Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's the eve of the new year and nothing fancy is set up to celebrate tonight. It just going to be my girlfriend and I tonight bringing in the new year alone. We've got snacks, drinks, movies and music to ring in the new year. It doesn't sound like much, but after years of going out drinking at bars (when I was younger) hanging in the crowds, it's nice to to spend that evening alone with woman I love.

2011 was better year than the past. While 2009 was a roller coaster of events, 2010 saw myself rising out of the ashes to find myself again. This year, not only I found myself, I found life to be truly enjoyable, especially in the small things. I have much to thank my girlfriend for that. Let's see how this year evolved...

After Christmas, last year my girlfriend and I settled into our routine of things. On Groundhog's Day, a blizzard of historic proportions slammed Southeast Wisconsin, dumping more than two feet of snow in the area, burying cars and shutting down I-94 from Milwaukee to Chicago. The National Guard was called in to help stranded motorists. The area was declared a civil emergency. Not since the winter of '77/'78 I've seen snow like this, nor I'd want to ever again.

Later that month, my battleship of a car, the '91 Chevy Caprice Classic I had was finally starting to hit the dust. After getting a $9oo estimate to replace the manifold it was time.... Found myself a 2007 Chevy HHR (a moving snowbank, my girlfriend calls it) for a descent price. However, dealing with the bank proved to be a nightmare.

It was springtime of peaceful bliss, except in April when my loveable golden retriever, Harley, had gotten very sick. To this day, it was unclear to what she was suffering from, but the thought of losing my ten year companion was unbearable for me.

Three graduations came in June. My son, Austin barely graduated from middle school to high school. Though I am proud to see my son growing up, but a little effort is needed out him to get better grades. My "daughter" Angel and my girlfriend's daughter, Kimmy both graduated from high school TOGETHER! It was a very heartwarming moment to see them both in their robes with their caps on to receive their diploma. Believe it or not. I cried at the ceremony. Both are now attending college here in Racine.

Life got busier by summer. My girlfriend and I went to Summerfest and saw Styx there. Despite having to deal with a large crowd, Styx pulled off an excellent show playing their classic hits. Streamers fell from the sky as HIV inflicted bassist John Panozzo joined the band for "Come Sail Away"

Mid July saw the conviction of my son's former 16 year old best friend, Christopher for the rape of my then two year old "granddaughter", ending a long and dark chapter in my life. He was sentenced to ten years in prison plus 15 more of extended supervision. It might not seem long enough, considering the lifetime of memories my 'granddaughter' will face. The only thing remains to why the sick little fucker pulled this stunt in the first place.

In August my girlfriend got a job working at a local grocery market as a cashier. It is certainly nice to know that my girlfriend is stepping up to plate to help out with the bills, especially with a car mortgage on my tail...

We missed a Doobie Brothers concert in September to witness the birth of my girlfriend's first grandchild in Shawano. Seeing the 7lb 4oz little girl in the arms of my girlfriend with a beaming smile was worth the trip. A concert will always come around, but moments like these I got to take when they come.

Cheri (my girlfriend) and I took numerous trips Up North over the past year. Easter, Christmas, her niece's wedding or just to visit. Going up there on Cheri's birthday was especially nice; we had a cabin to ourselves.

All in all, it was a great year with a few bumps on the road-nothing major. I'm hoping for an even better year to come in 2012. So my friends, cheers to the new year....ENJOY!

Friday, December 30, 2011

My Worst Albums of 2011 (That I Bought)

Ozzy Osbourne Scream-2010 Like oil and water, some things don't mix. Ozzy Osbourne's latest album, Scream is the perfect example of that. Osbourne's guitarist Zakk Wylde had left the band to work full time with the Black Label Society, leaving the Prince of Darkness a void to fill. The answer was a new guitarist and a new direction-techno. Kudos to Osbourne for taking a risk, but this ends up sounding like a bad version of Nine Inch Nails with the screaming.

Kiss Revenge-1992 Was critically acclaimed to be one of the best post makeup Kiss albums. While some of the tracks like "Domino" may sound sonically refreshed, others sound rehashed and recycled from their early days. Makes a listener miss the original guitarist and drummer Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. What's even worse, I haven't listened to Carnival of Souls nor Hot in the Shade yet. Not sure I even want to...

Lynyrd Skynyrd God & Guns-2009 Ok, it's a hard rockin' rebel Southern redneck album with an attitude to match. So, what's not to like here? Something is missing here. What's missing here, unfortunately, is compassion and heart, the secret ingredients that the original late singer Ronnie Vant Zant represented in the legendary tunes like "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama". Sure, Ronnie younger brother Johnny tries to carry the torch, but with the numerous lineup changes and guitarist Gary Rossington being the sole remaining original member, maybe it's time to hang up the Skynyrd name and try something else.

Bruce Springsteen Diesel & Dust-2005 Zzzzzzzz.....Upon first listen, this album put me to sleep. It's somber, it's mellow and nothing I'd expected to hear from the Boss. Maybe, with repeated replays it'll grow on to me. With albums like Born to Run, Born in the USA and Working on a Dream high on my playlist, it'll take awhile.

Chicago XXX-2006 Their first true studio album in 15 years and sadly, it doesn't offer anything new to the plate. A shell of the original Chicago, the album sounds much weaker than their previous work. There is nothing memorable here. It may please the fans of the '80's Chicago, while alienate the fans early days.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fantasy Football Champs

It came down to match between the hippies and the Republicans. "The hippies came and occupied...." That was the championship game. The final game of the Irregular League Fantasy Football season. The match was between my team, the Racine Irregulars and Fred's (from Real Debate Wisconsin) Debate Team. Fred's team (who won last season) had been strong all season long, while mine struggled at first before finishing up strong.

Surprising was this season. In the four seasons I've doing this, I never done better than 5th place. In fact, in 2009, I came in dead LAST. That year, I was in over my head with personal issues to even care.

This year I got lucky. I got some good players on my team. The Packer's QB Aaron Rodgers and the Patriot's TE Rob Gronkowski were my most reliable players. San Francisco's RB Frank Gore, Philadelphia's WR Jeremy Maclin and New Orleans' Marques Colston helped out greatly. Picking up Oakland's RB, Micheal Bush proved beneficial for the team. Rounding out my team were, New York Giant's WR Hakeem Hicks, Dallas' kicker Dan Bailey and the defense of Cincinnati. My backups basically were New England's RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Dallas' WR Laurent Robinson.

All in all it was a great season. I have to thank my fellow Irregular and commissioner RW Wacko Stu for starting this league for all of us Irregulars (and non Irregulars) to enjoy. I had a blast!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Up North for a White Christmas?

It has been a balmy winter so far here in Racine. With temperatures settling in the upper 30's and lower 40's for the last couple of weeks, anyone can envision any snow on the ground. The sun has already melted away the dusting we had last week Tuesday morning. That's quite alright with me. After more than forty years of dealing with slipping and sliding, shoveling and the hassle of the snow, I can honestly say I can live with never seeing another snowflake again..

That meant a freedom from the perils taking a roadtrip Up North to visit my family and friends over the Christmas holidays...

My girlfriend's kids arrived early Saturday morning from their place Up North for breakfast and an exchange of gifts. A nice little visit. Seeing my girlfriend holding her three month old granddaughter was worth its weight in gold... Shortly afterwards they headed south to visit their grandfather, we headed for the Northwoods...

A journey of an approximate 240 miles in 4 1/2 hours, winds through 13 counties to our destination to just north of Pickerel, WI. Yeah, it's WAY up there in the boondocks. It can be a relaxing and scenic journey for some, especially through the Menominee Reservation. The long and winding road alongside the scenic and wild Wolf River offers a primitive and picturesque view of the Dairy State.

This time around, the river was partially frozen and the snow covered pines gave a breathtaking view as the sun's last rays filled the sky with an orange glow.

We arrived shortly after dusk at my folks place. The succulent aroma of a turkey being prepared in a warm kitchen overpowered me. Homemade potatoes and excellent gravy filled my innards as pleasant talk among my family warmed the room. The gift exchange later that night yielded surprises, some of them mouth dropping. Hinda can say we got "spoiled", yet I'm eternally grateful.

After a well deserved night's sleep, my girlfriend, my son and I had to leave in the morning. As much as we wanted to stay for awhile, we had to head south to Shawano to visit my girlfriend's mother's place. It was here that we met up with my girlfriend's kids from their journey south. Seemed like a nice reunion of sorts. The food, I tell ya, another day of gluttony. Pizza, cookies, fudge and snacks everywhere. The surprise this time was my girlfriend's mother getting a boom box for Christmas. Talk about a smile from ear to ear.

The day had just begun. From there, onward south again to Appleton where my girlfriend's older sister had her annual Christmas gathering. More food, more people, more fun and a white elephant. Italian sausage, lasagna, more pizza and cookies, my stomach was about to burst at this point. There were people crammed in that house more that I could imagine fitting in. The white elephant? Oh yeah, it's game of which participants exchanges cheap unorthodox gifts for the laughs. I got a set of cups while my girlfriend got a box of tea. It was fun.

One more stop to go. Home. The race against the clock to make it home before the Packer-Bear game had begun... A two and half hour journey at highway speeds. We made it just in time...

So how did your Christmas go?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Packers Week #16

Just got home minutes prior to the game from being Up North with my family. Anyways, the Green Bay Packers beat their NFC rivals, the Chicago Bears 35-21 at Lambeau Field tonight.

Here are my thoughts of the game...

The Packers struck first, scoring with a 2 yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jermicheal Finley on their first drive.

After that, much of the first half was dominated by the Bears' running game. As good as it was, they only gained three points off a field goal.

The second half of the game, the Pack took over. Their defense tightened up with two interceptions and an exploding offense. The ending result was five touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers, two each to receivers James Jones and Jordy Nielson.

The Bears have lost five games in the row since losing their star QB Jay Cutler with a broken thumb. They have no chance to making the playoffs.

The Packers are 14-1 and have chinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

More on the game here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hobbit

Ooooo... I just can't wait to see this! Coming to a theater in every city in December 2012, the first installment of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. Already being filmed on location in New Zealand, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, brings back familiar characters portrayed in the Lord of the Rings. Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf the Grey, along with Ian Holmes, Orlando Bloom, Elijah Wood and Christopher Lee as Bilbo Baggins, Legolas, Frodo Baggins and Saruman the White, respectively. Newcomers Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage will be the young Bilbo and Thorin Oakensheild. Sounds exciting? YES!

What really has gotten me going was seeing this trailer...

I LOVED, LOVED the Lord of the Rings. As a kid, I must have read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien at least a thousand times before the movies came out. Usually. I prefer the books over the movie versions, however TLOR was a major exception. Not only the special effects dazzled me, it was the acting, the directing and the close similarities to the book that put the movie the top of my list of all time favorites. So, this movie should ought to a real treat...

For those who never read the Hobbit, it's a prelude to The Lord of the Rings. It's the book that started it all...

The plot according to a press release from Warner Bros. Pictures...

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

The second installment to be released in December 2013.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Packers Week #15

I can't believe myself. The Green Bay Packers lost to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs 19-14 at the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

Here are my thoughts of the game...

Kansas City looked impressive through out the game, especially on the run..

It was QB Kyle Orton's first start for Kansas City. He threw 23 of 31 passes for 299 yards.

MVP Aaron Rodgers did worse, throwing 17 of 35 passes for 235 yards.

This was by far the most sloppy playing the Packers did ALL season long. Too damn many dropped passes ans penalties.

The Packers loss snapped a winning streak of 19 games dating to last year.

The Packers are now 13-1 and still are in the hunt for home field advantage through out the playoffs.

More on the game here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Top 2011 Albums (That I Bought)

It's that time of the year again. The year end reviews, except this year I didn't get too many 2011 album releases. Money's tighter now and spent it on the more familiar names like Yes' Fly From Here. Instead, I bought many albums from rummage sales and burned many CD's from the local library, trying to fill the gaps and the holes in my collection. This year, I think I got too many albums (Is there a such things as too much music?) and now I've literary got stacks of vinyl, cassettes and CD's piled everywhere around me. Some of which I haven't gotten a chance to listen to yet, many I have. Here's a list of some of my favorites I've gotten my hands on this year...

John Lennon John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band 1970 I don't know why I never gotten any this sooner. Maybe it was mine preference for Paul McCartney. Any rate, this album is FANTASTIC! Inspired by his primal therapy, Lennon creates a revolutionary and harrowing set of unflinchingly personal songs, laying out his fears and angers for everyone to hear. Simple, yet extremely intense, Lennon pushes towards themes of child-parent relationships and psychological suffering.

Iron Maiden The Final Frontier 2010 Those who would of thought Iron Maiden was left for the dead are in for a surprise! Sounding much like the '80's Iron Maiden that I fell in love with, the reunited Maiden offers no compromises, just complexities and challenges and many moments of brilliance. It's an engaging effort with a cinematic vision.

XTC Skylarking 1986 Never really heard of XTC till I picked up their Oranges & Lemons at a rummage sale over the summer. I thought that one was phenomenal, yet I thought Skylarking was a notch better. Their lush post psychedelic pop-enhanced sound by detailed sweeping instrumentation reminds me of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's and REM's Murmur all wrapped up in a multidimensional package. Just plainly sheer brilliancy!

Mott the Hoople Mott 1973 "The rock and roll circus is back in town" sings frontman Ian Hunter in a line from "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople". The truth it may seem. Mott the Hoople keeps it straight forward, yet eccentric as they drive home with a collection of songs of road fraught with exhaustion, disillusionment and dashed hopes all told with a wry sense of humor.

Bruce Springsteen Working on a Dream 2009 Working On A Dream is the Boss's most exuberant and pop-orientated album for a long time. It is as if the swell of goodwill sweeping across anyone's soul...Bright and punchy, there is no pandering here, with Springsteen and the trusty E Street Band rocking and rolling with free abandon and sounding like they thoroughly enjoyed every single moment recording the album.

Marshall Tucker Band Running Like the Wind
1979 Like their southern colleges the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band are known for their extended free flowing instrumental jams. The nine plus minute country flavored title track could take a listener on a dreamy ride across the wild western skyline interweaving flutes, guitars and fiddles. Aimless as it may sound, but it shows the strong musicianship within the Marshall Tucker Band.

Asia Phoenix 2008 Like the Phoenix of the title of their 2008 album, Asia has risen from the ashes and made their first studio album with their original lineup in a quarter century. This album have could easily followed their debut in the terms of musicianship. While 1983's Alpha was more pop oriented, Phoenix has a suppleness when they stretch out into multi-part suites while retaining a knack for big, arena pop hooks.

Yes Fly From Here 2011 A decade since their latest studio
album, Yes pulls off a keeper. Similar to their 1980 release of Drama in the terms of the lineup and feel, except the singer is the unknown Jon Anderson sound alike Benoit David. Drawing comparisons to the early days, the 25 minute eight part suite "Fly From Here" presents a depth and lushness that makes one think.

Black Keys Thickfreakness 2003 Inspired by the their success of last years' release of Brothers, it was only fitting to check out some of their older material. Recorded in the drummer Patrick Carney's basement in a single day, the Black Keys wail is hot, primal, and heartfelt. Dan Auerback's lean but meaty guitar lines and room-filling vocals drag the blues into the 21st century through sheer force of will without sounding like these guys are in any way mocking their influences.

UFO Obsession 1978 The last studio album to feature star guitarist Micheal Schenker. It did indeed contain lots of prime metal cuts. Much of the album is fun and carefree. The album kicks into gear with melodic tasty rockers without sounding lame and in your face. Under appreciated and often overlooked...

Too many albums and too little time....Some of them worth mentioning on this list. Steely Dan's Aja offers some great jazz rock. The North Mississippi Allstars Hernando has got some exceptional straight forward bluesy rock while Joe Satriani coughs up some extreme guitar work in The Extremist. Heart put out a great Christmas album in the Lovemonger's Christmas. The Dixie Dregs laid out some usual shit, blending southern fried boogie with progressive instrumental rock.

Coming soon.... the worst of 2011 plus the best dust blowers (if time applies...)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Packers Week #14

The Green Bay Packers easily manhandled the Oakland Raiders 46-16 this afternoon at Lambeau Field.

Here are my thoughts of the game:

The Packers made it look easy against the Raiders...

Rodgers threw for 281 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in less than three full quarters' worth of work. Back up QB Matt Flynn filled in the forth quarter to rest up Aaron Rodgers. By then the score was 43-7

As opposed to Oakland's QB Carl Palmer- threw for 245 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions.

The only downside of the Packers' win was a knee injury to one of the Packers' many talented receivers Greg Jennings.

The Packers are now 13-0.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Cookies

Man, am I stuffed! Just got back from another cunning ninja raid on my girlfriend's homemade Christmas cookies. Stealthily grabbing cookies when her back is turned. Until...I get caught.

"Are you into my Christmas cookies again?" she asks.
"Nope" I mumbled with a mouthful of a delicious treat, wondering if she knew that I had five more of them in my hand behind my back and two stuffed in each pocket.
"They are for CHRISTMAS!" she scolds, "Take ONE and leave the rest for our relatives."
Grabbing one, I slipped away to safety with my bounty...

The tradition continuous... Last year, my girlfriend held up the kitchen baking almost 30 dozen cookies from 12 different recipes. She had peanut butter blossoms, potato chip cookies, Goldfish drops, holiday bars, peanut butter cookies and of course, my favorite, a double batch of chocolate chip cookies stuffed in nook and cranny in the freezer. A seemingly endless supply of cookies... Think she'll miss a few? I hope not, because I love 'em!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Packers Week #13

The Green Bay Packers beat the New York Giants 38-35 in this nail biter of a game at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Here are my thoughts of the game...

As I predicted, the Packers had their greatest battle of the season against the exceptional Giants.

Both teams seemed evenly matched at times exchanging leads.

Aaron Rodgers threw 28 of 46 for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns. Yet, he was sacked 3 times and threw one interception. (His fifth, all season).

Linebacker Clay Matthews also returned an interception 38 yards for a score in the second quarter.

The game came down to the wire when Packer kicker Mason Crosby kicked a 31 yard field goal at the last second to win the game.

The Packers are now 12-0 and cliched a spot in the playoffs.

More on the game here.