Friday, October 5, 2012

Smashed Penny Bracelet - In Resin!

You guys know I can never stay away from penny crafts for long, right? :D So today I give you my latest smashed penny jewelry creation:

Ta-da! Smashed pennies in resin!

This is one of those crafts that's really easy in theory, but a little more tedious in practice.

First I spent a good half hour polishing pennies, since I wanted them nice and shiny in the resin. (There are lots of products you can use, but for the best shine I've found nothing beats Brasso [get the old formula in a metal can] and a nubby wash cloth, followed by a vigorous rub-down with a Magic Eraser for those really stubborn spots.)

I've yet to buy another brand of epoxy resin, so I used Easy Cast again for this batch. It seems that by mixing larger batches you're less likely to get the proportions wrong, so happily everything cured just fine this round:

I bought these molds on JoAnn's website for about $4 each (link here)  - although of course shipping tacks on another five bucks or so. (My bracelet ended up using only six pennies, though, so really you only need one mold.)

The pennies sink right to the bottom of the molds, of course, so in the future I might try layering the resin to get them to "float" more in the center. (Although that would make drilling a little trickier.)

After a day of curing I popped out the pennies, trimmed the sharp edges off with scissors, and then filed the edges a bit, too, since I knew they'd be rubbing up against my wrist.

 Pretty, right? They remind me of little paper weights

Next came the tricky part: drilling.

You'll need a drill press for this, because keeping a perfect 90 degree angle is essential when drilling lengthwise through a narrow piece. (This is my Dremel drill press.) I'm using a small wood block here as a support, both to safeguard my fingers and because the resin has rounded edges, which makes it want to rock a bit.

You can see I'm pressing the resin piece against the wood block pretty hard; if you're not careful the drill will make the resin shift down into the gap in the platform, making your hole go off course. I found it helps to drill very slowly, and to kind of pump the handle on the drill press so that you drill in several small stages:

If you rush it you're pretty much guaranteed a slip and a wonky drill line, so take your time. Oh, and I just eye-balled the spacing, but you could also measure to make sure your holes are all consistent.

The finished pieces. See the small frosted drill lines?

Next is the easy part, although funnily enough it took me the longest: stringing the bracelet.

I reeeally didn't want to make a stretchy bracelet, but when I couldn't find a good two-cord clasp at any of my local craft stores I caved and bought some clear stretchy cord. Then it took me four or five tries to find the right spacer beads, since I've never made a bracelet like this before and honestly didn't know which kind would look right.

The first beads I picked were gorgeous (and matched my wedding band!), but since they weren't round they didn't lay right on my wrist:

Plus all you saw were the white sides of the beads, which aren't supposed to show.

This is something any jewelry maker would have known, I'm sure, but I guess I like learning things the hard way. ;)

Next I tried some chunky clear beads, but they were too big, making the bracelet either way too big with six resin pieces or too tight with only five:

So back to the craft store I went, and came back with three more options:

Too dark...

Too blah... 
(They're actually lovely shades of copper, but the finish didn't seem right.)

...and finally, my very last choice turned out to be my favorite:
The beads are a translucent two-tone with lavender and orange. The orange picks up the pennies, and the lavender makes a nice contrast. Plus the translucence goes great with the clear resin.

Now for some better lighting:

You can definitely see a slight yellow tinge to the resin here (taken in indirect sunlight, no color correction), but only because it's on a white paper. You can't see it on other colors, or if I'm wearing it:

The pennies are from the Magic Kingdom, and most are from Adventureland and Frontierland. (I need to replace the Goofy penny with a Jungle Cruise one, and then I'll have a more complete set.)

I believe the yellow tinge is partially a result of the Easy Cast - which I've heard isn't as crystal clear as, say, Ice Resin - but even more so from the pennies themselves reflecting on all the interior edges:

For example, you can see that the center resin piece below looks clear, while the sides look yellow:

Again, that's the pennies reflecting through the resin. So don't worry too much if you want to use Easy Cast for this project; my guess is other brands will still look a bit yellowish with pennies in them.

And finally, here's my attempt at a pin-able pic for my fellow Pinterest users:

 (I'm not going to tell you how long I spent looking at fonts for this, because I know someone out there is already judging me for picking this one. Is there a word for font anxiety? 'Cuz I haz it. I haz it BAD.)

I hope you liked my latest penny craft! And in case you missed them before, you can see some of my other smashed penny jewelry tutorials here and here.
Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jen's Gems 10/4/12

Mary B. spotted some custom lollipops, of all things, that are completely out of this world:

Vintage Confections uses edible images embedded in clear candy to make these amazing Planet 'pops - aren't they gorgeous? You can order 10 for $17.50 at their Etsy shop, but these things are so popular orders aren't shipping until January. Yikes!

While we're talking sweet space stuff, doesn't this "Trouble with Tribbles" poster by Juan Ortiz remind you of a Dr. Seuss book cover?

I just love that design! Ortiz is making an art print to go with every single Original Series episode, too. This is only his fourth in the series; you can see (and purchase) them all here.

Feel free to lie here to spare my feelings, but... is it weird that I kind of want this?

 Rainbow Brite Snuggler, $30 (via FashionablyGeek)

The world needs more Rainbow Brite products, guys. Seriously.

Here in Florida we have an old roadside attraction called Weeki Wachee Springs, whose claim to fame is that they have real live mermaids. A few years back I read a fantastic book on the history of the place, and then immediately dragged John down that weekend to go see it. It's great, retro goodness, and there's something so fantastic about watching girls in tails swim languidly by the glass. 

For some reason I thought the Weeki Wachee mermaids were wholly unique, but then this week BuzzFeed featured these mermaids over at the Tampa Aquarium:

I may have to drag John over to Tampa, next. :) (And isn't Erin a dead ringer for Brittany on Glee?)

And finally, these made my heart smile, and I only bawled a little: 20 Halloween costumes that incorporate wheelchairs. Here are two of my favorites:

(Hit the link to see the rest! Found via BoingBoing)

These also reminded me of Epbot reader Dani's photos, which she sent in last year. She wrote,

 "My husband is a quadriplegic and never had fun costumes as a child (poor thing, his parents weren't all that creative.) When it was time to think of costumes, well, how could I leave Jesse out? [So] we were Spacemen!"

SO COOL! Dani constructed the space ship out of lightweight foam, duct tape, and small LEDs. Then she made super-spiffy reflective collars for them all to wear, plus arm and leg bracers for their son:

I love it! Great job, Dani!

Oh, and speaking of Halloween costumes, we're just about done with John's DreamFinder costume. (Yep, most of you commenters guessed right!) I'm still putting some finishing touches on his wig and beard, which we had to dye, cut, and style ourselves. Expect more pics soon!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What's This? Nightmare Before Christmas Figurines

I don't really decorate for Halloween; the most I usually manage is a pretty Fall wreath and maybe a pumpkin or two by the front door. (All my efforts go toward decking the house out for Christmas. [Can't wait!])

Last week I finally did a little Halloween craft, though, so now at least I have this!

You like? I just put this together last night. It's always fun ransacking the house to find little doodads to make a new tabletop vignette. (The flower is a napkin ring. Hee.) And I always considered The Nightmare Before Christmas more Halloween appropriate, anyway.

The figures are the only new bits, and are the result of another of my painting projects. I hope it's not too obvious anymore, but they're actually soft rubber bath toys:

I bought these over a year ago at a Disney clearance outlet for $5.99. I immediately knew I wanted to try aging them with paints, but it's taken me this long (and my relative success with Donatello) to finally get down to trying.

Here's a pic in the light cube, so you can see the detail better:

And here's the dramatic before-and-after of Oogie Boogie:

Before you could barely see all the great texture he had. Not the burlap weave and stitches really pop:

Most of this was simply putting paint on and rubbing it off again, although the soft rubber proved especially challenging on Zero:

The paint soaked in and wouldn't wipe completely off again, so I just went with the extra grungy look and did my best to soften it. (I also painted in the black gaps under his ears & changed his collar from pink to red.) Now Zero is actually my favorite; the finish reminds me of the Armani figurines at Disney I love, which have a matte, soft look to them.

Not much more to tell, so here are a few more before-and-afters (I'm still kicking myself for not taking "before"s of Sally and Zero) and finished photos:

For Jack I had to repaint his suit gray, and then age it down with black paint. I also cleaned up the paint lines around his hands.

It's definitely a dirtier, creepier look, but we can get away with that for Halloween, right? (Right?)

Oh, and the rubber toys were really sticky right out of the package - not sure why - and even after cleaning and painting they still have a tiny bit of a tack to them. I'm going to test a few different kinds of matte clear coat to see if any will take the stickiness away. I'm guessing an oil-based spray should do the trick, but if any of you have a suggestion, please let me know in the comments!

And that's it! I hope these gave you a smile, and that you never look at bath toys quite the same way again. ;)


P.S. - Just so you know: you guys are amazing. All of you. Thank you for all your comments and e-mails and tweets and messages of support regarding my post yesterday. I promise to always strive to bring you as much joy and support and sincerity here on the interwebz as you bring to me. I don't think I'll ever quite manage it, but I'll happily spend my days trying!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Enduring Hope of "Someday"

[PLEASE NOTE: I've been warned that this post can be a trigger for individuals suffering from anxiety. If that's you, then you may want to skip it, or at least make sure you're in a safe environment before reading.]


Five years ago I went to movies and plays and church services, I sat in the backseat while carpooling with friends, and I'd have gone to Disney and ridden the rides every day, if I could. I took flights to see my family a few times a year, I loved to drive, and I never once wondered what my heart rate was or whether I was going to die in my sleep that night.

Five years ago "anxiety" was a thing other people had, and "panic attacks" only happened to flighty, nervous people who drank too much coffee.

Then one night -  the night of August 4th, 2007 - I woke up and knew I was dying. Everything was wrong and my heart wouldn't slow down and I was more scared than I've ever been in my life. The nurse at the ER clipped a monitor on my finger, and went from looking bored to looking a lot more like me. Then there was a lot of running (not on my part, of course) and tests and four long, torturous days in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors. John slept in a chair by my side every night, and held my hand during every attack, when the nurses would come running in demanding to know what I was doing to make my heart rate go crazy, but each time I was just lying there quietly, gripping John's hand and watching the alarms go off.

Five years later, I still don't know exactly what changed. I literally went from "normal" to having a panic disorder overnight. I was always the calm and composed one. I was always in control of my emotions. Words like "panic attack" and "anxiety" were insulting, and it took me years to accept these labels and learn to apply them to myself without flinching. Without shame.

John was supportive but incredulous, and my constant, unrelenting fear wore him down as nothing else in our marriage had. Like everyone who's never had anxiety, his solution in those early days was that I should just "buck up" and "face my fears." He thought it was a lack of will power somehow, and that I should simply "not think about it."

After watching me "power through" enough movies and plays and church services, though, John eventually changed his mind. He saw the white-knuckled misery, the attacks, and the side effects of the Xanax I had to take just to get through them. For church especially, we came to agree after a few years that there was no benefit from the music or message if I was spending the whole time concentrating on not running crying from the building - or worse yet, running crying from the building.

Today I manage my life around my anxiety, and I've found a balance that allows me to live my day-to-day life without medication or constant fear. It helps that I work from home and have a relatively peaceful life. (And isn't it odd to think I started Cake Wrecks just nine months after that first attack? Two of my most life-changing events, forever linked.) By omitting the worst of my triggers, politely declining most media engagements, and with regular visits to a chiropractor, of all things, I've found I can live most of my life mostly panic-free.

That said, sometimes I have flare-ups - and when I feel bad, I start cutting things out. Things like travel, or outings with friends, or anything that removes me from my safe little cocoon at home. If I'm not careful, I can let the walls of my life close in until there's not much of a life left to live. And the more you shelter yourself, the bigger those fears can get, until facing the outside world again requires an almost Herculean effort.

Again, this is where your average non-anxiety-sufferer would say something like, "Then just get out there and DO it. You'll feel better!"

But here's the thing: sometimes you don't feel better. Sometimes you have such a bad experience facing a fear that you're worse off than before you started. Sometimes you just have to retreat and regroup for a while, and give yourself time to heal. And sometimes that's ok.

Take the tram at Disney World, for example.

My anxiety has changed a lot over the years, but it currently stems from a lack of control, and a lack of escape routes. I need both to be comfortable. So things like elevators, planes, and yes, even the parking tram at WDW can cause me to panic.

On the inconvenience scale, parking trams are near the bottom of the list. I much prefer walking anyway, so we do. However, several weeks back we were there with friends, and we were mid-conversation, and we thought, hey, it's just a five-minute trip, let's give it a try again!


I kid thee not; the tram literally made it about ten feet - we hadn't even cleared the loading area - before coming to a screeching, shuddering halt. The driver announced that the brakes had locked up, and we'd have to wait a little while for them to reset. Since the trams now have doors on them, and we were penned in by the concrete barriers, I couldn't get out. And I panicked. It didn't matter that this was most likely a five-minute delay, or that the safety of the sidewalk was two feet out my door - I felt trapped, and my heart went insane and the world spun and I shook long after the tram started moving again.

Lest you think the tram breaking down was a freak occurrence and that I am not, in fact, cursed, the same thing happened on Spaceship Earth (aka "the ride in the big golf ball.") I've had panic attacks the last three times I've been on that ride, but this last time I was sure I'd be ok. There was no line, and John and I needed to ride it for a Scavenger Hunt we were competing in. "We'll be in and out in no time!" we said, and skipped on board. The car door slid shut, we got about ten feet up the giant hill - literally within sight of the loading dock - and the ride broke down. For about 15 minutes. And then - THEN - when it finally started again, I still had to go through the whole ten minute ride, eyes shut, shaking, heart hammering, and near tears.

I think it goes without saying that I'll probably never go on Spaceship Earth again.

I know this is pretty much the worst pep talk ever, but I think this is something you "just do it!" types need to hear: sometimes pushing someone into "facing their fears" only makes the fear worse. And even if it doesn't, there's no guarantee they'll be any less afraid the next time around. Panic isn't rational. It doesn't follow logic or common sense. You can't reason with it or outsmart it - and that's probably the hardest part for loved ones of anxiety-sufferers to accept.

Of all the things anxiety has taken from me, though, I think it's those silly little Disney rides that I miss the most. I'm ok anywhere I can step out of the vehicle in an emergency, like Winnie-the-Pooh, but rides like Pirates, Star Tours, or the monorail are out. This also means we don't go to the Magic Kingdom as much anymore, for fear the ferry won't be running and I have to take the monorail. Frankly, the ferry is hard enough.

Disney has always been my refuge, and my happy place. To have it marred by my own body - to have it bound up with irrational fear - is one of the harder things I've struggled with these past few years.

I mention all this because this week I've made several dates for meet-ups with you readers out at the parks next month, and while I try to act like it's no big deal, it's actually really embarrassing explaining why I probably won't go on Small World with you. It's hard to interrupt a conversation with, "Sorry, but I can't go on this sedate kiddie ride with you, because it scares me. So...see you in the gift shop?" In fact, some of you who've been out with us before are just now realizing why I kept ducking out of lines and skipping the trams.

With anxiety you learn to take what you can get, so these days we meet people at Epcot, where we can park and walk in under our power, and where there are so few rides for me to excuse myself from - even though my heart will always be over at the 'Kingdom. (What I wouldn't give for a way to walk in to that park*! It's almost enough to make me go apply for a job there again, just so I can use the cast member entrances. [wistful sigh])

My main point is this, though: in order to keep living your life with anxiety, you learn to choose your battles. I'm perfectly happy never seeing a movie in a theater or flying again, but I'll keep fighting and trying and risking an attack for those silly little Disney rides. Depending on how I'm feeling, I'll still take a trip on Pirates or Haunted Mansion from time to time. I can't remember what it's like to not be uncomfortable on them anymore, but sometimes it's just that: uncomfortable. And two months ago we went to see a play for the first time in years, and I made it through, Xanax and attack-free! (Granted, we had to sit in the last row on an aisle in the nose-bleed seats, but hey, a win's a win!) So sometimes I get to push those walls out again, just to prove that I haven't given up.

There was a time two years ago when I hit rock bottom. It was after that stressful Christmas cruise I blogged about, where the combination of travel and family and prolonged forced social interaction all conspired to leave me a fidgety, medicated wreck. I had a three-hour-long attack just getting to the port (I was in a backseat), and then spent the whole five days of the cruise on Xanax, something I'd never done before or since. (Don't get me wrong; Xanax can be an absolute life-saver. I just don't like feeling fuzzy and tired, and I don't like taking meds if I can avoid them. I've also found that Xanax gives me a "kick-back" depression, which usually takes a day or two to wear off.)

When we got home from the cruise I locked myself in the sanctuary of my bedroom and didn't come out for nearly four days. I brought the laptop to bed with me, and worked from there. John brought me meals.

I wasn't depressed. I was just...fried. My adrenal system was shot, and like a wounded animal, I needed someplace quiet and dark to heal.

For about a week after that, I could leave the room, but not the house. This was when we were still remodeling the Crack House down the street, and just taking a car ride three streets over to see John's progress made it hard for me to breathe. I had to clutch the door handle and keep telling myself I could get out of the car at any time. The fear was so great that I worried I'd never be able to ride in a car again, and that I'd spend the rest of my days as a sad shut-in, peering through windows and crippled by my own agoraphobia.

Consider that I went from that shaking wreck to taking a six-week car trip up the East Coast into Canada and back again less than a year later for my last book tour. Not only did I do it drug-free, I even enjoyed it.

Like I said: sometimes you just need time to heal. You can't force it, you can't psych yourself up for it, and you can't predict it. Some day you'll just need to go to the store, and you'll realize that getting in the car doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore. And then life will go on in its usual, boring way until the next thing that scares you doesn't seem quite so scary.

I still can't ride in the back seat of cars, and I still panic in stopped traffic. I still have to sit on the aisle seat in the last row at convention panels. I still get light-headed and scared sometimes for no reason at all. I still miss most plays and church and the Jungle Cruise, and I still take a Xanax a few times a month to get by.

But you know what? Some people out there still can't ride in cars, or leave their houses, or go to conventions, or blog about their irrational fears to people who honestly seem to care about them.

So today? Today I am content. 

And I hope you are, too. Or if not, then I hope my story helps remind you that today's fears won't always be tomorrow's, and that your own "someday" is coming. I promise.

I wanted to end this post with an inspirational quote on fear or anxiety, but all I found online were a bunch of trite platitudes about 'living in the moment' and how fear is a weakness because there's nothing to worry about. Which really ticked me off. Fear is not a weakness. Pretending fear doesn't exist is.

So here's MY inspirational quote, paired with a photo from Disneyland I thought was appropriate. It isn't eloquent or philosophical, but it's what I've come to believe:

And you can quote me on that. ;)

*UPDATE: A few of you have helpfully pointed out that it IS possible to walk into the Magic Kingdom, and I am amazed I never knew this before. (Apparently there's a walkway from the Contemporary Resort.) Needless to say, this is the best news I've had all month, and I'm so excited it's taking all my will power not to drive over there this very instant. So thank you, all of you. I promise to have a Dole Whip soon in your honor. :)