Thursday, September 30, 2021

Custom Plush Creations from Me to You, for Charity

 A couple of weeks before Christmas 2018 I got a wild hare to sew a kitty plushy (or stuffy, or stuffed animal, or whatever you happen to call them in your home.) I found a great pattern from cholyknight.com for this Kitty Bean Plush. I used some flippy sequin fabric salvaged from a Dollar Tree gift bag for her belly and ears. It was a lot of fun to sew, and I immediately recognized that if I was going to make one for my first daughter, I'd better make one for the second daughter as well! Kitty #2 turned out even better, and by then the bug had bitten. I've hardly put down my needle and thread - or stopped haunting the remnants bins at JoAnn Fabrics - since!

Dragon Heat Pack
 

The problem? My kids had too many plushies to begin with. I am not nearly ready to stop sewing, but I need a new outlet. 

Here's where you come in: 

I would love to make a plushy for You. You choose the pattern (from any of the ones on www.cholyknight.com) and the colors, and I'll give you a quote. While it will depend on the size and complexity of the pattern, whether you want special fabrics such as fur, sequins, or shiny, and especially whether you want a pouch or heating pad built in, you can be confident it should come in between $15 for the little guys to $30 for the largest and most complex.
But the best news is that I'm not going to keep your money. In fact, I'm going to donate every cent of it to one of three charities: Zoe InternationalMountain Ministries, or a missions fund of City's Edge Church.

Interested? Reply in here, in this post's comments, or thru Facebook if you know me. Let's talk!

 






Mr Tumnus the Fawn

 





Friday, September 24, 2021

Elf in a Jar Kit

Did you get an Elf in a Jar Kit? 

 

We're glad to see you here! 

We went to some effort to make sure that you would not need glue, needles, or even super sharp scissors to make this craft. 

Before you begin, make sure you have a good, clear workspace. You might want to ask Mom for a cookie sheet or tray to contain your supplies. 

Here's what you will find in your jar

  • Pre-cut Pipecleaners in 3 sizes
  • Wooden beads in several sizes
  • Embroidery floss for "hair." 
  • Yarn and fabric flowers, leaves, or fabric scraps

Here's what you need to find around the house

  • Scissors for cutting thread
  • A fine-tip permanent marker like a Sharpie or Identipen

And here's how to make your elf



 Or, if you want more detail...

1. Lay your pipe cleaners out by size. (I'm going to call them wires from here on.) Pick a middle sized wire. This will make your legs.
Fold it in half. On each half, string a medium bead, a small bead, and another medium bead. Loop the extra pipe cleaner at each end to make a nice, big foot. 

2. Now find the largest pipe cleaner.  This will be your torso and arms. Fold it in a "u" shape around the center of your legs. Give it a couple of twists to make it secure. 

4. Let's add the skirt. Find a large flower petal. If you have extra, use two of them Thread them over your torso wires. 

4. Find your biggest bead. Thread it carefully over both ends of your torso wire. 

5. Now, fold the ends of your torso wires out to make arms. Thread on two small beads, then use the left over wire to loop into hands. 

6. Time to make the head and neck! Take the smallest pipe cleaner. Don't fold it in half like the others: just loop the end of it around the two torso wires just at the top of the big bead. Secure it well. 

7. Thread on a second flower (small or large, you decide) for the blouse, then a tiny bead (neck) and the second largest bead (head.) There should be quite a lot of wire left over sticking out. 

8. Here's where you will need those thread scissors. Grab your hank or spool of embroidery floss. Find an end, and start looping it around the four fingers of your left hand (assuming you are right handed. Otherwise, use the right!) When you run out of thread, take your scissors and carefully cut through the loops in the center (for long hair) or at both ends (for shorter, thick hair.) You will end up with a nice bundle of hair. 

9. Loop the pipe cleaner at the top of the head around your bundle of hair a couple of times. Arrange it neatly. If you would like to add a flower or leaf hat for your elf, thread it on before you run out of pipe cleaner. 

10. Your elf is nearly done: all that's left is decorating it!
Use the yarn to tie your elf's "blouse" into place by criss-crossing it over the shoulders several times.

You may also have extra bits and pieces of yarn, flowers, feathers, or leaves. This is where you get to be extra creative. No rules here: just figure out what you'd like to do with them and add them on! 

11. Last but not least, give your elf a face! You might want to ask Mom for help on this step.
Here's a tip: look at a real person and notice that her eyes are actually about half way down her head, not right at the top. Try drawing your elf's eyes right in the middle of the head. Then add a nose and a cute smile. 

Congratulations! 

Now that you've made your first elf, what would you like to do differently with the second? Should she be taller, or shorter? Would you like to make her hair a little longer? Maybe this elf is actually a boy! Improvising pants and a tunic might not be easy, but I'll bet you could do it! What do you have around the house that could help? (Be sure to ask Mom before "borrowing" any fake flowers, fabric scraps, or the like!) 

When your elves are done, here are some more fun things to think about

Where do your elves live? Do they have a house out in your garden? What is it made out of? Where do they sleep? What keeps them warm at night?
What do they eat and drink? Do they have dishes? Do they get along with the other inhabitants of your yard?

Would you like to keep making elves after the first two? Here is another set of instructions for making an elf (or fairy) out of just one pipe cleaner with no beads. It's a little easier, and requires fewer supplies.



Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Quick and Dirty Sewing Project: Fabric Covered Bun Maker

 Some months back I started seeing ads for this cute hair-styling accessory called "The Carlin."
It's a quick and easy way to make a bun, and as I like to wear my hair up I was very tempted. But at roughly $27 after shipping, I could not justify it. 

Then I found these little guys at Claire's. They're also on Amazon

 

They do the job beautifully. Cheap. Easy to use, and they hold forever. 

But let's be honest, they aren't so pretty. In fact, they look a lot like something you might find on the lawn at the park and mentally berate the pooch owner for not scooping. 
Sure, not much of it shows when worn properly, but still!

Could I make a quick and dirty improvement that gave me the look of the "Carlin" without the expense? 

Well, yes, as it turns out!



Materials and Tools
  • "Magic Bun" sponge / foam bun maker  
  • Scrap of light, stretchy fabric, like this affordable Crushed Panne Velvet from Joann Fabrics. 
  • Needle and Thread
  • Fabric scissors
  • Rotary cutter (optional) 
  • Sewing machine (optional) 
 

How To 

1. "Measure" your fabric. Or eyeball it. Really, close is fine. Just be sure you have double the height (short side) of your bun maker, plus an extra 1/2 inch on all sides.
Mine ended up about 4.5 by 8 inches.



2. Get out your sewing machine. Or your needle and thread, That would work too. Matching thread really doesn't matter here.
Fold your fabric on the long edge, right sides together, to make a narrow tube.
Sew, leaving reasonable seam allowances, on all three sides.


"But," you say, "Now I can't turn it inside in!" 



Don't worry, we're getting to that!

3. Fold your tube on the short edge, matching the sewn ends.
Now, using your scissors or rotary cutter, make a 2 inch slice right in the center of the fabric, though both layers.

 



Turn your tube right-side in, using the hole you just sliced. 

5. Slide your ugly bun maker into the pretty tube.


6. Get our your needle and thread. (The thread should match this time!) You won't be able to use a machine for this step.
Carefully sew all around the slit on both sides, as if making a button hole. I recommend the Ladder Stitch.
This is the only hard part of the task, and it's really more tedious than hard. Try to avoid sewing into the sponge, 'cause I think that will end up tearing later.



7. You're done. Assuming some sewing confidence, this probably took you 15-20 minutes. And your hair will look great. Good job!




Thursday, May 27, 2021

Free Download: Matthew 5 Memory Cards

As mentioned in previous posts (here), we began using this Charlotte Mason inspired Bible memory system at the beginning of the 2020/21 school year, and it has for the most part worked gloriously. It's not that we weren't memorizing things in years past, but they weren't getting reviewed or even really recorded. Now we have a systemic, sustainable way to look back at what we've committed to memory, even months ago. 

Of course I still haven't been terribly methodical about What we memorize. For a while I grabbed things out of what we were learning at church, interspersed with verses that spoke to what I felt I or the family was going through. Anyway, in February I got a wild hare to have the kids memorize The Sermon on the Mount. I'd tackled that project maybe 20 years back, so it is very familiar to me, which makes it much easier to teach. And having a big chunk to work on simplified lots of other things as well. I definitely recommend it. *

Anyway, we reached a milestone last week (the 3rd week in May): We finished Matthew 5, which is 48 verses long. So that was about 12 weeks, and an average of 4 verses per week. This is a sustainable pace for our family. When I realized we'd hit the milestone I decided to spend this week on review with the end goal that each child could recite the whole chapter with minimal hints or correction. My oldest had already achieved this by Wednesday; the two girls were done Thursday. I've promised frozen yogurt with toppings from the local shop as a reward!


I thought perhaps others might find our memorization materials useful, which is the real purpose of this increasingly rambling post.


Linked here are the 48 verses ** of Matthew 5 in NIV in roughly 4 verse chunks, on printable "index cards." There is a full copy, a single-letter copy (great for review) and a partial deletion w/ first letter copy (great for mid-week practice.)  

Half-way through the project I switched from asking the kids to do copy-work on the too small cards to asking them to draw something memorable from the passage instead. The youngest (8) loves this. The others usually don't bother and I don't push them.

To use the memory, print out one copy of the memory card for each student. Trim around all four edges of the cards, then cut lengthwise, leaving the full copy and single letter copy joined in the center, and the drawing and partial deletion cards joined as well. Fold in half. They should be just the right size to fit in your 3x5 card box. (See this post for more info)

Most of the passages also have a cursive handwriting sheet. Using those is pretty obvious. 

I used the free generator at worksheetworks.com to make the handwriting practice pages. This is a great resource and I highly recommend it.

There ARE errors in this package - the occasional miss on the single letter card ***, the more frequent mistakes in reference labels on the secondary cards. But they're usable, and you may certainly fix or tweak to your own specifications. 

 

* The Charlotte Mason system is perhaps not Perfect for memorizing long chunks of scripture. The nature of the review process is such that you will not be working in order most of the time. Is this a big deal? I decided it was not nearly problematic enough to justify tweaking our working box system. But it could be done. The details are left as an exercise to the reader. ;) 

** Actually, the first 2 verses are missing, mostly because I did not want to kick off the whole project by boring myself and the kids with scene setting, nor did I want to try and memorize 6 verses in the first week. We did add those two verses this week. I would do it the same way were I to do it again. 

*** As it turns out I have a very expensive degree in computer science that is gathering dust in the here and now as I pursue the much more important task of raising my children and caring for my family. I have it in my head to create a program that accepts a passage of scripture and generates the index cards with partial deletion and single letter practice pages automatically. Algorithmically it's not very difficult, but there are a handful of unknowns that could really cause trouble. Most dauntingly I have no clue what it takes to generate a PDF, which would be the most obvious output format. "Someday" I hope to pick it up. (Maybe when I decide to push my eldest into some programming practice?) For now it's much faster to do the job by hand once a week!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Mid-Term School Update: What's Working, What's Not

 Here we are, roughly 6 months into our school term, and I thought it would be good for posterity (or even just me) to look at what's working this year for home school and what isn't. 

The Good

Our Charlotte Mason-Inspired Bible Memory Boxes are far and away the most successful program I implemented this year. They are really working well. I mean, I might even be learning the verses if I was using a box like the kids. ;) But seriously, James recited 22 passages on our review day at the beginning of the month. He's always been a strong memorizer, but finally having a formal system for practice and review has taken him to the next level. It's working reasonably well for the girls too.

There are things that have been found difficult and skipped, or found difficult and tweaked. First, I don't find that most of the kids will actually review their even / day-of-week / day-of-month verses without a reminder. Which I don't always remember to give.  Neither of the girls are going to be able to recite as many of the verses as James either. Second, I am still not insisting very strongly on getting the passage memorized along with the verses, so mostly the kids have the verses in their heads without a good way to find it again in the Bible. Except for a search box. So I really don't waste much time worrying here! Finally, managing the box with all the moving around of papers and dividers every week is a little much for Lucy and even Grace. Probably I should be doing it for Lucy. We reached the end of the box a couple weeks ago and need to start doubling up verses for certain days of the month. I don't think she's figured this out, and when I do get into her box I suspect there's going to be a bit of a mess.  Anyway, no biggie. We'll definitely be sticking with this method for the school years to come. 

Using Life of Fred as our core for math is working better this year. James is using it exclusively and independently. The girls are using it with me reading the chapters out loud and working through most of the "time to play" problems, and it's happening about twice a week on a good week. Other days they practice with old fashioned drill-and-kill worksheets from TheMathWorksheetSite.com.

James technically completed fractions and decimals last year using Master Books curriculum, but had never done the Fred books between H and M. He tore through those in double-time, and then slowed way down when he got to Fractions and Decimals. Turns out those subjects were not really mastered last year. So while I was looking forward to him starting Pre-Algebra early this school year, it looks like we won't be there for another few weeks - say, around Spring Break. I'm trying not to be frustrated about this, because it Feels like he could go faster, but it really would not be the right thing to push him. Decimals really need to be internalized. 

Grace is struggling in math, period. She is still fighting her multiplication tables tooth and nail, with lots of stress and angst. It's not that she can't cough out the 7's and 8's with enough time (and calming techniques), it's that when it comes time to apply them, she really doesn't know them out of order and continues to confuse division and multiplication... it's a mess. There may be some intervention we need to do eventually. For the moment Fred is still a mostly bright point in her math lessons. We did immediately re-start "Honey" instead of moving on to "Ice Cream" because I really don't feel the topics are mastered. The next problem is that Lucy is nearly done with "Goldfish"...

The All About Spelling program is working very nicely for both girls. We are doing it together, and have reached the 4th or 5th lesson in Level 3. That's moving far faster than we would have if we'd started it when either of them was a 1st grader, but so far I feel like they're handling it. 

We are definitely NOT using the program exactly as written. First off, we've ditched the flash cards and the review box. I know that's technically a huge part of the program, but so far they simply have seemed unnecessary and a drag on our time and emotional resources. So we quit. I did not even buy the student kit for level 3.
I am open to reconsidering this for level 4 or 5, though, as I know things get trickier.
We also are doing less than half of the spelling with magnetic tiles recommended by the book. Again, it gets tedious. We have not tossed it out entirely (again, it's a big part of the program!), but no-one is eager to spend lots of time on it and I am not seeing enough benefit to force it.
Instead we are spending our spelling time with sentences. We use the AAS book to teach the concept. We build a few words on the board, and talk about exceptions. Most of the week's words are copied into their notebooks. And then we make up lots and lots of silly sentences. Grace loves to illustrate them. Lucy is perhaps a little out of her league - there's a real chance I will need to separate them next school year - but still mostly keeps up.


The Bad

I am afraid that I will be back to hunting for science programs next year. I am only OK with Crosswired Science. As suspected, though, the primary problem for us is that I hate using videos for school. As soon as the screen goes on, all attention is sucked into that little black hole, and it's nearly impossible to transition to a new subject afterwords. This is true for me as much as any of them, but it makes me understand I have got to go for a traditional book next year.  We are usually only getting to science once a week at this point. 
Anyway, content-wise there's some good stuff in Crosswired, but the presentation is only So/So, with a moderately difficult to navigate site and very few experiments that I am willing to exert myself to perform. So we will definitely come away this year with a foundation in fluid dynamics and sound, but it's not a program I think we will repeat. 

As mentioned in a previous post, The Tuttle Twins didn't work out for us. Too young. James is enjoying "What Ever Happened to Penny Candy," a book on similar themes. 

The So-So

I tried out a "Beautiful Feet" geography / literature program that is built around the Holling C. Holling books from the late 40's. I, personally, am in love with these books, and I think they deserve a place in nearly any curriculum even if they are just read once or twice independently. The lesson plans built around the books are easy to use and - I feel - not too overwhelming. But I've gotten a lot of grief from the kids on the subject. No-one seems eager or, often, even willing to fill out the maps. This seems crazy to me, as it really isn't difficult per-say, but it's a sore point. They also don't love keeping a glossary / dictionary or most of the other ancillary stuff.
This is one of those places where I don't really care what they think. They aren't going to find a more interesting history and geo program anywhere, is my guess. I really like it and am learning a lot. 

We are alternating the Holling books with a variety of read alouds and associated lesson plans from SchoolHouseTeachers.com. So far we have read "Call it Courage," "The Year of Miss Agnes," and are in the middle of "Strawberry Girl."
At no point am I even pretending to use more than about 25-50% of the lesson plan. We are limiting ourselves to discussion and narration, vocabulary, and a little analysis of plot (identifying rising action, inciting incidents, climax, etc.)  Every once in a while we throw in a few coloring sheets, verbal research projects on an interesting tidbit, etc. Right now both Grace and James are building a "double pen dog-run plank Cracker house" in Minecraft. 

Once again I get a little grief on these. James isn't eager for the read-aloud time for some reason, but usually ends up engaged in the end. I plan to stick with this general plan for the next school year, even if he ends up reading things alone. I am running out of books though. I wasn't willing to do a tear-jerker like Where the Red Fern Grows or even Island of the Blue Dolphins, and we've already done Narnia outside of school. There aren't a lot left on my site. Hopefully someone will add more this year, or I will have to go out on my own!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Movie Log, Winter and Spring 2020/21

 With all the enforced home time this winter we've been doing quite a few movie nights lately. For the most part we've focused on movies David and I remember from our growing up years, so these are mostly movies from the 80s and 90s. I thought it might be fun to keep notes on which ones we watched and whether we enjoyed them. 

For reference, James is 11, Grace is 10, and Lucy is 7

Short Circuit (1986) 

Short Circuit was either the first or second movie I saw in the theater. Dad was inspired to take the family when it made it to the Hood theater because it was filmed in Astoria (OR) and parts were even filmed at some Corps of Engineers properties near Bonneville Dam. But I hadn't seen it in 25 years, and all I could have told you was that it involved a live robot named Number 5. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how well it had stood up to time. It was funny, sweet, well paced, and kept everyone's interest up. It was full of one-liners too: the kids were especially taken with "Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?" I liked "Life is not a malfunction." That said, the robot out-acted everyone else on screen. Easily. 

Family Friendly Factor: Brief, vaguely suggestive scene with Stephanie in the bathtub, but nothing shown. Quite a number of things were blown up at the beginning of the movie, but it was not in anger. 

Batteries Not Included (1987) 

This was another one I was confident I'd seen, but again all I could tell you was that it was about some robot-like little aliens. I thought it was a more or less pure kids' movie - I imagined I even recalled a kid as co-star. It was actually about a group of mostly older New Yorkers who were being forced out of their apartment building by a unscrupulous property developer and his honchos. The aliens showed up needing power, and paid for it by repairing the damage caused by the bad guys with magical precision. Echos of "The Elf and the Shoemaker." Although it wasn't at all what I had been expecting, it was another sweet and often funny ensemble movie that all five of us enjoyed. 

Family Friendly Factor: One brief view of a nude painting. Not much in the way of language or suggestive behavior. A scary moment or two with a fire.

Star Trek IV (1986) 

I've seen this one 1/2 a dozen times or more. David and I got to talking about the various ST movies one night at dinner and we agreed this would be a fun one to start with. Of course, I hadn't seen it in 15 years. And the kids have never seen anything else Star Trek. This was more of a barrier than I had anticipated, but in truth it's a purely funny movie. I think Lucy was the only one bored by it.

Family Friendly Factor: Somehow I'd forgotten all the "colorful metaphors." In other words, Kirk and even Spock swear routinely if mildly, albeit for comic effect. There isn't anything else suggestive or even terribly violent though.

The Rocketeer (1991) 

Once again, I know I watched this when it was new-ish, but remembered nearly nothing about it. It's a comic book origin story set a few years before WWII and centered around a pilot who comes into possession of a one-man rocket pack. This one looked way better on paper than it did in real life. I felt like it dragged quite a bit, and was more than ready for it to be over 2/3 of the way though. The best scenes were near the beginning, and things flagged after that.
Grace says that she enjoyed it, and James certainly did, but Lucy and I were both bored.
I wouldn't watch this one again.

Family Friendly Factor: Some surprisingly scary fire scenes during the climax on the burning dirigible. Some mildly suggestive behavior between the lead lady and the bad guy. Not much swearing though.

Elf (2003) [Watched 12 '20]

This one is forever showing up on family friendly must-watch Christmas movies, so - having already watched "Home Alone" and the animated "Grinch" - we decided it was finally time to give it a try.  I'm giving it a big, fat "Meh." Yes, it had a handful of funny moments. But there was a serious flinch-factor to most of them. Watching a 6 foot tall adult in tights make an utter fool of himself over and over again got - uninteresting - pretty quickly. Maybe worth it for that scene where he fights with the dwarf... or throws snowballs at 80 mph? The climax was not very satisfying, although the epilogue was sweet. All in all, you'll have to try hard to get me to re-watch. 
 
Family Friendly Factor: Some potty humor, some drinking humor, some mildly suggestive bits with the girl Buddy finds himself sweet on - not in itself a reason to avoid, but taken as a package, why bother? 

Home Alone I (1990) [Re-watched 12 '20] 

The kids love this one, of course. Well, James and Lucy do. It's very slapstick and there's a lot of truly cringe-worthy moments during the climactic home invasion. The thieves would have been disabled, if not simply dead, 4 or 5 times over, but in true cartoon style they keep on, just so they can step on something else sharp. I enjoyed it more last year than this, and I'm not all that eager to add it to our must-watch-every-December list.
In its defense, the scenes between Kevin and the next-door-neighbor all the kids are so scared of are really sweet and well played. The Christmas Message here was better than in a lot of holiday movies. 

Family Friendly Factor: Ouch. So Much Destruction and Slapstick Violence. Kevin is in actual danger for much of the movie. His family, especially brother Buzz, is pretty awful, and Kevin says pretty awful things back.

The Grinch (2018) [Re-watched 12 '20]

We have carefully not watched any of the other Grinch movies, including the original classic TV special. That said, we all enjoyed this animated version. It goes well off the plot line - inevitable given the brevity of the source material, I suppose - and innovates wildly as to character backstories. But the spirit is reasonably close to Seuss' book. And the movie is quite fun as well as visually stunning in true Seussian fasion. My favorite scene is one that appears in the trailers: the Who carolers essentially pursuing the poor Grinch through the streets of Whoville to the tune of Pentatonix's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  I will willingly watch this one in future holiday seasons.
PS: I consider myself a (slightly guilty) Cumberbatch fan, so imagine my embarrassment when I actually didn't realize he voiced the Grinch on my first viewing. Wow. Take away a guy's British accent and he's not Quite so cool, I guess!
 
Family Friendly Factor: Not much to complain about here. Nothing, really.  

Superman II (1976 / 2006 Director's Cut) 

David's memory was that Superman I wasn't worth watching, so we went straight to #2. We checked out the original director's cut from 2006, which included significant reworking of the ending among other things from the theatrical release. Fascinating stuff of course. But Oh How It Dragged. Again, the older two kids will tell you they enjoyed it, but I was bored stiff at the half-way point. I've gotten used to the pace and witty banter of the more recent Marvel movies, and this could not compare, Christoper Reeve or not. (At least the kids now understand the Lego Batman reference to "The Phantom Zone!")

Family Friendly Factor: Lots of mayhem and violence. No swearing. One awfully suggestive scene where Superman and Lois are clearly in bed together at the Fortress of Solitude. 

Back to the Future I (1985) and III (1990)

We watched these two several months ago. I've seen them any number of times, and they are just as much fun as I remembered - just don't bother with II! 

Family Friendly Factor: Some very suggestive (not to mention uncomfortable) flirting between Loraine and Marty in #1. He and Jennifer kiss. Marty does use some words my kids are not allowed to use. #3 is the cleaner movie from this perspective.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 

We screened this one several months ago, in mid 2020, and I spent a good portion of the movie wincing and wondering why I had thought this was a good idea for the kids to watch. Don't get me wrong, it's a good movie in a fun franchise, but there is tons of violence, injury, and scary stuff - not to mention the whole face melting thing. No-one seems to have been too traumatized, thankfully. (Oh, and we did have a number of conversations about the Biblical accuracy, or rather lack thereof. But oh well!) 
The Last Crusade is by far the best movie of the series, but I'm holding off on it for now. I realize that I shut my own eyes for a lot of the action scenes and maybe the kids don't need to deal with those for now.

The Wizard (1989) [watched Feb '21]

In a well-intentioned but sorely misguided attempt to keep his little half-brother out of an institution, 13 year old Corey (Fred Savage) kidnaps 9 year old Jimmy and sets out cross-country with no more goal in mind than "California:" the place withdrawn, uncommunicative Jimmy is always trying to reach. Along the way Corey discovers that Jimmy is a video game wizard, able to master practically any title he plays the first time.  
You might be tempted to pass this one off as a bought-and-paid-for Nintendo advertisement: the "maguffin" the protagonists end up pursuing is a spot in the Nintendo "Video Armageddon" championship of course, and they stop to bone up on Nintendo titles at every arcade they pass. Even the yet-to-be-released Power Glove got a drool-inducing 5 minute scene. But they wrapped a really good, fun, and rather sweet movie around it that our whole family enjoyed - even David, who had not seen it when it came out. 
I had a few memories about this one: the cross-country chase, and a video-game champion nemesis named Lucas. And of course Fred Savage, who I've always kind of liked even though I didn't watch The Wonder Years as a kid. But I'd forgotten the pith of the story, which was - like I said - really pretty good.

Family Friendly Factor: The kids stop in Reno for a video game cram session, and we get to see much more of scantily clad waitresses and the like than I personally wanted to. Grace wanted to know why they couldn't wear just a bit more than that.
There are verbal fights between the dad and older brother, and a few (pretty slapstick) actual fights with the bounty hunter, but nothing really cringe-worthy.
I found the final scene very nearly a tear-jerker, but it was in a good way. Really, aside from the utterly unnecessary lightly-clad female flesh, there isn't much to complain about.  

Flight of the Navigator (1986) [watched Feb '21]

This is one neither of us had seen. The action starts in 1978, but quickly shifts to 1986 with our protagonist, a 12 year old boy, utterly unable to explain his disappearance in 1978 nor why he is obviously Still 12. Turns out that he'd been kidnapped by an alien drone ship and taken at light-speed to its home planet, examined, and then returned. Then said ship managed to crash into a power line and fry itself on the way out, and needs the maps it stuck in the kid's head to get home. At this point it devolves into a Short Circuit-like chase, especially after the ship regrettably downloads a fair bit of 12-year-old-boy humor along with the maps. (I eventually figured out the ship was voiced by Paul Rubens, aka PeeWee Herman. This explains a lot, perhaps especially why I found it pretty irritating.) Much of the action takes place just between this kid and the ship, and we'll just say that Joey Crammer isn't quite as good an actor as Fred Savage.

Family Friendly Factor: Overall it was pretty tame and unobjectionable - they even wrap it up with a neat little bow just in case you were going to feel too sorry for this poor kid stranded 8 years later in time than he was meant to be. But that's all I can say for it. There was very little more to the plot than "boy gets to play with magical spaceship, but discovers knowing the way to its home planet isn't very helpful when he just wants to go to Fort Lauderdale." It's clear the kids enjoyed it, but it was a little too pablum for me to rate it very highly. 

Cool Runnings (1993) [Watched Feb 21]

The "based on actual events" story of the 1986 Jamaica bobsled team. The kids did not have high expectations for this one. Sports movie, based on a true story, and - most critically - not sci fi, fantasy, or even action adventure. I wish I could say that it entirely exceeded their expectations in all possible ways, but I think they were only moderately impressed. (Grace says she liked it.) They did sit through it and laugh at the right places. For my part, though, I enjoyed it. I'd seen it once, maybe twice before, but long enough ago that I'd forgotten all but the high points. I really don't consider myself a sports movie person - certainly, outside of the Olympics I never watch sports on TV - but the end of the movie came closer to jerking a few years than anything I've watched lately. 
 
Family Friendly Factor: Nothing to complain about here. OK, there is a minor bar fight, but there's no language, no skimpy female costumes... I really think the only thing you could fuss about here is a appreciate statement about the main character's back-side.

Mystery Men (1999) [Watched Feb '21]

This one was a whole lot funnier in my memory than it was when we re-watched it. I mentioned this analysis to a friend and he said he thinks this is one that was always funniest when remembered and re-quoted with friends. In other words, it's a movie with a fair number of funny quotes and amusing situations, but they're not stitched together well enough to be a truly great watch.
It was very much an ensemble cast, full of big names, and I think a lot of such movies don't live up to their promise. Also, Peewee Herman. 'Nuff said.
Grace says "It's kind of like Elf. People running around being idiots."
 
Family Friendly Factor: Lots of potty humor. And a surprising face-melting-fairly-main-character-blowing-up scene that you don't really expect and don't prepare the kids not to watch. Would not re-watch.

Explorers (1985) [Watched April '21]

Neither David nor I saw this one when it came out. I'm not sure either one of us can really say we've seen it now. :) It would appear to be notable primarily because it featured both the very young Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix. Not that I could tell you anything else either of them were in. Anyway, it's based on the same general theme as Flight of the Navigator (1986). A young, sci-fi obsessed, ostracized-at-school teen has recurring dreams of flying through a Tron-like environment, and gives the circuit diagrams he draws upon waking to his best friend, who just happens to be a tech wizard. He inputs them into his computer and "a miracle occurs." Suddenly the three guys (another misfit dropped in at the right moment) are in possession of a force bubble which can travel through its environment without gravity or friction. Between the three of them they manage to construct a reasonably air-tight vessel which they use to buzz the local drive-in movie theater. 
At this point I had to leave to pick up Grace and missed most of the last 45 minutes of the film, but it would appear that the aliens who actually sent them the tech specs have plans for them: they go on a fantastic interstellar adventure, part on good terms with the ETs, and come back home without raising any particular suspicions with parents or other authorities. It ends on a high note with our little team - plus the beautiful girl the main guy had a crush on - in another Tron-ish dreamscape. (Tron, 1982, is on our list to watch.)
Look, it's a lot better than "Flight of the Navigator" if only because it lacks Pee Wee Herman. The actors were a little better too, and maybe even the plot - although I can't fully speak to that. But it's not in the same league as "Back of the Future" (also 1985) or "Short Circuit" (1986), let alone ET (1982) which would have been aimed at effectively the same audience. 
Still, James and Lucy appeared to enjoy it. There was nothing that I saw in the first half of the movie that was in the least offensive in terms of language or sexual innuendo, so it's fairly safe.

Malcolm in the Middle (Seasons 1-2, 2000/2001) 

We've been watching a couple of episodes of the sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle" each week after dinner. Malcolm, an otherwise ordinary kid, is "diagnosed" with a genius level IQ early in the season. The stories center around him (I personally appreciate his shtick of addressing the camera a couple of times per episode), his immediate family of 2 other boys and parents, and his big brother Francis who begins the series away at military school. 
I'll be honest, this one is hard to justify. Hal and Lois frequently end up largely unclothed in cringe-worthy scenes. They are frequently very suggestive (although since they're married, I can let some of it pass! Also, most of it frankly goes well over the kids heads.) The boys are awful to one another. Craig is creepy. Hal is a stereotypical idiotic sitcom-dad. And it's Hilarious.
OK, it's more than just that. I was talking to an older friend about what we both like so much, and there are a couple of redeeming factors. One is that Hal and Lois really do love each other. They are deeply committed to each other and their family, even when sacrifices are required. (The season 2 finale was practically inspiring!) And (possibly excepting Reese) the kids are really not That bad: they're just kids. Malcolm is a genius, but he just wants to be accepted by his peers and maybe get a girlfriend like everyone else. Francis is a unrepentant screw-up, but he has considerable strength of character. Dewey is devious, but also pretty sweet. The side characters are works of art in themselves - Stevie is everyone's favorite, but many of the "Krelboyns" are nearly as funny, and then there's Spangler, and Lavernia... honestly, the writers are brilliant.
Grace (who is taking an acting class) is grumpy about the fact that no-one ever learns anything and no-one ever wins. She loves to point out the over-acting. I try to explain that this is a sitcom, and that's how they work. But it violates her understanding of good storytelling. Somehow I expect we'll keep watching it anyway, at least for a few seasons.  

PS: I watched this initially when it was new. I had no kids, I had no husband. I was WAY too hard on Lois. I am So much more sympathetic to the poor woman this time through! 

PPS: I think this may be the only sitcom (excepting The Simpsons, which is arguably in that category) that I actually like. I am neutral at best on all the ones we watched growing up like "Home Improvement." Those all had the same stupid dads that I object to in principle (yes, Hal absolutely falls into this category), but also felt this deep need to tie every episode up with a neat little bow. Usually a cringe-worthy one. Ugh.

Current(ish) Movies

Captain America (2011) [Watched Dec 2020]

We watched this one without Grace, who has no love for Superhero movies. I really enjoy this particular entry in the Marvel / Avengers canon, but am not eager to explore the others with the kids. 

Family Friendly Factor: There is lots of WWII violence in the movie, plenty of scary moments, and lots of other stuff the younger kids might not be good with. 

Lego Batman (2017) 

Purely fun. Much more fun than Superman II. There are even some good life lessons in there. 

Pete's Dragon (2016) 

Better than I thought it would be, and Grace (the resident dragon expert) accepted the highly mammalian dragon despite his fur. Shockingly, contains a bit of environmental preaching and casts the loggers as bad-guys. Par for the course, but always a bit irritating. 

Family Friendly Factor: Pete loses his parents at the beginning of the movie. It's handled fairly gently - we certainly don't see anything graphic - but it's obviously traumatic. Nothing else terribly concerning here unless, like us, you are annoyed by the continued vilification of loggers. 

Spiderman: Far From Home (2019), watched April '21 

James really, really, wants to watch Marvel movies right now. A lot. I am not nearly as excited about them, Lucy is neutral, and Grace would much rather chose something else. She's not sure what, but not Superhero movies. She - like me - finds them a bit exhausting with their constant chases, fights, and explosions.
I was really pretty OK with "Far From Home." (Even though I have not seen any of the Avengers movies after Civil War.) Peter Parker is a high school student, really really needs to guard his secret identity, and would really, really, really love to date whats-her-name. But Nick Fury needs him to help track down and neutralize some really nasty elementals threatening - well - everything. He tries to get out of it, but neither Fury nor the elementals will take "No" for an answer. So, of course, he fights them, makes some new friends, exposes his secret identity to whats-her-name, and is an unwilling participant in the destruction of some seriously historic European architecture. 

From a family friendly standpoint, there's a very suggestive and utterly unnecessary scene where a beautiful S.H.I.E.L.D. agent commands Peter to strip and try on the new costume she is delivering. Of course a classmate walks in on the and draws all the wrong conclusions. Aside from that there's just the question of how desensitized we wish to be to violence and things exploding all over the place...

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), watched May '21

Another one that James insisted upon pretty strongly, and we gave in because it was his birthday weekend. He needed it to fill in the blanks between Captain America and Age of Ultron. I'd seen it, probably in the theater when it was new, but couldn't tell him much about it. Didn't even remember good ol' Redford was the betrayer. Nothing really wrong with the movie, and it did move the whole Hydra plot forward quite a bit, but for all its explosions, close calls, and frantic, adrenaline-pumping battles, it did little to engage me. Yes, there were the the heart-strings tugged with the miraculous reappearance of poor, mind-slaved Bucky.  But that was about it. Plenty of witty banter, plus The Falcon's origin story, but I really do find these sorts of movies overstimulating and exhausting.

 

After Hours TV Time

My insomniac (Grace) keeps showing up after bedtime while I am watching my own comfort-TV. This month that's

Due South (1994-1999)

This Police Dramady was a huge favorite of mine when it was on TV, and I actually acquired the DVDs and pull them out perhaps ever 5 years. Grace is scandalized that I had a crush on Frazier. 

Anyway, the series is about a Mountie (Frazier) who "first came to Chicago on the trail of his father's killer, and for reasons that don't bear exploring at this juncture, remained attached as liaison to the Chicago PD."  It's part fish-out-of-water, part Odd-Couple as the straight as an arrow, boy-scout like Frazier solves cases with the considerably more morally flexible Detective Ray Vecchio.  And then there's his dead father who Will keep interfering with things at the most inconvenient of times...

Grace loves this one, especially because as it is Not a sitcom, things Do go right for the characters from time to time, and they get to learn and grow to some degree. 

Family Friendly Factor: There's plenty of violence. Guns, fists, whatever. There's wince-creating tension between Frazier and his female CO, and Frazier and his partners' sister - both of whom are pursuing him, not vice versa. Every once in a while Frazier actually behaves in a less monk-like manner than we have come to expect. Not much in the way of language, although Ray is very brash.

Last month it was 

NCIS (Seasons 1-5, 2003-2008). 

We won't talk too much about the family friendlieness of this one, as all of the complaints about violence, murders, and generally bad behavior apply, but Grace loves Abby a lot. And Gibbs, although not as much as Abby.
This is my second time through, and I decided that I was done with it for a while after season 5. I know there are 12(!) more, but it was getting intense and not the relaxing escapist fare I was wanting. 

Before that it was 

Person of Interest (2011-2016), aka "Jesus Saves." 

One of my own personal favorites. Mr. Finch, a reclusive billionaire, recruits homeless veteran John Reese (Jim Caviezel, thus the "Jesus Saves" joke) to help him save people who's "numbers are up" according to his all-seeing computer known as "The Machine." There are elements of Quantum Leap especially in the first couple of seasons, and it's quite enjoyable. Of course by the end they're in a fight for their very lives against another, rather more evil computer program, but it's one I really enjoyed watching both times through. Not really family friendly, though. Typical levels of violence and murders and occasional suggestive behavior.

Top Tips for Sewing Plushies

Most of those who know me IRL also know I've been sewing plushies (aka plushy, stuffies, aka stuffed animals, or whatever you wish to call them) for a couple of years now. Many of you have even been recipients of one. I've also made reference to the hobby here on this blog, but it occurred to me that I haven't published a list of tips for those who want to take the plunge into some plushie sewing of their own. 

I do not want to re-invent the wheel here by simply repeating what the pattern designers put in their instructions, so this should be brief. I hope. But you know me! 

Pattern Selection

Save yourself a lot of trouble and expense and simply start with the free patterns from cholyknight.com.
Choly is my favorite pattern designer, hands down, and 9 out of 10 plushies I've sewn are from her collection. She has for several years released one free pattern per month, so you have lots of chose from. Many of them are of licensed characters such as Pikachu, Baby Yoda, or Jiji the cat, but there are also generic bears, cats, and even the occasional llama or hedgehog.  

What sets her patterns apart from the herd (aside from the large free library) are the beautiful, clear instructions. Lots of photos, lots of explanation, very readable and easy to follow. 

Choly also sells patterns through Etsy, and I have purchased several. I do not, however, suggest that you start here: her paid patterns are, as a class, considerably more detailed and therefore complicated. Save them for after you've gained some experience and confidence. 

Choly Knight's (paid) Wyvern / Dragon pattern

Printing tip: For the instruction booklet, I like to print two pages to one sheet of paper. Saves a good deal of ink, and it's still plenty big enough to read.

Materials Selection

Choly goes into plenty of detail on materials, which I will summarize as "don't use felt; do use things that stretch and do not ravel."  Read it. It's good stuff. 

As a new sewist, I strongly suggest starting with anti-pill fleece from Joann Fabrics or similar. You don't need much: rarely as much as a quarter yard per pattern in the base color. So even at full price you won't be out a lot of dough. That said, watch the sales, as this fabric is usually at least 40% off a couple of weeks per month. 
The cheaper "blizzard" fleece really does pill, which I find annoying. 
There are plenty of more expensive options out there. Of them minky, a short piled polyester, is the next easiest to work with after fleece. I am using this more and more, as the added expense isn't much and it really looks great on the finished product. I frequently get a fat quarter of a fun color or pattern at Craft Warehouse for under $5. But nearly everything is more slippery than fleece, and this can cause problems when you're not prepared for it. 
Faux furs can be tricky as well as expensive.
Before committing to a furry fabric, check the Stretch and check the Back.
I once had a whole "Jiji" pattern traced and half cut before I realized that my faux fur was not stretchy enough for the tight curves and narrow spaces. That was irritating.
I have also found some "great" cheap low pile fuzzy furs at Michael's this year. The problem with these is more subtle: the back and front of the fabric are nearly identical, and the fuzzy stuff is nearly impossible to trace a pattern on. The extreme stretch of these fabrics also bites you when trying for precision.
The better furs have a easy, solid back for tracing. But they're messy to cut and slippery even more than minky, and depending on what you're sewing, you may end up really hating it by the end. So again, save it for when you've gotten some confidence. (I have used it most on my owls. It works because the body is large and uncomplicated. You usually can't get much detail in the wings or "ears," but that's a fair compromise in my opinion.) 

And for a bonus tip: shop the remnants bin at JoAnn every time you visit. It's a great way to save on fabric you don't need in quantity (and you don't need Any of it in quantity), and sometimes you can find some real treasures. 

3. Pattern Transfer

Unless you pay through the nose for a professionally published pattern at the craft store, you are going to printing your patterns out at home on regular paper, not soft, flexible tissue. What this means to you is that you will be cutting out your pattern pieces first, and then tracing them onto your fabric. If you try to pin and cut, you will almost certainly regret it. And carbon paper is not a great choice with the heavy fabrics you'll be using either. 

 

You can pay a lot for a fancy disappearing ink fabric marker made especially for this task. I suggest that you do not. The last thing you want is for a pattern you spent an hour tracing to disappear before you get the chance to cut it out.
9 times in 10 I use a Sharpie. Yes, a full on permanent marker. You'll want the standard size for fleece, but an ultra-thin will work on Minky. Although I try to use the lightest color pen that will show, even light colors of fleece are fairly opaque, and the markings will be on the wrong side and inside the seam allowance anyway. I have almost never regretted using a Sharpie. 
The more difficult situation is when your fabric is too dark colored for a Sharpie to show. Again, there are specifically designed transfer markers available, but I found that raiding my kid's pen box for her Crayola Gel Markers has worked best. They're not a perfect solution, especially as they take a few seconds to "bloom" on many fabrics, so you may initially think they're not working. But they work better than anything else I've tried. 

Pay close attention to stretch and nap markings on the pattern pieces. (Note: fleece does not have a nap; minky and faux fur does.)  

Quick tip: When tracing your pattern pieces, do not forget that when you need two of something, the second one needs to be a mirror image! (In other words, flip the pattern piece upside down.) I wish I could say I've never made that mistake, but that would be untrue! :) 

Next tip: Choly mentions this, but it's important, so I will again. Many pieces can be quite intricate (wings, toes, etc.) It is almost certainly worth your time to make your fancy pattern shapes "hollow" by cutting around the seam allowance line. Then you can trace these lines onto your fabric piece. Having them to follow is critical on anything with intricate curves.

4. Eyes, mouths, and noses

The face of your creature is the most critical part to get right. (And also usually where you should start.) You can have ears that don't quite match, crooked seams in the head, and all sorts of other minor problems and no one is ever going to notice. Screw up the face, though, and you go from cute to creepy in second. Choly's fantastic "kawaii" face design also sets her apart from the herd in a big way, so if you're using one of her patterns, be prepared to spend some time getting it right. 

I assume that you, like me, do not own an embroidery machine. This means you are going to need to applique your faces.

Do this step before you sew anything. Trust me!  

As far as materials, go ahead and use felt.* It is cheap and easy to pick up in tons of colors. And it looks just fine when you're done. It's also Fine to use the same plush or fleece you are using for the rest of the project, but beware of nap. The pile on minky can also be troublesome around the edges.

Choly suggests that you use heat activated applique paper for this task, and I wholeheartedly agree. Trying to trace the intricate shapes onto fleece or felt is a recipe for disaster, and holding pieces in place while you hand sew is also a great way to make very visible mistakes.   

I have used two brands, Pellon's EZ-Steam II and Steam-a-Seam. ** The process is the same for both types. 

Here is a TL;DR for success with fusible web

DO: Use the steam setting on your iron
DO: Use a cotton pressing cloth
DO: Press for at least an entire 30 seconds
DO: Press from both sides
DON'T: Be surprised if you end up having to sew it down by hand anyway. 

Now, Way More Detail than you want on cutting and pasting your faces

a. Do not cut out the pattern. Just trace it!

b. Using a narrow permanent marker, carefully trace your pattern onto the semi-transparent fusible web sheet. You could use a window or light box to make this easier; I often also use a narrow Sharpie to go around the lines on the pattern page so that I can still see them when I flip the pattern for a mirror image. 
(I have used carbon paper with Some success, but it really doesn't make as crisp and heavy a mark as I want, so I always go back to Sharpies.) 


c. Note the color and orientation of each piece inside of it. It is surprisingly hard to "put the puzzle together" sometimes. 
d. Do a rough cut on your fusible web, leaving a comfortable margin around your pieces. Then carefully remove the backing paper on the side *without* your markings, and press it onto your felt or fleece. 



e. Very carefully cut out your pieces with good, sharp, small scissors. This is harder than you think it will be, but you don't need to obsess. It needs to be very close, but not perfect. 
f. Build your eye sandwich carefully, removing the second layer of backing paper and pressing down firmly. Use the master "face" pattern piece for placement of the eyes and noses: Choly goes into good detail here and I won't repeat her. 
g. Iron for 20+ seconds on the highest safe heat for your fabric and using steam. Always use a pressing cloth. I have had a couple of disasters or near disasters when something I was ironing was a little more meltable than I thought it was. 

h. And now,  resign yourself to hand-sewing those eyes on after all. 
Look, you might get away with just the adhesive if you are planning to display your finished plush on your bed. If you are planning to give it to a small kid, though, those eyes are going to come right off.  The product Just Isn't That Great. So I always back up my fusible web with at least a few hand stitches. You can leave this step for last, though. I like to do it in front of the TV myself!

All ready to be ironed

* Except when the applique might end up inside a seam allowance and have to be flipped inside out. Specifically, when I made Choly's Pikachu, I used brown felt at the base of the tail. Then I sewed the two pieces of the tail together and tried to turn the finished piece. Not happening. Felt doesn't stretch at all. I should have used fleece, and I will next time! 

** Which fusible web to choose? I don't have a strong preference. The end results are about the same, and like I said, you have to hand-sew in both cases.
 Pellon is a little more opaque and the backing paper tends to have a few bubbles. This makes it harder to trace on. And it's hard to get the right piece of backing off sometimes. 
Steam-a-Seam is much easier during the tracing stage, but you will quickly learn that it has the opposite problem from Pellon: the backing is hard to keep on when cutting out tiny pieces. In fact, the smaller the piece, the less likely you will be able to keep both sides of the backing paper attached during either the rough cut or the final cut. It takes a lot of diligence.   
So pick up whichever one the fabric store has. Just beware it's not a perfect product and this will be the tedious part of the project! 

I think that's where I will stop, as I find Choly's directions more than adequate on the sewing side of things. Take it slow and steady, check against the directions frequently, and don't skip the pins. You'll do fine!