A Great Time Was Had By All

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Today my wife and I attended an SCA event a little over two hours from home, the longest we’ve commuted for an event in over a year. It was a symposium of classes, and I took five during the day. All the classes were very well taught and I learned a lot about how things are done now. (There were some major changes made to the rules governing this aspect of the SCA back in 2011, when we were inactive and out of the region, and this was our first foray into learning the new rules.) We both took the warranting class (local branch officers need to be warranted to hold office) and I got some new information and a lot of new resources for an area that I already knew a bit about. There was a court (for those not in the SCA, it functions as, among other things, an awards ceremony at the end of the day) and several people we’re friends with got well-deserved awards. Two of them were announced to receive the Society’s highest award for service at a future point in time. (For the Society’s highest awards, there’s usually a period where the recipient receives counsel and congratulations from individuals that wish to pay them respects, followed by an elaborate presentation ceremony. When the recipient is announced, they are usually given a choice of receiving the award on the spot or choosing an event in the future in order to better plan the ceremony and to make sure that those people important to the recipient are all in attendance.)

It wasn’t until the end of the day that my wife remarked that I hadn’t had a panic attack at all regarding this event. Events that I’ve gone to over the past few years were usually marked by a panic attack the evening before the event and another one the morning of the event – this time, there was nothing. She also mentioned that I wasn’t exhibiting any signs of anxiety during the day, something that usually gets me at some point – that’s because she wasn’t there for the one time I did start to panic.

I was in a class where I was asked a question that I didn’t have an immediate answer for – I could have answered it given a few seconds of thought, but I was panicked that I didn’t have the answer right on the tip of my tongue, and so I begged off answering it. For a good portion of the rest of that class, I was fighting that part of my brain that was telling me that I was a screw-up, that I should be embarrassed, and that I should run screaming from the class. But I used my tools to counter all the things my lying brain was telling me and eventually I calmed down to the point that I went to the instructor – a friend of mine – and apologized for freezing up. She said that it was fine, and that it lent itself to something that she was trying to accomplish more often in her classes. The same friend later told me that while she rarely comments, she follows this blog, so if you’re reading this – and you know who you are – thank you for the opportunity to put the tools I’ve learned into use.

The day was a wild success and I’m very pleased with how I came through the event. Now time to fall down and go boom. Five in the morning was a long time ago.

Potatoes!

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So I’ve been doing something a little weird today.

The New York Times website has a page that shows you how to make Pommes Anne, a delicious looking potato recipe from France. I’ve been obsessing over that page today.

If you’re interested, the page can be found here. It’s behind a subscription wall, but it’s a free signup. They don’t email me anything and they don’t ask for money. If you’re willing to sign up for a login, you can see the page yourself.

If you’re unable or unwilling to sign up to see for yourself, here’s the basic gist of how to make the dish. It’s labor intensive, using simple ingredients, but the end result looks delicious.

Start by preheating your oven and placing a rimmed baking sheet on the rack so it will heat up with the oven. Cut Russet potatoes into roughly evenly sized and shaped cylinders, then use a mandoline to slice each potato into thin slices. (If you like, you can add slices of garlic to the dish, but the traditional recipe doesn’t include the garlic. Slice the garlic cloves with the mandoline just as you did the potatoes.) Blot the potatoes dry.

Put a cast iron skillet on the stove and turn it to medium. Add clarified butter and begin placing the potato slices in concentric, overlapping circles to fill the bottom of the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle more clarified butter over the potatoes. Add a second layer of potatoes (adding the garlic slices evenly spaced across the top of the layer, if you chose to add garlic), salt, pepper, and clarified butter. Continue adding layers like this until the skillet is full – potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, clarified butter. This will eventually form a dome. Occasionally shake the skillet to prevent the potatoes from sticking to it.

Butter the bottom of a pan and use it to press down firmly on the potatoes. Cover with foil, then cover the foil with a lid. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, remove the lid and the foil, and press down firmly on the potatoes again with the pan. Return the skillet to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the sides are dark brown when lifted away from the skillet.

Remove the skillet from the oven and press down firmly on the potatoes with the pan, then use the pan to hold the potatoes in place while you drain any excess butter off the dish. Use a thin offset spatula to carefully run around the sides and bottom of the skillet to release anything that’s stuck on, then turn out onto a serving dish. Slice into wedges and serve.┬áThe end result will be crisp on the outside with a mashed potato-like interior.

I haven’t actually tried this recipe, but it sound absolutely fantastic. We’re short the cast iron skillet, the mandoline, and the thin offset spatula, but as soon as we can pick these items up – and can figure out where we’ll store them in our tiny kitchen – I want to try this dish.

There are secrets to this dish to make it turn out perfect, and the webpage goes into detail about those. There’s even a video that shows you the process, and that video is magic.

Most cooking videos available on the internet tend to rush you through the whole process of cooking, using time-lapse photography to compress the whole thing down to an easily digested TL;DR-like nugget of a minute or so. The video for Pommes Anna is somewhat longer, but the process is unhurried, and the shots are shown in real time. Doing this shows the complexity of preparing the dish and also gives the video a respectful feeling to it – you can tell that preparing this dish is a labor of love, not a quick meal on the go. It’s amazing to watch and the finished dish has a lovely presentation. The video is as much a work of art as the dish itself.

I don’t know why I’ve been obsessing over this recipe today. It’s done nothing but make me hungry for something I can’t eat for some time. But it’s gotten me looking forward to the day that we have everything we need to make it.

 

Back on Track, and Off to the Moon

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So yesterday was a bit of an anomaly. I was persistently angry with myself, mostly because I was angry, so it was a never-ending cycle. Today I woke up with the same feeling but was much better at dealing with it, and the feeling of being angry with myself passed very quickly. In fact, the weird dreams that I was having stuck around longer than the feeling of being angry. Other than that little morning blip, today’s been great.

Today I’ve been experimenting with a new-to-me game on Steam called Moonbase Alpha. (The game came out in 2010.) It’s the year 2025 and NASA has returned to the moon to establish a base on the south pole. It’s going well and expansions to the base are planned. However, as you’re off doing something on the lunar surface, a meteorite strikes somewhere close to the base, damaging key components of the life support system, and it’s up to you and your team to fix it.

Anywhere from one to six people can play the game, in either Competitive Mode or Freeplay Mode. Competitive Mode sets a timer for you to have to complete all tasks necessary to make life support operational again or you fail the mission, whereas Freeplay eliminates the timer for you to more leisurely carry out your objectives. Several tools are used in the process of fixing the life support system, and you can only carry one at a time, dropping one on the lunar surface in favor of another. In addition, the robots that you need to carry out certain tasks are limited by their battery life, so you’ll need to work quickly to resolve the situations that they’re necessary for. There are three maps, one for one to two players, one for three to four, and one for five to six. Each progressively larger map has more objectives to achieve, and part of the challenge (especially in Competitive Mode) is to most efficiently split objectives between team members and work quickly. Most repair objectives offer a minigame where you have to solder circuits together (essentially you’re tracing lines within borders without leaving the border, all while trying to beat a timer) to shave time off your repair cycle. Some items only need light repair, some could require heavy repair or may be outright destroyed, in which case you need to find a replacement part (oftentimes replacing the part if it is heavily damaged will save time too). Once the system is completely repaired, it will take some time for the living quarters to replenish with oxygen, and once the meter’s at 100%, the game is over and your time at completion is recorded.

If you are playing by yourself, I strongly, highly recommend that you play in Freeplay Mode, especially your first time through. Granted, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was playing it by ear a lot, but it took me just shy of an hour to completely repair the system and replenish the living quarters with oxygen. Competitive Mode gives you 25 minutes, and I don’t see even the most efficient execution of the game, complete with winning every minigame, cutting that much time off your mission. Competitive Mode also allows you to upload your scores to the leaderboard on Steam, so if that’s not that big of a deal for you, Freeplay is where you want to go.

Gameplay is very well-designed to be accurate to lunar conditions, and while the repairs are simplified to clicking your mouse and playing the minigames while the timer counts down, it still gives an adequate feel of complexity. NASA’s logo appears liberally throughout the game, and it’s intimated that the agency was involved in its development.

While I’ve only played this in solo mode, it’s my understanding that chat between teammates is converted from text to speech, and many reviewers of the game have commented on how much fun it was to play with this aspect of the game.

The game is free-to-play and only takes us just over a gigabyte of space on your hard drive. The graphics are pretty good for 2010, and the game can be played in either fullscreen or windowed modes.

I had fun with it, and maybe you will too. My only concern is that as a primarily solo player, there’s only the one scenario to play, and once you’ve got that down to a science, the challenge of the game is pretty much gone. I plan on playing it multiple times to see how much I can reduce my time, but I’ll be playing in Freeplay Mode to avoid the very constrictive 25 minute timer in Competitive Mode. If it seems that I can get my time close to that point in Freeplay Mode, then I might switch to see if I can do it in Competitive, but that’s not going to be happening any time soon. I also want to try multiplayer to see how that adds a new facet to play.

Anyway, that’s your unsolicited game review for the day. Back to the usual stuff in tomorrow’s post, most likely.

 

Defying Societal Norms

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They say there are three things that you shouldn’t talk about in “mixed” or “polite” company – sex, politics, and religion. So today I’m going to pitch all that out the window and discuss my religious beliefs with you, partially because I’m completely bereft of ideas for what to write about and partially because I wonder if there are others out there that have my particular brand of religion/spirituality.

First off, let me preface this by saying that I have walked a very long road to get to this point in my life. I’ve walked the path of a lot of faiths and denominations before arriving at the decisions that I have regarding religion. That speaks to my core belief that there’s something out there bigger than us – it’s just been a lifelong journey to recognize what that is.

When I was born, I was baptized at a Disciples of Christ church, though I never attended. My family wasn’t very religious, and so the only exposure to religion that I received was during the Sundays that I accompanied my grandmother to her Southern Baptist church. My family also wanted me to make my own decisions about religion when I was ready, and so I’d kind of wing it, sometimes doing Bible readings for the family at Christmas.

When I was 13 I had a paper route, and one of my subscribers was the rectory of the local Catholic Church. They had just build a stunning new chapel, and I was curious about it, so I told the priest that I was interested in learning more about Catholicism. He recommended that I join the order of the catechumens. Thanks to my lack of follow through at that point in my life, I never attended, but remained curious for some time about the ritualized services of the Catholics.

About the time I was 18 or so I had swung far and wide away from my Christian roots and was interested in becoming pagan. Again, a lack of organized classes deterred me from pursuing this any further than considerable curiosity.

By the time I was 20, about to turn 21, in fact, I was very empty and was searching for anything that would have me, and that’s when two Mormon missionaries came knocking on my door. I was curious, I was older, and so I did follow through to become baptized a second time into the Mormon church. A week later I was ordained into their lay ministry. My time with the Mormons came to a sudden and abrupt halt when I went to essentially confess to my bishop a struggle I was having and was told that part of my penance would be to forbid me from taking communion for six months. I thought it rather odd that at a time when I was reaching out to God for help with a struggle I was being prevented from communion, so I slipped away from the church not long after that meeting.

It wasn’t long afterward that I joined a multi-level marketing business which took over my entire life for several months. I changed my political beliefs to be more in line with what I was being taught, I changed the way I cut my hair, and of course I joined the church that everyone else had joined – a Pentecostal church that I never really understood, but went along with anyway, to the point of being baptized a third time. I was speaking in tongues, I was part of the musical worship team, I was going along with the crowd, until the crowd decided they didn’t want me to be part of their team anymore, and so in very short order my church, my second job, my circle of friends, and everything else that I’d taken up with in order to feel wanted disappeared, and I was starting over from square one.

From that point forward I was very cautious of any sort of religion, since I’d felt so burned and so gullible from the whole experience, so I went solo for a while and kind of ignored that urge that I felt deep inside, since it had gotten me hurt multiple times before.

It was during this time that I solidified my political and societal opinions, never again to waver from them, so any attempt to join a church would have to be a welcoming experience for anyone to match my liberal viewpoints. I found that several years later in a Presbyterian church. A friend of mine was the minister there, and I started attending just to have something to do, promising myself that I would take it VERY slowly and learn before jumping in with both feet. I don’t remember much of my experiences there, but they were good and I enjoyed the people that I was meeting with every Sunday. I also don’t remember why I stopped going, but I did, I don’t think for any real reason other than I just stopped.

My next foray into organized religion was in Illinois, when I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church there. This was by far my happiest experience in a church and I made plenty of friends and got very involved with the congregation. I was even working part-time in the church office. I dabbled with Buddhist meditation, I dabbled once more with paganism, and I generally loved the freedom that the church allowed its members to practice in their own personal experiences. We stopped attending church shortly before moving from the area – attending services would have meant an hour-plus one-way trip, and we just couldn’t justify the expense or the time commitment. And that was the last time that I associated with any one religion.

It was my experience with the UU church that finally solidified my religious beliefs. I came to recognize that I believe that no one religion was the true one; rather, that all religions spoke a part of the truth, and that the higher power that was at the head of one was actually at the head of all the others as well. Some religions recognize only one god, some worship thousands, but all of them are just manifestations of the same higher power in a manner that each civilization could understand and embrace. The basic tenet of almost every religion on the planet is very simple – treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated. And that’s a tenet that I can get behind.

I no longer believe that attending worship services is a necessary part of my religious beliefs, but I do believe in respecting the religious beliefs of others as being key to a good relationship with the divine. It’s part of that treating others the way you wish to be treated. I don’t get into arguments about which religion is right, because all of them are right in their own way.

Do I pray? In my own way. I ask that people who are suffering find solace and peace, I ask that those who are sick be healed. I believe in miracles because my very existence is a miracle, and so is everyone else’s existence. We are surrounded by miracles and they’re so commonplace that we don’t recognize a miracle unless it’s something truly magnificent, without explanation or basis in known fact. I believe that science and religion are intertwined, and that our understanding of the world and the universe helps us to understand the divine. Do I believe in life after death? I honestly don’t have an opinion, mostly because that’s not anything that we’re meant to know in these meatbags that we walk around in. I think that if there is something after death, living a good life here on Earth will reflect in what happens to you after you die. But I’m not going to fret over my eternal soul. I believe that I’m doing what’s right for me.

Are these beliefs right for you? Maybe – maybe not. The important thing is that they’re right for me, and that I’m happy and content with my beliefs. Are they subject to change? Certainly, as I learn more about religions the world over I gain knowledge about my own beliefs. Will I ever participate in organized religion again? I might perhaps rejoin a UU church at some point if I find myself in need of fellowship, but for now that’s not an urge that I experience.

So there’s my personal take on spirituality. If it fits with any known religion I haven’t found it, and I’m not really looking to see if it does. In this aspect of my life, at least, I’m happy being me just as I am.

A War With No Enemies

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In the SCA, especially here in Texas (and Oklahoma), spring break usually means Gulf Wars, a nine-day long super-event held in Lumberton, Mississippi and pitting the armies and populace of the Kingdom of Ansteorra (that’s the part of Texas in the Central time zone and the whole of Oklahoma) and their allies versus the Kingdom of Trimaris (that’s peninsular Florida) and their allies. It’s a camping event full of both armored and rapier combat (including archery), equestrian activities, arts and sciences competitions, classes, shopping, partying, and generally thousands of people having a good time pretending to be someone else for the duration. Today is the official start of the war, and my Facebook feed is full of people who are traveling or are already on site, starting to set up and socialize. Through this next week-plus, the updates will be fewer in number, but I’ll be hanging on every word that I learn from the event – who won what, who received what awards during the week, that sort of thing.

I’m torn about Gulf Wars. On the one hand I’m a little envious that others have the time and the financial ability to take that much of a vacation – don’t get me wrong, it’s camping, but it’s still an expensive endeavor – but I’m more envious that people have the mental capacity to be able to handle that much socialization at one time. I have trouble making it through a day long event at this point, which is why I’m torn. It makes no sense to pack to go to Gulf Wars for only a long weekend, since the site is a ten hour drive one-way from home, and I really don’t think I could take that much nonstop time keeping my mask on for people. My anxiety would get the better of me so regardless of whether we had the money and time off or not, right now it’s best that I not go.

This is one thing that I hope we can return to when I can get over my anxiety and other mental illnesses. I’ve been to Gulf Wars twice and had a great time both times, even though one of my trips was cancelled early on account of bad flooding throughout the site.

So for my friends at war – fight well, fight cleanly, learn lots, party hard, and generally have the time of your lives. We’ll be there in spirit, this year and every year until we can make it there ourselves.

Anachronistic Socialization

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Today was the local SCA group’s winter event, and my wife and I dressed up like good little Norse people and went. It was very good to see a lot of my friends there, and to get hugs from them, and to be told that we’re both missed. I attended a class on a piece of local SCA history, and my wife taught a class on beginning lucet (in simplistic terms, it’s cordweaving, but actually a bit more complex than that). There was bardic, which is my area of expertise in the SCA, and for once I was a spectator rather than a competitor or judge. It felt good, until it didn’t feel so good anymore. I was standing on a concrete floor with very little cushion in my shoes, and by the time the second round of competition was over and done with, my back was screaming at me and my legs had gone numb, so I beelined to my chair in the hall and sat for the rest of the time that we were at the event. I wish we’d have been able to stay longer, but the hall was beginning to set up for the evening’s feast and my back really needed the heating pad, so we started saying our farewells and left for the day.

The socialization was a good thing, and something that we both should be doing more often. There’s a regular standing event on Tuesday nights that we could attend, but that would mean some creative planning for dinner that night in order to get us fed sooner rather than later, but it is doable. I think I want to try for more evenings at fighter practice/populace in the park.

We’re home now and looking forward to a relatively quiet evening. I did a fair amount of exercise for the day and completed my reading and learning before going to the event, so it will be easy for me to make today day 19 of full marks in my checklist.

Weekend Viking

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This weekend I’m going to brave thunderstorms and go do my weekend Viking thing, so I might be quiet for the next couple days. Since I’m on my phone, I’m going to be short, because I do not relish the concept of an extended post on a little bitty keyboard whilst riding on bumpy roads across south Texas. I’ll check in more in depth on Sunday.