Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Save the Zombie Chapel

In lieu of the review of Dawn of the Dead (which I have not been able to watch since Netflix has not allowed me to change my queue for over two weeks--but that's another story), here's a news update from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The final remaining building featured in Night of the Living Dead (if you don't count the scene with the U.S. Capitol) is slated for demolition unless $50,000 can be raised to save it in the next year. Read the article here.

The plan for the restored chapel is to use it either as a museum or for zombie-themed events (weddings, graduation parties, etc.). To raise money, special events are being held across the country and organizers plan to sell various items through their web site. Right now all that is available is the poster on this page, but t-shirts and other items are in the works.

If you want to support the project or keep up to date, there's a Facebook group and the group's own web site.

h/t to Grandpa for the link to the story.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Walking Dead Episode 207, "Pretty Much Dead Already"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 7: Pretty Much Dead Already

TV Rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

7 out of 10--Some views of the zombies in the barn; wrangling zombies stuck in the mud; gun shot massacre of zombies.

Other offensive content

Some instances of bad language; discussion of extramarital affairs and its possible results; some passionate kissing by one couple.

How much zombie mythology/content

There's a lot more discussion of the zombies as sick people who can be cured or as inhuman menaces who must be destroyed.

How much fun

This was a pretty heavy episode with lots of good drama. I might have laughed once or twice.

Synopsis & Review

Everyone finally finds out about the zombies in the barn in this episode. Glenn tells everyone in Rick's camp and the fallout puts people into positions where they make very hard decisions that will change them perhaps permanently.

Rick tries to manage the situation through reason and negotiation. Shane and others want to clear out the barn or clear out of town and head for Fort Benning. While trying to keep that from boiling over, Rick negotiates with Hershel to stay. Hershel is very reluctant. Rick finally decides to live by Hershel's rules in order to keep everyone safe. It makes him look a little crazy to Shane, but at the end of the episode Rick does what needs doing which pushes him into a dark place.

Shane is riled up and ready to fight throughout the episode. A lot of characters comment that he is really fit for this new world of the zombies. He has the ruthless practicality that should keep him alive. He also has just barely enough charisma and smarts to get people to do what he thinks is right. He's the sort of loose canon that many characters don't realize is loose because of the extraordinary situation they are in. How much further can he fly off the handle before everyone questions the value of him in the group?

Hershel has to question the validity of his world view. He says his conscience is clear about sending Rick's people away. Rick and his daughter Maggie both tell him the world and the walkers aren't what he thinks they are. For Maggie the issue is more fundamental than the nature of the zombies. There's a great moment where she challenges her father's certainty about forcing out Rick's people. She quotes Christ's command: "Love one another as I have loved you." And she backs it up with a great speech about how she was a hooligan as a teenager, especially when he remarried after her mom died. Still he taught her the right thing and lived by the unconditional love that Christ calls for. Ultimately, her concern is not about Glenn or herself or Rick's people but about what her father has been turned into. By the end of the episode he's forced to confront the danger and inhumanity of the walkers. But how will he handle it?

Meanwhile, Daryl is turning into a hero, constantly searching for Sophia in spite of his injury. He helps Carol deal with the pain of her doubt and loss, especially at the end of the episode. He's becoming more upright as other characters move towards the darkness.

SPOILER ALERT!!! The big reveal at the end of the episode comes after Shane breaks open the barn and has almost everyone help gun down the walkers. As things quiet down, one lone, small walker comes out of the barn--Sophia. Everyone is stunned and Daryl has to hold Carol back from running up to what was her daughter. After an agonizing minute, Rick dispassionately guns down the girl point blank. END SPOILER

The episode ends with a gut wrenching twist and a lot of unanswered questions. Unfortunately, the show won't have new episodes till February 2012, so we will have to wait for answers.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ferry to Zeebrugge

We had a rough passage on the ferry to Belgium. The seas weren't particularly rough but the children's sleeping abilities were overwhelmed. I'm not sure if it was the excitement of the trip or the movement of the boat or the unfamiliar beds, but Jacob and Lucy both had a hard time sleeping through the night.

And they didn't want any consolation from me. Every time they woke up it was "I want Mommy!" or "No, Daddy!" My poor wife bore the brunt of their crazy non-sleep. Eventually time to get up came and Mommy took Jacob to explore the boat since Lucy managed to fall back asleep.

I stayed with her in our windowless cabin (number 1106, just like my birthday in US month/day format! I wonder if we will have the same one going back). She finally woke up about an hour later. We dressed and got ready for breakfast. Just as we were finishing, Jacob and Mommy came back to the cabin. We all headed off to breakfast.

Breakfast on the boat was buffet-style, featuring many English items. Sausages and bacon were all done the UK way. Beans, mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes were available for consumption.  Eggs came hard boiled, fried, or scrambled. I watched as one fellow tried to get a fried egg on the spatula and then to his plate. He couldn't quite get under the egg. He just pushed it around on the lake of oil in the pan. I decided to go for the scrambled eggs. Lucy has fallen in love with sausages and must have eaten two between what she took from me and my wife. Jacob stuck to cereal and pastries.

After breakfast, we went to our room to clean up. We decided to go out on deck to see the morning. The boat must have docked while we were in the room because the view from the deck was the harbor. We enjoyed watching the cargo get moved around for a while.

Looks just like the other harbor to me

The gangway was lowering! Time to go!

When we saw the gangway go down, it was time to disembark from the ship. We ran back to the room to collect our things and headed onto the shore. After a short bus ride we were in the middle of Bruges and ready for adventures.

Thirsty for adventure!

A happy boy ready for a new town!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ferry from Hull

Since we had the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, we decided to visit another country in Europe. This time, we went to Belgium! Our trip to Belgium started with a drive to the coast, where a ferry would take us overnight to the Zeebrugge, the port just north of the medieval city of Bruges.

About five minutes from home, we stopped at a red light. Lucy thought we were done and piped up from her car seat, "This isn't Belgium!" We parents laughed. Jacob joined in half a beat later. If only we could drive in five minutes, we'd go all the time!

About an hour and half later, we arrived at Hull, the harbor town from which we'd sail to the continent. We parked in the ferry's parking lot and walked over to board our ship. Jacob was very excited. We went up the covered ramp and saw the cars driving into the belly of the ship. Now that I have the skills to drive on the wrong side of the street in Britain, I didn't want to push my luck with having to drive back on the other side of the road in Europe. Bruges is a walking town anyway, so we'd be alright without it.

Lucy was skeptical of having her picture taken.

On board, we walked through the shopping area to get to our cabins. The duty free opens twenty minutes after departure and lasts until twenty minutes before arrival. We might shop there, but I didn't see anything critical we needed or wanted. I wondered if every boat makes you at least window shop.

We did discover something awesome on the boat--the children's play room! Jacob immediately set up an obstacle course with the big foam cushions and was running it while the rest of us watched some sled puppy movie on the little TV in the room.

The entrance looks hungry!

Lucy smiles...really, it is smiling!

We had the buffet dinner on the ship. It was fine. Jacob had bread, Lucy loved the sausage. I had a variety of little things, including little cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon. Yummy! They also had a carvery, with turkey and beef. This was the only turkey we ate this Thanksgiving Weekend. You'll be shocked to discover what I did have for dinner on Thanksgiving. But I will leave you in suspense.

We wandered the ship a bit afterward. The outside beckoned us. Jacob thought we were going to get back off the boat to go outside! Jacob was fascinated by the extra boats (i.e. the life boats) and going down staircases outside. The back of the ship afforded our last view of England.

Spare ships on our ship!

Goodbye to England!

We waved goodbye to our new homeland and headed back inside. We found about four bars on the boat, a small casino, and a video game parlor. All the games were at least ten years old. Lucy tried her hand at Star Wars Trilogy. Jacob was fascinated with the racing games.

Use the force, Lucy!

The children were finally tired and ready for bed. We headed back to our minuscule cabin for bedtime. I went in search of milk and juice for the nighttime snack, which I was able to get from the Costa Coffee bar on the boat. My wife let me go enjoy myself while the children slept. I settled into the Moonlight Bar, which was on our deck, with the laptop to catch up on cropping photos from this and previous trips. The piano player showed up soon and started playing American pop classics from the 70s and 80s. Lots of Billy Joel and Elton John and Eagles. He was okay but not great. I had a nice, nutty brew from the   bar.

It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go!

Christmas has come even to the brewers! It was a very warming and pleasant ale, and helped me get ready to sleep to the gentle rocking of our ferry. The next day we'd dock in Belgium.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Renault's Woes

Here's a little interim among all the vacation stories:

The car we bought here is a Renault Scenic that is not really new or old (six years old) with around 93,000 miles. It wasn't very expensive, though the maintenance costs are starting to pile up.

First, the dash board was blinking on and off. Since the entire display is electronic, the "off" state meant no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no radio! Driving was kinda hazardous. Since it was going on and off at random times, the few people and repair shops I talked to thought the problem was a bad wire. Eventually, the car died one morning. The engine wouldn't start and the electrics seemed to be completely off. Classic dead battery symptoms. We called the local Renault dealership to get it fixed. They could take us the next day, but not tow the car.

We had just joined AA (the UK equivalent of AAA), so they came the next day and were able to jump the car. The charge wouldn't stay in the battery, which was the original battery. The AA guy recommended replacing the battery and I couldn't argue. So with a new battery under the hood (or bonnet, as it's called here) I was able to drive the car to the dealership.

At the dealership, they took the car and promised to call later in the day with an update. I rode the bus back home. My wife headed off to work and I had a usual day with the kids, walking around town on errands. After a full day of work, the dealership was able to install a new dashboard and fix up the brakes which were in bad shape (why do they always look for other problems? And find them!!). So I took the bus back to the dealership with the kids (since Mommy was at work). The children loved riding the bus and seeing the roads from a different perspective.

The dealership took a while to get our bill together, which meant time for Jacob to check out the potty. We also watched some British television, which was an uninteresting cooking show. Reality programming is ubiquitous, unfortunately. We had some water from a water cooler, a fun thing for the kids. Finally, our bill was ready (the delay--the warranty guy was out and they couldn't process some of the paperwork till he was back the next day). We drove back home. After about five minutes, we tried to turn on the radio and it didn't work.

Getting home, we checked the manual to see if we could get it going ourselves. I discovered that the radio needs a special code after being unplugged from the battery. The next day I called back to the dealership to get the code since it wasn't in any of the paperwork from the previous owner. I was on my mobile sitting in the car as the guy tried to talk me through the restart. Unfortunately, the radio displayed nothing on the dashboard. I couldn't input the code. Some buttons would cause random beeps, but nothing showed up on the display. The next day saw another trip to the dealership to try to fix the problem.

This time, the dealership couldn't figure out what the problem was. They tried switching out the radio, switching out the dashboard, switching out the radio and dashboard. Nothing worked, though they were able to get some static on the speakers at one point. They ran a computer diagnostic with no solution. After a full day without success, I rode the bus back out to get the car back. We've been thinking of replacing the radio with a third-party radio that would play our iPod. We had an attachment in our minivan back in the States and became more or less addicted to using it. We only listened to the radio for traffic reports once we had that device. The repair guy at the dealership thought a replacement radio would work since the speakers still were working. As long as the radio has its own display it should be okay.

While we were researching the replacement radio, we had another incident. The day my sister flew home, we had a tire blowout just outside of our home town. The kids were riding with me, so they sat quietly in the car while I tried to find the spare so we could make it to a tire shop. I found the jack and other equipment but then found that there was no spare tire! When I called AA for some help, they gave the standard "up to two hours away" commitment. The nearest unoccupied AA truck must have been in town, because he was out to our car in 15 minutes!

He jacked up the car and tried to reinflate the tire. He was able to get some air in. He had a can of some sort of slime/gel that he injected into the tire to keep it inflated. As we looked at the tire, we saw some green goo come out of a small hole. The goo would hold long enough for us to get back to a tire shop in town. I drove slowly into town. The AA guy and I (and the kids) went into the tire store (spelled "tyre" here in the UK). After looking at the other tires, I decided we should replace them all. They didn't have four of any one brand of tire (the size is not common in England) so they had to have tires delivered from their warehouse about an hour away. Lucy, Jacob, and I walked home from the tyre dealer. It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes, through a local park and playground that we love. We had lunch and naps while they fixed the tires.

Around 5 p.m., the tyre shop called saying the car was all done. The kids were up and ready to go. We took a flashlight with us. Yes, it gets dark early here. Jacob and Lucy loved watching the light play on different parts of the path. When I shined it on their shoes, they'd run away. Lucy claimed it was hot; Jacob just played along. It was a fun walk for everyone. Arriving at the shop, we paid our bill and headed back home.

My only dread is the "rule of three" getting applied to this car repair phenomena. Hopefully the dashboard, the radio, and the tires are the three and there is no third disaster awaiting us in the coming days or weeks. Only time will tell for sure.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Frankenstein's Pub, Edinburgh

On our last night in Edinburgh, we wanted to go to a local pub for a fine meal. We try to go to the Greyfriars Bobby Pub. Alas, no tables were available and no one seemed like they'd be getting up soon.

We walked back up the street and the World Famous Frankenstein Pub was just opening its doors for dinner. We went in and found plenty of tables available. We sat in the corner by the fire. As the name suggests, much of the decor is centered around Mary Shelley's classic novel and the many movies it inspired. Many electric arcs streamed up the walls just like the equipment in the Boris Karloff classic. Some posters from more modern films, like from Hammer Studios and the Kenneth Brannagh version, can be found. In the corner is the monster himself.

Lucy was the only appropriately skeptical one!

Since this was the last night in Edinburgh, I felt I should try something of the local flavor, especially since we did mall food court fish and chips and chain restaurant Italian the two previous nights. First, I ordered a special drink off the menu, the Doctor Frankenstein.

Better than a zombie?

The drink was sweet and seductive and satisfying. But the real local flavor was the meal I ordered: haggis, neeps, and tatties.

I'm sure many readers have heard of haggis, which is infamous for being made up of "leftover" parts of the animal. I had one friend who used to say, "hoofs and eyeballs," which I don't think is true. On our previous trip to Scotland (six years ago), we had dinner with my cousin and her husband. He ordered us haggis, which we ate politely. The next morning, we told our bed and breakfast host that we had haggis. Her reply, "You can't get real haggis ever since they passed those laws!" Frankenstein's haggis wasn't too bad but is on the low end of tasty meat products.

What about the other parts of my dish? Neeps is basically mashed yellow turnips, which made a fine side dish. Tatties sounds really naughty, but is in fact merely mashed potatoes. They were well done.

We enjoyed the atmosphere and, as usual, Jacob liked the potty. It seemed like the pub was a bit of a club, but early on a Sunday night there wasn't much action. We did hear The Automatics' hit single Monster, which is famous for the lyric: "what's that coming over the hill is it a monster? is it a monster?" That was thematically nice to hear.

We headed back to our hotel for our final rest in Edinburgh. The next morning would be our escape, if we could navigate the downtown roads to get beyond the city limits. On the way south, we visited one more castle, a romantic, windswept, seaside fortress which would fit naturally nearby Whitby Abbey. But more on that in a future blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Walking Dead Episode 206, "Secrets"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 6: Secrets

TV Rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

7 out of 10--chicken leg broken (while it's still alive); zombies eating a bunch of live chickens; zombies shot in the head; rotting corpses with flies; blunt trauma to a zombie's head.

Other offensive content

Lies, lots of lies (with a title like "Secrets" what did you expect?); some language; abortion issues; woman grabs a guy's crotch as a prelude to an off-screen sexual encounter; inability to distinguish between "being a zombie" and "being sick."

How much zombie mythology/content

The interesting discussion of whether zombies are really the people they once were (and deserve the respect due to a person) is given some airing during this episode. The story favors the idea that they are not, though not all the characters do.

How much fun

Humor is at a minimum this episode; humane drama is at an average level, with occasional spikes as the secrets are revealed or discussed.

Synopsis & Review

This episode starts off with the problem of the walkers in the barn, which looms throughout the episode but is not brought out in the open by the end. More of Rick's people find out about it and some discussions about whether they are really the people they once were (and by implication that they are curable) begin but are not resolved. A fundamental assumption about zombies is involved here, so fundamental that it seems unprovable but only known through intuition. Either they are curable and the person they once were is buried somewhere inside, or they are just flesh that has been taken up again by something completely foreign to the person who once was there. In this case, taken up by a virus that dictates a thoughtless imperative--feed on the living at all costs. Hershel and his family don't see it that way, though why has not been explained.

Other secrets in this episode: Maggie and Glenn's affair remains (mostly) a secret though they are clearly growing closer to each other through adversity. While Glenn is on a run to get Lori pregnancy ending supplies, Maggie comes along. They are attacked. When they return safely, she gives Lori an earful about wanting to terminate her child.

That is indeed the big secret of the episode: Lori's pregnancy, of which Rick is unaware, despite the growing number of other cast members who find out. She tries to work out what to do and has motives for trying to decide on her own, though even Glenn is astute enough to realize that she needs help, not only physically but also in making such a decision. Will she tell Rick and get his input? The end of the episode begins to unravel this tricky problem for them both.

Another subplot involves firearms training. Many of the characters take advantage of Shane's instruction, including some of Hershel's people. Debates over whether Rick and Lori's son Carl should learn are central (especially since Carl tried to steal a handgun), as is the proficiency of Andrea, who winds up helping out Shane on the continued hunt for Sophia. The whole search for Sophia subplot is getting less service than it deserves, almost as if the writers have given up before the characters have.

I'm looking forward to next week's episode!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Walking Dead Episode 205, "Chupacabra"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 5: Chupacabra

TV Rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

7 out of 10--A couple of zombies who wind up with impaled heads; Daryl makes a necklace of zombie ears; Daryl makes dinner from a squirrel he shot, including his bloody fingers and blood dripping from his mouth; head wound to a main character; one character goes through much of the episode with an arrow shot through the gut, which is eventually pulled out.

Other offensive content

Lots of sex talk about previous affairs; brief discussion of women's menstrual cycles synchronizing (I can't believe I just had to write that!); offensive language; callous attitudes toward the lives of living humans; Daryl has a recurring vision of his brother who was left behind in Atlanta; flashback with napalming of the streets of Atlanta during the initial outbreak (though this is only seen from the far distance); human on human shooting (from a distance, so it doesn't qualify as gore).

How much zombie mythology/content

Nothing new in this episode, though the surprise ending isn't a surprise for readers of the comic books. You may ask yourself, "What's up with the kooky title of the episode?" Well, apparently Daryl had an incident with the titular monster in the past. Read about it on wikipedia (the monster, not Daryl's involvement with it).

How much fun

There were some humorous moments. I sure hope they meant to be funny about some characters having to sit at the "children's table" during the dinner scene. These are late teens and 20-year olds, for goodness' sake!

Synopsis & Review

The search for Sophia goes on, though some people begin to doubt the value of continuing the search. Rick and Shane have a long discussion about it, with Shane advocating the pragmatical approach that there's more risk to everybody being spread out thin during the search than the reward of finding Sophia will justify. Rick still sticks to his humanist guns and wants to continue the search, despite the cost.

As if to emphasize the cost, Daryl gets injured while he is searching and struggles to return to the farm. He undergoes a trial that has him questioning his position in the group and his value to the rest of them. His character has a real chance of becoming more interesting than Rick.

Glenn has a hard time working out his relationship to Maggie. His blundering through romantic encounters would make for a funny romantic comedy, but here they involve a lot of risk, though there's still a lot of humor, mostly at his expense. They both show more than we've seen before. I mean character-wise.

We find out that Lori is indeed pregnant but hasn't told anyone except for Glenn, who asked her point blank since he got her the pregnancy test during the last episode. She is conflicted about what to do about it, especially as she looks on at her recuperating son. I am interested to see how this will play out in the television series. In the comic book, Shane is dead when she finds out and there's unresolved ambiguity about whether Shane or Rick is the father.

Tensions are mounting a little bit with Rick and Hershel. So far it's been civil, but it seems likely, especially after the surprise ending of this episode, things will come to a head very, very soon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Edinburgh Castle

Sunday morning we headed out early to go to Edinburgh Castle and have the most time possible to visit this best-of-all castles we have visited.

Model of the castle

We took a bus across town and had to walk up the Royal Mile to reach the castle. We got to see some sights along the way to the front gate.

Lucy is a big girl!

Street view of a church turned to a festival center

Lucy, Auntie Rosemary, Jacob and Mommy

The gatehouse that lets people into the castle was built in 1888 and is flanked by statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. We were excited to go in and see so many different things.

Many defenders before the official opening time

Almost immediately inside we came upon some of the guns on the Argyle Battery that protected the castle. Jacob was pretty excited about the guns.

Jacob wanted to take one home!

We did get accosted by a photographer who took our picture and gave us a number for buying pictures of ourselves on the way out. I'm happy to report that was the only Disneyesque part of being in the castle. We proceeded up the Lang Stairs to see St. Margaret's Chapel.

St. Margaret's Chapel was built in the 12th century by King David I as a private chapel dedicated to his mother, who died in the castle in 1093. It is small and charming and is the oldest building in Edinburgh.

Jacob and Lucy in the chapel

awesome stained glass!

The beautiful altar

Defending St. Margaret's Chapel is the famous medieval siege gun, Mons Meg. The gun was one of a pair of guns given to James II as a wedding gift. The gun weighs a ridiculous six tons and shoots gunstones weighing 330 lbs. It was used in wars with England for a while but eventually was used only as a saluting gun since it was so difficult to transport. In 1558 it fired a salute for Mary Queen of Scots' wedding. The gunstone was found almost 2 miles away. On 14 October 1681 it was fired for the last time when the barrel burst. The damage wasn't too bad and you can see some of the burst bands if you look closely (though not in my photos, sorry!).

Jacob: Wait, can I take THIS one home?

We also saw the Half-Moon Battery, where the guns for the Remembrance Day salute were stationed.

Below here is the ruins of David's Tower (named after the son of Robert the Bruce), which had some interesting cellars that we wandered through. Also, Jacob found the toilets there, which is always a highlight for him wherever he goes.

From here, we entered the Royal Palace where the Honours of Scotland are housed. The Honours are the crown, sceptre and sword of state for Scotland and are the oldest royal regalia in the UK. They were used for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots and for many others. They were hidden from Cromwell and eventually locked away after the 1707 treaty uniting England and Scotland. In 1818 Walter Scott recovered them and they have been on display here for quite some time. Also, the Stone of Destiny is here, which had served as the seat for enthroning Scottish kings until Edward I removed it from Scone Abbey near Perth in 1296. It became a part of the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey for the English royalty. In 1996 it was returned to Scotland and will only ever leave if there is another coronation in Westminster. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed. Trust me, they were very impressive.

We also toured the Great Hall, which has very many displays of historical weapons. Why won't my wife let me decorate this way?

This is tasteful for a home, right?

We might have difficulty collecting enough swords for a display like this.

We went for a snack at the Red Coat Cafe. All the baked goods are made in the castle and the scones are quite good. While we were here, they fired the Remembrance Day cannons though we did not hear them. The castle is quite big and we didn't see many things, like the Scottish National War Memorial or the Prisons of War exhibit. The children's energy was flagging, so we headed back down the pathways and through the portcullis to find our bus and some lunch before nap time struck again.

No one had the energy to pose, so here are some strangers at the Portcullis Gate

The end of our Edinburgh trip was soon. More in a future post!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Walking Dead Episode 204, "Cherokee Rose"

The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 4: Cherokee Rose

TV Rating


ZPAA rating

Late teen and up

Gore level

7 out of 10--A waterlogged zombie (i.e. more bloated than rotting); flashbacks of a zombie attack and character being eaten from the last episode (the flashes are very quick); a zombie splits in half with guts spilling everywhere; bashing in the head of a zombie with splashes and oozing.

Other offensive content

A little bit of bad language; lots of lying; a woman pees outdoors, though you don't see anything graphic; the beginning of a sex scene with a little side glimpse of top female nudity, though they cut away to another scene quickly after that so nothing more than kissing and toplessness.

How much zombie mythology/content

Nothing new or different except for the aforementioned waterlogged zombie.

How much fun

Not too much humor but plenty of character development keeps this episode entertaining.

Synopsis & Review

With Carl on the mend and the rest of Rick's crew safely on the Greene farm, things are looking up for the weary cast of characters. A more organized and thorough search for the missing Sophia is in the works. They can't start right away since Rick is down a few pints of blood because of transfusions to his son and Shane is limping on an injured ankle. Redneck Daryl heads off to search on his own for the day while everybody else gets organized.

A lot of the episode is taken up with one of the wells on the farm, where they discover a zombie in the water. They need to get it out without just shooting it so they can still use the well (even though there's a least one other well with potable water and some other wells of unspecified cleanliness).

Meanwhile, Daryl hunts more or less fruitlessly, though with some tense scenes searching a random house. Sophia's mom Carol is still working through her issues with God and other characters. Shane is struggling with his demons from last episode. Carol is less suicidal but still wants to carry her gun, even when Hershel Greene asks that nobody carry a gun on his farm. The relationship between farmer's daughter Maggie and Glenn gets hot and cold pretty fast.

Hershel and Rick have a lot of heart to heart talks about how long Rick's people can stay and about faith issues. Rick still feels distant from God, since he prayed for a sign that he's doing right and the sign seemed to be his son getting shot. The end of the episode provides another possible positive sign, though the storytellers leave the interpretation ambiguous.

Fatherhood is another strong theme in this episode, specifically whether Rick is a good father. He lies to his son about whether Sophia has returned safely. This leads to a lot of self-doubt for Rick and reassurances from others that he is a good father even if he doesn't fulfill the ideal model of a righteous man. This struggle is especially interesting to me as a father and it's a quite compelling part of the story.

More on the next two episodes in the coming days. We will get caught up!

Royal Oak Pub, Edinburgh

Saturday night we went to Pizza Express in Edinburgh, because we wanted to go somewhere where we were sure the kids would eat. For the American readers, it's much more like an Italian restaurant than like Pizza Hut, which you might guess from the name. The food is good and they are child-friendly. We had a nice dinner. Afterward, we headed back to the hotel for bedtime.

Rosemary wanted to see some live music while in Edinburgh, specifically some Celtic music. Consulting our guide book and the waiter at our restaurant, we had a few leads to follow after the children fell asleep. My wife gladly stayed behind to get some rest too.

We checked a few pubs on the Royal Mile but couldn't find any with music. It was about 9 p.m. so we thought they'd at least be setting up if not already playing. One other possibility was The Royal Oak, which turns out to be an award winning pub. The awards they won are for being a fantastic live music venue. The room wasn't that big, maybe fifteen by fifteen feet. The bar is in the back and the piano is on the wall next to it. Some bench seats go around a corner by the front. That's where the musicians were set up.

The first guys playing were some mellow fellows who sang and played mostly folk tunes like Simon and Garfunkel, along with occasional traditional Scottish ballads. The main singer seemed to have already dipped substantially into the tip jar for beers. He was a good singer and did a great job.

The accordianist is eclipsed by the base player

The main guy for the second set was a big bloke with a beard and mustache who looked like he was ready to change into the old clothes and fight with Robert the Bruce or William Wallace. He had a bellowing voice that filled the room. When he started his set, he gave a disclaimer: "If you want to listen to music, you've come to the right place. If all you want to do is talk, there's 700 other pubs in Edinburgh, including the bar downstairs. Please go there if you don't want to listen. That's all I have to say on the subject." Then he played. He had a few other people helping him play and sing.

Another customer had a kazoo and he would play along on a lot of the tunes. He would make jokes about having a KMD, or Kazoo of Mass Destruction. He had a lot of funny jokes along that line. At least, I supposed they'd be funny if you'd been drinking for a while. The band members didn't seem to mind him being there. They loved people singing along.

The violinist at one point played a solo of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that got everyone singing. Other popular tunes were "Sound of Silence" and some ballad about a Scottish lass that we didn't recognize, but all the locals did.

We had a great time and headed home around 11. The next morning we'd be off to Edinburgh Castle, perhaps one of the best castles in the world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

National Museum of Scotland

After having a snack, we set off for the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street in Old Town Edinburgh. It was a very short walk. In fact, it was little more than across the street.

We went in the Tower Entrance and asked how to get to the green gazebo in the main hall. The helpful guide sent us on our way. As we walked down, I saw my cousin! After hellos and hugs, we walked over to the science and technology gallery on level one, where lots of interactive exhibits kept the children entranced.

Jacob's favorite exhibit by far was the robotic arm (the "white robot" according to him). A touch screen let you type in your name and the arm would pick up wooden blocks and spell the name on a little rack. We must have played it fifteen times, using different names and words.

The arm spells "train"

Across from the white robot was a demonstration of efficiency of maglev trains. One model train had wheels on a track, the other was supported on a cushion of air. Lucy would push the first and it would go a small distance. She would push the other and it would go all the way across! It's a great demonstration of how friction can eat up energy.

Faster! Faster!
Another display popular with children and adults was "Rocket Power" at the back of this hall. A crank would build up power to launch a rocket. The longer you cranked the wheel, the more power it would have. The guide wire for the rocket reached up two stories, but we could hardly get it up to the first story no matter how much we cranked or thought we overcranked it. A small dial showed how much energy was stored and went from yellow to green to red. We all took turns spinning the wheel. First we got it in the yellow area and the rocket only launched a foot and a half up the wire. Then we cranked it to green, getting maybe three feet. Finally, we tried to get the dial to "red line" but that still only yielded about five feet of vertical lift. It was fun but a little disappointing.

We tried out some other exhibits and then walked through the main hall to the Animal World, where all the stuffed animals and skeletons of animals are kept. I'd never seen a moose skeleton before which was pretty neat. Lucy loved identifying the animals--lions, snakes, sharks, etc. Dinosaurs were mixed in, too, which was lovely. Andrew, my cousin's husband who's a native Scotsman, said this hall was getting a bit dusty until the recently completed overhaul of the museum. It only reopened at the end of July this year (2011, for those reading the blog in the far distant future).

We also walked through the nearby space exhibit and saw some meteors and a thousand-year old astrolabe. Then we went upstairs to see the costume and musical instrument exhibit. Jacob and Lucy had fun playing on the demonstration instruments with their second cousin. Or is he a first cousin once removed? I still haven't figured out that complicated family tree dynamic. Maybe the museum should have an exhibit on that!

Lucy, Jacob, and Thomas enjoy this percussion instrument.
We also saw the impressive Millennium Clock in the main entrance. We didn't plan properly to hear it chime the hour, but I'll bet it is impressive. At this point, Jacob and Lucy were ready for lunch and nap time. And they let us know it too, fortunately just by telling us verbally, not by having a fit or falling asleep on someone's shoulder.

Time's up! Also, this is much taller than the rocket would go.

We didn't get to see everything I would have liked to, like the famous Lewis Chessmen. But that gives us an excuse to come back some day. And since the museum is free, why not?

The Elephant House, or the Birthplace of Harry Potter

After our visit to St. Giles Cathedral, we walked over to The Elephant House, which proudly displays that it is the "birthplace" of Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling sat in the back room of the tea shop writing many of the early Harry Potter novels. Authors Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall-Smith have also been to the tea shop many times.

The shop is nice with the coffee bar right in front, so you can order your snack and drinks without searching around. We bought some tea for us and juice for the children, along with a rainbow cookie for Lucy, a caramel muffin for Jacob, and other assorted cakes and tray-bakes for the adults. We went to the back room to see where the "magic" happened.

Our table had a nice view of Greyfriars Kirk and some of the castle. Jacob ate his muffin with gusto.

The disappearing muffin trick; also note the elephant pictures!

Lucy nibbled on her cookie while she wrote on a napkin. I think she is attempting, in the spirit of the place, to write a Harry Potter sequel, maybe along the lines of Scarlett and Cosette. Here she is working diligently:

Writing the first sentence is always the hardest.

Like the Gettysburg Address envelop, the Harry Potter napkin

We will let you know when the final draft is ready and we've worked out a deal with Rowling to let Lucy publish her masterpiece. Or we'll reedit it with new names and places to let us get around the copyright issues.

The bathrooms here also had lots of Harry Potter graffiti, or at least the ladies' room did. My wife reports various writings, including a list of Dumbledore's Army where people put their initials. The men's room has no writing on the wall. I leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

We enjoyed our treat and recommend others visit it. We went from here to the National Museum of Scotland, where my cousin told us that many different coffee shops claim to be where Rowling wrote her novels. It seems plausible that she wrote in more than one place, though which one was first or saw the most action may only be answered by Rowling herself. She hasn't complained about The Elephant House, so I leave the readers to draw their own conclusions again.

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

The night before we went to St. Giles Cathedral, we walked by and had a chance to get a night time shot. They haven't lit their Christmas tree yet, for which we were grateful, but it is already up. The church is quite gorgeous both outside and inside and all around.

St. Giles at night, with Christmas tree unlit

Saturday morning we took a bus from our side of town (New Town) to the cathedral's side of town (Old Town). We arrived a little before the church was officially open at 9 a.m. so we took the opportunity to walk around the outside of the church in the daylight.

St. Giles in the morning from a slightly different angle

This impressive statue of Charles II is found around the back of the cathedral.  The statue dates from 1685 and is the oldest lead cast statue in England.

Charles II as a Roman Emperor!

We could also see the City Chambers across the Royal Mile from the church.

We also saw the street cleaners!

We wandered into one of the many narrow streets/alleyways that are ubiquitous in the Old Town area. Since this neighborhood has lots of law courts and civic buildings, is it any wonder we found Advocates Close nearby?

Lucy and Rosemary weren't ready for their close up.

The Scott Memorial rose up dramatically in this view from the Close.

Yes, that isn't a church spire

We finally went inside the church to look around and say some prayers too. St. Giles is famous for having many of the colors of the clans on display inside. It was amazing to see so many flags, some in the sort of worn condition that makes the viewer think the flags were used on the battlefield and are now in honorable retirement in this house of the Lord.

The stained glass was also quite impressive and glorious in the morning sunshine.

Scenes from the life of Christ

The Western Window. Note the heart shape like in York Minster's window!

We also saw the bishop's chair, which puts the cathedra in the cathedral.

The main altar is located in the center of the church and is quite modest by comparison to many of the other cathedrals we have seen in England, and in fact anywhere.

A nicely unpretentious altar with the organ in the background

As we were walking around, the organist came in and started playing some pieces. Jacob, Lucy, and Mommy sat down to enjoy his performance. The first piece was quite nice, but the second was far too loud for Jacob, who ask to leave. That more or less ended our visit inside the church.

Jacob was so fascinated that he forgot to look at the camera!

Outside, we found the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shape in the plaza tiles that commemorates the Old Tollbooth Prison that formerly stood here. Also it's the spot where many convicted criminals were executed before the building was demolished in 1817. Lucy was unfazed by the history of the spot.

No fear and trembling here!

We still had some time before we'd meet my cousin's family at the National Museum of Scotland, so we decided to have a snack at the birthplace of Harry Potter. But more on that in the next post!