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Game Night

One of our wayward former game-night friends was back in town tonight after a year’s absence. Jess took a job in Orange County about a little over a year ago and (along with the defections of Bruce the Traitor and Tim) his loss was sorely felt at game night. He’s back in Seattle for the LOGIN conference at the moment and made time to get together with us for a little game night action tonight.

It was very much like old times. Jess came by and we ran down to Georgetown’s excellent Full Throttle Bottles to stock up on some beverages, where Jess struck up a conversation on microbrews with the owner. Somehow the conversation veered over to my True20 t-shirt. “Oh, really? I know a little about gaming. My brother is Mark Tedin.” “No way! My husband used to commute with Mark when they both worked at Wizards of the Coast.” Just a typical example of the crazy small world you find when you venture out in Seattle. Both Jess and Chris knew and liked Mark from Wizards and now we’re chatting up his brother at the local kick-ass beer and wine store in Georgetown, just a hop and a skip from my house. Love it.

Loaded with beer, Jess and I also stopped in at The Cutting Board to pick up a hefty platter of sushi for dinner. The Cutting Board is the nearest thing I have to a local sushi place, with the added benefit that they have a huge variety of unusual sushi rolls, including many variations that are vegetarian or that include uncommon ingredients like fruits. The drawback is that we didn’t have a menu of their unique rolls with us before arriving so we had to wait a long while to get the take out order… if we’d been able to look at a menu in advance we could have called in or something. Still, the rolls were delicious and original and once we finally returned with food we all ate until we were stuffed. Mmm, sushi.

The last couple of game nights we’ve played Fantasy Flight’s cute little board game, Red November. Kate can actually claim credit for introducing the family to this one; she got it from her dad for her birthday. She begged off playing with us tonight (my budding teen would rather listen to music and read anime fiction on the internet) but we enjoyed a complete game and it was just like Jess had never left. Fun to have him back in the fold, if just for a night. I like this game. The first game went slowly as we didn’t properly understand all the rules and kept having to check the rules for clarifications (and, we found out we’d played half the game under a misunderstanding of the rules which made the game much less fun!). This second game was more smooth, though we still had to check back to the rules a few times. The fun of the game really requires players to not be tentative and is definitely boosted by knowing the rules well. I like the game and am willing to put the time in to master the rules in the interest of increasing the speed of the game, because I think it is probably a real riot when played balls out and full speed ahead (I mean, isn’t that what you’d expect from drunken gnomes on a flooding, fire-plagued, sinking, kraken-plagued submarine?) but I’m not sure if everyone else is as taken with it as I am.

Regardless, we managed to have a super successful game night, early this week in honor of Jess visiting Seattle. This has left me in a very pleasant mood.

No GMO

The issue of Genetically Modified Organisms first came to my attention when I started seeing headlines about lawsuits over patents on corn. While I am generally a fan of technology and I don’t shun things like immunizations, the idea of patented food raised real red flags for me, especially as more cases surfaced of the patent-holding corporations going to court against farmers whose crops were found to contain patented corn DNA without a license (whether the farmers were purposely trying to get around licensing their crops or whether the GMO crops had been inadvertently gotten mixed with the non-GMO crops was under fierce debate).

I’ve just joined the No GMO Challenge with the intent of actively avoiding GMOs for the next thirty days. I’ve been vaguely aware of the issue since those cases I noticed back in the 90s and chose non-GMO options at the store when presented with a clear alternative but I haven’t made a conscious effort to avoid them. Now that I’m specifically on the lookout, it should be informative to see where they might have been slipping in under my radar. I’ve done this kind of experiment before, first with regard to hyrogenated oil and trans fats (thanks to Bruce Cordell bringing it to my attention) and then again with regard to high fructose corn syrup, which is in darn near everything, including your bread!

I keep thinking of that Patton Oswalt bit: “Hi, we’re Science! We’re all about ‘coulda’ not ‘shoulda’.”

Homing

I spent a lot of time the other night reading up on the Gilded Age because I was thinking about writing up a political post. Found I don’t quite have the stamina to wade into that right now.

Instead, Chris and I spent a Kate-free weekend at home. Because Zipcar has removed virtually all Zipcars south of I-90 and I was driving Kate up to her dad’s,in honor of the rare sunny weather, I chose a fun little Mini Cooper car from a U District location. Chris met up with me when I returned the car and we had a nice walk and dinner out before heading home together.

Saturday the weather couldn’t have been more different! Unfortunately arm and shoulder injury prevent me from doing many of the things I normally handle solo, so Chris had agreed to spend Saturday helping me get our yard in order before the HOA “make sure you’re up to code” spring deadline this week. The day was rainy, cold, and windy and not at all good weather for handling our landscaping plan but it couldn’t be helped and Pramas was such a good sport. He pushed heavy carts, ran the lawn mover and trimmer, carried heavy bags of mulch, pulled up old weed barrier fabric, and anything else I needed. We removed weeds and nuisance plants, laid new weed barrier, spread a bunch of bark. This morning I was able to remove my formerly beautiful trailing rosemary bush that died after the winter storms and trim back a few bushes and trees in the back yard before I ran out of time. Chris and I spent a couple of hours together, had a little brunch and then it was time to pick up Kate.

Despite my previously stated desire to go to Belize for my 40th birthday this year, in order to do that trip the way I would really want to do it we’d have to spend far more than I’m comfortable committing to this year. I talked it over with Chris today and we’re going to spend our saved vacation money on putting in a proper patio and a barbecue so we can enjoy our house over the summer instead. Kate is only spending two weeks of her summer vacation (and not even consecutive weeks) with her dad this year and aside from Chris heading to Book Expo in a couple of weeks we personally have no convention travel booked until GenCon. I don’t don’t want to be all smarmy and say we’re planning a “stay-cation” but that does seem to be how it’s shaping up and I’m plenty happy with that. Belize can wait until I can do it the way I really want to do it.

Vappu!

A shout out to all my Finnish brethren, happy Vappu everyone!

Here’s a little about Vappu in Finland:

From Finland.com
From Wikipedia
From Metafilter

Importantly: Vappu without drinking is like Christmas without presents.

Unfortunately I don’t have any student caps and I think I’m short on overalls, too. However, since it’s game night around Chez Ronin this evening, drinking shouldn’t be too hard to manage. In fact, I still have some of the booze I brought back from our Ropecon trip and have been hoarding. What a perfect time to break it out, hot on the heels of having “oily” Finnish beer and Salmiakki drinks at Copper Gate (careful, link contains boobies) in Ballard last week!

Where did April go?

Wow, I’ve definitely been AWOL on the blog front for the last several months but April has to be the worst blog month in my history of blogging!

I suppose it all started back in 2008. Many things popped up to cause me stress and anxiety last year. There were multiple family health problems and crises. There were challenges, irritations, and difficulties with the business that went beyond the sorts of things I’ve come to expect in my two decades of hobby game industry experience. Friends changed jobs, split up, and/or moved away which shook up every aspect of our lives from work to play. Even our game group was decimated and barely continues to lurch forward, zombie-like, with the two members who remain and like to at least come over fro dinner and drinks even if we can’t agree on a game to play. Someone I thought I’d heard the last of over twenty years ago made a very unwelcome return to my life and stirred up a lot of horrific memories that I’d been perfectly content to leave deeply buried, untouched and unexamined. Even my food blogging all but stopped after my camera was stolen from Kate and we found our increased life expenses contracted our dining budget. 2008 was my year of withdrawal.

I thought I was starting to come out of it a little but then I looked at the calendar today and realized April has gone. The first week of April was Kate’s spring break and I tried to spend a little extra time with her because I’m aware the days where she thinks it’s fun to hang out with her old mom are probably numbered. The following week I took Kate to Sakura*Con here in Seattle while Chris flew the flag out at Norwescon, then as soon as that was over I flew out to Las Vegas for the GAMA Trade Show. Back to Seattle where I had to handle everything I didn’t get to before I left, those things that came up while I was gone, and generally just catch up. In the midst of all this I finally got my painful arm problem diagnosed (combo of rotator cuff impingement and tendinitis, yay hooray) but the “try this for six weeks before we escalate to MRIs and surgery” therapy hasn’t yielded any results at all for me so far and I am still in pain. Carrying a basket of laundry, twisting a tight lid off a jar, or even just vigorously chopping something for a recipe sets it off and that’s meant that I’ve had to pull way back in both yoga and weight training, two things I was really enjoying and seeing good results from. Sadness. In much happier news, Kate was accepted to Rock Band Camp for Girls and I just need to figure out how exactly we’re going to get there and where we’re going to stay (as it’s a day camp only) but she’s one happy girl and we’re all very proud of her.

Last weekend Kate and I visited the Portland area. I had plenty to do down there but wasn’t sure we’d pull of the visit until the night before we left. I was able to get a deal on a hotel through Hotwire and a cheap last-minute rental car. We packed a lot in: visited with my doctor brother before he leaves for Haiti to do doctor things for the summer, stopped in on an old friend from my junior high/high school years, connected with one of The Moms and her daughter (a nationally ranked fencer who was competing in Portland over the weekend), and paid a short visit to my mother and her husband, the first time I’ve been down since he had a stroke a month ago.

Now April is nearly gone and here comes May. Tomorrow is the first Columbia City Farmer’s Market. The days are longer again and it’s about time to shake off this introspection and withdrawal, I think.

An Open Letter to Marcus King

Dear Marcus,

I awoke this morning to see Green Ronin called out on the front page of ICv2 as part of your commentary on PDF pricing,( http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/14705.html ). Spurred by the Wizards of the Coast sudden decision to discontinue all PDF sales of their products, Green Ronin announced we were putting ONE product (our True20 Core Book) on sale for $9.99. You ask “…would you also like to drop the MSRP of your True20 core book to $9.99 — so that your distribution and retail partners can continue to support that title, and your line?”

The answer to that question, sir, is NO. First of all, the retail price of the True20 PDF is $17.95 while the retail price of True20 Adventure Roleplaying in printed format is $29.95. If we put the book on sale for $9.99 we would lose money on every book sold. If my distribution and retail partners need me to lose money on every book in order to “continue to support that title” that’s the kind of “support” I can’t afford. Secondly, this is a temporary sale in response to ongoing events and changes in the marketplace. If you are concerned that a $9.99 PDF of the rules is going to seriously undercut your business as your price-conscious customers flock to buy electrons during the sale, I would point to the True20 Pocket Player’s Guide which we’ve had available for sale since December 2006, at a retail price of $14.95, put out to appeal to those very same price-conscious consumers. I will also point out that Green Ronin has, and will continue to, offer sales and special incentives to the hobby tier and I know for a fact that you and your store have benefited from those because I personally helped you move stacks of books to your GenCon booth in advance of our industry-wide sale on our d20-logo products.

So, when I read “…I am insulted that my friends, my business “partners” or “publishing suppliers” value another sales channel so much that they would make a special effort to support that channel over the one I have worked in for 20+ years, and hope to work in for another 20″ I will tell you that I match your insult. I am insulted that you feel a sale in response to a marketplace occurrence entitles you to some sort of cut, somewhere, regardless. You characterize our sale as valuing another sales channel but that is not at all true. To use an analogy, if you have a sale on your HD DVDs and a customer complains that they “deserve” a discount on the BluRay DVDs, do they get one? Are you valuing your HD customers over your BlueRay customers, or are you responding to the conditions of the marketplace (in which BluRay sales substantially outstrip HD sales)?

As Green Ronin’s General Manager I reserve the right to set the price of our products as we see fit and to engage in marketing and promotion for my company and our products. I don’t attempt to micromanage our relationships with our distribution and retail partners and I would appreciate the same respect.

What Your Kids Think of You

Thanks to Facebook, several of The Moms have done this with their kids. As I’m pondering issues of life, identity, mortality and the like, I gave it to Kate to get a glimpse of how she sees her ol’ mom. Here’s the result:

1. What is something mom always says to you?
Come look at this.
Can you get my coffee?
Dishwasher. [this is her chore reminder]
I’m going to yoga.

2. What makes mommy happy?
If I do my chores.
If I do good on a test.

3. What makes mom sad?
Not a lot, if the house is REALLY messy.

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
Lots of ways. If she says something funny or does something funny.
Forgetting things that I remind her about.

5. What was your mom like as a child?
Tomboy. Geek.

6. How old is your mom?
39

7. How tall is your mom?
5’10″

8. What is her favorite thing to do?
Cook. Play on Facebook.

9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
Check e-mail, play Hatchlings? How am I supposed to know, I’m not around!

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
A famous chef.

11. What is your mom really good at?
Cooking, technology know-how, xbox, home improvement.

12. What is your mom not very good at?
Baking (she wrote in then crossed out “fixing computers”… I thought that was funny)

13. What does your mom do for her job?
Make roleplaying games, fill mail orders.

14. What is your mom’s favorite food?
She has a lot… … ??

15. What makes you proud of mommy?
When she stands up against my school!

16. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
That’s a REALLY hard question. I don’t know, best guess… Buttercup?

17. What do you and your mom do together?
Watch tv after dinner, eat together on Wednesdays [this is "girls' night" because Chris plays minis on Wednesdays].

18. How are you and your mom the same?
We both like the same stuff, we think the same.

19. How are you and your mom different?
She can’t stand Naruto and is older, forgets easier.

20. How do you know your mom loves you?
She says it. She just does. She knows me well.

21. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
Finland [she surrounded this answer with stars]

In Memoriam

I’m in a weird head space right now. Longtime friends and readers may remember that I am still part of an e-mail list that started when I was pregnant, as a pregnancy support list. I was living in Vancouver at the time, my husband was absorbed in graduate studies and I was rather isolated being so far from friends and family. After the babies were born, many of us stuck together and the list morphed into a “moms of infants” support group, then moms of toddlers, moms of pre-schoolers, moms of… you get the picture. Today we’re moms of teens, or as we’re known in my house “The Moms.” You don’t mess with The Moms. We have each others’ backs, are there for our cohorts in need of advice, celebration, compassion, humor, tech support, a shoulder to cry on, a reality check, an alternate view, and most of all love. While each of us gets along with certain sub-groups better than others, I’ve grown to consider these women the extended family I always wanted. They’re my sisters and cousins, aunties to my daughter, their children like so many nieces and nephews.

We’ve been together just about 14 years now. We’ve weathered job loss, children with special needs, alcoholism, divorce, depression, infertility, miscarriages, cancer, the death of a child, the death of a spouse, the death of a parent… and now, the death of one of our own.

My friend Linda died suddenly in her sleep on Thursday, sometime after her husband and daughter left the house for work and school. Bob, bless him, thought to let The Moms know right away in the midst of everything else on his shoulders, in the midst of handling the arrangements and taking care of their 13-year-old daughter Elizabeth. I gasped out loud, the breath knocked out of me when I got the news.

Linda was a staunch supporter and a stalwart ally. She and Bob were among the few list members who met in DC to throw me a bridal shower when Chris and I got married, the bridal shower that I was never able to attend because I came down with pneumonia at GenCon and my doctor flat out forbade me to travel. Instead I talked to each of them on the phone, gasping and wheezing how sorry I was that I couldn’t make the party they were so kind to throw me. It was my one and only opportunity to meet Linda in person, which I was never able to do. Linda shared my political leanings, sharp tongue, fiery sense of justice and expectation of decency and fair play (or pay the price). She was always quick to congratulate our (and our children’s) accomplishments and condemn our detractors, a sharp wit always at the ready. I miss her input terribly already.

I may try to wrangle a trip together so I can attend her memorial on Monday. It feels like I should. This is not the time for virtual condolences or flower baskets. This is time for family to pull together. Luckily Bob is one of the few dads who also participated on our list and if any husband has any idea what The Moms mean, he does, but I want him to have more than an idea… I want him, I want Elizabeth to know how far Linda reached and how loved and appreciated she was to us. It’s what I would want my friends and family to do for Chris and Kate.

Handy Tax Rate Chart


Handy Tax Rate Chart
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.

Republicans and the news media are freaking the hell out about Obama’s plan for a tax adjustment. It’s the end of the world as we know it! He’s a socialist! He’s bent on redistributing wealth, taking “everything” from the poor, hard-working wealthy. It’s going to ruin capitalism, forever!

Excuse me if I don’t join in the mass hysteria. Don’t make me go all Ross Perot with the pointer, people. Look at the graph.

Freezer Party Postmortem


Jenny’s handiwork
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.

Overall I think we can call this little escapade a success. The hardest thing for me personally is always working in someone else’s kitchen, not having my own tools at my disposal. I brought several cutting boards, baking pans, a George Foreman grill, measuring spoons and cups, and my Dutch oven in addition to everything J&J already stocked in their house and the items Evan and Michelle contributed from their own kitchens but I still found myself reaching for things that I didn’t have with me. Not that we didn’t successfully pull it off, just admitting that I’m a bit of a kitchen diva.

Considering this was our first effort, we worked as a pretty efficient team. John would be cooking up chicken breasts while Evan made calzone dough and Jenny prepped ingredients for kabobs. I’d be cooking up some salsa verde while Michelle prepped enchilada filling, Evan made manicotti filling and John did some dishes. we rotated pretty well between jobs, though the checklist I’d meant to put together for each recipe would have been helpful if I’d gotten around to it. Next time!

Here’s how each dish went:

Teriyaki chicken kabobs: Jenny did a marvelous job putting these beauties together. We had enough ingredients to make several more than planned. One thing that wasn’t ideal was that the skewers were a smidge too long to straight into gallon freezer bags and the points poked holes in a couple of bags. John lopped the pointy ends off with some kitchen sheers and that helped some but it still wasn’t an ideal set up. We got the skewers done and put in the fridge right off the bat and almost forgot to make the teriyaki sauce, which I whipped up and portioned out at the very last minute. The marinade called for in the recipe didn’t seem like enough to me but we’ll see how it turns out when cooked.

Lime marinated shrimp skewers: I shelled and deveined 4 pounds of fresh gulf shrimp, which was messy and took longer than I would have liked but I choose to stubbornly believe the results will be worth it. Instead of marinade we ended up using some seasoned skewers I had brought. We had exactly enough for the amount of shrimp, resulting in 2 pounds of thai coconut lime and 2 pounds of Indian mango curry. This was total improvisation on my part so we’ll see how they work when cooked up but the skewers smelled amazing when they were opened.

Chicken enchiladas verdes: We ended up with three 9 x 12 pans and one 8 x 8 pan of enchiladas. Michelle and Evan handled the assembly, choosing to dip the tortillas into the salsa verde before wrapping them up, traditional style. I’d had some really beautiful tomatillos to work with and used the homemade roasted chicken stock that I contributed so I have high hopes for flavor, though I think we could have used more sauce to pour over the top of the enchiladas before baking. I’ll probably whip up some extra sauce for my portion before serving.

Calzones: I chose to make extra of the sauce that was going on the manicotti, forgetting that it’s a pretty watery sauce (because the manicotti use softened no-boil lasagna noodles and finish cooking up in the sauce) so I might have inadvertently sabotaged the calzones which need nice dry dough edges to make a good seal. Evan made homemade pizza dough on the spot but we had our hands full with other prep and left the dough sitting too long, so it rose and expanded a lot. I guess we’ll see how they hold up on cooking. The concept is sound and we can certainly try again if these come out less than ideal. We had extra sauce and extra cheese to bag up and put in with the calzones for serving time.

Manicotti: These are so easy and really delicious, it’s hard to go wrong with this recipe. I hadn’t brought enough ricotta but we made up the difference with extra mozzarella. When the filling was being mixed up we forgot to add the chopped spinach (still frozen in the cooler!) so we ended up with extra noodles, but that was okay because by that time we were running out of baking dishes! Even so everyone who wanted some got a portion and Chris and I even had some for dinner when I finally got home. I can vouch that they turned out great, lack of spinach not an issue at all.

Chicken packets: My sense is these came out just fine, though I think I over-stuffed the first four I filled.Jenny took my filled packets, brushed them with melted butter and coated them in panko, then they went into the freezer on a baking sheet to firm up before being slipped into freezer bags for storage. I may make more of these for my house because I know Chris likes them and I suspect a teenage Kate could add these to her after school starvation-prevention routine.

Brazilian marinated chicken: While Viv was napping Kate was at loose ends and was eager to help so she made the Brazilian lime marinade. This is the one thing we needed to make a run to the store for. Even though I’d brought over a dozen limes or so they were not very juicy limes. One was rotten on the end and had to be chucked out and the others put together yielded less than half the amount of juice that we needed. John ran out to QFC and grabbed up some more limes. It only took one or two of the QFC limes to bring us up to the amount of juice we needed… it was kind of amazing. It also reminded me that when we’re talking about getting a cup or more of juice together for a recipe, I should use the electric juicer! Next time for sure. Chicken breasts were added to freezer bags and marinade added. Success!

Lemon marinade: This is a cooked marinade, with onions, jalapenos, vinegar, brown sugar, and lemons. Unfamiliar with J&J’s stove, we were too cautious with the burners and it took this marinade a long time to get up to temp (and then cool down enough to put into bags to freeze) but I have no doubt it’s going to be great as always. I have pork tenderloin marinating in this mix in my fridge for dinner tonight, in fact. Definitely another solid success.

Vegetable ragout: This is the one that we completely failed to get around to. Only Michelle and I planned to share portions of this, so when we were already running overtime and our hosts had to start focusing on feeding and attending their toddler, there was no reason to even start with all the peeling and chopping and roasting. I’m planning to whip this up later.

Things that would help for next time: more large mixing bowls and bowls for holding prepped ingredients (we could have worked some things more efficiently or in a different order); a checklist for prepping ingredients (knowing that we needed X lemons squeezed and Y lemons sliced or X onions sliced plus Y onions in 1″ pieces would have meant that all the onion chopping could be done at one time); recipes converted properly before hand (my plan was to photocopy the recipes for everyone and then mark up a photocopy with the doubled or tripled amounts so we didn’t have to do it on the fly but my photocopier broke down as I was trying to do that the morning we were cooking, so I had to bring my books and calculate on the fly which slowed things down and led to a few mistakes and omissions); more containers/baking dishes (we moved a few items into freezer bags because they were handy instead of reusable containers or because we needed the baking pans back; scheduling the order in which dishes are assembled or rotated into the oven (so we don’t let the dough turn into a man-eating blob or bake the 400 degree recipe before the 350 degree recipe).

Must admit that between the late Friday and Saturday shopping and the cooking itself on Sunday I’m pretty worn out but I’d do it again, more efficiently this time I think, and I love that I have an orderly freezer filled with foods I like and can whip out for lunch or dinner at a moment’s notice. In fact, I’m probably going to add to my personal stash, because I still have freezer space calling out to be filled.