Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Steamy Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Amy H. recently made these foam pumpkins for a steampunk-loving co-worker, who plans to use them for her Thanksgiving table:

Aren't they great? Amy tells me she was inspired by my pumpkin roundup post. I love the mix of metallics, and they really do make a great centerpiece grouped all together! 

(Hey, there's still a day to go for us here in the 'States - and I bet you could find some small pumpkins really cheap right now! Just sayin'. :D)

Thanks for sharing, Amy!

Jen's Gems 11/20/12

John and I hosted an early Thanksgiving for our families yesterday, which is why I've been MIA over here the past several days. Sorry!

So now I have some catching up to do! Let's get right to it, shall we?

First up:

Mark C. spotted these at Freak Lunchbox

There's been quite a resurgence of 80's action figures being used as wedding cake toppers, and I've gotta say: I APPROVE.

The Star Wars Snowflakes are back again this year, but now with even more fantastic designs!

I think Chad W. was the first to send these in, and they're all by Anthony Herrera Designs.
Hit that link to see all 24 designs - and the best part? You can download free templates for all of them! Hellooo, easy stocking stuffers! Just print them out, roll them up, and tie the paper roll with a pretty ribbon!

Did you guys see the story about the Dad who hacked his daughter's Legend of Zelda game to turn Link into a girl? 

 (I especially love this story given all the geek girls I see cosplaying as Link anyway!)

"I'm not having my daughter growing up thinking girls don’t get to be the hero and rescue their little brothers," Hoye explains on his blog here, where he has described exactly how he changed the game and offered his patch for free so other Super Parents can change "Wind Waker" if they like.

And how cool is that - now other techie parents can do the same! Go read the rest of the article here, and thanks to Jessica, G. for the Link link. ;)

And finally, Annaliese M. pointed me to yet another amazing Kickstarter I somehow missed while it was fundraising, though happily it's been massively over-funded. In a nutshell, GoldieBlox is an engineering toy for little girls:

However, you've really, really got to see the video for it. I was a bit skeptical when someone mentioned it made them cry, but darned if I didn't get a little something in my eye by the end:

I love this. I love that we live in world where people like Debbie can make their dreams for future generations a reality, and I love that we get to help.

Speaking of which, the Kickstarter may be over, but you can still pre-order GoldieBlox on the official website for $29.95. There are also already plans in motion for a whole series, with each new story and toy exploring a new engineering principle. Like Debbie, I wish I'd had this as a kid - and my dad's an engineer! He started as an electrical and software engineer, though, so at some point I hope Debbie explores stories with basic circuitry principles. Heck, I'd get those for me NOW.

Hope you're having a great week, everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2012

DIY Padded Display Box

If you're the type who hangs on to cool gift boxes - like the ones you buy wallets and fancy scarves and perfumes and such in - then here's a nifty way to turn them into customized display boxes for odd-shaped items.

I just modified this box to house a handmade fountain pen for my dad:

The pen came from the artist in a boring paper box, but I figured a pen this pretty deserved something a bit more grand. Plus now my dad can use the box to either store or display the pen on his desk.

The box originally housed John's last wallet, which I think we found at Ross. It's made of aluminum and plastic, and was just too cool to throw away:

It had "Calvin Klein" printed on the metal front, but in this photo I'm most of the way through removing the ink with acetone. (Just soak a cotton ball with acetone nail polish remover, and the ink will rub right off any metal surface.) You can still see a haze where the ink was, but a second rub down took that off.

I debated adding a brass plaque with my dad's initials to the lid, but since I didn't have time to order one I went with this large metal charm from JoAnn's instead:

Remove the ring, dab a little E-6000, and voilá!

Now for the inside:

To make the foam and fabric insert all you need are thin upholstery foam (available at craft stores for a few dollars a square foot), a rich-looking fabric like satin or velvet, scissors, paper, and glue.

First, measure the interior of your box and cut a square of upholstery foam to fit.

Next, trace your object onto a sheet of paper:

(Technically you could trace your item directly onto the foam, but I didn't want to risk getting Sharpie on the fountain pen.)

Now cut out your shape, place it where you want it on the foam, and trace with a marker:

Next take your scissors, holding them at a ninety degree angle to the foam, and start snipping inside your traced edges, all the way around:

You'll want to insert the tips of your scissors about half an inch into your foam as you snip along. You can always cut your recess deeper later, so for now just concentrate on getting the shape right.

Once you've cut all the way around your shape, hold your foam piece like I am in that photo, bending the edges back and away. This will create large cracks where you just snipped, allowing you to work your scissors in horizontally and cut out the bottom of your shape:

Now just keep snipping away to even out your edges and the bottom, stopping every so often to test out the fit:

You'll note my actual cut lines are pretty far inside my traced lines. Foam is stretchy, so be really conservative with your cuts!

When you think you're done, place a square of your fabric over the foam to test the fit again:

If your fabric is somewhat thick, you may need to cut out a bit more foam to compensate.

When you're ready to attach your fabric to the foam, make sure you do so with your item inside the foam. Put another piece of foam on top of your object so it's sandwiched between the two, flip them over, and glue your fabric down:

Here my pen is between those two slabs of foam. It's important you have your item in place so you don't pull your fabric too taut.

In fact, don't worry about making your fabric too tight anyway, since you'll risk pulling or warping the edges of the foam.

You may need to snip off some excess fabric to get the corners to lay right, but remember: only the top of your foam piece is going to show, so don't stress over those edges too much.

The finished bottom insert.

Carefully work your foam piece inside your box, using a butter knife or thin ruler to press the sides down evenly as you go. It should stay in place just fine without any adhesive, but feel free to add a dab of glue to the bottom if you like.

I also made a thinner cushion for the box lid, both to hold the pen extra securely while the box is closed, and also because it looks nice. :)

Since the upholstery foam would have been way too thick, I used a piece of cardboard cut to size with a bit of cotton on top:

The cotton came from the cheap jewelry box we purchased the pen in.

To attach the fabric I flipped the cardboard over, pressed it down to smoosh the cotton flat, and then glued my fabric around the edges:

This provided a nice pillowy top for the box lid interior:


And here's one last shot of my Dad's birthday present, which I really hope has already arrived in the mail by now, or else I am TOTALLY spoiling the surprise:

Happy birthday, Dad!

I hope you guys enjoyed, and that you'll remember this the next time you need a fancy-schmancy display box!

Oh, and here's a more pinnable version, should you need one:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Much Needed Cute Laugh

I just laughed so hard I actually have tears now. TEARS.

I'm not even going to intro this, except to say the tears started at :50.


Found via Misty H., who desribes it as "Wall*E meets National Geographic." :)

UPDATE: The first video was pulled, so I've replaced it with one that's still working for now. In case that also gets pulled, you can watch two of the three "Rollin' Safari" clips at the creator's site here and here.

UPDATE UPDATE: Sorry the vid keeps getting pulled, guys! You'll just have to hit the links to the originating site to see them. To make it up to you, here's the Big Bang Theory Flash Mob everyone's raving about:

(I know, I know, I hate this song too now -  but make sure you watch 'til the end! :D)

Monday, November 12, 2012

8 Video Games For People Who Hate Video Games

My very first post on this blog was about how spectacularly horrendous I am at playing scary video games. Or video games with tricky controls. Or video games with doors. (It's like threading a needle to get a Big Daddy through a Rapture door, I swear.)

That said, I really do like video games, so long as they're not too hard, not too scary, not too violent, and have a compelling storyline. 

Which is almost none of them.


Thanks to the fact that I have a gamer husband who is determined to both get and keep me hooked on them, I've tried lots and lots of games. Kids games, puzzle games, indie games you can only get by downloading them, you name it. And while most are busts, I have managed to find some truly stellar examples that I not only love, but managed to play all the way through to the end - which is HUGE.

So if you're like me and can't handle first-person-shooters, scary stuff, or games that just get too hard (I'm looking at you, Psychonauts), but you love puzzles, treasure hunts, good stories, and fun, compelling game play, then these are the games for you:

  (links lead to Amazon)

This action/adventure game debuted in 2009, and it's available on all the different game platforms. It's adorable, beautiful, engaging, and just challenging enough to keep things interesting without getting too frustrating. There's also plenty of complexity to the game, and even our local GameStop guys loved it, so don't think this is just a "kids' game."

My favorite part is that you don't kill your enemies; you just turn them back into the woodland creatures they used to be. Then you can use a spell to become those animals yourself, which - have I mentioned? - is adorable. There's also plenty to find and collect in the game, and there are so many different ways to fight your enemies that it stays fresh and fun. I seriously cannot recommend this game enough, as it's one of the very few I'd actually like to play again sometime.


ICO is an older PS2 game from way back in 2001, but a remastered version was released along with the sequel, Shadow of the Colossus, for the PS3 in 2011.

I haven't played the sequel yet, but I can tell you that ICO is a beautifully haunting puzzle game. You have to escape a vast fortress, leading a young girl through all kinds of obstacles and battling off ghostly shadow creatures. It's refreshingly different and challenging in a quieter, more subdued way than your average adventure game.

Much like ICO, Limbo is a visually stunning puzzle game. It came out in 2010 as a downloadable game through Xbox Live, and then in a retail 3 pack in 2011. It's relatively short, and you die a LOT - but that's part of the appeal. The death scenes are so creative and morbidly amusing that sometimes you want to die just to see what happens. :)

In fact, here's a quick video review to show you more:

The Ghostbusters video game (available on all the game platforms) made a huge splash when it came out in 2009, and rightly so. Dan Aykroyd went so far as to call it "the third movie," as it contains a completely new story set two years after GB2, and has all of the original actors back doing voice work. (Yes, even Bill Murray!) 

I really enjoyed the gameplay and story on this, and working the proton packs was surprisingly fun. My only issue, as some of you might recall, was that a few of the scenes were so scary I had to get John to stay in the room with me while I played. (DON'T JUDGE.) That's probably more of a feature for most of you, though, so definitely play this if you're a ghosthead.

Several months back I'd given up on yet another game (Rayman: Origins) because it'd gotten too frustrating, and was despairing of ever finding another game I'd enjoy playing. That's when John bought me a copy of LEGO Indiana Jones. Though technically a kids' game, I've since talked with several fellow adult geeks who adore the whole LEGO video game lineup, so now I don't feel so bad about staying up 'til dawn playing that first night.

These games give you lots of goals: things to search for, things to build, things to buy, and plenty of goofy fighting, funny cut scenes, and challenging levels. Plus there's just something so gosh-darn therapeutic about smashing everything in sight into tiny bits.

Oh, and the two-player option is also ridiculously fun, so I'm looking forward to playing the Harry Potter one with John soon.

(This is a downloadable game available on PS3, Xbox, PC, or Mac. Go here for pricing and to download.)

I discovered DeathSpank last year while visiting my older brother, who had it on his PS3. I then stole his PS3 so I could continue playing it after we left. :D  It's a comedy action/adventure game that debuted in 2010, and it is ridiculously - RIDICULOUSLY - fun. And funny. The dialogue will have you cackling, the fighting is easy and entertaining, and you collect things like Unicorn poop.

After you finish DeathSpank you'll need to continue on to Act 2, Thongs of Virtue. And thanks to my research I just learned there's a third installment, The Baconing, which I am so getting.

(You knew I had to include this one, right?)

Portal is another puzzle game with stunning gameplay and a hysterical storyline. (Assuming you call non-stop insults from the computer running your "tests" a storyline, of course.) The first game came out in 2007, and the sequel debuted on all the different game platforms in 2011. There's a reason it's become a worldwide sensation, guys; this game rocks.

I'm listing Portal 2 here because I enjoyed it a lot more than the first game, and you don't technically have to have played the original to enjoy the second. In Portal I had to get John's help to move forward a few times - there were some incredibly frustrating timed challenges - but I didn't have any of those problems with Portal 2, which was awesome. Plus the writing and storyline is so much richer and funnier in Portal 2; I was cackling non-stop. So by all means start with Portal if you'd like to experience both, but if it gets too hard for you (as it did for me) then consider skipping on to Portal 2.

Arkham Asylum came out in 2009 on all the game platforms, and it's the game I'm currently hooked on. I'm about 75% through so far, and with only a single rescue from John! (And even that wasn't because it was too hard; I just didn't like Croc jumping out at me all the time - made me too edgy.) 

While it's certainly the grittiest and most "adult" of my selections here, Arkham Asylum is surprisingly clean. There's no language, no gore, and Batman never actually kills anyone; he just knocks them out. I was also delighted to discover a whole treasure hunt aspect to the game, along with a huge cache of Riddler riddles that you get to solve along the way. Combine that with a bunch of nifty Batarang gadgets and fighting combos, and this is one super fun ride. (Plus John just told me there's a sequel: Arkham City. Woohoo!)

So there you have it, guys: my favorite, most-recommended games for geeks who don't like video games! I hope this inspires some of you self-professed non-gamers out there to pick up the controller, because once you find the right ones, gaming can be an unbelievably fun way to waste all of your productive hours away. ;)

And now it's your turn: what games am I missing? Know any you think I'd like? Then, please, share in the comments!

UPDATE: Two excellent older games I've been reminded of in the comments: Syberia and Kingdom Hearts! I played both sequels, as well, and have to say the original Kingdom Hearts was best, and one I'd definitely play again. Syberia's gameplay doesn't hold up as well to modern games - it's a bit slow and clunky - but it's a really beautiful steampunk story.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

DIY Steampunk Resin & Leather Cuff

Here's another resin experiment I've been meaning to show you guys, since it's the one I actually wear the most so far of all my experiments. I whipped it up last month, I think, and it immediately become one of my top three favorite cuff bracelets. (I am a huge fan of leather cuffs; they're perfect with jeans, and they don't snag or pinch the way most of my chain bracelets do!)

The centerpiece of the cuff is a vintage ray gun charm from a box of Cracker Jacks. You might remember I initially considered using it for my steampunk medal:

After this was taken I removed the loop, painted the gun silver (it was initially gold) and aged it with a little brown paint.

Next I dropped it into my resin mold along with several tiny watch gears:

Once the resin was cured, I tried two or three different metallic papers for backers:

 I loved the silver foil, but was afraid it'd look a little too Buck Rogers. Plus the gold foil has some nifty ridges in it that get magnified and warped by the resin's shape, which I think looks cool.

From here I grabbed an old leather belt, cut off a section, and began laying out my cuff design:

 Happily I didn't have to buy anything for this project; I already had all the pieces I needed in my jewelry craft stash.

I rounded the edges of my leather strip, added a snap, and then marked where I wanted the chain to attach with a piece of wet chalk:

As with my previous cuff, I sealed the cut edges of the leather with clear glue before painting them with black acrylic paint.

Next I drilled tiny holes in the leather with my Dremel, and attached my chain with large O rings:

 (I later swapped this chain for a more delicate gold one.)

After a few failed attempts I realized no adhesive would hold my resin cabochon onto the curved leather - the strain was too great, so the edges just kept pulling away.

My solution was to sew the cabochon on like a button. Kind of.

With the resin piece in place on the leather, I drilled two tiny holes on each side, making sure the drill bit went all the way through the leather as well. Then I used thin brass wire to "sew" each side of the resin piece down:

My drill holes were large enough that I could loop the wire through four times one each side, which makes the piece incredibly strong and secure. No more lifting edges!

Next I bent two filigree pieces to fit the side curves of the cuff:
 (I also snipped off the rings on the ends.)

...and used brass brads to attach them, plus a touch of E-600 to make sure they wouldn't twist:

 I like that nothing on this cuff is attached with glue alone. Ever since I lost a piece off my favorite cuff (which mercifully John found again a few day later) I've been paranoid about bits knocking off my bracelets!

Here's the finished cuff with the smaller brass chain:

And one more shot in the daylight, after I added a second loop on the front chain:

The first time I wore this out John and I visited an Indie craft fair, and I had several of the artists compliment it and ask me where I got it. (!!) Talk about a head-sweller!

And speaking of head-swelling, my oh-so mild sickness decided to blossom into a full blown head cold yesterday, and today I gave it to John, so we've got this awesome sniffling-in-stereo thing going on. :) We've also decided that "snot" is a verb, as in, "Did you just snot on my neck?"  -  which is a thing John actually said to me a few minutes ago. (And for the record, no, I did not.)

The hardest part for me is that I can't take any kind of decongestants on account of my anxiety. (Even the mildest stimulant - like the stuff in Sudafed - can trigger episodes.) I don't miss the medicine head feeling, but toughing through a cold with just pain meds and comfort food gets to be a real drag. Plus - and yes, I KNOW I'm whining but I'm sick and it's my blog and I'm GONNA, dang it - tea and OJ and spicy stuff all give me the most raging awful acid reflux. Seriously. I had two cups of herbal tea last week for my sore throat and had to sleep sitting up two nights in a row. And I took Prevacid and antacids and everything! URG.

So I guess you could say my body is just being a poopy-headed jerky jerk at the moment.

This concludes my whining, because I just remembered we bought Epic Micky 2 today, and wheee video games!

Hope you have a great weekend, guys!