Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Chain 2012

My wife thought a good project for the kids would be making an Advent Chain. The project is pretty easy: print out some pages, cut them up into strips, staple the strips into little circles or chain links. You just have to be sure to loop the second strip through the first strip before stapling!  The kids were really excited to use the stapler and carefully kept track of whose turn it was to staple each loop.

Making the chain

Each of the 24 strips has a bible verse and a little ornament for coloring. It starts on December 1, so this year it begins on Advent eve (if there is such a thing), since December 2 is the first Sunday of Advent. Just thought I'd pass it along in case anyone wants a simple and satisfying project to do at home. (Plus it lets me post a picture of the family having fun at home!)

She got the idea from Simcha Fisher's blog. The pdf for printing out the chain is here.

Writing Exercise: Vowels for Thanksgiving

I went to my writing group the day after Thanksgiving and we had a choice of two prompts. The first prompt was to write a paragraph where each sentence starts with a vowel, going through the vowels in order, A-E-I-O-U. The second prompt was this: "Write about the only time you hosted Thanksgiving--and how it went so terribly wrong. Start with the line 'For my first Thanksgiving as host, I bought the biggest turkey they had in the store,' and end your story with 'And that's why we all ate hamburgers.'" The leader said we could blend the two prompts if we wanted, and this is just what I did. My first paragraph was this:
As host for my first Thanksgiving, I acquired the biggest turkey they had in the store. Ever the optimist, I left off defrosting it till the last minute which was the first (or possibly second) huge mistake. Interior ice in the form of frozen giblets informed me that drastic measures were needed, such as microwave defrosting. Opening the microwave, the beast was too large to put in as a whole; chopping it to chunks would make it fit for microwaving but unfit for oven roasting. Under the circumstances, we all ate hamburgers.
Then I thought that I could keep the sentences from the second prompt and just have the A-E-I-O-U sentences in the middle:
For my first Thanksgiving as host, I bought the biggest turkey they had in the store. Assuming it would fit in my oven, I took it home after all the shopping was done, with a smile on my face and drool dribbling from my mouth. Everything went smoothly: stuffing the bird, basting it, wedging it into the roasting pan. Into the oven it was supposed to go and I tried with a mighty heave-ho! Obstructing the ovarian was the small opening into my obviously inadequate oven. Useful ideas like measuring before buying hadn't occurred to me at the store. And that's why we all ate hamburgers.
Another suggestion was to rewrite each sentence with more words that start with the particular vowel, which I did more in my second attempt. Also, I tossed in a lot of alliteration, which is using the same initial letter for words.

The exercise was a lot of fun. Another person also had the defrosting problem in his paragraph. I guess that's what guys think of first? Or maybe it is based on life experience...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Statues in Hungary

The variety of statues in Budapest is amazing. They are found all over the place--on buildings, on pedestals, in parks, etc. Here is a sampling.

Greek gods seem to be on every corner! I suppose ancient mythology is always a popular subject.

Maybe they're playing hide and seek?

Bas-relief is also a popular option on buildings.

A permanent parade!

Workers in Budapest

Free standing statues are in abundance as well, either in a larger display like a fountain or on their own pedestals.

A fountain J liked

A fountain for drinking and washing!

Some hero

This next statue was probably the most impressive to me, just for the achievement. The stone block has been carved in such a way that it seems like a conventional statue. But really it is hollowed out. I guess it's the opposite of bas-relief.

Inverse statue with Nate

Last but not least is this statue near the comic opera.

Don't lose your head trying to figure it out!

We didn't spend too much time trying to understand this statue. The hat on the right has a grinning skull in a hand and you can see the smiling face in the other hand. Comedy and tragedy would be my guess.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Visiting a Budapest Playground

I must admit that we visited shamefully few playgrounds on our Prague/Budapest trip. It's not that the kids were bad ("If you don't behave, no playground for you!") but we parents were bad about taking them. We finally did the right thing toward the end of the Budapest trip when we visited one of the many little parks scattered about the town. The sun was shining and we even brought some snacks with us.

The playground!

One unusual feature was the ship, which you don't see too often. Both J and L loved climbing all over it.



Ladder ahoy!

L was fearless in going down any slides. We had to stop her on one where a big puddle was on the slide. Mommy was especially nervous.

L ascends the rope ladder

L descends while Mommy can't watch

J on the short slide

Swings were another favorite with Mommy gladly helping out.

Mommy gives good pushes!

Happy L

Happy J

We bought some pretzels at a convenience store. They were pretzel circles with a string through the middle but we couldn't figure out why they were that way. Any answers (or imaginative guesses) are welcome.

Bag of pretzels

Why on the string like this?

We did some more walking around in the nice weather that day. We need all the vitamin D we can get what with the Yorkshire clouds and fog moving in back home!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Walking Dead Ep. 307: When the Dead Come Knocking

The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 7: When the Dead Come Knocking

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Gore level

9.5 out of 10--More boatloads of zombie kills, decapitations, blood splatter, etc.; one set of zombies feasting on a hapless recently deceased human; extended torture scenes with bloody wounds.

Other offensive content

Goreless torture scene involving the threat of rape; woman in her underwear scene briefly from the back; woman who is forced to remove her bra and is forced to walk around with her hands covering her breasts; some foul language; many menacing torture scenes.

How much zombie mythology/content

An experiment tries to find out if zombies have any memories from their previous lives.

How much fun

Just a few jokes lighten this heavy episode.

Synopsis & Review

Last episode, Glenn and Maggie were captured by Merle and brought back to Woodbury. Their torture then commences. Unlike the comics, Merle does most of the torturing while the Governor does other things (though he does his fair share toward the end). The torture isn't as brutal as it was in the comics, where Michonne took the brunt of the worst torments. Still it is rough to watch, especially when Maggie's turn comes.

Michonne is nowhere near Woodbury. She takes the baby supplies to the prison where Rick and company warily take her in. After some questioning of Michonne (including a brief flirtation with torture by Rick), they discover the whereabouts and the dangers of where Glenn and Maggie have wound up. That doesn't stop Rick, Daryl (who puts back on his angel's wings vest!), Michonne and one of the surviving prisoners from heading off to rescue the poor couple.

Meanwhile, Andrea is finally given some work by the Governor other than being his girlfriend. She helps a scientific guy with an experiment on a terminally-ill patient. The patient has volunteered as a test subject to see if memories still remain in a corpse after it has turned. The set up is rather eerie. Andrea is pretty sure the experiment will turn out negative, but will she figure out that Woodbury is also a big negative?

I for one was very worried about the torture scenes since they were so explicit in the comic book version of this part of the story. They are still very intense but not as bad as what went before. Maybe there's more to come but I hope not. Other parts of the drama, like the baby and the surprise return of Carol from last episode, are on the back burner while the high drama of Woodbury is worked out. Only one more episode until an extended break--I hope they wrap up enough loose threads so we are not left tied in knots about what will happen to everyone.

The Walking Dead Ep. 306: Hounded

The Walking Dead Season 3, Episode 6: Hounded

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Gore level

9.75 out of 10--Just like last week, lots zombie kills, decapitations, etc. Except this week we saw a disemboweling with all the innards dropping into outtards. And they drop on someone who has to spit out from their mouth! Also, some people were killed including a decapitation; later, we see a pretty grisly view of the neck stalk.

Other offensive content

Some passionate drinking; some passionate kissing; sex scene with with no explicit nudity (a lady's naked hip is the most visible); lying; betrayal.

How much zombie mythology/content

Michonne seems strangely immune from zombies attacking her.

How much fun

No humor this week.

Synopsis & Review

Michonne is pursued lethally by Merle and some Woodbury pals. Andrea is pursued romantically by the Governor (she gets to call him "Phillip"!). Rick is pursued metaphorically by his own thoughts. He's still trying to deal with the loss of his wife and the phone he answered at the end of the last episode was a call from someone who is in a safe (but unidentified) place. Andrea wants to fit in at Woodbury but can't find the right spot. Michonne just wants to survive.

This episode is exciting and tense with some nice (and not so nice) surprises. The different story threads are finally tying together. The makers are still doing a good job of following the main parts of the comic version of the story while throwing in enough curve balls and other character arcs that I still find it fascinating even if I know what's coming. The next few episodes promise lots of drama if they keep up the fine dramatic work.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Run-Ins with the Hungarian Underworld

If you think this post is about the subway system in Budapest, think again! We never made it onto the subways (though they do have one of the earliest in Europe, so early that the first cars were pulled by horses!). No, this is about crime in the city. Or almost crime.

One day we were walking up from our hotel past the State Opera House. Mommy had L and they were walking faster than J and I. I saw a tall, thin man walk up behind Mommy a little too close, especially since her purse was slung by her back. I shouted, "Hey, what are you doing?" just as my wife felt a tug at her purse string. The guy backed off as I rushed up. The fellow tried to cop an attitude as if he were innocent. Mommy checked her purse (our passports were in there) and nothing was missing. Luckily she had just bought this new purse because it had a complicated clasp keeping it shut. The guy gave us a dirty look and walked off. We thought about reporting the incident, but since he didn't get anything and I suppose there's a chance he really was innocent, we decided not to complicate our vacation by reporting him.

The State Opera House, more sinister-looking at night

A few days later I was out walking with my brother- and sister-in-law at night. We were walking to a bar and a fellow coming from the opposite direction said, "Crack marijuana?" My sister-in-law laughed because she had heard of such walk-by solicitations but never thought she would run into one. He looked back at us but kept going. I guess he knew we weren't buying. It was pretty odd.

But not as odd as the Cthulu-like display at a fashionable store which, coincidentally, is near the opera house. It sure looks to me like one of the tentacled elder gods is modelling some fancy, overpriced hand bag.

The unspeakable horror of high fashion

Or maybe they are advertising their hand bags as so fear-inspiring that even elder gods, who have persisted for eons upon eons and wrot havoc and mayhem throughout, will not go near such an object.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

St. Stephen's Basilica is the largest church in Budapest. It was built in the late 1800s in anticipation of the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar arrival in 896 AD. Consequently, the dome measure 96 meters in height, just like the top of the Parliament building. The first architect, Jozsef Hild, died in 1867 before it was completed. After his death it collapsed. Miklos Ybl took over; he too died before the basilica was completed in 1906.

St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

Backside of the Basilica

We were accosted by a panhandler on the steps of the cathedral. I don't know how many other people have run into this particular routine--the guy said (in English) he was homeless but was selling a newsletter to make honest money. He wasn't taking a handout. The newsletter looked like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy of the original. It was barely legible though it was in English. I said I didn't have any Hungarian money (which was true, we didn't get to an ATM till later in the day). He said he could change money later in the day. "Lots of Americans give me US Dollars which I can get changed." Hint, hint! Well, I didn't have any American dollars on me either (we haven't had any for a while). I gave him a 50 Czech crown piece which he accepted gratefully.
Main door

Exterior mosaic, "House of God, Place of Prayer"

All visitors entering the church had to queue past a donation box where a clergyman asked for a donation. His suggested amount was one euro or the equivalent in Hungarian forints. The church got Czech crowns as well!

The interior is more square in shape, like a Greek cross. Many side altars adorn the church.

Side Altar

St. Stephen offers his crown to the Virgin

Altar of the Crucifixion

Boy Jesus in Temple

Many fine statues of various saints are also found inside.

Blessed Virgin Mary

St. Elizabeth


The main altar is not accessible to visitors. It features a large statue of St. Stephen by Alajos Strobl.

Unfavorable lighting on the main altar

The dome is quite impressive with its mosaics.

Interior of the dome

The big highlight of the church is the Holy Right. It is the mummified right hand of St. Stephen himself, first Christian king of the country. It is located in a special altar down a side aisle.

The Holy Right Relic

The chapel with the Holy Right has several more modern altars.

Altar next to the reliquary

Not sure what this is

The exterior of the church is adorned with many statues.

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."

St. Ambrose

The exterior of the dome (that's St. Matthew the Evangelist)

Nearby was a fountain, at which J was happy to pose.

Mommy-boosted J

Who was Saint Stephen of Hungary?

By dumb luck or divine providence I am posting this on the feast of Christ the King (which falls on November 25, 2012). For such a feast we have a king-saint! Stephen of Hungary was born to the Hungarian chief Geza. They were both baptized in 985 AD by bishop Saint Adalbert, the son changing his pagan name Vaik to Stephen. He became king in 997 and had many projects in support of the faith in his homeland. His only son died seven years before Stephen, beginning a heated quarrel among his pagan nephews as to who would be king. Stephen died in 1038 and was canonized in 1083. Originally buried in Stuhlweissenburg, his relics were moved to Buda and his incorrupt right hand is a treasured relic in Hungary.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sea Hag Has Fire Sale!

I just posted a tale about a young girl who is sent to get fire from an old sea witch on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's on Forgotten Classics over here. The tale is from this book of North Carolina folklore that I reviewed a while ago. I hope you enjoy it. I certainly did!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review: One Body, Many Blogs

One Body, Many Blogs, A Guide for Christian Bloggers, is an e-book by TJ Burdick. He has compiled eleven Catholic bloggers' suggestions for the "ten commandments" of blogging. Each chapter has a short biography of the blogger and their recommended commandments. Several themes are repeated over and over:
  • Don't feed the trolls--Trolls are people who comment on a blog seemingly only to stir up controversy and heated (rather than enlightened) discussion. Typically their arguments are shallow, relying on emotionally-laden buzz words (possibly swearing too) rather than coherent arguments. This is good advice for most any blogger, Christian or not.
  • Pray before blogging--Motivation in blogging ranges all over the place. Some bloggers want to persuade, some to entertain, some to boost their egos. For a Christian blogger, helping others by witnessing should be the motivation, not the desire to zing an opponent or show how great you are.
  • Write on a regular schedule--This advice is good for all bloggers. The best way to build a readership is to let them know how often you will be posting, so they can keep up.
  • Give credit to others when it is due and share from other blogs--Another way to build readership is to know about and interact with other similar blogs or ones in which you have interest. Just don't steal what they wrote and pass it off as your own. Again, it's good advice for all bloggers.
The various authors (including Jeff Miller/Curt Jester, Marc Barnes/Bad Catholic, Lisa Hendey/Catholic Mom) are all engaging and the book is a fun, quick read as well as an inspiration to be a better blogger.

The book includes a glossary of blogging technical terms (like RSS feed, combox, troll, etc.) and a list of papal documents relating to communications (including hyperlinks to the full texts).

Money quote from the Vatican documents:
So often freedom is presented as a relentless search for pleasure or new experiences. Yet this is a condemnation not a liberation! True freedom could never condemn the individual - especially a child - to an insatiable quest for novelty. In the light of truth, authentic freedom is experienced as a definitive 'yes' to humanity, calling us to choose, not indiscriminately but deliberately, all that is good, true and beautiful.

Ruin Pubs in Budapest

An interesting development in post-communism Budapest is the rise of the ruin pubs. Starting in the early 2000s, ruin pubs are just what you might guess from the name: places to drink in dilapidated old buildings. Abandoned factories, empty tenement buildings, and hollowed out stores have all been used to create eclectic and interesting bars. Often the decor is also salvaged from old movie theatres, community centers, etc. The venues are quite large. Sometimes the pub is one large space like a factory floor, where large crowds enjoy performers. Other times the pub is a labyrinth of small rooms with picnic tables, old couches, and random chairs strewn haphazardly. The pubs have become quite popular and a web site provides a guide to the best there is!

One night we went to Instant, which was surprisingly close to our apartment. It was the labyrinthine kind, with one large central courtyard bar and seemingly dozens of rooms on the sides connected by stairs and small passageways. The buildings used to be apartments. We were there on a Wednesday night and, while not packed to overflowing, the main room was quite full as were many of the side rooms. We enjoyed some beer and some exploring.

Main bar area in the courtyard

Us in a side room (I'm behind the camera)

For a bit of contrast, we also went to a wine bar to sample some of the local vintages. I think Hungary produces better wine than beer. We sampled some wines at Doblo near the Jewish district. They had Bull's Blood as well as other reds and whites.

Doblo wine bar

Another touristy thing to try is palinka, which is an after dinner liqueur. Usually it is fruit-flavored and very strong (around 40% alcohol content). I bought some at the duty-free Hungarian goods store at the airport. It is fairly nice and fairly potent.

Even more potent is the other touristy drink, Unicum. Sold in distinctive bottles, it was mentioned on our bus tour and on some restaurant and bar menus. The description on the bus tour said that a doctor concocted it in the 1800s from many herbs as a digestif. It has become quite popular and comes in a distinctive round black bottle. I bought a bottle at the airport as well (clearing out the Hungarian forints!). Trying it at home was a trying experience. It is without doubt the worst liquor I have ever had. Later some friends came over, and now we don't have any friends left! I'm exaggerating about the lost friends but not about the awfulness of this drink.

You can tell it was made by a doctor because it tastes like medicine

In an effort not to leave a bad taste in readers mouths, I should also mention that we tried some of the local beers. They were okay but paled in comparison to what we had in Prague. I guess Czech beer is better than Czech wine and Hungarian wine is better than Hungarian beer. The big local brands are Arany Aszok and Dreher, both good in their own right but not good enough to buy at the airport on the way home. Though I should have bought these rather than the Unicum!

Popular Hungarian Beers