Saturday, November 21, 2015

MYSTIC by Jason Denzel - Book Review

Rating: 4/5 -  A satisfying read that’s worth every word.

Title: Mystic

Author: Jason Denzel

Format: hardcover

Published: 2015

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publisher: Tor

Landed in my hands:
purchased myself

Summary (from dust jacket flap):

I called to the Myst and it send us you.

For hundreds of years, highborn nobles have competed for the chance to learn of the Myst. Powerful, revered, and often reclusive, Mystics have the unique ability to summon and manipulate the Myst: the underlying energy that lives at the heart of the universe. Once in a very great while, they take an apprentice, always from the most privileged sects of society.

Such has always been the tradition—until a new High Mystic takes her seat and chooses Pomella AnDone, a restless, lowborn teenager, as a candidate.

Commoners have never been welcomed among the select few given the opportunity to rise beyond even the highest nobility. So when Pomella chooses to accept the summons and journey to the secluded forest dwelling of Kelt Apar, she knows that she will have more to contend with than the competition for the apprenticeship.

Breaking both law and tradition, Pomella undergoes three trials against the other candidates to prove her worthiness. As the trials unfold, Pomella must navigate a deadly world of intolerance and betrayal, unaware that ruthless conspirators intend to make her suffer for having the audacity to seek to unravel the secrets of the Myst.


I wasn’t going to write this review.

Not because Mystic isn’t a good read, but because I find myself in a peculiar position with this title, one that’s never happened to me before.

You see, I know Jason Denzel. And not just a little bit—I count him a close friend.

Knowing I was carrying a bias, and also conscious of the fact that I am genuinely excited and proud of him for accomplishing publication, I began reading Mystic with trepidation.

So I did what I do with any book when I’m afraid I’ve lost my objective viewpoint: I took notes. Copious notes. Kept stickies inside the front cover, and I marked every time my inner editor wanted to rewrite a sentence for him, and every time my brain wandered away with a thought—be it praising or criticism.

And you know what? Dude did good.

Mystic has a quick hook, and is plainspoken with a clear, definitive voice. It has the classic tropes expected of the fantasy genre and bildungsroman literature, but doesn’t feel recycled. The worldbuilding feels authentic, not forced. At times I thought some of the names were clumsy, but overall they worked, and the gleanings of culture—of Oakspring and beyond—were well done. I particularly liked the idea behind the Common Cord—where family-specific knots are tied on a cord in a show of community solidarity.

(Though I’ll admit every time the word “culk” is tossed out as a curse word my brain gravitated to a different four letter curse word... probably because I have issues, heh.)

It’s a quick little YA read that was a refreshing change of pace. It’s comfortable in itself, and I find that’s important—especially in a first novel.

But despite all this, and despite my note-taking (begun as a way to give Denzel feedback, more than anything), I still wasn’t going to write this review, and I wasn’t going to post it on my teeny tiny wee platform on my corner of the Interwebs. I didn’t even want to admit to him I was reading his book (and I almost kept that secret).

But then, Mystic’s ending surprised me. Twice.

Here I thought based on tropes I knew where it was going and exactly how it was going to end, and—whoop!—I was wrong. And the ending that’s there is built into the novel, it’s not some blindsiding to the reader, crashing in from left field unnoticed. No, it’s carefully laid in, yet subtle enough that it’s unexpected.

And that is why I’m writing this review. I’m a reader who tries to predict—it’s a symptom of the deconstruction that never stops happening in my overactive brain—so any time an author can flip the script on me and it works, well, I’m pleasantly surprised, and a satisfied reader.

So this is the review I wasn’t going to write, yet am proud to be able to put my—yes, biased, but carefully vetted—opinion out there.

Mystic is light, quick, and well done, and I know my kids will enjoy it. I’m proud to have it on my shelf, Jason, thank you.

Dude, you did good.

Friday, October 16, 2015

BUDGET BYTES by Beth Moncel - Book Review

5/5 - So delicious that I read until my eyes went blurry!

Title: Budget Bytes

Author: Beth Moncel

Format: paperback

Published: 2014

Genre: cookbook

Publisher: Avery (Penguin Group)

Landed in my hands: purchased myself

Summary (from publication cover blurb):

A few years ago, Beth Moncel found herself, like many twenty-somethings, barely making ends meet. Living in a tiny, run-down apartment, being eaten alive by student loans, and sick of having to choose between buying toilet paper and fill her car's gas tank, Beth decided to cut down on the only expenditure she could: food. The trick was figuring out how to do so without resorting to peanut butter sandwiches at every meal. Armed with a degree in nutritional science and determined to eat healthily and well while cutting costs, Beth tackled the dilemma head-on.

By tracking her costs with obsessive precision, Beth learned which ingredients helped stretch her funds and which burned through them fastest. Eager to share her tips and recipes, she launched her blog, Budget Bytes. The blog soon attracted millions of readers clamoring for more.

Beth's eagerly awaited cookbook proves that cutting back on cost does not mean sacrificing taste. Budget Bytes delivers:

- More than 100 easy-to-follow, healthy, and affordable recipes for dependably delicious meals, like Coconut Chicken Curry; Mango, Jalapeño, & Quinoa Salad; Chorizo-Sweet Potato Enchiladas, and Teriyaki Salmon with Sriracha Mayo.

- Expert principles for cutting costs in the kitchen—including how to combine inexpensive ingredients with expensive ones to ensure that you can still have that pricey steak you're craving.

- Information to help you get acquainted with your kitchen, stock your larder, and get maximum use out of your freezer.

Many people assume that eating on a budget means compromising your standards; Beth proves that isn't the case. Whether you're urban or rural, vegan or paleo, Budget Bytes is guaranteed to delight both your palate and your pocketbook.


I can't remember precisely how I stumbled upon Beth Moncel's recipe blog Budget Bytes but it's a good bet Pinterest had something to do with it. Her recipe for Spinach Lasagna Roll Ups was one of the first recipes I tried online that became an instant family favourite, which prompted me to peruse her website and try other highly popular recipes. (I've boldly served her Italian Wonderpot—paired with baked skinless chicken breasts—to guests on a trial run of the recipe, to receive rave reviews).

Imagine my surprise when one day I (finally) noticed she's got a recipe book advertised in her sidebar. I poked around online reading up on it (are the recipes the same as her blog? does the book have more tips?), and the minute a little bird told me that she's got her best recipes saved for the book, I took the plunge and ordered a copy.

It's now dog-eared and full of stickies.

Over the summer I've served our family several of her recipes, and I have yet to find one that isn't a hit. We have specifically tried her Easy Meat Sauce (for pasta); Farmer Joes (a healthier Sloppy Joes knock off); Lemon-Garlic Shrimp Pasta; Savory Coconut Rice; Monkey Bread; Roasted Broccoli with Crispy Garlic; One-Skillet Lasagna; Firecracker Cauliflower; Five-Spice Chops; Chili-Cheese Beef 'n' Mac (think Hamburger Helper from scratch); Triple-Herb Mashed Potatoes; Peach Bubble Cake; and Indian Skillet Potatoes.

Granted, that's only thirteen recipes, but I'm not losing steam—I've another 14 marked to try once the weather turns, or during Mr Lannis' holidays (read: accepted time for truly experimental menus). Fact is, I can already tell from reading Moncel's write ups that these recipes are going to be hits.

Now while I've burnt my share of toast over the years, I'm not a beginner in the kitchen, but neither am I an expert. But I can tell you what I think Moncel is doing right, and why you should buy this book—or at the very least check out recipes on her blog:

- Budget Bytes is not intimidating. It's written for beginners, and the recipes are simple and classic. There's no need to go to cooking school to understand the concepts therein.

- Moncel breaks it all down: the costs; the benefits of meal planning; how to stock your kitchen and pantry; how to properly freeze food to cut back on waste; sample menus; conversion tables; and an appendix listing over 70 vegetarian and vegan recipes and where to find them in her book.

- There are Chef's Tips to help you become a more skilled participant in the kitchen, as well as Budget Bytes, which highlight cost-saving ideas.

- Each recipe has a code that correlates to how expensive the cumulative ingredients are, and how well the recipe freezes for leftovers—handy info if you're unsure of the number of mouths you're feeding on a given day, or like to prep freezer meals in advance.

- Its recipes are forgiving: we used leftover sausage instead of fresh for the meat sauce and guess what: nobody died. In fact, it was delicious. And I fully plan on defying instructions and using the slow-cooker instead of the stove top to make that Better-Than-Mom's Chili, because: hello, lazy! I'm fairly certain we'll survive that, too.

- Moncel's personality shines. She's written a short introduction to each recipe, and she's down to Earth and endearing.

- Great photographs. Never underestimate the power of food porn. Seriously.

The reason I am writing this review after only having tried thirteen recipes (fifteen if you count the two from her website) is that I have struggled to put this cookbook back in the cupboard since it was purchased. I keep flipping through, drooling, marking up, and adding stickies, and I know this book has been an investment I won't regret. I've already learned a thing or three.

What's the rule? If you get two good recipes out of a cookbook it's a keeper? So far Budget Bytes had proven that at least four times over and stands to do so another five times if it keeps to the current record. If you're still unconvinced, check out her blog, but remember: the book is even better!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin - Book Review

Rating: 5/5 - So delicious that I read until my eyes went blurry!

Title: The Fifth Season

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Format:  paperback

August 2015

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher:  Orbit

Landed in my hands: purchased it myself

Summary (from cover blurb and inside cover):

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal and long-dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

This is what you must remember: the ending of one story is just the beginning of another. This has happened before, after all. People die. Old orders pass. New societies are born. When we say “the world has ended,” it’s usually a lie, because the planet is just fine.

But this is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

This is the way the world ends.

For the last time.


You know when you read a book and you’re giddy with the thought of singing its praises and spreading word of your fabulous find to all your reader friends?

Enter N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season.

It wasn’t until July hit and I stumbled upon an upcoming releases list that I realized Jemisin even had a new book on the horizon. This would also be the moment where I discover that Jemisin hasn’t just rocketed up my favourite authors list, but she has also landed squarely in the category of “no need to hear the pitch, just blindly (deafly?) order the book.”

Yes, I jumped right in, and was well rewarded.

The Fifth Season
solidifies what I’ve already learned about Jemisin’s storytelling prowess: there's intriguing concepts, solid and intricate worldbuilding, and she manages to freshen a genre that easily goes stale for me.

And this book—this series? please let it be more than a duology!—has sprung forth with all those elements that make me salivate:

- It begins with strong hooks in all three points of view.

- It has a diverse cast of complex characters with a spectrum of relationships between them, and not simply to check mark some “diversity in fiction” box, but (and this is where I get giddy) because it is integral to the plot, and lends realism to characters' motivations and reactions.

- It has such a depth to the worldbuilding that by the time I discover the appendices of terms, I don’t need them because the jargon has been so skillfully placed I’ve picked it up by context.

And the part of this book that puts me in the most awe of Jemisin’s talent—aside from the breathless run that was this unpredictable gem that will have me reading and rereading this series for years to come—is a well-wrought twist that made me put the book down and walk away for a moment in surprise because it so thoroughly blew my mind that I needed the time to reconcile the reveal. (Which she effectively sprung on me twice, by the way. And I can’t even go into detail without spoiling the entire book for any potential readers.)

So yes, I am eagerly anticipating the next installment of The Broken Earth series, and begging for it to be more than a duology. If Ms. Jemisin ever manages to find her way to JordanCon, well, I will most certainly be there to greet her in speechless, geeky adoration (in the least creepy way possible, naturally).

TL;DR: N.K. Jemisin tackles the Fantasy genre with an innovation that is intoxicating. If you like Fantasy, track down this book. You can thank me later.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cancer Bombs: The Land of Tweaks

Once upon a time there was a woman who figured her story was over...

How naive, eh?

Yep, I got the call in February of 2015 from Dr M. After a year and a half of radio silence, I have to admit I was startled. She wanted to see me.

And the girls.

Cut to me sitting on her exam table, swinging my feet in yet another cotton surgical gown, waiting to flash my boobs. Again.

Now you see, things are good. Really good. Not perfect. No, not perfect. Gah, is anything in life ever perfect?

(I know, I know, less philosophizing, more bewbs. I got it.)

So. In comes Dr M, in her pristine lab coat and her sunny disposition, rubbing her hands all ready to check out her handiwork. After the standard pleasantries, she politely asked I doff my gown and let her have a peek.

“Okay,” I said. “But let it be known my quality of life is 100%.”

Dr M’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you apologizing? Again?!”

Left side? A touch higher than the right. Still. After a year and a half. Despite scar massage, despite wishing, praying, willfully ignoring and living my life, the left side still hadn’t dropped.

I know. That boob's a jerk, am I right?

So I dropped my robe to let her see.

Dr M tilted her head and clucked her tongue. “No, that’s not going to do...” She grabbed the girls one at a time, running her hand over their shape, tsking under her breath. “Nope.”

When I told her Lefty is an asshole for not joining the party down low with Righty, she told me that actually, Righty had dropped too far—to the point of bottoming out (read: problem). Lefty was sitting pretty thanks to scar tissue from a previous drain site keeping her in place, but Righty was on a slow trek elsewhere. And she wasn’t going to stop without surgical intervention, specifically Dr M cutting in and tacking that damned implant in place.


And this is where I discover that my journey through genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomy has taken me someplace I never thought I’d be...

The Land of Tweaks

As it turns out, the most gifted plastic surgeon can wield their talents and utilize all the skill in their arsenal, but they, all of them, are uniformly handicapped by the same ephemeral variant, and it’s a variant they can never anticipate.

Namely: chaos the way a patient’s body heals post-surgery.

But wait: I thought plastic surgery was permanent! Why be a perma-patient? Raise your hand if you were thinking the same thing. Go on, admit it.

Dr M’s chuckling at you, too.

Her response to my naive comment regarding plastic surgery being more permanent: “Yes, what I do is permanent, but what your body does with my work is not.”

Healing. Scarring. Aging. These elements alter the delicate work a surgeon has done.

And in my the odd case undoes it entirely.

So. Righty’s bottoming out, an issue that will not disappear without surgical intervention and will only get worse with time. Flash forward to August 2015 (read: today), and I’m already sitting here at seven weeks post-op, having had Righty pinned up and both implants swapped for silicone rounds instead of teardrops to correct some implant rippling.

(It’s been discussed that if this rippling returns there will be liposuction and lipo-filling/lipo-shaping to correct it. LIPOSUCTION. Oh lordy.)

Yes, I was once again T-Rexing it with my arms pulled close (one week); with no heavy lifting (four weeks); no crushing of the girls (read: sleeping on my back only, no chiropractic or massage therapy appointments for six weeks); and absolutely on pain of popping an implant into my abdomen death no raising my arms (read: SIX WEEKS STRUGGLING TO MAKE A GODDAMN PONYTAIL AND WASH MY HAIR).

Suffice it to say it’s been a looooooooong summer.

Next week is another post op appointment with Dr M, and I’m 99.9% sure she’s going to be frustrated. Looking in the mirror, Righty’s too high—she’s climbed a good 1.5cm above the incision line, similar to what happened to both sides after my mastectomies in 2012.

(To be honest, I’m looking forward to hearing her mutter her version of, “Motherfucker.” Always entertaining. Heh.)

In her defense, I am not knocking her skill. Hours after surgery I was regarding her work in a mirror before swelling truly set in, and everything looked perfect. Six weeks later and Righty’s shifted.

We’ve discovered through these surgeries that my body heals too well.

I’ve scarred through incision sites more thoroughly than other patients, gluing skin to ribcage. I’ve shrunken Alloderm in an attempt to absorb it into my body, launching implants absurdly high beneath my pectoral muscles. I’ve had record-breaking nerve regrowth (seriously: this last surgery’s recovery held far more pain than anyone had anticipated because my body has done in two years what most patients are lucky to regrow in four to ten years).

And now my infamous scarring has struck again, gleefully attaching this implant higher (as requested, to be sure) to my ribcage.

Can you blame it? It’s like Righty was replying, “Oh, you want it HIGHER again? You should make up your mind. But no problem sweets, consider it handled. DONE LIKE DINNER!”

(What an asshole, eh?)

In short: I’m pretty sure Dr M’s going to want to go back in.

At one appointment I asked, belatedly, that if I refused any of her recommendations whether I would be (gulp) discharged from her care.

Dr M laughed and said that first off, I am never discharged from her care. It’s a damn good thing we get along so well because she says we’re in this for the long haul. I can expect to hear from her likely every two years until, well, we both retire (since we’re contemporaries).

But yes, if I ever get pissed at her prodding weary of her pursuit of perfection, I am welcome to tell her to bug off.

And everything boob-related is covered by government healthcare.

As Dr M put it, I signed up for perfect, cancer-free boobs. Until she and I are content that I have perfect, cancer-free boobs, we can go in and tweak until our hearts are content.

That’s how this show rolls.

That’s also how I arrived to this new place, this Land of Tweaks. I am three surgeries into what should have been a single swap-and-replace mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. Listening to the previvor community at large, it would seem that this is the norm—a daisy chain of tweaking surgeries to perfect our bodies’ directionless healing—

No, “directionless” is the wrong word: our bodies are given direction, but nature refuses to be directed easily. Yet I know the correct word to describe my right breast at this moment would be disfigured. (No, I'm not just being picky.)

Though I still consider myself lucky. I know of one brave previvor blogger who has undergone eight surgeries since 2013, including losing two separate implants at two separate times thanks to complications (read: undergoing unexpected surgery resulting in sporting a single breast for months before once again beginning the painful process of expansion and implant swap. Mogatos, I tip my hat to you, madam. A toast to your unending strength).

And that’s why I finally decided to write this post. Not because I wanted everyone to know my business (again), but it followed the spirit of the original series—giving people a resource for understanding what’s involved when they undergo a prophylactic mastectomy thanks to BRCA mutation.

It felt disingenuous to omit this continuation, this unexplored Land of Tweaks.

That said, I expect this to be the last post. This is the cosmetic side of the journey, and the details of which will be completely different for each patient. Also, in breaking the news of more surgeries to someone, I was met with disbelief that I should even consider going under the knife again. To be sure, this person wasn’t attempting to be unsupportive, rather it was a moment of sheer honesty—a friend who knows they need not censor their true opinions from me.

(For the record, anyone living with this disfigurement would understand considering these lighter, tweaking surgeries. I am not looking for absolute perfection, only something that appears more natural. And I am confident it is within Dr M's grasp, regardless of how fucked up my body's sense of humour may be.)

Though the point was made: blogging each step in what amounts to cosmetic surgery, despite necessity or lack thereof, involves a flag-waving, poor me, attention-seeking attitude of which I’m not a fan.

Thus this single post serves the purpose for anyone reading in preparation for their own prophylactic journey. This is the place no one mentioned to me beforehand, this unexplored Land of Tweaks, and I feel compelled to ensure others are aware it exists.

As always, regardless of the lay of this new territory, I prefer it here over the alternative: being forced to wander endlessly through a wasteland with a pair of cancer bombs strapped to my chest.

For me, this journey is still worth it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Horns Tutorial

To paraphrase (plagiarize?) the intro of my hooves tutorial (found here), I strayed from my “pretty dress” niche in costuming for JordanCon 2015 and instead went with a monster: a female Trolloc, to be precise, complete with horns and hooves. Since there’s been interest in how I built those elements—and I’m a wee bit of a progress pic whore—I have enough photos to write up a tutorial on how to create them.

Disclaimer: Despite having won multiple costuming awards over last four consecutive years, I am self-taught. Read: PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK, and YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY.

This tutorial is going to show you what I did. It may not work for you, but it may be the jumping off point you need—maybe it’ll inspire a different idea that will work. Don’t get discouraged. Costuming as a hobby is an exercise in trial and error. Research. Plan. Try. Revamp. Edit. Just attack your design and get it done. You can do it. There’s no right way to do anything—just the way that works for you.

Be warned: This is not a “whip it up over a weekend” project. With drying times of clay, paints, and glues, you’re better off to work on this in stages over a couple of weeks than to try and rush it.

Materials and tools used:

- tinfoil
- masking tape
- Crayola Model Magic (in white)
- butter knife
- Elmer's Carpenter's White Wood Filler
- acrylic paint
- Krylon Crystal Clear Acrylic top coat/sealer (spray in satin finish)
- faux fur
- Beacon Gem Tac glue
- wire
- Sharpie black marker
- needle and (strong!) thread

When beginning a project, my first step is always research. Which means I hit up Pinterest, googled the shit out of “costuming/cosplay/horns tutorial," read until I was confident I had a plan of attack, and charged ahead.

A costumer friend of mine (hi, Paul!) had used Crayola Model Magic for a Trolloc helm he’d made a few years back, so I knew that was the direction I needed to head. But building entire horns out of Model Magic isn’t exactly cost effective. After research I decided using tinfoil for the internal structure would be both lightweight and cheap.

Plus, we had a box from Costco (heh).

After looking at images on Pinterest and deciding the shape I wanted (accounting for bulking it up with Model Magic), it was a matter of creating the tinfoil armature yet doing so without compacting the tinfoil too much. I didn’t want to add too much weight, so there were multiple runs to see if I could get these bad boys the right size and as light as possible.

Beginnings of foil armature.

 Once I’d made the internal structure, I wrapped it with masking tape to secure their shape and help mold the main ridge down the outside of the curve.

Generations of taped foil horns. Deciding size, shape, and attempting lightest possible weight. The bottommost ones won.
Then it was adding Crayola Model Magic. I opted to roll it out flat (1/4”) and then wrap that floppy pancake around my tinfoil taped horn, keeping the seam at the back (read: the part of the horn that would be closest to my head). I’m sure there’s a more successful technique out there, but this worked for me.

Model Magic adds BULK.

The ridges in across the horn were created with the blunt edge of a butter knife. I carefully pressed evenly into the soft clay until it was covered in ridges. You don't want to go for even and precise here: natural looking horns are random and uneven, so variation will look more realistic.

Regard the lovely ridges.

Dry time for the Model Magic clay was longer than they suggested on the package. If I recall it should have taken an estimated four days to dry. I waited over a week—partly waiting for it to dry, and partly out of laziness insurance.

And it cracked.

Cracked undersides of horns.


Cracks along ridges.
I’d read online plenty of instances where Model Magic had cracked, so I was prepared. It was recommended to fill them carefully with white wood filler, one at a time, and to sand down any rough edges afterwards. It worked.

Behold the miraculously mended horns:

Fixed! Whew!

So I am telling you: if your Model Magic cracks while dries, DON’T PANIC!

The above photo is also a great spot to point out asymmetry. If you want to kill yourself going for perfection, knock yourself out—the reality is you're wearing one horn on each side of your head and likely no one is going to notice if they're not perfectly identical. Besides, once upon a time I heard great advice for grooming eyebrows and I think it applies here: they don't have to be twins, the just have to look related (heh).

Next: paint. I heard Model Magic absorbs paint, so I did a preliminary paint job in tan to get the absorption out of the way before I started in with the chosen colours.

I went dark first (a milk-chocolate brown), and then lightly dry brushed a cream colour (meant to imitate bone) over top so that the brown remained within the ridges.

After that dried, I sprayed them with the acrylic satin-finish sealant.

Next, I took two circles of faux fur (I erred on the side of having enough to trim down later), clipped down the centres of them so they weren’t as fuzzy, and used Beacon Gem Tac to glue them to where the horns would attach to my head. The reasoning was that this would be something I could sew wire onto, and that wire would then be hidden in my hair.

I used elastics to hold the faux fur in place while the glue cured (it takes 24 hours), shifting the placement of the elastics every few hours to keep from having funny bumps.

Then I trimmed down the excess fur around the edges of the horns and created a triple wire harness for the horns to sit on my head and sewed it onto the horns. I really wanted a way to wear my horns that didn’t look like they were attached to a headband or some other gear—I wanted them to look as if they were a part of my head.

Insides of horns: costuming isn't always glamorous behind the scenes... we're not winning beauty contests here.
So I designed this triple-wire system: the top two wires were to act like headbands, and the bottommost one was to go around the back of my head under my hair. Measuring these wires so they were the right size so the horns would hang with the proper placement was very much a trial and error process. I settled on having the lowest wire a wee bit too large so I could kink it to tighten the entire rig. I sewed these wires into place and then slathered that with more Gem Tac glue to hold it all.

The biggest challenge of this wire is to ensure it doesn't bend/fold enough that it creates weak points and snaps, so be gentle with your horns.

I used a Sharpie to colour the top two wires black so they’d hide better in my dark hair.

Yes, that’s all there was holding those horns in place: the joke the whole time I was building them was that they’d be attaching with a wish and a prayer. That’s pretty much it.

With this rigging I was able to pull part of my hair through the front/top two wires to keep it in place (securing placement on my head), and pull the hair right around my face up and back over the top of the black wires (hiding the wires). The rest of my hair was pulled through the larger gap between the middle and bottom wire, thus effectively hiding the back wire underneath the rest of my hair. The horns shifted slightly if I turned my head quickly, but otherwise I could look up, down, tilt my head off centre and things stayed in place no problem. Would I have been able to hang upside down? No. But that wasn’t the purpose here, anyway.

So that’s it. Hope this has been helpful, and happy costuming!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

MR POPPER’S PENGUINS by Richard and Florence Atwater - Book Review

[This book has been read and reviewed by R, my oldest son, who is nine years old at the time of this publication.]

10/10 - Amazing! Everybody needs to read this book!

Title: Mr Popper’s Penguins

Author: Richard and Florence Atwater

Illustrator: Robert Lawson

Format: paperback

Published: 1938


  Little, Brown, and Company

Landed in my hands:
purchased by mom

Summary (from cover blurb):

It was hard enough for Mr. Popper to support himself, Mrs. Popper, Bill and Janie Popper. The addition of twelve penguins to the family made it impossible to make both ends meet. Then Mr. Popper had a splendid idea—the talented penguins would be a sensation on stage. And so they were...

A classic of American humor, this story of a gentle house-painter and his high-stepping penguins has delighted children for generations.


This book is a good book, I read it and know why it has a Newberry Honor Award on it. Those are good books, ones with Newberry Honor Awards. And that’s probably why I see, like, seven copies at the school library.

A lot happens in this book, and the penguins do really interesting things, so it makes sense that it was made into a movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I don’t need to see it because I’ve read the book already. I have pictures in my head from the book so I’m not interested in watching the movie—I already know how it goes.

Mr Popper liked to read about penguins and the Arctic stories, and he was an interesting character.

I recommend this book for all ages: it was a lot of fun to read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hooves Tutorial

So once upon a time I decided to stray from my “pretty dress” trend in Wheel of Time costuming and ended up creating a monster. Literally. A Trolloc is a twisted half human, half beast creature, and I went all out. Since there’s been some interest in how I built the horns and hooves—and I’m a wee bit of a progress pic whore—I have enough photos to write up a tutorial on how to create your own.

Fancy that!

DISCLAIMER: Despite having won four costuming awards (first, second, and third prize as well as a Judge’s Choice at JordanCon, years 2012-2015), I am self taught.


The truth is, despite awards, I'm the poster child for just attacking a project willy-nilly. I research, but in the end when I feel ready I hit the ground running and don't look back.

So I’m going to tell you what I tell others: Just do it. Research. Plan. Try. Take notes. Edit. Revamp. Just attack your design and get it done. You can do it.

That's what makes costuming fun: there’s no right way to do anything—just the way that works for you.

So. Step one... Well for me, I hit up Pinterest, googled the shit out of “costuming/cosplay/hooves tutorial," pinned a ton of images and tutorials for inspiration and charged ahead.

This tutorial is a mishmash of what I took from others and made my own. It's going to show you what I did and the pitfalls I discovered. I can’t stress enough: learn from my mistakes, yo.

Materials and tools I used:

- pair of comfortable wedge heeled cork sandals (mine were 5” heels)
- elastic
- fibreglass tape
- newspaper
- painter’s tape/masking tape
- staple gun
- Bondo Body Filler
- palm sander
- can of spray primer
- acrylic paint
- can of satin acrylic spray topcoat/sealant
- epoxy/glue (I used Marine Goop)
- faux fur
- needle and thread
- scissors

First thing’s first. You need your base shoes to build on. An artist and art teacher friend of mine—who likely knows waaaaaay more about what she’s doing than I do (hi, Missy)—recommended I build the hooves separate and then attach them to the shoes. I went with the hard way, because I’m obstinate weird like that.

In my travels online I noticed there was a preference for wedge cork sandals, so when I went thrifting that was what I tried to find. And find I did!

Lots of other tutorials talk of chopping the heel off the sandals, but I opted not to do so. I’m not a big heel girl myself, so walking for any extended period of time would be questionable if I hacked the bottom out from under me, and I was leery of the idea of moving safely in the event of an emergency or hell, just getting around without killing myself.

Point being: find yourself a roomy-yet-comfortable pair of shoes that work for you. I found some platform sandals—the cork bottom made attaching stuff to them easier, so I’d recommend something with a cork base. In later photos you can see I’ve added a white elastic to the strap at the ankle to help them stay on my feet, since I wasn’t going to be lacing these all Grecian-style as per the sandals' original design.

Second step—after de-charming the side of these fancy fancy mothers (snort)—was a trial and error thing on my part and NOT NECESSARY for you. That’s right: learn from my mistakes. Just ignore that I’ve got cloth and chicken wire on the back sandal and go ahead and use fibreglass tape to create the rounded shape of your hoof, stapling the bottom layers to the cork.

Remember to try on your hoof sandals as you go, to ensure there’s room for your toes and the placement of everything is roomy enough for comfort. Stand up, walk around, ensure you'll be comfortable... because what's the point of going to all this trouble if you'll never be able to wear them?

Fibreglass tape with blue painter's tape underneath. Stuff that with newspaper after you test wear it for comfort.
Next I lined the inside of the fibreglass tape shell with blue painter's tape to ensure the Bondo wouldn't ooze through the mesh holes. Then you need to ball up and stuff newspaper underneath the fibreglass shell to help maintain its shape for the next step. I used a staple gun to staple the bottom edges of the fibreglass tape to the cork of the platform. Go bananas with the staples—you want your end product to stay in place.

NOTE: I did not bring the fibreglass tape all the way to the floor—the hoof is actually angled slightly up at the toe, to allow for natural motion when walking. I'd advise you keep a gap of half a centimetre or so off the floor when designing your hooves. You definitely don't want your hooves to hit the floor and, through the pressure and weight of you walking, break off your sandals.

Next: Bondo! ALWAYS FOLLOW SAFETY PRECAUTIONS (in this case a particularly a well-ventilated area, proper gloves, mask, and googles) AND READ INSTRUCTIONS.

From what I can tell Bondo is used in bodywork repair on cars, and badass costuming. It’s a putty that comes with a hardening agent that needs to be mixed on the spot, and gives you very little leeway for workability, so make sure you’re ready to go and have all your gear in place before you mix the two together. I can't stress enough: read the instructions fully before beginning.

I highly recommend finding costuming tutorials using Bondo on YouTube and watching the shit out of them before proceeding. That'll give you a good idea of the pitfalls and workability of this stuff before you tackle your own project.

Finished Bondo sandals... not winning any beauty competitions. Test wear these puppies before proceeding.

This here is the step that feels like a complete shit show as it’s happening, but hit it with gusto and trust. Goop that stuff onto your fibreglass tape and mess it around into the generic shape of a hoof, watching that the shape doesn't distort as you add weight to it. You’ve got two to four minutes of work time with Bondo before it hardens like rock. If you notice it’s not smearing as smoothly, just let it sit and add another layer of Bondo later. I recommend two or three thinner coats of Bondo to get the look you want, so don’t worry if it’s not pretty at first.

After the Bondo has cured (check instructions for precise details), you’re going to want to sand it. Again, I can’t stress enough: do this in a well ventilated area, and with proper equipment (mask, goggles). I used a circular palm sander, and it took about an hour to get these bad boys looking how I wanted. Remember to not only smooth out the shape of your overall hooves, but flatten the bottom edges, and the opening for your foot so it won't scratch you as you walk.

Sanded hooves.
Next I used an acrylic based spray primer to prime the hooves. No pictures, sorry. It’s best to match your primer with the type of paint you’ll be using, so since I have oodles of acrylic paint in the craft bin, I went with an acrylic primer. I googled some images of hooves to decide on colours and details, then mucked about with the paint until I liked what I saw. I painted the cork areas black.

Painted hooves.

Once I had the paint the way I wanted, I sealed it with a satin acrylic topcoat.

NOTE: It's easier to see the gap between the toe edge of the hooves and the tabletop in these photos.

Hooves with acrylic topcoat sealant.

Once that has set, you’ll want to cut your faux fur in such a way that you can wrap it all the way around the hoof as well as around the back of your foot, and leave enough room to sew it together later at the heel. Which really means: a big freaking rectangle is probably fine, and remember you can cut extra off later, but it’s more difficult to add to it if you underestimate. Remember to angle your fur so it covers any cork heel that may be showing—for my sandal I planned on shaggy fetlocks as camouflage for that heel I refused to cut out from under myself.

Using the epoxy and proper safety measures (googles, mask, and well ventilated area again), glue the faux fur onto your hooves as per the epoxy’s instructions. I used Marine Goop, thanks to some advice of a professional costuming friend (hi, Paul!), who said I needed to find an epoxy that specifically bonds something rigid to something flexible. That narrowed down the search considerably, and since Marine Goop states it is specifically good for, well, everything boat, it included on its list both canvas and fibreglass, and I figured faux fur and Bondo Body Filler would mimic those two items nicely.

Furry hooves. The badass point of no return—right about here I knew the results of these bad boys would be ah-mazing.

Don’t forget, once they’ve cured, to put them suckers on and stomp around with glee because, damn, you’re gonna have hooves, friend!

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Next you’re going to want to trim down the fur. I used a pair of scissors and a remarkable amount of patience. I recommend doing this outside so that it doesn’t look like wild animals fought to the death in your living room.

Patience and tiny scissors, friends. Patience and tiny scissors.

I preferred the look of shaggy hooves, and trimmed accordingly. Then, after measuring and checking for fit, I trimmed excess faux fur and hand sewed up the back of the heel, just a loop stitch on the inside.

That's IT! Hooves done! Now go stomp around and show them babies off!

For my own project, I had a bit more to do. Since I was planning on wearing these hooves with a skirt, I wanted a way to hide where my furry hooves ended and where my leg began, so I designed suede leg wraps. They aren't particularly necessary, though, it all depends on the look you're going for.

Leg wraps to camouflage the calves.

Overall my hooves were very comfortable, and my only issues with them stemmed from not being a big heel girl to begin with. After wearing them for four hours my feet were sore, but they would've been in any heels I wore for that length of time simply due to my preference for flats. Will I wear them again? Hell yes. Nargella the Trolloc was a hit, and she'll be gracing JordanCon again, for sure.

Nargella the Trolloc. Eating, er, breaking hearts and towering over pesky humans.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THE BFG by Roald Dahl - Book Review

[This book was read and reviewed by R, my oldest son, who is nine years old at the time of this publication.]

: 8/10 - Great!

Title: The BFG

Author: Roald Dahl

Format: paperback

Published: 1982

Genre: children’s literature, fantasy

Publisher:  Puffin Books

Landed in my hands: purchased by Mom


Just imagine suddenly knowing you may be eaten for breakfast in the very near future; dropped like a rasher of bacon into a frying pan sizzling with fat.

This is exactly what worries Sophie when she is snatched from her bed in the middle of the night by a giant with a stride as long as a tennis court. Luckily for Sophie, the BFG is far more jumbly than his disgusting neighbours, whose favourite pastime is guzzling and swallomping nice little childers. Sophie is determined to stop all this and so she and the BFG cook up an ingenious plan to rid the world of troggle-humping, bogthumping giants for ever!


At the end of grade three we watched a movie--I forget the title--but the same thing happens at the beginning of the book as happened in the movie. So the movie was probably based on this book.

What makes this book so great is the writer was very creative. His story did things I didn’t expect, and sometimes it was really funny. The ending was unexpected, so it made the book even more enjoyable. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read stories about giants. It’s called the BFG because BFG stands for Big Friendly Giant. I will definitely tell my friends to read this book.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother’s Day Musings

My mom, on my wedding day, less than a week before she was to begin chemo. 2004
Mother’s Day is once again upon us.

As I've mentioned before, my mother is no longer with us. She lost her second battle with breast cancer in November of 2005, when I was nine months pregnant with her first grandchild.

Yeah, there’s a heavy statement, eh?

There’s plenty of adjectives that could go in that sentence, too... tragic, sad, devastating, awful, heartbreaking... and all of them are trite and overly simplistic. It’s impossible to put to words how all-encompassing losing her was, and attempting to do so seems like a betrayal of her memory.

She’s more than a string of words.

Besides, no one else is supposed to know exactly what it felt like, or what it feels like now.

If we all were meant to understand each others' lives, then we would all suffer the same trials. That’s the beauty of life—everyone’s experience is slightly different, and there is much wisdom to gain from listening to the lessons others have learned along their path. But secondhand wisdom will never cut the message as deep; it is not the same as having that those lessons engraved on your bones.

So yes, it was sad. And it was heart-wrenching. And traumatic. And catastrophic. And fill-your-heart-with-black-terror-crippling at the thought of facing parenthood without the woman who brought me into this world and raised me up.

Mom and me, circa 1980.

But that’s life.

I learned much from her, and her memory, and even her absence.

And I have a secret...

I don’t think of her as much as I imagined I would.

Sure, I love her, and I miss her, and would have her back in a heartbeat if I could. At times my heart hurts to think of my children and what she’s not here to witness as they grow.

But thoughts of her don’t haunt me every day. When I think of her I smile. When I think of her, I know she’s proud. Of me, of Mr Lannis, of our boys, and of our choices. It’s shocking to think of how much has happened without her.

I don’t need anyone to tell me that she’d be proud of me; I know.

As cliché as it sounds, I carry her with me.

Mom and Mr Lannis. Because she loved him, and he lost her, too. 2005.

Not long ago I struggled with guilt for not thinking of her more... I’m settled. My father has remarried, and I couldn’t have picked a better woman to be my stepmother if I’d tried. She even brought me three step-siblings whom I adore.

Life is good.

So it’s easy to feel guilty for not missing my own mother more.

After reflection I realized the pressure came from outside of me; I perceived that society was telling me I should be paralyzed still for this loss that happened almost a decade ago. As if the world had a scale dictating how depressed I should be about my own lot in life, and I was somehow not honouring her memory with enough misery.

The truth is she taught me to be happy, and I am.

I’m not pining for her, I’m not whining or wallowing. I’m content.

No, I’m more than that. She gifted me with much more than that.

At times I’m fierce, and stubborn, and spiritual, and raw, and creative, and competitive, and generous, and selfish, and dazzling, and arrogant, and imperfect, and magnificent.

And human. I know this.

Mom and me, on Mr Lannis' and my wedding day. 2004.

And I’m happy because she would have wanted me to be happy, and that’s the best way to honour her memory.

And I’m not sad. Because even with her absence she’s made me who I am.

I am happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

JordanCon 7 Recap*

All righty, folks, I’m finally home from my yearly trek to JordanCon... maybe... I think... Physically I am but once again I’ve left my brain in Atlanta, I’m sure of it.

JordanCon—for those of you who don’t know—is a small(ish) literary convention in Atlanta... and while that might sound like a stuffy description, it is anything BUT stuffy.

We like our books, but we also like our fun, too. (Read: we party HARD.)

I’m struggling to write this post because Facebook is so damn distracting... I’ve uploaded my cluster of JordanCon photos and am being bombarded with notifications, along with following con-related postings, and messaging friends to continue conversations that began at con.

Oh so distracting...

And, like every year, it can partly be blamed on being fried mentally, and partly because I wish JordanCon wasn’t over, and partly because all those posts represent one thing: a varied con experience.

Cosplaying beasties and Mat friends. Clockwise from top left: myself, Zachary Stevens, Marisa Grooms, Sophie Decaudin in front.
I know I had a blast, and the great thing about con is that everyone’s experience is slightly different... so now I want to know what everyone else did to give them face-splitting grins despite burnout, too.

Makes for a pretty distracting and day-dreamy time-suck.

Time to add my distraction to the pile! (Heh.)

Lucky for me, despite my shitty memory I’m pretty bloody snap happy with my camera (if you count my cell phone I technically had three with me). So photos, along with notes keyed into my cell’s memo pad, are going to remind me exactly what transpired over what was (yet again) a five day sleepless bender... hold onto your shawls, folks, this is one photo-heavy post.

Memorable JordanCon Moments:

- First and foremost, finally sharing JordanCon with my WoT-loving cousin... Despite feeling like a heel for ditching her to work my volunteer hours.

- Meeting new members of our JordanCon tribe, as always (Jayne, Caleb, Afonso, Heather, Tim—I’m looking at you guys! Please come back and play with us again!)

Clockwise from top left: My cousin Mandy and I; artist Amy Romanczuk decoding Pysanky designs for JordanCon Art Show Director April Moore; Richard Fife with Robert Jordan's widow and head of Bandersnatch Inc., Harriet McDougal; bottom left: silliness that results when you walk away from your camera...

- Witnessing my friend R.Fife propose to his ladylove. Congratulations you two crazy kids! May your love and relationship continue to grow with you through the years!

- Working with all the talented artists at the art show... Todd Lockwood, Melissa Gay, Edsel Arnold, Michael and Paul Bielaczyc, Amanda Makepeace, Ariel Burgess, Joe O’Hara, Missy Lindsey, Amy Romanczuk, Sam Flegal... and really too many to list here. Talent simply oozes from all their pores, and it’d be absolutely disgusting if they weren’t so freaking delightful and gracious. Our wee show is growing and it’s oh so exciting to watch it happen!

- Having a moment to chat with Harriet McDougal and scrambling to key her book title recommendations into my cell’s memo app. HARRIET MCDOUGAL RECOMMENDED BOOKS TO ME, PEOPLE!

With great power comes great shenanigans.
- Being honoured with a letter from the Amyrlin Seat à la Supergirls (Elayne, Nynaeve, and Egwene) at the moment I set foot in the hotel, with the interests of facilitating shenanigans. Though admittedly aside from borrowing Rand on the Run for an impromptu photo shoot I didn’t use said letter. (Though that will absolutely change in the future. I’m a planner, heh. Long term plotting ahoy!)

- Winning third place in the Costume Contest for Nargella the female Trolloc... So proud. That’s the fourth year in a row coming home with some kind of award).

Momma and child.
- Illustrating the stellar parenting skillz of Trollocs, and purchasing a Trolloc baby OF MY OWN from my talented JordanCon pillow friend and artist, Missy Lindsey. (Mr Lannis said I was to purchase no more artwork, but surely he meant no wall art, right? Imma need a wrap to go baby wearing... I foresee my rep in this small town only getting more interesting. ::snort::)

Trollocs are natural mothers.

- Being able to share knowledge and experience with others—from details of how my Trolloc was made to helping to run a workshop on making plushies with my JCon girlfriend Missy Lindsey.

- Participating in a raunchy mad libs rewriting of Jack O’ the Shadows led by tWoTcast... I never in a million years thought I’d hear Harriet McDougal—of all people—say the word grundlebox. SO WORTH IT.

Clockwise from top left: a Trolloc baby of my very own!; hanging out with Team Jordan's Alan Romanczuk; Rand on the Run and I--oh, the power of a letter.

- Speaking of tWoTcast, helping the resident JordanCon master bartender Chip Moore serve during the live podcast recording with Alan Romanczuk. That man had a portable bar. A PORTABLE BAR, PEOPLE!

- Sharing a seat on the Wheel of Time After Dark panel with four lovely ladies, and laughing so hard I cried, then learning later we successfully (drunkenly?) entertained a track room full house.

Art Show director April Moore--one of the very best reasons to volunteer.

- Volunteering. Hands down, the best choice I ever made years ago was to lend a hand, and it adds so much joy to my JordanCon experience every year, it truly does. I can’t recommend it enough.

- Chilling with my badass blogger girl Leigh Butler and her crazy crew (John was truly rockin’ out with his cock out on Saturday night, ha!—ceramic rooster joke, peeps, no panic!).

L to R: Mandy Beck as a Cairhienen Noblewoman and Lauren O'Hara as a sexy Accepted; Seth Lockhart and Megan Fordham as Kaladin and Shallan; Paul Bielaczyc as the Ice King and winner of first prize in the costume contest.

- Walking around the lobby snuggling an eerily lifelike werewolf baby and scaring Muggles (non-con-attendees).

- Hearing the flattering news that Dim Horizon Studio would love to photograph my Nargella the Trolloc costume on location given the chance (unfortunately Atlanta's not my usual hangout). I do so admire their work, and am oh so tickled and honoured by their excitement.

- Learning that wearing a wedding dress to a dance party will result in the seemingly paradoxical response from the male populace: they will hit on would-be brides like there’s no tomorrow. Or at least, that’s what I hear on good authority, heh.

L to R: Sophie Decaudin and Marisa Grooms as Aelfinn and Eelfinn; Phillip Edwards as an Asha'man; Pinky Shear as a Geisha.

- Riding an impromptu make-believe Small World gondola at approximately 3am with Aubree (you guys play some weird games, peeps, and I love you for it. And Africa was truly sad... hahaha!)

- Hearing my buddy John Strangeway (who cosplays Perrin, and who was absent this year—pffft, jerk!), will be the Toastmaster for JordanCon 8! Squee!

 - Hanging at the Dead Dog Party after JordanCon wrapped up late Sunday afternoon. Which equates to finally having a chance to sit and chat with friends after the frenzied fun of con... and the delightful honour of being toasted by James Atkins (A.K.A. Beer Mat)... the exact words are lost in my post-con brain, but (paraphrased), it was for achieving what anyone would’ve deemed nigh impossible: pretty much giving the entire con a collective hard on for a Trolloc. (Yay, me!)

L to R: Brit Lewis as a futuristic Aes Sedai; Bob Glover as a Tinker; Author Blue Cole with his latest work.
And last but certainly not least:

- Experiencing JordanCon in actuality and at the same time vicariously through my newbie con-attending cousin’s eyes, which only reaffirmed the stellar quality of my collective con family (I love you all!).

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks... time to catch up on some sleep, if I can wrench my eyes off of Facebook and stop giggling at the post-con silliness that abounds therein. And I need to get costuming... less than a year until JCon 2016... and you can bet I've already got plans...

* I wish I had a fancier title, but my brain is fried. Wonder how THAT happened... huh.