Category Projects

Makin Stuff: A Stranger Things Gingerbread House

Like everyone else on the planet, I enjoyed the heck out of Netflix’s Stranger Things. I spent some time thinking about how I could rig up a Christmas card with lights that blink out “MERRY CHRISTMAS” or “RUN” or “YOU’RE NEXT” but I couldn’t figure out a non-digital way that wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive both to make and ship out 100+, not to mention I’d probably  be working on them from now until Christmas 2037 at which point Stranger Things’ faux retro will look real retro and the post office will be replaced with directly thought-beaming cat pictures into each other’s brains . But still–those blinking Christmas lights made the holiday season an ideal time for an homage if I could just figure out a good angle.

Finally, inspiration struck. I could make a Stranger Things gingerbread house! With lights and a demogorgon coming through the wall and gingerbread furniture with little marshmallow pillows and a frosting shag carpet and a whole “upside down” spooky tree area outside and and…WHOA THERE, MELLY. Considering I’d never made a gingerbread house before (except for one half-assed attempt at these cute little bastards that turned into a big honking mess in my kitchen with no tangible results, certainly no tiny cup-perching houses) or even royal icing, I was probably in over my head on just the house, nevermind all the gingerbread dollhouse furniture that would make it next level. I already needed to make frosting look like wallpaper, I had plenty on my plate without making some a plan so grandiose that I’d never actually follow through on it.

To make my Stranger Things house, I used this recipe (doubled) and this template (altered a bit to make the house a little more like Joyce’s). I also fashioned some of the gingerbread dough into a lumpy protrusion and tried to thin the edges so I could glue it on with frosting and make it look like something is coming through the wall without there being a corresponding divot on the outside of the house.

The part that I was dreading turned out to be the easiest–I slathered on some pale yellow icing for the wallpaper and dotted it with a toothpick dipped in food coloring for the pattern, the idea being not to mimic it exactly (which would be maddening) but to get close  enough to convey the idea of wallpaper. I then mixed up some brown and added the wood paneling. The letters and light wiring were painted on with black food coloring and a small brush. If I were doing it again, I’d try to pipe on the wires with frosting for a more three dimensional look, maybe pipe on the molding for more evenness.

As far as challenges go, I don’t know what sucked more: mixing all of those freaking colors of frosting (8! Mostly for those tiny dots of frosting for the strung lights) or assembling it. My parts weren’t quite perfect, the icing took longer than I’d like to dry, and the roof was so heavy that it wanted to slide straight off. All in all, I think it was a success! The outside could look more like Joyce’s house, and in fact, I cut some support beams for her front porch, but ultimately that would have made it too difficult to see inside, so I left it off. 

I’ve got the gingerbread house, I’ve got the witch costume, all I need to do is lure in a plump child and Christmas dinner is settled. I mean, a ham. We’re having ham.

construction

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peeping-inside

Halloween 2016: Season of the Witch

Taking a week out of town during the month of October after two months of hyping myself up and working on projects was a good idea–it was a break, a reset, and a reason to get laser-focused as the big day was then almost upon me. I’d finished my costume before I hit the road, which meant that I only had about a bazillion small projects left on my list and one big one: a working Nightmare Before Christmas town fountain.

I already had the stuff I’d determined I needed to build it: a kiddie pool, giant sheets of home insulation foam, a fountain pump, a fountain hose, pvc plumbing pipe, chicken wire, and expanding foam, but I was also a little daunted by the build. I’d never made anything like this before, and it had the potential to go really rage-inducingly badly. Volcanically badly. But it was either buckle down and build it now or let all of these materials go to waste, because realistically, it’s not like I’d be more motivated to work on it in November. So I buckled down.

I used a hot wire to cut bricks out of the home insulation foam, which I glued together into a wishing well shape, and once the whole thing was dry, painted it gray and weathered it with black. I also half ass painted the kiddie pool edges–it’s something people mostly wouldn’t see at night or from a distance, but a bright yellow fish swimming on a purple pool tends to stand out and detract from the overall effect. I then eyeballed and cut the pvc pipe into roughly the shape and height I wanted, running the fountain hose through it as I built it because there would be no easy way (or potentially no way at all) to run it through the pipes when they were all assembled, owing to all of the sharp bends. I then shaped some chicken wire around the pipe to give the body some bulk. Then it was time for the part I was really dreading: filling the body out with expanding foam.

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If you’ve never used expanding foam for any home projects, it’s essentially a monkey’s paw in a can, twisting all of your hopes and wishes into a sticky nightmare. At some point after I moved into the house, I thought I’d be clever and fill some of the gaps in our downstairs doorways with expanding foam, and almost from the first spray, I knew I had made a huge mistake. But I kept at it and made it much, much worse. By the time I had determined I was finished, about ten minutes later, there was almost impossibly sticky goo everywhere. Cans of expanding foam say not to expect more than one use from it, as they claim that it tends to seal itself shut. I posit that a can only gets one use because it causes such frustration that a use is always immediately followed by the user attempting to throw the can into the sun. But there I was, clasping that blasted monkey paw all over again and swearing that this time, my wish wouldn’t be corrupted. I was right…sort of. The foam did cling to the chicken wire like I’d hoped. Not very evenly or very well in some spots, and it was impossible to get it to come out of the can at a consistent thickness, but it did mostly do what I wanted. There was a portion near the bottom of bare pipe that I’d hoped to fill out with foam–I really should have bought more chicken wire but really, really didn’t want to make yet another trip to the hardware store. The expanding foam didn’t want to bulk out, instead choosing to slop right off the pipe onto the ground below–thankfully I had learned from last time and laid down some protective barriers for just such a scenario. I ended up covering the bare area with fun foam to give the illusion of bulk.

Once the expanding foam had completely cured, I tried carving it down to an even surface with the hot wire tool, which I’d been led to believe was something that would cut through expansion foam, and of course, it didn’t. So, instead, I hugged it to me like a lover with one arm while hacking bits of it off with a knife with the other, which I quite enjoyed. Admitting to that online is probably the sort of thing that will get me put on a watchlist, but you know me, I’m committed to the truth and elaborate hilarious lies, whichever the situation calls for.

foam

After the body was reasonably even, the time had come to cover it with scales. If the hot wire tool had easily cut the expanding foam (why can’t it work more like a lightsaber and just lop off hands and whatever else I want it to?), I would have considered carving the scales out of the expanding foam, but as it was, I’d have to make them from something else and adhere them. I’d made scales of sorts for the shingles of my Zero tombstone out of pink home insulation foam and that was a complete and total pain in the ass and this was a MUCH larger surface area, so I decided to cut the scales out of fun foam and adhere them with hot glue. I started with about two hundred scales, figuring that’d probably cover most of it. Not even close. Every time I cut two hundred more out and brought them to the workshop I thought certainly it had to be the final two hundred, that there couldn’t possibly be any more surface area to cover, and I’d come up short. Some part of me is still cutting scales out of foam in foam purgatory, which is like hell only foamier. 

Once all the foam scales were on, it was time to carve the head. I’d adhered five rectangles of insulation foam together, and once they’d cured, I busted out the hot wired tool and started roughing out the shape. I’ve never carved material like this before and it turned out to be both satisfying and fun, taking away hunks of material until I had something wholly unlike the original starting material. And, bonus, it turned out pretty close to what I was trying to carve. Once the head shape was done, I cut teeth out of fun foam and glued them in as that was much easier than attempting to carve them out–I’m a foam dabbler, here, not a Renaissance artist. I also cut out a foam tongue and horns and attached both to the head before fitting the head onto the body. Once the head was attached, I made and attached the wings, tail, arms, and hands, and once it was all dried, it was ready for paint and weathering, and when THAT was dry, it was time to put the whole thing together, fill up the kiddie pool with water, and hope that it worked.

It did. By gum, it did. And I finished it in enough time to cross another thing off my decorating list–make monster silhouettes for the downstairs windows and back them with a bright shower curtain so they’d stand out, and also so people couldn’t see into the downstairs which is by far the least cute part of the house. AND I had time to make some food for the party as well. Some food, not all of it. I’m thankful for restaurants with same day catering to take some of the pressure off when it comes to feeding up to twenty people (which is my “small” game night, it is possible I’m struggling with the concept of “small”) plus getting the house and yard ready and me into a costume with a decent amount of makeup and answering the door for trick or treaters.

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halloween2016-6-of-8Speaking of trick or treaters, the candy wheel was a hit–I had some kids come to my door and say they’d heard about the wheel from their friends, and at least one parent told me that my house was on their “must stop” list because of my decorations. It’s exciting for me because I love spreading the Halloween spirit, and it’s nice to know that my hard work has been noticed and appreciated.

mantle

booze

Since it was a game night and I’d invited people over to “test their luck”, there were a few games of chance throughout the night, and the winners could choose from the gift cards arrayed on the table or one of two “mystery boxes”, because who can resist the allure of a mystery box? The contents of one of the boxes was the game in which my likeness appears, and the other contained two dog biscuits and a note letting the recipient know they’d chosen poorly. Hey, they can’t all be winners, right?

feastThat skull cakelet pan I bought made such awesome cornbread skulls, but damn were they ever beefy. ‘Cakelet’ implies mini cake but there wasn’t anything mini about this ish.

For my costume this year, I decided to revisit the witch, and ended up in a very different place from my swamp witch costume. I thought about doing a similar transfigured arm and nail claws, but since I was throwing a party and not just attending one, I figured I’d probably need that arm and hand for things like making food, so that idea went by the wayside. I used a dress, leggings, and boots I already had (why spend the time making something if I have something that already works for that purpose?), bought the mask on etsy,  the hat from amazon, and made the rest myself: the belt, the cloak, the necklace/cloak clasp, and the hat accessories. The time consuming part was definitely the feathers–I wanted the look of giant feathers to go with the giant bird skull, which meant making them. They were all individually cut out of (you guessed it!) fun foam, textured with an x-acto knife, given a rachis of hot glue, and then painted matte black. I spent hours cutting, texturizing, gluing, and painting feathers, and once I started sewing them on, I realized that I would need to spend the rest of forever making foam feathers if I was to cover the entire shoulder to floor cloak in overlapping feathers. (Sensing some sort of pattern, here?) Additionally, I realized that many flipping feathers would make the cloak ridiculously heavy, especially for the frail 80 year old me who would finally be donning it after making all those feathers, so I decided to do the front panels and call it a day, which meant I actually had a few feathers left over for things like tucking into the hat and keeping in a scrapbook to remind future me of why I’ve got arthritis. I sewed a wire into the neck of the cloak in the hopes that it would hold itself on, but with the weight and relative flexibility of the wire, that was a futile hope. Enter the cloak clasp, which is made of a base of floor mat foam for thickness and strength (not enough strength to keep from ripping on the day of the party, heyooo), with a decorative design in apoxie sculpt and a cabachon of resin. The apoxie sculpt was coated in rub n buff to give it a silvered appearance because I’m a one-trick pony. If I’d had more time, I would have considered making a woods-y staff with glowing purple crystals, but getting the fountain finished was my first priority as it would have far more impact than a costume prop that I’d have set aside for most of the night.

All in all, I’m super pleased with how it turned out, and I’d wear and swoop that cape around again anytime. Maybe around the house, just because.

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treatmaster

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…After the party broke up for the night, things got a little weird.

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Get in loser, we’re going shopping: A Halloween Costume Retrospective

I’m writing this in the past at a crossroads: either I went on vacation this week or I got mashed by a tree in STORMPOCALYPSE 2016. Or, I guess, I didn’t go and I didn’t get mashed but the power was out for a damn long while and updating my blog wasn’t my first priority. Regardless, I didn’t work on shit this week to reach my Halloween goals. So here’s a look at the costumes I built for last year. That’s right, last year. I’m nothing if not timely.

I’d had a bug up my butt for a while to make Jason a Thorin Oakenshield costume. I made his ring way the fuck back in November 2013, and then I hit a patch of severe depression and didn’t do anything for Halloween 2014. I’d had my traditional pumpkin carving party, but as far as a costume goes, I didn’t do shit. I stayed at home, handed out candy, and depressed myself further because it was my favorite holiday and I wasn’t doing anything. So I started working on his costume in earnest at some point during early 2015. First, I made a duct tape husband.

duct-tape-husband

This allowed me to fit a costume to him without him needing to be present and with a slightly lower risk of sticking him with pins. I also turned these santa boots:

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into these Thorin boots:

boots

I cut off the faux fur top, covered them in brown fur, and made boot caps and straps from fun foam. I don’t know why I had never really used cosplay resources before to figure out how to make stuff, but it turns out there’s a whole community of people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to making costumes and props, and they’re willing to share this information with people like me. Hurrah! It turns out this fun foam stuff that I’d seen a million times at craft stores and wondered what anyone would use it for is actually a miracle substance that I may end up using for everything. It’s pliable, you can heat mold it and it will hold its shape, and if you seal it with glue and paint it with metallic paint, it can resemble metal armor. It’s pretty astounding! Cosplayers are also all about thermoplastics like Worbla, which would have also worked for this application but it’s significantly more expensive, so I haven’t dipped my toes into that pool yet. I also used fun foam to make Thorin’s bracers, shown below before they were sealed and finished:

bracer

I also learned to do resin casting, which has turned out to be another useful tool in my arsenal. I needed to learn for this costume because Thorin wears a suit of brigandine armor under his cloak, and it’s one of the most visually striking aspects of his costume, so it’s not something I could skip out on. First I made a master in apoxie sculpt. I then made a silicone mold of the master, and then dusted that mold with aluminum powder, poured in resin with more aluminum powder mixed in, waited for it to cure, rubbed the new resin part with steel wool to make the aluminum shine, and then weathered it with black paint to give it dimension. This had to be done one hundred plus times, most of which was spent simultaneously cursing myself for having such big stupid plans that involve so much work. And most of that work was hidden by the cloak. Blargh.

brigandinel-r: master, fresh cast, steel wooled, weathered

tunic

Thorin’s jeweled belt buckle is also a pretty big visual point in his costume, so I wanted to hit that recognition point as well. This involved resin casting some gems (the backs of which are painted with metallic nail polish, which gives them a reflective sparkling quality) and socketing those gems into a belt buckle made from more foam, this time from one of those thicker foam floor mats. Cosplayers work wonders with floor mats, but so far, I haven’t managed to do as well. It’s harder to cut, takes more heat to shape, and I think ultimately the belt buckle turned out just OK.

resin-gems

buckle  

I also sewed the tunic, the cloak, made leather patches for the knees of his pants, and repainted a plastic toy sword, and Thorin was complete!

thorin-front

thorin-side

My costume was a little more fraught. I vacillated between a number of options: lady bearded dwarf, Tauriel, Bilbo, and Thranduil, ultimately deciding to go with armored up party king Thranduil. The armor builds started off ok, with foam handguards and bracers, which flexed really well with my arm and hand movements. The raised portions were made with puff paint, and while it’s useful to make designs, I have determined it is also the devil’s paint, and this is never more evident than when you’re trying to paint a long, smooth, curving line with it. Three quarters of the way through and PFHT!!!!!!!!! Surprise air bubble! which will cause paint to spurt everywhere and/or come out in a horrendous lumpy mess. And then it takes a lifetime to dry and if you touch it even one second before it’s fully, fully, fully dry, it will wetly smear all over everything. My hands were silver for at least three weeks.

handguard

 

arm-armor

While waiting for armor to dry in various stages of puff paint and elmer’s glue, I started constructing the cloth portion of my costume. No pattern, just eyeballing it. It turned out surprisingly ok except the neckline which I hated and didn’t know how to fix. I figured it wasn’t all that important because the whole thing would be covered with chest and shoulder armor anyway. I made his complicated shoulder pauldrons and though they weren’t exactly identical, I felt they looked pretty cool.

thranduil-cloak

But then I started on the chest armor and the shit hit the fan. Because it’s such a large piece, I needed to make it out of the larger foam floor mats rather than the fun foam (which is generally about the size of a sheet of paper). That foam is thiiiiick, and a piece that size needed more heat to shape than my hair dryer could provide and some dumb part of me refused to buy a heat gun for this one thing. I’m already a fat person, and the additional thickness of armor that I couldn’t get to curve in anywhere made me look like a walking barrel. And THEN there was the complicated pattern on top that turned into a goddamn puff paint nightmare world. I needed to reassess.

breastplate

Could I made the costume work without the chest armor? Eeeeeeeeehhhh. The shoulder pauldrons were supposed to attach to the chest armor to keep the weight of the cloak from straight dragging the whole business off my shoulders, so that wasn’t working super well. The wig that I bought was way too long and thick, and at this point in the game, I hated the whole thing together but it was too late to change to something completely different.

armored-upThrilled. So thrilled. Ignore the PJ bottoms. And all the Halloween bins in the background. 

Soooo it was at this point that I decided to ditch all the armor I’d made. The handguards, the bracers, the boot armor, the pauldrons, and especially that fucking chestpiece. I cut and thinned the hell out of the wig. But with the armor chopped, it really needed something  else to make it more Thranduil. I determined that something else was his branch crown. I made the crown out of twisted wire:

crown

which I then coated in hot glue and painted brown. At this point, it looked like a crown of weird turds, but I kept at it:

glue-crown 

Thranduil’s crown in the movie just has leafy bits in it, but I felt like he was the sort of dude who would probably accessorize to the season, so I added in sprigs that had tiny pumpkin looking things. And with that, I was done! And not too soon, I think I wrapped the whole thing up the day before my Halloween party.

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king-thranduil    All hail your King under the Mountain and your Party King!

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Freaky Friday: The Revenge

I was going to decorate the yard this week, but I’m glad I didn’t–there’s the remnants of a typhoon headed this way and I don’t think my little foam tombstones would do all too hot in 80mph+ winds. Plus, who the hell wants to chase tombstones down the street during a torrential downpour? Not this lady. Not that I could catch them, anyway, I’m crap at running.

So what did I do this week? My first priority was to batten down the hatches amidst all the other semi-panicked people doing the same thing. When the shelf gets down to the last bundle of firewood and you and some other guy are both eyeballing it from down the aisle, there are no laws of human decency anymore. There are only the laws of physics: the speed and trajectory of which you ram your cart into his to divert him into the garden supplies while your momentum carries you forward to sweet, wood-y victory.

george

That, and I’m also prepping for a trip, which makes for weird cognitive dissonance timing. “Ok, so I need water and non perishable goods for survival, and also sunblock for the pool.”

As far as Halloween stuff goes, work continued on my Halloween costume apace, and I’m almost done with all of the necessary components. Time and motivation and whether my house gets flattened by a tree will factor into how many of my stretch goals are reached.

I also reskinned my moving photo frame. It’s not that Harry Potter isn’t seasonally appropriate, but I wanted to take it somewhere different this year. I’ve got it playing a rotating selection of black and white spooky cartoons and it makes me super happy. And my love for ridiculous fake newspapers will never die.

photoframe

A year ago on Pinterest, I saw a floral arrangement using a skull candy dish as a base, which I immediately recognized as I had the exact same one. There was nothing for me to do but shamelessly render a poor imitation of the original. Mine is nowhere near as full (fake flowers are so fucking expensive!) but it still makes me happy. I also think that it’s funny that the black branches in the back basically disappear into my curtains when I put it in its new home in the living room.

flowers

display

This week, I got caught up on Monstress comics (so good!). I also watched The Babadook, Knights of Badassdom, Zombeavers, a bit more Penny Dreadful, American Horror Story (this season is surprisingly cohesive so far), and Westworld which doesn’t necessarily fit the theme but I love it so much already.

Aaaaand now the power is flickering so I’m going to peace out and huddle with Napodog and hope I don’t end up with an entirely unintended Halloween costume.

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Freaky Friday

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

When the store shelves are loaded

with skulls and fake blood and so much pumpkin beeeeeer

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

It’s convenient that my two favorite yearly celebrations are nearly exactly six months apart–my birthday and Halloween, which gives me time to get super pumped, make big plans, do something over the top to celebrate, and then recover before getting super pumped again. And, you know, maybe do some other stuff in between if there’s time. I will acknowledge that my birthday celebration is a wholly selfish endeavor (me, me, look at meeeeee), but Halloween? Halloween is about sharing my love of the spooky with everyone who will allow it, whether that’s organizing a trip to a corn maze, giving out king size candy bars to trick or treaters, or decorating my yard so much that my house is starting to get a reputation. Seriously, this summer when I was out gardening, a woman walked by with her children. As they passed me, one of the kids said something that I didn’t understand–the mom explained that he was asking where the spiders were, that every time she walks past our house he asks where the spiders are, and she tells him that I only put them out at Halloween.  I’m pretty stoked to be known as the spider house, not gonna lie. Plus, I’m playing the long game: these kids are going to grow up remembering that my house is the awesome Halloween house, and when they’re teenagers, they’ll probably pick a different house’s fence to pee on or lawn to start on fire with axe body spray.

I will admit I’ve been stalking retail establishments for Halloween goods since early August, because building a truly spooky home takes passion, commitment, and a willingness to elbow your fellow shopper in the face over the only skull cake stand on the shelves. It also helps build anticipation for the holiday in me, gets me plotting on larger projects to build, and maybe even gets my wheels spinning on a costume. I think my two favorite places for Halloween stuff are Home Goods and Target–both places have stuff that could potentially make it into the year round collection. Home Goods is especially great because they get new, different stuff every week, and it starts rolling out as early as mid-August. Target’s stuff can be good, but their stocking is also a little frustrationg: even though everything shows up on their website in August with a bunch of cool things that are store only (which gets me even more pumped), they’re easily the last place to get their Halloween stuff out in store (gotta squeeze every last nickel out of back to school), and so after a month of anticipation, I find that the things I was most interested in buying aren’t stocked anywhere within 100 miles of me. DAMN YOUUUU!

acquisitionsI didn’t elbow anyone over this skull cake stand, but it WAS the only one on the shelf, and almost immediately after it was in my basket, someone else came to ogle it and asked where I got it. MINE.

Anyway, after two solid months of getting pumped up, once October finally rolls around, my spirit and enthusiasm for projects I’ve been working on can start to wane a bit, which is both understandable (it’s hard to maintain a manic level of pumpedness for a full quarter of a year) and a little ridiculous (given that it’s finally close to the thing that I was so damn pumped about for two months straight already). So each Friday this month, I’m going post about the stuff that I’ve worked on, stuff I’ve done in the Halloween spirit, and any macabre media I’ve been taking in to remember the season and keep it spooky.

When doing my yard decorations, I always try to straddle the line between creepy and fun–I don’t want to make anyone pee their pants or give anyone nightmares with over the top gore. It’s totally fine by me if that’s what other people want to do, but it’s not my style. And now that I have the capability to build more sizeable decorations, I don’t want to necessarily leap from theme to theme and end up with an entire storage unit’s worth of Halloween decorations, only some of which are reused*. And I also didn’t want to have to theme my costume to my yard every year, which would be super limiting. AND I didn’t want to have to do an insane push to build a whole new yard display every year, so instead, I’m doing a vaguely Tim Burton yard, which I’ll add to each year as the mood strikes me to build something. It fits that spooky but not gruesome mold I’m going for, and there’s a large library of references to draw from. This year, I’m focusing on The Nightmare Before Christmas**. So far, I’ve built:

zeroZero’s tombstone

nbc-signsSally’s herb signs

candy-wheelOogie Boogie’s Wheel of Candy

The candy wheel was obviously a lot more involved than the other two. The wheel is hand painted, I sculpted, molded, cast, and painted every single tiny Jack Skellington face on the pegs, I carved and finished the foam dice and black and white newt monster thing, and I made Oogie out of burlap and wire, burning myself pretty well with a glue gun while I was at it. Trick or Treaters are going to spin this baby to determine their candy haul–I still need to attach labels for various candy, but that needs to wait until I’ve actually bought the bulk of the candy, which I’ll do at some point next week. I did take a trip to Vancouver to buy some spooky-themed Canadian candy for the question mark slot, because what’s more exciting and mysterious than a whole new kind of candy you’ve never seen before? I also want to make sure those Skellington faces are firmly attached so they don’t go flying off with vigorous spins.

I’m also working on some other yard stuff but none of it looks like anything yet, so it’ll be posted if and when I finish it on a future Friday.

I also made, assembled, and delivered invitations for my Halloween game night party this week (all but a couple, which I need to get in the mail ASAP because the doorsteps in question are controlled access so I can’t drop them off like I did the others). I bought the coffins premade, which I then disassembled, woodburned, stained, painted, and reassembled. I then made an oogie boogie die from apoxie sculpt and learned to make a two part silicone mold so I could cast it in resin, which was definitely a learning process for me. I ended up having to make two masters and two silicone molds because I hated the way the first one turned out–the first master was, in retrospect, just OK, and the mold wasn’t super well done which made an OK sculpt cast even more poorly. Once the dice were cast, they needed to be sanded and airbrushed. The invites themselves are on the face of the skull cards, and I threw in a gold coin because I felt like it needed something else. I was going to customize poker chips but honestly, these were enough work already and it was more important that I get them out in a timely fashion so as not to arrive after people have already accepted other Halloween night invitations.

coffin

dice

I bought some fabric with skulls and pumpkins that screamed neither skull nor pumpkin(spooky, but somewhat subtlely so) which I used to make pillows for the living room. I had some scrap left over, so I made pillows for Napoleon’s bed, which he infrequently uses but I pretend he appreciates anyway.

pillows

I also decorated the house, and I’m proud of myself for waiting this long to do it. It’s been fun turning on all the spooky lights every evening to watch movies/TV. So far, not much spooky media has been happening in this room (I blame Luke Cage) but as I wrapped that up earlier this week, the full supernatural barrage of my regular programming can begin.

fireplaceYes, Gibralter is dressed up as a mummy. T-Rex costume forthcoming.

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tabletop

lord-farnswoggle    Lord Farnswoggle, Earl of Cumberbunch, and his faithful companion, Nipper. I’m thinking that he still needs a moustache and a monocle.

This coming week, I’m planning on continuing work on both yard stuff and my costume. My costume is almost completed, but I’m definitely at a place of fatigue with it at the moment. Why is it that every idea I’ve had for costuming lately involves making hundreds of something? I’m hoping to get the yard decorated this weekend. This week I’m also planning on making time to get caught up on the Monstress comics, maybe continue watching Penny Dreadful (I want to like it, but it really has yet to grab me which means it probably never will), and the rest is TBD. Just typing all this out has helped raise my spirits!

 

*I am fine with filling a shed in the yard with decorations though, and it’ll probably come to that so as not to make it impossible to get at non-Halloween stuff like bikes and the recycling bin and the water shut-off.

**Since it’s Nightmare Before CHRISTMAS and all, does that mean I can leave it out until January?

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A Game of Crones: Mellzah’s 34th Nameday

Last year, I set thirty-three goals for my thirty-third year (you may recall, as I’ve talked about and backlinked to it nigh-endlessly). Unfortunately, I wasn’t 100% successful–I managed a good 2/3rds of the list, but a combination of over-ambitious scheduling, somewhat under-achieving, and a few other factors (weather and the like) prevented me from getting all the way there. At first, I was a little mad at myself–“I couldn’t manage to do thirty-three things in a year? Seriously?” especially given that I’m lucky enough to have much more free time than most: no kids, no job, etc. But on the other hand, it was partially my desire to have a well-rounded list, not just things to see but things to achieve, that was my own undoing. It’s one thing to make a list that says do/make/learn on it with an arbitrary timeline, and another to cast hundreds of resin brigandine armor pieces while learning a language and trying to do art for several different projects and…it was all just too much.

But even when I didn’t achieve my goal, I often made good strides toward it–I didn’t reach my goal weight, but I lost 70 pounds, while changing the fact that I had been slowly disappearing from my own blog for the last few years as my weight ballooned. I didn’t finish my sketchbook but I rediscovered my love of drawing. I didn’t run a 5k, but I learned just how much I actually hate running. And the successes I had changed my life for the better– my new recipes tried per week averaged way higher than one, which meant I tried so many new things, learned new techniques, and didn’t suffer the crushing boredom that usually comes with extended dieting. The peach tree I planted last year has little baby peaches on it now–a few years from now, it should produce enough to bake with as well as eat fresh. Either way, I’ve decided to not up the stakes with 34 things this year: I don’t want to spend the next year rushing from thing to thing just to check it off my list or feel guilty for not having done so. Instead, I’m just going to jot down some things privately and when I’m dinking around on World of Warcraft, maybe it’ll give me a reminder about the longer term goals that I have and how I could better be spending my time.

Speaking of spending my time, around January this year, I decided that I wanted to have a big, fabulous birthday party this year, akin to some of the parties I’ve thrown of old. A magical, wonderful, fantastical, frabjabular party. And since my birthday weekend neatly coincided with the season premiere of Game of Thrones, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to have a grand Westerosi name day celebration. Planning started in earnest almost immediately: this wasn’t the sort of thing I could half-ass and achieve the effect I was going for, which meant that just about everything had to be made from scratch or altered in some way to live up to my standards.

lsp

First up were the invitations. I used this template from Inn at the Crossroads and printed it out on some natural colored cardstock, and “gilded” all of the yellow elements on the card with gold tempera powder. Each invitation had a black feather stuffed inside and was finished off with a wax seal with a “hand of the king” impression…and no return address. Mysterious!

 

invitation

invitations

I asked guests to send a raven to RSVP, and many of the “ravens” I received in return were very clever, with my two favorites being the Poe poem “The Raven” altered to fit the theme, and the other being a raven finger puppet with a message of regret in Dothraki.

To set the scene, I wanted some large, eye-catching props, so to create the feel of a tourney ground in my backyard, I cut a number of vinyl shower curtains in half and painted house sigils on them. This was a lot more cost and time effective than rendering them in cloth, which is what I did for my Midnight Carnival (eight freaking years ago!). Instead of shelling out $100 for the officially licensed dragon eggs, I made my own from styrofoam ostrich eggs and about a jillion thumb tacks. Instead of shelling out $150 for the officially licensed map markers, I made my own crude ones with some air-cure clay.  Instead of shelling out $30,000 (plus shipping) for the officially licensed iron throne replica, I cobbled one together using an adirondack chair, yardsticks, fun foam, a glue gun, and some spray paint. I also bought and polished a number of silver servingware pieces from thrift shops (many for just a couple of bucks while the brand new ones in department stores are going for several hundred!) so that my feast could be appropriately schmancy. The idea was to save where I could so I could splurge elsewhere.

got house sigil banners

finished dragon eggs

iron throne

servingware

I also made my dress (which was supposed to be heavily embroidered but I ran out of time/ambition beforehand), covered an archery target with burlap and Joffrey’s stupid face, fixed up a foam bow and arrow toy set so it looked a little less plastic-y (there was no way I was going to let a bunch of drunk adults shoot real arrows in my backyard, a decision that was justified the first time an arrow launched over the fence and pegged a car), aged some “lost Nymeria” posters, and in proper Song of Ice and Fire fashion, made (and bought)  a fuckton of food:

  • Beef brisket
  • Chopped pork
  • Roasted chickens
  • Jalapeno artichoke dip served in hollowed out artichokes (they looked vaguely dragon egg-y to me)
  • Candied lemon almonds
  • Candied peppered pecans
  • Carrots with butter, honey, and lemon
  • Spinach salad with goat cheese, strawberries, and edible flowers
  • Spiced crunchy chickpeas
  • Brie with lavender honey and bourbon pecans
  • Fresh baked bread & salt
  • Lemon cakes topped with candied lemon slices
  • Apple pie
  • Strawberry pie
  • Salted honey rose pie
  • Spiced Dornish strongwine
  • Sekahnjebin

Plus, I had a case of red wine, and a keg of beer from Black Raven Brewing Co, so hopefully no one went hungry or thirsty or sober on my watch. These were all served on plates that looked like silver shields, and drinks were from goblets and silver coffee mugs that looked a bit like flagons, because every last damn detail has to be just so in my world, which might have something to do with me only being able to throw a party of this magnitude every few years or so lest I spend all of my nights waking up in a panic about plates and the weather forecast. I managed to take zero photos of the spread, because pretty much by the time it all comes together, everyone’s at the party and ready to eat. Besides, as I am not a food blogger, I manage to make even the most delicious food look unappetizing in a photograph. I just don’t have those skills.

I got so, so lucky with the weather for this party. We’d been having an unseasonably warm spring, and had three beautiful sunny and warm weekends in a row…so what was the forecast for my outdoor party? Rain. Cold. And every time I looked at the forecast, it got worse. Harder rain. Thunderstorms. Pretty much every screech of despair that happened in the house that week was because I had pulled up the weather forecast, save for a couple when I was trying to sew my dress and fucked it up pretty badly. There were a lot of screeches of despair that week. Luckily, the day of the party was dry and cool, with the rain holding off until past sunset at which point I didn’t care anymore. It would have been really hard to convince everyone to go outside if it was pouring, and while I could have probably fit that many people in my house in a worst-case scenario, I think everyone is much more comfortable if they have the option for fresh air.

oberyn

have you seen this wolf

So, I mentioned splurging up above. Splurging on what, you ask? On the elements of the party that I was dying to tell people about beforehand. Somehow I managed to keep my trap shut, and in the process, I probably took a couple of years off of my life holding it all in. If I have a secret, I will want to tell it. I will be dying to tell it. You should never, ever tell me a secret. First, I hired the amazing Ashley from Camlann to make fresh flower crowns for anyone who wanted them. Second, I was lucky enough to be able to hire the Seattle Knights to battle in my backyard. About twenty minutes before the knights were due to perform, I hustled everyone out into the backyard for an archery contest, with the prizes being some golden dragon eggs stuffed with small GoT swag–a hand of the king pin, a mockingbird pin, and a coin of the faceless men of Braavos. When the knights strode in, clad in plate and mail, jaws dropped. They did battle for an hour, sang me a birthday dirge, mingled with guests, took photos with anyone who wanted them, and were generally the most freaking awesome people in the world. IN THE WORLD. I may never have another party better than this one.

archery

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flower crown table

emily

house banners

joff target

joffrey target

jorrie

a and c

me and chantal

ash

 

georgia 1

 

flower crown

 

llllladies

 

j crown

 

knights battling

 

knight battle

 

 

smite

 

 

chris

 

d and j         georgia        jason 

  khaleesi

dany takes the throne

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: Pinata Bash 2015

skarsgaard

I heard about the Pinata Bash about six months before the actual event date, which was plenty of time to make a killer pinata. Naturally, given six months to make it, I really only got started in earnest the week of the event, because time pressure makes me excel, or at the very least, gives me a primo excuse for not making something to the best of my abilities (“What did you expect, I put it together in ten minutes?“). I ultimately ended up making a dragon pinata primarily out of cardboard with a thin skin of paper mache, because I remembered all too well how quickly the last pinata I made was sliced in half.

The rules were as follows:

-Your pinata must contain a prize pocket

-The contents of the prize pocket can be anything so long as it’s not liquor, liquid, or potentially hazardous (but it was indicated that it would be ideal if you put in things that people would actually want)

-The pinata can’t be bigger than 5’x5′ or too heavy to lift with a rope and pulley

 

That was pretty much it! My dragon rolled in at just under five feet long, with jaws that snapped up and down when he moved, and was stuffed with seven pounds of atomic fireballs and chocolate coins. I was happy with my construction and my chances at snagging a prize until I got to Re-bar and realized that some people had worked way, way harder on theirs than I did and deserved the prizes way, way more than I did.

clash of the titansClash of the Titans

death starDeath Star

emoji twinsDancing Emoji Twins

ghostbuster pinataGhostbusters

kandi kidzKandi Kidz RaverBallz

romy michelle escape helicopterRomy and Michelle’s Escape Helicopter

smash the patriarchySmash the Patriarchy

sadzillaSadzilla

The first portion of the evening was the judging portion–the judges checked out all of the pinatas, made some initial notes, and then each builder was invited onstage to answer questions about their pinata. Seattle’s Mayor of Burlesque, Jo Jo Stiletto, wanted to know my dragon’s name, backstory, and magical powers, and I was suddenly thankful for all of the bullshit I make up on a regular basis, because while I walked into the club with a generic nameless dragon, I was able to come up with something on the spot. “He’s an…uh… Icelandic dragon who goes from house to house at night, breathing in his minty fresh breath through the windows. Whenever people wake up in the morning and say “Ooooh, it’s crisp!”, that’s him. His name is, uh, Skarsgård.”

After everyone talked about their creations, the judges conferred and selected the winners.

First place: Clash of the Titans. Obviously! This thing had light up eyes and the creators spent a full six months perfecting it.

Second place: Smash the Patriarchy. This one surprised me–sure, the name and concept were funny, but I would have pegged the death star or the ghostbusters ghost for this slot.

Third place: Ghostbusters. It even came with a proton pack smashing stick!

Last place: Sadzilla, where the only prize was a hug from the judges. They were openly cruel to this girl, not just about her pinata, but about her–one said she seemed retarded, and I was appalled. It doesn’t seem like this is how you should treat someone who spent time, effort, and money creating something so you could have an event to destroy it AND paid more to enter a pinata than they would have if they’d paid cover as a smasher. That was the big bummer of the evening to me.

The other bummer was how damn stingy builders were with their prizes, which is what I found out when we got to smashing. The entire point of smashing open a pinata is to get at the goodies inside, so yes, it is a total dick move to stuff your pinata full of glitter, opened fortune cookies, and old dirty socks. Or three starburst.

glitter floor

one sad smiley face

skarsgaard strung up

emoji twins swingSkarsgård went down in one hit (the pinata curse continues), and the crowd fell on him and pocketed his guts within seconds. Someone carried around the head like a trophy, eyeless, because someone else had ripped them out as their trophy. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m even more convinced that I would not do well in a mob-type situation. Someone get these people some candy, stat! And take away their sticks!

Happy 33rd Birthday to Me!

lunchbox

I turned 33 yesterday, and had my most sacrelicious birthday celebration yet: Mellzah’s Last Supper. A group of us met up at the Lunchbox Lab and indulged in a stupidly decadent meal that may or may not have involved tater tot and milkshake communion. Yes, I’ve totally gone there for a different birthday and I don’t even care that I’m repeating myself, but I am a little bummed that The Last Supper Club couldn’t hang on juuuust a little longer because it would have been the perfect venue for this theme.

For her 31st birthday, my friend Boolia came up with a really impressive list of thirty-one things she wanted to do in her 31st year, and I watched in awe as she checked them all off–go skydiving, fly a helicopter, basically be a badass for an entire year. What I think makes it so much better than a bucket list is that you really have no idea when you’re going to die, so it’s easy to put off all of those experiences and goals with “someday,” “later,” “maybe next year,” whereas the one year deadline is hard and fast. Either you make it a priority and do it, or you don’t. Some of these things are big, and some are small–I can’t cram all of the huge experiences I want to have over the course of my life into the next year because there are always time and money constraints, but I can make sure this year is both exciting and fulfilling for myself instead of wondering where in the hell the last year went…which I’m kind of doing this year. I mean, when I really think about it, I did do a lot of stuff last year– I united some friends in mawwage, packed in a bunch of activities in Denver including the world’s most exciting restaurant, was miserably sick in and around NYC but still managed to have my mayoral photo taken, took SoCal by storm, took a day trip to Vancouver, went to some museums, checked out some festivals, read a bunch of books, wrote some stuff, cooked some stuff, did some house renos, made some stuff, and saw a hell of a lot of roadside attractions,while still leaving time for all-important puppy cuddles. But there’s always that drive to do more, that fear that I’m wasting what little time I have. I think I’d have that fear even if my consciousness was uploaded into an indestructible super-robot. “Why didn’t I go and see the Florida Keys before the ocean swallowed them?” I’ll moan on my 300th birthday. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

33 things I’d like to do in my 33rd year

  1. Finish that app I’ve been working on hahahaha no
  2. Swim with sharks
  3. Become confident using my camera in full manual and overall improve my photography These days I use manual more often than not, and I feel like I’ve improved but there’s always room for more improvement.
  4. Go somewhere I’ve never been (city, state, country…I’m open! A new restaurant or grocery store does not count.) New Orleans. Iceland.
  5. Become more comfortable with having my picture taken I’m getting there. Slowly.
  6. Fill a sketchbook from front to back. Not necessarily good sketches or things I’d want to show people, but make the time to draw. I made good progress on this one but didn’t finish. I will, though!
  7. Float in a sensory deprivation tank
  8. Hike in the Olympic rainforest
  9. Make myself and Jason an awesome Halloween costume I did this, eventually I’ll post about it. Who doesn’t like really out of date Halloween posts?
  10. Feast at Camlann Medieval Village
  11. Have a lifecast made of my face so I can…
  12. Learn to make foam appliances  FAILED I waited too long to get started on these two, I wanted to mostly lose the weight first so I’d have a better cast to work from (if I’m doing it, I want the stuff I make to work with my face for more than ten minutes)  and since I’m still losing, it’s not yet time.
  13. Visit the dinosaur town with volcano toilets
  14. Go to Diablo Lake
  15. Check out an actual ghost town
  16. Run a 5k FAILED
  17. Plant a tree
  18. Try an average of one new recipe a week to avoid boredom and advance my cooking skills. I had a huge success with this, I tried so many new things and techniques, and I feel like my cooking has improved a lot and I’m not as reliant on the same couple of tricks.
  19. Achieve my ideal weight FAILED This one is not going to happen–while I’ve lost in the neighborhood of 70 pounds this year, I still have more to go. I did well, but some things just take a little longer.
  20. Fly in a hot air balloon   FAILED. I booked a trip to fly over the tulip fields, and two weekends in a row, I woke up at the asscrack of dawn, only to have the weather shut the operation down…and then tulip season was over. I am hopeful that this is something I can do next March–if I’m going to spend the money to do it, I want it to be special.
  21. Learn a new language or take my Chinese or Spanish from utterly pathetic from disuse to closer to fluency. FAILED. I worked on both Spanish and Chinese this year but neither are close to fluency. I will keep plugging away.
  22. Take a hike before dawn that ends with a spectacular viewpoint for the sunrise
  23. Dye my hair a fun color FAILED. I wanted to wait until I was less fat and then time got away from me. It’s still going to happen, it just didn’t happen this year.
  24. Indoor skydiving (baby steps!) FAILED. I bought the pass but I just did not get it scheduled before my birthday. Soon, though!
  25. Go river tubing  With the drought this year, this one is not going to happen. Instead, my goal is to fix the back deck so I can have parties out there without fearing that it’s going to crumble right off the house and kill everyone. Hey, not all of them can be exciting. DONE! And holy balls, it was expensive. But worth it.
  26. Get to the point where I can hold a freestanding handstand. FAILED. That’s another thing that I wanted to wait to do until I got thinner so it would be easier and as it turns out, I still have more weight to lose.
  27. Throw a party that doesn’t revolve around movie-watching (I love B&G&P&P but it’s a very passive kind of party and it feels like the only kind I’ve had recently)Done, I had a good Halloween party. It *did* feature a power hour, but the point of the gathering was not to watch TV.
  28. Go to Tillicum Village
  29. Go to Cape Disappointment
  30. Go horseback riding on Orcas Island
  31. Have afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress (Scheduled but past my birthday, the place is currently under renovations and if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right, by gum.)
  32. Go on the Elk bugling tour at NW Trek Done, post coming eventually.
  33. Go to Viking Fest

I’m already excited!

I guarantee it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This might be the only time in the history of the world where someone has thought “YES! I’m glad I hung on to that taco costume.” When my prop closet explodes and the crew of Hoarders comes sniffing around, I’m going to use this photo to justify my collection.

Makin Stuff: Save the FLDSMDFR

As I’ve mentioned before, Jason is the WORST to shop for, because everything he really wants, he buys for himself. This past Christmas, we’d already discussed that we didn’t want to spend a ton of money on gifts because it’s so easy to get caught up in an exponential increase in spending each year to try and top the previous year’s gifts. Let’s face it: we all have spending limits and less than an infinite amount of room for stuff.

I brainstormed for a while and decided that it would be really fun to make him a board game. We both have had a lot of fun playing board games together, but we’d had a bad string recently of games he bought that I hated. Mostly the sort with gigantic instruction manuals that you have to reference constantly throughout your turn, twelve different kinds of tokens to keep track of, and completely different rulesets for different players, so we’d be competing against one another and ultimately I’d lose because of something in the rulebook I hadn’t seen and then I’d be unreasonably pissed off for hours afterward. Ugh, kill me now. So I knew that I wanted to make a game with a simple ruleset where we worked cooperatively. Something fun, reminiscent of games we’d played as kids, easy to pick up and play, with a cute theme. We’d tried to go see Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 on our honeymoon with disastrous results, but saw it later and loved it, so I decided to infringe the hell out of their copyright for my personal enjoyment and made Save The FLDSMDFR.

The object of the game is to reach the FLDSMDFR with one of the foodimals before Chester V arrives and takes it for himself. Players control their own foodimal and take turns moving Chester V, rolling a die and following the instructions on the board, having to land on the final rainbow space with an exact count. Should a foodimal and Chester V end up on the same square, there is a struggle determined by the roll of a die, the loser of which goes back to the starting square–in the event of a tie, both figures stay put. Between the struggle mechanism and various board features (which includes slides that move both ways), there’s a lot of back and forth in the game, and it’s generally anyone’s game up until the very end.

Jason and I have been enjoying playing so much that I ended up making him an expansion pack of foodimals for his birthday!