Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reasons for Going to England #4: Local Brews

Converting temperatures has been a challenge here in the UK, especially since I bought a beer the other day and it says, "Best served at 13 degrees." I figured that had to be Celsius since there was no popsicle stick in the bottle. I put the bottle in the fridge, went to and found out the formula for converting, which is:
To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit you must multiply by 1.8 and then add 32. For a weather temperature you can make a rough estimate in your head by doubling the Celsius value and adding 30.
Of course, I just used their instant calculator to find out the temperature is supposed to be  55.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Guessing that's warm for refrigerator temperature, I left the bottle out to warm up a bit when I got around to drinking it the next day.

The beer is Black Sheep Ale made in Masham, North Yorkshire, i.e. it's a local brew. And a yummy brew. The flavor is much like Guinness, though not as harsh. The beer was a little darker than in the picture you see here. That's what I get for stealing a photo from their glossy web site!

We may have to go and take one of their shepherded tours of the brewery. [Editor's note: bad pun was stolen from the brewery's web site] We will definitely report back if/when we do.

The next day I had a Samuel Smiths Organic Lager, also brewed less than 10 miles away.  It was delightfully crisp and refreshing after a long day of running errands with the children. I was in a sort-of fancy restaurant and tried to take a picture stealthily:

Not a very flattering angle, though I like the reflection on the table. That's what you get for trying to be sneaky. I wasn't very sneaky, though, because the flash went off.

I'm looking forward to other local brews as well as traveling to other regions and countries and trying their fare as well!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Awesome Key, Bad Lock

Our first night in the UK, I decided it would be a good idea to lock the door for the evening. The door to our apartment is rather old-fashioned, as can be seen by the key that locks it:
A key to make Dickens proud!
The keyhole goes all the way through, so you can use the key on both sides of the door to lock or unlock it. I guess that's why the notches are palindromatic. The door also has a mail slot with metal flaps on the outside and inside, presumably to improve the insulation. We don't expect any mail but the children found it interesting to look through into the apartment. But I digress.

Locking the door from the inside wasn't such a problem. The trouble came the next morning.

We got up at 10 a.m. (which is 5 a.m. back where we came from) and went through as much of a normal morning routine as we could. Lucy and Jacob had cereal while Mommy and Daddy had bagels with cream cheese (I'll write another post about the scones and clotted cream later). We dressed and got ready to meet our sponsors at 11. They would take my wife to work for a few hours to get her access cards and to complete some preliminary paperwork.

When we heard the knocking on the door, we came to answer it. Forgetting that we had locked it, we tried the handle without success. Then I got the lovely key and put it in the lock and turned it. Well, tried to turn it. It wouldn't quite go clockwise. So I tried counter-clockwise. That didn't work either. So I tried with more force one way, then the other. The lock stayed locked. I tried jiggling and jaggling; inserting the key only part way; inserting it as far as possible. The only thing I didn't try was WD-40, only because we didn't have any.

Then we had the brilliant idea to pass the key through the mail slot to the sponsor, who was rather amused at this point. Then she tried from her side of the door. She also tried rotating it left and right, back and forth, with no positive results.

I started thinking about window access to the outside. We are in an upstairs apartment and our door is on a small outdoors landing. Not a good plan. I would say I thought about tossing Lucy and/or Jacob from the bathroom window onto the landing, but surely such a statement would bring Child Protective Services breathing down our necks. Or it would, if its agents could get through our door. But I digress again.

Finally, our sponsor passed the key back inside. My wife tried a few times. We were almost desperate enough to let Jacob and Lucy try. I tried one more time and it finally opened. I have no idea what I did differently, but my wife rushed out the door and spent more than a few hours at work.

The kids and I went for a walk later (to a playground, which I will also blog about later), bravely locking the door behind us. We had a fun time, so much so that Jacob did not want to come back to the apartment. I don't know if it's because he loved the playground so much or he was afraid of our crazy door lock.

We did make it back in and still have trouble with the lock. I maintain the habit of locking our door at night. We just need to plan some extra time in the morning for getting through the door.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Boat Would Have Been Faster

Can everything possible go wrong in one trip to England?

It started about a month ago, when the moving company messed up when our household goods would be shipped to England. They were supposed to pack and ship everything on the two days after Memorial Day weekend. They scheduled it for the Friday before and the Tuesday after the weekend, which would have meant a houseful of boxes and disassembled furniture and two children under four. We had to reschedule for a week later. It worked out for the best since the children got to play a little longer with their toys and we could be a little more organized.

Then we discovered our Internet service provider seems to have lost our records. Unfortunately, we switched to paperless bills (yes, they haven't forgotten to bill us), which turned out to be a bad idea because we haven't seen a bill in months. So we don't know our account number and the company couldn't look it up based on our names, our address, nothing. We're still working on that.

I scheduled the cell phones to be canceled the day after we left. The day before we left, our cell phones stopped functioning. I emailed a complaint in, but haven't gotten any response. I didn't really expect anything to be done other than an apology. None has been forthcoming. We had an old pay-as-you-go phone that I had reactivated for return trips to the States. It came in very handy.

On Thursday of last week, we got to the airport. Security went okay except for the bottle of water we forgot about in the diaper bag. Our first flight (at 6:30 p.m.) was held on the runway (with us in it) for two hours before we had to go back to the terminal. Bad weather in New York City meant we couldn't take off because we wouldn't be able to land on the other end. We were rebooked for an earlier flight to JFK the next day. The flight eventually departed without us, but our checked bags went to New York anyway.

Our carry-ons had clothes and necessities (except for my toothbrush and deodorant!). The travel agency booked us a hotel so we went to rest and tell the UK folks we'd be late. i emailed our sponsors and called the taxi service man, who sounded pretty groggy.

We went back to the airport at noon for our 2:40 flight the next day. Security went okay except for the tube of diaper rash cream we forgot about in the diaper bag. After settling at our gate, our flight was canceled. The airline tried to book us on the 6:30 flight again, but we were fearful. So we got booked on another airline to JFK. That flight was also delayed, but eventually got us to New York around 11 p.m., two hours after our connection to the UK.

A call to the travel agency found us a hotel but no available seats on the Saturday night flight to the UK, so we had to settle for Sunday night and a two day layover in New York City. That would have been great had we not been exhausted (we didn't check in to the hotel in NY till 1:30 a.m.) and also sick. I have a touch of laryngitis, though you probably didn't notice it here on the blog. Saturday we ate and slept and did laundry. The hotel booked us into a smoking room, so we requested a non-smoking room the next day. Turns out the smoking room didn't smell, so we asked if we could stay. The manager said no, he had the room booked. So we had to switch rooms in the hotel for one night. We thought about just switching hotels, but that would be too much hassle on everyone.

Sunday was much better. We took the local train to Mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. It was a good service and it was great to get to church one last time in the USA. We went back to the hotel, checked out and took a cab to Manhattan. We spent a relaxing afternoon with my brother and his girlfriend, who lives in Manhattan. We had brunch and the kids napped at her place (the hotel wouldn't give us a late check-out). He drove us back to the airport, where we finally were able to get on our plane, though even that was not without its adventures.

The security line had a special side line for families to go through, so we were sent there. It seemed like a good deal, till we found out it was also the emergency line for people who were running late or in a wheelchair. About a dozen people cut in front of us before we had our chance to go through security. Security went okay except for Lucy's milk, which had to be tested by Homeland Security to make sure it wasn't lethal to anyone. We got on the plane and finally made it to England.

The taxi pickup went smoothly at the airport. The UK is a lot hotter than we expected at 9 in the morning (29 degrees Celsius, whatever that is), so we were a little overdressed. Being groggy from the flight and still suffering from the colds, we mostly dozed or zoned out in the taxi. It took about 90 minutes to get to our destination. Once we were there, we couldn't get into the apartment! Our sponsors showed up soon with a code for the key box, but the code didn't work. After some calls to the apartment agency, we discovered the new code and were able to get in.

Now we are settled in and looking forward to our next day here in Great Britain. After all this, what could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Walking Dead Survival Test

The TV version of The Walking Dead has a fabulous web site with a survival test here. You answer a bunch of questions and it ranks your potential in a zombie apocalypse. I took the test and here is the result:

Do they know that I am a father? Do they know it's Father's Day? Anyway, I guess they've got me pegged right, except that I am in fact a zombie as well as a father. Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there, zombie or not!

p.s. If you take the test, please share your result in the comments below!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Zombie Review: The Walking Dead, Vol. 8 Made to Suffer

The Walking Dead, Vol. 8: Made to Suffer by Robert Kirkman

ZPAA rating

Adults with high capacity only (use your judgment based on content summary below)

Gore level

10 out of 10--Usual human on zombie and human on human violence, with lots of decapitated heads featured in this volume. What pushes it to 10 is our friend, the governor, and his totally sick treatment of his zombie daughter. He yanks out her teeth so he can kiss her on the mouth without getting bitten. And other stuff too. More content that I wish I could expunge from my mind. I guess it was included to remind readers how sick and evil the governor is, though it really seems hard to forget his previous horrors.

Other offensive content

The usual persistent bad language; one explicit sex scene (non-marital); utterly gloomy ending.

How much zombie mythology/content

There's no development of any explanations about the zombies at all. This story is completely focused on the prison folk versus the Governor's people.

How much fun

The writing is still quite good even if things just get grimmer and grimmer. I can't really say I enjoyed it though it was compelling and a fast read.

Synopsis & Review

After making many preparations for the coming of the Governor's townfolk, the prison is attacked with the governor sitting on top of a tank flanked by five other cars full of armed townsmen. The battle doesn't go as planned for either side and improvisation ensues. The townsfolk withdraw to regroup for another attack. Some people in the prison want to go after them right away, some want to flee the prison, some want to hunker down for next time. All three plans are used by various inmates making for a very intriguing drama.

The back story of how the Governor survived and how he's deceived his people into following him is revealed, along with more awful sordid details of how he treats his zombie daughter. This part was really shocking and terrible, like the extended torture scene from Volume 6. Unlike the torture scene, this scene isn't necessary to the story, other than to remind people how sick and twisted the Governor really is. The excuse for inserting it is pretty slim. I'm really tempted to stop reading this. As compelling as the story is, I can't take much more.

The ending is especially depressing considering how many characters die. The title "Made to Suffer" is made to order for this book. Uggh. I want to go and watch some Marx Brothers to clear my mind of this empty, sad feeling.

Sample Text

On the current level of bleakness: Rick's son Carl: Why is everyone so sad? Rick: Carl, BLANK died today. Carl: The bad men kill him? Rick: Yes. Carl, are you upset? Carl: No. People die, Dad. It happens all the time. I'll miss BLANK...but I knew he was going to die eventually. Everyone will. Everyone. What did you want, Dad?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lucy's Appetite

Lucy has been a troublesome eater of late. Most everything we set before her is sampled once at most and then she'll ask for something else. She's preparing either herself for a lot of tapas-style dining or us for running a tapas-style restaurant.

Can I eat something...else?

Occasionally she'll eat something with a lot of gusto. One day I gave her some quesadilla (which she called "tortilla") for lunch that she ate up with some dipping sauce (a small spoonful of salsa on her plate). After the exciting discovery I served it again the next day, but quesadilla had already fallen out of favor. Yogurt is still a pretty reliable standby, though sometimes she wants her Princess yogurt, other times daddy's vanilla yogurt with cereal mixed in (thanks for that idea, Granny!), other times daddy's yogurt without cereal, other times mommy's whipped yogurt. There's no way to get her to tell ahead of time which one she wants. If you ask, she will name one. By the time you get it to the table, she might change her mind.

Who changed my mind?

The other sort of troublesome thing is her desire for raw vegetables. We are pretty happy that she likes raw veggies, but often she wants them at inappropriate times. We'll be cutting up some onions or carrots for dinner and she'll come and ask for some with her disarming "pwease!" It's hard to say no, even though it might spoil her appetite for dinner.

The other inappropriate time is unpacking groceries. She loves to help with this. I leave the bags in the garage hall and she takes one item at a time from the back to the kitchen where I put it away. The problem here is she sometimes will sample something along the way:

That hole wasn't there at the store, I swear!

Lucy is a pretty reliable eater at Chick-fil-A, which offers some variety and the ever important dipping sauce. She'll eat nuggets and fruit, sometimes dipping both in Polynesian sauce. I suppose I can't complain since I often dip my french fries in it too. Other restaurants are hit and miss, though she does love the salad and biscuits at Red Lobster.

Maybe we should open a restaurant, we'd have a better chance of satisfying Lucy's varying appetites.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pat the Bunny vs. Pat the Zombie

Here's another dual/duel review that hardly seems like a fair fight, does it?

The world of infant and toddler literature seems ripe for satire or parody. Since parents and other adults wind up reading favorite stories again and again and again and again ad infinitum (I can easily recite Moo Baa La La Laor Goodnight Moonoff the top of my head), it's easy to see how a mind can start crafting another version of the story. If the reader knows the book well enough, playing with the story line or the meaning of what's said can happen almost unconsciously.

Consider Guess How Much I Love You, a sweet little book about Little Nut Brown Hare and Big Nut Brown Hare trying to express their love for each other in the most superlative ways they can imagine. Little Nut Brown Hair stretches his arms as wide as they can go to show his love. Naturally Big Nut Brown Hare's arms are even longer and therefore more expressive. LNB Hare wishes he had arms like that. It's a sweet story, but after the fiftieth reading or so, one could notice a haves versus have-nots theme in the book and give it a socialist interpretation. I have not seen this story parodied yet, but only because I haven't gone looking for it (and apologies to anyone for whom I've spoiled the story--you'll never read it the same way again).

One story that has been parodied is Dorothy Kunhardt's classic Pat the Bunny, which chronicles the adventures of Paul and Judy. They experience the wonders of life, like patting a furry bunny, smelling flowers, or trying on mommy's ring. The child reader is encouraged to try out these wonders too. The various pages have a cotton-filled outline of a rabbit, a scratch-n-sniff flower, and a hole in the page where a small finger can go through. Amazingly, it was first published in 1940, when manufacturing such a book must have been quite unusual. The book is quite delightful and both Jacob and Lucy have enjoyed it many times.

In the spoof version, Pat the Zombie, Paul and Judy experience the horrors of zombie life, like gutting an infected bunny, smelling putrid remains, or putting a finger through zombie mommy's skull. The same publishing techniques are used, so the reader can play along. It's a weird combination of revulsion and humor, though the humor is dependent on familiarity with Pat the Bunny. Published in 2011, the book is not so unusual.

The parody is strictly for adults, as the cover says "A CRUEL ADULT SPOOF" in big friendly letters. Don't buy this book for your toddler! They won't get it and you won't want to explain it. I do not think that it will have the re-readability of the original. The spoof would be more fun to show off at parties, assuming the guests are in the proper frame of mind. You'd have to have lots of parties in order to get the mileage out of the zombie that you would out of the bunny.

So which book is the better one? For re-readability, the bunny easily wins. For pure entertainment value, the bunny wins if you are a child, the zombie wins if you are an adult. For dark humor, the zombie wins. For inventiveness, they are tied. Overall, the bunny wins by a hare. The zombie is fun but not as much as the original.



Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reasons for Going to England #3--Getting Our Stuff Back

The past month has been very busy with preparations for the move to England. I put a ridiculous amount of effort into getting the visas from the British Embassy in New York City, caused by miscommunications and changes in procedures. And lost biometric data. That's a story for another post, though.

Today, we look at another reason we can't wait to get to England, viz. to get our stuff back. The movers came this Monday to pack up what's going to England by the inexpensive and slow method known as a cargo ship. We won't see our things again until mid to late July. Another set of movers will come next Monday to put the rest of our stuff (except what we take on the plane) in storage. So the house is not completely empty, but about three-quarters empty.

okay, maybe more like four-fifths

To make things run more smoothly, my wife took the children to my sister's house in West Virginia after Sunday Mass. They had a good time out there while I unplugged all the electrical equipment (including  the DVD player, surround sound system, game consoles, antennae, etc., plugged into the TV) and got other stuff ready for the movers. On the way back Monday night, Mommy talked to them a lot about how our stuff would be on it's way to England and we'd see it again once we'd moved. The children were quite attentive to this and seemingly accepting.

Then they got home and walked in the house.

The garage hall bench was missing. Jacob and Lucy said, "Uh-oh, where can we put our shoes?" They came into the family room and saw all that you see in the picture above. "Uh-oh, our toys are gone to England!!" The kitchen drew this response: "No table! We can't eat any more!" My wife hustled them off to bath time to get them ready for bed.

Then came the coup de grace for Jacob's acceptance. Jacob asked, "Did they take Wario?" Jacob has become quite interested in and proficient at playing WarioWare: Smooth Moves on the Wii and has been playing it every day for a week. When Angie said that it was shipped to England, then he broke down in hysterical sobs. "NNNNNOOOOO!!! NOT WARIO!! NNNOOO! I WANT TO PLAY!! NNNNOOOO!!" It was a long while before he calmed down.

Things were better in the morning. Angie and I brought up the spare table from the basement so we could eat breakfast, along with some toys and the library books we had hidden away (can you imagine the late fee if they'd been packed away for England!?! NNNOOO!!!). Jacob and Lucy perked up a bit. Children are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

We are definitely looking forward to getting our stuff back in England. And playing Wario on the Wii.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lucy, Lady Mechanic

The other day* Auntie Rosemary was at our house playing with Lucy. Lucy decided to show off some of her skills as an auto mechanic. Check out the pictures:

Lucy explains which tool is best.

Lucy shows Auntie how it's done.

Another satisfied customer!

The irony is that Auntie works at a car dealership. Maybe Lucy is showing her interest? Angling for a job? Trying to put the niece in nepotism?

*Editor's note: The blog author seems never to post anything immediately after it happens. The only reason he's writing this blog entry is because Lucy is practically old enough to write the blog herself. Apologies are extended to our patient readers.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Always Training

This morning for a snack the children had banana muffins while the parents had banana bread. Naturally there was a knife on the table for cutting the bread. Jacob saw it and asked me this question:

"Daddy, can we knife fight?"

My wife gave me a strange look and then asked Jacob if I was training him to be an assassin. Jacob responded with a smile on his face and a glint in his eyes:

"Yes, I am training to be an assassin."

This got a good laugh from me and a nervous laugh from my wife.

Sometimes Jacob and I will have little fights with spoons or forks at the kitchen table, as if we were sword fighting. What sounds better to a boy (little or big) than the clashing of metal on metal? Jacob decided to take it one step further today, clearly overstepping his boundaries.

I fetched some spoons from the drawer so we could have some good fun after our snack. And be ready to kill any ice cream sundaes that come our way.