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


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.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

House Project - Office End Table

Following the construction of our first piece of furniture, we have been thinking about what else would be useful to make. One of the first things that came to mind was a suitable replacement for a little table in the corner of our office that holds a lamp, phone base unit and some other things. In addition to the fact that the piece doesn't match the rest of the furniture in the room, it also isn't big enough to hold the wireless printer that is in the cabinet part of my desk. The printer is large enough that it doesn't fit well in the desk, but we don't have a better place to put it handy to the desk. So we decided to build one.
What we are replacing

The basic plan was to build a three-tiered table like the old one but sized to hold the printer on the middle shelf. It would be a little taller, and made of clear select pine that could be stained to fit in with the existing furniture. Construction methods (hidden pocket joinery, etc) would be very similar to the console table project.

Step 1 - Cut all pieces to length and drill out all the pocket holes. This will allow for more of an assembly line process than we managed on the first project. Legs, top frame and middle and bottom shelf framing are 2x2s. Middle and bottom shelves are a length of 1x12. The table top is made of 3 lengths of 1x6. The table top pieces are about two inches longer than the end result will be as we plan to make the table top, then cut it length as a single piece with a (newly purchased) circular saw. This will give us a cleaner straight edge than cutting first and then joining would.
1 - Materials - cut and drilled (bottom view)

Step 2 - Glue and screw the sub-assemblies together. The top frame is at left, and the middle and lower shelf assemblies are at right center. The table top boards have not been joined yet in the picture.
2 - Sub assemblies mostly complete (bottom view)

Step 3 - Glue and screw the three table top boards together. Before I joined these, it occurred to me that it would look nice, and give the top a little visual interest, if I micro bevelled the edges of the boards. I sanded each interior board edge at a 45 degree angle for just a couple millimeters with a sanding block. When the boards are joined, there is now a small "v" groove between the boards, and it looks terrific.
3 - Tabletop with micro-bevel board joints

Step 4 - Frame assembly. Having made the top frame and two shelf assemblies, the next step was to join each of the three pieces, in sequence from top to bottom, to two of the side legs. First we attached the top frame, then the middle shelf, then the bottom. Once this was complete, we flipped the piece and attached the other two legs. This was the most difficult step, or perhaps I should say most important, in that we needed to make certain at this step that everything was level and square. If not, we would have ended up with a wobbly uneven end result. After assembling everything, we decided that the piece would look more finished if we dressed up the two sides by adding a "dead man" piece of 2x2 to the side of the top frame, and a piece of upright 1x2 to the end of each shelf. I'm very glad we did this.
4 - Frame assembled

Step 5 - Attach and cut/trim the tabletop. The top was glued onto the frame and screwed from underneath. At this point construction was done. All that remained was to sand thoroughly, put on two coats of Minwax Wood Finish ("English Chestnut"), and then two coats of Minwax Polyurethane. I added a third coat to the top only. We sanded lightly between all the various coats using progressively finer sandpaper (we started at 220 and ended at 400).
Construction complete

We let the final coat of Polyurethane dry for about three days before putting the table in place and getting everything set up.
Stained, sealed and in place

I am thrilled with how this turned out. It is perfectly level and square, there are no "oopses" that anyone would ever see, and it really looks like a store bought piece of furniture. While this is the second project we have built, it is the first one we have completely finished and I am proud of the result. It was not that difficult to make, not expensive at all (about $50 in materials), and is custom fitted to exactly the dimensions we wanted to fit the space and use for which it was intended.
Close up

Now the usual question - what next?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Book Review - Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather

I am in a groove as far as reading fiction goes, and finished a brief book of short stories last night: Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather, by Chinese Nobel Prize laureate Gao Xingjian.

This is a brief but entertaining collection of a handful of stories, translated from the original Chinese. The stories were a mix of realistic and surrealistic. It is always hard for to judge the language where translation is involved, but the stories reminded me of Kawabata, a great Japanese writer. Or perhaps I am just creating an artificial link between two great Asian writers in my head, I don't know for sure. But there is a certain sparseness and elegance that they both share that I found reminiscent of each other.

By all accounts, to do Gao justice I should be reading Soul Mountain or One Man's Bible, each an epic novel of 500 or so pages. They are both sitting on a shelf in the basement, daring me to take them on. Perhaps I will. Someday.

4 out of 5 stars.

For now, I have started Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (so far so good).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review - Drown

Over the last week or so I have worked my way through a short story collection called Drown (Riverhead Books, 1996), by Junot Diaz. This is Diaz's first published work, although many of the stories have appeared in The New Yorker and other prestigious publications. This collection received critical acclaim, as has his subsequent first novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer Prize winner, 2008)

There are ten stories in the 208 page book, and they are centered on the theme of Dominican children and fathers, would-be immigrants and immigrants, whether still in the Dominican Republic or in the United States, mostly New Jersey and New York.

My first impression of the stories as I first began the book was that I had no frame of reference with which to relate to the characters in the stories, but as I read further into the book I came to appreciate that I was being provided a glimpse into lives of people very different from me. This is a worthwhile book to read for a perspective very different from growing up in middle class suburban America, as I did.

I have already picked what I want to read after this, but I might very well come back to Diaz for The Brief Wondrous Life... (which is already on a shelf downstairs) after I read the next book already on my nightstand.

A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Templar Knights and Medieval sergeants

I did get flocking done on a couple of units that have been needing it for a while in order to be considered finished, so I can add these to my Medieval Gallery page now. These are older figures that have been cleaned up and re-based.

Templar Knights - I don't have Crusader armies in 25mm, but I thought these would be fun to paint, and they can be used outside of the Holy Lands in certain situations.
Templars - front

Templars - side

German sergeants - Four more stands of heavy cavalry to provide a contrast to the mounted knights. These are Old Glory "Teutonic sergeants", but can be used as generic cavalry in many armies.
German sergeants - front

Sergeants - side

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Feb 15 - Ottoman Akinji

Having finished the unit of French crossbowmen, I have moved on to a little group of 6 Ottoman akinji light cavalry that were primed brown and ready to paint. As I was working on these it occurred to me (again) that it would be nice to paint figures with uniforms for a change. It seems that just about everything I paint is a wide mix of colors. It would nice to not be closing and opening jars of paint every 30 seconds. It's tough to get as assembly line going when painting medievals (maybe next I should paint Janissaries!).
Ottoman Akinji light cavalry WIP 2/13/14

I have seven stands (2 figs each) of these already done, so these six figures will make three new stands, bringing my total to ten. That makes 5 units in most rules I play (or dabble with).
Ottoman Akinji light cavalry WIP 2/15/14

We have a fairly busy weekend, including Julia's last cheer competition of the season tomorrow morning in Wilmington, but if I can squeeze in a little time here and there I should be able to get the last bit of detail and shading work done on these to finish them. I hope I can also flock several units that are done but waiting to be flocked before I take their pictures and put them away.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hundred Years War French Crossbows completed

I (mostly) finished the unit of French crossbows last night. As usual, after taking the pictures and looking at them, I see several spots that need touching up, which I will do later tonight. These were nice sculpts, pretty easy to paint, and I'm not laboring on them overly much. It's nice to be able to knock out a new unit in short order, as I tend to have trouble staying focused on tasks without starting something new in the middle. So far in 2014, I have been remarkably "on task" with my painting.

The majority of my Hundred Years War collection is not based on Impetus style bases, but my Ottomans are, so as I move forward I will probably base more units like this.
HYW French crossbows - Front

This unit is 10 figures out of a bag of 30, so I have the figures prepped and primed to make 2 more units like this. I will probably paint the remaining 20 figures in one batch as two units of Italian (Genoese) mercenaries. I will likely make the colors a little more uniform in two blocks of 10 so that they will be easy to pick out on the battlefield.
HYW French crossbows - Back

In the meantime, instead of more crossbows, I have begun working on a small batch of 6 Ottoman light horse. They are already about half done, having been blocked in and washed for shading. This is a unit and a half (3 stands of 2 figures each), and will complete the Ottoman light horse that I have in stock. Next up after these for the Ottoman project would be a horde of primed and ready-to-paint sipahi heavy cavalry.
Ottoman akinji light horse (WIP)

Painting totals for this year so far would be 18 mounted and 10 foot figures (all 25mm). This might not seem like much, but if I could complete a couple of units per month on average throughout the year I would be thrilled.

This is Getting Silly...

Here we go again
We are the midst of our eleventh snowstorm of the season, and this one's a big one. According to official sources we have 11 inches of snow down, and more to come. School was cancelled for the kids yesterday evening, and the way things are going, tomorrow might be iffy as well. We are already beyond the allowed number of snow days, so the kids are losing Spring Break days, or extending into the summer. Grace isn't even happy about the snow due to the walking cast on her left leg, which won't be off for another month.

Apparently the South got pounded with an ice storm as part of this, which means power outages. Hopefully we will avoid that, although at the moment we are getting a mix of snow and freezing rain. With the blessing/curse of modern's still a work day. As long as the power stays on.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hundred Years War - French Crossbowmen

Having finished the batch of knights that have been on the painting table for the better part of the last month, I needed to pick something else to work on. After poking around my "ready to paint" stuff for a little while this morning, I pulled out a unit of 10 French Hundred Years War crossbowmen that had been primed and started (their armor having already been dry brushed). I also have 6 Ottoman akinji light horse and some mounted leaders that were begun a few months back, and they are now on the table as well.

Crossbows - color blocking done
We have had a lazy day today, with Julia in a four hour Les Miserables rehearsal at the high school. I have a long-cooking beef short ribs recipe going, and have been able to get some painting accomplished in 20 and 30 minute spurts throughout the day. As of now, I have been able to get the basic color blocking done on the crossbows, and they are ready to be washed for shading. After that, which should get done today, I will be able to begin highlighting, detailing and cleaning up these figures. If all goes well I should have them done by the end of the week. When finished, they will be based as one unit using Impetus style basing (but in two stands of 5 figures each, with each stand being 60mm wide by 40mm deep).

As I look out the window writing this, it is snowing again. Grace has suggested we do the spoon-under-the-pillow snow trick again, but I have vetoed that idea. I have had enough snow for one year.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Feb 8 - Knights Finished

Six stands new/refurbished German knights
Between some time sent on them last weekend, and an hour or so this morning, I was finally able to finish the batch of knights that have been on the painting table for the last few weeks. These six stands consist of 11 older figures that have been re-done, and 7 new banner bearer, musician and lancer figures to fill out the bases. As I worked on these, the simple clean up on the older figures turned into a much more substantial re-paint than I had intended, thus they took longer, but I am pleased with the result.

All that remains to be done is to spray the figures with matte varnish, add lance pennons to the lances, and flock the bases. Once that is done I will take final pictures and add these figures to the Medieval Gallery page.

Now I need to figure out what to work on next. I have another few stands of these older German knights to break down, refurbish and add to, but I am a little burned out on knights at the moment. At this point I have no idea what to do next, and have about a hundred things to choose from. I can't even say that I have a few leading contenders in mind. Later tonight or tomorrow I will choose something. Maybe if I wander down to the basement and look around, something will speak to me.

Friday, February 7, 2014

National Sales Meeting 2014

Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort, Orlando FL

The Dolphin during the day
The reason I knew I wouldn't get much painting (or anything else) done this week was my attendance at my company's annual national sales meeting in Orlando FL at the Swan and Dolphin hotels on the Disney property.

Things got off to a rough start as we got our weekly big snowstorm on Monday 2/3, the day I was to fly down. An 11:35am flight got cancelled and turned into a 1:30pm, which turned into a 6pm, which turned into an 8:40pm. Fourth time was a charm, and the snow which lasted from about 10am through 4pm (7 inches in total) had stopped and been dealt with adequately enough that getting to the airport in time for the later flight was not too bad. In the midst of the storm even the main roads had been impassable. The flight was on time, and me and several coworkers arrived in Florida at 11:15pm, instead of the originally intended 2pm. So much for getting down in time to relax and enjoy the remainder of the travel day. I was at the Dolphin and in bed by about 12:45am.

The storm was very rough on the area, with widespread power outages lasting for days. Brother Dave and his Darling Wife, as well as my Mom and younger brother Chris all stayed at my house overnight Tuesday night. After having been out of power for a day and a half or so, they all got power back Wednesday during the day, and returned home safely.

The Dolphin at night
The rest of the week was a very good, and very busy meeting. Grace was not very happy that I was going to Disney World without her, but I was able to repeatedly reassure her "don't worry, I'm not seeing any of Disney World either." Schedules were packed with good content, and the one evening that most of the people went to a private nighttime opening of Hollywood Studios I was in my hotel room working on a project that needed my attention. Pretty glamorous. In the five days I was there I never set foot off the Swan and Dolphin property. So while it was a fun trip, and there were a lot of nice evening events, it wasn't a boondoggle by any means (not that I am complaining in the least - we were treated very very well while there).

Conference facilities were pretty nice, and the meeting was well run.

Coming back this afternoon was easy especially compared to the trip down. We left on time, caught a tail wind and arrived a half hour early. I was back at home by dinner time.

It has been a few years since the family last went to Disney, and we should probably go again while the kids are still young...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Painting Table Saturday - Feb 1 - Knights

When we last left off, I was painting a batch of knights. I'm still painting them, but progress is being made. Julia had a cheer competition last Saturday, and another this morning (posts to follow), but in between those and some progress on the next home project, I have actually moved these figures along.

In the left of the picture, I have finished two stands, complete with flags from the Danish site listed in my links section. The remaining four stands in this group are coming along nicely, given the limited painting time available, with most of the old figures refurbished and the new figures at least half done. I won't get any painting done this week (more on that later as well), but these should all be done by mid-February nonetheless.
German knights

The newest issue of Wargames Illustrated has piqued my interest in the new Donnybrook rules (skirmish in the late 17th - early 18th centuries). Visions of a new period are dancing in my head. Cold Wars is only a month away, so who knows...