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. :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Saturday Steam 9/29/12

Would you believe this: a NINTENDO?

Absolutely gorgeous mod by Andrew - you can see some in-process shot in his Imgur album. (Thx for the link, Jacob M.!)

And while we're mixing steampunk with retro gaming systems:

How about this steampunk "Monster Arcade" by Doug Haffner? The green portholes on the sides have holographic images of Frankenstien and his bride in them, and I'm digging that rich blue lighting underneath. Hit the link for build photos. (Thx, Erik!)

You know how a lot of people have bucket lists? Well, I have a *craft* bucket list, and making my own nixie tube clock is on it. Here are a few I've been drooling over:

Amy J. sent this one over from Steve's Nixie Clocks. I like how the glass case lets you see all the circuitry inside - plus the reflection looks super cool:

And here's a neat idea: John Clark Mills put his nixie tube clock in an old mantle clock case:

 Such a great way to rescue and re-use old clock cases!

And finally, Instructables member Hellboy added blue LEDs, acrylic tubing, and found objects to make one of the most stunning and unique nixie tube clocks I've ever seen:

Hit the link up there for his step-by-step tutorial.

There are kits online for building and wiring your own nixie tube clock, so if you're curious just google around a bit. (Sadly I have no specific venders to recommend. If you do, though, please let me know in the comments!)

And finally, Audrey F. over in France sent me a few snapshots of an amazing carousel located in the city of Nantes, the birthplace of Jules Verne. It's called "Le Carrousel Les Machines" and is themed around Verne and his work, so there's plenty of sealife and steampunky contraptions:

I was so intrigued I went looking for more, and found a video of the carousel in action:

As you can see, Audrey's pics barely scratch the surface of the jaw-dropping awesomeness. It's a carousel of automatons! I AM IN AWE.

And as if that weren't enough, I also found a video of some creatures they were planning to add to the carousel in the future. Since the video is a year old, I wonder if they're already there now?

AH - wait for it - MAZING. That sea dragon! Swoon.

So next time you're in Paris, swing by and take a ride on the seahorse for me, k?

That's all for this week! Hope you're having a sensational weekend, and as always, if you see something steamy you'd like to share, hit me up in the comments or over on Facebook!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Best Quotable Movies - As Picked By You!

Thanks to you people I've gotten nothing done in the past 30 hours. NOTHING. All I've done is read your favorite movie quotes, laugh a lot, and compile a list of movies I have to see again - or for the first time - as soon as possible.

When I mentioned this on FB several of you asked for my list, so here it is:

Movies I Need To See Again Soon:

- Galaxy Quest
- Willow
- The Fifth Element
- Lilo and Stitch
- Mega Mind
- Goonies
- Space Balls
- Avengers 

(I admit it: Avengers I have to see for the first time. It just hit DVD, though, so SOON. Very soon.)

Hands down, your most quoted movie was The Princess Bride, followed by Labyrinth and Ghostbusters. (I already know those by heart, so they're not on my list.) You guys are either destined to be my best friends or extremely skilled at sucking up. ;)

John and I probably quote Princess Bride the most, too, but we use "It's possible, PIG" and "GENTLY!!" far more than is advisable in polite company. We also like "I hate waiting," said in Inigo's accent, and "*I* am not left-handed!" (I don't know how that one gets used so often, but somehow, it does.)

Sometimes you've got to modify the quote to fit your situation. I like whipping out, "You're right, no HUMAN BEING would [insert activity here] like this."

Also on your Most Quoted List (and which everyone should know by heart):

- Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail ("RUN AWAY!")

- Star Wars ("Laugh it up, Fuzzball!")

- Firefly and Serenity ("I aim to misbehave.")

- The Emperor's New Groove  - ("WRONG LEV-AAAAAAHH!")

(I've long felt New Groove is the most underrated of the Disney films, so it thrills me to see so many of you quoting it. Yzma & Kronk are probably the best Villain & Henchman combo Disney has ever created; I could watch them all day. John and I like to break out in "squirrel" from time to time: "Uh, squeakety squeakers squeak 'em.")

I'm sure I missed a lot of other good ones, but you'll just have to go wading through the 900+ comments to make your own list now. ;)

Oh, right, and I guess I should mention who won the give-away, huh? Ha! Ok, the winner is...


Amanda, please e-mail me your mailing address. And to everyone else, thanks for distracting me so very thoroughly.

One cuff bracelet, wrapped & ready to go!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Doktor A Sneak Peek!

I've mentioned before that Doktor A is one of my all-time favorite artists - steampunk or otherwise - so when I got an e-mail from him this week I *might* have fangirled out a bit. He was inviting me to his New York show opening on October 12th, but sadly I can't be there. SO... I'm posting this as an open plea to any of you geeks planning to be at New York City Comic Con that weekend: GO TO THE SHOW. And then say hi to the good Doktor for me. Maybe take a picture or two for me to drool/cry over. You know, the works.

And just to sweeten the deal, Doktor A sent along a sneak peek that he told me I could blog as an exclusive. MY FIRST EXCLUSIVE, YOU GUYS. (!!) I think it shows that he picked it out special just for this blog, too:

 A steampunk robot and cake. Yep. It's like he knows me.

And here's a peek at one of his most recent figures:

Doktor A's show is on Friday, the 12th of October, from 7 - 10pm at "My Plastic Heart" (210 Forsyth Street, New York, 10002). Remember to tell him Jen from Epbot sent you! 

Oh, and if you can't make it to the show, the Dok will also be at NYCC; look for him at the "My Plastic Heart" booth.

Quick Craft: Easy Leather Cuffs, Plus a Give-Away!

This craft is so easy some of you will probably be rolling your eyes at me, but I want to show all those "non-crafty" types out there how simple it is to make awesome bangle cuffs with nothing more than a hammer, some snaps, and an old belt.

First, you need an old belt. Preferably one with a pretty design on it, like this:

I grabbed this at a GoodWill last week for a dollar. The orange and blue flowers caught my eye - of course.

The belt had two embroidered patches on it that just happened to be the exact length needed for a cuff bracelet, so I used one of my other cuffs for a template and cut out each section:

If you don't have a template, just round the edges however you like. (You could leave them square, but I find the edges tend to scratch a bit if you do.)

Now all you need is the $8 "Anorak Snap Setting Tool" from the craft store (like this), some snaps, and a hammer.

First you use the tiny little tube to punch a hole:

And then follow the instructions on the package to set the snap ends:

It worked out for these that the snap ended up right in the middle of the green flower on the end. Nifty, right?

You're not quite done yet, though: next you need to seal the cut edges - especially if the belt you use isn't real leather, like this one. The synthetic stuff is made up of layers which will quickly start to peel apart.

I used a simple white craft glue, but I think you could also a vinyl glue or clear fabric glue:

Once the glue dries you can either paint it with a matching color, or color it in with a matching Sharpie marker. I tried both ways on these, and found the paint was a little too light and too matte (ideally you'll want to use a satin or semigloss paint), while the Sharpie one is glossier and a bit darker than the leather. Here's the painted one:

It's not bad, but John says the Sharpie one looks better, so that's the one I'm going to give away.

But first, a couple more beauty shots:

These two cuff bracelets are virtually identical, so whoever wins my extra one will automatically become my bestie. FAIR WARNING.

[NOTE: The contest has ended, and the winner is....Amanda Mead! Amanda, please e-mail me your mailing address!]

To enter, just leave your name and favorite movie quote in the comments on this post. There is no point to the movie quotes except keeping me entertained. (WHAT.) I'll ship anywhere, so anyone can enter. I'll pick someone tomorrow night, and announce the winner both here, on this post, and on the Epbot Facebook page. (You are following me on FB, right?) Please watch for that update, so I don't have to go hunting you down to get your shipping address, k?

I hope this inspires some of you to go belt-hunting! Now, go comment, and happy quoting! 

NOTE: I'm moderating all your comments, guys, so please only enter them once, even if you don't see it go through. It might take me a little bit to get it published, but I promise, I'll get to it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Home Decor Crafts for the Discriminating Geek

While my office is plastered with painted Ninja Turtles and Disney paintings and Stay Pufts and other brightly colored geekery, John and I keep the rest of the house a more sedate, warm-toned, kinda Pottery-Barn-ish vibe. Granted, a lot of steampunk touches are creeping their way in, but it turns out steampunk is now the height of home decor fashion; interior designers just know it as "industrial chic." (Have you seen the past few Restoration Hardware catalogs? It's steampunk heaven!)

I love this look because you can recycle and upcycle cheap old junk and make it look like a million bucks. Or at least a few hundred. ;) It's also unbelievably DIY-friendly; just beat the heck out of something, cover it in glaze, wipe it off, and voilĂ ! It's "custom-finished!"

Another example:

Hilary P., the same artist behind that epic "Team Epbot" art, snagged a fabulous white seahorse statue from Michael's for only $10 - which would make me jealous enough -  but then she used my Copper Patine Tutorial to turn it into THIS:


Hilary also made the twig jar & message-in-a-bottle (love the copper curley-Q)! I'm loving the whole look here - and I bet her whole house is this fabulous. Hey, Hilary! SEND MORE PICTURES.

And if you can't find a great seahorse statue, just head over to your local dollar store:

Hyla W. transformed these little plastic toys into fun wall accents! Click over to her blog to see them hung with a pretty mermaid print.

I'll never get tired of old apothecary jars and vintage labels, and happily it looks like Andrea H. agrees:

She writes, "I just wanted to share the candle label I made following your tutorial and links! 
 This is the first thing I have ever made, but it won't be the last. You guys are like crack cocaine...if crack cocaine was highly addictive but also highly motivating and inspirational. Does that feel like a compliment?  Because, that was supposed to be a compliment."

Granted, I didn't have to include her whole e-mail, but then again, I kind of had to, you know? ;)

I think Kithplana is the first reader to use my leather curtain tutorial - and, check it out! She modified it for a valance!

Look at those box pleats! Genius. And the penny buttons look amazing with it. Gorgeous work, Kithplana!

Of course, no post of mine would be complete without something geeky, so here's how you "class up" your favorite wand display:

Cassandra W. writes,"I wanted to share a photo of a wand display that I made for my niece's 11th birthday last fall.  She was so excited about it, and it is now hanging in my sister's hallway.  I followed your instructions exactly, except that I decided to stain it rather than paint it."

And what a gorgeous stain it is, too! (I'm thinking Cassandra used a slightly better quality of wood than my cheap plywood version.) Of course, the real beauty of this is that it's both subtle and elegant enough for even your most "non-geeky" rooms.

And finally, since Canada stopped minting pennies last May (it did??), Jennifer W. of Knit Wit on the Prairies decided to immortalize the humble coin with her very own penny side table:
I just love the copper glow from the lamp light!  Hit the link to Jennifer's blog up there for links to the paint, glue, and bar-top epoxy she used.

And while we're talking Home Decor goodness, allow me to plug Better After, an addictive little blog featuring nothing but home decor and furniture makeovers. I like it so well that I roped the writer, Lindsey, into writing Sunday Sweets for me over on CW about twice a month. :) And of course the archives of The Steampunk Home remain one of my happy places, even though the blog is no longer updated.

If you have any favorite home decor blogs or projects, please, share in the comments!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cowabunga, Dudes! I Painted My Action Figure!

I'm not much of an action figure girl, but the moment I saw the designs for the new Ninja Turtle figures, I was head-over-heels:

In fact, they were my very first pin on my Toy Wish List over on Pinterest. I used to watch the show every day after school, and I remember going to see the first movie with my mother. (We both still have a penchant for cheesy kids' movies.)

Then I stumbled across these mind-blowing re-paints of the figures by John Harmon of Mint Condition Custom, and I fell in love so hard it hurt:

LOOK AT THAT DETAILING. Now go look at the original figure. It's like going from a stereoscope to hi-def!

So on Friday when I spotted an end cap of TMNT toys at Target, I decided it was finally time to unleash my inner hero in a half shell. I grabbed Donatello first for The Great Painting Experiment:

As Harmon points out, these figures have tons of fabulous detail that you just can't see very well with the factory paint job. The idea is to add enough shading so all that detail really pops.

I've never tried painting an action figure before, so I was both surprised & pleased by how well regular acrylic paint sticks - no primer needed. In fact, it sticks SO well I had a hard time getting it off the areas where I got a bit sloppy. Then John, the wise and all-knowing former painter, told me to use alcohol. A-HA! That worked like a charm.

Here's my first tentative try at aging Donatello's foot wrappings:

Mine's on the left. See the difference? As I gained more confidence, I went back and darkened this up a lot more.

Here he is roughly half-finished:

His shell and legs are aged - arms and head are still as-is from the package.

And finally, here are my finished beauty shots, along with pics of the figure straight from the package for comparison:

I've learned some things that I'll do differently for the next three, but even so...what do you think? Did I get anywhere near Hamon's greatness?

Personally, I'm really happy with this for my first try, and I'm pretty much hooked on painting toys now. I've since done a slightly larger project which I just finished last night (look for those pics in another day or two) and I can't wait to go buy the next three Turtles!

If you want to try painting some action figures yourself, here's the general technique:

- Paint on a darker version of whatever color you're covering on the figure
- Wipe it off.

You'd think a two-step process like that wouldn't take me a solid three or four hours, but it did - and I'm not even done with his weapons yet. There are a lot of small areas, and you really need to work in tiny sections since the paint dries so quickly. Have tons of q-tips and paper towels on hand, and use a tiny brush dipped in alcohol for touch-ups.

For the belt I applied several layers of a black-brown, rubbing it off with a Q-tip in-between, and then I used a light tan on the tiny X stitches and a brighter liquid gold leaf on the front ring.

The part I messed up is that I used brown to cover D's skin instead of a darker green. It still works, but for the rest of the Turtles I plan to use shades of green, so they won't look quite so grungy.

The weapons that come with the figure are made from a different plastic that paint won't stick to at all, so I'm having to prime those first. You can expect another photo shoot once I've finished them all, and the difference should be really dramatic, since they're just a solid reddish-brown right now.

Well, even if you never plan to paint your action figures, I hope you enjoyed seeing how I spent my Friday night! :) Stay tuned for something I think more of you will find squee-worthy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

DIY Light-Up Copper Cane

I've wanted to make a copper cane ever since I spotted this easy tutorial over on Frenzy Universe, so my Lady Vadore costume was the perfect opportunity. My cane has the added feature of interior lights, but the overall structure is still the same:


This cane is perfect for any steampunk out on the town, and the interior LEDs give the illusion of fiber optics in low light, which is always a bonus in my book.

Here's what you'll need for the cane itself:

- a length of 3/4" copper pipe (available in the plumbing aisle of your local hardware store)
- a copper coupler, which is the smaller pipe piece (optional)
- a pipe cutter (a small tool that looks like this and costs less than $10)
- a decorative antique doorknob - metal or crystal (check ebay- mine cost about $8 with shipping)
- a rubber leg tip or metal pipe cap for the bottom of your cane

Copper plumbing pipe comes with a lot of ink on it; you can see all the red in my photo above. To get the ink off you *could* scrub it with acetone or a Magic Eraser, but we found the easiest method was sanding it with a medium grit sandpaper.

As a bonus, the direction you sand your pipe will give you one of two very pretty finishes:

The brushed-looking side on the left was achieved by sanding the pipe vertically. For the shinier side on the right, we sanded horizontally by holding the sandpaper in our palm and twisting the pipe inside it. Pick the finish you like best and sand accordingly.

[NOTE: If you're planning on adding lights to your cane, you don't need to sand your pipe yet. Wait 'til the end.]

Determining your cane height: The top of your cane should reach the inside crease of your wrist, which is usually about half your height. My cane is exactly 30 inches, because I'm only five feet tall. Odds are yours should be between 32 and 36 inches, so measure yourself first, and then go ahead and cut your pipe to the proper length.

Depending on the size of the shaft of your doorknob, you may need some epoxy adhesive to glue it inside the top of your copper pipe. The knob I found, though, had a slightly graduated base, which allowed John to wedge it into the pipe so securely that I couldn't remove it no matter how hard I tugged:

John's able to pop the knob on and off, though, which gives us access to the inside of the pipe.

See how there's still a sliver of brass showing at the top there, where the doorknob base can't go down the pipe any farther? That's what the copper coupler is for:
In addition to covering that little gap, the coupler also adds a pretty decorative element to the top of the cane. Just slide it up; it should be snug enough to stay in place on its own, no adhesive needed.

Here's a better look at the base of my doorknob, after I'd sanded off all the corrosion and paint:

To complement the brass lip on the knob, I carefully rounded a bit of brass filigree with pliers and then glued it to the copper coupler:

Now, if you're not adding lights to your cane, all that's left to do is pop on a rubber tip to the end, and you're ready for a steamy song-and-dance routine! (You can also use a metal cap for the bottom, but since I sometimes lean on my cane I prefer the rubber end. A metal tip would no doubt slide out from under me, sending me sprawling in a most undignified manner.)

If you *do* want to add lights to your cane, though, next you'll need the following:

- A dremel
- A dremel drill press
- A long length of string or ribbon
- one strand of battery-operated LED lights

To get the criss-cross pattern on my cane, I first wrapped it with ribbon like a candy cane:

I used a ruler to make sure each section was the same distance apart, and then used a marker (you can use a permanent marker, since you'll be sanding the cane again anyway) to place dots all along the ribbon. I just eyeballed the spacing of the dots, but try to get them less than a quarter of an inch apart:


This was my first big project using the drill press, and WHEEE!! So fun! It was a breeze to use, and I zipped through the whole pipe in no time. (Well, ok, maybe ten or fifteen minutes - but that's not bad at all!)

A few safety precautions: WEAR EYE PROTECTION. (Ideally better than my little glasses.) Put down a large board or paper on your work surface to catch all the copper shavings and dust, because it gets everywhere. You'll also need to wear a heavy glove on your left hand - something I discovered just a few moments after John took that photo. Here's why:

Those curly metal shavings sticking out of the holes are extremely sharp and snaggy. Once you're done drilling you can sand them all off, but 'til then, you'll need a glove to hold the pipe as you go.

You might notice that in that photo I'm re-drilling all the holes to make them larger. Learn from my mistakes: start with an 1/8 inch drill bit. It will seem kind of big, but trust me, it'll look MUCH better than my first teensy-tiny holes.

Once you finish drilling your first spiral of holes, sand off all the snaggy bits and then go back and repeat that whole process for the second spiral:

When you're done you'll have a lovely diamond spiral pattern of holes down your cane. Now all that's left is a final sanding and adding your lights!

Originally I planned to drop in a "warm white" LED strand I found at JoAnn's for less than $8. I couldn't find it on their website, but this one from Amazon looks to be the same thing, and also only costs $8.

Here's the LED strand inside the cane:

The only problem with these lights is that the switch and batteries are just slightly too big to fit inside the copper pipe. That doesn't have to be a deal breaker, though; you could glue the switch to the outside of the pipe right under the knob, and if you paint the housing copper, odds are no one will ever notice it. (Note that you'll need to feed the wire through one of the holes, and then reattach it to the battery casing on the outside.) I planned to do exactly that, but then John decided to wire his own LED strand from scratch.

John's version is much more expensive (I think he spent $30 on all the supplies), but also packs a lot more LEDs into the pipe, making it brighter:

(Here's he's using a heat gun & heat-shrink to attach each LED to the wiring.)(And yes, he's wearing a Boba Fetch shirt. The boy likes cute geek tees almost as much as I do!)

Even so, I'd recommend going with a pre-made LED strand. It's just easier. And cheaper. Plus they come in several different colors - although sadly we couldn't find one in green.

To make our clear LEDs green, we wrapped the strand John wired in a single layer of green cellophane before shoving the whole thing inside the pipe. (The cellophane had the added benefit of padding the LEDs so they didn't rattle around while I walked.) The lights are powered by two AAA batteries, which are also shoved in the cane bottom.

Here's a shot of my cane before I enlarged all my drill holes. You can see it was still somewhat dim:

And here's a no-flash pic from Dragon*Con, where you can really see how much brighter the larger holes made the whole cane:

And that's it! I hope this helps some of you dapper steampunks out there, or anyone else looking for a snazzy cane!


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