A Purrrfect Birthday

I know what you all are thinking. We have hit triple digits in the number of days since this all began and Lauren still hasn’t made a blog post just about her cat. Don’t worry it is time to right this wrong, and what better time do to so than for Katniss’s 5th birthday!

I’ve heard of a wise philosophy that you should take any excuse to party. This year I decided to throw my cat a birthday party.

The preperations for her birthday began about a week before the party. I decided that since it was her special day, she should have a special outfit to wear. I picked up some cotton fabric at JoAnn’s and made her a little birthday dress. This was a great excuse to try out a ruffler pressure foot for my sewing machine. It is a neat little device that automatically pleats your fabric at a stitch interval of your chosing.

The ruffler pressure foot
Skirt of the dress ruffled by the ruffler

Once that was done the next part of party planning was to send out the invitations. Under normal circumstances, I would have loved to invite you all, but due to social distancing I kept the gathering small. Sorry you all missed it.

The last step was decorations. I went minimalistic this year, and bought two balloons from the dollar store.

They were a big hit with the birthday girl.

Now that everything is set it was time to party! We did Korean bbq on some tabletop griddles…

… forced Katniss to wear her party dress …

She hated it…

… and then ended dinner with some birthday cupcakes. I had to help Katniss blow out the candles.

My friend made special rainbow cupcakes!

But what would a birthday party be without presents? Katniss really got spoiled this year, Logan made her an abosultely amazing cross stich, and she got some treats from mom.

Had to censor the cross stitch…

Happy birthday Katniss! Hope you all have an excuse to party before the end of summer 🙂

Bonus Content: Katniss’s Origin Story

Katniss and I go way back. So far back, that I knew her mom as a kitten! Katniss was born on July 27th 2015 to single mom Legalos. Legalos is the cat of my friend in my hometown. I remember when she was a little kitten, and when she grew up to be a beautiful cat. So beautiful that I said off handedly that if the cat ever had kittens I would want one. My friend remembered it, and when irresponsible teen Legalos snuck out of the house and came back pregnant, I was first in line for one of the kittens. Katniss was born in a litter of two, just her and her brother.

I think Katniss is the one on the right, but who knows?
Baby Katniss with her mama.

So we know who the mom is but who is her father? My friend and I like to think her father was a cat we called Mountain Cat. He was a brown Maine Coon mix that belonged to my friend’s neighbors. The neighbors for a while were landscaping their front yard, and almost everyday my friend and I would see Mountain Cat sitting on top of the mountain of dirt in the front yard. Hence the name Mountain Cat.

When I first met Katniss she was a little bit older than the photos shown here. About two months old. She wasn’t quite ready to be seperated from her mother, so we decided to wait until Thanksgiving for my mom to drive her across the desert to me when she was visiting for the holiday. Below is the first picture I ever took of Katniss on her first night at my place. She was already making herself at home!

And this is the first photo I ever took together with Katniss!

To end I will share some fun Katniss facts:

  • She looks cross eyed but it is only one eye that is derpy.
  • Her goal in life is to be as chonky as possible.
  • If you walk past her while she is eating she will sad meow at you, and put on a very concerned face as if you are going to take her food away. Despite the fact that never once in her life has food ever been taken away from her.
  • Her favorite thing in the world is her most beloved wet food treats.
  • Everyday when I come home she runs up to me, starts meowing, and will only stop when I pick her up and give her a hug.

Song of the day: Some relaxing vibes

Quarantine Crafting

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Rona

A little over a year ago now I was moving back from France to Tucson. I decided to move into a two bedroom apartment, with the expectation of turning one room into a home office/craft space. Throughout undergrad and graduate school I kept some crafting hobbies like sewing, but it was almost ten years since gave up painting and quit pursuing my Art degree when I moved to France. I’m sure many have had the same experience of being inspired to paint when touring around France. It’s not hard, besides the famous ones in Paris almost every town in France has some sort of Art Museum. I had timed it right too, because if you are a student and 25 years old or under in France you get into most museums for free. So you better believe I went to a LOT of art museums during my work-cation (some much better than others…) Hence the decision to invest in an art space and try my hand at painting again.

Turns out that decision has had a large payoff with the quarantine!

Craft One: Macrame

Before I show off the paintings, I thought I would highlight a new crafting skill I am developing: Macrame. Macrame is essentially the art of fancy knot tying. It’s really accessible as a new hobby because all you need is a wooden dowel, and some macrame cord. I’ve been learning through Youtube channels, and my favorite tutorials are from a South Korean crafter. I’ve discovered that pretty much all of macrame only uses two types of knots: the square knot, and the Diagonal Clove Hitch knot. You different patterns depending on the spacing between the knots, and how many times you repeat it etc.

Most of the time I do macrame on Logan’s couch, because it turns out cats love macrame even more than I do.

My first project was pretty successful, though it is a small one. Made with only square knots.

My second macrame project was not successful. Getting the tension of the cords and the spacings correctly is surprisingly hard!

I am currently working on my third macrame piece. I decided to wing it a bit, because the tutorial I was following was going to produce another small wall hanging and I wanted something larger. Time will tell if this was a mistake. I am currently working on this one at Logan’s place, but we are almost out of British Bakeoff episodes so I need to hustle!

Craft Two: Sewing

I have to admit I haven’t done a lot of sewing during quarantine. (Probably because sad eating ice cream for a month was a bad weight management decision but who is to say?)

Right at the beginning of quaratine I finished making this skirt. I had many great plans of running around in it during SPIE Japan… but alas.

Perhaps my greatest sewing triumph is this avacado shaped hidey-hole for Star. When she is inside she looks like the avacado pit!

But it is hard to tell if she likes it or not… look at that grumpy hedgie face!

I have also been making a Star War’s Rey costume but that has been on hold for a while now. I have the shirt mostly done.

Craft Three: Painting

I started painting last year way before coronavirus was even a thing. My goal back then was to produce an artwork for the Lunar and Planetary Lab’s art show. Which I did! Since then I have been doing some color studies of mountians. I finished the last in that series after quarantine began, though I started it beforehand.

Mountain Color Study: Orange. Acrylic on Canvas

This is the last work I’ve done trying to be ‘realistic’. I’ve been inspired by an impressionist Acrylic painter I found on instagram and since then I have been working towards a more impressionist style. Impressionism favors movement and color over realism.

Attempt one in new style:

Trail in the Rocky Mountains. Acrylic on canvas

This one was based on a photo I took when hiking in the Rockies with my best friend a year ago. I am still unsure if I like this painting or hate it. For now it lives on the floor in the corner of my office.

Attempt Two:

Sunset River, Acrylic on Canvas

For this one I decided to learn from the master. It is inspired a work from @atrusovaartist and I watched all of her timelapse painting videos over and over again to try to glimpse at some of her techniques. I am really happy how this turned out, but I acknowlege that it isn’t very original because it is inspired by another work.

Attempt Three:

Sonoran Desert Scene. Acrylic on Canvas

I am starting to get my stride here! This one was inspired by several photographs I found of our beloved sonoran desert.

Attempt Four :

I finished this one only a couple of days ago, and it is the last piece I have created so far.

A Peaceful Day on Lake Minaqua. Acrylic on canvas

This one is baded off of a photo I took during my family reunion in Wisconsin last year. We rented a boat and we all hung out on the lake all day.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I think the common inspiration to my artwork is ‘places I want to be right now’. I love the mountians, but lately I have been craving the water. My apartment complex has restricted access to the pool because of ‘rona. I have a feeling water will feature more heavily in what I paint from here on out, but who knows!

In case you were wondering, yes I am running out of wallspace to hang things up. Perhaps by the end of quarantine my house will look like my own personal art gallery.

Song of the Day: Some Dad music as Joseph would call it

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 31: Star Wars Prequel Memes

When my friend and I are bored or need cheering we up, we send each other Star Wars prequel memes. As you can imagine during ‘these uncertain times’ we have been sending each other a lot of them. Here are some of my favorite ones so far.

Starting with the obligatory coronavirus themed ones:

And now some random ones.

If you don’t think the scene where Anakin kills the younglings is funny maybe don’t read these.

Song of the day: Also a Star Wars Prequel Meme.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay at Home Day 24: Between this post and a hard place

I am sure a lot of you are tired of looking at the inside of your own homes, so I invite you to take a look inside of mine. Specifically at my rock collection. It may be hard to believe but mineralogy was my first science love. When I was really little (like 4) I was obsessed with crystals and I remember having some books on crystals and minerals that had stickers and little facts. My favorite childhood board game was unironically rocky bingo. It wasn’t until I was older that I was seduced to the side of astronomy by beautiful Hubble images. I am pretty sure what sparked my interest in crystals and minerals was Sailor Moon, a cartoon charater that uses a magic crystal wand to fight. Sailor Moon was a huge part of my childhood; recently my mom found a kindergarten journal and in it I said that my new years resolution that year was to become Sailor Moon.

A lot of us know Tucson as a major center for astronomy and optics in the United States. It is also a center for gemstone enthusiasts such as myself. For about a month starting from the end of January to mid February the largest gem show on Earth takes over a good chunk of the town. Surprisingly a lot of our group has never gone! Understandably the gem show is overwhelming, but here are some tips and tricks I have picked up as a novice collector and survivor of two gem shows.

So where to start?

If you want a bunch of sparkly rocks for cheap I recommend starting off with apophyllite. Apophyllite is a crytal that usually comes from India. Typical colors are white/clear and green. This stuff looks similar to quartz and is dirt cheap. My piece of apophyllite the size of my head was $35. You can find whole flats of this crystal for around that price at the gem show.

White/clear apophyillite on a druzy crystal matrix. The chunky white crystal is the apophyillite concentrated on the left side of the specimen.

Apophyllite, especially green apophyllite is typically found in a matrix of stilbite. It has a waxy apperance and is usually a peach or yellowish color.

Green apophyllite on stilbite

You can even find apophyllite as a matrix for other crystals. One of my favorite rocks I own is this spray crystal (I don’t actually know what the crystal is), on a green apophyllite matrix. This rock is awesome and not expensive ~$30.

My beautiful rock child

Another great option for beginers is calcite. Calcite geodes look very similar to quartz geodes and are typically a clean snow white color. Calcite even fluoresces a bright pink color under black light! Calcite geodes the size of your fist should be around $5, and geodes the size of your head should be around $30.

Depending on what matrix calcite is on the crystal appearance can change drastically. I have found that when on a pyrite matrix they have wafer like crystals.

This is my most expensive rock. This calcite on pyrite matrix is the size of my head and was $65.
A calcite on pyrite specimen with large chunky wafer crystals. Shout out to Logan for picking it out :).

They can also come in funky pyramid crystals. The most expensive calcite specimens I have seen are honey calcite crystals that can grow in these perfect spikes. They cost hundreds of dollars.

Maybe one day when I am rich…

Oh what about quartz Lauren? Surely it must be cheap right? It is so common!

Well I do in fact have a large collection of quartz, an entire shelf worth with some spill over onto other shelves.

Why I don’t recommend starting with quartz/amethyst is that it is super easy to get ripped off. This is because the price for quartz has sky rocketed due to a subculture that believes crystals have magic energy chakra. Most of my quartz specimens I have aquired through a hook-up from my mineral guy. It sounds sketchy, but he is a nice old man who sells rocks at the Saint Phillips Plaza farmers market and has super reasonable prices.

For instance this big boy geode here is over $100 (wholesale price!) at the gem show. I paid half of that which is kind of ridiculous. I think he was tired of lugging heavy geodes like this around. He said it was his last one and wanted it gone. This one wieghs around 25 pounds by itself. Imagine having to carry around boxes full!

So if you do decide to shop for quartz I recommend taking your time, and comparing costs from a lot of different vendors. Pricing for minerals is arbitrary after all!

To continue with quartz/ amethyst there are a lot of really cool specimens you can collect besides giant geodes. One of my favorite purchases this year’s gem show was this amethyst growing in a flower formation.

You can also get cactus formation:

And man made formations like this quartz crystal that has a secondary crystal artificially grown on top of it:

There are many other formation types and colors too for both natural and artificial quartz.

Ok so we covered some cheap options, but what if you want to start collecting seriously? Well its not exactly rock-et science, (pun credit to Logan), but it can be confusing. Pricing for minerals is for the most part arbitrary. There are some factors that I have seen influence price. The most obvious is size. If the specimen itself is large (I have seen geodes 10 feet tall!) or the crystals themseves are large typically the price goes way up. The other factors are color, structure, clarity, and general aesthetic. These are a bit harder to figure out. What I typically do is look up a museum quality specimen that serves as a standard for comparison. For an example I will use one of my favorite minerals called vanadinite. Vanadinite is a crystal found in Morocco. It has very cool hexagonal crystals. It is also really cheap to collect. Typically when a specimen is excellent or museum quality, the price range can be in the thousands depending on the type of mineral and the size. A fist size of excellent vanadinite is around $100!

This is a very nice specimen of vanadinite. It has a cherry red color, Large and distinct crystals, with no damage to the crystals themselves. Some examples of damage are chipping or scratches on the crystals. The crystals from an excellent specimen are a solid color, so they are not see through or have any cloudiness.

Now here are my junky vanadinite crystals:

The color is off, a brown/orange color, and the crystals are super tiny. This is one of the first rocks I ever bought, and I got completely ripped off because I had no idea what vanadinite was supposed to look like, or how common it actually is. I had never seen or heard of it before!

These specimens are getting better. The top one has two colors (yellow and orange) which is neat, but it is still off color and has tiny crystals. The one on the bottom has the desired color but the aesthetics aren’t great because the crystals are small and indistinct. These are about $10 rocks compared to the $100+ of an ‘ideal’ vanadinite.

This one is getting closer. The color is almost right, but still too brown, and a little cloudy. It is a larger piece, bigger than my fist, and the crystals are a decent size. This one was about $40, still way below the ‘ideal’. If that is too much work for you, don’t spend more then $30 on a single rock you don’t know about and you can’t go too wrong.

Arizona is a great place to collect because we have a lot of unique minerals coming out of Arizona mines. The most common are azurite and malachite that both have copper in their chemical makeup. They are found in a lot of the copper mines around. Both minerals are brightly colored, making them great display rocks.

Another copper based crystal I have is atacamite which is found in the Atacama desert in Chile, where the Magellan Telescope is!

The atacamite is the shiny dark green part in the center. It was hard to get a picture of it because it is small.

Our state mineral is wulfenite. Some of our mines in Arizona produce the ideal standard the world compares samples to. Unfortunately I don’t have any blog worthy samples of it (only really junky stuff), because even decent wulfenite is very expensive.

Lastly, Arizona is known for our petrified wood! Some of you may know that Logan and I took a trip to Petrified Forest National Park right before the coronavirus quarantine went into effect.

Shiny rocks make us happy.

We learned that Arizona has a special type of petrified wood called rainbow petrified wood. The primary color is typically a beautiful red, with blacks, yellows, blues, greens, and whites mixed in. Of course I had to buy a piece in the gift shop :).

I wish I could say these are the only rocks I own, but I have many more that didn’t make an appearance in this post. Hopefully this helps you start your own collection :).

Song of the day: When I am feeling emo I like to stare at my rocks.

MagAO-X 2020A Stay At Home Day 16: My Cat Chooses My Makeup For Team Meeting

Let’s face it. I am bored. You are bored. We all are bored. We have been in social isolation now for over a month, and if you are like me, nice clothes, makeup, even jeans are a thing of normalcy past. Every day I have been hovering between pajamas and gym clothes.

One of the ways I have been spending my time in quarantine is watching too many YouTube videos. One of my favorite Youtubers is Jenna Marbles, who specializes in wacky crafts and activities that no one else would do because they are too much money and effort to justify the couple hours of fun you get out of them. For example in one of her videos she turns herself into a disco ball. (Although I really recommend her videos there is some swearing in them).

Some of my favorite videos she makes are about activities she comes up with to spend time with her dogs. I am currently quarantined alone with just my cat for company. Although Katniss was very happy to have me around for the first week of quarantine, the novelty of having me around all the time has worn off. Our daily routine invovles me attempting to work, and her sleeping on the couch next to me. For this blog post I am going to emulate Jenna Marbles video where she has her dogs choose her makeup for her. I thought it would be a nice change of pace to get out of gym clothes, and has the added bonus of being something I could do with my cat.

Part One: The Selection Process

I have to admit that Katniss was a good sport during the selection process. I had thought this was going to be another Easter Egg Hunt incident. What I did for most of the selection process was lay out my makeup on my coffee table, place Katniss in the middle of the makeup, and whichever one she goes to first was the product selected.

The first round was lipstick. Katniss started out strong with a bold choice of gold lipstick.

Next was highlighter. She chose a very nice shimmery champagne color.

Next was eyeshadow (yes, I know I have too much stop judging me). I decided that I would let her pick three colors. She chose Vanity, a dark purple color by Urban Decay, Venetian Red, a redish orange color by Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Fairy, a gold color also by Anastasia Beverly Hills. I was really excited for the gold color, because then I coud potentially make my gold lipstick work. The wildcard for these colors was the dark purple, because I typically don’t wear dark makeup.

Good choices

It was at this point that Katniss started losing interest and I had to bring out the treats. I decided for mascara I would put a treat in front of each choice and whichever she ate first I would choose. She was very nice to me, dodging the bright blue, bubblegum pink, and false lashes choices for standard black.

Last but not least, eyeliner. I decided I would do the opposite of mascara, and whichever treat she ate last was my choice. She decided to throw me another curveball with bubblegum pink. The other choices were black, blue, and gold.

Part Two: Putting on the Makeup

First step of my ‘getting ready’ is to PAINT MY FACE GREEN. Bet you all weren’t expecting that.

Next I put on foundation, powder, bronzer, blush, highlighter the boring stuff that doesn’t deserve details or photos. Next step is eyeshadow and eyeliner. I have been seeing a makeup trend where people use colored liquid eyeliner to outline the lids of their eyes, instead of putting the eyeliner near the lash line like usual. I decided to try that out because Katniss chose a pretty wild eyeliner color. After that I put on my crazy gold lipstick to finish the look.

The finished look. Thank you Katniss.

Part Three: Socially Distant

So now that I am all dolled up what I am going to do? I ultimately did end up wearing the makeup to team meeting. Did anyone care? Well not really. But it entertained me for a good half a day between picking the makeup with my cat, and putting it on so I count it a win.

Looking nice during team meeting.

I did get some reviews from my friends in the group.

“Are you in a music video?” -Joseph Long

“Is there a socially distant rave tonight?” -Logan Pearce

“Eurovision may be cancelled, but you’re letting it live on with that shiny makeup!” – Jennifer Lumbres

Well that was it. Thanks for getting this far reading my completely selfish and mediocre content.

Song of the day: Keep battling those quarantine demons everyone.