Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead (1968) directed by George A. Romero

Having recently listened to a commentary on Shaun of the Dead, I realized I've only seen this first movie of the Romero zombie canon. I plan on watching one a month for coming months with a review at the end of the month. So if you want to watch beforehand, see Dawn of the Dead, i.e. the shopping mall one, before November 31, 2011.

MPAA rating


ZPAA rating

Adults only

Gore level

9 out of 10--If this movie had been in color, it'd be a ten. The zombies aren't so dessicated or terrible to look at, but when they start eating people's guts (you see a hand, a shoulder, and what looks like intestines), it's extremely gross and horrifying. There are several ineffective gunshot wounds inflicted on the zombies and some people are shot as well. Lots of mostly off-screen head blows; one particularly gruesome murder of a mother by her zombie child with a trowel.

Other offensive content

Lots of mild profanity with one blasphemy; bad attitudes; people slapping people or roughing up other people; lots of cigarette smoking; two naked female rear ends seen from a distance and not sexual (she's a zombie); one character exhibits callous disregard towards church going and praying (though that character is the first one to get it from a zombie; serves him right!).

How much zombie mythology/content

This movie seems to be the only instance of the dead rising because of radiation (leaked from a falling satellite). Unless you count Godzilla. I haven't seen the other Romero zombie movies, so I'm not sure that they all stick to the same explanation. The zombies are generally slow moving though they do exhibit some basic intelligence, like staying away from fire and using rocks to break windows.

How much fun

I didn't really laugh much while watching this. It is a very intense but enjoyable watch if you can make it through the gore. The characters are pretty well fleshed out (until they are eaten, of course!) and not entirely one-dimensional though some of the performances are a bit amateurish. A lot of interesting ideas are thrown around even if they aren't followed through.

Synopsis & Review

The story begins with a car driving along empty, rural roads. A brother and sister are on a Sunday drive to their father's grave to leave some flowers. The brother really isn't interested and complains a lot about the cost of the flowers, what happened to the display from last year, why can't Mom go on her own instead of sending us 200 miles into the country, etc. The sister finds this annoying. Even more annoying is when he taunts her for praying at the grave ("didn't you do that this morning at church, Barbara? Why do you need to do it here?") and for being afraid of hanging out in the cemetery. As they are leaving, she is attacked by a disheveled man who won't stop. Her brother comes to the rescue but cracks his skull on a tombstone. She flees from the man to her car. Realizing her brother has the keys, she locks the doors and releases the parking brake to coast away as the man pounds on her car. She inevitably crashes and races off to a house, where she and a slowly accumulating band of strangers try to hold off the ravenous, undead hordes that keep attacking the house.

The movie is an extremely effective horror movie in many ways. First, the plot and theme is more focused on how the people trapped in the house work together or against each other than on how they fight the undead. They try to make plans to escape or to hunker down and wait it out, but none of them work out. The drama (and the horror) is all about losing control. Barbara is scared out of her wits for most of the movie and can barely talk and is no help at all. Ben, the main male protagonist, has lots of ideas and plans but can hardly get anyone to help or see things from his point of view. Even when they do use his plan, things careen wildly out of control.

Second, information is dealt out at just the right pace to increase tension. The people find a radio which provides updates on what's going on over the eastern third of the United States. At first, the creatures are assumed to be mass murderers on a rampage. Eventually, more details are revealed, like how they eat their victims and how it all may have been caused by radiation from a satellite. The radio (and eventually a TV) provide diagetic voice over/exposition as we watch people nailing up boards or biting their fingernails to nubs or arguing the best plan of action.

One of the weaknesses is the "scientific" explanation of how the dead are rising. Radiation activating people's brains and making them into mindless cannibals seems a little ridiculous, though maybe I am looking at a 1960s idea with 2011 eyes. The explanation seems thrown in so as to point the finger at the military and the federal government for what's going wrong. Even the Feds don't have their story straight. On a television report, the military guy in DC tells the scientist, "That's not what we agreed to say," and they provide no effective plans. A local sheriff has a posse of ghoul-shooters who help to clean up the problem, though they too are indiscriminate in a shocking way at the end. Authorities seem to be useless or even counter-productive.

Civilization collapses on the large scale with the government being divided and ineffective. On the small scale, people turn on each other and treat each other as means to an end rather than as brothers in arms. Perhaps that's the greatest horror of all. You can't depend on other people to do the right thing when the going gets tough.

Movie Trailer

Sunday, October 30, 2011

CDC Zombie Fever Hit Ohio

From The Marion Star:

COLUMBUS (AP) - A central Ohio county is preparing for a zombie outbreak on Halloween, hoping to train responders for more likely emergencies through an exercise inspired by a tongue-in-cheek blog posting from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urged people to be prepared for a "zombie apocalypse."
More than 225 volunteers in Delaware County north of Columbus signed up to dress as zombies Monday in a drill for officials who would deal with real-life situations involving hazardous materials and disaster response. Emergency responders will test their capabilities as they use standard decontamination procedures to "treat" the zombies and make them "human" again during the exercise at Ohio Wesleyan University.
"People got zombie fever here in Delaware," said Jesse Carter, a spokesman for the local health district.

Who knew that make-up remover could cure zombies?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Food for a Saturday Morning

One of our normal Saturday rituals is making baked oatmeal for breakfast. The children used to be interested in only eating the oatmeal but lately they have found the wonder and joy of making it. They help out Mommy, taking turns putting ingredients in the big bowl and mixing it all up (each with their own spoon).

Two helpers use vertical enhancement to reach the bowl.

Happy to mix!

They also keep an eye on the oven to see when it is preheated. Once the oven's warmed up we put our pan in. Twenty-five minutes later we have a super-yummy breakfast that's almost, but not quite, a raisin oatmeal cookie. The twenty-five minutes is usually play time for Jacob, Lucy, and one adult while the other sets the table, cleans the dishes, makes tea, and maybe even fries up some bacon!

Finished product

If you want to join in the fun, here is the recipe. I hope you have enthusiastic helpers, too!

Baked Oatmeal

  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pecans (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit or 190 Celsius.
Mix all the ingredients.
Pour into greased 9 by 13 inch cake pan.
Bake for 25 minutes.

Since we like it is so much, this recipe is a double batch. You can halve the ingredients and use an 8x8 pan for a smaller batch. Cooking time is about the same. The other thing we do is to measure out a second set of dry ingredients (up to and including pecans) and keep them in a gallon zip lock bag. Then next week's batch is even easier to make.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Spofforth Castle and All Saints Church

After the deep, theological post about Spofforth Castle a few days ago, I thought I'd add some more about the castle and some of the lighter parts of our visit.
The castle was first built in the 11th century after the Norman conquest and it became the seat of the Percy family. They remained until the castle was burned down in 1461 during the War of the Roses. Another Percy restored it in 1559 only to have it reduced to ruins during the Civil War in the mid-1600s. In the 1900s it was gifted to the state and welcomes visitors year round.

We wandered in from the street down a nice dirt path. Descending one stair case brought us to the base of the ruins. Jacob and Lucy found an entrance on the side and went in immediately.

Racing to the ruins!

At least one of them was looking at the camera!

Jacob almost immediately discovered the one remaining tower which was blocked off at the base. He immediately speculated that one or more birds lived in it, like the tower in Whitby Abbey. We listened for a while. Eventually we did hear some birds calling, though I am not sure it was from the tower. Jacob could immediately tell a difference and was keen to explain it to me. This bird went "tweet, tweet." The Whitby bird went "coo, coo."

It looks like a fun climb, if it wasn't for the meddling wall blocking the stairs!

We went looking for another way to get up. Lucy found another staircase with the same disappointing results.

Look, Daddy, look!

The stairs were another dead end.

We found another stairway carved out of the rock in which the castle was built. It led to the exterior front of the castle, though there was still no access to the bird's tower.

There's no danger if you can't see the sign, right?

Who put this fence in our way?

We did run into a workman there who was raking out leaves and generally tidying up the place. We had a nice chat and he confirmed the lack of access to the upper levels of the tower. Jacob was a little disappointed but soon distracted with the need to pee, which we covered in the previous blog.

We also visited All Saints Church in town, which dates back a thousand years though it was mostly rebuilt quite recently (the 1850s). Like many ancient churches in England, it's now run by the Church of England (commonly abbreviated "COE" which I am finally getting used to). The interior is quite nice. Unfortunately, the lady there said they are selling off the pipes for the organ since it was not in working order. They plan to put a kitchen and indoor plumbing in its place, which seems like a mistake to me.

Pulpit of All Saints, Spofforth

The main altar with some nice stained glass

Pews with doors and a spot to hang your kneeling cushion!

Looking at their web site, I realized "Blind Jack" Metcalfe, famous local road builder who has a statue in the Knaresborough town square, is buried here. We should have checked the grave out before leaving. If only we'd known. Maybe we'll go back with visitors in the future. It was a nice short trip from home and we all had fun. And the castle is free!

Roadbuilder and Jacob in Knaresborough

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Captain Dad Blog

I've found a new, entertaining and useful blog: It's not Mr. Mom, it's CAPTAIN DAD. Billing itself as "The Manly Blog of Stay at Home Parenting," the writing puts a smile on my face and gives me new ideas to try or consolation that I'm not the only one undergoing the crazy things my kids are doing to me. He acknowledges what we've said all along. Sleep Deprivation is real and devastating.

Still the best Hulk on the screen
My other favorite of what I've read there is about green parenting. I feel he and I are in the same boat. We often try out experiments that go horribly awry. Luckily, neither of us has gamma-irradiating equipment.

Though he does have a post on The Nuclear Option that is tempting us to try it out on Jacob and Lucy.

The author of the blog, Pat Byrnes, is an illustrator who has worked on several books for dads and for general consumption. His posts often have delightful drawings to go along with his witty writing. Go check it out!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead Episode 202, "Bloodletting"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 2: Bloodletting


TV rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

6 out of 10--The zombie count is down a little bit, however, Rick’s son Carl has been shot and we see some of the surgery to get the wound out and the boy is not unconscious. That was a rough watch for me as a father of a small boy. Also, as one character scavanges a car he notices a blood splattered child seat in the back. A nasty looking mob of zombies at the end of the episode menace some characters. Rick is pretty bloody from carrying Carl, though not excessively so.

Other offensive content

One bit of paranoid rambling by a feverish character; disrespectful attitudes; some smoking.

How much zombie mythology/content

Nothing new in this episode, though one character likens the zombie outbreak to any number of plagues that have ravaged the human race before but not destroyed it. A note of hope?

How much fun

The story is exciting as usual. I did laugh out loud when the doctor admitted to his qualifications (readers of the comics will know the joke already, but I still laughed anyway).

Synopsis & Review

This week’s episode starts with a flashback of when Lori and Carl learned of Rick being shot. After the credits, Rick racing across a field with Carl (who was shot at the end of the last episode) in his arms. He, Shane and the guy who shot Carl (named Otis) make it to the Greene farm, where Hershel Greene (wise patriarch of the family) takes care of Carl. They can only do so much with the minimal medical supplies they have. A plan is made to recover supplies from a local high school that was turned into a FEMA shelter during the outbreak. Also, one of the farmer’s daughters is sent to bring Lori to her shot son.

The action has picked up a little bit. Rick tries to do everything himself and everyone else has to talk him out of doing what seems impetuously right but in the long term wrong. His request for a sign from Jesus that he’s doing the right thing is still unanswered. His son being shot would seem to be a sign that he isn’t doing the right thing, but discovering the idyllic farm where the survivors could live seems like an affirmation.

The hunt for the missing Sophie is also unsuccessful but unconcluded. Little bits of character development are not really exploited there as everyone acts mostly rational in deciding what to do after a day with no results and the new challenge of going to the farm or waiting and searching more. The resolution of that plot point seemed a little too by-the-numbers.

By contrast, the raid by Shane and Otis for medical supplies is very exciting. Naturally it doesn’t go well and leaves us with another cliffhanger ending. Tune in next week!

Grave Matters

Before the urge hit him
We had a mostly free morning the other day, so we took the plastic recycle to a local grocery store since the local borough council only takes paper, glass, and metals. Another five or ten minutes out of town is the hamlet of Spofford, which has a castle (part of English Heritage) and a charming little church. More on them in another post.

While we were at the castle, Jacob told me he had to go potty and it was an emergency. I thought about going out back so he could relieve himself. Except we met a guy who was raking leaves and tidying up inside the castle (did I say it was in ruins?) and it is part of English Heritage. I don't want to be that American what peed on Britain's proud history.

We had seen a church on the drive in. Jacob said he could hold it till then but not till home. So we drove over to the church to see if they had a toilet. We walked through the gate and the graveyard to the door. Even though it was a Tuesday morning, people were inside. Jacob asked for a toilet. The nice lady went on to explain how they didn't have a toilet, but they were selling the organ and its pipes and when that was all cleared away they'd make a little kitchen and some indoor plumbing so there isn't really a toilet inside yet but we could go back out the door to the left and around and he could relieve himself there as many a gentleman-folk had done before. So we eventually went outside and around the side of the door to a little corner inside the graveyard where the path ended and a little bit of trash had accumulated and bushes blocked the view. Jacob went peepee and felt much better.

Returning inside the church, he told the lady that he had gone potty outside. She said, "You had a party outside? Yes, that's nice." I left her uncorrected. We continued to explore the church till we were ready to go home.

On the way home, Jacob started to talk about the incident. He'd never done anything like that before, so in his four-year old way he called that spot a "portable potty." I went along with this and said it was good he went there and not on the grass where the tombstones were because people were buried there and it wasn't good to pee there. He became very interested in this idea that people were buried there. I told them they had died. He asked when they would get up, which I thought was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the resurrection of the body we Christians look forward to. At the end of time everyone will get up again. Jacob had trouble with this idea of the end of time. We didn't go much farther on that line of questioning.

He asked what would happen after they got up. I said the good people would go with God and be happy with Him in Heaven; the bad people wouldn't get to go with God and would be unhappy. But where would the bad people be? I said, "Hell," mostly to inform him accurately but partially because I was starting to worry if I had said too much and this conversation would get too complicated for him (and, truth be told, me). Or already had got too complicated.

How does God choose who goes where? Wisely or unwisely, I did not go into the role of God's grace in our salvation. Instead, we started talking about good and evil actions and how if you don't ask forgiveness for your bad actions (and we all have bad actions), you wouldn't get to be with God in Heaven at the end of time. We talked about whether something was done deliberately or by accident, if you forgot to ask forgiveness what happens then, actions that are only a little bad which put you in Purgatory, and a bunch of other ideas that were tough problems for even adults to handle.

Jacob started asking about things that he had done, like pushing his sister. He was really concerned about it. He kept asking, "What if I don't say I'm sorry when I did it?" I told him he could say he was sorry now. "But what if I don't? What if I forget?" I told him about the sacrament of confession, where you could tell God you were sorry, even for things that you forgot to confess. He didn't quite get it, but he is only four.

He then said that he was upset. I asked him what upset him. "I have lots of questions; I'm just frustrated." I asked if it was frustrating because he didn't have answers. He agreed that was the problem. I told him to keep asking when he wanted to. That seemed to satisfy him, though he continued to talk about people being underground for the rest of the day.

We went to pick up my wife at work after nap time. He asked her if she was sorry when she had hurt his head. A few questioned revealed that she had accidentally banged his head into the top of the car door when putting him in his car seat one time. She said she was sorry. Jacob replied, "I'm glad you won't be stuck underground forever." Then I had to explain all that had gone on that day.

This conversation is easily the most challenging one I've had with Jacob. With God's grace, I hope to give him the answers he needs to hear.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Official Drink of the Blog?

I've always known a drink called a zombie existed but I've never tried one. Now that it's that time of year, perhaps I should. As if to further encourage me, Julie from Happy Catholic posted a recipe recently (on her food blog) with some interesting commentary of her family's experience with it. The story is here and I've taken the liberty to repost the recipe:
1 tsp. Brown Sugar
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1 oz. Lime Juice
1 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Passion Fruit Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 oz. Gold Rum
1 oz. 151-proof Rum
1 oz. White Rum

Dissolve brown sugar in juices. Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and pour into chilled Collins glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

The only problem with this recipe is the abysmal state of my liquor cabinet. When we shipped our household goods here from America, we were not allowed to ship any liquids. I drank what I could before leaving and gave the rest away to friends. Of the nine ingredients listed above, we have three: brown sugar, lemon juice, and gold rum. I guess the can of pineapple tidbits is packed in pineapple juice, so we have a fourth in a pinch. Time to go shopping! With any luck, I will report later on our concoction and its results.

But I wanted a flaming rum punch! We don't have those ingredients, either.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jacob the Boxer

One of Jacob's birthday presents is Kinect Sports, a game for the Xbox. It's easy to play because the Kinect uses a camera to translate body movement into game play. The game includes soccer, bowling, track and field, boxing, volleyball, and table tennis.

Some games are easier than others. Bowling and boxing aren't too challenging for Jacob. Track and field and volleyball involve a lot of complicated moves; table tennis demands good timing. Jacob doesn't do quite as well with these, but he can still play them and enjoys himself even though he doesn't come anywhere near winning. (If only we all felt that way when playing games).

Jacob's favorite game is boxing. He's played that more than all the others combined.

Jacob's avatar hopes into the ring

Victory at the end!

A picture may be worth a thousand words, so a video is worth a thousand pictures, right? At least it's made up of a thousand pictures (more or less).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pumpkin Decorating

My wife took the children to decorate pumpkins this morning. Jacob and Lucy both had a good time, though Jacob was satisfied much more quickly than Lucy was. She would have stayed and painted and painted and painted if she could have.

Jacob starts off with red

How'd that get there?

Jacob finishes with red

Lucy started

Lucy loved painting

She would have kept going if we let her

More Halloween activities to come in the next week!

Too Good Not To Share

From Happy Catholic:

Ten years ago we had

  • Steve Jobs
  • Bob Hope
  • Johnny Cash

Now we have

  • No Jobs
  • No Hope
  • No Cash

Don't let Kevin Bacon die!

Friday, October 21, 2011

CDC at It Again

The CDC marches forward with new zombie apocalypse preparedness materials. Most people would call it a comic book, but they prefer the term graphic novella, which I believe is used by no one else in the comics industry, the publishing industry, or the emergency preparedness industry. Far be it from me to suggest the CDC is out of touch with reality!

Be that as it may, their zombie preparedness book is mildly entertaining bit of edutainment (I would have said infotainment, but as the link clearly shows, that term only applies to television programs). The content is kid-friendly, with no one getting eaten and the worst swear being "Oh my gosh!" Given the twist ending, I was surprised by the disclaimer on the final page that the story is fictional. But of course!

The comic includes a checklist of supplies for an emergency, which is almost as good as actually having the supplies gathered and easily accessible for when you have to hit the road (though in the story, the main characters shelter in place for a whole week, which gave them plenty of time to get their kit together).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead Episode 201, "What Lies Ahead"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 1: What Lies Ahead

TV Rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

8 out of 10--Whoa, a black and white comic book gets the full color, full motion, "realistic" treatment. Lots of zombies and other dessicated corpses who aren't walking around populate the episode and are pretty unpleasant to look at. Some of them are killed in especially brutal ways, like a screwdriver to the eye socket several times. Two characters perform a zombie autopsy to check the contents of its stomach (you don't see them carving into the cadaver but you hear it and see a bunch of nasty stuff pulled out). A bloody wound on a human. Zombies eating animal carcasses (no people eating, surprisingly).

Other offensive content

Some bad language (no f-bombs, also surprisingly); lying (for the greater good, no less!); a speech from one character complaining that she didn't get to die the way she wanted (i.e. commit suicide); ambiguous attitude toward God/Jesus Christ (the old "give me what I want and you can make me suffer" offers are made by characters).

How much zombie mythology/content

No new developments for the Walking Dead zombie mythology other than zombies wander in large packs, which some characters call "herds." Quite frankly, that's one of the usual characteristics of zombies across stories, they menace and are more menacing as an implacable, unhesitating group.

How much fun

Lots of good tension and interesting discussions make for an engaging story and good character development.

Synopsis & Review

After the CDC blows up at the end of Season One, Rick and our gang of heroes decide to leave Atlanta and head for Fort Benning, which presumably is safer and more defensible. Maybe military forces are still there too.

Along the way, they become stuck in highway detritus, forced to stop and reevaluate their situation. And the radiator hose blows on their RV. They start to scavange all the nearby vehicles. Soon a horde of zombies passes through on the highway. Everybody tries to hide under cars but T-Bone gets stuck with a fresh flesh wound and no car to hide under. And Sophie, the twelve-year old child of Carol, gets chased into the woods by two zombies. Thus the action begins for the new season of AMC's TV adaptation of The Walking Dead.

The episode has lots to recommend it. The zombies are well done and the special effects are pretty seamless. More importantly, the drama is well played out with interesting, challenged, and flawed characters. Lots of different subplots are dealt with just enough to keep the large cast engaged and help the viewer remember all the different story threads from the previous season.

The show also acknowledges how hard it is to do the right thing, and often the characters, especially Rick (who's in charge), do the best that they can in the given circumstances. Others don't often appreciate the difficulty and implicitly (through scornful looks) or explicitly (by arguing with decisions) undermine their confidence and authority.

During the search for Sophie, a bunch of the characters wind up at a Baptist church, which gives two characters a chance to make a deal with Jesus to get what they want. Carol wants Sophie to be safe and offers up herself in exchange. She cites a whole litany of things that she's prayed for and received (mostly dealing with the punishment of her abusive husband who we saw get it last season). We don't see how her new request plays out yet. Rick asks for some confirmation that he's doing the right thing. The end of the episode gives an answer to that, though it is a cliff hanger; we'll have to tune in next week to find out for sure.

An interesting aside: Someone once explained the difference between religion and faith to me. Religion is the age-old relationship that men and women have had with those higher powers that they acknowledge. Typically, the people offer up something to God or the gods to get a good harvest, a cure for an ailing mother/spouse/child/etc., revenge on enemies, better weather, a successful ball team, and so on. Faith is just trusting in God, not expecting anything back but doing the right thing and doing what He asks because He asked. The episode quite clearly shows people of religion but not of faith.

I am watching the show through iTunes, where my season pass included a five minute featurette, "Inside The Walking Dead: Episode 201, "What Lies Ahead,'" about the making of the episode with the actors discussing their characters' actions and motivations. That was also pretty interesting (the actors gave insightful comments about their characters, which isn't typical in commentaries/special features that I've seen). It is full of spoilers, so watch the episode first. Also, Andrew Lincoln, who plays lead character Rick Grimes, has a British accent, which is very surprising since his American South accent seems pretty spot on. Kinda like hearing Hugh Laurie speak when he isn't playing House.

The premier episode is available on AMC's web site as of this writing (October 20, 2011).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

10 Rules for Great Parenting

Check out this highly helpful and entertaining list of ten rules for great parenting. I will share my favorite (and also possibly the most relevant to this blog):
Know where your children are
- It’s important to know where your children are at all times. You never know when they’ll need an alibi.
A very wise commenter writes:
Know where your children are, because you never know when you’ll need an alibi either…
How many mad scientist could have gotten away with it if only the hadn't been meddling and were actually providing alibis.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quick Review: Zombiefication: A Short Film

In case you are wondering why there hasn't been some zombie apocalypse safety awareness campaign based on airplane safety demonstrations (and let's face it, who hasn't?), then you haven't seen Zombiefication: A Short Film.

The short is set in a movie theater and goes through the standard airline safety tropes with a zombie spin. For example, the theater is equipped with zombie pacification equipment under the seats and the lady informs the viewers to get their own weapons out before helping others around them with their weapons. How to take out a zombie and what to do if you are bitten are also covered.

The production quality is amazingly high. The zombies look as good as the best of TV and movie zombies (if "look as good" is the right way to put it). Don't watch this with little kids. The actors do a great job, hitting just the right tone. The pacing is a little slow and some of the jokes aren't edited tightly enough to bring out the most humor.

The movie is available for download from iTunes here or for watching on YouTube here. I recommend YouTube, because you are not likely to watch it more than once, other than to show it off to your friends. Make sure they are friends who would be into it. Don't forget the wisdom of xkcd:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shout Out Echo: Just a Catholic Dad

We (by we I mean the blog) got mentioned on one of my favorite podcasts, Just a Catholic Dad, a podcast about faith, fatherhood, and family. Sean McCarney chronicles his life as an air traffic controller, husband, and father to a wonderful four-year old girl. He is Catholic, his wife is not. He tells of his challenges and rewards as he  raises his daughter in the Faith. His sense of humor is wonderful and I highly recommend you listen to the show. Even if you aren't Catholic or a father or interested in air traffic control, he makes them all interesting and keeps you coming back for more. Plus he's a native here in the UK and has lots of stories about that (and an awesome accent, too!).

Check it out here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Whitby, UK

After visiting the Abbey and St. Mary's Church, we went down to the port town of Whitby where we wandered around, got some dinner, and visited a playground.

One way to get to town is to go down the famous 199 steps from St. Mary's graveyard. The only problem with going that way is that we'd have to climb back up the 199 steps to get our car. So we went back to the car park to drive down. We parked right on the River Esk and proceeded to the local tourist information center to gather intelligence on the town.

The view from where we parked.

Most every town we've been to has one of these tourist info centers and they are immensely helpful. Here we received a map of the downtown area and the lady told us about a playground just up the hill that was built recently and would be fun for the kids. Armed with all this info, we set out.

Walking along the river was quite charming. Loads of boats entertained us with their comings and goings. One boat was just pulling out as we walked past. We could have gotten on for a ride around the harbor but weren't fast enough.

He's going to ram us!! Wait, he's going backwards, we're okay.

We continued strolling down the road. Like many other seaside touristy towns, lots of shops were selling trinkets, ice cream cones, quick food, and the like. One notable attraction was the Dracula experience. We figured it probably wouldn't be appropriate for a two- and a four-year old, so we passed on by. Plus, it might be too cheesy, even for me. Christopher Lee's 8 stone cape was hard to resist (also, it was hard to comprehend--8 stones is 112 pounds (the weight, not the monetary unit (though that would make more sense (geez, I hope I use enough close parentheses)))).

Don't go in, it's a trap! A tourist trap!!

We walked down to the harbor where we watched a boat coming in. We thought about walking down to the beach. The tide was still in and we didn't see much sand from above, so we stayed on the pier and looked at the sea and the city.

Very picturesque with the cliff and abbey above

Posted for Grandpa's edification

A view of the town from the pier

We discovered the Royal National Lifeboat Institution museum of Whitby. In addition to the life-size boats and gear, displays also depicted various rescues. The most amazing one was in a late 1800s winter. A boat was foundering off Robin Hood's Bay. The lifeboat crew couldn't sail out of Whitby to get there, so they dragged the lifeboat (using horses) several miles so they could launch near the accident. Even though the museum was free, we did give a donation. The kids loved putting coins in the donation jar.

Lifeboat Museum

We finally went to dinner at the fish and chips place that was raved about in one of our guide books as one of the best in the country, Magpie's Cafe. They had take-away downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. We went up and ordered. Service was a little slow but not too bad. Jacob checked on the potty while we waited our meal. I have to say it wasn't all that impressive. The food wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I did have a local brew that was quite nice.

Back on the street, we decided it was time to go to the playground. We had a little trouble finding it, mostly because it was more uphill than we expected. Once there, it was a glorious experience.

Lucy really loved crawling around!

Jacob saw it getting dark and thought about sleeping here

The boat theme of the playground fit the town

Jacob found his favorite yet again!

We finally wound our way down the streets and back to the car for the long drive home across the moors. Some of the towns out there have funny names. Like Sinnington, which sounds like a really bad place. And Beadlam--if Bedlam is for crazy people, Beadlam is for crafty people.

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You can find Sinnington on your own, I'm not going to help you!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Whitby Abbey and St. Mary's Church

To celebrate Columbus Day weekend (a holiday for us Americans here in the UK) we drove up to Whitby, a coastal town famed for two things: Captain James Cook started his career here in the 18th century and this port is where Dracula's ship came in literally (or should that be literarily?) in Bram Stoker's novel.

We probably should have gone to see some of the Capt. Cook stuff in town, but our trip was only a day trip and we had limited time. We concentrated on seeing the Abbey, the port, going to the best fish and chips place (according to our guide book). Anything else we saw we considered a bonus.

Whitby Abbey is one of the most spectacular ruins still standing today. It is situated high over the town on a bluff and is visible from miles away whether you are on sea or on land. The winds constantly blow up there, giving the desolation of the ruin that little something extra. It's easy to imagine creatures of the night wandering across the landscape.

View from the parking lot; Abbey on right, recent manor house on left

The first abbey was establish in the 600s by Hild (or Hilda, historian write about her with both names) as a monastery with separate parts for men and women, an unusual arrangement. Back then the town was called "Streaneshalch" (which makes me glad this is a blog and not a podcast, so I don't have to pronounce it). When the Vikings came in the 9th century the name changed to the Danish "Whitby." The Vikings wiped out the original abbey, eventually being replaced after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Construction on the new abbey began and the abbey complex was expanded substantially in the 13th century.

HIld's Abbey on the left; 12th c. abbey on right

It ran as a Benedictine Abbey until Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries in 1539. Sir Richard Cholmley bought the area and his family retained possession if not care of the Abbey until the early 20th century, when the Ministry of Works took over. By this point the Abbey had become the picturesque ruins we visited this past weekend.

We found the site to be exceptionally windy, as can be seen in our pictures.

Don't make us let go!

Somehow, Jacob managed to keep the map the whole time

Inside the abbey (or what was left of it) was quite spectacular. Jacob found a spiral staircase that was locked off from public access. The floor was littered with feathers and we heard some birds cooing above. Jacob was obsessed with this and still talks about it today. He imitates the bird's coo in the car and claims the top of his window is home to some bird.

Shelter from the wind

How does this survive exposed to the elements?

Jacob's favorite spot, littered with feathers, and yes, bird poop

North transept with bird tower

We found the kids playing in this area which was full of tombstones, which we tried to discourage. Also, we found one of the wells. Since the bluff is so high up, no springs or rivers are nearby so they collected rain water. And we found what we thought was a good view of the sea.

Looking out at the North Sea

Walking on the tombstones is not a good idea for any number of reasons.

Not sure what they were expecting.

We did stop in at the tea shop for some refreshment. Jacob claimed that his granola bar wrapper stated it was okay to make a mess in the shop. He even showed it to me as evidence:

Crumbs allowed here

Not to be outdone, Lucy made a mess of herself with her chocolate ice cream cone:

Vampires make less mess when they go a-biting!

We proceeded to St. Mary's Church, right below the Abbey, which had an even better view of the bay and was also the scene for early action in Dracula. We weren't able to go inside since they close at 3 p.m. but we enjoyed the view.

Not open right now, alas!

The graveyard where Mina Murray wrote in her journal, overlooking Whitby

Overlooking the harbor

Overlooking the bay

The next blog post will tell of our adventures in town.

If you want to listen to the novel Dracula, check out CraftLit, a podcast which just started reading it chapter by chapter, with excellent commentary and background information. I'm enjoying it immensely, even though I've only listened to the first chapter.

Here's the beginning of Chapter Six from Dracula, describing Whitby from Mina Murray's journal:

24 July. Whitby.--Lucy met me at the station, looking sweeter and lovelier than ever, and we drove up to the house at the Crescent in which they have rooms. This is a lovely place. The little river, the Esk, runs through a deep valley, which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. A great viaduct runs across, with high piers, through which the view seems somehow further away than it really is. The valley is beautifully green, and it is so steep that when you are on the high land on either side you look right across it, unless you are near enough to see down. The houses of the old town--the side away from us, are all red-roofed, and seem piled up one over the other anyhow, like the pictures we see of Nuremberg. Right over the town is the ruin of Whitby Abbey, which was sacked by the Danes, and which is the scene of part of "Marmion," where the girl was built up in the wall. It is a most noble ruin, of immense size, and full of beautiful and romantic bits. There is a legend that a white lady is seen in one of the windows. Between it and the town there is another church, the parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbour and all up the bay to where the headland called Kettleness stretches out into the sea. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.

In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard, and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze.

I shall come and sit here often myself and work. Indeed, I am writing now, with my book on my knee, and listening to the talk of three old men who are sitting beside me. They seem to do nothing all day but sit here and talk.

The harbour lies below me, with, on the far side, one long granite wall stretching out into the sea, with a curve outwards at the end of it, in the middle of which is a lighthouse. A heavy seawall runs along outside of it. On the near side, the seawall makes an elbow crooked inversely, and its end too has a lighthouse. Between the two piers there is a narrow opening into the harbour, which then suddenly widens.

It is nice at high water, but when the tide is out it shoals away to nothing, and there is merely the stream of the Esk, running between banks of sand, with rocks here and there. Outside the harbour on this side there rises for about half a mile a great reef, the sharp of which runs straight out from behind the south lighthouse. At the end of it is a buoy with a bell, which swings in bad weather, and sends in a mournful sound on the wind.

They have a legend here that when a ship is lost bells are heard out at sea....