My Christmas Gift Tags

Gift Tags

Considering that Tuesday was Valentines Day, I’m uhhhhh a little late on this, but I did want to share with you my Gift Tags for this past Christmas, as I was really happy with how they came out.

I kind of stole part of the idea from my Aunt, who has always taken her gift wrapping super-seriously. Her christmas gifts are basically works of art. Perfectly matching ribbon, fancy tags, and always, ALWAYS, a themed ornament as a wrapping decoration/part of the gift.

Her appreciation for the presentation of the gift is something that’s rubbed off on me, and the last few years I have also picked up this meticulous wrapping style, complete with keepsake ornament decoration.

Problem was that this year, while I found a wrapping paper theme that I loved – I just COULD NOT find tags that matched that weren’t either super expensive, or super cheap looking.

And then one day I was doing some organizing of my craft supplies (read: making a massive mess tearing them apart in the search for something specific), and I found a fabric remnant that I bought years ago featuring a repeating white silhouette of a deer. And wouldn’t you know it, it happened to match my black/white/red/green/woodland wrapping theme for this year perfectly.

Well, considering that this past year I’ve gotten back into embroidery after a 20 year hiatus (full post on that is in the works) – I had found my perfect solution. Some 3 inch hoops, some shimmery embroidery floss, and some hot glue and felt later I had managed to kill two birds with one stone – providing not only perfect personalized tags, but my traditional yearly ornament in one fell swoop.

My only fear is that I’ve now set the bar too high, and won’t be able to find a fabric that’s as easily adaptable for this coming Christmas!

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane

Before we left for Disney, I went into a little bit of a book panic. I was looking to figure out what I’d bring with me for the trip and realized I had absolutely nothing that wasn’t heavy and/or (mostly and) depressing. I have a VERY large book collection that is TBR, but it’s full of topics like the Holocaust, Japanese WWII POWs, Death and the Civil War, and various other horrible, heavy, awful things. Because that’s the kind of history I’m drawn to. Take that for what you will.

Anyway, the point is – none of it is kid-friendly, nor does it seem like appropriate reading for a week at the happiest place on earth.

And so I begged, needled, and cajoled Jim into a last-minute stop at the bookstore after our weekly date night dinner (the bookstore is usually something we do separately, since I could happily spend hours in there just browsing, and he’s more of a goal-oriented book shopper).

Well my aimless content browsing brought me to this gem.

The cover originally is what attracted me to it, but when I read the inside flap I was a little confused. And also a little excited. Because, from my perspective, this book could go one of two ways: it could be confusing and strange and awful, or it could be, hands down, one of the best things I’ve ever read.

Ultimately, I decided to take a chance.

And guys? I’m so glad I did. As a historian, everything in my gut tells me that this kind of revisionist premise shouldn’t have worked. But it did. It totally did. It was entertaining, and clever, and just plain fun.

My Lady Jane reframes the turmoil of the Tudor succession and the English reformation as a conflict not between Catholic and Protestant, but between the magical and the unmagical. It also takes a young female figure who is largely portrayed in history books as a tragic, powerless pawn of the English political game and gives her a voice. Gives her strength and agency and pluck as she fights not just for her own happily ever after, but for a happy ending for everyone she cares about.

And guys, this was just SO. MUCH. FUN.

The writing is witty and clever and funny, and at no point does it take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at itself as it uses common tropes and over the top plot devices, and in doing so makes the ridiculousness of the story entertaining instead of annoying. Throughout reading I couldn’t help but draw parallels to The Princess Bride (book and movie), because it’s got that same sort of self-aware, inching towards parody feel to it.

Honestly, the only even borderline negative thing I can say, is that in retrospect (mild spoilers ahead) I kind of feel a little bad that Mary I ends up vilified again, particularly when they’re already throwing history out the window so heartily. Generally when the English Reformation is dealt with in popular culture, Mary I and the English Catholics end up vilified while the Protestants are cast as the “good guys” – when in reality the whole thing was much more nuanced and complicated and more about the dangers of radicalism than anything else… but that’s just kind of one of my “things” after having spent a lot of time on the English Reformation in grad school and personally finding Mary I to be kind of a tragic figure herself. But even with that said, this book handles it reasonably well, and by recasting the conflict in the manner that it does, actually (I think anyway) keeps the focus a little more on the dangers of radicalism and the power-hungry instead of just presenting it like “them bad, us good.”

That said, one of the overall charms of this book was that it wasn’t supposed to be heavy enough for that kind of criticism. It’s blatantly stated that the goal here was to take the real history – which is heavy and tragic, and horrible in many ways – and basically throw it out the window to tell a much more pleasant, much lighter, and much more frivolous story. And that’s exactly what it does. Even the text itself makes sure not to take itself too seriously – it breaks the 4th wall several times, effectively reminding the reader that, “hey, we’re just having fun here, hope you are too.” If we’re speaking candidly, it’s been a long time since I enjoyed a book as thoroughly as this for no other reason than I had fun reading it.

So yea.

Good book.

In summary: OMG SO MUCH FUN.

Overall Rating: 5/5

Would Recommend to: Anyone. But be sure to go into it expecting fun fiction, not real History or any serious allegories for it. You won’t find them. Special bonus recommendation points if you enjoyed The Princess Bride (book or movie – doesn’t matter which).

 

(PS – Happy Valentine’s Day!)

Reassessing for 2017

So any of you who have been around for a while know that my blogging over the last two years has been… sporadic at best. I’ll have a month or two where I’m really consistent, and then go on radio silence for three. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to figure out why I can’t seem to break this cycle, and honestly there are like, a thousand reasons.

I originally had a massively long post typed out listing them all, but I scrapped that because it all just sounded like I was making excuses. And that makes this feel like less of a hobby and more of a job, and goodness knows the last thing I need right now is another job (I currently have four).

So no reasons, no excuses. I’m done looking for them and focusing on them. Instead, I think the time has come for some retooling.

Part of this is to make it work better for me, for my life and schedule, and in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling guilty for not having posted in a while. Part of it is to try to provide more consistent content here.

I do, of course, want to start focusing a little more back on my hobbies – expect more book reviews, hopefully some more project posts… that goes along with some lifestyle changes that I’m trying to make on a more personal level. But I also want to figure out some semi-regular features that can stick around even when I don’t have time to create anything physical.

What form those are going to take, I don’t know. Any suggestions, or well established blog events (things like Blogmus or Throwback Thursday or Friday Favorites) would be welcomed.

So I guess, my question in all this is, beyond project posts, what kind of content do you like? What would you like to see more of from Magpie Making Do? Are there any older posts in particular that you’d like to see more like?

Additionally, I’ve been intending for a long time to switch from wordpress.com to a self-hosted wordpress.org site. I even bought the domain name, and have hosting all set up – but I’ve been holding off until I can be more consistent about content… mainly as an excuse, because switching over seems a little intimidating and scary, and I really don’t want to lose the readers I already have here. Has anyone taken this plunge already, and are there any tips or recommendations you might want to share?

Any and all input (as long as it’s polite!) is welcome in the comments, and I’ll keep mulling over things too!

Book Review – Dragon Age: Last Flight by Laine Merciel

Last Flight

Dragon Age: Last Flight is yet another book set in the world of the Dragon Age video games. Using a nested narrative, it provides an engaging look into the history of Thedas without becoming too much like reading a giant codex.

I will start right off the bat by saying that this is, hands down, the best of the Dragon Age novels that I’ve read so far. I’ve read both The Calling and Asunder, and Last Flight comes in as most entertaining and engaging, by far. It is also, strangely enough, the only one that was not written by a member of the Dragon Age writing team.

Now it’s hard to really pinpoint exactly why that matters, but I can’t shake the feeling that it somehow does. Maybe because Liane Merciel seems to primarily be a novelist by trade, and is maybe a little more skilled with pacing for such a work? One of my only “bones to pick” with the other two that I’ve read so far was pacing – specifically action scenes that dragged on just far too long for the written word (but would probably be AWESOME and of perfect length if executed visually – say like a boss battle or a cut scene in a video game) – and there was no issue with that what so ever in this one. Merciel provides just enough action to keep it interesting, and writes the scenes in a way that the reader can easily visualize things without going overboard on choreography.

Last Flight is also unique in its content. This one is more about exploring the history of Thedas and the Grey Wardens than providing any sort of additional background for already existing characters, which I think was a smart move. So often I have trouble reading franchise books like this because the characters that you have come to know and love just don’t quite ring true in the hands of another writer. And that was one of the big reasons that I liked the other two Dragon Age books I’ve read. They’re written by the lead writer for the series. He knows the characters, and so the characters I’ve come to know and love never seem… off.

So I think choosing to focus on new characters instead of already established ones was a very good move considering they switched up authors. Instead, the plot spends most of its narrative actually going back in time, putting the reader in the middle of the fourth blight and exploring the really rather grey morality of the Wardens in a much more effective way than any of the games yet have. It gives opportunity to not only expand the world, but allow the author enough freedom within it so that nothing feels forced.

In summary: My favorite Dragon Age novel yet, but don’t expect to see any familiar faces in it.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Would recommend to: Dragon Age and fantasy fans.

For the Last Week…

My Lady Jane

If you follow my instagram you may have noticed that my last two photos have been a little… unseasonal looking? Considering I hail from Northeastern Pennsylvania and the place has been cold and grey and snowy for the last month or so, my photos definitely may have seemed a little out of place.

Well, that’s because I spent the last week in Florida at Disney World!

Disney Castle

I’ve always had a soft spot for Disney, and had never gotten a chance to visit as a kid, as when we were saving as a family for a trip, in the end we decided that putting in a pool would be a better use of that money, since it would last oh, 20 years as opposed to one week.

No regrets there. In fact, I feel like I was able to appreciate the overall Disney experience far more as an adult than I would have as a kid (and god, did I love that pool). It’s SUCH a great vacation experience, and they have all sorts of little details covered that make the whole thing super easy and super relaxing – even at the budget resorts. We went for the first time three years ago, and decided pretty much as soon as we returned that we’d go back as soon as we could afford to.

Well it took three years, but we managed to get back. And the second trip was even better since, having already been there once, we didn’t feel pressured to cram every sight, ride, and experience into 5 days.

I’m not going to write a full post on the trip because we just did too much, but while I was there I read three books, and took a ton of pictures. If you’re interested in the visual side of my trip you can follow along on my instagram @magpiemakingdo over the next few weeks as I get photos up, and reviews of the books are forthcoming as well!

Sabriel

It Was the Shawl That Wouldn’t End…

shawl

So I made a Boneyard Shawl (ravelry link). I went with the YO options to create a perforated edge and middle, and I LOVE the way it turned out, but oh, em, gee did I get bored with this pattern fast.

It’s a super easy knit, but the bigger it gets, the more tedious the knitting was for me. It’s super mindless, which is GREAT if you’re someone who can like, knit without looking at your stitches? But I still can’t really do that. I’m in awe of people who can read while they knit, or even watch something on TV that’s visual heavy, because I can basically only do documentaries which are more about listening than seeing. As a result, because of how easy and mindless it is, I spent a LOT of time – as the repeats got longer and longer and as the shawl got bigger and bigger – just wishing it was done. There was a lot of attraction/avoidance going on with this project, for over a year really, and it kind of became a big source of knitters block for me.

But I finally buckled down and just FINISHED it. In the end, do I love the result? Totally. It’s big, and cozy, and comfy, and looks great. Do I think I’ll make this pattern again? Probably not. Not until I can knit without looking reliably, anyway. But in the end I have a nice new office wrap, so that’s good. And I can finally move on to other knitting!

(here’s the link to my ravelry project page)

Closeup

Book Review – Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider

Asunder

So I finished this book earlier last year, but never got around to posting about it.

Asunder is a book from the Dragon Age universe – a video game world which, if you’ve been around here for any length of time, you’ve probably learned that I have have an unhealthy love for. I love the setting, I love the characters, I love the stories (mostly) and I even love the flaws because of the discourse it creates.

And Asunder, like The Calling before it, is a nice little romp through a world I love. It serves as an origin story for the character of Cole from Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it does well at filling in his background a little more completely. It also introduces two characters that I wish we saw more of in the game – Rhys and Evangeline. They’re an interesting and multifaceted pair which I’d like to see more development of in the future – particularly because of their connection(s) to Wynne from the first DA game (I’m trying not to spoil anything here, but it’s REALLY HARD to talk about this without doing so!).

As with The Calling, some of the fight scenes did drag on a little too long for my tastes, crossing the line from exciting into slightly tedious – but it was really nice to get a little more background not only on Cole, but on the Mage Rebellion as a whole, and how it went down in places other than Kirkwall.

To Summarize: Like The Calling, it’s no great work of literature, but it’s a fun little read if you’re into DA. If you’re not a DA fan, you might not have ANY idea what’s going on (I can’t really speak for how well it sets the world up for people not already acquainted with the DA world), so take that for what you will.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Would Recommend To: any fans of Dragon Age.