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How to Clean a DVD

January 1, 2018

What do you do when Netfilx doesn’t have the movie you want to see? Or when a friend recommends a series you can’t get? You request the DVD from the library.

This can be risky, though, especially if you are requesting a kids’ movie. Often, the DVD will be dirty, caked with fingerprints, or worse, scratched. But this doesn’t have to stop you from watching your movie. Here are some tips:

  1. Get two copies of the movie. If one of the disks is scratched, you can use the other copy.
  2. Clean the disk well before viewing. Carefully smear toothpaste onto the disk. Pay close attention and only rub the paste on along the radius, running your finger from the center to the outside edge. Clean the whole disk, and rinse it, rubbing only from the center to the edge. Dry thoroughly.
  3. If you run into a scratch while watching the movie, try to ‘jump’ over it. Back up the disk, then fast forward as quickly as possible toward the problem spot. If all goes well, the momentum of fast forwarding will ‘jump’ the DVD player over the scratch, and you’ll be able to continue watching.
  4. Approach scratches from the back. If you can’t jump a problem spot, if it stalls or skips to a random spot on the disk, try approaching it from the other side. Go to the Chapter Selection menu and figure out which ‘chapter’ or ‘scene’ the problem spot was in. Click on the one after that, and run backwards until you get to just after the scratch. Watch from there.
  5. If the disk is just too scratched to do anything else with, switch disks. That’s why you were smart and got a duplicate in the first place, right?

Hopefully this helps you get over your fear of library DVDs- yes, some of them are downright unplayable, but they aren’t all that way. Using these steps, you can salvage more movies and TV shows to watch with your family.

A Study of Novels Whose Main Characters are Villains Part 1

December 27, 2017

I read a lot, and sometimes I notice patterns. Like this one: in a lot of middle grade and young adult fiction, the stereotype of the protagonist as a goody know it all is being pushed to the logical extreme: bad guys.

Bad guys are a tricky subject to write about, though. I want to root for the main character, and a good book makes me hope she achieves her goals. I cannot in good conscience hope that any main character successfully murders someone, though, or steals or lies. This leaves two main plot types: the bad guy who you hope becomes good, and the good guy who for some reason does bad things.

A great example of the bad guy you hope sees the good side is Gru, from Despicable Me. (I know, I said novels, but this movie fits so neatly into this category.) Gru wants to be ‘bad’ more than anything in the world, but ends up changing his mind. Another example from television is Dr Doofenschmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. He thinks he wants to be evil- evil for the sake of evil, but ends up being just goofy and ineffective most of the time. At the end of the show, he too ‘sees the light’.

You see this in middle grade fiction as well, and just as in children’s television, the villains are not very scary- authors don’t want kids to actually do horrible things to be like their ‘heroes’. The Dark Lord series by Jamie Thomson has an awful looking cover, probably to attract thrill-seekers, but it’s actually quite a funny book about an evil overlord who accidentally gets sent to Earth and has to deal with humans. You desperately want him to both survive, and to be good, though Dirk Lloyd (as the humans mistakenly call him) has other plans.

At their core, these stories question the nature of good and evil. What makes a person ‘good’? Obviously the protagonists need to change, or they wouldn’t be the main character in the story, but what specifically makes them ‘bad’? What do they need to become- in essence, how should a person live, and how do they know when they’ve measured up?

As Christians, we believe what God says. Romans 3:10-12 says,

10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

But this is not our whole story. John 1:12-13 says,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

In these types of stories, the villains usually do something in their own power to change, to become ‘good’. And of course there is effort involved in change, but Ephesians 2:9-10 clearly reminds us that we can’t do it alone.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

It’s amazing how deep a simple story can run- like groundwater, affecting everything that grows on the surface for miles.

Pixal Costume- Badges

December 25, 2017

Welcome back to my tutorial/explanation for my Halloween costume. Since it is now almost Christmas, it’s lucky that this is the final post in this series! (If you missed one, check the list here.)

The last part of the costume to make is the badge.

So, making the badge is pretty simple- it’s just a circle with a symbol on it. But first, for the sake of thoroughness, I used Google Translate’s ‘draw a symbol’ ability to decode the symbol.  And I ended up making two badges. (They’re circles I cut out of a cereal box, covered in shiny paper and decorated with my sister’s Sharpies.)

This symbol is the one that appears on Pixal’s costume. It’s a Chinese character that means ‘strength’, ‘force’, or ‘power’.


The simplicity of the symbol is beautiful, like the letter Y. The meaning isn’t inherently bad, and if I were a more aggressive person, I might just leave it at that. But I did some digging and made another badge.

The symbols on this badge mean ‘harmony’ or ‘togetherness’ alone, and when used with other characters can mean ‘and’ or ‘with’.


The meaning suits me personally much more, and one point Ninjago makes over and over again is that we decide our own destinies- we are not bound to follow after our parents, family or friends. We make our own decisions. So I went ahead and made this badge too.

But then I had a dilemma- two badges. Should I go with the canon one or the one whose meaning I prefer?


In the end, I wore the harmony badge, and it didn’t matter. Almost no one even knew what Ninjago was, let alone who Pixal is.

Here’s what my finished costume looked like:dscn3539-e1513969501649.jpg

(I didn’t realize until just now that my bootlace is untied in this picture…)

This costume challenged me in many ways- I learned about pattern drafting, sleeve sewing, Velcro placement, wig styling, face painting, symbol researching… Even if it looks stupid, this project was worth it, because I learned so much that I can apply to later projects. I wonder what I’ll dress up as next Halloween?


December 20, 2017

Henna is a natural plant dye. It stains things a bright orange, but if you let the dye sit, it will darken to a brown, or sometimes even black.

Since it’s a nonpoisonous plant, the dye is much safer to use on skin than artificial dyes. The pigments in markers and pens were designed to work on paper, and were not intended for drawing on skin. Henna is a safer alternative. It also stains much longer than even permanent marker, lasting from five to fourteen days with proper care.

It’s usually applied with a cone, though some people use a fine-tipped squirt bottle. The paste itself is brown, and it smells very strongly of lemon juice and essential oil. (I used lavender bay oil for this batch.) When henna is applied onto skin, it is left to dry for as long as possible. The paste dyes the skin beneath it orange, and the longer you leave the paste, the more dye your skin absorbs, and the longer the design will stay.


When the paste has been applied, it must dry and set, usually for at least five hours, though some people wrap their designs in cloth and leave them for as many as forty-eight hours. After the dye has set, the actual paste is crumbled off, displaying the stain beneath. At first, the stain is bright orange, though with time it darkens. The darkening process is interrupted by elements in tap water, so it is important not to wash your design for as long as possible, without being gross.

I got a few grams of henna for my 16th birthday a couple years ago, and I’ve been playing with it off and on ever since. I’m getting better at des


ign, I think, because of all the practicing I’ve been doing.

Here are some of my recent designs:







Here’s one of the designs right after I took the paste off:


Pixal Costume: Extras

December 18, 2017

Welcome back to part four of my explanation/tutorial about my Pixal costume! (If you missed a post in the series, you can find it here.)

I had the main part of the costume finished, mainly the shirt and skirt. But that’s not all you need if you want to look like this:

No, you also need a silver wig, face paint and gloves. (Not even going to try for green eyes this time.) Luckily, I was in our local homeschool theater’s production of The Music Man a few years back, and I kept the white gloves we were required to wear.

As for face paint, I bought some cheap white and purple cream paint from our local party/halloween store. I got some makeup applier round things my sister who wears makeup recommended. They were cheap and did the job, though painting purple dots was difficult, even when I sliced the circle in half.

I also got a wig, which I paid way too much for. I got home, took it out, looked up how to style it, and found a synthetic wig almost the same color, MUCH higher quality, only ten bucks more. *sigh*. It’s just a costume. Next time, I’m gonna shell out for a better wig. This one was a nightmare. I tried to cut/style it, and it… didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

It didn’t help that it was designed to be a ‘zombie queen’ wig, so all the grey strands were frizzed up like old doll hair, except intentionally. And it was a cheap wig, so you could see the wig cap all over the place, and you couldn’t use heat to style it. Lesson of the project: get a better wig.

For wigs, I found this amazing tutorial series on YouTube that was super helpful, even though I only had a cheap wig to work with.

I also rounded up the other things I’d need to make this costume work on a human: a white shirt (no way was I going to paint my whole arm white), black pants (I ran out of purple fabric), black boots (sensible and stylish) and my badges. Which we’ll talk about next week!

Princess Academy

December 13, 2017

I recently read Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. It’s about a girl named Miri who lives in a small mountain village where almost everyone works in the linder quarries, breaking out large chunks of rock, and then later getting them ready for building with. One day, when the traders who supply the village with everything other than rock arrive, they bring with them an official of the king, who announces that a girl from this small village will be selected by the prince to be princess. Tradition mandates that an academy be set up to teach all the ‘noblewomen’ between 12 and 17 what they need to know about being a princess. So, all the girls go down to an old meeting house three miles away, and school is now in session.

(This might be considered spoilers…)

The schoolmistress is very harsh and mean to the students, motivating them by showing them a nice gown and a painting of a house, all ‘for the princess and her family’. At the end of the book, the schoolmistress tells Miri that she was mean and cruel to the girls so they would be more motivated to learn, and that she does not regret being harsh. She does almost regret her lie about the house painting, as she knew that the girl chosen to be princess would probably be taken from her family with no compensation.

During the whole book, outsiders to the village look down on and discriminate against the mountain folk, sometimes insulting them and often cheating them. The girls are sent away to learn about court life, but are also taught to read, write, with some geography, sums and economics thrown in. Miri proves herself to be an expert at applying her new-found knowledge outside of the classroom, negotiating better conditions for the schoolgirls and convincing the traders to give her people a fair price for their linder. Due to a plot twist, none of the girls from the village are chosen to be princess. Miri asks her friend, “If the princess wasn’t from this place, why would the priests divine that she should be selected from here?”

Her friend replies, “Maybe we didn’t need a princess. Maybe we just needed an academy.”

Pixal Costume- Sewing!

December 11, 2017

Welcome back to my series about how I made my Pixal costume! (Missed an episode? Find the list here.)

So, I had all my purple pieces cut out and ready to sew, but I still had to prep the stripes. Here’s the fabric I found:



So I did some measuring and marking, and decided I wanted a stripe that was 3 units wide: 2 units of silver and 1 unit of red. That’s simple enough, the silver stripe should just be twice as wide as the red.

I measured and sliced, and hoped I’d left enough seam allowance. 😛


And then… the sewing!

For the stripes, I had two beautiful thread colors, one for each stripe color, so I got super duper fancy and put silver on top, threaded through the needle, and red thread in the bobbin.


Fancy schmancy!


When I opened the seam like that, I could tell there would be ironing in my future. And I was really hoping to get away without any ironing…

Anyway, I forgot to take process photos of sewing the purple, but really it was just ‘wrong sides together, sew.’ Also, ironing happened. I ironed hems, ironed the stripes, ironed fabric to make it look better… lots of ironing. Not super interesting.

I also didn’t photograph how I cut out the skirt, because it wasn’t precise. Or anything near it. I cut out a sort of blobby shape, then tried to make it into a rectangle. And then realized that it should be a trapezoid. And then decided that my cuts were pointing ‘the wrong way’ (didn’t realize I could just turn it upside down) so I shortened it. Dramatically. I finally decided it would have to do, since any other adjustments would shorten it beyond salvaging.

I hemmed the skirt, and then sewed on the trim. I trimmed the waist with the stripes, for the belt, doing it like in the picture so that maybe the skirt would be a bit longer.


Success! Since that worked, I added in some extra stripeyness on one side of the trapezoid also.


And then I hemmed it, but forgot to take a picture. Yay! The skirt’s all pretty!

I trimmed the shirt a bit differently, so that the stripes do not extend the shirt, which was long enough, but instead they go over the purple fabric, kind of like an applique.


It makes a cool hem.


Though again, ironing is super important. There was also the fact that I decided to wear the shirt while slicing something else, and managed to make a little cut in the sleeve (curse you bell sleeves).

Not a huge deal, though, since I still had extra stripe fabric left over.


I used the same joining method on the sleeve that I did on the shirt, because the sleeve was long enough, I just needed to cover a little slit that wasn’t supposed to be there. (Good thing there’s only one sleeve, right?)


So I had my shirt on, and I tried on the skirt… which fit, but wouldn’t stay on, since I’d forgotten to design any kind of fastener.

No biggie, though, since we have Velcro. Magic stuff, it is.


Hard to see in the picture, but the skirt is configured so that when you put it on, it’s a loop. The hook side of the Velcro is sewn to the inside, the messy, loose thread side, because that way, it faces the clean side, the outside, and hopefully won’t catch. It works pretty well, though my placement was way too far to the middle. Velcro should be on the edges, because otherwise the non-Velcro-supported ends droop, and you need a safety pin to wear the skirt.

So, other than a little extra ironing, the costume is pretty much done, since I ran out of purple fabric and decided to just wear black pants. (I know, not canon at all, but practicality is an issue here. I could get more purple, but it wouldn’t match, not to mention I’ve never made pants before…)

All I had left to make for this costume was the badge thing, and a few things to gather or purchase. (Yes, I *could* have made them, but time was running out, and so was my patience.)