Weekly Update: November 18, 2019

Winter cleaning

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.

A mostly organized sunroom, with cleared table, neatly stacked board games, and all our larp gear packed away.

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…

England!

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).

Reading

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:

Two happy cats snuggling on the couch.

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!

Weekly Update: October 30, 2019

Halloween Party

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 😉

Nocturnal’s Labyrinth

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.

Intercon T Schedule

The Intercon T schedule has been released! (And the first round of signups is Thursday, November 7th).

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.

Weekly Update: October 22, 2019

Not nearly as much to report this week, but I might as well start you off with something I forgot from last week:

Mead Update

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!

Donating Blood

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.

Blood donation selfie: rocking the pale Victorian aesthetic.

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

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:

Fleece-lined leggings, drawing kit… thankfully Gaslighting Murder Dads are self-packing.

ADHD

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…

Weekly Update: October 14th, 2019

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.

Knife Skills

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.

River Styx Brewing Company

Recently Matt and I visited a local brewery, River Styx Brewing, located in Fitchburg, MA. You might recall that we liked their offerings at the Nashua River Brewer’s Festival, so it was only a matter of time until we made it there in person!

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.

Nothing says New Hampshire like marrying a bear with sunglasses.

Bathroom Renovations

… 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!

ESO

I’ve been playing a lot of ESO lately, and I wrote about my impressions of the latest expansion.

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…

Reading

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.

Watching

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.

“Captain Jack apparently pilots a rave.”

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!

Larp

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.

Weekly Update: September 8, 2019

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.

Peach picking

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!
  • Bought a case of their amazing Shandy Stand, which I tasted and loved at the Johnny Appleseed Beer Festival.

Now I have SO MUCH FRUIT to eat…

Reading

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.

Writing

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.

The mystery mead! How will it turn 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.

(P.S. I’m lisefrac on iNat, if you want to look me up there).

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).

Weekly Update: August 13, 2019

Rock climbing, Cape Cod, the Edward Gorey House, and plans for vacation in Bath…

What an amazing weekend, and week, I have had! I crossed two more things off my 101 Goals in 1,001 Days List, and had a blast doing it.

Rock-climbing, part deux

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!

The Edward Gorey House

The first place we stopped was 8 Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port, better known as the “Elephant House,” where artist and writer Edward Gorey spent the last fifteen years of his life. This is an Atlas Obscura site, and one I’ve wanted to visit since we read The Unstrung Harp at Viable Paradise in 2013. (I also highly recommend the episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class about Gorey).

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.

Doane Rock

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.

Truro Vineyards

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.

Provincetown

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!

Weekly Update: August 6, 2019

Where has the summer gone? I can hardly believe it’s already August. So let’s see what I’ve been doing in the past week…

Yet another beer festival

Matt and I went to the Johnny Appleseed Craft Beer Festival this past Saturday, on the Leominster, MA common. Yes, this is the second beer fest I’ve been to in the past month. It’s been a very boozy month for us, I guess!

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 😉

Wachusett Mountain

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.”

Sweaty Lise at the Mount Wachusett summit
Sweaty Lise at the Mount Wachusett summit

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.

Meadwatch, update three

Remember the batch of mead that seemed not to be fermenting after three days? Well, two weeks passed with no signs of fermentation. I decided at that point to pull out a sample and measure specific gravity, which would at least tell me if fermentation was active.

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.

Bathroom Renovations

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).

So, basically, I’m in love with this podcast.

Weekly Update: July 29, 2019

Visit to upstate NY

Last weekend I was in upstate NY — by some definitions, at least — to attend a cousin’s graduation party. While I did not see any oversized garden gnomes this time, I spent most of the 95-degree day in my uncle and aunt’s amazing in-ground pool, watched The Cat Returns, and slept in a beautifully air conditioned camper.

(Oh also I somehow managed to convince my six-year-old second cousin that I was Queen Elizabeth? So there’s that).

Matt couldn’t come with me, so EB kept me company on the trip. On our way there, we stopped in Carmel, NY, at a monument commemorating Sybil Ludington, the “teenage girl Paul Revere.” On our way out of town we stopped at two Atlas Obscura sites: the abandoned graveyard of the Dutch Reform church in Beacon, NY, and Balanced Rock in North Salem, NY.

Definitely the abandoned cemetery was the creepiest of them all, with trees devouring gravestones, tall brush, and crypts that were broken open and collapsed. AO says that no one has been buried here since the 1920s, but we saw gravestones from as late as 1990, so surely some family members are still alive and must care about the state of their loved ones’ memorials…

Games

Been doing a lot of gaming lately, because life is hard for me right now. Steam tells me I’ve logged 68 hours in the last two weeks, although at least some of those hours were due to accidentally leaving a game open overnight 😉

I finally finished Graveyard Keeper. I didn’t 100% it, as I considered doing — those fishing achievements are kind of awful. The ending was clever and very on-brand.

The only thing I wonder about is how replayable it is. There’s a simulation aspect to it that’s endlessly repeatable, sure, but you’re ultimately tied to the story mode, which might be tiresome to go through a second time.

I also spent some time on Game Dev Tycoon. This game is probably most famous for its innovative anti-piracy measures — where the developers uploaded a “pirate” version to torrent sites, which works like the real version, except that your game dev studio steadily loses money to piracy until you eventually go broke. (If you have the paid version, you can optionally choose to play in pirate mode, too, if you really want a challenge!) Gotta admire that cheekiness… also the game was dirt cheap, so it’s not like paying for it really put me out.

The game starts you in the infancy of game development, in a garage, making games for the “Govodore 64” and other definitely-not-copyright-infringing systems. You then play through the next thirty-eight years of games history, trying not to go broke. At the end it calculates a score based on how many games you’ve released, how profitable they were, etc. So basically it’s kind of a game where you play multiple times to see how to improve your scores.

(I feel like you could make a really interesting simulation game, Larp Owner, on a very similar model. But that might be Too Real for some people!)

At this point I’ve gotten to year 38 on two playthroughs and gone bankrupt on two or three. I can’t figure out why I keep having trouble in the same spot, right about in year fifteen or so. I keep making games that prior experience says will be successful, but which turn out to be flops.

I’ve put it aside for a bit, if only because I ran out of clever things to name my games! (I was particularly proud of my time travel/adventure game called “Night of the Cephalopod,” though).

Next up in my queue was Papers, Please. It’s really a brilliant game, and I’m just sad I’ve waited six years to play this! You play a border control officer/passport inspector at the border of a fictional Eastern Bloc country, approving or denying people’s entry visas based on an increasingly Byzantine set of rules. You get paid based on how many people you process. At the end of the day you are told how your family is doing, and might have to make some hard choices about whether or not they get food, heat, or medicine.

Unlike most of the games I play, this game is not about accomplishment. You can never really get ahead. Just as you think you’ve got the hang of stamping passports, the rules gets more difficult, or a terrorist attack cuts the day short. It’s really the “empathy game” I’ve heard it called, where it’s about experiencing the frustration and arbitrariness of having such a job, the uneasiness from the intrusive body scans you have to perform on some immigrants, and the hard decisions you must make.

Also I want to call out that the booth UI is ridiculously clunky, and that seems to be a deliberate design decision. Which is, of course, perfectly in tune with the rest of the game. You can buy keyboard shortcuts at the end of each day, but that also has to come out of your meager pay.

So, it’s an intense game. Maybe too intense for some people. (I’m thinking of my friends who actually grew up in Soviet regimes…)

At this point I’ve gotten a couple of different endings, including one of the very few win conditions, so I think I’m done stamping passports for the time being. I might go back and explore some of the other endings at some point.

I just began playing Cities: Skylines, a city building simulator from Paradox. Like most Paradox games, it does not hold your hand! In the thirty minutes I played so far, I had three sinkholes and a tornado. So… I think maybe I’ll turn off Natural Disasters until I get the hang of things? Also maybe not try a scenario first thing…

I’m trying to prevent myself from buying House Flipper, even though it’s on sale right now. (And I finished three games from my backlog in the last two weeks!) I just love weirdass sim games… but who knows how much game time I’ll actually have in August.

On that note…

August Plans

I’ll be traveling for nearly two weeks in August — first attending the Stratford Festival in Ontario with my mom, then camping in upstate NY with my dad. I’ll be fairly off the grid for most of that; international data is pricey when I’m in Canada, and when I’m camping I won’t have power at all.

Given this, I’ll use my vacation time as an excuse to do a shorter version of the “digital declutter” that Cal Newport recommends in his book Digital Minimalism. Basically this means I won’t be using optional web technology. It remains for me to decide what is truly “optional”, but at the very least I’ll be avoiding social media. I haven’t decided yet if this includes things like text messages or various apps. But it’s safe to say I’ll be harder to reach during this time. Let me know before August if you need any additional contact info.

Weekly Update: July 18, 2019

In which I make mead, attend Readercon, discover a new podcast, and nearly lose a stuffed dino.

Mead Again

I put on my first batch of real, two-stage, “long” mead on Monday based on the recipe in Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker.

I only made one gallon, rather than the five gallons he gives the recipe for, mostly because it’s hard to sanitize a five-gallon carboy when you don’t have a working bathtub. This is intended to be a basic semi-sweet mead — 3lbs of honey and a little less than a gallon of water, and no flavorings. This one uses a wine yeast, Lalvin 71b-1122, which Schramm recommends for leaving some residual sweetness. This is also my first time using Fermaid K as a yeast nutrient.

And yet here we are, some… 56? hours after I started, and I still haven’t seen bubbles in the airlock. Hm.

Of course, it will take longer to start fermenting than my quick meads. The ratio of yeast to must is smaller, and there’s a greater ratio of air in the pail to displace (1 gallon in a 2 gallon pail, vs. a half gallon in a half gallon glass jug). Plus the plastic walls can expand a bit.

But still. I worry. Pointlessly, because the worst thing I could do is open up the pail and look at the must.

I’m just not sure at what point I’m like, okay, this thing is not fermenting, what do I try now?

(I’m also worried because some of the tools I ordered for this batch turned out to be utter crap — a racking cane that doesn’t hold enough pressure to siphon, a thermometer that seems way off. Maybe the yeast is old, or the pail has air leaks?)

(Alsoalso the starting specific gravity measurement was very slightly lower than where it should have been — 1.109 vs. 1.112. Worry worry worry…)

Readercon 20 and Writing Feels

I was at Readercon last weekend! I saw lots of writing friends! I attended panels about translation, curating a personal library, and the existentialist philosophies of Lloyd Alexander! I went to the Viable Paradise dinner! I ran into some newfound acquaintances!

I also spent a good chunk of time in my hotel room, playing Prison Architect, because SFF/writing cons give me Hard Feels sometimes. For more about that, see this Twitter thread:

However, I’m happy to say that I’m getting back to the editing of Lioness (again), regardless of these feelings. This last edit has really been more like a rewrite, moving a bunch of stuff that should have been upfront in the novel, but wasn’t, into the beginning chapters. Of course that has a butterfly effect on eeeeeeevery scene that comes after it…

But after this is done: that’s it. Both my therapist and I have agreed that, for my mental health, this needs to be the last edit. I may run it by one or two people for “pointing out glaring-but-easy-to-fix errors” duty, but the last thing I want is someone else to tell me I need to rewrite it.

Reading and Listening

I finished listening to Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth, which I greatly enjoyed. Will probably read the final book at some point.

For now, I’ve moved on to listening to Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets, an Audible Original. I’d describe it more as an audio-drama-slash-documentary than an audiobook; Fry narrates parts of it, but he also talks to historians and other experts, and there are mini dramatizations of certain historical events, i.e. the trial of a Forty Elephants kingpin.

All in all, it’s amazingly entertaining, but one disappointment is that in the chapter on Victorian pornography, it’s not Fry who narrates the example of gay smut 😉

I also started listening to the new-to-me podcast Ephemeral, after hearing it advertised on other Stuff podcasts. It’s about “those things that were just barely saved, and in some cases not saved at all,” which is so sublimely On Brand for me — someone who has talked before about being a memorial, of remembering things that other people have forgotten. It should be no surprised that I binged the first six episodes while driving back and forth to Quincy for Readercon.

So far the most moving episode has been episode 2, “Diaspora,” which talks about music from the Ottoman diaspora in America in the 1910s and 1920s. The songs they play are hauntingly beautiful, and you know the only reason they are not more better known is… well, racism. It also tied in well with the alternate history of 1910s Istanbul that I’d been exploring in the Leviathan series.

I also liked episode 3, “EphemaWHAT?!?, where he talks with a material culture studies professor, Sarah Wasserman, about ephemera as “items that contain with them their own eventual destruction.” There’s something so incredibly Zen about that — and, I feel, relatable to writing practice.

The producer of the show, Alex Williams, is the sound editor for other Stuff podcasts, so unsurprisingly his focus is very audio- and music-driven. That’s fine, but if I have one complaint, it’s that I’d like to see more episodes that speak to the original meaning of “ephemera,” i.e. paper, or print.

Links

In Parting

I nearly lost my beloved stuffed dinosaur, Instegra Helsing, this week! My husband cleverly snuck her into my suitcase for Readercon, but I not so cleverly left her in the bed at the Quincy Marriott. Luckily thehotel overnighted her back to me, and she arrived home yesterday. My husband snapped this pic to send to me while I was at work.

Instegra Helsing, back in her natural habitat. Also: Can you spot all the geeky things in this picture?

Look at her face. Doesn’t it just say, “I had the best adventure!”? That, or “local stegosaurus in great mood today!”

Weekly Update: July 2, 2019

This was a busy week(end) for me! I hosted a visit from my dad, made some home improvements, put on two new batches of mead, and explored a bunch of local places.

Building a bridge

My house sits above a small brook, maybe fifteen feet across; on the opposite bank is conservation land, with walking trails. When I first moved here in 2006, there was a bridge across the stream. But that bridge washed out in a storm or was dismantled. It was unclear to me if it was built by the conservation group, or by the previous owners, but for whatever reason, it was not replaced. For years now, if I wanted to go walking on those trails, I had to go the long way around, to a public access point.

So finally, with help from my dad, we rebuilt the bridge this weekend.

Well, to be fair… I didn’t help much with the bridge part. I don’t trust myself with power tools. But while my dad and Matt were sawing wood and drilling holes and chainsawing logs out of the way, I blazed a trail though a dense growth of mountain laurel with just a pair of loppers.

And now I can cross “build a bridge for the stream” off my 101 Goals in 1,000 days list!

What a lovely spot for a bridge! If it weren’t for the mosquitos, I’d hang a hammock down here…

Nashua River Brewer’s Festival

I attended this event, hosted by Beers for Good, on Saturday afternoon. After spending much of the morning working on the bridge and trail, nothing sounded as tempting as some nice cold beer.

The event, as suggested by the “Beers for Good” title, benefits a group of local charities. It’s held in Riverfront Park in Fitchburg, MA, right downtown, and on the banks of the Nashua River — again, as the name implies! Admission was $20 at door, which included a commemorative sampler glass. Each sample was $1.

There were soooo many breweries there, and I sampled soooo many amazing beers — and one kombucha! A few that stood out:

  • Both candy-inspired offerings from River Styx Brewing of Fitchburg: Morpheus, a tart watermelon ale conditioned on Sour Patch Kids, and Thanatos, an Imperial stout conditioned on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Reese’s Pieces.
  • PULP DADDY from Greater Good Imperial Brewing Company of Worcester, MA. I asked them what they had that wasn’t an IPA, and they said, “Well, nothing, but try this.” It did not disappoint! It was kind of like a hoppy orange juice.
  • Lawn Games, a tart wheat (we tried the blueberry lemon variety), and Unplugged, a cream ale, from As Built Brewing of Franklin, MA. Also they were giving out branded sunglasses, which was perfect schwag for a hot summer day!
  • The New City Mule from New City Brewing of Easthampton, MA, a hard ginger beer with a kick of lime.
  • An apricot-mango kombucha from KrafTea Kombucha of Worcester, MA. This was my first time sampling the fermented tea beverage, and I didn’t realize that it can be mildly alcoholic (about 2% ABV).

There were also food trucks at the festival, and I sampled esquites (a Mexican corn salad) from Zapata Mexican Cocina. More about that place later!

We left happy and comfortably full of alcohol! The sample glass didn’t hold all that much, but after ten or twelve of them, I was a little tipsy…

“Should you drink Element beer?” flowchart, from one of the breweries at the festival.

Livin’ La Vida Local

This weekend also gave me the opportunity to try out a bunch of local establishments in Lunenburg and Fitchburg, both individually and at the farmer’s market. Even though I’ve lived in this town for thirteen years (!), I just now am beginning to feel like part of the community.

Lunenburg Farmer’s Market

This was, for example, my first time visiting the Lunenburg Farmers’ Market. It was also opening weekend for the year, but it still had about twenty vendors, live music, and, most importantly, ALPACAS.

Some of the vendors I visited:

  • Shagbark Farm, whose owner, Tom, was kind enough to talk with me for a while about the hickory syrup he sells. Apparently it’s a sort of sweetened “tea” made from hickory bark. Our town is rich with shagbark hickory trees, hence the product and the name of the farm. We ended up buying some Pineapple-Habanero syrup.
  • Cherry Hill Farm, which has just recently gotten USDA clearance to sell their meats. We bought a few pounds of short ribs, which we’ll be enjoying tonight after marinating them in the syrup I mentioned above…
  • Wild Brook Apiaries, with hives all over the area! We bought some dark honey from them (primarily goldenrod), which I plan to use for my next batch of mead.
  • In the Meadow Farm, owners of the previously-mentioned alpacas. They raise alpacas primarily for their fleece, which is spun into yarn. (Adorably, each of their natural yarn colorways is named after the alpaca it came from, like “Phantom” and “Benjamin Buttons”). They’re also big into education, and host a monthly “yoga with the alpacas”, which I hope to get to one of these weekends!

While I did not take home any yarn — like any knitter, I already have too much — I did buy an “alpaca to go.” This was a tiny Chinese food box containing a tiny plush alpaca, an alpaca coloring page, an alpaca information sheet, and a little metal bucket.

A tiny alpaca and its al-packaging. I have already decided his name is Muchacho.

Restaurants and Cafés

Since my dad was visiting, and he needs to eat, I took it as an opportunity to visit local establishments I hadn’t been to before.

We had dinner on Friday night at Bad Larry’s, a new-ish bar and grill in the center of Lunenburg. I asked what the source of the name was, and told it came from the expression “a bad larry”, which I’d never actually heard. I found the food to be decent and reasonably priced, but nothing particularly special.

Saturday night we dined at the aforementioned Zapata Mexican Cocina, on Lunenburg Street in Fitchburg. While I am still very loyal to my favorite local Mexican restaurant, Mezcal, I liked how light and fresh the dishes here were — lots more vegetables and less cheese.

While we were at the farmers’ market we stopped at the Dragonfly Garden Cafe, a cafe in the center of Lunenburg that’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays. (They do events and catering during the week). The prices are very reasonable, and it’s a nice, cozy place to hang out, so I can see replacing weekend trips to Panera with visiting this place.

Also they do tea parties, too! Next time my birthday rolls around, I think I may celebrate it with tea and alpacas…

Watching

I also had the opportunity this weekend to watch two new Amazon original series — the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens, and another series called Hanna.

Good Omens was fabulous, as I expected it to be. To be fair, I read the book so long ago that most of what I remember is the jokes, like the M25 being a giant summoning circle, or the description of Aziraphale as “gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.” Given that, I really had no remembrances of the book to judge from. But if nothing else, David Tennant is delightful to look at as Crowley, and I loved how they used the music of Queen to complement the story.

I didn’t much care for Hanna; it was kind of generic action-y with characters who I didn’t much care about. (Mostly I was watching it because my dad was interested). Plus they did that thing I hate where they made (one of the) villain(s) a baby-crazy woman, because we all know that not having children makes women coo-coo bananas, amirite.

Reading

I finished reading Walden for a second time. As I wrote on Twitter:

So, uh, that should hold me for another fifteen years or so.

I also read Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism, which I liked. He expands on the theories about social media that he first noted in Deep Work, and offers some solid strategies for mediating our relationship with new technology. I think I may devote August to doing a “digital declutter”, since I’ll be traveling anyway.

I’m currently reading the second book of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, Behemoth. Istanbul at the dawn of WWI is a super fascinating setting, and I’m really enjoying that aspect of it. I’m not sure I enjoy the fact that so much of Alek’s plot is driven by him making poor life choices.

(And omg, they named the loris “Bovril.” I’m glad I had the same reaction to that name as Deryn did: “isn’t that some kind of beef tea?”)

Alan Cumming is really amazing as a narrator for this, because he does every accent, and each one is unique and perfect. Like, he has to switch between Austrian, German, British, Scottish, Turkish, Armenian, and a bunch of other accents, plus he has to represent “genetically modified creatures that can imitate human voices.” Plus there’s that whole “one of the viewpoint characters is a girl pretending to be a boy, who occasionally loses control of the pitch of her voice” thing, which I imagine is an extra challenge. But he is just flawless throughout.

Mead!

As some of you know, I’ve been experimenting with making mead recently, using the recipes for quick meads from The Elder Scrolls Cookbook.

The first two batches of mead I made were Honningbrew Mead and Black-Briar Mead, and they were both successes! I liked the Honningbrew, with its notes of ginger and lavender, the best, but I left the Black-Briar with Alison after our “Skyrim dinner.” (It was good, but a little too cinnamon-y for my tastes).

Early last week I put on two new batches, from the two remaining mead recipes in the cookbook — Nord Mead, flavored with cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and orange zest, and Juniper Berry Mead, with yarrow, hibiscus, and (of course) juniper berries.

I’m excited to see how these turn out; I’ll be decanting them for the two July 4th parties I have this weekend!

Nord Mead on the left; Juniper Berry Mead on the right.

After that… who knows? I might have to go deeper down the mead rabbit hole.

Speaking of which…

Here’s a random bunny I saw this week.

Have a great 4th of July holiday, if you celebrate! I intend to eat lots of strawberries, hot dogs, and potato salad.