Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Lyrics To Auld Lang Syne.

As the last minutes of 2015 tick away, I want to say thank you to all of my readers, both old and new. Many of you have been here since the very beginning. And yet, many more have joined me throughout the past year. Thanks for visiting my little corner of the internet. I hope 2016 is a bright and successful year for you.

When you go to sing Auld Lang Syne tonight, you'll probably not know the words. Just in case you'd like to sing them correctly, here are the lyrics. I know the words look a little odd. That's because they're composed in the 18th Century Scottish dialect by writer Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland. Tonight, all of us get to be a little Scottish!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin' auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie's a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak' a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mistakes To Avoid On New Year's Eve.

As the end of 2015 waits right around the corner, the hopefulness of New Year's Eve gleams with a renewed sense of opportunity and a clean slate. Of course, it's also the perfect time of year to make a massive mistake. In an effort to better serve the public (and to perhaps make you laugh a little), here are some tips for improving your New Year's Eve.

Don't call your ex. Sure, you're out partying with your friends and drunk off your ass, but no matter how bad you want some booty, do not hit your ex up. You will only regret your poor decision the next day, rolling off their grungy bed and trying to find your underwear in their refrigerator. Sure, we all get a little horny when we drink. And of course, New Year's Eve is a magical time where everything seems to be alright. It's not. Go ahead and delete their number from your phone right now before you slip up.

Tequila is not your friend. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, tequila is a sneaky bastard. That Mexican fire-water fools you with its slightly sweet, bold citrus flavor. Come on, have another shot. I'm tasty, man. Yeah... sure. Six rounds later and you're face down in a dive-bar toilet that's so disgusting even your perverted Uncle Leo would never crap in it.

A man will say anything to get in your pants. "I work for Goldman Sachs." "I drive a Beamer." "I graduated from Dartmouth." "I'm a feminist." These and many other phrases will leave the mouth of every Tom, Dick and Harry you meet on New Year's Eve. Don't believe any of it. These guys don't just want to see one ball drop... they want to see TWO drop.

A woman will say anything to get free drinks. Likewise to you men out there, a woman will say and do anything to have you pay for her drinks all night long. Don't let her plunging cleavage perform a jedi mind trick on your common sense. A push-up bra is a damn powerful weapon. And remember... she's only rubbing against your thigh because you're giving her free martinis.

Wear clean underwear. You don't know who is going to see your bare ass this evening. Better make sure the package you deliver it in doesn't look like a used mud wrestling towel.

You're not as good at (insert social activity) as you think. Whether it's poker, bowling, billiards or beer pong, please refrain from being a cocky participant. No one wants to spend New Year's Eve with an egotistical, hyper-competitive blowhard that can't have fun. Play a little fast a loose, with a sense of humility for good measure. Everyone just wants to have a good time. Don't ruin it by being a douche-bag.

Getting too drunk is no fun for anyone. Having a few drinks on New Year's Eve is a wonderful idea. Yet, don't get slobbering, unable-to-stay-conscious drunk. If you're around people you're not too cozy with, you run a high chance of being abandoned or left to choke on your own vomit. Alternatively, becoming too drunk around your friends, date or spouse is extremely rude. Don't ruin someone else's evening because you can't control your alcohol intake. Trust me... I speak from experience on this one.

Don't mope at home alone. I've been down this route folks. Being alone on New Year's Eve is terribly depressing. Start the new year with a positive attitude and carry it into the coming months. The quickest way to ruin your life is by being a self-loathing sour-puss. If you don't have any friends to party the night away with, go out and make some now, before it's too late!

And, most importantly...

Don't drink and drive. In all seriousness, please don't murder someone because you decided to be an irresponsible shithead. Have a designated driver or call a taxi. Ruining two or more lives over a night of debauchery just isn't worth it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hillary Clinton Should Definitely Be Worried About Bernie Sanders.

As of the writing of this article, the race for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination couldn't be any closer. The first primary of the season, the Iowa Caucus, is scheduled for February 1, 2016. Current polling data averages (from Real Clear Politics) show that Clinton has approximately a 12.5 point lead on Bernie Sanders. This takes into account the paltry 6 points being drawn by probable loser Martin O'Malley. Sanders' polling numbers have been trending upwards in Iowa, with Hillary's heading down. When accounting for the margin of error present in all polling, and the fact that O'Malley may finally drop out of the race after the Iowa Caucus and birth his supporters to Sanders, Hillary should be worried about ultimately winning the nomination. Real worried.

Settle down Hillary. You've got a real problem on your hands.

Even if Clinton does manage to win in Iowa, a strong turn-out for Bernie is still a win-win for the independent candidate from Vermont. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain with increased nationwide media exposure, something his campaign all but deserves in spite of being ignored by most news outlets for months. Hillary's undeniable influence over the Democratic National Committee in choosing to limit the number of televised debates to a measly six certainly hasn't helped Sanders' exposure, either. Considering Sanders is thoroughly leading polling by 6 points in New Hampshire, where the nation's second primary takes place, a burst of momentum from Iowa is all he needs to squash Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming the first female President.

Clearly, this is Hillary's election to lose and Sanders' to win. Increasing Sanders' exposure via the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries can only add to his chances of success. Since July, he's gained more than 20 points on Hillary in New Hampshire and a whopping 40 points in Iowa. Can you say upward momentum?

Hillary has every reason to be worried.

Sanders speaks to a stadium filled with supporters at a rally in North Carolina.

Yet, let's consider the probable outcome pundits, pollsters and statisticians have been telling us for months on end -- Clinton will be the Democratic nominee and face off against whomever the Republicans put forth. Polling currently shows that Donald Trump is leading the GOP field. Let's say it is Trump versus Clinton in 2016. Hillary has a huge problem, and it all relates to the progressive left and their stalwart support for Bernie Sanders.

Many of Sanders' supporters simply will not vote for Hillary Clinton.

Polling data reflects a battle between Trump and Clinton as incredibly close. Even worse, polls questioning a fight against either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz prove to be even more dire for Clinton. Yet, this polling data fails to take into consideration one valuable point. Clinton has had a terrible time earning the support of the progressive left within her own party. She's seen as a hawk, bought and paid for by Wall Street and Super PACs. Progressives have endorsed Sanders almost exclusively, leaving Clinton to run purely on name recognition and a massive influx of cash from big banks, Super PACs and special interest groups. In an election between Trump/Rubio/Cruz and Clinton, there's a very good chance she could deliver the White House to the Republican candidate.

I've talked to many Sanders supporters and read a plethora of articles about his voting base. They like that he's operating on small, personal contributions from individuals and not accepting money from corporations, banks or Super PACs. He's seen as the most progressive candidate in the entire field, one that can be trusted to lead. Though, if faced with being forced to vote for Hillary Clinton, many progressives simply won't vote for her... or may abstain from voting altogether. This leaves Clinton with a real dilemma.

Alternatively, if Trump were to face off against Sanders in 2016, the latest Quinnipiac poll has Sanders winning by an astounding 13 points.

I'm not saying Sanders is a shoe-in to win the Democratic nomination in an upset victory. He's got a lot of work ahead of him to gain nationwide exposure and pull even more of Clinton's base. What I am saying is that Clinton faces a very difficult path to the Presidency... if she survives the primary season first.

Monday, December 28, 2015

'The Force Awakens' Made Me Realize I'm Not A Star Wars Fan.

The morning of Sunday, December 20, I settled into a theater seat and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As it was a matinee showing, I was surrounded mostly by young children and grandparents. There were the occasional millennials and thirty-somethings present, but we were definitely in the minority. As the theater fell dark and the film began, we all sunk into our seats and prepared for the most anticipated film of recent history.

Needless to say, I walked away afterwards feeling indifferent and altogether unimpressed.

From here on, this article will have pertinent spoilers about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you're adverse to spoilers, please stop reading now.

Just like the stormtroopers, The Force Awakens is a whole lot of the same thing repeated over and over.

My biggest gripe with SW:TFA is that it's unoriginal. If you've seen A New Hope, then you've essentially seen The Force Awakens. The writers of the latest film basically played 52-Card Pickup with the plot from A New Hope. They threw all of the old plot and character elements into a heaping pile, reshuffled the pieces and then put the story back together. Obi-Wan became both a geriatric Han Solo and a grizzly Luke. Luke became Rey. Young Han Solo became Finn. There's a lost droid with an integral bit of information for the Rebel Alliance... er, I mean "Resistance". Lots of action takes place on a desert planet. A masked overlord shroud in black slaughters people recklessly. And most annoying of all... there's yet another giant spherical weapon of death that has a killer laser beam.

If you didn't know I was talking about TFA, you'd believe I was describing ANH.

In terms of the plot, much of what happens in TFA is highly coincidental. X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron just happens to be on Planet Jakku to retrieve a map leading to the mysterious Luke Skywalker. Rey also just happens to be on the same planet, living in exile after being abandoned by her unknown family. Poe's droid BB-8 just happens to wind up with Rey. Finn just happens to be a Stormtrooper with an inexplicable change of heart in a battle on Jakku. Rey and Finn just happen to steal the Millennium Falcon, which just happens to have been previously stolen and left on Jakku. Han Solo and Chewbacca just happen to find the Millennium Falcon the moment it leaves Jakku. 

That's a lot of just happens; too many for my personal taste. Mind you... that's not even half way through the movie. The coincidental events continue on like a massive thread of serendipitously placed dominoes. It's all just a little too perfect.

Oh look, ANOTHER giant round ball of death!

In the end, the "Resistance" fighters do a trench run on the Death St... er... I mean Starkiller Base, fire into an exposed thermal oscillator conduit (aka thermal exhaust port) and blow it up.

I might as well have been watching A New Hope drunk.

This brings me to Kylo Ren, perhaps the least imposing Star Wars villain of them all. Lacking the terrifying omnipresence of Darth Vader, the unbridled wrath of Darth Maul, or even the cocky self-assurance of Darth Sidious, Kylo is nothing more than a unruly teenager with a poor man's lightsaber. He spends the entire film moping in hopes of being like his grandfather. Yet, this raises a very large plot hole that goes completely unanswered. If Kylo wants to be so much like Darth Vader, wouldn't he understand that Anakin Skywalker eventually redeemed himself and saved Luke from the dark side of the force? It's like he has selective amnesia, remembering Anakin/Vader only as an operative of the dark side. Forget all that back story about Anakin being a jedi. Forget that he sacrificed his life to save his son and end the Empire. No no no... we're only going to remember that he wanted to rule the galaxy. Sheesh... give me a break. If Kylo wants to be so much like Darth Vader, he should do us all a favor and force lightning himself to death right now.

Finally, the original whiny teenager himself, Luke Skywalker. We literally see him for the last moment of TFA, though he doesn't speak a single line of dialogue. For the brief scene that we do see him in, Luke stands there staring at Rey, whom is holding her arm extended with a lightsaber for an awkwardly long time. Who does that? It's all just very contrived. Much less, why did Luke purposefully leave a map to find him if he didn't want to be found? Supposedly, Luke left everyone behind when his apprentice Ben/Kylo went rogue, never to use the force again. But we're expected to believe he left a map to find him? Seems like that map was a cheap MacGuffin crafted by the writers to move the plot along, with no real explanation.

Let me change course and highlight what I did like about the movie. I want to be very clear in my assessment of TFA. It's not a terrible movie by any measure. The acting is decent by most of the cast. I greatly admired the cinematography. Characterizations by the new cast members were likable, especially John Boyega's Finn. He stood out as the character I most connected with. Here's a guy who had been brainwashed since birth to be a Stormtrooper, only to realize that he's more than just a literal number in an enormous empire of death. There's a great story to be told from Finn's angle. Given that Finn also found the courage to wield a lightsaber without having any apparent force ability, that tells me he's not afraid of a challenge. Had TFA just focused on Finn and his journey from insignificant cog to hero, I'd probably have liked the movie immensely more than I did.

Finn, the best part of The Force Awakens.

Ultimately, I left the movie theater that Sunday feeling incredibly detached from the Star Wars universe. The story didn't make any sort of impression on me. I liken it to watching an old episode of a soap opera. Sure, things happen and characters move from one place to another, but none of it really matters.

Now... here's where the title of this article truly comes into play.

As I thought more and more about how bored I was by TFA, I was reminded of how much I actually dislike A New Hope. Yes, that's right... I do not like the very first Star Wars movie. Even as a child, I always found it to be lackluster and a little too convenient. Clearly, this is a matter of personal preference. Millions of fans around the world enjoy the original Star Wars movie a great deal. For me, though, Star Wars: A New Hope is all too predictable. Boy meets mentor. Boy saves princess. Boy learns how special he is. Boy becomes hero. Boy defeats the evil empire. I'd read and watched various elements of ANH in countless other media. George Lucas himself has even admitted to culling plot elements from other sources (John Carter to a great degree), so I'm not in the wrong on this point.

Leap ahead to The Empire Strikes Back, which I enjoy a great deal. Everything wrong with the first film is steered back on course. The plot is much more original. The production design, cinematography and settings are more vibrant. The introduction of new characters adds to the mythos, breathing life into a narrative I felt was very stale. For once, the antagonists are actually allowed to win by the end of the movie. Of course, the best part about the entire Star Wars universe is also revealed...

Boba Fett and the bounty hunters.

Sure, the various bounty hunters occupied only a few minutes total of screen time in The Empire Strikes Back, but their visual presence alone was exceedingly powerful. I'm a huge fan of not just Boba Fett, but the other hunters like IG-88 and 4-LOM. The whole notion that the Empire is forced to turn to over-the-top bounty hunters with nothing to lose adds a real sense of danger to the story.

The original trilogy closes out with Return of the Jedi, which I don't truly care for either. We get ANOTHER Death Star to contend with, which is strangely destroyed in almost the same manner as the first one. Did the Empire learn nothing of their mistake? There are chirping teddy bears (aka Ewoks) that somehow manage to defeat an army of trained, armed-to-the-teeth Stormtroopers. Darth Vader does a peculiar about-face and flip-flops, saving Luke and destroying the Emperor. George Lucas even drops Boba Fett, the best damn character in the whole universe, into a literal hole and kills him off. Mind you, Fett probably escaped the Sarlacc Pit, but that hasn't been confirmed yet in the new "Disney certified" continuity.

Thanks a lot George Lucas.

To save you the trouble, I won't even begin to describe the disgusting quagmire that is the Prequel Trilogy. You and I both know it's terrible, so let's just leave that alone.

Out of seven Star Wars films, I have come to realize that I only actually like one of them -- The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, there are elements within the other six movies that I enjoy (the various droids, alien designs, vehicles and mecha), but overall the films are not to my liking. For so long, I had this silly notion in my head that I was a Star Wars fan. I simply must like Star Wars because I'm interested in geeky things, right? Yet, it never actually occurred to me that to be a Star Wars fan, I should probably enjoy the subject matter. Liking Star Wars was just something I accepted for many years, without any true consideration as to my own feelings.

The Jedi? I really don't care. Yoda, Luke and the rest of the knights with glowing swords and magical telekinesis? Not interested. Darth Vader? One dimensional. Han Solo and his suave persona? Save it for someone else. Why have I wasted my time on a story that I don't even enjoy, except a few key elements and one of seven total movies?

The Force Awakens helped me to see where I was wrong. I don't have to like Star Wars at all. For that, I am grateful.

I am definitely a fan of The Empire Strikes Back. Held in its own regard separate from the rest of the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back is a powerful, awe-inspiring spectacle that's completely watchable as a stand-alone movie. More so, I'm certainly a massive fan of Boba Fett and the other bounty hunters. But am I a Star Wars fan? No, I can now safely say that I'm not. I owe that to The Force Awakens, though that's certainly not the outcome the producers of the film certainly would expect.

Let me know when they make a stand-alone Boba Fett film. I'll be first in line. Until then, I think I'll pass. Star Wars -- I'm breaking up with you.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Draw Something: The Friendly Mouse

Inspired by the story I published last night, here's a helpful little mouse clutching a small coin. Nothing fancy or profound here, just something I felt inspired to put down on paper. I had a lot of fun with this sketch!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Mouse of Alistair Park.

There once was a very famous mouse. Though it did not have a specific name, everyone referred to it as The Mouse of Alistair Park. For many years, the mouse was seen collecting dropped coins found on the sidewalk in the neighborhood. Pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters, it simply didn't matter; any kind of money would do. On occasion, the mouse was even known to drag away a dollar bill. This mouse was very special. You see, cats simply could not catch it. Pest control agents were no more successful, either. As the years went on and on, the mouse kept making appearances. Every time the mouse was spotted, there would be a bit of money held tightly against its chest. Scurrying away with the claimed treasure, the mouse always seemed to inexplicably come back.

One cold winter evening, a young girl named Freya moved into Alistair Park. Her mother had rented a tiny, run-down one bedroom flat in the poorest part of the neighborhood. Already working two jobs and barely scraping by, it was all she could afford for their small family. Despite her impoverished surroundings, Freya was a delightful child. Full of cheer and merriment, she only saw the positive in the conditions impacting her life. Her mother couldn't have asked for a more helpful daughter; Freya was eternally eager to assist with chores and cleaning. Having settled their boxes in for the night, Freya unfurled a simple cot near the radiator for warmth and laid down. It wasn't long before she was asleep.

As the frosty evening gave way to the early hours of the morning, Freya awoke to the sound of gentle tapping. Parting her eyelids, she caught glimpse of a speedy creature darting around her empty kitchen. Rubbing her face, she soon focused her eyes on a tiny mouse staring at her. Somewhat frightened, Freya froze as the minuscule creature slowly crawled towards her. Twitching its whiskers, the mouse didn't seem altogether scared of the little girl. Instead, it scampered up her blanket and came to rest on her chest. Unsure of what to do, Freya simply closed her eyes. Before long, she returned to sleep. Finally having found warmth, the petite mouse went to sleep as well.

The mouse returned the next night, though found that Freya was off the floor and had assembled her bed. Only somewhat fearful of the little rodent this time, she didn't tremble when the mouse came to sleep on her chest once again. Night after night, the mouse journeyed to sleep with Freya for warmth and comfort. As the weeks passed, the two became secret friends. Freya would even sneak away a piece of bread or bits of vegetables at dinner for her furry companion. She would carefully hold the food in her hand, allowing the mouse to eat freely before curling up to rest.

Freya and her mouse friend spent many nights together. As the months passed on, the bond between human and mouse grew stronger. The young girl was surprised one night when the mouse brought her a quarter. She didn't understand how such a tiny creature could comprehend the importance of the shiny object. This startling habit continued on and on. Each evening, the mouse would bring Freya a coin. She was very thankful for the money the mouse brought; every little bit helped with the challenges her family faced.

One night, anticipating the arrival of her friend, Freya sat awake for many hours. And yet, the mouse did not arrive. Disappointed that the mouse had not come, Freya felt a pit of worry form in her stomach. She hoped it would return the following night, but failed to do so. Freya's heart began to break. She missed her dear friend and wished for its safe return.

Three days following the disappearance of the mouse, Freya was walking home from school. As she passed her neighbors' front porch stoops, she took notice of a small mouse standing tall upon the steps of an abandoned home. As if to wave and say hello, it bobbed back and forth when Freya came near. Excited, she wondered if this was her missing friend, but soon came to realize that it was a different mouse. Bending over to greet the little beast, it immediately darted up the steps and into the dark house. Full of curiosity, Freya followed it inside.

Beams of light sliced through the boarded windows of the dingy house. A musty odor accompanied the tattered furniture and dust-covered rugs inside. Looking for the mouse, Freya soon caught glimpse of it zipping upstairs. Hot on its heals, she ran close behind. Hopping to and fro, the mouse bounced quickly as if on a mission. Sure enough, it was.

As Freya rose to the top of the stairs, she saw two mice nestled together. One was her new acquaintance. The other was her missing friend! Though, the circumstances were not the best. Freya's companion lay squirming, his tail caught in a trap. Nearly out of strength and quivering from hunger, its beady little eyes brightened with joy upon seeing Freya. She rushed over and flipped the trap open, releasing her comrade. Dragging itself on all four feet, the mouse was all but extinguished by its weakness. Freya picked her friend up and retrieved an apple from her school bag. She bit off a sliver, then fed her friend the first bite of food it had eaten in days. Nibbling on the apple, the diminutive mouse soon regained its energy. As Freya and the mouse finished eating the apple, they were elated to be together once again.

With a full stomach, the mouse leaped from Freya's lap onto the floor. Rubbing its nose against the other mouse's face, they both wriggled and squirmed with happiness. Freya marveled at how the two mice seemed to speak to each other, though without using words. Watching intently, the two mice whizzed towards a bedroom filled with hazy light and shadow. They approached a small gap in the bottom of a closet door and squeezed through. Freya made sure to follow them, hoping to see where they were going.

Placing her hand upon the closet's door knob, Freya couldn't have been prepared for what she was about to see.

Pulling the heavy door open, it creaked loudly from years of being unused. As the scattered sunlight in the room blasted the darkness of the closet away, an old wooden trunk came into view. A small hole had been chewed along the lip of the lid, just big enough for a small animal to poke through. Atop the trunk sat Freya's friend, as if beckoning for her to open the lid. Freya came to rest on her knees, to which the mouse climbed upon her shoulder and nuzzled against her cheek.

She pushed the lid open, only to find a mountain of coins, paper money and bits of gold and silver. Astounded at the wealth hidden within the trunk, Freya could only muster an inaudible squeak from her young frame. Even more surprising, a deluge of little mice emerged from the darkest corners of the room. Each dove into the trunk and retrieved one portion of the treasure. Piece by piece, they began placing their riches in Freya's backpack. Unable to understand what the creatures were doing, Freya sat there with her mouse friend in her ear. It chirped and peeped softly, then made a gentle humming sound as if to sing.

For the next few days, Freya would stop after school and retrieve a backpack full of treasure from the trunk. The wealth the mice provided changed Freya's life for the better. Her mother used it to start a small laundry business, to which she became a successful part of the community. And yet, no matter how better off she became, Freya would always welcome her mouse friend at night, a bit of food in hand.

As the mouse turned old and gray, it eventually passed on. Freya was saddened at the loss of her friend, but was so thankful for what it had done for her. Yet, as Freya grew into a young woman, the legend of The Mouse of Alistair Park continued on. She knew that the helpful group of mice were slowly amassing another small fortune in secret, looking for another young child to help.

Throughout her entire life, when Freya rested her head on her pillow at night, she'd sometimes envision her old friend once again. More so than any amount of riches, the greatest gift the little mouse had given her was its loyal companionship.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Yule Grog 2015 Part 4: Samuel Adams Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout.

My fourth and final beer of the 2015 Yule Grog is the Samuel Adams Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout. I've looked forward to drinking this beer for quite a while. Typically, I'm quite happy with other Samuel Adams brews, especially their Cherry Wheat Ale. In fact, the first beer I ever purchased when I turned 21 years old was a Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Needless to say, my expectations are high when it comes to the Merry Maker. Let's hope this stout succeeds.

As with all of my Yule Grog reviews, I will actively be taking notes as I drink the beer for the first time. My notes will be divided into two sections -- cold out of the fridge and at room temperature. No matter what I experience, I will notate and share it in my review. I have not been coerced or influenced by the brewer in any way. My review will be honest and straightforward.

Merry Maker Gingerbread Stout is ready for purchase annually in November. It is 9.0% Alc. by volume and available nationwide in limited release 22 ounce bottles. The Merry Maker is brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. And now... it's time to drink!

Cold out of the fridge:
  • It's very dark and quite syrupy in consistency.
  • Has a foamy, creamy head.
  • Smells faintly peppery.
  • The initial swallow is rich in roasted malt flavor.
  • The bitterness is light, but especially noticeable on the sides of my tongue.
  • Roasted flavor is quite strong and overpowering.
  • I am unable to taste the spices at all.
  • Tastes pretty much like any run-of-the-mill stout beer, like a Guinness.
  • It doesn't taste bad, but it's definitely nothing special.
  • I might as well be drinking the average stout beer.
At room temperature:
  • I thought I could taste the cloves for a sheer moment... maybe?
  • The smell of the spices has risen only ever slightly.
  • Unfortunately, I still can't actually taste any of the spices whatsoever.
  • The flavor profile has not changed at all.
Well... at least I didn't pour this beer out. Honestly, the Merry Maker was unimpressive and boring. The label might claim to have seasonal spices involved in the brewing process, but I couldn't taste them at all. I spent eight dollars on this 22 ounce beer, with nothing to show for it. For much less, I could have bought a standard Guinness and had the exact same experience. Never again would I buy the Merry Maker because the price doesn't warrant the lacking flavor. I expect better from Samuel Adams. Unfortunately, the Merry Maker fails to deliver on the promise of robust, spicy holiday flavor. Ordinary, drab and lackluster, the Merry Maker does not receive my approval.

Well, this wraps up the 2015 Yule Grog. Sadly, only one of the four beers I reviewed was approved. Perhaps I'll have better luck next year!

Yule Grog 2015:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Special Christmas Message To My Readers.

As this long winter evening falls to darkness and children all around the world await the arrival of a certain jolly elf in a red suit, I deliver this simple message to you.

Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. It's not about the bountiful feasts. Nor is it about flashy new gadgets or expensive vacations. Sure, all of these luxuries are great to have, but none of them imbue the true essence of the holiday season. More so than anything else, being with the ones we love is the single greatest thing we can share as human beings during the holidays. Rich or poor, it doesn't matter. Love will always be free. Love is at times hard to find, but it's always easy to give away. The best thing you can do this Christmas is give your love to someone in your life. Your spouse, your brother, your mother, your neighbor, your friend. Give to someone, whomever they are, the love within your heart. Forget the worries of life for just a single moment and share in the joy. Share it with anyone you can, in whatever manner you can. We, the human race, are one big family. As such, we owe it to ourselves to treat each other like a family. Of course, families fight and argue at times, but at the end of all the grief and discourse, they love each other. So, let's do that. Let's love each other. Begin today, right now, this very Christmas Eve. Maybe we can do it again tomorrow. And then, the day after that. And so on... loving each other day after day. I wholeheartedly believe that global peace is attainable within our time, if only we are brave enough to share the gift of love with each other.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.


Jared Manning

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Marshmallow Snowman!

This is an awesome little holiday treat that you can make with your family, then shove down your throat! Here's how to make a...

Marshmallow Snowman!

All you need are a few simple ingredients. No cooking is involved.
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Chocolate Bell Candies
  • Thin Pretzel Sticks
  • Black and Orange Frosting Gel

Begin by shoving a pretzel stick into the flat side of a marshmallow. Then connect it to another marshmallow in the same manner. This is the snowman's torso. Add another pretzel stick and connect another marshmallow for the head. You've now finished the body of the snowman.

Next, push two or three chocolate chips into the front of the snowman to create buttons. Using your black frosting gel, draw the snowman's eyes and mouth. Create the carrot nose with a dot of the orange frosting gel. To create the hat, squirt a small dab of either color gel onto the bottom of a chocolate bell candy. Affix the candy to the top of the snowman's head to serve as its hat. The gel will help it stick.

Finally, use two pretzel sticks to create arms for the snowman. That's it! You're all done. Now eat that snowman! There are a ton of ways you can customize this fun activity, including a licorice scarf and different colored gum drop hats. Go nuts!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Move Over Rudolph, It's The Yule Goat!

Believe it or not, there's a goat connected with the Christmas holiday season. Unless you're from Scandinavia, you've probably never heard of it. I'm talking about the Yule Goat.

Originating with pre-Christian Scandinavians and northern Europeans, the Yule Goat is a symbol of the harvest season carried into winter. Tradition states that once the last batch of grain had been harvested, it would be saved for the annual Yule celebration. This bundle of grain was deemed the Julbocken, which translates to Yule Goat. The symbol of the goat was highly regarded at the time, especially by the Norse. This is because of the relation to the thunder god Thor, whom rode a mighty chariot pulled by two magical goats.

As the years went on, the symbol of the goat spread to other aspects of the winter holiday season. During the 11th Century, actors performed simple plays wherein Saint Nicholas would lead a goat man around by a leash. This was meant to symbolize keeping the devil under control.

Continuing through as late as the 20th Century, these same plays would grow and evolve further. The Yule Goat took on a more whimsical and tawdry nature. Large groups of actors would dance down streets and past homes in villages. They would sing, prance and play innocent pranks on their neighbors. The Yule Goat was typically part of this revelry, filling the role of a raucous beast-man demanding treats and presents from people.

By the 19th Century, the Yule Goat had also taken on a similar role as Santa Claus. He'd come around during the holidays and leave small gifts for children. Often times, the two characters were depicted together.

Today, the Yule Goat is a massively popular symbol representative of both the Christmas and Yule holidays. Throughout Scandinavia, the Yule Goat is just as common a holiday icon as reindeer or snowmen are here in America. Yule Goat ornaments are created from straw and wood with red ribbons tied around their neck and horns.

Don't you think it's a-bbbbbbbbbaaaaahhhhhhh-out time you added a Yule Goat to your Christmas tree?

Monday, December 21, 2015

How To Make Homemade Eggnog.

One of the most delightful (and fattening) treats of the holiday season has to be eggnog. Coming to America in the 18th Century from England, eggnog originally used brandy as the alcoholic component of the beverage. Though, because of heavy taxation, Americans turned to using much cheaper rum from the Caribbean. As the American Revolution kicked into full swing, the supply of rum entering the British Colonies dwindled. In turn, this caused another change with the recipe. Instead of rum, Americans started mixing bourbon with their eggnog.

In honor of a truly American holiday drink, here's a wonderful homemade eggnog recipe that you can create in your own kitchen. Remember, though... eggnog should be consumed in moderation.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 egg whites
Begin by beating the egg yolks thoroughly with a mixer. Add the sugar until dissolved. Finally, mix in the bourbon, nutmeg, milk and cream. Set this mixture aside.

Next, beat the egg whites with a mixer until soft. Then, mix in the tablespoon of sugar until the whites firm up slightly.

Finally, whisk your egg whites into your already prepared egg yolk mixture. Chill the entire batch until the eggnog is nice and cold, then serve.

If you want to try one of the older versions of eggnog, use brandy or rum instead of bourbon!

Remember, there is a slight salmonella risk from uncooked eggs. Only use clean, pasteurized eggs with unbroken shells. The risk is small, but it's best to be cautious.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Draw Something: Snowman

This is the last Draw Something before the Christmas holiday. As such, here's a delightful snowman waving, as if to say...


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Only In My Dreams.

There they were. The purest white snowbanks I'd ever seen, piled four feet high in some places, resting peacefully along the side of the road. So delightful in their calm repose, nestled against parked cars and mailboxes. Each slope of wonderful, glistening ivory was as unique as the snowflakes they were comprised of. How joyous in their simplicity, catching each and every ray of sunshine. Their sheen brought a welcomed serenity to the landscape. Children everywhere, with sleds in hand, enjoyed the fresh powder with their siblings and friends. This was by far one of the best parts of the holiday season.

I can't help but think of the great feasts with my brother and parents. Dad would cut into a massive turkey that seemed to almost leap off the platter, heaping mountains of mashed potatoes, the most delectable homemade cranberry sauce ever produced. We could eat forever and ever, never leaving the dinner table except for more pie and yeast rolls. There was that one time we even had a Christmas goose, just to say we'd tried it.

After dinner, we'd take a stroll along the edge of Old Man Gershwin's pond. A thick layer of glossy ice plastered across, it would mirror the sky in an endless pool of moonlit radiance. Occasionally, we'd work up enough courage to walk a few feet out, though never tempting the fates to the point of no return. Not once could I venture onto the ice without falling over, though. Brother, you'd laugh at me with the fervor of an excited school boy. Though, as the years have rolled on, I have a harder time remembering your face as it was.

Before the large bay window of our home, we'd build a friendly snowman. Clad in old work gloves, a tattered scarf and with a gnarled parsnip for a nose, we'd call him Marvin and make fun of his beady little charcoal eyes. The large evergreen tree dressed with lights and shiny ornaments would provide a glowing halo to our downtrodden friend of snow, making his simple nature appear all the more jolly. Seems like he could hold his position for an eternity, given the chance.


Leaving the dreamscape, I parted my eyes just for a moment, only to quickly shut them again while groping blind for my rotary phone.

"Hi mom. Yep. Yep. I feel fine. Sure. I'll meet you at Winthrop Gardens at 12:30. I do. Alright. Love you, too."

Rising from my kitchen table, I returned the phone to its receiver and took a survey of my domain. A cheap pharmacy-store Santa Claus wobbled back and forth atop my old television set. Only the glow of his electric candle brought any sort of warmth to the room, all but steeped entirely in everlasting twilight. Grabbing my car keys from the hook next to the humming refrigerator, I pulled firmly upon my apartment's front door. Creaking loudly, it slid into the well-established groove in the tarnished hardwood floor. A squeak with each landed step, I made my way downstairs and to my car, now assuredly covered in many inches of snow.

Winthrop Gardens is as good a place as any, I suppose. Resting in a valley between a series of insignificant hills and the paper mill, it was populated by a great many residents. My father and brother happened to be two of them. While waiting for my mom to arrive, I brushed the snow off of their grave stones. My brother, whom never even lived long enough to receive a name, had been here since before I can remember. Dad was interred next to him when I was six. Four days before Christmas, he went out for a drink at McFarley's Tavern. On the way home, he wrapped himself around an old oak tree. We buried him on Christmas Day.

Mom brought a bouquet of flowers for Dad and brother. For me, she had a small box. Inside was a tiny pair of white socks she'd knitted for my brother. We hugged and just stood there, letting the holiday spirit soak into our tired bones. Is this Christmas? I seemed to ask myself the same question every year, but never could produce a worthwhile answer.

On the drive home, I took notice of the bulbous mounds of snow piled high along the street. Covered in grime and muck from the road, they didn't seem to shine quite as brightly as I remembered. Waiting at a stoplight, my hand came to rest upon the small box in my coat pocket. Taking the lid off and gently clutching the two socks, I laid them neatly in the center of my passenger seat. Those two white socks, so perfect and clean. Clean like the fresh-fallen snow in my dreams.

"Merry Christmas, brother."

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yule Grog 2015 Part 3: Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale.

After two straight weeks of terrible beers, let's hope the third time is the charm!

My next reviewed beer of the 2015 Yule Grog is the Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. Based in Boonville, California, Anderson Valley Brewing has been in operation since December 26, 1987. At the time, they were one of only twenty known craft breweries in the United States. They've expanded from a meager ten barrel brew house to a state of the art three-story Bavarian style brewery. Over the years, they've been awarded time and time again for various beers, ranging from their Boont Amber Ale to their Fall Hornin' Pumpkin Ale (which I reviewed as well).

With each Yule Grog review, I'll be taking notes actively as I drink the beer for the first time. The notes I write will be divided into two sections -- drinking it cold and at room temperature. My comments will be genuine and on the spot. I'll highlight what I like and dislike about the beer. Whether I end up liking the beer or not, it'll be a 100% honest to goodness review.

Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is ready for consumption every year between September and January. It is 6.9% Alc. by volume and available nationwide through most major specialty adult beverage retailers.

Time to drink!

Cold out of the fridge:
  • Possesses a beautiful honey color.
  • Has a thin head with a light amount of carbonation.
  • The aroma is only faintly sweet and hard to detect.
  • Not overly sweet upon taking my first swallow.
  • First gulp highlighted with hints of caramel and nuts.
  • Somewhat creamy in nature.
  • Only the slightest amount of bitterness, but not so much that it is unpleasant.
  • Not particularly spicy, unable to detect any certain spices used.
  • Clearly a case of the sum being greater than the individual parts.
  • Simple, smooth and refreshing.
  • Very easy and pleasant to drink.
At room temperature:
  • Became creamier and denser.
  • Has a toffee flavor I couldn't detect when colder.
  • The small amount of bitterness has disappeared.
  • The creaminess really is quite delightful.
  • Provides an excellent mouth-feel.
  • Light in flavor, but hearty in stature.
  • Overall, the change in temperature hasn't really altered the beer's flavor profile dramatically.
I was quite happy with the Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale. It wasn't complex, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I believe the smooth, simple nature of the Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is what makes it so damn tasty and drinkable. I could have easily downed two or three more of these... though I'm not sure how well I'd be able to write this review if that were the case! Rest assured, the Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale from Anderson Valley is a mighty fine beverage that you should absolutely purchase.

Yule Grog 2015:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What In The World Is Frankincense and Myrrh?

"Dude, we totally have to get our gifts to that sweet baby Jesus. He's over THERE!"

Most of us, myself included, have no idea what frankincense and myrrh are. Sure, we've heard of them a thousand times over. As the story goes, the three wise men brought little baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh when he was born. Of course, we all know what gold is and its significance. Yet, frankincense and myrrh have left us collectively scratching our heads.

Turns out, frankincense is nothing more than a milky white resin taken from a tree species of the genus Boswellia, which thrives in the arid, cool areas of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and India. Frankincense was used as a perfume, much like what men and women wear today.

Alternatively, myrrh is a reddish resin derived from tree species of the genus Commiphora. They are native to northeast Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Myrrh was commonly employed at the time as an anointing oil.

Both frankincense and myrrh possess a spicy, alluring aroma when burned for their fragrance. They were also used as symbols of holiness when gifted to royalty. Of course, Jesus was viewed as the king of kings, hence the receipt of such bountiful gifts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Your Star Wars Toys Will Not Make You Rich.

With the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming this week, many people are eagerly digging through their basements and attics looking for old toys. Star Wars has been a perennially popular toy series for many decades. Ranging from action figures, die-cast vehicles, puzzles, video games and dolls, nearly every possible type of toy has at some point been sold under the Star Wars banner. As was the case with the prequel film The Phantom Menace in 1999, many are yet again interested in making a quick buck off the Star Wars phenomenon.

Rest assured, your Star Wars toys are probably worth very little. You will not get rich off them.

A selection of various Star Wars figures from the 1980's.

Earlier this evening, I read an article posted by my local CBS News television affiliate (which you can see here). In it, the author irresponsibly describes all the ways in which your Star Wars toys can be worth a fortune. Though, the piece is just vague enough so that many of the most important details about which specific Star Wars collectibles are left obscured or omitted altogether. Photos highlighting a Micro Machines Millennium Falcon play-set were used, as were other common Star Wars items from the 1990's. Honestly, I loathe articles like this. They encourage a false sense of value with people whom know very little about the collectible toy market. Considering I deal in collectible and vintage toys, I witness first hand the ripple effect such nonsense can cause. That aforementioned Millennium Falcon play-set? Yeah... only worth $45 sealed in the box. Not played with, not with missing pieces... sealed in the original box. Yet, the next time I'm conducting a potential transaction with someone looking to sell their old Star Wars toys, they'll probably want double that price, if not more.

Your Star Wars toys have value, just not nearly as much as you might think. Let me illustrate.

Probably the most recognizable and popular Star Wars character is Darth Vader. If you want to own an original Darth Vader from the 1977 Star Wars toy series, a loose action figure without any accessories will set you back a whopping $7. That's it. Seven whole dollars. If you want a Darth Vader figure with the cape and lightsaber, you won't have to pay any more than $17 to $20. The price is low because so many figures were produced. The demand is moderate, but the supply is high, thereby reducing the value. Let's move ahead in time to 1995 and the Star Wars: Power of the Force action figure series. Darth Vader without accessories from this series is worth about $2. If you want a complete Darth Vader with cape and lightsaber, then expect to pay $7. The demand is low and the supply is high, so the value is quite little. This trend runs across the board with nearly all Star Wars items. Why? Because they were sold in massive quantities, flooding the toy market and making their supply for future collectors plentiful.

A promo poster released at Walmart in the 1990's featuring the Power of the Force line of figures. While they're great little action figures to play with and display, they're extremely cheap and easy for collectors to obtain.

Sure, in some rare instances, there are a few Star Wars toys that demand a hefty premium, reaching in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Yet, these items are few and far between. The most valuable Star Wars toys are those that were produced in extremely limited numbers, had small parts or pieces that were usually lost, or were released with a production error. A toy simply retaining its packaging or being sealed in the box will only add extreme value in the case of already rare items. The deciding factor in value is almost always the presence of a low supply. Thereby, anything released in high volume will never be worth a fortune.

There you have it, folks. Pack away your C-3PO ($6) and Jar Jar Binks ($7) action figures. Better yet, give the figures to a child and let them be used for their intended purpose -- play! The only thing you could potentially finance with the majority of your Star Wars toys is lunch.

Meesa' hardly worth anything, even sealed in package!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Yes Virginia, Atheists Do Celebrate Christmas.

Considering the subject matter, I feel I must provide a simple preface. The following article is in no way intended to be inflammatory or disrespectful. In fact, the matter of religion plays no part in the explanation I'm about to provide. While I may be an atheist, I believe in and will defend the inalienable right to worship how you see fit. Religion is a highly personal matter. Only you can decide for yourself if belief in a higher power is something you want in your life.

As an out-of-the-closet atheist, I'm sometimes asked if I celebrate Christmas. When I affirm that I do, the follow-up question is typically...
"How can you celebrate Christmas when you don't believe in God?"
Honestly, I completely understand the reason for being confused. For someone that's had little to no interaction with a non-believer, it can all be slightly difficult to wrap your head around. While I obviously can't speak for all atheists, myself and others like me celebrate Christmas for many of the same reasons as the religious. Let me explain.

Christmas has always sat on the fence between being a religious celebration and a secular festival. Sure, you can take joy in the birth of Christ and the miracle in that little town of Bethlehem. Yet, you can also appreciate the message and sentiment of the entire holiday season. Hoping for peace on earth, doing acts of charity, trying to help your fellow man, spending time with friends and family, eating a feast with your loved ones, trading gifts, decorating a tree, stringing up lights, waiting on Santa Claus to arrive -- these are all things purely secular in nature. Belief in a higher power isn't necessary to admire and encourage these practices.

Christmas isn't just a religious holiday; it's an international ritual. Folks from all corners of the planet celebrate the season of giving, with varying religious and cultural tenets. To say Christmas can only be truly understood by Christians is massively short-sighted. Jewish people participate in Christmas. Muslims participate in Christmas. Even Shintoists and Hindus participate in Christmas. Not because it's a religious holiday, but because Christmas is an observance of all the potential good within humanity.

Few realize that the festival of Christmas has been celebrated for many thousands of years, long before it ever had that specific name. Many of the elements found within the holiday season were directly adapted from ancient Germanic feasts and the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Yule, a pagan ritual from Scandinavia, also provided large portions of the season (chiefly the Christmas Tree). It wasn't until the Middle Ages that Christmas was even loosely organized as a religious holiday, formally adapting many of the traditions from other Winter Solstice festivals. In terms of America's link to the Christmas holiday, our nation didn't even begin to take an interest until the 1820's. It wasn't until 1885 that the US Government finally declared Christmas a national holiday.

You see, the Christmas season isn't purely relegated to one special holy day. Christmas transcends the boundaries of religious doctrine. It's a cultural phenomenon that touches everyone, believer and non-believer alike. I enjoy seeing happy children and trees covered in twinkle lights. Presents wrapped in pretty paper excite me. Christmas carols do bring joy to my heart. Seeing people be nicer to each other makes me feel a little bit better inside. Mailing Christmas cards (and yes, I send a lot of them) absolutely delights me. And yet, what I choose to believe or not believe has no bearing on any of this.

As an atheist, I celebrate Christmas because it's just as much my tradition as it is yours. When I say to someone "Merry Christmas", I'm passing along tidings of joy and hope for a better tomorrow. As far as I'm concerned, that's what Christmas is all about.

Monday, December 14, 2015

You Can't Go Home Again: A Tour Of Lunenburg County.

While traveling to Richmond over the weekend, I took a small detour through the area where I grew up. Lunenburg County has never been the wealthiest of locales. In fact, the county still doesn't even have a McDonald's or a Walmart; that's just how rural the place is. I emerged in Victoria, Virginia; the town where I went to middle and high school. Not too much had changed considering I hadn't been there in nearly fifteen years. Some of the businesses throughout the town had changed names, but many more seemed to have closed altogether. I took notice of so many empty storefronts and factories. Such a shame, really.

I made a stop at my old high school first. Central High was already in fairly run down condition when I graduated from there in 2000. It doesn't seem much has improved. Many of the outlying buildings were in disrepair.

The amphitheater surrounding the old art complex was dreary, with some benches appearing to be scattered or broken. I can recall sitting on that stage graduating, to which I fell asleep in the hot sun waiting for the whole event to be over. The only highlight seemed to be the football field, which looked to have a new fence and seating. This came as no surprise to me, though. Even when I was still a student there, all anyone ever cared about was the damned football team.

I then ventured down to Lunenburg Middle School, which I attended between 1993 and 1996. Unfortunately, I simply wasn't prepared for the dilapidated condition of the campus.

The two buildings which comprise the middle school are in the active process of being reclaimed by nature. Most of the lot, including the sports fields, was overgrown with tall grass and weeds. The old gymnasium and wood shop looked to be suffering roof collapses.

Windows everywhere were broken or missing. Many of the doors were left open to vagrants and wild animals. Had I of wanted to, I could have easily gone inside and inspected the broken down structure. Approaching the cafeteria, I found part of its large window knocked out.

Inside, I discovered trash, animal waste and grime. The old murals which used to be on the walls were painted over at some point after I left. I can still recall my very last day at the school in 1996, waiting for my bus to arrive outside the main office entrance. Such a pity the school has been all but forgotten. I learned later on this weekend that a new middle school had been built recently, but I'm not sure when or where. To see these old buildings rotting away, though... that was a punch to the gut.

Heading on to Kenbridge, I stopped by the Tastee Freez. Much to my thankfulness, I was glad it was still open for business. This was my first job as a teenager.

At the time, I rather disliked working there. But, looking back, it was probably one of the best parts of my teenage years. On Friday nights, we practically served every mouth in the county. It was even worse after a Central football game. Whew... talk about hard work! I am thankful for the work ethic that job taught me, though. Not much had evolved inside the building. The same tables, same booths, same menu board, same ice cream machine -- it was all there! The current employees were really nice and friendly. It was comforting to see that not much had been altered since the last time I was inside; I believe it was 2002.

I drove by my old house on Broad Street feeling perplexed, unable to tell if it was being remodeled or just trashed by the current residents. Garbage and building waste littered the yard. The multiple gas stations along Broad were still open, but stifled by folks in loud trucks, cars with blaring music and foolhardy loiterers. All in all, it was quite depressing.

Coming back as a man, I was taken aback by how much smaller everything seemed to be. Had I grown larger? Or, the more likely scenario... things have the appearance of being so much bigger when you're in your youth. 

Thomas Wolfe writes in his literary classic You Can't Go Home Again:
"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."
The harrowing words of Wolfe pierce my heart like a stinging blade of remembrance. I've avoided Lunenburg County for so long. Never proud of where I came from as a young man, it wasn't a place I wanted to be a part of my adulthood. Seeing Lunenburg's current state, I can say confidently that I made the right choice in leaving all those years ago. There's no hope for the area; no chance of broadened horizons. No likelihood of being successful or noteworthy. No chance of seeing the world or meeting new people. It was important for me to experience where I grew up as a man, though. To understand just how far I've come as an adult, I needed to see firsthand where I started from. In all things, perspective is the key to correctly gauging your trajectory.

With the stale breath of creeping death upon my neck, I left Lunenburg with a greater appreciation of all that I've worked so hard for. None of my success would have been possible had I of stayed there.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Draw Something: Flying Pig

There's no real story behind what I drew for tonight's installment of Draw Something. I just felt whimsical and created a flying pig for the fun of it! OINK!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Who Knows My Face?

This evening's article is being written from the road. I normally publish a new piece of fiction on Saturday, but today will be a rare exception. I revisited a lot of old places from my youth today. While the full details of my visit will be detailed in a future article, I simply wanted to express my feelings in a poem this evening.

Falling apart
Your bones left exposed to the harsh winds of change
The flesh peeling from your frame
No longer a home
The shadow of a thousand dying suns
Your holy houses of learning
Left to dance with the dust
The graves of kings and queens
Sinking into the depths of a forgotten hell
The shattered glass of a windowless house
Scattered across a boneyard
Seeking but a single drop of water
No life, no hope
Remember... there is no 'I' in team
But there is an 'I' in failure
Who knows my face?
In a crowd of strangers, I have become invisible
How can I be anything but humble
Gained a fortune
Lost a losing proposition
In that, I am redeemed
A vulture overlooking a cemetery of the living dead

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yule Grog 2015 Part 2: Shipyard Brewing GingerBreadHead Ale.

My second brew of the 2015 Yule Grog is the GingerBreadHead Ale by Shipyard Brewing of Portlane, Maine. Created in 2014, this is the second year GingerBreadHead Ale has been in production. It is 4.6% Alc. by volume and available annually between November and February. With each review of the Yule Grog, I'll be taking notes live as I drink the beer for the first time. The notes I write will be divided into two sections -- drinking it cold and at room temperature. My comments will be genuine. I'll highlight what I like and dislike about the beer. No matter what, I'll explain to you my final verdict with honesty.

Shipyard Brewing was founded in 1994 and was the fastest growing craft brewery in the United States by 1996. Currently, they are ranked as the 25th largest craft brewery in America. Their line of beers has won numerous national and international awards in their twenty year history. Other beers they produce include the Shipyard Blue Fin Stout and the Shipyard Export Ale, with a nearly nationwide distribution. You can probably find one of Shipyard's finely crafted beers with your local grocer or specialty beverage retailer.

I'm a big fan of all things ginger, so I pray this doesn't disappoint me. Let's get to drinking!

Cold out of the fridge:
  • Has a dark mahogany color.
  • Possesses a sweet aroma with faint notes of ginger.
  • Tastes like an unsweetened, bland soda.
  • Extremely carbonated.
  • No real taste of any kind.
  • Way more tasteless than I expected.
  • It's like an alcoholic soda pop, but without any flavor.
  • Not unpleasant to drink, just sort of pointless.
  • All fizz, no flavor.
At room temperature:
  • Still no ginger flavor.
  • The aroma of ginger has stayed roughly the same.
  • Almost all of the carbonation has disappeared.
  • Now feels and tastes like a flat soda pop.
  • Very watery and runny.
  • Somewhat bitter.
  • Might as well have been drinking an out-of-date, lifeless cola.
What an utter disappointment. This ale had close to no flavor at all throughout the entire experience. If there was ginger in this (and I suspect there was because I could faintly smell it), then Shipyard certainly didn't add enough to the brew for anyone to actually taste it. I might as well have been drinking an expired Pepsi cola. Bland, lifeless and altogether pointless, I can't recommend GingerBreadHead Ale.

Yule Grog 2015:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

How To Make A Home Made Snow Globe.

Snow globes are a wonderful part of the holiday season. They possess the power to convey a simple but definitive message of love and peace, all within the realm of an enclosed sphere filled with water. The contents of a holiday snow globe can vary widely, from birds to teddy bears and everything in between. Heck, you can even find snow globes for other holidays and events -- birthdays, Halloween, Fourth of July and so on.

And now, you an make a snow globe within the comfort of your own home. This is a fantastic project to tackle with your family.

Here's what you'll need:
  • A clear glass jar with a tight metal light
  • Sandpaper
  • Clear-drying epoxy
  • Distilled water
  • Glycerin
  • Glitter
  • Objects or figures to put in the snow globe
  • Enamel paint (optional)
Start by making sure your jar and lid are very clean and dry. If you want to paint your lid, do so first with an oil-based enamel paint. Use sandpaper to rough up the underside of the lid. This is where you'll be gluing your objects and figures for the globe. Go nuts here -- elves, reindeer, pine trees, gift boxes, miniature trains. Anything your imagination can come up with can be inserted into your globe (as long as it fits, of course). Make sure to use plastic or ceramic objects; metal items will rust inside the globe. Attach them to the lid with epoxy and allow to dry completely.

Then, fill your jar almost to the top with distilled water (do not use tap water). Add a spoon of glycerin and a pinch of glitter to fill the jar the rest of the way. Don't go heavy with the glitter, as too much can cause it to cake against the sides and bottom of the jar. Finally, screw your lid on tightly. You can add a very light coat of epoxy around the lip of the lid for added security if you desire.

That's it! Flip your home made snow globe over and shake it. You just created a winter wonderland all on your own!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sushi Night!

Every so often, Crystal and I will have a homemade sushi night. Surprisingly, making sushi isn't as hard as you might think. It just takes a little patience and the right ingredients.

The chief component is short-grain Japanese rice, along with rice vinegar, sugar, salt and sheets of dried seaweed for the exterior. Mix in various vegetables, fish and meat. Tada! You're all set. I won't bore you with a detailed description of how to make sushi, but there's a plethora of simple recipes all over the internet. You can surely find one that suits your tastes.

What are some of my favorite sushi rolls?

Unagi Roll - unagi (eel), avocado, cucumber, daikon sprouts, sesame seeds, sweet unagi glaze

Philadelphia Roll - smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, avocado

Spicy Tuna - tuna, spicy mayonnaise, roe, scallions

Spider Roll - fried soft-shell crab, avocado, lettuce, spicy mayonnaise, cucumber, roe

Tako Roll - tako (octopus), cucumber, avocado, lettuce