Monday, December 12, 2011

Quick & Easy Ornament Upgrades

While digging through my ribbon bag I found these miniature ornaments from last year:

I like to tie tabletop tree ornaments in with the bows on gift boxes, but I guess I never got around to using these. When I found them I immediately thought they'd be perfect for my steampunk tree - but they're just so small.

Enter two flat glass ornaments I just found at the Dollar Tree for - yep - a dollar:

Pull out the miniatures' metal ornament hooks, add a little epoxy adhesive, and hellooo, match made in heaven!

Aren't they pretty?

[Note to self: next time don't wear bright fuchsia while photographing shiny things.]


I've noticed this flattened ornament style all over this year, so you should be able to find some for your own craft-ventures. Then shop the miniature tree ornaments for ideas, or raid your jewelry box (old earrings, perhaps?), scrapbook supplies, metal stampings, etc. etc. (Oh! Wouldn't these be gorgeous with some decorative key hole covers?)

Ok, one more:

I found these cute plastic owls at Home Depot. They're by Martha Stewart, so I was surprised by how cheap they are. Not in price (I think the pack was $10), but in quality. The plastic rings for the hangers were messily hot glued in place, (two popped out), and though the gold finish had a nice sheen to it, they still looked so...plastic.

Enter a heavy coat of water-based glaze:

...which we then wiped off with a paper towel...and our fingers, after a while. The gloves started to stick, and it was more fun getting paint all over our hands anyway. Heh.

You can use simple craft paint for this: just make sure you put a thick coat on so it gets into all the valleys and cracks, and then wipe the peaks clean so the original finish shines through.

For my first attempt I used watered down brown paint, which gave the owl a reddish, almost coppery finish, but not nearly enough contrast. After that we switched to thick black glaze, and you can really see the difference:

That's the black glaze on left, original plastic finish in the middle, and watered down brown paint on right.

Again, we used leftover water-based glaze, but a thick acrylic paint should do the trick just as well.

And here they are, all lined up! Don't you think they look a lot more like metal now?

(I left my original brown aged one alone, there on the right. The finish isn't as dramatic, but it's still kind of pretty.)

And now a few "action" shots in the tree:

What a hoot!

(Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Consider that last pic a sneak peek; we're still not quite done with our steampunk tree, but it's really coming along! And if we can get the topper wired up and finished the way we're hoping, then it's REALLY gonna be something.

I also have a few steamier ornament crafts coming up, including some test tube experiments and little hot air balloons. (Although these just hit the web yesterday and are totally adorable.) Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Steam: Macy's Awesome Steampunk Holiday Windows

I've had several people mention Macy's steampunk-themed holiday displays in New York this week, and WOW, are they worth a look:

(Sent in by Jennifer D., photo by the AP)

(Photo by my friends Chris & Laura R.)

via cocodot

Hey Mishka has some fabulous close-up shots like this:

...which is no easy feat, since everything in these windows is in constant motion!

In fact, the pictures can't do any of this justice, so here's a video:

(When I first saw this, I was all "what? Ten whole minutes?!" And then the next thing I knew, the video was over. There's just so much to see!)

There's also a slick edited version by Hey Mishka here, but it's mostly close-ups and made me kind of dizzy to watch. Still, it will give you all the major highlights if you only have a few minutes to spare.

As you can see, the theme is kind of a rocket ship/fairy/steampunk mashup, which will probably anger the purists but is a perfect example of why I think rule-breaking is awesome. It's art - how can you have rules on art?

Oh, and I spent forever tracking down those limited edition ornaments mentioned on the Make-A-Wish windows (Macy's website is really not cooperative here), and was bitterly disappointment to find they're not themed to match the windows. Boo! Still you can take a look at them all here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Midweek Roundup

Some stuff that happened this week when I wasn't blogging:

- I did my best to help the whole Paypal-screwing-over-Regretsy debacle go viral on Twitter - which it did - and I'm happy to report that hell STILL hath no fury like the wrath of the Internet unleashed en masse on corporate bozos. Really, it's a feel-good story all round. (Well, unless you're Paypal. Ha!) You can find all the details over on Regretsy, if you missed the drama.

- Yesterday The Bloggess said she loved me. And my life was made complete.

- The past two nights John and I have been taking advantage of the only reason to live in Orlando: Disney World. Tuesday night we went to the Christmas party at Magic Kingdom, where we drank hot chocolate and cursed the fact that it was 78 frickin' degrees outside. Seriously. How am I supposed to get in the Christmas spirit wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops? I WANT TO WEAR MY SILLY WINTER HATS, DANG IT. Harrumph.

[insert everyone else on the planet yelling at me that it's negative three thousand degrees where they are right now]

Anyway, the good news is I took over 700 pictures of all the holiday goodness, cried over the Toy Soldiers in the parade (I dunno why - they just make me all nostalgic and misty-eyed), squealed like a little kid over the miniature white ponies pulling Cinderella's carriage, and generally skipped about like a 6-year-old all night.


Well, of the parade, that is. Not me skipping like a 6-year old. (I'll leave that to your oh-so-fertile imaginations.)



And out of 100 blurry photos, I somehow managed to snag this one clear shot of Cindy & the prince through the carriage window:

[through gritted teeth] "The hand stays on YOUR side, buster."

- In "work" related news, since I'm still - STILL - trying to catch up on posts and e-mails and all the media obligations that go along with a book launch, I've finally realized that something has to go, and that something has to be e-mail. I just spend way too much time on it, and always to the detriment of both blogs and life in general.

So, from now on, please understand if your e-mails to me go unanswered. That doesn't mean stop sending them, of course - my gosh, I love reading your e-mails - it just means I'll have a HUGE burden lifted if I know you guys aren't expecting a reply. (And I'll have more time for actual blogging.) Is that cool? Yes? Please?

- Oh, and I finally updated the Epbot FAQ page about why I never post pictures of myself online. You know, since now I *have* posted pictures of myself online.

- And finally, no one has to get me anything for the holidays, because tonight at Epcot I traded with a cast member for THE BEST PIN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD.

It looks like this:


I'm not much of a pin trader - more of a dabbler, really - but there's no way I can resist this new "Nerds" set. Check it out:

(Actually, half these guys are looking more hipster than nerd, don't you think?)

Anyway, so, obviously, Donald is the best. But I'll be looking for Mickey and Minnie and Goofy, too. (The whole set is a whopping $30 at the parks, which is why I like to trade older pins for them: cheaper *and* more fun.)

Oh, and just in case you haven't had enough Disney yet, I uploaded some pretty castle photos like this over on Flickr:


Best. Christmas lights. EVER.

Plus my favorite shots of the fireworks:


And the special holiday edition of the new castle projection show, which is ahhhh-mazing.


John even scored a little video of the Christmas part of the show, so I'll try to upload that soon.

In the meantime, you can see the rest of my photos here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Video Is Related

I just had two links posted one right after the other on the Epbot Facebook page, and the resulting combination was too funny not to share.

First, my new favorite song, found by Kristy J.:

(Love this SO HARD.)

And second, this article from Elisabeth N.: Justin Bieber Ruins Entire Nerd Subculture With New Christmas Video.

As the article states, the video in question is "inexplicably steampunk-themed." (Well, except for all the break dancing.) If you're curious and have the mute button handy, you can check it out below.

I'll just echo Elisabeth here by saying I am so, so sorry.


Kidding aside, I should tell you I'm not really a steampunk purist, so I don't mind bending the "rules" and personalizing the genre to fit your sense of style. (I actually love an occasional ray gun or nixie tube with my gears and goggles.) So I would never lecture anyone on what they can and can't use; if it looks cool and has some heart in it, I'll probably love it.

I, er, still don't love the Bieber video, though.

(Why does he get the sweet arm gauntlet? WHY?!?)

[Update: John just demanded to know what's wrong with the Bieber video, because it's "fun." Proving once again that I married the most positive man on earth. And that I may have to watch our iTunes purchases in the future. 0.o]

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Inspiration File: Steampunk Christmas Ornaments!

To wile away my craft-deficient hours on the book tour, I spent a lot of time researching and brainstorming all the ways one might steampunk out some holiday ornaments. There's not a whole lot out there by way of inspiration, but I've put together the best of what I did find.

First, a nice touch of gears and brass on a traditional ornament:

$19.95 from Lala Dangerous

Next, a filigree wrapped vacuum tube!

$15 from Mad Scientists Designs

These are the ones I was most sorely tempted to buy:

$21 for all 3 by Designs by Friston

I think I actually swooned over that orange hot air balloon. DO WANT.

This set of gear ornaments by Dreamful Designs has since sold out, but it remains the only set of gear ornaments I've been able to find online:

They're also made of leather, which means they have a good side and rougher, "bad" side.

Frankly, I'm amazed no one out there is manufacturing large brass gear ornaments! I thought steampunk had gone mainstream enough to warrant it, but sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case. Maybe next year?

Of course, since we're not willing to wait, John and I are in the process of making our own gear ornaments. More on that in my next ornament post, though.

Moving on, I managed to find these beauties by way of Hawksmoor's Bazaar, which has a lovely post on all kinds of holiday steampunkery.

Those snowflakes are each made with clock hands. Aren't they gorgeous? They're available in white, brass, and black, and - the best part - are only $5 each over at Antickquities. I love how it's an oh-so-subtle steampunk touch - and also how each design is different!

I happened to mention on the Epbot Facebook page my quest for steamy ornaments, and the next thing I knew, I had some of you lovely readers bringing me handmade beauties like this:

This is a clear craft ornament filled with a clock spring, gems, a tiny locket, gears, beads, and even a smashed penny or two. The tiny silver beads clinging to the "glass" (it's actually plastic) roll around like a snowglobe, revealing all the treasures inside as you turn it.

Here's another angle:

This is the handiwork of readers Heather & Elizabeth. Thanks again, ladies!

Oh, and the ornament isn't a traditional ball; it's flattened and relatively thin, as you can kind of see from the second photo. I'd love to find some myself for craft-ventures, but so far, no dice. Anyone know where I can buy them?

[Edit: looks like these are available at Michaels and maybe Hobby Lobby. Thanks, everyone!]

Reader J. G. went so far as to mail me a few Victorian- style ornaments, so I had them waiting for me when I got home. Here's my favorite:

Hit the pic to see the big version; the texture and detail is stunning.

And finally, hold on to your top hats, because Sharyn made me the Ultimate Steampunk Pine Cone of Craftiness:

Every bit of it is hand made and designed.

Just look at this detail:

The top hanger has a wire sphere with a gem inside:

And one more beauty shot, since you can tell I was having too much fun with my photo cube:


I have more ornaments to share with you, so stay tuned for all the bits and pieces John and I are modifying and making.

'Til then, though, here are a few lists I came up with on the tour to help me shop and search and craft to get my steampunk tree theme off the ground. I ended up using elements from all of the lists, but you can be as specialized as you like.

Mad Scientist Steampunk:

Glass test tubes (fill with wire, colored water/oil, glitter, etc.)
Copper wiring/tubes, twisted into simple shapes
Metallic/copper Cyberlox for garland
Small clear glass bottles, mirrors, monocles, lenses
Vintage bubble lights
Tree topper options: Plasma ball, goggles, more copper wire, antique brass microscope

Aviator Steampunk

Rope knot ornaments (research sailor's knots)
Hot air balloons & dirigibles
Birds: hawks & owls
Mini brass telescopes (available as a necklace on Ebay)
Thick cotton rope garland
Globes, maps, & atlases
Other brass nautical equipment
Topper ideas: globe, astrolabe, model dirigible

Deep Sea Diver / 20,000 Leagues/ BioShock

Miniature divers helmets (available as a necklace on Ebay & Etsy)
Any and all nautical items mentioned above
Bosuns whistle
Octopodes! :D
Tentacles, seahorses, exotic fish
Lots of clear/iridescent glass ornaments (to look like bubbles)
Topper ideas: Diver's helmet (lit from inside?)

Stylized Steampunk (Generic - useful in all genres)

Pocket watches
Clock parts, hands, gears
Antique keys
Brass wings
Typewriter keys

Victorian influence - mix with any/all steampunk genres

Velvets, satins, furs, & corset lacing
Lace, netting
Rich colors (purples, burgundies, bottle greens, and other jewel tones)
Top hats & fascinators
Crystals and other sparkly gems
Topper idea: Top hat with feathers/googles

The most important thing to remember when decorating with a steampunk theme? It doesn't have to be all brown. Don't be afraid to use lots of rich color - the Victorians weren't! Besides, who wants a drab Christmas tree? Pour on brilliant jewel tones, and your home will be that much warmer for it - and I guarantee it will look just as steamy.

I'll leave you with these vintage hot air balloon ornaments I tried (and failed) to buy on Ebay:

Can you can see these fitting in with a steampunk tree?

Ok, I know it's a stretch, but I was totally willing to try. They're just so stinkin' cheerful, you know?

So tell me, guys, what did I miss on my inspiration lists? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

DIY Upgrade For Your Christmas Tree!

This year I got it into my head that I wanted a more natural looking, flocked Christmas tree. (Translation: fake snow on it. And maybe some pine cones.) Here's an example I found online:

This 7.5 foot tree costs over $400. Yee-OUCH.

So I started watching all the sales, and John and I hit every store we could think of, but all the artificial trees were either too tall (we like 6.5 foot trees), too expensive, or out of stock. Plus, the fake snow was always so flaky; bump it, and the powdery stuff goes everywhere!

Finally, I started thinking how we could reuse our burnt-out pre-lit tree from last year. It's a nice enough tree that we've had a few years, but half the light strands wired into it blew out, way beyond repair.

In the end, we went from this:
(minus the pine cones; I forgot to take a proper "before" pic)

To this!

Here's how we did it:

First, John spent a night painstakingly cutting off all of the pre-wired light strands. By the time he was done our living room carpet was littered with hundreds of plastic tie-clips - yikes!

Next I started researching fake snow kits. They exist, but start around $40 - too rich for my blood. Canned spray snow (which we dutifully purchased and tested) looks like chalky white spray paint; there's no texture or body to it, and it gets all over you if you brush up against it.

There are recipes online for mixing Elmer's glue with shaving cream, or Ivory soap flakes with glue, etc, but I didn't have those items on hand and I was convinced there had to be an easier way.

We finally decided to test slightly watered down lightweight drywall Spackle. (The lightweight part is very important - don't try this with heavy weight!)

Mixed up, it looks like this:

Using a stiff bristled chip brush, I did a test batch on a piece of garland:

Not bad! And once it dried it was nice and hard; no powdery residue, no shower of flakes.

Next John and I did some serious research into the flammability of this stuff - I don't want anyone burning their house down because of one of my tutorials! John even went so far as to take the garland outside and set it on fire. Which smelled so, so bad.

Bottom line: yes, it will burn (as will your artificial Christmas tree, if put in a direct flame) but no more so than anything else. Obviously it's not flame-retardant, but I'm comfortable saying your Christmas lights won't make the stuff ignite. (We also looked up the MSDS, the Material Safety Data Sheets, and found nothing to indicate any increased flammability. Expert opinions are still welcome, though!)

Now, before I could flock the tree I needed to attach my pine cones. Surprisingly, pine cones are really hard to find in stores! We found crushed potpourri-soaked ones, and a few small ones in floral sprigs, but that was it. Urg.

Finally we found an entire pine cone wreath at JoAnne's on sale down from $40 to $12. Even better, each of the 40+ pine cones already had a floral wire secured to the bottom. SOLD!

John disassembled the wreath and added more floral wire to each cone so I could attach them to the tree branches:

Then I attached them randomly around the tree:

Next came the fun part:

Painting the tree!

If you try this, don't be afraid to use a really heavy hand with your Spackle. The more clumpy it is, the better it looks! Concentrate the heavy clumps with a stippling motion on surface areas where snow would naturally fall, and then brush the branches around it to give them a lighter dusting of Spackle. If you're like me, you'll find yourself going back to add more and more with each pass as you see how nice it looks.

In fact, in the end I think our tree turned out WAY better than any flocked tree I've seen:

Also, to add a little sparkle, I stopped every five minutes or so and sprinkled white iridescent glitter all over the wet Spackle. It's a subtle glimmer - and ohmygosh so messy - but I think well worth it. Since the Spackle dries with a matte finish, the glitter adds a bit of shine.

To be honest, John and I were completely gobsmacked this came out as well as it did - and how easy it was to do! (Although I wouldn't let John do any of the painting. That was all me. :D)

And here she is again, in all her snowy glory:

I'm getting a total Narnia vibe. And I love it.

(Also notice Tonks down there rolling in all the excess glitter. Greeeeeaaat.)

I used two tiny batches of Spackle to do the entire 6.5 foot tree, and it took me maybe an hour. Since we already had the Spackle in the garage, the only expense was the $12 pine cones - and we got to salvage something destined for the trash! Now that's my kind of craft project.

This is only the beginning, though: this is going to be our steampunked Christmas tree, so we have much, MUCH more in store for it. And I am so excited. Stay tuned!

* Want to see how my tree looks after being stored in the garage for a year? Updated pics here!

Then come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Tree Surprise

I put our living room tree up a few days ago (still working on our top-secret* steampunk tree!), and last night I noticed the tree skirt was all rumpled.

I decided to investigate:

I guess I should be glad that's the extent of her "destruction." ;)

* Ok, so "top-secret" just got downgraded a little...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Audio Book Review: Ready Player One

For the book tour I packed a whopping fourteen audio books, and the one I was most excited about was Ready Player One, which I mentioned here on Epbot a few months ago.

Now, I should point out that I always prefer reading a book to listening to it - the exception being when I've already read the book and/or it's being performed by several readers as opposed to a single narrator. So bear that in mind.

I won't keep you in suspense: I liked it.

Just not nearly as much as I expected to.

Here's the thing: Every review I've read, and almost everyone who recommended the book to me, made this book sound like the Ultimate 80's Geek-Fest. Like every other line would be a Ghostbusters quote, or a Star Wars homage, or something to do with Princess Bride and Michael Jackson and Rubik's cubes and every other bit of 80's nostalgia I could think of.

It's not.

In fact, this is a story grounded just as much in the 1970's, and much of it extremely obscure - like 1970's-era Japanese Manga shows, and text-based computer RPGs, and the first generation of arcade games, like Joust. I think if I'd been born about ten years earlier, I might have gotten a lot more of it. As it was? The vast majority sailed cleanly over my head, and I felt less and less like a real geek with every passing paragraph. It got to where I felt a pathetic pang of victory every time I did recognize something. ("Oh! Pac-Man! I know that! And Monty Python! Yes!")

To be fair, there *are* some casual mentions of X-wings and Deloreans and even a Serenity-class ship, but for the most part, and for most of the important plot-points, Cline could have been making up a lot of random dates, factoids, names, and song lyrics, and I'd never have known the difference. (Although now I feel the need to see War Games.)

This isn't Cline's fault, of course. It just means the target audience is older and harder-core geeks than I am. (I'm 33, btw.)

Ok, so with all that said, let's talk about the actual story.

It's good.

It starts out slow - painfully slow, in fact, if you're listening to it. After two hours John and I gave up, half-asleep and shaking our heads in bewilderment. It was like having someone read the encyclopedia to you for two solid hours: only it's an encyclopedia written in the future about the past which is still in your future. (Got all that?)

When we ran out of other books to listen to, though, we decided to dive back in and give it another try. This time, after another 30 minutes or so, the story picked up, and from there on it was a good ride.

Again, I should point out that I'm sure I would have liked Ready Player One much more if I'd been reading the book instead of listening to it. Don't get me wrong: Wil Wheaton does a fine job narrating - it's just too slow for me that way. Fact is, I've often listened to books I've read before and loved only to find I don't like them nearly as much anymore, all because they progress so slowly in audio.

If you haven't heard anything about the actual story, Ready Player One is a little like the Matrix, minus most of the action and with a scavenger hunt thrown in. Cline spends a lot of time telling us how much the future sucks (about two hours, in fact) and how everyone spends every waking moment plugged in to a virtual reality called the Oasis, which is basically an MMO ala World of Warcraft on steroids. You can get a more detailed synopsis on any book site, but that's the general gist.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments - the best being an all-too-brief stint in the technical support department - but it's not a screwball comedy. This is a respectable adventure story with real life-and-death consequences, nasty bad guys, a healthy dash of suspense, and even a love interest.

So...should you read it?

Yes, if you're a WoW fan, have ever played Adventure, and remember owning a TRS-80.

Also yes if you don't care about getting all the references and just want a good story - but realizing you'll be missing the nostalgia kick the story is built around if you're under 38.

No, if you're expecting lots of "It's a trap!" and "As you wish!" and Jem and the Holograms concerts. (Which, for the record, would have been AWESOME. [wistful sigh])

I hope this review helps those of you who've been on the fence about reading Ready Player One - and please, feel free to share your thoughts/disagreements/polite accusations in the comments!