Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Blueberry Bonanza

To expand our children's palates, we've adopted a "blue" challenge that has required eating blueberries in various forms. The final two dishes were blueberry pie and our own invention--blueberry shortbread.

Since we weren't sure how well the pie would go over, we did not make a regular size pie. Instead, we bought some pre-made pie shells that were individual size. They were Keebler Graham Cracker pie crusts and made for a yummy base. For the pie filling, we worked from scratch following this recipe:

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 scant tablespoon cornstarch
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 4 mini graham cracker pie crusts
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon, and sprinkle over blueberries.
Dish into pie crusts, dot with butter.  Fillings will be slightly heaping.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust is golden brown.

Filling the pie shells

Uncooked pie

The results were nicely scrumptious. My daughter enjoyed it so much she ate her whole pie!

A hesitant customer bcomes...

...a happy customer!

The blueberry shortbread recipe started with our standard Easy-Bake Oven recipe for regular shortbread , which we quadrupled.

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tsp sugar
  • 10 tablespoons flour
We added 1/8 cup of chopped dried blueberries. The dough turned a gratifying shade of purple. After baking for 20-30 minutes, my daughter cut heart shapes out of the still warm shortbread.  She was influenced by just having watched Cupcake Wars Kids Edition online, where presentation is key.

Cutting out fun shapes

Not wearing her heart on her sleeve

Post-baking cookies

After baking, the cookies were more of a tan color than the previous glorious purple, so we made a quick confectioners sugar, lemon juice and purple sanding sugar glaze to bring the purple back.

Adding some glaze


Still not satisfied that her presentation was up to the Cupcake Wars Kids Edition level, my daughter decided to make a fancy display for her confections.

Making a grassy field without grass

The final display

The most important part was trying out the taste. My son didn't think it had much blueberry flavor but my daughter loved them.

Enjoying the fruits of her labors!

Monday, May 30, 2016

BSA--We Remember 2016

On Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, my son's scout pack participated in the local "We Remember" service at the Ivy Hill Cemetery in Laurel, Maryland. In tribute to those who served in our country's military, the scouts put new American flags on the graves of veterans.

At attention for the ceremony

Before we began our work, a representative from the local American Legion post introduced a currently serving member of the armed forces. She told us how her parents were immigrant and she wanted to help defend this country who helped them and so many others have a better life.


Hearing from a soldier

Her speech was short but touching. Then we were assigned different sections of the graveyard. We looked at the gravestones for ones that mentioned either a service the person was in or a conflict where they served. We also had maps that indicated graves of veterans where the headstones or monuments did not mention their service.

Making a hole for the flag

Planting another flag

A World War II vet

While at the graveyard, someone discovered a fawn taking a little snooze underneath one of the trees. No one got too close to scare the animal away. Even from a distance it looked very cute.

Fawn taking nap

Close up

It was heartening to look back on our work as we left.

New flags among old stones

Another section of the cemetery

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Book Review: X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse Vol. 2 by S. Lobdell et al.

X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse Volume 2 Reign written by Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Warren Ellis, and others

See my review of Volume One here.

The saga of a world without Charles Xavier continues. Magneto has taken his place as head of the X-Men and is leading a desperate fight against Apocalypse, a mutant who has taken over most of the Western hemisphere. Apocalypse is either recruiting or destroying all the mutants in the Americas. What regular humans are left he uses as slaves or as genetic fodder for creating more mutants. Or he just "culls" them. One mutant, Bishop, is from the normal timeline where Xavier didn't die and he is helping Magneto craft a plan to restore history. So some X-Men are seeking out a special telepath while Nightcrawler is headed to the hidden refuge Avalon (which is apparently the Antarctic Savage Land from the normal timeline). Jean Grey and Wolverine work with the European humans to make a plan to contain or defeat Apocalypse. The Europeans' solution is to nuke Manhattan (Apocalypse's headquarters). Jean wants to warn whoever's left, but can she get there in time? Can the humans' plan come off? These questions and what happened with the rest of the non-X-Men heroes are looked at in this issue. Age of Apocalypse runs for another two books, so nothing is resolved yet, but the plot is still intriguing enough to keep me reading.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Movie Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)

Mr. Holmes (2015) directed by Bill Condon

An elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) returns from a trip to Japan. His English residence is a countryside home with a housekeeper and her son. Holmes wants to write the story of his last case, something that Watson romanticized a bit too much (as he did for most cases they had). The problem is Holmes's memory is failing him. He can only recall small bits of the story which he slowly writes out. The housekeeper's son has discovered the uncompleted manuscript and becomes fascinated with Holmes. Holmes takes the boy under his wing and teaches him a bit about beekeeping while slowly unraveling the story. The mother is not too excited about it for her own reasons. The two stories (Holmes living with the housekeeper and her son; his last case) move forward at a very leisurely pace.

McKellen gives a great performance as Holmes debilitated by old age. His struggles with remembering the past and with living in the present are touching and realistic. Toward the end of the movie, much of that challenging struggle has slipped away from Holmes in a subtle and believable way. The end of the film turns a bit formulaic as Holmes slips back into his old, younger ways. The main flaw in the film is the sub-plot with the Japanese man which has too many ambiguities to be satisfying. The incongruities worked early on in the film, assuming Holmes's mixed up mental state. The resolution by the end should have been clearer.

Overall, the film is an interesting look at what Holmes might be like as an old man.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun written by J. R. R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien

Old Norse and Germanic tales were a huge influence on J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. He was a university professor specializing in philology, studying ancient languages and texts. Among the works he studied were the old Norse and Icelandic poems (called Edda) along with the later prose work Volsunga Saga. He re-wrote the poems concerning the hero Sigurd, who slays the dragon Fafnir, takes his horde of gold, frees the Valkerie Brynhild, and winds up at the court of the Niflungs (known in German as the Nibelungs). His life there proves to be his undoing as the princes's mother uses witchcraft to mix up their fates, resulting in sorrow and death for pretty much everybody. Tolkien called this poem "The New Lay of the Volsungs," the Volsungs being Sigurd's family. He imitates the terse and alliterative style of the Edda poems to great effect:
'Men sing of serpents
ceaseless guarding
gold and silver
but fell Fafnir
folk all name him
of dragons direst,
dreaming evil.' [p. 101]
Tolkien also wrote "The Lay of Gudrun," about Gudrun, the daughter of the Niflungs who is wedded to Sigurd, even though he pledged his troth to Brynhild. A tale of betrayal and revenge spins out, resulting in the overthrow of the Niflungs by a foreign king.

This book contains the texts of both poems along with a general introduction on the style of the writing. The introduction is mostly by Tolkien's son Christopher but based on notes from Tolkien's lectures. Christopher also provides commentary and footnotes at the end of each poem. Appendices have more background information on the poems.

The poems themselves are the highlight of the book. They communicate the story with vivid style. The introduction is well worth reading for background on the poems, their writing, and their structure. I was able to appreciate the Lays much more. The commentaries are also helpful, though probably not as necessary for a second reading. Seeing elements that show up in Tolkien's later works (like a cursed ring, etc.) is a fun discover. Overall, the book is highly satisfying reading.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FRES Carnival 2016--Part II

After enjoying the obstacle course and rock climbing wall, we decided to go inside, i.e. out of the sun. The FRES Carnival had plenty of indoor attractions. The games included the classic cake walk. My son played it twice but didn't win either time.

Starting the cake walk

My son comes around the corner

He was more successful at the mini-golf challenge. He had three balls to hit, trying to get at least one in the hole.

Where's the third ball?

My daughter tried it out but her skills are not fully developed yet.

Daughter trying it out

My daughter was more satisfied with with the face painting and the new glitter tattoos.

Butterfly--a face paint classic!

Getting a glitter tattoo

A happy customer

Red dart frog

The other popular indoor activity was buying (and eating) food. Since it was a carnival, my daughter decided to have some classic carnival food.

Cotton candy! (toddler wants some)

Buffalo Wild Wings mascot trying to scare high five the toddler

Back outside, my son tried the horse racing game. He didn't quite get the bouncing down right away, but he did have a lot of fun.

Breaking out of the gate

Turning around to go back!?!

We had a great time and are sure to go back next year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FRES Carnival 2016--Part I

The kids' school had their spring carnival in mid-May. We went a little early to set up the Cub Scout table. We got there as things were starting and just barely had the table set up in time.

The scouts table

The recruitment effort was successful--we had eight interested people give us contact information.

My son was eager to get to the fun stuff, so we headed off to buy tickets for the various games. The first thing he wanted to try was an inflatable obstacle course.

Inflatable obstacle course


My boy starts the race

Climbing in the middle of the course

At the finishing line

He ran the course four times. Three of the times I remembered to clock him. His fastest time was eighteen seconds (or, literally, eighteen Mississippis). These courses are always a favorite with him.

The other big hit was the rock climbing wall. Again, he tried it four times to see how high he could climb. His first ascent wasn't too high, but he improved as the day wore on.

Getting the harness on!

Hooking on to the wall

First ascent

Top of the first ascent

Top of the second climb

Starting the third time

Passed by another kid


Tied for height

Top performance

My daughter decided to try it as well. She didn't get as high but had a great time anyway.

Suiting up

Starting her ascent

Reaching for the star(fish)

Her top level

Repelling back down

More in the next post!