Wednesday, March 29, 2017

NO NEWS TODAY... So Let's Talk About John [Evil Grin]

I'm completely one-track on this new project I can't talk about yet (the finish line is allllmost in sight. Aaa!), so today John suggested I share some stuff he got in the mail from you guys instead.

Before I get to that, though, I want to point out that John gets stuff in the mail from you guys. Which is huge. I mean, maybe it doesn't seem that way because I talk about him all the time, but the fact is John's never written anything here on Epbot. This isn't his blog. But you guys still know and love him, because of me. (And am I taking credit for this? HECK YES I AM.) 

When I first started Cake Wrecks it was just me. John was running our faux finishing company, and I was his part-time helper. (Ergo the boredom and starting a silly cake blog.) Then the economy tanked, CW took off like a shot, and in just a few months our roles completely reversed: now John was MY helper, and I became the bread-winner. It was so seamless, though. You'd think there would be bumps in a marriage when that kind of thing happens, but we were just so happy we could still work together - so happy this crazy lightning-in-a-bottle blog thing somehow managed to pay the bills.

I remember the first time on one of the book tours when someone asked John to sign Cake Wrecks. Even without his name on the cover, people knew. That book wouldn't have happened without John, or the one after (hoo boy, especially the one after), or the tours, or even the blog as we know it today. Plus anyone still reading CW knows that John's posts are usually the best ones. :p

(When ARE you doing another stick figure post, John?)

When I started Epbot, again, it was all me. My passion project. My thoughts. But as I went on, it was so blindingly obvious that John is a part of me. You can't split us up. So even though I'm a little more territorial here, and jealously guard Epbot as MY space - and even feel a bit stung when friends call Epbot "Jen and John's blog" - the fact is, John's all over these posts. He's part of every project, every discussion. Whether he's in the background cheering me on, or in the foreground Power Tooling The Things, you guys know: John's as much Epbot as I am. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Plus he agrees to meetups with both dinosaurs AND readers. 
(This is Aimee, Steph, and Toothy McLunges-a-lot, whose photo-bombing game is ON POINT.)

So yes, John gets stuff in the mail, but better than that, he has this awesome reader squad online now. For all its ups and downs (and obviously the internet has its share of downs), Facebook has allowed John to really see and interact with you guys. He gets to be a part of this community in a way he's never had before, and over this past year I've watched him laugh and cry and make honest-to-goodness friends with folks across the globe and share inside jokes and give advice and just, I don't know, come alive. With all the good and the bad. It's like watching my own journey through internet notoriety on fast-forward, and seeing John deal with the highest of highs ("People like me! Whee!") and the lowest lows ("People hate me, I will never feel sunshine again.") has been, well, a little scary. Sometimes moreso during the high times, because I know they don't last, and I want to protect him... but can't.

But then, just like I've experienced so many times, right at the lowest moment, right when you're convinced none of this online stuff is worth it, and no one cares, and why don't we just pack up and go off grid? - just then a card or package arrives in the P.O. Box. And it's some little handmade reminder that everything's going to be OK, or a note saying what you do IS worth it. And you guys save the day. Again.

The Black Knight, post shoulder surgery, by Cait B. :D

 Here it is in John's man cave, Cait!

John's out of the sling now, btw, about a week into his active physical therapy exercises (as opposed to passive ones), and still blowing away all our recovery expectations. He's merrily building things and using power tools again, so you'd never even know he had major surgery six weeks ago.

One more surgery souvenir: John's new Pony avatar by Tracey S.!

 Complete with a shoulder sling and Epbot cutie mark! Eee!

 And one last one, this time [snerk] from Anna B., who embroidered our names in Gallifreyan!
Or, you know, so she claims. It'd be hilarious if these actually said Up Yours or something.  (Oooh, there's a market for you, crafters: you've heard of subversive cross stitch? Subversive Gallifreyan. It'd be the most niche market EVER.)

Wait, you have to see the back side, too:

How is this so pretty??

As always, I hope none of this comes off unbearably braggy. I mean, a LITTLE braggy is fine, because look at this cool stuff, but I promise it's only in the spirit of sharing some happy, and to remind you guys that every positive thing you do or say - every "attagirl," every "me, too," matters. Not just to me and John, but to everyone in your life.

Sometimes it takes 100 positives to cancel out a single negative. Sometimes it takes an avalanche of assurances to bury one cruel dig. Remember that. Remember the person across from you is constantly weighing her own worth, and too often, comes up lacking. Remember how much you are needed in the little things, as well as the big. Remember how far a few words and single moment of your time can go. Remember you hold more power in your hands than you can ever imagine, and you are more seen, more valued, and more effective than you know.

And, of course:

Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

Right, the Project awaits. Hope your week's going well, peeps!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fun Beauty & The Beast Builds

I took a little blogging break last week - sorry if you noticed. I wish I could report it was for something fun and worthwhile, but really I just sat around playing Magic Kingdoms, writing stuff just for me, forgetting to take and do the things that make me feel better, and then feeling bad about all of that, ha. 

Plus I miss conventions, dangit. We're in the midst of a long dry spell over here, which happily will be broken with Star Wars Celebration next month, but still. That's too long! Is it too much to ask that we have a large gathering of geeks in costume at least once every two months? Is it?

I know I'm spoiled, but cons feel like a great big family reunion, and I miss seeing my tribe en masse. So if 10,000 of you could just trek on over in your geekiest finery and hold panels on topics like "SuperWhoLock" and "Moana vs Marvel" I'd really appreciate it, kthx.
Not that it's all glum and gloom over here; John and I are actually neck-deep in a new project I can't tell you about yet, because that would jinx it. We're trying some exciting new things - most recently dying plastics - and hoping it all comes together in the next two weeks. Fingers crossed!

So while I don't have any process shots or new builds to show you just yet, I thought I'd share some online treasures I found while semi-hibernating on the couch. (Because my favorite thing to do when I'm not doing anything is watch OTHER people do stuff. Who's with me??)

First there's the fantastic build videos by Aoudie, who sculpted her own Lumier, Mrs. Potts, Chip, and even Babette the feather duster from Disney's original Beauty and the Beast:

Even if you never plan to make one yourself, these are SO FUN to watch.


And off topic, but her Evil Queen Mirror from Snow White blew my mind:

How trippy and perfect is that face? It uses the same trick as the library busts in the Haunted Mansion - simple, but incredibly effective. Love it.

Next there's this mini Wardrobe by The Square To Spare made almost entirely out of popsicle sticks:


WOW. Now I want to buy some jumbo popsicle sticks! She makes it look so easy!

There are truckloads of Enchanted Rose tutorials going around, but I really like the one from Cooking And Craft Chick of the live-action movie's version:

The video is a little long and has some focusing issues, but I'm so impressed by her use of glue for the glass frost, and the way she attaches the rose is so much better than the clear-fishing-line method I've seen before. Give it a watch:

The only thing I'd change is to twine the light strand up the stem and into the rose itself, just for that extra magical touch. I've also seen some people use purple lights instead of white, which looks surprisingly cool!

Right, I think I've wasted enough of your time for now. Have you seen any great Beauty and the Beast builds or tutorials lately? Made anything yourself? Share your links in the comments; I wanna see!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mailbag Show & Tell: Lembas Land, Shield Maiden Ariel, & Baby Steampunk Cuteness!

Time for more of my favorite crafts & cosplays from the Epbot Facebook page and Fans of Epbot!

I'm calling this batch The Things Geeks Do For Their Geeklings, since today's goodies are all inspired by The Next Generation, and we have some seriously crafty parental units among us.

Starting with Christina H. and her stellar 8-year-old Rey:

  They turned her wheelchair into Rey's speeder! AAA!

Just look at that smile, and tell me your day isn't better.

Then there's Sara, who transformed her little geeklings' Candy Land board game into something above and beyond, then there and back again:

 Lembas Land, you guys! LEMBAS LAND. This... this is amazing. And I love the LEGO minifig stand-ins. Head over to Sara's blog to download your own to print.

Next we've got the fantastic foam flinger Jessica, who made her son's Five Nights At Freddy's mask completely out of craft foam:

WHICH IS AMAZEBALLS. Seriously, heat-forming craft foam like that takes skill!

Here's Landon's whole costume, along with a reference from the game:

While I've got you here, Jessica, could you ask Landon if Five Nights is too scary for a couple of thirty-something pansies? Because I'm trying to convince John to play. :D

Oh! And here's another incredible foam costume I can't believe I haven't shown you guys yet:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Quick Craft: Turn An Old Frame Into A Pin Display!

Peeps, I have a problem. A problem of shining, shimmering splendor.

I love cheap jewelry.

And by "cheap" I mean everything from the kids' section at Claire's to handmade Etsy finds to steampunk bits I put together myself. I love it all, and despite my occasional attempts at purging, I mostly hoard it all. I am the Smaug of sparklies.

Since you know I'm a huge fan of displaying what you love, I'm also the Gaston of glitter: I use sparklies in all of my DEEEC-OR-ATING!

Meaning I hang necklaces around lamps and candle stands:

 ... and I've even framed one of my statement necklaces on my night stand. (You can see another necklace looped around the candlestick there, too.)
Pins (or brooches, if you're feeling snooty) are trickier, though, and I've accumulated some really lovely ones over the years I want to display.

I went hunting for solutions, but most of them used cork - which only works for the smallest stick pins - or they were permanent displays using glue. I still want to wear mine sometimes!

So I found a pretty frame in my closet, discarded the glass, then grabbed a little unbleached burlap and some rolled cotton batting from JoAnn's:

It doesn't get much easier than this: just stick two layers of batting down to the frame's backer board, cover with the burlap, then glue the fabric edges to the back with hot glue (or I bet duct tape would work.)

 We used hot glue. Press it down with a spoon so you don't burn yourself.

 Put the frame back together, and you've got a pin display!

Really, the hardest part was figuring out what pin arrangement I liked best:

This is only an 8X10 frame, btw, and half of my pins are huge, so odds are you'll get better mileage out of yours.

The burlap's large weave makes it easier to attach the pins, but of course you *could* use any fabric. Just make sure you use enough batting to make it poofy, like a pillow. Too tight, and you'll never get the pin backs through. As it was, it was still tricky getting some of the smaller ones in place:

As rarely as I wear pins, though, I don't mind taking the extra minute to remove/replace them.

This would be a really pretty addition to your vanity, closet, or bedroom, and if you have LOTS of pins, you could even arrange them by color! I'm picturing a whole wall of frames - how gorgeous would that be?

Anyway, hope this sparks some ideas out there! John and I are hard at work on a new project this weekend, and it's too early to say if this will work (please work!) or be a total disaster. Ha! What are you guys up to?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Lars And The Real Need For Polish Food

[runs in]


The weirdest thing happened at dinner last night.

John and I'd taken his mom out for her birthday, and we were at a little Polish restaurant across town. Everything was going fine, all potato pancakes and beety borscht, when I looked up and noticed something... off... about one of the other diners across the room. His group must have arrived after us, but I'd been too busy talking to notice.

I was seated directly facing him, and since all of the tables between ours were empty, it was hard NOT to notice this old guy in a hunting cap. He sat ramrod straight, his face in profile to me, glaring down the length of his table.

The rest of his party (there were 6 of them) were clustered at the other end, leaving at least one or two empty chairs between themselves and Hunting Cap. They were in high spirits, and judging by the birthday balloons, I figured this was just a family celebration with the obligatory cranky uncle no one wanted to be around.

But he was so STILL.

Another 3 seconds of peripheral squinting, and I realized with a start that Hunting Cap was, in fact, a stiff. Or more accurately, a life-sized mannequin.

Wearing camouflage.

Sitting at a table.

In a Polish restaurant.

Right. Now here's where it gets weird:

Five minutes later, I darted another look over at Weekend At Bernie's, and you guys, I am not making this up: he was staring right at me.

What's that? You want a visual to go with this nightmare fuel?

Then by all means, come share in my horror:

(It looks like I pixelated Bernie's face, but I didn't. That's just how he looked.)

Can you see the eyes? CAN YOU?? Because I could, and it freaked me RIGHT THE HECK OUT.

Unfortunately I couldn't run shrieking from the room, because A) he was right next to the exit, and B) this was my mother-in-law's birthday dinner, and how do you ever live that kind of thing down? (I took these pics when she went to the restroom.)

So instead I laughed maniacally - just to show everything was A-OK, no problem here! - and proceeded to carry on a wide-eyed, overly attentive conversation with my table mates regarding the proper use of dill in pierogies, all while frantically darting looks at the Thing staring at me from across the room.

This went on for several sphincter-clenching moments, until a few more members of Crash Test's party arrived.... and started talking to him.

They greeted Don't-Blink-McMurder-Face and laughed and tweaked his hat, and by the time they sat down, he was staring down the table length again:

Did I mention he had a corncob pipe in his mouth? Is any of this surprising you any more?

I'd like to point out I was being very discreet taking these photos, but at this point John leaned over and hissed, "You've got to stop taking pictures! They might notice!"

At which I turned to John, incredulous.

"They brought Chuckie's grandpa in for dinner, and I'M the weird one here??"

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Seriously, Jen? You like borscht??" Yes I do. Beets are delightful. But if you're also thinking that maybe - juuuuust maybe - that was NOT a mannequin staring at me in the Polish restaurant on Monday night, but in fact a real live person, well first, why? WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SUGGEST THAT?? ...and second, allow me to dissuade you of such a hypothesis:


That's right: the thing had its head cranked all the way around to watch us leave. And we had to walk within 5 feet of him to get out. And the soup of the day was pea soup. (Again, NOT MAKING THIS UP.) And holy wow was he even creepier up close.

When I described all this to my friend Sharyn, she made me promise I'd include this:


See, puns DO make everything better!

Bahahahahahaaa!! Aha! Ha. Heh.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Molding & Casting To Repair The World's Gaudiest Antique

A few months back John and I were antiquing at a steampunk fair - as one does - and under a vendor tent in a field we stumbled across a pair of the most staggeringly gaudy antique lamps:

Imagine this, times two.

Thing was, apparently they came from an abandoned mansion in Detroit, and we kind of loved them. John more than me, so over the afternoon he kept dragging me back to that tent to look them over. And as I pointed out all the problems - this bit was missing, those parts were broken, they'd take an enormous amount of work to clean and rewire - I started falling in love with the challenge of it all.

Plus those iridescent crystals are amaaaazing.

Around viewing 3 or 4 a friend with us pointed out that one of the metal hanging shades had two entire points snapped off - a deal breaker for sure. John's face fell. Our group turned to move on.

  Exhibit A.

"Unless..." I said, "We... molded the existing shade pieces and cast resin replacements?"

BAM. We bought the lamps.

Now, I've never repaired anything with resin like this, but I've always wanted to try. And wow was it fun. Here, let me walk you through it.

First, you need this:

It's a two-part putty you mix together, then smoosh on top of the thing you're casting. In our case, that was the unbroken point of one of the metal shades:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Cut My Own Hairs! Wanna See?

Cutting Your Own Hair:


- Cheaper

- Faster (ish)

- Shirt & shoes NOT required 
(Or pants, for that matter. Ah thank you verra much. [EYEBROW WAGGLE])

- No awkward chit-chat
   ...unless maybe your husband walks in while your head's between your knees and you have no pants on

- No leaving the house

-Zero pressure to buy the latest Sea Salt Pomade Whip Oil and Detangling Serum for the low low price of are you kidding me that's just saltwater mixed with olive oil

- Perfect for those 3AM "I'm bored and this hair is HEAVY" moments


- The cats WILL try to help

- You'll be cleaning tiny hairs off every surface of the bathroom for the next 6 weeks

- It is REALLY straight? The world may never know.

- "Oops."

- "I meant to do that."

- "That'll brush out."


- The 19-year-old supermodel on Youtube makes this look WAY easier than it is

Anyhoo, here's my blurry "Before":
 Heaviest and longest I think it's ever been, because laaaazzzyyyy.

And my slightly-less-blurry "After," with bonus bathroom calisthenics to get that back shot:
It's so much lighter and bouncier now, and I swear I took 4-5 inches off the length, though you'd never know looking at this.

Anyway, I would never presume to give you guys hair tips, because any prettiness here is 90% genetics, but since I get some FAQs any time I show my hair, here's the breakdown: 

- I use the cheapest Suave shampoo, rarely condition, & never heat style or blow-dry.

-  I wash my hair twice a week, rub a teensy bit of Moroccan oil through the middle & ends, then let it air dry in 2 twisted rope braids overnight. 

- I don't own a hairbrush; I only use a giant wide-toothed comb. 

- You can see I have some frizz, so I occasionally spritz with Zero Frizz Quick Fix to tamp that down. It's no miracle-worker, but it smells nice, and you can find it at Walmart. :D

If you're curious about the cut, I use the ponytail in front method while my hair is damp, point-cut, then blended with thinning shears. I do two layers plus my bangs, which I brush back/to the side.  

If you want to try cutting your own hair - well first, GO YOU! - and I recommend watching LOTS of Youtube tutorials first, just to see what looks feasible for you. Some make it ridiculously complicated, so start with the one-cut in front and go from there. Remember thinning shears are your friend - they blend layers beautifully. 

Oh, and if you have stick-straight hair, then use extreme caution; believe me, I'm VERY lucky to have a natural wave to hide any mistakes, since I've made a whopper or two over the years. (Hats and ponytails can ALSO be your friend. Hee.)

Any other DIY hair cutters out there? If so, any tips? I'll be honest, I've been cutting my own hair for the last 4-5 years, but I do still struggle with my middle layers. So lay 'em on me, hair gurus!

Monday, March 6, 2017

I Like Kid Stuff (And I Cannot Lie)

Something happened a few weeks back while John and I were at the doctor's office - just a casual drive-by conversation, really - but I keep coming back to it, turning it over in my mind.

We were there to get John's stitches out, so to keep him distracted (and ideally, conscious) I was talking to/at him about Moana. The nurse looked up at one point, so I asked if she'd seen it.

"No," she said, bemused.

"Ooh, you should! It's gorgeous, and funny, and the music is really catchy. We've already seen it twice in the theater."

She'd been looking at me kind of strangely, but at this her face cleared.

"Oh!" she said, "That answers my next question, then; you obviously have kids." And she smiled and nodded sort of knowingly at us, like she'd just correctly guessed how many jelly beans were in my crazy jar.

"Uh... no," I said, and she looked alarmed, so I laughed SUPER awkwardly, and for some reason that didn't help, so long story short, thank goodness John only had six stitches to take out.

Again, no big deal, but I keep coming back to that look on the nurse's face. I've seen that look a lot. It's the look you get from people who want to know why anyone without kids would want to vacation at Disney World, or go to a science fiction convention, or wear costumes when it's not Halloween. It's the look you might get - you know, hypothetically - from your in-laws when they find rayguns on display in your living room. It's the amused, confused, and slightly scandalized look of an adult judging another adult for not being adulty enough. (And yes I just made up the word "adulty." WHAT.)

Years ago John and I were at a party with a bunch of people we didn't know, and as I enthusiastically described my latest cosplay to a small sea of furrowed brows, the hostess quite literally - I am not making this up - patted me on the head and said, "Awww." I mean, I get that I'm short and adorable and all, but this came across more... pitying? I think?

So I've been thinking about what separates "adult" entertainment from Kid Stuff. Because I think we can agree it's the "Kid Stuff" that gets us judged, right? If John likes My Little Pony, then that's bad, because it's "for kids" and he should only like shows made for people his own age.

This? Oh, just a random shelf in John's man cave...

But what's the difference between, say, MLP and CSI? What's the difference between a movie rated G and a movie rated R? Assuming the story meets a certain intellectual standard, of course, then I'd say the only real differences are language, sex, violence, and "adult themes" like drugs.

Let's go back to Moana, since I like talking about it. Moana's story is no less complex or emotional or action-packed for being rated G. It's beautiful and hopeful and funny, and it tells a great story. Why should those things only be for kids? And why should we, as adults, be embarrassed for liking those things?

I hear a lot of parents admitting - with guilty smiles - how much they enjoy some of their kids' favorite shows. I often think how sad it is that we feel we need kids as an excuse to watch those shows, to listen to that music, to go to that play or theme park or ren fair or what-have-you. 'Cuz you guys, we're adults. We get to choose now. We get to watch what we want, go where we want, and within the confines of laws and common sense, DO what we want.

 Like so.

I was a pretty serious kid growing up, and as a teen all I wanted was to impress the adults around me. To BE an adult. I was never outrageous or silly or spontaneous. I was careful. Well-spoken. Well-behaved. As a teen I dressed like a soccer mom and sat in my room cross-stitching or reading Star Trek books for fun. And all of that is fine, but now that I am an adult, I've learned how incredibly healthy it is to live a little more out loud. To be a little childish. To be silly and colorful and exuberant, to remember to laugh and not take life so gosh darn seriously. I'm serious enough by nature - too serious, even. Depression runs in my family, as does workaholism and a serious case of overthinkingitus. So I need Disney. I need cosplay. I need steampunk and conventions and Star Trek and friends who'll argue Harry Potter with me and glittery rainbow sneakers. I need all of that to keep me from falling down dark holes, from hardening into a boring, joy-less, perfectly perfunctory "adult."

So whether you need it or not, whether you're fighting hard battles or just frolicking in the beautiful absurdity of life, don't let people poo-poo your passions, peeps. Don't let adultier adults make you feel less adulty.  Wear that mashup t-shirt, go to that concert, watch that cartoon, do that thing. Be a little silly. Try something new. Ask a kid what their favorite show or movie is, then go watch it.

And when you're not doing things you love - when you're at work or the grocery store of the doctor's office, don't be afraid to talk about those things. Sure, you'll get odd looks. Yes, people will laugh. But you know what? You'll also introduce some sad, stodgy people to a vastly more fun way of life.


John and I are the weird ones in a lot of our circles, and we're OK with that. Our chiropractor may still shake his head at us, but I think he likes seeing pictures of our latest costumes - and now his receptionist asks us about cons and what we thought of Star Wars. The cashiers at JoAnn's ask what geekery we're up to, and the ones at the grocery store like figuring out our mash-up t-shirts. My parents love steampunk and my in-laws regard it with deep suspicion, though "some of the antiques are nice."

Our neighbors, of course, still think we're nuts.

Still, maybe that nurse will go rent Moana this month, and maybe the next time we see her she'll be singing "I'm so SHINE-AY!"

And then I can totally sing back, "YOU'RE WELCOME!"

Right, your turn: 

What's your favorite random encounter introducing a stranger to one of your geeky passions?
Funniest conversation? Most awkward misunderstanding? Have you actually converted anyone to Geek Life? This is a safe space, so c'mon, SHARE.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Final Harry Potter Recipes: Cauldron Cakes & Savory Pumpkin Pasties!

One of you lovelies reminded me this week I never finished posting our Potter recipes from Christmas. Ack!

 Here's a quick look again at our main creations: Treacle Tarts (with a twist!), Meat Pasties, Savory Pumpkin Pasties, and Cauldron Cakes.

I've already shared how to make our Treacle Tarts, so let's move on to the other three.

The Cauldron Cakes are actually Welsh Cakes, which taste like a mix between a shortbread cookie and pound cake. Very dense, mildly sweet, with chunks of dates mixed in - or Sultanas, if you can get them. The cakes taste amazing on their own or with jam and cream. I even like them cold straight out of the fridge, and had them that way for breakfast a few times with hot tea. NOMZ.

Some recipes call for Welsh Cakes to be thinner, almost like a cookie, but after experimenting I prefer them about biscuit thickness. (An American biscuit, that is.)

John's high-tech Cake cutter. :D

Because I like them that thick, our Cauldron Cakes require an extra few minutes in the oven to fully bake the insides. Thinner cakes can be cooked completely in the pan, though - or on the outside of a cauldron, if you want to go the extra mile for authenticity. ;)

 As it is, we start them in the pan to brown both sides, then finish in the oven to bake the insides.

Then topped with powdered sugar:

Don't worry, I'll have printable recipes for all of these at the end of the post. I'm just doing a photo overview right now.

 I recommend serving your Cauldron Cakes in a little cauldron, of course: