Tuesday, March 31, 2015

April A to Z Challenge - The Shows

I was lucky enough that Fangirl Stitches had made alphabet charts for my two favorite TV shows, Once Upon A Time and Veronica Mars, or this might have been a very different challenge this year. I don't typically watch a lot of American television...I may be Southern born and bred, but the only thing "Southern" about me is my accent.  I have a Scottish heart with a British head (or so I like to think).  Only every five or so years does an American TV show strike my fancy, but when it does, I'm in with both feet first and I'm a fan till it's end.

Tomorrow kicks off the start of the Challenge, but I thought I might want to give a bit of a back story for the shows in my alphabet cross stitch charts for those that haven't ever watched them. It might make these characters a bit less confusing (or maybe more so, I'm not known for my ability to express things clearly).

via Google images

Once Upon A Time, shown Sunday nights on ABC, is a Disney addict's dream come true!  You may be a Disney fan and know Disney characters but the OUAT versions of these characters aren't necessarily like their Disney counterparts, so diehard Disneyphiles, beware!  I've had some issues with their interpretations myself, although the show is so great I can often (although not always) overlook it.

Imagine all the Fairytale characters that you remember are not only real, but are cursed to lose their happy endings.  They are torn from their world in the Enchanted Forest and are dumped into a world without magic...ours. For 28 years, as time stands still in the sleepy little Maine town of Storybrooke, they suffer in silence, living out each day not remembering who or what they were (except for a couple of notable exceptions).  Their biggest strengths have become their biggest weaknesses and most are shells of their former selves. 

Then, a young boy, a true believer, not born in Storybrooke but born in our world (so therefore doesn't suffer under the curse), goes on a quest to find the Savior, aka the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who just also happens to be his birth mother.  She escaped the curse as a baby and has grown up in our world not knowing who or what she is or where she came from.  She must come to terms with her past in order to save everyone, including her son (pretty much Season 1). 

Even though the Savior does restore the happy endings, going back home to the Enchanted Forest isn't as easy (and not desired by all the characters). The battle between good and evil also isn't as straight forward in our world as it was in theirs (although it still rages on) and the characters often struggle between the duality of their now merged personalities, the arrival of magic in Storybrooke, and their desire to restore their very interconnected families (it's the scariest family tree imaginable, trust me!).  

Then there is all the land hopping between the likes of Oz, Wonderland, Neverland, Arrendalle, lands of myths and legends, even lands of movie monsters, etc.  There is backstory constantly thrown in and rarely in chronological order, so, all in all, it's a pretty fabulous (although sometimes confusing) show!

via Google Images

Veronica Mars has been off the air for several years .  It has absolutely nothing in common with Once.  I only discovered this show last year (thanks to Amazon Prime) and have since become completely obsessed with it!  I had actually watched the movie first (which came out last year), not even knowing it had been a television show.  In hindsight, I'm not sure I would recommend you watch it this way, but my Asper brain preferred knowing who she ended up with in the end and I'm not sure I could have stuck with all the "on-off, on-off, on-off" (Miranda quote...seriously, I need a Miranda chart) relationship stuff in the show let alone the semi-cliffhanger ending due to its cancellation.  My Disney upbringing demands happy endings for all couples...it's how I'm built.

V Mars is about a teenage girl private detective with a dry, quick wit, who works along side her shamed ex-sheriff of a father.  She solves crimes in her haves/have-nots ocean-side town in Southern California while trying to keep her tumultuous relationships on track.  Each episode solves a crime, but every episode of each season follows a main major story arc as well.  I can't stop watching this show and I'm not sure how I missed it back in the day, but I'm glad I've discovered it!

I tried to keep this one more brief than the last and, of course, the actual challenge posts will be shorter (hopefully, but I'm not promising anything).  If you've never seen either of these shows, definitely get them!  Seasons 1, 2, and 3 of OUAT are out while Season 4 is currently playing.  All three seasons of Veronica Mars (as well as the subsequent movie from last year) is also available, but it's in syndication if you're a night owl like me.  But I would recommend watching both in order since they both have story arcs, so definitely rent or buy the DVDs/Blu-Rays (Amazon Prime has V Mars and Once is on Hulu).

Tomorrow is the big day...lots of stitchin' to do!

Monday, March 30, 2015


We went and saw Cinderella this weekend and it was far better than I ever expected (and I had extremely high hopes, probably even higher than the disappointment that was Maleficent). It was fairly true to the original, with a few notable exceptions (Jacqueline instead of Jaq and a lizard for a footman are the first two that comes to mind) but it was the visual effects that were absolutely stunning, even more so than Maleficent's (the only saving grace to that movie). It definitely felt like a Kenneth Branaugh movie from start to finish (and I rather like him, so I was OK with that) with the massive sets and attention to detail everywhere (I even saw more than one Hidden Mickey, although I don't know if it was intentional or if my brain is just hardwired to see them).

I do admit, I spent quite a lot of time starring at Lily James' waist, trying to see what all the fuss was about. I didn't think it was abnormally thin, she's just a skinny girl and it was obvious the shape of the dress itself had a lot to do with it. I was probably more bothered by her dark eyebrows and blonde hair than I was the size of her waist. I was also a bit distracted by Helena Bonham-Carter's prosthetic teeth that really served no purpose (and didn't fit her very well). I did question her casting as the Fairy Godmother, but she played it perfectly and that's now my new favorite role of hers. Don't get me started on Richard Madden's "package" hiding techniques, while they did do a good job of hiding it, just the internet buzz about it alone kept my eyes drifting into that general vicinity every time he was on screen (which, even though only I knew what I was doing, it was still extremely blush-worthy). There was also a strong Avenger's feeling to it as well...everywhere I looked there were Marvel actors scattered throughout (but again, maybe my eye is just trained to it).

What I was most pleased with was to see was the "return" of the proper Disney fairytale ending! None of that stupid feminist bullcrap thrust upon us lately (i.e. Maleficent and, to an extent, Frozen), but a proper Princess and her Prince falling in love at first sight and living happily ever after! I think I've ranted and raved on THAT soapbox enough, but let's just say I walked out of the theater with a sense of satisfaction not felt since Tangled! Cinderella had very strong messages of being true to yourself and that is WAY more important than who ends up with who and why. I rather like knowing that maybe someday I might get whisked off my feet by a handsome Prince even though I don't expect it and don't live my daily life with that expectation...that's just nuts (and my first marriage was testament to that). I grew up in a generation where Hollywood movies were escapism from your normal, boring, day to day, not an instructor in life lessons...that job was reserved for parents, teachers, and even life itself. My goal is to just make it through the humdrum and I think I accomplish that by having a dream life to escape to, otherwise, my crappy life would have put me down years ago.

I highly recommend Cinderella for those who are like me and I thoroughly dissuade anyone who expects their kids, especially their girls, to come away a "stronger" person. Oh, and those who REFUSE to turn off their cell phones or control your kids from running up and down the isles and talking through the entire movie should also stay away (which was the only ruination to my overall character that Cinderella brought me). You've paid a fortune to be there, why waste it playing on your phone? I can't even fathom my mother letting me behave that way when I was a kid (nor can I fathom me even doing it!). But I also grew up on a generation of spanking, discipline, and respect, so what do I know!

April A to Z Challenge: Prep Work

As a prequel to starting the Challenge, I thought I'd give a bit of background on the process. Let me preface everything by saying that despite having a blog, I'm not a writer and my grammar is HORRIBLE! I also have issues controlling the number of parentheses and ...'s in my posts. Don't even get me started on brevity...not something I'm able to accomplish, even on the best of days, let alone for something as complex as a challenge. I've been known to go off on a rant or two (or three or four), but I'm going to try hard not to do that this year, but no promises.  I do think I can safely say that the actual challenge posts won't be as long as these prequel posts, but again, no promises. Background info always takes more time (that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

Stitching is one of the most relaxing hobbies out there and there are numerous studies to show that various kinds of needlework can improve your health both emotionally and physically. For me, it's my "zone out time" where I can ignore my problems for the three or four hours a night, and do nothing but focus on the repetitiveness of it all (great for an Asper with OCD who obsesses about everything).

There is quite an expense required to stitch though (not the best thing for a poor person like me)...threads, fabric, scroll rods or frames (whichever you prefer), and then the little things like needles (which I break constantly), scissors, etc. For a large project, the thread alone might cost upwards of $100.  For both of these projects, thread costs came to about $40.  There are several colors of Light Effects thread, and those cost quite a bit more (and are a pain to work with, but I'll save that for a rant day).  Oh, and don't even get me started on the cost of framing a project, it's why I typically frame things myself (if the shape permits).

Everyone who stitches uses different tools and goes about it in different ways, even if the end result is usually always the same. Granted, my "issues" tend to lead me down a path of overkill, but that's just typical me. Most stitchers probably don't go through all this prep work. But I do love organization and this is the best way for me to achieve my process of what I call "kitting up".

The beginning stages of kitting up means shopping. Normally, I have a bit of stock on hand (OK, quite a bit), but it's not always the best for the project I'm working on. If I don't have enough of the same color in stock at home, then I will re-buy them so that the color dyes come from the same lots. More than once I've had issues with thread not matching for one reason or another (even if it's the same brand).

Once I have all the supplies, I print the pattern on Cover Copy Paper (which I find is easy to mark on and is sturdy enough to withstand daily handling). I also use this paper to print a cover for my bobbin box (more on that in a minute) and, depending on the pattern size, I will also create a three-ring binder (which means printing a cover and a side piece) to store the pattern. Luckily, neither of these projects are big enough to require a binder and binders are really only good for those long term projects, so that was a step I could skip. I also print a chart map and glue it to the inside of the bobbin box.  Below are the purchased threads, a pack of needles, a bobbin box (obviously used), and some empty bobbins:
I do put the threads in numerical order so it's easier to put them in the box in the right sequence (most pattern legends are in numerical order anyway). Order also makes it easier to find a thread quickly when you're working. Here is my process of ordering the threads and prepping for bobbin winding. Sorry, I've whited out the box cover for these projects and the patterns to maintain the aura of secrecy, but you can see the cover for another project I was boxing up at the same time in the upper right-hand corner (I wish I would have paid more attention when I was taking photos and kept the patterns out of it...c'est la vie):
I write the floss number on the end of the bobbin with a Sharpie (I have those little stickers you can buy, but they always peel off, so I don't use them much and, when the project is finished, I just use rubbing alcohol to remove what I've written and reuse the bobbins).  Even for a small project, the winding of the bobbins takes several hours (and several days in the case of a big one).  On smaller projects, I do tend to put more than one set is a single box. The boxes are very cheap, so money isn't the issue here, it's just simply to save space. Here is what the box looks like when complete (the one on the right is the inside of the other Once chart I kitted up).  Most people tend to turn the bobbins on their side in the box, but I like the numbers visible on top.
The next step is to prep the fabric.  I don't typically wash my fabric before hand, but I have been known to steam iron it if it's wrinkled.  I went with 18ct Aida for these projects because, on "simpler" designs, I prefer it...it adds to the simplicity of the design and, I think, enhances it (and the total cost for a roll of it was $10).  I use 28ct Monaco for my most difficult projects, but the small size of it is just overkill on these simple ones.  I typically stay away from linen at all costs.  Yes, it looks better when the project is finished, but linen is way more expensive and it's a counting nightmare (because I haven't figured out a way to grid it yet).  The crookedness and unevenness of it drives me batty...give me a nice straight evenweave any day!

I also LOVE using scroll rods because I like how they keep the project taunt. With the help of a stand (either floor or lap), you are also able to stitch with two hands which really does cut your stitching time in half (even if it is a bit of a learning curve at first).  If I'm using rings (or hoops), I tend to grip them too tightly and cause hand cramps (something I rarely notice until I literally have to pry my fingers off of it...I do that with video game controllers too). Plus, the extra material is so wadded up where it hangs loose, I can never iron it flat enough afterwards. I have several different scroll rods and stand systems, but luckily they are all interchangeable, so I don't have to worry about picking the right rods for the right stand. Depending on the rods, I may use basting strip tape or acid-free tape to affix the fabric to the rods (never trust the slots if your rods have them).  Lately, I've been favoring the basting tape (seen in the upper middle left of the pic below).
As an aside, notice the large cup of tea there? For the first time ever, I tumped it over onto everything and had to subsequently wash material (especially the purple I used for the other Once project) and reprint patterns. Lucky me.

When I first unrolled the Aida, I noticed it was stretched crooked (which doesn't bode well for a cross stitch project, a real rarity in evenweaves like Aida), but I drew out the margins anyway. It was also extremely stiff, more so than normal, but I tried to make due. It was a new purchase (I thought I had some in stock, but I didn't have any white).  Going to the store is hard enough for me as it is, but this project required numerous trips to Hobby Lobby in a week...enough that it might be a while until I'm able to go back again.

I always use pinking shears to cut around the edges because it makes the them fray less. Depending on the size of the chart, the original fabric size (and my mood), I may give anywhere from a 1 inch border to a 3 inch border around the edge for framing.  Since I usually frame them myself (or, at the very least, mount them), I can easily work with 1" border...most framers would scoff at that.
I use a pen to mark the edges for cut out as well as the grid lines, but more on grid lines and pens in a mo-mo. I also mark the center of the material so that once it's "scrolled up", I know where the center is:
The more I debated the crooked, overly-stiff fabric, the more I hated it. So I went to one of my favorite online stores and bought two new pieces of fabric (I just couldn't handle yet another trip to Hobby Lobby and their cross stitch supply row is quite limited anyway), so tack another $20 on to the cost. I had to undo all the scrolling I had already done (wasting expensive basting tape, which meant another order from Amazon for $10), but I like the new stuff SO much better, so I didn't mind too much. Below is the new fabric all scrolled up. I went with a sparkling material for Once Upon A Time, but you can't really tell from this pic.
Maybe you can from this one, I think the sparkles add that little extra oomph:
Grid lines come next. I love Pilot FriXion pens the best. They iron off and have a much finer point that the washable ones.  Some people complain that they can't get the grid lines to come off if they leave them on too long (for both the iron and the wash pens), but I've had projects gridded up for years without any removal issues

I didn't used to grid at all. I know it's called "counted cross stitch" and you really should be counting, but that's not so easy for an OCD-riddled person as I was often counting 5-10 times per instance. Most patterns use a 10x10 grid pattern, so if the pattern has 33 spaces, then I just count over three grid blocks plus three spaces instead of counting 33 spaces over numerous times. It also cuts down on counting mistakes that could potentially mean a lot of frogging (ripping out stitches) and re-stitching areas. The softer fabrics (like Monaco or Lugana) tend to not like frogging and it typically makes a mess out of the thread and your fabric. Some people also use fishing line to "stitch" their grid lines, but pens are so much easier and you don't have to worry about getting your stitched grid lines embedded in your stitching (easy to do in heavily confettied areas and messy backs, which I am the queen of).   Here is both projects completely gridded (I typically only grid big projects a row at a time):
I do prefer a lap stand and really only use floor stands for vertical projects (because it's too hard to stitch lap-wise when the project is vertically challenged...verticals and my belly don't play well together). Depending on the size of the vertical, if I can fit it into a horizontal format, I will. Once is a vertical project, but it is small enough that I was able to still scroll it up horizontally.  Luckily, V Mars is square.  This is my absolute favorite lap stand (sadly, the manufacturer is no longer in business).  But even the cheap-o ones you get at Hobby Lobby work better than my expensive American Dreams stand that I HAD to have a few years ago.  It lives at work with my Rainy Wedding project (which I HAVE to re-scroll because the verticalness of it is KILLING me!).
There are other "utensils" involved in working a project. I use a magnifying light, but I tend to prefer to just use the light with reading glasses instead of the magnifying glass. I use twist-up colored crayons to mark the areas of the pattern I have finished (so that way I know where I'm at and what I have done). I also use several apps on my iPad that assist with stitching, specifically a PDF reader app and a time counter app. I've covered cross stitch apps before HERE, so no need to rehash.

And that's it for my prep work!  It takes several days to several weeks to complete this first step (depending on the complexity of the project and the amount of material I need...sometimes I have to stretch it over a couple of paydays), but since most projects last upwards of one or two years, it's not such a big effort.  I definitely feel for serial starters!  If I was one, I'd be spending more time prepping than stitching!

Total prep cost of this project was around $80 (adding in my fabric snafu and extra basting tape).  That's pretty cheap for two kits, so I think I did pretty good!  I still may take another trek out to Hobby Lobby and get some beads because I HATE HATE HATE french knots and Once has a lot of them.  Hopefully, I can keep that cost under $10.

The challenge starts in a couple of days, so I hope everyone is ready because I certainly am!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Disney Reviews Show Edition #7 - Hall of Presidents

This will be the last review for a while, the April A to Z Challenge starts in just a few days and I'll be extraordinarily busy with that. This review will also be a bit smaller because I don't have many photographs of the show and it's really self explanatory anyway.

The Hall of Presidents, located in the Liberty Square section of the Magic Kingdom, is an unlikely favorite of mine.
I'm not a particularly patriotic person by nature and I'm not political in any way, but I am a history buff and I do tend to gravitate toward historic things like a duck to water (although I do prefer British medieval history to American). If I ever do go back to college one day, I say that History is my ideal major. The Hall of Presidents isn't necessarily a history lesson per-se, it's really about introducing the Presidents to an audience. The opening film reveals a bit of our struggle to become an independent nation and there are numerous historical items scattered about the queue along with copies of famous historical paintings, so you don't go completely without learning (or remembering) something. I spent a bit more time in the queue than normal last trip and got a few pictures including a bit of architecture/lighting (shock):
Martha Washington may have been a plus girl, but she was really short! Even in a pedestal stand that was a good foot off the floor, her dress barely came to my chest level!
Ida McKinley's dress was absolutely gorgeous (and she literally weighed about 80 lbs considering the waist of this thing):
No one really ever looks around the queue at anything...kind of sad really:
Right now, the show is introduced by Morgan Freeman, but that usually changes with the President who is in office. With every new president (since Carter I believe), a new audioanimatronic figure is created for that president and the show changes. They say that one of the President's first duties in office is to record his Hall of Presidents speech.
I love how these shadows appear during the Declaration of Independence:2014-1126
Even to this day, with the almost ancient technology, it never surprises me when someone in the audience gasps when Lincoln stands up and starts talking or when someone assumes in an actor in costume (although I do have a harder time with that one because he obviously looks like a robot):
Once the curtain raises and we see all the Presidents moving around, some even squirming in their seats (the Imagineers spend numerous hours studying facts about the pre-TV Presidents so that they would understand how they would move around in this situation), it's really hard to know where to look sometimes because there is so much going on!
Then Obama does his thing:
A final look at everyone:
As an added bonus, I found a good quality video on YouTube of the show, so if you're feeling a bit patriotic (or historic as I prefer to say), here you go!

The American Adventure show at Epcot really is a lot more patriotic (and historic), but I think it's the music or something because I've been known to fall asleep in there more than once. It's also almost an hour long whereas The Hall of Presidents is about 20 minutes. I also find it weird to take pictures in The American Adventure for some reason (it is allowed, just no flash), so I have absolutely none from the show and only a few from the queue, most of which are from the museum. Shows like The Hall of Presidents (or The American Adventure) are a good break in your day from the heat (or rain) and you just might learn something in the process!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disney Reviews Shopping Edition #8 - The Emporium

Every park has that obligatory "go-to" store where you always seem to end up half-a-dozen times or so during your trip either for that last-minute item or to get something in particular. For the Magic Kingdom, The Emporium is ours. Located on Main Street USA:
The Emporium literally takes up the entire left side, from one corner all the way down to Casey's at the end:
Although it's all one long store, each exterior "building" is really a divider of sorts and each one offers a different theme to the store, from the front of the store's general Disney merchandise to Princess specific to clothing, etc.
I can't say I have a lot of interior shots, mainly because it is always horribly crowded (and definitely worse at night, especially before park closing):
It has some really amazing Victorian touches throughout (although I'm horrible at remembering to take pictures of them), but I never forget LIGHTS!:
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I've always been tempted to see if this is glued down, but it would be my luck it's not and I would drop it!
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Even the exterior has those same touches:
I love how they always decorate it, especially for Halloween:
But they also do some pretty good Christmas decorations as well:
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And I love the window displays too, but they are funny sometimes about them, they always have the same window displays pretty much, but they move around...I noticed last trip that windows that used to be on Main Street are now at the side of the World of Disney Store Downtown. But these are pretty much always there in one form or another:
The Emporium is the best spot to get everything you need in one place. It's also a great place to hang out when it rains, just try to stay away from it at the end of the night. I know most guidebooks will tell you to shop while the park is clearing out, but I find it extremely stressful...it's full of tired kids and even more tired (and severely grumpy) parents pushing enormous strollers throughout the stores very small isle ways. There is also a "flow" to the store when it gets crowded and god-forbid if you should go against the "flow". I just prefer to stay away at night if I can. I prefer to shop during the day and ride the rides while the park is clearing out or sit and people watch. It's a lot less stressful than the big crowd fight or waiting in a massive line for the bus.