the Riddle of Wood (part 2)

So the kids have Viking fever.

Part of child-led parenting (and homeschooling) is letting the children figure out what they are interested in and encouraging it. This often leads to some funny and weird rabbit-holes of study. But overall, it works well for us.

“I want to be a warrior princess, like Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon.” Grace told us.

Well then, I told her, you want to be a Viking.

shield faces

So we’ve been working on shields. The outer-layer is single-ply cardboard. The shield boss is a biodegradable paper bowl. The rear layer, grip, and edge are still being constructed. But there will be more pictures shortly.

Sam thinks Vikings are cool- “they are like Pirates, but they don’t have cannons.”

Grace likes weapons training.

“I am really good at blocking,” says Grace- and she is. She is fearless. She yells out entreaties to Thor when she fights. Not sure where she got that from. She also likes to kneel with her sword in front of her and put her forehead on the pommel. “Don’t I look so tired from the fighting?” she asks. She is very dramatic. “Thor, give me strength.”

I ask both kids what is more important, the shield or the weapon. They both tell me it is the shield.

“Also, I can hit you with my shield,” Sam reminds me. “So even if I don’t have a sword, I can still fight.”

“Axes are better than swords, because you can break shields with them,” Sam adds. “And then you are gonna lose.”

We spend a lot of time talking about the farming, sewing, knitting, mending and sharpening that would be the daily life of any Norse family. But c’mon, they are 4 and 8 years old. They really love the fighting.

the Riddle of Wood (part 1)

I think Sam was about three when we got him his first lightsaber. One of the 9.99 (or 11.99? It was five years ago, I dunno) collapsible flick-yer-wrist lightsabers. No light up, battery powered noisy stuff. Plus, with the economy model it was affordable to get a 2nd one. This was pre-Grace. The 2nd one was for me, so I could fight back.

We had neighbors with a little boy roughly Sam’s age. He seemed like the average little boy to me- loud, boisterous, sort of mindlessly destructive. A lot of his play seemed to involve things crashing. Once, they threw out a lightsaber- nearly identical to Sam’s. Except this one was battered, bent, and half-destroyed by violent play.

It bummed me out. I rescued it from the trash, used hot water and more or less straightened the plastic blade. Good thing too, because soon Grace showed up and we needed a third lightsaber.

We don’t use the lightsabers much anymore- wooden swords have replaced them. But they are still in a bin, and with the exception of the rescued one, neither is battered or bent of broken from destructive play.

I am not humble bragging. I am full on bragging. I’m proud. My kid’s haven’t shattered their toys. They haven’t crashed their cars together or thrown their airplanes into walls. I think a large part of this is because I never taught the kids/showed the kids that these were “JUST” toys. If they break their toys, the toy stays broken and ceases to be- so why be destructive?

We gave Sam and Grace wooden swords when Sam was- I dunno, six? GL was three? They’ve played with them A LOT since then. But we’ve taken the time to explain to the kids that while they are toys, they are toys with potential consequence.

High horse time- I think giving kids “safe” swords, soft-cell foam swords that “they can swing till they are tuckered out, little buggers can’t really HURT anyone!” is a terrible idea.

I don’t say this like: “We Made the BEST parenting choice and you all suck!” because I didn’t make this choice and my wife didn’t either. It sort of happened.

But now, looking back: why are my kids so good with their wooden weapons- how is it we have had no bloodshed, no broken stuff, no broken swords, no tears and very few minor (knuckle) bruises? Because we taught them to respect their weapon play.

Give a kid a foam weapon, and the hit HARDER. We gave Sam & Grace weapons that they learned to respect.

That last part sounds creepy. I promise I don’t chase after them, swiping at their little legs and arms screaming: “NO PRISONERS!!” in my worst Peter O’Toole impersonation (it sounds like a confused Lance Henriksen).

Still. I’m proud of them. This weekend we are making viking shields. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Skyrim Letters #4

7th of Morning Star, The Bannered Mare Inn, Whiterun

Most revered mother,

I am a Thane, yo! I met the Jarl, who keeps calling me “my friend” and giving me enchanted weapons and armor, and I have a housecarl and… and I’m titled! I’m a Thane! Tell Jorunn she should move to Skyrim quick, I can totally get her a job here in Whiterun.

Ah, Whiterun, where the guards all kiss my ass and the locals are kind of polite when they aren’t venting to me, a total stranger (and thane!) about all their petty annoyances!

The world is truly my Nordic oyster, and I am a pearl. Or something.

Ok, to back up:
I came to Whiterun to ask the Jarl, on behalf of all the busybodies in that provincial little Riverrun, to send some guards- because dragons.

So the court Wizard, Farengar (I think he could be cousins to that archer guy from that little pisswater town, Riverrun or whatever), he was all impressed because- Boom, he wanted me to find him this legendary piece of rock and I was like, boom, check it out- BAM, and I already had it!

The Jarl was still sweating Dragons, because a lot of locals believe in them. Well, now I do too, since one attacked us and… I guess I helped kill it. Then I had another one of my fugues, everything got kind of hazy (I swear, ma, I haven’t been drinking much) and everyone was congratulating me!

Hey ma, have you ever heard of a “dragonborn” before? Just curious.

There are TWO inns in Whiterun, ma. TWO blacksmiths, a temple, some feuding families (not real clear on what is up with that), all kinds of intrigue, some hot redhead who has asked me to hook her up with a mammoth tusk, and a bunch of mercenary heroes called The Companions. Might check them out, I mean, if they aren’t too grubby for the THANE of Whiterun to be seen with!

Your exalted son,

Oslowe, Thane of Whiterun.

Letter from Skyrim #3

4th of Morning Star, the Sleeping Giant Inn, Riverwood
Dear mother,

Well, I guess I am an adventurer!

Fandral turned out to be a real jerk, he was trying to talk me into killing Camilla!

I gave her Sven’s letter- she doesn’t seem too impressed with either of them, and I don’t blame her.

I took Sven with me to try and get this Gold Claw that she and her brother are obsessed with- it was in some bandit-infested ruins up in the snowy mountain north of Riverwood.

It went ok!

Fought some bandits, and these undead zombie Nords! Sven called them Draugr- but then the halfwit started playing his flute while I was picking a lock (tell Jorunn it is easier than she thought) on a treasure chest.

Bandits, ma, I was liberating wealth from bandits. And Draugr, I guess? Don’t tell dad I was looting an ancient Nord tomb! Please ma!

Tired. Face still dirty. I need to offload some of these weapons and treasures I picked up in the bandit fortress/tomb. What the heck were those bandits doing living in a tomb anyway? With Draugr wandering around? Seems like a terrible idea. Oh well.

Found a cool necklace in the tomb too- I think it is tied into one of the local Gods, Mara? I put it on when I gave Camilla and her brother their golden claw back. I think Camilla is a big fan of jewelry on men! She was flirty with me. Haha, take that Sven and Fandral!

Oh yeah, Sven didn’t make it out of the tomb. There was a Draugr- like a really tough one with horns on his helmet, and he killed Sven. I got him though. The bad guy. With this cool axe, it is enchanted or something! I used up all the magic on Draugr though.

Oh, and I found a weird curved wall that sang to me! Chants, all “Oooh, foos, ooh”. Wow, you must think I’m hallucinating again.

Don’t mention that to dad.

Your son, “adventurer”, Oslowe.

Letter from Skyrim #2

2nd of Morning Star, Sleeping Giant Inn, Riverwood

Dearest Mother,

Happy Scour Day, I guess. They don’t seem to go much for holidays here in Riverwood, not that I felt like partying much on New Life Day, I was just plain bushed.

I spent yesterday playing cupid for Sven, the mediocre bard, and Fandral- or however the hell he spells it- this pushy elf. Both of them are in love with Camilla Valerius, the sister of the guy who owns the general store. I thought she was his wife! Turns out, nope, brother and sister. Anyhow, both the bard and the archer are crazy about her. She is okay, I guess, in an Imperial sort of way.

Anyhow- hey, remember how when I was a little Nordling I used to tell you and dad stories about dragons? And he thought it was proof of my Nord heritage, and you thought I was just telling tales? Funny, because I sort of thought I hallucinated something the other day in Helgen- Gorfelbrug the Wise always taught me and Jorunn that shocks and traumas could cause a sort of mental detachment, remember?

Not to worry you, but I sort of thought maybe I survived a rebel attack (I didn’t mention it because Ma, I know how worked up you get about the civil war) and went a little crazy- but it wasn’t a rebel attack, everyone keeps saying it was a dragon (except for the people that don’t think it was a dragon). But…

Well, anyways, maybe I am a little high-strung to be an Adventurer, like dad has always, always said.

Anyways, Camilla and her brother Lucan have asked me to go find some family keepsake for them, up in the mountains. I need to figure out how to handle this Sven/Fandrel/Camilla triangle thing, both guys are pushing me to help them hook up with her. Maybe they want a share in the store? Is this a financial thing? She isn’t even that pretty!

Before you ask, I am keeping my boots dry. Now that I have boots. I sort of lost all the stuff you and Dad and Jorunn loaded me up with when I left home- I got here in looted bandit clothes and with a dirty face. Embarrassing start!

I ended up carrying just under 300 pounds worth of bandit gear into Riverwood to trade in at the general store so I could buy some decent adventuring gear- only to find that I could make it all at the blacksmiths! Ma, your little boy looks good in leather armor, helmet, boots and gauntlets. Don’t worry, the armor comes with pants. Now if I keep practicing, I can make the armor “Fine!”

Tell Dad… well, tell him I’m adventuring anyways. Please don’t tell him about the high-strung or the hallucinations, ok? Oh, for the sake of the Gods, it isn’t like he already doesn’t think it.

Tell Jorunn I’ll send her a present soon- I’ve earned up a little gold.

Much love ma, to you and Jorunn. If dad asks- which I doubt- tell him I still think a sword is more elegant than an axe. Actually, better not.


Letter from Skyrim

26th of Eveningstar; Sleeping Giant Inn, Riverwood
Dear Mother-

Finally made the last leg of my journey, and now I am in Skyrim.

I knew to expect it, but I am still awed so many of the locals look like father, all big and Nordy. I guess I knew it would be like that, but I still jump every time a huge blond man booms “Hail, Kinsmen”. I guess I am always expecting them to ask if I’ve cleaned the kitchen midden, and then look all disapproving.

How is dad, by the way?

Ran into a little trouble once I’d crossed the border from High Rock. I honestly expected to be writing from Haafinger Hold, but I got kind of lost I guess.

Not really sure how I got to the ass-end of Whiterun Hold, to be honest, everything is sort of hazy and then I was in a cart with some Nord prisoners and… well, let me just tell you I got into a little trouble, but it blew over.

There was a very understanding Nord, Hadvar, serving in the Imperial Legion who seems to have hand-waved whatever I did wrong (I am not clear myself, honestly ma, foreign customs, am I right?) and introduced me to his Uncle or someone who is the blacksmith here.

There is a pushy elf guy who keeps offering to teach me how to bend a bow, some Nord, and an Imperial couple that runs the general store. The inn is nice enough, though the lady that runs it is kind of snarky. There is a bard, Sven, he’s pretty tight.

I’m not sure where Riverwood is in the grand scheme of things other than “in Whiterun Hold”- maybe sort of in the middle? There is a really huge mountain due East, and Helgen somewhere to the south…

Speaking of Helgen, that serving bowl that you like that was crafted there? Hang on to it. It will be hard to find a replacement.

I’ve got some wood to chop for the lady that runs the mill, and then I’m working the bellows for Hadvar’s uncle Alvor. Sometimes I am really glad you guys didn’t give me a traditional Nord name. Gah, don’t tell dad I said that.

And yes ma- I remembered to get warm clothes when I got to a cold climate. I’m wearing some fur, or hide, thing. Took it off a Bandit who was came at me out of nowhere. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any bugs in it. At least I’m dressed in something primitive and Nordly anyways, so you can tell dad that much.

Love to you and Jorunn. She’d better not have snuck into the apprentice-level locked chest in my bedroom- I booby trapped it with some poison darts.


November 1st (epilogue)

Samhain. Dia de Muertos. Allantide. All Saints Day.

October and autumn are gone, and winter begins.

The ghosts, goblins and ghouls go back into their crypts, caves and cemeteries to rest for another year (or so we like to think).

And I hang up my cobwebbed mantel of Horror Trailer Host for 12 months. Did you enjoy this year’s selection? Did any of the trailers cause you to seek out hidden gems or guilty pleasures?

This was a difficult October for me. Not on the trailer front, but as so often is the case I felt like the month got away from me and I didn’t utilize the days of it well enough.

My kids were out of town for two weeks of the month, including Halloween itself- kind of a crushing blow, as next to Christmas it is the most important day of the year for me to be with them. That sucked.

But I kept the yearly tradition of watching a lot of Horror Movies (and tv). I got to go to a spiffing Halloween Party (which I helped decorate a few days in advance). And I had my share of goody shivery scares.

We usually decorate for Halloween at the end of September- if mainstream Christmas celebrations start at the end of November, then by gosh our month of the macabre can be stretched out. Halloween ain’t just a day, y’all.

Between decorating my apartment and helping friends at their house, I realized an important oversight to Halloween prep: the ready-bag, or decorating kit, that should always be handy.

Things a Haunt Decorator should have handy:

1. Flashlight- this is important, as a lot of Halloween decorating will happen last minute (after work, at night) even if you plan in advance. And since most Parties are gonna be after nightfall anyways, you should be prepared to walk the grounds in the dark to know what sort of conditions the guests will encounter. I have a great little Blueline compact light. It gives off 180 lumens, and is water resistant and shock-proof (the last is good, as I drop stuff). It also has a dual direction steel pocket clip, but I find that it can be used to clip onto the brim of my hat, making it an effective hands-free head-lamp. Bonus!

2. Pocket knife. Or utility knife (box-cutter). You should always have one, really, if you are doing any kind of house/yard work. But even more important for Halloween decorating is…

3. Shears. No matter how sharp, even the serrated edge of a pocket knife doesn’t easily cut through strands of commercial cob-webbing, but a good pair of kitchen or medical shears can do the job. I need to get a pair of paramedic’s shears, since the blunted tip keeps them from poking holes in pockets.

4. Museum Putty. Vital. Never decorate without it.

5. Extra batteries- various sized. A lot of Halloween decorations use batteries- watch batteries, AAAs, AAs, and even some big hefty Ds.

6. Chemlights. Also called glowsticks (pfft, raver). These come in a lot of colors and from a lot of manufacturers, my experience is that green chemlights actually put out the most light for the longest- surplus stores often carry Cyalume Snaplights, which are a good brand- usually for 1-2 dollars a-piece. These can be great for adding ghastly lighting accents to some scenes (split one open and you have instant Predator blood!), non-flame lighting for jack-o-lanterns or paper lanterns, or lighting a dark corner of your yard or haunt.

7. Work gloves. Never a bad thing to have, especially if you are working out-of-doors.

8. Dark string or twine. Some decorations need to be hung- or tied down. Store-bought stuff doesn’t always come with a long enough (or durable enough) piece of line.

9. Gaffers tape, duct tape, electrical tape (your mileage may vary). Ranging from taping down power strips and extension cords, to actually doing minor repairs on faulty connections (a lot of light-up Halloween decorations have pretty shoddy innards that can be fixed with a little wiggling and some electrical tape).

10. Plastic zip ties- they can do the same work as above, but without the sticky residue. They come in black too.

11. Additional tools. Doing a lot of outdoor work? a step-ladder of painter’s ladder will be a real help. Hanging lots of lights? Get some carpenter’s staples and bring your hammer (and a pair of needle-nose pliers). Know what you are in for and plan accordingly.

12. A flask of some warming beverage, whether it be tea or whiskey or hot water with some lemon (or bitters) thrown in. Even in LA, it can get pretty chilly at night.

Next year, I’m going to have my Halloween ready-kit prepared by the end of September.

Have Halloween, will travel.

October 31

Happy Halloween, haunters!

We began with a teaser, and we go out the same way…

To be completely honest, I thought James Wan’s 2004 debut, Saw was a turgid piece of shit. A semi-interesting central premise rendered incoherent by bad staging and awful performances.

That said, in 9 years, I can hope that Wan would grow and learn as a director.

All reports say that he has and that 2013’s The Conjuring is a legitimately terrifying movie.

Wan has gathered a terrific cast- Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston (blink and you miss him in the teaser trailer)- but it is Lili Taylor whose presence adds an extra level to the brilliantly edited teaser trailer above.

It is a terrific teaser too- self-contained, doesn’t need to give us anymore plot than the snippet of scenes we get.

The last beat gives me goosebumps. And what better day of the year to celebrate a shiver?

October 30

I am a big fan of Jim Mickle and Jim Damici’s previous collaboration, Stake Land, and this looks like it is even more up my alley.

Gothic horror, small town secrets, family traditions.

I know I am looking very forward to We Are What We Are, a remake of a 2010 Mexican film that has gender-flipped several of the roles, and move it from urban Mexico to the rural US.

Damici and Mickle seem to specialize in a rural New York/Pennsylvania setting that is somewhat unique to films- certainly to horror- and have brought in a great cast- Michael Parks, Damici, Kelly McGillis, Bill Sage, and Julia Garner.

Jim Mickle is high on my “to watch” list, and is the most represented director in this year’s Trailers other than Brit Ben Wheatley.