Monday, April 30, 2018

DIY Sherlock Wall Stencil: WE ACTUALLY DID IT!

I'm pretty pumped about this one, you guys.

Not only am I about to show you how to make large-scale wall stencils on the cheap, I'm *also* going to show you the completed Sherlock accent wall we just finished for our friends Chris & Christie. And you guys, it looks goooooooood - if I do say so myself.

First, to remind you what it looks like, here's a photo of the Sherlock set via Sherlockology:

That iconic black-and-white wallpaper is flocked, which is why the interior of the damask pattern looks almost solid black from most angles. It's also not technically black-and-white: the background is actually a metallic cream-and-pale-blue stripe, while the pattern itself is a deep chocolate brown.

Now here's a look at our almost-finished wall:
 We used a cream base coat and deep chocolate brown paint - but you can see the effect still looks very black-and-white.

 If you look closely you can see the top and bottom two rows haven't been touched-up yet, so those rows have thinner interior lines. I'll explain that in a minute. Keep reading.

When we were faux finishers John and I made our own stencils all the time, but this is easily the most difficult pattern we've ever attempted. However, IT CAN BE DONE, if you have the patience for it. (And if your walls are textured, then if you're willing to do a lot of touch ups afterward.) 

If your stencil pattern is small you can cut it out of a clear report cover or overhead transparency; those work great for stencils. If your pattern is larger than 8X10, though, here's a cheap way to do it:


- A printed pattern
- clear spray lacquer, any sheen
- a roll of clear packing tape
(Not sponsored, that's just the best of 3 different brands we tried)
- small foam roller
- latex paint

First you need a pattern. Luckily the Sherlock wallpaper is all over the internet, so it's easy to find. Even better, John's already done the work for you. We made ours the right size (we think), so grab this graphic below, go to Kinko's, and have them print it full-size. It should cost about $3.

 Here's our print-out from Kinko's:

Tape your print-out down to a work surface outside, and spray it with clear spray lacquer. Spray it until the lacquer completely saturates the paper, front and back:

We used Minwax, but any clear lacquer should work.

You should also saturate the entire paper, not just around the design like we did here. (We learned this the hard way.) You can trim the paper closer than this, though; all that excess edging will only get in the way later.

The reason we're lacquering the paper - and the reason you should NOT skip this step - is because water and paint will seep into your paper after you cut out the stencil. If your paper isn't sealed, it will swell up and start to fall apart. Not good.

When your paper is fully dry again, bring it inside and tack it down to a table:

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Our Black Ray Of Sunshine

This past week John and I've had a little miracle dropped in our laps. Or rather, in my rack:

A post shared by Jen Yates (@epbot) on


This little ball of teeth and claws is a 5 week-old-kitten, and her story is pretty incredible.

It started about 10 days ago, after we lost Tonks, but a few days before we lost Lily. I was up to my eyeballs in scheduled feedings and stress and grief, at the end of my emotional strength. John had already been gingerly suggesting we try adopting a new kitten for Lily, in the hopes of rousing her spirits.

I was against this plan.

It was Saturday afternoon, I think, when John again suggested a kitten. I explained - again - why that was a terrible idea, and not 10 minutes later, John's phone blooped with a new text. It was our neighbor, Rebecca:

"Hey, I just found a kitten on the highway. Do you want a new cat?"

Rebecca had no idea of our circumstances, no idea we'd just lost Tonks. John also claims this was NOT some nefarious plan the two of them concocted behind my back, though I still have my suspicions. And to be fair, Rebecca is the sort of sweet soul who's always bringing in lost dogs and hunting down their owners.

Rebecca told us she first thought the kitten was a black hair scrunchie there in the middle of the road. The asphalt was bleached gray so everyone could see the black lump, and cars were swerving to avoid it. When Rebecca realized the lump was alive, she immediately pulled over to rescue the tiny thing. She tells us the kitten was splayed spread-eagle, all her claws out, hanging on for dear life. Other than being completely terrified, though, the kitten seemed perfectly healthy. So Rebecca scooped her into the car and headed home.

Once home their adventure continued, because Rebecca couldn't find the kitten anywhere in the car. It was just gone. Fast forward an hour and a disassembled dash board, and she found the kitten nestled deep inside the car's guts, completely silent, only her open eyes visible.

Rebecca has dogs at home, so her house wasn't the best environment for a tiny terrified kitten. That's when she texted John.

How do you say no to a story like that, you guys?

You don't, that's how.

So we agreed to foster her, and set the kitten up in our guest bath. We gave her towels and hidey holes and food and water, and then mostly turned our attention back to Lily.

Then Monday happened.

I won't talk about that.

Late Monday John had to get us home again from the vet, and we were both so wrecked I knew it was dangerous to drive. Desperately I started talking about the kitten to get our minds off it, about how we had to feed her and bathe her and set up this-and-that for her. So we got home safely, and that's what we did: we immediately set to work preparing her food, scooping her litter, and giving her first bath. Kitten was loud and demanding and DEEPLY offended by said bath, so between combing out her fleas and disinfecting the bleeding scratches all over my arms and then holding her in a warm towel for hours until she fell asleep, it was impossible to focus on anything else.

Her eyes are almost a completely true gray - it took me about three days to realize they're actually a little green.

That night I couldn't sleep. I lay there exhausted and wrung out, but my mind's "off" switch ran away cackling, forever just out of reach.

After several hours I got up and left the room, quietly shutting the door so I wouldn't wake John.

Then I just stood there outside the bedroom door, frozen. Most nights when my insomnia is that bad I pace the house, and the sound of my movement rouses the girls. They'd come over with yawns and meows, and then I'd pick up Lily, and we'd walk together. Round and round the house. She loved being held on my left shoulder, and I'd bury my face in her side as we'd make long loops through the main rooms of the house. Somehow Lily's fur always smelled faintly of graham crackers, and that sweetness never failed to calm me.

So I stood there in the quiet and the dark that night, unconsciously waiting for soft steps I knew weren't coming, and felt... lost. I didn't know where to go or what to do. "What now?" I thought. "What do I do now?"

Then through the quiet and empty stillness, there came a tiny meow from the guest bath. Then another, louder and more insistent.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Our Dreamfinder Funko Pop!

John and I've been fiddling around with the final touches on this for far too long, so my apologies to those of you I've been cruelly teasing with sneak peeks over on Instagram. ;)

At long last, though, here's our latest custom Funko Pop:


Here he is side-by-side with the official Figment:

And a look at just the figure:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Jen's Gems: Everything That Made Me Smile This Week

Well, that's not exactly accurate, since most of you made me smile with all your thousands of emoji hearts and support. Thank you, thank you. If you saw the update on my Sad Announcement then you know John and I've been through the emotional wringer and back again, but already things are better. I'll fill you in on some of that later, but right now I want to show you everything that made me smile, guffaw, and believe in Goodness again these last few days.

First up, the thing that made John and I laugh WAY too long.

Allow me to present... the Incognito Avengers:

The longer you look, the funnier this gets. The shield! And Hawkeye in the background! Bahahahaha!

Credit: Captain America and Black Widow by Ben Campbell and Stephanie Campbell at C2E2 2018.
Photo by Jen Greeley for Over 30 Cosplay, and found via the always delightful RPF FB page.


We don't really have gnats around Orlando (or am I just inside too much to notice?) but I still found this hysterical:

The power-washing, omigosh.

I actually found this next video a few weeks ago, but I could watch it every day for the rest of the month. Here's almost everything I love about conventions, encapsulated in 3.5 hysterical minutes.
Turn on your sound and promise you'll watch the whole thing.
(It's not the whole vid; just that one short montage.)

Who caught the MC Hammer Dance around 1:40? CAN'T TOUCH THIS. Yaaaas!

Someday I want to figure out a funny interactive cosplay like this. There's nothing better than getting to play with fellow fans - look how much fun they're all having! - and talk about making some memories.


On a more somber but super-inspiring note, it's been incredible reading about Tammie Jo Shultz, the pilot of that SouthWest plane that had to make an emergency landing after one of the engines blew out/off.

Tammie was one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. military, and the very first to fly an F/A-18 Hornet for the Navy. While there was still a tragic loss of life during the South West emergency, hearing Tammie's calm, controlled voice as she landed the damaged plane made me believe in real heroes. Obviously there were a lot of heroes at work that day, but it's especially inspiring to know little girls everywhere have a new role model this week - and as a result, may someday even follow in Tammie's footsteps.

You can read more about Tammie and the incident here on NBC News. You can also listen to the full cockpit recording, which is shockingly serene. If it weren't for what they were saying, you'd never know it was such an extreme emergency.


Oh! Speaking of great role models, Sarah shared something on my Epbot FB post that makes my heart happy:

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Make Your Own Framed Wand Display: Perfect for Wizarding World Wands!

I've wanted to make a fancy wand display for ages now, so our friend Dana's birthday was the perfect excuse. Dana is a wand maker (you can see some of his work here) and the biggest Harry Potter fan I know. His house is decorated in a Hogwarts/Gryffindor theme year-round, with floating candles on timers, a big wooden four-poster bed, and more magical details than I can count. (Of course I have pictures - keep scrolling!)

Here's Dana as The Wand Maker - a photo I took at our Fantastic Beasts party.

Having been to Dana's house before I knew this display had to be Gryffindor colors in red and gold - and I really wanted some velvet like his jacket there.

After a few days' work, here's what John & I came up with: 

 Different room & lighting:

That's a refinished thrift-store frame, velvet backing, and custom metal pegs I'll show you how to make.

They turned silver in some of my photos, but the frame & plaque are quite gold in person. I also struggled with photographing the velvet; in reality it's the darkest shades of red you see, not so bright.

Because John and I are all about using what we have, we upcycled the frame from our Drowsy Goblin painting for this. Besides, that's another fun Potter touch, and I love that it already has a history now.

Here's the frame before:

I was tempted to use it as-is (above), but after some debate we decided John should cut it down to a more reasonably-sized 24X30. (Wouldn't that size be amazing if you had enough wands to fill it, though? Talk about a showpiece!)

Once the frame was re-assembled, John cut a sheet of 1/2 inch plywood to fit inside:

 You can see the original finish really well here - very brown and blah.

Lots of heavy-duty hardware on the back to handle the weight:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Sad Announcement

Updated on 4/16, please scroll down


Trigger Warning:
Skip this one if you're not feeling strong today. Please.

I don't want to talk about this - I don't want to bring any of you down - but John tells me I've put this off for too long already. And you guys are our family, so you deserve to know. (Those of you who've already asked on social media and been ignored, please, forgive me.)

We lost Tonks last month to a sudden, fast-growing cancer.

Then Lily stopped eating, and we nearly lost her, too. I'm still fighting every day to bring her back to full health. There've been round-the-clock feedings, care, IVs, and more medications and vet visits than I can remember.

You may have noticed we've been throwing ourselves into a lot of new projects lately; all welcome distractions from our sleepless nights and many, many tears. I've needed this happy place more than ever, and I can only hope you won't brand me a hypocrite for reveling in the sweet & silly things while so much grief was happening here at home. The past two months have been unspeakably hard here, and to make it easier on me we've told no one, not even our family or friends. I just... couldn't talk about it. I'm sorry. Compartmentalizing the pain and stress was the only way I knew to move forward.

Hard details to follow. No need to read; I'm only sharing to assuage my own guilt and answer any questions you might have.

For Tonks, we spent over a month getting third and even fourth opinions from different vets, trying every treatment suggested - some twice. We spared no expense, no amount of effort. Everyone agreed all hope was lost, and soon the swift-growing cancer deforming her sweet dopey face began making it harder for her to eat, as she could no longer close her mouth. She still had happy times, and honestly seemed so healthy some hours it ripped us apart inside, but we refused to let her suffer and deteriorate further.

John and I sobbed our way through those last days, but we had an inner peace knowing it was the right call. Tonks was loved. She lived a shockingly healthy 9 years, never suffering, never wanting for chin scratches, always brash and ready to nuzzle strangers and friends alike. We gave her the best possible life, and I think she knew it.

We thought that was the end of our grief, but then within a few days, Lily began to die.

Lily never seemed dependent on Tonks - she seemed to tolerate her, at best - so when she abruptly stopped eating we were completely blindsided. Losing Tonks was hard. The thought of losing Lily, though - for me? Utter devastation.

Lily is... well, I don't have words. She is my everything. My everything. My comfort, my calm, my quiet joy. She runs to greet me every morning and spends 4-6 hours in my arms every day. She's on my shoulder or lap while I work and beside me on the couch while we watch TV. I carry her everywhere, have impromptu dance sessions through the office, even walk on the treadmill with her under my chin. Only John means more to me in this world.

I can write this now because Lily is almost herself again, but we spent Easter morning at an emergency vet (our 4th visit that week) bracing to hear a second death sentence and praying for a miracle. Lily was technically alive, but gone. She looked through me with no recognition, never meowed, could barely stand. I was beside myself with grief, while John was quietly panicking over me.

Mercifully, Lily began to improve - slightly - from there. Through sheer determination and an eye-watering amount of vet visits and bills, IVs, medications, and stubbornness on my part, we've brought Lily back to us. She's still not fully recovered, and I've been on a six-times-a-day regiment of syringe feeding and cajoling to keep her fed and hydrated, but she's back. She runs - well, jogs - to greet me again. She yells at us every morning, follows me all day, and clambers (albeit unsteadily) onto my chest every night. She grumpily accepts all her pills and potions and is even eating on her own again - though still not enough.

John asked me to stress that Lily is perfectly healthy other than her self-imposed starvation, so please don't think we've been hanging on to her and making her go through all these treatments without hope. She's recovering. She has her spark back, and looks us in the eye again to demand we pick her up. I don't know how much longer I'll have Lily - after all, she is 14 - but at least I've had HER with me again. At least I get a little more time with my spunky baby.

I hope you won't judge me too harshly for any of this, friends; for keeping secrets and for choosing to go on now in my future posts as if nothing has happened. Talking and dwelling on all this makes it a million times harder, and I need this happy place and to focus on happy things, now more than ever.

That's also why I'll be turning off comments on this post. I'm so sorry; I know some of you want to express condolences and support, but I need to shift my focus back to life and light. Hearing sympathy - or worse, stories of other pet tragedies - will only drag me back down into depression. So please, just give me a "heart" reaction on Facebook, that's enough. If you'd like to send some tangible support to help with this mound of vet bills, it would be dearly appreciated, but not needed. We'll be OK, financially and emotionally, I promise. Your being here, your being our friends and our community, our co-conspirators in all things silly and geeky and positive, that's the best support John & I could ask for.

So let's get back to it. Let's go make stuff and celebrate our passions. Let's hug our loved ones. Let's complain less and compliment more. Let's live it up, knowing life and love are precious.

For Tonks. 

And for ourselves.

UPDATE 4/16:

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Pro Painters (That'd Be Us) TELL ALL! Or, How To Paint Your Room Like A Professional

 While John and I were redoing those kids' rooms the other week we also filmed a quick video on how to do your own interior painting. We were professional painters and faux finishers for nine years before Cake Wrecks, routinely working in multi-million dollar mansions and trusted in some of the largest, most expensive homes in Florida:

... like this one.

And these!

 Some day I should dig up more of my favorite photos and show you guys. We did some insanely cool stuff back then, like a glitter flaked theater ceiling, aw yeah.

Here's baby John and our fine artist Jeff working on 30 foot scaffolding in someone's foyer:

John was forever giving me heart attacks my hanging off scaffolding 40 feet in the air. (I never could climb higher than the second rack.)

Anyhoo, so trust me, we're pretty OK at this painting thing. We still paint for friends pretty often, so it makes me crazy when the ones who live too far away are struggling through a project using all the wrong tools and techniques - or worse, when I hear the awful advice given on some of those home decor shows. (If I see ONE MORE DESIGNER saying to paint in an X pattern...well, I'll be miffed.)

So here, watch this:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

And Now, The Princess Elena Room!

Here comes the second kid's room we did last week for friends! This one is themed to the Disney princess Elena of Avalor.

First the "Before":

 Most of the walls were a pale yellowy beige with one darker accent wall. Not exactly the stuff of dreams for a princess-loving little girl.

Aaaand here comes the "After"!

::Trumpet Fanfare::

If you look closely at the bedspread, you can just see the inspiration flower I used for the wall mural - it's the one by Elena's elbow, and little Ellie's "most favorite flower."  

 Here's the other side of the room:

The wall color is "Fore and Aft" by Sherwin Williams, which we color-matched in a Valspar paint from Lowe's. Some of my photos make it look more vivid and sky blue than it is IRL, but this shot is pretty accurate.

The closet wall, across from the window:
(Recognize that baby picture? :D)

I love all the crisp white trim and accents against that rich teal. SO GOOD.

Ellie asked for a "princess bed", but since a big canopy was out, this was a cute way to still give her something princessy. We used thumbtacks to attach sparkly tulle to the wall under a pink resin crown, then swagged it back with pink ribbon (attached with more thumbtacks) and little silk flowers. The tulle has tiny dots of clear glue all through it, which sparkles like diamonds:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

We Did A Star Wars Room! Woot Woot!

Last week John and I got to design and decorate two kids' rooms for some friends - and they pretty much let us do whatever we wanted, so I had a BLAST. The two brothers wanted a Star Wars room, and their sister chose a teal-and-red Princess Elena theme. 

I won't keep you in suspense, let's start with the Star Wars room.


(That's Ellie, patiently waiting for us to finish HER room across the hall, ha.)

This room needed some construction work first: removing that funky top ledge. The boys' bunk bed was right beside it, so it was a parental heart attack waiting to happen.

Fortunately John made short work of it, and by the next day:

Bye-bye, ledge!

 Here's a look at the rest of the room from the door.

It's not a huge room, so the only furniture is the bunk bed and a long low dresser:

It took John and I about 3.5 days to demo the ledge, patch the drywall, paint the room, construct the window valence and Armory rack, replace and rewire the ceiling fan, and then decorate the walls with all our glowy Star Wars goodies. Ready to see the results?


Monday, April 2, 2018

Disney Bargains & Crafting Up Some Figment Ears!

One of the perks of living near Walt Disney World is also living near the Character Warehouse, a Disney clearance outlet with massive discounts (60% or more) on merchandise often still being sold full price in the parks. It's dangerous, you guys. SO DANGEROUS. 

Case in point, John and I swung by two weeks ago, and I picked up this Hipster Mickey vinyl by Jerrod Maruyama for $13... down from $70:

Plus they had lots of merchandise in from Shanghai Disney - stuff you can't even buy here in the Orlando parks! Like this Alice tote bag from Shanghai's Wonderland Maze:

It's a huge bag with gorgeous colors, and was only $8! (The original price of 189Y is about $30 US.)

Another thing I couldn't resist? These Figment ears from last year's Food & Wine Festival:

I don't even wear Mickey ear headbands, but A) It's Figment and B) Look at this discount:

Daaaaang. Oh yeah, I totally bought the last two pairs.

You can still get these ears on Ebay - though for more than $5 - so let me show you how to make them more year-round-appropriate. It's super easy, unless you're like me and struggle with tying bows and/or not burning yourself on hot glue guns. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Step 1) Turn the ears over, and use a seam ripper to cut/tear off the little chef hat: