Sometimes I just start stitching because I want to, and I don't really know where it's going to take me.  The last time that happened (in February, actually), it went a little like this:

"Hmm, I want to stitch, but I'm done Valentine's Day is over.  What else could I stitch now?  It might be fun to do one of my angels with the illuminated wings... hmm, illuminated wings... I'll bet it would be nice to stitch a firebird!"

And so I drew a little firebird on a piece of card stock, and started to stitch:
Simple simple line-work, in the beginning, lots of long graceful lines to follow.  For the colors I decided that I wanted to work in shades of flame (obviously), but that I would treat the bird's body as the hottest part of the flame, and therefore white (twined with pale yellow) and then get darker the further out I went.
A lovely effect.
Such a nice gradient!  I got the subtle color changes by using three threads and slowly substituting one shade after another.  You can see it most obviously in the third feather from the left- I used a pale orange, a salmon, and a scarlet for that one.  Anyway once the main line work was done, I needed to go back in to the feathers and do the details...
Which I did.
That shot also shows you where I started adding extra flourishes, and how I draw the lines in pencil and then punch holes in the card stock using the needle.  But still more flourishes were needed!
Traces of gray, for smoke.
So I added those flourishes, and filled in the world "burn" while I was at it, but I knew that still more flourishes were needed!
More!  We need more!
In the end it turned out like this:
An Official Portrait, by Nathan.
And the back looked like this:
Awesomely ordered chaos.

And if you would like get a better sense of the scale of this thing:
Too much red!  Blowing out my phone's sensors!

And here are two more Nathan photos for more detail work:

Can you see the barest touch of blue I used in her eye?

Ha hah, who forgot to erase pencil lines before letting Nathan take photos?  THISGIRL.
So that's what I occasionally do with my time- freehand something onto a piece of card stock, and then stitch the hell out of it.  Wheee!  All in all it took me... three days, I think?  But they were highly satisfying days.


Darling Divination

So one of the Important Aspects of my Winterhaven story is that the Pfeni rely upon runes for divination- but since I'm setting this in a fantasy world (with magic!) I didn't want to just fall back on the stereo-typical Germanic runes.  So I pulled a(n off-brand) Tolkien and made up my own.  And, of course, I decided to make up an entire divination system to go with them because hell, why not?

In the end I settled on twenty-five runes, with meanings so complex and incestuous (and still in development) that it would take several lifetimes to master them- which, fortunately, the Pfeni have had.  You can cast them like the runes we're familiar with, but more often they get laid out in patterns/spreads, like tarot cards.
(The runes aren't actually carved on squares- I was just working on graph paper at the time.  Don't ask.)

It's a serious rabbit-hole of World Builder's Disease, and has already sucked up more hours of my life than I should really admit- and I can't help but find myself thinking, "You know, if you didn't want to draw this story, you wouldn't have to spend so much time developing a bunch of symbols..." and then I'm all, "Pish tosh, this is superawesomefunplus!"

Part of why it's so superawesomefunplus is because for once I don't have to do any friggin' research- I've spent my entire (reading) life  educating myself on various forms of divination, so now I can just run around crazy as a kid in a water feature.  It's fun.

(Actually it's also been fun to do research on the flora and fauna of the Arctic and Antarctic- a subject which I also have a bit of grounding in- it's like this is the story I was always meant to tell...)

Speaking of drawing (remember that, two paragraphs ago?) here is a reindeer, along with a list of some of the patterns the runes can be cast in:
In her antlers you can see where I was working out the rune Deh, aka "The Deer".  Can you guess what some of the others are?  Don't be fooled by the fact that Deh and deer happen to align on the first letter (although Byr does that, too)- it was completely unintentional.




0+3+2+0+1+9+8+1=23, 2+3=5

I'm not all that well-versed in numerology, but I'm pretty sure that this will be an awesome year for me.  Doubling up on fives?

5+5=10, 1+0=1

#1 Year.  I just proved it.  With maths.

Okay now I've got the dirt on the number five.  Sounds good to me.  Fives are awesome.  Five by five.  High Five.  Five and Dime.  Heck yeah.  All hail my fiveness.  To the max.

Anyway, enough of that.  It's my birthday!

And what a day it's been!  I slept in a little this morning, but when I got up Nathan told me to go back to bed, because he was going to bring me breakfast.  So I did some yoga and climbed back into bed, where I opened my birthday cards while waiting for my pampering.  My mom sent me a card with a unicorn that says stuff.  Basically it was the best card ever.  I literally shrieked with glee when I pressed the unicorn and it said, "Don't be sad!  If you're sad, I'll cry!"  It says other things, as well as making magical sparkle noises.  My inner eight-year-old won't shut up about it.  (Neither will my external-thirty-two-year-old, apparently)

The breakfast Nathan brought me was chocolate wrapped in bacon.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And yes, it was even more delicious than you think it was.  Also there was a piece of brownie.  And a mug of honey-sweetened chai.  And presents.  My birthday is so rad, you guys.

Nathan got me not one but two new pieces of Humblebug jewelry, so I am pleased as punch about that.  Pictures in the next few days, I'm sure.  I wore one of them (which I have been calling In Like a Lion) allllll day- even tho' it is blingy and dramatic as hell.  On your birthday, you do what you want, and you wear what you want.

I got all sorts of lovely birthday wishes, including a call from a  far-away friend who had feedback on Sleeping Beauty for me, so it was like two birthday surprises in one.  Plus my friends totally got engaged today, which I will straight up take credit for because (as mentioned) it is my birthday.

My boss-to-be brought me a live plant!  This is awesome for so many reasons.  1) I did not tell him it was my birthday.  This means he found out from elsewhere, and chose to act on the knowledge.  Nice.  2) Live plants are always more awesome than cut flowers.  I prefer living things to dead.  Again, this is something he didn't know- just intuited.  3) He got me a plant that needs to be put in the ground because he wanted it to be something for me, not the office.  Now that is thoughtful.  I am feeling pleased with this entire set up.

I went on a long, delicious walk in the gorgeous, dramatic spring weather- sun and clouds and a stiff wind that made all the flowers dance with joy.  Later in the afternoon there as a rainbow so bright it literally dazzled my eyes.  As in, I looked at it, and then when I looked away I couldn't see anything because dazzle.  That rainbow was not messing around.

After work I got all gussied up in a fancy dress to go with my fancy necklace, and Nathan and I went out to a fancy dinner where I had a fancy drink and a fancy dessert that was on the house because (you guessed it) it's my birthday.  Fancy!  And then we came home and got into fleecy pants and life is just all sorts of good, and there's even like two hours left in my birthday so even more goodness could be heading my way!

Perhaps... five more good things?!


Balms for the Soul

This past weekend Nathan and I (and Isis, of course) took a long-overdue trip up to Poulsbo to see our dear dear friends, Lara and Chris (and Moose, of course).
(Isis and Moose not pictured, because they are even shorter than I am.)
The last time we'd scheduled it... well, something came up.  They understood, of course, but that is past and I was super ready  to see them again.

March is a very special month for our foursome, because March is The Birthday Month.  All Caps, because All Four of us are affected.  We like to get together sometime in the middle and celebrate- preferably as Epically as possible.  Our Epic plans for this (self-made) long weekend included doing some National Park hikes... except someone (::coughcoughmeI'mthegimpyone::) managed to aggravate her knee* to the point where anything harder than a stroll seemed like a very bad idea, indeed.

So.  We kept it low-key and instead took a two-mile "nature walk" (as Lara put it) in Twanoh State Park.  The dogs loved it, although the leisurely pace was not, perhaps, their favorite (in addition to my limitations, the guys were having Camera Bonding Time, which meant lots of stopping and fiddling).  The humans loved it, too- it was really pretty, and not at all difficult.  Sometimes it's nice not to push too hard.
These dogs are lying about how tired they are.
Moose very sweetly helps Isis out with her Heavy Chin syndrome (common amongst the block-headed pit bulls of the world).
That night we went out for some wine to celebrate the birthdays- we each had two glasses, because we are crazy-indulgent that way.

"What's that, Jenny O?  Wine?!  What happened to 'no alcohol in 2013'?"  Yes, well, we'd already agreed waaaaay back in January that our birthdays would be Special Days on which we would indulge in sugar and alcohol if we wanted to, thus relegating those substances to "special occasion" rather than "every day".

However, I have to say that after two glasses of wine (one a Riesling, one a port), I felt like such crapola the next day that maybe I am done with wine forever.  Grape wine, anyway.  Experiments must be done re:apple wine and mead, because those are my favorites and I'm not going to make any assumptions about them.  But.  Experiments must wait until next year, I suppose.

Speaking of the next day, after a delicious paleo breakfast, Lara and I decided to get our Domestic on and make organic lip balm and bath salts (not the zombifying kind).  We made a half batch of the lip balm because we were sort of getting a feel for it in anticipation of Greater Experiments later in the year (Crafts for Christmas!  Yay!)  One thing we figured out is that although we were pleased with the results (which we put into four tiny jars and one tube) we want to use less oil and more peppermint extract next time.  Also, I'm thinking perhaps coconut oil instead of almond oil.  We shall see.

The other ingredients were honey and beeswax.
You're technically supposed to wait two hours for the balm to set before you use it, but do you think that stopped me?
No it did not.
Check us out, lovely ladies with lovely, soft, and smoochable lips!

Sorry boys and girls, we're super-taken!
I don't have any pictures of the bath salts (I know, I know- you were hoping for demonstration shots.  Sorry again.) but rest assured they smelled of lavender and lemongrass and worked quite well.

Our next adventure was to plant some seeds.  This was a Big Deal for me, because as we all know, gardening is Not Exactly My Forte.  In fact it intimidates the hell out of me, so having a friend almost literally take me by the hand to guide me through some steps was sorely needed.  Lara is currently rocking some gorgeous kale...
Also Swiss Chard
...so I felt particularly safe in her work-gloved hands.  She'd already bought everything we needed, because she is the sort of thoughtful friend who says to herself, "Jenny O is not comfortable with this 'gardening' business, so I will make it as painless as possible for her!"  She'd even saved up a bunch of egg cartons so that we could just stick the little suckers straight in the ground once they've sprouted.  She is a Rock Star Urban Homesteader for sure.

I hand-labeled cartons, because I AM comfortable wielding a sharpie.
Lara fills the cartons with bat poop**.  (And some other stuff, but mostly we were giggling about the bat poop content.)
Ready for action!
This may have been my favorite part, bat poop or no.
Those teensy little things are mint seeds.  I kept mongo-ing them, so who knows whether or not they'll actually grow.
Into the bat poop, little seeds!
 So that was well and good and I came away feeling like there's hope for me yet.  That evening we all went for a nice long walk, and then came home and played Cards Against Humanity, which is one of my all-time favorite (grownup) games because I am a horrible, horrible person, and so are many of my friends.  Here is just one example of a winning combination:

"I'm sorry; I'm still laughing about child abuse!" said someone about half an hour later.  It may be a new catch-phrase.
We stayed up way too late.  So late that Lara fell asleep and I desperately wanted to, but the boys were adamant that we finish the deck and I am a sucker for proving I can keep up with the boys.  (AKA "dumb".)

The next morning we went with them to their box so we could cheer them on as they (re)did Open Workout 13.2  They both improved their scores, which was definitely something to cheer about.  As for me, I was warmly welcomed and chatted up by multiple people, even tho' I was just strolling around with a sketch book, which was awfully nice.  I met and cheered on one of Lara's friends who absolutely blew my mind with her performance, and was ridiculously sweet to me when I told her how inspiring she was.  The whole experience reminded me how fun/awful/fun CrossFit can be, so maybe I'll return in the near future...  Plus I miss making CrossFit comics...

And then, sadly, it was time to head home, so we packed up our exhausted puppy and hit the road.
Three days of wresting with Moose wears even the bounciest of Pigs out.

So that was my super-fun weekend.  How about you guys?  Do anything that repaired your soul?

*(Apparently if one has taken four months off from commuting by bike, one should not assume that one can ride as hard as one could at the end of the season.  Not without properly warming up first.  Nor should one further aggravate the knee by hyper-extending it.)

**(bat poop)


The Importance of Marriage (or Not)

I was hanging out with some dude friends the other day when another dude friend came in.  We’ll call him friend A, and the other two can be B and C.  Anyway, friend A is in the midst of prepping to propose to his girlfriend, and I happened to know that he’d been trying to have The Talk with her dad, but that the two of them kept getting interrupted before he could bring it up.  So as he walked up to us I got all squeaky about the whole process (as is my right as the Token Female), and asked how it had gone, and he caught us up on his progress, and we all gave him a hard time and teased him about Lady A dodging his proposal like her father had been dodging The Talk.  And then friends B and C, who are unmarried, gave friend A a little further grief about getting engaged at all, making reference to their own “perpetual bachelorhood”.

“Oh please,” I said to friend C, rolling my eyes. “You have a life partner.” Because it’s true- he does.  A lovely young woman with whom he plans to spend the rest of his life.

“Yeah but I’m still a bachelor,” he countered, and I had to admit that yes, technically he was- although not by my personal connotation of the word.  Friend A wandered off and I thought about it a little longer while B and C made “marriage isn’t important to commitment” noises.  Finally, during a lull in that conversation, I turned to C and said,

“You know, marriage wasn’t really important to me, either- until it was important to Nathan.”  C sort of raised an eyebrow, and I continued; “I was like, ‘meh, marriage’, but it meant something to him- and that meant something to me.”

“I guess I’m very lucky with Lady C,” he remarked, referring to the fact that marriage is not important to her, either.

“Well yes,” I said.  “But that’s part of the whole point of a life mate: finding someone whose values align with your own.  I was never anti-marriage, tho', so for me getting married to make him happy made me happy.”

This statement caused both C and B to backpedal a little bit and discuss marriage vs weddings, and how sick it is that our society beats into little girls’ heads the whole “happiest day of your life” thing.

“That’s the problem,” I said.  “Too many people confuse the words ‘wedding’ with ‘marriage’.  Don’t get me wrong- I loved my wedding, and I had a lot of fun.  But if your wedding day is really, truly the happiest day of your life- then you are doing it wrong.”

I had to go at that point- because my own life mate turned up- but if I could have continued the conversation I think I would have asked those guys what exactly the word "marriage" means to them.  It’s an important question, I think, and one that not enough people actually give any thought to.  But here’s the secret- marriage is something different to every individual person, and it’s damn important to make sure that your definition bears at least some resemblance to that of the person you’re marrying (/spending the rest of your life with).  Better yet, compromise on a new definition, one that suits the two (or more) of you.  Because according to my definition of marriage, C and Lady C are married.  They’ve made a commitment to being together for the rest of their lives, and they treat one another with love and respect, and so as far as I’m concerned they’re married.  Period.  C can make “bachelor” noises all he wants to, but it looks like a duck, and swims like a duck... etc, etc.  And that is because to me (the only one who actually was legally “married” in that little conversation) marriage really has jack-all to do with a piece of paper.  There are other people who have that piece of paper who are just awful to one another- it seems like they don’t even like one another- and I have a hard time believing they are actually married: but by their definition of the word they must be.  And I can see being actually anti-marriage, if your definition of marriage includes treating one another like crap.  But why would you let anyone else define marriage for you*?  Especially your marriage?

These are probably ducks.  Probably.
I’m definitely anti-plenty-of-other-people’s-marriages, but mine?  Mine is awesome, and I’d recommend this level of happiness to anyone- even if I did have to sign a piece of paper to make it happen.

*After all, there are people who would refuse to recognize my marriage, since Nathan and I don't share a faith.


Ice Ice Baby

I've been thinking that my Winterhaven story might be quite nice as a comic... which means I've been doing a lot of character sketches and the like.  But what it also means is that I need to get the heck over my aversion towards backgrounds.  Nathan suggested I look into speed painting to give myself lots of practice- here's my very first attempt at it:
(That's Wolf Killer, Avalyn, and Violet up on the ridge there)
It took about half an hour, and to be honest I'm a little shocked by how much I don't utterly hate it (especially if you could have heard the words that were coming out of my mouth during the first five minutes).  It has problems, obviously, but they are the problems of a newbie flailing around, trying to get her Photoshop bearings, and so I cut myself some slack.  It will be nice to look back in a year and see how far I've come.



Gentle Readers, two weeks back I found myself in something of quandary.  You may recall that a few months ago I made the announcement that my nephew SeaMonkey was on his way.  There's just one problem with that- he was a whopping 10lbs, 2oz when he was born, and did not resemble a sea monkey in the slightest.  I got to spend an entire week breathing in his perfection, and I'm telling you- the boy is just too awesomely chubby to be a "SeaMonkey".  So I needed to come up with a new name for him... and I chose Eaglet.

"But Jenny O," you may protest, "Eaglets are not exactly known for their chubbiness, either."  Perhaps not.  But trust me, this boy is more Eaglet than SeaMonkey.  It may be that, going forward, I use the SeaMonkey moniker for those kiddos still in utero, until I get to know them a little more on the Other Side.  Hear that, various siblings?  Get to crankin' out the SeaMonkeys!

Speaking of new things being born (and named), a conversation with one of the Climbing Bros planted a new Story Seed for something that I am currently calling "The Phoenix of Winterhaven" (with the intention of it becoming an intermediate reader book).  Have a synopsis!


Avalyn is a Phoenix: a reincarnation of one of five spiritual leaders of her people.  A thousand years ago, a deadly ice age sank its claws into the world, and has never let go.  The most powerful wizards of that age, led by the original Phoenixes, banded together to form the safehold of Winterhaven, a magical keep in which the seasons still turn, so that mankind might survive until the thaw- a thaw which seems less and less likely to come.

Avalyn is the latest incarnation of Laxda, least among the Phoenixes, but still heir to formidable power.  She is young yet, far from taking up the mantle of leadership both in years and experience- but after tragedy strikes she is thrust into that role long before her training is complete.  To make matters worse, signs indicate that the greatest Phoenix of all, Faravid the Wanderer, Herald of the Sun, has at last been reborn- but he is not to be found within the confines of Winterhaven.

The people have long believed themselves to be the only surviving colony of mankind, but the signs cannot be ignored: somewhere in the frozen Outside, a young Phoenix waits.  Avalyn, the only one who might recognize a fellow Phoenix, must brave the merciless weather and enchanted beasts of the Outside and bring the lost one home- for prophecy says only an incarnation of Faravid can release the world from winter.


One thought- I am toying with changing the spelling of "phoenix" to the Old English "fenix".  The motivation for such a change is that "phoenix" is a distinctly Grecian word and concept, whereas the majority of the story is taking its cultural inspiration from Nordic cultures.  What do you think?  Good or dumb?

Sami-inspired outfit.