Happy 4th of July!

Originally posted on Even More Photography On The Citadel:

Good morning everybody,

(well, it’s morning for me so play along those of you in a different timezone)

Happy 4th of July! I don’t have any preview t-shirt pictures for you, (they’ll be coming soon!) and because I have a busy day starting soon I can’t write much either, BUT I do have an animal slideshow to celebrate this momentous, American day!* Enjoy!

Alex

*Vanna recently asked me how I felt about 4th of July, given what it represents (Americans beating the English). To be honest, it really isn’t that significant to me. When I think about important wars in my country’s history, there are far bigger battles that shaped our country, our culture, our heritage. Both World Wars, Battle Of Hastings, the Roman and Anglo Saxon invaders…America and the war for independence was never something we studied. Only my opinion, of course, but I don’t think it is something…

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A Very Special Weekend

Howdy all,

Wow, what a busy few days I’ve had! Well, not that hectic I suppose, but considering yesterday was the first day I’ve been home for more than just sleep since last Thursday, I think my weekend counts as being significantly eventful! I had hoped to cover some of the things I missed in my last post (our trip to Wilmer for example), but I simply haven’t had the time. So much responsibility…it’s tiring.

But enough whinging. I’m here now…so what have I been doing?

Wedding!

On Saturday, I was honoured to be a groomsman for my good friend Dacotah, who was getting married to his lovely fiancé Mkaila. It was effectively a two-day event; Friday was the dress rehearsal, BBQ and bachelor/stag party, Saturday the ceremony, dinner and reception. A few hiccups aside, everything went perfectly. The ceremony was beautiful and the after party was a lot of fun. And both the bride and groom were very happy, which I believe is the most important thing when it comes to weddings. I know, big surprise, right?

From my perspective, there were no problems. I had some minor issues finding pants that fit (apparently they think people with a waist over 34 inches are super short) but thankfully my outfit was ready in time. I wasn’t a big fan of the bow tie and suspenders (I have never worn either in my life) but they weren’t too bad (the suspenders were also a useful prop to disguise my non-dancing awkwardness with a terrible dancing move, which I guess is an improvement?) in the end. I don’t have any pictures at the moment but I hope to have some soon. I was actually the main attraction for one of the pre-wedding pictures (apparently I was the tallest person there by quite a distant…that’s all I’m saying though as I don’t want to ruin the surprise) so if I manage to get my hands on that, I’ll make sure to share it with you guys.

Otherwise, there isn’t much I can talk about, at least in terms of my experience. I drank too much the night before, but thankfully the wedding started at 6 (pictures at 4:30) so I had plenty of time to recover. Didn’t mess up in my groomsman duties either! Except for that day where I was the groom, I’m not very familiar with wedding-related responsibility…but yeah, I did all right on Saturday. I didn’t trip when I walked with one of the bridesmaids (always a concern, so pretty pleased to say I nailed my walk), made sure the groom did everything he needed to, met the required dancing quota etc. I also signed the wedding certificate as a witness (the best man had to go early as he has two young children; he’ll sign the framed version, however) and collected money for the dollar dance. This second responsibility did mean I had to dance more, but nevertheless I was very proud and honoured to be involved. Hopefully I’ll see Dacotah and Mkaila before they go to Maryland (they are going to live on the army base there) but if not, I wish them both the best for the future.

Oh, I had bear burger on Friday night too. Almost forgot about that. Very delicious. Preferred it to beef, which was an opinion I didn’t expect to have.

But uh, congratulations to the married couple.

Ahem.

Itching and Sleeping

Of course, the excitement doesn’t stop there. After a well-deserved, long, Sunday lie-in, Vanna and I went to her mother’s for dinner. Unfortunately I spent a fair amount of the afternoon sleeping thanks to the Benadryl capsules I had taken. Did I have allergies? Well, not quite. Somehow (I can’t stress how confused I am about this) I suffered a pretty bad outbreak of poison ivy late Saturday night. It was very random, or at least seemed that way. Suddenly during the wedding reception I felt itchy, checked my legs and discovered some huge lumps scattered between my knee and ankle. Surprise! I won’t go into too much detail so I don’t gross you out, but a few of them were…bad. Like really bad. It didn’t affect my night, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t very happy.

How did I get them? I honestly have no idea. I’d been wearing new socks and trousers all day and prior that, I’d barely left the house. Anya could have possibly brought in some of the oil, but it’s still a ridiculous response. Evidently I’m really sensitive to it, thus the skin on my legs is now covered in both itchy mosquito bites and itchy poison ivy. Isn’t that fantastic?

So yeah…that was my Sunday.

Doctor’s Appointment and Minneapolis

Early Monday morning, Vanna and I headed out to pick up our niece Marley Jo. After a failed trip to give blood (Vanna’s pulse was slightly above 100 and their new system stopped them from checking it again…how stupid is that?), we headed to the Doctors so I could see if there was anything I could do about my stupid poison ivy problem. Thirty minutes later, I was first depressed by the weight display on the scales, and then prescribed some steroid cream to help with the itching. So far it is working, though I remain concerned about another random outbreak. Guess we’ll have to see what happens.

With that done, Vanna and I parted ways. While she took Marley home, I accompanied our friend Meg (who we usually do things with on Monday) to pick up her boyfriend Larry from the airport. Largely uneventful journey, though we did have some minor worries about his flight when an announcer stated there was a severe weather warning in place. Thankfully he landed okay and we got out on time. It was nice going to an airport without the dread of departing for a change. Interestingly there were about ten people holding these big, colourful cardboard signs welcoming who we assumed to be foreign exchange students. Not wanting Larry to feel left out, I quickly scribbled his name onto a piece of A4. I must admit it wasn’t the most impressive sign, but I reckon he appreciated it.

On the return drive, we stopped at Noodles & Co, a chain pasta/noodle restaurant that I’ve never been to before. My inexperience meant I was easily overwhelmed with the choices so I just went for this salad bowl thing to avoid any complications. Typically there was then several complications; I made sure to request for any onions to be removed but, thinking that was the only vegetable I hated, I forgot to ask about mushroom. And of course there was more mushroom than meat in the bowl! Urgh, I detest mushrooms with a passion. However, after discovering they are supposedly building a Noodles & Co. in Brainerd, I decided I would be willing to try them again. Just need to pay more attention to what I’m ordering next time.

*sigh*

And that about concludes my activities. Tuesday morning I finally got home and napped (I slept on Meg and Larry’s couch Monday night; this wouldn’t have too bad but sirens and fighting cats kept me up for a while)…then tried to catch up on other things, such as my writing (sadly lost momentum on that), the job search (no luck yet), my gaming (can’t wait for Gears UE!) plus whatever else that required my attention. Chores, time with the wife, etc.

What next?

Well, the excitement is not over yet! Today catching up with my dad via Skype after his week on the Isle of Skye. Then in a couple of days we have the 4th of July holiday! I’m not entirely sure what parts of our initial plans are concrete, but I expect we’ll be busy from Friday to Monday. We’re just popular people, you see. Not sure how much of my day events will transfer to the blog, but I’ll do my best to have some cool stories, pictures etc. Failing that, I do have a new t-shirt  for the special occasion so that’s something to look forward to, right? Gotta keep up that 4th of July tradition!

Okay I should probably wrap this up for now. I’ll speak to you sometime next week when things die down.

Have a happy Independence Day!

Alex

News, News And More News!

Hello folks,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve been much busier than I anticipated (this week I’ve been sorting out clothes for a wedding!) and thus, quite a lot has happened since my last ‘proper’ post! Now I’ll do my best to update you on what’s been going on lately, but to prevent this piece from becoming a super long essay on my life, today I’ll just focus on the most important news, starting with…

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Beta

So the Beta is finished, and I’m sad about that. However, I must admit I wasn’t overly enamored with it initially, for several reasons. But before I go into that, let me summarize my past experiences with the Gears of War series. Only a few details, I promise. It’s relevant to the beta, honest.

Gears of War: The original Gears came out in November 2006. Loved the campaign (best out of the three) but never played the multiplayer. The Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a remaster of this game, and this game alone (this is an important fact, as I’ll explain shortly).

Gears of War 2: First game I played on Xbox Live, and will always be special because of the experiences I shared with people I’m still friends with today (long-term followers will be aware of the trips I took to visit them while I was in the UK). In game terms, the campaign was good and the multiplayer, though flawed, was one I loved (for aforementioned experiences). Compared to Gears 1, there was improvements in several areas including movement (quicker, slicker) and the shotgun (more on that soon).

Gears of War 3: As I still play Gears 3 on a regular basis (I was on it the day before the beta was released), I can say conclusively that Gears 3 is my favourite Gears. The campaign isn’t the best (story was well written but the missions were a little tedious) but the multiplayer is probably the most rounded, balanced experience to date (still flawed, but far superior to its predecessors). Movement is far better than Gears 2, weapons are better and more varied (though it does have the retro lancer, an abomination which can ruin a fun match very easily), and there are far less connection issues than those I endured on the original Gears games. As I say, my favourite Gears multiplayer experience.

Gears of War Judgment: Ha, I’m not talking about Judgment. The campaign was interesting, but the multiplayer was largely terrible. It is so negatively different from the rest of the series, there is no point in even using it as a comparison. I’m only mentioning it so you know I didn’t just forget about it.

Ahem. So there’s my background. What didn’t I like about the beta?

Well, as I said above, the beta is part of a remastered Gears of War, and thus remains faithful to the original Gears. Except for a few added features, it is essentially Gears of War on the Xbox One. This meant there were several things I wasn’t used to. Some of these features I could accept (sniper downing enemies, not being able to crawl while down, torque bow locking onto enemies) but there were others I hated. The biggest adjustment was the shotgun.

Now, the Gears of War franchise is as big as it is because of the shotgun. While Call of Duty and Halo are generally more orientated around rifles (I don’t have a problem with that, by the way; I’m not one of the elitist snobs you find on the Gears forum who thinks Gears of War 1 is the holy grail and everything else is garbage), Gears of War is about close combat shotgun fights. Over the course of the series, the Gnasher shotgun has evolved, and in my opinion, improved from its humble beginnings. One of the biggest changes from the original is how it fires. In Gears 2, 3 and Judgment, it fires from the barrel. In Gears 1 however, it fires from the centre of the screen. How is this different? Well, if you play the sequels, the shotgun spread lands where you’d expect it to. In Gears 1, you have to aim slightly above and to the right in order to hit the same spot. So if you want to kill your opponent, instead of looking at them directly, you need to look slightly to their left. Yeah…I think that’s right. Does that make sense?

My point to this? Well it means that there was a slight difference to how the shotgun fires in the beta, which was both illogical (barrel fire makes more sense, hence why it was in every other game) and somewhat difficult to get used to. Making this adjustment even harder is the fact that Gears of War 1 is almost completely orientated around the Gnasher. While you can adopt a rifle game in Gears 2 and 3 (I consider myself proficient with both shotgun and rifle, and so my play style varies from map to map) and succeed, Gears 1 is more or less shotgun only. Therefore, I found it very frustrating to play the beta because the strongest gun in the game doesn’t work the way I’m used to (it is also very boring to me to only play one way). In other words, I died a lot.

Another huge drawback to the beta was the movement. Gears 1 feels so much slower than 2 and 3. You can’t wallbounce (um…if you don’t know what that is, just go with it) as easily, and you generally can’t manoeuvre anywhere near as efficiently. Consequently, both my accuracy and ability to evade are nowhere near as good as they are in Gears 3. I don’t like that.

Those were the main problems I had, though I could go on. I didn’t like the way grenades are thrown, the slow lobby and matchmaking times, or the fact that hammerburst (my weapon, my baby) is a pick up weapon either. I also had issues with muting (someone I muted in-game would be heard back in the lobby, so I’d have to unmute and mute again…and then do that again once the next match had started) and teleportation, but I’m reasonably confident that those issues will be resolved in the main game. Still, that knowledge didn’t exactly help with my beta experience…*sigh*…I was easily irritated this past week, ladies and gentleman.

HOWEVER, despite these big game-breaking problems, I did actually begin to like the beta. It took some persistence, but eventually I got used to the shotgun (I pretended to shoulder bump the other team) and the movement. I’m not perfect, but I’m better than I was. And in some ways, I think the challenge made my kills more satisfying. Yeah…it was pretty enjoyable by the end. Will I love it and play it as much as Gears 2, or 3? Probably not. But will it be a fun stopgap while I wait for Gears of War 4 to arrive? Most definitely. Replaying the campaign will be awesome, and I think I’ll be able to have fun on the multiplayer too. Roll on August 25th!

Okay, this section went on far longer than I intended. What was supposed to be a concise and brief point became a sloppy review. Oh man. Sorry about that. My bad.

Ahem. So what’s next?

My visa was approved…I’m now an official resident of the USA!

Oh yeah, I probably should have led with this, right? After all, gaining residency was the biggest obstacle between me and my new life, and now it has been approved! That, my friends, is HUGE!

Of course we still have a way to go, but this is a big step forward. I can start working on my driver’s license (I suppose I should start working on my reversing skills) and we now have the option to move home. Getting a job is obviously the priority, so those two factors will be very helpful. Otherwise it is just a relief knowing that I haven’t been denied, and that there is no deportation on the horizon. In terms of my long-term life in America, it is now just a matter of waiting and/or paperwork. Woo!

Kitten is…nice?

This is the most surprising news I have. It has been two weeks and I still don’t believe it is real. Our little Anya the kitten, the savage who rips at our furniture and keeps us up at night, has actually been supremely well-behaved! I know! Dare I say she’s like a normal cat? We didn’t even dream we’d ever have a lovely cat in our lives. Never.

What’s changed? We don’t know. We have our theories, of course. The main one is that this is the longest we’ve been settled (we’ve been in this house for a few years now, and nobody has abruptly left or moved in since my return last July) so maybe Anya has finally accepted we’re family (going to suck when we do move) and decided to be nice about it. Or it could be something else. We don’t know what prompted this transformation, but we are certainly glad it’s happened!

Now, you may think I’m joking (and to some degree I am) but this is more exciting to us than my visa approval! Seriously…Anya is lovely now. She meows calmly when she wants something, she waits patiently if she doesn’t get it straight away, she seeks our affection regularly and often sleeps with us, she comes to our hand when it is offered for petting (something she has never done before), she doesn’t attack me for no reason, she doesn’t keep Vanna awake every night, and she’s stopped begging for food (or at least doesn’t whine like she used to). She’s like a new cat!

So those are the biggest adjustments in my life. What happens from here? Well, nothing too drastic yet. Wait for the residency card, start making steps towards a license, look for work, continue writing, save up for games (I did watch most of E3, and I’ll share my thoughts on that sometime in the future. All you need to know now is Fallout 4, Gears Ultimate Edition, Fallout 4, Gears of War 4, and Fallout 4) and, of course, enjoy the company of my reborn kitten.

Speak to you later,

Alex

P.S. Oh, as demonstrated above, I actually tweet now (and not just blog posts…I talk about Anya too!). Follow me at @phlegethon92. Say something to me!

Temporary Blog Closure, Sponsored By Gears Of War

Originally posted on Even More Photography On The Citadel:

Hey folks,

This is just a quick announcement to let you know that I’m still alive (just really busy…well, kinda busy, mostly forgetful) and I haven’t forgotten about you guys and the blog. However, an update on my life (there’s trips to talk about, food, films etc) is going to be delayed at least another week because…

This morning my wonderful wife surprised me... This morning my wonderful wife surprised me…

...with this amazingly good headset! Good thing too, because... …with this amazingly good headset! Good thing too, because…

...the Gears of War beta was announced yesterday at E3... …the Gears of War beta was announced yesterday at E3…

...and I need to play it! Today, tomorrow, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, every hour until it has gone! …and I need to play it! Today, tomorrow, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, every hour until it has gone!

So I have no time for anything else. Sorry.

Speak to you soon! (possibly)

Alex

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Nature On Beaver Dam Drive (Photos!)

Originally posted on Even More Photography On The Citadel:

Howdy all,

On Sunday, Vanna and I decided to go for a short walk along our road (yes, yes I’m still too lazy to get back on my bike…but this is at least exercise, right? Baby steps, people, baby steps). Now that we’re comfortably into the summer months and everything outside is wonderfully green and alive (after months of snow, dead plants and bare trees, you learn to appreciate summer much, much, much more…until the mosquitoes come out and then you kind of wish for the bitter cold again), it seemed like the perfect time to take some pictures!

Sadly I didn’t think that far ahead when I left the house, so we’re stuck with my camera phone. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find a few hidden gems in the slideshow below. Enjoy!

Alex

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Bemidji!

Originally posted on Even More Photography On The Citadel:

Howdy folks!

So on Monday, Vanna and I travelled up to Bemidji to visit our good friend Sharissa. We had a great time eating, watching videos online and general hanging out. And, as promised, I have pictures for you!

Unfortunately it was raining most of the day (super bad on the drive north) so we were limited in what we could do, but I think there’s enough in the slideshow below to interest you. Enjoy!

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Crystal Cave Trip Pictures! (Well…More Like A Driving Slideshow)

Originally posted on Even More Photography On The Citadel:

Howdy folks,

Boy this week went fast. Tuesday and Thursday were busy work days for both of us (granted Vanna had a more tiring time than I did) and sandwiched between them was Wednesday (obviously), when Vanna and I went on an impromptu road trip to Wisconsin!

Why Wisconsin? Well, we wanted to go somewhere different for this spontaneous road, which meant the few locations I know about (Duluth, Ely, Twin Cities) were subsequently ruled out. Also deemed untenable were our more ambitious plans to visit the likes of Montana (don’t ask me where specifically…just Montana) and Mt Rushmore, as it would be impossible to get there given the time restrains (Vanna worked 6am the next day). So, after a brief chat with family members, we were left with one solid option: Crystal Cave, Wisconsin! Vanna has only gone there once when she was much younger, while I’ve…

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An expression of my love for gaming and writing

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