Friday, August 29, 2014

More Baby Pictures from the Hospital and from First Bath!

We Baby Nicholas had a lot of visitors in the hospital, only some of them got photographed.

Lucy and Nicholas

Jacob and Nicholas

Granny and Nicholas

Grandpa and Nicholas

Jacob, Granny and Nicholas

About a week later, he had his first bath (we had to wait until his umbilical cord dropped off). It went off well--he didn't fuss much at all.

Doesn't know what's coming

Doesn't care

What's that big blue thing?

Almost ready to go in

First dip, no crying!

Cleaning ears

Cleaning eyes

A sign of discontentment

Backwash, or  "what are you doing back there!?!"

Coming out, just in time

A warm and cozy towel, what everyone wants

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, England

Stoke-on-Trent is famous for its pottery, so it is only natural for the town to have a pottery museum. We visited in August of 2012 and had fun discovering the history of the local area.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery

Statue out front

On entering, we ran into an ancient warrior--one of the Saxons who filled the land before the Normans took over.

Saxon warrior

Shield detail

Helmet detail

The 2009 discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard resulted in a large display of local, Anglo-Saxon items dating back to the seventh century. The hoard included over five kilograms of gold craftworks, one and a half kilos of silver, and thousands of garnets. Almost all of the items are martial. Photography wasn't allowed for the hoard items, but some other things were.

Sample Anglo-Saxon man

Fierce Jacob

Fierce Daddy

Side shot

The museum also has displays of more recent items of more interest to Lucy.

Elaborate doll house

Lucy dresses up with Aunt Regina

Fierce Lucy

Pretty Lucy

The museum also has a large, fine collection of pottery. I took pictures of their ancient Greek items (and some imitations).

Vase

Greek pot and a 1700s copy

Another fierce Lucy

Jacob rebuilds a temple

A more sombre moment

Some Greek mosaics and other works were also on display.

A Christian mosaic

Medusa mosaic

Modern Medusa Makeover

Europa and the Bull

The museum also has Reginald Mitchell's MK 16 Spitfire. Mitchell was a local who achieved fame through designing racing aircraft and the Spitfires used in World War II.

Spitfire

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: Baltimore Vol. 2: The Curse Bells by Mike Mignola et al.

Baltimore Volume 2: The Curse Bells written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden and art by Ben Stenbeck


Lord Baltimore's world is a fairly bleak one. Just as World War I broke out, a vampire plague ravaged Europe. One vampire in particular, Haigus, ravaged Baltimore's family after Baltimore cut his eye out on the French battlefields. The war stopped and Baltimore began hunting Haigus to get revenge.

Haigus knows Baltimore is on the trail and sets a trap for him. Baltimore is smart enough and tough enough to not be captured. The same cannot be said for Haigus, who is kidnapped by a madman bent on respawning a witch to do his bidding. Baltimore finds him in a convent that has fallen to the plague (yes, that means vampire nuns!). The madman promises the nuns a cure if he can get the witch reborn with their help.

Meanwhile, a psychotic Inquisitor is chasing after Baltimore. He's a border-line parody of religious fanaticism, torturing people in order to "purify" their souls. And to get information on Baltimore. I found his character annoying. He seems inserted just to make Baltimore look more complicated and nuanced than he really is. Maybe he'll be more than a caricature in later stories. Otherwise, the book is enjoyable as a horror comic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) co-written and directed by James Gunn


On the day eight-year old Peter Quill's mom dies, he's abducted by aliens. Double bummer! Jump forward about twenty years and the boy has grown into a scavenging outlaw. At least he'd like to think he's a badass. His latest retrieval is from an abandoned temple on an abandoned planet. It's a small orb that a lot of other people in the galaxy are interested in. As he goes into the temple, he turns on his Sony Walkman (an old one that plays cassette tapes) and grooves his way through the ruins, kicking and squashing small rat creatures that try to attack him. He even grabs one and uses it as a pretend microphone. Just as he recovers the orb, one of the interested parties shows up and tries to take it from him. He leads a merry chase away and eventually escapes. When he gets to the pawn broker, he discovers he's gotten into a lot more than he bargained for.

The movie follows a standard plot line--an all-powerful McGuffin (the orb) must be kept out of the hands of evildoers who will use it for nefarious purposes. A misfit group of low- to mid-level criminals band together to keep the orb out of reach. They all have different motivations and are mistrustful of each other at first. They grow closer and more trustful and even become friends by the end of the show. It seems like the movie should be just another run-of-the-mill comic book action movie.

The movie really shines in two ways. First, the sense of humor is great. It isn't dark or brooding or cynical. It's based (1) on the silliness of people taking themselves too seriously and (2) on not communicating in the clearest way, leading to funny consequences and (3) on the sort of cultural references that most of the characters in the movie just don't get because they are not from Earth. The movie has lots of laughs in it.

Second, the main heroes are very likeable characters. Peter Quill has a fairly dramatic childhood trauma, but unlike other comic book characters (I'm looking at you, most recent Batman and Superman films), it hasn't made him an angry, brooding, self-doubting hero. Instead, he's embraced his new life with a wry sense of humor and honesty, even if he does have an over-inflated view of himself. He's more adept at talking his way out of a situation than shooting his way out, though he can do the later if he needs to. He's a well-written character well played by Chris Pratt. The other main characters are just as well written and realized (including the CGI raccoon and sentient tree).

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big, fun summer action comedy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day of School 2014

Jacob and Lucy have started in their new school here in America. The experience is quite different. They don't have uniforms or school backpacks. We had to drop off a bunch of supplies (crayons, markers, pencils, notebooks, etc.) the week before. Doing that was good because we met the teachers just before starting. Jacob and Lucy were excited and nervous about going today. Here they are getting ready.

Getting socks on

Getting shoes on

Ready for school

All the kids ready to go

We didn't get any pictures at the school because it was too hectic. Any exciting stories from school are sure to show up on the blog!

p.s. Even though Nicholas went to school, he did not stay. We'll be using the bus for the rest of the year, so he had his one trip.

St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, England

St. Augustine's Abbey is located just outside the walls of Canterbury. It is one of the oldest monastic sites in England, founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury. He was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to reintroduce Catholicism in southern England (it had made some inroads before the Romans left). Augustine founded the monastery in 598. It became a great center of learning. After the Normans took over in 1066, the abbey was transformed into a typical Benedictine Abbey. Around this time, the abbey became known as St. Augustine's Abbey (you don't think he named it after himself, do you?). In 1538, the abbey was taken over by King Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He turned into a royal palace in preparation for the arrival of wife number four, Anne of Cleves. The abbey saw little royal use after Henry VIII. It was rented out to noble families and slowly sold off over the years. By the mid-1800s interest grew in restoring the site. St. Augustine's College was built on the land, later becoming King's School. The surrounding land was slowly acquired through the 1900s and now English Heritage manages the site.

St. Augustine's Abbey

The entrance goes through a small museum with a collection of decorative bits found by archeologists.

Statue and gargoyles

More statues and a cross

Heads from statues

The museum displays also explain life for people who lived here throughout the ages.

Medieval garb

The abbey grounds are a mixture of the two abbeys (the original Saxon monastery and the Norman abbey) with a sprinkling of the royal palace. The north wall of the church's nave still stands. The base is from the Norman abbey but the brick top is from the royal palace.

Nave north wall

The nave

Adjoining the north nave wall is the remains of Ethelbert's Tower, one of the main towers of the church.

Ethelbert's Tower ruins

Beyond the nave is the Crypt area, which served as the foundation for the central tower.

Crypt

By the crypt several graves are marked off. In addition to the abbots who were buried here, many of the local kings were also buried at the abbey.

Graves

Graves of Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent

The base of a staircase shows where monks would go up the tower.

Stairs

The crypt itself is accessible and contains some interesting floor tiles and the Chapel of St. Mary and the Angels, one of the earliest bits of the site.

More of the crypt

Floor tiles

Chapel of St. Mary and the Angels

View from the chapel

A side chapel in the crypt was dedicated to St. Thomas and the altar is still in reasonable shape.

Altar of St. Thomas

To the north of the church is where the cloister and various domestic buildings of the monastery were located. The cloister was a small square green surrounded by a covered walkway. The walkway provided access to the various rooms of the monastery, such as the refectory (where the monks ate) and the chapter house (where the monks met for daily instruction, including the reading of a chapter from St. Benedict's Rule (hence the name "Chapter" house)).

Cloister area

King's School

Norman doorway

Beyond the monastery on the east end of the grounds is St. Pancras's Chapel, one of the Anglo-Saxon churches that was not integrated into the larger monastic church. The Normans used it as a cemetery chapel.

St. Pancras's Chapel

Next to the chapel is a small mound that was probably the location of the Abbey's bell tower or campanile.

Campanile Mound

The abbey is a fascinating place to visit and well worth the trip.

Abbey with Canterbury Cathedral tower in the distance