Friday, March 29, 2013

Bilbo Baggins, 'The Hobbit and 'Lord of the Rings'

We like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In fact, I don't remember the first time that Mom read The Hobbit out loud to us --- we were that little. Elizabeth and I drew pictures of Bilbo and his Hobbit Hole and of the dwarves' capes and hoods hanging on Bilbo's rack. We had little stuffed animals named after characters like Elrond and Playmobil sets that looked like Galadriel's Pool.

When the Lord of the Rings films started to come out in 2001, there was absolutely no way we were going to see the movie. Hollywood never does a good job of dramatizing books. They spoil the stories. They mess with the characters, etc. A year later and The Two Towers was just reaching theaters. Some friends asked us if we were going to see it --- friends who love the books. Mom gave a decidedly negatory answer and expressed surprise that they would watch Tolkien's fabulous stories messed up. They assured her that they were not very "messed up". Sure, some things had been changed, but the changes, in general, were for the better. The actors were great. The scenery and costumes great. We should see it. Now, these are some respected friends, and their opinion carried a lot of weight. In fact, it carried so much weight that we went out to the store that afternoon to buy The Fellowship of the Ring. A well-trained salesman talked us into buying the extended version (good thing, too!).

You guessed it. We liked it. No, that's wrong. We loved it. In fact, we went to the theater twice to see Two Towers. Elizabeth and I kept scrapbooks with our ticket stubs, NZ postage stamps and pre-release pictures for the third film. By the time The Return of the King came out we were so excited that we actually bought tickets to New Line's special event "Trilogy Tuesday". Select theaters across the nation played the extended versions of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers before starting The Return of the King at 10:00pm. There were breaks between the films --- long enough to go and eat. Mom, the two of us and Sarah C. went together.

After that, we figured that the "fun" was finished. Nope. Wrong again. Howard Shore (composer for the films) came to Cleveland to play his Lord of the Rings symphony at Severance Hall. Mom and Dad got tickets for that and we went up as a family. That was one of the coolest things we've ever been to. Wow! Can't even describe it in a blog post. Not enough space.

Since then, we've had fun watching the three films, in a row, on New Year's Day. News of The Hobbit films has popped up periodically, but when they were such a long time in coming --- well, we assumed that they wouldn't be worth watching. The 3D aspect cinched it. I can't see 3D in normal life, so there's no way that I'd want to sit in a theater trying to see 3D on the screen. The rest of the family wasn't keen on the 3D either --- besides, we'd already decided that the film wouldn't be good. Then we saw the trailer. This was some time in November, and it looked surprisingly good. Thorin looked fabulous. So . . . we talked ourselves into the idea of seeing it.

Back and forth we went, and then it came out. The morning after it was released we sat down and read reviews. Everyone voted that the quality was awful, the 3D made the film look like a 1970s British TV show and they had done a bad job "filling" the story out to make it long enough to warrant three parts. That did it. We'd just wait for the DVD. In fact, we'd wait for the DVD to get to the library and then we'd try it. We did such a good job of talking ourselves out of seeing it that we talked B&K into waiting for it, too.

So, I get a call from them a couple of weeks ago and B. tells me to make sure that we don't buy the DVD. They're buying it and will loan it to us when they've got it. Great! At least we don't have to rely on a library disc, as they always seem to be broken in spots. So, B&K show up last weekend with the movie. They bought it for us! Being that it was the weekend, well we all sat down to watch it together. Surprisingly, it was really good. Sure, there are some stupid parts and a few things a bit over done (e.g. the Dwarves' food fight, the falling bridge in the Goblin Mountain, the dying animals in Mirkwood and Azog the Defiler Orc), but the movie was really great.

We've actually watched it twice since, and by skipping a couple tracks (with the over-done bits) it's fabulous. Elrond is at his peak in this one. He was great before, but he's perfect now. He's actually better than the books. Gandalf is as great as ever. Galadriel is beautiful and just as perfect as before. The Eagles are fabulous. Did I say they were fabulous? Let me say it again: they're fabulous!

What really puts this, in my opinion, yards above the Lord of the Rings films is the fact that Bilbo and Thorin are manly. Nothing sissy about the heroes in this one. And, the producers obviously knew which moments were the best from the first three movies, so they "repeated" moments (similar to the originals) in places. With Thorin as the hero, instead of Aragorn, it's a lot better.

The crowning touch is really Bilbo. I think that he's the best Hobbit on film yet. He can say more with a blink than most other actors say with a whole line. He's funny and serious --- and great at either. His whole body talks and you never think that he even knows someone is watching him, let alone a camera. When it comes to Tolkien's characters on film, there are a few that play it exactly like the book. So perfectly that it's like Tolkien's words come alive. These would be Galadriel, Gandalf, Denethor, Sarumon and Ian Holm as "Old Bilbo". Well, Martin Freeman as Young Bilbo fits into this group without even blinking. There isn't a thing that is less than perfect about him. He's my favorite character from all the movies.

Honorable mention needs to go to some of the Dwarves, too, because some of them are absolutely fabulous. The costumes in this film are not as great as in the Lord of the Rings, and that hurts the quality of the film. The clothes and wigs are not as realistic or beautiful as they should have been. Also, a lot of the characters of the Dwarves are not developed, but that may come in the next film. Balin is fabulous. He's the older dwarf who was at Erebor with Thorin --- and has followed Thorin ever since. You couldn't ask for better. He's just great. Bofur is wonderful, too. He's dressed in an almost Tibetan or Mongolian "look" and has real character. When he's on the screen, you can't help but notice and like him. I always prefer older character actors. They are not so obviously conscious of their youth and looks, which means that they are playing a part instead of just trying to look good. However--- Fili and Kili are perfect. I really love them. They are the youngest Dwarves of the group, hot heads and ready for fighting. Well, the two actors are great and their spirit for adventure really shows in the characters. In fact, I am even set on making a pair of miniature dolls of them. They're that fun.

So, it's a lesson in making judgments before the movie is out. This was supposed to be a short entry to post some pictures of Bilbo and say just how much I LOVE him. I guess this came out way longer than I thought, but it is really a fun movie. It's not as depressing and dark as Lord of the Rings, and it's got real manly heroes. More later.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rise Stevens: On Film with Bing and Nelson

Elizabeth and I found out last night that famous opera star, Rise Stevens, died on Wednesday. This didn't come as a "surprise", as she was 99 years old --- but it's like the passing of an era. She was the only singing star to appear in a movie with both of my favorite singers/actors. In 1941 she played Maria Lanyi, Nelson Eddy's wife in The Chocolate Soldier. Three years later, in 1944, she played Bing Crosby's long-time friend (and Metropolitan opera star), Genevieve Linden.

Not only was her voice fabulous, but she wasn't one of those opera stars that stood on the screen waiting to sing. You actually liked her as a character in the film when she wasn't singing.

The world is remembering her right now for her famous roles on the operatic stage. Carmen, Samson et Delilah, etc. But I'll always think of her singing Ave Maria in the church basement with Bing and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Another Beautiful Picture of My Cat, Samwise!

It's not easy to take a picture of Samwise, so for each one that turns out there are usually fifty or sixty bad ones. He blinks. He moves. He nuzzles the camera. But it's always worth the trouble, because he just looks so perfect if you can get a good shot of him. Well, two days ago I got one! The flash didn't even have to turn on --- which means that his eyes are wide open!

Poor Samwise is having a hard time dealing with the loss of Manly and Olivia. He stopped talking for weeks and just walked around with a droopy tail. Finally, he started meowing again (he's a real squeak-pot!), but now he's lost a lot of his hair. He's actually pulled some of it out himself. Poor baby.

Elizabeth and I have been trying to get some work done on various dolls this week. Mom's computer monitor died yesterday, so we had to deal with that. I've had some time to research the Eliot Family a little bit and have found some fun facts. We're planning on a fun day tomorrow, but that'll have to be in another post. (Not to mention that I still need to post pictures of what I bought last weekend!) More later.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Detectives Here, Detectives There . . .

Well, we have finally finished all of the little Minikin dolls from the big special order that we've been working on for the past several weeks. Boy, was this fun! The order was for ten dolls (to accompany the customer's first Minikin of Hercule Poirot) --- all themed after characters from various detective shows. Four of the dolls were Poirot's Friends, but six of them were other characters from other shows. Take a look at them. Aren't they cute?!

Doll Set: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Charlie Chan, Miss Marple, Nero Wolfe & Archie Duncan

In fact, we have had more people contact us about detectives than any other topic, so we're planning on changing the feel of the Etsy store to reflect the "mystery" theme. For the time being, we plan on making all of the Minikin dolls based on various detectives (and their friends). That means that Elizabeth and I are going to get busy today working on some more Poirot dolls and his friends. We're planning on offering all of these (and more!) for sale in our Etsy store --- and by special order.

Front Row: Poirot and Friends Doll Set
(Capt. Hastings, Mrs. Oliver, Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp & Poirot)

The picture above shows the complete special order of dolls. Holmes and Watson are my personal favorites, though Miss Marple is awfully cute. With this many different characters, we had a lot of fun with all of the variety in outfits and colors. We'd never heard of Nero Wolfe, but his lemon yellow shirt, striped tie and yellow hanky were cool! I'll be posting individual pictures of the dolls over the next week on our store blog, so check them out by CLICKING HERE.

We had a fun weekend (quite busy), so I'll be posting pictures and news from that as soon as I can get them ready. Gotta get felting now! More later.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What to do on a nice afternoon?

Nice weather (meaning sunshine) doesn't come often in March. When it does, you have to take advantage of it for the few hours that it's there. Well, it was one of those beautiful afternoons on Sunday --- and we had to go out. The morning was a bit grey, but by the afternoon it was gorgeous. Dad stayed home to tie flies for his Etsy shop, but the three of us girls grabbed our tool basket, the camera (with fully charged batteries) and jackets and headed out to two local cemeteries.

This is the first time that we've had a chance to head out to a cemetery in ages, so we were all pretty happy. The first one was a small place with about ninety burials still marked. Stones ranged from the 1840s to the 1870s --- with a few stragglers into the 19-teens. A lot of the stones were broken, fallen over and/or buried, so we had to pull out the tin foil to decipher quite a few of them. The pictures show Mom and Elizabeth in the process of reading some stones. N.B. Elizabeth's glasses! They are for far-away, which makes reading stones across the grounds a lot easier. Isn't she cute?!

The second cemetery is a large one with thousands of burials. It was started in 1824 and is still in use. Elizabeth and I are always on the lookout for stones of little babies and children, so we took a lot of pictures like that. We did venture into the old section for a while and found two stones (one shown on the left) that must be some of the original 1820s burials. The stones are hand carved and didn't even have dates or ages on them.

Weather is going back to the normal Winter stuff --- which is good. Elizabeth and I have been killing ourselves (take that far from literally) finishing a custom order of Minikin detective dolls. Wow, are they cute?! As soon as I'm finished typing here, I'm off to work on the last doll. Hoping to have pictures of them to post over the weekend. More later.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Needle Felting: What It Is & How to Do It

I've been needle-felting for a little over three years now. In that time, a lot of people have asked Elizabeth and me what needle-felting is and how it is done. Well, most people actually get a blank look on their faces and say, "What's that?" This entry is as concise an explanation as I can make --- along with some "how-to" pictures to supply a visual explanation.

There are two kinds of needle felting: "Applique" and "In-the-Round". Almost all of the felting that I do is "in-the-round", though some applique techniques apply when making clothing for dolls or any flat pieces. Either way, you need wool roving. Roving . . . it's one of my favorite things. Lots of colors are handy (part of my collection is shown below), but you'll only need one to start practicing.
Needle-felting is accomplished by poking barbed/notched needles into wool roving (or other fibers like llama, alpaca, etc.). As the small barbs are pushed into the wool it "tangles" the roving and felts the wool. The more you poke the roving, the firmer the felt and finished product. It is a rather new art, since felting in the round only started in the 1980s. Methods and techniques are very individual, and no two pieces are ever quite the same.

TOOLS: Needles, Needle Holder & Felting Mat
There are all kinds of tools and methods when it comes to needle felting, but these are my favorites. I use the Clover felting mat (large size) and pen tool. These are very easy to find, being available at large craft stores like JoAnne Fabrics, Hobby Lobby --- and even on The felting mat has a plastic base and long nylon bristles (giving it the look of a fancy brush). These are made to the height of the felting needles when used in a Clover pen or applique tool. That way, you never break a needle by hitting the base.

The pen tool is a very nifty thing. Lots of felters simply hold onto the top of the needle and felt that way, but I am more comfortable with a larger grip for the hand. The pen tool can hold one to three needles, so it can be used for "In-the-Round" or applique.

Clover also sells their own brand of felting needles, but I don't recommend them. I used them for about a year, but the amount of breakage is incredible. The needles are very thin and flimsy, so they don't last very well. For the past two years, I have been buying needles in bulk packs of fifty from Fine Fiber Press. They sell on Etsy and through their own website. They offer a variety of needles at a fair price --- and the quality is excellent. I don't break many needles at all and they last through a lot of felting before the notches wear off.

Picking the size of your felting needle can seem a bit daunting, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference. I would recommend a sample pack, then you can try different sizes and see what works best for you. Needles range in gauge from 32 (coarse) to 42 (ultra-fine). The larger/coarser the needle, the faster it will felt. Unfortunately, there is always a drawback to speed. The larger needles also leave visible puncture marks in your felt. Because of this, I only us size 40 and 42 needles. It takes a bit longer to achieve a firm felt, but I find that the "pock mark" effect of puncture holes is not visible (or rarely visible) in the finished product. When I started felting, I was using a 36 needle, and that leaves very visible marks.

FELTING APPLIQUE STYLE: Large Flat Pieces or Flat Accents
Applique felting is fun, easy and the results are rather quick. In fact, I've taken one picture to show a piece of flat felt (made from wool roving). All you do is place the desired amount and general size of roving on your mat. Insert all three needles into the pen tool and "felt" away. Don't be afraid to push your needles down into the roving --- you don't want to "prick" the wool with only the first 1/8" of your needle. Use all those barbs and you'll have nice, firm felt at the end. Once you've got the hang of this, you'll find the you can achieve some good speed while stabbing the needles down into the wool. Felt until the wool looks firm and smooth, then pull it off of the mat. You'll see that the underside is now very wooly with all of the fiber that you've pushed down from the top. Lay that furry side up on the mat and felt it down. Continue felting each side in this manner until the felt has the consistency suitable for your project. This same technique would apply to any large, flat piece (such as felting a design on a scarf or hat), however, I don't have much experience with this kind of felting --- so, I would suggest finding another online article for more info on that!

FELTING "IN-THE-ROUND": Dolls, Animals and 3D Work
Felting in the round is a lot of fun. You start with a pile of wool roving and end up with a doll (or animal) that has character and personality. There are no "right ways" and "wrong ways" when it comes to felting in the round. Every person will develop their own techniques and tricks, so if you have an idea that makes your work easier --- go for it! 

I only ever use one needle to felt an object in the round. I have two pen tools, one loaded with a size 40 needle and the other with a size 42 needle. This saves time when wishing to switch between sizes during a project. Sometimes, if you are making a large round object (such and a head), then I will use three needles in the pen tool to felt a long piece which is then rolled into a sort of ball shape. Back to one needle and I work on turning this rough-felted ball into a smooth oval shape for the head. This is a time-saving measure, but I'm sure that each person comes up with their own methods for that. :) 

To achieve a three dimensional shape, you must turn the wool on the mat as you are felting. Never felt in one area or side too long, because the wool will flatten out and you will end up with a flat piece before very long. The biggest challenge in 3D felting is keeping each side of your sculpture symmetrical. All I can say is --- practice makes perfect. I am working on my twentieth needle-felted doll, and I still concentrate on symmetry. The series of pictures below shows the basic technique for felting in the round (feel free to click on the pictures to enlarge them). I just made a small ball-shaped piece, but there is no difference whether you make a ball, a foot, a leg or a head. For details like noses and knees, you can add small pieces of wool onto the main piece as you go, but making the basic shape is always the same.

This should give you a rough idea of how needle-felting works. It's a great hobby and art that is relaxing and fun. Possibilities are endless and you can develop your own method as you learn and invent "tricks of the trade". Have fun and thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Maple Sugar Days at Malabar Farm

In this part of the state, every road leads to Malabar Farm. At least --- that's what it feels like. There are all kinds of little brown signs pointing the way to author Louis Bromfield's farm, which has now been turned into a State Park. We grew up going there for field trips and events. One of the most fun is the Maple Syrup Festival. You can't beat that! You get to go inside the sugar shack to see the sap boiling away into syrup (the modern method), and they have reenactors demonstrating methods used by the Indians and the Pioneers.

We had been to this event before --- a long time ago, when we were little. Elizabeth and I have wanted to go back for years, but something always comes up. Usually bad weather. Well, nothing stopped us this weekend. The weather was perfect. In fact, I was way over dressed. It could have snowed and I wouldn't have gotten cold! The sun was shining and it wasn't windy. Buddy and Kay came up to the house to go with us, so that made it even more fun. We jumped into the cars and headed off to Malabar.

We parked up in the main lot by the house and gift shop, which gave us a chance to poke around near the barns for a bit. This was Buddy and Kay's first time there --- which was fun. All kinds of hay wagons are at the park during any of the big events, pulled by teams of beautiful draft horses from the area. You can take these up into the woods where the sugar shack is --- or you can hike. We hiked. :) It was pretty muddy, but we were all wearing hiking boots. What's a little mud at this time of year?!

Almost the exact spot where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall stood for their wedding photos!

The Indian method is really cool. They filled a hollow log with sap, then they place hot rocks that have been sitting in a fire into the sap. Enough of these rocks and the sap really gets boiling. Malabar has two great Indian reenactors, too. In fact, these two guys have been at all of the reenactment events at Malabar since we moved to Ohio --- and that was almost twenty years ago!

After such a great afternoon of tromping through the great outdoors, we all returned home for a hot-soup dinner. Salad, corn bread, biscuits, cheese and some muffins made for a nice meal. We all put our feet up in the TV room and watched a comedy and a mystery together. Can't beat that. Especially since they had been up the day before, too. Wow! It's pretty hard to squeeze visiting time in-between their hectic work schedule, so we were pretty happy. Elizabeth and I can't wait for next time. We're planning on doing Gone With the Wind, and there are all kinds of fun behind-the-scenes facts about that one!

Well, it's been another long afternoon today, but more about that in tomorrow's entry. ;) More later.

Cabela's Grand Opening & Movies with Friends

Hot diggity dog! Cabela's opened a store in the  Buckeye State! They have been absolutely nuts not to do this years ago (who runs these big chains, anyway?!), as Ohio is one of the most "hunting and fishing" states in the Union. I mean, everyone has been having to drive up to Michigan or down to W. Virginia for years. But --- after years of waiting and wondering, we finally got our own store. It is down at Polaris Parkway in Columbus, so that's not bad. Dad's been counting the days down for months now. He and Buddy decided to drive down together, so they met up on Friday morning, had breakfast together and went to shopping heaven. We girls stayed at home. The reason? Buddy and Kay were coming back with Dad after the guys got home from shopping to have an afternoon of watching movies together.

We had just watched a "new-to-us" John Wayne movie, Island in the Sky. All six of us are major fans of The Duke --- and this is an amazing movie. I mean, you really are glued to your seat. What acting. And quite a Christian theme throughout the film. Can't beat that, that's for sure! Well, that was the first movie of the evening. We ate dinner and sat routing for all the pilots who were out to rescue JW and his men. By the end of the movie, everyone was so keyed up that we decided to watch something relaxing. Kay is a fan of mysteries, so we put in The Thin Man Goes Home. That's a family favorite and one that we've wanted to see together for ages.

We really look forward to these visiting times of chatting and watching movies. We end up solving the problems of the world and learning all kinds of stuff from each other. More later.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Receiving a Port Eliot Guide Book in the Mail

Different things are thrilling to different people, and the thing that thrills me right now is a Guide Book from the Cornish estate of Port Eliot. Port Eliot. The longest inhabited dwelling in the U.K. and the family home of Edward James Eliot --- my pet member of the Clapham Sect.

I've been researching the Eliot family for over a year, which has certainly been a fun challenge. I am particularly interested and intrigued by the family during the 18th century, but I've done a considerable amount of reading outside of that. It's given me the opportunity to contact a lot of U.K. archives, libraries and churches --- and even some private estates. Particularly, I've been in contact with Lord St. Germans at Port Eliot. He's been quite "game" and considerate in answering tons of questions. This week he sent one of Port Eliot's guide books to me, and it arrived last night.

This thing is loaded with fun information --- quite a bit of which I didn't know. The Eliot Family has lived there for well over four-hundred years, and they have never thrown anything away! Rooms, attics, basements. All filled with things representing history. Walls from the 13th Century. Portraits from the 16th century. Furniture from the 17th century.

This is a place that I would "give my eye teeth" to see, as the saying goes. (Okay, so I wouldn't really . . . but almost.) Elizabeth and I really look forward to the day that we'll save enough to go to England and see this place. Until then, reading the guide book is good preparation. ;) The picture to the left shows one of the many family portraits that hang throughout the house. There is something special about seeing the faces of the people that are the "names and dates" in the family tree I'm working on.

Anyway, it's hard to explain why getting a little book about a foreign mansion is so very thrilling, but I am thrilled about it. I've been boring Mom and Elizabeth with facts and stories from it for almost twenty-four hours now. Guess they are pretty tired of hearing about the Eliots! More later.