Sunday, May 24, 2015

MegaCon 2015: The Best Cosplay, Pt 4 - Last One!

Time for my final batch of MegaCon cosplay, guys! Starting with...

Hipster Mario & Peach, I think? (At first I thought they were Western, but he's not wearing chaps...)

And another fun mashup: Phoenix Playboy Bunny:

I only regret I didn't get a shot of her gold lamé bunny tail. :D

[Click the 'read more' down there for the rest; lots of photos ahead!]

Friday, May 22, 2015

Achievement Unlocked: My First Nixie Tube Clock!

Several years ago I started jotting down a "Craft Bucket List," and number one on my list has always been "assemble my own nixie tube clock."

Well, last night, I FINALLY DID.

Just look at all that beautiful soldering. Eh? Eh?!

(Those of you who actually know what beautiful soldering looks like: be kind. It's my first try!)

Ok, maybe the underside of a circuit board isn't all that impressive. So how about...

 ... this?

Now scrambled!

Now a close-up!
 Oooh. Aaaaah.

(Oddly enough, the LEDs underneath are actually pure cobalt blue in real life, but in photos they turn that crazy ultraviolet.)

Even that boring underside is lovely with the power switched on:

Here's the clock switched off:
 Next John and I will have to make a case for it, since I don't want the circuit board to show. I haven't decided on a style yet, but you can bet it'll be appropriately steampunky.

John got me this kit for Christmas from PV Electronics in the UK, but I was too intimidated to start on my own. Enter my dad the electrical engineer, who was invaluable in helping me sort and label all the parts (since I can't tell a resistor from a capacitor). Once we had that done, Dad taught me a few soldering tricks, and set me to it.

We hit a road block a few hours in during the high voltage test, when one of the parts began to smoke. (For the record, smoke = VERY BAD.) So we shelved the project for a few months, during which Pete from PV very kindly sent us a replacement part (we think the one piece was defective) and then patiently walked us through some trouble shooting via instant chat on their website. We were really impressed, so if you're in the market for a nixie clock kit, I highly recommend those guys.

I think I spent a good 10 hours on this, but a chunk of that was trouble-shooting and back-tracking with my Dad's help. (Removing soldered pieces takes about ten times as long as putting them on in the first place! o.0) The time really zipped by, though, since it turns out I actually like soldering. :)

The kit comes pre-programmed with a dizzying array of display options, so John and I had fun playing with some of the settings. It's almost hypnotic watching the numbers shift, and we turned on a "slots" feature that jumbles the numbers every 60 seconds. Here, I took a little video so you can see:


This still doesn't quite capture how gorgeous the colors are; on video the LEDs appear to fluctuate, but they're rock-steady IRL. And the colors aren't quite right here, either; they're more electric sherbet orange and rich ultramarine blue. So I guess you guys will have to either come visit or make your own to see what I mean!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Going Gluten-Free... FOR SCIENCE!

Everything I've been reading on Hashimoto's keeps coming back to the same dietary requirement/recommendation: give up gluten*.  I've been stalling and rationalizing and being just plain stubborn about it, but after a bad 2-day anxiety flare-up last week, I was ready to try just about anything. (Amazing what a strong motivator irrational fear can be, huh?)

[*The tl;dr version: some doctors believe your body could be mistaking thyroid tissue for gluten - since they're structurally similar - and so ends up attacking both. Give up gluten, and the attacks could stop, allowing your thyroid to heal.]

And since I've heard it can also help with panic - and I'm lactose-intolerant anyway - I decided to give up dairy, too. In for a penny, right?

Still, considering that every meal I eat usually has both dairy *and* gluten in it, this was a Big Deal.

And considering that I am not only terrible at cooking, but also hate doing it, this was a Really Really Big Deal.

So it's been almost a full week now, and I gotta say: This isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and I am so relieved.

I've always equated going gluten-free with going low-carb, for some reason, or at least going awful- carb, with chemical-tasting fake breads and pastas and whatnot - and forget about all the baked-goods and desserts I love. So, the first thing John and I did - and yes, you WILL laugh at me over this - was find a good gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. Because PRIORITIES.

It only took 4 tries with 4 different brands to find an amazing, so-good-I'd-eat-'em-anyway, GF chocolate chip cookie. As soon as I took the first bite, I knew I could do this.

These are the cookies, by the way:

They sell them at Target.
(But I'm still open to recommendations for other brands.)

Next I had to find a proper milk substitute, since it's been the only thing I drink besides water for over 6 years. I already knew I liked sweetened Almond Milk well enough, so once I cut it half-and-half with water it was close enough to pass for my usual 2% milk. SUCCESS.

Next up, sandwich bread. I was dreading this, because the GF bread we've tried before was like crumbly cardboard: completely inedible. I lucked out when John brought home a loaf of All But Gluten, because once toasted, it tastes almost exactly like the white wheat we usually eat.

In fact, I've found this whole thing is a lot less daunting if I just start with what I already eat, and then find substitutions to make it work. I'm not quite as strict with the dairy as I am with gluten, though, so I'm ok with small amounts of whey or even cream in some items.

Some things are already gluten-free, of course, like our favorite burrito bowls over at Chipotle. Leave off the sour cream and cheese, and it's dairy-free, too. (I sub'd with some dairy-free sour cream, which tastes almost exactly the same as the real stuff, and some soy-based "cheddar cheese," which... does not. Ha! It's not too bad, though.)

Everyone keeps saying this is an amazing time to go gluten-free, and I gotta say, they're right. I was like a kid in a candy store once I found the GF aisle at Publix, eying all the stuff I can still eat, and I even found a local vegan bakery that has almost half its menu GF. Including cupcakes. Woot!

Restaurants have been surprisingly accommodating so far, and it's pretty easy to find GF menus on most websites. Which reminds me, quick side note:

This week we've been out at Universal a lot with visiting family, and I have to give major props to the staff at the Three Broomsticks, who I swear turned into culinary superheroes the second we uttered the words "gluten-free." I'd already done my homework online as to what I could eat, but John had a quick question about the ribs. Within seconds, the head chef himself was in front of us, smiling and offering to cook the ribs sans sauce (which has gluten in it) just for us. Then, the server plating our food insisted on replacing our order when she realized she hadn't put on fresh gloves before handling my GF plate.

I was so touched by how conscientious they all were, and more than that, how they didn't make a fuss or act like we were putting them out. I've been afraid of restaurant staff rolling their eyes or getting snippy with me, but so far, knock on wood, everyone's been great.

That said, it's a lot easier to eat gluten and dairy-free at home - or at least it's easier to eat well. (Because who wants a house salad for every meal?) So far John's made us this Rainbow Thai salad:

 Which was awesome, though ours wasn't nearly as photogenic:

 Plus we replaced the mango with mandarin oranges. Mmm.

We disagreed on the dressing, since John wanted more vinegar and I wanted more peanut butter, so in the end we split the recipe and doctored our own versions.

For dinners we've also had hot sandwiches, which John is the master of making, and fruity chicken salad with these to-die-for GF crackers:

We've been eating the crackers for months now, so it was a pleasant surprise when I realized there's a big ol' "GLUTEN FREE" stamp on the bag. (Seriously, you must try them. Crunchy nutty goodness you'll be eating like potato chips!)

It feels pretty strange to be sharing snapshots of our dinners here, but after the response to my gluten-free brownies quip a few posts back, I figured enough of you guys might be interested.

It's too soon to say if going gluten and dairy-free is helping my panic or thyroid issues, but I can at least tell you my stomach feels less awful.  Since I usually have dairy every day, I'm used to being in almost constant GI distress - even when I remember the Lactaid. (This is how much I love milk, you guys.) Now my stomach is quieter, without its usual symphony of gastrointestinal whale song, and all the other bloaty-and-crampy stuff that goes with it.

Fingers crossed this is just the beginning, and in another few months I'll be one of those annoyingly perky GF converts, raving about all my renewed energy and new-found health benefits. ;)

Thanks for all the support and advice, everyone - 'cuz I AM taking notes over here - and I hope my sharing helps encourage some of you out there contemplating the gluten-free switch yourself!