Early fall 2011 travels

Janice & Gene
Janice and Gene

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been busy during the past few weeks shepherding some big projects to completion at work. I’ve also been fighting a recurring sinus infection, no doubt aggravated by seasonal allergies and fatigue from travel.

In the last weekend of September, Janice and I flew down to Virginia to see my family. We were originally scheduled to attend Nathaniel L.’s bar mitzvah in Brooklyn, New York, but since an ailing uncle of mine was visiting from Belgium, my folks took priority.

We joined my parents and uncle for lunch at Café Indigo before checking into the Courtyard by Marriott at Battlefield Park in Manassas. We stopped by Game Parlor in Chantilly before a hearty dinner at Cracker Barrel.

On Saturday, 24 September 2011, my brother and his family joined us for the Rappahannock County Farm Tour. My nieces enjoyed the hay ride, got to saddle up for the first time on a horse rather than a pony, and watched in awe of a beekeeper using smoke but no protective gear. We had lunch at Belle Meade Farm, listened to some music at the Link, and had dinner back at my parents’ home.

That Sunday, we attended mass at the Church of the Nativity, where Lili had been baptized, before another big meal at Peter & Kelly’s. Janice and I returned our rental car without incident, but we were held up at Dulles Airport because of a temporary security lockdown.

Despite predictions of rain, Janice and I enjoyed the Needham Harvest Fair on Saturday, 1 October 2011. The highlight of the annual festival is the “Souper Bowl,” in which local establishments compete. The weather was even nicer this past weekend, but we decided against the long drive to the King Richard’s Faire, instead visiting local Halloween shops.

On a more serious note, I hope that my uncle and my brother-in-law Gary feel better soon. Although I won’t be attending my 25th anniversary high school reunion this coming weekend, Janice and I will be going to a bed and breakfast in Providence, Rhode Island, in the coming weeks. After that, we’ll see what’s in store for Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Escaping reality

Post-apocalyptic Lego at BrickFair 2011

Although I’ve had difficulty posting to this blog regularly lately, being busy with work and travel is nothing in comparison with what some friends have been dealing with lately: David I.S. getting mugged in Rochester, N.Y.; Corbin A.Y. and Ron J.K.‘s ailing family members; and riots in the Middle East and London, as well as economic and political struggles worldwide.

On a lighter note, after considering controversies, cartoons, and live-action promotions around this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, it’s time to look at toys and games. I’m typically more interested in role-playing games (RPGs) and action figures than in video games. Fortunately, there was something for everyone, with some Web sites providing galleries to rival the numerous ones for costumed fans.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that toys based on the animated Justice League Unlimited continue to be made, even if they’re hard to come by. We’ll see how the latest costume variations from DC Comics’ September renumbering look in plastic, but I suspect that the classic superheroes will remain popular.

I was also pleased to learn that Lego has won the rights to characters from both the Marvel and DC universes (it previously sold only Batman sets). As a longtime collector of minifigures and comic books, I think this is a match made in heaven!

On a related note, while visiting my family in Virginia this past weekend, Janice and I went with my brother Peter and our nieces to the fan-run Lego BrickFair in Chantilly, Virginia. We saw many impressive models and dioramas created by fans of the Danish building blocks, including train sets, replicas of world landmarks, towering cranes, and multimedia tie-ins.

Unfortunately, the festival was crowded, so I didn’t get to see college chum Ben P.S. and his son Finley, who were among the exhibitors. I haven’t had time to check out the Lego Universe massively multiplayer online game (MMO), and it would be cool if Lego came out with a Justice League vs. Avengers game!

I’m still digesting the news from Gen Con, but I plan to blog soon about various RPGs, my travels, and food and drink!

Kung-Fu Panda 2 review

Wallpaper for Dreamworks' latest animated movie
Kung-Fu Panda 2

On Friday, 3 June 2011, I met former co-worker and fellow blogger Ken G. to screen Kung-Fu Panda 2. While not as clever as its predecessor, the computer-animated martial arts comedy was still entertaining.

Kung-Fu Panda 2 has a similar plot to the first movie, in which a pudgy panda (played by Jack Black) must find hidden strength to fight a nasty villain. As before, Po has a strong supporting cast voiced by Dustin Hoffman as red panda Shifu, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, James Hong as adoptive father Mr. Ping, Lucy Liu as Viper, and Seth Rogen as Mantis.

New characters include Michelle Yeoh as a goat soothsayer, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Master Croc, and chameleon Gary Oldman as peacock dictator Shen. While Black doesn’t get to improvise as much as he has in other flicks, the other actors are well-chosen and don’t distract from their roles.

The martial arts choreography was strong, with each animal demonstrating a different style, and for once, I thought the 3-D helped rather than hurt the viewing experience. The writers and animators also expand the story’s venue beyond the monastery and village to the wider countryside and a city in ancient China. Ken even noticed that in one scene, funky music underscores a scene similar to 1970s action movies.

The movie is framed by animation resembling paper cutouts, and it clearly leaves an opening for another sequel. Overall, I’d give Kung-Fu Panda 2 a B or B+, 8 out of 10, or three and a half out of five stars. It’s rate PG for violence. I haven’t yet seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2: On Stranger Tides (which has gotten mixed reviews) or X-Men: First Class (which has gotten surprisingly favorable reviews). Ken and I also had dinner at Fresh City, which was OK.

On Saturday, Janice and I attended the Needham Street Fair and the Cambridge River Festival. Both had interesting vendors and varied cuisine (Thai and Indian were popular), and the latter had performers and several tables for progressive political causes that I support, such as Amnesty International.

After browsing at some of our usual book shops in Harvard Square, Janice and I had dinner at the Border Café, which is one of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants. On Sunday, between a car inspection and picking up my comic book subscription at New England Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts, we had lunch at Conrad’s, a good family/pub-style eatery.

I’ll be busy with work and travel in the next few months, so I may not be able to blog as regularly as I have been doing, but have no fear, gentle readers — I’ve got more ideas coming!

Steampunk festival

Retro integrating engine
Retro integrating engine

On Mother’s Day, Janice and I went to the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation. Waltham, Massachusetts, which was rechristened “International Steampunk City,” hosted numerous events focusing on the subgenre. Steampunk blends 19th century speculative fiction with modern sensibilities and has been growing in popularity.

We liked the museum, which contains artifacts from the real Industrial Revolution. The festival also included historical re-enactors, arts and crafts exhibits, vendors, and of course, fans of all ages in semi-period costumes.

Although the venues were spread out around the museum, Waltham Common, and Moody Street, I was glad to see strong attendance. I hope that the steampunk event brings business to the area and leads to an event that draws more performers and participants.

We also went to the Outer Limits comic shop and had lunch at Margarita’s, whose namesake drink was good, but the service was slow. This coming weekend, the festivities continue with high school chum Damon F.P.’s visit and a cookout!

29 September 2009: Out in the country

Out in the country

This past weekend, Janice and I drove to western Massachusetts for the “Big E,” the Eastern States Exposition, which is the equivalent of a state fair for New England. We left work early on Friday, 25 September 2009, and visited the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside before checking into the nearby Holiday Inn. We had dinner at the upscale shopping mall, and among other things, I found another superhero costume for Halloween.

We then met Janice’s parents, her youngest sister Melinda, and Melinda’s family. After
Josh went for a swim with Janice and Melinda’s father Marvin, we played pool and
foosball, two of my favorite table games, with them and Gary and Amanda. After breakfast at Friendly’s the next morning, we went to the festival, which was crowded because of the nice early autumn weather.

We browsed through the craft square and numerous vendors’ booths, visited the state pavilions and historic buildings, petted some livestock, and of course, enjoyed fair food and refreshing birch beer. There was an impressive butter sculpture of a dairy farm. Although Janice and I didn’t get to this past weekend’s Phantom Gourmet food festival or the King Richard’s Faire Renaissance festival, we like going to such seasonal celebrations.

Our return to the Boston area went smoothly, but Janice’s folks weren’t so lucky — they got into a fender-bender on the way back to Upstate New York. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. Given how infrequently our families come to Massachusetts, I hope that the incident doesn’t discourage them. Speaking of visitors, Damon F.P. and Dexter V.H. hope to visit in the next few weekends.

Work has continued to be demanding, but it should be easier this week with the return of my direct supervisor from her Italian vacation. My evenings have been filled with the usual games and the return of genre television, which I’m sure I’ll blog about more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let me know what you think and if there’s anything you’d like to see here!