aurora moves because so often you see videos of timelapses. It moved fast enough that within a couple minutes, the shape looked very different, but it wasn’t fast enough that I could see a change if I kept staring at one spot.

I would still love to see it from farther north in a more remote area, but this was pretty special for zero effort!

PacNW Christian Men’s Retreat 2024

Last year was my first time attending a retreat held by our area churches. I had a great time and instantly signed up for this year’s retreat as soon as they created the sign up form. Unfortunately, this year’s experience was dramatically different!

I decided to make the most of my trip to the Olympic Peninsula so I left earlier in the day so I could play a round of golf at Rainshadow Disc Golf Park. It’s one of the most highly rated courses in Washington and it didn’t disappoint. The holes are very well thought out and there is a lot of elevation change. Many holes have extreme penalties for throwing off the fairway because the fairway ends up being on the ridge of the hill with a steep drop-off on each side. Since I didn’t know the course (and I’m not that good), I mostly just played short throws that would stay in view, and I didn’t concern myself too much with my score. I shot a painful eight over par on the front nine and only one over on the back nine.

After finishing the round, I still had plenty of time, so I checked out the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t feel like paying the entry fee just for 30 minutes of walking around, so I checked out the surrounding county park instead. I’d love to go back with more time to explore though.

Dinner isn’t provided on the first night of the retreat, and I stopped for a quick bite to eat at Jack in the Box. It was so gross when I went in that I should have just turned around, but I felt obligated to buy something since I had already used their restroom. And since it was just me without the family in tow, I didn’t think too much about it. But then the fries tasted really weird. That’s odd. They were so weird that I ended up not eating them all. Strange. But whatever.

When I showed up at the Men’s Retreat, I felt off. I figured it was probably just getting old and not being used to eating a lot of fast food. But as I met up with some of the other guys from our church and walked around, it got worse. By the time the event started, I knew something was wrong.

I’ll save you the biological details but suffice it to say that it became obvious that I had food poisoning. I skipped the evening session, went straight to bed, and laid awake all night with trips to the bathroom (trying very hard not to make any mess in my room!) At 3am, I called it quits, made a beeline for the ferry in my little window of time when I felt ok after a vomit, and got back home. I proceeded to feel worse and worse throughout the day, but I was very thankful to be home and have Tyla to help me out! By Sunday and Monday, I was able to keep some fluids down and slowly build my strength back.

After looking forward to the Men’s Retreat for a full year, it was a complete bust. But hey, there’s always next year right?

Legends Confidence App Review

I don’t know about other parents, but Tyla and I often chat about ways to help Elijah build confidence. That’s probably what made the “Legends” app catch my attention. It’s a paid app, but that link includes a referral code which currently gets you a free month and we started with a similar code.

The idea is that you sit down with your child (ages 7-11) for about 5-7 minutes every day and go through the next coaching session. The coach is funny and approachable and many of the sessions draw on lessons from celebrities. For example, it might be helpful to know that Kobe Bryant wasn’t always good at basketball, he just worked harder than everyone else. Or it might help to know that Billie Eilish has to deal with anxiety about performing on stage. There are usually quick activities with the lessons like coming up with things you can say to downplay negative self-talk or words you can use to build yourself up.

I don’t know if we’ll continue to subscribe to the service or for how long, but this first free month has been great. I wouldn’t say Elijah necessarily looks forward to it, but he has never once given me the eye roll when I suggest that we do our daily session. That’s saying a lot.

So yes, the app is wonderful and I recommend it, but as a Christian I found myself wishing that there was more to it. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to any secular self-help/counseling type of content. Jesus is the ultimate source of comfort, confidence, and peace. Without him, you’re grasping at straws. The whole experience made me wish that I had the time and skillset to work with some people in our church body to create something in a similar space but combine it with the Bible.

ChatGPT Plus Media Consumption

I use Bing Copilot every day. The more I use it, the more I figure out how I could use it. But I still meet people who say they’ve never tried it, so I’m going to share an example that I think almost everyone runs into.

Let’s say that season 3 of a TV show came out or the latest book in a series, but I consumed the last one over a year ago and only have a vague memory of how it ended. I used to try to carefully find a website that would help me get caught up without spoiling things, but even if I get spoiled once in a while, that’s still too much. Bing Copilot (or ChatGPT or whatever LLM you favor) is a great to use in this situation. I open a prompt and say something like this:

“I’ve read the first five Terminal List books, but I’m about to start book six and I want to be reminded of what happened previously. Recap the first five books with an emphasis on the fifth book but do not tell me anything about the sixth book.”

That’s it. A couple seconds later I have the answer. It doesn’t take many experiences like this before you start to realize all the other times you could be using it too!

Monarch Money Review

I believe it’s important to watch where all our money goes so I’ve been through many different apps over the years including Microsoft Money, Quicken, and Mint. Mint lasted me for a long time but it recently closed shop after being bought by Intuit. They claim that they moved the “important” features to Credit Karma but nothing about that was useful to me. So it was time to find a new money tool.

After examining a few, I landed on Monarch Money. I went through the free trial and ended up signing up for a year. (It helped that there’s a half price deal for people coming over from Mint for the first year.) So far so good. I don’t need a lot from a tool like this. I just need it to connect to all my various accounts, update smoothly, and then let me categorize the line items.

Connecting to all the accounts was pretty straightforward. The only hiccup continues to be one investment account through a small company, but they were always a challenge even with Mint.

There was a lot of work initially to map Mint’s categories to Monarch’s categories, but they had a UI for that. Once it was set up, it wasn’t an issue. Categorization seems smoother than Mint. Mint had auto categorization rules but Monarch’s rules just seem to work better.

I could stop there and just share my experience, but if you’ve made it this far, maybe you’re looking for a money app as well. I do have a referral code you can use that gets you a free month and then I think I get a month for free as well.

Social Media Pause

About a month ago, I pulled the trigger and removed a bunch of “habit” apps from my phone. Instagram, Reddit, and my news app all got uninstalled. I decided I’d go for at least a week and see what happened. The result scared me enough that I’m still on a break from them.

I found that I would unconsciously pull out my phone and tap the screen where Instagram used to be. I purposely left that spot blank just to make the point to myself and I wish I had a way to track how many times I clicked that empty space!

It’s been a month now. Reddit is still uninstalled and so is my news app of choice. I can still access both of those on the web if I choose to, but that one extra step is enough that I rarely go there. (This isn’t going to be a fun 6 months of US news reading anyway so I’m fine skipping that mess.) Instagram did get reinstalled, but I limit myself to viewing it about once per week and I use the obscure UI menus to only look at posts from people I follow and skip all the suggested posts. Doing that in bulk helps me realize which accounts I’m interested in and which ones were just there to keep my feed populated with new stuff so I’ve been able to cut down on what I subscribe to.

This pause also helped me realize that I do like using Instagram stories to throw random content out into the ether to be consumed by anyone who chooses to use it. It feels more friendly than spamming text threads with too much content (which I probably do anyway.) That’s one of the same reasons that I like keeping this blog up too.

For now, I feel better reining things in a bit so that the phone is mostly just a utility that helps me in my life instead of a dopamine producer that I open out of habit. This isn’t the first time I’ve done stuff like this so I know it will creep back in, but at least there are periods of sanity.

Leaping Lamb Farm Stay Review

You may remember that back in 2022 we spent a few days at a farm in Oregon. Shortly after we left, we booked another trip and this time we intentionally booked it for spring in hopes of seeing baby sheep and goats. Spring of 2023 was booked out so we had to book a year and a half out. I thought the wait might be too much for Tyla, but she made it.

We spent four nights at their cottage and had a blast again! Denny and Kate were the farm managers while we were there last time and unfortunately, they had moved on, but we enjoyed meeting farm owner Scottie and new farm manager TK. The last time we magically had the farm to ourselves but this time the bigger farmhouse had about 10 guests in it, but the farm is plenty big for everyone to spread out.

The goats were all born by the time we got there, but some of them were still very young. They were easily the highlight of the trip. Tyla and Elijah spent hours holding the goats and playing with them. Elijah would even go over to the goat yard by himself sometimes because he couldn’t get enough.

There were a lot of baby lambs already but six more were born on our first night. They give birth on their own without human intervention so it was a bit of a surprise every morning to walk out and see if there were any new babies. We helped tag some of them and castrate one of the boys. There were a lot of good opportunities to talk biology with Elijah!

Going in the spring was quite different than the summer. We traded time in the creek and wandering the property for time with the baby animals. Both were great experiences and we’d be hard pressed to choose which was our favorite. We’ll have to figure it out though because I’m sure we’ll be going back at some point!

Some pictures are included below but you can see more on Instagram @benwmartens.