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SOUNDTRACK: SHE & HIM-Christmas Party (2016).

The first She & Him Christmas album was a little flat, a little dull.  So I wasn’t that excited to get a new one.  But this one is so much more fun than the first.

Zooey Deschanel feels much looser and freer and the music is more lush and not so restrained.  It’s still not anything like the craziness that Zooey Deschanel is capable of. In fact, there’s a lot of restraint.  But some fun is certainly have, mostly as little asides.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” starts the album and you can hear the big change.  There’s a choir singing behind her which sounds huge (in comparison) and Zooey puts a nice vibrato on her voice.  There’s drums and a bouncy beat.  This album feels very much alive compared to the first one.

“Let It Snow” slows things down.  But it’s and jazzy very appropriate to the song.

“Must Be Santa” is a silly fun track.  This one has accordion and a bouncy backing chorus.  Like in the Dylan version, they list the presidents along with the reindeer.  But it hurts a lot that after the first batch of presidents, they tack on Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, which hurts a lot.

“Happy Holiday” has a pretty, echoey guitar and Zooey really shows off her voice nicely.

“Mele Kalikimaka” is a favorite Christmas song.  This version is a little delicate compared to the more rocking version, but it does capture a Hawaiian spirit.

“Christmas Memories” is a bit too slow for my liking but it is a pretty song.

“Run Run Rudolph” M sings lead.  This song is kinda dumb when you actually hear the words.  I’m surprised they didn’t upend gender stereotypes on this one like they did on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

“Winter Wonderland” a duet with Jenny Lewis.  It’s fun to hear another voice with hers.  There’s a goofy moment where Jenny sings, “we can pretend he is Jerry Brown.”

“The Coldest Night of the Year” is a nice sweet duet.  When the chorus comes in with Ward in the backing vocals it sounds really great.

“A Marshmallow World” is perfect for her.  Fun and bouncey and surprisingly restrained for what it could have been.

“The Man with the Bag” is pretty and old-fashioned-sounding.  Zooey does this style very well.

“Christmas Don’t Be Late” This normally hyperactive song is almost like a dirge.  I don’t know why the excitement has been removed from it.  It’s a bummer way to end the record.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Eva”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This story is really wonderful.  It’s sad and strange and powerful.

It opens with a man visiting “the hairy child” in Quetzalenango.  The girl is Eva.  Her mother hopes this man is a doctor.  But he is not.  He is a representative of Doña Teresa de Miraflor, a Cuban heiress who was setting up the Society of Scientific Knowledge in Havana. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHE AND HIM-A Very She & Him Christmas (2011).

I don’t really know all that much about She & Him.  I know it’s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.  I don’t really know M. Ward at all and I know Deschanel from New Girl (which we love) and because she is in Elf.

I loved how quirky and weird she was on New Girl and how she sang a lot (in the beginning).  She has a wonderful voice (as evidenced in Elf).  I assumed this would be a kind of quirky, retro-feeling Christmas album.

But it isn’t.  It’s not quirky at all.  The instrumentation is incredibly sparse, sometimes shockingly quiet.  Deschanel displays her voice well.  But the whole thing feels kind of stiff and tightly compressed.  It’s pretty but not really inviting.  Occasionally the album gets bigger with M. singing a few backing vocals and even a lead.

Most surprising is that I didn’t  even know the first two songs on the record.  I didn’t expect non-standards.

“Christmas Waltz” is her singing to quiet jazzy guitar.  It’s possible that since I don’t know the song, I feel like it didn’t set up the album well.
“Christmas Day” has her voice heavily echoed with even gentler guitar.  Although near the end of the song, the full backing vocal (all Zooey, I think) helps her out.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is finally a song I know and I feel like she does a great job of it with a smokey delivery.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” also works very well, even if it’s kind of weird to have the jazzy acoustic guitar playing on this relatively emotional song.
“Christmas Wish” is a duet it feels incredibly loud compared to the earlier songs.  There’s even drums.  It’s just kind of surprising to hear M.’s voice five songs in.  I wish he had been introduced earlier.
“Sleigh Ride” also works pretty well.  The music is kind of countryish, but the two of them together make it work well.
“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” has piano and electric guitar and backing vocals.  It doesn’t really rock, but at least the guitar is electric.
“Silver Bells” is her on a ukulele and she accompanies herself perfectly.  It’s a bit spare, but the song is quite lovely.
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is wonderful for the way it twists the gender roles.  But I feel like the song might be too fast–Zooey in particular seems kind of rushed singing it.
“Blue Christmas” is a song I don’t really like, but her version of just her and the acoustic guitar is very pretty.
“Little Saint Nick” brigs back the ukulele with lots of echo on her voice.  It’s bright and happy.
“The Christmas Song” is too slow and stiff and kind of a sad way to end the record.

This album is fine for a safe Christmas record.  It’s just not that inspired.

[READ: December 13, 2017] “Secondary Memory”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

Some of the stories in this collection have been pretty dark, so I enjoyed the relative lightness of this one.  “Relative” because although it starts as kind of a funny anthropomorphized laptop story, there’s some interesting things going on underneath the frame.

It takes about a paragraph to reveal that the narrator s a laptop.  Its owner, Vicki is “experiencing a runtime error…in your language she is little uptight.”  They are out and about.  It assumes they are going to the cafe (where the laptop sees its usual and preferred table).  But they walk past the cafe–are they going to the greasy spoon (the laptop would have shown its displeasure by not connecting to the Wi-Fi).  But no.  It’s even worse. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE KLEZMER CONSERVATORY BAND-Oy Chanukah! (1987).

For the first day of Hanukkah, it’s time for a Chanukah album.

This is a collection of traditional Chanukah songs interspersed with brief stories and a history of the holiday.

It works as a musical collection, although the dialogue does obviously stop the flow every couple of minutes.

Klezmer music is fun (provided you like the clarinet), but it really can’t be dissociated from the stories behind it.

The first narrator talks about the Maccabees and the Festival of Lights.  There’s the tales of Judith and Hannah and memories of klezmorim coming to the shtetl.  There’s even a recipe for latkes and the story of the dreydl.

Some of the songs have words (sung in Yiddish) but just as many are instrumentalist.  The majority of the songs are traditional, of course, but my favorite is “Klezzified,” which is written by one of the band.

This disc is a good introduction to Chanukah music.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Souterrain”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

This story was really powerful and it revealed all of the details and connections in a slow and excruciating way–once you realized what was happening.

There are several characters in the story which takes place primarily in France.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARBUCKS Hi-Fidelity Holiday (1998).

This is one of my favorite Holiday CDs.  Say what you will about Starbucks (and I know you will), they know their audience (even if I don’t drink coffee).  Almost the entire CD is excellent, or at least in that groovy Hi-Fi style.  There are a few songs that don’t quite fit with the others, but overall, this is a keeper.

ESQUIVEL-“Jingle Bells”
I love Esquivel, and this space age jingle Bells is just the most fun.  You look ravishing tonight.

KEB’ MO’-“Jingle Bell Jamboree”
Keb’ Mo’ is a great performer, but this song doesn’t quite fit on this CD.  Especially after Esquivel.  Maybe if it was a little later in the sequence?  But the song itself is great and should be heard more at Christmas time.

COCTEAU TWINS-“Winter Wonderland”
I have loved Cocteau Twins for decades.  This version of “Winter Wonderland” has been a perennial favorite.  I love what they do with the song and how they keep it faithful but make it their own.  This should have followed Esquivel.

DEAN MARTIN-“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
This song is problematic for many reasons.  But if you can get past the creepiness, Dean’s version is fun.  It’s interesting that the female singers are practically a chorus of voices.

COMBUSTIBLE EDISON-“Sleigh Ride”
I’ve pretty much forgotten about Combustible Edison, but I love this swinging instrumental version of this song.  It’s totally terrific.

LEONARD COHEN-“Hallelujah”
This is not a Christmas song.  At all. It is also so over played that I never really want to hear it again.

XTC-“Thanks for Christmas”
I love this song.  It’s bright and happy and the XTC voices and guitars are just perfect.

EL VEZ-“Christmas Wish”
I have a soft spot for El Vez, but man I don’t care for this version of this song.  It’s not bad, but I kept thinking it was some B list actor form a 1950s rock n roll film (like Arch Hall).  I suppose if it was more in the El Vez spirit I’d enjoy it more.

JAMES BROWN-“Merry Christmas, Baby”
I like this song except it always bugs me that there’s a line about not being drunk but being all lit up like a Christmas Tree.  James seems a little not into this recording, to be honest.

THE ALARM-“Happy Christmas (War is Over)”
This song bugs me.  I think it’s the obnoxious (but well meaning) idea that war can be over if we want it.  But whatever.  This version is kind of flat, which is springing given The Alarm is all stadiumed out most of the time.

THE TEMPTATIONS-“Little Drummer Boy”
This song is tough to pull off.  The Temptations were a little flat at first I thought, but they pulled through to the end and won me over.

PEGGY LEE-“I Like a Sleighride (Jingle Bells)”
This song is weird and fun.  The “I like a sleighride” chorus is weird and kind of creepy, but it’s got a real fun feel overall.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON-“Christmas Must Be Tonight”
So I listened to this song and had literally no recollection of ever hearing it before–even though I have listened to this disc every year for a decade.  And even now, I have no recollection of it either.

THE BLUE HAWAIIANS-“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy)”
Is it because I have heard every Christmas song a million times that I gravitate to the oddball recording?  Probably.  I love this surf guitar instrumental version of “We Three Kings,” it brightens my day.

BOBBY DARIN-“Christmas Auld Lang Syne”
This is a classic.  It used to bug me that he goes so over the top with the LOOOOOOORD business at he end, but it doesn’t bug me much anymore–its makes me smile.  I really like the melody and the way the songs are conflated.

Overall this is a great collection of songs.  It’s not all as groovy and space-age as it appears, but it’s still good holiday fun.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Skinks”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This story is told by a little boy, Wendell, who wants to be called Dilly.  He tells us that Jesse doesn’t like it when he calls him Dad.  Jesse always says “Two things.”  Like “One, your dad left a long time ago and two, although you don’t want to say he’s your dad, he still is.  I’m not.  Clear?

Clear.  Clear as mud, he says.

Jesse is now in the hospital and the boy has been talking to his mom a lot.

When he goes into Jesse’s room the pastor is in there.  “He thinks all the answers are in that book,” his mother says to him.  She then says to the pastor, “I know it’s serious, but that was years ago when you both loved getting into trouble.  He’s different now.”

The pastor bristles at this and says “some of us know better than to get into fights over things people say.”

There’s a lot of observations from the boy about his mother (and what both she and Jesse say about women in general)

And sometimes he just goes in and talks to Jesse, which he thinks is weird, but he does it anyway.  When he heard there was skink in the hospital he knew Jesse would want to see it. “It’s a weird word but I like it.”

But mom and a police officer enter and Dilly hears the officer say, “I’m sorry, but things have changed.”  Before he can leave the room he sees that Jesse is now restrained.

The pastor comes out while Dilly is outside and asks Dilly what he’s doing.  When Dilly mentions the skink, the pastor gives him some suggestions about bait and ways to catch them.   During this brief conversation, a lot of truths come out.  About Jesse, about Dilly’s father and about the pastor.

But I feel a little too much like Dilly in this story–like everyone is talking around me.  There’ a few too many gaps that I can’t fill in to fully get what happened.

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SOUNDTRACK: MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS TOO? (2003).

This second installment of this Nettwerk Christmas series is much darker than the first.  Perhaps this is indicated by the tree being on fire.  In fact, of the three it’s the one I listen to the least, despite the fact that it has a couple of my favorite Christmas songs on it.  The downer songs are labelled [NSFC] Not Safe for Christmas.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-“Spotlight on Christmas”  I love this song.  It’s actually quite sad and stands up for poor little rich people at Christmas, but the chorus is so pretty.  And i really love Rufus’ voice.

EISLEY-“The Winter Song”
I’ve never heard of this band outside of this song (they are still active).  The song is terrific and their voices and harmonies are really wonderful.

AVRIL LAVIGNRE & CHANTAL KREVIAZUK-“O Holy Night”
This version of the song has stuck with me for years.  I simply cannot decide if Avril has the most pure and unmodified voice when singing his song or if she is just totally flat (which I don’t think she is).  I find her delivery is haunting in a very strange way.  Krevizauk, on the other hand has and absolutely incredible voice and her parts are amazing.

RILO KILEY-“Xmas Cake” [NSFC]
This is the first of many depressing songs.  Five and a half minutes of bad news and sad tidings.  Good grief.  The melody is nice and maybe in another context it would be powerful, but holy crap, no one want to hear this at Christmas.

DAMIEN RICE & LISA HANNIGAN-“Silent Night” [NSFC]
This is a really dark song that turns Silent Night from a song of hope to one of despair.

GUSTER-“Donde Esta Santa Claus?”
This is perhaps my favorite Christmas song, ever.  It’s fun and lighthearted and super catchy.  I can’t believe it is wedged in between these really dark songs that I always skip.

THE BE GOOD TANYAS-“Rudy” [NSFC]
This is a sweet, catchy song until you hear the words and that its about a red-nosed wino who dies.  Good grief.

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND-“Christmas Song” [NSFC]
This song has a pretty decent melody but Matthews sings it really quietly and, man, it just never goes anywhere. It’s five and a half minutes long and has no energy.  Gah.

OH SUSANNA-“Go Tell It on the Mountain”
I always forget that this is a Christmas song, but it certainly is.  It’s full of gospel tinges, as it should be.  Apparently new lyrics have been added but I don’t know all the words so it was news to me.

BARENAKED LADIES-“Green Christmas”
BNL has recorded three versions of this song.  It was written for the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas and appeared on the soundtrack.  It also appears on Barenaked for the Holidays.  Each of those versions is different and they both differ from this one.  It’s a bit of a downer but only as much as BNL can be downers.

MARTINA SORBARA-“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” [NSFC]
Never has anything wonderful felt so sad and mopey.  This bluesy version is kind of interesting but man is it ever at odds with the meaning of the song.

BADLY DRAWN BOY-“Donna & Blitzen”
This is another terrific song.  Its got a  great melody, some terrific piano and a super catchy chorus.  Its not exactly Christmas although it sort of is and certainly works for the Christmas season

THE FLAMING LIPS-“White Chritsmas” [NSFC]
Despite my love for the Lips I really don’t like this version of the song at all.  It’s subtitled that it is a demo for Tom Waits which might explain why it is sung in such a crazy way, but Waits would do it so much better.  He just sounds mocking all the way through.

SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER-“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”
This band used to be pretty huge back in the day.  This song is very pretty–played on a kind of Spanish-sounding guitar with some neat and kind of spooky keys playing single notes at the end of each verse.  It’s a really cool version and ends the disc on a good note.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Kings”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

This is a story about D.H. Lawrence and his life in Kandy, Ceylon in 1922.  I don’t know anything about Lawrence, so I assume this is all based on research.  As with most fictionalizations of real people’s lives, I don’t get why it was written.  But it was quite interesting and enjoyable, so maybe that’s why.

He and his German wife had exiled themselves from England immediately after the war.  They met an American, Brewster, who invited them to Kandy, nicknamed Little England.  But it was a sad trick, that name, for it was all jungle.  Lawrence suffered from tuberculosis and the jungle heat did not help. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Maybe This Christmas (2010).

This is one of my favorite Christmas discs.  There’s not a lot of traditional Christmas music on it, but the originals are all either spot-on Christmas songs or at least work nicely for this time of year.  The only song that doesn’t fit is Ben Folds’ which is funny and vulgar.  It is not safe for Christmas and should be skipped in a family setting and saved for the drunken debauchery part of the night.

PHANTOM PLANET-“Winter Wonderland” Back in 2010, Phantom Planet was a kind of buzzy, talked about band (you’ll have to look up why).  But this is a great version of the song, I especially love that it’s kind of rocky and slightly dissonant but still really pretty.

RON SEXSMITH-Maybe This Christmas.
It’s a shame that this series of records is named after this song, which is so forgettable.  I usually like Sexsmith’s stuff, but I can’t keep this song in my head at all.

COLDPLAY-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Unlike Phantom Planet which was all buzzy when this was recorded, Coldplay had yet to take off and had a small hit with “Yellow.”  It’s interesting to hear this spare version (just Chris Martin singing and playing piano) and how he modifies the words in small ways.

VANESSA CARLTON-“Greensleeves”  This is a lovely version of this song, even if Carlton’s voice is a bit affected (and its technically not a Christmas song in this lyrical version).

BRIGHT EYES-Blue Christmas
This is a nice version of this song, mellow and catchy.

SENSE FIELD-“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” The more I listen to this song, the more I think it’s really weird.  “The yellow and red ones” (?).

JIMMY EAT WORLD-“12/23/95”
This is a very catchy Jimmy Eat World song (once again, before they got huge for a time).  It’s hard to realize its Christmas-related until late in the song when they mention the holiday.

JACK JOHNSON-“Rudolph”
I love this version of “Rudolph” so much because Johnson tacks on an ending where the other reindeer feel bad of making fun of Rudolph.  And Johnson’s vibe is just always so mellow and chill.

BARENAKED LADIES & SARAH McLACHLAN-“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
This recording is quite old–from 1996.  The artists work very well together and Sarah’s voice sounds great.

BEN FOLDS-“Bizarre Christmas Incident” [NSFC]
Ben played all of the parts himself on this song.  I love Ben and I love when he is funny and vulgar.  But this song which is very vulgar and mildly funny is so out of place on this disc.  You can’t play this for the kids, whereas everything else is totally fine. I might like it on a vulgar CD collection bu I dislike it a lot here.

DAN WILSON-“What a Year for a New Year”
Dan Wilson always writes pretty, catchy songs.  This is a lovely song that seems (possibly) even more appropriate in 2017 than it did in 2002 when he wrote it.

NEIL FINN-“Sweet Secret Peace”
This is a very pretty, delicate song with a wonderful chorus.  It’s not necessarily a Christmas song, but it works at this time of year.

LOREENA MCKENNIT-“Snow”
McKennit’s voice is amazing, and this song is hauntingly beautiful.  It’s a stark and lovely ending to this disc.

[READ: December 14, 2017] “Lady with Invisible Dog”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This story was pretty bizarre and really wonderful.

There’s so much going on.  And much of it is pretty weird.  The story is set in 1995.  The narrator, Edwin, has had a run-in with a man called “The Narrator.”  And that has set all of the action of the story in motion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKENYA-Oiche Chuin (1995).

I bought this 3-song single back in 1995.  A few years later Enya released a Christmas EP with five songs on it.  It contains the first and third songs from this single and then a few songs from her other records.

“Oiche Chuin” is Irish for Silent Night.  Her version of the song is beautiful and haunting.  The melody is the same, but it has all of Enya’s trademark sounds on it which makes it even more ethereal.  Having it in Irish in no way removes the power of the song, unless of you course you just listen for the lyrics.

“Oriel Window” is a pretty piano instrumental–very different from her multi-tracked productions.

‘S Fagaim Mo Bhaile” is a lovely Enya track.  Not Christmassey, but it’s in Irish so it doesn’t really matter what it’s about.  It translates as “And I Leave My Home,” so it is full of sorrow and yearning.

So not a full Christmas album but the version of “Silent Night” is wonderful.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Souterrain”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I didn’t expect that these advent stories would be all sweet and full of Christmas, but I also didn’t expect to read about bodies being torn in half and flattened by tanks.

I have enjoyed a few stories from Boyko in the past.  However, this story is, as you can tell from the title, a military story.

What happens in military stories?  Somebody (sometimes everybody) gets killed.  And the rest of the time everyone else is more or less waiting to get killed.  Either you wipe out the enemy or they kill you.  It is a torturous time where any diversion is welcome.

But these frightening episodes don’t really make for compelling stories–especially if the person you care about is going to die.

So you can only read for the details of each story and hope they are effective..

The one nice change for this story was that most of the soldiers were women.

I guess these are actually five episodes within the story:

“High Ground” is about choosing the safest place from which to attack some one.

“Six Inches” has the soldiers talking about death (if she had been six inches to the left she would be dead.  And then they were all attacked.

“Mail Call” looks at what happens to the package of a dead solider.

“Still Alive” deals with a soldier’s fear of the dead and how to cope with it–by exposing herself to more dead bodies.

“The Cook Up” finally shows some leisure.  The soldiers are allowed to scrounge for something other than the lousy food ratios.  It’s nice to see them enjoying themselves for a few hours before they all die.

Being a soldier really must suck.

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