Phone reviews: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs. HTC Sensation


I recently upgraded my phone from the HTC Sensation I’ve had for three years to a new Samsung Galaxy S4. To say I’m pleased with my new phone is the understatement to end all understatements. Of course comparing the two phones directly is not really fair – we’re comparing new technology in the S4 (actually not that new; the phone was released over a year ago, but it’s new-to-me technology) against a phone that’s well over three years old. In the cell phone industry, three years is a lifetime.

The old phone had a dual-core processor; the new one has a quad-core. It also has more than twice the memory (2 GB vs. 768 MB) and an amazing eight times the storage space. The HTC had 4 GB with 1 GB available while the Samsung has 16GB with 8GB available. This is good since I was to the point of removing one app in order to have enough space to install a new one. The camera is an unbelievable 13 MP (only 8 MP on the HTC) and the front-facing camera is 2 MB while the HTC front camera is a pathetic 0.3 MP. Yay, better selfies! Oh wait, I never take selfies.

Samsung Galaxy S4

And the battery! Holy crap, the battery. I have yet to see the battery drop below about 45% charge, even if I’m twittering and facebooking and cameraing and even watching streaming video. I haven’t tried the GPS (i.e. driving directions), but I know that really sucked the battery dry on my old phone. I do charge it overnight every night but I did that with the HTC as well and if I was using it a lot and not being careful, it’d be dead by dinner.

It turns out that taking a picture of your phone with your phone is a challenge, and I couldn’t take one with my old phone because I moved the SD card to the new phone, so I found a picture online. This is probably a better picture anyway. And yes, I did get the red one though I have a black case.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy with my HTC phone. It was my first smartphone, so I didn’t really have anything to compare it to, but it did pretty much everything I wanted it to. It did have its problems, which either weren’t there or I didn’t notice for the first year or two. Google search was really slow – if I entered something in the search box, it took at least 20-30 seconds before the search results came up, and I don’t think it was the search itself that took so long. The 3G network would sometimes just drop and not reconnect. I’d disable the mobile data entirely and then re-enable it and that frequently worked, but other times a reboot was necessary. Very occasionally I had to take the back off and remove the battery for a few seconds. I must have rebooted the phone at least once or twice a week just to try to speed it up.

I had no real problems with phone part of the HTC. It didn’t drop calls often, the call quality was fine, I could bring up the keypad easily while talking, and I could put the caller on speaker and check email or whatever at the same time (though I think I did that twice in three years). But the call quality on the Samsung is great. I was at Nicky’s soccer game the other day and Gail called me. It was quite windy but despite not doing anything to block the wind, I could clearly hear her and she could clearly hear me. I asked her if the wind was a problem and she didn’t even hear it.

Both phones have an “auto-brightness” feature, where the phone adjusts the brightness of the display based on how bright it is where you are. I enabled this on the HTC but it didn’t work very well and I had to continually turn the brightness up manually until I ended up turning the auto thing off and leaving it on full 24/7. That probably didn’t help the battery life. The Samsung auto-brightness thing is outstanding, and the screen is really clear. It’s a bit bigger (5 inch display vs. 4.3 inch), so that helps too.

One thing that I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE is the slidey keyboard. It’s not actually a Samsung thing at all, it’s an app called SwiftKey. Rather than typing each character individually, you put your finger down on the first letter of the word, then just slide it to the second, third, fourth, etc. until you’ve entered the entire word. Not only is that much faster than typing the word, but the word prediction and auto-correct is excellent. It turns out that this app actually was available on my old phone, though I didn’t know it. I never got good at dual-thumb typing on my HTC, I always stuck to the right index finger so it wasn’t terribly fast. With SwiftKey, I still stick to the one finger but it’s much faster.

The only thing that I prefer with the HTC is the lock screen. I had to swipe and then enter the PIN to unlock the device. But if the device had been locked for a short time (under a minute I think), you didn’t have to enter the PIN again, just swipe. The new lock screen doesn’t require the swipe, just the PIN so whether I locked it 5 seconds or 12 hours ago, I still have to enter the PIN. Slightly inconvenient if I lock the device and then remember that I needed to do something else right away.

Oh no, wait, there’s one other thing I don’t like about the Samsung. When dialing the phone, it has a setting for whether hitting the number buttons makes a sound, but there’s no way (I can find) to change what the sound is. I don’t like the “drip” sound it makes but I can’t figure out how to change it. But I think I’ll survive.

Maybe once I’ve had this phone for a few years I’ll decide it has problems too, and then the next new phone I get (with 8 processors, 32 GB of RAM and a terabyte of storage) will be awesome compared to this thing. But for now, I’m very happy with this thing.

Dogs are friends, not food


I saw a number of articles on Facebook in recent weeks about an annual “dog-eating” festival in Yulin, China. Of course, all of the comments on these articles were full of anger and disgust over the eating of dogs. Some of the commenters went further and said that some of the dogs were tortured or in some other way not treated humanely. Many would argue that there is no “humane” way to kill and eat a dog but regardless, the majority of the commenters were put off simply by the idea of eating dogs.

What, no tomato?But why?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m just as disgusted by this festival as anyone else, and the idea of eating a dog is unfathomable to me. I’ve eaten some unusual things like bison, shark, and alligator, but I’d never consider partaking of man’s best friend. My question is more a philosophical one:

Why are we disgusted by eating some animals while others are OK?

Obviously there are vegetarians and vegans for whom eating any animal is disgusting to some degree. And there are different cultures around the world – well over a billion people in India would never think of eating beef. But I’m talking about your standard North American omnivore who eats beef, ham, pork, chicken, turkey, and maybe others like venison, goose, and duck. Most of these people don’t think twice about those animals but those same people would never think to eat a horse. Why is it that eating a cow or pig is OK but horse or dog is not?

I imagine the reason is mostly “that’s just the way it’s always been”. We all know that people as a group are resistant to change, and if that’s the way it is and has always been, then that’s likely the way it will stay until people have a good reason to change. Our parents didn’t eat horse, and so we don’t eat horse. We don’t eat horse, and so our kids don’t eat horse. And so on. Over the years it’s gradually changed from something we simply don’t do into something we would never even consider doing, and now it’s gotten to the point where people who would consider doing it are sick twisted bastards. Is that overly judgemental? Perhaps. I imagine there’s a billion people in India who think that North Americans are sick twisted bastards for eating cows.

Or maybe they just don’t taste good.

Waterdown Ribfest 2014


Last weekend was the 5th annual Oh Canada Ribfest here in Waterdown. We love this event, and not only do we go every year, we volunteer every year, and I write about it every year. Here’s last year’s report (which contains links to the previous years’ articles).

Ribfest started on Friday evening and went all the way through to Tuesday (Canada Day), and we did a 4½ hour volunteer shift in the recycling tent every day except Friday. I was back to work on Wednesday but Gail and the boys went back again for a few hours to help clean up. Like I said, we love this event and volunteer every year because we want to see it succeed. We have fun volunteering as a family, it gives Ryan some volunteer hours for high school (not that he needs any more; he requires 40 hours over four years to graduate, and had all 40 done before Christmas of grade 9), and it gives both boys a taste of giving back to the community. It also shows them just how much work goes into an event like this, and hopefully leads them away from the path of people who complain about trivial things, or complain about how badly something is done while not lifting a finger to help do it better.

I even managed to get my picture in two tweets from the Ribfest organizers. The first was an accident (that’s me on the right with the red hat, helping to set up tables), but the second was a picture that the volunteer organizer Ryan Bridge took of me, Gail, and the boys as a thank-you for volunteering all weekend. That second one even made the local newspaper!

But onto the important stuff – the food!

Ribbers and other food

There were seven ribbers this year, six returning from last year and one team new to the event. We only managed to try ribs from five of them.

Camp 31 – really interesting sauce. Not exactly spicy and not exactly sweet, but… interesting. Really liked it. Their ribs weren’t bad.

Kentucky Smokehouse – exact opposite of Camp 31. Ribs were great, sauce was just OK. This is funny because last year we liked the Kentucky Smokehouse sauce so much, we bought a bottle to take home. Two of the guys working this rig looked like your stereotypical Kentucky hillbillies (picture below) and I heard on the radio that they are actually good friends with the Duck Dynasty guys. Interestingly, they seem to have lost the http://www.kentuckysmokehouse.com domain.

IMAG1293

Crazy Canuck Smokers – new guys this year. The ribs weren’t bad but nothing to write home (or on a blog) about. The sauce was pretty good but we had it at the same time as Silver Bullet, so in comparison this sauce was kind of bland.

Boss Hogs – We wanted to try these guys on Tuesday for dinner but the lines were too long. They won the people’s choice awards for best ribs and best sauce so I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get to try them.

Bone Daddy’s – Never got a chance to try these guys either.

Ribs Royale – Haven’t been too impressed with these guys in previous years, but the rack we had this year was really good. The sauce was tangy and one of the better sauces we had, but the ribs were absolutely textbook fall-off-the-bone tender.

Silver Bullet – Nice spicy sauce as usual. Ribs were good too but I think I’m still partial to Kentucky Smokehouse and Ribs Royale. They were the only ribber to have corn bread, which was really good. We also bought some pulled pork and for the fourth straight year, a bottle to take home.

We also tried a few things from some of the other food vendors – roasted corn on the cob (which was amazing), some poutine from a “poutinerie” food truck (not bad), and a dozen Tiny Tom donuts (always good).

Tunes

There were live bands all weekend long. Most of the bands we heard played classic rock and blues, and one creative band played an interesting version of Zeppelin’s Kashmir as well as rock versions of some country songs. Being Canada Day weekend, we heard a lot of Canadian content – Barenaked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Bryan Adams, The Tragically Hip, even Doug and the Slugs and The Stampeders. Real Canadians, of a certain age, will know exactly what Stampeders song that was. Alas, no Skinny Puppy. Go figure.

There was an acoustic duo who did covers of everything from Poison’s Something to Believe In and Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road to Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon. We heard the last 1/2 hour of a reggae band, who played the reggae song 5 or 6 times. My friend Ron’s band played during the “open mic” section on Tuesday, so that was pretty cool.

And of course, there was Johnny Cash. According to every live band I’ve ever heard play Johnny Cash, he has exactly two songs: Jackson and Folsom Prison Blues. I heard each of those songs at least twice this past weekend. I don’t think I’ve ever heard another Johnny Cash song performed live.

The Recycling tent

One of the great things about the Waterdown ribfest (and it might apply to other ribfests as well) is the environmental impact – or lack thereof. There are no garbage cans throughout the park, only three recycling tents. When people bring stuff to the recycling tents, almost none of it goes into the actual garbage. All food waste, napkins, and rib containers are compostable, and all the drink containers, pop cans, spoons, forks, and even straws go into the recycling bag (though straws didn’t last year). The only things left to go into the garbage were plastic popsicle wrappers, gum, the tops of the slushie containers (for some reason that kind of plastic was not recyclable), and just like last year, one used diaper.

Over four days, we spent more than sixteen hours in the main recycling tent and changed two garbage bags. Over the same amount of time, we must have changed at least 10-15 recycling bags and more than fifty yard waste bags.

Graeme’s rule of working the recycling tent

Someone is about to throw their rib box into the compost bag and before they do you ask “Are there any plastic forks in there?” Graeme’s rule says that if they answer “no”, chances are better than 50% (probably closer to 70%) that there is at least one fork in there. I’m sure most of the time it’s just people forgetting (“Oh right, we had some cole slaw, didn’t we?”) but sometimes it was people who just couldn’t be bothered thinking about it. I never stopped asking but even if they said no, I generally checked anyway.

Sometimes people would bring their garbage to the tent, put it down on the table, and walk away. Gail was very good at calling them back and directing them to put the things in the right bins themselves, while I tended to just do it for them. I’m a bit of a wimp that way.

I was also rather surprised at the number of people who had no idea how to compost. We had people bring their cardboard container full of napkins and rib bones up to the recycling tent, glance at the two big green bins with compost bags in them, and start to drop the whole thing in the opening marked “trash”. I managed to stop them (usually), then point out that the forks were recyclable and everything else compostable. Most of the time they were all “whatever” but we did get a few positive comments from people who were impressed by how much was not being thrown in the garbage.

Once again, huge kudos to the Flamborough and Waterdown Rotary clubs for putting on this great event, which brought almost 50,000 people into Waterdown over the five days. Hopefully they raised a boatload of money for their programs like helping to eliminate polio from the world and humanitarian projects in Africa and Asia, as well as things closer to home – the food bank, women’s shelter, and other programs for local seniors and kids. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Waitin’ on the world to change


How the world should work

Science: Hey everyone! We’ve invented a way to genetically modify plants! We can grow ten times as much food in the same farmland and maybe help solve world hunger! Or we could add nutrients that are naturally missing in the food! Or make it last longer before it spoils!

General public: Interesting! How safe is it for human consumption? Does the food have the same nutritional value? What are the long term health effects?

Science: Good questions! We’re not sure yet, but we’re running trials and studies now. We’ll let you know.

5-10 years pass

Science: Great news! Studies show that the genetically modified food is just as healthy and we have not come across any long-term health concerns!

General public: Great! Bring it on!

World peace and happiness ensues


How the world really works

Science: Hey everyone! We’ve invented a way to genetically modify plants! We can grow ten times as much food in the same farmland and maybe help solve world hunger! Or we could add nutrients that are naturally missing in the food! Or make it last longer before it spoils!

Small subset of vocal anti-science people: What? That’s not natural! It’s Franken-food! It’s turning normal healthy food into abnormal mutant food! I’m not a scientist or anything, but since I don’t understand the science behind it, it can’t be healthy. It uses chemicals and things I can’t pronounce!

Science: Well, what you said doesn’t really make sense, but to be honest, we really haven’t studied it enough yet. We’re running trials and studies now. We’ll let you know.

Anti-science people: It doesn’t matter! We don’t trust it and nothing you can say will change our minds!

5-10 years of anti-science people talking about how bad GMO is

Science: Great news! Studies show that the genetically modified food is just as healthy and we have not come across any long-term health concerns!

General public: But those guys have been saying for years how dangerous GMOs are! I’m not eating that stuff! We should ban it, or force companies to label it so people will know they’re eating dangerous Franken-food!

Science: What? There’s no evidence that it’s dangerous. In fact, we’ve demonstrated that it’s not dangerous. Where did you get this information from?

Anti-science people: Well of course you’d say that. You’re in league with Monsanto and the evil GMO companies to poison the world and get rich!

Science: What?!? That makes no sense at all, and you never answered our question about where you got your information. Why would we try to poison the world? Remember we live in the world too. We’d be poisoning ourselves and our own families. Plus, how does poisoning the world make us rich?

Anti-science people: The fact that there’s no evidence of the conspiracy proves the conspiracy is real! They’re covering it all up!

General public: Conspiracy! GMO is evil!

Science: (sigh)

Bohemian rhapsody


We moved into our house in Waterdown on July 30, 1997, my 28th birthday. Gail and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and had lived in a townhouse in Burlington for three years but we were getting ready to start our family and wanted a bigger place with a backyard. One of the things we loved about the house was the fact that it backed onto a banquet centre called The Bohemian. This meant that not only would we not be looking over our fence into someone else’s house, but we had a beautiful view of trees and green space from our kitchen window.

This is a picture we took after we bought the house but before we moved in. It’s is not the best view of the Bohemian grounds, but I was trying to take pictures of our new place, not the place next to it. This is probably sometime in April or May 1997. The building in the distance is the Bohemian itself, and the land to the right of it is maybe half of the whole property. You can see the other half of it in the second picture, below.

April 1997

For the first five years or so, the place was beautiful. The people who ran it kept it up very well. They were out cutting the grass and trimming the hedges and such every week. Whenever I went to cut our grass on weekends, I’d always check to see if there was a wedding going on – they had outdoor weddings there all summer long and I imagined they didn’t want the official screaming “Dearly beloved” over the sound of a lawn mower. There were squirrels everywhere and lots of birds including blue jays, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and the odd hummingbird. Occasionally we’d even see rabbits and one time an entire family of four raccoons walked along the top of our fence, one after the other. The road you see in the distance is Dundas St. (formerly Hwy 5) which is a fairly major road, but the trees blocked the sound (particularly in the summer) so we rarely ever heard traffic noise. We’d never actually met them, but couldn’t have been happier with our neighbours to the south.

A few years later, things changed a little when the owners sold the property. Soon thereafter they cut down a couple of trees and put in a bigger parking lot, but it was still far enough away that it didn’t really affect us. After a while it became evident that they weren’t as interested in appearances as the previous owners; the grass would sometimes go weeks without being cut, and the trees and bushes furthest away from the building started to look a little neglected. The outdoor weddings ceased. It was a little disappointing, but it really wasn’t a huge deal. We still had our green space and trees and wildlife.

Here’s a picture from about 13 years after the one above, April 21, 2010. This was taken from the kitchen window, basically looking out over top of the stairs to the deck you can see in the picture above.

April 2010

In the top left, you can see poles with lights strung between them that marked the edge of the “new” parking lot, which is to the right of the poles. I built the birdhouse in the foreground, and you can see two doves sitting on top of the fence just to the right of it.

And then we got the letter. I don’t know when it was exactly but sometime in 2012, we received a letter informing us that the Bohemian property had been purchased by a developer who was going to build townhouses there. I don’t believe they were required to inform us but they did anyway. They also notified us of a public meeting to give nearby residents more information about what was going to be happening as well as giving us the ability to ask the developer any questions we might have. We attended along with some of our neighbours and they showed us maps and artist’s renditions of what the property would look like. They told us that they’d be tearing down the existing fences and replacing them with new ones, and that some of the trees would have to be removed. We specifically asked how many trees, and they assured us that they’d make every effort to keep as many as they could. They seemed very accommodating and open and willing to answer all our questions.

On October 12, 2012, I tweeted “Sad day at our house. All the trees behind us are being ripped out” along with this picture:

October 2012

Over the next week or so, a whole bunch of trees were ripped out, including most of the ones you see in this picture. Shortly thereafter, the fence was taken down and replaced with a brand new cedar one. The new one looks much nicer than the old one, so some good has come from this. But over the next year, more and more trees were removed until finally in the fall of 2013 they took out the last ones. The property is currently a wasteland of mud and piles of dirt (note the fancy new fence):

April 2014

I’m very disappointed by this but in all honesty, I can’t say I’m angry. Who should I be angry to, and why? Nobody has any obligation to leave the property as it was. Nobody has any obligation to ensure that I have a lovely view from my kitchen. We live in a capitalist society and people and companies are out there to make money. Should a company be denied the right to make money because it would ruin my kitchen’s view? 66 families will be buying houses in this new development and will hopefully be happy living there – why is my happiness any more important than theirs?

I also can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a prime property for housing in a growing community, and the owner has the right to do with it what he wants. Trees are nice but we all know that if they get in the way of a project, they’re gone. If you were given the opportunity to build a house for a hundred thousand dollars and sell it for four hundred thousand, you’d likely drop a few trees to make that happen too. If you were a developer building 66 such houses (selling for $25+ million), you’d nuke every tree in sight to make sure it happened and I would too. Kinda sad but true.

It’s currently May 2014. The trailer in the last picture above has been removed. Now that the snow has gone, they’ve been out with the loaders bringing in more dirt and spreading it around. I imagine the construction will soon begin in earnest and a year from now there will be 66 townhouses behind us. We’ll be able to look out our kitchen window directly into someone else’s house, and the big picture window in our kitchen, which has never had blinds or curtains of any kind, will become a lens into our life. I guess we had beautiful greenspace behind our house for fifteen years, which is more than most suburban families can boast, so we can’t complain too much. But we will anyway.

No Shadow of a doubt


We have a new addition to our family, an adorable little kitten that we’ve named Shadow. Considering that both Ryan and I are allergic to cats, I never thought this would happen, but it did and it’s been great so far. The story of how little Shadow came into our lives is fairly similar to the story of how our old cat Figaro came into our lives, which is amusing because the two cats couldn’t look more different.

In November 1992, Gail found a pure white cat roaming around outside her apartment on Hamilton mountain. It was starting to get cold outside and this little guy looked all alone. Gail took him in and when nobody claimed him after a while, she named him Figaro (after Geppetto’s cat in Pinocchio). Fig was with us until he died of liver cancer just before our tenth wedding anniversary in 2005. The boys barely remember him, but Gail and I miss him. He was such a people cat – he always wanted to be near us.

It wasn’t long after he passed that we discovered that Ryan was allergic to both cats and dogs, and so the idea of getting a new cat was scuttled. I was also allergic, even to Fig, but it really only showed up if I was petting him or playing with him and then rubbed my eyes afterwards. Then they got itchy and I got stuffy, but once I washed my hands and face it was fine.

Fast forward 8½ years. It’s February 17, 2014, and we’re visiting my sister Trudy for her daughter’s 2nd birthday, as well as my mom’s birthday. We park the van and step out, and there he is. A tiny little completely black kitten. He came over to us right away, and started rubbing around Ryan’s ankles purring all the while. He even took a couple of glances into the open van and I swear I could almost hear him thinking “I GO HOME WIF YOU?”

There was no collar, and we looked around for anyone looking for him, but there was nobody. As we walked across the street to Trudy’s place, he followed and we didn’t discourage him. Trudy has two cats already so rather than bring him into the house, we brought him into the garage and gave him some food and water. Trudy put some litter into a cardboard box and he knew right away what to do with it. That fact, and the fact that he was in good physical shape told us that he did have a home, and recently. Considering our frigid winter, he was lucky he wasn’t outside during one of the –35°C days. That day and the previous couple were in the –5°C range.

ShadowTrudy quickly made up some posters and posted them around her neighbourhood. We looked online for local places where people might report lost pets, but no black cats were reported missing. This was also Family Day, so the Humane Society didn’t open until next morning.

For the rest of the day, we took turns checking on him in the garage. Gail specifically told me to go rub my face against him and see what happened, just in case we couldn’t find the owner. I had no allergic reaction at all, nor did Ryan. Nicky was smitten and spent most of the afternoon sitting on a concrete step in a cold garage with the kitten. When I told him later that he was in the garage for at least two hours, he said “I was?” Honestly though, it was hard not to be smitten. Not only was he so tiny and adorable (I’m talking about the cat here, not Nicky), but he was just so loving. He was purring almost constantly, rubbing around your legs if you were standing, and jumping in your lap if you were sitting. Trudy already lives with two cats, two parents, and a two-year-old daughter, so their place was already full. I don’t know what the boys thought, but Gail and I quickly had a pretty good idea where this kitty was going to end up living if nobody claimed him.

Trudy couldn’t bring herself to leave him in the cold garage overnight so she brought him inside and put him in a downstairs bathroom with some food, water, and litter. A little cramped but warmer than the garage, and no attacks from Trudy’s other cats. The next morning, she took him into the humane society and found he was not microchipped. Nobody had called her asking about him, and there were still no lost cat postings that matched this little guy. She did get a phone call a couple of days later, but the lady was quite far away and was looking for a cat that didn’t match this one.

Shadow on the prowlWe found him on Monday. On Wednesday evening, Gail and Nicky drove back to Trudy’s place, picked him up, and brought him to our place. We figured that even if someone did claim him, at least he’d have a bigger place to hang out for a couple of days than Trudy’s bathroom. And if nobody claimed him, well, he was already home. That night, he hung out with me and Gail, sitting right by (and sometimes on) our heads, purring away, and occasionally head-butting us to try and get us to play with him. Eventually we had to put him outside the room and close the door so we could get some sleep. That only lasted a couple of days though, and then he figured out that he should leave us alone at night. He’s been really good since then.

By Saturday we had bought him a litterbox, food dishes, and toys. At that point we decide to name him. He was our kitten now. If someone else had lost him, they’d done a crappy job of trying to find him, and the statute of limitations (that we had arbitrarily imposed) had expired. We each came up with a few names and wrote down all the ones we liked. From that list of about 10 names, we each chose our top three by secret ballot. One name appeared second on all four ballots – Shadow. Some names we did not choose: Ninja, Shade (also Nightshade), Phantom, and Sir Purrs-a-lot, which I added jokingly but Nicky actually voted for. We also decided against Snowy, which Trudy had suggested. On Monday, Gail brought him to the vet for a check-up and unlike Figaro (who, when we got him, had fleas, worms, and various other things that were expensive to remove), Shadow Perrow was clean and healthy.

Shadow has been part of our family for over a month now and already we can’t imagine life without him. He still purrs and meows all the time and rubs around our legs and jumps in our laps. He loves to play with the toys we bought him but also things like pencils, straws, and Q-tips he digs out of the bathroom garbage. He loves his treats and the wet food he gets in the morning, but isn’t so crazy about the dry food he gets in the evening. He also likes to sit on the toilet seat and dip his paws in the water, then leave little wet footprints around the bathroom, so we always keep the lids down now.

Shadow’s made his way into the garage a couple of times, and seems to really love it there. Who wouldn’t love a cold dirty concrete floor with a half-inch of water in the middle (where all the snow from the cars melts)? So now whenever we come home we park in the garage, then close the garage door (so he can’t get outside), then open the door into the house and catch him before he dives past us. Even when putting stuff in the blue boxes or green bin, we have to close the laundry room door, which had previously stayed open for the past 15 years.

We decided that if we were to go to the local pet shelter and a cat had behaved towards us the way this one did, we’d take him in a heartbeat. Just like Figaro, Shadow chose wisely when he found us.

Spending New Years with Harry, Captain Jack Sparrow, and the Hulk


For the sixth straight year, Gail, the boys, and I were homebodies on New Years Eve. And it was awesome.

Friends of ours have New Years parties every year and we’re always invited. We used to go and always had fun, but they all live over an hour from us. We ended up driving home after midnight and so the boys didn’t get to bed until 1:30-2:00am. They’re 11 and 14 now so that isn’t really a big deal anymore, but when they were 6 and 9 it threw their sleep patterns off for days.

Five years ago (this would have been 2008-2009), we decided to skip the party and have a Harry Potter movie marathon (all 5 of them at the time) instead – we’d start in the afternoon of New Years Eve, watch HP movies until bedtime, then continue the next morning. Part of the fun of this event for the boys was staying up until midnight, although Ryan was unsuccessful in that endeavour. This picture was taken December 31, 2009 at 11:59 pm:

Happy New Year!

On a bit of a whim, Gail decided to make Harry Potter-themed treats for the occasion. She made some kind of fruit punch and called it “pumpkin juice”, and cut up fruits into unusual shapes and called it a “herbology experiment”. She also made “cauldron cakes”, which were two-bite brownies covered in melted chocolate, a few mini-marshmallows, and a licorice handle:

Cauldron cakes

and the boys helped make magic wands – Twizzlers dipped in white chocolate and covered in star-shaped sprinkles:

Wands

The boys loved this, and the four of us had a lot of fun with it.

The next year, the boys asked weeks before New Years if we were going to do it again. We decided to make it a tradition, but pick a different movie series each time. The second time it was Star Trek, though we didn’t watch all of the movies. I think we started with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (with the whales), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, then Star Trek: Generations and finally the reboot of Star Trek (with Chris Pine). I would have added Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in there too, but Nicky was only 7 and Ryan 10, and I knew the scene with the bug-thing going into (and then coming out of) Chekov’s ear would freak them out. Our food selection that year included gagh (made from lo mein noodles), targ (chicken drumsticks), and Romulan ale (blue Gatorade). Inexplicably, we seem to have no pictures from this year.

For year 3 (Dec 31, 2010-Jan 1, 2011) we chose the Back to the Future series, and dined on burgers, fries, shakes, and sundaes (like in a 50′s diner), futuristic pancakes and fruit (the “food from the future” thing was tough, so Gail made pancakes in weird shapes and we bought some unusual fruits like starfruit and dragon fruit), and an old west lunch of wieners and beans.

Shakes and sundaes

The next year it was Pirates of the Carribbean, and Gail expanded things a little. Each of us had a name tag; we were Cap’n Dan Bloodbucket, “Sharkbait” Hubert Bones, Cap’n Isaac Slasher, and Eye-Gougin’ Alena Jones. We set up a scavenger hunt for the boys with pirate-themed clues, and their treasure at the end was a bag of “gold” (chocolate coins). We can’t remember the details of the food we prepared that year, but it definitely included some tropical fruits (pineapple and coconut), and apples for Captain Barbossa. I think we drank iced tea and called it rum. And once again, no pictures. I have no idea how that happened.

Last year (starting 2013) we picked the Indiana Jones series, though Gail thankfully skipped the eyeball soup and chilled monkey brains. Some of our food choices this year were Sallah’s salad (made with couscous), “snake on a stick” (chicken skewers), spicy cobra eyes (some kind of spicy chocolate covered cranberries), monkey toes (marshmallow candies), and to drink, the blood of Kali (pink lemonade). We all got name tags this year as well – I was Henry Jones Sr., Ryan was Mutt Williams, Nicky was Short Round, and Gail was Marion Ravenwood.

Snake on a stick Monkey toes Spicy cobra eyes

To welcome 2014, we picked a Superhero theme. The Avengers is one of our favourite movies, so we could easily have just chosen The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers, but Gail decided to mix things up a little. We started with The Incredibles. For dinner on New Year’s Eve we had super “hero” sandwiches, Elastigirl’s twisty salad (pasta salad made with rotini), Violet’s disappearing salad (Gail’s broccoli salad which we all love, hence “disappearing”), Cracker Jack-Jack (heh), and Underminer’s dirt cups (pudding with crushed Oreo “dirt” and gummy worms) for dessert.

Twisty salad and super heros

Our next screening was Man of Steel, which none of us had seen. Coincidentally, the movie ended around 11:50pm, so we watched Dick Clark some Times Square show (starring a bunch of people I didn’t know – what a drag it is getting old) until the ball dropped.

Have you ever tried shwarma? There's a shwarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it.The next morning, we continued our super-hero extravaganza with Spider Man (the one with Tobey Maguire), then had lunch with the Avengers. Gail had a lot of fun with this one. There was Iron Man’s chicken shwarma, Hulk’s spinach dip, Thor’s Hammer apps (cubes of cheese, pepperoni, and kielbasa with pretzel sticks as the handles), Black Widow’s spider bites (Oreos with four pieces of black licorice sticking out each side), Hawkeye wings, and Captain America’s power drink (cranberry juice, Sprite, and blue Gatorade layered in a glass).

I burned Hawkeye's wings a little.

Our final movie of the event was Green Lantern, and we went all green on this one. Green plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery, as well as green apples, grapes, and melon, and gummy frogs and sour green gummy… things.

If you know any of the four of us personally, you may wonder why we haven’t done the most obvious movie series for us to tackle: Star Wars. The answer is the food. What food do you see people eating in the Star Wars movies? There’s not much in the original trilogy (Aunt Beru’s blue milk is one possibility). Anakin, Qui-Gon, Jar Jar, and Shmi sit down to dinner in The Phantom Menace, but I don’t remember what they ate. We could always make stuff up though – a quick Google search shows things like Vader’s taters or Vader’s veggies, Yoda Soda and Qui-Gon Jinn-ger ale, Han Solo’s Rolos, light sabers (pretzel sticks with blue or red coloured icing), and Wookie’s cookies. Maybe we could revisit the chicken drumsticks from the Star Trek year and have “roasted Ewok” or something.

So what’s on the agenda for next year? We haven’t decided yet. Maybe it will be Star Wars, or maybe we’ll try Lord of the Rings. Maybe Twilight, though other than drinking “blood”, I’m not sure what we’d eat. Got any suggestions? Leave me a comment and let me know!