Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just Don't 'Dew It!

John has been addicted to Diet Mountain Dew for ages now (and before that it was Diet Pepsi), but over the past few years I've watched his 'Dew intake increase to a frankly alarming amount. He couldn't go anywhere without a liter bottle in hand, and he'd go through at least two liters a day. I'm pretty sure if you cut him, he'd bleed lemon-lime. Not to mention he'd only stop in the evenings when the heart palpitations started. Seriously.

Also during the past year or so, John has been increasingly concerned about his memory. Not just in remembering names or dates, but in remembering the right words he needs while talking to me or anyone else. He gets frustrated, and ends up using words that are similar to the ones he wants, but not quite right. Like this time in the car recently, when he kept asking me for "instructions"- which baffled me - and after a few rounds that would have made a great Laurel & Hardy routine I finally figured out he meant "directions."

Most of us have this problem from time to time, of course, but it's become a real obstacle and concern for John. It's more than a momentary lapse; it's actually preventing him from expressing himself. And when I can't immediately figure out what he's trying to say, it causes these prickly moments of frustration and stress in our marriage. (He thinks I'm being deliberately difficult, *I* think he's being deliberately confusing. Heh.)

John's asked me several times if I thought the soda might be to blame - and I've always said that it certainly couldn't be helping - but it wasn't until that episode in the car two weeks ago that he finally decided to try cutting back.

And because this is all-or-nothing John we're talking about, he decided to just up and quit cold turkey. (No matter how much his wife told him to ease off gradually, I might add.)

The first four days were pure agony; he had constant migraines that pain pills couldn't touch, and he almost slept more than he was awake. Which, considering the headaches, was probably a good thing.

On the fifth day I managed to convince him to take some Excedrin (he'd been resisting because it has a little caffeine in it, the stubborn ox) (she said lovingly) and almost immediately he was a new man.

Since then John tells me he's clearer, sleeping better, less hungry, and just generally feeling better. (Woot!)

Also since then we've learned some disturbing things about soda in general, and Diet Mountain Dew in particular.  In fact, the other day Anne Wheaton (Wil's wife) tweeted this article which includes this chilling snippet:

 "An ingredient called brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, added to prevent the flavoring from separating from the drink (Mountain Dew), is an industrial chemical used as a flame retardant in plastics. Also found in other citrus-based soft drinks and sports drinks, the chemical has been known to cause memory loss and nerve disorders when consumed in large quantities."

John's also been reading up on the known issues aspartame - the sweetener used in many diet sodas - has with memory loss. None of it is very encouraging.
I've been off caffeine and soda for nearly five years now due to my anxiety and adrenal issues, so fortunately I'm already used to drinking almost nothing but water. After over ten years of drinking almost nothing but soda, though, that's a huge leap for John - and yet somehow he's managing it. He found a lemonade mix that uses Stevia for a sweetener, too, but mostly? Just plain ol' water.

I'm so proud of John, and one of the reasons I'm posting this is just to brag on him a little. I also want to let John's fellow 'Dew addicts out there know about these memory concerns, and see if any of you have had similar symptoms. There's a lot of controversy and debate over just how bad these chemicals are for you, of course, but I think John at least is convinced to stay off soda for good.

Also, John's read that any memory problems *should* reverse themselves once you stop drinking the soda, since your brain will flush out the neurotoxin on its own, but I'm curious if any of you know how long that process should take. Weeks? Months? Longer? Any brain doctors out there care to weigh in?

Feel free to share your thoughts/experiences in the comments, and I'd also welcome any relevant links you guys might recommend, since there's just so much information to sift through when it comes to debating the toxicity of this stuff.

Oh, and maybe tell John you're proud of him, since I think he deserves a little positive feedback. And maybe a medal or two. :)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Icy Earrings From... Bubble Wrap?!

I've been experimenting with fused bubble wrap this past week, something I've wanted to try ever since I spotted this awesome bubble wrap pendant over on Craft:.

Here's what I came up with:

Snowflakes! In June!

There are lots of fused plastic and bubble wrap tutorials out there you can Google, but fortunately the process is really simple: just sandwich your plastic between two sheets of parchment paper and iron the bejeepers out of 'em. (Do this in a well ventilated area, since the fumes can be toxic.) I did learn the hard way that you really need to pop all the bubbles in your bubble wrap first - otherwise it won't fuse down properly - and you should iron one layer at a time. Other than that, easy-peasy!

The resulting fused plastic is relatively smooth, but has a nifty crackly look to it, almost like frosted ice. The Craft: tutorial said it's often mistaken for mother-of-pearl, but without any iridescence I don't really see it:

Maybe in small quantities it's more pearl-ish.

Anyway, after brainstorming a while I decided to take advantage of the icy look with snowflake earrings. Well, ok -  plus the only punch I own is a snowflake. That helped narrow things down a bit. :D

They're pretty shiny when the light catches them, which adds to the ice illusion.

These were made with four layers of fused bubble wrap, but I'd advise only using three layers if you try this yourself, since my poor punch almost didn't make it through the thick plastic.

You can see the texture a bit better here, plus the slight translucency:

The beads and wire I already had in my cannibalized-jewelry stash, so this was a no-cost craft. (My favorite kind!) I used a fat needle to make the holes in the snowflakes, and some tiny scissors to clean up the edges of the plastic, since you can see my punch left a few nits and jagged edges behind.

You could further jazz them up by gluing on rhinestones or adding glitter, but I like the look as-is.

The great irony, of course, is that I don't have pierced ears and so can't wear these - and because I had to paint my gold hooks silver, no one else can wear them, either. (Painted earrings are a big fat no-no.) Still, I had a lot of fun making them, and I hope they inspire some of you to give this a try!

Now, stay tuned while I figure out what to do with my favorite fused plastic/bubble wrap experiment so far:

I sandwiched a sheet of iridescent cellophane between two layers of small-bubble bubble wrap. It didn't melt, but it's stuck nicely inside the bubble wrap sandwich. Kinda looks like a butterfly wing, or rainbow lizard skin. If you guys have any suggestions for what I should do with it, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Sweetest Of Them All

Want to know why I still believe in Disney magic? 

This is why:

 (photo by Kevin Yee)

The story that goes with this snapshot is an amazing tale of love and loss and celebration, sent in by Epbot reader Ron and starring his son, Ben. Ben is autistic, and one of his favorite things in the world - the ride Snow White's Scary Adventures in the Magic Kingdom - closed for good last month on May 31st. This was a ride Ben had been on literally thousands of times (they counted!), and Ron details the story of Ben's touching final goodbye over on his blog.
So many people - Disney cast members, friends, and even perfect strangers - came together on that last day to make it the most magical celebration Ben could ask for, and I'm not gonna lie: I cried my way through most of it. I don't want to spoil all the surprises for you, though, so just grab a box of tissue, clear your schedule for the next fifteen minutes, and go read the story. It will renew your faith in humanity, and give you an extra shot of pixie dust along the way.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Book Review: Divergent

After my "What to read after The Hunger Games" post, the one title you guys recommended I read next the most was Divergent, by Veronica Roth.

And I'm so glad you did.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic U.S. where everyone chooses to join one of five "factions" at the age of 16. These factions are basically personality types, so that the selfless, giving types and the brave adrenaline junkies each band together in kind to serve society in predetermined roles (government, security, farming, etc.)

Since I started this series of book recommendations with The Hunger Games, I'm going to use that as a reference again here.

I found the world setting of Hunger Games slightly more believable than Divergent, since dividing the population by geographical area and natural resources makes more sense than dividing them by personality, but all of Divergent's *characters* were more believable, more human. And since you spend most of your time focusing on a story's characters rather than its setting, I think Divergent still came out ahead on that score.

The heroine, Tris, is just as much of a bad-ass as Katniss, but she's not the reluctant hero; she embraces her new role. She's flawed, but only in ways that make her more human and relatable - never so much that you actively dislike her. If she gives in to hatred and retaliation, it's only when you agree with her that it's justified, if not exactly just.

I felt like the beginning of the story could have used a little more foundation before I was thrown into the action, but then again, that meant it was a wild ride from the start. Still, because I didn't feel like I knew Tris at first, her choice of faction confused me, and the sudden violence of the initiation process was a bit jarring - kind of hard to believe.

As the story progressed and I learned more about Tris, though, her choice made more and more sense, and my initial qualms were forgotten.

Action-wise, Divergent and Hunger Games are neck-and-neck. I couldn't put either down. Both are filled with violence and death, but Divergent was a tad less graphic. (There was one scene in HG I had to skim because of the drawn-out suffering. There's nothing quite that bad in Divergent.)

I always found the romance aspect of Hunger Games to be its weakest; while I really liked Peeta and his sacrificial love for Katniss, I didn't actually *feel* anything, because Katniss didn't. In Divergent, it's almost the exact opposite: we don't know quite as much about Four (Tris' love interest) and his motivations at first, but you really feel and understand her attraction to him, even if he's not your type. (When an author can make you fall for a character you wouldn't normally like, that's the mark of true talent!)

Also like HG, Divergent gives you a relatively satisfying ending while still leaving much to be explored and explained in the rest of the trilogy. (I put my library order in for Insurgent before I even finished.)

And finally, without giving too much away,  I want to talk about my favorite aspect of Divergent. Call it a moral, a theme, or an underlying plot thread, but from the beginning there's this kind of philosophical debate between selflessness and bravery. They start out as polar opposites in Tris' mind, and then throughout her ordeal she begins to understand that they can be one and the same. It's not an in-your-face, preachy kind of thing, but it's there, and it's beautifully done. The ending brings the two together so seamlessly that I almost didn't notice at first, what with all the action, but it made for a good take-away to digest afterward.

By contrast, I thought Hunger Games started out with a strong message: something about reality TV and societal decadence - but by the end of the series I was convinced there *was* no message: it was just a fun ride. That, or I missed what the author was trying to say all together. (Any of you feel that way?)

So, in conclusion: read Divergent. It's awesome.

Oh, and when you're done, (or if you've read it already) head over to Divergent's Facebook page to read a key scene (about 15 pages) from the story written from Four's point of view. It was just released about two months ago, and is a great addition to the story.

Ok, guys, your turn: what'd you think of Divergent? And because I restrained myself from giving anything away in this review, I'm giving you permission to post spoilers in the comments. Spoil away! I'm curious to see what you guys think! Just don't post spoilers for the next book, since I haven't read it yet. :)

So to reiterate: If you *haven't* read Divergent yet, then read the comments at your own risk! Spoilers ahead!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Quick Crafts Good On Paper

I have a few craft projects in the works right now, but for instant gratification nothing beats a quick papercraft. Check out these bows I made from old magazine pages:

This is a tricky fold, but once you get the hang of it it's a fun keep-your-hands-busy-while-watching-TV activity. Tutorial here, found via How About Orange. (Which is a great design & craft site, btw!)

Then I spotted some nifty dollar bill origami over on Instructables, and decided to give that a try:

I didn't use a fifty to show off; I did it to freak John out. ("What are you doing with my fifty?!") Hee!

You can stick any coin in the middle, so I grabbed this one from my stash of antique coins just to be different.

Then I started brainstorming what else you could put in the middle, and came up with this:

That's a clear glass pebble (like the ones you fill flower bowls with) with a printed message glued to the back. The bubble of the glass magnifies the message a little - kind of a neat affect.

Then while fiddling around with the design I realized you could fold the bottom of the heart under, flip it over, add some googly eyes, and get a penny-munching monster:

(Sadly I didn't have any real googly eyes, so I just used paper punch-outs.)

 Go here for the heart fold tutorial.

Not exactly a DIY, but have you guys seen this fun origami shot glass birthday card?

You might be tempted to make something like this yourself, of course, but the really cool thing is that the cup portion comes pre-creased, which allows you to assemble it in just a couple of seconds. (Hit the link above to see a quick video.)

You can order one here for $4.99.

And if you like this kind of thing, you might want to follow my papercraft board over on Pinterest; I've been pinning all the free templates & paper crafts I plan to try myself over there. (I think the 8-bit popup cards are next on my list!)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Procrastination Station 6/4/12

Remember this photo that made the rounds online a month or two back?

(That's Tom Hiddleston, aka Loki from the Avengers, with a young fan on his shoulders.)

No? Don't worry; I don't remember it either. But it's still awesome. And even better, the story behind the photo (plus a few more at the link) is absolutely delightful, and will give you a big ol' goofy grin. It's the stuff fangirls and boys' dreams are made of. Besides, I love hearing about fan encounters that go this well; really restores my faith in geek-manity, you know? (And thanks to Amanda for the link!)

Do you love Calvin &Hobbes? Do you miss it as much as I do? Then you're going to flip, laugh, cry, and generally fall in love with Dan &Tom Heyerman's stupendous...homage? Fan strip? How do you classify this? Whatever. Just read:

 Don't cry yet, though, because there are three more strips at their site, Pants are Overrated. (Scroll down & click "newer entries" at the bottom right to see the rest.) The third one will totally make you get all teary-eyed, if you're not already. And while you're there, please petition the guys to make more of these! (Thanks for the link, Sanna-Maaria!)

And while we're talking fan comics, have you seen Pocket Princesses? I remember when they first started coming out, but thanks to Kelly D. I just caught up on the series:

These oh-so-adorable comics starring childhood versions of the Disney princesses are by Amy Mebberson, and you can see all of them at her site here. Amy's taking a break from the series right now, but she'll be back with more in July. Can't wait!

This next one is far less fun, because it's about an idiotic article from the New York Times crediting men - and only men - with inventing the Internet and technology as we know it, but Xeni Jardon's brilliant and blisteringly sarcastic response made me cackle. Here's her Twitter blurb:  "You guys, ladies suck at technology and the New York Times is ON IT." Go read her article on BoingBoing for the rest - and then read the comments for some great examples of women who've contributed to tech over the past fifty years.

And that's the perfect segue for my final goodie today: Drive Like a Girl.

After my Maker Faire post last week, I had several of you send me information on the robotics organization F.I.R.S.T., which allows high school students to form teams, build robots, and then compete against each other in statewide competitions - very cool. Then Francesca A. told me about her all-female team from New York, the Fe Maidens (pronounced "Iron Maidens") which starred in its own documentary last year. The editing is a little slow at times, but talk about an inspiring 25 minutes: you'll see this group of girls design, program, and build a giant robot completely from scratch, completely by themselves.

Here are a few screen grabs:

There's also some insightful interviews with the team's advisers and commentary on how the girls on co-ed teams are usually overshadowed by the guys, and therefore relegated to non-power-tools tasks. If you have daughters, grab 'em and watch this together; I bet it'll inspire them to start playing with robots and power tools. :D (I can't embed the video, so click here to watch it on the team's website.)

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Ok, so maybe that's a stretch, BUT... guess what I've been up to this past week?

I'll give you a hint:


I just realized what that sounded like.

To clarify: I have NOT been up to baby-making the past few days. [John, not a WORD.]


I have, however, been photographing a new baby: namely little Ellie, the new resident of the cherry blossom nursery and daughter of our friends Ray & Julianne. When I heard they weren't getting professional pictures done until Ellie was several weeks old, I begged them to let me practice taking some newborn shots for fun. Happily they've been extremely tolerant, since not only have I never photographed a baby before, I've never photographed ANYONE before. (Well, nothing besides snapshots at outings, anyway.) So after three 4-hour sessions and hundreds of photos, here are a few of my favorites:

 Can't decide which version I prefer on this one - but I think I lean towards the full color.

You can probably tell I've just figured out how to colorize things in Photoshop, too, huh?  (SO FUN.)

I got so many great shots in this little basket. I also learned how to pose baby fingers and hands and arms. Considering this was the most contact I've had with a baby in, well, ever, that was another first.

All of my backdrops were comprised of a sheet or blanket clipped to the back of two chairs and draped over the floor.  For these next shots John & I bought a few yards of stretch velvet:

This session was on Saturday, so Ray (the dad) was there for this shot and also for some awesome father/daughter poses:

Oh! And when we couldn't find a ruffly diaper cover at the last minute, I bought some eyelet lace at JoAnn's & attached several rows to the back of a plain one. I can't sew a straight line to save my life, but I did it! Isn't it cute? (I know most newborn shots are done with the baby naked, but Julianne and I just weren't up for that kind of explosive challenge.)

Amazing what a difference a few filters can make. Again, I can't decide between this and the more gritty black & white version. (Fun fact: Ray is very ticklish, so any time Ellie would move he'd start cracking up, which would make her move more, which make him laugh more...and so on.)

Ellie was 10 to 12 days old in these shots - a tad older than most newborns in pro photos, apparently - and she still has her umbilical doo-dad on her belly button. We did our best to cover or hide it, but for this shot I had to 'shop it out. How'd I do? :/

Other than removing that and darkening the blacks/upping the contrast, this photo is pretty much how it came off the camera.

It's always fun to try something new, and I had an absolute blast playing photographer. Thanks again to Ray & Julianne, and to you guys for letting me share the girliness! Hope you liked it!

Boring Technical Stuff:

For lighting we just set up in front of a big window around 2PM, and then I occasionally had John hold a reflector to aim the sunlight. (The reflectors are cheap pop-ups you can find on ebay.) I used my new Canon 7D with a Sigma 17-50 lens for all the shots, and then adjusted everything in either iPhoto, PhotoShop, or both.

I spent a few hours online researching newborn poses, and then saved a folder of my favorites on my laptop to reference during the shoots. This article on newborn photography tips was also extremely helpful, especially in explaining how to pose a newborn.

And finally, John tells me if I don't include this shot, he'll edit this post while I'm asleep and add it in himself. So, here's me cosplaying as a baby photographer:

Now the world has seen my glowing white calves. Happy, John?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saturday Steam 6/2/12

First up,  some eye candy in the form of over two dozen steampunk portraits by Rebeca Saray:

 Most have been digitally manipulated to the point that you'd never know they started as photographs - and a few end up looking like the covers of cheesy fantasy paperbacks - but there's a lot more good than bad here.

Cheesy on the left, but super-duper awesome on the right. (Am I right?)

Even so, I found this before and after shot on Saray's blog to be the most fascinating of them all:

I could stare at stuff like this all day. Notice how she fixed the model's back roll? And added more eye liner? I'm in awe of talent like this! (Of course, the first thing I noticed was that the goggle lines on her face don't match the shape of her goggles, but that's just me being nit-picky. Heh.)

Katherine G. sent in this video, which she described as "charmingly dark." I'd say that description is bang on:

It's in French, so I have no idea what they're singing about, but the video has a nifty Burton-esque feel to it, plus a clockwork heart and some kind of Ent-like creature. So clearly you guys are going to like it. :D (And if any of you speak French, please post a translation in the comments for the rest of us!)

I've featured the octopus chandeliers of Adam Wallacavage before, but here's a new one:

 All of his chandeliers are gorgeous, colorful fun. Hit the link up there to see more.

For my fellow interior design lovers: 16 Submarine-Themed Rooms

 I was pleasantly surprised to see some new stuff here, like this room from an Extreme Home Makeover episode. I so wish themed rooms like this weren't seen as just "kid stuff" - they're so much more interesting, and show off so much more of your personality! (Thanks for the link, Kaitlyn!)

And finally, the coolest steampunk belt buckle I have ever seen:

"Rosenstein's Galvanic Matter Transpositor Belt Buckle" $165 at Clockwork Couture


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jen's Gems 5/31/12

(The consensus last week seemed to favor Jen's Gems, so I'm giving that a whirl. )

Goody Goody Tutus has just unleashed my inner squealing girly girl:


And look how pretty:

And how cute!

"Storytime Cowgirl" complete outfit (except boots) $95

I am now a puddle of girly goo. Love it.

ImagineeringDisney just posted a fun "Then and Now" post comparing shots of Walt in different parts of Disneyland next to a current view. Now *this* makes my inner Dizgeek squeal:

Check out how much those little trees have grown!
Hit the link to see the rest.

And if you're a Disney art fan, then you're going to love all the sneak peeks WonderGround Gallery just posted on their website. WonderGround is a new art gallery opening in Downtown Disney in California, and I am insanely jealous of anyone going to their June 9th grand opening. The exhibitors at the show read like a Who's Who of some of my favorite artists!

Here's one from Matt Hawkins, my favorite papercraft designer:

And I'm going to have to find a way to buy a print of this beautiful Art Deco Mickey by Scotty Reifsnyde:

Hit the link up there to see lots more - and *all* of the art at the show will be posted on June 9th. (Can't wait!)

Here's the coolest craft tutorial I've seen this week: DIY Shrinky Dinks!

Michelle over at Rust & Sunshine shows you how to take a #6 plastic container and make a gorgeous bracelet:

Doesn't the shrunken plastic look like glass? I have to try this!

You guys are going to flip for this: Wired's Kickstarter of the Week is for a toy called Roominate - but it's so much more than a toy. It's fully customizable dollhouse that comes with electronics girls wire and build themselves. Here's the video, which explains it much better than I can:

Can I just say how much I would have loved this when I was a kid? (Heck, would STILL love it?) Not to mention it helps teach the foundations of electronics, an advantage I dearly wish I'd had back then.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to report that the Roominate crew has already far exceeded their $25,000 Kickstarter goal, and with over two weeks still to go I bet they're going to at least double that amount. Still, head on over and show 'em some love; for $59 you can get one room & reel, and that includes shipping.

And speaking of girls who know their wiring, check out this gorgeous illuminated photo slide dress made by Emily Steel:

Spotted on Fashionably Geek

Hit the link for more pics and information on how she built it.

As always, if you've seen something geeky and girly or just generally awesome, please share it with me in the comments or over on Facebook!