Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013

Captain J and CinderL
The kids dressed up as normal for Halloween. We went through the costume basket and found L's Cinderella dress which is the right length but the wrong girth (a safety pin made it fit more snugly) and J's Star Fleet uniform which is finally the right size (though Next Gen isn't my favorite).

As in previous years here in England, trick-or-treating in the local neighbourhood was a bust. They did get candy at one door, though that was our door when they came back. So far, no other trick-or-treaters have come to our door. It's just after 8 p.m. local time.

At my wife's work, there are plenty of Americans who feel the need to compensate for the local lack of festivities. Several offices were giving out treats. One office changed a hallway of offices into a haunted house. Or a haunted hospital. Groups of eight to ten people went in for about ten minutes. As we waited in line, L chickened out. She and Mommy went back down the stairs, which meant the female Ghostbuster and Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man with their young son (who was dressed as a crusader knight) moved up in line. When they announced it was for seven-year olds and up, the Marshmallow Man chickened out (he was the dad!). I guess he was too soft.

J, even though he is only six, stayed the course and he entered holding my hand. The tour guide told us this area used to be a hospital but a lot of the old patients and staff had never left. In one room, the guide said a young girl who is very shy often hides, only coming out sometimes. A pile of candy on the floor beckoned us to take some. The pile right by the empty bed. The first kid to get some candy was treated to a grab from a hand under the bed. Then the child crawled out faced down and kept crawling around in a random pattern, occasionally bumping into and grabbing visitors "accidentally."

Another room was a waiting room where a husband and wife still hang around. No one knows what they were (and are still) waiting for. The husband was sitting in a chair facing a TV screen showing nothing but snow. The wife was a zombie walking around bumping into everyone. She hissed but did not bite.

Another room had a doctor in a crazy clown mask who had a big knife and was offering big savings on amputations ("50% off for half a leg!"). Two or three other rooms filled out the circuit. Each room had candy but visitors had to be brave enough to grab it. J got candy in every room!

J was a little scared but not too bad. L would definitely have been crying if she had gone so she made the right decision. We felt pretty good about our Halloween experience until I saw this photo from Why I Am Catholic who stole it from Life Teen.

Top that!

Dominican Friary, Cashel, Ireland

One of the funny things about towns in Europe is that sometimes you run into the ruins of a church in the middle of a town. One such ruin is the Dominican Friary in Cashel.

The friary was founded in 1243 by Archbishop David MacKelly. It burned down in 1480 and was rebuilt. It was closed in 1540 under Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Now the ruins are fenced off in town, making for a little treat when wandering through the suburbs!

Dominican Friary, Cashel

Inside the friary

Bilingual sign!

More famous in Cashel is the Rock of Cashel, which will be tomorrow's post for the Feast of All Saints!

Movie Review: The Awakening (2011)

The Awakening (2011) directed by Nick Murphy

The time is 1921 and Florence Cathcart is a Cambridge-educated woman who spends her time debunking the spiritualism of the day--seances, ghost sightings, etc. She believes in science and facts and nothing else. She's even written a popular book about the subject. Her celebrity in demystifying what seems supernatural inspires a headmaster from Cumbria to recruit her. His boys' school is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a child murdered in the house before it became a school. The specter of a dead child has been terrifying the boys. One boy has died under the sort of mysterious circumstances that has frightened everybody. The school is about to have a holiday and the staff are worried the children won't come back.

Florence reluctantly agrees to go to the school. She sets up her scientific equipment to find out what's going on. She soon uncovers the entirely mundane explanation for the child's death but some other unexplained things happen and she can't leave just yet. So she stays during the break to investigate further. A few school people remain with her.

The movie delivers the typical chills for this kind of haunted house movie--creaky doors, glimpses of the specter just barely in frame, silent and slow exploration of the house in the dark, spooky toys, etc., much like The Woman in Black and The Others. I love this kind of horror. Even though I've seen most all the tricks before they still work on a visceral level.

The overall story is interesting enough to keep me guessing at the solution or trying to anticipate twists, which I was not able to do. The performances also kept me engaged. Florence's smug know-it-all character is soon led away from her biases and becomes more vulnerable and relate-able. The ending is a little bit playful, like Inception's ending, but it didn't make me groan like Inception did.

All in all, this movie is a solid B haunted house thriller that I would recommend.

See the trailer here. Sadly, all the YouTube trailers start with commercials, which I do not want to subject my poor readers to. Some horrors are too horrible! Happy Halloween to all!

Parental advisory--in addition to the overall tension and menace of a horror film, there's also a discreet sex scene, some nudity from both sexes, some human-on-human violence with bloody wounds. Also, there's some boarding school discipline (a cane to the hand and to the backside).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

50 Before 11.75: Picking Blackberries and Eating Apples

As part of our ongoing mission to do 50 things before 11 3/4, we completed some of the food related things on the list. 

#21 is picking blackberries growing in the wild. L did this on a walk. Rather than eat them right then and there (though I'm sure she sampled some to check their quality), she brought them home to make some blackberry jam.

L with her spoils of walking

Thankfully, we have a bread-maker with a jam setting. Whipping out the cookbook, we followed the instructions on what ingredients to add in what order.

Blackberries in the bread pan

Helping the bread machine stir

L made another "quality check" on the blackberries at this point.

Tastes right to her

After much heating and stirring, we had a lot of jam. We divided the batch into two pots. One batch was strained, resulting in a straight jelly with no bits of blackberry in it. The other was the "chunky" jam. L preferred the jelly, and was her own satisfied customer!

The final quality check

The first of many satisfied customers

#9 of the 50 things to do is eating an apple straight from a tree. This was easy for us to accomplish because we have an apple tree in our back yard and it had a great yield this year.

Backyard Bonanza!

Also in our backyard, we had a snail race (#17), but that will be for another blog post!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tralee Playground and Garden, Tralee, Ireland

We wanted to go to dinner in Tralee after visiting the Dingle Peninsula (which will appear in future posts). Unfortunately the children fell asleep on the drive back. What better way to wake them up than by taking them to a playground? After parking, the children were groggy and whiny. Upon entering the playground, their attitudes changed quite a bit.

Tralee playground

L and J both headed for favorites first.

L swings!

J zips!

L soon tried a new swinging style. Basket swings are usually for sitting or lying down but she had seen some older girls standing on the sides. Often, older children use this position to swing the swing faster but L hasn't figured that out yet.

L side-swinger!

J also found something new--a spider web that spins itself! This rope cage rotates around the center axis, which meant that I had to grab on and run around to make him go. He loved it. The jury is still out on who got dizzier.

Trapped in the web, or is he Spider-man?

Soon they were together on a tire swing, a favorite that always brings smiles.

Never tired of the tire!

Great smile, J!

To get to the restaurant area, we walked through a small portion of the nearby gardens. L posed at a fountain. Strangely, J was not interested in the fountain.

Fountain with L

Nearby is a statue of the Rose of Tralee, made famous from the ballad and the subsequent  Rose of Tralee festival.

Rose of Tralee statue

Here are the lyrics:
The pale moon was rising above the green mountains,
The sun was declining beneath the blue sea;
When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain,
That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
The cool shades of evening their mantle were spreading,
And Mary all smiling was listening to me;
The moon through the valley her pale rays was shedding,
When I won the heart of the Rose of Tralee.
Though lovely and fair as the Rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
In the far fields of India, 'mid wars dreadful thunders,
Her voice was a solace and comfort to me,
But the chill hand of death has now rent us asunder,
I'm lonely tonight for the Rose of Tralee.
She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,
Yet 'twas not her beauty alone that won me;
Oh no, 'twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning,
that made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.
Hear it here:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Kerry County Museum, Tralee, Ireland

The Kerry County Museum has a lot to recommend it. What caught our attention is the Medieval Experience exhibit, which boast of the sights, sound, and smells of Tralee in 1450 A.D. Lots of other fun and interesting exhibits are there as well.

Kerry County Museum

The children were sold by the yuck factor (the brochure features a man emptying his chamber pot out a window) or at least J was. As soon as we entered, he wanted to go to that exhibit right away. So we went down the stairs and began to explore the past.

The displays were quite impressive. We had a sense of walking down a medieval street with various merchants selling their wares.

Waking up

Shopping at the butcher

Boar in the street!

Iron mongers (that's a real girl on the right)

It wasn't long before we found the infamous chamber pot incident in real life (so to speak). L was worried and wouldn't walk on that side of the street. Truth be told, the smell was not particularly noticeable.

Look out below!

Toward the end of the exhibit we saw a pub with nice music playing.

Medieval pub

At the very end we saw what brought an end to Tralee in 1580. The British invasion, which culminated in the Earl of Desmond burning the town down.

Here comes the end!

The town has since been rebuilt and is a thriving community. The port is too valuable to let go to waste.

On the same floor is an archeological and forensic exhibit. The archeology bit is a big sand box with bones (replicas) and shells that children can dig out with brushes. J and L loved this.

Archeology in action!

L and J check out a discovery

Nearby is a glass case with a leg bone. The bone is part of a larger display about the death of the original owner the bone. He came to a violent death, and a vicious one at that. The marks on the rest of the skeleton are revealing. Both blunt cuts and thin slices can be seen on the bone, suggesting both an axe and a sharp sword were used to attack the man.

Forensics overview of the dead man

Bone with gashes

Detailed explanation

Perhaps more depressing was this display on how artifacts wind up in the ground for archeologists to dig out. The 21st century samples are rather shameful.

I guess it's always junk that gets left in the ground

Finally we went upstairs to see exhibits the adults wanted to see. The Museum Gallery goes over Kerry county history from the earliest settlers around 8000 B.C. to the successful recovery of independent statehood in the early 1900s. The children didn't have too much patience here so we had to rush through, jumping from the Bronze Age to the Victorian Age in mighty leaps.

Bronze age items

Victorian dress and instrument

Upstairs also has a display of the dresses of the Roses of Tralee, women who were chosen during a late August festival in the town to represent the town and Irish culture to the greater world. The contest is more about personality and ambassadorship than beauty (no swimsuit competition) and is open to all women of Irish descent.

The museum is definitely worth a visit and it is also co-located with the local tourist information office.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

St. Canice Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland

St. Canice Cathedral is located on the grounds of a sixth century monastery. St. Canice was a great monastery founder and built one at this location. The town sprung up around it and the town's name reflects that--Kil Cainneach is "Church of Canice" in Gaelic. All that remains of the old monastery is the 102-foot round tower built by King O'Carroll in 847.

St. Canice Cathedral, Kilkenny

The current church was built in the 13th century out of local stone. Many members of the local ruling family, the Butlers, are buried inside the cathedral.

Possibly the tomb of Dame E. Butler, wearing an Irish cloak

Husband, wife, and dog

A pleasant-looking dog, possibly denoting a pleasant master

A vicious-looking dog with not such a nice owner

Some 12th century effigies?

At the back of the church is the West Door, which is only opened for the bishop and for brides (at least according to our tour guide). The church is the second largest medieval church in Ireland (behind St. Patrick's in Dublin), so brides have a long walk to the main altar.


Main altar

In addition to the east window (dating from the 1200s), many other fine examples of stained glass from various periods can be found throughout the cathedral.

Lives of Saints (click to enlarge)

Two different styles right next to each other!

A side altar with smaller windows

Other fine works of art in the cathedral include a beautiful lectern, a statue weeping near the tombs, and the vaulted ceiling.

Standard eagle lectern

Mournful statue?

Vaulted ceiling

In the north transept, dating from the 1200s is St. Ciaran's Chair in black marble. A stone under the seat dates back to the 400s and is thought to be from a bishop's throne. The chair is now the seat of the bishop for the cathedral.

St. Ciaran's Chair

Of course, the children's favorite part of the church is the model of Kilkenny as it was in Elizabethan times.

The old town

Since it was a rainy day we did not go up the tower, though the views over Kilkenny are supposed to be spectacular.