Book Challenge Accepted (& Completed)

Somewhere around August I discovered something called the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. The idea is to expand your reading sphere by completing 24 different tasks over the course of 1 year. (This averages out to 2 books a month.) To complete a task, you must read a book that fits certain criteria. Some tasks are fairly broad (i.e.: “Read a play” or “Read a book over 500 pages”) while other tasks encourage readers to explore specific genres they probably haven’t read much in the past (i.e.: “Read the first book in a series by a person of color”). There is a Goodreads group that provides suggestions of books to complete each task.

I gave myself a slight handicap, considering that it began last January and I didn’t start until August, but I successfully completed the challenge on Christmas Day with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens [Read a book under 100 pages].


I enjoyed most of the books I read for this challenge, but I did have my favorites. A few of them are described below.


The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean [Read a nonfiction Book about Science]

Sam Kean explores the periodic table element by element. Although he does describe each element and its properties, let me make it clear that this is a science book designed for non-science people. Each element is represented by an interesting story from history (i.e.: Gandhi’s dislike of iodine or Marie Curie and her experiments with radium, polonium, etc.). It’s a fun way to learn about the periodic table. For more periodic table fun check out the updated version of the “Periodic Table Song” performed by ASAPscience.



The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman [Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award]

Neil Gaiman is an amazing storyteller no matter the medium.  He has created successful adult novels, children’s stories, television scripts, graphic novels, and books of essays. He is also an unbelievable reader. Happiness is an audiobook written and read by Neil Gaiman. This particular audiobook is a full-cast production, but Neil does participate.

The idea of the Graveyard Book is that a toddler is raised in a graveyard by ghosts after the death of his entire family. While I was listening, I kept thinking, “This is a lot like the Jungle Book!” I was right. Gaiman notes at the end of the book that his story was inspired in part by Rudyard Kipling’s.

**Quick shout-out to the short story The Sleeper & the Spindle also by Neil Gaiman [Read a book out loud to someone else]. It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but Snow White also makes an appearance.**



The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood [Read a book originally published in the decade you were born]

This is essentially a modern-day (I’m counting the 90s as “modern-day”) retelling of a little-known Brother’s Grimm fairytale called The Robber Bridegroom. It takes place in Toronto and follows the lives of 3 middle-aged women and their frenemy Zenia. Let’s just say that Zenia has a way of tempting men away from their commitments.

Margaret Atwood included a present-day short story called “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” which follows these same characters in Stone Mattress:Nine Stories.



The Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson [Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last 3 years]

I think the target audience for this comic series is middle-grade girls, but it’s great fun! The story follows the misfit cabin at “Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types” as they realize that something supernatural is going on in their neck of the woods. It’s very girl-power oriented and diversity-positive. Their slogan is “Friendship to the max!”


Book Riot recently announced the 2017 Challenge. It will again consist of 24 tasks, but this year they included suggested tasks from guest authors like Roxanne Gay and Celeste Ng.


TIP: Library books are free. Most libraries these days have digital collections as well as the traditional brick-and-mortar/paper set-up. Just go to your local library’s website and have your library card handy. You may have to download an app (most likely Overdrive) which will allow you to access free ebooks and audiobooks on your computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.

Simple Ornaments


I made some adorable ornaments as holiday gifts. They didn’t take too long and turned out beautiful!

Ceramic Ornament Supplies



  • Pre-made, ceramic ornaments
  • A pencil
  • Paint markers
  • Clear acrylic gloss coating









Step 1

Create a design on the ornament using the pencil. You can use any design, but I’m partial to Zentangle patterns, they are simple to draw, but look complex. If you feel confident about your design, feel free to skip this step and free-draw with the paint markers.


I used a pencil to outline a Zentangle pattern called “Purk”.

Step 2

Use the paint markers to color in the design. Make sure to let each side dry before turning the ornament over to prevent smudging.


Tip: If the paint marker color you want to use is light, you may want to erase your pencil marks before starting to fill in your design. The remaining marks will be dark enough to use as a guide, but light enough that they won’t show through to the finished product.

Step 3

Use the clear acrylic spray to create a glossy, finished look. Again, let each side of the ornament dry individually.

Ornaments--Clear Coat

Make sure you spray the ornaments in a well-ventilated area. I always just take mine outside.


Here are a few of my favorites:

Hollibaugh Star

I used a Zentangle pattern called “Hollibaugh” to create this design.


This ornament incorporates 3 distinct patterns to create a cohesive design.


Plaid Tree

I made a plaid pattern by varying the width of straight vertical and horizontal lines.


Creative Chaos

I entered my freshman year of college in the fall of 2008—an election year. It was the first election I would be old enough to participate in and I was not prepared for all the political ads I received in the mail. I remember they were printed on thick, shiny paper—expensive paper—and it seemed like such a waste to me. So, I used sticky tack to attach those flyers to the ceiling of my college dorm room. At least now they had a purpose.

Those political ads were just the beginning, though. In case you were unaware, a college campus is a gold mine for flyers—people have to learn about upcoming events, fundraisers, meetings, and visiting speakers somehow. The way I saw it, I was doing the college a service by removing the out-dated posters from the bulletin boards all over campus. After all, no one else seemed to take care of it—and flyer space is seriously valuable in such situations. Other artifacts found their way onto my ceiling: pizza ads, candy wrappers, hand-written signs, post-it notes, a paper bread bag from a restaurant in New Orleans, wrapping paper complete with bow. Basically if it was paper-like and didn’t fall off the ceiling repeatedly, it was fair game.

By that May, when we had to move out, my roommates and were living under what we called The Ceiling of Wonders. The only remaining blank sections were those directly above our beds. It took 5 or 6 people and several hours to take down.

Ceiling of Wonders--Early

Campus, flyers, ads, candy wrappers, hand written notes–all were welcome on the Ceiling of Wonders.

We decided to continue the tradition for our sophomore year, only this time, we would upgrade to The Room of Wonders, meaning that the walls would be covered as well. The result was colorful chaos.


Room of Wonders--Mirror

A glimpse into my sophomore living space.



That second year, the take-down process took days. It must have been more traumatic than I realized at the time, because that was the end of my era of captivating ceiling collages.


In case you were wondering how much sticky tack it takes to cover an entire ceiling, the answer is a lot!


Desert Living

Hello, Beautiful People!

I’ve been out here in the desert for 7 months now! While I definitely admit that less than a year of experience doesn’t exactly make me an expert, here’s some mixed media advice on how to have fun/survive the wilds of Nevada.



Getting lost IS sometimes fun, but the sun can be brutal out here.


You know the tracks on the bottom are from a lizard because of the long trail left by its tail.


There’s lots of weird stuff out here in the Mojave.




Cactus flowers are awesome.

Today’s blog post was vaguely inspired by Neil Gaiman’s “Instructions“, a poem in which he offers guidance to anyone who might himself or herself inside a fairy tale.


I’ve posted before about sun-dying, but really how could you expect me to move to the desert and not post about such awesomeness? This time around, I decided to make some stellar tote bags instead of t-shirts. Here are a few of the results.

Bubblegum Lattice

Method: Lots and lots of painter’s tape.

Tortoise Tote

Method: Negative transparency, painter’s tape, stencils

Total Baller

Method: 8×11 Label & xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and painter’s tape


Method: 8×11 Label and xacto-knife to create custom sticker stencil and a negative transparency to add depth/texture

I also experimented with a few fabric fragments:

Table Runner

Method: Painting sponges

Found Objects

Method: Placed rocks & dried cholla cactus on previously-dyed (but undeveloped) fabric; the black garbage bag was very important because it prevented the sunlight from developing the white parts during transit.

All the Angles

This photo was taken at the temporary “Playing with Light” exhibit at Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, NV.

It was unsettling to see so many different sides and perspectives of myself. All the reflections reminded me of an earlier post called “The Ghostly Self“.

Rare: Cacti

Check out the Matted Cholla Cactus (Grusonia parishii). It also goes by Dead Cactus, Club Cholla, and (my personal favorite) Horse Crippler.

Grusononia in Veg State

This low-growing cactus is a bona fide actual rare plant in California–a 2B.2 (Rare in California, but common elsewhere; moderately threatened in California).

Grusonia parishii

For most of the year, the Horse Crippler looks gray and dead, but in the spring it develops reddish spines and even delicate yellow flowers. I only saw one bloom all summer–that’s rare in my book.

Grusonia parishii Bloom


As an added bonus, here’s a photo of of a Desert Pincushion Cactus (Coryphantha chlorantha) in bloom. (California Rare Plant Rating 2B.1–Rare in California, but common elsewhere; seriously threatened in California).

Corpyhantha in Bloom


The Mysterious Clicking Noise

So there I was,in the heart of the Mojave Desert, minding my own business searching for rare plants. When I heard a sound. At first I tried to convince myself it was just the hum of power lines, but no. It wasn’t a hum–it was more of a click, and it seemed to be emanating from the nearest creosote bush (Larrea tridentata). Actually, now that I was listening for it, I realized that most of the creosote bushes around me clicking away as well. A number of explanations floated through my mind: sentient trees, maybe I’d finally found my way into Narnia, bowtruckles, dehydration?, maybe my field partner was punking me, or it could be an insect.

Occcam’s Razor states that the simplest explanation is the most likely, so while I was really hoping for Narnia, I decided to go with the idea of an insect. To test my theory, I picked up a rock and threw it at the bush. I expected a grasshopper or something to hop away and that would be that. However, rather than silencing the creosote or scaring away an insect, my actions caused a renewed volley of even louder clicks. Great, just great–I made it angry.

Fascinated, I grabbed another rock. A little further experimentation confirmed that the initial result held true for the bushes in the immediate surrounding area. At that point, my field partner Kate found me accosting the local flora and demanded an explanation. Without any further details to go on, we did what any self-respecting millennial would do–we Googled it.

According to Google, the most likely sources of the mysterious clicking were Desert Clicker grasshoppers (Ligurotettix coquilletti). Apparently, a male Clicker will likely spend most of its adult life on a single creosote bush. They are extremely territorial for both feeding and mating purposes–the word on the web is that shrubs are more desirable if they have a lower concentration of the protective phenolic compound nordihydroguaiaretic acid. (I guess the leaves taste better.) That explains why, rather than scaring the grasshopper away, a rock to the bush incited verbal reckoning.

I guess I learned my lesson!

**In reference to the title: Remember the Harry Potter Puppet Pals?


Magic in the Mojave

J.K. Rowling recently announced that there is an American school of witchcraft and wizardry on the East Coast. However, after spending several months in the Mojave Desert of California/Nevada, I have started to suspect there may be another school for budding sorcerers out West–or at least a lot of magic. Here is a list of my reasons:

  1. The Mojave, like Hogwarts and Ilvermorny, is a remote place with lots of hard-for-Muggles-to-access locations. It would be easy to hide a giant castle here.
  2. Hermione mentioned in Goblet of Fire that Muggle electronic devices go haywire around Hogwarts because there’s too much magic in the air. Based on how difficult it can be to get cellphone, CB, or radio reception out in the middle of the desert, this seems par for the course.
  3. There are basilisks. Sort of. Say hello to the beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris)–affectionately nicknamed basilisk due to it’s Latin name. It may not venomous (or poisonous) and you would die from looking at it, but you definitely don’t want to touch those fuzzy little spines! Also, if you stare at a picture of its bright magenta blooms for too long, you’re likely to be seeing spots for a while.
  4. Okay, so there may not be “real” basilisks, but there are plenty of dangerous snakes. And a whole mess of unusual wildlife like Gila monsters, jackrabbits, and the formidable Desert Clicker. Who’s to say there aren’t any magical creatures (or plants) somewhere out there?
  5. And the spiders! My field partner and I found this one hillside in particular that was dotted with these funnel-shaped webs. The webs extended out from a small burrow where the spider would lie in wait until something got snagged. Little tiny Aragogs!

    Mini Aragog Lair

    A normal funnel-web spider or something more?

  6. A lot of the rock formations around look a little to much like sleeping dragons to be coincidence, if you ask me.
  7. The Mojave may not have any Whomping Willows, but I personally would never want to get on the wrong side of a Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia). They may look scrawny, but those yucca leaves are sharp!

    Joshua Tree Wonderland

    Welcome to Joshua Tree Wonderland.

  8. The creosote bushes have clicking guardians that get angry if you get too close. I know Google told me it was a grasshopper, but what with all the mounting magical evidence, I suspect bowtruckles.

    The Angry Creosote Buh

    Don’t let the calm exterior fool you. That creosote bush was not very happy with me!