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May the frosting be with you February 3, 2019

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This weekend was my husband’s birthday, and since he’s a big Star Wars fan (and I wanted to try out my new candy melting pot), I decided to make Star Wars cupcakes!

I used the new X-Wing and Millennium Falcon silicone mold I got for Christmas to make the cupcake toppers.

I melted bright white candy melts in my electric candy pot, together with a few leftover Halloween chocolates…

… and poured it into the molds, then put them in the fridge for half an hour to harden. (With thanks to my daughter for photography credit.)

Presto! Delicious candy starships. Now on to the cupcakes. (Chocolate, of course.)

For the frosting, I started with a basic butter cream frosting. Homemade, I don’t do store bought in this house.

I wanted to do a bit of a galaxy style for the frosting, so I split it in half, made half into chocolate and split the other half to colour blue and purple.

Filled up a piping bag, gave it a quick swirl, and it was ready to go.

Used a big star tip and started frosting.

I also added some edible silver glitter dust to complete the galaxy look. It’s not super obvious, but it does add a little pop.

Once that was done, it was time for the ships.

And voila! The colours didn’t turn out quite as I was hoping they would, but I’m pretty pleased with the results. They’re also very tasty.

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On pride January 17, 2019

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Pride. One of the Seven Deadly Sins.

It is not so much taught as it is ingrained into our society that pride is the worst form of narcissism.

But is it really so evil? Is it so wrong to feel proud of our accomplishments? Who does it harm for someone to take joy in being smart, or pretty, or strong, or creative? Why is it such a grave insult for one to respond to a compliment by agreeing with it?

No, I think the true evil is egotism. Putting oneself before everyone else. This, in my opinion, is far more rampant and far more insidious than pride.

After all, when one takes it as an affront if someone agrees with a compliment, whose ego is so paramount that it becomes challenged? A compliment should be given selflessly; to turn it around and say that the compliment is somehow lessened because the receiver did not bestow the proper praise upon the giver changes the intention entirely.

It’s why people are so quick to argue about the things they enjoy, or don’t. It always baffles me, even frustrates me, that so many people can’t seem to let others like what they like. Their opinions become so important that it becomes a personal threat when others don’t feel the same way. The perceived challenge to their worldview overrides any understanding that another’s enjoyment (or non-enjoyment) of something has no bearing on one’s own opinions.

This egotism seems the source of so many problems in today’s society. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, other forms of bigotry—it all derives from this need to be better than others. Denial of white privilege—belief that a systemic issue is instead a personal condemnation. Judging others over everything from how they look to how they live—reinforcing the idea that one’s own being is better than others’.

All of these problems hide the fact that none of these perceived issues have any bearing or judgment upon the viewer’s life. Does that person who looks funny diminish one’s own self-worth? Does accepting that being born white means one has an easier time in life affect one’s value? Does the fact that gay people exist really have any impact over one’s life at all?

No. It’s all a result of inflating one’s ego above others.

I don’t mean to say that all of this is done maliciously. In fact, I think a lot of such problems are related to the fact that we are taught not to feel pride. Because we’re not allowed to take joy in our accomplishments or positive traits, we seek that validation of self-worth in destructive ways. And for those who are more attuned to those destructive habits, it results in rampant imposter syndrome, feelings of worthlessness, and depression.

I think it’s time to admit that pride isn’t the enemy. Of course, one can take it too far, but then it goes back to the problem of egotism. So be proud of your accomplishments. Take joy in whatever part of yourself makes you happy. And more importantly, allow others to feel pride when they’ve earned it. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if you find yourself feeling insulted by someone else’s views or appearance or being, maybe stop and ask yourself if it really has any impact on your own life before saying something.

On resolutions January 11, 2019

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newyears2019When I was younger, I wasn’t crazy about New Year’s. (Admittedly, I didn’t get invited to many parties.) These days, however, I like the spirit of renewal. A blank slate. Casting off the wearied remnants of the old year and looking toward the bright potential of the future.

Yes, it’s an arbitrary date and people shouldn’t need an excuse to improve themselves. But it’s a landmark. A reminder, when we’re so often swept up in the chaos of our daily lives, that we should constantly be trying to better ourselves.

And now, in the Information Age, it’s easier than ever to do. Free apps can teach you a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw and meditate and all sorts of things. YouTube videos can show you how to make or do almost anything. There’s a mountain of free ebooks and online courses out there that can help you master a new skill or subject. Most of these options are even broken down into chunks that only require a few minutes a day. There’s no excuse not to attempt any pursuit one might desire.

I don’t tend to make resolutions. I made an exception with my Goodreads reading challenge for 2019, and I’ll admit I like the push it gives me. Otherwise, however, I don’t want to pressure myself. I prefer goals. Google Fit keeps trying to get me to lower my fitness goals, make them more consistently attainable for me. But I’m not out to check boxes off every day. I want to strive for those goals. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make them, but I’ll allow myself to feel good if I do.

I don’t have a lot of goals for 2019. I already started trying to exercise regularly a few months ago, and last year I made some changes to my health that significantly improved my overall quality of life. I want to read more, of course. I do want to try to get the second Sisters of Chaos book out this year. Editing continues to be a slog, but I’m using the spirit of improvement the new year provides to try to push myself to at least continue working on it.

Of course, with all these options for personal improvement out there, it’s hard not to get swept up in the different things one can learn or do. I look at the guitar(s) in my bedroom and think about the apps I’ve looked at to try to start playing again. I watch my daughter using new art supplies and think about breaking out some of my own that I haven’t touched for years. I even downloaded one of those language learning apps on a whim last night.

Is it too much? Maybe. Do I have too little time to explore all these interests? Maybe not, at least based on the apps I’ve seen. Will I lose interest before the month’s out? Possibly. But these options are better than just sitting around playing a silly mobile game or watching cat videos on YouTube, which I tend to do more often in my free time because it’s easier than doing anything that can be judged. Maybe my true resolution should be to stop being intimidated by starting anything.

The key to a good new year is not merely hoping or wishing that it will be better. Now’s the time to start making things happen.

Here’s to a great 2019.

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The year of trying more? Oil pastels, 2.5″ x 3.5″

Books / time: the story January 6, 2019

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I love reading (as is probably obvious). Even my 7-year-old daughter now says, “you can’t have too many books”, gets excited when we go to the bookstore, and says “booooks” hungrily when confronted with a stack of them.

But I’ll admit I’m not the most prolific reader. The main excuses for that are that I spend free time engaged with other pastimes (writing) and a silly fear of commitment over starting new books. I also don’t consider myself a very fast reader, so I don’t get through books as quickly as perhaps I could.

2017 was my best year yet for reading since I started tracking my books read on Goodreads, at 26. However, I followed that up in 2018 with a paltry 10. Well, 11 when you count one book that wasn’t on Goodreads.

Granted, that’s only the measure of the books I read for enjoyment. That doesn’t count the thirty or forty books I read as part of my freelance work, or the handful of books I read (or reread) for Brain Lag. But it does seem a little sad after such a good 2017. And considering the number of new books I picked up last year, it does make me want to read more.

I’ve started the year on the right foot, at least. Whereas last year, I had a gap through to the end of March without any books read for pleasure, I finished my first book of 2019 tonight. It was even one I’ve been meaning to read for a few years. Progress!

I managed to whittle down my TBR shelf (we’ll pretend that row of books hidden behind them aren’t there) to six or seven before I started buying more new books last year. Maybe if I keep at it, I can finally get through those books I bought and haven’t read yet. (Again, we’re not mentioning all the books behind them on the shelf, or the dozens of ebooks I have on Kindle and Google Play.) Maybe if I do that, I can get back to some series I’ve partially read, or start reading other books I’ve been wanting to check out for years, read some authors and titles I’ve heard such good things about.

Or maybe I’ll continue getting lost in whatever ebook I happen to open in a moment of boredom or picking up whatever shiny title catches my eye at the library.

Some people may lament the idea of there being so many books that one cannot possibly hope to read all the ones they desire in a lifetime, but to me, I find reassurance in the knowledge that I’ll always have something to read.

I’d like 2019 to be a better year for books for me. I’ll make it a better year. I’ve never set myself reading goals on Goodreads, but maybe I’ll do that this year. I spend too much time goofing around on mobile games because of this weird anxiety over starting new books, when I’ve plenty of minutes throughout the day that I can find to get some reading in. It’s not hard to start a new book, and I know that.

It’s a new year. Time for new stories.

Pumpkinpalooza October 15, 2018

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For all my love of books, board and video games, miniature painting, and science fiction and fantasy, sometimes I take great joy in being domestic. In no way is this more apparent than with baking. And at this time of year, that means pumpkins.

I’ve become one of those people who is crazy about pumpkin goodies. I started out a few years ago, the first time I cooked a fresh pumpkin for muffins, and since then, I’ve made a lot of pumpkin recipes. Breads, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and more. Not all of them have worked spectacularly, but I’ve made enough that have turned out very nice that I thought I would share some today.

A couple of notes before I begin: first, I only use fresh pumpkin for my recipes. I tried canned pumpkin once and it was not nearly as tasty, so bear that in mind. Cooking a pie pumpkin is easy, anyway. Chop it in half, scoop out the pulp, cook for an hour, and puree the innards. It takes time, but not a lot of work.

Second, I feel that a lot of pumpkin recipes are a little heavy on the spice and light on the pumpkin flavour. So, my cardinal rule for pumpkin recipes is 50% more pumpkin, 50% less spice. This usually doesn’t affect the texture with fresh pumpkin, which is thicker than canned. I also tend to cut back on sugar, but I do that with all my baking. Of course, this is my preference.

Without further ado, my favourite pumpkin recipes:

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Pumpkin biscotti – recipe

This was one of my earliest pumpkin recipes, found after being randomly inspired to try searching for one, and has been my most popular. Aside from my cardinal rules, I follow the recipe precisely. Perfect for dunking in coffee or tea. (If you prefer a softer biscotti, however, you can cut the second baking time in half.)

Pumpkin scones

I’ve made the popular Starbucks copycat pumpkin scone recipe a few times, and while tasty, I found myself wanting a more authentic scone. After extensive research on the topic, it seemed to me that British scones are much like North American biscuits. So, I searched instead for a pumpkin biscuit recipe and was very pleased with the results. I did take a cue from the Starbucks knockoff and added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg and 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger, which peps it up nicely and makes it the perfect accompaniment to a nice cuppa tea and a grey day.

Pumpkin sugar cookies

This was entirely an experiment on my part last year that worked out better than I anticipated. I took a standard sugar cookie recipe, replaced half the butter with pumpkin, and added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. They are better when iced properly, but I wanted to show the colour for this post.

Ravioli with pumpkin alfredo sauce – recipe

After all these treats, I found this while searching for savoury pumpkin recipes. I made it for the first time a few weeks ago and it was an instant hit. I did not include the nuts in the recipe and added zucchini and mushrooms to the sauce, but otherwise followed the recipe closely, and it came out delicious. I also used ravioli stuffed with roasted cauliflower, which complemented the flavours nicely, but I imagine the sauce works just as well on regular pasta.

Finally, if I have just a little pumpkin left over, I recently discovered a very nice homemade pumpkin spice latte recipe, or my go-to is to use the rest in pumpkin pancakes. I eyeball this one more than measure, but I add about half a cup of pumpkin to a standard pancake batter and add a dash of cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Gen Con 2018 games wrap-up part 2 August 8, 2018

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Friday – 7:00-11:00 p.m. – Mistborn: House War

cover-cfg-13001-mistborn-house-war-retail-500x750I’ve been eyeing this game for a few years, because Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favourite book series. In this game based on said series, players take the role of the noble houses, gaining resources and solving problems in the Final Empire and trying to curry the most favour with the Lord Ruler – or, based on how the game progresses, the most disgrace.

I went into this game open-minded and very curious, but I wasn’t crazy about the theme of the game, since I was, essentially, playing as the villains from the books. The game play, however, turned out to be extremely compelling. This is particularly interesting in my case, because I don’t generally care for games in which one has to stab one’s friends in the back. However, the way Mistborn played, with equal parts working together with and against the other players, made it very interesting. The game wasn’t super complicated and there was almost no luck involved (no dice to curse me, huzzah!) which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Plus, the fact that maxing out the Unrest slider on the board means the player with the least favour wins adds a very interesting element to the game. Overall, this was a very fun game and I ended up picking up a copy.

Saturday – 7:00-10:00 – CATaclysm the Board Game

Shiraz Sheikh and Brent Logan Kickstarted CATaclysm the RPG last year, a game in which humans are gone and cats have evolved into the adventurous heroes, with oversized rats being their primary opponents. What my husband and I played was a prototype of an RPG-in-a-box version of CATaclysm, which the game creators plan to Kickstart later this year. I didn’t know this much going into it; we saw a listing for a cooperative miniatures game starring cats and decided to go for it.

Simply put, this was easily our favourite game of Gen Con. The game play was fantastic, the theme was just the right balance between silly and actually quite sensible (the heroes, being cats, take damage if they stay in water, except the Maine Coon, of course), and the 3D printed minis and prototype board, cards, and pieces were of excellent quality, not to mention adorable. Shiraz also did a fantastic job explaining the rules clearly and concisely, giving us just enough detail to get the gist of the game without bogging us down with unnecessary information, simplifying game play for the sake of the demo, and letting us mostly work it out ourselves while still being on hand to answer questions, clarify rules, and occasionally make suggestions. I also really like the fact that the enemies are all AI-controlled, so no one has to play against everyone else in the group.

I absolutely loved this game and am seriously looking forward to October, when they plan to Kickstart the game. I highly, highly recommend this game for fans of the RPG-in-a-box style.

And that’s a wrap! It doesn’t sound like much compared to last year, but I got in just the right amount of games for me, more actual board/table top games than I took in last year, and really enjoyed what I did play. It was a great weekend.

The Gen Con 2018 haul August 7, 2018

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20180806_122042I shared a photo of our Gen Con haul this year in my previous post, but I wanted to go into a little more detail than that, since we picked up so much stuff that the photo is a little busy. So, here’s the breakdown:

Books

Games

Artwork

Miscellaneous gaming merchandise

  • Seven X-Wing Miniatures promo cards
  • One pack version 2.0 T-65 X-Wing damage deck for Star Wars: X-Wing
  • Four packs version 1.0 damage deck promo cards for Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures
  • Four packs card protectors
  • Assorted dice

It was definitely a larger haul than usual, and certainly my own largest yet. Thanks again to Gen Con for providing a space and for all of the producers/creators for creating work I enjoyed so much.

Gen Con 2018 games wrap-up part 1 August 6, 2018

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Another fantastic Gen Con has come to an end. I had a blast, as always, particularly since I took a cue from last year and scheduled my evenings full, rather than leaving myself to my own devices. I also came away from the convention feeling very inspired and actually have some time to do something about it, so hopefully I can get some work done on some of my projects this month.

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Our haul this year

Strangely, though, I didn’t find as many events in the evenings that interested me, so despite my desire to game until midnight this year, two nights ended (or at least were scheduled to end) at 11:00, one at 10:00, and Wednesday night I was done by 9:00. (I was glad for that early night, however, after getting up at 3:30 that morning to make the drive.) Then the other nights ended up finishing early as the games wrapped up before schedule. I didn’t mind going back to the hotel early, though; adding a few hours of gaming onto an eight-hour work day is pretty exhausting.

And I did play some great games I’d never discovered before. So, without further ado, here comes my 2018 games wrap-up post.

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Finding light out of darkness June 9, 2018

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Once again, mental health is on our collective consciousness. The reasoning is tragic, but I’m glad that it is, because sometimes, those still fighting need to hear that others are thinking about them, that there is help available. Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain show us, once again, that depression doesn’t care how successful or inspiring one is. Even people who seem like they should have nothing to complain about can suffer from it, and I guarantee you that those so afflicted berate themselves for feeling so miserable.

We need to talk about it. We need to hear that there are so many people out there – friends, family, and strangers – who care and who want to see sufferers improve. We need to tell the un-afflicted that sometimes it’s not enough just to say you’re there, that you need to actively reach out when someone withdraws. And we need to share our stories, especially the stories of success, so that those in the deepest pits know that there is a way out.

With that in mind, I just wanted to add a few things to the conversation, based on my personal experience:

1. Get help if you’re hurting. You go to the doctor when you’re sick, so go when your mental health is suffering. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But there’s a wealth of reasons why the afflicted don’t seek help when they should. I waited entirely too long to seek help for my anxiety, probably mainly due to pride. But I’ve been on medication for a couple months now and it has made all the difference. And don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t immediately make a difference; I got lucky this time, but when I was fighting depression in high school, I went through at least half a dozen different medications before I found one that worked for me.

If you don’t have a family doctor or you live in the U.S. and don’t have health insurance, Google is your friend. Search for mental health resources; they are out there. You deserve to go through your life without hurting. The search may be exhausting but you are worth the effort. You would do this for someone else, wouldn’t you? So put in the work for yourself. Look for what you need to get better, whether that’s medication, therapy, support groups, or just getting out more.

2. If physically possible, get some exercise. I have neglected this one much more recently and managed to forget that it is a crucial part of my treatment. Medication alone just isn’t enough for me, and it’s an easy way to work on feeling better while working out other treatment options. You don’t need any special equipment to do it. Couch to 5K is a free smartphone app and is an easy, gradual way to start jogging. Wii Fit and dancing games can be done from the comfort of your home and offer rewards and incentives for continuing. Do twenty minutes of jumping jacks if you have to. I know that when you’re in the throes of depression it’s extremely hard to do, but force yourself to do it.

3. Repeat after me: it is okay to take care of yourself. This is something I frequently have to remind myself. It doesn’t matter how much I truly believe it, I still have to convince myself that I’m allowed to take a break from work. Your health, and your mental health, are a priority. So go ahead. Cancel that event if you have to. Buy that blended coffee drink. Take the long way home and take a drive out into the country. Go to that local attraction you’ve always wanted to see. Go to the movie theatre alone. You take care of you. I know it can be hard, particularly if you work retail (hat’s off to you folks), but sometimes you need it, and you definitely deserve it. Mentally ill people are some of the hardest working and most caring and giving of themselves, because they tend to be so concerned with others. You deserve a break, in whatever form that may take.

I was there. I remember those days, and occasionally still have them, when I feel worthless and unlovable and ugly and a waste of resources. Frankly, it hurts a little just to write those words. But I’ve been fighting it long enough and I’ve learned enough to know that it isn’t true. So if you don’t believe it yourself, then take it from me, someone’s who’s gone through it and (mostly) made it through to the other side:

You are worth the effort.

You deserve to be happy.

You are allowed to help yourself.

The world is better with you in it.

Your friends and many others want to see you feel better.

You are not alone.

Gen Con 50 games wrap-up part 3 August 24, 2017

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And the conclusion of my Gen Con gaming posts. Read on for Pinball Showdown, The Sword of Zaldor: A Fantasy Escape Room, and Here, Kitty, Kitty!

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