Thursday, July 28, 2011

'Hawk, Man

I knew the dog was due for a trim, but I wasn't expecting to come home and find out Nitti now has a mohawk...

The worse part of it for me is the fact that even if I wanted to style my hair that way, male pattern baldness has made it impossible, no matter how much gel I might use.

This pretty much means that my dog currently has a cooler hairstyle than I can even aspire to. It doesn't bother me a whole lot, but the fact that it is on my radar at all is a bit discouraging. On the other hand, maybe the fact that my ego isn't going down without a fight is a good thing...

At any rate, Nitti does represent 50% of the y-chromosomes in the house, so I am going to exalt him as a gender representative and move on.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

May the Frosting Be with You

My friend Jonah turned 12 today, and even though the whole Star Wars universe has largely moved on and left me repeatedly viewing the original trilogy with my girls, I have to admit his birthday cake is all kinds of cool.

And not just a Storm Trooper, but a Lego Storm Trooper at that!

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fab 4: UK Tour Photos

(I asked Fenya to take a turn as guest-blogger, and to tell us about her four favourite pictures from her trip to the UK.  Nerdy divertimentos will presumably resume next week.)

We were at Warwick castle, and the figures had recordings to go with them and everything. Everyone thought she was real. Go, wax figures! My sister even asked what song she was singing. When I told everyone she was fake, they all gave me a disbelieving/is this true/whaaat? stare. Yes, even Dad. Some of them made everyone jump, especially at the torture chamber. No Madame Tusaud’s for me.

First double-decker sighting! I was on the wall of Chester, and my friend looked all giddy, so I went up and asked if she was okay. She looked at me and said “dbbldkrbs.” “Pardon?”  “Double-decker bus!”  I looked around and there it was, driving underneath us! Okay, maybe it was one of those silly little buses for tourists, but it still counts, right? I mean, even though it said 'Sightseeing Chester' on the front, it was still a double-decker. Did you know that London doesn’t have the old fashioned buses anymore? They all look like crappy city buses stacked on top of each other.                                                                                                                                      

Y’know, Welsh mountains are more like rocky foothills… the tops still had grass on them, there were houses on lots, and there were sheep grazing on the peaks! Sheep in Wales have long tails, actually. They don’t dock them with those stupid rubber bands. Wouldn’t that hurt?  Anyway, I’m getting off topic here. Everyone was oohing and aaahing over the view (which I have to say, was pretty spectacular.) when someone said “Um, we totally could’ve seen this in Canada.” One of the older girls went up to her and replied “See those white specks in the distance? Those are sheep. Do you think you’d see long tailed sheep in Canada?” She was quiet after that.  

Many say this looks like a postcard pic. I say it was a lucky shot. Everyone else was busy not listening to their audio guides. I tried to convince my friends to get them, but they all refused. “Tell us three pieces of information that you didn’t know before from there.” No problem. “Well, Stonehenge is built on a barrow… that over there is the equinox stone… and people used to buy chisels and hammers so they could bring home a piece of Stonehenge.”  “What’s a barrow?”  “I’m glad you asked. It’s a burial… hey, where are you going?” “I’m sorry, what were you saying?” “(Sigh.) Never mind.” 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chip Off the Auld Block

Strange as it may be to say, we didn't really worry about Fenya whilst she was an ocean away.

Sure, she was missed, especially at mealtimes, but she was in such good hands, that we never needed to worry. Instead, we would wonder about how the weather was in Liverpool that day, or what she would be seeing the following day.

She returned today, and as we'd hoped, she was far too busy having fun to get homesick for us as well. Incredibly fatigued, a little scaly about the head due to a lack of hot water in the hostels they stayed in, but remarkably upbeat. It sounds as though her first international tour with Cantilon Chamber Choir was a tremendous experience.

She saw lots of interesting sights and did lots of interesting things, but what I found most interesting was how her reactions to certain situations paralleled Audrey's and my own.

* In a group of 40+ choristers, she was one of only three who ordered a curry for dinner when offered one.

* When they visited Stonehenge, she was one of the few who took advantage of the audio tour, and then regaled her traveling companions with what she had learned ("Oh! And if you stand here during the equinox...").

* "Look, we can get a pepperoni pizza back home, but we can only get a 'Full English Breakfast pizza' in England, right? Right? Guys?"

* Touring Windsor Castle, she served as unofficial tour guide for her companions (all of whom are older than her), and even got to to work in the fact that the castle is a brilliant example of Perpendicular Gothic Architecture (thanks Wikipedia!).

* She bought four different teddy bears for her sister, and only a cardigan, plaque and book for herself. The book? One of the 'Horrible Histories' series, entitled 'Cut-Throat Celts'. My old boss Mark started her off with 'Rotten Romans', and they are quite good.

* She was one of a number of choristers who hijacked a computer in Llangollen used for revealing competition results to send a quick e-mail home ("I'm in Wales!").

* "So we couldn't perform at Windsor Chapel? Because William Shatner was doing Shakespeare there for the BBC! And so we went to the movies instead, and I asked if I could go to see William Shatner instead, but I was the only one who wanted to, so they said no. So we went to see Harry Potter, on opening night, in London!"

We barbecued burgers with mushrooms tonight, and Fenya was very appreciative. "We had burgers in England, and they tasted like beef jerky."

"We have some of the best beef in the world in Alberta, and sometimes we forget how lucky we are," I told her.

Fenya nodded, "Yeah, really lucky. In lots of ways."

No kidding? Me too.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Metal and Water

I picked up a Rhapsody of Fire e.p. today and in the course of looking them up on teh Interwebs, I came across a favourable review of the new album which is released here Tuesday.  This same reviewer ("Angry Metal Guy") also had a lot of good things to say about the new album "The Lay of Thrym", by the Viking metal band Tyr, who hail from the Faroe Islands.

Well, I've been listening to a whackload of Tyr music via YouTube for much of the afternoon, and will be grabbing that album at the next opportunity.  Well done folk-metal, nice mix of progression and aggression, and clear powerful vocals with occasional harmonies; it's a good fit for me.  I also appreciate the cheekiness of lyrics like these from "Shadow of the Swastika":
You who think the hue of your hide means you are to blame
And your father's misdeeds are his son's to carry in shame
Not mine I'll take no part
You can shove the sins of the your father where no light may pass
And kiss my Scandinavian ass

This in turn got me to whimsically thinking about visiting the Faroe Islands, smack in the middle of a triangle betwixt Scotland, Iceland and Norway. Neat little place that the British occupied during WWII to keep the Hun at bay.  They are technically a constituent country of the Kingdom of Denmark, but also have ties to Britain since WWII, which apparently manifests itself in odd little things, like the presence of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars in the shops, as you don't often find these in Denmark.

The Faroe Islands have a couple of different music festivals in the summer and a diverse spiritual history that includes both pagan and Christian elements.  If I should ever find myself in Ireland or Scotland in the future, I would love to pop over and check this place out, something that never would have ocurred to me prior to stumbling across a band barely known in North America.  Metal-driven tourism, who'd have thunk it, huh?

Well, it turns out some enterprising soul has, because I noted that Tyr was one of the artists involved in something called "70,000 Tons of Metal" , a Caribbean cruise that featured something like 40 heavy metal bands, including a few I quite like, such as Blind Guardian, Sonata Arctica, and now Tyr, as well as some others I have at least heard of, like Epica and Gamma Ray.

They have a second cruise scheduled for next January that I don't see any hope of getting to barring a lotto jackpot, but I can't help but be intrigued by the premise, and tip my helm to the creative and enterprising people who found an intriguing way to make cruise ships a potential vacation for a somewhat unexpected demographic!

Especially when getting that many people with an affinity to Vikings on any sort of boat might seem counter-intuitive...

Friday, July 8, 2011

G&G VI: Six Appeal!

For six consecutive years this motley assortment of iconoclastic nerds has gathered to play games, drink beer, and generally carry on in a completely immature but totally awesome fashion.  A weekend spent cursing, belching, and breaking wind, but mostly just laughing and enjoying each other's company.

Previous entries have expressed at exhaustive length both the rationale and the purpose behind this convocation of the Fraternitas Sub Terra, this "Brotherhood of the Basement", so I will not belabour those points further.  Suffice to say that an entertaining and only semi-debauched time was had by all, but that still leaves a little room for some specific recollections, and a few photos, courtesy of Earl and Mick T.

A critical part of 'setup'
Pete, Mick T and I commenced unpacking and setup at Belongamick in South Edmonton Wednesday afternoon, and others began to drift in that night, as Island Mike arrived after supper and Bytown Rob and first time attendee Peace Country Dave showed up later in the evening.  By happy coincidence, this also happened to be my birthday, so a number of exotic beers were deployed (premier among them, in my opinion, being the Killer Bee dark honey ale from Tin Whistle Brewery in Penticton), and we got a few card games in as well.

Peace Country Dave: welcome to th' club, brah!
Island Mike brought along a new card games; I quite enjoyed Guillotine, wherein you collect the heads of nobility in post-Revolution Paris, and your only real ability is using cards to change the order of the line so that the really pompous ones that are worth the most points are at the front of the line when it is your turn to pull the string.   Burn In Hell! is a Steve Jackson Game that has players competing to collect similar sets of the souls of the Damned (all drawn from history!), before the game ends when Hell freezes over.  A great game, but given the archetype we attendees tend to represent, we spent almost as much time discussing the historical factoids on the backs of the cards as we did playing.

We also introduced a new tradition which everyone seemed to enjoy: The Quote Wall.  I brought a couple of large, lined pads of Post-It notes, and tried to keep them handy throughout the various games.  Whenever anyone said something particularly funny, memorable, clever or just plain tasteless, someone else would use a Sharpie to jot it down and stick it on the downstairs cupboards.  By the end of the weekend there were about 45 of these notes adorning the cupboards, many of which were still provoking chuckles a day or two later.  Looking at it now, it's clear that neither "You put the 'bitch' in obituary," nor "Easier than shooting Timmies in a well," are going to have anyone comparing us to the Algonquin Roundtable anytime soon, but it still puts a grin on my face.  And no, I shan't be posting any larger pictures of the quote wall, because it is both highly contextual and somewhat incriminating.

Approx. 1/3 of The Quote Wall
We also got our first of many sessions of Bang! in, a spaghetti western card game I picked up at Mission Fun and Games' Birthday Sale (turns out this is just the kind of crowd to appreciate a game that comes in a giant bullet), plus some Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice.  Lots of gaming, and G&G VI hadn't even officially begun yet!  After this auspicious beginning, we finally packed it in just before 4:00 a.m., and Island Mike was heard to muse, "I'm grateful to discover that I can stay up to ridiculous hours just because I want to, and not because I have to."

Pop Tarts and Sap Vampire; a helluva breakfast!
After a hearty breakfast we got down to setting up the first big event: a 5000 point, Apocalypse sized Warhammer 40,000 game.  Two brand new, barely dry Imperial Guard armies fielded by Island Mike and myself would stand off the implacable horde of Scotty's Orks and Pete's Tyranids in a spectacle that would see over 200 infantry and dozens of vehicle models including tanks aricraft and monsters all clambering for supremacy in the nightmare future of the 41st Millennium!!

The game looked fantastic, thanks largely to the brand new tabletop Scotty had brought, which in turn was due in no small part to his rather laissez faire attitudes toward child labour and his uncanny ability to convince his offspring that gaming, schmaming, terrain making is where the real fun is!

"Lotsa armour, but all the infantry got et!"
There are probably a lot of reasons the game turned into the indisputable shit-kicking of humanity that it did: an unfamiliar army for us new Guard players, a complete inability to destroy Scotty's gargant in the first two turns of concentrated fire from damned near fifteen hundred points (!) of tanks, the surprise appearance of 30 well 'ard Orks that somehow missed being deployed with the other 70 of their feel-no-pain brethren; but in the end, I take a lot of comfort from the fact that it can only get better from here, and that this burned hand of a game taught Mike and I quite a bit about better ways to use the Imperial Guard.  At some point I will post something closer to an actual battle report, but for now, let's just let the wounds of shame scab over, shall we?

SFX: Wagner's 'Flight of the Valkyries'
No points at all for being better dressed?  Bah!
The evening saw us playing the car racing game Formula De and more games of Bang! once Earl joined us and brought our numbers up to 8.
This nasty hairpin would take two unlucky drivers out of the race.

The only drinking and driving we tolerate at G&G!
The next day got started a little later, on account of we may act like teenagers, but we are most certainly not as resilient as teenagers.  We got stuck into some Robo Rally, as it also supports 8 players and prevented us from having to break into smaller groups.  Dave took his leave of us in the afternoon to return home to Grande Prairie as we began preparing to attend the Rammstein concert, which was an absolutely pyrolicious  and sporadically terrifying experience.

"What's under that tarp I wond- holy moley!"

The next day saw us getting into various interstitial and non-consequential games like Pimp: The Backhanding (a tasteless staple of the event since G&G IV) prior to setting up what has become, in many ways, the highlight of Gaming & Guinness: Circus Maximus, a hotly contested chariot racing game that forces competitors to balance their need for speed with their carnal desire for the utter destruction of their rivals.  Case in point: when defending champion Jeff began drawing ahead, he soon found himself not only surrounded by no less than 4 enemy chariots, but was in fact boxed in tighter than a veal calf.  When he miraculously extricated himself from that tight fix, he earned the grudging respect of the other drivers, thus was not savagely beaten by envious cohorts when he careened into first place and took home the trophy for the second year running!

"Ow! Ow!  Why isn't anyone going after the orange one?"

After a delicious chili dinner (and yes, lots of chili and beer did happen to have a somewhat deleterious effect on local air quality, what of it?), Jeff unpacked a variety of Rock Band games for the PS3, which kept us occupied long into the night.  it was my first time playing Rock Band 3, so we all enjoyed being able to crank out "Du Hast" by Rammstein less than 24 hours after having seen them live, and I appreciated having the opportunity to sing "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas.  Many classic songs of our youth found their way onto the playlist, like "Roundabout" by Yes, but also some new wave influences like "Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen.  My personal highlight came during Scotty's turn on vocals singing "Helter Skelter" in Rock Band Beatles, and having him do a full on spit take while drinking water once he realized I was loudly whispering, "GET MRS. POLANSKI" from behind him.
"Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for...THE UNCOMFORTABLES!"

Sadly, the recent Playstation Network hack met Jeff was unable to download some of last year's favourites like "Stonehenge" by Spinal Tap and "Gay Bar" by the Electric Six, so I might have to bring the Wii edition as well next year so we can get those in.  Still, we had all the music we needed to play late into the night as we continued to diminish the beer stocks to a shadow of their former selves.

"To crush your empties, see them drunken before you..."
The next day meant saying "Aloha" to our out of town visitors, and afterwards Pete, Mick T and I took a stab at Cosmic Encounters, an elegant card and board game which we (understandably) figured would have presented an educational challenge once G&G had gotten underway.  Perhaps next year.

The final assessment?  Another roaring success, even with a brand new attendee.  As our lives seem to become busier and busier, it is critically important that we make time for our friends and the things that are important to us.  We may joke about the criteria being how much beer gets consumed (96 Guinness, 24 Innis & Gunn, 24 Sap Vampire, at least a half-dozen Sleeman's Honey Brown, probably two dozen Strongbow, 12 Kenmount Road Chocolate Stout, a handful of Alley Kat Coffee Porter and about a dozen Glenn Sherbrooke), but the more important thing is how much time we spent together, and what we got for that increasingly valuable currency.

"We can add Earl in post..."
I'm already looking forward to next year!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pre-Teen Traveller

Early Friday morning, we commemorated Canada Day in an unconventional fashion: by sending Fenya out of the country.

The Cantilon Chamber choir is heading to Wales to compete in the prestigious Eisteddfod Festival, and will be performing and rehearsing in some amazing venues, including a crypt, a dungeon, and the chapel at Windsor Castle.

They are also taking some time to do some touristy things, like visiting the "Fab4D" experience in Liverpool, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, and the London Eye. In preparation for this trip, we got Fenya to read 'Sarum' by Edward Rutherfurd, and she and I watched multiple episodes of Red Dwarf, as well as the movie 'Zulu' (mostly due to the Welsh choir, even if they do use different lyrics for "Men of Harlech").

That part was pretty easy, the harder part was the emotional preparation; after all, it is quite the expedition for a gal of twelve. Thankfully she already has a couple of summer camp experiences under her belt. We tried to avoid drawing too much attention to the countdown as it drew near, but I still managed to put my foot into it last week by saying, "I guess this is our last Sunday dinner together for a while, eh?"

By and large, Fenya has been excellent about the whole thing, and the departure went off without a hitch, and with nary a tear, at least on our parts. There was one sniffly chorister and one red-eyed mum, but for a group of 48 singers aged 12-19,that seems pretty good.

This is the first major tour for the new general manager, but founder and artistic director Heather Johnson has had a lot of experience doing this, and it showed as she got everyone organized to board the coach that would take them to Calgary for their flight. She had everyone present their performance uniforms prior to stowing their luggage, and the only hiccup came when one chorister (not Fenya!) couldn't present her passport and had to have her suitcase pulled out from beneath the bus in order to retrieve it.

Such an undertaking is obviously a mixture of excitement and fear, and as long as the balance favors excitement, all tends to go well. Fenya was clearly a bit anxious about the whole affair, but kept her wits about her, and best of all, kept a smile upon her face through the whole affair, even as the bus pulled away from the curb by Robertson-Wesley church where they regularly rehearse.

Now she is incommunicado until she returns on the 16th; Heather has banned all electronic devices like cellphones and such, as she feels they run a real risk of increasing homesickness, which, as we all know, is only slightly less contagious than smallpox. So all we can do now is hope our well wishes and prayers can make it safely across the Atlantic with her. She is a smart, sensitive lass in very good company, so we have faith in her having both a great adventure and a safe return!