Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas Wonderland Bazaar 2015

Resurrection of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church in Laurel, Maryland, has an annual Christmas Wonderland Bazaar. We attended this year on Saturday (they also have Friday evening festivities), which meant a tasty lunch and seasonal activities for us.

The entrance had some low-key decorations, unlike the church hall. The hall was full-on Christmas, including a piano player with a songstress belting out Christmas tunes.

Entrance to the Bazaar

Dining and fun area

We had soup and sandwiches while the kids had chicken nuggets. While waiting for food, my daughter got a balloon animal. She chose the rather simple fish shape.

Balloon fish

Since that was so quick (i.e. food had not arrived at our table yet), she had her face painted as well. She chose the rather elaborate rainbow-colored butterfly, which took quite a while and came out fabulously.

Start of face painting

Fabulous finish

She and I ate our lunch while others perused the dessert area and the shopping.

The bazaar part of the Christmas Wonderland Bazaar

We saw the frog princess from Sweet Frog walking around but were too busy eating to get a picture with her.

Local celebrity visitor

In addition to the local celebrity, they had international sensation Santa Claus visiting. The whole family got to pose with him.

Is this the best portrait?

Or is this the best?

Cropped because Mommy and Daddy were blinking

When Santa asked about presents, my daughter said she wants an easy-bake oven. My son whispered quietly to Saint Nick, so I can't report on what he wanted. The toddler was mute on the subject. Maybe he was still enjoying lunch.

A happy, messy face

We bought some treats to take home and said farewell to our first foray into the Christmas season (it was on November 14, so pretty early).

Monday, November 30, 2015

TV Review: Burn Notice Season Seven

Burn Notice Season Seven created by Matt Nix

Burn Notice is a television series about CIA agent Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) who was "burned" or dumped from active service because he was suspected of wrongdoing. He wound up in Miami where he reconnected with some old friends (an ex-IRA girlfriend (Gabriel Anwar) and an ex-Navy Seal best friend (Bruce Campbell)) and his mom (Sharon Gless). The story started as a semi-comic drama about his life helping out people as he tries to find out who burned him so he can clear his name and lead a normal life. Of course, if he does find the person and clear his name the series would end, so he never quite manages it. By season seven, the show lost most of the comedy (but not all of it, possibly due to Bruce Campbell being there) and fell into a rut where Michael would infiltrate some secret organization by working with some semi-crazy person. That person would get killed when Michael found out about and started working for that person's slightly more crazy supervisor. Some seasons had him go up quite a few levels to get to the big boss at the end of the season.

By the start of season seven, Michael and his family and friends have been imprisoned by the CIA. Michael agrees to work for them so that his people can get out of jail. His assignment is to infiltrate a terrorist organization running out of the Dominican Republic (so at least they get out of Miami for a lot of episodes). He works his way up the chain throughout the season. It is a bit of plot recycling much like the last few seasons of Alias and was a little disappointing to me. The story does take Michael to the point where he might actually join the terrorists, giving a lot of melodramatic scenes for the cast. Sometimes the cast does a good job of selling those scenes, sometimes they don't. The last two episodes of the series are very exciting and give a dramatically satisfying end to the series, also much like Alias. Unfortunately, viewers need to watch the episodes leading up to those last two. The plot is so complicated that it might be hard to understand what's going on without all the set up. If you think the Alias finale was worth watching the last season, this last season of Burn Notice is worth it (and only half as long at thirteen episodes).

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dora The Explorer in Germany

No, this is not some double-length episode available only on DVD coming in 2006! It's one of the things we saw during a trip to Germany. J was sick on the last day, so we stayed at the hotel and watched some TV. They have a German Nick Jr. channel and on it is Dora the Explorer, simply called Dora.

Anyone who has seen the English version of the show knows that a central element is Dora's bi-lingual life. She speaks English and Spanish, as do some of her friends. A few only speak Spanish, notably the transportation guru Tico the Squirrel. If Dora needs a boat, car, or hot air balloon, Tico is sure to show up in the nick of time to help her out.

The odd thing about the German version of the show is that Dora speaks perfect German. Even odder was the part of the episode where they needed some transportation and Tico showed up spouting the perfectly English phrase, "Hi guys, I can take you where you need to go!" Hearing Tico speak English was flabbergasting to me and my wife. The children were unphased by this shocking turn of events. English is clearly the second "bi-lingual" language in the German version.

To see a list of the international versions of Dora with their language pairs, go here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Naughts and Zeds: Black Friday

Naughts and Zeds is an ongoing series of posts on the differences between language, culture, and everyday items in America and in Britain. For a list of previous posts, go here.

Black Friday is a popular if crazy day in America. It's the day after Thanksgiving and is typically the beginning of the mad shopping rush leading up to Christmas. Stores have big sales and open very early. Some stores go overboard and start their sales Thanksgiving Night, which is wrong in all sorts of ways. The shopping experience is usually sheer pandemonium with people fighting over very popular and/or very cheap items. I generally avoid the situation since I don't like shopping anyway.

I was surprised to read in a local paper (back when I lived in Britain, boy this post is long overdue) that Britain has its own Black Friday. This is the Friday before Christmas. That night is the busiest night for restaurants, pubs, police, and paramedics. People go out for their office or work parties that night, creating a high demand in both good and bad ways. The night is also known as Mad Friday or Builders Friday. Mad because people indulge a little too much. Builders because it's the traditional day for building sites to close for the holidays and everyone takes home their last paycheck, or maybe they don't take it home directly. I general avoid the situation since I am completely ignorant of it!

Happy shopping to those Americans crazy enough to get up in the middle of the night to shop at Walmart!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

One Ingredient Challenge: Granola Bars

Part of an ongoing series of cooking from scratch. That is, we cook something from basic items that don't have multiple ingredients (e.g. store-bought spaghetti sauce includes all sorts of spices and maybe other stuff too; we'd start with tomatoes and individual spices and add them together to make our own sauce). See other challenges here.

L and Mommy whipped up some granola bars from scratch for the One Ingredient Challenge back in the summer--summer of 2013 that is. This is another old post in celebration of Thanksgiving. We are celebrating by giving the readers some leftovers from our European adventures. Anyway, on to the granola bars!

L the mix master

We followed a simple recipe that included oats, raisins, almonds, honey, butter, etc. The nut ingredient was optional in two senses. First, the cook can include nuts or not. Second, if including nuts, they could be almonds or cashews or pecans or any other tasty option. We went with almonds.

Sadly, we did not keep a copy of the recipe, so I don't know the proper amounts of each ingredient. They were fun to mix and spread into our cake pans. Then they went into the oven for a good long while (again, no recipe.)

Into the oven!

Readers may be wondering why we don't have the recipe. The truth is that the bars did not turn out well. We burned one pan and the other wasn't very tasty. And clean up of the pans was a lot of work too (a factor many recipes fail to take into account, along with ingredient prep times, but that's another complaint I'll make on another day).

We hope your Thanksgiving is much more satisfying (and easy to clean up) than these granola bars!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Icon from Crete

While visiting Crete we hoped to buy an icon. We have no real advice on how to shop for one. We went to an religious goods shop in Heraklion, a town on the north shore of the island. Selecting an icon was a little challenging. It would have been nice to get an icon of one of our patron saints but we couldn't decide on which of the four of us. We weren't going to buy four icon. A long time ago in America I'd seen an icon of the Wedding Feast at Cana but the store didn't have any. The lady recommended one for scholars, featuring three of the greats of the Eastern Church.

Click to enlarge

On the icon are the Three Holy Hierarchs--Saints Basil, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nazianzen. They were bishops in the 300s who had a major impact on Christian theology through their teaching and their holy lives. In the Eastern Church, they have a special feast day on January 30 dedicated to all three. They are venerated in the Western Church as doctors of the church but do not have a combined feast day.

Icons themselves have an interesting history. As an artistic tradition, they grew out of the Egyptian mummy portraits of the first to fourth centuries AD. These portraits featured large eyes and formal settings, a step away from the naturalistic depictions of Roman and Greek art from the same time. The style also flows from the Platonic tradition of the world of idealized Forms, so that the icons represent archetypes of Christ or Mary or whatever they portray. The images invoked the sort of reverence that could be misconstrued as idolatry, leading Emperor Leo III of Byzantium to start the first wave on iconoclasm in 726. The persecution lasted for about one hundred years. Afterwards, the Byzantine church spread north through Eastern Europe all the way to current-day Russia. They brought the tradition of making icons with them.

Of course, icons are not considered art properly in the East, they are a way of praying for both the artisan and the viewer. The icon is incarnational, communicating a spiritual reality through material means. The icon gives a focal point and rich details for meditating on the person or event depicted. It raises the mind and heart to God, the classical definition of prayer.

In other ancient icon news, I bought one in Jerusalem when I visited back in 2000. I'd been looking for a Nativity but I had special criteria. Most icons have Saint Joseph off in a corner moping which I don't particularly care for. I understand the theology behind it--he's not the father of the baby. But surely he wasn't whiny about it. He accepted his position and worked hard to do what he needed to do. I came across an icon where he was by the manger and knew I had to get it right away. It's a triptych which we usually open for the Christmas season.

Nativity icon closed (click to enlarge)

Nativity icon open (click to enlarge)

Of course, photos never do justice to icons, so don't miss an opportunity if you can see them. Eastern rite churches are loaded with icons, including the iconostasis that separates the nave from the sanctuary. Symbolically, it's a doorway between earth and heaven. It includes images of Jesus, Mary, the evangelists, the patriarchs, the apostles, and the patron of the church. It's worth the visit, plus there's probably other icons around the church.

Read more about icons in this slim, illustrated volume:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dual/Duel Review: Amelie Poulain vs. Edith Piaf

Dual/Duel reviews are an online smackdown between two books, movies, games, podcasts, etc. etc. that I think are interesting to compare, contrast, and comment on. For a list of other dual/duel reviews, go here. Also, this is more of the leftovers from Europe this week.

Inspired by our trip to Paris we watched some Paris-based movies, Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (known in America simply as Amelie) and La môme (known in America as La Vie en Rose). Both movies are French productions, set (at least in part) in Montmartre (where we had our hotel), and award-winning movies.

The first film is a bit of a fantasy about Amelie, a girl who grows up with overprotective and slightly bonkers parents. She retreats into a world of her own imaging to cope, and continues to do so as an adult. A chance discovery of a hidden box of toys sets her on the path to connect with others in a more meaningful way, including a potential boyfriend. The movie is very light-hearted and charming. Amelie herself is irresistibly charming. It's hard not to root for her. The movie is a fun, life-affirming fantasy.

The second film is a biography of French singer Edith Piaf. Her life story is told in a mixed-up chronological order. She is born to a circus performer and an alcoholic mother. She is raised at different times by these two, in addition to her grandmother who runs a brothel. Piaf's life is full of tragedy and heartache (some of which is self-inflicted). The story of her rise to fame and subsequent efforts to keep performing holds the viewers' interest but ultimately is full of lots of misery. She's somewhat sympathetic if ultimately unlikeable, as is Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. I can't help drawing a parallel between the two character and wonder at why I like the movie about Kane more than this one about Piaf. But that's an argument for another post. The movie is a gritty historical biography.

I enjoyed Amelie a great deal more than La Vie en Rose, which in a certain sense makes it a better movie. If I had to rewatch one, Amelie would win that match-up several times. The movie has a more artistic visual style and the likable protagonist is much easier to watch. So the win goes to Amelie Poulain!