Thursday, December 29, 2016

Harry Potter Christmas Recap: Final House Tour & Video!

It's been nearly 3 weeks since our Potter Christmas party, so I figured I should finally show you guys the GOOD pictures. Plus last time I missed all kinds of fun details I want you to see!

This will be a recap, so please forgive any repeats. I want to get all the party stuff in one place, and I'll be linking to relevant tutorials along the way. So if you see something you want more details on, just click the link!

Let's start in the front room again:

With bonus Lily. If you've never seen our Potter tree before (in it's own cauldron base, aw yeah) you can see lots more detail shots here. I'm hoping to change it up next year, though; after 3 years, I'm ready for something new! (Though it'll still be Potter-themed, of course.)

The view from the front door:
I really like this big open space first thing. Makes our little house seem huge! (Or, well, bigger.)

That's my refinished Wizard Chess set on the ottoman. John built the tray from scratch, so it fits exactly.

To the left, on our bedroom door, hangs this festive warning:

 This was necessary thanks to my Scavenger Hunt, which included all the other rooms of the house.

Past the bedroom door, to the buffet:

 I added wands, chocolate frogs, owls, and that fun color-changing potion bottle to our regular yearly decorations.

And back over by the red couches:

... a tiny Monster Book of Monsters and a witchy rat (clearly a friendly animagus) under glass:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

'Cuz It's Still OK To Smile

[Posting this here in addition to Facebook, just so I know you all get to see it.]

I popped online today to tell you guys what a surprisingly delightful holiday weekend I've just had with family & friends - only to see the news about Carrie Fisher, and how nearly all my geek friends are grieving, and grieving hard.

So just know I love you guys, and this community loves you, and we're here for you. It's OK to be sad, it's also OK to celebrate and be thankful for lives well lived. Heck, it's OK to look at other things and laugh and just not think about sad stuff today. After this year, I think we've earned that.

Many squishy virtual hugs from me and John, who says I can post this picture now, because we're *pretty* sure it'll make you smile.

Friday, December 23, 2016

World, Meet Hope. Hope, World.

I know you guys can tell: I've been dragging a bit lately. Nothing dire, just self-imposed busyness and stress and not allowing enough time for my batteries to recharge.

It's easy to be sad around the holidays. It's easy to fall behind, and get buried. It's easy to think you're responsible for the happiness of everyone around you.

Lemme say that one again.

It's easy to think you're responsible for the happiness of everyone around you.

Not just me, right?

::fist bump of solidarity::

Anyway, about a week ago I started noticing an odd burning on the left side of my forehead. The skin felt hot, like a mild sunburn, and there was the slightest pressure, but no redness or irritation. I figured it was a reaction to makeup at first, but after four days of annoyance I decided to google it.

Would you believe hot spots on your face are yet another symptom of anxiety? Egads, that's a new one for me.

So that, combined with the stomach aches and feelings of "AAAUUGH too much to do!!" - and of course the nightmares -  finally clued me in to the fact that I needed to, you know, CHILL.

Which is easier said than done, I know. But I'm trying. Saying no to fun things with friends is hard. Letting my posts here slow down a bit is hard. Taking supplements and the monster-slaying meds I know my body needs is hard. But I'm trying.

And through all my frazzle and tetchiness, through my erratic sobby times and my more-than-occasional refusals to get out of bed, John's been here, as always, shouldering what I can't carry.

Last week John started disappearing into the garage late at night. I figured he was escaping the general fallout zone of my latest stress-plosion, but he claimed he was having fun trying to make something. He does that sometimes. Once he saw an ornate wooden bowl at an art show, came home, and made a little replica of it in an afternoon. He likes just seeing if he can do it.

So I didn't think much of it, his nightly disappearances. I had plenty of other things to think about.

Then yesterday morning, John gave me this:

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Ornaments: Free Papercraft!

Do you have room on your tree for one more ornament? Because lookie:

A little Bertie Bott's box!

This is roughly half the size of the real candy box, and - I'm proud to say - much easier to make. Yep, this is a completely different template, since the full-size boxes are a HUGE pain in the keister. That top peak never wants to sit right or stay flush, and even the ones in Universal's display windows are covered with unsightly Scotch tape to hold them down. (Which does make me feel better, but still.)

After I nearly lost my mind wrestling with the full size boxes, John and I set out to make an easier template; one that requires only one seam on top instead of four, so the peak is nice and sharp.

 We started with Little Falling Star's free box art, and after much tweaking and Frankensteining and practice runs, we finally got it! Then we added photos of jelly beans to all the windows, so you can skip the tedious cutting-out-windows-and-filling-with-candy step.

I won't keep you in suspense; here's our finished template:

Right-click and hit "save" to download, then print at 100% size on satin photo paper. 

This is still slightly tricky to put together, though, so let me walk you through it:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

I Saw Rogue One Last Night, And Wish I Hadn’t. (A Spoiler-Free, Cautionary Review)

It’s my policy to only share things positive here, or hopeful, or helpful, maybe beautiful, or all of the above. But with all of my social media currently being flooded by people insisting everyone “GO SEE ROGUE ONE NOW!" I feel I should issue a warning to people like me.

If you’re like me, then this season is a little (or a lot) stressful, a little (or a lot) sad, and if you’re able to carve out a few hours to go to the movies, you want that time to be rewarded. You want to get out from under the weight of presents and parties and obligations, and leave the theater feeling better than before you went in.

I freely admit I went into Rogue One in a bad place emotionally. I was stressed and sad and feeling guilty and desperately in need of a lift. Thanks to an exceedingly polite internet community, I had no spoilers, no warning, no idea of what was coming. I wish I had. I wish someone had written the review I’m about to write, for me.

I won’t spoil anything for you, either, because that’s not polite.  But again, if you’re like me, then maybe wait to see Rogue One. Or at least read this review first, so you’re more prepared than I was.

Let’s start with The Good:

- It’s Star Wars, down to the bones. It has the familiarity and nostalgia of the original films, without feeling like a copycat the way Force Awakens sometimes did. This is new. New characters, ships, creatures – but all with that unmistakable Star Wars feel.

- Everyone’s talking about the Easter Eggs, and while I’m sure I only caught the most obvious ones, they’re still a delight. Nothing too overt or campy, just sweet little nods to the other films sprinkled throughout.

- The story works. I love that this fills in a gap in Star Wars knowledge, and perfectly explains how the Death Star came to have such a glaring weakness.

 - And finally, THIS is how you write a female lead. No one so much as mentions that Jyn is a girl, much less treats her any differently because of it.  She dresses like a fighter, not a sexy fighter, and there is ZERO simpering or batting of eyelashes or dewy-eyed melt-downs.

The Bad:

- Much as I admired Jyn, I didn’t care about her. Not the way I did Rey and Finn. Jyn’s too flat, too one-dimensional. Even her back story fails to flesh her out into a real person. She’s a hero, but so closed off and hardened that it’s impossible to feel like you know her, much less relate to her.

- That goes for all the characters, really; even my favorite, the monk, is lost in a sea of too many people with too little dimension. I’m still not sure why Forest Whitaker in his Mad Max suit was even there.

- It’s heavy. The only laughs are provided by Alan Tudyk’s wise-cracking robot, and are so infrequent that our audience almost didn’t know what to do with them: like, "oh, is it ok to laugh now?" There are no happy, joy-filled moments, just action and intrigue and epic battle scenes, all soaked in the darkness of a hopeless war.

- It’s more violent by far than TFA, which I understand now is/was necessary for the story, to lead up to A New Hope. Rogue One puts the WAR in Star Wars, with gut-wrenching battles raining death and destruction, often placed in settings that feel uncomfortably down-to-earth. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, given this is a prequel to A New Hope, to say the bad guys win most of the time.

- The end scene with Vader is getting all the rave reviews, but I'll be honest, it turned my stomach. After nearly two hours of heaviness, this final scene was too much. Again, I see why they did it, and I can appreciate having this incredible back story leading up to the very second New Hope begins, but it’s not something I enjoyed watching.

I didn’t cry - and I'm the one who cries at everything! No, it's not that Rogue One is unbearably sad. Ironically, it's that it feels more hopeless than sad. And that's the last thing I want to feel this season.

So there you have it, guys: my exceedingly unpopular take on Rogue One. Take it with a huge grain of salt, of course, and feel free to call me too sensitive, because I know I am.  But if this helps even one or two fellow “sensitives” avoid feeling this way at the movies this season, then hey, worth it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Festival of Wreaths 2016: Yuletide Sparklies GALORE

You're not tired of Christmas decorations yet, right?


I'm back with my favorite wreaths from our Festival of Trees!

I love wreaths, you guys. They're like Christmas tree cross-sections; you can theme them like a tree, but at a fraction of the time, effort, and cost. 

Not to mention you probably have at least 4 or 5 doors in your house... and thanks to double-sided hangers you can hang two wreaths per door.  AW YEAH.

So let's get crackin'!

Snowy sparkles and a faux silver deer head - which makes me wonder what else you could hang in the center of a wreath. Small framed art? A big antique key? A pretty hat? So many choices.

Love the ring of berries in the middle, and those dangling pine cones.

For the wine lovers:

Sparkly grapes, pomegranates, grapevines, and wine corks.

That ribbon is just the prettiest:


I have a few non-wreath favorite things, too, like this tablescape:
It looks like the designer used wreaths under the plates, though, so does that count?  I love the colors, and those crystal trees around the middle, like a sparkly lil' forest.

K, back to wreaths:

I like how this one has a definite top and bottom: the sprig at the top, the bow tails underneath, and those awesome ferns & berries "planted" in the middle.

This dreamy ocean theme has a driftwood mermaid in the center!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A New Twist On Treacle Tarts (From Our Potter Party!)

Here's the recipe I'm most excited to share with you guys from our Harry Potter Christmas party: our very own twist on Treacle Tarts! Of course I realize it's tantamount to blasphemy to mess with such a traditional favorite, but hear me out, purists!

First, some pretty pictures:

Oooh. Ahhh. YUMMM.

For my fellow Americans and others who've never tried a Treacle Tart, they're typically made with a shortcrust filled with a mixture of treacle syrup (imagine a very light molasses), bread crumbs, and lemon.

John and I made the traditional recipe, but found the lemon too sharp with the treacle - and we love lemon desserts. The texture was also more crumbly where I expected gooey, and the crust was just... there.  I mean, overall it was fine. But I wanted something amazing.

So after 4 or 5 rounds of tweaking, taste-testing, and foisting our creation on family and friends, we finally got it: a caramelized, gooey, chewy, citrusy sweet that is buttery heaven in your mouth.
John loves it with a dollop of clotted cream, which adds a cool buttery texture, but no real flavor.

The secret? We swapped out the shortcrust for a graham cracker one, and replaced the lemon zest with orange zest instead. (Though it still has lemon juice in it.) The result is a warmer, milder citrus flavor, mixed with the sweetness of buttery graham crackers, which complements the orange and treacle perfectly.

Ready to make some?

Here's what you need:

Sunday, December 11, 2016

DIY Chocolate Frog Ornaments For Your Tree!

Here's a project that got completely out of hand for our Potter party, but you guys, I love it so much:

Chocolate frogs!

Ahh, but not just ANY chocolate frogs, because while these look - and smell! AW YEAH! - like real chocolate, they're actually handmade resin ornaments:


Which we personalized as favors for our party guests:

Each comes in a hand-cut and folded box I spent ages perfecting:

On the right is the official Chocolate Frog box from Universal Studios, and on the left is my own, made using Danny McMurray's fantastic free template.

Once I had Danny's template John and I experimented with several kinds and weights of paper, ink saturation, and color tone to get the most professional looking print. Then we spent another age figuring out the perfect scoring pattern for folding, which you have to do on the back to prevent scratching the finish. After much practice, it takes me about 40 minutes to cut, score, fold, and assemble a single box - but it's totally worth it.
Over the course of making these we had to buy a new printer, and the new inks gave us a more purple box. I think I like the purple better, so thought I'd show you both!

Of course you don't HAVE to make the boxes to go with these ornaments - those are just a nice plus. So don't despair; you can make the ornaments themselves much faster, and really crank 'em out if you do them in batches like we did.


You Will Need:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Festival of Trees 2016: Fun New Tree Ideas & ALL The Sparklies!

So, you've been waiting to deck your hall until you saw this year's Festival recap, right? RIGHT? (Shhh. Let me have this.)

Ok, peeps, let's dive right in to my favorite trees from Orlando's own Festival of Trees, held at our local art museum a few weeks ago.

First up is the lobby tree:

 ... made from interlocking pieces of white foam board! How cool is this? A blue spotlight near the base gave it some color - but I'd love to see one with a color-changing light. In fact, I could see something like this working suuuper well on a smaller scale: at the end of the year you can just fold it flat for storage!

Let's move on to the more traditional trees inside:

Always love it when they make a whole room vignette. Those birch tree trunks in the background are more white foam board with simple painted splotches; easy to make, but oh-so-pretty.

And on the tree itself:

More big birch branches, shiny bronze acorns, and plenty of snow-dusted greenery. 

On the opposite wall:

 Boo to the ropes spoiling the photo, but otherwise: WOWIE. You can't even see the mantel through that garland!

And take a closer look at the tree:

 As always, I'm most fascinated by the tree toppers - and this one has a birdcage with a Putz house in it, plus LOT of floral bits. There are more houses in the tree itself, too. It's a bit crammed for my taste, but I'm digging all the peaches and pinks.

If you're wondering if the Mannequin Tree Skirt trend is still going:

Monday, December 5, 2016

Harry Potter Christmas Party Photo Blitz! Come See ALL THE THINGS!

Helloooo! So our big Potter Christmas party happened Saturday night, and I have pictures.

This is by no means complete, and the pictures are just cellphone snaps, but I'll show you the main attractions, a little of the food, a little of the decorations, and a lot of our awesome friends' costumes. Just know that I'd have you all here if our house was a TARDIS, and I desperately hope this doesn't come across in a "look how cool we are" kind of way, but more of a "wish you were here, 'til then come be happy nerds with us" kind of way.

Right, 'nuff talk. PEEKTURE TIME!

You've seen our Potter tree before, I know, but gotta start at the beginning. 

Nearby decorations:

I'll have a whole House Tour later this month, taken with my DSLR; there are just too many little things to photograph for this post!

Right, turn around, and here we go: the Big Attraction.
Diagon Alley brick archway!

...and walk through it for...
The Big Reveal:
An entire room of floating candles!
There are "only" 80 candles. Next year I'll go for an even hundred.

A pretty panorama:

Friday, December 2, 2016

Quick Craft: A House-Elf Sock Wreath!

Here's a ridiculously easy Christmas craft for you Harry Potter fans:

House-Elf Sock Wreath!

This was all John's idea - I just suggested we put it on a wreath - mostly because Kreacher is John's favorite Potter character. If you ever want a passionate fictional history lesson, ASK HIM WHY. It's pretty hot. (Mrowr.)

This is also a fun craft to do with kids, since you can always invent new House-Elf names and have everyone decorate their own sock. 

All you need are an old wreath (the rattier then better), some rope or twine, clothes pins, socks, and whatever you'd like to decorate with. We used glitter glue for Dobby's name, and Sharpies for the other two.

Naturally you should make up back stories for all your elves, too, since that adds to the fun.

For ours, according to John: 

"Dobby decorated the sock that Harry freed him with, of course, but I like to think Winky sobered up after the Battle of Hogwarts and decorated one of her own socks. Kreacher, however, was freed with an old sock Harry found in the basement of Grimmald Place. If you look at it closely, you can just make out the smudged initials R.A.B." 

So there's a lil' big ol' tear-jerker for you hardcore Potter Heads. [sniff]

I'll leave you with a couple more teasers for our Potter Christmas party, happening tomorrow:

ThinkGeek's new Triwizard Tournament Cup lamp! 

We snagged it during their big sale, and I'm calling it my early Christmas present. I've got it set on a small cafe table in the back room, stacked on a copy of Beedle the Bard and Hogwarts: A History. (The lamp is plastic, and the aging is a little sloppy, but wow is it gorgeous lit up.)

Owl vignette with more glowy goodness.

(The potion bottle is also from ThinkGeek, though I added the Ravenclaw Diadem & berries. Now I feel like a commercial. Think ThinkGeek will give me a discount for that? Ha!)
Our Felix Felicis video from Instagram:

And the project we've been spending ENTIRELY too much time on, though I don't regret a second of it:
The boxes turned out great, but as with so many cases, it's what's on the inside that counts. Stay tuned for that - and a full tutorial! -  coming very soon. (EEEEE SO EXCITED)

 Rest assured I'll have plenty more to share next week. But for now, I need to go help John make a truckload of pumpkin pasties. :D Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Mini Tree For Moaning Myrtle

John and I have been working on a Harry Potter Christmas party for months now, and it's all happening this weekend. 


[patting down hair] Ahem.

So while I try to get a million things done before Saturday without spontaneously combusting in a fit of squealy nerves, allow me to show you... our bathroom door. [eyebrow waggle]

 I kid, I kid. I mean, that IS our bathroom door, but I'm gonna show you so much more.

Only not in a creepy, open-the-door-on-your-half-dressed-relative kind of way. Promise.

Let's just skip ahead.


Part of our bathroom.


 My Moaning Myrtle mini-tree!

The idea came to me when John and I spotted this spigot ornament at JoAnn's:

It's blown glass, so incredibly light, and thanks to coupons and sales we got it for less than $5. It's attached to the wall with the adhesive strip from a Command Hook.

I thought it would be funny if Myrtle decorated her own tree using things she had on hand in the bathroom. So John found a pearl strand in the bridal aisle that's perfect for tiny soap bubbles, then later I found a dozen iridescent glass ornaments at Michaels for $3 (Score!) for big bubbles. The rest of the decorations I made with toilet paper, floss, and Q-tips: