Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Christmas (Instagram) Story

I know most of you have been a little busy and so have NOT been obsessively checking my Instagram Story lately (you know, that part that disappears after 24 hours?), so here are a few random highlights:

No "horny" jokes, please. I've already made them all.

I haven't figured out a great way to share Story videos yet, so 'til I do here's this:

I call this one, "When your baby gets you a hippogriff for Christmas":
 That face! Ha! (You can watch the whole song here.)

We spent Christmas day with those four and their parents, my parents, and some other friends-turned-family. Here's Anna's incredible Village display:

These people are definitely One Of Us.

For you Lily fans:

And now her in action:

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Fantastic Beasts Home Tour, Part 2!

Merry Christmas, everyone! I got you something. It's the final chapter of our Potter Party: our Floo Network and the Drowsy Goblin speakeasy! :D (Here's part 1 if you're catching up.)

First a little action sequence stepping inside:

(I love the volume change as you walk through. Oh, and you can see a little movement in the painting if you watch carefully.)

You probably recognize our brick archway from last year, so of course that we already had. It's made from two pieces of brick paneling from Lowe's (or was it Home Depot?), cut out with a jigsaw. No painting required, since the panels already come this color:

This year we added several 3D bricks sprinkled around the face to give the entry more dimension. It's a subtle change from the front, but it does look nicer in person and from the side.

To get the flickering Floo flames in the middle - and to obscure the back room until you walked through them - we made a curtain of sheer green tulle, then pointed four projection lights at it from behind. We used these lights:

They were on clearance after Halloween, so around $7 each.

We mounted the lights above and to the side of the arch, then added black paper covers to shield the room from the glare.

To make the portal easy to get through I cut the tulle curtain into 4-inch strips, so it can part anywhere like a beaded curtain.

The sign for the Drowsy Goblin is modeled after the one for Knockturn Alley at Universal. I carved the hand from pink insulation foam using a Dremel, then painted everything with craft paint.

 The Floo Network sign is a combination of foam board and craft foam, with googly eyes for rivets.

Now let's get on into the Drowsy Goblin; I bet you guys could use a drink. ;)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Monster-Slaying For The Holidays

I'm finding the post-holiday blues already setting in this week, or maybe it's more of a post-Potter-party blues? Most of the fun stuff of the season is past - theme parks and friends and decorations - and now it's the usual lineup of stress, busy-ness, and guilt. (I haven't sent out a single Christmas card... or bought any presents?! Ack. I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON.)

So I'm lingering over the editing from Holiday Matsuri, dragging my feet tweaking the cosplay photos just so I can look at them a little longer, relishing in all the laughter and silliness and geeky community that only a con seems to provide.

And while I'm looking back for things to take forward, I'm hanging on to a few spectacular things that happened last week - or at least things spectacular to me. If you've got a minute, I thought I might write these down. You know, for posterity. AND SCIENCE.

It's been a little while since I mentioned my agoraphobia, but I'm happy to report that this time no news is good news. This season - all the trips and socializing and just constant leaving the house - has been just what the doctor ordered (literally) for my exposure therapy. The more I'm out and about and testing my panic limits, the more used to it I am, and the more I can actually enjoy it. Every day there've been hour-long stretches of the worst Orlando traffic, crowds, theater shows, meeting new people, hanging out with large-ish groups, and just generally being the opposite of my typical hermit self.

I talk a lot about being an introvert, but there is a spectrum, and even we introverts can thrive around lots of people we love - at least for a little while. I've found myself actually getting energized this month, getting to see so many friends so often, and while I desperately need a break, I can see how you extroverts like this sort of thing.

All that to say, the day after our party I was flying the highest of highs, and I did something absolutely unthinkable: I went to Universal and rode Forbidden Journey.

If you're unfamiliar with Forbidden Journey, it's a definite thrill ride. It flings you all over, nearly tipping you upside down (forward and back) and throwing dementors, spiders, and dragons in your face at every turn and stomach-churning drop.

And if you're unfamiliar with me, well, my agoraphobia stopped me from going on ALL theme park rides, no matter how benign - even the parking tram! - six or seven years ago. I've been slooowly working my way back, first conquering the kiddie Suess ride in 2014, then E.T. - my chief goal - last year, followed by the Hogwarts Express. I stopped there, though, afraid to test my panic further. In all our trips to Disney over the last few years I've never been on the Frozen ride, or Little Mermaid, and these days even the thought of Carousal of Progress puts me into a cold sweat.

So yeah, me, the girl who had a panic attack in the queue of the Atlantis show just a few months ago, went and rode Forbidden Journey.

What was it? Temporary insanity? A post-party sense of invincibility? John's utter look of glee when I said I'd try? Probably all of the above. But that night I set my shoulders, charged into the queue, and climbed into that scary clamp-down seat thingy without stopping to second-guess. (Thank goodness there was no wait!)

But that's not the best part.

The best part is I didn't panic. Not even for a second. Sure, I was nervous, and I'm sure my heart rate was sky high, but the lights didn't close in and I didn't feel that all-consuming, impending dread. I didn't go weak or start shaking or have my head take flight. I only had to do a little belly breathing, and keep my eyes closed for, well, maybe 25% of it. (It is REALLY dizzying, ha.)

Did I enjoy it?


But did I sail through with only the normal amount of adrenaline and never ONCE thinking the world was ending and/or I was about to die?


And then - then! - the very next night at Animal Kingdom with family, John and I stayed behind and rode the little boat ride in Pandora. I even waited in a queue, though mercifully for only about 10 minutes. I'll be honest - and feel free to laugh - this was harder. The boats move SO slowly that I thought the ride had broken down, and I went dizzy and light-headed at the thought of being trapped in the water. Then I did a little breathing, focused on the things around me, chatted with John, and the panic monster slipped back into her shackles.

I got through two impossible things, you guys. I even managed to enjoy it a little. And best of all, it sort of felt like No Big Deal? This thing I've lost sleep over, this thing I stress and cry and fight against, this fear that's kept me pinned down and fed up for nearly a decade - for those brief moments, that thing was just, poof! Gone.

I still can't believe it, even now. As we left John kept telling me how proud he was of me, but it didn't feel like a big accomplishment. This wasn't my first ride on E.T., where I emerged shaking and triumphant, having battled my way to the exit on the brink of total disaster. This just felt... normal. Normal. The long wound gone, my mind suddenly free in a way I'd almost forgotten existed.

And wow did that feel good.

A few days later John and I were at Holiday Matsuri, the Christmas con from my last post. At one point in the vendor room we spotted a girl ahead of us, flat on her back, taking a nap right smack in the middle of the aisle. I started to roll my eyes - TEENAGERS, am I right? - but as we got closer I saw the tears on her upturned face, her eyes scrunched shut in pain there on the floor.

I stopped. "Oh! Are you alright?"

"I'm... I'm having a panic attack."

WHOOSH. That was my brain, screaming in sympathy, desperate to take this all-too-familiar pain away.

I dropped to my knees, resisting the urge to take her hand or give her shoulder an encouraging pat. (You should never touch someone having an attack, not unless they ask.)

"It's OK, I have those, too. You're going to be fine, I promise."

She managed to sit up, but her eyes were still shut, tears streaming. She was trapped in that place, that place that shivers with no air, no light. That place I know and remember so well.

So naturally, I began asking her to solve math problems.

"Hey," I said gently, "can you tell me what 2 times 7 is?"

I could practically SEE her brain screeching to a halt, switching gears - the surprise temporarily eclipsing the panic.

"Um... it's... fourteen."

"Good. How about 2 times 9?"

I asked a few more, then her name, keeping her distracted. Next I led her through some belly breathing, counting the seconds and breathing with her to demonstrate. Luckily the room wasn't crowded, so shoppers easily stepped around us, still sitting there in the aisle.

"How does that feel?" I asked after a few minutes.

"It feels... better." She sounded surprised. "I think that helped."

Around then a friend of hers came by, and after encouraging her to walk around a little (to burn off the excess adrenaline) I got up to leave. The girl looked up and gave me a soft thanks and watery smile as I did. I hope I did help. I hope I wasn't just some crazy lady who stopped to demand math solutions in the middle of an emotional crisis. But at the very least, I know I was someone who understood what she was going through, someone who could tell her she wasn't alone, that I'd been there, that it was going to get better.

After this week, I know that for certain all over again. Maybe it'll take an hour or a year or a decade, but if you keep trying, if you get the right help from doctors and meds and loved ones and breathing techniques, if you keep pushing that panic monster towards the door, if you chip away at it even when the light goes out and all is dark and it feels like nothing will ever change, if you just keep going, keep breathing, keep watching and waiting and hoping, it will get better.

It's taken me all afternoon to write this. When I started I was sad, looking into next week and seeing only the ways I've already failed people. Now I remember that girl from the con. Now I remember John's face when I climbed into that ride car, the way he grabbed my hand and hooted with happiness. I remember all the messages and comments from each time I've blogged about my panic struggles and victories here, the way you guys tell me it helps, the times you've told me you're finally making that doctor's appointment, or now you understand your loved ones a little better, all because of the things I share here.

I know I'm flawed and selfish and forgetful and bad at showing my friends and family how much they mean to me, but I can write, dangit. I can do this. I can tell you I've been there, that it's going to be OK, that it gets better.

And now I can say I've ridden Forbidden Journey.

So maybe this week won't be so bad after all.

Happy holidays, everyone - and hang in there. Those get better, too.

Now have a happy snow cone ornament. :)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Went To a Christmas-Themed Con... AND IT WAS AMAZING

Two things I love (which will not surprise you): cosplay and Christmas. So when I learned there's a Christmas-themed convention right here in Orlando, I was SO THERE.

It's called Holiday Matsuri, and it's apparently been around for a long time, growing every year. It's technically anime, but that shouldn't stop you, local geeks: there's plenty of cross-over from all the fandoms, and the cosplay scene is amaaaaazing.

Of course John and I've been so slammed with party prep - and then party cleanup, ha - that we didn't get around to his costume 'til the very night before the convention. Oops. We were up 'til 3AM - John sewing his new vest, and me fashioning a sweater for Figment from a thrift-store find, a Santa hat, and lots of hot glue:

Seriously, this makes me so happy. 

(Here's how we made Figment, if you're curious.)

I even dressed up a little myself, though the only record is from my Instagram Story:

The flower pin is a poinsettia off one of our trees, and the headpiece is a garland swag from the front room. Also I'm wearing shiny combat boots with my socks folded over the tops. :D

We went all three days to HolMat, though only for a few hours each day. Both Friday and Saturday we went directly from the con to different Christmas parties, so it was a pretty hectic time. But let me tell you: WORTH IT.
I was afraid there wouldn't be much Christmas to the cosplay, or that everyone would only wear their holiday stuff on Friday, but you guys: THERE WAS SO MUCH. All three days, everywhere we turned, there were sparkly Santa hats, character-themed winter wear, candy cane lightsabers, wreaths-on-shields, velvet capes, jingle bells... SO MUCH.

 Festive Tinkerbell!

 And Deadpool... being Deadpool.  (Check out the candy cane stripes & curly ribbon on his boot knife, ha.) The gift box WAS attached to his crotch, yes.

This Borderlands group is ready for Mercenary Day:

And Joker and Harley look ready to curl up in front of a roaring fire:

Granted, for them the roaring fire would be from some kind of explosion, but still.

(We used the flash rig after Friday, so my photos will be a mix of phone shots, flash, and black-out flash. I tried some new settings this time, so bear with me as I'm still learning!)

It was so, so fun seeing how cosplayers added a little holiday sparkle to their costumes. Some just added a few touches, like this Bride of Frankenstein with tinsel in her hair:

Monday, December 18, 2017

My Fantastic Beasts Christmas Home Tour, Part 1

I hope you're not sick of our Potter party yet, because I still have SO MUCH to show you!

So now that you've seen the video of where everything is (right?), plus our life-sized thestral, let me walk you through everything inside and tell you how we built (or bought) the various things you guys have been asking about.

First, here's something I haven't shown you yet:
Our Halloween roof dragon was back, this time "helping" with some outside lights! :D

 When I told everyone to look for the dragon on the roof I think they thought I was joking. Foolish mortals. (Of course we'd hoped to skin it out so it wasn't just a skeleton, but ran out of time. Next year!)

Now let's head inside:

Here's a grainy panorama so you can see the layout. I love this big open space when you first come in; it makes our 1400 square foot house feel huge.

 That's my wizard chess set I refinished a few years ago on the ottoman.

Not much has changed out here from last year, except the Phoenix tree you've already seen:

(You can see how we made the cauldron base for the tree here and how we made the in-tree Hogwarts Express here.)

Oh, but did you notice our new visitor up there on the curtain rod?

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Fantastic Fashions Of Our Fantastic Beasts Party!

The best part of our Fantastic Beasts Potter Party was, hands down, all our friends who came. They dressed as flappers, nifflers, goblins, witches, and oh-so-dapper wizards. And oh yes, I HAVE PICTURES.

I posted these first ones on my Instagram Story the day of the party, but of course a lot of you aren't on Instagram, or missed the 24-hour window to see them. Not to worry, though; I got ya:

(I thought of this the night before the party, and I'm STILL giggling.)

My outfit. I lasted in the heels for about an hour, then switched to sparkly flip-flops. :D

The dress is $30 here on Amazon, then I added the sheer cape/sleeves by hand-stitching a wrap I already owned under the shoulder straps. Since the wrap hung down to my wrists anyway, I added another stitch so the ends would fit over my wrists like sleeves and move with my arms. Hard to describe, but super easy to do. (The dress is comfy and nicely made, btw, A+ would recommend.) I made the headdress from scratch, you can see how here.

Traci made her own cape, too, which is attached to those sparkly silver armbands and bracelets. Sparkliest Ravenclaw flapper EVER. (You can follow Traci's Disneybounding & Cosplay adventures on FB here.)


These two look like they walked off the set of Downton Abbey! (Chris is even wearing a tail coat!)

Christie up there and her sister Robyn (below) are more incredible cosplayers - you can follow them here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

We Made A Life-Sized Thestral For Christmas, Because Of Course We Did

So possibly our biggest surprise at the Potter Party last weekend was Tiny Tim, the life-sized thestral in the back yard. Yes, thestral. You know, the undead skeleton horses that can only be seen after you witness someone dying? I mean, HOW FESTIVE DOES THAT SOUND.

via Pottermore

It's all Home Depot's fault, of course, since they were selling life-sized horse skeletons for Halloween. We weren't about to drop $200 for it, though, so we waited 'til November 1st, called every Home Depot in the greater Orlando area, and on try #17 finally found one for half off. Still pricey at a hundred bucks, of course, but John was positively GIDDY at the thought of making our own thestral.

So we did.

And since this WAS for a Christmas party, we added a wreath around his neck to make him more cheery:


After dark is when Tiny Tim gets his wow factor, though:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Come See Our Fantastic Beasts Harry Potter Party!

Want to see what John and I can accomplish when we quit Overwatch cold-turkey and spend two months crafting, plotting, and building things together?


Since I have just so much stuff to share, I'm going to follow suit from last year and do a video walk-through. Obviously I'm not great at this (I don't mean to sway like a drunken sailor, honest) but it's the best way to show you where everything is and, more importantly, let you see and hear some of our more dynamic effects. (Sound on, peeps!)

Right, 'nuff gab. Got about 8 minutes and a burning desire to see most of my house transformed into [SPOILER]? Think I can't make 8,000 people sea-sick at the same time? THEN HOLD MY GIGGLE WATER, and watch this:

How about that last thing? Eh? [eyebrow waggle] EH?

Stay tuned for plenty of photos, more details, and tutorials/build logs of a few of my favorite builds, starting with Tiny Tim in the backyard there, then the moving painting, the Giggle Water tree, and whatever else you guys want to know more about. (Sound off in the comments: anything here you'd like a closer look at?) I'll also be posting the FANTASTIC 1920s fashions all our friends were wearing (you guys, I was blown away) and some of the fun foods and silliness we got up to.

Happily John and I have family in town and are running ourselves ragged at the theme parks, but that also means you'll have to wait a little longer for the guided photo tour. Soon, though. SOOOOON.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Aaaand Now I'll Be Singing About Hippogriffs All Month

At the risk of making you guys sick of all things Harry Potter, I HAVE MORE UNIVERSAL CHRISTMAS GOODIES.

Firecracker garland in Wheasley's Wizard Wheezes.

I tried to resist posting all this since you're about to be inundated with Potter Party photos next week, BUT there's all this new merchandise, and we tried the Holiday Feast this week (NOMZ), and I have a few pretty pictures of the new castle show, AND I finally grabbed a complete video of my favorite Celestina song, which I think you're gonna love.

So let's get to it!

I'll start with the eye candy: the new Hogwarts projection show on the castle is STUNNING, and gives Disney's new fireworks show a run for its money, even without fireworks

 That's straight off my phone, no editing or filters.

A little clip of the magic in action:
A post shared by Jen Yates (@epbot) on

The show runs continuously after dusk, so you shouldn't have to wait more than 15 minutes or so. I recommend watching it twice. :)

Back over in Diagon Alley, here's a close-up of the WiseAcre's garland:

(You can see lots more Wizarding World decorations in my Dressed To The 9 3/4's post.)

The best new addition to the Alley, though, has to be Celestina Warbeck's new show, "Nothing Like A Holiday Spell."

She and the Banshees have fabulous new dresses!

This show has 5(?) new songs, which are all pretty great with two standouts. "Accio Christmas" is probably the catchiest with its Calypso beat (you can watch it here), and then there's MY FAVORITE, which I captured in its entirety just for you guys:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Quick Craft: Make Your Own Furry Monster Christmas Tree!

It all started when John and I were browsing the Christmas decorations - like ya do - and I suddenly asked, "Who on EARTH would want a furry brown Christmas tree??"

Then, exactly 2 seconds later, I realized it was me. I WAS THE ONE ON EARTH WHO WANTED A FURRY BROWN CHRISTMAS TREE.

You know, to make this:


We figured it'd be OK if we invented a few of the fantastic beasts at our coming Potter party. :D

This is a ridiculously easy craft, plus there are sooo many ways you can customize your own tree monster. I kind of want to make a whole army of them now.

If you don't have any craft or home decor stores in your area with the kind of discerning taste it takes to sell furry trees, then you can always make your own: just roll some posterboard into a cone and glue on fun fur fabric. This tree was huge and like 60% off, though (yay coupons!), so I decided it was worth the ten bucks.

Next you'll need eyes. I grabbed this pack on the left:

 Again with a half-off coupon, booya!

You can also use fancy googly eyes (they have some great colorful styles now) or even paint eyes on the back of glass drops. Sky's the limit.

The last things you'll need are a little clay (I used paper clay), some craft paint, and hot glue.

I actually made my monster tree so fast I did the unthinkable: I didn't take process photos. I can tell you I just parted the hair and used hot glue to press in the eyes, though, then rolled a quick snake of clay for the bottom lip:

 ... which I painted reddish pink before aging with black. To glue on the lip I had to trim his mustache so the hair wouldn't overlap the teeth.

Playing with his hair is super fun, btw; brushing up the section around his eyes makes it look like he has eyebrows. :D

The teeth are more paper clay, painted white and then aged with yellow and brown.

I accidentally got a big hot glue splooge on the left there. I'm calling that drool. :D

Again, you can do all sorts of funny things with the teeth - or skip them all together and make giant lips, or just a nose, you name it.

To give our monster tree an extra ridiculous touch, John added the Santa hat. It's one of those little dollar hats from Bath & Body Works, which I recommend stocking up on, since they fit all KINDS of toys.

It really brings out his eyes.

And to give the monster tree more height, I stuck it on a big wooden candlestick. Candlesticks are fantastic with cone trees. Try pairing different sizes/styles, gives any tree an instant upgrade.

Our Monster Tree is on a tiny shelf in the guest bath, right next to the mirror.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Jen's Gems: Color-Changing Dresses, Haunted Mansion Ears, & Kawaii Food!

Time for more of my favorite finds around the web! And it's been a while, so I've got some doozies. :D

A long time ago a hoax video went viral showing a Sleeping Beauty (aka Princess Aurora) in a Disney parade with a dress that changed colors from pink to blue and back again. It was a photoshopped trick, but it fooled a loooooot of people. Anyway, that's what I first thought this next video was, BUT THIS ONE'S REAL:

[wordless screaming]
I first watched it on my phone, and so missed the subtle tells until someone in the comments explained how it was done and I watched it a few more times. Even knowing the secret, I'm super impressed with how smoothly it transitions!

Allsyuon Cosplayer posted the video, btw, but I don't think that's her on stage. Can anyone help ID these two cosplayers so I can credit them?


Jessica Danker of Recyl EARS strikes again with these FABULOUS Muppet Vision 3D ears:

Gonzo! And he has a 3D Waldo danging from overhead!

Jessica makes everything from felt and paints it by hand. Isn't it awesome?

Then there's Jessica's latest Haunted Mansion ears, which are a double-sided masterpiece. She's got a 3D Leota globe on this side:

And the stretching room gargoyle and portraits on the other!

Did I mention it has lights AND sound?