Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

We didn't do Christmas officially until today, due to work schedules being a pain in the arse. I did make spiced sweet rolls for 12/25, but the family basically lazed about. Then this morning my father and I made a trip to the store for last minute ingredients for breakfast and the official holiday dinner. It was rather amazing to see the grocery store down the road from us so empty of, well, stuff! Luckily we found what we needed and could head back to the house with Starbucks drinks before getting to work.

After 20 minutes of cleaning the kitchen, we made eggs benedict, french toast, low sodium bacon, sausage links, and fresh fruit. It was quite nice to sit and eat breakfast at the table, we'd almost forgotten what it was like (those who know my family will find the situation just as hilarious as I did). It was a very pleasant brunch, and I was quite proud of my eggs benedict. Clearing the table and cleaning the mess from cooking breakfast took another 20 minutes; I do hate the small size of my parent's kitchen. I made up this pie, which was a big hit at Thanksgiving, and used the leftover pastry to do an apple tart-thing. I plan to enjoy a slice with this ice cream.
Ben was kind enough to take on the task of seasoning the roast, as I still don't like working with beef overly much. My parents managed to get a nice sized rib eye roast for about $25 USD. We're also going to have mashed potatoes, steamed carrots and broccoli, and this roasted cauliflower along with some homemade Challah bread a neighbor was nice enough to give us!

Anyhow, on to the loots! I received a sherpa blanket from my sister's gf, along with pink Tinkerbell slippers and a giant lavender candle. My sister got me a bag from our church boutique, which I'm pretty sure is 100% recycled fabric. Also I got a bottle of Bath & Body Works Twilight Woods soap, and an exfoliating mitt. My parents got me new measuring cups, a penguin flash drive, and foam shelf liner. The story with the shelf liner is that I'd bought some from Walmart to use for the cutting boards, since at culinary school we use the material as a means to prevent more knife accidents. It is amazingly effective at keeping the board stable while practicing knife work. My mother had gone and used up what I'd bought when she rearranged the kitchen about a month back, and of course I threw a hissy fit. So I suppose in apology they bought me more...

Sirenidi of course, made out like a bandit. Several people gave her books, clothes, and assorted bath goods while the family mostly bought her toys. Of note were some adorable Piglet socks and some fingerless gloves. Of the toys, she received a doll house, a toy kitchen, and some new stuffed animals. Here she is playing with a tin that some candy came in; there is no candy, but that didn't stop her much, she kept calling it "cereal" anyway. Also take note of the doll house in the background that she lost interest in after about 5 minutes:

My dad really enjoyed my infused pepper bacon vodka, thanks for the idea Brandon Matzek! My sister's gf and her family also got him a lot of train-themed items, including a gingerbread kit! I would find it interesting to see a train engine made out of gingerbread and candies...

The boys got clothes and apparently bought each other video games. My sister got pajamas as well, and my dad jokingly gave her and her gf a case of Bud Light xP

My mom got a bunch of random things from people at the church. Take note, my mother HATES Chardonnay and bright red purses. However she did like the chocolates and really big wine glass.

I'm sure there were other things, but I need to rest my back and order my family from the confines of a sitting position.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Birthday the Actual

I came into work early the other day, as I wanted to take extra time to have lunch with my mom. My boss was kind enough to not only give me the additional half hour, but to take as long as I needed! Mom took me to SK Noodle, a nice Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. I had Szechuan Shrimp, which was much sweeter than I was accustomed to, and much more balanced with the heat, so it was a nice change from ohdeargodthefire! I also had a Thai Boba tea, but I think southern California spoiled me, as it seemed much to sweet and not as good as I'd hoped it would be.

My sister called while we were eating to ask what I wanted from the Chinese food establishment Twin Dragon for dinner. Now my sister adores Twin Dragon because they make a thick brown egg foo yung gravy, which she always orders on the side (she never actually eats the egg foo yung). However, I hate Twin Dragon as the prices are high for the quality and amount of food one receives. I would much rather eat at Szechuan Express or Egg Roll King (also near our residence), which I informed my sister of, but she would not be swayed. The exchange went something like this:
Me: "But it's MY birthday!"
Sis: "It's MY money, so there!"

I know, we're so mature for out age.

It occurred to me after this conversation that no one in my family bakes as well as I do, so I took pity on my folks and recommended the nearby Raley's store to pick up a cake. I chose a nice, small layered Red Velvet cake with white chocolate on top, as well as a mini raspberry cream cake to enjoy at the office. However, when I got back, there was a surprise awaiting. Despite only being informed of the fact it was my birthday that morning, the ladies had gone out and bought a chocolate strawberry cake for me (and a card)!

I'm so lucky to have a great place to work like this office.

I received a nice, shiny new electric spice grinder from my brother, Ben. I think he meant it more as a gift for him, so we can do nice spice rubs for the meats we buy. Unfortunately, we do not yet have whole spices to grind, so a trip to the store is needed to test out the new toy handy kitchen device. Sirenidi was a bit peeved that it wasn't her birthday, and I'm not sure if my efforts to get her to celebrate her un-birthday were successful. Anyways, we all enjoyed the red velvet Raley's cake very much.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Birthday in December

My birthday is coming up, but I think it's about time to start the old person habit of neglecting to tell people my age. In light of my closest friends and family being dirt broke, I took the liberty of ordering myself presents using online credit; also I enjoy receiving things in the mail.

Here are some of the things I got:
I plan on supporting this book

Also I keep track of other Groupon and Kickstarter offers that I'm interested in. On introducing my mom to Groupon, she was able to get discounted tickets to the local showing of the Nutcracker, pretty awesome.

I may end up making myself a cake too, as it is rather difficult to find a decently made strawberry cake with creamy white chocolate frosting that doesn't taste like butter and shortening where I'm at. Besides, isn't that a good use of my Culinary School skills?

As for holiday gifts for others, I'm going to be making bath salts, bubble bath, massage oils, or baked goods. People seem to enjoy homemade presents, and I do like being able to supply smiles on the cheap. If anything, I try to get people to either get me this strawberry beer, or contribute toward getting me a new, and therefore more amazing, cell phone.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

There's the spread! I worked all day on the dinner, cooking perhaps 90% of it. My mom made up the stuffing as well as the gravy, and had to make the whip cream for the dessert too. The only reason I didn't post this update sooner was because yesterday my mother dragged me around town for a few hours trying to find new beds for myself and my brothers. Then I spent a fairly obsessive amount of time clicking through Black Friday online deals and attempting to find a decently priced new smartphone.

Anyhow, the menu was as follows:
  • Roast turkey - seasoned with salt, pepper, and drizzled with butter. About 22 lb that we got for $10 USD. SCORE!
  • Stuffing - basic bread cubes with celery, onion, and sage, seasoned with turkey broth from the giblets. It was stuffed in the turkey as well as baked off on its own.
  • Green Vegetable Casserole - Used this guy's recipe, with added asparagus and broccoli, using shiitake and white button mushrooms for the sauce.
  • Steamed Broccoli - My brothers hate trying new things without a fallback.
  • Sweet Potato Casserole - boiled sweet potatoes and carrots, with a little brown sugar and spices, and mixed in toasted cashews sunflower seeds. Topped it with a fluffy meringue!
  • Roasted Butternut Squash -  After cooking, I tossed it with some Mrs. Dash Caribbean Citrus blend, honey, and Turbinado sugar before baking some more to create a delicious syrup.
  • Mashed Potatoes and Gravy - Used dry milk and some of the boiled water to mix the potatoes. The gravy was PHENOMENAL (I thank the butter).
  • Whole Berry sauce - FRESH CRANBERRIES FTW! Used orange zest, apple-cinnamon preserves, a little sugar, and nutmeg to flavor it.
  • Canned Cranberry jelly - Because some people in my house are uncultured swine.
  • Wheat Hawaiian sweet rolls - For some reason the dough didn't ferment properly, so these were like really tasty dense breads.
  • Pumpkin Cheese Crostata - This guy's recipe again. I used regular cream cheese instead of mascarpone, because I'm cheap that's how I roll. It turned out really good, creamy but not too sweet.
  • Apple Pie - a friend at my mom's work brought her it, so I baked it off anyway, but it wasn't even dug into xD
The day was marked with several instances of nearly setting the kitchen on fire, the dishwasher had to be run 5 times, and apparently I can give myself a pain-induced seizure by twisting my shoulder just right. I consider this a very successful year, all things considered. We could have ended up at a local Denny's, where apparently they RAN OUT OF TURKEY!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's Happening Around Here?

Hey there internet, I haven't forgotten I have a blog! Real life has been busy, so here's some images from the last two months to prove it! If they load oddly, it's because I can't figure out how to edit picture placement in this blog ._.

Halloween saw me wandering downtown Reno as a goth fairy in Reno's Zombie Crawl:

It was a night in which I sang karaoke, had an amazing swordfish and tabouli dinner bowl, and had about 3 drinks before I realized how drunk I was. That night was so much fun, and I can't wait to do it again next year! I also discovered there is a beer I like:
I have already requested multiple people to procure me this fine drink as a birthday/holiday gift. Sadly I have only found it online thus far :(

I have also been driving my new car for about a month:
Her name is Rosalinda, a 2008 Pontiac Torrent. She is probably the best car I've ever owned, and some road trips for Spring and/or Summer are in the dreaming stages!

School-wise I have been pretty consumed with baking class:

Left is an Oreo Cream Pie I made at home in order to master the base for making custard pies. Below that is the spread my partner and I made on 17, November: Chocolate Tuile cookies in the shapes of poinsettias and the Batman symbol, Coconut Macaroons, Ciabatta bread, Bavarian Creams, and Creme Brulees. Far right is a zoom-in of my Bavarian Cream decorated with Coconut crisps that resulted from our Macaroons spreading too much. The instructor said I should consider entering the college's Pastry Arts competition in the Spring! I was floored!

One of the bathrooms on campus had sticky notes all over the place one day:

 This kind of positive reinforcement needs to become the next big meme I think :)

This past weekend I was amazingly cultured. I visited the Nevada Museum of Art, which had one Renaissance painting as the main exhibit (a marketing strategy I am still confused by), as well as some cool architectural and photographic displays. Altered Landscape was definitely cool, and I wish I could find some of those works as affordable prints.

I also got to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on their Winter 2011 Tour! Here are some photos from my seat in the back of the arena:

These ones are from when some of the musicians came forward to play on a raised platform, always a perk of sitting in the back ;)

The only bummer was that it was an early showing, so lots of children and elderly folks packed the audience, who for some reason feel the need to get up EVERY TWO MINUTES. Unfortunately I had an aisle seat right next to a main trafficway, so every single time someone needed to get somewhere (and it happened quite often) I had to deal with their tromping and blocking of my view >:(

Otherwise the show was incredible, I might have been having mild epileptic seizures for a few hours afterwards xD. Also, if anyone wants to get me this shirt (with the phoenix), for any particular reason, I will shower you with much glitter and confetti of gratitude :)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America, and I have been put in CHARGE. I will see how much militaristic planning my family will put up with, as I've been taking management notes from Robert Irvine >:)

Hopefully I won't be too exhausted and can remember to post the results of the day's labor :D
Have a safe and fun weekend, folks!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Games I Like and Some Thoughts on Gender

In a recent conversation with my older brother, the topic of MMORPGs came up, specifically why I won't play World of Warcraft. Besides the practical problem of not having enough disposable income, the only appealing point of sale for that game to me is the silly dancing all the characters can do. I can quest for meaningless items and grow a powerful character in plenty of other games. In fact, the only MMORPG I ever really got obsessive with is Maplestory, mainly because it was free, and paying for extra things is optional. I even play the Facebook version!

Hold on, that can't be the only reason, I thought. Not only because the game is increasingly resembling the aforementioned WoW, but What else is appealing about it? Thinking to my console collection, which is chock full of such games as Psychonauts, the Shadow Hearts series, Elite Beat Agents, Okami, Resident Evil 4, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Meteos, I began to suspect my tastes ran to specific kinds of games. Most of my collection can be classified as ridiculous, mentally challenging, or they tell a good story. Maplestory has colorful, cute imagery, which is balanced at higher levels by monsters that actually look threatening, and enough of a story to keep me interested.

Now comparing this collection to what my brothers tend to get, the differences become rather distinct. They buy games that usually involve shooting things, like Medal of Honor, Ace Combat, and Gears of War. Yes they also get adventure and RPG games, but their collection has a great deal more action-oriented game play rather than those that involve the kinds of mechanics, such as puzzles, found in other genres.

Since earlier this week I was reading about the histories of classics Pac-man and Tetris, which mention how popular the games are with females, I'm wondering how much the types of games me and my siblings play are reflective of gender norms. Even when young, I preferred playing pretend games with my dolls (headless Barbies and Ninja Turtles say a lot for my personal development), rather than running around pretending to be a warrior and whacking others with a stick as my brothers tended to do. Which would make sense, from traditional evolutionary theory. Boys are more rough and active because of testosterone, while girls have better thinking qualities because of their physical capacity in rearing demon-spawn.

But recent psychological research seems to point out that perhaps gender is not innate, but forced on children by society. Ok, that would certainly explain the different cultural notions of gender, such as the Native Americans third, and sometimes fourth gender type. Which only makes certain eras of Western history, namely Victorian and Edwardian cultures, all the more bizarre in their restrictive gender roles. So if it's not gender that guides what types of entertainment one pursues, such as the video games one plays, it must simply be personal preference. Then again, my female best friend and I both have similar taste in games. Perhaps personality types have something to do with it? I mean, if I was anal enough to pursue a physics and mechanical engineering degree at the same time, I'm sure I would want to veg out by blowing up things with various weapons too. However, as I am an artistic type, and much less analytical, I prefer games that challenge my brain even in their simplicity, like Katamari Damacy. Of course, I've also always liked weird things, something my brothers don't always appreciate.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Favorite Character I've Created

I play Dungeons & Dragons. It has fostered my creativity in ways no writer's workshop or art class has really managed to for me. There have been a few memorable characters I've created among my gaming group, one of the more popular ones being a pirate queen who was transformed into a natural Weretiger upon encountering a certain artifact. Her strength went through the roof, and saved the party from many a nasty fall by having superior reflexes and the power to merely haul everyone up to safety.

However, my own personal favorite that I've put a great deal of energy into is a druid named Shadesa. In her first incarnation, she was a human from the Icewind Dale, an arctic region in Faerun. My particular character trait with her was to play her like a dazed hippie from the 60s, who grew all her "plants" in her hair. This trait became handy for storing spell components as well, making storage space much easier. Since we started the campaign in Waterdeep, a good ways away from her home, I initially came up with a silly story phrase to describe how she came to be traveling: it involved a rabbit, an ice demon, and a spork, and she doesn't like talking about it overly much. This prompt led to a great deal of harassment from my group, as they wanted to know the juicy details, which I didn't rightly know at the time. I eventually came up with more plot for her back story, but it remains unfinished. Suffice to say it involves a great deal of social shunning, and a family history for flipping out all batshit crazy.

I built Shadesa up as a druid/scout, with plenty of ranged attack abilities to make her spells more effective in combat. Unfortunately, as often happens in gaming groups, real life events made it difficult to meet up and play, leading to a gradual disinterest in continuing the story. Which was a shame, as we had almost reached the coveted 20th level, and the promise of epic powers to kick much ass with. A few months later the possibility of restarting the campaign came up, albeit many generations later in terms of storytelling.

Upon revisiting the Faerun campaign, I asked my GM if I could reforge Shadesa as a pixie, since I'd always wanted to play one. Needless to say, Shadesa is way more formidable as a pixie caster than she was as a scouting sniper. Now she rides around on her animal companion when not flying around the battlefield, a Fleshraker dinosaur named Barnaby. I imagine him like this picture, complete with top hat. The story of the ice demon, the rabbit, and the spork is still unresolved, and I don't know when I'll get the urge to get back to it. In the meantime, I do an inner victory dance every time my druid's magic creates havoc and utter destruction. Plus I get to act like a stoner hippie who has an incredible fascination with shiny objects, without ever having to actually indulge in such things. Good times. Good times.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In View, a Humble, Vaudevillian Villain

Today we had to write about the tensions leading up to the American Revolution, which involved a lot of reference to the "consent of the people to be governed."

The founding fathers firmly believed in the innate right of the people to consent to authority's power to rule them, and that if that power is abused, then it is the people's right to change or destroy that government. This idea, laid out in the Declaration of Independence, contrasted greatly with Great Britain, who believed that the government knew better than the people how to do its job, and those darn upstart colonies should heed to their betters.

This line of thinking led me to contemplating other instances of revolution throughout history, such as those that occurred in France, South America, and Africa. Then I started thinking about V for Vendetta, and how that movie would present all this ideology in a more palatable format than having to write from the point of view of a 1770s citizen of the colonies. Then I started trying to recite that alliterative speech Hugo Weaving makes (in my head, lecture was still happening), and, realizing where my thoughts had gone, had to check myself for levels of literary geekery. Seeing how many allusionary buttons I own that make literature jokes, I can only conclude that yes, I have unusually high amounts of lit nerd. Now I'm wondering how V would teach British history...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Puritans and Ice Cream

One of the classes I'm forced to take in order to appease my community college that yes, I did pay attention when I took these same classes over the four year period I earned my BA in Idaho, is American history. Although now it is called Core Humanities, which makes no sense to me, but then I try to stay away from administrative politics and financial planning.

It's hard to take this class seriously, as I'm not that unfamiliar with American and World History, even if I tend to focus on the more mythological aspects of a culture's history. I'm one of those students who got a bigger kick out of the textbook when we read about actual people stabbing each other. College was great for that, not so much high school. I also had to read a lot of American literature for my prior degree, which until the 1800s stuck to realistic fiction that was similar enough to reading history textbooks unless you got to read the folk stories about ghosts and fairy people who like to stab mortals in the face for mucking up nature. History channel documentaries are also good, as they explain why people were stabbing other people. In fact, here's a blog that's all about the badass people in history!

Anyways, right now in my class we're on the early years of the American colonies, specifically the Puritans and the Salem witch trials. I've never understood why someone would want to believe something as restrictive as Puritanism, but their ideology lives on in conservative Americans today. Just check out the Republican standings on current issues, it is eerily similar to early American Christian beliefs. I've even written a paper about the struggles of being Puritan; actually it was about Anne Bradstreet, the first published American writer, ironically a Puritan woman. Her poetry is rather fun once you understand the societal backdrop she lived in. So yes, I'm familiar with the Puritans and their impact on American history.

The bumper sticker version of Puritanism is, "the fear that somewhere, someone is happy." It is a constant striving for very uncertain reward - you were predestined from before birth for salvation or damnation. Yet no one could possibly know whether they were on the good list or the bad list! But wait, it gets more crazy and messed up. Doing good works didn't guarantee a spot on the salvation list, but it did get one a high standing in the community. The Bible is the only authority for Christian doctrine; if it's not in the Bible, it is heresy. There was also an inherent misogyny - the ideal wife was submissive, silent, and a good mother to their children. But in this time period, it was thought that a woman's very nature made them more susceptible to giving in to the devil. This idea was built off medieval thinking of Eve, who brought about the fall of humanity by wanting knowledge like God. Women were also thought to be inherently more lustful than men.

As if this religious craziness weren't enough, life in the early colonies was extremely difficult. Imagine a home life so bad that the only viable alternative is to take a 3-4 month voyage in cramped, dirty conditions with other people in order to build a new life in an unknown land. Even bringing tools and livestock, the Puritans were incredibly unprepared for the climate of North America. The winters were hard, and the soil was rocky and poor. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Native Americans were a constant threat, seeing as they believed they had first dibs on a land they had lived in for centuries before Europeans came along. It didn't help that the diseases Europeans brought devastated the native populations and further interactions completely disrupted their traditional ways of life. Governance was also an issue, as the monarchies of Europe tried very hard to maintain control across several miles of ocean, and land grants could be revoked at a moment's notice. Even though the early colonies were largely farm based, by the late 17th century urban centers could be found along waterways in order to facilitate trade. All these factors could be seen in the atmosphere of Salem village in 1692. Another thing, Salem village conservative farmers also clashed with the more liberal merchants of Salem Town, whom were seen as decidedly lacking the moral convictions of the Puritans. The heaviest sin one could commit socially was to not attend church. Because day-to-day living was so difficult, there was little leisure time.  Having fun was frowned upon, and could even get you arrested. Which makes me wonder how the trial would go for someone eating ice cream. Maybe if the accused tried to prove how they couldn't possibly enjoy such a treat. If you ever are forced to read Nathanial Hawthorne's fictional works on Puritan society, namely The Scarlet Letter and Young Goodman Brown, you not only have my sincerest sympathies for trying to read it, but I hope you take the message of those stories to heart. Puritans are sticks in the mud and love to make people miserable. By the way, the recent film Easy A is a badly done teen comedy attempting to revive the plot of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. It doesn't work as well in the modern age since not having sex as a teenager is more of a social stigma than being a slut, at least according to Hollywood.

Back to the Puritans, a lot of factors went into the hysteria of the witch trials in 1692. Witches, by the way, are a very bizarre fantasy of the Christian mind in the 17th century. Borne out of the religious intolerances of Catholic Europe, a witch was someone who made a contract with the Devil, allowing evil spirits to assume their shape and do wicked deeds. More often than not, witch hunts were used to cleanse the community and sniff out heretics. It was a crime against Christianity, and also a crime against the ruling authorities (the Church of England's authority was the ruling monarch. This is why the founding fathers very much wanted separation of church and state, as they noticed the historical pattern of bad things happening when the physical ruler also ruled the state religion). Witches could perform impossible feats of strength, fly, and had something called a "witch's mark." The mark was a growth on the accused witch's body, thought to be an extra teat for evil spirits to suck out the power the witch gained from harming others (seriously, like mammal babies drinking mommy's milk). Also, if people started having hallucinations or epileptic fits, it was assumed witchcraft was at work. Torture was an acceptable method of collecting evidence and extracting a confession, one of the more popular methods being to dunk the accused in water to see if they floated. Apparently innocent people sink, to which I have to wonder how they were to be retrieved; I mean, it says in the Bible not to murder people, and you'd think being able to breathe underwater would also be grounds for being a witch.

According to my books, over 150 people were accused, a large percentage of them older women who owned property. Fifty-five confessed to being witches, 21 were hanged, including two dogs, and one man was pressed to death. Being convicted criminals at death, they didn't get proper burial services or grave markers until the 1970s. The most famous fictional work on the subject is Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, which is also thought to be an allegory of Senator McCarthy's "Red scare" in the 1950s. Here is a quaint summary of the play. The film wasn't too horrible either, if you don't mind watching people who obviously bathe in mud enact dramatic tension.

I do not look down on someone of strong conviction. I myself have strong beliefs about the world. What I often find irritating to deal with is those people unwilling to be flexible enough to realize other people do not share their strong conviction, or continue to spout their beliefs in spite of strong evidence to the contrary. As Albert Einstein was quoted, "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." The current American atmosphere shows me that we haven't changed much in the past 200 years. Yesterday it was witches and communists. Today is terrorists, religious fanatics and liberals. Tomorrow, it'll be people who like peppermint ice cream. Because that stuff is clearly evil ;P

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Further Adventures of Silly Shenanigans

Before I formally began my Steampunk campaign, I thought it prudent to brainstorm some minor adventuring ideas. Again bouncing off of the setting created by Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald," I wrote them in the style of Victorian newspaper ads, using similar language to 19th century adverts and announcements. I really can't imagine my literature teachers expecting such knowledge to be used in this way...

By the way, I thoroughly recommend the short story, "I Cthulu" for more hilarious takes on Lovecraft's universe.


Guards for hire needed at local science exhibition. Volunteers to be interviewed at the Artemis room in Sonjara Hall.

The Missus won't stop shrieking until her annoying pet furball has been recovered or replaced. All proprietors should inquire at 4623 Sheffield Lane.

Restaurant needs sturdy explorers to gather rare ingredients. 714 Pariotti Way, Ask for Penuchi.

Missing brooch, big reward! -Miss Hafter of 648 Junichi Place

Package delivery services needed. Inquire at the Lackadaisy Club on Irelis Street.


Crazy professor of Ilostan technology vaporized by own super weapon. Auction of property pending.

For sale: machine puppet with glowing pendant. Send inqueries to Dr. Jay Pettatio of Sozen Street.

Fireworks display at the Sabrosen residence canceled until giant blob vacates the premises.

The Musuem of Antiquity will be closed temporarily due to possible cursing by recent exhibit artifacts. Any prior visitors experiencing strange symptoms of fast aging, duck feet, or out of the ordinary homicidal urges are asked to report to the nearest Authority stations for de-hexing procedures.

Prospects look good for gold and mineral recovery in the Sierra Mountains of the Northern California Republic. Captain Jonathan R. Davis is expected to continue escorting groups of miners for the near future.

Need players for Kung fu Ping-pong. Enlist today at San Wufong Lodge!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Steampunk is Cool

I originally got the idea for a steampunk world after reading Neil Gaiman's short story, "A Study in Emerald." Being the massive nerd I am, I thought it would be awesome for my group of roleplaying buddies to romp around a 19th century fantasy setting not unlike the incredible webcomic Girl Genius, but with much, much more in the way of aliens and mutants running around. To any readers unfamiliar with the stylings of steampunk, it is essentially reimagining the Victorian/Edwardian eras of the 19th-early 20th centuries as if they had gained access to the knowledge and technologies of the future, but still only use the resources available in that timeframe, such as steam engines, or diesel machines. Consider the films Wild Wild West, or Back to the Future 3, the comic League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the film was shit), the aforementioned Girl Genius, any books by Jules Verne, etcetera if a visual is required.

So without further ado, here is the beginning text I wrote up to introduce my friends to the world of Dark Wall:

    The arrival of the Old Ones changed everything. It was their rather destructive entrance that started the whole mess of anachronisms and magic floating about with hardly a how-de-do. Mucking about with the dimensional framework that upholds the universe together tends to shake things up in a rather ugly fashion, so to speak. Nowadays its not uncommon to find horses stabled next door to the local mad genius inventor. Of course, having a decent mechanic is integral to anyone's survival in this strange hodgepodge world. The royals are certainly no help in maintaining order, governments are just as likely to be run by outlaws as proper authorities! Pardon me, this newfangled lighter is a bit tricky...~click,click~ *puff* Where was I? Ah yes, and those crazy "magicians," bah! Just talking to one is enough to send a logically-minded sort into fits! But enough of history, what I really wanted to talk about was this Calassius bloke, just hear this piece of work:
    "Sometimes destiny just calls a man into the service of the greater good. No man can escape his fate. A mandate from the masses, if ignored, will become a deafening cry just before it vanishes. But when the dust of aeons clears, destiny will find him out; his protestations having served ultimately as a minute and frivolous delay, and nothing more. Better to be swept up in the surge than drowned in the undertow of that vast ocean that is time."
    Restorationist malarchy, that's what it is!

~Kallen Romano, denizen of Dark Wall


The city of Dark Wall did not always bear that name. However, once the 100-story metal facade appeared out of the mists one day, it was hard to think of a better moniker. The giant cockroach-looking clerk studiously checks every page of the passport application, adjusting its tiny spectacles now and again. It seemed impossible to determine if the bug was male or female, and it seemed too forward to ask. "All seems in order," it finally clicked out. Stamping the city passport, it collects the sheaf of papers and sticks it in a mail slot behind its head. With another appendage, it slides the packet of passport documents under the window slot. "Recent regulations passed down by the royal houses require all visitors to carry their passport with them at all times. You may renew the documents at any facility bearing the mark of the House of Dross. Included in your packet today is a map of the main city and some brochures of popular locations. Enjoy your stay. NEXT!"

When space-time was ripped asunder in 1873 by the arrival of the Old Ones, reality in some places did a back flip and screamed bloody murder. Not only did many new and strange beings suddenly flood the streets of once familiar cities, pools of magical energy warped the world into something unrecognizable. With the surge in magic came a stronger ability to use it, at least in certain individuals. Some bloodlines even noticed a knack for a certain type of magic. Also, a great deal of once-secretive magical beings decided the need to hide from the Age of Enlightenment was now unnecessary. The Old Ones took over many of the major powers, declaring themselves the true Royals of those lands, and basically usurped the governments. Although if officials proved useful, they were not always offed in a publicly bloody fashion. One of the biggest changes was the creation of city-states. Especially in Europe and the Americas, some of the larger cities opted to become their own entities in order to maintain some illusion of independence. Therefore there are such areas as the United Emirates of Southern California, the empire of New York City, Northern Madrid, and the duchy of Paris. Other cities were altered by the space-time rip. For example, the Vatican is now a floating island that wanders about the Mediterranean. Leaps in technology and medicine were one benefit of the return of the Old Ones, steam power being the preferred method of invention. While there are flying contraptions and horseless carriages, the machines are not yet manufactured for public use, and remain an expensive hobby for the rich with ennui. Outlaws tend to rule the vast empty spaces of the world, including the American Midwest, a significant chunk of Russia, Mongolia, and China, the Australian Outback, most of Africa, and some portions of Brazil. Crime Syndicates can be found throughout most of the industrialized parts of the world, and are just as likely to carry literal boomsticks as firearms. There are a number of political factions of various opinion on whether it was a good thing the Old Ones arrived. One of the most prominently known secretive groups is the Restorationists, who believe that by killing off the Royals, they will eventually take a hint and return to their old dimension. While it seems they will unlikely succeed, not even the Old Ones can completely eradicate them. Expect the usual apocalyptic crazies as well as opium addicts staggering around from time to time. Feel free to worship any deity from fantasy, from real-world mythology, or your character may also be a firm believer in the Age of Reason. Running around screaming like a maniac is also acceptable. Here is a nice example of a typical city. Merely add whatever cultural icons would be present in that country.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bubble Baths Reduce the Frequency of Mass Murder

Some of my friends have heard excessively by now that I took a five-week culinary arts course over the summer, and also of my unfortunate pairing with a horrible lab partner. The man had to have Asberger's or something, I can't really fathom how he managed to pass the prerequisites for the class.

In order to qualify for the course, one had to complete a Basic Skills class, which taught such things as how make the classic French cuts, sanitation, the best cooking or prep tool for the job, and other essential information one should know before working in a professional kitchen. The Basic Skills class also required basic understanding of English and Math for obvious reasons. It should also be noted that classic Western cuisine, what many consider fine dining or gourmet, is founded on French techniques, because they figured out how to be awesome at it first and make money while doing so.

Bearing all this information in mind, I was constantly amazed that this guy knew so little about what we were doing and why we were doing it, ESPECIALLY AFTER BEING SHOWN WHAT TO DO. Now I myself am the sort of person who likes knowing "what" and "why," if  my DVR backlogs of Mythbusters and Good Eats are any sort of glaring indication, but if a person in the culinary arts doesn't understand the concept of 'reduce' or 'whip egg whites to a foam' when instructed to do so, I think they need to instead apply for a truck driver's certificate. For example:

I have been doodling more such little comics about my frustrating experiences, and am strongly considering posting them here, where the likelihood of me caring about someone being insulted is relatively low. I will mention too, how if it were not for the jacuzzi tub bubble baths I took on a weekly basis, I think I may have resorted to mass murder at my culinary arts school.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I am entirely certain that the dip in my bed is the primary cause of my continued back pain, as I distinctly remember not waking up feeling like a pretzel while I was down in California.

In other news, I have been unsuccessfully attempting to clear off my art table so I can work on things when the creative muse whacks me over the head. For now I'm researching things for my RPG campaign. Being in the Palm Desert area helped inspire me for when my PCs wander around a reimagining of the Wild West. This world has lots of things that will probably be more at home in Egypt or Africa. So if anyone complains, I'll remind them that not only is it a fantasy world, but it's one affected by the tearing of reality, so of course things will be random.

Actually, that'd be a great subject for the next series of posts. The internet needs some more crazy hahaha.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

California Vacation, Day 4

The Date Tree hotel in Indio, CA has to be one of the best hotels ever. Seriously, there were so many little touches that showed they actually cared about their guests. The beds were so comfortable! I enjoyed not having to pop my neck after waking up. I especially liked the 24-hour pool and hot tub setup, which I repeatedly took advantage of. Also, the continental breakfast is very lavish, you can make your own waffles!

Now, on this day of the trip, my friend insisted on taking me to a local date garden, the Shields date farm and grocery store. I never thought I would enjoy dates so much. I snatched a bunch of goodies to enjoy back home, including date sugar, and giggled over the random tourist-y gift products, as can  be seen in these photos:
Example of the birthday popup card

These drink recipes are actually cutting mats
These are some of the date gift boxes available at Shields

My friend bought us some date shakes and we went to the attached theater to watch The Romance and Sex Life of the Date. This movie chronicles the history of the farm as well as how difficult it is to cultivate dates, which is even more impressive when one takes into account that 95% of the date crop in the US comes from the Palm Springs area.By the way, a date shake tastes a lot like a vanilla ice cream shake, but with random textural changes as one sips up a chunk of fruit. I liked that it was low fat and had nice fiber content, definitely something I'll try to reproduce. Outside, I caught a view of some of the date palms, which are actually all over the desert valley:
There are bags on these trees in order to protect the ripening dates from spoilage by rain.
I will also show here photographic evidence of my friend's unfortunate car that was bought for her. It is an old Volvo used in driver's education, and the teacher thought it would be great to have her students autograph her car. I only managed to get good shots of the roof, but rest assured the doors have graffiti as well:

I feel so sorry she has to use this car everyday.

That evening we decided to hit up the downtown art museum until the street fair opened. The exhibits contained local art as well as some masterworks donated by collectors. The museum's policy was that no pictures could be taken of works the museum did not own, which was unfortunately about 85% of the artwork on display. The one we explored first was Native American comics and comic-style artwork. Can someone explain why the comic book Tribal Force only published one issue? It looked so bad-ass, I certainly would have read it had I known of its existence! Other artists created visual commentaries on the racism that cloud views of native cultures, such as the Cleveland Indians mascot. One interesting piece was of a girl with a moonscape backdrop done in anime style, but the museum felt people had to have an example of what anime was, and set two manga books by the picture. My friend and I both felt that Trigun and The Ring were not exactly contextually relevant to a piece that had more in common with Sailor Moon, but such is the silliness of some so-called art authorities. There were also more traditional native artworks, such as rugs, baskets, pottery, and sculptures. It was a great contrast and blending of ancient and modern cultural voices.

Also of interest were glass media displays, one such piece looked like someone thrust a thin pane of glass into a tree, but on closer inspection, the glass is a thick chunk like a rock! The modern art wing was more often puzzling than not. One artist made a very lifelike replica of a nude woman. It creeped me out, as I couldn't stop imagining the thing coming to life and trying to rip my face off. My close friends ought to be well aware of my pediophobia, which I had developed long before Coraline was released. Another artist used mirrors to create the illusion of a deep shaft of bricks, which I couldn't stare at for long without getting dizzy. The contemporary art displays had a few pieces I could take pictures of, such as these:
This sculpture is apparently cast bronze of driftwood pieces
I have a thing for shiny objects with chaotic colors
That is me standing next to the statue!
Time flew by more quickly than expected, and night had fallen when we were thrown out so the museum could close. Anyone who lives in Palm Springs during the summer has my deepest sympathies, I could not live in a place where dark brings no solace from the heat. It was a great fair though, I bought a nice set of handmade jewelry to add to my collection. I found a cute set of feather earrings, a woven leather bracelet with a pretty blue stone, and three natural stone chain bracelets. See them in the photo along with the straw fedora I found at Ross:

My friend bought some handmade soaps, which I also might have indulged in were it not for the fact that 1) I dislike trying to preserve bar soap long enough to get any use out of it, and 2) I have too many soap products as it is. I was quite amazed at my restraint, although if the stuff were usable as candles I may not have had as much willpower. Another vendor had some incredibly crafted dragon and mythological creatures ornaments woven from hemp:

We ate from a food truck that had quite a charming theme going, Drunken Gourmet, which, as you may have guessed, served products that involved an alchoholic ingredient. Here is that evening's menu:

We ordered sliders so as to try as many varieties of the meat filling as possible, and I must say, those foods would also be great to serve out of a food truck. They also had carrot and banana split cupcakes, but we were too stuffed to try them. I gave the owners the idea of caramel apple cupcakes as we left, because I'm nice like that.

By that time it was 10 pm and the street fair was closing up, so we headed back to the car. My friend felt the need to stop at a cafe for coffee, and I indulged her as she agreed to pay for drinks. This place had the ability to make any of their teas into lattes, so I tried one of the odder flavors. I ordered a Japanese Cherry latte, which was so amazing I will have to scour the internet for this freaking fantastic tea. Now if I am able to find good deals, my food truck will have a nice selection of unique products.

Also, I am so happy I found Skechers Shape Ups at Ross, those things ensured my legs and feet were not at all sore after all that walking!

Friday, August 12, 2011

California Vacation, Day 3

The third day was meant to begin early, as my friends wanted to reach Magic Mountain before the crowds became too heavy. I was dubious about my ability to ride any roller coasters, considering I had been diagnosed with Meniere's syndrome  about three years ago. I was fully aware that sudden changes in elevation as well as significant inertial forces would mess me up big time. Still, I hoped to hold out for a bit while my friends had fun on some rides.

Unfortunately, they are the sort of people who want their friends to have a good time too, or the outing is pointless. They fully intended to get me to ride a coaster, even going so far as to suggest taking the OTC drug Dramamine in order to combat my tendency to get dizzy from certain motions. I put off going directly to any roller coaster, instead exploring the gift shops in the DC Universe area of the park while my friends rode the new Green Lantern ride and the Batman one. Everything was gloriously tacky, as tourist gift shops usually are. I was almost tempted to buy a Batman themed t-shirt, but alas, nothing was available in my size.

Unable to avoid the inevitable, my friends dragged me in line for The Riddler's Revenge, thinking the smoothness of the ride would not affect me as much. I am much too nice for my own good, I realized too late. See some of these pictures of the ride and wonder at my brief moment of insanity.

The Coaster
More of the Coaster

Needless to say, I was not happy after this ride. I think I was hyperventilating and in a full out panic attack from the onset of vertigo. Anyone who has not experienced the sensation of vertigo is incredibly lucky, it is such a horrible thing. The world starts to spin, and it's like I'm free-falling through the supercycle of an industrial dryer. The lack of control freaks me out, and if I don't find an immediate means of grounding myself, the resulting nausea and dizziness makes me vomit and/or pass out. Valium usually helps calm me down enough to remain conscious and breathing, but I had stupidly left the prescription bottle in my bag back in my friend's car. After I was able to walk, we headed for the first aid station, thinking maybe they had nausea medicine. They didn't, the pricks. So since I was unable to ride anything without severe damage to myself, my friends didn't see any point in staying at the park. I felt really guilty about cutting the trip short, but they had season passes they could still use at a later date. Besides, I did repeatedly warn them about my condition and the potential consequences of riding roller coasters. We ate at a nearby Wendy's before heading out. I felt it necessary to comment that the value menu being $2 just because of the establishment's proximity to the Six Flags park was both atrocious and admirable business sense.

The evening dinner my friend made was amazing, and more than made up for the disaster at the theme park. It was a chickpea patty with caramelized onions and a smoky, melty cheese sauce on toasted whole grain bread, all completely vegan! I am going to replicate it as best I can once I get back to my kitchen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

California Vacation, Day 2

On the second day of my trip, I had finally gone to sleep around 1am, after attending the Phish concert with my friends. My friends went out for munchies to that all-American repository of cheap cuisine, Denny's. They apparently returned at 4 am, but I didn't notice.

I woke up around 8 am, and was showered, dressed and ready for the day. However, seeing as my friends were lost in slumber, I figured to go have my own munchies run. The new line of "regional cuisines" Denny's is attempting to sell is rather hilarious. I fail to see how the Northwest is best known for its iced coffee, but I hate coffee and have never been to Seattle. I'd wanted to try the Hawaiian stuff, as I've always been sucked in by tropical fruit flavors, but in trying to watch my waistline, I ordered a simple vegetable omelette, no cheese, with dry wheat toast and fruit instead of hash brown potatoes. By the way, don't ever invite me to a restaurant unless you want an earful about the nutritional quality or lack thereof in your favorite dishes.

Upon returning, my friends were still fast asleep, so I opted to check my emails and interneted for awhile. Lunchtime rolled around when they finally showed signs of life. Realizing that hiking and amusement park visits would be more enjoyable with a sensible pair of shoes, my friend and I embarked on a quest for a decent outlet store. Buying shoes, socks, and a hat at a local Ross reminded me of the time my family went to a Naval graduation in South Carolina when my mom decided she NEEDED a new hat, and ended up purchasing one at Walmart.

Thus equipped with new threads, my friend and I used her smart phone to find someplace to eat. A Japanese style buffet sounded interesting, but we ended up spending 20 minutes trying to find the location, seeing as either us or the phone was confused at some point. Finally realizing the restaurant must have closed, we hiked around for awhile and ended up eating at a Vietnamese noodle shop. Right next door was a Boba tea cafe, so I think the excursion turned out well. The machine used to mix the drinks gave me a brilliant idea for a food truck. If I can write out a good enough business plan, my hometown may see mobile Boba tea at local events! I'd even concoct baked goods to sell, but I'm not sure about coffee or other drinks.

Upon returning to the hotel, my friend and I tried to think of something to do. It was LA after all, but we were both broke and not much for the club scene. After bickering for an hour, I decided I'd take advantage of the hotel hot tub. My friend came down to hang out on the side, as she failed to bring a swimsuit. Chatting for awhile about recipes, and nothing in particular, we ended up ordering pizza and watching Rambo on tv. I quite enjoyed the relaxation of the day, as that was the whole reason I was on vacation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

California Vacation, Day 1

My first Phish concert was in Los Angeles, which I attended with my best friend and her significant other. "Interesting" does not seem a sufficient descriptor for my experience of this musical group and corresponding fanbase. First of all, since I'm not entirely certain this blog will be visited by persons knowledgeable of this band, I will attempt to provide some background information. However, keep in mind that until the Phish concert in LA, I had never heard their music. Look them up on Youtube sometime to get a taste of the live shows.

Phish's sound reminds me of the rhythm and blues rock of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Eric Clapton, only much more nonsensical. For example, the lyrics of one the songs played goes: Steal away before the dawn/and bring us back good news/but if you've tread in primal soup/please wipe it from your shoes. The fans consist of extremely nice people, the predominant personality type being of the outgoing hippie variety. I dare not list all the substances I suspect these people partake in, partly for legal reasons, and partly because I'd rather not incur anyone's wrath for tattling. The funny part about all this is that I'm straight-edge, meaning I don't like drinking much alcohol or taking any drugs. But wait, some people may think, that's not exactly the sort of crowd this person would like spending time with! Think of all the horrible temptations there are! But see, I still manage to have fun at such parties, as I get a huge kick out of watching people act ridiculous, especially when they add questionable influences to the mix. Just because I don't dabble doesn't mean I mind that other people do.

Anyways, I had arrived at the airport in LA that morning at about 10 am. I had been forced to wake up at 3 am to make my flight. Even with short naps here and there, I was already fairly exhausted. My friends had staked out a parking spot, having experienced the chaos of Phish shows before. This setup meant I had to recruit a shuttle to make it to the venue. $26 later, I managed to arrive at the Hollywood Bowl. This place is a huge outdoor amphitheater, able to hold a few thousand people easily. The seating consisted of wooden picnic benches, and there was squishy plastic flooring, which I thought rather odd for a place attempting to be "nature-y." My friends kept regaling me with tales of the massive tail-gating antics the crowds hold before and after the concert. I had not planned on actually attending, but as the concert was that evening, I had plenty of time for a nap before the show. Luckily, there was someone who had an extra ticket willing to sell at the face value of $60, meaning I would have to save my 1337 stealthy ninja moves for another day. Some hours later, I was more awake, and all of us were rather bored as the lot was not filling up very quickly. Even though people were arriving, my friends were baffled by the lack of vendors and general chaos. Things didn't really pick up until 5 pm, meaning they could have easily picked me up at the airport. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes.

Walking around the parking lots of the venue, we finally discovered some revelry across the street. This place is also where I started snapping photos, as the costumes and accessories some of the people wore were just amazing to behold, like something randomly shiny found on a thrift store shelf. Being something of a magpie, I was of course attracted to all the colors and strangeness of it all. I like to think of the people in these photos as the sparkling Phishies, haha.

Also these monkeys amused me greatly

Needing drinks for the concert, my friend and I started looking for a convenience store. Inconveniently, the nearest store was about a half mile down the road, and all I'd pack to walk in were flip flops. Did I mention it was 86 F outside, with full sunshine? This shop was also where we discovered the local law enforcement was rather relaxed, which surprised my friend somewhat. LAPD notwithstanding, apparently these concerts get a bit wild. We made our purchases and hastily made our way back to the car, so as to pack up all gear for inside the theater. Not knowing how in-depth security would be, my friends tried to prepare me for what would lie ahead.

Once the concert started, I was pleasantly surprised by the light show. It is on par with what the Trans-Siberian Orchestra uses for their concerts (again, use Youtube if this band is unknown to you). Here are some pictures of the stage before the show. I was sitting about halfway up the entire theater, so it is also a good sense of the scale of the place.

I met a pleasant gentleman while wandering around the theater dancing like crazy, and found his sign adorable. I was unaware my flash had died on my camera, so these pictures are somewhat dark.

Unfortunately, a great deal of smoke also started up from people in the audience enjoying themselves, but it gave me a headache. I tried to hold out for the first set, which was not difficult since the audience seemed just as determined to put on a show. I caught a great many people on camera who really can't dance, but the music had that sort of energy to it no one minded. They also threw light sticks, beach balls, inflated balloons, and who knows what else at each other. After the first set, my friends and I felt safe enough to move seats, since everyone else was wandering around anyway. Since there was apparently a surplus of extra tickets to this sold-out show, there was fortunately a large enough selection of empty seats from which to choose an area without a great deal of smoke. About half way through the second set I fell asleep on the benches, which some readers may think is impossible at an outdoor rock concert, but I had plenty of practice after living with two brothers and a hyperactive four-year-old. Also, the fact that this group played "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Paul Simon that night is a big deal, according to my friends. The drummer, I'm told, rarely sings songs, but he has a good voice nonetheless.

Supposedly there was to be an after-party, which might have been alright with the parked cars as stacked as they were, but the venue's staff had other ideas. It was a Monday night, dang it, and everyone was going home at a reasonable hour! So we were all shuffled out before it was even 11 pm. I fell asleep again on the way to the hotel, while my friends chattered away about past concerts. Upon arriving and laying down for bed, I decided that sleeping like a log is not a bad end to such a day.

So that was my first experience of Phish, which was apparently not at all what a typical concert by this group is supposed to be like. Still, it was a massive amount of fun, and I'd gladly go to another concert, albeit with better planning the next time around.