Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TV Review: Black Adder Series 1 (1983)

Black Adder Series 1 (1983) created by Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis

I started watching Black Adder back in merry old England since it was available on instant streaming. The story is about a scheming English prince from the middle ages, Edmund the Duke of Edinburgh (Rowan Atkinson). History is a bit different here--Richard III's nephews didn't die in the tower (Edmund is one of them); both Richard III and Henry VII die at Bosworth Field, leaving Richard's brother the king. Edmund is the younger son but a prophecy by three witches claims he will be king one day. Edmund schemes to make the prophecy come true. He decides to be the worst villain ever so he calls himself "The Black Adder." With two henchmen he tries to cause mayhem and overthrow the crown. The King is played by Brian Blessed in a very broad comic performance. The king is barely aware of his son Edmund (he often refers to him with the wrong name) mostly because of the older son. All sorts of courtly shenanigans (in one episode the king wants to make an alliance and tries to marry Edmund off to a Spanish princess who is not at all attractive) and medieval tomfoolery (Edmund is accused of witchcraft in another episode) are the natural result.

The show is funny but not without flaws. Brian Blessed's king seems almost like a cartoon character, though many of the plots are over the top as well. The middle ages look very Monty Pythonesque. The end of the series is surprisingly downbeat and makes me wonder how they had further series. On the other hand, Atkinson is good at being conniving and incompetent at the same time, a fun combination. The writing is clever and inventive. The theme song is great fun. I don't think I'd watch it again but I would watch other series.

Here's the theme song (even though it says it's the series 1 ending, it doesn't spoil anything):

Monday, March 30, 2015

Random Kid Pix March 2015

Here's some more random pictures of the kids that didn't have enough story to make their own individual posts.

Recent discoveries from the archives have uncovered some pictures from Britain that never got posted!

Last Easter, I think

L loves to craft and used some of her Playmais to make hammer-hands like in the Spy Kids movies.

L is ready to fight

L loves face paint. I don't remember what this was from but clearly it was a light blue day all around.

Butterfly and cookies

We have a plethora of old and new Wedgits pictures, including L's first puzzle.

Must be the same face paint but later in the day

J and the Tower of Britain

L's March 2015 creation

A friend's creation and L's puzzle

L has forayed into robotics as well with this construction paper contraption.

L's pink robot (N afraid)

L is trying to improve her prayer life. To help, she made a rosary out of Cheerios and marshmallows. It looks good enough to eat, which she did.

Cheerio rosaries currently out of stock

N also has some cute pictures. One from his sleep, another from Grandmama's birthday!

Sleeping in the pack and play

Grandmama and N

Saturday, March 28, 2015

American Heritage Girls Daddy-Daughter Dance 2015

L and I went to our first dance last month--a daddy-daughter dance sponsored by her American Heritage Girls troop. The turn-out was great in spite of the wintry weather that night.

Daddy-Daughter Dance 2015

We danced to all sorts of songs. The most popular with the girls was Let It Go from Frozen (naturally). The most popular with the dads was Y.M.C.A. They did have a dance lesson to teach the tango. Almost everyone started the lesson. Three couples were left by the end of the lesson. I think the lack of success was due both to the girls being too young/unfocused and the somewhat unfamiliar music for dancing. L had a great time anyway.

L dancing

The organizers had plenty of other activities. L decorated a cookie to take home to mommy. She also made a bracelet and later a frame.

L decorates a frame

One unorganized activity was the battle between the stage and the dance floor later in the evening. Balloons were dropped on the dancers earlier. Some dancers started throwing balloons onto the stage. Soon the girls on the stage (doing crafts) started throwing the balloons back on the dance floor. This kept everyone excited and happy for at least twenty minutes.

Conga line interrupts the balloon war

A balloon smashed toward the camera

We had a fun night and a safe trip back through the driving snow.

A happy couple

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Walking Dead Ep. 515, Try

The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 15: Try

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Offensive content

A mild amount of zombie kills; bad attitudes; human-on-human violence including an extended fistfight with bloody faces and threats of eye-gouging; bad language; a suspenseful cliffhanger ending.

Synopsis & Review

"If you don't fight, you die" is a line said by Rick several times in this episode. It's an idea that has kept him going since he woke up in that hospital way back in episode one. Making it requires effort. He thinks the Alexandria people are not making enough effort which makes them weak and vulnerable. They can't handle an abusive spouse because they want the benefits he provides. They have at best semi-competent runners collecting resources, which led to the fiasco in last episode where multiple people have been killed. They aren't living in the real world, he thinks. He's ready to take over--the Ricktatorship that was threatened three seasons ago but never really happened after the end of season two.

A lot of people are having trouble dealing with the real world. Sasha is off shooting as many walkers as she can; Carl's new girlfriend sneaks out and taunts walkers to feel more alive; Carol makes a gesture of Machiavellian kindness that is apparently received as such. Rick's assuredness is a result of too much Carol (the bad angel on his shoulder encouraging him to take over) and not enough Daryl (the good angel on his other shoulder who wants to fit in and make things work--but he's off recruiting new people for Alexandria, so Glenn has to be a poor substitute). Rick does want to fight but since he's not out among the walkers he's gonna fight the Alexandrians.

The problem is the deeper issue of what a person should fight for--his own good or the good of everyone around them. Rick seems to be mistaking the second for the first in an admittedly complicated situation. He's going too far in the wrong direction...can he be pulled back in time?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling

That's not a mistake in the title for this book. I own a British-published copy of the book (thanks, Sis!) where a bunch of the vocabulary is different. My children are finally old enough to have it read to them, so we are starting the series. They have seen the movie and were curious about differences, though there are hardly any with the first two books and movies. They enjoyed it immensely.

This was my first re-reading in over ten years. For me, as an adult whose already read it twice before, the story is still exciting. I forgot how Rowling's early writing style leaned more to fairy tale. The oppressed boy who has a fabulous destiny awaiting him is fairly common but has a freshness here thanks to the modern day setting. The story moves quickly and has an amazing amount of detail in it about the wizarding world which makes a nice contrast to our everyday world. Some of the detail is light satire (Quidditch's crazy rules are a parody of cricket, though my favorite bit of satire is the history professor who died in his sleep but keeps teaching classes as a ghost). Most of it is just plain great storytelling. The book doesn't get old and I'm looking forward to reading the next one with J and L soon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon

Anne Frank's story of hiding in occupied Amsterdam from the Nazis has had several treatments in several different mediums (all based on the diary that she wrote while in hiding). I was excited to discover this graphic-novel treatment at my local library. While most versions focus on the time hiding in the attic, this book gives a full overview of Anne's life, starting with the marriage of her parents. The story moves at a good pace, describing their life in Germany, their flight to the Netherlands, their hiding from the Nazis in the attic of the father's business. The book also covers the period after their discovery, when the family is sent to the concentration camps where all but the father dies. The last ten pages tell the story of her father's discovery of the diary and how it became famous.

Anne's life story is well told. In addition to the overview of her life, the authors added some "snapshots" which are sidebars describing historic events (like the Nazi rise to power or Kristallnacht) or important information (like a world map showing the Allies, Axis, and neutral countries during World War II). I found this book compelling reading and definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

L's First Public Art Exhibit

The local school system has an art exhibit showing students' works from now until April 24, 2015, at the Howard County Center for the Arts. We went to see it because L's creation is on display! The exhibit is called Personal Geographies - Maps as Art. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and had the place to ourselves.

Howard County Center for the Arts--looks like a converted school to me

The exhibit's entrance sign

The exhibit gallery

L's work is called My Neighborhood Map and is one of three works from her school on display! She didn't have anything enlightening to tell us about the work. I suppose it, like all art, should speak for itself.

L with her work

My Neighborhood Map by L (click to enlarge)

The gallery has plenty of other interesting works. Summer's Past shows a student who has a lot on her mind.

Summer's Past

DC Superhero Islands is a fun, imaginative map. Batman is clearly a favorite considering three islands are related to him. I wonder if Abandoned Island was supposed to be for Hawkman?

DC Superhero Islands

Voyage shows a fun trip in fondly remembered days of sailing.


Map of My Heart is an interesting exploration of a second grader's true loves.

Map of My Heart

Topographic Island is an interesting exercise in patience and precision.

Topographic Island

A few students made 360-degree panorama pictures in a ring. Visitors stand with their heads inside the ring and enjoy the view standing somewhere else. This one shows a street in Ellicott City.

Outside the ring

Inside the ring

DC Cherry Blossoms uses the waters of the Tidal Basin by the Jefferson Memorial (where most of the Cherry Blossom trees are) to show the trees.

DC Cherry Blossoms

Here are some other groups that caught my eye.

Various maps

France and Texas on its side

On our way out, we saw an outdoor painting that looks like it's an advertisement to visit the Walter's Gallery in Baltimore. It's a copy of The Painter and His Model by Alfred Stevens.

The Painter and His Model

Monday, March 23, 2015

J's BSA Report March 2015

The big scouting event in March is the Scouting for Food collection. At our first den meeting, J worked on two activities. One was building a tower of plastic cups with his den mates. It was a nice chance to practice team work. It was a difficult chance to take a picture, however.

Typical fate of a tower

The other activity was crafting puppets. They made the classic sandwich-bag-style puppet, decorating with cut out bits of construction paper, pipe cleaners, etc.

J and his puppet

While the kids were busy, one den leader handed out plastic bags and neighborhood assignments to the parents for the food drive. In the next week, we had to put plastic bags on people's doors asking for a donation of food for the needy. The following Saturday, we collected the food that people left on their front steps. We had a good haul from our assigned neighborhood (which wasn't where we lived but was nearby).

What we collected for the drive

At the pack meeting, the boys did several different activities, including push-up, sit-up, and foot racing stations. The push-up station was especially challenging since the boys had to form a push-up square, with their legs on the backs of each other so that everyone was held up by arms. The Tigers did a respectable job with a tough task.

Trying to make the four-man push up

The fourth station was the monthly distribution of badges, patches, and belt loops. Back at the Blue and Gold dinner, J and his fellow Tiger Cubs were awarded their Tiger Patches but thanks to all the snow storms, the actual patches hadn't come in. At this meeting, the patches had come in but weren't ready for handing out, so we'll have to wait another month.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is the outdoor part of the gallery and has some intriguing works on display. We wandered through on one of our trips to DC.

Six-Part Seating is a work conceived in 1985 by Scott Burton but not made until 1998, nine years after his death! The seats are made form polished granite. J wanted to sit down but a sign said that we shouldn't touch the sculptures (plus, there's that rope).

Six-Part Seating by Scott Burton

Aurora is an intriguing steel sculpture by Mark di Suvero. At first glance it's quite industrial looking, but the angles and curves make it more thought provoking. As a comic book fan, I see some Avenger-style As in it, though surely that can't be intentional. Looking at it more, it seems like all the letters from its name are there.

Aurora by Mark di Suvero

Puellae (Girls) by Magdalena Abakanowicz also brings out the comic-book sensibility in me, suggesting an undead horde on the move. The starkness of the bodies and the lack of heads misled me!

Puellae (Girls) by Magdalena Abakanowicz

House I is a fun trompe l'oeil in aluminum that looks like a house facing different ways depending on the location of the viewer. The intersection of the roof and two walls in the middle is an odd angle that looks normal from the right angle. It was modeled by Roy Lichtenstein but only made in 1998, a year after his death.

House I looks normal here

Quite different from over here

Spider is a bronze sculpture by Louise Bourgeois that captures the creepiness of the arachnid.

Spider by Louise Bourgeois

Graft is a stainless steel tree made in 2009 by Roxy Paine. I'd enjoy this even more in the winter.

Graft by Roxy Paine

There is another work I don't have the title for but it was interesting enough for me to take a picture. I am not sure what to make of it. It's sort of industrial, sort of spiderish. It's the kind of abstract work that exercises my mind but does not provide a satisfying conclusion.

Another sculpture

Nearby the garden (or at least they are within viewing distance) are some other famous buildings.

National Archives

Smithsonian Castle

Capitol Building