Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, or Bah Humbug, if you prefer!

To all of my family, friends, and random visitors, happy winter solstice celebration from me to you! I hope you have an excellent day filled with holiday cheer. I also hope that you will take some time during this season to reflect on some of the things that make the human race great, such as our capacity for hope, generosity, mercy, and love. Spread a little cheer this year, regardless of the difference between your reason for celebrating and the next person's.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Virgin Mary

I mentioned in my last post that the girls' performances were over. Both of them had parts in holiday shows, just of vastly different scale.

Zoe, my three-year-old, goes to a small, home-run (but still licensed!) preschool with only three or four other kids. It's been great for our most anti-social child of the bunch. Apparently, when we're not there, she's the most outgoing and happy girl around. She sings, she talks, she plays with the other kids. This is all stuff she does with her sisters at home and some of the neighborhood kids, but would not even think about doing if she saw someone new around.

We like to call her our turtle. When she's in a bad mood or near someone she doesn't feel that she knows well enough, she'll crawl into her metaphorical shell and stay there until the situation has changed. This can take the form of her putting on the Pout of All Pouts and lowering her head to dropping on the ground and curling up like she really has a turtle shell to hide under. It's very cute, but sometimes a bit much.

Her preschool put on a small (read: tiny) production of the Nativity. They gave Zoe the perfect part, Virgin Mary. Mary just sits there gazing lovingly at the baby Jesus. No big deal, right?

She was excited when we got there. She went right down to get into costume (a scarf over her head and shoulders) while the rest of us, Stacy's visiting family, and the other kids' parents and grandparents, took our seats in front of the little show area. Zoe's teacher brought her out and had her kneel in front of the basket that would serve as the manger.

As soon as she entered the room, we knew the turtle was with us.

She sat there, eyes downcast, lips pursed, mouth frowning, eyebrows knitted, everything as if cast in stone. It was the cutest thing (is it bad that I consider my daughter's extreme shyness adorable?) The best part was when the angel, one of her fellow students, tried to place the baby Jesus into Mary's arms. She didn't move a muscle. The angel gave up after a few seconds and just put the baby Jesus into Mary's lap, where he stayed, untouched, for the rest of the program.

Thankfully, the program was short. Afterwards, we all sang a couple of Christmas carols and then adjourned for some refreshments. Zoe was perfectly fine after the Nativity scene was over. She was laughing and playing with the other kids like nothing had happened. Just don't put her in front of an audience.

Her Highness is not amused.

Equally Funny Sibling Idiosyncrasy Dept.
Casey nabbed a shot of Scarlett at her most evil right after we put a sticker on her nose for a rousing rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I'll see if I can get a photo up within the next couple of days of both of them.

Stink Eye Update:

Here is the shot Casey took of Scarlett while at the Nativity celebration:
Tell me that's not the greatest Pissed Off Toddler Face you've ever seen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Houseguests No More, Wii-Related Injuries, and Mr. Monocle's Malicious Money Mongering Machine

Birthdays are over, kids have finished their performances, extended families have left for home, life is good.

It was a hectic week for Stacy and I. Having her family in town was fun, but stressful. Sleeping on the constantly-deflating air mattress in the cold basement wasn't pleasant, but I can handle something like that for three nights. We got in a few good games of Wii Sports Tennis, enough to show me how out of shape I am. Did you know there is a medical condition that has been nick-named Wii Elbow? Yeah, apparently it strikes those that play a lot of high impact Wii games and adolescent boys. Not sure where the correlation is between those two groups.

We celebrated Scarlett's second birthday with some friends at Chuck E Cheese the week before last. She had so much of a blast that we thought we'd take her back along with her uncle, Ryan, and his son, Mason, since both of their birthdays are pretty close to the same time. We have a house of mouse near us, but since we don't enjoy skee ball games with one ball or driving games that run in circles, we opted to go to the one about 45 minutes north.

It's a good thing we don't live near a casino, because the light chase machines at those places taunt me until I dominate them with my superior light-stopping skillz, coaxing out the sweet stream of tickets like a soothing cascade of spring water to a desert nomad. I can usually master the infernal machines with a relatively low investment of tokens, but this particular location has one branded with a certain top-hat-wearing, monocled, mustached debonair that brings a little extra Atlantic City charm with him. Instead of a single token with a single progressive jackpot of tickets, he has three levels of payout with which to taunt me.

"Just one quarter?" he seems to say, "You know that will only get you 50 tickets if you win and three measly ones if you get close. C'mon, it's not worth it unless you drop in three. Just think, 200 tickets, imagine what you can buy with that!"

(For the record, that'll get you one bag of cotton candy and a couple of party favors, seriously.)

Mr. Monocle is devious. I won the jackpot on our first visit with a relatively small investment. He knows how to draw me in. I cashed in an undisclosed amount of money (I ain't tellin'!) and approached my nemesis, confident in my superiority, safe in the knowledge that I had mastered it before and it would do my bidding. Why, with as many tokens as I had, I could afford to hit the three-token bonus and then the two-token jackpot!

Oh, it's an evil little thing, that machine. It sucked the tokens out of my little cup like a kid gulping down water during a midnight potty break. The most insidious part of its little token-stealing plot is the payout for missing the jackpot by one light: 12 tickets. That piles up pretty quick. I look down at my feet and see the big stack of tickets and figure that even though I haven't hit the jackpot yet, I'm doing pretty good.

Then I look down and see the bottom of my cup through the few remaining tokens. I look up at the machine with dawning realization. Do you know what that fella with the monocle was doing?

He was smiling.

Oho! You're an evil, squat, ticket taunting devil, light chasing machine! I ripped out my tickets from its stingy innards and walked away with what little dignity I had left. I parceled out the remaining tokens to my kids and nephews and sent my tickets through the counter.

With the stack I had accumulated that night and the ones we had left over from the week before, I had enough to get five jeweled bracelets for all of the girls there, two sticky spiders for the two older boys, and a weird floppy-spiked little pair of eyes for the helluvit.

Who's smiling now, Mr. Monocle?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Caveman, Me

Stacy's family is in town to celebrate a couple of birthdays and to see Vicki perform in the Nutcracker this weekend. We offered our house instead of making them rent a few rooms. I love Stacy's family. They're thoughtful and kind houseguests that do their best not to impose.

However, whenever we have houseguests I get this overwhelming urge to retreat into my cave. I don't know what it is, some sort of primordial instinct to protect my space? That might explain why I started talking in grunts and flinging household objects at them before dragging Stacy down to the basement by her hair.

Note to self: apologize for the waffle-iron imprint on my brother-in-law's face.

I'm not sure where the vague uneasiness comes from, but I am sure that it is closely related to my innate shyness. I remarked to my mother-in-law about Zoe inheriting my shyness, to which she reacted in surprise. She didn't think I was shy, but very social. That's only true if the other party initiates, really. I will carry on a friendly conversation with just about anyone, as long as they're the one that started it.

Some of my friends may realize that even though I keep a constant online presence throughout my work week, I rarely IM them. It's not because I'm being aloof or too busy (although that happens a lot) but because I'm not an initiator. It's nothing conscious, I'm just solitary by nature.

I suppose I could force some self development by acting contrary to my personality, but I think I'd rather retreat back into my cave.

Ooo ooo oook!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's Bound to be High in Fiber

Stacy: I've got tons to do tonight, but dinner is in the crochet pot at least.
Me: You crocheted dinner? That's impressive. Macramé and cheese?

Hah! I crack myself up.

Polar Bears, Sam Elliott's Mustache, and Daemons

It may come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I enjoy the fantasy jonreh. Many aspects of fantasy stories appeal to me on a subconscious level that I cannot truly explain.

Case in point, dress a couple of polar bears in plate armor and pit them against each other in a death match in the frozen north for supremacy over the polar bear kingdom and you've got my attention. The only way to make the previous sentence more awesome would be to - no, scratch that, you can't make it more awesome. If you don't understand the inherent coolness in the concept, then brother, we will never see eye to eye.

In case you haven't guessed it yet, I'm talking about The Golden Compass, of which the polar bear fight scene was only a small portion and quite possibly could have been cut out from the movie entirely(!) without harming the overall story. Thankfully, director/screenplay writer Chris Weitz understands that talking, fighting polar bears in armor is teh awesome.

Jon and I caught the movie Friday. Stacy decided not to go, despite how appealing the movie is to her Lord of the Rings/Narnia/Potter fondness and its obvious links to the other works. Her reasons had to do with the controversy around the original author, Philip Pullman, and the purpose behind the trilogy of books. I'm not going to get into the controversy here. For one thing, I haven't researched it enough to give an opinion one way for another. For another thing, there was nothing in the movie that struck me as particularly blasphemous or controversial. At least, nothing more controversial than LoTR/Narnia/Potter.

Jon gave a review of the movie that echoes many of my sentiments. I will say that cgi animals have come a long way in the last few years. Even though I know they are cgi, there really isn't much to indicate that they are. Unless you consider animals that talk and shape shift unrealistic, but hey, let's not talk crazy here. I understand some stars lent their voices to the animal cast, but the only one that registered on my voice-o-meter was Ian McKellen as one of the fore-mentioned polar bears. His already impressive voice was augmented with extra bass and tone to give it the feel of emanating from the throat of the massive Iorek Byrnison, Prince of the Polar Bears.

It struck both Jon and I as funny that this movie featured a cast that had in many cases worked with each other already. For instance, Ian's nemesis from LoTR, Christopher Lee, made an appearance, albeit brief. The rugged Daniel Craig, although sharing no scenes with her, acted with Eva Green in Casino Royale. Craig also starred in The Invasion with Nicole Kidman. These people can't get enough of each other!

Speaking of current actors in past movies, there was one scene in the movie that triggered strong memories from Fellowship of the Ring as the main character, Lyra, and Iorek approach a natural bridge spanning a bottomless chasm. I couldn't help but think of Gandalf and the fellowship fleeing the Balrog in Moria. As soon as Lyra began to cross, the bridge started to crumble. I leaned over to Jon and said, "Fly, you fools!" I was disappointed when Iorek didn't try to make the journey across. Too easy? Yeah, I guess.

I have a short list of actors that I feel can make any movie watchable, such as Christopher Walken. Among them is Sam Elliott. The man with the mustache could out-cowboy Eastwood or Wayne. I relished every scene of him rambling on like he's sitting around a fire with a bunch of ranch hands instead of flying a balloon in Europe with a talking polar bear and a little girl as passengers.

There was one other actor I'd like to mention. Jim Carter, king of the Gyptians. He was tall, wore eye makeup, and had a formidable beard, yet in no way resembled Alan Moore. The maddening thing about him was how familiar he looked. I sat through all of his scenes wracking my brain to come up with the name. Unfortunately, it seems my brain has been over-wracked. After looking him up on imdb, I found that I had no idea who he was. Even more maddening is that means he reminds me of another actor that I am still can't find.

Damn this brain full of useless trivia that can't even order itself so I can remember a single bit of useless trivia!

The movie itself follows the adventure of a young girl named Lyra and her daemon Pants. Wait, I mean Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. In the world Weitz wrote, every human has an animal companion in the form of a daemon, a reflection of that person's soul. Thus we know almost immediately (as if seeing the Her Icyness wasn't enough) that Kidman's Mrs. Coulter is evil just by watching how her golden monkey abuses Pant (In The Golden Compass, you don't pet the monkey, the monkey pets you!) Naturally, Craig's Lord Asriel is noble and strong, just look at his iridescent tiger! While you may think that Elliott's Lee Scoresby would have a fine lookin' thoroughbred, you'd be wrong. Perhaps even more fitting, he travels with a wry female jack rabbit. The titular golden compass is actually an alethiometer, a device few can use but that has the ability to show the past, present, and future.

Is Mrs. Coulter after the alethiometer or Lyra herself? Does Lord Asriel kick as much ass as Bond, James Bond? Does Lyra make Iorek her pet or does Iorek get peckish and have a midnight snack? I ain't tellin'! I try to keep my reviews relatively spoiler free, thenkyewverrymuch. If you can duck the verbal crossfire from the pundits about the metatextual meaning of Weitz's work, check it out and get the answers to these questions and more!

Anyway, I've rambled long enough. The movie was entertaining, with the bear fight edging it towards awesome. It did enough to make me curious about how it ends. We'll see if the controversy surrounding the subject matter prevents me from seeing it to its finish. However, the ending of The Golden Compass was anything but. It is obvious that the studio plans to make at least one sequel. Instead of resolution, we have continued journeys, much like the end of Fellowship of the Ring.

I give The Golden Compass eight out of ten dislocated jaws on a chart I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bemoaning Christmas Decorations Lost

I've been wanting to do a post on our Christmas decorations, since we put them up the day after Thanksgiving, but I keep forgetting to take pictures to show them off. I suppose I could thrill you with a written description of the exciting colors and breathtaking designs, but somehow I don't think I'd do them justice. I will tell you this:

Our Christmas tree is purple.

Yes, Stacy has managed to get herself a purple Christmas tree this year. The artificial pine is not purple itself, but almost everything else on it is. It is actually a very nice effect. I think it would look better on a natural fuller tree, but we have allergies to deal with this year, so artificial it is.

The sad part about decorating this year is the loss of our beloved friend of the past three years, Mr. Inflatable-Santa-What-Pops-Out-of-a-Chimney-Sometimes-if-We're-Lucky. Mr. ISWPOoaCSiWL for short. Like a recalcitrant groundhog, he decided this year that he was not going to pop out at all. Instead, we were treated to the rather depressing sight of his pointed hat flopping over the rim of the chimney for a couple of seconds before sagging back into the air-puffed nether regions of the stack. You will be sorely missed, Mr. ISWPOoaCSiWL, sorely missed indeed.

The inner tinker in me has stashed him on the back porch. I think I'll get around to performing some exploratory surgery on the variable fan that pumps up his pedestal and try to convert it to always blowing instead of kicking in occasionally.

We may end up filling his forlornly empty spot on the front yard with this guy if we can find it within our budget. If we do and I manage to convert Mr. ISWPOoaCSiWL into Mr. ISWSPOoaC (Inflatable-Santa-What-Stays-Popped-Out-of-a-Chimney) then he'll probably decorate the side yard. It's criminally bare of Christmas cheer right now anyway. Then again, when you live on a corner lot next to the neighborhood play area, you learn to leave only objects you don't mind vandalized in the side yard.

Related Note Dept.
What's with the humbug this year? Our neighborhood was bare of Christmas decoration besides us and our next door neighbor until this weekend. Doesn't anyone decorate after Thanksgiving anymore?

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Enchanted Evening with Mr. Magorium

On occasion, I like to do something fun with one of my kids one-on-one. I feel that extra attention is something they don't get enough now that there are three of them. As inclusive as we try to be, one of them is sometimes left with the short end of the stick during family activities. It's been a while since I've taken either Vicki, my 6 year old, or Zoe, my 3 year old, anywhere.

Thus, this last Friday became Daddy-Daughter Date Day. I gave the girls their choice of movies playing at the local theater. The free movie ticket coupons we have for that theater do a great job at narrowing options. Zoe chose to see Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium and Vicki chose Enchanted. I can't say either were on the top of my list, but that's not what this was about.

Zoe and I went out first. She was thrilled. She was especially excited to pick out her own candy and had a great time snacking on white cheddar popcorn while we waited for our auditorium to let out and be cleaned. Before long, we were seated comfortably near the middle of the theater with much less of the holiday weekend crowd one might expect. That's what happens when you chose an out-of-the-way, old, and possibly failing theater to attend, but we like it that way.

Zoe loved the movie. She immediately asked as we walked to the car if we could buy it. I still haven't quite convinced her that there is a period of time between a movie showing in the theaters and when it comes out on DVD.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was a cute and sweet movie. It wasn't great, but entertaining enough. The plot meanders like a quite a bit, with very little background given to the characters. That was okay by them, though, since the time not spent showcasing the zany toy store was spent in characterization.

Dustin Hoffman's Mr. Magorium was naturally well-played. I have the feeling that if they made a prequel featuring some of the adventures he hints at here and there, the producers would have a better movie on their hands. That was probably the most frustrating thing about his character, it would have been nice to know more about where he'd come from. It can be argued, probably successfully, that not knowing adds to his mystery and magic, but since that argument would have to take place between me and myself, I'm just not going to do it. That's a road best left untraveled, thenkyewverrymuch.

Natalie Portman's Molly Mahoney, the store manager and Wonder Emporium bequeathee, was almost, but not quite endearing. There was something about her performance that just didn't sell the character. I wanted to believe that she was a quirky musical genius, but the nervous tick her hands playing a phantom piano of their own accord was actually a little creepy if anything. Justin Bateman's Henry Weston, the accountant Magorium hires to straighten his books before making his exit, was sadly reminiscent of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. Bateman does a great straight man. The token "cute" kid, Zach Mills, tries really hard, but only manages to reach awkward level on his attempt at being lovable.

As I said, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium was cute. It even made me tear up when Mr. Magorium made his exit, but it could have been so much more. I give this movie twenty-five out of fifty-six escapee bouncy balls on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Next up was Enchanted with Vicki. I made a few theater employees do double-takes as I purchased two more tickets for a different movie with a different kid mere minutes after I left with Zoe. I love messing with people's heads. For her part, Vicki was very excited, especially since she and I got to play a video game while waiting for the movie to start. We even came in first place on the racing game we tried out. Gotta start 'em out young, I always say. As with Zoe and Magorium, Vicki loved Enchanted. Despite myself, I wound up enjoying it more than I thought I would.

For those of you impervious to Disney's in-your-face advertising campaigns, Enchanted is about a fairy tale girl (complete with talking animal entourage) banished to the real world by a jealous witch queen intent on preventing marriage between her son, the prince and said girl.

What follows is a completely predictable fish-out-of-water tale as Jaded New York Man (Patrick Dempsey) takes care of Fairy Tale Girl (Amy Adams), Fairy Tale Prince (James Marsden) searches New York for his One True Love™ with the help hindrance of Hapless Henchman (Timothy Spall) and Now-Speechless Chipmunk, and Witch Queen (Susan Sarandon) grows increasingly impatient at the efforts. Can anyone guess the ending? If you guessed that the queen, magically transformed into a dragon, swallows Jaded New York Man, whisks Fairy Tale Prince back to the magic kingdom and rules happily ever after, then you've never seen a Disney movie.

For as predictable as the movie was, there were a surprising amount of amusing bits. My favorite was definitely the Now-Speechless Chipmunk miming the Hapless Henchman's treachery to the Fairy Tale Prince only to have the prince of magical kingdom of Duh conclude that the furry woodland creature was trying to tell him how handsome he was when he slept. Marsden played the clueless prince to the hilt and was infinitely more entertaining than he has been in the X-Men movies. Adams was equally entertaining as the Fairy Tale Girl. Heck, all of the main characters played their roles brilliantly. Perhaps the predictability and stereotypical nature of the characters made it easier for them to hit their marks. I don't know, but it brought the enjoyment level up quite a bit from what I was expecting as I entered the theater.

I give Enchanted fifteen out of twenty toilet-scrubbing New York City rats on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm Going to Kill Your Monstah!

I went to see Beowulf (in Digital 3D, no less) last night with Jon and Casey. I had been looking forward to this movie ever since hearing about it on Neil Gaiman's blog. Well, there was a short, bitter time after seeing the first trailer and thinking that there was no way the movie would be PG-13. It was, and it didn't disappoint. Although it would have been cool to see it in IMAX 3D, I was happy with the normal theater. That was especially true after seeing the preponderance of nekkid male backside. I mean, who needs to see that three stories high? Not this guy! Grendel's mom kinda made up for it later, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story should be familiar to anyone that has read about Beowulf, or seen one of the horrible adaptations such as the one featuring Christopher Lambert. Beowulf arrives in Hrothgar's kingdom to slay the vicious troll Grendel for fame and glory. Naturally, Beowulf forgets that you never have to fear the troll as much as the troll's mother.

Here we are treated to a delightful departure from the traditional mythology. I won't spoil it, but I will say that it does a delightful job in tying the two parts of Beowulf's story together: his initial adventures in Hrothgar's kingdom and his epic battle with a dragon in his later years.

Zemeckis has improved on the technology he used to make Tom Hanks look like a semi-realistic cgi character in The Polar Express. The characters in Beowulf are fantastically rendered. Some true to life, others modified for effect or characterization (and no, even though Jon waited for it, at no time did Crispin Glover's Grendel lean over to the queen and say, "You are my density!") Gaiman and Roger Avary outdid themselves with the screenplay. Naturally, I can't comment on how far Zemeckis' direction departs from their source material, but I happen to know that Gaiman, if not Avary, was present for some of the production and was very gratified by the handling of his work. I generally see that sort of cooperation between screenwriters and director as a good sign.

I can think of no serious criticism for the acting cast. Glover was a little hard to understand during his speaking scenes, but considering the state of Grendel's face, it's surprising I understood anything that came out of that misshapen mouth. I thought of keeping a running tally of Ray Winstone's Beowulf's proclamations of, "I'm going to kill your monstah!" after the third or fourth repetition, but I lost count. Funny thing about Winstone? He's credited by imdb as "Drunken Thane" in the Beowulf entry. Who played Beowulf? According to imdb, he doesn't make an appearance in this, the movie Beowulf.

Anthony Hopkin's conflicted and haunted Hrothgar was predictably good. If Hopkin's can't do conflicted and haunted, then who can? Malkovich's Unferth was as Malkovich as it gets. He not only imparted his trademark voice to the role, but his mannerisms were captured perfectly, especially during his drunken confrontation with Beowulf. Robin Wright-Penn looked better CGIed into Queen Wealthow than she has in years. She also got to showcase her tragic cold side opposite Hrothgar and Beowulf.

Then there's Angelina Jolie. A friend of mine refuses to see the movie because she's afraid it will sully her attitude towards Ms. Jolie. I certainly don't understand the sentiment. Jolie's performance onscreen was magnificent. I never knew her voice could be so sinister and seductive at the same time. Her off-screen (sort of) moments were just as good. We never quite get to see what she looks like with her glammer down, but we do get a good impression as to why Grendel was no looker.

Beowulf was a great movie and a wonderful way to kick off the holiday blitz of blockbusters. I highly recommend seeing it in 3D. There are plenty of great visuals that really burst out of the screen. There are also a couple of those, "Hey look! This is in 3D! See how this object is coming right out of the screen? Crazy, huh? Imagine watching this without 3D! This scene would be so out of place because we're trying so hard to point out how very 3D it is!" that are so standard in 3D movies. For those of you that have seen Vincent Price's House of Wax, think of the paddle board scene and you'll know what I'm talking about. Find it in Digital 3D and you won't be disappointed, IMAX 3D would be even better, though I don't think you'll go wrong with the standard 2D version either.

I give Beowulf fourteen out of fourteen dead thanes on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wottsamattayou? Why You No Write?

I don't really know. We've had a couple of good episodes of The Office since I last reviewed. I could write about those. A few inconsequential things have happened in the past week an a half, I could write about those. I went to a company-sponsored bowling event, I could write about that. I spent the weekend with the kids while Stacy attended a scrap book retreat. I could write about that.

I find myself with a distinct lack of motivation for doing so, though.

Maybe it's because I'm recovering from the creeping crud I contracted last week. Maybe it's because I've become so dang busy at work that I feel any time taken from there just means more work I'll have to do later. Maybe it's my inherent laziness getting the better of me.

Not sure, but what it does mean is that it's been a while since my last update and I don't see myself changing that today. I'll see if I left any spare motivation in my desk and find some time to post later.

P.S. Anyone else find the swashbuckling pirate meez over there a little distracting? I may have to do something about him.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Irony or Just Bad Luck?

Last night I was sitting on the couch enjoying a bite-sized Heath bar, one of my favorite candies. I had just popped the last half of the bar into my mouth and bit down when I realized this one was harder than your average piece of toffee. One more chew made me think that something had made it into the toffee that wasn't toffee. I spit out the offending chunks and examined them. They looked oddly like pieces of a tooth. I was revolted. What if some factory worker had lost a tooth and it got ground into the toffee? Yeah, you've already figured out where this is going, but I wasn't that fast. A probe with my tongue found that besides the usual toffee-filled crevasses of my teeth, there was an odd crater in my back left bottom molar.

My heart sank.

I had chipped a tooth. Nay, I had destroyed a tooth. A full quarter of the benighted chopper had disintegrated into my mouth. I was picking toffee-embedded chunks of tooth out of my mouth for the next few minutes. A Heath bar? Really? My teeth can't handle a little toffee?

Now for the bets part of all. I had just been to the dentist the day before. Not only that, but after x-rays, poking, and prodding, he had pronounced me free of cavities!

Oh well, back to the dentist I go.

So what do you think, ironic or just plain unfortunate? I'd ask Alanis, but I have a feeling I'd know what her answer would be.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Halloween Treats, MerlinTWizard Style

Here are the pictures of some of the treats we served at our annual Halloween party. These are what kept me up until 2:00 AM that morning. They were worth it, though.



Here's a shot of me as a pirate, yarr and all that.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

MerlinTWizard Annual Halloween Party

We celebrated Halloween in full swing this year - in November. Meh, The Saturday after Halloween was the only one we could get that close to the actual day that wasn't already booked. Still, I think the Hawks Annual Halloween Party was the best this year than ever.

Our decorations were out in full force, including the big, inflatable, knife-wielding maniac and giant inflatable spider in our front yard as well as the cryptacular stone wall facades inside. Stacy and I would love to go scarier for Halloween, but we've found that our little girls are too sensitive to have much more than the walls and the inflatables. Maybe when they're older.

Stacy and I did the pirate thing this year (pics to come) while our girls rocked the princess costumes for the fourth time this month. We had plenty of guests: Creepy Hooded Axe Wielder, Knock Off Wolverine, Princess Ariel, Capt. Jack Sparrow (x2!), Tigger, Tow Mater, Peter Pan, and my personal favorite, Hank Venture.

Refreshments were suitably ghoulish, with skulls (white-chocolate-coated pears with candy eyes and frosting mouths), eyeballs (cherries embedded in lychees floating in red punch), owl eyes (sugar cookie center, chocolate cookie ring with candy eyes and cashew noses), a slimy caterpillar (cupcakes frosted orange lined in a curve with candy decorations and green licorice legs), and witch hats (croissant calzones folded into the shape and served with pizza sauce.) Of course, we had candy and treats galore as well. I don't think anyone went home hungry.

Since we had so many kids attend, we aimed the party more towards their level with some fun games. We did a Halloween version of Who Am I, the game where you have a picture taped to your back and must rely on other's hints to figure out who it is (witches, werewolves, cowboys, pirates, princesses, etc.) We had a candy hunt with miniature candy-filled Darth Vader heads and bags of Teddy Grahams. The adults joined in on a game of Pumpkin Relay where two teams lined up and passed a pumpkin over the head or under the legs, ending when the last person in line reached the front and the pumpkin reached the back. We finished off the games with one of my favorites, Plop the Wart on the Witch. We give the kids a little ball of white sticky tack, blindfold them, spin them around, and then send them towards the witch on the wall to do their worst. She had quite a few warts that somehow made it on the outside of her hat.

Stacy and I figure that we'll gear the party more towards the adults when our kids get older. For now, we're having a great time showing them a great time. Thank you to those of you that attended, and those that didn't, we'll be doing it again next year. What are you going to wear?

The Office: Local Ad and Branch Wars

I have missed blogging about couple of good episodes of The Office these past two weeks.

First, Local Ad. Thankfully, our friends in Scranton are only on for 1/2 hour starting with this episode. I think the extra time in the first four episodes was a bit too much of a strain. The Office's format just doesn't seem to lend itself well to the hour-long time frame. Let's just say "The Office: The Motion Picture" would not be a great idea. I was happy to see that the return to the 1/2 time slot seemed to compress the funny into a nice little package, long lasting and easy to digest!

The story in brief in case you missed it: Dunder Mifflin Corporate, represented by local intern gone douche, Ryan, sends a creative team to the Scranton branch to shoot a local ad for the branch. Dismayed when he finds that his people only get two or three seconds at the end of a truly cheezrific corporate ad, the ever-creative Michael Scott dismisses the creative team,

"Why don't you come back at never hundred hours."

The train-wreck of a commercial developing throughout the episode seems like it's going to be every bit as bad, or worse, than the corporate ad. Amazingly enough, it isn't that bad.



Even better than the entire plot about the ad is the revelation of Dwight's secret life, Dwight's Second Life. How does this life differ from Dwight's real life? Well, let's see, he looks exactly the same, he sells paper, and oh yeah, he can fly. That's pretty much it. How do we find all of this out? Why, good ole Jim Halpert creates his own Second Life avatar to spy on poor lovelorn Dwight. Jim's avatar somehow ends up being a more depressed statement of Jim's hopes and dreams than Dwights. That's traggicomedy there.

Great episode. Check it out at the full episode archive at NBC. I'm impressed that NBC has offered this. Old Media's reaction to video on the Web has historically been that of an old man protecting his grass, "Get off my lawn, you damn kids!" Here's the link: http://www.nbc.com/The_Office/video/episodes.shtml

The second episode, Branch Wars, also did not disappoint. Here we have the triumphant return of Karen! Jim's jilted ex is after a different Scrantonite, Stanley. Only not so much for the romance but the paper sales as she is now the Utica branch manager. Michael Scott's reaction? You cannot take the hilarious black guy from the office. Oh Stanley's funny, but not in the Mo' Money way Michael thinks.

Michael and Dwight kidnap Jim to go on the Utica Panty Raid of '07. Good Idea or Great Idea? That's right, great idea. Too bad Jim doesn't think so. I don't know, those warehouse outfits, the obviously fake mustaches, how can they lose? Well, what starts out as a panty raid ends in the copy machine toppling over Michael and Dwight and Jim in Karen's office facing the wrath of a woman scored. I'm going to have to go with Great Idea.

Meanwhile, back at the farm Scranton, the most exclusive club in the branch is beleaguered by the uncultured philistines roaming through the break room. That's right, The Finer Things club, attended by Pam, Oscar, Toby, and the most discriminating taste this side of New Jersey meets in the break room to discuss all things high minded. From Andy's frustrated attempts to get into the club just for the exclusive distinction to Kevin and Phyllis's everyday use of the break room makes for great camidy. Why can't Phyllis use the kitchen microwave to pop her popcorn? "Someone needs to clean it. It smells like popcorn." Genius!

I'm really glad to see The Office back on track. Too bad the hiatus is almost upon us. I'll enjoy them while they last.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Another Great Halloween

We saw quite a few trick or treaters this year. For the second year in a row, we handed out glow bracelets along with our candy. By the end of the night, we figured we had passed out a little over 100. Not a bad turn out.

I was very disappointed in the lack of decoration around our neighborhood. Our old nemesis in the HOA decorating contest had nary a thing. A new neighbor across the way went even farther than us, though. I have to tip my pirate cap at them for their effort. The yard looked great. They went for the spooky scary Halloween compared to our more harmless and fun decorations. One of these days when my daughters don't get nightmares from listening to an animatronic head in a globe, we may go spooky too.

It seems that Halloween decorations and costumes have gone waaaay downhill from my halcyon youth. I remember entire neighborhoods decorated with cobwebs, strobe lights, creepy music, and people hiding all over the place, just waiting to trigger juvenile cardiac arrests. Ah, those were the days. Of course, I also remember rushing from one house to the next in a desperate attempt to get as much candy as possible (how do you think I cultivated my lithe physique?) so the decorations were probably largely lost on me. Maybe it doesn't matter. Is it all about the candy?

My children certainly didn't suffer this year. Consider this, they first went trick-or-treating at the beginning of the month at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in Disney World. Then, last Friday, they got more candy at Vicki's kindergarten/1st grade school party. The next day, we took them to our church's trunk-or-treat, a miniature version of trick-or-treat out of the back of (mostly) decorated car trunks in the parking lot of our church. Of course, there was the booty from last night's circuit around the neighborhood. Finally, our own yearly Halloween party is this coming Saturday, complete with even more candy.

Dear Pediatric Dentist,

You're welcome.

Scott

I hope you had a happy Halloween yourself. I'll make sure we take plenty of pictures Saturday and get them uploaded. I finally chose a pirate costume this year. It may become my standby. Heck, maybe I'll incorporate it into my everyday wardrobe!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Office: Money; Unimaginative Title Reflecting Creative Slump?

There were a few laughs in last night's episode of The Office, but not as many as I'd expect in a full hour of the show. Instead, it came off as slightly depressing. Women troubles abound from the Dwight, Angela, Andy triangle to the Ryan, Kelly, Darryl triangle. Add on top of that Michael's declaration of bankruptcy,

Michael: I declare bankruuuuptcy!
Oscar: You can't just say the word. That means nothing.
Michael: I didn't just say it, I declared it.

While it was good for some laughs, Michael's money problems turned out to be more sad than funny. Likewise, the Dwight, Angela, Andy triangle had some funny bits, especially on Schrute Farms. Is it just me or is Mose even creepier than we last saw him when Dwight initiated Ryan into the mysteries of salesmanship?

I echo the sentiment of my favorite bwe.tv staffer, Michelle. There is something slightly off about the whole show. I miss Jim and Pam's constant pranks, Michael Scott's oblivious assurance that everything is business as usual, Dwight's overwhelming self-confidence (which we may see return after his little desk clearing scene last night!) Ryan's resigned acceptance of his lot in life, even Andy's barely bottled rage.

I don't know, am I just being nostalgic for the last season or is there really a drop in the quality of the show?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Survived

It looks like I'll be making it to that 10 year milestone at work. We just had a huge layoff yesterday and I managed to dodge the ax one more time. Even though I still have a job, I have to wonder how long it will be around. The direction of the company is still shifting away from the model that requires the tools I create. I just hope I can hang on long enough to finish school and find a more stable job that still allows me to provide for my family.

My sympathies and congratulations go out to friends that didn't make it. Sympathy for those that do not need the kind of uncertainty that unemployment brings in their lives right now. Congratulations for those that are enjoying the severance package, taking a little break, and (hopefully) finding a better job out there somewhere.

Godspeed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Disney Photos Online Already!

How's that for speed? I think it's a record for me. I've uploaded all of the good pictures from our camera to Shutterfly. Unfortunately, I can't see any embeddable slideshow feature on their site, so here is the link:

Disney Slideshow

The URL to the collection is http://hawksdisney2007.shutterfly.com/

Maybe if I get time at home later I'll make a slideshow on one of them new-fangled myFacebookSpace sites and embed it here. In the meantime, enjoy the "wish you were here" photos on Shutterfly!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Home Again, Home Again, Bloggity Blog

Woo hoo! Back from the world that Disney built. We flew in yesterday afternoon and spent much of the rest of the day getting everything situated. It was a great vacation, but it left me exhausted. I need a few days of work to relax.

Pictures to follow. I'll try to get them up faster than last time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Countdown to the Mouse

Very little of note has happened over the past few days. Let's see, I helped Jon move into his new digs. It's a very nice end unit townhouse with plenty of space. He was mostly moved before I got there, so I just helped with a few odds and ends and his computers. I was rewarded with a meal at Ruby Tuesdays. Damn those Big Mouth Burgers! They challenge me to consume them completely, but why do I feel so hollow inside afterwards? Wait, did I say hollow? I meant full. As in bursting. When am I going to learn my lesson?

The rest of my time has been consumed by a particularly nasty issue at work. Luckily, that's cleared up just in time for me to try to squeeze out my main project under the deadline. I've got to do it under the deadline since the famdamily and I will be in sunny Florida visiting the world that Walt built all next week.

I don't know if this is going to be a yearly thing, but next week will mark our second trip to Disney World in as many years. This year we're going with our good friends Jamie and Casey and their two kids. It should be fun. This time Stacy and I know our way around, what we want to do again, and what we missed last time. Plus, there's much less pressure to get to everything since we've been there already. We're going to have a good time.

So if you don't see any posts for the next week or so, now you know why.

Somewhat Related Department:
The Office returns this week. I'm excited. Check out the clips the BWE blogger extraordinare, Michelle Collins posted:
Checking The Office Season 4 Countdown Clock!
So you may see a post from me after the episode drops.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Soylent Stacy Is Made of People!

I thought as I'm sitting here waiting for my Linux machine to finish installing the latest sound drivers, I'd share a recent photo with you all.

Behold Stacy's latest hair style!

Pretty frickin' sweet!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Superman: Doomsday

So, one day later, I got to watch Superman: Doomsday. I have to say that I agree on all of Jon's points. It certainly was much better than Superman Returns which shall henceforth be known as Superman: Teh S uck.

Superman: Doomsday surprised me, though. I knew it was not a Saturday morning cartoon from its PG-13 rating, but I didn't expect the amount of carnage and senseless violence that Doomsday wrought on his way to Metropolis. There was a lot of killing. Stacy pointed out that every scene illustrated part of his power, his invulnerability to fire or bullets, his strength, what have you. I thought it was a very insightful comment from someone that is prone to react with disgust at animated violence and not that interested in things of a comic book nature. I was very impressed.

I was thinking about Jon's reaction to Anne Heche as Lois Lane as I watched. I think I know why it was so bothersome. In her first scene, Lois is overwhelmingly - er - Hechey. Her lines were delivered with such Hechiness that it was impossible not to find it jarring. It seemed after that initial burst, that Lois toned down the Hechiness and got about the business of being Lois, though. Perhaps that's why over the course of the movie she becomes much more tolerable and even likable.

The voice acting was good. It was startling to see how they had made Lex into a little bit of a skeevy perv, but nothing compared with Toyman's delivery. Well done on both Marster's and Dimaggio's parts. Adam Baldwin did an excellent job with Supes. His lines as Dark Superman were chilling in their normalcy. It was all just so matter-of-fact. I knew I recognized Jimmy's voice, but when I saw who it was, I couldn't figure out why. Then I looked up Adam Wylie's IMDB entry and found that he's been doing voice over work for quite some time, as well as many television appearances. I think I knew him best as the little kid on Picket Fences back in the mid-nineties.

For those of you that saw Superman: Teh S uck and came away feeling vaguely disappointed, or outright outraged, I recommend you pick up Superman: Doomsday and see how a Superman story should really be told.

I give Superman: Doomsday five out of five Unstoppable Killing Machines on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Yar! I Missed It!

Arrr, 'twas Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday, an' I didn' get to blog about it. Saddens, me heart, it does. Ah well, there be 364 other days O' the year ta swagger wi' the best of 'em. Here's ta hopin' ya had the best Talk Like a Pirate Day ever!


Got Pirattitude?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy Berfday to Me!

So, in case you don't read Jon's blog, it was my berfday yesterday. See, Jon made this!

It was in reference to his amusing question about whether or not I wanted Superman: Doomsday for Scott: Birthday, which I did, and I got. Thanks, Jon!

I also received a nostalgic scrapbook from Stacy. With the help of my mother, she crafted it using photos from my infancy until just before my mission to Ohio. It brought back a lot of great memories. Well, most of them. Seeing myself in my early teens reminds me of the one time in my life I was skinny. I lost the baby fat, stayed svelt for a few years, then started in on the pot belly that has since expanded to a spare 18-wheeler tire.

Man, I need to work out.

Anyway, Stacy and the girls also got me Metroid Prime 3 for the Wii (can't wait to try that out!) and a box of candy bars (cuz you know, I need the extra sugar to recuperate from the workout I'll be starting any day now...)

My mom, via my brother's shopping, sent me a Dungeons and Dragons book, The Book of Exalted Deeds. It should be interesting considering the current game we're playing has some part in the depths of hell. May come in handy there. Thanks mom!

Vince got me a CD I'd been thinking about getting for some time, Where's Neil When you Need Him? It's a compilation of tributes to and songs inspired by Neil Gaiman. I was going to listen to it at work today, but my Mac doesn't like it. It could be because the CD itself is black. It looks cool, but I have a feeling that the Mac can't handle it. It may have some weird pc app on it that is throwing the Mac for a loop too, either way, if I put this in my Windows machine at home and it works, then I don't think Apple has a leg to stand on when claiming that the Mac "just works". Either way, I will listen to it soon. Thanks Vince!

Stacy's grandparents, who I have adopted as my own, sent me the eminently useful gift of money. It came in very handy on a tight paycheck week. Thanks Grandma and Grandpa Frisby!

I got an e-card from my sis, Julia, a phone call from my sis Tamara, and an entire ensemble rendition of the Happy Birthday Song from my brother David's family. Thanks guys!

It was a good birthday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Beware the Deep Dish Dough

Stacy and I decided to splurge last night and order pizza before settling down in front of a movie with the kids. Having a craving for their deep dish crust and tasty toppings, we opted for carry-out from Uno's Chicago Pizzeria. We recently had a bad experience at another Uno's with the pizza dough being thoroughly uncooked. I managed to convince myself that it was OK and
continued to eat.

"Mmmmm. This pizza has really stringy dou-I mean, cheese! It's so tasty!"

We'd never really had the problem before, so it was easy to write it off as bad luck. Last night was worse. A cross section of a slice clearly showed about an eight of an inch of uncooked dough between the toppings and the crust. One bite and the underlying flavor of flour and eggs was unmistakable.

"Mmmmm. This pizza has really stringy chees-screw this, I can't do it."

Being at home, we figured it'd be easy just to fire up the oven and bake the pizza for a bit longer. HAH! After three 10-minute bakes, the dough was still noticeably raw under the toppings. I know this because I scientifically took more cross sections in my hermetically-sealed sterile lab with my sciency implements of cutting and measuring (translation: I used a pizza cutter on a slice and eye-balled the dough while standing in my kitchen.)

By then, the toppings were just past the point of overdone. It was a lost cause. We had bought two pizzas, a pepperoni for the parents and a cheese for the kids. Between trying to heat the two pizzas up, we lost an hour. It was a late dinner anyway, and our kids do not do well when they've had pizza dangled (from it's elastic dough, no less) in front of their faces, the smell wafting down the stairs like a cartoon wisp of steam tantalizing their nostrils. "I'm hungry," became a litany. They got to eat Pringles and grapes instead. Aren't we awesome parents?

Stacy left a nice long missive on Uno's website. I'm not prepared to say Uno's is teh s uck, but they're probably only going to get one more chance to impress me with their baking skills. I don't know if they used too much dough or if the toppings prevented the crust from baking properly, but that pizza was just not palatable enough to choke down. The toppings tasted good, though!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Kinda Dorky Nerd King am I


NerdTests.com says I'm a Kinda Dorky Nerd King.  What are you?  Click here!

Damn you, Jon. I didn't need to know I was that much of a Kinda Dorky Nerd King.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Further Reason to go see Stardust

Neil Gaiman recently posted these on his journal, stating that,

These little "Tourism Guides" for the International release of STARDUST are rather fun (and, oddly, feel a bit more like the movie than the real ad campaign did).

(The link is mine, it takes you directly to a show times page. How convenient!)



Stormhold Tourism Board Video 1



Stormhold Tourism Board Video 2



Stormhold Tourism Board Video 3



Stormhold Tourism Board Video 4

Because "Plastic Balls Filled with Gas" Wouldn't Sell As Many Tickets

Jon, Casey, Jim (a friend and my chiropractor) and I went to see Balls of Fury this last weekend. Two words:
  1. High
  2. Larious
I'm a sucker for Christopher Walken. I can watch anything with him in it. Well, almost anything. I still refuse to watch Kangaroo Jack. Walken could have sold the movie to me on his merit alone, but the other scenes in the trailers looked funny too.

They were. And then some.

I was laughing through nearly the entire movie. Walken does not disappoint. First, we get Robert DeNiro playing a gay sky pirate in Stardust (GO SEE IT!) and now Walken playing a gay warlord with a passion for the Orient and as the Chinese say, Ping Pong. Directed by Ben Garant, of The State, Viva Variety, and Reno 911 fame, there were plenty of familiar faces in the cast, such as Thomas Lennon, playing the ball-busting Olympic champion from Germany, and Kerry Kenney, playing a Reno showgirl looking unsurprisingly like Wiegel under cover as a Reno showgirl.

For my money, no one curses in Chinese better than James Hong. I leaned over to Jon during his first scene and made the comment that losing Hong would be the end of a Hollywood institution. Who else is going to play the old Chinese dude? Speaking of Chinese (okay, it's a stretch, she's part-Vietnamese, but she plays Chinese in the movie!) Maggie Q looked stunning throughout the movie and had her share of funny scenes.

Our main man, Dan Fogler, is new to me, but man can he take a nutshot, repeatedly, much to my amusement. Way to take a few for the team, Fogler! His handler, however, made me sad. I believe George Lopez has real comedy potential, if he would just stop letting them pigeon-hole him into the tired stereotype. As a Latino actor in a comedy, he had literally two choices for a line once he starts firing a machine gun. I bet you can guess them before you read them:
  1. Say hello to my lil' fren'!
  2. You wanna play rough? Le's play rough!
Ohhh, which one did he pick? The suspense is all suspenseful! Who cares! C'mon! The Scarface references were old in the 80's, can we just let them rest now?

The cast was full of other notables, such as Jason Scott Lee, Aisha Tyler, Terry Crews, Robert Patrick, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Koechner, Patton Oswalt, and Masi Oka. Go ahead, click on 'em. You won't know half of them without seeing a picture, but then you'll be all, "Ohhh, that guy!"

So I admit, I went in to the movie expecting to be mildly entertained by Walken's antics and came out saying, "That could very well be the best movie about Ping Pong I've ever seen." Of course, Jim countered by saying, "It could also be the worst." Touche. It was extremely funny, though. Funny in a stupid way, but I'm delightfully low-brow, so it works for me. I'll definitely pick this up on DVD for repeated viewings as well.

I give Balls of Fury five out of five painful nut shots on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything. Hah! You thought I was going for the obvious five balls out of five balls, didn't you! You can't predict me, I'm all-um-unpredictable.

And thus, I bid you toodles.

P.S. Diedrich Bader as a male sex slave? Brilliant!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Because I Said So

The more perceptive of you may notice that I've added a new blog link to the right. "Because I Said So" is written by a 29 year old mother of 6 with a real talent for humorous writing. Those of you with kids will be thankful you don't have six crazy kids like her. Those of you with senses of humor like her will laugh. Those of you with both will be thankful you don't have six crazy kids like her while you laugh. Those of you with six or more crazy kids will nod your head and laugh. Those of you that are her would surprise me by reading this.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Carla Gugino!

Happy birthday to my friend's and fellow blogger, Jon's blog, Threshold. For those few of you that come here from somewhere besides his blog, you should check it out. It's usually much more entertaining than here. Before you say anything, yes, I know that's not saying much.

Get with the Times, Old Media

It continues to boggle my mind at how reticent Old Media is to embrace the Internet. I can just picture the corporate heads in their stuffy suits in dark board rooms saying things like, "Ah, this interwebs thing is just a fad, we don't have to change anything," and, "I'm sure people will start buying magazines and papers again any day now."

I'm only saying this because I want something for free, naturally.

Well, not for free per se, just as an added service to something I already pay for. Namely, magazine subscriptions. The ability to scan and format a magazine into an easily portable file (such as pdf) has been around for years. Heck, up until I got my new job, I read most of my comics that way. Why not offer that format with your subscriptions, Old Media? Some magazine publishers already offer pdf as an alternative to ordering back issues. If a customer already has a subscription, then that customer could have access to the back issues that fall into the subscription period. I wouldn't mind paying a few extra dollars for this service either. Who wants to keep around a bunch of magazines when they can easily access them on a computer. Even better, such files can be transferred to PDAs and smart phones, making the content even more ubiquitous.

Instead, I have 12 issues of a magazine that I am patiently slicing up and scanning to prepare for my next Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It's a good thing I'm not worried about the condition of the magazines afterward. Get with the times, Old Media, and do my bidding!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ramzina is Dead, Long Live Ramzina

For the past few years, I have been hosting the devil's own game. That's right, Dungeons and Dragons. Surely my soul will burn in hell. Actually, I'm more likely to get teased for being a major nerd than anything, but I've long since grown a tough exterior shell to protect me from such barrages. That's why, at night, I am known as...

ARMADILLO MAN!

Wait, no, that's not right. No, I'm just a nerd.

Our core group of gamers consists of myself, Stacy, and friends of ours, a married couple, Jamie and Casey. Another married couple, Paul and Karen, joined us recently. The particular campaign we'd been playing in has been going since Spring 2003. We've had various players join and leave the campaign and each player has had multiple characters. One good friend went from being a lecherous cleric (divine priest, for those not versed in the unholy terminology of the evil game) to a death-prone monk (think Shao-lin more than Friar Tuck).

Stacy, however, has played her character Ramzina from day one. She had a great track record with Ramzina, as a matter of fact. Hers was the only character that avoided death on a routine basis. Now, that is not because I was taking it easy on her because she's married to the DM, as could be evidenced by her repeated threats to have me sleep on the couch when her character faced the inevitable death.

Thankfully, death is not as insurmountable in my game as it is in Jack T. Chick's Dark Dungeons. All the players that have had characters die did not go on to commit grisly suicide because they couldn't get over the guilt. I have also avoided the couch so far.

While Stacy was in Utah, we continued playing with one of the other players subbing for her character. This would be fine except for recent developments. The entire group managed to get themselves slaughtered. As a RBDMiT (Rat Bastard Dungeon Master in Training) I get to be amused by the TPK (Total Party Kill), as the husband of one of the players, I must be
apologetic for my actions. Stacy's absence made it considerably easier to cackle evilly and play the RBDM card.

We finally got together again to play last night. In this session, I gave the choice to Stacy of either coming back to finish the campaign or retire her character (and thus everyone else's) for good. To my surprise, even with all of the juicy hooks I put in her path, she decided to retire Ramzina.

I have to admit, I was sad to see her go.

So, this marks the end of an era in our personal life, as a facet of Stacy is put to rest forever.

Don't worry, though. She rolled up a half-orc fighter for the next game that same night.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Three Week Old Travel Stories

Because you didn't demand it! Because it's the story that didn't have to be told! Because I don't not have better things to do!

That's right! It's the travelogue!

So, what's to say about a trip I took three weeks ago? I can tell you one thing, United Airlines sucks ass. I bought a bargain basement flight from Dulles to Denver to Salt Lake City with United since I had a credit from the big SNAFU last Christmas. The first bargain basement flight they tried to sell me would have cost exactly $1000.00 after the Christmas credit. I said to the United rep on the phone, I said, "You've got to be kidding me." You know what he said? Nothing. So I says to him, I says, "Are you serious?" I think he sensed an attitude change on my end of the line, he responded apologetically that it was the lowest rate he could get on the days I had. I finagled the days and times a little bit and brought my bill down to $350.00 after the credit. Things had not started auspiciously.

When checking into my flight at the kiosk at the airport, I was offered the option to "upgrade" to economy plus for an additional $45. I figured that there was no way it was worth an extra $45 just to add the word "plus" onto the end of my assignment. As it was, I didn't get a seat, just a message telling me to check in at the gate. Turned out I got an economy plus seat for free since they had sold out of their economy seats. Meh, I figured it couldn't be that big of a deal.

On the flight I noticed that I did have considerably more leg room than was usual in economy. It was nice, but I didn't figure it was worth $45. I was sooooo wrong. My flight out of Denver was delayed by three hours, but I had plenty to do at the airport. I was reading Neil Gaiman's Stardust, both at Jon's recommendation and to prepare for the movie. They also have a huge Crocs booth at the airport, presumably since Crocs are based out of Colorado. When I finally boarded my flight, I made my way to the baaaaaack row. Very back, right in front of the lavatory. I didn't care, it was just for a couple of hours. I didn't care, that is, until I sat down. Turns out that the extra leg room in economy plus wasn't taken from first class (yeah, right) nope, it was taken from economy. I couldn't even lower my tray table after my seat was in the reclined position.

United has found another way to squeeze blood from a stone. It was so uncomfortable that on the trip back, I footed the bill for the economy plus seats and did not regret it. Well, that's not entirely true. I regretted flying United and having to pay extra for what I should have with the base price of a ticket. Stacy and I have resolved to avoid United in all but the most dire circumstances. If Jet Blue or Frontier flies to where we're going from Dulles or Reagan, we're going with them. United sucks ass.

As for the actual visit, that went swimmingly. The first night out, Stacy and I spent the night at a themed bed and breakfast called the Anniversary Inn. We've spent quite a few anniversaries there, but this was the first time we stayed in the Egyptian-themed Mysteries of Egypt room. It was pretty damn sweet.

Who doesn't like ram/sphinx guardians where they sleep?

The face staring at us as we watched The Aviator was kinda creepy

Yes, that's a friggin' spitting cobra as a shower head over the two-person whirlpool tub. Stacy had a little bit of a problem with the giant snake, so she faced out, I thought it was pretty wicked.

Probably the least-used room, the little study was still cool to look at.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves with a night out on the town and an evening in the highly stylized interior of a pyramid. If you ever find yourself with a romantic partner in Utah, I highly recommend a visit to The Anniversary Inn.

The next day Stacy and her dad had a joint birthday party so I got to see all of her side of the family. That was fun, even though I'm still not very comfortable with 90% of them. I still feel very much an outsider with her dad's extended family. Good thing I get along great with Stacy's grandparents and siblings.

We hosted a barbecue/pool party/Wii session at my in-law's residential club house for my side of the family the next day. It was a blast seeing all of them there. I didn't get enough time to visit with everyone one-on-one, but my time there was short. Only my dad and his son could make it up from Southern Utah from his family, but it was nice meeting with them.

The rest of the time was spent either at Stacy's dad's place or my brother's house, the de facto hang out for my side of the family. We even got to help out with my youngest niece's sixth birthday party there. She was born shortly after Vicki.

It was a good time, well worth the traveling hassle. Most importantly, I got to see my wife and children for the first time in three weeks. I had to make the visit last for another three weeks as well. Thankfully, the long six weeks are ending tomorrow. I will be picking up my beautiful Stacy and wonderful girls at Reagan National Airport and filling my house back up. It's been entirely too quiet with just Blue and I around.

Still to come (maybe) My Exciting Experience With The Incredibly Expensive Coaster or, My Hard Drive, My Destiny. AND! Some thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows or, The Most Timely Post Since Three Week Old Travel Stories! AND! My Narrow Escape From Death Hurtling Twenty Stories After Being Set On Fire By An Angry Grizzly Bear or, This Never Actually Happened, Sorry To Get Your Hopes Up!

Killer Wasps Attack!

I was mowing the lawn today and noticed a large amount of dirt mounds scattered around the yard, many of them clustered around the doors to my shed. I like to keep the shed free of vegetation so the doors swing open easily, apparently that is what attracted the creators of the dirt mounds. This is actually the second year we've had them. I am not fond of insects at all. They make my skin crawl. Probably one too many bad sci-fi movie about mutant bugs back when I was a kid (ever see Bug from 1975? Cheesy as hell, but it still gives me occasional nachtmares, so does Arachnaphobia.) So I could just imagine what monstrous horrors lurked in the gaping holes of the many burrows I was tromping over during my chore. It wasn't long before I discovered what they looked like as one of these suckers came flying right at me.

Spla-DOW!


I had turned my weed eater over to fix the spline when the thing buzzed my head. Not cool. I panicked for a second, dropped the weed whacker, and retreated. The gigantor wasp, two inches if it was an 1/8th, backed off for a second too. I took the opportunity to rethread the weed eater and brandished it Texas Chainsaw Massacre style at the mammoth bug. I spun the spline at it a couple of times, hoping more to scare it away than do any real damage, though I wouldn't have been averse to seeing some dismemberment as well. No bug gets the best of me in my yard! The huge wasp zipped out of the yard after a couple of close calls with the weed eater. In retrospect, I was lucky that it was the particular breed it was, considering yellow jackets and hornets are aggressive and probably would have stung my ass a few times extra for good measure.

I wrapped up my weed killing before the B2 of wasps made its way back so I headed inside to do some research. Turns out my adorable little friend is none other than the Sphecius speciosus, or the Eastern Cicada Killer. This little feller is solitary as opposed to social, which means that it will not attack a human unless handled roughly, even to defend its burrow. Further more, the only ones to actively investigate people are males, ensuring that we're not other males encroaching on territory or a female ready to mate, I assure you, I was neither. However, even then, males can't sting, they can just poke with their sharpened tails.

The females create the burrows, paralyze cicadas and other insects, plant them in a chamber in the burrow, and then deposit an egg with the victim. The egg hatches over the summer and the larva overwinters in a cocoon after feeding off the cicada. Matter of fact, that image up nort' there is of a female cicada killer bringing a victim back to her burrow. Interestingly enough, it's not alive, but posed that way by one Professor Chuck Holliday (with a name like that, what's he doing outside of a recording studio?) from whom I got most of my cicada killer knowledge. Sure, there's a Wikipedia article, but I found his information, not to mention extensive picture and movie collection of the monster wasps much more enlightening.

They're fascinating bugs, but I'd rather not have them buzzing me when I'm out in the yard. You never know what batch of radioactive nuclear waste it was floating in earlier.

Just an example of a burrow, nothing to scale, but that hole is big enough to toss a dwarf down.

Here's a smaller wasp hitching a ride on Professor Chuck's hand after an exhausting cicada killing.


Thanks to Professor Chuck HOLLIDAY (what a frickin' sweet name) for all the cicada killer lore. Check out his excellent site on the subject if you're curious at http://ww2.lafayette.edu/~hollidac/cicadakillerhome.html

Debris from a Fiery Ball of Gas Otherwise Known as...


Was Stardust a good movie? Let's get that out of the way right off the bat. Hell yeah. I'll admit readily that I am a bit biased, loving both the author's entire body of work so far experienced and the actual book in question. However, my bias plays only a small portion of my instant fondness for the movie. As with all movie adaptations of books, whether they're full text, comic panels, or a mix of both, things change when moved from pages to screen. In most cases, if I've read a book before I see the movie, these changes serve as minor annoyances. Sometimes the changes make sense, sometimes they don't, they're almost always unwelcome.

I don't know if it was Neil Gaiman's extensive involvement in the production of the movie that helped or the creators' obvious love for the source material, but the changes between the two mediums did not bother me in the slightest here. Some of the differences were drastic, too, such as the entire climax. They felt as if they fit into the story, though. As if I had attended two different tellings of the same story by equally masterful storytellers, both of whom know how to weave the myriad pieces together to form a pleasing whole, no matter that the ingredients differ slightly.

The casting was well done. Everyone from the guardian of the wall (David Kelly) to the shady Ferdy the Fence (Ricky Gervais,) both of which are new characters to readers of the book. Original characters fared equally well with the protagonists Claire Daines playing Yvaine and Charlie Cox as Tristan (one odd change, removing the "r" from his name.) I am not a big fan of Daines, there's usually something about her eyes that bugs me. However, she and Cox did very well. The casting of the seven brothers of Stormhold was fitting as well, but you really have to see the movie or have read the book to understand where they come from. I loved seeing Peter O'Toole as the King of Stormhold. I could have used with more realistic arm throwing action, but I suppose when you get as old as O'Toole, you can spend your scenes reclining luxuriously in a magnificently appointed bed as well. Michelle Pfeiffer, no stranger to the role of villain, plays a delightful witch who you can't help but sympathize with every once and a while. That is, when she isn't busy transforming hapless goats into inn keepers (Hilario Dawson!) Perhaps the most notable bit of casting comes in the form of a very talented supporting actor, one Robert DeNiro. His Capt. Shakespeare is a considerable departure from the book, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Those of you that have seen the movie know why. He definitely stole the scenes in which he was featured and showed us a new layer of the DeNiro talent. Oh, and snagging Ian McKellen as the narrator is just badass.

Now that I'm done name-dropping, I can tell you that this is definitely a movie to add to your list of must-sees. It has high-fantasy, excellent action, magic, intrigue, quests, and a fair bit of romance. Whether you like fantasy movies, action movies, romantic comedy movies, or any combination of the above, this is one that will satisfy. My regards to the original creators, Messrs. Gaiman and Vess as well as those behind the movie, Vaughn and Goldman. I hope this one does well enough so we can see more of Neil's work make it to the big screen.

I give this movie seven out of seven slaughtered princes on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Attack of the On Call Rotation

I'm pretty tired today. I was tired yesterday around 7:30 and decided to make it an extra-early night. On my way to bed, the page came through. Of course.

After dealing with one issue for two hours, the next one came up. That one took four hours before I tried to wash my hands of the issue and go to bed. half an hour later, just past that point of wakefulness when you slide dreamily into the abyss of sleep, the next page came. This time, I had to sit on a conference call for another hour, contributing nothing but a groggy presence since the problem was far removed from my team's processes.

By 2:30 am I had enough. I told the call that I was out, hung up, and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

On Call is fun!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Moblo to Show...Yo?

I had intended to post a short entry showing what an awesome and sweet wife I have. However, Comcast is working in my area, installing fiber (YES!) and so I have no cable and thus no Internet access. I only plan on dialing in if I get paged tonight.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, I'm on call for the first time this week. I've already had a couple of calls. I'm hoping the rest of my rotation is quiet.

Anyways, now I'm moblo-in' and I can't upload the pic of the cool Cookies by Design basket that Stacy sent me. It's full of cookies in the shape of pagers, computers, PDAs, and cell phones. "One for every day until we fly back," Stacy tells me. It was a nice way to start out the morning. She's awesome.

Update de la Excellente:

It appears that the pic I attached to my email was posted along with the entry. That's pretty dang cool.

Update de la Poopoo:

No such luck on the paging front. I was paged just as I pulled out of my neighborhood on the way to see a movie with a bunch of the guys I know from church. It figures. Luckily, it was for something my group doesn't support, so I got out of the call quick. It made me only a few minutes late for The Simpsons Movie. I think I'll get over it, somehow.

The Identity of the Supreme Bourne Ultimatum

Casey and I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum opening weekend. We decided to check it out the latest and last installment in the Bourne series during a matinee to avoid evening crowds. We went to the new Fox Theatres about midway between our two towns. The new theater is huge and very nicely appointed. The seats are comfy and have a fair amount of recline. The stadium seating gives you plenty of viewing space above the head of the person in front. The aisles could be a bit wider, but with the reclining seats, something had to give. Owing to the opening weekend, school break, and weekend timeframe, the theater drew a big crowd, but it wasn't as bad as primetime.

I came into this movie with the knowledge that there would be little to no relation to its inspiration, the book of the same title by Robert Ludlum. The departure of the first movie from the printed work made that possibility moot anyway. There was no way they could tie them together. However, for those of you that enjoy the movies, I highly recommend the books. Same action, better plots and cohesion. Plus, Marie doesn't get ganked in the second book like she did in the second movie.

The movie had plenty of action with Matt Damon performing most of his stunts. I heard him mention in a recent interview that he's getting too old for this @#$%. Wait, that was Murtaugh, sorry. He did say that at 36, he was finding it harder to recover after a day of filming fight scenes and rooftop chases. Personally, I'd be glad to be able to do half the stuff he does in this movie and still be able to wake up in the morning.

Opposite Damon is a cast of decent actors that make a good backdrop to the intrigue and action that is this movie's staple. Julia Stiles reprises her role from the first two movies. There was a romance between Jason and Stile's character Nikki threatening like a thunderhead looming on the horizon for a moment. Thankfully, the weather cleared and that bit of unnecessary fluff didn't make it on the screen. Bourne is pitted against Pamela Landy, played by Joan Allen from the previous movie as well as a whole stable of spooks led by David Straithairn, who is just dreamy according to Michelle at www.bestweekever.tv. Albert Finney, who has been around forever but only really managed to claw his way into my memory after his role on 2003's Big Fish, makes an appearance as well. I see from his imdb entry that Finney portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1970 film Scrooge, which may or may not be the version that makes its way to the airwaves every year. I can't be bothered to remember. Either way, those named did an excellent job providing a murky conspiratorial atmosphere. I was less than impressed by Scott Glenn's scenes, but they were graciously few.

The Bourne Ultimatum gets high marks for some intense, personal action scenes (no cars versus helicopters or Bourne versus jets in this one) and good old fashioned spook conspiracies. I did not like the shaky camera style, however. I found I had a headache after about a half hour of the jittery camera work. The kid kicking the back of my chair throughout the entire damn film didn't help that much. I still found myself enjoying the movie though, so it gets points for that as well.

I give The Bourne Ultimatum four out of five amnesiacs kicking government agency ass on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

The Simpsons Hit the Big Screen

Not a timely headline, obviously, but since this post isn't timely either, it is fitting.

I caught a showing of The Simpson's silver screen debut solo last week on a slow day. I thought of calling Jon and inviting him, but he'd already seen it a few times while in Michigan and I didn't think he'd want to schlep all the way to Manassas to see it again in the rundown theater down the street.

The movie is funny. It's got a lot of the elements that make the television series amusing, including celebrity cameos, appearances from Springfield's non-Simpson residents, quirky gags, physical humor, etc. In fact, the list of things that The Simpsons Movie had that the weekly television show does not is surprisingly short. Jon and I discussed our surprise that the creators did not take advantage of the format more than they did. For example, one (not so shocking) difference was the inclusion of nudity. I'm not going to give away the variety of nudity for those of you that haven't seen it, but I will say that it's not salacious or shocking in the least. This may reveal me as a horrible parent, but I wouldn't care if my daughters saw it, it's that harmless. Other additions were the widescreen format and the extended time. That's about it.

So yes, to see The Simpsons Movie is to pay money for something you can get free, which is pointed out by Homer himself within the first few minutes of the movie. It's still fun to see America's favorite yellow family up on the big screen, popcorn and soda in hand. If you're a fan of the Simpsons, check it out. Otherwise, you could easily wait for the DVD and subsequent television release.

Perhaps my only real complaints about the movie was the lack of more scenes with the non-Simpsons. The television show is entertaining not just for the Simpsons' antics, but for the townspeople's reactions (or lack thereof). While we got to see quite a few of the other players, I felt there could have been more.

I give The Simpsons Movie three out of five naked unnamed Simpsons characters performing unspecified antics on the silver screen on a scale I just made up that doesn't mean anything.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Yeah, I'm Still Here, So What? You Wanna Fight About It?

It's been weeks since my last post. If asked, I don't think I could come up with a satisfactory answer to the question why. Perhaps it's because my trip to see my wife and girls in Utah was harder on me than I thought it would be. It did signal the half-way point in my quasi-bachelorhood, but coming home also meant it would still be another 3 weeks before I saw my family again. Since then, I've had plenty of time to blog, but no inclination. I expect I will get a couple of entries in some time this week. I've been to see The Simpsons and Bourne Supremacy so I'll have a couple of entries about those. I've had some major computer problems, so I've got a bit to write about that. Then there's the trip to Utah itself. I'll see what I can get up here on all of that within the next few days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of Staying Up Way Too Late and Still Getting Up for Work the Next Morning

A few thoughts came to mind as I sat in the theater waiting for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to start last week. First and foremost was,

“What, am I crazy? There is no frickin’ way I’m going to want to get up for work three hours after the movie!”

And second, of only slightly less impact,

“How weird is it to hear the opening strains of the Harry Potter music and not have Stacy’s fingernails digging into my leg?”

For you see, Stacy has this adorable habit of clutching my leg whenever she hears the Harry Potter music on TV or in the theater. The pressure exerted is proportional to how close the release of a new Potter movie is. I may just get a slight clutch at the first teaser trailers months in advance. By the time it is a week before the opening of the movie, I may have five small permanent indentations right above my knee. You can imagine what kind of pain opening night brings. Despite all that, my third thought was,

“I kinda miss it.”

Stacy and I had decided to wait until I got to Utah to go see Harry Potter together. I have no problem with that. Although I have enjoyed the Potter movies, I could stand to wait. However, Wednesday after I got home from work, a couple friends called and told me I was going to a movie with them. “Why not?” I thought, until they told me which movie and what time. A midnight showing would get me home around three or three thirty in the morning on a work night. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but further, the movie was reserved for Stacy and I this week and I told them so.

Of the two of them, only one was married. He just groaned in recognition of the marital edict. The other one, a perpetual bachelor, objected, “Oh, I guess we know who wears the pants in your family!” and other such clichés. My married friend voiced his sympathies and understanding. Sometimes marriage is about understanding and respect. In this case, I understood Stacy’s manic love of the Harry Potter series and respected the amount of damage I would bring upon myself if I violated it.

Undeterred, the two friends rallied with the offer to convince Stacy to allow me to go. I laughed and told them to have at it. Rather than get off the phone, my married friend got his wife to call Stacy. Both of them are good friends of ours. I only caught snippets of the conversation in the background, but from the sounds of it, I was in trouble just for suggesting the idea. Stacy had already given up tickets to the midnight show and she was going to watch her nephews and niece while their parents went. I was told that Stacy would be calling me directly. My married friend expressed his condolences and I hung up, awaiting the call to death row.

What I didn’t mention during all of this is how understanding and sweet my wife is. I knew that if I had asked, she would let me go, maybe make me pay for it elsewhere, but let me go at the time. She called in a couple of minutes and told me to go out and have a good time, which isn’t nearly as entertaining to you my reader as me getting my head chewed off, but much less painful for me.

Still, I can’t help but think that I will be paying for this in no small way by the time I get out to Utah Thursday.

What about the movie, you ask? No, you don’t ask? Well why not? What do you expect from me? I can’t not review a movie I’ve gone and seen! You knew what this was when you came here. You knew what this was!

The fifth in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix found me with relatively low expectations. For some reason, I have not been as excited to see the movies ever since Sir Richard Harris passed away and the role of Dumbledore was given to Michael Gambon. For some reason I cannot separate Gambon from his role in the Robin Williams vehicle, Toys.
Despite this personal issue, the movie turned out to be very enjoyable, if compressed. I have read all the books, but it had been a while since Order of the Phoenix. I knew I was missing a bunch of scenes, but since I didn’t remember what I was missing, I was free to enjoy what was there.

As enjoyable as that was, this was still, as two friends of mine put it later that week, “just another Harry Potter movie.” That really sums it up. No one person’s performance was sub par, no technical issues marred the production, the scenes were lavishly produced with an obvious love of the subject matter, yet there was nothing remarkable about the movie. It was just another in a series. Perhaps I was hoping for more character development, or something above and beyond the story the books already told. I don’t know, but I just wasn’t “wowed”.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all played their parts respectably well, as did the supporting cast. I love to see Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman in anything. Severus Snape is a very complex character that Rickman pulls off with aplomb. Oldman’s Sirius is a tragic figure that he is well-suited to play. I wished for more Hagrid scenes, I think Robbie Coltrane steals every one he’s in. While Voldemort, played admirably by Ralph Fiennes, who I want to call Ralph no matter how often I hear his name pronounced “Rafe” (there’s a damn “L” in there, “Rafe”, say it right!) is ostensibly the villain of the movie, I think that role was filled by another character. From the first moment she was on the screen, I could not stand Dolores Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton, who couldn’t have done a better job under threat of death (actually, she probably would have done a much worse job under those conditions, who needs that kind of pressure?) She earned my loathing much quicker than did Snape in the early movies. I was amazed at how evil she could act while believing for all the world she was in the right. Kudos to Staunton.

My final thought is that if you like Harry Potter, go see the movie. If you are a fan of fantasy, but not particularly attached to the Potter series, wait for Stardust to come out. That one is going to be good.

I give Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix two out of four busybody know-it-alls on a scale I just made up that means nothing.