Friday, December 2, 2016

Cute Kid Pix November 2016

Here's more pictures that didn't make their own blog post.

My toddler got a hold of the phone and managed to get some nice shots of himself.

Looking cute

Adding me in

For my birthday this month, we went to Rams Head Tavern at one of our favorite local spots, the Historic Savage Mill. We had brunch there since they have a Jazz trio playing live for Sunday brunch. I had the beer sampler, which seemed a little decadent at 11:30 in the morning. It was my birthday.

Sampler mat

For those interested, here are the beers included:
  • Gypsy Lager--A fairly standard lager, not my favorite style of beer, so this was not high on my list.
  • Rams Head IPA--Again, IPAs aren't my favorite style of beer (too bitter), so this was not my favorite drink here.
  • Oak Barrel Stout--I really liked the robust flavor of this stout.
  • Copperhead Ale--A yummy amber ale, I found this very tasty.
  • Wisteria Wheat--When I want a light-flavor beer, I choose wheat beers. This is a fun and crisp drink.
  • Seasonal Brew, Baltic Porter--Another dark and lovely beer, it made me smile. 
My favorites were the Oak Barrel Stout and the Baltic Porter.

In other news, scouts are still going strong. We had a pack meeting where the boys made care packages for those serving in the military. It was a fun meeting for the kids. We also found out that we had massive popcorn sales far exceeding expectations. Good times!

My son at the pack meeting

My daughter made a turkey at school from an apple and various bits of candy. She was quite proud and had fun eating the candy part of her turkey.

Turkey from school!

Also at school, Scholastic had a big book sale with a pirate theme called "Bookaneer." We posed with a pirate.

Pirate bird

My family with the pirate

The toddler was obsessed with the  teacher who dressed up as Geronimo Stilton, a popular character in kid's book who is a mouse. He was giving high fives and every time we moved off to look at books, he wanted to go back to the big mouse. I had to pick the toddler up every time for the high five, so no pictures of that!

My daughter repeated the school turkey project for our Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Hard to carve turkey

My older son managed to make a tower out of our full set of Wedgits. Sadly, the tower didn't last long once the toddler walked through the room. I was able to preserve it.

Ultimate tower of mega-power

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Book Review: Medieval Women Mystics by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard

Medieval Women Mystics: Gertrude the Great, Angela of Foligno, Birgitta of Sweden, Julian of Norwich introduced and edited by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard

This book gives a collection of writings by four medieval women who experienced mystical visions. Those visions were not just for their personal gratification but led them to live holier lives, instruct others, and give a concrete witness to the demands of Christ's love. They are not the only women mystics of the time. They have been selected to represent the variety of vocations available to women and to show a feminine response to grace. These texts are not dry, technical scholasticism. They do contain precision and show a concrete and personal response to the call to holiness.

Each section starts with a brief biography and overview of the woman followed by passages from primary texts. I am a fan of primary texts when studying someone so I like the format very much. Enough texts are provided for each woman to present various thoughts and experiences. Here is a quick overview of each lady:

Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) went as a five-year old orphan to the Benedictine abbey of Helfta. Nothing is known now of her parents; she clearly adopted the nuns as her family. She became a nun and had several visions of our Lord. Late in her life she was commanded to write down her visions. Some stories come from her own words; others are written down by others. She had a great closeness to Christ, granting her insights on His suffering and His relationship with His mother that are edifying.

Angela of Foligno (ca. 1248-1309) was highly influenced by the rise of the mendicant orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, etc.), especially by the character and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. She was a married woman of some wealth who was transformed by Francis's example. She became a spiritual mother to many and often gave others practical advice. Her words center around Christ in His poverty and humility, emphasizing that spiritual growth can only come through both the knowledge of Christ's life and the imitation of His example. Suffering is to be embraced as a means of unity with Jesus and a way to strengthen virtue.

Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373) was also a married woman but she lived in high society. After having mystical visions of Jesus and His blessed mother, she spoke out against abuses and corruption among the courtly aristocrats, earning her the title "the Swedish Joan of Arc." She and her husband eventually left courtly life and went on various pilgrimages. Birgitta founded a mixed order (i.e. men and women in the same setting) and obtained papal approval. Her fame and influence all but disappeared during the Protestant Reformation and only recently has Birgitta's writings and contributions been recognized.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1420) had a near-death experience in her thirties during which she had sixteen visions of Jesus and Mary over a few days. Afterward, she became an anchorite, someone who dedicated their lives to prayer and counseling while never leaving very small quarters. Typically anchorites live in a room attached to or inside a church so they could receive the sacraments. She lived her life in Norwich at the Church of St. Julian (so most scholars don't even think "Julian" is her real name) and wrote a book about her visions and her reflections on them afterwards. Since she was not part of an order, her book was thought lost during the Protestant purges in England. She has only recently been rediscovered. She had an intense devotion to Jesus and Him crucified and is famous for writing "all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." The quote is a response to reflections on the damage that sin causes. She is a bit controversial--she discusses the "motherhood" of Christ, which would surely garner all sorts of misinterpretations in modern media. She describes His providence and how He feeds His children from His own body, something that mothers do. So the idea isn't really as controversial as it seems.

The book is a wonderful overview and makes for a good jumping off point for further reading. I am interested especially in Julian and Birgitta and will be hunting around from more from them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Volunteering at the Ravens/Bengals Game 2016

Our church's youth group has a fun volunteering opportunity. Volunteers travel to M&T Bank Stadium to hand out game programs for some of the Baltimore Ravens football games. My wife volunteers with the youth group for their regular, at-church activities. She volunteered me for this activity, for which I am quite grateful.

I went this past weekend to the Ravens versus the Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m. game. The group had to arrive by 10 a.m. to go in, get informed on what to do (and what not to do), and get to our stations for the gates opening at 11 a.m.

The sponsor's logo is much bigger than the teams!

Arriving that early at the stadium is an eye-opening experience. The neighborhoods near the stadium where the street parking is free on Sunday mornings were crowded by 9:30 with tailgaters. Some people were using the sidewalks to cook some brats and such. Celebrating can't start too early, I guess.

At the stadium, things were just getting busy outside. Other volunteers and employees were showing up. One beer tent was ready to serve!

No one was taking off at this flight deck at 9:45

Hospitality tents for VIP guests?

A lot of vendors were set up on the path between the Ravens' stadium and the Orioles' stadium. The vendors gave away freebies and sold stuff to the fans. I enjoyed a free coffee from Dunkin' Donuts (I usually don't drink coffee but the weather was in the 40s Fahrenheit) and a bag of chips from Utz. A mattress store had a "spin the wheel" giveaway but the only items they had on offer were a plush "Mr. Mattress" doll and a bunch of t-shirts. The shirts all had sayings like "I'm a superstar in bed." I wasn't interesting in getting either, so I didn't spin the wheel. A local grocery chain had their own wheel, offering cookies, breakfast biscuits, fruit snacks, and granola bars. I won a bag of cookies, which I smuggled into the stadium.

Ravens Walk just outside the main entrance to the stadium

After a quick visit to Ravens Walk, we got back to our gate, where volunteers enter.

Rendezvous at Gate A-1

We received badges and went through security before our training in a special room. The training was mostly "be positive and smile, make this a fun experience for the fans." The trainer said if there were any problems, we should refer them to one of the regular staff in a green coat. We were issued vests, hats (though there weren't enough hats in the room, I got mine later), and water bottles. Soon enough we were off to our gate just before 11 a.m.

We worked at Gate A and saw plenty of action from 11:45 up to 1:15.

Horrible lighting from inside the stadium

Myself, geared up and ready to go

As volunteer opportunities go, this job was fun. Most people were happy to receive programs. Some were surprised that they were free. Some wanted extras to share with friends and family. Some didn't want any at all. Some politely took the programs and later dropped them back in the box while our backs were turned! Kids loved getting something free. When the crowd got thick, we had to make some passes over and in between other patrons. People were always polite and happy to be there.

By the end of the first quarter of the game (around 1:30), they closed the gate. We stacked up the few boxes that remained and headed back to our secret room. We turned in our gear, got an extra bottle of free water and a free ticket to the game. The seats were good ones, too--lower deck, very close to the field.

Free ticket for volunteering

View from my seat

Playing on my end of the field

Seats that had the benefit of sunshine on the 50 degree day

The game went well, by which I mean the home team won without too much trouble. Some of the patrons nearby grumbled about referee calls that went against the Ravens. Otherwise the crowd was pleasant.

At half time, four junior teams came out for some quick playing. Two middle school girls' teams played flag football at one end of the stadium while two elementary school boys' teams played tackle at the other end.

Half time entertainment

Peewee football was at my end of the stadium

The weather was too cold to enjoy a cold beer. I bought a hot dog for lunch and snacked on chips and cookies from the Ravens Walk. I almost bought hot chocolate but couldn't stomach the five dollar price.

The whole experience was great and I'd do it again, though the church group doesn't have any more games on their schedule till next year. Here's hoping the Ravens make it into the playoffs!

Reading the program at home

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Visitation (1982)

Doctor Who: The Visitation (1982) written by Eric Saward and directed by Peter Moffatt

Fifth Doctor Peter Davison tries to return his companion Tegan (Janet Fielding) to Heathrow Airport in 1981, ending her adventures with him. The TARDIS gets the location right but the year wrong. The year is 1666 and the plague is raging throughout England. If that wasn't bad enough, a "comet" crashed recently which the locals took as a sign of doom. They are quite right of course, because it was actually a spaceship. The Doctor wants to help the stranded aliens get back to their home world. Those aliens, the Terileptils, have other plans, the typical enslaving and/or wiping out humanity so they can have the Earth to themselves.

The show has the usual antics--kidnappings and escapes, chasing good guys or bad guys, building a science-y weapon, bantering between the Doctor and the companions (two others are on board in addition to Tegan). A fun addition is Richard Mace (Michael Robbins), a highwayman who used to be an actor before the plague made theater-going less appealing. He helps out the Doctor with his highwayman skills (picking locks and shooting pistols, that kind of thing) and provides some extra comic relief. The aliens are typical Doctor Who baddies, though at least they are imaginative enough to dress up their android as Death to scare the locals away.

Overall, this four-parter is a fun if a bit average adventure for the Doctor.

A bit of fun trivia--in the special features, they mention that Peter Davison played Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small, which made me look at his career on IMDB. Another fun role was this one:

I laughed because I knew exactly what role he had just from the name! He's the cow that points out his best parts to diners at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book Review: Fairy Tail Vol. 1 by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail Volume 1 by Hiro Mashima, translated and adapted by William Flanagan

Young aspiring wizard Lucy wants to join Fairy Tail, a famous guild with top-notch magic users and a bit of a bad reputation for going overboard when working on assignments. Lucy runs into Natsu, a young wizard with a talking cat for a companion. He has come to Hargeon searching for a fire dragon named Salamander. He's found a blowhard wizard who calls himself Salamander and is the idol of all the young women. Lucy almost falls under his spell until she realizes he is in fact using a charm spell to convince women to come to his leisure yacht for a party. Salamander's purposes are much more nefarious than wanting to party with pretty women. Luckily for Lucy, Natsu sticks around to help out and is from Fairy Tail. He's her ticket to the big leagues.

The story is quite imaginative and has a good blend of humor and action. Different wizards have different abilities--Natsu has dragon-based magic with lots of fire-related results. Lucy uses celestial keys to access various zodiac characters (Taurus is a goofy axe-wielding bull). She doesn't have a complete set of keys and has to negotiate contracts with the characters (what days she can access them, how much she can get from them, etc.). When they get to Fairy Tail, Lucy meets a huge assortment of wizards. They wind up in a big barroom brawl (as if the story is an American western and not a Japanese manga) that's broken up by the arrival of their master.

The book ends with Lucy and Natsu (and Happy the cat) going off on a job to recover a book in Duke Everlue's possession. So there's a cliffhanger ending pulling readers into volume 2.

The book also has some handy explanations from the author in the front and the back.* The most fascinating bits are the cultural translations. For example, "master" is a word the Japanese have borrowed but it mostly means "someone who runs a business." The notions of "having expertise or skill (e.g. mastery of cooking)" or "being a slave owner" are completely absent in the Japanese use of the word. 

I was also watching the anime version of this story through Netflix, which no longer has the first season available. So far, the plots are exactly the same. Both are equally enjoyable, though the manga has a bit more fan service, i.e. the female characters are chestier than their TV counterparts. There's no nudity but skimpy outfits are everywhere.

*The front and back of the book are opposite because one reads manga with the book's binding on the right, not the left, resulting in a "backward" paperback book. It's surprisingly easy to get used to reading right to left after a couple of pages.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Movie Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Hail, Caesar! (2016) written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer at Capitol Pictures in the 1950s. His job is to make sure operations run smoothly at the studio, mostly by fixing problems that come up. Like the singing cowboy who can't quite act in a sophisticated melodrama and is driving the director crazy; the swimming star who is pregnant and unmarried; the big star (George Clooney) who is kidnapped off the set of the studio's big Biblical epic. The epic's script has already gone through the theological wringer of a rabbi, an Orthodox priest, a Protestant minister, and a Catholic priest (which is a pretty funny scene). Eddie is a Catholic and struggles with his sins and with an offer from Lockheed for a better paying, fewer hours job.

Both the characters in the movie and the movie itself vacillate between earnestness and frivolity. It comes off as the film makers both admiring and poking fun at the Golden Age of Hollywood. The problem is they have too much admiration to have the sharp and biting satire I was expecting. The lighter tone would be okay if there was more comedy or the comedy was funnier. A lot of jokes have too much set up, leading viewers to guess the punch line long before it's actually delivered on screen.

I did like the theme of the importance and value of work. Eddie is considering the offer from Lockheed because the company does serious business and he can have more home life and deal with more rational people than the Hollywood set. But there is value in the work he does at the studio, it isn't completely frivolous. There's an extended subplot with a sort of Hollywood communist think tank (though they seem to have jumbled up Locke, Hegel, and Marx, with more emphasis on jumble than on philosophy) which also reflects on the value of work. But again, the film makers can't seem to decide whether to take it seriously or not and the sequence comes off as muddled filler that helps to tie up loose ends of the plot.

I wouldn't say this is a bad movie, there are plenty of entertaining bits. But the movie has a lot of potential that never gets actualized, so it winds up disappointing. If taken as pure fluff, it's a fine film. But is that really what they were going for?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sky Zone Visit

My daughter was invited to a birthday party at Sky Zone, a trampoline-based play area in one of the warehousey neighborhoods of Columbia, Maryland. The building used to have a lot of inflatable playgrounds, slides, etc., but I guess the new fad in fun athletics is the trampoline. The place is quite amazing and hosts not only children's parties but "SkyRobics" and a dodge ball league! So adults get in on the action too. Sadly, I was too shy and too amazed to join in the fun. My daughter had enough fun for the two of us...

The party consisted of about an hour with a reserved, private trampoline arena (they have about five of them) and then a pizza party in a party room. The room turned out to be an upstairs, open-air room with views of the whole complex. It was quite impressive. We were too busy eating to take pictures.

In addition to enjoying the trampolines, my daughter also liked the foam pit, a sort of hybrid of trampolines and ball pits.

Jumping in with full force

Climbing out

They also have trampolines under basketball hoops, making it easy to slam dunk a ball. My daughter didn't try it out.

The party was a fun time. We may go back again on our own if we find a deal ($16 an hour is the standard rate per person, which is a little pricey for us).