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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.)

Christmas Gift Idea- Yarn Ball of Wonder

December 6, 2017

One time, I found this newsletter about antiques, and on the front page there was this article about a specific gift people used to give each other in the 1800s or so. (I’ve looked for this on the internet and couldn’t find it, so maybe it’s not true, but it’s awesome all the same.) Basically, people would give each other a hand wrapped skein of yarn with little gifts wound up in it. If you couldn’t afford to put little thingies inside, (or couldn’t think of anything good to give,) you would make cards and put poetry or something on them.

I think it’s a genius idea. I mean, what do you get that crafty person in your life? You know, the one who knits better than you do? You can make them something, but it will mean something completely different to them than to someone who can’t just make it for themself. But this is the perfect idea for the yarn wizards in my life, because it’s handmade, but also personal. What you put in depends on what you have and on what they like. And it’s super useful!

The article suggested things like little candles, soaps, candies… all things my family isn’t crazy about. Since the first year I saw this, my sisters and I swapped them, I decided to do poetry. I don’t write poetry, but words are great. I collected some of my favorite quotes and wrote them on index cards, and wrapped those up.

My sisters and I learned some things after that first year. First, you should ask the person what yarn they want. I made one out of pretty pink yarn for my sister the year she stopped being a pink little girl and started being a teal teen. She still hasn’t opened it. Second, unless you have a huge ball of yarn, several small things works better than one huge thing. It’s really hard to get the yarn to stay on, and it doesn’t disguise the shape much. If your gift is bigger than the original ball or skein of yarn, you’re better off wrapping it in paper. Third, whatever you do, don’t use heavy things. For a while, Hadassah had this infuriating habit of throwing the yarn ball she was using across the room, and sometimes they would hit people. It was irritating at the best of times, but one year Nya painted rocks and wrapped them in yarn. You can see where this is going. Fourth, if you’re going to give someone a ball of wonder, tell them so they will put the yarn in a bucket or basket while they use it. You’d think you could just catch the things, but usually you don’t even notice they’re out until you put your yarn down and find the things in the bottom of the container.

We’ve continued this tradition ever since that first year, as one of the few things the three of us have in common is yarn. We’ve given each other necklaces, painted rocks, beads (leave them in the package, they’re easier to retrieve), CDs, doll toys, random craft stuff, and quotes. Quotes are my favorite to give and receive, because they’re easy and meaningful. I like to put one in the center that says “The End… is just the beginning.”

And, if you’re going to go ahead and make a ball of wonder, why not use plastic bag yarn (plarn)? Just make sure you have at least 100y, or your friends won’t have enough yarn to do anything with. Chances are, they might just get hooked. 🙂

Pixal Costume- Drafting Patterns!

December 4, 2017

Welcome back to my explanation and tutorial for my Pixal costume! (Missed a post? Find the list here.)

When contemplating creating the shirt for my costume, I considered using a pattern off of the internet, or even, *gasp* buying a pattern. But I’m too cheap to do that, and our printer isn’t super fun to mess with, so I figured that it must be easier to draft my own pattern.

In my defense, I was working with a sheet. Yup, a bed sheet. And a fitted one at that. I’d been to the fabric store and actually shelled out five bucks for some beautiful silver and red fabric for the edges, so I told myself that I was just ‘trying it out’ to figure out how much beautiful purple fabric I needed to buy.

Despite the fact that Pixal is a robot, and the designers decided to give her only one sleeve to showcase what looks like external wiring, I decided to make my pattern in a somewhat normal way. (Or, what I think would be the normal way… this is the first time I’ve actually done something like this.)


It’s difficult to see, but this is a picture of the first steps of my drafting adventure. What you see in the picture above is a pencil tracing of one of my favorite shirts. I folded in the sleeves and tried to trace around them. (I realize that the standard internet way to do this is to literally seam rip the shirt apart and then trace it, but I happen to really like this shirt, so I went for that effect without actually destroying the object I traced.)

There are diagonal lines across the shirt, which are not accidental. They represent where the red and silver edging should go on the finished shirt. I decided it would be an important part of this pattern, since I didn’t actually need to create two sleeveholes.


I thingamajiggered a fantastic internet contraption designed to provide for seam allowance, since remember, I traced a finished shirt I liked rather than a deconstructed one I hated.


And this is what it looked like when I finished tracing. Arbitrarily, I decided to make the base of the shirt extend the full way, so that instead of it ending before the stripes, the purple fabric would continue and be underneath the stripes. This helps prevent itchiness, I suppose, though since I planned to wear a white shirt under the purple one, it’s not much of a concern. I also got so obsessed with tracing the lines with my pretty red and blue markers that I forgot to leave out the sleeve.


Nothing a pair of scissors can’t fix.


And here is the pattern on the fabric, weighted down by rocks, (since I didn’t have any fancy pattern holders, but did have rocks,) and traced with a fabulous double chalk-inator.

But wait, you say. Didn’t you already allow for seam allowance? Yes, friend, yes I did. What I forgot to allow for was A, that the new shirt would have to be a bit longer than the old to fit under the skirt, and B, that the old shirt was made out of incredibly stretchy fabric, and the new would be made out of a sheet, which is not stretchy at all. So, I included some extra allowance, hoping it would make everything turn out right. (Would have been easier if I’d thought of those things in the first place, though…


Slicey slicey. (I’ve got two of them here, in case you can’t see, and I forgot to flip the pattern, so one of my pattern pieces is wrong side out. 😛 I guess you can’t win everything, though I was being genuinely careful and trying so hard not to make mistakes.)


We’re not done yet, though. We still have to make…. a sleeve! (dun dun dunnnn)

I just traced a sleeve I liked, again not taking apart my favorite hoodie just to make a costume sleeve. (That’s the red thing up there.)

Okay, so this next part isn’t strictly canon, but in one of my reference drawings, Pixal has a really cool sleeve.

That looks awesome! So, I added some extra to my pattern.


I looked up how to make ‘bell sleeves’, and basically, you just throw in extra fabric, from what I gather. (I don’t really understand the theory behind that, but it worked, so I’m good with it.


Tracey tracey.


The old hoodie the sleeve was traced from was about as stretchy as a sheet, but a lot fluffier, so I didn’t bother with extra allowance.


Slicey slice.

And now we have all our pieces! Now we just have to sew them up and add the stripes! (And yes, I did decide that the sewed up sheet was good enough, because I didn’t want to spend another ten bucks and two hours on a shirt only slightly better than the one I held in my hands. It is just a costume, after all.)

And it only has one sleeve! I was excited about that, because I’d never sewed a sleeve before and was more than slightly afraid of it. Next time, I’ll tell you how I sewed my first (and only) sleeve!



How to Make Plastic Bag Yarn (Plarn) and What to Do With It

November 29, 2017

I came across this idea a few years ago on Pinterest. There’s not much around about plastic bag yarn yet, though, so I thought maybe I’d add to the dialogue.

First, the how.

Flatten a plastic grocery bag, preferably one without any large gashes or tears. (You can do this with damaged bags, but it’s harder and the finished yarn isn’t as great.)


Slice off the top and bottom.


Remove the trash, and slice the bag into strips. The wider the strips, the thicker and stronger your yarn will be, but the more bags you will need. If you are using a pattern, do yourself a favor and use a ruler, maybe even a slicing mat with measurements on it. I tend to eyeball it, so not every strip is the same thickness. I never use a pattern, since I understand the stitches well enough to simply construct things (and take them out and remake them the way I want them).


Now for the easy part: joining.





If you have any broken loops, tie them closed.


And there you have it! Fabulous plarn!

But… what do you do with it?

Well, you can crochet with it.


Bags are best, since the final product is really scratchy, and stretches out somewhat, but you can also do… whatever this is.


You can weave tapestries, which are significantly less scratchy.


You can weave circles. (Google it. Hula hoop weaving is a real thing.) These are not scratchy at all.


You can knit with it, though knitting is something I haven’t fully gotten the hang of yet, so I haven’t tried it. My guess is that the scratchiness and stretchiness factors would be pretty high there, too.

What do you do with plarn? Anything you do with yarn, as long as it doesn’t have to be soft, fluffy or washable. (Plarn is probably washable in the sink, though I’ve never gotten something dirty enough to try.)


leave in a hot car, stick in the dryer or in any other way expose your new product to heat. Plarn DOES MELT!

Also, don’t leave your new creation outside or expose it to water for long periods of time, as some grocery bags are theoretically ‘biodegradable’, which just means they break down when exposed to too much nature. Keep your pretties cool and dry, and they’ll stay with you forever. Or at least a thousand years.