Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cub Scout Day Camp 2015--Days Two and Three

I dropped off J for day two of the Cub Scout Day Camp (see here for day one) and only have his report for how things went that day. He went to the BB rifle range again and scored eight. He even brought home his target.

Holes on left top and about two inches left of the top 8

I think that's great for the first time he ever fired a rifle. I did much more poorly on my first time.

He went to the Craftsman station, where all the boys crafted boats for an impromptu rain gutter regatta. All we have is the boat, which is a fine cork-bottomed ship.

Craftsman boat (not available at Sears)

The only other report submitted was about a fun game of soccer, during which J scored a goal. He did not bring the ball home with him.

On the third day of camp, I was volunteering again and was able to observe firsthand the variety of activities. After a long-winded opening ceremony (a bunch of local politicians showed up and made little speeches), we headed off to Outdoor Skills, where J learned to tie a square knot.

Next on our agenda was Fitness, where the boys got to play catch, walk on balance beams, and race by frog hopping and crab walking. They had a lot of fun but got a little tired.

Frog hopping

The star of the day was next--Archery. After a safety refresher we headed down to the range where the boys fired off five arrows, collected them from the targets (and nearby ground), and fired a second volley of arrows. J enjoyed it but it is not his best sport. I think we need to show him some live action Robin Hood or other archer-filled videos.

Retrieving from the target

We went back to our den for lunch and a bit of shopping at the Trading Post. The sales were mostly snacks and candy, with a few inexpensive plastic spy/investigator toys like magnifying glasses, handcuffs, notepads, etc. J stuck mostly to snacks.

Dens and Trading Post were in the main building of the fairgrounds

After lunch we went to the Science Station, where we learned about electromagnetism from a PowerPoint slide show (snore!) and then built a simple engine with a coil of wire, a AA battery, and a magnet. When put together properly, the coil will spin around the battery and magnet on its own. We sort of got it to work and plan to try again at home.


J and his motor coil

Citizenship was our next station, where we learned how to fold American flags properly (which we had learned earlier in the year). The boys practiced the skill on small flags which they put in baggies along with notes to be sent to servicemen stationed overseas.

Folding small flags

Geocaching was the next activity, at which J is an old hand. We had to walk around outside in the heat of the day, so we only found two of the three caches before retiring to a shady tree for our afternoon snack.

The final station was Showmanship, where the boys made hand puppets. They were to go back the next day to perform with the puppets, an event I missed.

After the closing ceremony, we left for home, satisfied with another fun day at Cub Scout camp.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cub Scout Day Camp 2015--Day One

J went to his first Cub Scout Day Camp, a week-long, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. extravaganza of activities, learning, and fun. I volunteered to help out three days--Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Happily, Granny and Grandpa were visiting and took care of N and L while J and I were at camp. On Tuesday and Thursday I dropped J off and got back home to play with the younger ones. But back to the camp!

We started the first day by signing into the den and getting our gear--hats and ID badges. This year's theme is CSI--Cub Scout Investigators. A lot of science and spy-like stuff could be found all over the fairgrounds.

J geared up for camp

Daddy and J together

The first two stations were the two most awesome stations--BB Rifles and Archery. On the first day, the station managers gave us the safety instructions that we'd use later in the week. The rifle range also had the boys try out lying down and aiming the rifles. They loved it.

The third station was Geology, where the scouts learned how rocks have been forming and reforming over the years. They were given buckets of sand to sift through and find different types of rocks, including the highly-coveted obsidian. J found four or five pieces of the precious stone in his bucket.

Learning about rocks

Searching for rocks

We had lunch next, followed by a station devoted to diversity awareness. They had some interesting activities, including trying out crutches and wheel chairs, as well as designing a type face to help dyslexics read more easily. Later, J said it was kinda boring.

Another popular station was Water Games, featuring a massive slip and slide that was the hit of the day. It was fun. It was cool. It was wet. The boys got to take off their shoes! What more could one ask for?

J on the water slide

After the water, things heated up with Ga Ga Ball, a popular Scouting game where the boys have to hit a ball with their hands to hit the other boys in the leg. At first, with twenty kids in the pit, chaos ruled. Once the group was whittled down to a manageable number, the game became more skills based. The kids loved it immensely. And the ball pit was the most polished and professional-looking one I've ever seen!

Ga Ga Ball arena

Our last station was Whittling. The boys sharpened their own wooden knives with a sanding block and then practiced good whittling techniques. They started carving a bar of soap by removing the brand-name logo. The knives, soap bars, and cleaning sticks were put in zip-lock bags for the next Whittling session later in the week, where they'd learn more techniques and make something even fancier.

We went outside for the closing ceremony and then headed home after a great day.

More to come in the next post!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Book Review: Baltimore: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories by Mike Mignola et al.

Baltimore: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, art by Ben Stenbeck, colors by Dave Stewart

Lord Henry Baltimore continues his quest to kill Haigus, the vampire who killed his family. He has trouble catching up to that vampire but does have run ins with various other monsters, including humans who have no business dabbling in matter far beyond their understanding or control. The book is a collection of a handful of short stories.

I like the art style of this book, it's well suited to horror stories. I didn't find the stories particularly compelling because they feel unoriginal to me. In one story, a theater company is putting on shows and the writer for the company is getting advice from Edgar Allen Poe's head in a jar, even though the "head in jar" idea has been used by The Walking Dead, Futurama, and by Mignola himself. There's another story with the Inquisitor character that gives his back story which also reads a bit cliched and unmoving.

The art is fine but the writing needs some improvement or originality.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dice Masters: Trinity War Storyline Event 1

J and I competed in our first game competition, the DC Dicemasters Trinity War Storyline Organized Play Event 1 at our local game story, The Family Game Store. We were a little nervous going in since we had never competed before AND we have only been playing Dice Masters for two months or so AND we have never played with the DC characters (being Marvel fans). Even with our lack of experience, we had a great time at the event.

Only four people came to the event, so J and I were half the players! The other two guys were friendly and we got along well.

The first part of the event is what they call a "Rainbow Draft." Each player opens six booster packs (which have two dice and two matching character cards), puts the dice in the middle (where the rainbow comes in, since the colorful dice are arranged by character) and the cards face down in front of them. Each player takes their deck of twelve cards, chooses one to keep, and passes the remaining eleven to the left. Each player takes the deck that comes to them from the right and chooses one card to keep, passing the remaining ten cards to the left. This "take and pass" keeps going until all the cards are chosen. Then the players open a second set of six booster packs and the process repeats itself, except that the cards are passed to the right rather than the left. At the end of the draft, each player has 24 cards and takes the dice that correspond to the cards. So J and I came away with a combined 48 cards and 48 dice just from the draft.

Our haul of cards (bag of dice at top)

Naturally there are some duplicates, but that's okay since it means the player has more than one die for each character. For example, I had two different Robin cards meaning I took two Robin dice from the middle and was able to field two dice when I played.

Then we had to play against each other. J and I were assigned as opponents for the first round. We each chose eight characters for playing and two action cards that we brought with us. In our first game, J won quite handily. He went on to play against the winner of the other game, while I faced the loser of the other game.

J fought valiantly but was soon defeated. The two losers took a long time to resolve their game, so J played a second game for fun. My opponent had Superman, who I couldn't knock out once he got in the field. By the time I fielded a Black Canary that could knock out Superman for free on a lucky roll, I was down to seven life. In his next turn, he fielded Superman again and had Martian Manhunter. I had only one blocker, so I would take seven damage either way, which meant I lost again!

In the third round, the computer matched me against J. This time I barely squeaked out a win against J's team. Overall, I came in third out of four. J came in second! I was very proud of him. As prizes, we received a special action card (Pandora's Box) for participating and the first three places received a special Superman Trinity War card (but no die). We also received some booster packs for second and third place. I received a special award for bringing my son--an additional booster pack. So now we have six extra packs to open at home.


After things were over, the first place winner asked if we'd trade our rare Aquaman for some cards and dice. J readily agreed and the guy gave us a bunch of cards and dice in exchange (I think they were all duplicates for him!). He was very generous.

I'm not sure that we are converted to DC fans, but we had a ton of fun playing in the contest and are looking forward to Event 2 in July!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Seven Continents Book Challenge

Julie at Happy Catholic is how I read about this internet meme that I am actually interested in (especially with the British spellings)!

1. What is your favourite book set in Europe? Who is your favourite European author?
The Brothers Karamazov 
J.R.R. Tolkien

2. What is your favourite book set in North America? Who is your favourite North American author?
Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

3. What is your favourite book set in South America? Who is your favourite South American author?
Starship Troopers starts in Brazil, right?
I really liked the Pablo Naruda character in the Italian film Il Postino He was a real author. He was a communist, which I have no sympathy for, but that doesn't make him a bad poet. His poetry is in a foreign language, so I probably won't ever read anything by him. So this answer probably doesn't count, but I can't think of any other authors from South America.

4. What is your favourite book set in Asia? Who is your favourite Asian author?
Set All Afire by Louis de Wohl is set in Asia mostly.

No authors that I know of.

5. What is your favourite book set in Australasia? Who is your favourite antipodean author?
Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project starts there, doesn't it? He's also a New Zealander, so he does double duty! 

6. Have you ever read, or do you know of, any books written by authors in Antarctica/ the Arctic?
Who Goes There? by John Campbell is an awesome story set in the Arctic and was the basis for the two movie versions of The Thing, both of which are excellent films.
Brother Guy Consolmagno lived in the Antartica for a while and I've read a book by him that partially covers his time there, though I don't think he wrote it while he was there.

7. Who are your favourite African authors and books set in Africa?
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
St. Augustine was born in Africa, right?

This challenge makes me realize that I don't really pay attention to who wrote a book unless it is an outstanding book. Even then, I only try to remember the author's name, I don't read up on the person's history. Except for writing this post!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

L's Birthday 2015

L's birthday has come and gone. We had two big celebrations and are anticipating a third this weekend at Grandmama's house.

The first celebration was at a craft store, where L and some friends engaged in decoupage. It's the art of decorating an object by gluing stuff onto it. In this case, the object was a small wooden box. But before that, they decorated a Happy Birthday Banner.

L colors in

Still filling in stuff

A sample from the decoupage

While decorating the boxes was fun, the star of the decorating activities was frosting and personalizing birthday cupcakes.

Starting with a base layer of frosting

Carefully adding decorations

Carefully licking the knife

Singing and blowing out the candle

Best part of all--eating

Art enjoyed for its own sake

At the end, some nice and silly group photos were taken.

Nice smiles

A little bit scary

A whole lot silly

The next day we had a family party at home with some of the leftover cupcakes.

There's that candle again

N was interested in having a bottle to celebrate, but he's not ready for what he tried to get.

N tries to take his Uncle's beer

N realizes the error of his ways

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Donner Dinner Party by Nathan Hale

Donner Dinner Party is another one of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, the series of graphic novels about American history's most dangerous and arduous moments. This volume is about a wagon train traveling to California in 1846. The group is the infamous Donner Party, who take an ill-advised short cut through modern-day Utah and wind up trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for the winter. The group sets up camp in hopes of rescue but slowly die off. In desperation, the survivors begin eating the dead. While none of the cannibalism is shown in the book, it doesn't gloss over the fact either. At one point, the narrator character (American spy Nathan Hale) tells the reader to jump ahead a few pages to skip the worst of what happens. I didn't skip ahead. The tale is very harrowing and exciting, with plenty of tasteful jokes thrown in to lighten the grim mood of the story.

This book is well-researched (it includes a bibliography and a list of the minor changes and inventions for comic effect). The black and white drawings with green tinting helps lessen the horror of the occasionally bloody scenes. Highly recommended for young and old if you are interested in this historical event and don't know much about it!

Friday, June 19, 2015

End of School Year 2015

L's Kindergarten class (which includes five different sections of 15 to 20 children!) had an end of year musical extravaganza, to which parents were invited. We happily attended and saw L and her classmates performing with gusto.

L's class, assigned the color green to wear

The program alternated between group songs for all five sections and songs for each individual section. The most popular song with the children was "The Rules Rap," which they performed in true rapper style--wearing sunglasses.



In case you are wondering what the song is like, here is the original version:

L's classmates sang "Shake Your Shapes," a fun ditty about various shapes and how they could be shaken. The show ended with a slide show of photos from the year. L appeared several times! Then they had a farewell song.

The big finale

After the final song, we joined the children for a picnic lunch out back of the school. We ate fairly quickly, which meant there was plenty of time to play on the playground equipment. L showed me many of her skills here. And she said goodbye!

J's class also had a farewell program. They hosted an "Author's Celebration" where all the students read various things they wrote over the year. Each child did three readings. J read from his Feelings Book, his All About Light, and his poem I Am.

Reading with and about feelings

His All About Light was a masterful work that described the difference between natural light and man-made light (which made my philosopher's heart proud) and about the importance of turning off lights when leaving a room.

J reads All About Light

His final work was an assignment everyone had done, so each member read their self-description poem I Am. J said he loves playing chess and hopes he becomes very good, among other things he told us.

I Am reading

After readings, we had a break, allowing us to mingle with our children. J chatted very briefly with us then started playing with his friends.

Too cool for parents?

We saw another project he worked on--inventing a sound machine. He made step-by-step instructions and a finished product.

Sound machine

The class had one last picture together, then another last picture with their teacher!

First graders, unsupervised

More supervision and more children

Now it's time for summer adventures to start!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

TV Review: Doctor Who Last Christmas (2014)

Doctor Who Last Christmas (2014)

The Doctor and Santa Claus team up to save the world from yet another alien invasion during Christmas. This time, the action isn't in London, it's at the North Pole. A group of scientists are trying to save their comrades from the Dream Crabs, alien beasts who grip onto people's faces and slowly suck their brains away while inducing a dream state so the victims don't mind that they are losing their minds.

The episode has an interesting set up but steals liberally from many classic science fiction movies, mostly obviously the Face-huggers from Alien and the arctic setting from The Thing From Another World. The characters in the episode even acknowledge it--perhaps the writers trying to look like they're clever rather than they're plagarists. Clearly, I wasn't impressed by the lack of creativity.

The actors are good as usual. Peter Capaldi has great screen presence and Nick Frost is a likeable and unique enough Santa to make the character fresh. Plenty of funny lines lighten the mood and had me laughing out loud.

On the other hand, the dramatic story felt slow and dragged out. I did get a bit bored with the same problems recurring too many times (again the writers aiming for clever and not hitting the mark). As I said above, there was too much taken from other, better stories like Alien and The Thing. Another ultimately disappointing outing for the Doctor.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

Will Eisner had a long, successful career in comics before he was able to publish these three books. He had written and drawn for newspapers, comic books, and training materials. His style of writing was not considered appropriate for serious drama. Thus these serious dramas about life in a New York City neighborhood were deemed unpublishable in the early 1970s. He finally got the first volume published and it became a critical hit, creating a new branch of the comic book industry--"graphic novels."

The stories deal with the frustration and disillusionment of the characters living in a run-down tenement building. One man's adopted daughter loses her life and he turns his back on God. An aging diva and an ambitious street singer use each other for personal gains. A group of people go to the Catskills to escape the hardships of the city only to find plenty of human drama dealing with each other. Many other stories show the lives and history of the fictional neighborhood (Dropsie Avenue), depicting the political, racial, and social ebbs and flows as wealth comes in and out along with various waves of immigrants and construction.

The storytelling is well done with evocative black and white drawings showing the stark reality of urban depression, decay, and decadence. The later stories have fascinating political machinations, with various characters using the brains and charisma (and sometimes brute force) to improve things as best they can. The last of the trilogy, "Dropsie Avenue," goes through the history from the 1700s to the late 1900s, with the waves of different immigrants having their impact on the community. It made for convincing and compelling reading, as did the rest of the book. This book is rightly considered a classic.

Parental advisory: As a realistic work of fiction aimed at adults, no punches are pulled when depicting racism, violence, and sex. I'd recommend this for late teens and up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

J's BSA Report--Raingutter Regatta 2015

June is a slow month for Scouting. Our den meeting was canceled, leaving the Raingutter Regatta as the only official pack event for June. They moved it up a week too, so J and I were caught short and rushed to paint and prepare his boat. We set to work in our basement workshop, crafting a thing of beauty that is a joy forever.

Basement workshop

Final product after two days of work

The meeting was held outside. We arrived and the cubs were already doing practice runs in the rain gutters. J soon joined in, then joined in the game of tag happening on the other side of the parking lot.

Practice runs in the raingutter

J blows his best

Soon enough, the assistant cubmaster called everyone back for the official race.

Announcing the rules

The oldest boys started first. Races were head-to-head with two runs. After the first run, the competitors switched gutters and raced a second time. One of the gutters did seem a little faster for some unknown reason, but most match ups had the same results anyway. When J's turn came, he was paired with his best friend and fellow Wolf Cub C.

Two competitors face off

C won, meaning he had to go on to race other boys. J was happy to go back to playing tag. His friend wound up in second place overall, quite the accomplishment for a first-year scout!

Various awards

Other awards were given out for all sorts of categories--most colorful, best Scout spirit, most like a real yacht, most creative, and best effort.

Some of the competing yachts

Participation patch and Scouting for Food patch

At the meeting, we also received out t-shirts for the annual day camp at the end of the month, which will get its own post, or possibly several posts.