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…


I of course got a ton of reading done while traveling!

I finished (at last!) The Unbound Empire, the final book of my pal Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy. That it took me so long to finish is not a mark against it; once I was able to sit down and concentrate, it was engrossing! I kept wondering how various things were going to resolve — the love triangle, Ruven’s machinations, etc — and I can truly say that it delivered an end to the series that was surprising, but, in retrospect, inevitable. I’m truly, truly pleased with the conclusion, and I’m excited to see more of Vaskandar in the new series.

In continuing adventures of “I have incredibly talented author friends,” I finally read Django Wexler’s Ship of Smoke and Steel, the first book in his YA fantasy trilogy, the Wells of Magic. I actually had read part of it already, it turned out; he’d sent it to me to critique back when he was still calling it “Deepwalker.” It’s the story of ruthless mob boss with combat magic, Isoka, who gets thrown onto a giant ship/city, Soliton, and has to figure out how to commandeer it in order to save the life of her sister.

ANYWAY it’s just fantastic. I agree with the reviewer who said that the action scenes are cinematic — in particular I thought the dredwurm fight, with mushroom spores flying around, was particularly colorful. It’s also paced beautifully, pulling you from one adventure to another with curiosity about the magic system, this ginormous ship, and wtf is going on.

Isoka is also a fascinating character; she starts out kind of a terrible person, which is something that’s super rare for a female, first-person protagonist. But her ruthlessness is a tool that she uses to climb the hierarchy of Soliton, and that? That I looooved. (Also she is marginally less awful by the end of the book, in ways that totally make sense).

There was… kind of a love triangle? Although I felt that if you’ve read anything of Django’s, you knew exactly how it was going to end 😉 I was rooting for Zarun, either way. I like my charismatic assholes.

After I marked it as “read” on Goodreads, though, I made the mistake of reading some reviews of it and… man, there are some people willfully misreading the romance in that book. It left me with a combination of “did you read the same book as I did?” and “DING DONG YOU ARE WRONG.” Ultimately I think a lot of people don’t know what to do with a female protagonist like Isoka.

I’ve already preordered the next book, which comes out January 2020, so I think that tells you my ultimate opinion 😉

While I was in Stratford, I also read Jeannette Walls’ Half-Broke Horses, which she describes as a “true-life novel” about her grandmother, who was a homesteader, horse trainer, bootlegger, and teacher in New Mexico and Arizona in the early 20th century. I liked this way better than I did The Glass Castle, which was way too intense for me. It turns out, I just really like stories about people homesteading and being self-reliant! This was definitely a story I wanted to linger in.


I have been getting back to editing Lioness. Still on draft 3, as I have been for the past… year? Two years? (Too long!) Every time I’m away for any significant period of time, I have to do what I call “reuploading the manuscript into working memory,” which is basically just re-reading it. At 120k words, that takes a bit of time!

However, this reupload, I was pleased to make two discoveries: 1) there were bits that I didn’t remember writing that I found quite clever! and b) I was further along in my edits than I had thought. So that was heartening.

Still, editing continues to be painful. It feels like closing the doors on so many possibilities.

Mead chronicles: the meading continues!

Batch #1, the semisweet mead per Ken Schramm’s The Compleat Meadmaker, is still in secondary fermentation. It is supposed to remain there until it clears and all fermentation has stopped for two weeks. It has cleared, but fermentation is still going, verrrrrry slooooowly, so I’ve left it there.

I’ve picked up a few goodies for bottling it, namely some swing-top bottles, and some Saniclean/iodophor, because I’ve heard so many negatives about sanitizing with bleach.

Last week I put on a new batch of quick mead, cleverly called batch #2, using the recipe from the Elder Scrolls cookbook and a spice blend of my own imagining: cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, juniper berries, and grains of paradise. I have no idea how this will turn out! It may be utterly undrinkable! But at least I only have to wait another week or so to find out.

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.


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…


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.


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!”

Larp rant: we don’t hate surprises, your surprises are just boring

Photo credit: 张 学欢 on Unsplash

Much has been said, at larp theorycons past, about setting expectations in larps. The common consensus is that surprises often fall flat because they don’t meet the expectations the game runner has set for the players about the game. This includes things like changing the game setting or genre, i.e. adding time-traveling Hitler to an otherwise historical game set in the Renaissance, or having Cthulhu appear in the midst of your game about teenagers at party.

I don’t disagree with this cause of “surprise failure.” You’re taking a risk whenever you mess with player expectations. But today I want to forward an opinion that’s a bit different:

Players don’t hate surprises. They’re just tired of the predictability of certain “surprises.”

Certain surprises have come up so often in the history of larp* that they’re just not novel any more. When I end up in a game like this, I’m filled with boredom and ennui. Oh, of course this game set at a Victorian fun fair has Dr. Who showing up. Oh, I guess we’re all secretly dead. Oh, *yawn* Cthulhu has risen from the deeps and interrupted my romance once more.

*(Here I mostly mean “Intercon-style” theater larps, but some of my examples are from New England boffer larp, as well).

I’m not saying that you can’t still do something interesting with one of these well-worn twists. Some of the examples I use below still succeed magnificently! But it’s a tough row to hoe.

So, I bet you’re wondering:

What are some of these tired surprises?

These are the ones I personally find tiring, or have heard other people express as tiring.

1) Time travel

Time travel is on the short list of “things you shouldn’t put in a (theater-style) larp,” though that’s often for mechanics reasons (i.e. it’s hard to manage characters that can manipulate causality).

But that sure hasn’t stopped people from writing games that have time travel as a secret twist.

As many of you know, my first boffer larp NPC gig was for Shadows of Amun, which ran from 2013-2016 in New England. The big twist in Shadows of Amun was that, after nearly a year of being in 1918 Egypt, the players were thrown back to 1168, during the Crusades. Another year, and they were in 30 B.C., negotiating with Cleopatra and Tony No-pants (as we called Marc Antony). Finally they returned to 1920s Egypt, and a world that had greatly changed.

Now, I think Shadows was a wildly successful game. It was run by a group of SCAdians, and you can bet their historical settings were top-notch. Seeing how the players’ actions changed the world was also REALLY COOL. Additionally, it was super well-organized.

But there were a large number of people who got to the end of game 3, where the first time jump happened, and noped the fuck out. I watched people stalk off the field in anger. Some people switched to playing different characters entirely; some highly-invested players left the game; some even demanded their money back! To say this design decision was polarizing is an understatement!

A subset of the time travel twist is the “secretly a Dr. Who game.” I’ve played in at least three games where this has happened, and every time it’s like LOOK I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR NEVERENDING BBC SERIES WITH CHEESY SPECIAL EFFECTS, CAN YOU PLEASE STOP PUTTING IT IN EVERYTHING??

But maybe this is just me.

2) You’re all actually dead.

Hey, we’ve all played in this game once. Or twice, or ten times. It might have worked the first time, when you weren’t expecting it; now, on some level, I’m always alert for signs of this trope. And when you’re expecting it, it’s not only not interesting, it’s infuriating.

Remember how disappointing the end of the TV series Lost was? That’s because “actually all the characters are dead” is not in fact a very satisfying ending. It resolves very little. In larps, it renders pointless everything else you spent your game doing. With a TV series, you might find yourself thinking “well, that’s a hundred hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

This applies, to a lesser extent, to similar tropes like “it was all a dream” or “you’re in a simulation.” I’ve seen those succeed for some people, at some times, too. But it would be foolish to consider these novel plot devices.

3) Cthulhu (or other Lovecraftian horrors)

My appetite for Lovecraftian horror is far greater than most peoples’, and even I’m getting tired of this trope. Especially when it’s done as a twist, the stars are right… for player dissatisfaction.

Why? I’ve written about it before, somewhere on LJ, but basically Cthulhu is a “bomb bigger than your game.” If you throw that in, every player has to put aside whatever else they are working on and fix this problem. Like with the “you’re all secretly dead” trope, it has a tendency to render player agency meaningless.

Plus, if you are going to put Lovecraftian stuff in your larp, please label it appropriately, because 1920s style pulp + cosmic horror, with bonus racism, is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea. Especially when it interrupts otherwise interesting gameplay.

A good example of a game where the Lovecraftian elements work well is The Borden Legacy. But that’s because it doesn’t surprise the player. You all start the game knowing that you live in a society where the cultists have won and where the nations are ruled by Deep Ones.

Basically, you, larp author, are not Neil Gaiman, and you are not writing “A Study in Emerald.”

(Though if you are Neil Gaiman: hi, I love your work; why are you reading my blog?)

So what’s an example of a good surprise, Lise?

Besides “one I didn’t see coming a mile away?”

Whenever I think of surprises that worked for me, they were ones that didn’t change the fundamental nature of the game. But they did intensify one particular aspect of the game.

Without spoilers, one example is a larp I went into expecting intense personal relationship drama at a glamorous party, and ended up with intense personal relationship drama in the face of impending death. While that is a pretty big surprise, it worked for me — and most people I’ve talked to about the game — because it’s within the tolerance of what you would expect from a game like that.

Also Cthulhu absolutely did not show up.

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…


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.


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.


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.

Treat your sleep apnea, yo, for your health and my sanity

I made a joking post on Facebook a while back about sleep apnea:

Ah yes, larps. Where you learn how many people you know probably have untreated sleep apnea.

The context was that I was larping in the woods, awake at 3am, listening to someone in the next cabin gasping for breath in between thunderous snoring. This is not a new phenomenon at larps; indeed, in the bathroom the next morning, I heard several people complaining about the snoring of their cabin mates. (We even came up for an in-character term for it: “nose thunder”).

I may have been joking there, but ultimately sleep apnea is no joke. And I wanted to elaborate a little more on this, since I realized many of you don’t know me well enough to know that I too, have sleep apnea. It has made me a bit of an evangelist about the condition. I hate to see people suffering when there is a solution out there.

My history with sleep apnea

In 2009 I got diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea. I had spent the three previous years — maybe more — never feeling rested. I had serious problems staying awake at the wheel; on my commute to work, I would continually punch myself in the leg just to stay conscious. I could sleep anywhere — unfortunately, that included boring client meetings at my job. (I eventually lost that job, and that was partially why). On my rare free days, it was hard to motivate myself to do anything, and I would inevitably need a three-hour nap in the middle of the day.

I got a CPAP machine fairly quickly after my diagnosis. A CPAP applies “continuous positive airway pressure,” i.e. it fits over your nose and delivers constant air flow to keep your airway from collapsing when you sleep. It’s basically the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment; there are also surgeries, but none of them are very effective. If this sounds really annoying, well, at first, yes, it can be. But I adapted to it very quickly, perhaps because at that point I could sleep through anything 😉

After two or three nights, I wasn’t exactly convinced it was doing anything. My daytime sleepiness lingered for a while. It wasn’t until I was at a larp event a month later — and I wasn’t falling asleep on any horizontal surface — that I realized it was working.

If you snore — especially if people tell you you stop breathing — please, please, please get a sleep study. If you have unexplained daytime sleepiness, even if no one tells you you snore, please get checked.

Some of the objections and questions I hear about sleep apnea and CPAP therapy, and my answers (keeping in mind that I am not a doctor):

“But I don’t fit the profile for sleep apnea.”

Neither did I, according to the PCP who wrote my referral for a sleep study. While I was overweight at the time, I wasn’t significantly so, and heck, I didn’t even think I snored. I got checked anyway, and so should you. Even if you don’t have obstructive sleep apnea, there’s also central apnea — where your brain just stops telling your body to breathe in your sleep — which can also be treated.

“I’ve just started using a CPAP/I use it intermittently, and I don’t notice any difference.”

The thing about sleep apnea is it’s insidious. You won’t notice 1, 2, or even 3 nights of low-level sleep deprivation. But you sure as hell notice months and years of it.

And your health will, too. Spending a third of your life gasping for breath takes its toll on the body: it raises blood pressure, increases risk of stroke, and probably other stuff we haven’t even discovered yet.

“How the heck am I supposed to get used to having air shoved down my throat all night?”

It’s amazing what the human body can get used to, really. If it helps, most CPAP machines have a “ramp” function, where they start at low pressure and gradually ramp up to their full pressure over a time you set.

Additionally, durable medical equipment companies (DMEs) have really been working on the problem of making these things comfortable. There are masks that touch as little skin as possible, humidifiers, preheat functionality, leak testing, and all kinds of conveniences.

It’s all small and portable too, so you can take it with you while larping, assuming the site has power. Heck, you can even by cozies for your CPAP hose so that they look less medical. (Or, in my case, so that my cats would stop chewing on the delectable plastic).

All I have to say about this is: if my mother — in her 60s, with chronic health problems, and sensitive to anything touching her skin while she sleeps — can get used to a CPAP machine, then you can too.

“Isn’t the sound of the machine just as annoying to my bedmate as snoring?”

Not even a little. Modern CPAPs are almost silent when the mask is fitted to the face. (If the mask slips loose, you will hear a “whooshing” noise, though). It’s white noise at worst.

“But what do you do when you have no power?”

That is a problem. Depends for how long, I suppose. I can go without for a couple of nights, but my sleep apnea, as I said, is only moderate, and mostly harmful in the long term. Luckily most larp sites these days DO have power, and CPAP machines are actually a very low draw, which is a concern at some sites I’m at.

There are also DC power solutions for CPAP, to allow you to hook up to some kind of battery, though I admit I haven’t experimented with them. (They look super pricey!)

“It’s expensive!”

Without insurance, oh, definitely. Most insurances, however, will cover this stuff pretty extensively, because it’s cheaper to treat sleep apnea than it is to treat the respiratory and circulatory issues this will eventually cause.

Again, I use the example of my mother — as a self-employed person with chronic conditions, she is still able to get her paltry insurance to cover her CPAP equipment and supplies.

That said, I realize that CPAP therapy is still not accessible to all. If you can’t manage the expense of the diagnosis or treatment, one of the best self-treatments is sleeping on your side. There’s even the “tennis ball technique” to prevent back-sleeping.

“All these people getting diagnosed with sleep apnea is just a scam by doctors/medical equipment companies/insurance to sell people equipment they don’t need!”

Yes, I have really heard this. What I will say is that given the expense of doing a sleep study — which is basically an EEG plus a bunch of other monitoring while you sleep — I guarantee you no one is making a fortune on selling you CPAP units afterward.

If anyone is making any real money off this, it’s the insurance companies, and they aren’t keen on sharing it with the doctors and the DME.

But hey, that’s the fucked up American healthcare system! Either way, your suffering isn’t going to stick it to The Man.

“Speaking of sleep studies… I can’t sleep in hospitals. Especially when there’s a bunch of stuff glued to my head.”

Sleep studies aren’t exactly super fun times, but they’re still way better than most medical procedures. I found the worst part to be trying to sleep on the schedule it enforces, which has you going to bed at 9pm, and then being kicked out of the hospital (not literally) at like 5am.

But the staff will do everything to make you comfortable — I remember mine bringing me ginger ale and asking me if there was a TV show I wanted to put on. And yeah, it took me a long time to fall asleep, but once I did they got the data they needed, which is what mattered.

(Generally they’ll do half the night just observing, and then if they see apneas they will hook you up to a CPAP to get your titration numbers, i.e. how much pressure you need. This is so you don’t have to come back for a second sleep study).

My mother told me horror stories about a sleep study where it took an hour to hook her up to the equipment. It… did not take me that long. They had it all hooked up in about fifteen minutes.

You do have to wash conductive goo out of your hair afterwards. No big deal.

Oh hey, and I’m told that in some places, you can do a sleep study at home. Like the hospital gives you a kit to hook yourself up, and then you send the data back to them the next day. That’s pretty neat, if that’s an option for you!

“I don’t want another medical condition to manage.”

If this applies to you, you probably already have a medical condition. You’re just not managing it.

Management, incidentally, is super low intensity. I have an appointment with a pulmonologist once a year (every six months for the first year), and every few months my DME calls me and says “hey do you want new supplies?” The biggest challenge I ever had was when I tried to get an auto-titrating machine two years after getting my first machine, and that was quickly resolved when they saw my compliance data. (Which lives on an SD card that you stick in the back of your machine. Some machines can send it directly to the DME/doctors, too).

In conclusion

Take care of your health, and the sanity of your fellow larpers. Please get checked ASAP if you think any of this applies to you.

If you have any questions about my experience with sleep apnea — especially as a larper with sleep apnea! — please feel free to drop a comment!

Photo credit: Jordan Whitt on Unsplash.

Comments may be broken? Please stand by.

ETA: Should be fixed now, by changing to a different theme. I’m not in love with this one, but it will do for the time being.

Just a heads up: some readers are experiencing problems with leaving a comment on this blog.

I believe this is due to my recent upgrade to WordPress 5. It went smoother than I hoped, and I like the Gutenberg editor more than I thought I would, but I guess it was too much to hope for a flawless victory.

My quick estimation of the problem is that this theme probably is tried to connect to the comments engine in a way that’s no longer supported for security reasons. It’s an older theme, and probably has not been updated for WP 5. I’m going to try switching themes and see if that helps — so if you see the look and feel changing significantly over the next couple of days, don’t be alarmed! If that’s the problem, I can probably hack the old theme to use the new comments logic.

In the meantime, I’ve found you’ll have the best luck using Safari to comment; every time I’ve tried with Chrome, I get a “the connection was reset” error. You can also just drop me an email at lisefrac AT gmail DOT com, or find me on one of those dreaded social media platforms 😉

Weekly Update: June 24, 2019

I’ve decided to start doing these again, if only because not writing them makes me sad 🙁

More specifically, my social media usage has crept back up in the last year since I declared myself Done with Facebook, and I’m not happy with that. Consider this is an effort to try to use it less, but still keep you informed about the oh-so-important details of my life. And I know there are some of you who use social media even less than I do, so I find this a good way to keep in touch!

(Just a reminder: you can sign up to have these posts emailed to you — see the “subscribe via email” box in the left column of my site. If you read something and enjoy it, I’d love a comment!)

Summer Solstice

In the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrated the summer solstice this past Friday. Mostly I celebrated the longest day of the year by getting up at dawn (5:07am!) and standing on my porch in my housecoat, like a weirdo.

At this halfway point of the year, I am also revisiting my yearly theme, point by point, to see how I’m doing. I’ve been journaling about each point and my progress on it as the year thus far. One thing is clear: minimalism needs more time and attention. So that’s going to be an area of focus for me in the months to come.

This holiday might as well be called the Day of White Flowers, because so many white blossoms are out! At least in central Massachusetts, where I live, this is the season for catalpa (Catalpa spp), mock orange (Philadelphus spp), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and more. Including the most important: mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), which grows in abundance all over the woods here. The overall effect is astounding, and all really, really hard to capture in pictures. I tried — enjoy my results.

A rant about Latin vs. common names

On a semi-related note… I was taught that the reason to learn the Latin names was for clarity, because there are about a billion things called “creeping Charlie,” or “wintergreen,” to use some common examples. Latin names were supposed to be constant across the world and across time, so that if someone in China said “Chimaphila maculata,” you knew exactly what they were talking about.

The thing I’m discovering is: this is a total lie. Latin names change all the freakin’ time, as we discover more about the species and its relatives.

For just one example: When I was growing up, I learned that the Latin name for a catalpa tree — the tree that stood outside the window of my Physics classroom in high school — was Catalpa catalpa. Heck, it was even a bonus question on a test once. (Thanks, Mr. Dilley). Turns out, Catalpa is a whole genus, and the one I was looking at was probably Catalpa speciosa. And I just learned that when Linnaeus first named the damn thing, it was Bignonia catalpa. None of this, of course, makes any sense unless you understand the phylogeny of the tree itself.

Reading Thoreau’s Walden, he uses Latin names a lot. And even though Walden Pond and Concord are right around the corner from where I live, I sometimes have no damn idea what he is writing about, because almost none of the names he knew in 1864 are in use any longer. (In at least one case, the name was outdated by the time he used it!) I can generally get close — like, hey, that’s some sort of owl he’s talking about, probably a barred owl — which I guess is a benefit over common names?

Anyway, my point is, it’s not a waste of time to learn common names. It’s about as useful as the Latin name, in the long run. Especially since the vast majority of the world is gonna use the common name.

Summer roguery

The last Shadowvale event happened after a ~ year of not exercising regularly, plus a recent bout of bronchitis, so let us just say, I was awfully out of shape. I definitely felt it puffing up that hill to McKnight Hall! To say nothing of how it affects my ability to do my role as a flanker (i.e. sneaky-stab-you-in-the-back-rogue) effectively…

Thus I’ve determined that I need to get myself rogue-fit… I’d say “again,” but I was never 100% where I want to be.

I was inspired in part by this article, which suggested specific exercises for getting fitter for larps, focusing on high-intensity intervals. I’ve started doing sprints of various lengths, and — lacking a rope-climbing setup — I’ve been doing weights exercises for my hands and arms to sorta simulate that. I also spent part of my walk in the woods this past weekend jumping over things and generally parkour-ing around, although I realized after the fact that since I was by myself this was probably SUPER DANGEROUS.

(Seriously, though, parkour is very on theme for rogue training, so it’s probably something I should look into! But maybe with a partner).

Also I signed up to run the 14th Annual Benefit 5K / 10K for Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in September. (I’m doing the 5K). You might recall I declined the opportunity to run this year’s Metrowest Corporate 5K, which I’d done previously — but that was largely because running with my coworkers made me unpleasantly competitive. I’m hoping running alone will allow that competitive side of myself to rest, while sufficiently motivating me to train.

Plus, the cause here is more interesting to me — I visited Orchard House for the first time in April and adored it, wishing I knew more about Alcott.


  • Converting Photoshop Letter Spacing to CSS. This article is so old the conversion tool doesn’t work any more, but it answered something I’d always wondered about! (And you can always do the math yourself).
  • Smash the Wellness Industry. How this “wellness” industry cons women into spending way more time and attention on diet than anything else.
  • Decluttering Burst: let go of one hundred things in less than an hour. I did this this past weekend, although I think a lot of what I got rid of was just trash. This is me starting to address the “minimalism” bullet point on my theme for the year.
  • Dammerung Larp. Man, I am so intrigued by this, and yet I absolutely do not have time to PC a larp in Pennsylvania. But it sounds like they are doing some really innovative things with this game, and I think Dan Comstock (of Goat LARP fame) is right when he says there’s nothing else quite like this going on in the U.S. right now.

In Conclusion

… there’s so much more I could write. About going to New Haven with EB. About making mead. About the Skyrim dinner I prepared with Alison.

But look, I can’t fit spend my life writing this blog post, so that’s going to have to be it for the week. See you in the future!