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.