Thursday, April 10, 2014

Q1 Hobby Review

The first quarter of this year was probably more active for me in terms of painting, terrain making, and general hobby activities than any other similar period in a long time. I think I also did not play a single game (non-solo), not even at the Cold Wars convention that I attended very briefly. So...some good and some bad, I suppose. Although if this continues at this pace for too much longer I might have to change the blog header to say that I am a figure painter instead of an actual wargamer.

As far as accomplishments go, I ended the quarter with... (more or less):
  • 18 German knights painted (including some refurbished ones)
  • 10 French Hundred Years War crossbows painted
  • 6 Ottoman akinji light horse painted
  • 13 buildings painted
  • 18 more German knights half painted but not finished
  • A few hundred figures from various periods "brightened", highlighted and otherwise touched up
  • Several hundred figures rebased entirely
  • A few hundred bases flocked, edge painted, or otherwise cosmetically completed
  • A few more modular terrain boards begun but not completed
  • At least a hundred figures prepped, primed and made ready for painting
  • Other miscellaneous small terrain projects
The actual painting output seems modest, although it was very very good for me, especially considering the amount of work/time spent touching up older figures to a much nicer standard.

As for Q2, I'm not really very goal-oriented with regards to my hobby time anymore, but I'll tentatively throw a few out there anyway:
  • Play games
  • Complete the basing and photography of my Hundred Years War English
  • Paint some Ottomans
Sounds simple enough.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Apr 5 - Powder Room

Painting time this weekend consisted almost entirely of powder room remodelling (sadly, or not, depending on your point of view). The last of the patching, caulking, sanding and prep work was completed. Color swatches on the walls were tested then painted over. An ugly oval builder's mirror was pried off the wall, patched and prepped. Two coats of flat white paint on the ceiling. Three of bright white semi-gloss on the trim. Cutting in around the walls, with three walls of a lighter blue, and one accent wall of a darker turquoise-y blue. Two coats rolled on all the walls. A lot of work for a tiny little room.
Caulk, test colors, and no more mirror

It looks great now that it is finished, but a powder room is always more hassle per square foot than any other room (except probably a kitchen). All things considered, I'd much rather paint a bedroom many times the size. But it does look great, and crown molding always looks nice. One room at a time, we'll end up with nice trim work in every room. The color of this room is a bit of a departure for us, as most of the rest of the house is in neutral colors and earth tones (like the sage green that this room started with). I like the brighter colors. They look cheerful and happy. And they pull out some of the colors from the "ocean mosaic" mirror that inspired the new room.
Working on ceiling trim and cutting in

Actually, I'm not completely done yet, as the window trim hasn't been painted yet, and the baseboards need another coat. And I guess I should finish putting the light fixture back together. But the end is in sight though, so I am willing to claim victory in advance.
Almost completely done

Julia's room comes next. Then the master bedroom... But first, I get to work on those medieval knights that have been waiting patiently while I goof off doing housework. The next room can wait a little while longer...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Epiphone EJ-200CE

Question - What does a hack guitarist who owns four guitars and can barely strum a few chords need?

Answer - Another guitar, of course.

In fairness, to say I am a total hack would be an overstatement of my ineptitude. "Competent beginner" might be better. That being said, it is still hard to justify owning four guitars on any other grounds than I really really like guitars. So adding a fifth was, well, completely necessary. From a certain point of view.

Epiphone EJ-200CE acoustic electric
in vintage sunburst
Of the guitars that I own, the one that gets picked up the most often, because it leans against a chair in the living room, is a beginner Yamaha acoustic hand-me-down that Brother Dave was kind enough to give me. It is a very basic guitar, with some fret buzz and a tendency to not want to stay particularly well in tune. It's fine for what it is, but it is a beginner guitar and nothing more. But there is definitely something special about an acoustic versus an electric, and I love picking it up for a few minutes here or there and just noodling on it. So it's been a blessing and a curse; great to have, but leaves me wanting a better one.

Which is where the new guitar comes in. I have been wanting an intermediate level acoustic for a year or more, but have found it hard to justify. In the meantime I have spent a lot of time researching, reading reviews online, and trying out various things in my price range at the local Guitar Center. Having sold a bunch of hobby related stuff, I finally felt like I could get a new guitar since I could make it a net-zero proposition. I settled on an acoustic-electric Epiphone EJ-200CE, their version of Gibson's legendary J-200, a classic guitar known as the "King of the Flat Tops". It's a jumbo sized guitar, but I don't have any intention of taking it anywhere, so size doesn't matter (fill in your own joke here). I like the versatility of an acoustic electric-compared to a plain acoustic, and I like the cutaway shape versus a dreadnought shape for better access to the higher frets (I can't play Brown Eyed Girl on a dreadnought...).

Having decided what I wanted, I remembered that Brother Dave had bought an Epi acoustic-electric a while back, in a pale blonde "natural" finish, so I went back through his guitar blog to see what his was. To my surprise, I had selected the exact same guitar. While that made me feel lacking in originality, it also gave me some confidence that I had picked a good one, as Dave knows a lot more about this stuff than me.

So on Friday after work, I went to Guitar Center for a capo (to play Whiskey Before Breakfast in "D"), and came back with a new guitar instead. In a beautiful (!!!) vintage sunburst finish. It sounds fabulous. And gets picked up and played up a lot. Strangely enough, I sound better already.

And I bought the capo too...

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Michael Jackson The Immortal Tour - Cirque de Soleil

Desiree Bassett (non-Cirque de Soleil)
Julia goes to various events with one of her teen groups, and the most recent one was to see Cirque de Soleil's "Michael Jackson the Immoral Tour" last night in Philadelphia. None of us had ever seen a Cirque de Soleil show, but everybody seems to rave about them, so we all got tickets and went.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but assumed there would be lots of acrobatics and costumes involved. As it turns out, that much was true, but it was different than that; better in some ways but a tiny bit disappointing in others. On the plus side, it was a live music concert with a full (and very good) band of perhaps 12 musicians. The costumes were nice overall, and in some cases very cool (such as LED light-up suits in the dark). The acrobatics were excellent, but somewhat predictable and got a little boring after two hours. The stage show was OK, with some bits that were pretty flat. The show relied very much on a ton of video shown on screens, dropdowns, pop ups and sheets all throughout the show. In other words, it was a Cirque de Soleil show. Despite a few lulls in the show, I can certainly see why people have so many good things to say about these productions.

Desiree Bassett in costume
The best aspect of the show for me was a terrific live band, with a very good lead guitarist (who I looked up after the show and found to be a 22-year old young lady named Desiree Bassett). I wouldn't say I am a big Michael Jackson fan, but there is no denying the amount of "everybody knows that song" music that he created, and certainly there were no shortage of great songs for them to pick from. It was Greatest Hits in a way, and performed very well, with a singer who sounded very much like Jackson.

I don't think I would have minded at all if they skipped the video, the costumes and the acrobatics and simply did the concert piece with the band front and center (instead of behind screens and in the dark much of the time). I understand, of course, that my take on this would be different from pretty much everybody else, who would not pay a lot of money to go to a Cirque de Soleil show and then hope that the acrobats and other performers would get out of the way of the musicians. But...

As for Desiree Bassett, there are a ton of YouTube videos out there of her playing with all sorts of famous people from about the age of 15 on. She certainly seems like a very marketable package; a very good musician with nice stage presence, not to mention attractive (although I can't say that the furry headdress thing from the show is really my thing).

A few video clips of Desiree Bassett:
  • Performing Layla in 2008 (at the age of 16)
  • Performing Peace of Mind with Boston in 2011 (at the age of 19)
  • In the 10 minute long Cirque de Soleil promo video (this clip also gives a terrific overview of what this show was all about). Bassett and her crazy fake hair are shown clearly, if briefly, during the Billy Jean segment of this video at the 9:30, 9:50 and 10:15 marks. Also shown in this sequence is Mariko, an electric cellist who was also amazing.
Despite being a late evening for the kids, they both loved it, as did Amp and I. We all had different favorite parts, but it was well worth the expensive tickets.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Mar 22 - Ceilings and Walls?

This week's update is a brief recap of a few different things, mostly not hobby related...

Crown
On the painting table this week is...a powder room remodel. OK, so that's not exactly the usual painting table update, but it is what's up next from a painting perspective. A while ago I started putting crown molding up in our first (ground) floor powder room, but never finished it. Over the last couple of days I have been spackling and sanding and installing some additional molding so that I can finally finish painting the room. This is the least fun part of the job (which is why it still hasn't been done after all this time), but we are nearing the end. The additional chair rail type molding as a band below the crown molding is something we decided to do to help hide the fact that the ceiling in this room is something akin to a potato chip. After having the bright idea of adding the crown molding, we realized that the ceiling and walls are not the slightest bit even or level. This creates bad corners and joins that will be harder to hide if the bright white trim is adjacent to the darker walls. The solution is to do a treatment similar to what the builder did in the living room and dining room - put an additional band of molding partway down the wall, and paint the drywall in between the two pieces of molding the same bright white semi-gloss as the trim work.

Crown with accent molding
By the end of the weekend, the trim is all up, spackling is mostly complete, and all that remains is some caulking and then the painting. The ceiling will get a fresh coat of flat white, the trim work will get a nice bright white semi-gloss, and the walls will get...we don't know yet. Before repainting the walls we may pull out the sink and toilet and re-tile the floor. But that is still to be determined, since we have never done tiling. But you have to learn somewhere, I guess...

We also have an older piece of artwork in a frame that is coming apart at the seams, so we made a new frame and have been staining and sealing that as well.

On the hobby front, there isn't too much to report, other than that the work on the last batch of German knights is proceeding (if at a snail's pace). I have assembled, primed and begun color-blocking a handful of lance-armed figures to go with the old ones with hand weapons.

I have also begun taking some old pieces of N-gauge model railroad track and roadbed and turning them into WW2 scenery pieces. They look OK so far, and they make use of some odds and ends that I probably would have simply thrown away otherwise.

Lastly, Grace and I have started to carve some hill pieces for my modular terrain boards. When in doubt, make more terrain...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Mar 15 - More Buildings

Urban Sprawl
I haven't done much in the way of hobby stuff in the last week or so, but since I had the paints and larger brushes out from having painted the batch of buildings posted last week, I was able to plow through the seven new buildings I bought at Cold Wars last weekend in short order.

I used the same range of craft paint colors, so the new buildings fit in with the previous batch. Since the "village" was still sitting on the corner of the table from when I had taken a picture of it last week, I placed the new buildings around the edges and re-took the picture. The new buildings are five of the intact single buildings at left, right and foreground. Two new rubbled buildings for WW2 are in the back.

The biggest hassle with this batch was the fact that some of them were JR Miniatures buildings that were cast in a very plastic-y resin that wouldn't hold primer or paint very well. I think I can honestly say that this was the only occurrence I have ever had in all my years of painting where I couldn't get the primer to stop flaking off the pieces. I scrubbed with soap and water, I even used Goo Gone, but there is just something about this resin that is problematic. Eventually, by being very careful and glopping on primer and base coats, then sealing, then painting, then sealing again, I think they might be OK. But on the other hand it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the paint flakes off the first time I try to use them for anything...

This is a shame, as I really love the JR Miniatures buildings, but will now be hesitant to buy them in the future unless it is obvious that the resin has been changed.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review - The Realm of Last Chances

Another book bites the dust. Steve Yarbrough is an author who I enjoy very much, and he published a new novel last year while I wasn't paying much attention to fiction books. The Realm of Last Chances (Borzoi/Alfred A Knopf, 2013, 272 pages) is the story of Cal and Kristin Stevens, a middle aged couple struggling with a failing relationship, career prospects that are spiraling downward, and a move from California to New England.

I liked this book quite a bit, and got through it in a few days. Yarbrough is always an easy read, and this was no exception. Thematically, it is very similar to his other works that I have read, and that, if anything, would be my only complaint. The flawed characters and their struggles were familiar ground, and while the setting may have changed from the deep South to Massachusetts, it didn't read very differently.

I always find Yarbrough's writing to be full of telling observations and finely crafted passages. The Realm of Last Chances did not disappoint, although I was too intent on reading to note pages...

"The process by which small pleasures had lost their power to deliver happiness was as mysterious to him as ever - maybe even  more mysterious, since their value now seemed so essential that only a fool could fail to grasp it." (p. 148)

Even if the material was similar to his other stuff, it was a great read. And what's the point in having favorite authors if you can't be pretty sure you are going to like their next work.

4 stars out of 5. Very good.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Les Miserables at Garnet Valley High School

Some videos have been uploaded from the Les Miserables shows last weekend. I think they are pretty good for high school (but I am biased)...

Master of the House

One Day More (Julia is in this one, back right...in a big bonnet, over Marius's right shoulder [Marius's' right, not camera right]...)

Proud papa...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cold Wars 2014

The HMGS East spring convention, Cold Wars, in Lancaster PA, was about as brief a "fly by" for me as I have had at one of these. If it had been more than an hour from home, I wouldn't have gone at all.

As mentioned previously, this weekend is all about Julia and Les Miz, with shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, and a Saturday matinee. Not perfect timing for Cold Wars also on Friday and Saturday, but a trade I would make any time. Having put in to take Friday off long ago (for the convention), I figured I would still have time for a shopping expedition if nothing else before returning home in time to help around the house while Amp and Julia went to the performance. And that's pretty much what happened. I left home at about 11am, arrived at noon, paid my daily entrance fee, shopped and chatted for two and a half hours, and was on the road home by 2:30.

I cruised the dealer area in search of something that struck my fancy, and in the absence of that, made a few useful purchases. From Old Glory, I bought a few bags of various figures (Janissary archers, and Hundred Years War militia, mounted command and mounted crossbows). From another booth I bought a half a dozen 15mm European buildings, both intact and rubbled. Per my prior post on painting buildings this weekend, you can never have too many buildings, especially bombed out ones for WW2 games. [The buildings I bought are separate from the ones I painted this weekend]

As is always the case, one of the nice things about the show was running into some old friends. I probably spent half my time at the show chatting with Ed Wimble of Clash of Arms games and Chris Parker from Day of Battle. That, and stopping by the Fireball Forward! game that I knew Leo as playing in at 2pm, just to say hi. Ed asked me to go out to Tempe AZ with him in May for four or five days to attend a board gaming convention and play a La Bataille de Dresden game against the original Martial Enterprises crew. As attractive an offer as that is, I doubt it is feasible. Bummer.

All in all, it was a nice five hour investment of time. Not exactly the optimal convention experience, but better than not having a chance to go at all...

Painting Table Saturday - March 8 - Buildings

This weekend has revolved around Julia's involvement in Les Miserables, and we have house guests staying with us (with small children) which necessitates take-down and storage of the painting table, so this week's update is somewhat of a change of pace. Since I don't have my usual painting table with access to all of my paints, I needed to find something else to make progress on other than the medieval knights I began last week.
First dark tan stucco base layer

Buildings are the perfect answer to this. I generally have some unpainted ones lying around, and since they are basically an exercise in layered dry brushing, I can do this in little ten minutes chunks at the dining room or kitchen table, in and around other things, with only one or two containers of craft paint needed at any one time.
European village

This group of 5 buildings is an Old Glory set from ten or twelve years ago, plus one JR Miniatures (old Architectural Heritage) building from their Bavaria or Prussia line. The Old Glory set was a "European Village" set that I bought and began painting about ten years ago but never finished. A few weeks ago I over-sprayed the set black to start over. The set consists of three blocks of three joined buildings each, plus a church. They are of a style that can be used for anything from the Seven Years War through World War II. Very useful to have lots of these lying around...
...and again

I would estimate that this group took a little over an hour to paint in total, which occurred in lots of 5 and 10 minute increments between Saturday morning and late Sunday afternoon. I used cheap craft paints for these, and probably used no more than 7 or 8 different colors. The stucco is a dark tan base with a couple layers of lighter dry brushing. The gray walls are two colors of medium and lighter gray. The roofs are dark brown highlighted with reddish browns, medium browns and tans. The same range of browns and grays was used to do the flagstones, grave stones in the church courtyard, and the yard areas in the different building sections.

The only thing that remains to be done before these can be considered completely done is to flock portions of the yards and then coat the whole thing with matte sealer for durability.

Not bad for an hour's work (ok, maybe an hour and a half...).

Friday, March 7, 2014

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Last night was opening night for Julia's high school spring musical - Les Miserables - so Amp, Grace and I were in the middle of the first balcony row (my seats of choice) for a prompt start at 6:30pm. These kids (...young adults...) have been working tirelessly since the Christmas holidays with after school practices and long weekend sessions. It has also pulled in Amp, who has spent lots of hours with the costume ladies, sewing, altering, distressing and revamping/re-purposing costumes and bits from previous shows (I will spare you all a picture of me modeling Thenardier's wedding banquet costume...). Despite having missed almost a combined two weeks worth of practice time due to all the snow storms and school closings, what we were treated to last night was simply amazing.

Bystander #2
There are only four shows in total; Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday matinee and Saturday night. The "Garnet" cast with the #1 leads performs Friday and Saturday nights, while the "White" cast performs opening Thursday and the Saturday matinee. As good as the "B" team was last night, I have a hard time imagining highs schoolers doing too much better than what we saw. And in six or seven group scenes, always on the right side of the stage, was my little angel, "bystander #2". Dressed in grubby peasant garb (hand crafted by Mom). And in the runaway cart scene, shouting out her one line: "Watch out!".

I should have prefaced all this by noting that the whole family loves music and musical theater, and that Les Miz is everyone's favorite (by far). Amp and I have seen the show three times in Philadelphia and once on Broadway (with Craig Schulman as Valjean one of those times). In January of 2013, we took Julia to see it with us in Philly (our time #4) when a touring company came to town after it had closed on Broadway. She tends to latch onto certain things, and Les Miz is one of those; it has been one of her favorite things for years now. Seeing it in Philly was a real treat for her, and when we found out the high school was doing it in her first year there, it seemed to good to be true. She knows the entire show by heart, and wanted to be involved. It has been a tremendous experience for her, and despite all the hard work, she has been on cloud nine for a few months now.

Some memorabilia
As for the actual show, I was anxious to see it, but wasn't quite sure what to expect. It's a long show, and not an easy one to do. The "school edition" turned out to be only the removal of a couple of lines in a couple of the songs. Other than that it was the full two and a half hours - not an abridged version by any means, and leaving most of the bawdy parts intact. Overall, I was amazed at the quality of what we saw. The sets looked just like the last time we saw it in Philly, the costumes were terrific, and the singing and acting was very good for high school. OK, so Valjean wasn't quite Colm Wilkinson, and Javert wasn't quite Philip Quast, but if they were, they'd have dropped out of school and been starring on Broadway at the age of 16 or 17. Sure, there were a few pitchy moments, but in general, it was fantastic, and exceeded my expectations.

And Julia nailed it. She hit her marks. Did all the right things. Played her tiny little part perfectly, and in the process enjoyed herself tremendously. I couldn't have been more proud, and happy for her. There is nothing like watching your child have one of those special moments, and last night was about as special a night as you could have. Brother Dave and his Darling Wife attended and brought flowers. She got flowers from us as well, and her Spirit Cheer squad coach dropped by in the afternoon before the show to drop off a third bouquet. Over the course of the next three shows there is a long list of others who will be going at least in part to watch Julia, so she is feeling like quite the little superstar. Which is how it should be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review - This Dark Road to Mercy

I finished a terrific novel a few nights back by someone who is a new author to me. The book was Wiley Cash's This Dark Road to Mercy (2014, 230 pages). This is Cash's second novel. The first, A Land More Kind than Home, received very good reviews, and if it is anything like this one I can understand why.

The story centers on the Quillby sisters, Easter and Ruby (ages 12 and 6), who end up in foster care following the death of their drug addict mother. They are taken from their foster home in the middle of the night by their father, a troubled man they barely know, and who had signed away his parental rights. In addition to being on the run for taking his children, he is also being pursued by a hired gun for something else he had been involved in. The plot is at times predictable, but then again most are.

It's a compelling story, told from the rotating vantage of three of the main characters. In some ways it reminded me a lot of James Lee Burke, or even John D MacDonald from back in the day (both Grand Masters of the Mystery Writers of America) - plot that pulls you in and keeps turning the page, an easy style that makes for an effortless read, and believable flawed characters that often ultimately end up likable (with a heartless evil guy thrown in for good measure). It is also reminiscent of another North Carolina author, and one of my favorites, Ron Rash. This is a thriller in a sense, but one that simmers rather than boils (if that makes sense), and I almost hesitate to call it that because thrillers often have the stigma of being less of a book than something that has pretentions to being "literature." No matter what you call it, this is a fine book.

4.5 stars out of 5. This supplants "...Oscar Wao"as the best book of the year so far in the early running.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Painting Table - Knights, Step 1

I managed to make some progress on these figures this weekend. I have blocked in new colors on all the horse trappings and riders and begun cleaning up some other areas. There is a lot of work left to do - shading, highlighting, horses, metalwork, detailing and heraldry - but this is a start.

In most cases, I took the dominant color of the old figure and selected a brighter shade of that color, picked a complementary color, and painted riders, shields and horse trappings in those two colors.
Step 1 - Color blocking

At this point, they already look much better than they did before I started, and are no longer the random mess of different colors they were.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Mar 1 - Last of the Knights

When I repainted some of my older German medieval knights last month, I broke apart all the old stands so I could pick which figures I wanted to use first on the new stands I was making. That left me with the last nine of the worst looking ones lying on a tray on the corner of my gaming table. I would much rather be painting Ottoman sipahis right now, but I really don't feel like packing these guys away in a box somewhere to be half forgotten about, so I have decided to dive in and deal with them now.
Group 1

The paint jobs on these guys, the color choices and combinations, the terrible attempts at heraldry and some old chipped paint combine to make these a truly wretched lot. And the pictures make them look even worse than that. After inspecting them, and then taking and seeing the pictures, I actually contemplated throwing them away. That would have dealt with them very quickly. But I can't do that. So I'll be doing a complete and total repaint instead.
Group 2

Step 1 will be to block in new colors on every non-metallic surface. While I am doing that I will decide whether the armor is worth saving by touch up, or whether I need to repaint the metallic bits black and start over from scratch. Or I guess I could always strip them down to bare metal and start over... Hmm.
Group 3

While I am at it I should assemble some brand new lancer figures to add to these. And maybe a leader and banner...

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Little Things

The haul (part 1?)
Oftentimes, or perhaps most of the time for that matter, it is the little things in life that make us happy. This weekend (Thursday through Sunday) they are holding an annual used book sale at a mall very close to home. It's a fundraising event for the American Association of University Women, and is a little slice of book-dork heaven that I look forward to every year. They always have a lot of stuff in all sorts of categories scattered all over the mall, and priced very reasonably (most fiction hardbacks $3-5 and trade paperbacks $2-3).

I managed to run over there for a short time last night to go through the fiction section before it got picked over. Given that books probably need to be leaving the house and not entering it, I promised myself (with fingers crossed perhaps) that I would be more...selective..than usual in my buying. I managed to stick to that, and was still very pleased to find a handful of books that I will gladly make room for by thinning the existing herd a bit. The short stack of five hardbacks and three paperbacks pictured cost a total of $26 (5,5,4,3,3,2,2,2).

These are all quality additions. Six of the eight either won or were nominated for major awards, or are by writers who have won major awards for other works. The James Lee Burke "Dave Robicheaux" series novel is a page turner by the only page-turner-author I make it a point to read. The Salzman book is the one flier in the bunch, as I thought the name rang a bell. I guess it did because his books are highly rated on Amazon.

Good stuff. And only nine more inches of shelf space. Ugh.

The real temptation problem is after Saturday night at 6pm and on Sunday morning, when you can buy a paper bag to fill with whatever you want for $5...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Having enjoyed Junot Diaz' Drown (his first collection of stories), I plowed through his first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books [Penguin], 2007, 335 pages, 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner) in a matter of days, and finished it over the weekend.

Some of the same comments that I had about his first book would still be applicable here. There are times when Diaz uses Spanish words, phrases, or whole sentences, and since I don't read Spanish, I am sure I am missing certain nuances (at least), or whole pieces of context. This generally falls into the category of minor annoyance, but is something that is definitely a distraction from time to time. When you can't understand everything that is there for you to read, it is hard not to feel like you are missing something. That being said, you do become used to it after a while.

I would recommend this novel. It starts off a little slow, but moves along well enough to keep your interest. I found that it picked up speed as it went along, and by the last third or so of the book, I was very anxious to keep going and get to the end. Given the title and the set up, it was not a question of what the ending would be, but how you would get there. This is an accomplishment for the author; despite telling you what you will find when you get to the destination, you still want to go along for the ride.

The title character is a fat, dorky kid who loves science fiction and fantasy, and wants to be a writer - the Dominican Tolkien. He also is prone to falling for girls, none of whom fall for him. There were a lot of references to things in the books that Oscar liked. I got all the Tolkien references and some of the others (ok, insert "dorky" joke here), but didn't get all of them. Once again, like the Spanish language issue, I'm sure I missed some nuances with the references that went over my head. But if the subtlety of the specifics evaded me, I got the gist of the point.

This is a story about the immigrant experience as well as life in a third world country. It is a story of mothers and children and spouses and family. Of successes and failures. Love and vengeance. You hope against hope for the protagonist, knowing (in general terms at least) how it is going to end. Getting to that end is a very enjoyable journey. The best book (of only a few) that I have read so far this year.

4 stars out of 5.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Stomp

DuPont Theater, Wilmington, DE, Saturday February 22, 2014

Stomp at the DuPont Theater
When we went to the DuPont Theater back in December to see the Nutcracker, we checked out the upcoming shows and noticed that Stomp was coming in February. I didn't know much about the show, other that it was a percussion show with people beating on trash cans, etc. Amp thought it would be something that the kids might enjoy, and in the interests of trying to expose them to a wide range of cultural things, we bought tickets.

Yesterday was the day, and we went to the 2pm matinee show. The show lasted and hour and a half, and was mesmerizing both for us and for the girls. To say that the show was about beating on trash cans would hardly do it justice. A cast of eight performers used every imaginable household item to create an amazing sound experience. The list of items used, among other things, included brooms, dust pans and brushes, trash cans and lids, paint cans, lighters, paper bags, cups, plumbing supplies, newspapers, pots, pans, and quite literally the kitchen sink.

Interwoven throughout the show was a very effective interaction with the audience. The cast never spoke, but managed to engage the audience in some periodic clap-along segments, and there was a bunch of running non-verbal jokes that made this more than just a percussion concert.

This was just what we hoped it would be; a very fun experience for the kids and also a good example that there is an immense range of different talents out there in the world.

This show is well worth seeing for anyone, and is excellent for kids.

French Hundred Years War Army

I finished flocking the last few stands of my French army (something which I really dislike doing), and took pictures of the collection. All pictures have been added to my Hundred Years War Gallery page. The picture below has skirmishers and crossbows in the front rank, heavy spearmen, militia and light infantry in the second rank, dismounted knights in the third rank, and mounted knights and leaders in the back rank. The Gallery has pictures of each troop type.
French Hundred Years War army

This doesn't mean I don't have more unpainted lead lying around for this army, or have no future plans to add to it, but at least as of this moment there is nothing left in a half-done state. Everything is either unpainted, or completely painted, flocked and finished.
Dauphin Charles - fun with heraldry...

I have started looking at my English army, and realize that I have even more unfinished/unflocked bases than I thought. Ugh. Maybe I'll do something else.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Feb 22 - French HYW Knights

French foot knights with cut-down lances
Rather than start something new this week, I have taken a lesson from the process of cataloging and updating (where necessary) my early medieval collection and have decided to do the same for my Hundred Years War figures. I am starting with the French, knowing that they are closer to being finished than the English....

Step one is to unpack everything and lay it out on the table so that I can remember what I have, and what still needs to be done.

Other than thinking that I could use a few more units of various troop types, I am in pretty good shape as far as the French go. Regarding the troops I have, only some of the dismounted knights are not what could be considered finished. There are maybe twenty stands that need to have their base edges painted, and seven bases that need to be flocked. In addition to that, there are 8-10 stands that could use some painting touch-ups, mainly to repaint some plain brown cut-down lances in brighter colors.
French muster in progress...

As I am writing this Saturday evening, all base edges have been painted, lances repainted, and all that remains is to flock those last few bases. I should have no problem getting that done tomorrow, and then I can begin the English, which require more work (the main issue with the English is that a bunch of these figures were painted in Sri Lanka and then based, but the bases were never finished or flocked - I hate flocking...).

Progress was modest today because the family went to see a matinee of Stomp in Wilmington at the DuPont Theater, which was fantastic, and will be the subject of another post...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Knightly Reinforcements

I had some time over the last couple of nights to finish the basing on this batch of refurbished knights, and to add lance pennons to the new lancers.
German knights

As I look at this picture (as usual) I see that I need to do a little final cleanup on the pennons, but other than that it is nice to see that these sub-par old figures have been given a new lease on life and can proudly form up beside their newer brethren.

Next up on the painting table...I honestly have no idea.