Derry Girls – A Few Thoughts

A friend once recommended that I give Netflix’s Derry Girls a try and, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. I watched the first episode and didn’t get it.

However, we then saw several of the stars appear on The Great British Baking Show, and they were hilarious. I decided to try the show again and, this time, my wife wanted to see it, too.

I don’t know if I was in the wrong frame of mind the first time I watched Derry Girls or what, but I loved it on the second attempt. In fact, my wife and I powered through the first two, albeit very short, seasons and can’t wait for the third.

The show follows five close friends, four of whom are girls, as they tackle their teenage years during the Nineties. The fifth friend is a male cousin from London who is allowed to attend their all-girls Catholic school for the sake of his own safety. As you can imagine, he is the relentless butt of never-ending jokes. The girls are flawed, misguided, mostly well-intentioned, and more than a little self-centered. However, all of them are, in their own way, extremely lovable.

Amidst the bawdy humor, foul language, and ludicrous plots, Derry Girls subtly tackles the very real conflict occurring in Ireland during the 1990s. Sometimes it is more overt than others, but the potential for violence is always there, always lurking, always on the adults’ minds. It is a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that is handled very well.

Not that those adults are any less humorous than the girls, by the way. The featured family’s grandpa, father, and mother are an absolute roar (especially the grandpa).

If you’re looking for a short, hilarious, mostly breezy comedy to enjoy, I highly recommend Derry Girls. You can find it on Netflix.

(By the way, the Irish accents are thick, so you might want to enable closed captioning.)

Super Mario Odyssey – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I had a great time playing Link’s Awakening. I had such a positive experience with that game, in fact, that I then searched the best overall games for the Nintendo Switch. Some of the games struck me as a little too juvenile, while others seemed a little too … intense. But then I saw him–my old friend, Mario.

Of course, we were never really friends.

I think I’ve mentioned that while I beat The Legend of Zelda and Metroid as a kid, I wasn’t a very good gamer in general. In fact, I’ve always been ashamed that I am the only person from that era in time who did not beat Super Mario Brothers.

So when I saw Super Mario Odyssey, I initially kept on scrolling. But then I consistently saw it on on various “best” lists. This prompted me to read a few reviews. Frankly, they were all glowing. I decided to take a chance on it.

Honestly, if you’re not a serious game and just want something fun to play, you can’t go wrong with Super Mario Odyssey.

First of all, the game immediately offers to give you directions throughout in the form of arrows on the ground telling you where to go. Of course, I accepted that offer. Secondly, while the actual gameplay is a little challenging, almost any age can handle it. It’s not ridiculously easy, but it’s pretty close. Third, the game simply looks fantastic. It is beautiful. Cartoony, yes, but gorgeously so. I’m serious–parts of this game looked stunning.

The premise is that you have to travel across the planet in a kind of hot air balloon in pursuit of Bowser, who, as expected, has kidnapped the princess. However, you have to stop at several different locales in order to collect “moons,” which power the ship. Each location is unique unto itself and a real blast. You can also collect tokens at these locations which enable you to buy different outfits for Mario, stickers and souvenirs for the ship, and even moons! Once I got the hang of the outfits and souvenirs, I wouldn’t leave a location until I had bought everything available.

Best of all, when you finish the game, a whole new challenge begins, which allows you to buy even more outfits and souvenirs!

I finished the game in a matter of weeks, and that’s with only playing a little bit at a time. You could probably finish this game in a few days if you really wanted to. It was so fun, I really wanted to make it last.

Even though I intended to play the secondary storyline of the game, I lost interest after a bit because it felt more like a treasure hunt than anything. I’ll probably return to it at some point, but, at that moment in time, I wanted to move on to another game.

If you’re looking for a family friendly, beautiful, fun game for the Nintendo Switch, I highly recommend Super Mario Odyssey.

Receiving the Second Covid-19 Vaccine Dose: My Experience

You may remember that I wrote about my experience receiving the first Covid-19 vaccine dose. Yesterday, I received the second dose. I’d like to chronicle the event for those who are interested.

Due to no fault of their own, the McLean County Health Department had to twice cancel my appointment because of weather. Of course, this was quite distressing. To their credit, however, they were very good about emailing me and keeping me informed.

Although it seemed to take forever, I eventually got a date and time assigned to me. They urged me to try to make that particular date and time, and I was more than happy to comply.

I finally received the second vaccine dose yesterday morning, once again at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, IL. Because the MCHD had several days of missed appointments to make up, there were many more people present than during my first visit. Fortunately, the MCHD once more kept it well organized and moving as quickly as possible. Though I had to wait in line several times, I never waited more than a minute or two until things started moving again.

Just like last time, I made my way down the stairs to the floor of the arena and soon sat at a technician’s station. I may have had the best technician in the world because I barely even felt the needle. I actually wasn’t totally sure she’d even given me the shot.

Again, I waited a few moments in a holding area to make sure I didn’t have any immediate adverse reactions before making my way back to work.

Because I know of several people who had a very rough time after receiving their second dose, I made sure to be as prepared as possible. I had several bottles of water and Gatorade waiting for me at work and sipped on them all afternoon in order to stay hydrated.

After coming home, I made a point to try to keep to business as usual. I didn’t sit down and rest much: I kept active and stuck to the typical routine. Though my arm was a little sore, I didn’t feel any negative symptoms other than being tired. Of course, it had been a busy day, so I might have simply been … tired. Around 7:30 p.m., I laid down on the couch for a few minutes and took a quick nap.

My wife and I watched a few shows, and by the time I went to bed around 10:30 p.m., I still didn’t feel all that different other than having a sore arm. To be honest, I fully expected to wake up feeling sick because that seemed to be the case with many people I know.

I’m happy to report that when I woke up this morning, I felt pretty much fine. At this point, I still do. I received my second dose well over twenty-four hours ago, so I don’t expect any side effects at all from here on out. My arm is still sore, I’m still drinking lots of water and Gatorade, but I think I was fortunate enough to escape the fever, chills, headaches, and body aches others seem to be enduring.

My sincere thanks to the McLean County Health Department. This is a gargantuan task they are executing. Yet, from the arena workers to the technicians, everyone I encountered were friendly, cordial, and professional. Other than the initial sign-up process, everything pertaining to the operation has been exemplary.

The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening – A Few Thoughts

I should begin by noting that I am not even close to being a serious gamer. In fact, the last time I consistently sat and played video games was circa 1989.

However, my children have a Nintendo Switch, and, as time passed, I couldn’t help but notice a game for sale called The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. As a kid, The Legend Of Zelda proved one of my all-time favorites. (I had the gold-plated cartridge with my NES.) Honestly, it was one of the only games I ever beat. To this day, I have very fond memories of that game.

My household has been spending a lot more time playing video games during the pandemic because, you know, the pandemic. My interest in Link’s Awakening grew. I watched a few videos showing the gameplay and saw that it really seemed to mirror the original. I decided to take a risk and buy it.

I’m so glad I did. Link’s Awakening was an absolute blast for this middle-aged guy. Because it mirrors The Legend Of Zelda in many ways, it felt very familiar. Of course, the graphics are obviously far better. But the maps, the dungeons, the weapons–much of it hearkens back to the source material. I adored the nostalgia of it all.

However, I got a little impatient with trying to figure things out. Since my subscription to Nintendo Power ran out three decades ago, I thought I’d see what the Internet had to say about getting through certain levels and defeating certain villains. A lot, as it happens. Temptation overtook me and I pretty much used the Internet from that moment forward and blazed through the game. Upon reflection, I wish I hadn’t. It was so much fun, I should have made it last a little longer. In all honesty, though, there were some parts to the game I don’t think I ever would have figured out on my own.

Link’s Awakening is a family friendly, innocent, entertaining game anyone can enjoy. It definitely rekindled a love of video games in this old man’s heart. I’ve heard good things about Breath Of the Wild, but I also hear it’s an immersive experience. I might have to save that one for the summer when I have more time.

Broadchurch – A Few Thoughts

My in-laws recommended that my wife and I watch Broadchurch–we’re glad they did!

Originally a British mystery series, Broadchurch is a fictional seaside town where two detectives, Hardy and Miller, must solve three brutal mysteries over the course of three seasons.

David Tennant plays Hardy, a troubled detective who has moved to Broadchurch out of necessity. Olivia Colman plays Miller, a local detective who knows every nook and everyone in the small town. If that seems like an incredible pair of actors, you’re right. There is no doubt that they are the reason Broadchurch shines so bright.

The first season centers upon the murder of a child. There are eight episodes and they do a masterful job of finding a way to make many, many people possibly guilty of the crime. Jodie Whittaker brilliantly plays the child’s mother. I now understand why so many people were excited when she was cast as the new Doctor Who. Arthur Darvill, also a Doctor Who alum, plays a local priest who works hard to offer comfort to everyone involved. (I think the entire cast appeared in Doctor Who at some point in their lives. Must be a British thing.) Again, the actors in this series are excellent. The first season’s conclusion truly surprised us when they revealed the murderer.

The second season builds upon the first while introducing a new story line. It can’t quite match the novelty of the first season, but it does flesh out the first season as it also explores the very crime that sent Hardy to Broadchurch. The second season, in my opinion, is the best in terms of acting, story, and pacing.

The third season is largely disconnected from the first two with lots of new townspeople coming into focus. While I liked it well enough, it just didn’t compare to the first two seasons in terms of plot cohesion or pacing. I also didn’t care for some of the directions they took with established characters. However, Tennant and Colman are a FORCE in the third season. They are mesmerizing together with each also having a firm hold on their respective characters. Seeing them act so well more than made up for any of the third season’s shortcomings.

If you’re looking for a quick mystery series to watch, I absolutely recommend Broadchurch. It deals with very heavy plot points that can be frankly quite depressing, but the acting and the very (mostly) tight storytelling make for a thrilling experience. You can currently find Broadchurch on Netflix.

On Receiving My First Dose Of the Covid-19 Vaccine

Today I received my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at Grossinger Motors Arena in Bloomington, IL. I’m happy to report that it was a very smooth, easy experience.

I’ll detail the entire process for you.

Quite honestly, the most difficult aspect of the situation occurred during the sign up. McLean County Health Department opened up a few dates at their website for the vaccine and they filled up within minutes. Luckily, I had a friend on top of things and he notified me that the sign up was happening. I visited the site (found here), and managed to secure the 19th. However it was a bit of a free-for-all and I know of several people who didn’t get signed up in time. The great irony is that I had signed up to receive notice when those dates would become available, but I didn’t receive that notice until about thirty minutes after they were all gone. Thank goodness for my friend who messaged me! The good news is that the MCHD has reacted to the overwhelming response and would like you to call this number with any questions about scheduling an appointment when more dates become available.

My time arrived and so I headed to the arena. I pulled right into the arena parking garage (found here in green) and easily found a space on the first level–free parking during my visit, by the way. From there I walked to the back of the garage and moved along the side of the arena towards North Madison Street. Once I reached North Madison Street, I walked a few feet along the front of the arena and entered a small set of doors about twenty feet before you reached the main doors to the entrance.

Once inside, make sure you have your state identification, your insurance card, and a work badge of some sort. As an educator, I’m part of the Phase 1B, so I had to prove my credentials.

Someone greeted me at the door and asked my appointment time. I told them, they asked if I had any trouble with stairs, and then I moved along to a second table about thirty feet away. There I had to name my appointment time again and show my identification. They also had a form for me to fill out with basic information about my insurance, contact information, and general health. My work provided this sheet ahead of time, so I had it all filled out and ready to go. Finally, they wanted to know if I had any trouble with stairs. I followed a series of markers on the floor and noticed there were places to stand six feet apart if waiting in line.

They moved me along to a third table, this time about fifty feet away. Again, they asked my appointment time, verified my identity, and asked if I had any trouble with stairs. They also made sure I had correctly filled out my form. Again, there were plenty of markers on the floor to guide my way, though it was pretty obvious where to go.

I’d like to take a moment to say that everyone I encountered to that point were extremely friendly, helpful, and capable. (This would be true of my whole venture.)

I was then told to use a particular set of doors which would lead me down to the arena floor. I had to descend several steep stairs, as you would expect at an arena, and all of the questions about stairs suddenly made more sense.

They had divided the arena floor in half. Half of it contained about twenty-five stations with health workers administering the vaccine. The other half of the arena floor consisted of several chairs divided up into quadrants–these were recovery areas. Some of the chairs were solitary and six feet away from any other chairs, some were set up for couples but also spaced away from any neighbors.

They again had marked the floor for people to stand. They had us following the edge of the arena floor from our entry point upon the floor to the entrance to the vaccine stations. I didn’t wait long at all. Before I knew it, I was seated in front of a health care worker (and, as it turns out, a former student). I got my shot, got a reminder card for the second dose, got some information for getting an alert when that second dose would be available, and then got sent to the recovery area.

Again, I followed very clear markings on the floor to the second half of the arena floor. They wanted me to wait between fifteen and thirty minutes to make sure I didn’t have any adverse reactions. Once seated, a worker suggested that I take a picture of my reminder card in case I lost it. Good advice. After about ten minutes, I told them that I felt great and asked if I could leave. They double-checked that I felt okay, then they let me go.

I was then pointed to an exit from the arena floor which clearly led me through a few halls and kicked me out pretty close to the back of the parking garage where I left my car.

For me, the entire process took about half an hour, but it wasn’t very busy and everyone seemed to have their credentials in order which kept the lines moving quickly.

Though the sign up process proved to be a bit of a hiccup, I found the entire experience in the arena to be friendly, professional, well-organized, and appropriately paced. I honestly don’t have any complaints at all.

My thanks to all of the people who made it possible.

Have any other questions? Feel free to ask in the comments.

WandaVision – My First Impression

The long wait is over and the MCU streaming shows have finally arrived at Disney Plus!

First up? WandaVision.

Personally, the wait was well worth it. I don’t know what I expected from WandaVision, but it certainly exceeded whatever I had in mind.

I’d like to initially say that the show is most delightful because it displays what we’ve all suspected to be true–Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have great chemistry together. We were made to believe that these two were in love during the MCU movies, and while they did their best to convey that storyline, it simply proved too hard to deliver what with all the stones and purple aliens and things blowing up.

But now we get to see them–just them–and they are a ton of fun.

I’m also pleasantly surprised by Elizabeth Olsen. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than the Marvel movies. Frankly, they didn’t give her much to work with while playing Wanda Maximoff. She often felt shoehorned in. And though she always had some cool action scenes, I never saw her being much else than angry, sad, or mopey. With WandaVision, we get to see a very full range from Olsen. Her voice, her body language, her eyes–she’s using them all to let us know what Wanda is feeling. Best of all? Olsen’s funny!

The premise of WandaVision … I don’t really know how to explain it nor do I really know much to explain. They are living within the realm of sitcoms. The first two episodes are in black and white with all the sitcom tropes and clichés you experienced during Leave It To Beaver, I Dream Of Jeannie, and I Love Lucy. They’ve got a full cast of delightful characters, especially Kathryn Hahn, and the first two episodes center around Vision’s boss coming to dinner and then a neighborhood talent show.

Yes, you read that right.

Yet, amidst these familiar events, there are moments of real foreboding, discomfort, and even suspense. WandaVision slips into something more like The Twilight Zone, but only for seconds at a time.

For me, the real joy of WandaVision is that I have no idea what’s going on, I have no idea what to expect, and I have no idea where they derived their plot. With most of the MCU movies there is a comic book somewhere out there that laid the groundwork. This feels totally original.

The tone is perfect, the acting is a blast, the story is unpredictable, and the show is just plain fun. I never had any doubts, but if WandaVision is any indication, the MCU has flawlessly transitioned to the small screen. Furthermore, they’ve already proven that they have no fear. These MCU shows will be given room to breathe, and these shows will break the mold previously set by the MCU.