Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wedding!!!

I got myself a Mr. Fragrant Elephant last Saturday!

Preparations went smoothly. The rehearsal dinner saw my friends mingling, my family hiding in a corner, and one drunken speech. Everyone was on time for the ceremony rehearsal the next morning. My mom-in-law and sisters-in-law shuttled me to a salon for a relaxing massage before my mani-pedi. Afterwards, my maid of honor and two bridesmaids got me made up, got my hair did, and stuffed me in my dress in time for the pre-ceremony photographs on the beach, where only one tree attacked me.

The wedding itself was a nerd bonanza. The flower girl, having been rigorously trained for a month leading to the wedding, made it all the way to the front, lured by her mom's dragon hand puppet. I walked down the aisle to The Legend of Zelda theme, arranged for orchestra, of course. One cousin commented that she felt her hands involuntarily grasp for a controller when she heard the music.

Our officiant, Dave, started out with, "Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us together here today." Then he described the Fragrant Elephants' love story using Neil Gaiman's words. He quoted from Babylon 5. He chose a reading from Lord of the Rings. He talked about the Wheel of Time when we went to put on our rings.

Right before our kiss, he surprised us by reading again from The Princess Bride: "There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C. ... (before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy... But I know the Fragrant Elephants will leave them all behind."

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Oh, and I inserted the word "ninja" into my wedding vows. Because that's how I roll.

A lot of people said that what they would remember most about the wedding was how much I laughed my ass off.

The reception went by quickly. I took to the center of the dance floor when "Asereje" by Las Ketchup came on, but ran away after. I lost, and recovered, an earring over the course of the evening. I couldn't walk two feet without people launching themselves at me, so I implemented a policy of hugging anyone within arm's length and then gliding away like a swan. The analogy works because like a swan's, my feet were kicking frantically under my voluminous dress.

We ended the night with a beach bonfire. It was perfect.

I discovered the next day that our florist had placed the boutonnières in an unmarked brown baggie, so neither set of parents got to wear theirs. The groomsmen had no flowers for their lapel. I was pissed, but calmed down by making everyone put them on anyway. At least we used 'em! We had to stop by the florist to return their basket, so Mr. Fragrant Elephant walked in and gave constructive criticism -- something along the lines of, "When people are getting ready for a wedding and it's a madhouse, it might be helpful to label things so we know what they are."

So, in conclusion: weddings are fun! Now invite me to yours.

Let me close with this poster...

Pictures courtesy of my cousin MiscellaneousJill.

...and this exchange between Mr. Fragrant Elephant and Fragrant Mother.

"What's the return policy for your daughter again?"

"You must return within twenty-four hours."

"NOOOOO!!!" 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Uncle Sam (Adams): Massachusetts Unemployment Benefits

Greetings, fellow person of inadvertent leisure! While you're reeling from the trauma of being separated from your source of income, stability, and self-esteem, allow me to help steady you by providing a candid description of the benefits awaiting you! Indeed, rays of light ever shine betwitxt even the darkest clouds.

In plain English, that means you will now get paid to look for a new job, if you qualify for  Unemployment Insurance (UI).

Employers typically contribute toward unemployment, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts administers the funds. That means Uncle Sam (Adams) will step in if you and your job get separated "through no fault of your own," which is bureaucrat-speak for "Yo ass got laid off but don't worry boo, I got you. I got you."


Now your job is to hunt for jobs. In that spirit, I present your new job description:

***

Position: Job Hunter 
Reports to: Uncle Sam (Adams)
Status: Full Time
Location: Variable
Start date: Immediate

Position description:
The Job Hunter is responsible for securing a job. He or she must devote at least three days a week searching for viable employment opportunities.

Responsibilities include:
  • Using job search engines such as indeed.com or JobQuest.
  • Having a LinkedIn profile with a decent photo, as opposed to a "dorky" one, thanks for the feedback, dad.  
  • Keeping a work search log that conforms to the document on the mass.gov/dua/worksearch
  • In the event of being randomly selected for re-employment assessment, the Job Hunter must bring the work search log, an updated resume, and industry research results.
Essential Skills/Qualities:
  • Imagination -- Necessary when overselling qualifications.
  • Thick skin -- Useful for interrogations by well-meaning family members about job search.
  • Resilience -- Key to getting back up after multiple rejections.
  • Strong liver -- Uncle Sam (Adams) also wants you to drink, obviously. See poster above. 
  • Candidates should also have at least one supportive human in their lives.
Compensation and Benefits:
Job Hunters who qualify for unemployment benefits receive half their average monthly salary, divided into weekly increments. Job Hunters must claim benefits weekly, either online or via phone robot.

As a bonus, the state may also take pity on those paying exorbitant COBRA health insurance premiums. Please apply to the Medical Support Program to see if you qualify.

***

At first, I was too proud to even contemplate unemployment benefits. I was like, "I don't need help!" But you know what, dear reader? I do. Everyone does. We all have bills to pay. If I have to turn tricks for Uncle Sam (Adams), I shall do so.

Note: I believe "turn tricks" refers to prostitution, but I am too lazy to confirm.

Fiancé gave me a minor lecture yesterday when I mentioned my frustration with the work search log. For the lucky many who have never seen it, the work search log has multiple versions that use different instructions. It also requires Job Hunters to use three different methods to look for work, including "Informational Phone Interview," "Walk-In," and "Resume Filed Via Web."

Why, yes, I like the nineties, too!

My main gripe was that companies these days only want online applications, and how dare the government dictate the ways in which I conduct my search, to which my husband-on-Saturday said: "I don't understand why you're complaining. You get paid to look for work and list it on a piece of paper." He also gave me a death glare, which is very rare, and extremely effective because of his caterpillar eyebrows. I shut up.

This morning I went for my re-employment assessment. There were a bunch of us up for review, but the Career Center had the staff to keep up with the numbers. My lady was named Margarita. Sadly, I was not offered a drink named after her. She checked to make sure I had all the things I needed -- resume, work search log, a re-employment goal (I listed mine as "Improve LinkedIn profile"), and the results of my industry research. Did you know that Writers get somewhere between $30K and $90K in Massachusetts? And employment in the field is up by 13%? Heyyyyyyyy~.

Now here I am, having just submitted a couple more writing-related applications. Will one of them bear fruit? Will my interview next week follow the same classic pattern of them seeing my face, and then hiring someone else? Will the new Star Trek movie suck as badly as early critics say? Tune in to find out!

In the meantime, I have a wedding in three days. Mine, as it turns out. I might be a little distracted.

Now I must leave you, friend, so I can debate taking a nap versus going to the gym. It's going to be tough.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Monday, May 13, 2013

Game Review: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)


Ni no Kuni stands on the shoulders of giants. The game, developed by Level-5 and Japan's contribution to humanity, Studio Ghibli, shares many similarities with classic games. It has the creature-collecting feature of Pokémon. It has the puzzle-solving component of Legend of Zelda. It has the item creation mandate of Vagrant Story. It has the level grinding requirement of every traditional JRPG, from Final Fantasy to Ys to the Tales series.

Ni no Kuni shines just as brightly as those games because of its stunning graphics, touching storyline, gorgeous soundtrack, fantastic voice work, and addictive gameplay. It has high replay value -- I finished this game twice, which I usually don't do.

Best of all, it has a compelling hero. Oliver is a young boy who undergoes a profound loss before the game begins. He starts out on his adventure weak and uncertain, encouraged only by a quirky sidekick. He comes into his own when he decides to help others, even when it means delaying his own quest. He makes friends. He learns. He grows. And when his journey ends, he understands that it's really just another beginning.

Which brings us to the most fascinating aspect of the story: its metaphysics. Playing through, I wondered: is Ni no Kuni all in Oliver's head? Is his trip to another world actually a psychotic breakdown triggered by tragedy? There are certainly arguments for this possibility. I've also read gamer boards that undermine that theory.

Whatever the case may be, Ni no Kuni offers a rich experience to Oliver and players alike. Below are the highlights of the game:

The graphics are beautiful. Animated in a distinctly Studio Ghibli style, Ni no Kuni makes the eyes pop with its vibrant palettes, especially on the world map. Movements appear realistic and add to the energy on screen; for example, Oliver's cape swirls jauntily as he runs around, Esther's hair bounces with her, and Swaine's tattered coat flutters at the slightest breeze. The bosses are large, imposing, and vividly colored, which as we all know is nature's way of saying, "Run away!" Too bad boss fights are mandatory. Finally, traveling through the world is sheer visual joy, whether by land, sea, or air.

The combat system is challenging. Players need to pay attention when fighting, especially if they're under-leveled or facing a boss. Quick reactions and strategic thinking garner the best results. Later in the game, the choice of which familiars to level up adds variety to battles. The options of "All-Out Attack!" and "All-Out Defense!" become useful later on, too. The glims feature, whereby landing a particularly excellent blow causes enemies to drop glowing balls that restore player's HP or MP, is a lifesaver. The wonderful graphics are on full display during encounters.

I do have two quibbles about the combat system: the AI and the camera. Players can only control one character at a time, and must set tactics for the others. One of my characters consistently depleted MP rapidly when set to AI. I had to buy or make a lot of MP-restoring items to compensate. Next, the camera adjusts automatically when the main character moves around the field, so for instance, when I'm running frantically toward an HP glim, the camera suddenly rotates so I lose sight of my goal. This problem can be solved by having a good memory, but is still gripe-worthy.

The familiars are fun. The familiars are adorable little monsters that fight on your side. Their unique abilities add another layer of complexity to the game. There are hundreds of creatures that players can capture, but only three familiars can be with one character at any time. Each character prefers certain species over others, which allows for stat boosts when leveling up favored creatures. Familiars can also metamorphose into stronger versions, and gamers get to choose the final form. Discerning JRPGers will opt for function over form, which is why I eventually abandoned my Puss in Boats, a cat with a sword, an eyepatch, and a pirate suit. The only way it could have been better was if it were a ninja. Alas, I have a world to save, and other familiars have superior stats.

Looks: unbeatable. Stats: not so much.

Side note: Now I understand why people went crazy over Pokémon. Gotta catch 'em all, indeed.

The music is flawless. Joe Hisaishi, the composer behind most Studio Ghibli hits, created perfect scores for Ni no Kuni. The main theme is a majestic exultation of adventure. The battle theme relies on violins, trumpets, flutes, and light percussion to thrill and dare, which is a welcome relief from the ominous heavy drumming that usually accompanies fights in RPGs. Speaking of ominous, the boss theme is a martial beat that swoops to match the highs and lows of those intense encounters. And "Arie," the mournful piece that often accompanies cut scenes involving Oliver's mom, destroys me every time I hear it. The OST for this game is the best I've heard in a long time.

The story is solid. Somewhere in the first few hours of the game, I became convinced that I had sussed out the inevitable plot twist. I'm glad I was wrong. At its heart, Ni no Kuni is about growing strong by overcoming heartbreak. In fact, that was one of the reasons that some players thought Oliver imagined the whole thing: he often had to help Ni no Kuni denizens "mend their broken hearts," which sounded like he was projecting his pain onto others.

Playing through to the end of the game convinced me that the question of whether or not Ni no Kuni was real didn't matter at all. What counted were Oliver's travels, the lessons he learns along the way, the bonds he forges, the strength he earns, and the peace that he attains within himself.

The other playable characters, and the main villains, embody the sub-themes of the game -- friendship, courage, misguided power, solitude, kindness, and hope. The antagonists are well-developed and have parallels to the hero, which enhances the story. In the end, beating them is fulfilling because their defeat is their salvation. Overwhelmed by the power of "the Pure-Hearted One," they remember who they once were, and the noble intentions they had before succumbing to wickedness and weakness.

And of course, it's a heck of a ride to even get to the point of challenging the Big Bads. There are rulers to placate, islands to discover, pirates to stop, alchemical formulas to learn, errands to complete, monsters to hunt, monuments to investigate, and more! As an added bonus, time travel makes an appearance!

In conclusion, Ni no Kuni is magnificent. It is a triumph of imagination, game development, and musical prowess. It may stand on the shoulders of game giants, but that just means it's on top. Buy it now at your local game retailer!

***

If you're a gamer, here's my Post-Game Errands Guide on GameFAQs!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Anniversary

Exposure to Fiancé's cold and my little brother's incipient flu eventually beat the crap out of my immune system this past weekend. Despite that, I still attended my friends' Cinco de Mayo barbecue the following day. Because I'm a superhero.

I rested for a few days after that. But then a circuit shorted in my brain and sent errant signals that made me feel fat. So I went to the gym yesterday. Did I almost pass out? Yes. But I powered through. And it was while I was doing bicep curls using resistance bands that I had an epiphany: Working out is like life -- you encounter resistance, and you fight against it and become stronger.

(cue triumphant music)

As though to underline that revelation, Fiancé tricked me later that day. He texted and said he and his coworkers were heading to a certain pub; did I want to meet them there and then we two would go have dinner somewhere nearby? Always a sucker for food (c.f. first paragraph of this post), I said yes and power-walked to the destination.

To my puzzlement, he sat alone at a table. "Where's everyone else?" I asked.

"It's just us!" he replied cheerfully. "Don't you remember? It's our anniversary!" He pulled out a card and a small gold-wrapped box tied in the ribbons of a local jeweler. He'd gotten me earrings to wear for our wedding.

As I derp'ed, he wistfully recalled the moment, exactly two years ago, when we sat at that very table and discussed being boyfriend and girlfriend. "And now we'll have a new anniversary!" he concluded brightly.

At my bachelorette, my maid of honor asked me when I knew I wanted to marry this man. I said it was when he showed that he adored Sheba. But moments like yesterday are high up on that list, too.

But what does that have to do with your epiphany at the gym, Fragrant Elephant?, you ask. Dear reader, I commend your attention to detail, and your commitment to the pillars of writing: focus, development, unity, and coherence. You deserve a blog that delivers all that. But, since you'r here...

In fact, Fiancé and I encountered a lot of resistance before we even began going out. But we pushed back, and here we are. Stronger, smarter, leaner (literally, in his case: he lost eight pounds via illness).

Let me extend the analogy in a more, er, unique way. My cynicism is like a resistance band. I need to keep pulling at it, to build my muscles of kindness. After all, a cynical person looks unkindly at her fellow humans. I've been a cynic since high school. Like Iron Man, I wrapped myself in what I thought was an armor of sneering pessimism. But that armor was a cocoon! And when the hairy, chubby caterpillar of cynicism melts away, what new butterfly shall emerge?

Hopefully, one that remembers anniversaries. Herp derp.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013) -- Updated

Tagline: "Goodbye--Iron Man."
"Ever since the dude with the hammer fell out of the sky, subtlety kind of had its day," declares Guy Pearce's character in Iron Man 3. Indeed, this film actually verbalizes its themes, saving me the trouble, but it does so earnestly and with such flair that I must bow to its commitment to the "there is no subtlety" message.

The bottom line of the poster to the left says:  "One year after the fight in The Avengers -- everything has changed." In fact, the movie starts before Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) had his life-changing experience in Afghanistan. Groundwork is laid. Forward to the present: Tony is now unable to sleep and tinkers endlessly in his workshop. While he deals with what is clearly PTSD, a man calling himself The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) escalates a campaign of terror. Brashly, Tony challenges the Mandarin, which leads to [REDACTED].

No spoilers here. It's a testament to the strength of the writing that there was a point when I thought it was all so predictable, only to have my expectations subverted. I was literally biting my nails as events unfolded. (Note to self: cut nails.)

It does get formulaic near the end -- almost like the director had a checklist of things to systematically wrap up -- but, hey, it's a comic book movie. It does what it does.

Apart from that, the only other thing I'll say is that the action scenes were spectacular, Stark's one-liners are brilliant, and you will probably clap at the end. I did.

I'm going to watch it again. This time, I'll likely have a proper nerd with me who will also wait to see the Easter Egg after the credits. If you've seen it, you smug bastards, don't tell me! DON'T TELL ME! I'M NOT LISTENING LALALALA~

In short: Iron Man 3 is terrific. Let the summer blockbuster season begin!

***

Update, 5/6/2013: Watched it again the next morning. I thought the script dealt elegantly with the disposal of the other Extremis agents -- let the third-tiers duke it out! Also, Don Cheadle's been working out, did anyone notice? Just me?

In any case, the second viewing was as enjoyable as the first. The interaction between Tony Stark and the kid played by Ty Simpkins (Insidious) is hilarious. I recommend watching past the ending credits. That way, the voice-over narration will make sense, and you will LOL.

This update brought to you by banana hazelnut coffee.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Training


Sheba usually gets the prize for stinkiest kitty, but Oscar gave her some serious competition this morning. We woke up to...kitty diarrhea. Everywhere. On our sheets, on the floor, the couch...UGH.

And Oscar sat right there, butt dripping the vile stuff. We had to chase him down and throw him into the tub so we could wash him. We left him in the bathroom to dry off. In revenge, he diarrhea'd some more on the floor and the bathroom mats. Awesome.

So basically: senior kitty = human baby.

Well, this certainly makes fiancé's birthday memorable. That and being sick as a dog. A souvenir from his bachelor party in Sin City! Thank Buddha for my Filipina Immunity To Everything (FITE).

Now I'm off to the gym, where the only stench comes from human sweat and yoga mats. Mmmm...