Pictures from our Florida vacation in late August are now up on Flickr.
We had a great relaxing time in Florida. Yes, it was extremely hot, but that also meant that we were able to do some fun outdoor activities, like playing in the splash park, right near the beach in Ormond.
We celebrated the birthdays of both Robyn and Emma (who had a fully “Frozen” themed party complete with themed cake, princess costume, decals for the walls, and a bouncy castle in the backyard. We got to see a ton of family, meet both Addison Nielsen and Jonathan Feany Jr. for the first time (both adorable). We ate extremely well, had fantastic sushi twice, as well as a meal at McKenna’s Place (the Russian Rueben Bites were new and delicious).
Mike and Janet’s house on the intercoastal waterway is absolutely gorgeous, with a view that can’t be beat, and we made good use of both the pool and the jacuzzi. One of the things that always strikes me when I go back to the US after being abroad for some time is how comfortable the living can be (if you have the money for it).
I’m not talking millions, I’m talking just plain old middle class to upper middle class. The hosues are bigger than in Europe. They have air conditioning. The kitchens are full of appliances and you never need to worry about whether or not your fridge will fit all the food you bought at the grocery store. The entertainment centers include gigantic flat-screen TVs with various black boxes that require numerous remote controls. We haven’t even had the ability to record TV, or cable, for the past two years, so we forget what it’s like.
No doubt about it, there is no country on the planet that is more capable of providing comfortable living than the United States of America. I admit, when I go back, I get a little jealous.
We had a great time visiting with Darien, Margreet, Sena, and Noa in their beautiful house in Wassenaar, Netherlands. It’s a great feeling, to know that you can go back to a place that was special at a time in your life, and there are still people there that a) like you enough to let you stay in their house and b) still make it feel special.
My parents did this on a number of occasions, took us on short weekend trips where we stayed with friends of theirs. I was to young to appreciate at the time exactly what it meant to be able to see someone after years of being apart and think, “Oh, I really missed this person.”
Another added bonus of this trip was that it was the first time that Sydney really started walking (see video), our little baby is now walking around like she’s a real person (or something). It’s a great milestone and we are preparing ourselves for the increase in exercise that we are going to get from chasing her around.
I have a new love, a cartoon-looking first-person-shooter called Borderlands 2 which is one of the best games I have ever played. The gameplay is pretty much your standard button layout, it’s smooth and fluid and the auto-aim is subtle and has just the right balance of helpfulness and skill.
What I really love about the game is just how well-designed everything is. The game eases you into the various features of the interface with a funny intro from a robotic NPC that doesn’t take too long before getting you blasting the bad guys.
A great feature about the game is the different styles of play they have accomodated for, by providing 4 main character classes (Commando, Gunzerker, Siren, Assassin), and filling the game with tons and tons of looted weapons with various settings that really make a difference. It has the nice effect of making you go “ooooh, perfect, a sniper rifle with low recoil and fast reload speed”.
That’s not dorky at all…
Anyway, I’ve been playing the game over and over in campaign mode because it’s just so much fun. There are so many missions, so many optional side-quests, the voice acting is so funny and well-done, that I just don’t want to play anything else. I took some time off for Call of Duty: Ghosts, but other than that, I have been entirely faithful.
Seven months now, and still going strong. One day, I’m sure I’ll have to move on, but probably not for a while.
Moving is a freaking pain in the ass. It’s less of a pain when five Mexican guys show up at your door, willing to professionally wrap and box every single item in your entire apartment (thanks Rigo, Julio, Gino, Freddy, and Angel). But it’s still a pain in the ass.
That’s your cue to say, “Tell us Brian, why was it such a pain in the ass?”
Glad you asked.
The most annoying thing about moving is all the things that just break/go wrong/make you want to explode like an atom bomb. The things that SHOULD work but don’t.
- The computers you spend minutes agonizing over making sure you switched to 220 voltage but still won’t turn on (and have your only installation of iTunes) when you plug them in.
- The things you can’t buy because the stupid retail system in the UK is wired to do a credit check for every 10-pound data plan and for some reason yours fails every time.
- The banks that don’t let you sign up a joint account unless both of you are working (yes, I’m looking at you Barclays).
- The iPad data plan (that you have to use Pay-As-You-Go because you failed the credit check) that won’t work because you have to connect your iPad to your iTunes (which you can’t do because your stupid computer [which you air shipped over the ocean] won’t turn on.
And hanging over our heads through all of this is the fact that my work visa, which was good for 3 years, expires in one month and I have to go through a 50-page application, and so does Robyn, to renew it. The 50-page application isn’t the real problem. The real problem is ridiculous requirements like: “You must show us 12 months of bank statements showing how rich you are and the logo of the bank must be on EVERY page of each statement.” Sorry, but Bank of America, retards that they are, only print their logo on the first page. What am I supposed to do about that?
Equally frustrating is trying to arrange for someone to move into our apartment from overseas, and having to deal with the building’s management company, who insist on paperwork that we simply cannot get the bank to provide. Yes, I know I signed a paper saying I would get the bank to state that I can sublet without breaking any clause in my mortgage, and after six calls to customer service they all agree: “We don’t have any problem, there’s nothing in your note that says you can’t sublet, but we don’t have an official communication that says this and we can only give out official communications.”
I keep telling myself, “woooosaah, woooosah,” and I keep telling Robyn, “Don’t worry, I’m sure they will accept all this paperwork.” But honestly, this has been the most annoying move I have ever done. Even the move to the Netherlands was not as difficult as this, and there every government form was in a foreing language.
Also adding to my annoyance is the fact I let the sales woman at Joseph A Banks talk me into the wrong suit size and now my suit is going to cost almost 200 dollars in alterations to get it to fit correctly, which is almost as much as it cost to buy, thanks to the expensive London skilled labor that I am going to have to hire to basically cut it into an entirely different suit.
The only thing that has helped through all this is that Robyn has been a fantastic partner. She has used her time to sign up all our utilities, make appointments with banks, go shopping for home wares, buy food (from the tiny “express” supermarkets that are near us), and generally be an awesome force for calm and stability in my life.
Thank you baby.
/END OF RANT
So I was looking for a good FPS to transport me into a fantasy realm where I am powerful and use my superpowers (and many many guns) to kill bad guys, and I saw the TV ads for Crysis 2 and thought “perfect”.
However, when I started playing I learned that you quickly die in the initial stages if you don’t master the stealth aspect of the game. Which is bad for me. I’ve never been one for stealth games. I tried almost every installment of the Metal Gear franchise unsuccessfully, which annoyed me. I hate sucking at things.
But I stuck with it and finally the game added “armor mode” which allowed me to just plow through guys. But then a strange thing happened. Once I mastered the stealth aspect I loved it. I loved sneaking up on unaware CELL troops, stabbing them through their throats, remaining cloaked, then running for cover to recharge my stealth energy.
Overall the game has very nice graphics, good game mechanics, an extremely average but well-executed storyline, visually interesting levels that keep you entertained enough not to care too much that pretty much the whole game is the same thing. There are a few vechicle driving missions, but they are short and you can actually get by without actually driving the vehicles if you don’t want.
I have to say, one of the catchiest parts of the game is the theme music, which for some reason is just haunting and since I hear it every time I turn on or off the game, I can’t escape humming it repeatedly when I finally have had enough mindless violence and decide to quit for the evening.
Overall, I recommend it.
This movie rocked! It was like a two-hour long chase scene starting in the wilderness of some Scandinavian-looking country, through the deserts of Morocco, then finally into Germany. The girl who plays Hanna does an awesome job of being both likable and giving off that “I’ve been living in a shack in the woods being trained by my ex-spy Dad all my life” kind of vibe. It’s nice to have a female baddie with some good acting chops (although Cate Blanchett’s Southern accent is a little overdone), Eric Bana is the man and gets a few good fight scenes in, and overall the movie keeps the tempo up the entire time.
I thought the ending was a bit anti-climactic but perfectly in keeping with the plot and tone of the story. I loved this movie and would recommend it to anyone.
So yesterday we stopped snowboarding a bit early and, after Darien brought Joanneke back from getting her new cast (turns out her leg is broken), we went to the brand spanking new “Tauren Spa“.
Now, I’m no connoisseur of European spas, so I have no frame of reference, but I had a pretty strong suspicion that there was going to be some nakedness involved. And I was also pretty sure that Robyn was not going to be cool with that. Turns out, peer pressure works really well. And once the fateful moment passed where we had to hang our towels up on the rack and enter the sauna, wearing nothing but our birthday suits, all barriers were removed.
The sauna, like most European nude beaches, was populated mostly by old dudes, and old fat chicks, but there was a funny moment when we entered one of the dry saunas (there were like five different varieties of sauna rooms to be had) which was occupied by three naked Dutch chicks, who didn’t know that we had two Dutch speakers with us. After they left, Margreet told us they were talking about us, saying that we seemed uncomfortable and that it was probably our first time. Well, they were right about at least half of that!
In any case, walking around naked is an exercise in constant self-reinforcement, but SWIMMING naked is pretty damn fun. Especially when you go in the heated pool outside and watch the sun go down behind the snow-capped mountains.
My main gripe with the place wasn’t the enforced nudity, but that we went there to get some relaxation for our sore muscles and they did not have a hot tub. Not one jacuzzi. In the whole damn place. What the hell kind of brand new spa, whose clientele are mainly sore skiers and snowboarders, doesn’t have a hot tub!
Well, the cast is a bit smaller because Leah missed her flight and decided not to come, and Tori, Joanda, and Robert are sitting this one out, but most of the gang is together again in Kaprun, Austria, skiing and snowboarding on a glacier that’s 9,950 feet above sea level, and playing poker in the evenings in the living room of the six room house we’re renting. Special thanks to Darien and Margreet for organizing the whole thing.
Kaprun is probably one of the only places in Europe that you could be skiing at the end of March. The glacier is fairly large, and you can get a nice run just by taking the top of it, which is wide and at a decent grade to get some speed up, but only accessible via a number of different T-bar lifts.
So far I’ve had three really good days of snowboarding. The temperature today was 50 degrees and sunny. I was sitting on the glacier at a cafe, drinking a hot chocoloate while wearing only a T-shirt today. Awesome.
We left it a bit late this time, I would recommend early March at the latest, because Zell am See is already almost over, so our options are limited (we’ve pretty much done every run on the mountain in two days), but with good weather, good company, and still good snow on the glacier, who can really complain.
I love snowboarding. Snowboarding and ultimate frisbee are my two favorite physical activities and I’d be hard pressed to choose between them if I could only do one for the rest of my life. There’s something so zen about carving down the mountain, really leaning back on your heels or leaning out over your toes on a good hard toe turn. It’s just transcendental when you’re in a good rhythm.
The one thing I will harp on is the rude manners of the Europeans in lines, and the poor line management by the mountain staff. In every American ski resort I’ve ever been in, there are clear lines that say how many people can be in them, that merge neatly into one single column of orderly skiers and snowboarders, and no one ever has to feel like they are being cheated out of their rightful place in line, or being taken advantage of by those people who are willing to just be assholes.
Oh, and today it was so warm and sunny down in the valley that Robyn laid out in her bikini.
Another awesome thing about Spring skiing.
(Sadly, no pictures are available.)