It’s been a while, hasn’t it, friends? I posted my 2019 retrospective last week, but before that, I haven’t posted since early November.
And it’s not because I haven’t had anything to write — quite the opposite! November and December were a whirlwind of events, and I haven’t had the time to process them, let alone document them. (As much as I would like to!)
You may have seen some of what’s been going on in my life if you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter, but I’m trying not to rely on them as a source of recording memories. (They do make it so very easy, though, don’t they?)
Beside writing blog posts I never finish or post, what have I been up to lately? Let’s see…
I decided to try it this January. As I said elseweb, after the blur of spending that was November/December, I needed something that would put me back on track. I wanted to get off the treadmill of hedonic adaptation, cut back on some expenses, and work more aggressively towards my goals.
So far the big things I’ve been doing are:
Bringing my lunch to work every day. And trying to clear out the contents of our cupboard, in the process.
Finding less expensive ways to meet with my friends. Ask EB about our charming car picnic in the parking lot of Wells State Park!
Waiting 72 hours before making any non-essential purchases.
Checking my finances daily-ish. I’ve decided to get back to using Mint for tracking finances. It’s improved a great deal over when I first started using it, so that it’s to the point where it’s easy enough for me to use that I don’t avoid it.
The big obstacles this month have been:
I had to buy my plane tickets and accommodations for the weekend-long game in the UK next month. I should have expected that expense, really. I did get a tidy little discount on my flight by trading in some Avios (the BA rewards currency), at least.
It’s Matt’s birthday, and he wanted one thing for his birthday: a 3D printer. How could I say no to something that clearly will give him a great deal of happiness? And anyway, we have enough Amazon rewards points built up that we can take the entire cost of it as a statement credit, so that’s not bad!
Despite these obstacles, I’m hoping that we will at least save a few hundred bucks, which I intend to sock away towards debt. All our debt is “good debt,” but debt is still the prison I seek to escape in my search for financial independence.
I finally finished King of Scars. (Why do all my book notes start with “finally finished?” I’m not actually a slow reader, but I am a very distracted reader!)
I liked it a lot, better than many books I read, but I felt it was on the weaker side for Bardugo’s work. One of my big complaints is hugely spoilery, and so I won’t mention it here (more on FB), but my other complaints are:
The pacing. My god, this book is leisurely paced for 90% of it, and then WHAM the last 10% is just chock full of action and Important Stuff Happening. There was so much information packed into it that my initial reaction was “I AM SO CONFUSED.” I did sort it out, eventually, but that disorientation seriously ruined the impact of the book’s final chapters for me.
It’s not really Nikolai’s book, is it? We learn a little bit more about him — I liked the story involving his childhood friendship with commoner Dominik — but honestly, it is WAY more about Zoya. Might as well call it “Queen of Ice” and be done with it. (Don’t get me wrong — Zoya is beautifully painted and I enjoyed every minute with her).
Nina’s chapters occupy a very weird spot in the narrative. They are important, but it honestly feels like a different book? It was very jarring to go from “oh Zoya and Nikolai are in danger in Kribirsk” to “let’s watch Nina try to keep springmaidens out of trouble and bicker with Adrik.” That said, her ending was much easier to grok, and thus much more satisfying, than the resolution of the main political and metaphysical plots.
Overall, it was good to be back in this world, but I had higher expectations after the virtuoso performance that was Six of Crows.
Otherwise? I’m still plodding my way through Joshi’s biography of Lovecraft. My library hold for Holly Black’s new book, The Queen of Nothing, just came in, so I may have to read that next. I was also considering picking up Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, the first of the Witches subseries of Discworld books. (For reasons that will make more sense once you see my 2020 prospective post!)
After many trials, I finally got my diagnosis of ADHD in the last days of 2019. (ADHD-C, Combined type, which means I am both inattentive and hyperactive. Yay?)
I was somewhat surprised by the type of ADHD I was diagnosed with. My conversation with the psychologist after the testing made me think I leaned way more in the inattentive direction, i.e. my inattentive symptoms are way more noticeable to the other people in my life who rated me, and I performed more like inattentive type on the test of vigilance and focus that they gave me. But my self-report of hyperactive/impulsive symptoms counts for something, too.
Frustratingly, I haven’t actually been able to try medication yet, because when I called the psychiatrist I had intended to see, I was informed they weren’t doing new patient intakes at that time (despite the fact that when I started the process, they had been). But they put me on a waitlist, and just today I heard back from them. There has been a cancellation, and would I be able to come in to see Dr. Rezai next week? I SURE WOULD.
Still hesitant, but hopeful, in moving ahead. What if stimulant medication doesn’t work for me, or the side effects are too troublesome? Or, what if it works astonishingly well, but then I realize I’ve wasted nearly forty years going undiagnosed? EVERYTHING CAN GO WROOOOONG.
One comfort is there are so many resources out there for ADHD, including women with ADHD, or adult women with ADHD. This week I’ve really been enjoying(?) ADHD Alien’s comics. This one is the latest in “ADHD material so honest it makes it me cry.”
Is that it, Lise?
For now, yes. I hope to post my 2020 prospective some time this week, and I’m hoping to get those other languishing blog posts out into the world sometime… this… year?
For the first time in a long time, this post doesn’t feel like an apology. This was a great year, and I can’t help but think that my theme for 2019 — emotional homesteading — is why.
As outlined in that post, my emotional homesteading plan had six main points. Let’s go over those first, and then I’ll have some things to say about what else happened this year. I might even take some time to reflect on the entire decade!
1) Meditation and mindfulness practice
This year I forged a regular meditation practice, with some help from the Calm app, which I love. I only started using Calm in May, but from the records it keeps, I estimate I meditate two out of three days, for an average of 10-12 minutes each time.
This habit has helped me to stay on an even keel despite some rough seas this year. Meditation really is a practice, like I wrote — I don’t notice an affect my mood and overall happiness if I skip one day, or a few days. But eventually it eats away at that peaceful refuge behind a waterfall that I’ve worked so hard to build. In that way, it’s a little like the sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea.
As I wrote in my original post, boundaries are about knowing the difference between what I want and what other people want. In that vein I wanted to ask “who wants this?” before taking on a new activity.
I also wanted to be more aware that what I want in the moment may be very different from my long-term needs and wants.
This is always hard to quantify, but I think I did okay. One example I can think of off the top of my head is: I turned down Matt’s plan to run a 10k before Consequences next year, because I knew that running it with other people would bring out the ugly competitive part of myself.
Relatedly, I know there were some things I wanted to do — pretty sure they were what I wanted to do, too — that I passed up because I knew it would be too much for me. (Like declining to play Dammerung larp, which looked fascinating to me, but was super far away, in PA, and would have required a high quality of kit).
It’s still tough for me to anticipate how Lise-of-the-moment will respond to a commitment that Lise-of-Christmas-Past has made, but I’m developing some heuristics. Like: don’t schedule things on the Thursday before a larp, or maybe don’t schedule plans in December when you need to prepare to host Christmas for your family, or if you can, take time off to decompress after larps.
When I wrote about self-care in the prospective, I didn’t use this fabulous quote, which really gets to the heart of what self-care means to me:
True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.
You know I love my escapism! But escapism can be a symptom of something wounded in me.
This past week was tough for me, for Secret Reasons. So it is perhaps not surprising that I chose to start my Saturday with a session of Craft the World, the silly dwarf building game I’ve been playing lately. And I’m at peace with the fact that that’s the best I could do at that moment. Rest is as important to the self-care journey as anything else.
That said, it can be hard sometimes to tell the difference between the need for rest, and plain ol’ experiential avoidance. I need new experiences, but I also need solitude. This quote from poet May Sarton’s journal sums up this tension:
I am here alone for the first time weeks, to take up my ‘real’ life again, at last. That is what is strange — that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone…
I am still learning this balance. This year, I think I pushed it a little, trying to see where my limits lay. And in the process I had some fabulous adventures! I also learned that I’m actually more of an ambivert than I originally thought, but when my depression is bad, I definitely act more like an introvert.
At the end of the day, I feel I showed strongly in terms of self-care this year, forging the sort of life I don’t have to escape from.
First of all, I got back to walking/running in a gentler way. (I actually meant to run a race, for a charity I cared about, and not with anyone I knew — but I came down with a bad cold and couldn’t!) My fitness showed when I visited Bath in November, and was able to walk the six-mile Skyline trail and not be much the worse for wear (except covered in mud).
Then, I went through the process of getting diagnosed with ADHD, and finally got my diagnosis right at the end of December. (Combined type). I still need to get treatment, which is a challenge all its own! (Not a lot of psychiatrists in our area that are taking new patients).
Oh, and I took some baths in my new bathtub 😉
4) Simplicity and minimalism
I did okay in this area. I did a few “declutter bursts,” where you get rid of 100 items in an hour. (Honestly, counting the items was the hardest part). Plus near the end of the year Matt got into the spirit of decluttering and cleaning the house — partially because his parents were visiting, partially because he wanted to be able to work in the sewing room again — and we got rid of a LOT of stuff, including books, clothes, gadgets, and lots of unnecessary paper.
I also re-read Thoreau’s Walden this year, as promised. In the process I remembered that really everything good in Walden is in the first and last chapters, and the middle is soggy and tedious.
I did not succeed in going through my collection of indie perfumes, mostly because I boggle at what to do with all of them.
I’m pretty happy with where I landed with this goal. As promised, I did get back to writing — a.k.a. editing Lioness — but not in any sort of hurried way. I’m still working my way through it. It continues to be incredibly challenging, and I keep taking long breaks and then forgetting everything I wrote and then having to re-read.
I also made some progress on the Neverending Cross-stitch Project, and did some sketching as Melusina. I began work on getting this antique quilt I own ready to hang on the wall, but faced some obstacles with how damaged it was, and needing to repair it.
I was really drawn this year towards the advice espoused in Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism: fix or create something every week. (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t have the book in front of me right now).
I feel mostly satisfied here, although there are some further steps I could have taken.
I definitely was more involved with family — I went out to my Uncle Joe’s house twice for family events, and I hosted a visit from Matt’s parents, and my dad. I went to visit my mom a couple of times, in addition to our annual trip to Stratford, and I also went camping with my dad.
I sent out holiday cards this year! And I’m getting in the habit of sending out postcards regularly. (Let me know if you’d like to be on the postcard/holiday card list. Everyone likes getting mail, right?)
One area I would like to expand: I’ve realized I have a need for what my pal EB terms “intimate friendships.” i.e. emotionally deep, connective, platonic relationships. (Funnily enough, exactly the sort of friendship I have with EB!) I’ve identified a few people I’d like to try to forge these with, but I was shy about reaching out. I hope to do so in 2020.
Living with the theme of “emotional homesteading” worked well for me. You may recall I was worried that, given the number of goals, and the vastness of the mandate, I might judge myself too harshly when I got to the end of the year. But on the contrary, it all feels like a win to me. Maybe I have learned to be more gentle with myself.
I’m happy with what I learned, what I did, and who I was in 2019.
Other stuff wot I did in 2019
Many of these things were in fulfillment of my famous 101 Goals in 1,001 Days list, the period of which ends in February. At 45 items completed out of 101, I’ve knocked the socks off every other time I’ve done this list. If nothing else, I’ve gotten better at setting achievable goals and following through with them!
So this year I…
Read 26 books
Visited Bath, England
Attended Lucky Consequences in Christchurch, England
Attended the UK Freeforms run of Torch of Freedom in Retford, England
Did an “authors and American revolution” tour of historic Lexington and Concord, MA
Visited New Haven, CT and ate a hamburger at the famous Louis’ Lunch
Visited 30 (!) new-to-me Atlas Obscura sites
Attended two beerfestivals, and visited a number of microbreweries
Set up a new compost bin
The toll of the decade
At the New Year’s Eve party I attended, I was trying to figure out where I was physically ten years ago, on December 31st, 2009. I couldn’t recall precisely — maybe at Chad and Amanda’s New Year’s Eve party, when they were still holding them?– but it brought up a whole storm of memories about my life at that time.
In the past decade I…
Changed careers. I’d lost my job in May of 2009, and used it as an opportunity to change careers, from statistics/research analysis to front-end web development. For about a year I pursued a number of part-time gigs in both fields. I was probably just beginning my contract as a full-stack developer at Nowspeed around the time of that poorly-remembered NYE party. In June of 2010 I would start my job as a junior front-end developer at IDG, where I still am today — though a lot more senior now!
Wrote a theater-style larp! (Cracks in the Orb, which I mostly won’t run any more, because Reasons)
Got into boffer larp. NPCed my first one, then PCed one, then staffed one for a time. Because I didn’t have enough expensive hobbies, apparently!
Wrote a couple of novels: Gods and Fathers, my last trunked novel, and well as Lioness, which, it seems, I will never be finished editing!
Attended Viable Paradise 17, an SFF writing workshop, and thus joined a community of amazing, brilliant people.
Got serious about my health. I sought treatment for a bunch of chronic health conditions — PCOS, sleep apnea, and my familial high cholesterol — and I am happier for it.
Started running. I’m the most casual of casual runners, but I’m still doin’ it!
Fired my shitty therapist, and got a new, awesome one.
Broke my left ankle.
Had cubital tunnel release surgery after my left hand went numb suddenly.
Traveled to England eight times (!), and Canada three? four? times.
Paid off our second mortgage.
Made some major renovations to the house.
Lost my cat Yamamaya to kidney disease, and thus mourned the first death of a pet as an adult.
Watched my mother become sick with a chronic lung disease, and was powerless to help.
Went to many, many weddings, was an attendant in four (!), and blessedly attended zero funerals.
Drove the same car (a 2007 Yaris) for most of that time. It’s still going strong, at thirteen years and 230k miles!
Did… four? 101 Goals in 1001 Days challenges. I’m on track for this to be the best challenge yet, in terms of number of goals completed.
Overall? I think I’m much happier than I was back then, so despite the trash fire of a world we live in today, it was a good decade for me.
In preparation for leaving for England + Matt’s family visiting for the holidays, we’ve launched into a massive declutter of the house.
Eventually we would like the basement craft areas to be useable again, but primarily we just wanted to be able to find what we needed to pack, and to get the guest bedroom back in a state to host guests.
The big task with the first item was cleaning up our basement costume room, which was in a horrid state. How bad? Let’s just say we had to remove the remains of a dead snake.
As for the guest bedroom, it wasn’t too bad, but we needed to rehang the track lighting, which I’d removed in order to paint the room. We were able to finally hang the beautiful Japanese screen that belongs in there, too.
In the process I also got rid of a fuckton of books, and Matt cleared out a ton of clothes.
I felt a little bad dropping all that stuff off at the Savers — especially seeing stuff I paid Actual Cashdollars for sitting in the rain — but I also breathe a tremendous sigh of relief when I enter my home office. So it’s a price I’m willing to pay.
New phone, who dis?
Thanks to Matt smashing his iPhone 7 on the brick floor of the mudroom, we both got new phones this weekend. While my phone (an iPhone 6) was still functional, and didn’t strictly need to be upgraded, the battery was on its way out (as witnessed by it randomly turning off in the middle of a run earlier that day).
In the interest of being somewhat frugal, we opted for the iPhone XR, a slightly older model of iPhone. There was a slight hiccup when my phone somehow didn’t get activated while I was at the Verizon store, but soon I was up and running.
And it’s a big adjustment from the 6 to an XR! Face ID, and the lack of a Home button, are some of the biggest changes. There’s also no headphone jack, but there are adapters I can use, and I have finally found some Bluetooth earbuds that will actually stay in my ears when I run.
Fun fact: Face ID will not work while wearing a CPAP mask. I suppose that cuts into my habit of checking my phone while still in bed.
I also haven’t installed Facebook yet on my new phone. We’ll see if I want it while I’m traveling…
One challenge we’re having is that we still only have one Apple ID between our two phones, and that is becoming more and more of a challenge with each version of iOS. Clearly they want us to have two separate IDs and use Family Sharing, but we haven’t set that up yet. I’ve already had to create a separate Apple ID for Game Center just to play TES: Blades on our iPad, as all of Matt’s progress in Blades was tied to my Apple ID. I don’t even think he has an Apple ID of his own, so this will require some thought. But that’s a “when we get back from England” problem.
Speaking of which…
We’re leaving this week for our semi-annual trip to Consequences (the UK theater-style larp con) plus bonus UK tourism. This year after the con we’ll be returning briefly to London to see the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery, and then we’ll be taking the train to Bath, where we’ll spend the rest of the week. We plan to see sights like the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, the Fashion Museum, and the Jane Austen Centre, hit some Atlas Obscura sites (like Pulteney Weir and the Sham Castle), walk the six-mile Bath Skyline trail, and visit the Thermae Spa. Along the way I hope to have plenty of teas, sample some local specialties (Sally Lunns! Bath Spa Water! Gin from the Bath Gin Company! ), and maybe do some holiday shopping. (Baggage space permitting).
I finished reading Naomi Novik’s Black Powder War, the third Temeraire book. It was solidly meh. The big problem I have with this book is there’s not so much a “plot” as a “series of things that happens in a sequential order.” It has, as my writing teachers would say, no through-line; nothing that carries you through to the end. And the end, when it arrives, takes you by surprise, because it’s not clear what the promise of the book is and whether or not it’s been fulfilled.
But, you know, it’s at least well-written, and I enjoy spending time with Laurence and Temeraire.
I’ve begun listening to King of Scars, by Leigh Bardugo, which is her latest work in the world of the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology. This one, the first of another duo, focuses on Nikolai Lantsov, the new king of Ravka after the civil war. He has to deal with the politics of a reunited country, the consequences of everything that happened in the previous five novels, and some magical weirdness. Fun times!
I expected this book to tie more closely to the Grisha books than it did Six of Crows, taking place, as it — mostly — does in Ravka. But there’s actually a surprising amount that ties back to the duology. We’re still dealing with the consequences of the magic-enhancing drug that was discovered in the SoC books, and occasionally Nikolai will drop references to Ketterdam and a certain master thief he knows there. In addition, we get a viewpoint from Nina (a viewpoint character in SoC), rescuing grisha in Fjerda, and learning to harness her new powers.
The other viewpoint characters are Nikolai, naturally, and also Zoya Nazyalensky, his general and–dare I suggest?–future romantic interest? There’s definitely some suggestion of that.
And, after having been in Zoya’s POV, I certainly ship it. In the Grisha novels, and to a lesser extent in SoC, we’re always seeing Zoya from the outside, first from Alina’s POV, and then from various of the Crows (but mostly Nina). There, she’s portrayed as this beautiful, talented squaller who is all too aware of her power, and it has made her standoffish and stuck-up. Inside her head, learning her personal history? Well, you begin to see how that competence might create distance from other people, and how she might choose to use that as armor instead of as a weakness. I relate to that pretty hard, actually.
Regarding the magical weirdness… in addition to sudden miracles happening all over Ravka, we find out in the first chapter that Nikolai’s scars from the civil war aren’t only skin-deep, and are affecting his ability to do his job as king. This actually threw me for a loop, since I had read the Grisha trilogy so long ago that I had forgotten what he was up to doing the civil war. But it turns out it’s very, very relevant, so you might want to refresh your memory on that before reading this book.
Finally, I was delighted to see that Lauren Fortgang returned as narrator for this! They’ve apparently abandoned the ensemble cast idea from SoC, and I couldn’t be happier. One thing I will say about having a consistent narrator across books is that when a character recurs unexpectedly — and you recognize them immediately by the voice — there’s this moment of awesome when you realize you’ve cracked the code.
Anyway, I’m only about a third of the way through, but as usual with Bardugo’s novels, I’m deep in the spell!
Meet the Frugalwoods, and financial musings
This started as another book review, but then it veered off into my own personal finance territory, so I decided to make it its own section.
I just finished reading Meet the Frugalwoods, by Elizabeth Willard Thames, “Mrs. Frugalwoods” of frugalwoods.com. Despite my love of frugality blogs, I’d actually never read this one; I picked up the book because I was looking for something nonfiction to read while visiting my mom, and the ebook was available on my library’s Overdrive app.
This book starts with something I think is sorely missing from most conversations about frugality: a discussion of privilege. Thames admits that she and her husband, in building towards their goal of buying a homestead in Vermont, were starting from a privileged position in countless ways — coming from the middle class, being college-educated, being in well-paying jobs, etc. While so many frugality writers lean on “anyone can do this if they just learn to be frugal!”, she admitted that not everyone is going to be able to follow in their footsteps.
And that? That was refreshing to hear. Reading that, I was instantly well-inclined towards the book.
For the most part, the book details their personal financial journey, from their first jobs out of college to buying their Vermont homestead and quitting their jobs to work it full-time. While the early chapters focus on the challenges they faced early on in their married lives, where it really gets interesting is when they decide to go for a goal of buying their homestead, and make a three-year extreme frugality plan to achieve it.
I really enjoyed how closely she and her husband aligned on their financial goals, and how they both had a vision of what they wanted their future together to look like. That was how they could make the decisions that allowed them to save 80% of their paychecks.
When I think about my own financial goals, what I realize is… I don’t really have a clear idea of what I want my future to look like. I don’t want to buy a homestead in Vermont, or have kids, or be a full-time blogger, like Thames and her husband wanted. I know that the goal itself isn’t important, but without something to be saving for, how do I decide if I really need this $10 game that’s on sale? How do I make a million different daily decisions?
Here’s what I know for sure:
I would really like to not have to work for money — which is not to say that I don’t want to work, but more that I don’t want to be dependent on work. I’ve been in positions where I’ve been stuck in hellish jobs because I needed the money, and let me tell you, it is utterly soul-destroying.
I would like to create stuff and solve problems. Writing, mostly. Maybe making websites. Maybe streaming.
I would like to be location-independent, meaning I can work from anywhere, and time-independent, meaning I can budget my own time.
I would like to travel and have adventures. I don’t need a ton of travel, and it doesn’t have to be to far-off lands, but travel provides a type of mental stimulation that I can’t get anywhere else.
Talking to Matt about what he sees our retirement looking like, he mostly agrees with this vision. He, like me, is a creative nerd, and he wants to keep making stuff as long as he can. But where we don’t always see eye-to-eye is on the timeframe. He feels that we shouldn’t rob today to pay for a tomorrow that may never come.
Which I completely understand! One thing I worry about is whether or not I will be in good enough health to enjoy a standard retirement, or if I’ll live long enough to make use of all the money I’m socking away in my IRA and 401k. That, in fact, is usually my argument for an early retirement.
That said, “spend now” vs. “save for later” is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I think some of the biggest gains can be made just by cutting out things we don’t value much. Which is a point that Thames makes: you can benefit from frugality no matter what part of the frugality spectrum you’re on. Just because you can’t achieve complete financial independence doesn’t mean that you can’t save anything, or that there are no gains to be made at all.
And what to do with that saved money? That’s what I need to make these decisions around, right? I might feel different if I were, say, putting it into an investment fund called “Lise and Matt’s Extremely Nerdy Early Retirement Fund,” but (aside from the amount already going to tax-advantaged funds) we are still primarily paying down debt — mainly the mortgage, but also lingering student loans, a car loan, and the balance on the HELOC.
And, at the end of the day, paying down debt is just not very sexy or interesting. Alas.
(While there’s something to be said for making use of compound interest by investing earlier rather than later, by paying down debt you’re fundamentally giving yourself a rate of return equal to that debt’s interest rate. And given the volatility of the stock market, a reliable 5% interest rate can be hard to come by in uncertain times).
Another thing that sticks with me from Meet the Frugalwoods is Thames’ discussion of “insourcing,” i.e. learning to do more things themselves, and being more self-reliant. She gives a famous example of watching a Youtube video about cutting layers in long hair and then writing up a bulleted list for her husband on how to cut her hair. She got a decent haircut (at least she says she did!), but more importantly, she felt it brought her and her husband closer together in the process. Learning to do something new together is a great way to reinvigorate those novelty feels in a relationship, I would think.
Since “self-reliance” is part of my 2019 prospective, you can bet this is something that resonated with me. I think I’m going to follow her advice for frugal holiday pictures and Christmas cards, for example. I’ve said I want more creativity in my life — why then should I pay someone else to take this opportunity away from me?
Picture of the week
Enough heavy financial talk–instead, enjoy this picture of two of my cats:
We call these two — Burnbright and Brianna — the “buddy Bs” because they often snuggle like this. They did not always get along this well, either, so we definitely savor moments like this when we see them!
This past weekend I attended my friends Katie and Jerry’s Halloween party. It was my first time attending their party, as well as my first time seeing their new house!
I can’t say I did anything fancy, costuming-wise; I wore my spooky skull leggings and a witch’s hat (which I forgot there, because, well, me).
Unsurprisingly, because I know Katie and Jerry from NPCing Mad3, I saw a lot of people I know from larping — especially the Brown University crowd. There was also an impromptu Vassar reunion, since it turned out that in addition to Matt and me, Caitlin F and Beth F were also there!
I really appreciated how the party had different spaces for different kinds of socializing — the standard couches-in-living-room setup, a dance floor in the basement, a “cuddle room” (in which no actual cuddling happened, but it was very cozy and good for small conversations), and a quiet room.
I spent most of my time in the “cuddle room,” talking about all kinds of topics with all kinds of people. I had a long conversation with Matt M and Santo about Doctor Who, since I had just started watching it, and they were interested in my newbie impressions. I learned that Matt M is a big fan of Nabokov, and somehow we also ended up discussing what a jerk David Foster Wallace was (my impressions formed primarily from reading Mary Karr’s memoir of addiction, Lit, in which she not-so-secretly talks about dating him).
I spent a while talking to Sue B about Shadowvale, of course, and unsuccessfully tried to convince her to run SV for five more years 😉 We also talked about ESO, in particular Elsweyr (apparently her SV NPC Roz is partially inspired by Razum-dar!) and the Witches’ Festival (the Halloween event currently going on, which is great fun). I also was tipsy enough to inform her husband, Eric vR, that my first impression of him was pretty negative. (Which has since been remedied!)
I spoke to Sarah N about what she does in one of her day jobs — she’s a massage therapist! — and I conveyed my appreciation for what hard work that is, and how important it is to me!
This isn’t entirely an Intercon-going crowd, but we did talk about what we were running or wanting to play at Intercon T. Keri G told me about her small, intense larp set in the world of the Vorkosigan novels, and I tried to convince people to play The Drinklings.
And of course, there was much talk of What (Boffer) Larp Next. A few people are planning to play Cottington 2 with me, but many folks agreed that there was a serious lack of fantasy Accelerant larps starting up soon. I did make it clear that when these folks are putting together larp teams, I would very much like to be considered.
Overall, it was a great party, and I didn’t want to leave — I think we finally left at 3am, and got home at 4.
This was pretty close to the ideal of social connection for me — smart people having great nerdy conversations, lightly facilitated by alcohol. I didn’t feel as much of the “outside looking in” that I get at a good number of larp social events, although there is still some. As I wrote in a poem once, I am all “walls of skin and reservation.”
I also spent most of the next day mentally replaying all my interactions in my head, looking for signs of approval or disapproval, and that’s just exhausting. Maybe some day I will actually believe that people like me and want to be around me 😉
In ESO, I have completed (more or less) my Overly Ambitious Housing Project! I transformed Coldharbour Surreal Estate — a house costing 1mil gold, which is basically just a large empty plateau floating above the Hollow City in Coldharbour — into Nocturnal’s Labyrinth, a maze themed around the daedric prince Nocturnal, whose sphere is night and darkness, and is often patrons to thieves in the TES universe.
As my first step in this project, I ran through the two public dungeons/delves that are Nocturnal-themed in the game — Crow’s Wood, in Stonefalls, and the Shadow Cleft, in Clockwork City. This gave me a lot of ideas… many of which I could not really carry out with the time and space I have.
Because, while Coldharbour Surreal Estate is a large home, with 700 item slots, I guarantee that 200+ of those are used on boulders. I wanted to use mossy, natural-looking boulders for the walls of my maze, instead of the large purplish boulders the house comes with, but there are literally no mossy boulders in the game that big. Instead I ended up using three mossy boulders for every one Coldharbour Fan boulder.
Otherwise, the house is full of the glowing thistle plants that are everywhere in Crow’s Wood, though, as well as lots of dead trees. There is a dilapidated tower, crowned with a gargoyle (gargoyles are definitely a thing in both Crow’s Wood/Shadow Cleft), and guarded by a Wraith of Crows target dummy. There’s a garden around it, in the autumnal colors of the Shadow Cleft. There’s the Skeleton Key, floating in a beam of light (i.e. the light from the replica skyshard). There are chests hidden in nooks and crannies everywhere. There are pockets of mushrooms with spooky lights. There’s a Nocturnal banner over the entrance, too, just in case it’s not obvious what I’m trying to do.
I wish I had more time to work on it, and I wish I had a few items that would have made it better — a Nocturnal statue, for example, (but I’m pretty sure that only comes out of loot crates), or the stone path markers with glowing green lights which appear in Shadow Cleft (which I think come from the luxury vendor — and going to larps makes it dang hard to hit the luxury vendor every weekend!)
Just like writing a book, a house is never fully decorated; it’s just abandoned.
Here, enjoy some pictures!
Now, for the part I didn’t budget time for: the judging. There were 36? 38? houses submitted for the contest, and since I am one of the contestants, I feel it’s only appropriate that I actually take the time to judge them. I have to select my top three houses, and let me just say, I’ve only looked at like ten and already the competition is steep!
I’m also not sure I should select my own house — that seems unfair, and I really don’t think mine is one of the best, but at the same time I’m a terrible judge of myself, and I’m also sure some people with less well-designed houses than mine will vote for themselves.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m running The Drinklings on Thursday evening. I also know my first pick will be Alison and Kristin P’s game Wicked Hearts, aka a semi-historical, semi-fantastical larp very inspired by things I not only have read, but have turned Alison onto. (Seriously, I recommended both the Holly Black and Melissa’s books).
After that? I have no idea what will be open! I’m potentially interested in Persona L, Omega Expedition, Memories of Falkonia, and Tis No Deceit (which I still haven’t played… but have been assured I will like, even if it does involve singing)… but I may also decide I only have the spoons for one deep political game with lots of before-game prep.
But that’s all for now, folks! Enjoy pretty pictures of imaginary worlds, and I’ll see you in a week.
Not nearly as much to report this week, but I might as well start you off with something I forgot from last week:
The last quick mead I made — the one with a hodgepodge of spices — turned out well, and I finished it off quickly, sometime in early September.
My long mead is now bottled and awaiting… I don’t actually know? I should probably look at my mead book again and see how long it recommends aging in bottle for.
We now have a finished bathroom, though, which means I can look into making a five gallon batch!
One of my 101 Goals in 1,0001 Days was to donate blood, something I hadn’t done since college. So… nearly 20 years ago now? At the time they didn’t even tell me what my blood type was, which was somewhat disappointing. So when my company announced they were hosting a blood drive though, I eagerly signed up to donate my 500mL.
I’m glad I did it, but wow… I do not handle it well, and I don’t think I’ll be able to do it again any time soon. Despite preparing by drinking lots of water and having a full meal beforehand, I got very faint, clammy, and nauseous near the end; I really thought I was going to lose consciousness. I had to sit for thirty minutes just to recover, and I felt drained for the next couple of days. Despite all that, they were able to get a full donation.
The blood drive nurses were great, though, and I regaled them with facts about Vincent Price. Like the Lise do.
After that, the only problem was that on Friday night I was scheduled to attend…
Shadowvale event 10 was fantastic! However, I was in not great physical shape going into it, due to the blood draw. I first realized there was a problem when unloading the car and making my bed completely exhausted me. Then, walking up the hill to McKnight Hall for registration, I had to stop twice. I cornered Scott, one of the perm NPCs, and asked him to make a request to staff not to murder me too hard that night.
I managed to make it through the evening, though I only fought in one fight. (Where I managed to actually backstab Alex P! Go me!… of course I was so surprised that I didn’t run away fast enough, and he caught up to me, cut me down, and inflicted me with something, soooo….) I went to bed early, after explaining to many people that I’d had a run-in with a tiny vampire. (I probably should have said “tiny benevolent vampire”, though, since apparently someone interpreted this as having been bitten by a tick?)
I didn’t feel fully recovered until Sunday… just in time for game to end. Womp womp.
The highlight of my event was the Nocturne celebration on Saturday night. Nocturne is the holiday of the goddess my character Melusina worships, the Lady of Mysteries, goddess of luck, mystery, and the night. The last Nocturne that happened in game was memorable for her, too.
This Nocturne involved Mel’s father figure, the Masque of Night. You know, the guy who indoctrinated her in a cult of assassins and then, when one of her assassinations went awry, left her hanging — suddenly, unaccountably, and very literally?
Yeah… he showed up in Crown Expedition encampment, gating in from far-away Avaria. And asked Melusina to kill someone for him.
IT WAS INTENSE, yo.
The Masque of Night was played by staffer Matt M, who I spoke to afterwards about the role. Apparently when he asked Lisa (who wrote that plot) for RP instructions, Lisa told him, “Gaslight her.”
Which he did admirably! I asked him why he left me to die, and his response was something like, “well, you were an adult, I figured you could handle it.” When I told him this was all a lot to take in, he basically told me to pull myself together!
I managed to satisfy him that the deed was done (while conspiring with another Veiled Priest to get the target out of town). Later, when we were talking of the assassination that nearly got Mel hanged, I said something like, “it was messy,” and he did a (very clever, I thought) thing where he was like, “Oh, that’s a critique; fine. I thought you were going to get all emotional about it again,” i.e. how dare you express emotional dissatisfaction with it.
And then in the midst of all that he still goes on calling her “little shadow.” AUGH.
So, basically, it was a fantastically wrenching experience for Melusina, but Lise was going YES YES YES and mentally punching the air. It just proves that there’s no emotion so bad that people won’t pay to experience it.
I also had some great RP with Alex P as the Tower Guardian that Melusina is bound to as a Warden Initiate. He’s clearly kind of a spooky guy, given that he’s a shadow/illusion mage whose first question for Melusina was, “have you ever killed before?”, but he also reminds her that shadow is not the same as darkness, and she needs to step into the light. He’s also been super helpful in answering some cosmological questions, just as a powerful mage who’s been… if not alive, then at least aware since nearly the fall of Wystia.
So, basically, he’s the Benevolent Goth Dad to Matt M’s Gaslighting Murder Dad.
All in all, I have never wanted a larp to NOT end as much as I want Shadowvale not to end. I’m in love with the staff and NPCs, the level of personal plot collaboration I have with that staff, and even the fighting style I’m doing. (Flanking is sooooo fun).
Cottington 2, when it starts, will scratch some of this itch, but it’s still a very different game, and right now I’m having trouble summoning up floon about it.
But hey… there are still four events left, and I intend to make the most of them.
Anyway, on Monday afternoon I found my Matt had made this important modification to my Shadowvale packing list:
As I’ve mentioned elseweb, I’ve been trying to get an ADHD diagnosis. I believe this is something I’ve been struggling with my whole life, but didn’t know until recently wasn’t normal. I feel like I probably have the combined type, with signs of both inattentiveness (forgetfulness, absentmindedness) and hyperactivity (all the self-destructive skin picking habits I have, as well as my impulsivity). This all culminated when I took the ADHD test on ADDitudemag.com and scored a 94%!
There’s been a lot of doctor and insurance wrangling, but eventually I found my way to a psychologist who can diagnose me with the disorder. I put together beforehand a document stating why I thought I had ADHD; after I read it to him, he said, “That sure sounds like someone with ADHD.”
He then gave me a ton of paper assessments to take home, for me and for other people in my life. (My mom had to answer some questions about my childhood academic performance; and Matt gets to basically answer all the same questions I do). Once I fill all those out, I send them back to the psychologist, and he schedules me for a computerized test of executive function. Then he interprets all the results, and refers me back to a psychiatrist who can prescribe meds.
If anyone wants to read my statement, I can share it, but the upshot is that I’m sick of thinking of myself as lazy and not living up to my potential. I really feel like if I can corral my attention, I can do nearly anything.
On that note, I have about three bajillion other things I should be working on, so let’s bring this post to a close…
Long time, no write! I’ve been delinquent in my duties for a long time, but let me get this one out so I can go on with my life.
I started off September right: with knives! Sadly all they let me knife was some vegetables, because this was a culinary knife skills class at the local technical school. You might have been forgiven for thinking otherwise, considering it was taught by a certain Sue Brassard — a local chef, bearing no resemblance to the Shadowvale game owner. That Sue, as I joked, knows lots about knifing unsuspecting PCs, but she doesn’t usually advertise her skills.
Anyway, it was a very educational evening! We started with holding the knife, knife honing vs. sharpening, and some easy cuts, like chiffonade and mince. Then we moved onto the more difficult stuff — fine dice, brunoise, and fine brunoise, rendering some poor carrots into “carrot confetti”, as not-that-Sue called it. We ended with more reasonably-sized dices, as well as specific approaches to slicing onions and shallots.
All in all? I was surprised how well I did. I feel like a lot of the things we talked about — how honing is not the same as sharpening, how you should hold your fingers on your off-hand to push the food into the knife, how to do a chiffonade, how to peel garlic — I’ve learned from cooking shows. (Maybe the original Good Eats?) I also have a small amount of professional kitchen experience, from when I was working at the Adirondak Loj and had to sub in as prep cook.
And when it came time to do the difficult cuts, I was actually pretty decent at them. I couldn’t produce brunoise cuts at speed, certainly, but my table-mate kept expressing astonishment that I was managing to — slowly — create 1/8″ cubes of carrot.
My biggest struggle, as ever, was onions. I seem to be really, really sensitive to their volatile oils. At home I have kitchen goggles just for this, as I’ve learned none of the other ridiculous remedies work. (Yes, even that one you’re thinking of right now. I’ve tried them all). At the class? Not so much. Not-that-Sue kept trying to convince me that sticking my head in the freezer would help, and I eventually gave in. It did help that one time, but I think that had more to do with getting away from the onion.
We sampled a flight of their offerings, and ended up coming home with three “crowlers.” That was a new term to me — it’s basically a 32oz pop-top can. In some ways I like that better than growlers, since the beer will stay fresh much longer while closed… but it also means you have to drink it all in one sitting, once you’ve opened it.
The crowlers were:
Hypnos, God of Sleep, a lavender chocolate Imperial double stout. I can’t stop raving about how good this is — and I don’t even favor stouts! Both the lavender and the chocolate come through exceptionally well, and I was surprised how well that floral note paired with the richness of the stout.
Morpheus: Hawaiian P.O.G, a sour ale featuring passionfruit, orange, and guava (hence the name). This is similar to the one they had at the Fitchburg festival, but this one hadn’t been aged on candy. Was not as fruity as I would have hoped, but still imminently drinkable.
Nectar of Aristaeus: Berry Smoothie. This was a milkshake IPA made with “hundreds of pounds” of berries. The fruit did quite a lot to mellow our the bitterness of the hops.
They also had Thanatos — which we’d sampled at the festival — on tap, but it was unavailable in crowlers. I’m told they sometimes sell it in cans, so here’s hoping!
The Big E
I finally got to The Big E this year — the Eastern States Exposition, basically a state fair for all of New England. (Thus fulfilling another goal on my 101 Goals in 1,001 Days list!) They offer a “$6 after 5” admission deal on weekdays, so I took a half day on a random Wednesday and met EB in West Springfield.
One of the interesting things about the fair is that lots of local people rent out their driveways for parking, often for much cheaper than the official fair parking. I ended up paying $5 to park on the lawn of some really sweet people on York Street, who invited me to sit on their deck and have a beer. (I declined).
Once inside, EB showed me around the various state pavilions. In the CT pavilion, they were shucking oysters and giving them away for free, so I had one of the best oysters I’ve ever had. I did some early Christmas shopping and bought some ice cider in the Vermont house, ate some apple cider donuts in the MA pavilion, and took a picture with a bear in the NH house.
We also visited Storrowtown, the 19th century village they’ve recreated, looked at baby goats in one of the agricultural barns, and ate a famous eclair from the 4H building and admired the cross-stitch work there.
Oh, and I ate a late dinner of poutine on the midway, which was possibly one of the less exciting things I could eat there. (But still delicious).
It was fantastic, and I just wish I could have visited for longer! I barely scratched the surface of everything there is to do there.
… are done! I’m absolutely thrilled with how everything turned out. I haven’t yet taken a bath in my new tub, but I am looking forward to doing so!
I’ve been doing more stuff lately with Feline Good Meowporium, the trade guild I’m in. I really enjoy the trial group they run on Tuesdays and Sundays, even though I can’t always join. I haven’t been able to heal much, because there are two dedicated healers who always scoop those roles up, but I’m enjoying dpsing with Falanu again. Last week we did normal Cloudrest+2, and veteran Hel Ra Citadel. The latter was a first for me, and now I have that Ra Kotu bust for my house.
Speaking of housing, I am working on an overly ambitious design for FGM’s Halloween housing contest. How overly ambitious? Well, let’s just say it involved buying a house that cost one million gold, and printing out maze designs. The deadline to enter is October 21st, and I have to be done by October 28th — we’ll see if I can pull something together in that time…
I’ve started a bunch of books, but haven’t finished many lately.
I’m currently reading Black Powder War, the third in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, which so far is interesting, but far too easy to put down. I’m entertained that once again my choice of SFF reading has taken me to an alternate-history Istanbul 😉
In search of some, ahem, adult literature, I found myself reading Lidiya Foxglove’s Queen of the Sun Palace series, a spicy m/f fantasy romance with an interesting power exchange dynamic, which lists as inspiration both Sleeping Beauty and the life of Marie Antoinette. I thought was fun, at least, and very much My Thing, but it has some unusually hostile reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I figure it’s not everybody’s cuppa. Anyway, I just finished the second book, and I know just enough about the real life Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution to wonder how this can possibly end well…
Matt and I have also been working our way slowly through the Audible Original performance of Treasure Island, which is fantastic, featuring the voices of Daniel Mays and Catherine Tate, among others.
I’ve also been picking at S.T. Joshi’s biography of Lovecraft, which I had apparently read a chunk of before? I didn’t remember how much Joshi forces his opinions on the text, but wow, he sure does. I usually agree with his conclusions, but sometimes he says things like “Lovecraft thought all poetry after Yeats is crap, and I agree,” and I have to kind of side-eye the both of them.
As I’ve written about on Facebook, I decided to dive headfirst into the wide, wild world of (the new-ish) Doctor Who. Previous to this, the only thing I’d seen of it was the famous “Five Doctors” episode of the original show.
This all started with a craving for more David Tennant, after enjoying him so much as Crowley in the Good Omens series. I asked my friends if I could start watching with his 10th Doctor, and the answer was mostly, “yes, but you might as well watch the 13 episodes of Christopher Eccleston first.”
So I started watching from the (new) series one, and found, to my surprise, that I liked many of the episodes. After years of railing against the popularity of this series, it actually quite entertained me! Though, as I said on Facebook, I feel it’s best when it’s a human interest story, and doesn’t delve too much into the science — because let’s be real, there’s not much science behind an alien with thirteen lives who travels through time in a sentient blue deus ex machina.
The best part of this has been watching in tandem with EB, sharing our snarky comments over Messenger. She’s a big fan of the series, and she’s going through a tough time right now, so it’s been a great way to connect with her at a distance, while getting additional info on the show. I post most of our best exchanges on FB, but here is one that still makes me giggle, shared during “The Empty Child,” i.e. gas mask aliens during the Blitz plus introduction of Jack Harkness episode.
Now we’re on to the Tennant series, i.e. my original reason for watching, and I’m liking him quite a lot! I’ve heard it’s pretty normal to imprint on your first Doctor, so I’ll probably always have a soft spot for Eccleston, but on the whole I found the adjustment to Tennant pretty easy. It helps that he’s nice to look at 😉
The other thing I’ve been watching lately, in keeping with the season, is Vincent Price films. We have a selection that we own that we watched every year (House of the Long Shadows, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Madhouse, the episode of The Muppet Show that Price was on, etc), but we also check each year to see if Netflix/Amazon have any new offerings. That was how we ended up watching The Cry of the Banshee, which… I do not recommend. There is a whole lot of rape and women screaming, not mention losing their shirts for absolutely no reason.
Last night, in keeping with this theme, I re-watched Dragonwyck with my friend Jess. You might recall I reviewed this one when I first watched it. Jess made an interesting observation about the length of the shots in this 1940s movie — modern movies rarely have shots longer than 7 seconds, but this movie often lingers for 30 seconds or more. Fascinating!
I continue to PC Shadowvale and NPC Madrigal 3.
Matt recently took up a role as staff on Mad3, which means he’s going to be busy with that, although my role should stay about the same.
I have to start thinking about what game I want to play after Shadowvale ends, which is closer than I realized — only five events remain! My most likely candidate is Cottington Woods 2, probably with some variation on the character I had meant to play in the first campaign: Galina, a witch and herbalist loosely inspired by Baba Yaga. I’m not nearly as invested in being a healer in my next game, though, so I’ll have to figure out how to do that within the witch header.
On the freeform/interactive literature front, I’ll be heading to Mythic Consequences in the UK in November, and the weekend-long game Tutankhamun: Evil Under the Egyptian Sun in Retford, UK, in February 2020. I’ll also be returning to Intercon this year, and actually just proposed a game! (Not my own: The Drinklings, a Nordic-ish game that I played at Consequences last year).
That said, Matt and I have decided to skip Consequences in 2020 (and probably the 2021 weekend-long game), just due to how expensive the bathroom renovation has been.
And that’s all I have to say for now! Not exactly bite-sized, but this is what happens when I don’t post for a while.
Recently I finished Elsweyr, the third and most recent Elder Scrolls Online’s chapter (expansion). This chapter is set, as you might guess, in Elsweyr, the home of the Khajiit, the cat folk of the TES universe. We only get the northern half of the zone in this chapter; southern Elsweyr will be out soon with the Dragonhold DLC.
My general impression of Elsweyr? Favorable, but there were areas that were seriously underdeveloped.
The main quest and core mechanics
I did enjoy the main quest, and I did enjoy the expansion of Cadwell’s history (and more John Cleese voice!) His quest punches you in the gut and then comes right back to jollity, and it’s pitch perfect.
I also enjoyed everyone’s favorite grumpy battlemage, Abnur Tharn (and more Alfred Molina voice!), and the rare bits of vulnerability you see from him — about his aging, about his waning magical power, or his relationship with his (half-)sister, and how he feels about [spoiler]. I also like that he is super cagey if you ask him about the Amulet of Kings 😉
I don’t quite understand the Khamira love that everyone else has, but she’s fine, too, and I liked Zamarak and Prefect Calo as additions to the team.
I felt like the final fight against Mulaamnir and Kaalgrontiid was suitably epic.
Likewise, I enjoyed the roaming dragon encounters, which are challenging and require a group. The first time I heard them use the dragon language gave me a little shiver.
I liked the Sunspire trial (raid), and I liked the story behind it. Because of course if dragons start appearing, it’s not long before they start pretending to be Akatosh and demanding to be worshipped like gods.
I know some lorebeards had problems with the whole “dragons released on Elsweyr” aspect of this expansion, arguing that “canonically” there weren’t any dragons in this time period
As for me? Well, you know how I feel about canon in TES. Not only that, we’re sort of in a blind spot in history in the Second Era; it’s implied that much was lost due to the disorder of the Interregnum. So I’m willing to believe that some details about dragons weren’t well recorded.
(And no, we are not in a Dragon Break. Stop spreading that stupid rumor. There’s very little that Bethesda/ZOS word-of-gods, but they got pretty dang close to word-of-god-ing that, when Matt Firor said that interpretation was “too literal”)
Also how freakin’ cool is it that the dragons were released from the Halls of the Colossus? The last time that place was mentioned was in Arena, a.k.a. the first Elder Scrolls game, before we even really knew what the series was about. I love that this series has a history that long to pull from.
I didn’t yet finish the mural (the museum quest for this expansion), but so far nothing has disabused me of the notion that Rahjinn is best referred to as “the Dickster God.”
I don’t think I’ve been completely exhaustive in doing the side quests in Elsweyr, but I’ve tried pretty hard!
I like the Mizzik Thunderboots quest out of Riverhold, even though I saw the ending coming a mile away. But still, seeing a Khajiit in a fabulous hat and doublet solving crimes is worth the price of admission.
Of course I adored the “rescue the guar” quest outside Rimmen. Can’t have a new zone without one of those. And he really did look like a Gordon!
I loved the heist you engineer in the Stitches, although the ending feels somewhat… unresolved? (Then again, I’ve only ever chosen one particular option). Sereyne, and the Alfiq in general, are everything I could hope from “magically adept housecat-sized Khajiit,” and yes I bought both the Alfiq banker and merchant, why do you ask?
I liked the Ashen Scar quest, and how it expands the Azura lore — or, I should say, Azurah, the Khajiit’s take on that particular daedric prince. And hey, I remembered Vastarie from doing Grahtwood quests.
In general I liked the theme of “seeing old friends again” to the side quests, though their individual quests varied in quality:
The “Razum-dar on vacation” quest was pretty hilarious. I knew there was a Raz quest in Elsweyr, but even so, I was surprised when I saw that he was the lazy son everyone was talking about. The actual quest itself was kind of unmemorable, though; I can’t even recall what turned out to be plaguing Raz’s family farm.
The Skooma Cat quest — aka Sheogorath, as seen by the Khajiit — was fantastic. I enjoyed the challenges you solve by playing to his feline nature 😉
I absolutely adored the Jakarn quest, which starts with him falling out of a window at your feet! I loved that it tells us in no uncertain terms that he’s bi, moreso than “he flirts with your PC regardless of gender” that we already knew. Thanks for not shying away from that.
Oh hey, do you remember those two random Peryite cultists from Shimmerene in Summerset? They’re baaaaack, this time being creepy around the public dungeon of Orcrest, a city depopulated by the Knahaten Flu.
The quest in Hakoshae featuring Ashur, the silken-voiced Morag Tong assassin from the Morrowind expansion, left me with decidedly mixed feelings. On one hand, I love that you’re seeing him again. While I adore Naryu Virian, she often falls into the role of “your local fanservice assassin,” and it would have been easy to put her here, too. But instead they decided to put in a lesser-used character who is fanservice-y to their audience of, well, me, and I for one am grateful.
I also love that his plot involves his grandfather’s potentially incomplete writ of assassination for an Akaviri Potentate. It ties nicely into the lore where the Morag Tong were (allegedly) responsible for the deaths of the Potentates; moreover, the Morag Tong is the sort of organization that ties up loose ends like that. And hey, there’s an Akaviri diaspora in Hakoshae, so where better to track that down?
(I guess this does confirm that the Morag Tong did actually assassinate the Potentate, as much as anything in TES is ever confirmed. Though why they would have done something so foolish as write ‘MORAG TONG’ in blood on the palace walls boggles the mind…)
But everything else about it kind of left me cold. The “Proving Trial” portion of the quest was uninspired; it felt like the other three bajillion “prove yourself with mind, body, and spirit”-type quests that are found everywhere in the game. It also just seemed silly — if an Akaviri is not proved worthy in the trial, their ancestors will haunt them?
The ending also seemed unnecessarily complicated, with secret identities and kidnapping by malevolent spirits, all of which kind of made me say, “what is going onnnnnn?”
But my biggest issue — with this quest, and the expansion — has to do with how they handled the Akaviri diaspora as a whole, and that means it’s time for a lore rant…
There was a great deal of content in this expansion about the Akaviri — those mysterious folks from a continent to the east of Tamriel — but it left me puzzled rather than enlightened. I felt like the game just threw a bunch of loosely-labeled Akaviri stuff at you and didn’t make sure it hung together logically.
In concept, I have no problem with an Akaviri diaspora in Northern Elsweyr. The Akaviri Potentates ruled the empire at the beginning of the Second Era (ESO is set in 2E 582, or thereabouts), and it makes sense that after the Akaviri Potentates fell, not all of their people went back to their homeland. And it does seem like the Akaviri Dragonguard was active in Elsweyr at the time, so why not?
But what I don’t get is this: the Akaviri who ruled Tamriel at the beginning of the Second Era were Tsaesci, the “snake men” of Akavir. None of this two-hundred-years-later diaspora looks even a little bit snakey. They look, universally, Imperial. And yeah, yeah, racial phylogeny in TES is weird (in that race seems to be inherited entirely through the maternal line), but you’re telling me that there were NO Tsaesci moms hanging around waiting to pass on their scaley looks to the next generation?
This sort of gets brushed off in the Ashur/Hakoshae quest as “anyway it was a long time ago and there was a lot of interbreeding,” but that feels inadequate. It just seems like they didn’t want to make a new model for a new race.
This incoherence around the Akaviri also came up in the Tomb of the Serpents delve. It was one of the first ones I did in the zone, and it feels unfinished. It seems like there should be more of a quest here than just “sinister talking voice?” All the enemies you face are Akaviri (or minotaurs), and it’s an Akaviri tomb, but it basically raises some questions (Why Akaviri? Why minotaurs? Who’s the sinister voice?) and then resolutely refuses to give you anything more to go on.
There’s also an Akaviri world boss you fight, a swordmistress with the name “Vhysradue.” Is there any significance to the fact that her name sounds like “Versiduie-Shae,” one of the Akaviri Potentates? Who knows! This random cultural tidbit is just hanging in mid-air, unexplored, like an unripe fruit.
Generally I feel like there was a great opportunity to present the Akaviri in an interesting way, and it was sort of (pardon the metaphor) pissed down the leg. It ended up feeling like the writers couldn’t commit to either revealing info about the Akaviri or keeping them mysterious, and it comes off as wishy-washy and incoherent as a result.
I nearly forgot to say anything about the necromancer, the new class introduced with this expansion. Possibly because I still haven’t gotten my Breton magicka necromancer past level 30 yet.
What I can say is this:
I have no problem with necromancers from a lore perspective. It’s been in the lore forever, for one thing. Culturally, reactions to necromancy have varied from place to place and time to time, but arguably it’s no more unacceptable than sorcerers running around Tamriel with daedra at their sides.
I do like that there is a justice system penalty for, say, summoning a flesh atronach in the middle of Rawl’kha. And I do like that a few quests in Elsweyr react to you being a necromancer.
As for how it plays? Some of the necro abilities, like the scythe, are suuuuuuper satisfying to use, in the same way the templar’s jabs are. Some were, last I checked, a little buggy/unresponsive (i.e. Blastbones), though those might have been fixed.
As its viability in endgame? I couldn’t say. (Pshh, everyone knows housing is the real endgame, anyway).
The scenery, and other intangibles
Obviously I have a ton of love for the Morrowind expansion; TES3 was my first love, and I imprinted hard on that stark volcanic landscape. The soft light, coral forests, and unearthly beauty of Summerset is also my jam.
By contrast, the “fantasy Arizona” scenery of Elsweyr seems somewhat mundane. Obviously it has its moments, as my numerous screenshots prove! But I’ve since headed off to do the Summerset quests on my main, and I’m still stopping more often for screenshots than I did in Elsweyr — and it’s not my first time through the zone.
Another intangible thing that bothers me about Elsweyr? I’m a compulsive looter of containers in ESO. Backpacks, urns, desks, barrels, you name it. In many other chapters and DLC, this pays off; this is often how you get rare furnishing patterns in Morrowind and Summerset. But it seems they are just waaaay fewer lootable containers in Elsweyr, and I only rarely get anything specifically Elsweyr-themed out of them — I sometimes got recipes, but they seemed to be pulled from the generic loot table.
It seems the way you’re intended to farm rare furnishing patterns in Elsweyr is by killing dragons, which have a chance to drop a “documents pouch” containing a recipe. Which is fine and all; dragon fights are fun. But sometimes you just want to chill out and loot a hundred closets, and I don’t understand why the game doesn’t support that playstyle, too.
There are many things to like about Elsweyr, but it’s probably my least favorite of the three chapters. If nothing else, I have more emotional memories of Morrowind and Summerset than I do Elsweyr.
(I’d still rate it higher than Orsinium, but I’m not sure that counts as a proper chapter).
But hey, not everything is everyone’s cup of tea. At the end of the day I’m glad we continue to fill out the map of Tamriel and learn more about cultures heretofore unknown. ESO keeps building on the fantastic TES lore, and I can never be unhappy about that.
And, while I’m on the topic, where I’d like to see us go next in ESO? I want to see more of mainland Morrowind — Blacklight! Necrom! — and I would love to see a story based around Almalexia, since the other two Tribunes have gotten their own DLC. Aside from handing you a glowing light in Deshaan, and serving as the motivation for the zone’s villain, she doesn’t do much. And I just listened to the episode of Written in Uncertainty about her, and now I’m eager to see an interpretation of her that isn’t “bitches be crazy.”
And that’s all I have to say about Elsweyr! Play it, if you are so inclined 🙂
Peach picking, getting back to editing, my talented friends and their awesome books, and NATURE.
It’s been a while — I spent a big chunk of August on vacation. I’m working on a longer travelogue, but in the interest of writing regularly, here’s what I’ve been up to since I got back, or stuff that was tangential to my vacation.
Last weekend I went peach (and raspberry, and blueberry) picking at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, MA. In addition to crossing it off my 101 goals in 1001 days list, it also meant I got to spend some time with my excellent friends Becky, Arnis, Kim, and Dave.
In the process I…
Learned how to tell a peach was ready to be picked. (Half yellow/half pink, with the ridges on the top yielding to the touch)
Had some fantastic falafel from Chez Rafiki, a Mediterranean restaurant that has a food truck at the orchard.
Discovered that the orchard plays alarm calls of certain birds in their raspberry patch — presumably to keep birds from eating the fruit. What a great idea!
I of course got a ton of reading done while traveling!
I finished (at last!) The Unbound Empire, the final book of my pal Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy. That it took me so long to finish is not a mark against it; once I was able to sit down and concentrate, it was engrossing! I kept wondering how various things were going to resolve — the love triangle, Ruven’s machinations, etc — and I can truly say that it delivered an end to the series that was surprising, but, in retrospect, inevitable. I’m truly, truly pleased with the conclusion, and I’m excited to see more of Vaskandar in the new series.
In continuing adventures of “I have incredibly talented author friends,” I finally read Django Wexler’s Ship of Smoke and Steel, the first book in his YA fantasy trilogy, the Wells of Magic. I actually had read part of it already, it turned out; he’d sent it to me to critique back when he was still calling it “Deepwalker.” It’s the story of ruthless mob boss with combat magic, Isoka, who gets thrown onto a giant ship/city, Soliton, and has to figure out how to commandeer it in order to save the life of her sister.
ANYWAY it’s just fantastic. I agree with the reviewer who said that the action scenes are cinematic — in particular I thought the dredwurm fight, with mushroom spores flying around, was particularly colorful. It’s also paced beautifully, pulling you from one adventure to another with curiosity about the magic system, this ginormous ship, and wtf is going on.
Isoka is also a fascinating character; she starts out kind of a terrible person, which is something that’s super rare for a female, first-person protagonist. But her ruthlessness is a tool that she uses to climb the hierarchy of Soliton, and that? That I looooved. (Also she is marginally less awful by the end of the book, in ways that totally make sense).
There was… kind of a love triangle? Although I felt that if you’ve read anything of Django’s, you knew exactly how it was going to end 😉 I was rooting for Zarun, either way. I like my charismatic assholes.
After I marked it as “read” on Goodreads, though, I made the mistake of reading some reviews of it and… man, there are some people willfully misreading the romance in that book. It left me with a combination of “did you read the same book as I did?” and “DING DONG YOU ARE WRONG.” Ultimately I think a lot of people don’t know what to do with a female protagonist like Isoka.
I’ve already preordered the next book, which comes out January 2020, so I think that tells you my ultimate opinion 😉
While I was in Stratford, I also read Jeannette Walls’ Half-Broke Horses, which she describes as a “true-life novel” about her grandmother, who was a homesteader, horse trainer, bootlegger, and teacher in New Mexico and Arizona in the early 20th century. I liked this way better than I did The Glass Castle, which was way too intense for me. It turns out, I just really like stories about people homesteading and being self-reliant! This was definitely a story I wanted to linger in.
I have been getting back to editing Lioness. Still on draft 3, as I have been for the past… year? Two years? (Too long!) Every time I’m away for any significant period of time, I have to do what I call “reuploading the manuscript into working memory,” which is basically just re-reading it. At 120k words, that takes a bit of time!
However, this reupload, I was pleased to make two discoveries: 1) there were bits that I didn’t remember writing that I found quite clever! and b) I was further along in my edits than I had thought. So that was heartening.
Still, editing continues to be painful. It feels like closing the doors on so many possibilities.
Mead chronicles: the meading continues!
Batch #1, the semisweet mead per Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker, is still in secondary fermentation. It is supposed to remain there until it clears and all fermentation has stopped for two weeks. It has cleared, but fermentation is still going, verrrrrry slooooowly, so I’ve left it there.
I’ve picked up a few goodies for bottling it, namely some swing-top bottles, and some Saniclean/iodophor, because I’ve heard so many negatives about sanitizing with bleach.
Last week I put on a new batch of quick mead, cleverly called batch #2, using the recipe from the Elder Scrolls cookbook and a spice blend of my own imagining: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, juniper berries, and grains of paradise. I have no idea how this will turn out! It may be utterly undrinkable! But at least I only have to wait another week or so to find out.
iNaturalist, and a recent walk in the woods
I’ve become utterly obsessed with iNaturalist, an app and website which allows you to engage in citizen science out in the wild and get feedback on your observations. I started using it when I was up in Canada, and then went through MY ENTIRE CAMERA ROLL and uploaded every nature picture I had, getting identifications for most of them. I just started using it in mid August, and I’ve already logged 80 observations, most of them flowering plants, because that’s kind of my thing.
What I’m beginning to discover is that no matter how many times I tread a certain path, there is always something new to discover — even if it’s just opening my eyes to something I’ve overlooked a million times. For example, I went for a walk today at work, along the Cochituate Rail Trail — a path I probably walk at least a hundred times a year — and saw velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti), which was entirely new to me. (And, unfortunately, an invasive species). I’m also starting to branch out (haha) into tree identification, and suddenly I notice Eastern redbud and witch hazel and shagbark hickory when I pass them.
Anyway, this past weekend Matt and I went on a long ramble through the Hickory Hills woods and Lunenburg Town Forest, visiting some parts we’d never seen before. It’s kind of amazing how quickly it changes from a dense undergrowth of heath (mountain laurel, partridge berry, wintergreens, etc) to… well, almost nothing, in the parts to the north of the lake. Probably a sign to how recently different parts have been reforested, I would guess.
The bugs were pretty awful — and I was covered up pretty well, due to the high risk of EEE in Massachusetts right now — so it was not the most pleasant or comfortable walk in the woods I’ve ever had. However! I did see some species I’d only read about before, like downy rattlesnake plantain, or cardinal flower.
(When I saw the cardinal flowers, I was, no lie, about 100 feet away, and this flash of brilliant red caught my eye. I had a brief moment of hope — because this was the right season for it, if nothing else — but then almost brushed it off as “nah, it’s probably just foliage of some sort.” But as I got a little closer, it seemed more floral in shape, so I went bounding, literally into a marsh, to take a picture of it).
You may recall that roughly two years ago, I tried (indoor) rock-climbing for the first time. I liked it enough that I decided I needed to do it again sometime, and put it on my 101 goals list… and then promptly developed cubital tunnel syndrome in my hand.
But my hand has been all cleared up for months now, so I was out of excuses! This time, as before, I went to Brooklyn Boulders Somerville with my friend Jess, who once again belayed me. Also like last time, I had similar anticipatory anxiety, mostly around “will this be uncomfortable?”
But it went much better than last time! I feel like my running has helped build strength in my legs and cardiovascular endurance. I tried two different routes across three separate tries, and got to the top twice! Both routes were 5.5, and one was a slab wall (angled so that gravity works with you), but I say this only to point out that I am a raw beginner, and not to diminish the achievement at all.
When I got to the top of the wall, and touched both hands to the top hold, it was such a rush. I felt like a GOD among MEN. I stayed up far later than I should have thinking about all the awesome things I could now accomplish, now that I conquered those walls.
BKBS continues to be a great, positive place to climb, and makes me sad that it’s nowhere close to where I live. I did, however, discover there is a new(ish) MetroRock near me in Littleton, MA — it definitely was not open when I checked two years ago! — and that I can take their Intro to Climbing class on their “Ladies’ Night” for $30, which includes all equipment and a 10 day membership pass. This would allow me to get belay certified, and hopefully climb with Jess more equitably when she recovers from her injury!
After climbing we had dinner at ONE, a ramen and sushi restaurant on Mass Ave, and she showed me her souvenirs from her recent trip to Japan. It was later than I anticipated before I got on the road.
I was not going home, however! Like I was some kind of social butterfly or something, I was actually going to my friend Alison’s house in preparation for our next adventure. (Seriously, I feel like “go from one friend’s gathering to another without going home” is some kind of extrovert merit badge).
Cape Cod with Alison
Alison and I had planned to take the fast ferry on Saturday from Plymouth to Provincetown. This… did not so much happen.
See, she booked our tickets through TripAdvisor, but when we got to the pier, Captain John’s, which runs the boat, had no record of us. The boat was full, too, so there was no way we could board. Later — two hours after the boat left! — she got a “we’re sorry, but we have no availability for that date” email. What the hell, TripAdvisor? (I guess take this as a warning to book through Captain John’s directly).
So, we decided to drive instead.
Ptown, as it is often called, is at the very tip of Cape Cod, and in the summer the drive can be grueling, just due to holiday traffic. Alison lives close to the Bourne Bridge, the main route onto the Cape, but even so it would have been two hours to get to Ptown. But as it happens, we decided to make some stops along the way!
What a fantastic, magical place it was — truly, a place that reflected the spirit of an eccentric genius. Some images that stick with me:
the supports on the mantelpieces of his fireplaces, shaped like bats, in recognition of his production of Dracula.
The framed “last waffle of the millenium,” from Jack’s Outback, the restaurant where he ate breakfast and lunch for nearly every meal.
The odd collections, of everything from tassels to glass balls.
How he spent his young adult years loping around Harvard, then NYC, in fur coats and jeans, but when he realized how unethical fur was, he stopped wearing it. (He then put in his will that his coats would be auctioned off after his death, and the proceeds given to animal welfare charities).
His orders to let a family of raccoons keep living in his attic while the roof was replaced.
The dishes for his six cats.
A bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin that he had hand-labeled. Nearby, a bottle of lye, labeled in the same way.
But more than anything, I will remember the section of crumbling plaster in the front room, which he specifically instructed his contractors not to restore. Why? Because he liked things that showed their age.
I left with a few of his books — The Doubtful Visitor, one of his “nonsense” works, in which a small penguin-like creature in gym shoes terrorizes a family for seventeen years, and The Curious Sofa, a “pornographic” work, which is all overwrought innuendo, with an incredibly surreal ending.
But mostly I left with the desire to have my home reflect my “brand” as much as Gorey’s reflected his own.
Next stop was in Eastham, at Doane Rock, the largest glacial erratic on Cape Cod. Because it’s not an adventure if I don’t see a big rock!
Not much to say about this, but enjoy a couple of pictures — one mine, one Alison’s.
Next we proceeded to North Truro, home of Truro Vineyards, which is known for its wines in lighthouse-shaped bottles.
We shared a wine tasting, where we sampled two of their whites, two of their rosés, four of their reds, and their two wine cooler-ish beverages. Obviously, because we are classy dames, we enjoyed the wine coolers the best. I actually had to finish most of Alison’s samples of the reds, because she was very much not a fan.
(I did think their 2018 Zinfandel had some really interesting peppery notes! See, I’m not a total degenerate!)
Afterward, we took some pictures, and had lunch at the food trucks on the lawn. I spilled most of our wine slushie, which was probably a good thing, because I was already pretty tipsy. I didn’t end up buying anything there, which I kind of regret — I’d love one of those lighthouse bottles, but I also don’t need more encouragement to drink.
Race Point Beach
One of my reasons for this trip was to go to an ocean beach — another of my 101 goals. Obviously I can go swimming in lakes any time I like, but oceans require a bit more planning.
There are two main beaches close to Ptown — Herring Cove, and Race Point. Herring Cove is on the inside of the curling tip of the Cape, and is supposed to be a lot warmer and a lot less wild. But that also means it’s much more family friendly, and we expected it would be crammed full of people on this perfect summer day.
So instead we hit Race Point, which is about 2 miles outside of Provincetown, on the very tip of the peninsula. It’s in the midst of those “dunes on the Cape” that the Pina Colada Song warned me about! It’s absolutely gorgeous scenery, so unearthly and unlike the rest of Massachusetts.
When we arrived, it was about 4pm, and the park rangers told us that if we wanted to wait a half hour, we could get in for free. However, we did not really want to wait, so we paid the day fee ($20) and parked. (Noted for the future, though!)
The first thing to know about Race Point: boy, does it have an undertow. Not surprising, really, considering we’re on a narrow spit of land sticking far out into the Atlantic. I admittedly don’t have a ton of experience with ocean beaches, but it is definitely stronger than any other I’ve experienced. It was unreal watching the force with which the ocean sucked back from the sand.
The saving grace was that the waves seemed to be exerting as much force in the opposite direction: the undertow would pull you out a little, and make it difficult to stand, but then the waves would push you right back.
Mostly, I spent my time there rolling around in the surf like some kind of seal. While this was delightfully fun, it did not help the bruises all over my legs from climbing, and I ended up with sand EVERYWHERE.
Alison mostly took pictures; I laid on the beach for a bit and watched clouds roll in. Eventually a strong wind blew in, and we decided to leave.
Finally, late in the afternoon, we reached Provincetown! We had no set plans here, really, so mostly we poked our heads in art galleries and shops. I bought a t-shirt with a sloth that said “LIVE SLOW”; Alison hit Monty’s, a Christmas store.
Our “dinner” was really dessert — an ice cream sundae at Lewis’ for me, and some donuts at The Donut Experiment for Alison. I held on to Alison’s iced tea as she went into Shop Therapy, which meant that she missed the Liberace impersonator passing by in a car, promoting a drag show that night. I didn’t get a picture, so possibly it was just a figment of my imagination — but nah, that’s peak Ptown.
We headed home shortly thereafter — an hour and a half back to Plymouth, and then another hour and a half back home for me.
England plans coming together
Matt and I will be attending Mythic Consequences in November, much as we usually do. Hopefully this year we won’t get a nasty stomach bug!
Our plan this year is to do most of our tourism after the convention. On the Monday after, we’ll be heading back to London to go with a group of larpers to see the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery — the last time the sarcophagus will be on display for who knows how long.
We’ll spend the night somewhere in London, and then take a train to Bath on Tuesday. I booked an AirBnB at the heart of the city for a very reasonable $97/night, from whence we’re excited to see the Fashion Museum, the Jane Austen Centre, and the Roman baths, and SO MUCH MORE. Seriously, I’m super pumped for everything there is to do there, and how central it all is. There will be bespoke gin tastings and spa sessions and odd Atlas Obscura sites and walking the Skyline trail and and and…
I usually don’t plan these things too much, but I might have to lay down a simple schedule if I want to fit in everything we want to do!
We spend five days in Bath, and then we head back to London and then home. The nice thing about coming in from Bath is we’ll arrive at Paddington station, which connects directly to Heathrow via the Heathrow Express. No messing around with RailLink buses!
On that note…
I’ll be heading off on my summer vacation (Stratford Festival + camping) for ten days starting tomorrow. That means no posts next week, and I’ll be fairly incommunicado during that time. See you when I return!
This one was built on a bit of a different model than the Fitchburg festival. It was $30 (advance) or $35 (at the door) to get in, but once you were in, all samples were included in the cost. Like the Nashua River festival, they gave you a commemorative sample glass — I’m going to be drowning in these if I keep going to beer festivals. Unlike the Fitchburg festival, they actually gave you a sample size, at least at first. (As the event went on, the pours kept getting bigger and bigger, as if some of the brewers were saying “fuck it, I don’t want to have to carry all this beer home”).
The breweries present varied quite a bit from the last event, and included a lot of bigger breweries. (Samuel Adams, for example, as well as Harpoon and Magic Hat). That said, the total number of brewers seemed higher, so there were still a good number of small places represented. I also saw some overlap with the Fitchburg festival, such as New City, Wachusett, and Carlson Orchards.
I also was surprised — when I arrived a little after the opening time of 3pm — that there was a line around the block to get in, even for folks who had purchased ahead of time (like us). Understandable, because they needed to check everyone’s ID. It did move relatively fast, notwithstanding my impatience 🙂
Here are some of the hits of the festival for us:
Wicked Weed Brewing from Asheville, NC had two session sours we liked, Watermelon Dragonfruit Burst and a Passionfruit Lychee Burst. Matt felt the watermelon was a little too “Jolly Ranchers”-y for his taste, though.
Golden Road Brewing out of Los Angeles had a “cart” series of flavored wheat ales. We sampled Melon Cart and Mango Cart, and decided Melon was the better of the two, with a pleasant melon flavor to it. The mango flavor sadly did not come through nearly as well.
The Mass Bev stall was pouring a selection from Rising Tide Brewery (Portland, ME), including a gose called Pisces that I quite liked.
Four Phantoms (Easthampton, MA) was pouring Baroness, what they described as a “brut saison.” It drank very much like a sour — not all that surprising, the brewer told us, since saisons are also traditionally made with wild yeast. This was probably Matt’s favorite of the whole festival.
Rhinegeist, out of Cincinnati, had an unusual selection of ciders and beers, which we sampled all of. I seem to recall the cider was Swizzle, a lemongrass and ginger cider; for beers, there was Nitro Cobbstopper (a peach cobbler ale), and a fruity IPA which I absolute cannot recall — it might have had pineapple? They were all enjoyable.
Groennfell Meadery (Colchester, VT) was, understandably, a hit with me! I sampled them all; they were all slightly drier than I was used to, but still very easy-drinking. My favorite was a sour cherry mead, Psychopomp, which was actually from the (related) Havoc Meads — and they even have the recipe for it on the Groennfell webpage! (Actually, the website has a ton of mead-making resources… there was a long gap in writing this while I explored their site).
Carlson Orchards (Harvard, MA) was pouring their own hard cider as well as their Shandy Stand, which was scrumptiously lemon-y. I may need to get some of that when I go there for peach picking in September.
3cross Fermentation Coop (soon to be in Worcester, MA) offered Mumbaicycle, a chai-based stout, which was pretty good even though I don’t much like stouts.
Bantam Cider (Somerville, MA) had some excellent ciders, included a hopped cider (it might have been Mighty Mammoth?) that worked out really well.
Clown Shoes (Boston, MA) had their Coconut Sombrero, which is best described as a “non-sweet Almond Joy flavor in a stout.”
At Newburyport Brewing‘s stall (Newburyport, MA), we tried the Maritime Lager and Plum Island Belgian White. Pretty bog standard varieties, no flavorings, but they both stood out for the amount of nutty malt flavor that came through.
Of course after that excursion in the land of all-inclusive booze, we were a biiiiit tipsy. It was also nearly dinner time, and we were in downtown Leominster, so the logical choice was to hit up Mezcal for dinner! No margaritas were had, though 😉
On Sunday morning, Matt and I hiked Wachusett Mountain (or Mount Wachusett, take your pick) with Matt in the Hat and Tegan K. (Both of whom I hadn’t seen in FOREVAAAR). The goal here was to knock “hike a mountain” off my 101 goals in 1001 days list.
Wachusett Mountain, at 2,005′, is the “highest peak in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River,” which is a lot of qualifiers. It’s also one of those mountains that you can drive to the top of. But, most importantly, it’s pretty dang close to me, about a thirty minute drive.
The first challenge was getting there, since Apple Maps wanted to take us to some point up the summit road, rather than the visitor center where we were supposed to meet. But we did get parked ($5 day pass) and underway shortly after 10am.
While all of us are healthy adults in decent shape, none of us hike mountains all that often, so we decided not to take the steepest trail to the summit. We opted to follow the Bicentennial Trail, which circles the base of the mountain in a clockwise direction, to the Mountain House Trail, which ascends to the summit. It appeared on the map to be a less steep grade than both the Pine Hill Trail and the Loop Trail. Possibly that was deceiving, however! I am reminded that east of the Mississippi, we think switchbacks are for pussies, and that the best path to the summit is straight up the side of the mountain.
Along the route we saw red chanterelles, raspberries, chokecherry, hemp dogbane, yarrow, knotweed, and tons and tons of beeches and hemlocks. We also heard the songs of red-eyed (or possibly blue-headed) vireos, and a hermit thrush. (That I even know that is thanks to Matt in the Hat, the designated “bird guy” in our circle of friends). In the process I learned about iNaturalist, a species identification app, which I’m keen to play around with!
We reached the summit around noon, amidst a light shower of rain. Despite the weather, we lingered for a bit at the fire tower, eating some food, taking photos, and spotting various landmarks in different directions. (You can just barely make out the skyline of Boston in the distance!) There was a display about old-growth forests at the summit, which made me wish we had tried the Old Indian Trail on the north side of the mountain, which goes through the largest section of old growth forest — you guessed it — “in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River.”
We descended via the steep Pine Hill Trail, which lands you on the Bicentennial Trail nearly at the trailhead. It’s hard to judge going in reverse, but it felt about as steep as the Mountain House Trail, so we may have gone out of way for nothing? Definitely was hard on the knees going down, though, and I could feel my calf muscles trembling when I stopped to rest.
All in all, it was a lovely trip with lovely people, and now I’ve got an itch to do hike more mountains in the area. Maybe try that ascent from the other side of Wachusett? Or Mount Watatic? In all my abundant free time, of course.
So, fermentation is active. The specific gravity has decreased from 1.109 to 1.041, which is trending in the right direction. It’s not quite where it should be after two weeks, though, so it’s definitely going slowly. Obviously the fermentation never produced enough CO2 to fill the fermenter and displace the vodka in the airlock, probably because it was less than a gallon of mead in a two-gallon plastic bucket (which may or may not have had an airtight seal). Also, when I adjusted the recipe from 5 gallons to one gallon, I reduced the quantity of yeast from 2 packets to 1, which may not be helping.
Regardless, I racked it into a 1-gallon glass carboy, where active fermentation was readily apparent in the airlock. It’s still slow — one bubble every 18 seconds, as of this morning. But it’s happening, at least. This one will sit until it clears, and/or until fermentation has stopped completely and/or until I get really impatient. We shall see.
I am debating if I want to put on another quick mead, and/or try out a recipe from the Big Book of Mead Recipes. There’s an Autumn Spiced Cyser that I think would be lovely with the dark wildflower honey I got from the farmer’s market. That probably wouldn’t be ready until Autumn 2020, though, given this book is full of recipes that say things like “age for 1-3 years” or “bulk age until mead is clear enough to read through”).
This book also uses a lot of additives that I’m not super familiar with working with, like sodium metabisulfite, which is common enough in wine-making, but less common in beer, which is kind of my touchstone for this hobby. Unfortunately you can’t really buy small batches of most of these supplies, so there’s an investment aspect, too, as well as buying a scale fine-grained enough to measure out “0.38 grams of GoFerm” or whatnot.
I certainly have plenty of materials to make all manner of quick meads, though… gotta do something with this half finished 3-gallon jug of orange blossom honey and these giant bags of herbs.
Alsoalso, there’s something to be said about waiting until I can make a proper 5 gallon batch of mead again. Which… won’t be until I have a working bathtub again — more on that in a moment.
Finally, I’ve determined never to buy brewing supplies through Amazon again, because the vast majority of the stuff I’ve gotten has been total junk. An inaccurate thermometer, an autosiphon that won’t siphon, a fermenting pail that isn’t airtight, etc.
The bathroom renovation has begun on time! Early even — the demo crew was knocking at my door at 7:45am on Monday. Here’s some pics from mid-demolition:
Demolition is now complete, and we should be hearing from the plumbers soon. So far, everything is continuing apace *crosses fingers*.
Podcast Recommendation of the Week
Hey, I can’t leave you without at least one new podcast 😉 This week I’m keen on Noble Blood, a brand-new podcast about history’s most interesting royals and nobles. The second episode was on Charles II, who is of course one of the Stuarts, those disaster royals I find so deeply fascinating. In addition to discussing how Charles II compromised his way onto the throne, it also talked about the English Civil War, Charles I (possibly my all-time-favorite disaster royal), and Montrose (possibly my all time favorite 15-minute folk song about a disaster noble).