HBO Max’s All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star – A Few Thoughts

HBO Max continues to air shows from BBC, this time with All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star. We picked this show to watch as a family. Like with Full Bloom, The American Barbecue Showdown, Blown Away, and The Great British Baking Show, we are fascinated by makers making things and being very nice to one another while doing so.

All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star isn’t something I initially thought I would enjoy. I honestly brought it up to my daughters because they are crafty and what could be more crafty than making jewelry, right? However, as soon as they started their first task, I was hooked. As I watched, I realized I had no idea how jewelry got made–I always took it for granted. Seeing the process proved fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.

Best of all? Like with the above mentioned shows, all of the contestants are both very talented and very cordial. They support each other, encourage one another, and conduct themselves respectably. I won’t spoil the ending, but my favorite contestant actually won, and I also believe this contestant to be the most pleasant of all the very pleasant people.

Each show is broken into two parts. The first part is a “Best Seller” challenge. The jewelers are given a brief, and then they must craft a piece of jewelry that both fits that brief and would be a bestseller in a jewelry store. This can be a difficult task because while the piece must be skillfully made and original, it also has to be mainstream enough to appeal to the masses.

The second part of each episode is always my favorite, and it’s called “The Bespoke.” In this portion, the jewelers must create a sentimental piece specifically made for a special person. Seeing the joyful reactions of the recipients, as well as the winning jeweler’s emotional response, is always a moment guaranteeing the feels.

I understand that on paper this show may not sound like your thing, but trust me when I tell you that it is well made, the participants are engaging to watch, the pieces are exquisite to behold as they evolve from nothing into heirlooms, and the whole tone of the show is simply a joy.

You can find All That Glitters: Britain’s Next Jewelry Star on HBO Max.

The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild – A Few Thoughts

You may remember that I recently got back into video games. I started with The Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I then moved on to Super Mario Odyssey. After beating both of those games, I decided it was time to take on the one game that seems to be everyone’s favorite on the Switch – Breath Of the Wild.

I’ll admit that I was initially intimidated to play this game. I don’t have a ton of patience when it comes to video games, and I’d heard that Breath Of the Wild takes hours upon hours upon hours to learn, much less beat!

What I didn’t realize was that all that time spent learning the game would actually be an amazing experience. Breath Of the Wild teaches you how to play it incrementally and subtly to such a degree that you don’t even realize it is happening. You’ll go from having no idea what to do next to suddenly having an instinct for each new move you should make.

Be aware that the game is epic. You are freely roaming a landmass that – I’ve read – is equal to about 26 miles. However, as you’re walking through prairielands or following a forest trail or climbing a mountain, you’ll marvel at the sheer beauty of the graphics, the intricacy of the details, and the ease of gameplay.

Furthermore, this is not a button-masher game. You will learn strategy, and you’ll use that strategy. You have to find and cook food to restore health. You have to both buy and sell goods in order to replace supplies. You’ll even have to collect every weapon you can find because almost every single weapon you have will eventually break with prolonged use. I even bought and furnished a house in the game!

If you think you’re an impatient gamer, like I thought I was, do not be alarmed. Though that all may sound tedious, it’s absolutely quite fun.

Believe it or not, I actually beat the game. Of course, if you personally know me it will come as no surprise that I did so by total accident. I was simply exploring the area where the final challenge resided and suddenly found myself face to face with the supreme villain. I opted to just go for it, and, to my own surprise, managed to defeat him.

If you have a Nintendo Switch, I wholeheartedly recommend The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild. You will spend weeks – if not months – playing it, and you will love every minute.

P.S. I absolutely used the Internet to figure out some aspects of the game. The teenagers in my life told me there’s no shame in doing so. If you’re a causal gamer returning to the fold like me, use those tools the Internet provides.

Mare Of Easttown – A Few Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy listening to Chris and Andy from The Watch, and they immediately lauded Mare Of Easttown as soon as they could–before it even debuted, if I’m not mistaken. Because they were so excited for it, my wife and I made sure to catch it as soon as the first episode aired.

We were instantly hooked.

I promise not to spoil anything when I say that Mare Of Easttown is about a small town detective who is personally battling difficulties even as tragic events continue to unfold around her. There are two major mysteries to be solved in this series, which may or may not be connected, yet the show is more about Mare and her fellow Easttowners than anything. These are people who have grown up together, laughed together, cried together, lived together, and died together. The story drives relentlessly forward with the mystery plots, but it also gracefully takes the time to reveal nuggets of history among all of these characters. Yes, the show does indeed reveal the solution to both mysteries, but, perhaps more importantly, it offers a resolution for Mare and her fellow cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, everyone is superb on this show. Kate Winslet plays Mare as tough, plain, damaged, and charmingly unlikable. However, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, and Evan Peters also deliver expert performances. In fact, everyone–and I do mean EVERYONE–truly makes every piece of dialogue count. This is a show performed by talented professionals.

I won’t lie–Mare Of Easttown is sometimes hard to watch due to violence and gore, yet it never crosses the line. It never veers into the gratuitous, nor does it become blatantly distasteful. It is a show for grownups, though, so be advised.

Mare Of Easttown initially flirted with the Broadchurch method of making everyone seem like they could be guilty from episode to episode, but they relaxed that tendency as the show progressed. In fact, many viewers were probably surprised by how quickly things started wrapping up by episode five (of seven).

If you’re looking for a satisfying show that has real heart as well as an interesting story, I strongly recommend Mare Of Easttown on HBO. In fact, you can watch the first episode for free HERE.

Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy – A Few Thoughts

If you take a look at Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see that critics have quite a different take on Jupiter’s Legacy than does the audience. I’m here to tell you, in this case, the critics have it wrong.

I’ll admit, Netflix almost lost me on the first episode of Jupiter’s Legacy. It seemed a little too preoccupied with style, self-importance, and actors caught in waters too deep.

But then a funny thing happened.

Let me pause a moment and say that I enjoyed this comic book series several years ago. It was written by Mark Millar who is something of a Hollywood powerhouse in that Hollywood loves adapting his works into feature films. For example, Captain America: Civil War is based on a book by Millar. The Avengers largely borrowed from his real-world take on the Avengers called The Ultimates. Old Man Logan became the movie Logan. Wanted and Kick-Ass were also works by Millar. It just makes sense that Netflix would try to snatch up his original catalogue for screen adaptions beginning with Jupiter’s Legacy.

Okay, so I knew Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy would get better, and, in my humble opinion, it did.

For me, I had to adjust to the large cast of characters and invest in their personal relationships. The premise is that a closely connected super team, active since The Great Depression, are still alive and kicking, but now preparing to hand over the reigns to the next generation. Two of the most powerful young heroes happen to be the son and daughter of the two most iconic figures, and they both carry a lot of baggage as a result.

Though the original heroes now appear old and gray, there are many flashbacks to how they initially gained their powers, and that’s where the show really shines. The Great Depression era is a show-within-a show, and this aspect of the plot is where you really connect with the icons.

However, the younger generation also have their standouts, particularly the daughter. She wants nothing to do with being a hero, which results in her becoming more and more interesting as the series unfolds. There are also several younger characters who are introduced and then become more prominent as the series continues.

Josh Duhamel is the lead actor. He plays The Utopian. I’ve never thought of Duhamel as a particularly deep actor, but I have to say that as this series moved along, he really showed a lot of range. In fact, he very much changed my opinion of him as a performer. Watching both the young and old versions of his character proved fascinating. Additionally, I never realized Duhamel is so tall. He’s listed online as being six feet, four inches tall.

Furthermore, Matt Lanter amazed me with his performance as well. I only knew Lanter as the voice of Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars cartoons. He and Duhamel, along with their friendship, made this show special. I honestly can’t quite figure out why Lanter hasn’t had more live-action roles. He seems made for Hollywood.

Ben Daniels was completely unknown to me, and he plays Duhamel’s brother, Walter. Their troubled relationship struck me as very true, and I daresay Daniels is the best actor on the show. Walter is incredibly complex, as you’ll see, yet Daniels plays him with both arrogance and vulnerability.

As I mentioned, the two iconic heroes have a daughter, who is named Chloe. Elena Kampouris plays Chloe. Though she is very unlikable at first, her character, after being given some room to breathe, becomes one of the stars of the show. There are big things in store for Chloe, and I think Kampouris is more than capable of handling the evolution.

Finally, Ian Quinlan plays Hutch, and I think he may be my favorite character on the whole show. Quinlan is slowly introduced and, at first, doesn’t seem all that important. He becomes important, though–very important. Best of all, he easily captured the charm of his comic book counterpart.

Jupiter’s Legacy is definitely slow to start and perhaps initially too heavy on the gravitas. However, the pacing moves faster and faster with each episode and the stakes get higher and higher. There are two major plot lines developing, which, to me, were quite engaging. One of those plots mostly wrapped up and opened the door for the next phase. The other plot ends on a cliffhanger which, truthfully, makes me very excited for the next season.

Though there are definitely similarities to characters from both Avengers and Justice League, Jupiter’s Legacy dives deeply into the interpersonal relationships of these characters and all the messiness embedded within. Most of the characters are either related to one another, friends of several decades, or former friends with bad schisms. Yes, the show does take itself too seriously at times, but the fact that it feels as though all bets are off, that anything can happen at any time, makes it a captivating experience. Of course, I have the advantage of having read the source material. If season one surprised you, just wait and see what happens next.

Though the critics may disagree, I highly recommend Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy.

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.