Christmas Card Wall Display


spideyboardI like to be able to see the Christmas cards I receive throughout the holiday season, but I’ve never really had a great place to display them. In previous years, I have taped a length of festive ribbon on the wall and taped the cards on the ribbon as I opened them. This year, though, I saw a Christmas card display, but it was rustic and country and powder slate blue (?). In my opinion: ugly.

I was just going to steal the idea carte blanche: find a wood frame I like. Print, find, or make a holiday picture. Drill some holes in the frame and tie ribbon between the holes. Put the picture in the frame and hang on the wall. But then, I remembered that I can’t be trusted with power tools, so that idea was out.

Instead, I went with quick and easy. For your very own card display you’ll need:

  • Foam board – cut in square dimensions of your choosing. I used 14X14. Bigger would have worked well. You could also buy Design Foam, but I find that a tad expensive.
  • Low-loft/craft batting – cut the same size as your foam board
  • Fabric – cut 2 inches larger than the foam board
  • Ribbon
  • Mini-clothes pins
  • Embellishments – stickers, buttons, washi tape, paint
  • Glue gun with glue

First, you will need to cut everything to the appropriate size. I used 14×14 foam board, so I cut my batting to 14×14 and my fabric to 16×16.

gluebattingGlue the batting to the foam board and let dry.

sewribbonThe next step is completely optional, I sewed ribbon to the edges of the fabric, so I didn’t have to rely on glue to keep it in place later.

corners glueboard








Then, glue the ribbon and fabric to the board. Fold the corners neatly to keep the fabric from bunching. Let dry.

clothespinsDecorate the clothes pin in a fashion that makes you happy. Pin to the ribbon.

finishedproductHang everything up on a wall or rest against a mantle or shelf. Enjoy your holiday cards all season.

Quick Christmas Craft

Decorative Christmas letters to display in the house. I like things organized and matching, but that doesn't have to be you.

Decorative Christmas letters to display in the house. I like things organized and matching, but that doesn’t have to be you.

I admit Christmas is not my favorite holiday for decorating, and in the past the house has shown it. A lot of lackluster stuff thrown together to make it look like Christmas. This year I figured I would try something new and put some effort in. If I am going to lose my sewing machine space to a Christmas tree I might as well spruce up the rest of the house with some small items.

The first craft I want to share is super easy. So if you want to make your own you’ll need:

Embellishments: buttons, gems, paper, stickers, and the like
E6000 or another equally caustic and high adhesive gluePaint
Modge Podge High Shine or similar finishing spray

christmascraft1The rest is pretty easy. Paint your letters. Let dry. Glue the elements you want on the letters in place. Let dry. Spray with finishing spray. Let dry. Display!

How to Set Up Live Action Clue with Example Documents


My daughter and her friends love playing murder mystery games at parties. They embrace donning of a persona that is not their own; they are all cosplayers, so this isn’t a revelation. The problem with the typical murder mystery game is it is set for a certain number of players and if someone doesn’t show up, then there is a hole in the game, or someone has to play multiple roles. And due to the scripted nature of these games, they are only really fun the first time. For these reasons, this year I decided the teenagers should play a live-action game of Clue. Attractively with Clue, if someone had to cancel at the last minute I didn’t have to rewrite an entire script. An absentee suspect could still be included in the deck, or removed, with ease.

With my decision made, I turned to the internet for ideas. To be honest, there were several sites that gave anywhere from 50-75% of the rules and set up each of these groups used. None of them fully explained what they did, which is exactly what I hope to do with my posts. I want others to be able to easily play a game and not be left wondering what does something mean. I have broken my master game document into bite-sized PDFs. Hopefully this manner can show others how we played the game.

It seems like a lot of work, but the guests had a wonderful time and could have easily played the game again.

Setting Up The Game:

  1. Send out invitations to your guests. You should request a RSVP. Either assign each of your guests a character or allow the guests to select a character. We encouraged everyone to choose a character and dress up as that person, which they did. No one could play the same character for obvious reasons.
  2. Decide how many rooms and weapons your game will feature. We used an equal number of rooms and weapons as we had suspects. That worked well for our group – 11 girls – but it might not for everyone.
  3. Write a detailed motive for each of the characters. Decide how many parts you want to divide the motives into. We used three-part motives. It certainly isn’t required to use the rest of the game though. The motives need to be put on cards – I made cards in Word using SmartArt tools, but index cards would work just as well.
  4. Make at least one set of “Suspicion cards” for the weapons, rooms, and suspects. We used two sets to speed up play. One set we distributed amongst the guests just like one would do in tabletop Clue; the other set we shared amongst the two “game masters.” We made doubly sure that the solution was removed from both decks before dealing them.
  5. Make a poster board for each room. The name of the room should be clearly displayed. Then, write a non-malicious rumor about one of the character’s (not player’s) on the board. We did this to spark ideas in the guests. The rumor board ended up being one of the favorite things the girls did. One of them asked if she take home a board that had a rumor about her character that she enjoyed. After the game, everyone claimed a board to take home and took turns writing more rumors about the specific characters on the boards. I wish I had the foresight to photograph the final products.
  6. Create a chart to keep track of the score. We used foam board and created a grid with columns.
  7. Create “packets” for each player. In the packets include a full copy of their motive, a detective’s notebook, an accusation sheet, and anything else you want them to have.
  8. Decide on the amount of fun money that each player needs to begin with and distribute it. We gave everyone $55 to start.
  9. If you break up into groups and have multiple “game masters” make sure that each game master understands the rules and the order of turns. Also, agree in advance the order that each game master is going to take through the rooms.

I am linking to the materials I created, feel free to copy/paste and adapt what you need.

Live Action Clue Murder Mystery: The rules
Detective Notebook: A notebook similar to the one found in a tabletop edition of Clue.
Accusation Sheet:
Chaos Phase Examples: A PDF of examples of the Chaos Phase. These may not work for your group.
Player Cheat Sheets: Each player was given a copy of their motive and examples of how telling rumors would work.
Suspicion Cards: Due to time constraints on my part, all of the cards for the game were created using Microsoft Word. The SmartArt Tools had many options for designs to choose from and made creating the cards quick because everything could be done with a click. However, other programs could work or index cards.
Motive Cards: I made the motive cards using the same tool as the Suspicion cards. I made sure they were shaped very differently than the Suspicion cards though. Also, each Game Master had an entire set of Motive Cards to encourage the players to spend their money.

Candy Tree Tutorial


A partial photo of the candy candy station I had at the Halloween party for teenagers. I never took a photo of the full set up.

This particular tutorial is late for Halloween and a little early for Christmas, but it is a good one for any occasion where the host or hostess wants to make a candy station. We did this particular project for a Halloween party, so the finishing touches are Halloween themed. Before we get started you’ll need supplies.

  • Floral foam ball – diameter will be determined by the size of tree you wish to build
  • 3/4 to 1 inch wood dowel – cut to the desired length
  • Washi tape
  • Floral foam disk the width of your pot
  • Pot for tree
  • Aquarium or river rock – or really anything that is heavy
  • Glue gun
  • Suckers – I used about 250 Dum-Dums
  • The weight of the fully candied foam ball will determine the rest of the project.

    The weight of the fully candied foam ball will determine the rest of the project.

  1. Start by sticking suckers into the floral foam ball. You want to cover it completely. If you put too many in you can always take some out, but start with the ball completely filled in.
  2. Weigh you foam ball. This is important because whatever that weighs, your base will need to weigh 1.5 times to two times more or your tree will not stand up; or it will be extremely unstable. For the tree I made my ball weighed 5 pounds. My daughter wanted to use a cute small pot for the tree base, but it was way too light. I ended up purchasing a second pot and five pounds of aquarium rock to make it work. My base weighed 9 pounds.
  3. Cut the wooden dowel to a height that is pleasing to the eye. Wrap the dowel with Washi tape – or any other decorative element you like.
  4. Insert the dowel into your fully candied foam ball. If you need to remove some candy, do so. To be aesthetically pleasing, try to center the dowel in the ball. Set aside for now.
I kept things simple because I thought it needed a little something, and my daughter didn't want it too elaborately decorated.

I kept things simple because I thought it needed a little something, and my daughter didn’t want it too elaborately decorated.

5.Decorate the pot with Washi tape, paint, or any other flourish that you like.

The rocks can be seen in the gaps, which is why I invested in black aquarium rock. I could have left it plan though.

The rocks can be seen in the gaps, which is why I invested in black aquarium rock. I could have left it plain though.

6. Fill the pot with rock or other heavy filler to a height that will allow you to still put the foam disk inside the pot. Weigh the pot to make sure it makes the minimum requirements. To test the weight, place the foam disk inside the pot and then insert the dowel with candy ball to make sure it will be heavy enough to keep the tree upright. It might be a little wobbly, but gluing the foam disk inside the pot will take care of that. However, don’t get ahead of yourself because once the foam has been glued, you won’t really be able to adjust the weight.

7. Insert suckers into base completely covering the foam disk.

The completed tree!

The completed tree!

I stored my tree in separate pieces until the party. Then, I made it part of a candy station but didn’t take a great picture of it. The picture to the left is the only picture I remembered to take of it. I was very tired.


Halloween is Over!


The Anime Murder Mystery Crew in all of their costumed finery.

I never thought I would be so happy to see the end of Halloween, but I am. For the Murder Mystery Party I ended up making decorations, a live action version of Clue, and cooking all of the food. Plus, I did a Spring Clean in the Fall – not everyone has the tolerance of kitty dander that we do, so I wanted to make sure the guests were comfortable. In the middle of that, we had family visit and college visitations to do. So yeah for weeks my mornings were cook, cool, and freeze food items, create decoration, along with my daily chores. I just wanted to sleep when all was done especially starting the week of October 13 when I really moved everything into high gear.

I am happy to report the girls all had a great time. They devoured the food, raved about the game, and even took home some of the decorations to remember the night by. And the costumes were impressive. We had Sasha, Levi, and Eren from Attack on Titan, Edward Elric, Mochita from HoneyWorks, Link, Iggy from Maximum Ride, Axel from Kingdom Hearts, Lucy from Elfen Lied, England dressed as Doctor Who, and Joshua from The World Ends With You. Whew…Done with planning parties for a while.

Thoughts on Post-humanism


Some post-humanists believe that humans have already evolved beyond human. Due to technology, both invasive and pervasive at this point in time, we are now a new species – post-human. I am not sure I believe that, but I am willing to engage in the thought experiments this idea generates.

I can’t disagree with the idea that what it means to be human has changed drastically from ancient times to today. We have vaccines that protect us from diseases that would have killed us not long ago. We have plastic surgery to fix physical defects and appeal to our vanity. Our food is enriched with additional vitamins and our water treated. We even have medical conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome that can be caused by the technology we use every day.  Post-humanists would argue this makes us a new and different species from the humans of 4000 years ago. I am not convinced.

However, I am left pondering: what about pets? Are they also post-insert animal name here? I vaccinate my cats against diseases that could kill them. People pay money to have their animal’s appearance changed in some way. We shared our home with a dog that needed metal pins to replace a damaged hip. The food I buy for my pets is vitamin-enriched. Even the crickets the newt eats have been gut loaded with additional vitamins and coated in calcium. And the water I give to the cats is filtered and treated. Our pets can grow obese due to over-feeding and increasingly sedentary, or pampered, lives. They live vastly different lives than animals 4000 years ago. So are my tabby cats post-cats?

I know I will read more on the subject as I have only read a limited number of essays by post-humanists, but I wonder what others think.

Books, Books, Books


I was tagged twice in the same day to talk about my ten favorite books, or the books that influenced me or something. Here is my list, cheating a bit.

Before starting I need to give a shout out to the book I just finished: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell. I laughed; I cried; I nearly lost my lunch. It was awesome.

Selecting just 10 books that I have enjoyed or been influenced by is excruciating. As I choose which ones to feature, others cry out, “what about me?” Honestly, I need my lists to be by literary period or genre. And still I will feel like I am excluding something that means the world to me. I, also, can’t just rank them. Plus, what about essays, short stories, poems, and comics/manga? That said, I tried really hard. So here we go!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck: Growing up in Oklahoma, I was forced to read many Steinbeck novels. I wish I could say I loved Steinbeck, but I didn’t. The one book of his we never read is the only one I truly love. The characters resonate with me.

The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman: After finishing Lord of the Rings, I felt drained. Books did not satisfy, and I couldn’t finish anything. I just wanted more Tolkien, and I indulged, but it had to come to an end because he was dead, you know? Dragonlance was my methadone to my Tolkien heroin. The language is not elevated and the plot simple, but I love it.

The Cigarette Sellers of Three Crosses Square by Joseph Ziemian: The true story of Jewish children who escaped the ghetto and survived by selling cigarettes to the Nazi soldiers. Not all of them escaped the concentration camps. I read this book in the sixth grade, the same age as many of the sellers, and I spent the better part of 15 years searching for a copy to own. I still dream about this book.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: This book made me acknowledge to myself and publicly, “I love science fiction.” What is amazing about this book is that space battle takes place three-dimensionally. Prior to that space battles were treated like space is the sea – one dimension, no underneath or overhead attacks. On top of the wicked explanations of space battle, Ender endures as one of my favorite protagonists. My heart still breaks for him. (The recent movie captured all of the important stuff even though it was different, and I sobbed at the end as if I had never read the book.)

Beach Music by Pat Conroy: A book about the scars life leaves on us and how to live with them. Conroy’s prose affects and infects drawing me deep into his world. I don’t know how to really describe this, but I have never forgotten it, and some nights I want to scream, “Shyla, don’t do it!”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: The first book I was forced to read by a school that I thoroughly enjoyed. It also changed the way I look at literature and fostered the love of analyzing it that I have today. Plus, I don’t want to strangle Mr. Rochester nearly as much as Mr. Darcy or Heathcliff. (I completely don’t know what people see in Heathcliff.)

The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon: Honestly, this is toss-up between this book and Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen. Both feature rich fantasy worlds with magical mishaps, world ending events, and memorable characters but I believe it is in these fantastical stories that we learn the most about being human. This author’s work has made me a more compassionate and accepting person. S

Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny: I can honestly say this omnibus changed the trajectory of my life. The books are fast, easy reads, and I am not sure if the author knew where he was going from one book to the next. Still, the first five books have an incredible story. And I never would have met Neil without them.

I love all of the amazing work that is coming from the young adult genre this century. I am not sure what happened, but suddenly it seems that young adult literature is full of complex plots, characters, and themes. I could easily see Divergent, Hunger Games, If I Stay, If He Had Been With Me, or Girl of Fire and Thorns here, but the Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman is by far my favorite. It’s horrific, heartbreaking, and redemptive. Also, the characters are worth the emotional torture. During the first book, I despised Lev and thought “how will I ever forgive or like him?” By the end of the second book I was crying as he fought to get through to Miracolina. He is definitely in my top five Unwind characters.

My final selection is reserved for two books because I do recommend reading them in tandem or reading two similar books at the same time. Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen and Patriots by A.J. Langguth: I actually pair these because they are a great contrast and by the end your understanding of American Revolutionary history, the writing of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, and the philosophical beliefs of the Founding Fathers will be deep. I realize my love for Enlightenment political philosophy and extant texts is seen as odd, but what a person can learn is infinitely valuable. They certainly helped frame my current thoughts on religion, liberty, and freedom.

Honorable mentions: Aspects of Love by David Garret (Alexis is named after the main characters); On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony; The Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout; the works of Lord Dunsany; the works of H.P. Lovecraft; any romance novel because after you read heavy philosophy or science, you need a break; In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick; The Hot Zone by Robert Preston; anything by David McCullough; Socrates in Love by Kyoichi Katayama (similar to The Fault In Our Stars).