Saturday, April 27, 2013

Root Beer Review #1: Sprecher

I've long wanted to do root beer reviews here on my blog; it is something I am fairly passionate about after all. Jacelyn would call me a root beer snob. It is true, I'm a particular drinker, and I don't like beer in general, so I've developed what I would consider a discerning taste for root beer. And it has been a rewarding pursuit, there are a surprising number of offerings other than the mainstream trio.

For a little history I would have to say that I began my exploration into the world of non-caffeinated dark sodas during my first road trip to visit my sister and her family in California. I collected as many different and unique root beer and sarsaparilla bottles as I could find. In doing so I tasted them too, and so my snobbery developed.

Today I will be reviewing a root beer that is new to me: Sprecher Fire-Brewed Root Beer. I picked it up at Sticky's Candy shop in Chilliwack, along with two others I have yet to taste. I was there for this purpose as well as to visit king Gord at the slot car track in the back, he's a LUG member and I was looking for part 30274. He had none, but I came away with three new brews.

Now to start, the first thing that I really liked about this one was the bottle. Standard twist cap, and a nice enough label, and the bottle is brand specific with the name in raised glass below the neck. But the best part is that it's a BIG bottle, 473ml (16oz.) I like that, and for this brew I think it's a good size. The logo is a little strange, a cartoony crow/lion thing popping out of a shield crest, and the name is in a definite Bavarian font despite the fact that it comes from Wisconsin.

Of course they boast the natural ingredients: "pure Wisconsin honey direct from the comb." and vanilla, and of course the new-to-me pride in being made in a gas-fired brew kettle. The label also declares that it is rated #1 by the New York Times. In what category we can only guess. But does it merit that sort of distinction?

The aroma is fairly typical of hand-made root beer, though you can smell hints of the honey they use. The head is medium as well, and dissolves quickly into mere suds. A cold mug would do better to get a taste of it, as in some root beers it is better than the drink itself. The flavour is very smooth with the perfect amount of carbonation, but compared to some other root beers it lacks the full body or deep flavour that is a sign of a true gourmet soda. There is again a hint of honey in the aftertaste(more noticeable when drinking straight from the bottle), but you would miss it if you were drinking it with a meal. It doesn't taste overly sweet either, but that is a very good thing, no caramel flavour added!

Overall I wouldn't put it in my top three, but close. Due to its smooth and light taste I would choose this root beer on a hot day when I wanted a refreshing draught, plus it's big enough to share.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Super Lego Post for Tristan!

For Tristan. I hope that you like looking at some of the Lego that I have built, and I hope that it will inspire you to keep building and to use your imagination.

I starting playing with Lego again almost two years ago. I loved to play with it as a kid, much more than my brother did I think. And I've always thought it one of the best toys for learning and creative play. Having a few nephews, and a niece who like to play with it too is really fun.

 This is the first part of the gatehouse that I am working on for my castle. You can see the black portcullis on the right. There will be another tower on the other side of it and a connecting arch above it. I plan to have working chains and pulleys so that the portcullis can go up and down.

 Here you can see how the tower section will fit like a zipper with the wall section I have already built. I began to run out of grey pieces near the top of the tower so I used red, yellow, black, and white. I will get more pieces and finish it off soon.

 Here are some of my Crusader soldiers manning the wall. They have to stand on a wooden platform to look over the crenelations. They can throw spears and shoot arrows at anything attacking the wall.

 Look at how tall the tower is compared to the wall! Behind the soldier on the top of the tower will be an even taller tower. Can you see all the arrow slits in the walls? They are like windows that you shoot arrows out of, but that are hard to shoot arrows into.

Here are a group of Uruk-hai and orcs with a cyclops that are trying to attack the wall. I don't think they'll win.

 The wall is a little too big for them, and they didn't bring any ladders. Do you see how the cyclops is looking suspiciously over at the orc with Cleopatra's haircut?

These Uruk-hai serve under the white hand of Saruman. Jacelyn gave me a Lord of the Rings Lego set for Christmas, and one for my birthday, I have a lot of orcs and uruks now.

I also have some super heroes (and villains) (and anti-heroes). I bought this set at the Lego Store when we went there for the LUG sale. I also got a pick-a-brick cup.

Wolverine is my favorite hero, I love how they captured his hairstyle in plastic.

The set comes with an attack chopper, Magneto, and Deadpool as well. Deadpool is my favorite non-hero so this one was a must have for me.

I found this star wars V-Wing fighter at Superstore for a really good price, so I had to get it.

It's really sleek, and it comes with a pearl silver astromech droid. I took the pilot out to fly one of my GARCs.

Jacelyn also gave me the King's Carriage for my birthday. It has some bad guys who try to ambush the king in the forest.
And yes, it has a king too!

For one of our AbbyLUG (Abbotsford Lego User Group) meetings we were supposed to come up with a little vignette that would fit on an 8x8 plate. I did one of a pirate chained to a cannon sinking to the bottom of the sea, but I took it apart before I thought to take a picture. This one is the one my friend Jeremy did. This guy is either going to get really sick, or become a super-hero.

I occasionally splurge on the little bagged sets called, very appropriately, impulse sets. Some cools stuff though, the rescue chopper, the ghost and clock, a microscale Mandalorian fighter, and Gandalf with a map, a rock, a spider, and a skull.

A while back we had the family over for Sunday lunch. While the grown-ups talked I played Lego with Sarah and Jacob. Jacob mostly wanted to see if random assortments of bricks floated in the bathtub, but Sarah and I built this robot together.

She said it looks a little like a bird, but that's just its mouth. It stands on its own ok and it can move its arms, fingers, legs, feet, and head all over the place.

This is another set that is super pose-able. I got this one for Christmas from Jordan and Katy, my brother and sister-in-law. It's Shelob from LotR, and there's Sam with the Phial of Galadriel, and Frodo with the One Ring. 

I've also been collecting some of the minifigures over the last couple of years. From left to right, starting in the front we have: William Wallace, Dark Dwarf, French Painter, Sherlock Holmes. Middle: Neptune, Bagpipe Guy, Statue of Liberty, William Shakespeare, Buckingham Palace Guard, Dark Knight, Cavegirl, Musketeer, Geisha, Thracian Gladiator. Back: A group of Heroic Knights, Disco Guy, Aztec Eagle Warrior, Cyclops, Genie, Maid Marion, Roman Centurion, Conquistador, and Gollum hiding in the back.
I also build for contests and groups online sometimes. This is for the GARC group on flicker. GARC stands for Galactic Asteroid Racing Curcuit. Kind of like space rally racing. This is my Blue Sun racer.
This is the Marauder. Each racer must hold a pilot and a navigator and have no weapons. It is dangerous enough racing around and asteroid field without weapons involved.
This is the first MOC (my own creation) I posted online after I started to build again. It was for a contest to build a realistic starfighter. I chose to go with a reasonably realistic UOV (unmanned orbital vehicle). The size of a satellite or probe the Wraith opens its two wings when its target is in range and lets loose with hull-tearing grapeshot, overwhelming current point-defense systems and inflicting critical damage to small targets.

I didn't win or even get an honourable mention, but it was fun nonetheless. And that is what Lego should be about, people having fun building and sharing that experience with each other.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Booklist 2012 part 2

Jacelyn returns!

James posted about his reads of 2012 and I thought it might be nice to lend my voice too.  I had never kept a list of everything I read in a year and it was nice to go back and recall all the books I picked up. Some were 'throw away books', books that I read and promptly dismissed because they weren't terribly memorable, but others have stayed with me and left an impression, some pleasant, some uncomfortable.

Now, it's true, this was not a competition, but for the record, I read waaaaaay faster than James :)

Some of the books I read this year were re-reads. I love reading favourites over and over, it's like catching up with an old friend.  These included The Hunger Games Trilogy, the Hobbit, Persuasion, Danny: Champion of the World, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Westing Game, The Giver (so amazing!) and A Walk with Jane Austen.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I had heard so much about this book and the others in the series, I had to give it a try.  I was really happy with the level of detail and the various plot lines that all converged, but the big villain reveal left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  There are some very graphic descriptions of rape and torture and murder and I couldn't bring myself to read the the other two books in the series, much less watch the movie.  I'm not usually a prude when it comes to books, but this one was a bit much for me.

The Thief - My new favourite author!!!  Megan Whalen Turner is the absolute best and this series is so well crafted it blew my mind. The world and its occupants are reminiscent of ancient Greece and with a particularly satisfying plot twist, this is the one book that I read twice this year.  The others in the series are The Queen of Atolia, The King of Atolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings.  Each one gets better than the one that came before it!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I heard this was being made into a movie, and was a little disappointed.  It was kind of blah, but I suppose that might have been part of the point. Not great enough for a second reading.

The Lovely Bones - Fascinating story of a girl who is murdered and is able to exist as a spirit to watch her family as they try to solve the murder and find her body. I didn't love all the elements, the idea of heaven being something you can create and spirits able to inhabit the bodies of the living is definitely on the weird side, but the heart of the story is about loss and despair and the reality of missing children.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court - A hilarious Mark Twain. It's a huge book but really enjoyable. I expected a typical time travel, where the hero experiences a new culture and promptly returns home. Hank, however, lives in medieval England for several decades, having convinced the locals that he is a magician. At the height of his glory he has established newspapers, factories, and a network of power lines and telephones.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - We saw the movie Hugo last year without knowing it was a children's book and after reading it, I promptly put it on my 'To Buy' list. It's gorgeous, a blend between a novel and a picture book, where stunning black and white sketches tell parts of the story. Lots of information about the father of the 'moving picture', Georges Melies.

Slaughterhouse-Five - So weird. SO Weird. It's hailed as the greatest anti-war novel of our time, and I found it to be an exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder so I suppose that could be considered anti-war. Billy Pilgrim loses his grip on reality and 'time travels' with an alien race. Some description of the brutalities of war.

The Great Gatsby - I came to this book with such high expectations. I was under the impression that it was a luscious portrait of the roaring 20's, lavish parties, copious amounts of alcohol, schmoozing with the rich and famous.  It was, but only for a few scenes. The rest was symbolic descriptions that I didn't understand (in part because I don't know as much about the 20's as I thought) and a few destructive relationships.  Also, a morality tale about climbing the social ladder instead of staying where you belong. Perhaps the movie will be better?

The Casual Vacancy - JK Rowling astounded me with the Harry Potter series, and I was intrigued when I heard she was writing something completely different. *sigh* Biggest disappointment of the year. A huge novel set in a small English village, there was almost nothing terribly exciting or worthwhile in this book. I only had it on loan from the library for two weeks and I forced myself to finish it because I knew I wouldn't bother to request it again. That being said, Rowling does a good job of weaving a ton of characters together, the climax at the end showcases how entangled all these lives are, it just has none of the thrill and excitement of Harry Potter.

Life of Pi - If you haven't read this yet, put it on your list!  So incredible. Yann Martel has created a masterpiece that makes you think and examine your acceptance of fantastic/unbelievable experiences. Pi, a young man, is adrift at sea in a life boat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. At the end of the novel, when we are presented with two possible explanations, I had a hard time deciding which one I would choose to believe in. Am I a purely logical being, dismissing anything that does not sound probable, or am a person who embraces the supernatural, no matter how astonishing?

The Fault in our Stars - The last book of the year certainly left me with the strongest reaction. Never ever have I read a book that elicited such an emotional response. Two teenagers with terminal cancer fall in love and I cried harder than I have in a long time. Interesting that the author, John Green, is the same man who brought us the hit YouTube channel Crash Course World History. (It's taught me so much!)

And there are my highlights of 2012!  2013 is already off to a great start with Game of Thrones and Wuthering Heights!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Booklist 2012

It's not a competition.

James: 34  Jacelyn: 52

She won. Of course I work 3.5 more hours per day than she does... and I fill my schedule with too many hobbies to shake a stick at. I digress.

For those who were able to be at our wedding this comes as no surprise, we both like to read. I think I was the one who suggested the list. It was a lot of fun.

We read some of the same books this year, one after the other, The Hunger Games trilogy which I bought for her in hardback last Christmas, The Maze Runner which I hope doesn't become really lame in the sequel, The Hobbit in preparation for the movie that came out this past December, and The Westing Game which I was really quite surprised at.

I also took a swing at the Vancouver Sun Children's Classics Collection. 32 books, and I have no clue who decided that they were children's classics! It starts with The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. I've read Kipling a bit before and I have to admit he never pulled me in with his court intrigue a' la Colonial India. The Jungle Book didn't really do it for me either, though I can understand the draw for kids, I loved animal stories as a kid.

Next is The Secret Garden, I almost called it quits there, but Jacelyn pushed me and once I actually opened the book I found that it was really well written, and thankfully only the opening chapter takes place in my favorite locale: Colonial India.

#3 is Frankenstein. Seriously? I can understand now how it became a classic, but half of Shakespeare's stuff is more kid friendly than this.

The fourth is Anne of Green Gables, and here I balked again. Armed with good memories of The Secret Garden I plowed on. It wasn't bad. Anne is terribly annoying at first, and I wished it would turn into one of those mock ups, like Anne of Green Gables and Self-Replicating Killer Nano-bots. It got better as Anne grew up though, and I am glad I powered through.

#5 is Gulliver's Travels and just like Frankenstein I wondered how it ever came to be classed as children's literature. It is full of era-specific social and politcal introspection, and completely lacking in all aspects that would make it a wonderful children's adventure story. It might not have been Jack Black's fault that the movie was terrible (I haven't seen the movie, and it probably still was his fault).

#6 is Swiss Family Robinson. Disney did a great job. If there was ever a book made to be made into a movie it is this one. Not because it's that cinematically awesome, but because it's about 40% too long. So the screen writers chop a bunch out and the plot moves like it should. Oh, and I am still convinced that it is an allegory about purgatory.

#7 is Alice In Wonderland. Classic, childish, and fun to read.

#8 is Peter Pan, and it was as enjoyable this time around as it was the last time.

#9 is A Christmas Carol. It is thin, and I hoped to be done it quick. Let's say I don't have terribly fond memories of the black and white classic movie that my Dad made us watch at Christmas. The book, however tainted by childhood nightmares, is actually very compelling. I think it applies as much today as it did however many hundreds of years ago when it was written. A veritable classic.

#10 is Grimm's Fairy Tales, no greater staple of my childhood wrapped in two covers and a binding can be found. There were duplicate tales (Ashputtel and Cinderella), and tales I'd never read before (The Mouse, The Bird, and The Sausage), all with valuable, albeit nonsensical, life lessons.

I hope to finish off another 11 this year, but the last batch has some doozies in it for sure, we're talking Moby Dick, Ivanhoe, and The Scarlett Pimpernel. Yikes.

Among the other 24 books last year I also read most of The Dark Is Rising series, a good portion of the Game of Thrones series, a pair of Little House books (Big Woods and Prairie), a pair of Neil Gaiman books (Good Omens and Fragile Things), some thrift store purchases (A wizard of Earthsea and Caravan to Xanadu), I even read a non fiction book, yup. It was called Infamous Aircraft. I got it from the Library! Yup, I got a Library Card!

There are still a whole lot of books on our shelves, and the floor, that I haven't read yet but I have time. I will get to them all eventually. This years list already has three books on it, next is Little Women, *sigh*

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Busy Christmas Happenings

Hello everyone,

My how the time flies. So much has happened over the last while, and now with Christmas fully upon us this might be my last chance to post before the new year. And you can't post about last year, that's just not cool.

So here we go...

Jacelyn and I moved! We had had it with the last place, a laundry list of unmentionables creating too much stress and negativity. We found an amazing suite in a brand new house for a better deal. The house isn't even sold yet so no noises from upstairs to damage our calm. We even get use of the garage.

I joined the AbbyLUG (Lego User Group)! A strange coincidence led me there, and it was great. I had placed a Bricklink order back in October and Jac and I walked over the border to Package Express to pick it up, on our way back as we crossed over we happened to get the one (out of five) border guard who seemed overly curious about what was in my package. I handed him the invoice and he started looking over the piece selection, then he asked me what I was building, then he asked if I was part of a LUG. Then he got my email and I joined the LUG! I've been to one meeting and it was super fun!

Jacelyn had a birthday! She is now 25, so old. I got her tickets to see the Royal Winnipeg Ballet perform Nutcracker in Vancouver. She liked it, I liked it, we had really good seats. It was a lot of fun.

Now it is Christmas and our tree as been up for a while, the decorations and lights are strung, chocolate is flowing in rivers from adoring kindergarten children, we've been hosting parties, and we even stocked eggnog. Tomorrow is the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and then a flurry of meals and gifts for Christmas day are expected. It has even snowed, and by the looks of it, since we are past the top of the hill, it'll stick around for Christmas. I only have five days off, but they are already starting to be good ones!

 And... the obligatory "cute baby" picture.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Excitement of Travel

So in addition to going on all sorts of hikes, gnome-led and not, Jacelyn and I have been rather busy this past summer. It is too bad it is past, because I would have very much liked to have crammed more into it. We got a late start after all, in not really knowing that summer was here, what with all the rain and cold, but when it came we used it passably well. Next year will be better!

One of the ways we used summer exceedingly well was in our travels. Most notably our quick trip down to visit my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews in very southern California. Two days drive down and we arrived, sans air-conditioning, in a nice inland-of-San-Diego heat wave. We rejoiced at the milder temperatures indoors, and settled in to play in the kiddie pool and relax inside. Needless to say the boys kept us quite busy through the days and so our relaxation was relegated to the evenings.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely throughout our stay, but for me one of the highlights was our trip to Legoland with Tristan. At 5 years old he was just big enough to handle most all of the rides, and was generally in awe of everything he saw. I'm sure his favorite things about the park changed at least half a dozen times (as many times as we asked him) that day, and probably as many times in the days following.

I also enjoyed everything I saw, from the massive displays of cityscapes and landmarks, to life-sized characters from Star Wars, giant dragons, and every bit of detail within the rides themselves. Of course this is all only possible with a full crew of master builders on site for big projects, which turn out to be half art, half science, but completely impressive. It was a very worthwhile endeavour.

Another of  the highlights for me was trying out fish tacos for the first time. I admit, it doesn't sound too tasty from the start, but when everyone kept describing it to me my mouth started to water and nothing would stop my foodie curiosity. They are fantastic! I am sure though that you can only get really good ones that close to the Baja Peninsula, and I am afraid to try them anywhere here. I think we will attempt to make them ourselves, with the consolation if they turn out poorly that we didn't pay too much for them. We have found a particular brand of tempura mix that cooks up perfectly crisp and light, and we had a very enjoyable meal of fried red snapper and chips the other day, which I think might translate into a nice start towards a good fish taco.

Fun while it lasted, but we are glad to be home.

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