Thursday, October 2, 2014

Book Review: The Twlight Zone: The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street by R. Serling et al.

The Twlight Zone: The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street adapted by Mark Kneece from Rod Serling's original screenplay, illustrated by Rich Ellis

Having read a previous adaptation of a Twilight Zone episode, I picked up this volume at the library anticipating another well-retold story. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street is a famous episode from the show. In it, a suburban street is subject to a power outage after what seems to be a meteor comes crashing overhead. Not only is the power out, but cars won't start and portable radios don't pick up any stations. People start to get nervous. One guy goes to the next street to find out if they have the same problems. The other people gather and talk about how weird it is. When two guys decide to walk downtown, a boy of ten warns them not to go, because they won't come back. That's how these stories always work out in comic books and movies--people disappear one after another because the aliens from the "meteor" are starting their invasion. The boy insists that there must be a family who are really aliens sent ahead of time to get things ready. Suspicions immediately grow and good neighbors become a paranoid mob. Things go from bad to worse when cars mysteriously start and stop and only certain homes have power. The neighbors turn on one another at a truly frightening pace and with devastating consequences.

As an adaptation of the story, this volume was a bit of a let down. The story is exactly the same with no real visual flourishes or significant new material to make it better or even different in an interesting way. Having seen the episode first, this book feels redundant. It's still a great story anyway.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Meadowood Regional Park, Maryland

Just off the northern end of the Baltimore Beltway is Meadowood Regional Park. It was a nice stopping point for us after going to the state fairgrounds for an event. The event wasn't so interesting for the kids, so we made it up to Jacob and Lucy by stopping at a playground. The park provided the perfect distraction and reward.

The parking lot was a little tricky to get to--we missed a turn and drove along the edge of the parkland. A quick u-turn put us back on track. The parking was on the other side of a small creek which we had to cross.

Not Jacob down by the waters of Deep Run

Another interesting bit along the way to the playground is this sample from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Asher Brown Durand's The Catskills. The oddness of an outdoor painting presented in the outdoors was lost on the children but not on me.

The Catskills by Asher Brown Durand (1859)

Not far behind The Catskills is the playground, the most interesting spot in the park.

Racing to the playground

Lucy was nervous about crossing the bridge, but it wasn't clear to me if the wobbliness or the "someone else's parent" was the cause of fear.

"Are you looking at me?!?"

Safely across

Jacob had no such troubles with the slide.

Going for the slide

Riding the curve

The swing set, a perennial favorite, was put to good use.

Lucy used her shoes to get "dibs" on the other swing for Jacob

We loved hanging out at the Meadowood Regional Park playground!

Jacob hanging out!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jacob's BSA Report for September 2014

Jacob joined one of the local Boy Scout troops this year. Since he is in first grade, he starts as a Tiger Cub in the Cub Scouts (Boy Scouts come later). The first meeting was just a social where Jacob wasn't too social but was still interested enough to sign up. He read about Neil Armstrong's early years in the scouts and wants to follow in his footsteps.

The next week we went to our first den meeting. All the new tiger cubs are in a group called a den. The den is part of a larger group called a pack. The pack Jacob belongs to has other dens with Wolf Cubs (for second graders), Bear Cubs (for third graders), and Webelos (for fourth and fifth graders). Jacob learned the Cub Scout Promise and the Law of the Pack as well as the Cub Scout sign, handshake, salute, and motto. He received his neckerchief and slide that night.

Jacob on the first night

We had a list of items (a shirt, a hat, a handbook, and some patches) to pick up at a Boy Scout store. Mommy diligently worked on attaching the patches while I studied the Tiger Cub Handbook. The book was a big help practicing the Cub Scout Promise, the Law of the Pack, the Cub Scout sign, handshake, salute, and motto. With those well ingrained in Jacob's brain, I went online to register his completion of the first badge on the BSA website.

The next week the pack had a meeting with all the dens. The whole group played some games, sang some songs, and handed out badges and other awards. Some of the older boys had a lot of awards since this was the first meeting since the summer break. Jacob received his Bobcat badge for making the first requirements.

Jacob in uniform with Bobcat badge

The next weekend we went for a hike. The whole family was invited and we explored the Patuxent Branch Trail with Jacob's den. It was a fine hike near our old house. We tried to find a geocache along the way but were unsuccessful. We had fun anyway. A small stream ran along the path and we stopped to throw in sticks and stones. Running and climbing were also fun activities.

Racing down a path

Climbing a big rock

Next month we have a leaf rubbing activity and our first camp out, so look forward to an exciting report!

Monday, September 29, 2014

One Ingredient Challenge: Chicken Stock

Part of an ongoing series of cooking from scratch. That is, we cook something from basic items that don't have multiple ingredients (e.g. store-bought spaghetti sauce includes all sorts of spices and maybe other stuff too; we'd start with tomatoes and individual spices and add them together to make our own sauce). See other challenges here.

Back in England, Lucy helped Mommy make some chicken stock from scratch. They took a dutch oven and filled it with the following ingredients:
  • Water
  • Bone-in chicken parts (we used drum sticks)
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Bay leaves
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Carrot
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Lucy adding ingredients

The pot simmered for a few hours.

Soon to be yummy

Then they took all the stuff out and had a nice broth that we could use in other recipes. Sometimes we substitute some chicken broth for water when making rice to give it a little more flavor.  We also have a few stove-top pasta recipes that call for chicken stock. It also makes a nice base for soups or when making ramen noodles (or Kung Fu Panda noodles, as Lucy likes to call them).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

St. Michael le Belfrey, York, England

St. Michael le Belfrey sits in the shadow of York Minster. The "le Belfrey" part of the name is assumed to refer to the Minster's bell tower. Originally, this church was a chapel for the Minster. It later became a parish for the locals. The church was rebuilt from 1525 to 1536 during Henry VIII's reign by John Foreman, who was the Minster's master mason. The only external alterations after that were the addition of a bell tower in 1848 and the rebuilding of the west front in 1857 when adjoining houses were removed. The church continues to serves as a Church of England parish.

West front of St. Michael le Belfrey

Side of church

The church is also famous because Guy Fawkes, he of Gun Powder Plot fame, was baptized here. A nearby pub is named after him.

Inside, the nave is a light and airy example of the Tudor gothic style.


The main altar's reredos (the wooden screen) includes the Lord's Prayer on the left and the Apostles' Creed on the right. In the center is a copy of Zurbaran's Adoration of the Shepherds which now hangs at The National Gallery. The picture was added in 1924 and replaced the Ten Commandments.

Main altar and reredos

Above the altar is a marvelous stained glass window.

Over the altar (click to enlarge)

Originallly, Queen Anne's coat of arms was at the top of the reredos but was moved in 1924 to the gallery above the entrance.

Queen Anne's coat of arms

The church has an assortment of memorials.

Robert and Priscilla Squires memorial surrounded by others

Thomas Fothergill memorial

More memorials

One impressive stained glass window includes four archangels--Raphael, Michael, Gabriel, and Uriel. I hadn't heard of Uriel before. He's mentioned in the deutero-canonical book of Esdras in which he appears to Ezra during the Babylonian Captivity.

Four angels window (click to enlarge)

The church also has some impressive tiles in the floor.

Fancy floor

An old bench nearby with recycled tombstones on the floor!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tantallon Castle, Scotland

On the Scottish coast of the North Sea is the ruins of a once-mighty castle built and kept by the Douglases. In 1354 William Douglas inherited his father's lands and those of his uncle too. He was made earl of Douglas in 1358 with his massive, fortified home, Tantallon Castle, already under construction. The castle was completed but the line of succession divided after William's death. Tantallon went to the younger son George, the "Red Douglas." He became the earl of Angus and the family had its share of political intrigues. The castle was besieged three times, first in 1491 and then in 1514. The castle did not survive the third siege by Oliver Cromwell in 1651 when the English cannons battered the walls. The earls didn't have the money to repair the castle and wound up selling it in 1699 along with the barony to Sir Hew Dalrymple (yes, that is the right spelling).  Only minor repairs happened in the coming centuries and the castle is maintained by Historic Scotland.

We had a long walk from the parking lot to the outer gate. The castle has an outer ditch with two small passages through. One is the Gun Tower (probably built in 1528) that was added to a short wall.

Walking toward the castle

Remains of the wall and gate

The castle itself is still impressive to see. A main ditch (like a moat) separates it from the field in front with only a small bridge crossing over into the middle tower of the castle.

Walking from the east tower (on right) to the mid tower (with the bridge)

Inside the tower

The constable (or keeper of the castle) would have lived upstairs but we were unable to visit his quarters.

Inside the tower

Can't go that way!

The castle has plenty of narrow slits (for both light coming in and arrows shooting out) that were a natural photo op.

Defender Jacob

Defender Lucy

We found some clear stairs and were able to go up on the roof. The view was nice though I worried about the children at such a height.

Jacob with the view to the Bass Rock

Lucy safely in the middle

Jacob points to another tower he wants to visit

Behind the wall and towers is the inner close, an open field now but was probably full of small buildings for workers and animals. The field was originally surrounded by walls with a sea-gate providing access to a small harbor.

Walls from inside the close

The mid tower from inside

View and sign for the Bass Rock

The close also has the well for the castle, which is near to the east tower.

Castle well

We went inside the east tower and saw some of the smaller cannons that were left in the castle.

A long, small cannon

Cannon's view

On the western end of the castle is the Douglas Tower, which clearly housed the family, though the basement did include a prison area which Lucy visited.

Inside the dungeon

After wandering around the castle for a while, we went back out to the outer close which has only one building remaining--the Dovecot. Built in the 1600s, it has over 1000 nesting boxes for pigeons. The pigeons were kept as an alternate source of food for those at the castle. It is still used by birds but they are no longer served for meals.

Lucy by the dovecot

Last view of the castle

Friday, September 26, 2014

Book Review: I Ate the Sheriff by K. Bennett

I Ate the Sheriff by K. Bennett

I Ate the Sheriff is the third novel in the Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-law, series, and presumably the last. Mallory Caine is still fighting the good fight in court for the accused and in her dining choices as she tries to go cold turkey from human flesh. Now that unnatural beings like zombies, werewolves, and vampires are recognized by society and local authorities, she has the option to attend Zombies Anonymous and buy cow brains as a substitute for the human kind. But that's not enough to keep her out of trouble now that her ex-boyfriend, district attorney Aaron Argula, is putting his dad's plans in motion to take over not only their home town of Los Angeles, but also the whole world. His dad is, of course, Satan.

The book retains the same humorous tone of the previous two novels even while flirting with an apocalyptic ending. The ending happens a little too quickly, tying up all the various plot threads in a few pages. It reminded me of the last episode of Pushing Daisies where they finished out every story line for every character in less than 45 minutes. It just seemed forced. Especially since some of the plot lines seemed more like comedy filler (Pat Sajak the werewolf comes to mind) than integral to the story. On the other hand, it is a light comedy and I am probably expecting too much.