Thursday, February 19, 2015

New page on the blog: So You Want To Be A Zookeeper

Up in the header, there's a new page for those of you who are interested in pursuing a career in zookeeping. It's my ultimate guide to getting a job as a zookeeper. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2014, or, the year I felt meh

It's time for my annual Year In Review! 2013 was a rough year for me mentally and professionally.

But 2014? 2014 was GREAT for my mental state. I finally achieved a major goal and signed with my dream agent. I was pregnant with and had my first child. I feel like I've finally found my stride in the world and I've made it much, much closer to some milestones that have been eluding me for years.

Physically, though? Wow, 2014. Dial it back a notch.

It started in January with the worst cold Husband or I have ever had, one that left me using an inhaler for a month and made him pass out in our kitchen at 3 AM. We both got ER visits out of that one, and he even got a bonus ambulance ride there.

I'll spare you the in between, but since last January, I'm sitting at a whopping 5 ER visits, 4 injuries, 3 hospital admissions, 2 surgeries, 2 ambulance rides (not counting Husband's), 1 pregnancy (technically a holdover from 2013), and 1 child birthed. And only a tiny fraction of the above can be blamed on said child. (The pregnancy, obviously, is entirely the baby's fault).

It reads like a twisted version of the 12 days of Christmas. "On the fifth ER visit, my true love gave to me, EXPENSIVE MED-I-CAL BILLLLLLLLLLS!"

Right now I'm sitting on the couch sans one bodily organ and one facial cyst, holding my neck precariously and wishing my leg would stop aching. All echoes of things I've been through in the past year. Apparently I pushed it too hard doing a whole lot of nothing a couple nights ago, because when I woke up the next morning I couldn't turn my head.

People lament women who say that having a kid changes you. That you "can't possibly understand" until you've had a child. And until I had mine, I admit, I wasn't fond of hearing it, either. But it's true. Your whole life changes after having a kid. And it's not just because you have a partial genetic replica to care for. This body? The meat suit I'm driving around these days? Is NOT the same body I had a year ago. And I'm not whining about stretch marks or varicose veins (though let me tell you-- those both really suck, too).

No, I mean the clumsiness that caused me to fall and sprain my ankle. The resulting constant ache and unreliability of the knee I landed on when I fell. The constant ache of the other knee I landed on trying to protect my stomach when my horse had a bad moment while I was pregnant. The dull throb in my rib cage from back pain, growing-baby pains, and post-organ-removal surgery pains. The foggy memory that means I use a thesaurus a lot more than I used to. The differently-shaped, less intense, but more persistent anxiety that comes with motherhood.

My arms hurt from the 20 or so IVs I've had in the last year--no exaggeration. At least 1/4 of those blew the veins.

I've gained a lot of weight. I'm not super okay with that.

It hurts to look at myself in the mirror. My clothes fit differently or not at all. The skin on my stomach is a roadmap of downtown Manhattan in purple and pink stretch marks, stabbed through here and there with surgical scars.

I'm still learning a lot of the new tricks my body does after the year it's been through. And it's stressful. Aging is supposed to happen gradually, but I feel like a switch flipped and all of a sudden I'm ten years older. I know the human body has incredible healing abilities, but I'm scared that a lot of these things that I hate, that make me achy and uncomfortable, are the new normal. The new me. I will never quite know the old me again.

But along with the difficult has also come clarity. I'm still in awe that I created a tiny human. That I signed with not just any agent, but THE agent. And from a writing contest, no less. That I did edits and re-writes with a newborn. That I survived all these things that terrified me a year ago. That under it all, I'm still me.

So, all told, 2014 was definitely the year I felt "meh". But that doesn't mean it was a bad year. It was just... challenging in a different way.

Fingers crossed for a healthy and prosperous 2015 and beyond.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Miscellania and Paper Wreaths

There were two other things I made for Christmas this year, but since I forgot to get finished pictures, I probably won't bother posting them. After all, who wants to see everything but the final product?

Instead, here's a little mish-mash of some of the smaller projects I made, and at the end are this year's paper wreaths.

I made these dishwasher magnets at Husband's request using magnet strips and washi tape sheets. I used an acrylic paint pen to write on them. I had some leftover magnet strips after "Dirty" and "Clean" were done, so I just made a couple matching bar magnets for the fridge. Can't have too many magnets, eh?

As calligraphy practice, I made some gift tags using kraft paper tags and gold ink. Just in case you can't read them, they say: "merry christmas", "Santa! I know him!", "Peace, Joy, Love", "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal", and "Mele Kulikimaka", because that song was stuck in my head for WEEKS this year.

I look at these and see a lot of practice I still need to do, but it's not like people pay that much attention to gift tags anyway. Although I was pleasantly surprised to see a few people keep them after they got their presents and threw away the rest of the wrapping. :)

I've decided my favorite thing currently is to write funny or slightly terrible things in really pretty letters all over everything I can get my hands on.


I also really, really love brown paper packages tied with jute string and these tags. I just die.

PRETTY

This isn't really a gift, per se, but I adore this practice piece I made using the Flourish style worksheet from The Postman's Knock, who is basically my new favorite. Seriously, if you're a fan of pretty letters, both alphabet and postal, go check her out. She's amazing. Anyway, I had fun playing around with this style.


ALSO PRETTY
As a new mom, I caved to a Pinterest trend and collaborated with Infant to make these cute little ornaments. I used the same paper clay I made Baby Groot with, which actually gave me a lot of problems as it didn't dry flat for most of the ornaments. You can see a bit of wrinkling on the right edge of this one, and it was by far the flattest.


I can't personally recommend this project. I made nine of these suckers and let me tell you: wrestling a paint-covered foot away from a grabby, curious baby while trying to simultaneously keep him from touching you, himself, the furniture, the walls, and anything else in range, is barely fun once. It's definitely not fun nine times. 

Finally, I made more paper wreaths. I. Love. Paper. Wreaths.

This year, I got a little crazy and added feathers to a couple of the ones I made using paper doilies. I also made several recycling pages from old ARCs, which is my favorite way to reuse those suckers.

Large, with feathers. This is by far my favorite. It didn't sell at the only craft fair I did this year, so I'm totally keeping it. 

Small, with feathers. Zoomed in, so it looks bigger, but it's about 9" across.

Small, from book pages.

Large, from book pages.

This was my very first attempt at a colored wreath. It's still recycled book page flowers, but I hand-painted each individual flower layer with either a silver or blue acrylic paint wash before assembling the flowers and then the wreath. Then I added various pieces of silver and blue wreath picks and a larger focal point cluster at the bottom left.

I don't know if I'll ever make one like this again. Probably not unless I can sell it for a hundred bajillion dollars, or I really, really like the person I make it for (which, luckily, I do, for the person I made it for this year). It was truly a labor of love. 

Well, there you have it. That concludes 2014's Very Crafty Christmas. Here's to a crafty 2015!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Game of Thrones Dragon Egg(s)

Yeah, I went a little crazy this year.

Husband is also huge into Game of Thrones, and the theme of Infant's nursery is mythological creatures. I had made Baby Groot for Husband, but with the intention that he would live in Infant's nursery. And there was another mythological creature I thought would work out great in there, too: dragons.

I came across this tutorial on making "dragon eggs" using thumbtacks, nail polish, and styrofoam egg forms. It sounded like precisely the tedious thing I love to do, so I decided to experiment by making one egg. After reading the description of the dragon eggs Daenerys Targaryen gets in Game of Thrones, I decided to start with the cream egg.

In the book, it's described as "pale cream streaked with gold". Well, that's a bit vague, but I had a solution.

I got cheap gold thumbtacks from the dollar store and used cream acrylic paint for the base coat (much cheaper, quicker, and less smelly than nail polish). I did about 50/50 on one coat vs. two coats of paint. I liked that with one coat, a little bit of the gold color from the tack showed through.

After that, I topped the paint with a gold glitter top coat from NYC called Top of the Gold (clever, huh?), also varying the thickness and number of coats, and used a regular clear top coat over that. It took FOREVERRRRR. But the results were pretty cool.

I bought an old-timey (technical term) chest from... you guessed it, Michaels, and crafted a platform inside it using foam core board, push pins, and some satiny maroon fabric I had lying around.

On Christmas morning, I gave Husband a card that sent him on a (short) quest to find the chest. This is what greeted him when he solved the puzzle:

What's this? (And bonus Cat)

Is that what I think it is? 

No way!

There's only one egg, but there are spaces for two more. Hmmm...

A dragon egg.

He's currently trying to figure out how to hatch it. We won't be following the Targaryen example, that's for sure.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Steampunk Clock

I need to apologize, firstly, for my awful photography.

I feel like it's a skill I need to learn so I can have pretty Pinterest-worthy pictures of my work, but while I can take decent landscape/ animal/ people pics, I am pretty much the worst at pictures of objects. So, apologies.

But, that's not what this post is about. Yesterday I showed you the Baby Groot I made for Husband. Today, I want to show you the steampunk shelf clock I made for Husband's cousin.

Well, technically, I made it a couple years ago. This is what it looked like in December of 2012:




I originally gave it to him in its first iteration at Christmas two years ago. It was hastily done, as I'd gotten the idea at the last minute (like many of my best ideas). Unfortunately, the execution was a little lacking, and while I loved it when I gave it to him, I found myself making him a guarantee: if it broke or was otherwise unsatisfactory, I would fix it.

One day about a year ago, it fell over on his shelf and a few pieces came off. But the real kicker was the frame, which completely fell apart. He called me on my guarantee, but at the time didn't know a secret I did: I was pregnant, which meant it would be a WHILE before I got it back to him. I also asked him if he minded if I made drastic changes to it, which luckily he didn't.

So this year, with the product of said pregnancy napping safely away, I dragged out his clock and decided to re-gift it to him, but as a better, stronger, faster version. (I could rebuild it. I had the technology).

I upgraded the frame itself, moving to a shadow box instead of a display frame. I opted for more of a military steampunk feel instead of the frilly, awful wire bending. And I added a theme to tie the whole thing together. Essentially, the little glass vial, the gears, and the watch were the only survivors from the original design.

And here it is, December 2014:

Glass glare is awful...
... so here's the insides, out of the box, for a better view. I added a few more gears, more decoration,  and made the wires more secure. There's an additional Mysterious Potion Vial (TM). And new colors for the background.
Finally, the box itself. I used a plain old 5"x7" shadow box, but added these awesome metal feet from the Tim Holtz Idea-Ology collection at Michael's. Also from Tim Holtz was this super ornate label holder. I used distress ink to age white paper and wrote on it with India ink and my dip pen. It says "Time Travel Machine- USE WITH CAUTION -HGW"

I glued them all on and made artificial nails by cutting the heads off brads and gluing those on, too. Et voila. A steampunk shelf clock. I kind of wanted to keep this one.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Very Crafty Christmas: Baby Groot!

This year for Christmas, I decided to raid my mini-Michaels craft room and make a whole bunch of stuff for gifts. I love creating, and I'm never happier than when I'm busy, so with finances being a little tight, it made more sense to give gifts from my heart (and hands) instead of a store. (Though there were plenty of those, too).

I... may have gone a little crazy. I made a lot. Too much for one post, which is why you're about to see a few of these. Today, though, I'm going to start with one of the big gifts I made for Husband.

This fall, the day before I had my first surgery, Husband and I went to go see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and both immediately had a new favorite movie. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 became the soundtrack of my recovery as Husband played it around the house, set a few songs as the alarms on his phone, and generally sang and danced to it throughout the day.

So naturally, I wanted to do something GotG themed for him. And the thing that leapt to mind first was Baby Groot.

I've never sculpted such a large piece before. I've made smaller things, far less detailed and more general-blob-shaped. I consider this my first sculpture, and while it's definitely flawed, it came out much, much better than I expected. This is the piece I refer to in this post.

Without further ado, here he is. Behind-the-scenes pics follow the finished product.

Front- terrible angle, sorry

Back (still needs some minor repainting in his armpit)

Different angle to show potting

Sans pot

First, I made this wire armature. I've never done this before, either, but I was pretty excited with how it came out.

Then I started wrapping clay. I used a recycled paper clay that was surprisingly smooth and workable, but unfortunately left LOTS of little dried bits around as I worked. (These photos are a bit washed out, sorry. The lighting in my house is horrible and my phone flash is super bright).

More clay wrapping

Around the arms

Up and over the head

Added a bit more clay to give depth to the face, and his crown of branchy bits. The crown was cut into sections and molded a piece at a time. I removed a few, as you can see there are too many here.

Finished crown

First arm and hand. I thought the face would be the hard part, but the arms honestly gave me the most trouble. I hadn't originally planned on doing wire hands but I'm glad I did-- the clay was way too soft to stand up on its own and the number of times he fell over onto his arms would have broken them off it it weren't for the wire supports.

Second arm and hand. Same issues wrapping clay around the teeny wire fingers, but I was still glad for them later. 

I added some wood graining, thickness at the bottom for stability, and tree-trunky bits. Then I carved his face, the part I'd been dreading all along. I'm still not happy with it, but I think a lot of that comes from the face I chose to carve. I decided not to do a smiling Groot because I wanted to leave the possibility that he's dancing when we're not looking. :)
The final product one more time for reference. I painted him a dark chocolate brown, then did a light brown wash over it for depth and wood grain texture. I painted the vines and moss on in a few different shades of green. The eyes were all black with a feathering around the pupil of the lighter brown. Since the clay was made from recycled paper, for durability I sealed him with an all-purpose sealer. Unfortunately, the only one I had in the house was high gloss, hence his unnatural shininess. Someday I'll re-seal him with a low gloss or matte sealer.

I acquired the pot a long time ago at IKEA, and used styrofoam to build a base inside of it. I wedged toothpicks into the exposed armature at the bottom of Groot and stabbed him into the styrofoam, then used an all-purpose glue to hold the rocks in place (smooth pebbles from the floral section of Michael's). I went with black/ gray because I thought it looked more space-y.

And there you have it! Our very own Baby Groot. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Writing Gave Me the Confidence to Try Anything

I'm very comforted by routine. Comfort zones are (were) my thing. Seriously. It used to take a lot to shake me out of my rut, and I was a huge proponent of "write what you know".

Except... then I wasn't.

About the time I started pursuing writing as an all-consuming passion seriously, I got an idea for a book that was impossible for me to write. The main character was male, first of all. And black. I am neither of those things.

For a long time, I lamented that I would never get to read the book I couldn't write, because no one else would ever write it. And then I decided, oh, what the heck. I'll just write a chapter. Maybe two. Thirty pages. 100.

Oh crap. I wrote a whole, impossible book.

Writing that book, whether it ever sees the light of day or not, was literally a life-changing event. It gave me the confidence to go from "no, I don't do that" or "no, I CAN'T do that," to "okay, I'll give it a shot."

And my life hasn't been the same since.

I love art; whether it's writing or building things or learning calligraphy or cross-stitching or music or .... so on and so forth. But I never considered myself an artist. After all, I couldn't draw, or paint, or sculpt worth a darn, so I was just a poser. An art poser.

Except-- the more I try these impossible things, the easier they become. The more I do, the more I can do. I'm not saying I'm great at everything, but I don't suck as much as I thought I did at everything, either. Last year, I started painting. I just finished my first-ever sculpture and while it's not great, I'm still really, really proud of it. I still haven't taken up drawing, but calligraphy is like drawing with letters, and while I still have a lot to learn, I'm pleasantly surprised with how it's gone so far.

Every book I've written since that pivotal manuscript has been impossible somehow. Some challenge present in the structure or the plot or the characters or the writing itself, something that I would have said before was "not me".

But then I realized that I am still trying to figure out exactly who I am, and I probably will continue to do so my entire life.

And I am so excited for all the things I thought I couldn't do before that, it turns out, I can.

And so can you. Don't let the impossible things stop you, because if you give them a try, you just might surprise yourself with what you're really capable of.