Duolingo

A few months ago, I found out about a wildly popular free language-learning website, Duolingo. It works on the principal of what you might call “natural” learning, which is to just start learning words without any emphasis on grammar or spelling, the way a baby starts picking up words and simple phrases (although it will correct those things for you). Duolingo is crowd-sourced, too, with the lessons written by a selected group of native-speaking volunteers and corrections or additions coming from suggestions submitted by the users. This keeps it from being very formal and getting out-of-date; instead, it better tracks how the language is actually spoken by native speakers today—complete with learning modules covering slang.

The recorded audio is also from native speakers, so you don’t have the problem that I had when I went into my second year of Spanish in high school and our very American teacher left and we got a Mexican teacher instead and none of us could understand her at all for the first few weeks until we adapted to her (proper) accent.

Duolingo also has a social-media aspect with forums where you can discuss the language(s) you’re learning or just chat about learning languages, foreign travel, etc. You can also tie it into your Facebook, where it can not only post updates about your progress, but it can allow you to compete with other friends who are also learning languages.

I did some research online and found that studies have actually been done to test Duolingo’s effectiveness and it’s found that people learn as much using it as they do when taking a college language class (and in less time). That’s in addition to the fact that 1) it’s free, and 2) you can move at your own pace. Someone who is committed to learning a language and/or is good at learning it can progress very quickly through the lessons, whereas a person in a regular class is stuck learning at the same speed as everyone else. That could be why more than a few schools are using Duolingo in their classrooms as an aid or supplement to their traditional teaching methods.

Duolingo is set up something like a game with short lessons that can be squeezed into otherwise wasted time, like while standing in line, commuting, waiting on your kids, during a lunch break, etc. (Needless to say, it has a mobile app.) When you complete a module, you get happy music to make you feel proud of your accomplishment. And you can do different things to earn “lingots” which are the site’s currency and allow you to “buy” things like extra modules (modules are chunks of related lessons) or a free pass to skip learning a day. (There are rewards for keeping up a “streak” of daily learning; if you buy a pass, you can skip a day without breaking your streak.)

Memory

My Spanish lessons are in here . . . somewhere. Also, the names and dates of all the presidents. And how to spell Massachusetts and Connecticut. Oh, wait, I got those both right on the first try! Yay memory balls!

I tried Duolingo out using the Spanish course and found that 1) with some light prompting, I was able to remember a surprising amount from my three years of high school courses (that should be a relief for other people who learned a language long ago and think it’s long gone; you probably only need a little refresher to get it fished up from the recesses of your long-term memory), and 2) I found it pretty easy to add new words and phrases. Of course, not every word I learned stuck the first time around. But that’s okay; modules that you have previously completed (they turn gold when they’re finished) will degrade if you don’t keep practicing or if you make mistakes on those words when you encounter them in subsequent lessons. So you will have to go back and repeat part of the module to get it back to gold status.

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I have been a slacker. These are all the modules I’ve completed, but I haven’t kept them up.

 

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I got the Basics 1 module back up to gold. I can bebo leche with the best of them once again!

 

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Here you’re given a written and audible phrase in Spanish to translate into English.

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I got credit for my answer (which, orally, would have been understandable) even though I didn’t spell it correctly. The correction is shown at the bottom. Note the accented letters under the text box that you can use.

Duolingo has a combination of questions; in each lesson you will be asked to translate audio and written text from the subject language into English and also from English into the subject language. There’s also an option to respond verbally in the subject language, but obviously you have to have a microphone to do so, and since a lot of people don’t have access to one, you can turn that option off in your settings so that you never get that kind of question.

The current list of languages offered are:

Spanish
French
German
Italian
Portuguese
Dutch
Swedish
Irish
Russian
Turkish
Esperanto
Ukrainian
Welsh
Vietnamese
Hebrew
Hungarian

Languages that are in development:

Greek
Czech
Swahili
Romanian
Hindi
Indonesian
Klingon
Korean

Duolingo also has resources for people to learn to speak English, but I’m not sure how many languages their website comes in (since obviously I don’t see it from that direction).

I really just worked on the Spanish modules to learn how to use the program and to kill time until Hebrew became available, which is what I’m most interested in learning. Hebrew is now available, but it’s still in beta, so changes may still be forthcoming. One of the things I wish they would do is embed a Hebrew script keyboard on the site. In the Spanish course, you are provided with accented letters on the screen that you can click when you need to insert an é or an ñ  in your response text. The Hebrew course, however, has no on-screen keyboard that you can use for Hebrew characters. (And my keyboard at home and work are both fresh out of Hebrew letters.) I found on the discussion forum the suggestion to use a virtual keyboard. That works and I’m now able to progress through my lessons, but I hope that they will get one embedded right on the page so I don’t have to constantly switch back and forth between the two websites all the time.

Medieval Monday: The Rise of the English Empire

Henry VIII is a young man when he becomes King of England. His father had been a notorious miser and never felt secure on the throne due to his poor claim to it. He gave England peace, but nothing more. Vivacious, handsome, and well-educated, Henry VIII brought the light of the Renaissance to England.

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Catherine of Aragon – Henry marries his brother’s widow—despite the fact that she was 8 years his senior. Catherine had spent years caught in a power struggle between her father and Henry VII and had been neglected and impoverished. When Henry declares he will marry her as soon as he is king, he is seen as a romantic and valiant knight.

Catherine becomes pregnant numerous times, but miscarries often and her one live-born son dies shortly after his christening. Mary is the only child they have that survives infancy and Catherine gives her a new European education with the intention that she will rule in her own right, as her grandmother, Isabella of Spain, did.

Anne Boleyn – Henry and Catherine have a great marriage, although he takes the occasional mistress. When Henry falls for Anne and she refuses him, he loses his senses. When he can’t get Anne, he tries to get rid of Catherine, but she proves just as stubborn and refuses to retire to a nunnery so that he can marry Anne. Anne is a Protestant and she begins to influence Henry. Despite the fact that he once wrote a piece so eloquently in favor of papal supremacy that the Pope declared Henry a “Defender of the Faith,” Henry ultimately rejects the Pope’s authority and places himself at the head of the Church in England. And as such, he grants himself a divorce, marries Anne, and exiles Catherine to a cold, run-down castle.Anne Boleyn

The fiery Anne that so enthralled Henry when he couldn’t have her soon becomes tiresome when he actually has to live with her every day. Anne’s family rise fast with her, generating jealousy at court, and she was already thoroughly hated by the people. She gives Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she loses her second daughter and produces no sons. Soon, a combination of political factions and Anne’s own behavior begin to poison Henry against her. After a serious fall from a horse while jousting—which gives him a leg wound that never heals—Henry becomes more temperamental and tyrannical. Anne and her brother are set up and Henry allows them to be tried for incest and treason. Both are executed.

Jane Seymour – While Anne is falling out of favor, Jane’s star is rising. Quiet and unassuming, she is more like Catherine in temperament than Anne. As soon as Anne is out of the way, Henry marries Jane and in a short time she is pregnant. She gives him a son, Edward, and everything seems to be going well. But a short time later, she dies of a fever (probably from an infection contracted during childbirth).

Anne of CleavesAnne of Cleaves – Anne of Cleaves was an attempt by Henry’s advisors to make a political (rather than love) match for Henry. They, like him, wanted England to be a major European power. Anne, however, ended up coming with little in the way of political status. Furthermore, she inadvertently angered Henry when they first met and he took a set against her, nicknaming her the “Mare of Flanders” for her supposed ugly face and body odor. They were reluctantly married, but his anger with her only increased until he couldn’t stand her any longer. He offered her a divorce, which she (wisely) took. She was given a nice castle and a sufficient pension and was styled as “the king’s sister.” She appeared at court occasionally and kept up a friendly correspondence with both princesses.

Catherine Howard – Catherine Howard was a young teenager when she wed Henry, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Henry was as besotted with her as he had been with Anne (who was a cousin of Catherine’s) and he doted on the vivacious young woman. Unlike her predecessors, Catherine was too young (and perhaps too stupid) to be a decent queen. She certainly wasn’t smart enough to realize how perilous court could be. Like Anne before her, she was denounced as an adulteress by those who resented her family’s rise to power. Unlike Anne, though, the charges against her were probably true. She too was sent to the block.

Katherine Parr – Katherine, a widow, was selected to be Henry’s wife not out of love or a desire for male heirs or even political alliance; she was needed simply to care for the ailing king and perhaps act as a calming influence on a man who was now even more suspicious and distrustful than his father had been. That didn’t work too well, as Katherine found herself in serious trouble with Henry over some rather trivial disagreement. Some quick groveling spared her from what would have probably been her own trip to the block, but she lived in fear of upsetting him again. When he finally died, everyone at court breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Children of Henry VIII

Edward VI was still a child when he became king after his father. He was as intelligent and well-educated as his father, but lacked all of his father’s size and vigor. He expanded his father’s Protestant reforms (which really didn’t go farther than making the king the head of the church and robbing all the monasteries in England; in all other respects, the Church of England looked like the Catholic Church), but other than that, he did little in his few years as king. He died while still a teenager—most likely from tuberculosis.

Just before his death, Edward bastardized both of his sisters and named a cousin, Jane Grey, as his successor. This was done to prevent Mary, a staunch Catholic, from taking the throne. It didn’t work, however; Lady Jane Grey reigned for only nine days before Mary’s forces took the throne by force. Jane Grey was later executed when her parents tried to raise another rebellion against Mary.

BurnHenry’s firstborn daughter, Mary, was fast approaching middle age by the time she took the throne. She married a Spanish cousin—much to everyone’s dismay—and hurriedly tried to conceive an heir. But Philip apparently didn’t care for the much-older Mary and could hardly be enticed to do his husbandly duty. Mary thought that she was pregnant twice, but each “pregnancy” failed to produce a child—or even a miscarriage. Likely both occurrences were a sign that something was wrong with Mary’s reproductive organs. She dies just five years after gaining the throne, most probably from a uterine tumor. But, before she dies, she restores England to the Catholic Church and burns so many Protestants that she is forever dubbed “Bloody Mary.”

Elizabeth is a young woman when she takes the throne and ends up being the most like her father. She is extremely intelligent and well-educated, with all the charm and wit that her mother possessed. She returns England to the Protestant faith and takes it further away from Catholicism in appearance. English Catholics become a source of ongoing danger to her, but she refuses to take any action against most of them, thus ending her sister’s bloody religious purges.

She gets England a toe-hold in North America and with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England begins to become a recognized naval power. Her reign is long and politically stable. Unlike her father’s reign, when backers of the latest queen held the most power, Elizabeth rather adroitly plays one faction against the others, never allowing any one family to have too much power. Her weakness was Robert Dudley (and, later, Robert’s stepson, the Earl of Essex), but even though she showed both men great favor, she refused to marry them, thus denying them the greatest prize of all. In the end, England had but one mistress and no master and she refused, until the very last, to even name an heir. It was only after her death that James VI of Scotland—her closest male relative—was named James I of England and finally united the two countries.

Mysteries of History

I find it interesting that the most popular post on my blog has been Wheelbarrows of Money. It has had just over 9,000 views since it was created. My next-most-popular post, Bathing in the Middle Ages, has nearly 3,500 views, so you can see how overwhelmingly popular Wheelbarrows of Money has been.

Most of my top-ranking posts are history-related, but oddly enough, 1920’s Germany isn’t my historical forte; medieval history is. And the entire reason why that post came into being was because I had mentioned the oft-repeated assertion that people used wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread during the Weimar Republic, and my husband challenged that; he asked me to prove that anyone had ever really used wheelbarrows of cash to buy anything.

3d human with a red question mark

Apparently a lot of other people have also wondered if that’s true, but a summary of search results also points to people being interested in understanding why and how inflation happens and what it’s like when it does happen.

So, I’m opening up the floor to any other historical question people may have–medieval, inflationary, or otherwise. And I’ll even go so far as to extend the invitation to questions–historical or theological–about Christianity/Christians or Judaism/Jews.

Ode to OneNote

OneNote was brought to my attention when we upgraded our MS Office Suite and a department at work created an “eBook” in OneNote that contains all of the information that their department needs to share with the rest of the company. I had never heard of OneNote before this.

I’m not used to being caught unawares like that–I’m pretty well-versed in Microsoft’s full suite of Office products–so I had to immediately check out the eBook and poke around my own copy of the software. Intrigued by what I saw, I got on Lynda.com (we have a subscription at work) and watched a basic overview of how to use it.

Sweet Moses in the bulrushes! Where have you been all my life!?

What is OneNote?

81nia28xsOL._SL1500_So, the concept is basic enough. Imagine a 3-ring binder with divider tabs. You may have multiple binders: one for recipes, one for craft ideas, one for class handouts from school, etc.

If you have a recipe binder, you might have divider tabs for appetizers, meats, vegetables, desserts, drinks, etc., and behind each of those tabs you will have recipes–probably one per page. You may even group those together still further so that all of your chicken recipes are together, all of your beef recipes are in a subsection, and so forth.

Now, take that binder and put it into digital form and you have OneNote.

What Can You Use It For?

Obviously if you keep any kind of notebook–like for school or recipes–it can be converted to OneNote. If you do research for your writing, you can use it for that, too.

I’m currently setting up an eBook to hold all of my medieval research. Too often I find myself remembering a picture with a certain feature in it, but I don’t know the name of the picture (if, indeed, it even has one) and I can’t find it again. Even if I saved a copy to my computer, I might have to open a lot of pictures until I find the one that has the feature that I’m looking for. Plus, there’s no good way to attach a lot of  bibliographic information (name of the picture, what manuscript it came from, what museum it’s in, the website where I found it, etc.) to the picture.

OneNote solves that problem. Now I can put a metric buttload* of medieval pictures in OneNote and organize them and add picture information and other notes. I can even add quotes from books that I know I will use frequently or think that I will need to use in the future.  When I need to put together a research paper, I have all the information I need in one place and it will just be a matter of copying and pasting it into Word and writing the thesis portion.

OneNote 1

Why not use Pinterest?

I like Pinterest and use it, but there comes a point when you have a lot of pictures on it and no way to organize them. It ends up being no different than having a lot of pictures on your computer and you have to slowly scroll through them to pick out all the pictures that contain what you’re looking for (women’s socks, for instance, or images of knives). On OneNote, I can dump all of my sock pictures on one page labeled “Socks & Hosen.” If a picture contains more than one interesting feature, I can paste a copy of it on other pages. And any text I add to the page (describing the picture, for instance) is searchable.

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What can you put into it?

OneNote holds just about every kind of media that you can think of.

At work, I have a lot of .pdf files that I’ve created which are full of information. I wanted to make those files available to other people in the company. So I made an eBook, made pages for each property, and dropped all the applicable files onto each property’s page.

In addition to .pdf files, you can do Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc. In fact, I’m not sure if there’s a file that you can’t put on there. (Of course, if you don’t have the software on your computer to open it, you can’t access it.)

You can also embed information directly on the page. You can simply copy text from a Word document, Excel file, etc. and paste it directly into OneNote. Or you can insert a “File Printout” which will basically turn whatever file you select into a picture and embed it on the page. (This option makes the text uneditable; if you want to edit your text or spreadsheet in OneNote, copy and paste it in.)

Pictures can also be dragged and dropped or copied and pasted into OneNote and resized.

You can set pages to have lines, like notebook paper, or grids, like graph paper. Then you can use the drawing tools to draw freehand or with basic shapes. (This option would be best used on a device that allows you to draw with a pen tool.) So, if you like to draw diagrams, it can accommodate that.

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I haven’t used it, but it also has a feature that allows you to record audio or video live and embed it directly into the page. (Not sure if it just shows up as a file, or if it actually embeds a player directly on the page.) So, if you’re a student and you take your laptop with you to class, you can record the lecture directly into OneNote. And while that’s recording, you can type or draw your notes right on the same page. And, if I remember my Lynda video correctly, OneNote also notices when you make notes and links those notes to the time index on the recording. So, if you click on a section of your notes, it will automatically take you to the portion of the recording that was happening when you made those notes. (Which is obviously the coolest thing ever.)

Why not just use a shared drive to exchange files?

You can do that and you certainly should do that if all you want to do is swap some files back and forth. But if you have files that need explanation or you want to tie one or more files together (e.g. a project that has multiple files that need to be kept together or in a certain order, or files that have tutorials that explain how to use them, etc.), OneNote makes it easy to keep like things together and to add text and other media.

For instance, if you do a lot of brochures for your company, you might have a tab for each geographic region and a page for each location within that region. On each page, you may have a selection of the pictures that you typically use for that location, copyright/licensing information for each picture, and maybe the files of all the previous brochures.

Yes, you could keep all of that information in individual files on a drive on your computer or network, but instead of having to open all the pictures individually, then open a separate file with the copyright info, you can keep it all together on one page in OneNote.

If you are a property manager, you might have a page for each property you have. And on each page you can have one or more pictures of the property, current tenant information, leasing information, tax information, preferred vendors (i.e. electrician, plumber, pest control, etc.), leads for new tenants or interested investors, etc. If your tenants tear the place up, you don’t have to dig through all the files on your computer (because, let’s face it, most people aren’t terribly organized in that regard) to find the pictures you took before they moved in. It will be right there in OneNote for you. You might even have subpages for each tenant with before and after pictures so you can document who was a good tenant and who you won’t let back in on a bet.

And, if you want to make a brochure to showcase your property, you can just drag and drop the bits of content over to Publisher where you can turn it into a polished presentation. But even if you don’t have time (or the skills) for that, you can print part or all of your OneNote eBook or turn it into a .pdf to email to someone as-is.

Drawbacks

OneNote can handle mixed media (e.g. text and a picture and a file all on the same page), but it’s not terribly pretty. You can’t manipulate mixed media to the extent that you can on Publisher or even Word. When you insert a picture or even a file into a text box, the text will be top and bottom only; there is no way to make the text flow around the picture as you are accustomed to seeing on blogs or in magazines. You can justify the picture left, center, or right, but that’s it. In order to make my pages pretty, I put the picture on the page by itself and then use one or more text boxes beside and under it to make my text appear to flow around it. (In other words, I do manually what it should do automatically.)

Also, the only thing you can do to a picture is resize it. You can’t even crop it in OneNote, much less flip it, brighten or darken it or change the hue. If you have a picture that needs some basic photo editing like that, you should do it in Windows Live Photo Gallery (or equivalent), or just paste the picture into a blank Word document, adjust it, then copy it again and paste it into OneNote.

You Mentioned Sharing . . .

If you put OneNote on a shared network drive or on a cloud drive (personally, I use Dropbox; at work, we use Microsoft’s cloud), you can share it with anyone who also has access to that drive.

Here’s the way it works:

You build a OneNote eBook on your computer and tell it to save to your cloud drive. (And once you’ve told it where to save, it will save automatically from there on out. No having to remember to save frequently, no losing your info if your computer crashes on you in the middle of something.) But, in reality, OneNote actually saves a copy on your computer and on your cloud drive. Which means you can continue to work in OneNote, even if you aren’t currently connected to your drive (think working on a laptop when you don’t have wi-fi access to the cloud).

Let’s say you have a partner that you’re collaborating with. (In my case, my medieval research eBook may end up being a joint effort between me and my husband, with both of us working on it from our personal computers and the end result saved on my cloud drive.) Your partner has access to your cloud and also has OneNote on his computer. All you have to do is go into OneNote and “share” it with him. OneNote will send that person an email with a link to the eBook that allows him to open it. When he opens it for the first time, it will download from the cloud onto his computer. He can then work on it offline, too. Whenever either of you reconnect to the cloud, OneNote will automatically sync the working copies with the master copy on the cloud. If you both make changes at the same time while offline and then sync, OneNote will attempt to merge the different changes or, worst case scenario, it will make duplicate tabs or pages–one containing each person’s changes–and you can manually merge the information.

It also has a “track changes” type of feature that shows you who changed the eBook since you last looked at it and when, which is really handy if you have multiple people collaborating and you want to keep up with what’s changing without reading all the material every time.

But what if I don’t want people to be able to edit it?

When you share your eBook with people, it will have an option to make them an editor (default) or you can change it so they have view only rights. As many people as you want (within reason, obviously) can edit and as many as you want can view it. For our eBook at work, there are only three people who can edit it, but several hundred who can view it.

And even though the view-only people can’t edit the book, they can still track changes and see what’s been added since they last accessed it and who made those changes and when.

Of course, you can change the editing/viewing rights of anyone later.

Also, you can password protect sections (tabs) so that only the people with the password can access that area.

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Here’s what you see if you click on a password protected tab.

What About Mobile Applications?

OneNote does have an app that allows you to use it from a phone or tablet. I wouldn’t suggest trying to update or alter it from a phone, because you’re just not going to be able to work on such a small screen, but it will allow you to access it if you need to refer to it.

I don’t have a smartphone, so I haven’t personally tried using it, but a co-worker has used our eBook on her phone. Her only complaint is that it doesn’t want to automatically sync; she has to do it manually every time she wants to look at it to make sure that she’s seeing the latest version. But other than that, she has no problems using it.

So How Expensive Is It?

If you already have the latest version of MS Office (2013), you should already have OneNote on your computer. Just go to your Start button, open the list of programs, and open the MS Office 2013 file to see what programs you have installed. If you don’t see it there, it could be that someone left it out of the original Office installation; check your Office CD to see if installing it is an option.

For the rest of you . . . it’s free to download. There is one catch (of course): you must have Windows 7 or newer; it will not download on a Vista machine. (Ax me how I know.)

Free OneNote download!

So, what are you waiting for? Get a copy and start organizing your stuff!

* A metric buttload is 108 litres. Just so you know.

New Banner

Since I’ve decided that I’m going to focus a bit more on medieval stuff here (oddly enough, my most popular posts are about history), I decided that I needed to tweak my banner a little. The blog still encompasses vampires and potpourri (i.e. miscellaneous stuff), but the “ladies” part is specifically medieval ladies. So I traded out my generic Victorian woman for a Victorian portrait of Philippa of Hainault.

I’m going to have a Medieval Monday for you next week! And I just started making myself a chemise, which I will be working on in the upcoming weeks. As soon as it’s done, I’ll post pictures showing how I made it.

Update!

Okay, so I’ve said several times that I’m going to start blogging regularly again. But I’ve fallen off that wagon faster than I’ve fallen off diets. But things are sort of starting to calm down in my life, meaning I ought to be able to give up a lunch hour or two every week to make a blog post.

So, where am I and what have I been up to?

Firstly, my husband and I bought a house in January and moved to beautiful Polk County, TN, within sight of the Cherokee National Forest and the Appalachian Mountains, and 15 minutes’ drive from the Ocoee River, site of the 1996 Olympic whitewater kayaking course.

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Not the actual view from our house, but just down the road from our place. We’re actually so surrounded by trees, you can just barely see a little mountain peak from our front porch.

It’s everything we’ve wanted in a house: no visible neighbors, a creek, plenty of woods, and more. It even has a shed on the back of the garage that’s just what my husband has always wanted for a blacksmith’s shop.

Unfortunately, it has no internet. But, unlike many of our unfortunate neighbors in the area, we actually have the ability to get cable internet–if we only pay to have it run to the house. We’re over 900 feet from the road, so that’s no small expense, but we’re hoping to have it done in the next month or two.

And, of course, there are a lot of other projects and improvements to do around the house. We’re actually still trying to get unpacked and figure out where everything goes. (Although I did make good progress on my craft room recently; it will be ready to use soon.)

Secondly, I’ve finished the proofreading of The Flames of Prague. I just need to order a proof copy, check the new cover and the formatting, and format the print book for ebook. We’re going to a big event in a couple of weeks, but after that, I should be able to get the final formatting done. So the publishing date for Flames is no later than July 31st!

Thirdly, I’ve been hard at work on medieval stuff, including finishing my illustrated medieval history! So look for me to start posting those again. I’m also going to start blogging more about my medieval projects because I want to showcase what I’m working on. And I’ve about been talked into doing some YouTube videos of 14th century hairstyles. (I just started teaching them as a class at our SCA events.) IMG_20160321_143701_889

Fourthly, we have a dog now. We were planning on getting one once we got fully settled at our new place, but she found us first. (Someone apparently dumped her out at the storage place on a night that was too cold for a short-haired pup and far too close to the highway. She now has our sunroom as her very own room and a 5 acre yard to play in.) Based on her coloration, confirmation, and temperament, we believe Zorra to be a black lab/smooth fox terrier mix. Her hobbies include finding trash we didn’t even know we had in the yard and bringing it up to the house, chasing cats, and barking at the cows, horses, and donkeys in the field next door. She loves fetching a ball more than anything. She’s about 6 months old.

Fifthly, I finally started that garden that I wanted to do X number of years ago (and had given up as a pipe dream). All of our stuff is looking good and we’re just waiting for our first tomato to ripen. Biting the bullet and actually doing the work necessary to have even a small garden was hard, but now that we’re over that hump, I don’t think it will be so hard to get started in future years. Even though we haven’t harvested anything yet, we’re really into watching our herbs and plants grow. I mean, I’m counting blooms daily just to see where we stand. I think once we start eating what we’ve grown, we’ll be well and truly hooked. I already have plans for expansion next year! (Not to mention we want to start planting fruit and nut trees this fall.) Up next: chickens!

So, now that we have our own place, we can settle down and start working on long-term and outdoor projects. It’s a lot going on, but it’s a lot to share, too.

Guardians of the Galaxy: This Was the Best You Could Do?

GOTG-posterSo, the hubby and I watched Guardians of the Galaxy last night—mainly because so many of our friends said it was great, with a sugary coating of awesome-sauce on top. Normally, we’re not big fans of comic book movies, but there have been some we’ve liked.

This would not be one of them.

I didn’t even make it through the entire movie before I got bored and decided that playing some Candy Crush would be more entertaining. Hubby made it through all of it, but it got a one-shrug rating from him. The best he could say of it was, “It was mildly entertaining.”

Problems I had with it:

I had absolutely no idea who the bad guy was. There seemed to be two bad guys: Bad Guy A and Bad Guy B. Bad Guy B was working for Bad Guy A—I think—but I never established which person on the screen was A and which was B. Or if they were the same species. Or why they were working together in the first place. Or even what made them Badass #1 and #2 in the galaxy. I mean, everyone said they were afraid of at least one of them, but I didn’t see much that made them fearful (of course, that could be because the movie was so damn dark, I could barely see anything on the screen at all).

imagesOne of these bad buys wanted to wipe out an entire planet because of some long-standing feud, but I’m not sure which one. (Or maybe it was both of them.) And when one of them eventually acquires Magical Item 1 that blew up a human-looking girl, but which doesn’t blow him up, he appears to become Badass #1. Maybe. I didn’t last long enough to see if they had a showdown for the Badass of the Galaxy Championship Belt.

And one of them had two daughters—who looked nothing alike. We find out that green daughter was actually forcibly made part of the family and had to do daddy’s dirty work. And, in fact, her daddy lent her out to the other one to help steal Magical Item 1. But I was never clear if she was the “daughter” of Bad Guy A or B, and whether she was working for A or B or both or neither. Were they both her enemies? I don’t know. And the blue girl identified as her “sister”—was she the actual child of the bad buy, or another orphan pressed into this Greek tragedy of a family? I have no idea.

So green girl has this long rap sheet of killing people for her “father.” But, when she tells Good Guy that her father (and maybe other Bad Guy) sent her to get Magical Item 1, but she’s going to double-cross both of them (despite the fact that they are Badass #1 and #2 and everyone else is afraid of them), he instantly believes her and decides that he, too, needs to get in on challenging Badass #1 and #2. Because… Green Bitch.

320x240 Yes, I know Captain Kirk established the Rule of Green Bitches, but are we even in the same galaxy? Maybe the Rule doesn’t apply to Green Bitches in different galaxies. And certainly we’re in a different time period; Kirk operates several hundred years into the future. Maybe Green Bitches have not yet established themselves as the harmless vixens that they will later become.

In short, there’s no reason to trust this particular Green Bitch. But Good Guy does immediately.

How does he manage to stay alive as a petty thief and smuggler if he’s trusting random Green Bitches at the drop of a hat—especially if it also means taking on Badass #1 and #2?

indexNot only that, but he immediately falls in love with her. And not the kind of “love” that he’s felt for all the other colorful floozies he’s had from one end of the galaxy to the other (really, is that the best we can do for aliens? Different-colored humanoids?)—no, we’re talking True Love™.

The problem with that is that I don’t see any reason why he should fall in love with her. She doesn’t seem to be any different than the pink girl (or was she orange?) that he had earlier. He doesn’t even spend any time waxing eloquent on her ability to beat up a lot of people—including him—and kick her leg over her head. I can see how such abilities would be appealing to a man like him, but apparently he doesn’t, because he never spends any time talking about them—not even an open-mouth, bug-eyed stare, coupled with a little drool of longing.

No, he just decides to save her—multiple times—for no particular reason. He doesn’t even seem to be motivated by greed (which is a plausible reason to do it to start with; True Love™ can develop over the course of the movie).

peter-quill-chris-prattFrom the set up at the beginning of the movie, I was expecting him to be an anti-hero—a thief who is really a good guy deep down, but who needs something (or someone) to motivate him to choose his good side over his bad. But that would involve character development, and the writers gave that idea the middle finger.

Why make interesting characters when you can just have a lot of CGI stuff and a Green Bitch that can kick her leg up so high, she hits the guy behind her in the face? That sells tickets!

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You’re having a good day when you can drop an Alice’s Restaurant’s quote like a boss.

The same thing’s true for the rest of the team members. So the raccoon and the tree (Groot—I got his name, at least) are bounty hunters and they try to hunt down Good Guy. Apparently bounty hunting in Peaceful City gets you put in jail. Or maybe they had outstanding warrants; I don’t know. Regardless, everyone ends up in jail together (they don’t even believe in sex segregation at this particular jail; Green Bitch goes in with everyone else). Even before the raccoon and Groot can work out a profitable deal with Good Guy, they’re trying to help him survive the mean world of father rapers, mother stabbers, litterbugs, and other nasty criminal types who create a public nuisance.

Shouldn’t they at least be mad that he caused him so much trouble? He was supposed to be an easy meal ticket, but instead they ended up in the slammer with him. They should have hard feelings about that—at least until their greed overcomes their dislike.

But no, they’re instant partners. And even the addition of Green Bitch and Pointless Blue Guy to the team barely elicit a raised eyebrow.

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Lame-ass beard you’ve got there, boy.

Sure, we’ve always been a two-beast bounty-hunting operation, but what the hell? Let’s add on a Good Guy who can’t grow a real beard, a Green Bitch who was formerly Badass #3 in the galaxy and belongs to/has been working for Badasses #1 and #2, and a Pointless Blue Guy.

As Dr. Evil says about not even watching during overly-elaborate and easily-escapable executions, “I’ll just assume it went according to plan.” Rocket the Raccoon is Dr. Evil: he’ll team up with some retched scum and villainy and just assume it will go according to plan. They’ll never double-cross him or anything—despite the fact that they have death sentences in twelve star systems. They’re, like, totally trustworthy.

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Why do I care about this guy? What does he do? When will he ever see a doctor about that monster shingles rash?

This movie would have worked a LOT better if it did what it appeared to do in trailers, which is make fun of sci-fi hero movies. It desperately tries to do that—what with the oddly-placed 60’s and 70’s music (played on a magical cassette tape that never wears out and breaks!) and awkward attempts at humor by Good Guy—but overall, it takes itself seriously, which means those funny bits thrown in at random seem stilted and out of place.

It either needs to be serious or funny; it can’t do both successfully.

Of course, the movie might make a lot of sense to people who have followed the comics. But as a movie it fails because it can’t be understood without reading the source material first. I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hunger Games, and Divergent before reading the books and they all made sense. Movies should be capable of standing alone. This one isn’t.

Maybe, in the end, Green Bitch betrayed all of them. Or maybe the raccoon took the money and ran. That would be entertaining—and in keeping with these people who are supposedly thieves and bounty hunters and assassins. But from the way things were going more than halfway through the movie, that didn’t even look like an outside possibility. And with boring, unmotivated (and sometimes pointless) characters, there was nothing to look forward to but a typical fantasy plot: misfits form a team, beat Bad Guys A and B, and recover Magical Item 1.

maxresdefaultYawn. I think I’ll just be over here, trying to make a candy bomb.