Ottawa ComicCon Day 2: Pro Photos

Day 2 of Ottawa ComicCon (Saturday) I went as Death from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels. In these novels, Death is an anthropomorphic personification that is generally regarded as a male skeleton, with glowing blue eye sockets, in black robes, who is about seven feet tall. By making a frame that sat on my shoulders, my Death was actually closer to eight feet tall, and would be even taller if someone bigger than me were to wear the costume. It only just fits under average ceilings. The belt at Death’s “waist” is actually in my armpits. It’s hard to get an idea of scale without anything in these photos to compare it to. This costume is almost more of a puppet than anything else.

(All photos in this post by Richard Dufault Photography, also known as Open Shutter Photography.)

Discworld Death loves cats.

The arms of the costume are articulated and can be manipulated from inside. The hands, however, are stuck in one position.

Death with Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service.

My mother as Death of Rats.

My mother went along with me and made a costume for Death of Rats, another Discworld character. This character is also known as The Grim Squeaker, and is really more of a small aspect of Death given physical form in the book Reaper Man. As per Wikipedia, “Death of Rats resembles a rodentine skeleton walking on its hind legs, wearing a black robe, and carrying a tiny scythe”.

Unfortunately the Death of Rats’ cowl kept falling down, and we didn’t notice until after the photo shoot.

Ottawa ComicCon Begins Today!

Today is the first day of Ottawa ComicCon! If all goes well, my costume lineup should be as follows:

Left: graphics from Pokémon Go; center: Death as illustrated by Paul Kidby in The Art of Discworld; right: Jack Nicholson as the Joker (1989) via Warner Bros.

Friday: Pokémon Go player, with Thing 1 as Vaporeon and Thing 2 as Flareon
Saturday: Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
Sunday: Femme version of the Joker from the 1989 version of Batman

Hope to see you all there! Don’t hesitate to stop by and say hello if you see me.

Teddy Bear Birthday Cake

When I was eight years old, my mother threw me a teddy bear birthday party. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it suddenly came to mind when I was perusing the used book sale at the public library. There, on the shelf, was a discontinued copy of A Piece of Cake: Fun and Easy Theme Parties for Children (Gwenn Boechler, 1987), which pretty much had my birthday party pictured on the front.

We decorated those headbands (which the book calls party hats). We made teddy bear paper-bag puppets. We ate that cake.

I love it when I find books like this! Books that contain patterns or recipes for things I remember doing or gifts I remember receiving as a child. It doesn’t happen often, but I think that’s why I treasure it so much when I am lucky enough to stumble upon them.

The highlight of the birthday party was, I think, the teddy bear cake. I know my mother baked me a cake for every birthday until I was a teen (at which point she either made me a blueberry cream cheese flan, or I baked my own cake), sometimes two if my actual birthday and my birthday party ended up being too far apart. Although I do have vague recollections of rainbow sprinkles, I honestly couldn’t tell you anything specific about the cakes Mom baked, except on this year. I remember looking at the instructions for how to put it together. I remember icing the cake. I remember that the candies we used for the claws had black licorice centers, like a Good & Plenty. I remember that the nose and tongue were Smarties.

On the whole, what I remember the most is being so proud of this awesome cake — which is funny, because my mom, unbeknownst to me, thought that it was a terrible failure. No part of it turned out the way she wanted it to. According to her, making this cake was what convinced her that she had no talent whatsoever at cooking. But to me, it was a triumph.

(I heartily disagree with the idea that Mom can’t cook, by the way. Who do you think is responsible for all of those lovely Sunday dinners?)

I guess it just goes to show you that children perceive the world completely differently than adults do. We can all be so critical of ourselves and our work. But a child doesn’t notice if a cake slumps to one side, or if it’s store-bought cake mix, or if the decorations don’t turn out quite as intended. What they remember — especially if you cook together — is the pride of accomplishment. Maybe us adults could use a hit of that in our day-to-day life. There’s nothing wrong with striving to do better, but there’s also nothing wrong with being proud of your work. If it makes someone happy, that’s perfection enough.

Beginner Books Tutorial

March Break is here for those of us with kids in the English public school system in Ontario, and that means that many of us who aren’t going away on vacation are scrambling to find something for our kids to do. Usually that means digging out the bikes for the first rides of the year, or pulling on the rain boots to go puddle jumping. Well, not this year. This year has been one of the coldest months of March on record (it was about -30°C (-22°F) with the wind chill last night), following a record-breaking warm February. That means all the snow melted a bit, then turned to ice, and isn’t good for winter fun — when we want to brave the cold at all. Hence, we are planning a lot of indoor activities

Around here there are indoor play places and child-friendly museums open year-round; rec centers have special events planned; most businesses have something going on to entertain the kids. But one thing that having a huge chunk of the under-fourteen demographic off school all at the same time means is that everything is packed. So in our house we choose to make our own fun rather than wait in line or squeeze through the masses.

With that in mind, here is a tutorial for one of my kids’ favourite crafts: beginner books. There are two versions: one for the younger crowd, which only requires mastery of a pair of scissors and a blunt darning needle, and a slightly fancier one that requires more sophisticated tools, a bit of patience, and more adult supervision.

Basic Book

Supplies Needed:
– one piece of 12″ x 9″ (30.5cm x 22.9cm) coloured construction paper
– 5 to 7 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6cm x 27.9cm) blank paper (recycled or GOOS (good on one side) is fine)
– 24″ (61cm) yarn or string
– scissors
– blunt-tipped darning needle with large hole
– art supplies for decorating front cover of book, if desired

1. Put your construction paper and blank paper on a flat surface.

2. Fold the construction paper in half. Fold the stack of blank paper in half. Place the blank paper inside the construction paper.

3. Using the scissors, cut five small slits along the folded edge of the booklet. For best results, work from the center out. Make sure that the slits go through all of the papers.

4. Thread the darning needle with the wool. Starting at inside of the the center slit and leaving about a 3″ (7.6cm) tail behind, start stitching in one direction (it doesn’t matter which).

5. When you reach the slit closest to the edge, wrap the yarn around the edge and come back up through the same hole, then continue stitching in the reverse direction. Make sure to tug the yarn snug, but not so tight that it crinkles the paper.

6. When you get to the other end of the book, wrap the yarn around the edge as you did for the opposite end, and continue stitching.

7. Stitching this way should eventually bring you back to the center of the book on the inside. Keeping the yarn snug, but once again not so snug that it wrinkles the paper, tie a double or triple knot in the yarn. Trim the yarn to about 1/2″ (1.25cm) long.

8. If desired, decorate the cover of the book, as per the first photo. Your book is done and ready to be filled!

Fancy Book

Finished fancy book using dollar store contact paper.

Supplies Needed:
– thin cardboard from a cereal box or other packaging
– self-adhesive peel-and-stick contact paper or laminate, OR wrapping paper/wallpaper, spray adhesive, and a glue stick
– 5 to 7 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6cm x 27.9cm) blank paper (recycled or GOOS (good on one side) is fine)
– 36″ (91cm) thin ribbon
– 2 large-bore beads
– blunt-tipped darning needle with large hole
– scissors
– pen
– utility knife
– hammer
– 5 nails
– scrap wood

1. Trim the largest flat part of your cereal box until it is rectangular.

2. Trim your contact/wrapping/wall paper until it is 1″ larger all around than the cardboard.

3. Peel the backing off of the contact paper and adhere it carefully to the outside of the cardboard, pressing out air bubbles as you go. If you are using wrapping/wall paper, go outside and spray the cardboard with spray adhesive. (The spraying should be done by an adult.) Come back inside and place the sticky side of the cardboard on the back of the wrapping/wall paper. With any kind of paper, fold the excess to the inside of the box and trim the corners. If using wrapping/wall paper, stick the excess to the cardboard using a glue stick.

4. Using a pen, draw a line down the center of the interior of the cover where the spine will be. Then use a utility knife to score the line, being careful not to cut through the paper. (Cutting with sharp knives should be done by an adult.)

5. Fold the cover in half along the scored line.

6. If necessary, trim your blank paper so that it is about 1/2″ (1.25cm) smaller all the way around than the cover. Fold the blank paper in half and line it up with the center of the cover.

7. Place the scrap wood under the spine of the book. Using the hammer and being very careful to keep the pages from moving, tap the nails through the blank paper and the cover all at once. For best results, work from the center out. Remove the nails.

Finished fancy book using IKEA wrapping paper.

8. With the same technique as the basic book but starting at the bottom of the book, sew the spine together using the darning needle. Leave the tail much longer this time as ornamentation. To secure the ribbon, tie into a double knot at the bottom of the book. Thread one bead on each end of the ribbon and knot underneath to add a bit of pizzazz. Your book is done!

Optionally, you can use a glue stick to stick the first page to the inside of the front cover, and the last page to the inside of the back cover. This will create a more finished look.

I hope that your kids enjoy this craft as much as mine do!

Dr. Seuss’s Birthday

Yesterday, March 2nd, was famous children’s author Dr. Seuss’s birthday; he would have been 113 this year. This year his birthday coincided with UNESCO World Book Day in the UK (they have other holidays on April 23rd, which is when the rest of the world marks it, so for the UK it’s the first Thursday in March). I’m sure that Mr. Geisel would have approved.

Dr. Seuss’s birthday is a big thing for preschool children around here. Teachers generally spend at least a day focusing on his fabulous books; some even stretch it out into a whole week of activities. The environmental themes in The Lorax alone can spread to an entire sciene unit! I read all of the Dr. Seuss books as a child (except for the few that have been published since), and when the time came to read them to my own children, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. They have such great rhythm that I don’t mind reading them again and again. It’s a good thing, too, because when my kids like a book, I end up reading it until I could recite it in my sleep.

To celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday, I made Green Eggs and Ham for dinner. (I was going to read the book to my youngest as well, but apparently her teachers had beaten me to the punch, so we enjoyed Fox In Socks instead.) The eggs were simple scrambled eggs with grated cheddar cheese and a bit of chopped parsley, with a couple of drops of food colouring to provide the virulent green. I couldn’t figure out any way to safely turn the ham green, so I just cut slices of PC Free From Smoked Ham and dry-fried them in a non-stick pan. I also baked a loaf of Fast White Bread (2006 edition, page 597) and scooped some honeydew melon to supplement all that protein.

For dessert I made The Cat’s Hat Parfaits; you can find the recipe via My kids loved it, and it’s a very healthy dessert (basically just berries and yogurt), so I didn’t mind serving it. In our house, dessert is generally reserved for special occasions.

Lastly, here are my Thing 1 and Thing 2. This picture is ancient now. They were so wee! I made the Thing 1 costume for the Halloween prior to that Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and I was lucky that it still fit in time for her to wear it to preschool. It’s an adapted Simplicity pajama pattern made from stretch cotton, and it was so comfy that she never tired of wearing it. The Thing 2 set was bought at Chapters before my Thing 2 was born.