Thursday, June 21, 2018

St. Mary's Block Party 2018

Our church, Saint Mary of the Mills, held a block party in early June. The main reason for the party was to raise money for Saint Joseph Church, a sister parish in Carcasse, Haiti. The church and the town are still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew in 2007.

Our church has been working with Health and Education for Haiti, Global Solace, Inc., and Just Haiti Coffee to raise money and provide support for the Carcasse community. Conditions are improving but they have a long way to go.

The original plan for the block party was to celebrate in the parking lot of the church hall but that particular Saturday was rainy. So the festivities moved inside.

Inside the church hall

Display on Haiti

The Knights of Columbus were still outside grilling under pop-up canopies. They had plenty of burgers and hot dogs, which were the first course of our meal that night.

Not a good angle for the hot dog

Inside were table of foods from the various communities that make up St. Mary's, including Filipino, Caribbean, African-American, Italian, etc. In order not to offend anyone, I took a little bit of each.

Second course

The Knights also had a bar set up with beer and wine. The beer option included three beers brewed by parishioners. I sampled the Belgian brown ale and the Marzen. Both were delicious (that's the brown ale up in the picture).

Our kids liked the food but became obsessed with the corn hole game. They spent most of their time playing with other kids, making up their own teams. And their own rules. Happily, they are old enough to police themselves and were having a lot of fun. And we parents could relax and enjoy our meal.

Our children--on different teams!

Going for a high shot

It was a fun evening. We almost bought raffle tickets until we realized we weren't staying the whole evening (the party was supposed to go till 10 p.m.). We put our money in the donation jar instead.

Statue near the parish center

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Experiencing Film Music by Kenneth LaFave

Experiencing Film Music: A Listener's Companion by Kenneth LaFave


Kenneth LaFave covers the broad history of music in film, starting from the first films before sound recording technology was integrated into movies. Silent films were accompanied by local musicians who used appropriate music culled from their repertoire and from cue sheets suggesting bits of music that would enhance various parts of the movie. With the advent of talking pictures, musical creativity moved from local musicians to  studio music departments where orchestrators worked with directors in crafting music to support the film. The book was published in 2017 and covers movie music all the way up to 2016, a wide span.

The book, after discussing the transition from silent to talking films, looks at genres chapter by chapter, discussing how music is used. LaFave's main idea is that "the film score's task is to be both unnoticed and indispensable at the same time." (p. xxi) That's a tricky balance. He hits a lot of highlights from movie history, usually going in depth with one or two movies per genre. The detail can get too detailed for the amateur listener, delving into chromatic and modal scales, diminished fifths, and other technical jargon. I still got the general sense of what he was trying to say even though I don't know all the technicalities.

The book is also full of his personal opinions on things, so readers' agreement will vary throughout. He admires only the score from Planet of the Apes, considering the original 1968 film obvious and silly. Concerning the main conflict in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, he says "civilization, as we all know, depends for its existence on ritually sacrificing nature." (p. 155) I didn't know that and can hardly agree. On the other hand, he does have interesting insights on many things, like the complimentary use of Danny Elfman's score and Prince's songs in the 1989 Batman film.

Overall, I enjoyed the book as a walk through the history of films with a focus on how music has contributed to the enhancement of the viewer's experience.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Father's Day 2018

We went out for lunch on Father's Day 2018 to Frisco Tap House. The appeal for me was the beer and for my wife the pretzels. The kids weren't particularly excited. Still they had a good time.

Inside Frisco Tap House

We ordered the home-made pretzel appetizer because that is our new favorite thing. We received two pretzels, which weren't hanging like at other restaurants but were still delicious. They looked like happy faces, which we thought was cool. The cheese sauce was much more popular than the mustard sauce in our family.

Smiling pretzels

 My first beer was the Peabody Heights Unforgiveable Curses Tripel (9% alcohol by volume). It was very tasty, with the nutty flavor of Belgian beers. It went well with the pretzels.

Tripel with a third of a pretzel

For my meal, I ordered jambalaya which was spicy and yummy. The kids ordered pizza and a cheeseburger. My wife had the lamb sliders which were yummy. 

Jambalaya

I ordered a second beer that was also awesome. It was Wicked Weed's Dark Arts Rum Barrel. It was rich and creamy and super-potent at 15% alcohol per volume. I liked it a lot and didn't drive home. Also, we were a bit shocked to see it cost $15. It's the most we have ever paid for one serving a beer. It probably wasn't worth that much but it did taste awesome.

Dark Arts Rum Barrel with reflection of Jambalaya

I received a bunch of cool presents at home, including a book about saints from Africa and the board game Space Alert which we look forward to playing. The preschooler made an awesome card with home-made art...

Card front

Card back

Monday, June 18, 2018

Book Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 2 by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 2 by Hiromu Arakawa


Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric are in pursuit of something to heal them. Edward has a metal arm and a metal leg from when they tried to bring their mom back from the dead. Alphonse is now a soul trapped in a suit of armor, so he needs the fix even more. One of the other alchemists was developing the Philosopher's Stone, powerful enough to do amazing transmutations. As they search for the stone, they run into other alchemists of dubious character. The worst of all is a guy named Scar, who has been killing state alchemists because he thinks they are a blight on reality. Alchemy isn't natural, after all.

The quest for the Philosopher's Stone gives these stories a larger story arc, making the ongoing story more interesting for me. The rogue alchemist killing other alchemists also raises the stakes. I guess I'm hooked and will read more.

Recommended.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Movie Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

The Shape of Water (2017) co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro


In 1960s Baltimore, a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a janitor in a top secret government facility. She has a lonely and monotonous life. Her best friends are the starving artist in the apartment next door and another janitor who does all the talking for them both, mostly complaining about her husband. Elisa goes through the same routine, working the overnight shift at the facility. Things change when a specimen is brought in from the South American jungles--a fish man (also mute) who surreptitiously develops a connection with Elisa. The Man in Charge (Michael Shannon) is much less friendly with the creature and he's planning to vivisect it to find out as much as he can. Elisa naturally wants to free the fish man with the help of her friends. There's also a Soviet mole in the facility who is supposed to kill the creature before the Americans can discover anything valuable, but he believes more in science than in Stalin and becomes a willing accomplice for Elisa. A breakout ensues.

The movie looks gorgeous. It follows the Vertigo style of deliberately chosen color schemes for locations and characters. The creature (played by Doug Jones in a prosthetic suit) looks an awful lot like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Abe Sapien from Hellboy, which seems deliberate. He looks both amazing and derivative. He has enough character to make the love story believable. They have chemistry on screen.

The love story is the primary story among the mix of fantasy, horror, and Cold War thriller elements. The romance is touchingly told and has a nice arc to it. Unfortunately, the Cold War stuff is all Hollywood tropes and cliches, making for very uninteresting storytelling. The villain might as well just be referred to as "The Man," considering how one-dimensional he is. The movie does spend a lot of time with him which could have developed him as a character, rather than constantly re-emphasizing what a hypocritical Christian, sexist, and narcissist he is. That whole part of the drama is thin and uninteresting, which is unfortunate since that's what drives the plot forward.

So why did this win the best picture Oscar? Probably it's another The Departed, the fairly average film that won Martin Scorsese his overdue best director Oscar. Classic Hollywood musicals and other films (Elisa lives over a movie theater) play a minor but persistent role, which probably also appealed to Hollywood Oscar voters. If you want to see del Toro's most Oscar-worthy work, Pan's Labyrinth is the film to watch.

I'm glad I watched it but probably will never rewatch it. The visuals and art direction are amazing, the love story is touching, but the narrative has too many uninteresting parts that are given too much time.

Parental warning: The movie has punctuated moments of violence that put it in the PG-13 range, but the sex scenes with nudity make it R-rated and only for adults.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

End of Year Cub Scout Activities 2018

The Cub Scout year is coming to a close for us. Here are some of the last things we did before going on summer hiatus!

My son's Cub Scout pack went to a local cemetery to put flags on veterans' graves for Memorial Day, which we were proud to do.

Saluting a soldier

The graveyard

Proud of his pack's accomplishment

The pack also went to the Baltimore National Cemetery (which is Catonsville just outside Baltimore proper) where we joined other packs, troops, clubs, etc. The cemetery has over 40,000 interments. As they say, many hands make light work. We finished our section in about twenty minutes. We decided not to stay for the ceremony.

Baltimore National Cemetery

Saluting

Saluting

A job well done

The pack's Raingutter Regata was, ironically enough, rained out. The make-up day is in July, so hopefully we'll be in town for that.

The Bridging ceremony was the final official meeting of the year. My son crossed the bridge but didn't get a new neckerchief.

Receiving awards from the cubmaster

Crossing the bridge

As a Webelos transitioning to Arrows of Light, he received his patrol patch. The boys chose the "Masked Marshmallows" as their patrol name, along with this fine patch.

Beware the Masked Marshmallows!

More stories will come in the Fall, if a Summer update doesn't come first...

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

GOTR Race Spring 2018

My daughter joined the Girls on the Run group at her school this spring. The two-month program  teaches girls to run a 5K race by the end. More importantly, it teaches them confidence, a positive attitude, and team spirit. The goal of the 5K is just to finish the 5K, not have the fastest time ever. Each girl needs a "buddy" runner at the final event. I was that buddy.

Happiness on arrival, even though it was 7 a.m.

We arrived at the race's staging area only to discover we were the first from our group to show up. So we walked over to the Celebration Village, where the sponsors and vendors had booths.

The lonely school flag

One booth provided hair styling which consisted mostly of putting cool colors in the girls' hair. My daughter got some red and purple for the race.

Spray color

Checking her hands for coloring

Later, the coach put some face makeup on her. Specifically, my daughter had two pink lines put under her eyes, like many athletes get (though usually they are black).

The final touch

8 a.m. finally rolled around and our group headed over to the starting line for the race. We were in Wave 2, so pretty close to the front.

Packed in to run

The rest of the family had arrived at this point and  ready to cheer for us about half a mile down the road.

Noisemakers get ready!

They didn't have long to wait for us to arrive.

An initial batch of runners

My daughter and I did a combination of running and walking. I let her take the lead on when to walk. We did a good five and a half minutes before our first walk.

My self and my daughter

Our family was able to move to a different part of the route and cheer us on again later.

Going at her own pace

Occasionally I had to inspire my daughter to get going again at full speed after a walking break. I'd say we'd start again in a count of ten. Usually, she'd take off before the full count and I'd have to sprint to catch up!

Leaving daddy behind

We runners had a good time, especially when we hit the water tables. The course was set as a big loop around a bunch of office parks, so it was relatively flat and very unpopulated on a Saturday morning. It's a perfect 5K location.

The finish line was the same inflatable as the starting line, so we ran through from the other side of the picture below. The other side says "finish," not "start."

Finish line viewed from the wrong side

After the finish line, the girls got their running medals for which they were proud.

Medal

They also had snacks set up for us, including water, bananas, apples, breakfast bars, and fruit bars.

Getting some post-race snacks

I picked out a bar labeled "Pineapple Banana." The fine print also mentions kale and spinach. When I opened the wrapper, it seemed like they were emphasizing the wrong ingredients.

Only thing more disappointing than having to wear a pink shirt

I don't see any pineapple or banana

Being a parent of a prescholar, I had a food tester handy to make sure it was edible.

"Here, son, have a bite!"

Nonplussed consumer

I finish the bar

My daughter had a great time, even though it was challenging. She enjoyed her breakfast bar.

Eating a normal-looking snack

We went to a local Panera Bread to celebrate with mid-morning snacks. For my daughter and me, it felt like lunchtime already. We enjoyed a croissant and a cinnamon scone. And sitting down!

Next year, my daughter is threatening to have Mommy run with her.