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An avian interlude May 25, 2017

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Some pictures from Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, the southernmost part of mainland Canada. As is probably obvious, the place is known as a hot spot for migrating birds, and this Monday, 23rd May 2017, was at the tail end of the annual Festival of Birds.

For these pictures, I tried acting like a real photographer and shot in RAW format for the first time, including post-processing. Alas, my telephoto lens simply doesn’t take pictures as sharp as my other lenses, so despite the extra work, they don’t look quite as good as other unprocessed pictures I’ve taken (which would be nearly everything I post here). It was an interesting experiment and I did learn a few things as a result, however.

And to round it all off, here’s a couple panorama pictures I took with my phone. Naturally, these, particularly the first one, are shockingly sharp and high-res, especially considering the full-size images are 30% of the original size.

 

An entomological interlude May 1, 2017

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Pictures taken 23 April 2017 at the butterfly conservatory in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Music Monday: Hero of Time March 27, 2017

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hero-of-time-legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-album-coverI am very excited this week to feature an album that just launched last night, Hero of Time, a The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time arrangement album produced by Materia Collective.

When I first discovered the Kickstarter for Hero of Time last fall, I was thrilled at the idea of a fan-produced arrangement album of Ocarina of Time performed by a full orchestra, not to mention arranged with the help of some VGM musicians I recognized and liked. I was then immediately saddened to find that with maybe five days left, they still needed to raise something like $30,000 to reach their goal. I contributed my share because I wanted to show my support, but I never expected it to actually succeed.

Lo and behold, in the last few hours of the campaign, they reached their goal and my excitement mounted again, and I spent the next six months watching the updates on its progress and eagerly awaiting its release. Now, here we are, and while I am still waiting for my download code, I have listened to the full album on Bandcamp.

(it’s also available on iTunes and Spotify)

Hero of Time tells the story of Ocarina of Time in epic orchestral form. There are some original sections added, mainly for transitions or track openings, but for the most part, the original tracks from the game are arranged fairly true to form, but generally on a much grander scale, with varying tempos and the addition or encouragement of sweeping strings, booming brass, and huge orchestral hits. The story was condensed for the sake of the album, and some notable tracks from the game are absent, such as Zora’s Domain and Death Mountain, and Kakariko Village appears only as a minor key cello adagio as part of the homage to the Shadow Temple (though the rendition is haunting and beautiful).

What remains, though, paints a beautiful picture of the game’s story, transforming it into a musical journey that seriously sounds like a modern movie score. The original soundtrack for the game was melodic, delightful, and memorable, but not necessarily very emotional. In this rendition, however, Materia Collective did an amazing job bringing the mood of the tracks to life, highlighting the grandeur of Hyrule field and castle, the awe of uncovering the Master Sword, the horror and failure as Ganondorf uses that opening to take over the kingdom and plunge it into darkness, the mystery of Sheik, and more. And in the end, it’s a near straight rendition of the ending credits as performed by a full orchestra, immensely satisfying to someone who has happily listened to the original track in its 20-year-old synthesized splendour over and over again.

I can’t say enough good about how this album came out. In one listen, it has immediately jumped to my top 5 VGM albums of all time. If you played Ocarina of Time and/or enjoyed the soundtrack at all, buy this album. You will not be disappointed.

Music Monday: January indie releases February 6, 2017

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This January seemed to be a good month for indie VGM album releases, even with my limited exposure to news on that front. So for this week’s post, I thought I’d highlight a few of the new releases I came across.

Chaos Theatre by The Runaway Four

This Vancouver group touts itself as a medley band, which is more accurate than to say they’re arrangers. After the first track on this first studio recorded album of theirs, there isn’t a lot of original interpretation or expansion of the source tracks, and focuses on straight performances weaving together many songs into five mega-mixes. However, the combination of great instrumentation, solid performance, and smooth transitions between the source material makes for great, engrossing ear candy that both grabs and holds your attention and pays a very satisfying homage to the original tracks.

 

The Travelers (self-titled album)

When you have a collaboration of musicians from VGM cover bands such as Materia Collective, the Triforce Quartet, and Tetrimino, you can expect high quality results. The Travelers’ namesake album delivers on that promise with lush European folk arrangements of songs from various (mainly older) games, in many cases really showing the potential of these classic soundtracks. There are very occasional moments when songs become a little dull or repetitive, but overall, this album is very lovely. It’s also the only album in this list that isn’t free to download, but with professional-grade production quality and I don’t think a single synthesized instrument, the $7 price tag is a bargain.

 

Super Mario RPG: Window to the Stars

This latest album from VGM community and repository extraordinaire OverClocked ReMix will probably be a treat to fans of EDM and drum’n’bass (as well as Super Mario RPG), as those styles make up the bulk of the three-disc album. There’s a bit more distortion and chippy sounds, even from familiar names in the VGM community, than I tend to prefer, but some of it works for me, and there’s still a bit of variety. Joseph “XPRTNovice” Zieja, as always, does not fail to surprise with his contributions, including an arrangement that turns the bizarre, almost carnival-esque “And My Name’s Bukki (Booster)” into a haunting orchestral expansion worthy of any mindwarp movie trailer.

Let’s Talk January 25, 2017

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I suffer from anxiety.

That’s one of the first times I’ve said that out loud.

Why is that? I don’t think I will be ostracized or maligned for admitting it. I don’t think I’ll be treated like I’m diseased or insane. I won’t be locked up or force-fed medication that will erase my personality.

The people I know won’t tell me to suck it up, or that I’m faking it, or that I’m just trying to get attention. They won’t tell me to just get over it, or try to convince me that other people have it worse and I have no reason to complain. They won’t belittle me or try to cut me out of their lives.

I won’t be made to feel that I somehow failed as a person. I won’t be made to feel like getting over it is as easy as just thinking positive thoughts. I won’t be made to feel like this struggle is trivial or invalid. I won’t be made to feel like I’m not allowed to show it, or that showing it means I’m weak.

So why has just admitting it been so hard if I don’t have any of these struggles?

Because these things have happened, and that’s where the stigma of mental illness comes from. Even though I’ve never experienced such reactions, years—decades—of such responses have created an unconscious reflex to keep it to myself. People who cannot and will not understand what it’s like to live with mental illness have dictated how people who do will look at it, even to themselves.

So let’s put the dialogue in the command of people who actually suffer from it.

My name is Catherine Fitzsimmons and I suffer from anxiety. I can’t control it, it impacts my daily life, and I am not ashamed of it.

Music Monday: Happy Adventure, Delightful Adventure January 23, 2017

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A couple months ago, I made a post sharing some music on my ‘feel better’ playlist, closing out with the soundtrack of Secret of Mana. While Secret of Mana is a very effective stress reliever for me, that wasn’t the point of the post, and it wasn’t the soundtrack I meant to mention as part of it. The soundtrack I actually meant to include with that post was for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

 

The original Super Mario RPG was an adorable, hilarious, and incredibly fun game, and it had a soundtrack to match. The tunes are catchy and cute while still having good depth and suiting the game perfectly, and something about them always makes me smile when I come across a track, especially when listening to music on shuffle.

Even the track titles make me smile when I see them, with names such as “The Road is Full of Dangers”, “The Road is Still Full of Dangers”, “Hard Working Moles Are Good Moles”, and “Fight Against Smithie, Who Likes Transforming”.

It was not easy to find the soundtrack back in the early 2000s, and in fact I sold my Nintendo 64 to get the money for it when I did. I have never regretted that decision.

It’s an odd choice to be one of my favourite soundtracks, to be sure, but I couldn’t love this soundtrack more, and it never does fail to make me smile.

Mistakes January 21, 2017

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I have a problem with perfectionism. Not with other people’s work, just my own. It causes a lot of stress and impedes my work, and it impacts everything I do. Chopping vegetables. Parking the car. Doing my daughter’s hair. And, of course, it greatly impacts my creative endeavours.

So, in an effort to fight my perfectionism, I challenged myself this week to do some art entirely in pen – no underlying pencil sketch, thumbnailing, studies, or other preparatory work allowed. And in an additional effort to embrace those mistakes, I’m sharing what I drew this week just as it is, no image manipulation involved.

mew-2017

comic-gamermom

eyeshadowombre-tink-hair

squirrel-girl-2017

24 days of tea: Week four December 21, 2016

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And now, the final week of my DavidsTea advent calendar. Again, for those keeping track, it is a day late, this time due to opening night for Rogue One. Anyway, on with my reactions.

20161215_190141Day nineteen: Organic Sweet Almond Green

This one was… interesting. ‘Sweet’ certainly is apt. I’d say cloying. It wasn’t bad to start, but I can’t see myself enjoying this one long-term.

 

20161217_215108Day twenty: Cardamom French Toast

It had a wonderful French toast aroma dry, but prepared the only flavour I could really pick up was the cinnamon. Kind of a shame.

 

20161218_204102Day twenty-one: Spiced Apple

I’ll be honest, I drank this one while I was fairly distracted with a few other things, so I didn’t really take in the flavour properly. Suffice to say, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t stand out. If I want something spiced apple flavoured, there were other blends in the set that I enjoyed more.

20161219_194433Day twenty-two: English Toffee

Well, this may be a tiresome litany, but my hopes were low on this one because I don’t like toffee. Alas, this blend delivered on toffee, so I barely made it two sips in before it planted firmly in my bottom three with Genmaicha and Coconut Cream Pie. Moving on…

20161220_185518Day twenty-three: Organic Kashmiri Chai

Not bad. While I like the taste of chai tea, I tend to find the flavour a little… overbearing? But this one was milder and so I found it enjoyable. It’s possible I didn’t steep it long enough, as it still looked fairly light, but following the same instructions for all the other blends yielded quite dark tea – which I generally prefer – so I think this one just isn’t as strong. In a good way.

20161221_185336Day twenty-four: Santa’s Secret

It’s pretty hard not to immediately love a tea blend that includes tiny candy cane-shaped sprinkles before even tasting it. I think I steeped this one a bit too dark, as the peppermint and vanilla flavouring got a bit lost in the black tea. It wasn’t bad as it was, but I’m reserving final judgement on this one until I prepare it properly. It does make a very suitable conclusion to the set.

At last, I come to the end of my tea journey. It’s been fun trying out new varieties, and I’m certainly going to enjoy revisiting many of these blends as I finish what came in the set (the Irish Breakfast in particular goes very far). What I have learned is that I can’t trust the aroma of a tea blend by itself, which is usually the main selling point of a blend in a store like DavidsTea.

Would I buy a set like this again? I don’t know. It would have to be very different from this year’s for me to consider it. There were only a few blends I really loved, and they mostly seemed to be fruity/apple-flavoured blends. Perhaps my tastes are a bit narrow, but I didn’t feel like I got a wide palette of tastes out of this set.

I guess I’ll just have to keep trying more.

24 days of tea: Week three December 14, 2016

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Over halfway through my DavidsTea advent calendar and on to new tastes! For those keeping track, it is a day late. Didn’t get home from my event Sunday until practically bedtime. After a nine-hour day followed by a 90-minute drive down half-plowed highway, I just wanted comfort tea rather than experimentation. But I digress.

20161208_192534Day thirteen: Creme Caramel Rooibos

As I am not a big fan of caramel and not at all a fan of creme, and the dry tea smelled strongly of both, I was not expecting to like this one. Fortunately for my taste, the prepared tea didn’t taste nearly so strongly of either and I found it drinkable. Not one I would go back to, but not my least favourite of the collection so far.

20161209_193044Day fourteen: Irish Breakfast

For all my growing enthusiasm for loose leaf tea over the past year, this is the first regular tea I have had in loose leaf form. Very nice. I steeped it a bit too dark, but it still had a very pleasant, smooth taste.

20161210_185755Day fifteen: Coconut Cream Pie

… yeah, let’s just leave it at I don’t like coconut and move on.

Also, after taking fourteen pictures of the same thing, I decided to spice this one up a bit.

20161212_194438Day sixteen: Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait

… Indeed. What can I say? It both smelled and tasted exactly as advertised. It actually tasted better than I expected, considering I’m not a big fan of parfaits. (This week is a bit more of a miss for me.) It’s hard for me to say I want something that tastes of parfait, but I did rather enjoy it. Although, I happened to look at the nutrition info and found a rather worrying statistic for this blend…

2016-12-12-22-43-16

That’s a typo, right?

20161213_184831Day seventeen: Chocolate Covered Almond

It’s nice. Has more flavour on the aftertaste than on the initial sip. I enjoyed it, though not enough that I’m likely to pick it up on my own.

 

20161214_191136Day eighteen: Sleigh Ride

I get the impression this is one of DavidsTea’s signature holiday blends (though admittedly, the first time I had really been in a DavidsTea store was when I went to buy this set). Nice and very complex flavour. At first, about all I could taste was the cinnamon, but as I continued drinking it, the fruit and nuts came out. Part of me was thinking that the blend is trying to be too many things, but after finishing the cup, I found I enjoyed the journey.

Just one week left now. To be concluded!

24 days of tea: Week two December 7, 2016

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It’s another week of tea-related adventure with my DavidsTea advent calendar!

Day seven: Nutty and Spice20161202_184157

Pretty much lives up to the name.

… yep.

It has a nice flavour, though the spice is strong enough that it’s not something I can enjoy often (I’m weird about spiced tea like that.)

Day eight: Organic Ginger Pear20161203_184227

Has a nice fruity aroma dry, but prepared I could mainly only taste the ginger. It’s a blend I would love to have around when feeling under the weather, but not something I am likely to enjoy on a regular basis.

20161204_190355Day nine: Forever Nuts

Oh, I like this one! Not as nutty as the name would have me believe, but the mixture of apple, cinnamon, and almonds gives it all the delightful flavour of an apple tart without any of the sugar. Would definitely go back to this blend.

20161205_193318Day ten: Green Passionfruit

I braced myself for something I wouldn’t like when I saw the name, but actually, I enjoyed this blend. Pretty fruity taste and mild green tea flavour. While I’m not likely to pick it up on my own, I did enjoy it in a sampler pack.

20161206_185248Day eleven: Hot Chocolate

Actually a fairly passable substitute for hot chocolate. Rather lighter on flavour, not surprisingly, but that’s probably more than a little due to the decreased amount of sugar. Not bad.

20161207_192156Day twelve: Bear Trap

So fruity. It’s the fruitiest. In other words, I’m a fan, especially since only one of the many fruits in this blend has sugar added, which makes the sugar content in the prepared drink negligible. It is aggressively fruity, for those who might not enjoy the flavour as much as I do. Probably also tastes very nice iced.

Stay tuned for more next week!