Monthly Archives: February 2008

Midwest FurFest Newsletter: February/March 2008

Midwest FurFest 2008, “North to Alaska!”
November 21-23, 2008
Westin Chicago North Shore
Wheeling, IL

Greetings everyone!

The end of winter is in sight, and we here in Chicago are ready to shake off the blanket of snow that has all but smothered us this winter and move into spring. A time of rebirth, of starting anew…and starting to really get to work on bringing you Midwest FurFest 2008!

It’s early yet so we just have a few things to let you know about. Rest assured there’s much more on the way!

First and foremost, in addition to the talented Guests of Honor who we announced at the Closing Ceremonies of Midwest FurFest 2007, Matt and Darcy Sowers (Code Name: Hunter) and Lucky the Evil Dog (mascot for hire), we are pleased to announce our third Guest of Honor, Foxfeather Ε½enkovΓ‘!

Foxfeather is a gifted artist who works not only with paper and canvas but also leather and tagua, as well as sculptures, masks, and more. Her style ranges from the realistic to the more abstract, all firmly grounded in the beauty of the natural world. In addition, Foxfeather shares her home with a small menagerie of critters, including fennec foxes, pied crows, parrots, toucans, and a growing collection of rare reptiles; we hope that she will share some of her stories of raising and living with exotic animals as well.

For more information, see Foxfeather’s website at http://www.foxloft.com
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The next important bit of information is that double rooms are SOLD OUT at the Westin Chicago North Shore. There are still plenty of king bed rooms available, though. You can reserve your room online by following the links from our website (http://www.furfest.org/2008/mff2008-hotel.html).

Also, we have finalized a procedure for reserving suites at the Westin Chicago North Shore! Look for an announcement from our Hotel Liaison, Takaza, in the coming week with what suites are available and how you can reserve yours. Suites will need to be reserved through a specific procedure, otherwise you may very well not get the convention discounted rate!
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We also want to remind you that while the venerable but little-used MFF-Talk mailing list went away earlier this year, we are seeing more interest and discussion at the Midwest FurFest Forum, conveniently located at http://forum.furfest.org/index.php

The Midwest FurFest Forum are the official discussion forum for discussion about Midwest FurFest, room sharing, ride sharing, and more! Stop on by, register for an account (it’s free!), and join in the conversation.

You can also subscribe to MFF-Announce, a low-traffic mailing list with only official announcements from Midwest FurFest. For more information, visit http://www.breuckman.com/mailman/listinfo/mff-announce

That’s all for now. We’ll be keeping you up to date on all the latest information throughout the year, though. Stay tuned!

“Medium Pimping” With Out-of-Town Friends

Work work work, busy busy busy. It’s a crazy week for me, but it’s time to take a break a write a bit about the past weekend.

On Saturday, takaza and I took the train into Chicago and met up with fordshepherd and his “Bestest Friend” Julie (tsk, kai_darkwolf – you’re just going to have to try harder improve your friend status). We met up at Union Station and then jumped in a cab to visit the West Loop location of Wishbone Restaurant. We had a light lunch and a thoroughly enjoyable conversation about random things.

Afterwards we walked a block west and admired Oprah’s Harpo Studios, then across the street and into the Oprah Store, mainly for Julie’s benefit. Ford tried extremely hard to get us thrown out of the store for not showing the utmost reverence for the Great and Powerful “O”; it was vastly amusing to watch the oh-so gay male salespeople giving us the stink-eye as it became more and more clear that we really didn’t belong there.

Once we escaped there, we started what seemed like a short walk but wound up being about two and a half miles through The Loop. Following a quick stop by Intelligentsia Coffee (which we had to pass on, since the place was jam-packed), we walked up to Moonstruck Chocolate. We relaxed for a bit there with some conversation and hot chocolate, then proceeded up Michigan Avenue for our next stop, Vosges Chocolate (at Ford’s insistence). This turned out to be a good call – I tried the Bianca Cocoa, an astonishing mix of vanilla, lemon myrtle, lavender, and white chocolate. It was truly delicious. I also picked up a “Rooster” truffle, made of Taleggio cheese, walnuts, vanilla, and bittersweet chocolate. Delicious!

Our next stop was Galt Toys, since Julie wanted to peruse stuffed animals. Alas, their selection was limited, but Ford did find a plush cheetah that he decided needed to come home with him. Finally, we went to the Disney Store and I learned that RΓ©my is apparently an extremely popular character – so popular they can’t keep any merchandise with him on it in stock. Ah well. Dan did pre-order the 101 Dalmatians DVD, so at least it was a worthwhile trip.

It was time to go back to Ford and Julie’s hotel, some flophouse called The Drake Hotel. Ford wanted to take a cab, but I pointed out that it was a short bus ride. I was informed that one does not simply “take the bus” to The Drake. This would qualify as “medium pimping”, and was simply not to be considered. So we took a cab πŸ™‚ Following a brief tour of Ford and Julie’s room (luxuriously appointed, and an ingenuous use of a relatively small space) and their dropping off their purchases, it was back downstairs and into a cab for dinner.

We chose the restaurant for dinner, so of course we had to pick our favorite restaurant: Heaven on Seven. The meal was divine, as usual, and I went with the “Feed Me Jimmy Junior”. This time around that included: crawfish cake in remoulade, small samplers of gumbo and turtle soup (the latter the highlight of the meal for Ford, I think), a Voodoo chicken enchilada, and strip steak over mashed potatoes. For dessert, I can never turn down their chocolate pecan pie. It was a stellar meal, and the company was excellent. We parted ways after dinner, as Dan and I headed back to Union Station and the long train ride home. It was a fantastic day out with good friends, and I had a really good time. Somewhere in the course of the day Ford extracted a promise from Dan and I that we would be visiting Columbus sometime soon, so I suppose we’re bound to that. Oh darn!

We got a late start on Sunday (gosh, I wonder why?), but Dan and I had to part ways – he to help his mother get her DVR running properly and get her tax information to help her file them, and I to the Midwest FurFest storage locker. I met up with linnaeus there and we dug around a bit, looking for some Art Show equipment and checking out what Registration equipment Paul would have to work with. For lunch we went over to Pierogi Place (yum!) and had a nice like chat over lunch. That evening, there was the online MFF staff meeting, which went OK but not as well as I would have liked – I forgot to call on a few people, and I completely forgot to follow up on action items from the previous meeting. I’ll need to take better notes before the meeting next time to remind myself of these things.

This week is, as I said, quite busy. Between some projects finally getting off the ground and lots of meetings, it’s going to be hectic. But things are going well, and I’m enjoying what I’m doing. That counts for a lot, I guess!

Games, Cooking, and Constuff

It’s been pretty quiet over the last few days, which might explain the lack of updates – not a lot of exciting stuff going on.

takaza and I had a pleasant weekend together at home. On Friday Dan was feeling like a bit of retail therapy and between gift cards and Reward Zone credits we had $75 of credit for Best Buy, so we headed down to the BB in Mundelein. We stopped by the Gamestop there to look at their used PS2 games and I picked up a couple of games I hadn’t played before: God of War and Destroy All Humans! (I’m about five hours into God of War and it’s a whole lot of fun. A little more gory than a lot of games I’ve played, but the puzzles are fun and the action keeps things interesting.) As for Best Buy…well, we never did find anything that looked interesting. On the bright side, the next item that comes up on sale, we’ve got a $75 discount waiting to be used.

On Saturday, we bummed around the house most of the day, except for a run to the grocery store. Sunday I made Dan the chicken and dumplings I promised him for Valentine’s Day (a few days late), as well as the delicious semolina bread from Cookwise. Mostly we just sat around the house and enjoyed doing gloriously nothing.

This week has been pretty interesting. Dan will be transitioning from his old job to his new job until the end of the month (gotta love those internal transfers) so he was at the old location in Mount Prospect Monday, Tuesday, and this morning, then he’ll be at the new location in Buffalo Grove this afternoon and for the rest of the week. As for me, I got a couple of important reports turned in and I’m at a momentary lull until everything gets signed off and we’re working against the clock to finish a couple of projects. In the meantime I’m catching up on accumulated Midwest FurFest correspondence, and trying to resolve an annoying lingering issue with the house rental out in California (they’re trying to charge us for damage that we’re not responsible for).

Looking ahead to this weekend, we’ll be going by the MFF storage locker on Saturday to try to track down some convention assets and answer a couple of questions. Since we’ll be out and about, we’ll probably make a couple of stops (I want to swing by Ikea) and maybe even be social. No plans yet, but we’ll see what happens. Sunday evening is the online MFF staff meeting, and we also need to put together all the numbers for the Point of Sale hardware and software for Anthrocon’s Artists Alley. Oh, and speaking of conventions, congratulations to tozier_wah for signing on to run the Information Desk at Midwest FurFest. We own your soul I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

Birthday Bonus Round!

So just when I thought the birthday fun was wrapping up with our return from California, we had one more night of entertainment. Courtesy of a very thoughtful gift from steviemaxwell, takaza and I were treated to a tasty steak dinner at the King’s Wharf at the Marriott Lincolnshire, followed by great seats at the Marriott Theatre to see opening night of Les Miserables.

It was quite a large production for a relatively small theater, and had the additional unique quality of being staged in the round. Since Dan and I are both geeks, we appreciated the production values, the quality of the music and amplification, and the entrances and exits through the audiences. It was an awesome show. Thanks Stevie!

California Birthday Trip: Days 3 & The End

The last day’s pictures are here.

Monday was The Big Day, my birthday. Honestly, I couldn’t think of anything we could do to top the two days prior, but I was looking forward to seeing what was in store. The day’s plans were a mystery to me, (except for dinner), so I had no idea what to expect.

The first stop of the day had us up and out of the house by 9 AM. Following a 45-minute drive to Santa Rosa (and a little bit of confusion in directions), we arrived at our next stop, one that was a genuine surprise to me: The national headquarters of Canine Companions for Independence. linnaeus‘ mother has raised several puppies for CCI, so when he found out we would be nearby, he suggested a tour there. Really, this was a most amazing and humbling experience, and I am so glad that we went there.

CCI trains and provides assistance dogs to disabled children and adults, all at no charge. They use black labs and golden retrievers exclusively, and the level of care and training that goes into each dog is simply astonishing. We got to take a tour of their grounds and offices, and see how they train the dogs after the puppy raisers initial training, lasting
6-8 months. This is followed by 6-9 months of training at the CCI facility before the dogs are paired with a client, either as a service or companion team (opening doors, picking up dropped items, etc.), a hearing team (alerting the client of a ringing telephone, etc.), or a facility team (therapy dogs). I was extremely impressed with the facility and with the friendly people who worked and volunteered there.
After the tour it was back to Napa. We grabbed a tasty lunch at a local burger joint then it was on to the next surprise: a day spa! It was quite delightful: I got a 75-minute massage followed by a pedicure; takaza got a facial, roho and genet each got pedicures and Lydia also got a manicure. Even Paul, who got pulled away by work for a few hours, was able to get a nice paraffin hand treatment. My massage was divine, and when Paul rejoined us he brought a bottle of wine for everyone to enjoy as well. Our manicurist, Babs, was delightful and we had a lot of fun bantering and hanging out.

After everyone was properly relaxed and such, we stopped by Oxbow Market to search for some good local olive oil. We found a couple bottles that were quite delicious. We also stopped by a very nice wine and cheese bar and had a couple pints of beer, which were quite tasty. We were quite amused to chat with the bartender there and find that she was from the south side of Chicago.

We ended the day with dinner at Bouchon Bistro. My food was quite outstanding: I started with an appetizer of cassoulet with duck confit and garlic sausage, followed by the Gigot d’Agneau (roasted leg of lamb served with flageolet beans and a thyme jus) and for dessert a delicious creme caramel. Brendan’s boudin blanc was excellent, and the desserts, especially Dan’s dark chocolate mousse and Lydia’s blood orange pot de creme, were outstanding. Unfortunately, the service was only mediocre (long waits, confused orders), and Dan and Lydia’s steak frites were quite lacking for the cost. Still, it was a great experience and I am glad we went. It was a wonderful way to finish off my birthday.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Yesterday (Tuesday) we packed everything up early, leaving the house at 7 AM, and drove down to San Francisco International (by way of the San Mateo Bridge, on Babs’ advice, which I’m sure saved us some headaches). We made it there in plenty of time, though our flight turned out to be two hours late departing (one hour of that spent sitting on the tarmac). We got into O’Hare at about 7 PM, and picked up our luggage just in time to miss the Metra train home. Rather than waiting the 90 minutes until the next train, we opted to catch a cab, and I’m glad we did. We saw Brendan and Lydia off at about 9:30 PM, and got to bed at 11 PM.

So here I am, back at work, and quite exhausted. I’m told we have one more experience this evening, courtesy of a certain panda. That should be quite fun as well!

California Birthday Trip, Day 2

Yesterday’s pictures can be found here, starting just after the silly picture of our In-n-Out receipt.

We were a bit slow to get started on Sunday morning, more due to the general lack of morning people (besides myself πŸ™‚ We piled everyone (me, takaza, linnaeus, roho, and genet) into our Saturn Outlook and drove off southward, to explore San Francisco. The drive through Napa and Sonoma Counties there was spectacular, and we saw lots of things that would have been fun if money and time were no object (i.e. open-air biplane tours!).

After a short one-hour drive, we arrived at the Marin Headlands, just on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and a place for amazing views of the bridge, the bay, and the city. We wandered around there for a bit, enjoying the refreshing breeze coming off the ocean and the great weather, then it was back to the car to venture into the city. Unfortunately, the GPS’s directions were rather…confused. We wound up taking a couple of wrong turns that led us to some astonishingly steep streets that taxed our SUV a bit. It made for entertaining driving, and a steady string of expletives from me. We combined the GPS directions with a handy map we had picked up and eventually found our destination: Magnolia Pub and Brewery at Haight and Masonic.

The beers were fantastic, and the food no less so. They had some nice sampler glasses, and we took advantage of the fact that February is Strong Beer Month; I started out with a trippel, a doppleweizen, and an imperial stout. Did I mention we hadn’t had any food yet that day? Man, I’m a cheap date. Dan loved the house-brewed grape and orange cream sodas, and Lydia found their root beer delicious. Then came the food! My Dungeoness crab crepes were pretty good, but Dan’s buttermilk biscuits with ginger sausage gravy, Lydia’s cheeseburger, and Paul’s salmon boxty were even better. The real winner was Brendan’s pizza with the incongruous combination of coconut-braised pork, tikka masala sauce, and mushrooms, was just divine. Another round of beers followed and by the end we were full and happy.

After lunch we wandered around the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for a few hours, enjoying the street musicians and the little shops. Brendan almost picked up an expensive synthesizer widget, but the price wasn’t quite right. Afterwards we adjourned to an amusingly socialist coffee house, then it was back to the car. The original plan had been to stop by Joseph Schmidt Confections, but we had to drop that plan in favor of a quick tour of Fisherman’s Wharf (which we didn’t actually explore because 1.) no parking to be found, and 2.) wall-to-wall tourists). Somewhere in there we also got horribly lost and heading south on US 101 unwillingly, but we got turned back around and back on course.

On the drive home, we managed a brief stop in Novato where we met up with partran. We had a fun but all-too-brief visit as we did some shopping in the local Safeway and picked up stuff for dinner. He gave me a lovely birthday present, a couple of cheeses from Fair Oaks Farms. We had a chance to catch up a bit and chat, and it was great to see him.

After rushing around all day, the evening was blessedly low-key. Dan cooked up some tasty garlic and mushrooms in butter as an appetizer. Brendan braved the darkness and an unfamiliar grill to cook up some yummy steaks. We polished off another couple of bottles of wine along the way, and finished the evening with apple pie and ice cream. It was a great ending to a great day.

And now we have today – yep, it’s my birthday! Thank you so much to everyone for their kind birthday wishes πŸ™‚ What’s planned for the day? Beats me! We have the “morning event” and the “afternoon event” and somewhere in there we hope to have the opportunity to taste and pick up some of the local olive oils. I do know that dinner tonight is going to be amazing though, as we have reservations for Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s bistro not far from here.

Time to shower and start the day!

California Birthday Trip, Day 1

So we started out the day somewhat slowly. As everyone worked on waking up and showering, I drove over to Napa Valley Coffee Roastery and picked up caffeine for all of us addicts. We were joined shortly afterwards by rasslor, brophey, and shadowolf. Lunch was the first item on the day’s agenda, so being that this was many of our group’s first time in California, we had to stop by a restaurant that had the seal of approval of both Alton Brown and Anthony Bourdain: In-n-Out Burger, conveniently located just a few miles away from our rental house.

It was…well, it was a fast food restaurant. I’m thinking that my order would need a little tweaking to find what on their menu really appealed to me; the burger with everything included a monstrously huge slab of onion that unfortunately made it seem like an onion sandwich with a side of burger. The fries were quite tasty, though, even if I didn’t order them “Animal style”.

After lunch we drove up California Route 29 to St. Helena to the Culinary Institute of America – Greystone. The huge, imposing building was beautiful! I was also amused at the trees that were heavy with lemons just outside the entrance. Inside, we browsed through their gift shop and I got a latte as we killed time before the cooking demonstration. We spent an hour watching the chef make a Valentine chocolate torte with a raspberry coulis. I’ll admit I didn’t learn much new, but it was fun to see some of the techniques I’m familiar with and hear the chef touch on some of my favorite authors (like Harold McGee!). After the demonstration everyone got to try the torte, and it was rather tasty.

After the demonstration there was more browsing through the gift shop (and, I admit, making notes for later Amazon purchases) and admiring the herb gardens. Then it was time to hit a few wineries. Since it was right across the street, we decided to make Charles Krug Winery. After tasting several wines, we picked up a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Zinfandel. On the recommendation of the Krug staff, our next stop was Peju Winery. This was a fantastic experience – we had a good group of people doing the tasting with us, and the guy pouring the wines not only knew his stuff, he knew how to keep things entertaining. Paul, Brendan, Bob and I tasted six different wines, and he even did a small vertical tasting to allow us to compare some of the wines. We picked up a bottle of Provence (a nice red/white blend), two vintages of Syrah (including a 2003 that Brendan thinks may have been their last bottle) and a Cabernet Sauvignon. (During the tasting, Lydia relaxed in the car and Dan, Mike, and Ray hung out and enjoyed the lovely weather.

After the tasting, we were all pretty tired (and some of us a wee bit tipsy), so we returned to the rental house. We dispatched Paul, Mike, and Ray to pick up munchies while Bob and I walked the two blocks to the Foothill Grille to get a copy of their menu to see what we could order for carryout. Once we got everyone back, we called in a rather complex eight-entree order that they nailed precisely, and we had a great evening of chatting, noshing, and killing two bottles of wine πŸ™‚ It was a fantastic evening and I had a blast.

More to come tomorrow!

Surprise Birthday Trip, Day 0

So as I said, I had some strong suspicions. And I was right πŸ™‚

I left work at 2 PM and got home to find that takaza had packed everything up and was ready to go. genet and roho showed up shortly after, ostensibly to ride to the airport with us since Roho had to work in California. We took Metra in to O’Hare and picked up our boarding passes at American Airlines. I figured we were headed to the West Coast, which meant that our options were most likely either San Francisco or Seattle. I checked the flights and saw that the next flight to Seattle was leaving in an hour; given that Dan wasn’t hyperventilating, I knew that wasn’t our destination. Lo and behold, our boarding passes said San Francisco. Ta daa!

After passing through Security, we met up with Roho and genet again who, what a surprise, were on the same flight as us! I voiced my skepticism, and they admitted that yes, they would be joining us! As we browsed around through the airport bookstore who should we run into but linnaeus. He would be joining us as well. We happened to be joined for a while by calapurr, who was in transit through O’Hare and waiting to meet up with justincheetah, but he was just by to chat. Our flight was only a half-hour late (which is saying something for O’Hare these days) and the three and a half hour flight was uneventful. We had a bit of difficulty getting the rental car (we wouldn’t all fit in the Explorer they first offered us, but we were able to swap over to a Saturn Outlook). After that was a rather harrowing drive for Dan through San Francisco and over the Bay Bridge (traffic was light since it was 11 PM, but it was a bit twisty and narrow through some of the construction on US 101). After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at our destination, a lovely rental house in the town of Napa. We went to bed shortly after, and now we have company and I need to wrap this up πŸ™‚

More to come (with pictures!) later…

Snowstorms and Birthdays

And here we are, Friday at last!

I thought the week might take forever (subjectively) as it always does right before a vacation, but this turned out not to be the case. Having piles of projects at work helps!

So the big snow came and went on Wednesday; in the end we got a hair over 12 inches. The roads were a wreck yesterday morning, so much so that when I went to drop takaza off at the train station what is normally a less-than-five-minute drive took 15 minutes and we missed his train. Since the schedule on the North Central line sucks, his next shot at a train in was two hours later. I went in to work, then left at 8:45 AM to take him to the 9:18 train. Yeah, not even close. What is normally an eight-minute drive took close to twenty, and when I picked him up and saw the line of cars on Hainesville Road, I knew there was no way we’d make his train. Rather than wait two hours until the next train, I dropped him off at the Grayslake station and he caught the Fox Lake train in, again having to take a taxi from Glenview (that cost even more than last time!).
Unfortunately, as a consequence of not getting in until just before noon, he didn’t make it home last night until around 9 PM.

And so we have this weekend. As I mentioned before, Dan is dragging me off on a four-day trip to celebrate my 40th birthday. I still have no idea where we’re going, though I have some suspicions. I’m sure it will be fun and memorable. They say that over the years a couple tends to get more like each other, and watching Dan fret about planning and worrying about the trip, I have to laugh. Normally he’s unflappable and easygoing; being so nervous about things, he reminds me of…me. But that’s exactly why I’m not worried, because I know I’m in good hands πŸ™‚ That doesn’t mean the excitment isn’t getting to me, though – I woke up this morning at 3:45 AM with a touch of reflux and after a half-hour couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up. I hope we’re not going to be out super-late tonight! Anyway, I intend to bring the camera along and be Mr. Annoying Shutterbug (if I can remember!) so hopefully I’ll have lots of pictures to show off when we get back.

Now if only 2 PM would get here so I can get out of here!

Snowpocalypse Delayed

What fun! Last night we only saw about two inches of snow, followed by rain, followed by snow as the snow/rain line danced over our area before an area of relative calm moved in. I was fully prepared to bag work this morning and work from home (yes, I did have stuff to work on!), but there was no good reason to call in. Of course, the snow started up again after I dropped takaza off at the train station, and by the time I had driven the four miles to work visibility had dropped to about a quarter mile. According to the National Weather Service, we’re in for 12″-14″ of snow by 6 PM tonight; that’s a whole lot of snow in a relatively short time. I’m going to keep an eye on things and if it starts to get really bad out there, I’ll be heading home.

Chili and Football and Bookmarks, Oh My!

After all that hemming and hawing about what to serve on Saturday, we wound up punting and changing the proposed menu completely. takaza got up shockingly early (9 AM) and by 11 AM we were on the road running errands. We decided to make a big ol’ pot of chili and supplement it with tasty accoutrements like rice, queso fresco, and chopped onions. I made a batch of homemade cornbread that unfortunately not only turned out dry and flavorless but, when I was trying to get it out of the Pyrex glass pan, the pan slipped and landed on the inside of my forearm, giving me a large, nasty-looking burn (fortunately, it only looks nasty – it’s about as painful as a sunburn).

We wound up with 12 guests in attendance, including Dan’s family. We had a really fun time, and there was good food, good beer, good wine, and good company. The evening seemed to fly by. We finally said good night to everyone by midnight. As usual, we didn’t get to play as many games as Dan would have liked – next time, we need to focus less on the food and more on the games.

Sunday was delightfully lazy. We snacked off leftovers, and finally got around to watching the Super Bowl about an hour after it had started, Tivo-style. That made the game (and the commercials) much more enjoyable, and since I didn’t really have a favorite to win, it was nice to just watch and appreciate some good football.

This week has been crawling by, as I knew it would – don’t the weeks before vacations always slow down? I fully intend to take some work home with me this afternoon, though, since the forecast is for 8″-12″ of snow up here, with the worst of it falling between 4 AM and noon tomorrow. If it’s really bad, I have no intention of trying to get in to work. That’s fine, though – I have a stack of about 50 SOP’s I need to read by the end of the week, and I can do it at home or here.

By the way, on a complete tangent: Does anyone else use Del.icio.us? I can be found on there under the username DuncanHusky. I tend to use it to bookmark good recipes that I want to come back to, funny comics, and other random things (random example: the amusing comic “I Am a Host at The Olive Garden”).