Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cute Kid Pix

Here's some pictures of the children that didn't get their own blog posts!

Grandmama got to hold N at Thanksgiving.

Mellow fellow

About a month later, N held a ball for the first time.

Not so sure about this

In focus and in control!

One of our roughhousing sessions was caught on camera.

Two on one is fair in this situation

Group hug or double headlock?

L ready to deliver the fatal blow

The kids went to the library for a craft time and made masks and crowns.

J the masked hero

L's crown of humility

Back in England, they went to a pottery shop to make some Father's Day items.

L decorates a bowl

J just poses

N has some practice sitting and playing with a toy.

N fascinated by his toy

At religious education, J and L had their picture taken with Saint Nicholas himself!

J, L, and the bishop of Myra

Down in Florida, L did a lot of jumping with her cousins on the grandparents' couch. It was a crazy hair day for her!

Getting ready to jump in unison

Flying cousins

Not so wild hair

Very wild hair

L leads the way

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

J's BSA Report for December 2014

The first den meeting of December, J and his fellow Tiger Cubs practiced the flag ceremony. A typical ceremony is simply carrying the flags into a room and setting them up at the front. The trick is to be slow and respectful, which isn't always easy for seven-year old boys. They did well enough for practice, maybe in a future pack meeting they will be called upon to present the flags for the whole troop.

Our "go see it" this month was to a police station, specifically the Bowie Police Station. We toured the facility. A highlight for the boys was the holding cell area. Four different concrete rooms are set up with cameras so that suspects can be held and observed. The interrogation rooms are located around a corner. One of the boys asked the officer leading us around what they did to suspects to get them to talk. The officer said that they just leave the person handcuffed to the wall in their seat for twenty minutes and then come in and talk. There's no harsh lighting or tough talk or abuse. At the end of the tour, J received a bag of goodies to take home, including a badge and a pencil that changes colors when it gets warm.

We couldn't take pictures inside so this is all I have:

Police cruisers

Cool swag

The final pack meeting of 2014 was all about being safe on the internet. The Webelos (the oldest of the Cub Scouts) presented the information in two stations. A third station was run by the Pack Leader. At the end of the meeting, the Pack Leader handed out awards, including the popcorn sales patches and prizes. J got his patch and a fine compass.

J in uniform with swag

Swag close up

Monday, December 29, 2014

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2014

After a couple of years of European battles between beers with a yuletide theme, I thought it was time for American brewers to get into the fray. I'm keeping up the tradition of drinking beer for the benefit of my dear readers. No sacrifice is too great for you all.

Here are this year's contenders:

1. Yule Tide brewed by Heavy Seas. Describe as "weizen dopplebock ale aged in rum barrels," this has the excellent flavor I've come to love from Belgium-style ales matched with a hint of my favorite spirit, rum! The nutty, malty flavor is smooth and delicious with a 9% alcohol kick that puts a smile on my face. This brew is part of the brewers' "Uncharted Waters" line of beers that are "carefully matched with a wood treatment." All I can say is, more please! I will try out the Heavy Seas label for other beers (they are a local Baltimore brewery). The title is a nice pun on the company's name and the holiday, too!

2. The Mad Elf Ale by The Troegs Brothers. Described as "A cheerful creation to warm your heart and enlighten your tongue. Fermented and aged with a spicy yeast, this ruby red beer delivers subtle cherries and enticing aromas." Usually fruit flavors are a big turn-off for me (the only bad experience I had with beer in Belgium was in a grocery store when I saw Hoegaarden for sale in a variety of fruit flavors as if they were wine coolers), but the cherry in this is very subtle and adds a nice tartness. It's robust without being rough. The 11% alcohol content is not noticeable in the flavor, which I guess could be dangerous. Another fine product coming from Hershey, Pennsylvania!

3. St. Festivus by The Brewer's Art. Described as"Ale brewed with spices," the bottle is particularly uninformative. It is a dark, nutty ale with a spicy finish that is reminiscent of the season but could easily be offered any time of the year. It has good flavor and 8.5% alcohol. The gigantic bottle (750 ml or 1 pint 9.4 fluid ounces) is drinkable by a lone drinker in an evening (another sacrifice for my readers) but is a good size for sharing as well. I like the beer but it doesn't seem very seasonal in flavor and the name is a little bland too.

4. Corsendonk Christmas Ale by Brewery Du Bocq. Describes as "Dark ale refermented in bottle," it sounds like there's no real holiday spirit in this spirit. The ale is made in Belgium according to the Belgian style. It has the rich flavoring I've come to expect from Belgian ales but with a little bit of aftertaste. This bottle is another 750 ml behemoth with 8.1% alcohol. It's a fine drink but like #3 the brewer could easily slap a different label on it and sell it at a different time of year.

This year's winner is this year's first contender, Yule Tide! Be of good cheer my dear readers and I look forward to next year's batch.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bolton Abbey

Another classic post from the archives--"this past weekend" was in October 2011!

We visited Bolton Abbey this past weekend (which may be a long, long time ago depending on when you read this). It was a fun Saturday adventure wandering over hill and dale, through ruin and rain. We parked at the first parking lot we came too, which was also the closest one to the ruins of the abbey and the still functioning church. We did have to walk through a little bit of the town and a big hole in the wall to get there.

Sneaking in to the Abbey!

Wandering down the hill, J wanted to see the big bridge and waterfalls we could hear below. We wandered over. My wife and I remembered visiting long ago and seeing the stepping stones across the river. I can't remember if we used them but I don't remember the bridge being there either. We walked out across the bridge but came back so we could visit the abbey.

Check out that bridge AND waterfall...

And stones to walk across the water!

J's favorite part of the bridge

This abbey is unique in that it is both a ruins and a functioning church. During the closing of the monasteries, this church was divided in half and partially used as a parish church. We were able to see both.

Model of the 14th century abbey

Ruins on right; working church on left

The church had a bell pull in the corner that J was very interested in (just like the bell ringing in Hexham Abbey!). A nice lady told us they allow children to ring the bell at noon during the week for midday prayers. We'll have to come back at just the right time.

No ringing right now, alas! Also, we couldn't go up the staircase.

Main altar at Bolton Abbey church

The church does still have 14th century stained glass, along with a memorial window of St. Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne and patron of the Bolton Priory.

14th century stuff--long-lasting and beautiful.

St. Cuthbert with the head of St. Oswald, King of Northumbria

After the priory, we headed off to the tea shop to get a snack. It was a long walk. We passed a memorial to the Cavendish family (who are the Dukes of Devonshire, but who also inherited Bolton Abbey through marriage). J loved this because it was a fountain.

L races ahead to the Cavendish Memorial

J enjoyed it even though he could barely see it

We also had to go down a long stair case and cross a large field and an even larger parking lot. Eventually we found the tea shop and had snacks.

Mommy and J head down from the memorial

L races ahead!

The snack shop had lots of Halloween decorations, mostly cotton spider webs and little insects. J had a fun time explaining to mommy and daddy when we'd point to a plastic spider and he'd say it wasn't real and we shouldn't be worried. We walked back with another stop at the bridge. It was a fun visit and we may come back again, if only to ring the bell.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Day 2014

We went to Florida for Christmas to celebrate with family. We rented a house to have enough space for everybody. Granny and Grandpa brought a tree over which J and L helped decorate.

L crafting an ornament

Fabulous tree

Granny cooked an awesome Christmas lunch which was so good, taking pictures was the furthest thing from my mind. Her stuffing is an especial favorite. One of the aunts said that she has had leftovers in the form of a stuffing sandwich rather than a turkey sandwich!

One picture we did take was Grandpa opening a special present. J came along when we were shopping and we stopped at the magic store in Savage Mill. In addition to magic tricks, they also sell gag gifts. J picked out the classic "snakes in a peanut can," which had the joyfully anticipated effect on our favorite peanut fan.

Snakes flying through the air

The best part of the day was hanging out with family.

Cousins K and N with her dad and his mom (and L in the back)

Kids' Christmas photo

Happy J

Happy L

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Village in Baltimore 2014

Baltimore has a Christmas market patterned after the ones in Germany, so we wanted to visit. The village is right on the Inner Harbor, near a lot of the touristy stuff. We had to stop at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! venue to check out the 10,000 pound ball that anyone can turn.

Baltimore Inner Harbor

Dragon-encircled Ripley's

Spinning the ball

Further down the sidewalk we came to the Christmas village with its typical small wooden buildings selling food, drinks, clothes, and trinkets.

Market tree

Wooden buildings

Food venues

On weekends, visitors have to pay to enter the indoor market. Just before the entrance is an Advent Calendar which was about half-way done when we visited. Instead of opening doors, they add papers with German words and explanations of those terms.

Premium area entrance

Advent calendar

Inside were two aisles of vendors selling gifts, jewelry, and decorations.

Inside the tent

Game/puzzle seller

Wooden nativities

The biggest retailer was Kathe Wohlfahrt, selling traditional German holiday items like nativities, ornaments, and novelties. I took one picture inside their shop and was told no photography was allowed! Whoops.

Kathe Wohlfahrt

Contraband photo

Our favorite vendors were three. First was the face-paint lady, the favorite of L by far, even if she only got half her face done.

Face painting in progress

Final result

Number two on our favorite vendor list was the bratwurst and beer stand where we got lunch. L had a sausage and J a pretzel. Parents ate bratwursts and I had a nice hefeweisen.

Sausage and suds


Pretzel man

The last of our favorite stands was the waffle-maker, where we got dessert. I ordered a chocolate and whipped cream waffle for us to share. Then J came and asked for his own. I probably should have objected but it made more sense to me to split two waffles four ways rather than one waffle four ways. We like to eat.

Waffle-icious (poor Nicholas was left out)

We walked around some more but didn't buy anything more. On our way back to the car we stopped and watched a street performer doing his routine, including a rope walking routine: