My Current Obsession: Ink Master/Tattoo Nightmares

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I was planning to watch and blog about “The Wolverine” this week, but ultimately I decided I just have no drive/strong interest to see that film (even though I LOVE Hugh Jackman). Instead, I’ve decided to tackle another obsession that originated between myself and my boyfriend: Tattoo shows. Specifically, two shows on Spike TV, “Ink Master” and “Tattoo Nightmares.”

“Ink Master”, hosted by Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, is a reality competition show where tattoo artists from all over the US compete to win $10,000, a magazine cover spot and the title Ink Master. It has all the usual drama between contestants that I normally hate in reality shows and is my least favorite aspect about the show. My reasons for enjoying the show stem from the tattoos themselves and the weekly challenges presented, as well as the couple of artists I grew to like. Each week there’s a different theme of tattoos that the artists have to attempt, as well as “human canvases” (still hate that term) aka clients they have to tattoo. They’re judged by Dave and other well-known tattoo artists, and one person is eliminated if their work isn’t up to par.

It’s a fun little competition show that teaches you a bit about how tattoos are made and structured, plus it shows off some great and not-so-great artwork. While the judges have VERY critical eyes and can be pretty harsh, it’s fun hearing their professional critiques. My boyfriend and I started watching it during season 2, and we’ve kept up with it as it continues its third season. But, as you can see from my blog title, it’s not the only tattoo show that’s caught my eye.

“Tattoo Nightmares” is a show where three artists, one of whom was the runner-up in season 1 of “Ink Master,” do cover-up tattoos for three people per episode. Cover-up tattoos are exactly as they sound, acting as a piece of art to cover an existing tattoo. In this case, clients who have been dealt a nasty or ugly tattoo get the chance to have it covered by something suiting their tastes. The show combines great artwork and crazy stories from the clients recounting how they got their awful tattoo in the first place. Some have tattoos thanks to getting drunk, as you’d expect, while others have tattoos that invoke painful or traumatic memories.

Of the two shows, I enjoy this one a bit more. The three artists are very likable and great at what they do. Depending on the clients, the stories can range from laugh-out-loud ridiculous to surprisingly tear-jerking. You just get such a good feeling from seeing their awful tattoos get turned into something they can show off with pride. Plus, unlike “Ink Master” which runs for an hour with commercials, “Tattoo Nightmares” is only 30 minutes with them and always leaves me wanting more. Thankfully, Spike TV is good about having back-to-back episodes so I get my fill.

I never used to be interested in tattoos, and while both shows still haven’t convinced me to get one, I appreciate the profession a lot more now. I never realized how much creativity goes into it and how beautiful tattoos can really be. Of course, a lot of that depends on the artist, and the fact that these shows highlight artists who take their jobs seriously has made me respect the tattoo industry overall. Even if you’re only interested in tattoos themselves, give these shows a watch.

My Top 10 Favorite/Most Played NES Games

As promised with my last blog, this week’s will focus on another list challenge issued by my boyfriend. Initially, I was going to write about my top 10 fave childhood games, but it would’ve been more difficult to narrow down. My childhood basically spanned the Atari to N64 eras, so to make it easier on myself I’ve narrowed the list down to my first family-bought console: the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES for short.

All but one of these games are from my personal collection and were the ones I not only played the most but enjoyed the most as well. As such, lots of them are Mario-based games. Also, this list is not to cover the best NES games of all time, but just the ones I grew up with as a kid. While I did play other classics such as Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, I didn’t spend as much time with them to really get into them. Although, I will acknowledge that I had the most fun with Zelda at the time, as it was something cool and different. But I digress. Here’s my 10 favorite NES games:

10. The Little Mermaid

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Of all the games on this list, this is the only one I haven’t owned. I rented it way back when it was possible to rent NES games, and to my knowledge it’s the first Capcom game I ever played. I remember it being short but cute, and Ursula being a bit freaky as the final boss (in two forms, no less). It also has the honor of being one of the only NES games I ever completed from start to finish. But since I only played it through that one time, it takes the 10th spot.

9. Hogan’s Alley

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Talk about a not very kid-friendly game. Hogan’s Alley used the Zapper Gun and allowed you to shoot criminals while avoiding shooting pedestrians. It was one of only two games I owned that used the gun, but it was still a lot of fun. Although, compared to shooting criminals, I found the included “Shoot the Can” mode to be more enjoyable. I suppose it was the challenge of keeping it in the air at all times. Either way, this could be considered the first “violent” game I ever played.

8. Super Mario Bros. 2

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I know, I know, this game is beloved by a lot of people. But for me, coming off of the first Super Mario game, it was just…weird. I’ve never been able to beat it (although it’s been years since I tried) and while it was cool playing as Luigi, Peach and Toad, it was confusing to navigate at times. I did enjoy the gameplay at times, like being able to pick up enemies or ride on them without getting hurt, and fighting Birdo was always fun. As fun as this Mario game was, though, I enjoyed other games more.

7. Yoshi

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If I haven’t mentioned it before, Yoshi has and always will be my favorite Nintendo character. He’s just so adorable and cool. And this Dr. Mario/Tetris-like game was a blast to play back then. I even played it before I ever tried the two aforementioned games. Stacking Nintendo baddies and watching them disappear was satisfying and, as a puzzle game, it was overall decent. I didn’t think any puzzle game could top it at the time. That is, until the next entry came along.

6. Yoshi’s Cookie

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Not only did I ask for this as a gift, but it was the final NES game we bought before the Super Nintendo became a part of our household. Yoshi’s Cookie seemed even better than Yoshi to me and had an improved look to it overall. Plus, it combined two things I love: Yoshi and cookies. In a weird way, stacking cookies was even more satisfying to me because it was something different than the usual Mario fare. Plus, it just looked delicious.

5. River City Ransom

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River City Ransom was a fun but frustrating game for a couple reasons. Frustrating in that it was pretty difficult (I never came close to beating it) and also that my cartridge was very finicky. Meaning, when I’d pop it into the NES, sometimes it’d work and sometimes it just wouldn’t start. Frustrations aside, this was a fun, interesting game. Beating up guys who yelled “Barf!” and dropped coins (way before Scott Pilgrim ever made that a thing) was tons of fun and I loved the silly designs. I never quite grasped everything the game had to offer, but when it worked, it was the perfect thing to play to let off some steam.

4. Donkey Kong Classics

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This was an awesome duo of games. Firstly, you had the original Donkey Kong, which, while short, was fun on its own. But this also included Donkey Kong Jr., a vine-climbing game where you have to save your daddy DK from that bad ‘ol Mario (times were weird back then). My mom actually got me into this game, and we’d often play it together just to see how far we’d get before dying. Not only that, but I quickly loved both games equally, rather than preferring one over the other.

3. Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt

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Call blasphemy all you want, but this game was HARD. Super Mario Bros. in particular was another game my mom and I would spend hours on just trying to progress. We always got hung up on either the Cheep Cheep bridge (lousy fish) or Lakitu. But, it’s the first Mario game I ever played, so it deserves the top 3 spot. It was a challenge and, in a way, taught me a lot about having patience where it’s needed.  Duck Hunt was also a blast, being my favorite of the two Zapper games I owned. Although I felt bad shooting innocent ducks and would often cheat by putting the gun up to the TV, it was a good test of my reflexes. But I’ll never, ever, EVER like that dog, no matter how much I like dogs in general.

2. Kirby’s Adventure

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I love the Kirby games, no matter how easy they may be at times. Kirby’s Adventure was my introduction to the little puffball and I’ve loved him since. The game had a nice, simple story and adventure, and his Copy ability was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen in a game. There was just so much variety in the different abilities you could have, meaning plenty of ways to play. The bosses at times were no picnic for me, particularly a certain evil cloud and the final FINAL boss. But, the game had this cheerfulness to it that made any challenges worth struggling through. To this day, I’m still grateful to my cousin Nick for giving the game to me. And that brings us to my favorite of the bunch…

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

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Before the awesome that was Super Mario World, this game easily became my favorite Super Mario game. Not only was it improved graphically and musically, but the map set-up, the various warps, the variety of bosses and power-ups made it an all-around fantastic game on its own merits. By no means was it easy, but it was a great experience from start to finish. I played it not only alone quite a bit, but also with my cousin Nick. One of my favorite memories playing SMB3 was just us giggling uncontrollably at the dancing hills in the very first world. It’s a stupid thing to the average person, but to us kids, it was the start of some major fun. Super Mario Bros. 3 took everything I knew about Mario and expanded it on a grand scale. It’s because of my experience and fond memories of it that it’s my number one favorite NES game.

So, there you have it. If you agree or disagree or even have a list of your own, feel free to post in the comments. I’ll see you next week with another blog!

5 Reasons to Love Flea Markets

Well, I had plans to meet a challenge my boyfriend posed at me this weekend, but I feel I need more time to plan it out and am pushing it to the start of next week. Sitting here, now not working due to a relatively minor work-related injury, got me thinking about the flea market currently happening in my town. It’s a pain in the butt to work during due to the tons of people who visit it, traffic is a pain in the butt and it can be tough to walk through on a hot day.

But I’d like to use this week’s blog to talk about why I LIKE the annual flea market. For starters, if you don’t know what a flea market is, it’s basically a gigantic yard sale. Vendors and customers come from all around Canada and the US to buy and sell stuff. It’s the biggest event in town next to the Hot Air Balloon Festival, which is during the first weekend of September and I will no doubt talk about it then. Let’s get into the 5 reasons I like the flea market.

1) All the stuff you can find. It has everything: auto parts, crafts, books, games, movies, ornaments, rare treasures, toys, etc etc etc. I often search for books and games, but I’ve found plenty of cool things as gifts for my boyfriend, including an autograph of Kelsey Grammar from his early “Frasier” days. It was only $5, which brings me to my next point.

2) SO much of that stuff is inexpensive. Sure, it does depend on the vendor and item, but you can spend tons of cash in a day and get plenty of stuff. Or, you could spend little but get some really hard to find items. Some people are also open to bartering, which adds fun to the shopping experience and a chance to get even better deals.

3) Not boring whatsoever. Shopping might seem dull at first, but our flea market takes place in a huge baseball field and in our indoor skating rink’s parking lot. Aside from the back-to-back vendors (who you could spend the entire day looking through and still possibly not see everyone), there are also events that take place as well. There’s an antique car show to peruse really nice, well-preserved cars. There’s often live music, typically local or nearby talent. And there’s a craft fair separate from the flea market to check out homemade goodies.

4) Tasty, fattening treats. The flea market always has delicious junk food when all that shopping makes you hungry. A favorite of mine and my dad’s is ordering curly fries (really thinly-skinned, deep-fried potatoes) and a couple Pepsi cans. We then follow up with dessert from an ice cream van called Meg’s, which serves awesome chocolate/vanilla twist soft serve. They’re only ever in town for the flea market and Balloon Festival, so I always take advantage of ordering from them. Finally, there’s tons of sweets from fudge to candy apples to flavored cotton candy.

5) And finally, I love the flea market because it’s a fun thing to do with my family, particularly my dad in recent years. It gives us an outlet to spend time together while doing something that doesn’t happen every day. I enjoy the atmosphere (even if it’s packed with people) and always have fun seeing what I can find like some kind of big treasure hunt. Aside from the Balloon Festival, it’s my favorite reason to be living in my town and I’ll continue to try and go to it for years to come.

Gotta Love Summer Vacations

First off, apologies for the lack of a blog last week. It was mainly due to work, missed work because of a twisted ankle, and a 4-day vacation to Prince Edward Island (PEI for short). I went with my parents and boyfriend, who was experiencing it for the first time. If you wanna see his blogs detailing our trip, visit him here: richardsweeklyjournal.wordpress.com

Today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite experiences of visiting PEI during my childhood: Going to Rainbow Valley, an outdoor amusement park that sadly shut down in 2005. It was taken over and turned into Shining Waters Family Fun Park, which has since moved to a different location.

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When I was a little kid, Rainbow Valley was my version of Disney World, long before I ever got to visit the magic kingdom. It was all outdoors and had tons to do. Waterslides, paddle boats, carnival rides (like a rollercoaster and ferris wheel), silly shows, tasty canteen food and tons more. It had everything and for a little kid, it was the best place to go on the island.

We used to visit PEI nearly every summer back then and Rainbow Valley was always the highlight of each trip, no matter how many new things we checked out. I have fond memories of trying to steer a paddle boat with my mom and driving a plastic motor boat with my dad. There was a plastic owl manned by a woman you could talk to who would answer you back. There was a creepy cave full of Halloween-ish horrors that, having witnessed it again in Shining Waters this trip, is totally cheesy but still fun. I even remember the simple kid slides, with one being a little house based on Jack and the Beanstalk. I remember my sisters and I working up the courage to go on the biggest waterslide and wanting to go on it over and over once we did. The place was big (apparently 12 hectares) and it held so much fun that you could (and we did) spend most of the day there.

I miss it badly now that I’m older for a couple different reasons. The first being that, after enjoying some of the things brought over from the park to Shining Waters, I have major nostalgia for it and wish it was still around. The second is that since I’m older, the magic of these kinds of parks is lessened a little. Things that easily entertained me as a kid didn’t quite have that punch even during my last visit to Rainbow Valley. It’s a sad part of growing up, but I’ll never stop loving the place.

And while I’ll gladly go back to Disney and enjoy the fun it has to offer some day, the two parks are incomparable. They’re just two totally different parks both in environment and entertainment. Rainbow Valley might not have been the most flashy or extreme park around, but to me, it was my first real park experience. And as the saying goes, you never forget your first.