#247: The Mansion

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Spooky, right? Something about looking at a mansion always gets my mind racing, thinking about the haunts and horrors that lie within.

But today, I’ll be discussing one of my favorite video game titles of all time, Luigi’s Mansion. It debuted on the Nintendo Gamecube way back when, probably around the time that the Gamecube first released in 2004. I have some special memories associated with this game that I’d like to discuss on here for a bit.

Back when I was in middle school, my friend Jimmy and I would compete to see who could beat a certain game the fastest. We had this competition with Kingdom Hearts 2, Paper Mario 2, and Super Mario Sunshine, along with other Gamecube and PS2 era titles that are still nostalgic for me, and that I haven’t touched in years. Another of those games was Luigi’s Mansion, which was probably the best title we could speedrun. I’ve since seen people beat the game within an hour’s time, without using any cheat codes or crazy tricks, because they’ve dedicated that much time to it. It’s one of the quickest games available, but it’s also endlessly replayable and full of challenge if you’re unfamiliar with the game’s systems. If you are familiar, the game rewards you immensely by letting you collect differently-framed haunt paintings. You want to reach gold with each haunt, and you want to ultimately have the biggest mansion possible by the end of the game, too. It reminds me a lot of Pokemon Snap, another game with a short play time that’s designed to be replayed over and over for maximum fun.

So, Jimmy and I replayed a lot of Luigi’s Mansion over the years. The game is kind of ingrained in my head because of that. One day, maybe if I can find another Gamecube to use, Alex will get the chance to play it, too.

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#246: The Mask

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Do you find that sometimes you wear a mask around certain people? Do you conceal your true self when around others? Are there people you simply cannot let loose around, for whatever reason, be they your boss, your parents, or what have you? That’s what I’d like to discuss today.

As I write this, the instrumental version of “Beneath the Mask” is playing in the background, filling up my brain with ideas for what to write about on here. It’s a beautiful song, and I recommend it as some good studying or writing music. It also plays on my new PS4 theme background, thanks to the $2 I spent on it. It serves as good inspiration music for my writing.

As a student, I learned that being honest about yourself invites ridicule from others, and that the only way to avoid being ridiculed is to completely hide all uniqueness from yourself, to blend in with the background as much as possible so as to become invisible to those judgmental eyes. That’s why I sometimes have a difficult time expressing my true feelings to others. When it comes down to it, we’re taught the virtues of honesty, but not the vices. We’re lead to believe that integrity, honor, honesty, and other positive values are inherently just, but not how to handle ourselves when those values are questioned and put to task. As a young, impressionable kid, it’s easier to relinquish them and accept defeat.

Being behind a mask means being fake, to some degree; you’re not disclosing your face, where others can see how you feel based on your body language and expressions. You’re concealing that which you have learned to conceal for your own safety and security. I no longer live behind a mask like I did way back when, but occasionally I slip into my old teenage habits because of those days.

#213: The Field Day

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When I was in school, years and years ago, I hated field day. It was always a time for misery and disappointment, sadness and embarrassment.

As some of you probably know, I’m not renowned for my athleticism or physical fitness. This means that, when it comes time for exercise and sports-based competition, I’m usually the last person you want on your team. And for that reason I was picked less frequently than other people when it came time to choose teams in gym class. I didn’t mind, though; it meant that people understood me well enough to know I don’t want to have a weight on my shoulders as the first or second pick. That anxiety would be too much for me to handle.

I used to play little league baseball and participate in karate with my friends. During those years, you could maybe count me as someone whose athleticism matched the average of my peers. Nowadays, though, most certainly not. I sweat sometimes while going up the stairs at work, and that’s enough to tell me that I probably need some work. Field day, a time spent predominantly outside and in the blazing sun, will only make matters worse for me.

Here’s an embarrassing story to tide you over for a bit, from when I was in seventh grade. One time, while rearing up my leg in kickball, I slid on top of the ball and fell backwards on my butt in front of the whole seventh grade class. On the one hand, I deserved it for being kind of a butt to my friends beforehand, but on the other hand, I remember discussing World of Warcraft with my friends afterwards and learning from them what the game is about. So, it was a positive and a negative experience. Field day can bring about good things, I guess.

#212: The End of the Year

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By the end of the school year, things start to wind down. Students feel less motivated, senioritis kicks in, and teachers await the allure of the long, restful summer break to come. Students and teachers alike begin to count down the days until vacation arrives. I used to have a countdown in my classroom, that the students would help me keep track of as the days went by. It was helpful and I appreciated it.

The end of the year is always the same, but the signals are different depending on what school you work at. At this school, after SBAC testing finishes, people start to wait until summer break comes. At the school I worked at previously, April break was the signal that got people thinking about summer break. For teachers, their last professional observation perhaps takes precedence over the other factors, knowing that they no longer have to worry about an administrator stopping in to evaluate their work. For that reason, I always liked getting my evaluations taken care of and finished early, without having to worry about anything else on the horizon.

As soon as students get their yearbooks, the year is officially over for them (although, for seniors, apparently, winter break is the end of the year for them). They’ll start bringing them to class and requesting elaborate notes and signatures from students and teachers across the hall. It’s one of my favorite parts of the year, writing signatures for students who request one from me. I love feeling appreciated, even in such a small way.

The end of the year is the perfect time to start reflecting on the year that passed. Many of my peers have officially finished their second full year teaching, whereas I’m in the middle of something else for myself. I’m just glad to have my head above water.

 

#211: The Nonfiction

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I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, and so has Alex. She’s gotten super invested in some murder-related books, because those tend to be her favorites to read, and I’ve been reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I’ve written on this blog before about my admiration for him, and although I do admire his work and writings, I never finished reading his book. I’m still hanging around pages 70-80, having enjoyed the first bit of the book but having not finished it because cooking, to me, is interesting but difficult to visualize in my head because of my lack of personal expertise. It’s like reading a book about hiking; I love hiking, but my experience is limited and if the book is littered with lingo that only professional hikers would know, then I’m probably not going to be as invested in the book.

Now, this isn’t to say that it’s a bad book; it’s far from it, in fact. But personally, I have a difficult time staying invested in it. I look forward to watching more of his travel TV show, because I love both TV and travel.

This blog post was originally going to be about nonfiction in general, but I’ve gotten a little off-topic and have dove into discussing a particular piece of nonfiction. I wanted to talk about CommonLit, a wonderful website and resource offered to teachers and students that gives them nonfiction texts, standard-aligned questions, and paired text ideas. It saved my butt while I was a full-time classroom teacher, and it saved my butt even more when I became a reading interventionist. Their resources are varied, interesting, and leveled by Lexile, which I remember also discussing on this blog in the past. Reading levels allow me to gauge whether a piece of reading is appropriate for my students, and the standards help me hit on all the important marking points.

#210: The Wild

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Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a new game mode on Hearthstone, called “Wild Mode.”

That’s what I’ll be discussing a little bit today. I like to play Hearthstone on my phone, because it gives me the chance to do something during my downtime. Whether it’s the adventure mode or something else, there’s always something interesting to check out in this game. I can climb the Wild ladder, for example, and explore what that world has to offer as compared to the Standard ladder.

Hearthstone has two modes of deck construction: Standard, which includes the last two years of cards that have been released, and Wild, which includes all cards from all previous expansions and other content releases, such as solo adventures. Both modes are separated on the ranked and unranked ladders, allowing for people to pit Wild decks against Wild decks and Standard decks against other Standard decks. That way, it’s fair, and people aren’t playing at a disadvantage against each other based on what cards are available to them. Having Wild cards available to you changes what’s strong and what isn’t strong.

I generally like to play on the Standard ladder, but recently, I’ve been exploring Wild because of the different deck archetypes available to this mode. The two modes have drastically different metas, with different classes superior in this mode versus what classes are superior in Standard. For example, Warrior is a strong class in Standard right now but is considered one of the weakest in Wild. Shaman is great in Wild but mostly mediocre in Standard right now. The diversity of decks is what entices me most to this mode. I’ve been running an Even Shaman deck on the ladder and have won many of my games so far. It’s pretty dominant over casual, constructed decks that aren’t as refined as it. It’s unfortunate for my opponents, but great for me!

#209: The Early Bed

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Going to bed early is seriously underrated. A good night’s sleep? Give that to me. The opportunity to wake up in the morning without feeling like a walking zombie? I’ll take that, any day of the week, including weekends sometimes. The chance to rest on my lazy back without having to sit up or walk around any more? Relaxing and divine, all at once.

When I’m at home and feeling especially tired, I like to go to bed earlier than usual, or at least lay in bed earlier than expected. It’s refreshing to be able to lie down without worrying about anything or anyone, no more chores to do, no more work to prepare, no more people to talk to except the voice inside my head that slowly drifts me to my slumber. Just me and my pillow and the blanket on top of me. Writing this right now, I feel a sudden urge to go right to bed, even though I just drank a long Contigo filled with coffee and it’s almost 1pm and I’m at work. But I can’t help but think about tonight’s sleep, and the sleep after that, and what it’ll be like to go to bed on the weekend without having to worry about what time I get up. The upcoming weekend is a three-day weekend, so it’s even better.

Alex and I both celebrate the early bed time, from time to time. While thinking of blogs to write about, I knew this topic would come up eventually. It’s a necessary part of our work week, as I can’t imagine going to bed any later than 10pm nowadays. Is that weird? Probably, if you’re my mom reading this, knowing I used to be a complete shut-in with constant late-night gaming sessions. Times have changed, I guess, and so have I.

#208: The Haircut

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A good haircut can seriously change your mood and attitudes on a given day. If you look good, you feel good, and vice versa. It’s as true as people say. The barber really trimmed up my face and the back of my neck, and after looking in the mirror afterwards, I could seriously tell the difference between how I looked before and how I look now. Given, by the time this post goes up it’ll be a few weeks in the past, but I still think this particular haircut will stay strong for awhile. She cut it short, but not too short, enough so that it won’t grow back too quickly but not so much that it’s overwhelmingly short. That’s what I look for the most in a haircut.

Most of all, though, I just love the feeling afterwards of renewed confidence that comes from a successful trim.

My least favorite part about getting my hair cut is, of course, the conversations. It’s the same as going to the dentist, which I believe I’ve talked about on here before. Having endless conversation with the person treating me is not fun, and especially while I’m trying to concentrate on keeping my head straight and level throughout the whole procedure. My old barber, who passed away while I was still in middle school, used to call me “rubber neck” because my neck kept moving back and forth while he was trying to cut my hair. I still remember that whenever I get a haircut, because it reminds me to keep my head straight and listen to the barber’s directions closely. My Mom, who reads this blog regularly, will know exactly what I’m talking about!

Also like going to the dentist, I feel like it’s been a shorter duration since my last visit every time I get a haircut.

#207: The Solo Mode

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When it comes to playing Hearthstone, one of my favorite parts is the solo adventures mode. There are other modes, like the ranked and practice and arena offerings, but to me, the solo adventures are the icing on the cake that is Hearthstone. It’s considered PVE (which stands for Player vs. Environment, rather than Player vs. Player), so it’s against computers rather than actual human beings. That’s fine with me, as it takes a lot of the stress out of playing the game. Consequently, there’s no turn timer, so I can take as long as I want on my turns and not have to worry about it being too long. Patience is key and, especially while doing other, more productive things, I can focus on one while ignoring the other and not feel rushed around.

The solo mode typically features around 8 bosses, one faced after another, and you have to build a deck of cards by picking from 3-card offerings after each boss. You have to build your deck from a basic starting deck up to something more meaningful and powerful. You pick treasures that are absurdly powerful after every few bosses, but you soon realize that the bosses themselves have absurd powers as well that you need to counter somehow. It’s difficult to predict what bosses will come and when, but your goal at the end is to survive all the way through the run. It’s a lot of fun to try and compete this way. I have the card back for completing the original dungeon run in Kobolds & Catacombs with all 9 classes, which is something I cherish and will likely never take off. It’s one of those accomplishments that not everyone has, so you feel special for having earned it against the odds. I’m glad they’re still coming out with these modes, even though people may seem them as being stale.

#206: The Finale

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I’ve already dedicated a post to discussing the nostalgia and cultural impact of Game of Thrones, so today I’ll be talking instead about the finale, how I felt about it, and whether it made up for the season that it was a part of (it didn’t, but oh well).

Fans generally separate the show’s seasons into three categories: the great ones (1-4), the good ones (5-6), and the not so good ones (7-8). There’s a general decline in quality from the beginning to the end, unfortunately, and while I understand that that’s normal for a TV show like this, with so much hype and nostalgia behind it to fall a bit flat near the conclusion and climax, it still disappoints a bit.

As for the finale, I liked a couple of characters’ endings: Arya had a strong character ending, learning from the Hound that revenge isn’t necessary and giving up her quest to kill everyone on her list; Jon had an interesting ending, deciding to do what was right for the realm rather than become king himself, a man who had no lust for power; Sansa had a great ending, becoming Queen of the North after enduring so much trauma through the years and years of the show. It feels good to see the good characters receive happy endings, even while the ending felt a bit forced at points. I know that not all the characters received strong endings, but having Brienne write the story for Jaime in the Kingsguard book felt perfect as a send-off for him, considering the episode before this did him dirty. The decision to have Dany die so early in the episode felt right, so I’m glad they didn’t drag that on more than it needed to be, but also, her story and character arc were both really weird overall. I felt like it was rushed, along with the season as a whole. It could’ve been longer in order to fit all that they wanted to do inside it.