Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

October 17
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (Recent Episodes)
TV Show

So this is kind of a mini-review for the latest two seasons of MLP:FIM, but neither of them as full seasons because of stupid streaming rules and messed up streaming services meaning that it's been actually kind of difficult for me to find the show when I want to catch up. At one point the only way I could watch was to pay $1.99 an episode and I'm sorry, but the show wouldn't have been worth that in the beginning when it was at its best so it's definitely not worth it now.

Which is the point of this review, now that we're in an eighth season of My Little Pony's revival, I think the holes are starting to show. There are almost 200 episodes and there's really a sense of diminishing returns happening. Characters are learning lessons that they've learned before, new characters are being thrown in and aren't as well developed. For a while there was entirely too much Discord, but that seems to be waning.

I don't know if it was just that the show started to decrease in quality after Lauren Faust left, but there's really a sense that crept in a few seasons ago that the show was almost buying too much of its own hype and being too meta about it's fandom and fans within the show instead of focusing on good storytelling. The episode I watched today (Forever Filly) was about Rarity not understanding that Sweetie Bell had grown up and while the message was good (if a little simplistic) it just didn't feel right. It didn't make any sense to me that generous Rarity would behave like she did in the beginning of the episode, being dismissive of Sweetie Bell's work, etc. And that's the problem, there's a lot more "we want to tell this story, let's just have these ponies do it" going on it feels like. And the less I say about "The Maud Couple" the better. Even the moral of that episode was bad, it absolutely teaches the wrong lesson.

One thing I can say though is that the "Young Six" might feel a little contrived at first (a new group of exactly six made up of perfect diversity from the different species that have appeared before because conveniently everybody we've met before has a younger sibling or child? Sure, sure, whatever) at the same time, I'm okay with it. They feel more natural and interesting than the Mane Six do at this point, because they are still figuring each other out and the audience doesn't know everything about them yet either. So they're definitely not on my list of "new characters I'm already tired of."

#OpinionatedOctober - Practical Magic Movie Party

October 16
Practical Magic Movie Party at Alamo Drafthouse

Like anybody with a film background, I've known about Alamo Drafthouse for a while. I'm not sure if I realized there was one so close to me, but I am lucky to live in an area where even though I'm about 30 minutes from an Alamo, I actually drive past three other theaters to get there. I just hadn't actually looked into it before when I randomly stumbled on an ad for a Labyrinth Quote-A-Long Movie Party. Obviously, my best friend and I had to go, and we were instantly addicted. I've lost track of how many movie parties we've gone to in the two years since that fateful day, but for Halloween they were doing a showing of Practical Magic. This is one of our favorite movies, so honestly the only delay in buying the tickets after I saw the email was to determine which of the two showings we were going to.

The movie parties are always a good time, and this one was no exception. You get to see a movie that you love on the big screen (or introduce somebody else to one that they've missed) and they lift their strict no talking rules *slightly* for the event (you can quote along with the movie, or sing in the case of Labyrinth, but no conversations or heckling). The food is always good but a couple we've gone to have had themed drinks just for the occasion. I did not try the Midnight Margarita this time around, because I'd already picked out a shake on their Halloween menu that I couldn't wait to try (The Sacrificial Shake, it was amazing). You also get props to use during certain parts of the movie, and this time we had a scratch and sniff card to smell at certain moments too (like sage to help cast the spell on Jimmy). The movie party props are sometimes better than others, and this was one of the best sets I think. Practical Magic is just such a fun movie to watch at any time, but seeing it on the big screen again was awesome. And as the host pointed out before the movie started, it was apparently the 20th anniversary of the film's release. I came home to check my book of ticket stubs, and it turns out we saw it in the day after it came out back in 1998. And yet there was STILL a moment where I realized something I'd never noticed before.

If you've not been to an Alamo Drafthouse before: always arrive early. The 30 minute pre-show before the movie isn't one of those obnoxious "shows" full of ads pretending to be entertainment news or whatever, but an assortment of weird semi-related video finds from who knows where. Trailers for old movies, music videos from who knows's always a weird, fun mix of stuff.

You can't talk about Alamo without mentioning the food. I didn't get anything from the special menu, but I just have to say the chicken & ricotta meatballs are always amazing. I still mourn the loss of the fish and chips (still the best ones I've had in years, haven't found any as good in another restaurant yet) but the meatballs aren't a bad go-to.

#OpinionatedOctober - Reply All: The Crime Machine Parts I & II

October 15
Reply All: The Crime Machine Parts I & II
Podcast Episodes

I've been a fan of Reply All for a while, but I have to admit it took me a bit to hit play on the two newest episodes. For one, because they dropped both parts of a two parter in one day, meaning that there was a lot of extra minutes added onto my queue at once and I'm really against that. I have an idea of how long each thing takes to listen to and specific times I like to listen to them, throwing that apart by doubling the length suddenly makes me grumpy.

But this episode was worth every minute they spent on it. The amount of research and effort it must have taken for them to produce it really shows, and it's extremely admirable that they went looking for an answer and actually dug until they found multiple angles on that answer. It's one of the best kinds of stories because while it's very local (specific to New York City in a specific time frame) but the issues that it touches on are ones that are plaguing communities around the United States. Specifically, they're looking at how a computer system and crime statistic reporting is causing police in NYC to engage in procedures that are racist and unethical. I don't want to spoil any part of the story, they unroll the different pieces of it at a really good pace. It's well worth a listen.

#OpinionatedOctober - Science Update

October 14
Science Update

I randomly stumbled on Science Update a year or so ago, and it's quickly become one of my favorite podcasts because it has a format that it follows and it doesn't feel any need to stray from it. Every weekday morning it has a one minute episode about something new in science news, or answering a listener question. You find out something interesting, and it doesn't overstay its welcome or get too technical. Sometimes they interview the scientists about the topic, so you're hearing first hand how someone is explaining their research. But again, never over a minute. It's actually a blessing to find a podcast that doesn't start thinking that it's so important it needs to get more and more expansive. A minute a day is perfect.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Dragons and Beasties

October 13
Dragons and Beasties
Online Shop/Artist

I don't actually remember how I stumbled on Dragons & Beasties years ago, just that the first thing I saw of hers was her dice dragon sculptures and I still want one. But since getting one of those requires a lot of money and basically already owning a Luck Dragon to catch the sale when it goes live, that's not in the cards for me. Instead I've bought some of her other stuff, including a hot cocoa dragon mug that is my favorite mug. She sells the design on a sticker in her shop now.

But lately what I've been getting more of are her coloring books and coloring pages. She has a lot of different packs, and they're downloadbles that you print yourself. I ended up getting them printed on thicker paper at Office Depot so that I could try coloring them with markers, but I think they actually look better when done with colored pencils. One of the things I love about them is that there are so many different types to have fun with. Arts and crafts, dragons with pets, fancier dragons like her elemental pack, or simpler ones like in the Summer Dragons pack. They're really high quality illustrations and I think anybody who likes to color should get some. One day I'll buy some of the notebooks and t-shirts with her art on it too, but for now I'll just keep coloring.

#OpinionatedOctober - Martha Stewart Halloween Collection at Michael's

October 12
Martha Stewart Halloween Collection at Michael's
Party Supplies

So, I don't normally do a lot of themed parties or party planning, mostly because I don't throw a lot of parties (kind of a long story) but this year I was hosting a brunch with a Halloween theme as a not-a-baby-shower for a friend. I'd gone into Michael's for something else and saw the various Martha Stewart collections there and figured that was probably going to be what we went with for decorations and stuff. When we went, we sort of accidentally ended up with a specific theme with red and black spiders, and not everything we picked up was from the Martha Stewart stuff, but enough of it was.

Overall, for the price point with the sense of design it was a really good deal. I like kind of a more subtle Halloween thing than a lot of decor goes for (not the super bright colors, not a ton of cobwebs, etc.) and so this fit the bill for me quite nicely. Most of the stuff was really good quality too, though it's hard to mess up paper plates and napkins. There are only two real points to make about what we got. We picked up these little treat boxes that came with their own matching "forks" and I can't for the life of me figure out what you'd put in a cardboard treat box that would use a fork. We just used them separately. The big thing was a two-tiered tray that we used for the cupcakes, which somehow came with the wrong pieces. It had two interlocking-tower pieces, and then the two flat trays. Or it should have, our two tower pieces were exactly the same, which means they didn't interlock at all. We had to actually cut a notch in one of them and force them to fit because checking online, our local store had sold out of it and it was the night before the party anyway. So really, next time, I'm definitely going to check that it comes with the right parts. I guess you get what you pay for? Anyway, otherwise it was a sturdy serving tray and looked cute as a centerpiece. Just check your box and you should be good to go.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Panera Baked Potato Soup

October 11
Panera Baked Potato Soup

This review is kind of cheating, for two reasons. One, because I had this soup yesterday so it's not a review of something I did today (sorry, but I went to the mall and found absolutely nothing I wanted to buy, which I guess is it's own review of that mall...) but also because if you've known me for longer than like a week you probably already know that I love potatoes and I love potato soup.

The reason I'm calling this one out specifically though is that since I love potato soup so much, I've had a lot of them. Like a lot. And I've had Panera's soup a lot, I used to go there once a week to meet up with friends, for years. And end of the day, Panera still has my favorite potato soup of the ones you can get at restaurants, and it's different than the one I make at home but probably better. For one thing, a lot of "baked potato" soups like to have some kind of earthy flavor in it that I think is from leaving some of the skin on the potatoes. Nobody needs that. Sometimes they include too much bacon, or it's too crispy/crunchy and it ruins the mix of textures. But a lot of times it boils down to the soup itself is too thick or too thin. Or they add too many green things. Or somehow there's not enough potato, I mean, who does that?

Panera's baked potato soup is the Goldilocks potato soup, it's just right. The really weird thing though is that the kind you can buy in the store to heat up at home isn't actually as good, so I really don't know. But one day maybe I'll find a recipe to make at home that's like this one so I don't have to always remember what day of the week it is to make sure I get my soup.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober Home Chef One-Sheet Pretzel Crusted Chicken

October 10
Home Chef's One-Sheet Pretzel-Crusted Chicken
Home delivery meal kit

Note: This link is a referral link. Bonus, you'll get $30 off your first order!

I decided to join the hip crowd and get a meal delivery box about three weeks ago, and I did a ton of research before I picked which one I was going to go with. The prices all seemed pretty comparable, so it really boiled down to who had the most items on their current menus that I thought I would eat. Home Chef won out on that one. Plus, they had pretty good reviews.

I got my third box from them today, but this meal was actually from a previous box. See, I'm just one person trying to eat these meals and they make usually 2-3 meals each so you know, it adds up. Anyway, today I decided to make the One-Sheet Pretzel-Crusted Chicken, which also came with broccoli to roast on the same sheet pan. It was really good, I enjoyed it more than I actually thought I would considering I wasn't feeling well today. I don't always go for this particular kind of crunchy topping thing but it worked. I also wasn't sure I'd like the roasted broccoli but it was really good. I'm sure the Parmesan cheese helped.

The only thing I'd say negative about Home Chef so far is it creates a LOT of dishes and cleaning up work, which I guess is par for the course with any cooking, but that's part of why I don't like cooking. I guess I have to get used to it though.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - GoodKnitKisses Cast On for Beginners

October 9
GoodKnitKisses How to Knit Cast On Beginners
YouTube Tutorial

I've been loom knitting for about a year and a half now, and I love it. It's really versatile and there's a ton you can do with it. But I've been kind of curious to go back to looking at the technique for needle knitting again now that I understand the actual process more through watching the fabric come out of the loom. I also not so secretly want to try those really big knitting needles that can knit up fun stuff with super bulky yarns. You can get looms that do that (notably, the Zippy Loom from Authentic Knitting Board) but the big needles just look so fun. So when my best friend ended up with a pair of needles and trying to learn needle knitting, I thought I'd give it a try too. We'd both watched GoodKnitKisses videos before because she does a lot of loom knitting tutorials too.

Tonight I watched the cast on video, and I have to say it really is a great video for beginners. She uses a bright yarn that's easy to see, she goes slowly, exaggerates her movements so that you can see what she's doing, and does it enough times that you can watch her go through it more than once. And she doesn't ramble on for a minute and a half before she even gets started on the technique, which is my biggest pet peeve in knitting tutorial videos. Just show me what I came here to see! Anyway, in her cast on video she says to practice casting on a lot and don't jump to the knit stitches, but I don't follow directions well and watched her knit and purl stitch videos next, and I've knit five rows now...

Monday, October 08, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Plants vs. Zombies 2

October 8
Plants Vs. Zombies 2
Mobile Game

Do you ever have those games that you're not sure you even like and yet you're still playing them for some reason? Yeah, most mobile games end up like that for me, and PvZ2 is no different. I loved the first full Plants Vs. Zombies game, but this second one designed specifically for mobile devices is just a microtransaction hellscape, like you'd expect. There's a ton of super useful plants from the original game you can't get without paying $5 _each_ for them, and it's ridiculous. The game itself also gets to a point where you actually just can't beat it without "leveling up" plants which takes forever if you don't spend cash. So far I've managed not to spend any money on it, but it's been difficult, at this point I basically can only play the daily special level because everything else is too hard.

That's how they keep me playing incidentally, the daily special level. And this really poorly implemented PvP thing called "Battlez" that for some reason I've gotten sucked into actually trying to be vaguely competitive in. The daily levels are fine, they're usually relatively easy and kind of fun. Battlez are the same map for a week at a time, and they're often so hard that the only reason you're not losing is there's no real "losing" in Battlez, you just play for two minutes and whoever has the higher score wins. The level I played today was ridiculous, I can't figure out how in the world you're supposed to really get anywhere with it, and even if you can't get your brains eaten, it gets really disheartening to be losing so badly but you can't quit because you'll lose your rank on the leaderboard.

If you haven't played PvZ2, then don't. Don't bother downloading it. It also runs like junk on all my mobile devices, but I can't make it work on my Android emulator so that I can actually play it in a way that's more enjoyable.

Two detached thumbs way down.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes Mix

October 7
Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes Mix - Buttermilk

We're still staying at the cabin we rented for our vacation, and they have a waffle station set up that had a box of Kodiak Cakes mix with it. I've tried some Kodiak Cups so I was familiar enough with the brand but hadn't tried this mix before. It was really simple to make, just add water and a bit of oil for waffles. Luckily it wasn't too hard to use the waffle maker either (I don't have one at home and so I have rarely used one). What came out was a big fluffy waffle of just the right density. It's a whole grain mix, which I've never really used before and so I wasn't sure what to expect but it was quite tasty, and very filling. I accidentally didn't use enough mix for my waffle but it still filled me up despite not being full size and I ended up not even wanting a snack until lunchtime rolled around. I don't have a waffle maker at home, and I'm not allowed to make pancakes, so I'll be keeping an eye out for their flapjack cups because I am becoming a fan of the brand.

#OpinionatedOctober - Shepherdstown, WVA

October 6
Shepherdstown, West Virginia

My best friend and I always take a vacation in October, and this year we decided to do something small and nearby and rented a cabin in West Virginia. The cabin is about ten minutes from Shepherdstown, so we decided to go into town and walk around a little before having dinner. While we did get really lost on the way there (Google Maps is very hard to use when you have no signal) so it took a half hour instead of ten minutes, it was a really nice and small downtown area. I grew up in a small town, so some of the atmosphere was really familiar. But what it really reminded me of was Brevard, North Carolina where we went to see the solar eclipse last year. It's a town with a lot of character and plenty of neat little unique shops and restaurants. And oddly enough, a university that we didn't know existed until we parked next to it.

We ended up going into Shepherdstown Sweet Shop Bakery first, and that was kind of unfortunate timing because we hadn't had dinner yet so we didn't want to ruin our meals. But we both got some sweets to go, I ended up with a cream horn and some black forest torte and she got a chocolate whoopie pie. They also had some delicious looking fresh bread. The cream in the cream horn was especially delicious. The whoopie pie was very chocolaty but in the best way.

Then we stopped in at Mountaineer Popcorn, where we picked up both caramel and then some garlic Parmesan popcorn. They did say they would let us try any flavor we wanted to try, so I probably should have gotten a sample of the loaded baked potato because what does that even taste like on popcorn? But either way, both flavors we got were very delicious and I recommend them both.

The town had so many other things to offer, and I could see how it would be easy to spend a whole afternoon shopping and walking around, enjoying the historic buildings and the unique little shops. Town Hall was a really great looking building too, with a mix of sort of a modern and antique style.

Friday, October 05, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Fizzy Fairy Fandom Box

October 5
Fizzy Fairy Fandom Box
Subscription Box

I first noticed Fizzy Fairy Apothecary because she does some really fun fandom themed bath bombs and soaps, and I was looking for an Etsy seller that did high quality bath bombs that wouldn't ruin my budget. She definitely fit the bill, her prices are reasonable especially considering the enormous size of the actual bath bombs. I know it's a humble brag, but I actually have a really large soaking tub (it was one of the biggest draws to buy our house if I'm honest) and it just needs a bit more than the average tub. And I like bath bombs a lot more than bubble bath because it has a lovely scent and color, but none of those comically sized bubbles that just take a year and a half to rinse out.

I'd ordered a few things from her Etsy shop when I noticed that she had a monthly subscription box. Now, I've actually tried very hard not to fall into ordering too many subscription boxes after I finally broke free from Birchbox and Julep (both of those ended badly) but what can I say, I really love bath bombs. I can't remember what the theme was the first time I ordered, I know that was basically what kicked it over for me so it's a shame I just can't recall. Her subscription system makes it easy to skip if you're not into the theme, but I have definitely gotten the box more often than not. I think there's only been maybe two themes I didn't think sounded amazing. The only drawback is sometimes it's hard to find a place for that many bath bombs if they start to pile up a bit. Her themes are always fun (next month is the Wizard of Oz).

My favorite theme so far has been Labyrinth, not just because it's one of my favorite movies of all time, but because the bombs themselves were gorgeous and smelled amazing. Though there were some problems with the Jareth bath bomb and the copious amounts of glitter it included. I've had glitter bath bombs (even ones from Fizzy Fairy) before, but nothing compared to Jareth, drama queen that he is. So. Much. Glitter.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Spooked Podcast

October 4

One of my favorite podcasts is Snap Judgement, they have some of the best audio storytelling I've heard. They always would do special Halloween episodes each year, with people telling real stories of weird happenings and ghost stories from their lives. Last year, they spun off the special episode into it's own once a year special edition podcast called Spooked. I wouldn't say I'm a ghost hunter or anything like that, I'm not going to go out of my way to vacation at a haunted hotel or anything. But I do enjoy a good ghost story, fiction or not. So far this year, they've released ten episodes, though I've only listened to the first nine. I have to say, this season is a bit more hit and miss than last season, there have been more stories where instead of just going along for the ride, I've not really been able to buy in. Perhaps the best episode this season is 37 seconds, about a woman who has a vision that she'll die in childbirth and no one believes her. But other stories have ended up almost revealing too much, which drains a bit of their power. In a two story episode, "The Perfect Tenant" both stories end in a kind of unsatisfying way because you get enough information to know there should be more to the story that's just left out.

Overall though, I have to say that it's still well worth it, and a perfect addition to anybody's queue if they're wanting to get into the mood for Halloween. Just be prepared for some episodes to chill you more than others.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Extra Ordinary by Li Chen

October 3

Extra Ordinary by Li Chen

Honestly, I can't even remember how I stumbled across this webcomic a few months ago. But I've by and large given up on webcomics in general. I'm tired of how they take literal years to tell an hour worth of story sometimes, and how a lot of creators are only using their freedom from constraints in ways that make it harder to engage rather than to really push themselves creatively. But this comic immediately charmed me because it really does do a lot of fun and creative stuff because the writer doesn't have a ton of constraints (or seems not to). She's not trying to tell a specific story or be narrative in some particular way. She's not trying to do large arcs or chapters. She's just drawing incredibly charming pencil-shaded style art with a very distinctive look that is all her own, and being exactly as weird or nonsense as she wants to be. Her art is adorable, and she regularly does these large format, gorgeously colored pieces of art (I think once a month? I've not been paying attention). I binged through her entire archive a couple months ago, over 400 comics, in like two days. I highly recommend adding this one to your feed, if only to bring a smile to your face.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Authentic Knitting Board 32 Peg Basic Loom

October 2
32 Peg Basic Loom
From Authentic Knitting Board
Crafting Tool

About a year and a half ago, I decided that I really wanted to try a new craft because I wanted to spend my time making things rather than playing dumb games on my phone. Years ago I'd read about "knitting boards" and I decided to give in. I got a kit from Authentic Knitting Board that included yarn, instructions, and this fabulous little wooden knitting loom.

I absolutely love it, and I highly recommend it. I've made a couple dozen projects since, mostly scarves because that's the easiest thing for me to make, but I've branched out some and I'm about to try my first pair of socks. I especially like this loom because it's small, and easily held, but it's perfect for making double-knit scarves with worsted weight yarn (and AKB has a ton of great videos telling you how to do it). I recommend starting with double knit, because that's what I did and I found the transition to single knitting a lot easier than others have said going the other way tends to be. Plus, a double knit scarf is very warm and winter is almost here. One hint: a skein of Red Heart Super Saver comes out to a great scarf length if you use the whole skein.

Monday, October 01, 2018

#OpinionatedOctober - Zenni Optical

So, I'm trying to get back in the swing of writing after kind of losing my mojo for a long time. For that, I'm going to attempt what I'm calling #OpinionatedOctober: write one short paragraph review of something that I watched/read/listened/did that day each day in October. The key word is short, 500 words or less usually. I'm not going to get bogged down in a lot of detail, just get to the heart of whatever it is.

October 1
Zenni Optical
Eyeglass manufacturer/website

*Note: This is a referral link, so I will get a credit if you purchase from it.

It's been a quite a few months now since I had to get glasses, and I really balked at the price of the first pair I ever bought even after insurance covered parts of it. Then a friend mentioned Zenni Optical and I thought, why not? Their website is pretty easy to browse, though it can be a bit of a learning curve for how much your glasses will really cost, as it's based on a large number of options you choose as you go. The hardest part is measuring the distance between your eyes, which seems to have worked fine for me using their directions. They've got a large variety of frames, but I definitely have to say when you put the expensive pair next to the Zennis, you can tell the difference in the price points. Zennis feel like cheaper glasses, for sure. But the lenses are the same strength, and I only wear them at home while I'm using the computer so I don't need them to be incredibly sturdy. If you're pretty active or hard on your glasses, you might want to consider that you get what you pay for. Just in the case of computer glasses, maybe you don't need to pay for so much. Also, the Zennis I have on now are way cuter than my expensive "professional" glasses.