Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stories from the front

“Flesh is weak.” Those three words defined his world. Growing up in the wilds of the Khadoran frontier, Nicodemus had always thought his father’s periodic utterances meant that physical weakness should be guarded against. Frontier life was hard. Only the strong survived. Only the strong could harvest a living from the unforgiving North.

Then they left the kardic lands for the dubious safety of the protectorate. Freedom from persecution. Freedom to follow Menoth’s teachings. Of course the day was oppressively hot while the nights dropped below freezing. The desert ground gave even less back to farmers than the Khadoran countryside. It seemed like every other day he heard his father muttering his mantra. He asked him once what he meant.

“We are weak son. Everybody has their price. Everybody has their limit. Some day you’ll understand—Menoth willing. It’s something to remember.”

“But Dah, I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

“It’s not something I can teach son. It’s something you have to learn yourself. Some things you can learn from listening. Some things you can learn by doing. Things like this, you learn by surviving. This is a special truth Nicodemus. Not like what the priests tell you. It’s something you and Menoth have to work out together.”

He nodded and went on doing what needed to be done. But in the back of his head he always wondered what his father meant. Now he knew. The prime minister had been weak. He betrayed his country to the enemy. The captain, night and hero, had abandoned the gray wolves. Demetrius was leading the company out of the city. Each had their reasons. Each chose to run rather than fight—weak in deed. He didn’t like leaving thousands of people to their deaths—but he understood. Everyone had their limits. He didn’t like leaving this city for the Khadoran military to take by trickery—playing at peace while never intending to deal in good faith. Paladins were supposed to stand against the darkness. They were supposed to hold the wall. Instead he was walking away. He didn’t have time to organize a defense of the city. Maybe with days to work with something could have been done. But not now. Not with thousands of regular troops advancing under cover of bombardment.

Already he could see the panic spreading. There a merchant with so many goods that he would be lucky to make it to the near gate. There a family wandering from corner to corner, trying to figure out which way lay safety. It wasn’t a full panic yet, but the beginnings were evident to anyone with an eye for such things.

Well, there was something he could do about that. Striding down the road with sword drawn, he began calling to citizens. He used the short direct tones one uses with children and animals. He collected a group. People sought safety in numbers. It would make them easier to direct—if not control. Parents had to lay down family antiques generations old. Merchants had to abandoned fripperies and fobs. They couldn’t take anything that they couldn’t carry for miles. By the time the rest of the company arrived he had the beginnings of an evacuation forming.

Walking down the road with the company at his back, Nicodemus felt at peace for the first time in a long while. His spell of protection covered him in a soft blanket of familiar energy. The arcane plates within his armor hummed at the edge of thought providing a soothing music to his magical senses. Someday he and Demetrius would encounter a conflict that his morals wouldn’t let him avoid, but for now Nicodemus was in his element. He was standing—the wall that would protect these people.

There was no way to avoid the Khadoran patrol. They advanced from an alley—calm, sure, professional with rifles raised. If it had just been a few winter guardsmen things might have gone differently. But then the lumbering shape of a heavy warjack exited the alley’s mouth. Light reflected off its armored bulk. Nicodemus was normally a quiet man—slow to anger, quiet of speech, and careful in action; but the sight of the armored behemoth ponderously striding toward the civilians set something off deep inside him. War was brutal. But this was…the city didn’t even have a proper guards force. Nicodemus knew what Khadoran armies did to cities. It was the stuff of nightmares. It had driven the Lieutenant from the Ironfangs. It should have driven the prime minister to broker a treaty of some kind. Now these people were going to…no, no they weren’t.

Nicodemus vaguely noticed his fellow mercenaries spreading out wielding magic and steel, bullet and blade. There was no stopping to negotiate. Everybody knew what the stakes were. The Khadorans were assaulted by a barrage of magic and lead. They blasted back—adopting a skirmish line. Nicodemus was almost crushed as the company’s lone warjack drove forward and struck the enemy jack with a blow that made the ground shake and dust fall from nearby buildings.

Bullets bounced off his armor without affect. Light infantry was no match for a paladin of the wall in arcane armor. With deliberate steps he sheathed his sword and advanced on the enemy jack. The sword wasn’t going to be enough. He needed freedom of movement, freedom to focus. He let the rage coalesce around his fist in a glowing nimbus. Flesh might be weak, but so was steel. He raised a gauntlet and gestured at the jack while it was recovering its balance. The bolt of energy picked the multi-ton construct up off the ground—slamming it through the air to fall on its back with an earth shattering boom. These people were getting out of the city if he had to carve a path for them through the Khadoran army. They wanted war, they would get war.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The making of an action hero, pt39I love winter. A couple days ago I walked out of my apartment building to the Smokey burnt sugar smell of impending snow. I grew up in the North East where winter was winter. Here in Maryland mother nature can’t make up her mind what season it is—30 today 60 tomorrow…etc. There’s a special kind of peace in the silence of a world blanketed in new fallen snow—no sound to be heard but the soft kiss of flake upon powder. That’s what I think of when someone says the heart of winter. I remember standing on the top of a North Carolina mountain and looking out for miles—across Christmas trees, farms, valleys, and streams. I remember looking out to the horizon where the Blue Ridge Mountains met the sky across all of that, a pristine coat of alabaster powder that swallowed the sound of the wind. Here on the border of the South, it’s nice to be reminded that winter comes even here.

Making the Man There was a time when you could tell a gentleman by his frippery. Quizzing glasses, flasks, pocket watches, canes, dueling pistols, rapiers, all had practical utility. Today we view such ornamented accessories as curiosities. The modern man should carry sleek steel and leather—gun metal and chrome, titanium and silver. Yet there is still room for today’s man to equip himself with wealth and taste without sacrificing function.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The making of an action hero pt38

When I remember thanksgiving, I think of my mom’s creamed onion recipe. I recall the boisterous chaos that was my introduction to the brunette’s family. I remember playing with my niece and nephew. I remember ham, turkey, wine, beer, potatoes, family trips, and the now traditional friends’ giving celebration. Thanksgiving is about friends and family sharing food and fellowship. Sometimes we’ve hosted the big day and sometimes we’ve been a guest.

This year we decided to host the big day. I like hosting, nobody else really wanted the honor, and after Easter I got a taste for cooking big holiday meals. That said, I’d never made a real thanksgiving dinner before—turkey, stuffing, gravy…etc. So going into this one I was a little nervous. I did my research a month out, developed a menu for 15, finalized what people were bringing, and a week out had everything more-or-less under control.

• Two weeks out, the brunette began accumulating various ingredients.

• One week out, discovered that the kickstarter project I had planned to use for my turkey rub wasn’t going to make it in time. I recalculated the recipe accordingly.

• The Saturday before, bought 13.65 pound butterball frozen turkey.

• The day before, the brunette and the Jew acquired vast quantities of “stuff per my list.” I made two trips to the store to pick up sundries not found at the local bargain-mart.

• Thanksgiving eve, I made a paste from garlic salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, and cilantro and rubbed the turkey with the resulting dry brine. I made a pasta salad from orzo, calamata olives, celery, onions, green pepper, and Italian dressing. I made my own turkey stock by boiling the giblets with water, chicken broth, and veggies. I pre-cooked two pounds of Italian sausage and mixed the drained meat with the veggies for the dressing. I made a loaf of Banana bread. I set two three pound pork loins to thaw. I diced up a ton of veggies and bagged them up to make cooking faster the next day.

• 8:00 Thanksgiving morning rubbed the pork loins with the remaining dry brine. Put a nice crust on both loins at high heat and set them to braze with a bottle of green apple wine in the slow cooker. Looked up more recipes to confirm my plan. Puttered around the apartment doing misc cleanup—Feeling excited and slightly nervous.

• 10:30, mother-in-law arrives per plan and helps set up various supplies and prep work including cubing and toasting the bread for the stuffing.

• 12:00, turkey is rubbed with olive oil, stuffed with a quartered onion, lemon, and orange. The electric turkey roaster is pre-heated and filled with a quarter inch of white wine. Turkey is covered and left to cook at 325 for the next 2.5 hours.

• 12:45 Seven pounds of potatoes are set to boil—time is beginning to compress—I am getting really nervous. I work well under pressure but I worry a lot. Mother in law cooks her green bean casserole.

• 1:30, sausage and veggies for the dressing are sautéed till tender and mixed with the bread and a half cup of white wine and turkey broth. We use two eggs to hold the mess together and put the dressing in to cook. At this point there are no breaks except to wash dishes and clean counters.

• 1:50, we make up the batter for apple cake using a recipe from www.framedcooks.com. I find ingredients while mother in law mixes and measures. I end up giving up the idea of cooking the cake in a glass mixing bowl and go for a large baking pan instead. I begin to wonder how we will have everything served in time, where everyone will sit, and where all the food will go.

• 2:05, Potatoes are drained, mashed, mixed with onions, ranch dressing, cheese, and bacon bits. Mother-in-law blends potatoes with a hand mixer without covering the kitchen in starchy residue. This is an epic feet, one I’ve never been able to manage. I gain 1 point in true faith-in-laws.

• 2:10, we mix up the biscuit dough and fill two muffin tins—24 biscuits. Biscuits start cooking and I wonder how the cake, which has been in the oven for fifteen minutes and which is supposed to take over an hour to cook, smells like it’s almost done.

• 2:20, dressing comes out of oven. Cake is done—defying all logic. This impossibility sets me back mentally—cakes are not supposed to be over achievers.

• 2:25, biscuits, for the first time ever, are not done in 15 minutes. Apparently they are in a time share with the cake.

• 2:30, People start arriving. Life gets “complicated.” The bamboo cutting board I was going to use to serve the turkey won’t work. Mother in law fixes. I mix in flower with the turkey drippings—which thanks to the white wine are more liquid than the recipe calls for. I add the turkey stock, kitchen bouquet, garlic salt, and ground pepper to the pot and whisk repeatedly. Gravy is done but in the process I have splattered it over the oven top. I end up with a half gallon of delicious but lumpy gravy. I get out the serving tray, cover it in the pasta salad mixture, mother in law drops pork loins on top and I begin carving. Pork ends up too tender and won’t cut; it just falls to pieces under the knife. People help clean up kitchen, serve food, and kick me out of my domain.

• 3:00, dinner is served. I grab a beer, sit down, and have no desire to eat anything.

Things I learned:

1. The brunette handled most of the shopping, cleaning, guest rankling, and keeping stuff away while foodmancery was going on. She thinks it was nothing, I think it was critical to dinner going well. That meal hung on a very precarious balance of timing. I couldn’t have pulled it off without her help.

2. Mother-in-law completely saved me from catastrophic decision paralysis. By around 2:10, she was doing most of the work and I was assisting. It was my plan, but at that point it was her dinner—thanks mom. I could have handled the meal on my own, but it would have been at least an hour later and I would have suffered a stress related incident.

3. If I have to do this again, I am going to design the menu around dishes that can be made in advance and reheated. The only recipes that weren’t made from scratch were the canned cranberry sauce and bisquick biscuits. Everything piled up at the end. My timing was good in theory; but I didn’t leave myself enough wiggle room for accidents. I got way too caught up in the idea of traditional thanksgiving dinner from scratch—serves me right for reading all those cooking show recipes.

4. No matter how many people are going to events, I’m planning on making one batch of whatever I’m bringing. I have leftover biscuits, potatoes, stuffing, and gravy far in excess of what I needed. Considering I made half the dressing, potatoes, and banana bread I had planned, there’s no call to over-provide. This is the second time this year I’ve ended up with a massive quantity of leftover potatoes. Maybe I’ll make Sheppard’s pie with it. It’s going to be one bag of spuds going forward.

5. If I’m going to keep making cakes and such, I need to update my baking tins. The reason the cake cooked so quickly is that I put it in a long low pan. The increased surface area meant it cooked at twice the normal speed. I enjoy baking but it is going to require a meaningful investment of capitol to really do up right.

6. Small pork loins cook faster than large pork shoulders in the Crockpot. The pork tastes great but is reduced to the entirely wrong consistency. I wanted sliceable braised pork. I got shredded herbed pork loin. Delicious—but improvable.

7. The electric roaster was amazing. I want to get a good roasting pan and Dutch oven, but man did that thing earn it’s keep. The turkey was as tender as the pork, was easy to clean, and required zero oversight. The only reason to use a roasting pan now is for an alternate recipe, to roast veggies with the turkey, or to get the drippings for gravy. So, turkey is going to be done in the electric roaster going forward unless I want to experiment.

8. Gravy, from the jar in future. That one dish cost me almost four hours of work. I can spice up a pre-made mix and get better tasting gravy in a tenth the time—win.

9. Stuffing is essentially one loaf of bread—cubed, a pound of lightly browned meat, 2 diced onions, 4 cups of veggies, a cup of liquid, and 2 eggs—lightly beaten. That is easily adapted. The result was ok, but can be improved upon.

10. Too many biscuits. I am going to hold these going forward in favor of bread. Everybody likes them in theory but never seems to favor them in practice.

11. I went about the process of assigning dishes to guests in all the wrong order. I advised what I was making and asked what people wanted to bring with the intention of filling out any gaps. What I should have done was select dishes that would be easy to cook in concert with the entrees and left the rest to the guests. There would have been a lot less stress that way and I probably could have handled it all on my own.

After relaxing with a beer and contemplating the holiday chaos, I spent the rest of the holiday playing with the kids—blasting nurf darts across the battlefield of the back bedroom. When it was time to leave the kids wanted to know if they could come back the next day—win. After everyone was gone, I made myself a plate and savored the moment.

On the diet side, I gained 4 pounds (286 pounds as of this morning.) The day itself wasn’t an issue. The epic quantity of leftovers—mostly carbs—has proven a challenge though. I’ve been begging people to come over and deplete our reserves. In fairness, my foot rendered me unable to exercise till Saturday—basically leaving me with a week off the clubs at the worst possible time. I will lose the weight. Originally I planned on losing 10 pounds a month. I thought by the end of December I’d be looking at 250 pounds or so. Obviously that’s not going to happen. I think rather I’m going to shoot to maintain at 280—a much more manageable goal. I could kill myself, but I know how the holidays tend to run. I intend to enjoy the various holiday gatherings while maintaining my gains to this point.

The leftovers are gone—finally, my foot is healed, and I’m pushing for a tighter diet for December. I’m going back to the apple+yogurt+one other item formula for lunches. The wraps were fine at one point, but I need to cut down calories and they were pretty dense. I’m going to cook through the prepared items I have in the freezer, but beyond those constraints I’m going to make at least one salad every week. Finally, it’s back to health shakes and off the coffee. Every time I go back on the java I wake up better but can’t sleep as well. I start to crave the joy juice in the morning. Case in point, I didn’t have time to make coffee this morning so I grabbed a mountain due on the way out the door. I’m not upset about that—I just know I can do better.


Breakfast=the rest of the apple cake/bread and a can of mountain dew.

Work meal=Greek yogurt, a bag of mixed nuts, and an apple.

Dinner=Spaghetti with marinara loaded with veggies.

Looking at today’s intake, you can see where having all that leftover food and drink in the house is affecting my diet. Must-do-better.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The making of an action hero, PT3

I like being prepared. I was a worry wart first and an eagle scout second…but either way I’ve never liked getting caught by the unexpected. My parents pushed me to be self-sufficient from a young age. As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed a growing blasé public attitude when it comes to emergency readiness. You can attribute most of that to the growing urbanization of America. It’s difficult to conceive of a time when you won’t be able to drive five miles and find a fully stocked retail center with everything from home repair essentials to household staples. Police, Fire, and EMTs are but a phone call away. Katrina, Sandy, and the recent Colorado flooding are the exceptions that prove the rule that it’s unlikely citizen Bob will ever have to deal with a FEMA-worthy emergency. Ok, I can imagine such a time, but many of my peers lack my inborn respect for Mr. Murphy. Of course there’s the other side of the coin. The zombie apocalypse meme has well and truly taken root. Many of the boards I read devote thousands of words to the consideration of preparing for a potential doomsday scenario—one in which society collapses and all meaningful infrastructure is lost. I enjoy disasterbating as much as the next guy—postulating how all my sociopolitical views will be validated when X happens and I will be able to scream “I told you so” as I giggle maniacally. “Muhahahahahaha!” Bunkering down with a few tons of guns, food, and like-minded friends sounds great…in theory. The reality of society completely devolving would be terrible left for dead notwithstanding. Does anyone really want to live in the world left after toilet paper runs out? I’ve done a fair dincum of research regarding preparedness challenges. They break down into four categories from the likely to the improbable. First we’ve got the everyday inconvenience. This covers things like minor accidents, quick fix requirements, headaches, getting stuck in traffic, bottles to be opened, packages to be cut, children to be distracted, objects to be found in darkness…etc. You can handle most of these issues by leaving a simple first aid kit in your car/home/desk, keeping a good multi-tool on hand, stashing a few rolls of duct tape, and leaving a flashlight on your keychain. Since I love gadgets, kits, and bespoke panoply, I usually have the required implement for these sorts of issues. My keychain sports a small Swiss army pocket knife and a steel bottle opener. My day pack/lunch bag carries a Swiss army multi-tool, Dug ritter first aid kit, pen, mag light, and combination corkscrew. I swear the bottle opener gets used every time we go to a friends’ gathering. I’m that guy; the one everyone knows will have a bottle opener—to the point where they don’t even bother asking the hosts for one. My multi-tool sees regular use filing sharp edges on toys, opening/assembling various projects, trimming X, cutting Y, punching holes in Z…etc. Whenever MX gets a boo-boo, Beast has a band aid handy. Whenever there’s not enough light to do something, beast has a flashlight. It honestly surprises me that more people don’t have a variant of this set up as often as mine gets used. Second, there’s the short term emergency. This includes things you can’t patch up in five minutes—your car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, a stitch worthy cut requiring immediate attention, your water/power going out for a day, getting lost on a hike, encountering a major accident…etc. Basically this is any situation that isn’t likely to last more than 24-48 hours that you can’t patch over with the normal contents of your pockets. Here your requirements are going to vary by activity and location. Someone hiking in the desert may want an anti venom kit, sunscreen, extra water, and a reflective poncho. Someone walking through the Rocky Mountains will have very different requirements. Generally you’ll want portable nourishment worth at least 2,000 calories, a quantity of water or purification tablets, short term solutions to heat and shelter, first aid, and general purpose survival materials. In addition to previously mentioned items, my day pack carries 50 feet of paracord, a pocket survival pack, duct tape, a disposable lighter, a miler survival blanket, water purification tablets, and a large insolated steel water bottle. That pack goes with me most places. When I’m going to work the main compartment carries my lunch. When I’m going out gaming it carries my dice. When I’m out hiking it carries a snack and sundry essentials. It’s not what I’d call glamorous, but no matter where I go I have the means to deal with a small scale emergency. In future I plan to add high strength cable ties, tissues, hand sanitizer, and a tube of super glue. The beast survival pack™ is always evolving. Next we have the major emergency. Natural disasters, quarantine, and civil unrest come under this heading. The big difference between minor and major emergency is duration. You’re not just trying to endure a day or two of hardship; you’ve got to survive a week or more under adverse conditions. Some people will want to shelter in place—bunkering down at a fixed location. Others will have a plan to evacuate, often called “bugging out.” I prefer to have both options available as you never know what kind of adversity you could face. Here you want enough food for 2,000 calories for at least a week, water and water purification, hygiene products, first aid supplies, and communication. The assumption is that you’re going to have to provide for yourself for a while either waiting for life to get back to normal or while making your way to a fallback position. We keep a couple cases of bottled water, a full stock of canned vegetables, canned soup, and various nonperishable foods on hand. One of the goals for 2014is to use some of our tax return to grab a full kit from: www.echosigma.com We keep a selection of survival tools and literature on hand as well in case our home becomes the fall back position for friends. The fourth and most disastrous option is the end of the world. This is one where society as we know it is destroyed with no chance of reconstruction. Here surviving for a couple weeks won’t be enough. You’ll need a means of growing/hunting food, low grade industry, replacing consumables with sustainable local products, alternate power sources…etc. If this happens, I’m going to find some like minded people, who aren’t afraid of a little work and steak a claim to an area while prepping like crazy for a long-hard-season of chaos. I don’t ever expect to have to face this situation, but if it happens there’s not much I can do to prepare for it right now. I have to prepare for options 1, 2, and 3 before worrying about doomsday. Astute readers will note that I haven’t mentioned self-defense yet. Defending yourself, your loved ones, and your property may or may not be in your plans. I could spend several thousand words on the subject and barely end up covering the basics. Put simply, your requirements are going to vary depending on which emergency you are preparing for. States have different laws on what one can and can’t own/carry for this purpose. Employers limit what employees can take on premises. A person guarding against bear attack has different needs than someone on a college campus. There’s the question of whether or not to use tools to fill multiple rolls, survival knives, hunting rifles…etc. There’s the question of how much one wants to stand out—walking around like Rambo will likely draw the wrong kind of attention. There’s the question of what you are qualified and willing to use if defense is required. This is one of those areas where careful thought should be applied. Movies, video games, and books teach us that the answer is to have as much iron-mongery on hand as possible. In reality, guns are only a part of a larger preparedness kit—one that may or may not be appropriate for everyone. Weight today=282.6 pounds. Breakfast=A health shake and a cup of coffee. Work Meal=a pepper turkey wrap, an apple, and a bag of trail mix. Dinner=Leftover chicken potpie stew, biscuits, and banana bread.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The making of an action hero pt36

; The holidays are coming. I say that with a measure of bittersweet reflection. My parents made sure that I remember Christmas and Thanksgiving as a magical time. Maturity has taken some of the shine off the season as wondrous experiences are balanced by real-world concerns. Still, I’m looking forward to this holiday season more than others. Something about this year feels different. Maybe it’s because I have a degree of satisfaction with my job. Maybe it’s something to do with the Brunette and I hosting Thanksgiving for our families. For the first time ever, we’re going to spend Christmas with friends. Maybe it’s having most of our gifts lined up already. Maybe it has something to do with our larger friends group turning to crafty gifts as opposed to throwing $20-$50 around in interchangeable presents. I don’t know. Things just feel more like the holidays are coming—in a good way. Who knows, maybe it’s the prospect of all the little kids at our family gatherings. The other side of that coin is that I’m still looking at my normal holiday malaise—diminished but imminent. For all that fall and winter are my favorite seasons; November and December usually see me a bit less motivated, a bit grumpier, a bit darker, and a bit less desirous of company. I’ve been told that I likely have S.A.D.—which is why I have the light box by my computer now. Whatever the reason I’ve started to notice my supply of “cope” and “drive” going down. Things I used to do on reflex now take effort such as making the health shakes the night before, working on my computer conversion, creative writing, exercise, not-going-to-the-work café, and minimizing snackage. I’ve been successful but not without watching the little things start to fray at the edges. Last week I ate at the work Café twice. Normally I’d call this laziness, but in this case I think it’s something different. I’ve been cutting down on my lunch portions from 3-4 moderate items to 2 items. By noon my stomach is ravening. The hunger isn’t the healthy kind—where you feel your body slimming down as your stomach empties. I was just really hungry. So, I’ve added a bag of salted trail mix back into the work meal with an occasional cheese stick for good measure. Today’s test run left me with no cannibalistic urges. So I think this one’s a winner. I don’t need a lot to eat, but I do neat several distinct items spread between 9am-12pm to tame the beast. After that a handful of unsalted almonds and a couple glasses of water suffice. This weekend was not good for the diet. Saturday morning we had breakfast with Squish and Deathquaker. I had a three egg plate with bacon, grits, harvest toast, a glass of orange juice, and coffee. I could have done without the grits—something I’ll remember for next time. This was high quality food with little grease so while it wasn’t truly healthy I don’t feel bad about it. Next we went to a friend’s home to playtest his d20 modern variant system. One of my unspoken rules is that when you’re going into someone else’s home, you should bring something to share with the group—see my previous posts about food as bonding agent. We brought fresh salsa and some upper end corn chips because they were available when we were grabbing breakfast, I love salsa, and I don’t over indulge on said snackage. One of our peers had the same idea and brought a double box of Duncan doughnuts. I haven’t had doughnuts in over a year. After several, seriously who can eat just one?, I don’t feel like I was missing much. Supposedly there’s a gourmet doughnuttery near us called the fractured prune that achieves levels of perfection otherwise inaccessible by mortals. I’ll have to try that out some time, but not any time soon. Dinner was three pieces of pizza. I managed to refrain from going overboard—hot Italian pie has its draw but not in the way it used to. I dunno, looking at the quality of my intake I lost. Looking at the circumstances surrounding that intake I think I did pretty well. We surely didn’t take much convincing, but then we were somewhat forced by circumstance into all of these meals. I’m not going to hide behind excuses, but I do like the fact that in the face of near limitless junk, I kept the damage down. Sunday started with a health shake and coffee. E.V. came over and helped me with my club video. Squish and Corc had done their best in the past, but I needed a more experienced hand. The steel club workout is as much dance as exercise. You need to get the motions right in order to get the most out of it. So, turns out I was working hard, but not doing a very good job at staying true to form. E.V. straightened me out. I’d be pissed about it, but after several months of consistent dedicated exercise, I know I can fix things and up my game. It will take work, but I’m not afraid of a little sweat. I’ve proven to myself that I can learn—that I will succeed. Knowing that I will win makes the prospect of re-learning three month’s worth of labor not quite so daunting. Later I walked up to the grocery store with black trench coat streaming in the fall wind. My boots struck the pavement decisively. I felt stronger and more present. The weekend was a failure diet wise. But I validated some strengths and learned some important limitations. That’s good enough for now. Today’s weight: 282.2 Breakfast=A health shake and coffee. Work meal=a turkey wrap, an apple, and a bag of salted trail mix. Dinner=left over Ethiopian chicken and rice. Dessert=a glass of chocolate mint wine.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of thieves is the third entry in author Scott Lynch’s gentlemen bastards series. Following in the footsteps of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies, this volume finds Jean caring for a rapidly deteriorating Locke. The bondsmagi of Karthain offer the two friends a devil’s bargain—keep to their pride and die free or be cured in return for helping them rig an election. If that weren’t enough, the opposing bondsmagi faction has selected Locke’s long lost love as their champion in the upcoming contest Faced with choosing between a horrible death with pride intact or collusion with his sworn enemy, Locke chooses to live, though with grave reservations. Within a few chapters Lamora is cured and the stage is set for a battle of wits the like of which hasn’t been seen since the gentlemen bastards faced down the gray king and the falconer. Lynch weaves a complex story of romance, vengeance, and betrayal. The republic of thieves is really two stories told concurrently. The first recalls teenage Locke and Sabetha as they find romance against the backdrop of a theatrical production. Jean and the Sanza twins play compelling support roles as the bastards’ skills are tested, love flowers in the face of teenage angst, and a cast of colorful characters builds a story worthy of Shakespeare. Of particular note is Lynch’s inspired flowery prose. His grasp of theatre, poetry, and drama is on full display. The use of the theatrical production as a frame device and grace note is masterfully executed. Sabetha is a three dimensional character—sometimes fighting Locke’s gravity and sometimes giving in to attraction. Lynch does a great job of keeping the witty banter, sharp characterizations, and ingenuity which previously marked the gentlemen bastards while clearly distinguishing them as younger less experienced versions of their future selves The second story follows Locke’s efforts to rekindle his relationship with Sabetha while fighting her attempts to secure victory in the upcoming Karthiny election. The juxtaposition of the two plots gives the reader a unique perspective which adds spice to both narratives, ultimately climaxing with a day of politics, ambition, and intrigue. Here the pacing is forced. Critical events are summarized while minor details are drawn out over multiple scenes. Witty dialog and sharp characterization carry the story at the cost of dramatic momentum. Locke and Jean spend a significant amount of time reacting to Sabetha’s gambits rather than seizing the moment. By the end of the book I began to view the present story as the price I had to pay to get to the good bits from the flashbacks. The book ends on a surprisingly indecisive note. Locke and Jean have little to show for their efforts personally or professionally. The book ends on a clear foreshadowed tone that is slightly tarnished by Lynch’s inability to deliver on the promise of his previous offerings. ***Spoilers Ahead*** I love Scott Lynch’s work. I read the first two books in this series back-to-back. When the audio books came out I bought them and re-read them multiple times. Lynch’s dialog has a way of amusing and enthralling by turns without sacrificing drama for comedy. Locke’s schemes were convoluted but ingenious. Each character had moments of greatness and failure. The setting came alive. I could taste the food, feel the alchemical liquor having its way with me, see the monsters in the depths, touch the clockwork devices, smell the scents of life at sea, and immerse myself in the story without reservation. If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, do it, do it right now. My wife and I jumped on this offering intent on devouring it in its entirety. Lynch had set the bar high and I fully expected him to deliver. My interest spiked as Jean and Locke were drawn into what I thought must surely be a contest of titans, for who but a master could convincingly oppose Locke and be worthy of his love? My experience has been that when romance gets added to a perfectly good series, the characters suffer. I was desperately afraid that Locke would fall to pieces under Sabetha’s attentions. Fortunately that didn’t happen. Locke and Sabetha are strong people with their own demons, their own pasts, and their own passions. They strike sparks off each other—fighting the inevitable, their feelings, and change, but always for good and understandable reasons. I was a little worried when the first third of the book wandered through past and present without a goal. The dialog was great. I loved the insights into Locke’s past. Seeing the Sanza twins in rare form was a treat. But it took a damned long time for the plot to get moving. The writing pulled me in but didn’t push me in any particular direction. Once the plot was well and truly under way I kept finding myself yelling at Locke to “Do something!” In the previous books, Locke either has a plan or is on his way toward a moment of brilliance. Even in failure the gentlemen bastards were inspired schemers—always exceeding my expectations. In the Republic of Thieves, they seem merely competent—often overmatched and prone to predictability. Locke rarely takes the lead and never ascends to his previous heights of genius. By the end of the book I came to morn the loss of the scourge of the wealthy, the tamer of pirates, and the slayer of empires. His substitute is just as witty but half as irresistible. The book ended with me scratching my head saying Huh? That was…weird. Three quarters of the way through I was sure that the election was the appetizer before an epic confrontation between bondsmagi factions with an added helping of gentlemen bastard style chaos. I figured that Locke’s lackluster performance was just a lead up to his awakening in the coming crisis. The book ended with Locke and Jean penniless, Sabetha gone without explanation, and the Bondsmagi resolving their issues without any external input. The ending certainly lays a decent foundation for upcoming books, but begs the question what was the point? Besides curing Locke, why did they have to go through all that? Why was Sabetha presented to us and then snatched from under our noses? I loved the flashback plot. It is everything that I have come to expect from Scott Lynch. You can see the beginnings of future heroes. The story is completely self-contained. If the Republic of thieves had been limited to the flashback segments I would be completely satisfied save for the desire to get my hands on the next volume. Unfortunately the imperfect blending of a peerless reminiscence with a mediocre narrative leaves me with mixed feelings. The Republic of thieves is worth reading, but it doesn’t live up to expectation. I can only hope that the promise shown in the first and second books matures with interest in the fourth.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thinking about warmahordes

Warmachine has been on my mind. Thursday we went to a friend’s home to play the warmachine RPG. I’m running a paladin of the order of the wall/warcaster. The game is much closer to the wargame of the same name than the last edition. Privateer Press’s first RPG was based around the D&D 3.0/3.5 open game license. It featured lush hardcovers full of setting material and artwork. I bought all of those books, even though I never got to actually play because, well at the time I bought everything warmachine related I could find. In retrospect, the mechanics of the game represented an imperfect fit for D&D’s engine even with the 3.5 update. A conversion to pathfinder would likely remedy some of those shortcomings. In particular, the in-game cost of Arcane Tec, steam/mechanical equipment, and firearms was much more than their prevalence would suggest. The use and creation of said items was very resource intensive, often requiring multiple feets and high skill ratings before a character achieved proficiency. For those who loved the setting it was a beautiful world with a functional but limited mechanical interface. The new game features a unique 2d6 mechanic, custom careers, game play that mirrors the wargame, and a balanced advancement system. I really like character development—probably because characters retain the skills, spells, and special abilities of their wargame counterparts. Advancement is incremental with each 2-3 experience points netting a stat increase, skill bump, or special ability. Characters can only specialize so much before stat and skill maximums push them into advancing other abilities. Maximums increase every 50 experience points or so—allowing for specialization but keeping lesser characters from truly out-classing their betters. The net result is a game that favors complex multi layered characters with multiple skill sets. I don’t want to buy another game, but this one is starting to look like a keeper. My warmachine project is trundling along. Finances limit the speed of development—though with the dearth of games lately that’s not such a bad thing. Corc, Cherylkat, the brunette, and I get together regularly with the intent of playing—it just never seems to work out. We end up talking about “stuff.” Before it seems possible the night is over and no games are played. I’m giving serious thought to setting specific days for trips to Titan just so we can get our game on in a dedicated environment. Actually, WMTrainguy and I need to do that for FOW as we haven’t played in months. Of course the holidays are fast approaching—usually putting the axe to such plans. My goal is to ship out my old Khador army this week for fun and credit at BTP. I have all the models left to complete the army save a war dog and a Conquest. The conquest will have to get done in a different batch, but I’d like to be done with this army by the end of the year so I can start playing larger games. The conquest would just be nice to have around…maybe I can talk Corc into painting him. Actually, I wasn’t keen on the war dog until Butcher III came out at gencon featuring two hounds in toe. Now I feel fictionally obligated to have the little guy around. One of my recent obsessions has been legion of everblight. Despite the fact that I’ve never actually played a game of hordes, I love the faction. The more I read, the more I crunch numbers, the more I like how legion operates. A lot of that has to do with the ooo shiny factor of theoryhammering lists—a process that R and I used to go through for months at a time. I want to get a hordes list on the table. Corc kindly traded me his older metal legion starter box assembled and painted for a unit of man-o-war shocktroopers. The box caster isn’t a perfect match for me, but she’ll be good learning fodder. The real question is whether I want to start legion in March or see if lady Deathquaker would rather paint up my remaining early war French. On the one hand, the French are assembled and ready to go. Buying all that legion product would be expensive and that doesn’t even take into account the cost of having her assemble and paint them. There’s a strong financial argument against starting legion. On the other hand I really want to play hordes. It’s definitely what warmachine should have been—colorful, direct, all about the action, first world gamer problems I know. Fortunately I have plenty of time to think about it. In the mean time I’ve been reviewing the scope of a potential legion project. The nice thing about hordes is that each faction’s warlocks have their own flavor beyond mechanical theme. It’s easy, especially if you look at theme lists, to get an idea of the preferred play style for each warlock. Also, I’m interested in a limited number of support pieces, a focused set of infantry, and a targeted list of flying warbeasts. That makes it easier to review each of my potential choices. Reviewing the warlocks: • Absylonia, Terror of Everblight is a straight up beast caster who goes for the kill at warp 9. Her theme list focuses around heavy beasts supported by forsaken, shepards, and at least three lesser beasts—probably shreaders. Her simple and direct play style is appealing, but lacks tactical sophistication and flexibility. I’m pro-simple but anti-one-dementional when it comes to warlocks. • Bethayne, Voice of Everblight & Belphagor is a truly fantastic warlock. She has offense and defense. She can meld with her pet warbeast to amp up her combat stats or sit back and use him as a mobile spell channeler. She has strong attrition and senereo elements as well as a passable assassination game. She’s fun, something I highly value in a warlock. Her theme list is just plane beautiful—focusing on hexhunters, flying beasts, sorceresses—basically fast moving removal elements. • Kallus, Wrath of Everblight is a caster that I love fictionally and really have no use for in play. He’s a construct warlock who has several group-buffing abilities. He’s a bit of a beet-stick himself—durible but with decent damage output especially against massed infantry. His theme list starts with at least 40 models at tier four. The models I’d want to play him with, blighted warmongers and warspears, aren’t in his themed list. So we’ve got a caster who has all the abilities I want, but who requires all the units I don’t want with none of the ones that I prefer. He’s a no-go sadly. • Lylyth I, II, and III I want to like. Her play style meshes well for me. She hits hard. She’s a fast moving general. Unfortunately her theme lists are model heavy. She’s a strong backup caster choice. Heck, I’m even considering fleshing out her prime version with two groups of raptors, but she’s on the back burner for now. • Rhyas, Sigil of Everblight, much like Callus, looks great on paper, but requires more infantry than I want to deal with. She’s a dedicated assassination warlock lacking the tactical flexibility I prefer. I want my armies to be able to handle two of assassination, attrition, or objective based missions. • Saeryn, Omen of Everblight is one of the best warlocks in hordes and maybe the best warcaster/warlock in the game. She has game with all three of the mission types. Her spell list is second to none. Her theme list is simply beautiful. She’s up there with Bethayne for the top slot. The only issue I have with her is that fictionally, she’s tied to Rhyas, which obligates me to take one of the ninja twins if I take the other. That’s just how my mind works. • Thagrosh I and II are that rarest of cases, casters that I don’t like paired with theme lists that I do. He doesn’t jell for me. Maybe it’s because I run the butcher already and I don’t want to run another big caster. I’m not a fan of his epic version. Of course he has Typhon—probably one of the best beasts in the game. It’s sad, since I don’t like running character beasts/jacks with warlocks/warcasters that they aren’t fictionally bound to. He breaks with the beautiful and deadly esthetic that I want for legion. • Vayl I and II are beautiful on so many levels. They have complimentary styles using similar model choices. Their theme lists work well with Bethayne’s force. They have the whole winter theme going—which I love. Vayl I is an upfront spellslinger while version I is more defensive—leading to two related but distinct play styles. My only real objection is that they don’t have their own character warbeast. Based on that breakdown, I’m looking at Bethayne and both versions of Vayl as my warlocks. I’m still trying to figure out how many support units, how many centerpiece models, and how many infantry units are required for a playable force…but that’s an article for another time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The making of an action hero pt35

I’m tired. Not didn’t-get-enough-sleep-tired but warn-the-heck-out tired. As I noted previously, I’ve gone to an every-other-day exercise schedule. This is good in that many of my physical complaints have gone away. Unfortunately that change came at the cost of a decreased weight loss rate. To be fair part of that is also that I’ve held back on the diet some in the name of reducing cravings—but the rate is still down. Knowing that criminals are plotting their plans for world domination while I’m getting back into form, I decided to up my game yesterday. I moved from the five to the ten pound clubs. Wow, @@###!!! That was ruff. After the first few exercises, mainly leg based, I could feel the weight. After the next few I had to really work to get the job done. By the end of the workout it took most of my focus just to keep going. I told the brunette that I didn’t expect going up five pounds to be that difficult. She mentioned that I doubled my weight. The truth is probably somewhere between those perspectives. The clubs are made so that the bulk of the weight flares out in front of the grip like the barrel of a baseball bat. In order to make the club heavier, the diameter of the barrel and the grip is increased. The result is a bigger, more unwieldy, outward flaring steel tube. The weight out at the end of the club provides tork above and beyond the mere weight of the unit. So it makes sense that it would be more difficult to handle. Even so, I didn’t realize how comfortable I’ve become with the five pound clubs until I tried to push through a 45 minute workout with the ten pounders. I’m tired, but not excessively sore. So I’m either not working hard enough or my body is getting used to exercise. I’m still trying to find the right balance. In the beginning strictly limiting my diet wasn’t a big deal. Since then I’ve found that mixing in some less healthy but more fulfilling options helps stabilize and prevent emotional eating. The nice part of this experiment is that I’m learning to cook things like bread, biscuits, and cake that I used to find intimidating. I’m even less inclined now to order out than before. The challenging part is that I’m learning to make things like bread, biscuits, and cake…which means we have them around the house more often. I’m finding that restricting these projects to special occasions, such as when we have company or we’re visiting friends, allows me to enjoy my own cooking while limiting my exposure. Having fresh banana bread for breakfast is nice, but it gets old when you end up having to eat it for several days in a row while the potential for snacking increases drastically. This weekend I have the bond-a-thon, 9+ hours of James bond movies+drinks+dinner+friends at our place. That is followed two days later by the brunette and my seven year wedding anniversary. I’m going to take this as the end of the easier period I’ve been going through and start picking it up. I’ll focus more on healthier meal choices. I’ll pick up the club workout pace with the end goal to be going through the entire video with the five pound clubs by the end of the year. This is going to be a challenge. But I think it will be good to push myself out of the comfort zone. I’m happy that working out every other day, not ordering out, making my lunches, weighing in, and watching my intake has become my comfort zone. Now I need to add more to that list. Weight today=281.8 pounds. Intake: Breakfast=A banana, banana bread, and milk. Work meal=an apple, tuna salad, and unsalted almonds. Dinner=Leftover pasta with meatballs and veggies.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guns for the blind

Apparently Jimmy Kimmel took some blind people to the range, had them shoot at targets—badly, and made fun of them. Watching the resulting outrage is like hearing that people are upset that Howard Stern made fun of his guests. At some point one has to ask what they thought would happen? Was it in poor taste to tell someone that they shot their guide dog? Sure. Was the entire production cheap humor? Well yes. So what? How many people laughed when Al Pacino drove a car in Scent of a woman? (Raises hand) As a blind man who owns firearms and goes to the range regularly I’m happy to see Kimmel panning the whole blind-with-guns bit. It’s funny. It’s not a public safety risk. I’m kind of offended that this was the best he could manage, but then you have to consider the source. What bothers me is reading the follow-up commentary. “Blind people shouldn’t have guns.” “That’s dangerous!” “What do blind people need guns for anyway?” “Blind people will end up shooting bystanders if they’re allowed to carry a concealed weapon.” “How can a blind person distinguish their target—assuming they can be trusted to carry a loaded firearm in the first place?” Let’s deal with the ownership question first. I can own a car, a boat, a motorcycle, even a helicopter. The assumption is that possession of the item doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to use it. What’s the difference here? None. Lots of items are dangerous. The idea that a blind person is inherently more likely to do something irresponsible is illogical. What, do they think I don’t know I can’t see? Do people think I’m not aware that bullets have the potential to kill—you know like cars, boats, helicopters…etc? If I want to collect classic cars, sailboats, tilt-wing aircraft, or firearms that is my right as a responsible adult. It’s also my responsibility to follow applicable law and common sense when employing those acquisitions. Blind people don’t have to “need” a gun—it’s enough for them to want one. What I use it for or don’t use it for is my business as long as it’s legal—the same as everyone else. The question of usage is worth discussing for the sake of public awareness. Visually impaired people shoot guns every day. Companies like Crimson trace, Lasermax, and Insight manufacture lasers for handguns, rifles and shotguns which can be used to help spotters get a blind person on target. Several companies make devices that allow a spotter to designate a target remotely for a blind person. Many of my friends have become adept at the use of the MKI eyeball while lining up my range shots. Using proper safety precautions, blind people can enjoy firearms with 0 risks to themselves or anyone else. Recreational shooting requires a bit of effort; but the experience is entirely accessible. As to the idea that a blind person can’t carry a firearm for self-defense, all I can say is that ship sailed a long time ago. Several states, notably Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, and Arizona don’t require any kind of skill-based assessment in order to carry a concealed weapon. Many others have unrestricted open carry. Blind people in those states have been able to carry firearms for years if not decades. The blatant absence of blind-gunslingers-gone wild™ proves that blind people can be trusted with firearms. Much as in the case of recreational shooting, steps can be taken to minimize risks in a self-defense situation. Frangible ammunition, shot shells, and low density birdshot reduce the likelihood of over penetration. Waiting until a threat is at contact distances ensures that the correct target is engaged. Proper training in firearm safety, emergency response, threat minimization, and self-defense ensures that the right choice is made in a crisis. What I see here is fear, fear that blind people will make a worse decision than a sighted person in a moment of crisis. To which the only response is trust. Every day, millions of Americans get on the road trusting that everyone else, regardless of physical limitation, will drive responsibly. This is no different. Provided a blind person meets the legal requirements for firearm ownership, we have to trust that they will act responsibly with full awareness of their limitations.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The making of an action hero pt34

Entry number 33 I love cooking for large groups. I learned to cook in college—working the short order station at the snack bar and later as a line worker at a café. Ever since then my sense of scale has been optimized around 10-20 guests. When I got my first apartment I had issues preparing meals for just one single solitary person. Fortunately I’ve learned to adapt portions to the perspective audience, but I still look forward to doing the big meal—appetizer, entree, dessert, drinks…and all the fixins. This year we’ll be hosting Thanksgiving for my family and the in-laws. The brunette isn’t a fan of hosting since from her perspective I end up doing all the work while she feels underutilized. She cleans and keeps people out of “my kitchen” while I make the food happen. I get to show off while she makes sure I’m not interrupted by little monsters—it’s difficult to make a three course meal when kids want you to race cars. So it works out well from my perspective. The catch this year is the turkey. I’ve never made one or the gravy, or the stuffing…I’ve always done up a ham or pork shoulder. But the brunette and CO want a real turkey day gobbler—which is fine, I love learning to cook new things even if roast turkey isn’t my thing. The challenge will be making the bird come out right the first time. My mother is giving me her electric poultry roaster—thereby saving my oven a grease bath and freeing up work space. So I’m preparing for this holiday extravaganza early. Any time I’m tasked with a new recipe I go through four stages of optimization, five if I have time. 1. I read as many versions of the recipe as possible. There are thousands of variants on most recipes. People love to tweak dishes, make them in a slowcooker, make them healthy, add bacon…etc. I look for the common elements such as the shared ingredients, the time-saving versions, the little tricks that the commenters use, the ways people jazz it up, and the versions that everyone seems to come back to. I like simple no-fuss recipes that let me mix-and-match ingredients. There’s always the five-star version that requires three $50 specific tools, 72 hours of prep time, and a precise coordination of elements to get the dish “just so.” I love to eat those meals, but hate to make them. So my final choice usually involves the words, simple, easy, or Crockpot. 2. I get a test recipe together and make a sample batch. This used to lead to horrific stories of flaming chicken breasts, brined potatoes, sweet and fruity pasta, and the infamous pepper-steak incident. Now I have enough experience that even if the dish doesn’t come out the way I wanted, it’s usually edible. I’ll stick at this stage until I have the recipe where I want it with the right consistency, texture, flavors, and portions. 3. I plan the meal, integrating the dish into the amount of time I will need for preparation, figuring out how much free space I’ll need on the counters and oven, making sure I have all the required tools, and coordinating the dish’s prep time so the meal components are ready-to-serve at the right intervals. I hate being rushed so I really really try to give myself enough time to make the meal happen with as little stress as possible. 4. I review the components and figure out how to do as much of the prep work ahead of time as possible. I dice veggies and save them in zip lock bags. I dice chicken and freeze it so all I have to do is thaw the package and throw it in the pan. I pre-measure ingredients and mix them up in advance. I buy ingredients in containers that are exactly the portions I need for the recipe—no measuring just open-dump-and done. The less work I have to do the day-of the better. 5. I time the process so that I can clean my cookware as I work. I used to use every pot and pan, every spoon and spatula for every recipe. Cleanup after meals was an event in-and-of-itself. Now I wash as I go, loading up the dishwasher so that when it’s time to serve the bulk of my cleaning is already done. With as little counter and sink space as I have cleaning-as-you-go is a matter of necessity as much as efficiency. I won’t be doing a test run. There isn’t going to be a backup turkey. I won’t be taking any time to refine the recipes—it’s going to be an adventure. I don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to run a full-on thanksgiving dinner twice in one month. I won’t be completely without resources. My mother in-law has agreed to come over early and “help” in the kitchen. For those who don’t know me, the last three words of that sentence hold legendary portent. I absolutely—unequivocally—without reservation hate having people in “my kitchen.” Cooking is a “thing.” Everyone does it differently. Everyone has their own process, their own pet peeves, their own recipes…etc. 99.99% of the time people who offer to “help” cause me more frustration than their assistance is worth. There’s only so much space in our apartment. While they’re helping, I have to work around them. People question ingredients, preparation requirements, and the order of operations. It isn’t intentional, they’re trying to help, but by the time they’re done, I’m usually in a mood—and not a good one. The brunette and I have a running joke. I tell people that she needs to learn her place—outside my kitchen! Ok, it’s only partially funny. My mother in-law is one of maybe three people I can work with who makes cooking easier, faster, simpler. She cleans pans in seconds. She offers helpful suggestions that are actually helpful and relevant. Somehow she’s never in my way. She’s perfectly happy doing that one thing I don’t have time to do like blending the mashed potatoes or glazing the ham or filling the pot with the drippings from the slowcooker—the one thing that is just challenging enough that it slows me down. She follows directions! It’s like magic. So I’m going to have help—good help. I’ve started researching the core components—turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. At first glance making a thanksgiving dinner is terrifying. I have my mashed potato recipe down, but everything else is a separate process, a separate recipe, a new and complex way to screw up the traditional holiday meal. Stuffing doesn’t look that bad really. Gravy looks time consuming, difficult to perfect, but generally doable. Cranberry sauce comes in a can—easy. No, it’s the freaking bird which gives me pause. Let me step back for a moment. Now that I’ve done the research, Figuring out how the meal will go depends on how many people will be there and picking a theme. Between my parents, my mother in-law, my brother in-law, my brothers and their family/significant others, the potential for 4-6 friends, the brunette, and me, I’m cooking for between 10-18 people. I’m counting conservatively—any overage will get saved as leftovers. That means I need about a fifteen pound turkey, at least two desserts, one or two more sides besides the potatoes and stuffing, munchies for guests to graze on before dinner, drinks, and serving materials for everyone. Thanksgiving is potluck so I can count on guests to handle one of the desserts, one of the sides, and a second option from either category. If I make a salad and a dessert, maybe biscuits or bread, I should be fine. I’ll send an email requesting specifics so I can start planning the shopping. I have a couple options for theme. In this case “theme” means the general seasonings and ethnic ingredience I will use to bring the meal together. Initially I wanted to try a Southern bourbon themed meal—bourbon spice rubbed turkey, bourbon pumpkin sage cornbread stuffing, fried green tomatoes, cocktails…then I realized that I was one of the few people who would really go for that theme. I considered bacon—turkey rubbed with butter and bacon drippings and wrapped with bacon, apple and bacon stuffing, pepper bacon gravy, bacon wrapped asparagus skewers…great! except I’m pretty sure it would end up being far too heavy. I considered Indian seasonings, Ethiopian spices, or a Mexican chipotle style all without success. No, especially for my first effort, something simpler and less exotic is in order. I’m going with Italian, a spice pallet that most people will like, the rub for the turkey can use olive oil instead of butter, and I’m comfortable with all my side options. I could stick with traditional American—there’s nothing wrong with the classics. But if I’m going to go to all this effort, I might as well make a project out of it. I love the grand gesture, the big show, the elegant presentation. This is a chance for me to have some fun…so Italian it is. Now back to the bird. It seems there are lots of turkeys—flash-frozen, fresh, frozen, free range, brined, deboned…the list goes on. Initially I wanted a “fresh turkey. Who doesn’t want fresh right? Except that fresh doesn’t mean what it sounds like, it just means the turkey is sent from slaughter straight to the vender. That’d be fine save that the meat is sitting around unfrozen for 48-72 hours before someone picks it off the shelf. That’s not fresh in my book. Ironically, the freshest turkeys are the ones that are flash-frozen just as they are slaughtered. There’s probably some preservatives in there, but you’re getting a turkey that once thawed is functionally closer to the time of slaughter than its “fresh” brethren. So frozen it is. The other big question is brined or unbrined. Brining is just what it sounds like. The turkey is injected with salt water to keep it moist. Some cooks prefer to do this themselves with their own special blend of spices, but you can buy turkeys in the store pre-brined all be it without the secret family seasonings. The alternative is to “salt” the turkey the day before cooking. After it is thawed, you rub the turkey, inside and out, with a layer of salt and spices. The sodium draws the juices to the surface where they take on the flavor of the rub. Also, the salt locks the juices in—resulting in a juicier bird. If I go this route, called dry brining, I can pick my own seasonings and my turkey won’t be filled with chemical salt water. That’s good enough for me. So what I want is a flash-frozen unbrined 15 pound turkey. I’ll need to finalize the recipes for each dish and get a master grocery list together. Over the next few weeks I will go over each recipe here. If anyone has any feedback or suggestions I’d love to hear from you. Weight=280.6 Intake: Breakfast=health shake. Work meal=a pepper turkey wrap and an apple. Dinner=3 home made chicken biscuits.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The making of an action hero pt33

Entry #34 This mission update comes courtesy of a few weeks of down time. September forced me to reconsider some of my training practices. I reached a point where I was exercising every day. I felt great and was losing weight. I hit my August goals with room to spare. Then I started having “issues.” My knees began complaining. My back began twanging. My weight hit a plateau. I felt terrible. A certain amount of discomfort is to be expected—no pain, no gain. The issue being that it was getting more and more difficult to get “life” done. I could feel my mental fortitude slipping. I’m not much on self-help feel-good philosophy. I’d rather read a how-to book than attend a counseling session. That said, one of the lessons I’ve taken from internet feel-good wisdom is that identifying a problem is half of the solution. I found two issues in this case. First, I was looking at the club workout from the wrong perspective. There are two kinds of exercise. There’s aerobic—running, swimming…etc and anaerobic—weightlifting, wrestling…etc. The first can be done daily provided one takes the proper steps to protect muscles and joints. The second is designed to break down muscle tissue with short bursts of effort. The muscle then heals stronger than before—provided one gives it time to do so. I viewed the club workout as more of the first and less of the second, which is why I strove to push through it every-day. The result was that I didn’t give myself much time to heal. I fought through it for a while because initially it was helping and because later I didn’t want to quit, frail flesh be damned. I didn’t want to have to tell people that I had failed. The second issue is what the brunette not-so-lovingly calls my martyr complex. Honor, duty, responsibility aren’t just words to me. They are the words I strive to live by. Usually that works to everyone’s benefit. The dark side of the coin comes when, to meet my obligations, I “suffer” needlessly—on purpose. In this case I limited my diet, structured my time, and virtually cut ordering out and alcohol cold turkey. Much like with the exercise, those choices initially benefitted me. I was proud of making good decisions. Starting a new chapter in my life was fresh and exciting. Every victory supported the idea that I was going to win this time. Then I started losing motivation. It got more and more difficult to get up in the morning. My appetite spiked outside meal times. I didn’t want to “do” things as much…but I didn’t want to quit. I looked at my intakes for September and found some not-so-great trends. Either I was sticking rigidly to the diet or I was taking a day off. There weren’t any terrible choices in there; just an evolving cycle of swinging that clearly was going to get worse if steps weren’t taken. Even though I was succeeding, mostly, it felt like I was failing because I wasn’t losing weight at the previous rate. It’s fair to say that some of my issues came from simply losing the novelty of living better. It’s also fair to say I made some short term positive decisions that had long term negative consequences. So I found myself discouraged, in physical discomfort, and generally not feeling great. Fortunately the scale saved me. Watching my weight yo-yo around showed me that I was losing control. I took a week off from exercising to let my body heal. My weight ranged from 281 to 286 depending on my intake. That too pushed me to start paying more attention—some variation is fine, but there shouldn’t be 4 pound swings in a normal week just “because.”I feel like I’ve been learning all the lessons of the past four months over again—which is maybe true in a sense. It’s one thing to stick to the plan when things are going well. It’s something else when it clearly isn’t working. So I’m going to work on training my mind-and-body. Some of the upcoming projects include: • As of last week, I’m exercising every other day. I’ll go twice on weekends if I feel like it, but otherwise my body needs the healing time. • I have started baking. Making my own desserts is a skill I’ve wanted to develop for a while. This will let me enjoy some sweets while controlling the quantity and quality in the house. The first batch of pumpkin bread came out really well. I’ve added several new pieces of cookware to my Amazon wish list in order to facilitate this endeavor. • I am setting aside a portion of each pay check’s discretionary funds. I will use those funds to save up for a single expensive item or service. This will help me work on impulse control. • I am focusing on action hero equipment and beast-cave ™ so as to keep the sense of purpose and fun going. Somewhere I lost sight of the fun factor…so I need to get that back. • I am finally switching laptops to my windows 7 machine. I’ve been putting that switch off for months now despite mounting technical issues with my poor 7 year old XP platform. I need to simply do things that need to get done, not keep putting them off. • We will be hosting thanksgiving this year for our combined families. I’m going to make the obligatory turkey, stuffing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. I’ve never cooked a bird before, so even with my mother’s electric poultry roaster, this should be an adventure. I’ve been reading up on recipes and techniques in preparation for the big day—giving me something new to obsess over. This has been lots of fun. I am getting tons of new meal ideas. • I’ve discovered kickstarter. It’s like having your own personal department of Qs developing new and exciting gear for the next mission. This is one of those places where I will always be able to find something novel to obsess over. • I am going to sit down this week and go through the cardio portion of the club video myself. I’ve been trying to get a sighted friend to assist but schedules never seem to sink up. It’s time for a step forward down the workout path. • I am rededicating myself to gaming. Saturday we had a great pathfinder session run by lady Deathquaker. Sunday I ran my current exalted group and for the first time felt like the game was going somewhere. I’m trying not to push for games just “because.” It’s so much more fun when I’m into the experience. • I am pimppin out the chromebook and putting forth a meaningful effort to start using it as my mobile computing platform. Now that I’ve figured out how to theoretically use it with office products, it looks much more attractive than in the past. I have a ways to go, but things are heading back in the right direction. I have projects to work on, a plan, and the better part of my motivation back. Weight today=285. Intake: Breakfast=A breakfast health shake with oatmeal, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, banana, and almond milk. Work meal=A turkey wrap, Greek yogurt, an apple, and a hand full of unsalted almonds. Dinner=a small portion of Mexican chicken rice and a piece of pumpkin bread.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The making of an action hero pt32

Entry #31. The past couple weeks have been good to me. My solar savaging from the tubing adventure is finally healing up. As of today I’m down to 282.6 pounds, putting me at a total loss of 30 pounds for project action hero. Last weekend I walked through the topiary gardens with agent Squish and hiked around town with Deathquaker. I’ve managed to keep generally on target despite eating out more than I’d like. I’m also discovering that moderation is more important than I thought. After several days of chronic aches and pains, I’ve lightened up on the sets and reps in my morning workout. It’s hard enough getting up in the morning, I’m concerned that pushing myself too often before my muscles have had time to warm up may do more damage than good. I’m hoping to go through the cardio section of my club video this weekend. The parts I’ve been doing so far have become relatively easy. I think adding another series to the workout will make me more comfortable cutting back to two sets of each exercise group instead of three. If you’ve never done this before, fat people have to be careful how much stress they put on their working joints. You can do irreparable damage to knees, ankles, and shoulders if you push them too far. I can feel myself getting stronger. My muscles are more firm. I have more power and grace in my movements. If I let that growth push me into overconfidence though I’ll do something stupid. Along the same lines, I’ve tried to ease up on the dietary restrictions every once in a while. At first I thought cravings were just a symptom of mental weakness. Now I’m not so sure. The cheeseburger/charred meat thing seems to hit after I’ve been avoiding beef products for a while. The wracking hunger seems to hit after I’ve been working out heavily. I’ve proven to myself that I can eat healthily. Now I think I need to make sure that the strict dieting I’ve been doing doesn’t end up with me so deprived that I go intermittently crazy. On other fronts, my battle group arrived from BTP, so I’m now officially able to start playing warmachine again. I’ve got some khador models I’ll be trying to trade at a swap meet in October. So until then I’ll be looking to play smaller games. It will be nice to get back into miniature gaming. RPG time has been lacking lately. Dragonstorm hasn’t taken off like I wanted and most of my other RPGs are languishing for various reasons. I need to see if agent Corc is interested in stopping by Titan games this weekend. WMTrainguy and I need to get in some more warmachine and flames of war. I really want to try out my painted fourth Indians at Titan, heck my Khador too. Of course, that requires me to read up on the rules, but I’ll get there. It feels lately like I have to work a lot more at my hobbies. Deathquaker has agreed, tentatively, to take on my proposed legion project time and finances permitting. That project won’t start until March though. The rest of my Khador is waiting on funding. I’d like to play/run more RPGs, but enthusiasm is limited. We’ll be starting a new Iron Kingdoms RPG soon, so hopefully that pans out well. Every other Thursday seems doable. I’m looking for that next thing to take my fancy—preferably something with a minimal monetary component. Maybe I’ll take a trip up to Alternate Worlds and see what game nights they have open. I need to find something to obsess over that won’t cost a fortune. It seems like every “thing” I encounter lately either fizzles out or requires thousands of dollars of investment to get where I want to go. Perhaps it’s time for me to finish up the beast cave and focus on something else, like creative writing. In the mean time it’s off to friends’ dinner this evening followed by one of the few completely free weekends we’ve had recently. Intake for today: Breakfast=A fruit shake, very unsatisfying. I’ll be using more of our pumpkin over the weekend and getting some more almond milk and bananas. The difference between a smoothie and a shake is apparently the portion of frozen fruit you put in—who knew. I’m not a fan of smoothies, so must strive for more shake-like breakfasts. Work meal=an apple, a cheese stick, and an egg salad wrap with a side of tuna salad. I was particularly hungry today. Having recently finished off my stash of unsalted almonds, I broke my three month ban on the cafeteria to supplement my lunch. That was…disappointing. The food was ok, but I have no special desire to return. Note to self, must bring in snacks on Monday and make up some new wraps. I obviously need to switch up my lunch selection. Dinner=whatever the friends put out, reportedly pizza, salad, garlic bread, and dessert of some kind. My plan is to have two pieces of pizza and then if I’m still hungry attack the salad without mercy. Unless the dessert is really good, resisting shouldn’t be that hard. Of course the wife in that pair works at wegmans so who knows what delicacies will be present.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fun With Hordes

I haven’t played warmahordes in three years. So in expectation of playing again I’ve been reading up on hordes—generating the following musings. Picking a warmachine faction is all about style. Big, Slow, power=Khador. Cinergy, fire, denial=Menoth. Shooting, lightning, tricks=Cygnar. Undead, fast, maledictions=Cryx. That’s oversimplifying it a bit, but you get the point. Within each faction’s limitations you can play any kind of army you want—infantry spam, tuff troops, jack heavy, fast, shooty, magic heavy, denial…etc. Your choice of caster predisposes you toward certain army builds or your choice of army predisposes you toward certain casters—same thing. What I’m getting at is that warmachine is a mature war-game. The factions are constructed in such a way as to make one choice lead seamlessly into the next. The model range and mechanics are well fleshed out. Theme lists reward players for taking fictionally appropriate armies. So picking Khador was about the style of game I wanted to play. Hordes is different. The fury mechanic means that instead of getting a set amount of resources at the beginning of the turn, a warlock drains the energy spent by his warbeasts the previous turn. If his warbeasts don’t spend energy/fury than the warlock has to take damage to cast spells. There is no resource allocation involved. Additionally, there is a limit to how much fury each warbeast can hold. If the warlock can’t drain it all, then the warbeast risks going berserk, possibly attacking its companions. As a result hordes is a game of risk management. A side effect of this relationship is that warlocks are very reliant on their warbeasts. It’s recommended that warcasters take a jack. Warlocks are required to take a warbeast, usually several. Each warbeast comes with its own unique spell-like ability which they can cast once a turn. The warlock gains access to this ability as a temporary addition to their spell list. Basically warlocks and warbeasts are inextricably linked on a fundamental level. Because of this, looking at hordes factions is as much about the beasts as the warlock. Each pairing has a distinct character. Because each warbeast is a resource generator, force projector, and temporary spell enhancer, choosing which beasts, how many beasts, and what caster to take ends up being more of an art than a science. I keep finding myself rereading beast and warlock entries to verify synergies and strategies. Warmachine has its own uniformity. Cygnar is at the top end of the technology scale. Cryx is out there on the mutation ladder. Even so PP has done a good job presenting the WM factions as the civilized cultures of Western Immoren. Perhaps it’s just that warmachine has what I consider the archetypal fantasy divisions. The sociopolitical makeup of the land is pretty standard—big bad expansionist faction, religious theocracy, enlightened technologically savvy nation, evil supernatural terrors…etc. Hordes is refreshingly free of preconceived notions. The races are sometimes drawn from stock fantasy tropes, but manage to distinguish themselves from that ancestry. For me this comes down to the staggering variety of warbeasts in the range. You can find just about any monster you’ve ever read about, from dragons to golems, from mammoths to hydra. In warmachine a jack is a jack. When someone says warbeast, you can only guess as to what creature they are referring to. There are four primary and two secondary hordes factions. I like the thematic differences in hordes more than warmachine. Not only are the models demonstrably different, but the feets and spells depart from the WM standard mess-with X-mechanic theme as well. The skorne are a nation of pain obsessed, ancestor worshipping, expansionist slavers. Their armies tend to focus on attrition and assassination. Their models feature high melee quotients backed up with excellent armor. Their warbeasts consist of cyclopee, basilisks, elephants, and other Romanic themed creatures. They are the big slow faction—leavened with a healthy dose of soul manipulation. I’m not very impressed with the Skorne. They seem a little too attention seeking for my taste—like a bunch of dark elf wanabees with daddy issues. “Just so you know, we’re evil, really evil.” “Really?” “Oh yes, we do very bad things…and we’re mean.” “Hmmph, if you say so.” “No really we kick puppies for fun and J-walk. We wear white before and after labor day.” “Shocking.” Reading through their warlock list is amusing and kind of sad by turns—each one of their locks tries to one-up the other on the badness scale. I have the same problem with the Romulans from star trek. It isn’t that I don’t see them as threats, it’s just that they seem so damned earnest about it—they want so very much to put on their big-boy pants and be a grown up antagonist. The circle is a collection of tribal warriors who worship the elemental gods of nature and destruction—think druids crossed with Chuck Norris. Their armies focus on movement and terrain manipulation with a definite slant toward alpha strike and denial. They have three main warbeast families, Satyrs, wolves, and golems/stone constructs. Not surprisingly, many of their abilities are focused around forest creation, manipulation, and exploitation. They have some unusual warlocks, one of which spends his time tied at the hip to a stationary tree, another who rides a war-goat, and yet another who shifts between human and beast forms. For all that variety the circle feels like a faction of gimmicks and cheap tricks to me. They have plenty of utility and versatility. They have excellent models. They lack that essential something—that spark which would take them from an internally coherent faction to a compelling movement. The troll bloods are the varied genetic offshoots of the troll species unified under a banner of honor and vengeance. Nations like Cygnar have defaulted on so many promises to exchange service for land that the trolls are taking what they feel they are owed by force. Their armies are small tuff—literally, units that rely on group bonuses and stellar resilience to defeat their opponents. Their warbeasts come from a plethora of savage trolls including some wielding acid, fire, ice, and earth magic. Their army is almost entirely built on medium to large bases—trading quantity for quality. The trollbloods are nominally the protagonists of the hordes world—being the only group with a morally justifiable reason for reeking carnage on an epic scale. They are big, blue, and really hard to kill. I kind of like these guys. Most of their warcasters are uninspiring—save Borka Keg slayer. Seriously, who doesn’t want to play a giant troll in a fir collar and codpiece who runs around with a pigmy carrying a keg of booze for him drinking his way to victory? Trolls have the same mildly comic aspect that orcs and goblins have held for time immemorial. Despite the fact that they are the toughest kids on the playground, it’s difficult to get past the whole big and blue shtick. I really would like to like them more, but they feel sort of one dimensional, not attention seeking like the Skorne or boring like the circle, but lacking thematic variety. In fairness to the cerulean tuff guys, some of my ambivalence stems from the fact that trolls are the big tuff faction of hordes—filling the same spot in the factional Meta as Khador does for warmachine. It feels conformist to prefer forces of the same type regardless of the game—and really who wants to be type cast? That brings us to the legion of everblight. Ah legion, how I love thee. The legion is an army of corrupted winter elves and draconic monsters in service to the dragon everblight. Their armies tend to run very fast with many glass cannons. Currently they have some of the best warlocks in the game. Their beasts come in several different flavors including: • Lesser warbeasts, basically mini warbeasts with great abilities but no endurance. • Nephilim, draconic blood crossed with winter elves to make a series of light warbeasts that wield weapons and can fly. • Classic draconic beasts that fly and wield a breath weapon. • Various reptilian monsters spawned from the blighted blood of their warlocks. I love legion. That’s partly because Everblight’s story is beautiful. He’s taken over a nation of elves by proxies and is fighting his father smarter—not harder. His warlocks are just plane awesome. It doesn’t hurt that several of them hale from the frozen north—a theme that has always resonated well with me. The big part of legion is the beasts. They have winged creatures. Beautiful deadly creatures. The thing that always drove me away from Cryx was that they were dirty and nasty. You can paint them up as polished killing machines, but in the back of my head I will always think of them as rotting animate corpses. Legion are alive but corrupted in spirit. So yes, that’s going to happen, sometime, in the future, after my Khador is done, when I have the money…sigh. Minions are the hordes equivalent to mercenaries. They are secondary forces meant to support the main factions either with supplementary troops or with cooperative casters. There are currently two minion factions. The blindwater congregation is a group of alligator men, deep ones, and frog people lead by voodoo priests, alligator zombies, and a bastard fishman. Their warbeasts consist of skeleton swarms, giant alligators, an acid spitting turtle, and a swamp horror straight out of Lovecraft. Just so we’re clear on this, these guys are happening too. I read the units for this group and had spent a week doing the research before I realized what had happened. Almost as good as Legion…almost. The thornfall alliance is a group of pigmen striving to take over the world. They are lead by an egomaniac, a human mad scientist who converts pigs into cyborgs, a necromancer pig, and a cyberpig with a split personality. Their warbeasts are fast pigs, cyberpigs, and pigs with guns on their back. Their rules are totally awesome. Most of the warbeasts have a rule called “bacon” where when the warbeast dies, any friendly warbeasts in contact heal damage…because of the healing power of bacon! I can’t take them seriously but they really do rock. I want to play hordes now. Considering my caster and jacks just arrived for our escalation league and I have mucho infantry to get, this is going to have to wait a bit. But damn, want to make a legion force of dragons.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A letter to Shawn Gately and Blue Table Painting

Shawn, Thank you for the prompt response. When you get back into the office can you clarify the timeline for me? We are apparently operating under different expectations regarding how quickly this project will be completed. 1. On 8/17/13 you said “Turnaround would be 1-2 weeks. However, I think it could be faster than that, since I have found the models locally. I've got them on hold for me at a local shop. If you checked in every three days I am confident it could be done within the coming week. But I'd need you to check in.” 2. On 8/24/13 you said “Got your Instructions and your Marauders are on order, thank you. I'm out to Valhalla this coming week, but as soon as I'm back everything should be in and a go.” At this point I had added two models to the project and you were waiting for them to arrive. 3. Again on 8/24/13 you said “It will be six days for your Marauders to arrive. There will be nothing to report I'm sorry to say.” At this point you had my deposit, my instructions, and I assumed were six days from project start. Based on your original email to me which said, “Matthew, Hey there, thought you might be interested in this. I am reaching out to a few clients from years past. I have put together a small team of artists, plus myself to take a few no-waiting projects. This includes Joseph (a master miniatures painter) and Renn (a master assembler).” I was given to understand that as soon as my deposit and models were in hand your veteran team would start on the project with a 1-2 week completion date, sooner if I called regularly. As of 8/24/13, that would mean assembly and painting of my five models should have begun approximately 8/30/13, 9/3/13 if delayed till after the holiday. According to your most recent email 9/7/13, “I just got in from Comic Con and it's super-late, but I wanted you to know I got this email. I talked with Mike D. about your project today and he's on standby to start it up this coming week. All is well. I will re-read this and re-respond again soon....” My models have been sitting for the last week with your master team with no work being done. So everything is not “well.” So you can understand where I’m coming from here, I’ve recently read some extremely critical reviews of BTP, its employees, and the quality of its finished product. I’ve spent more than $3,000 with you and BTP in the past. While there were issues, the projects generally were satisfactorily completed. I undertook this project with the expectation that the best of the best were standing by to begin work on my battle group. That is apparently not the case. This lends credence to every poor review I’ve read—all from the last 12 months. Simply put, I feel like I have been misled. You pushed for my deposit and now that you have my money the project isn’t a priority. I specifically went with BTP because of your quoted turn around and your claim that master artisans were on staff to handle my project. As of today, the first was apparently false advertising and the second is in question. I’m not trying to force your hand. As a concerned customer on your supposed short list I want you to understand how this looks. Going forward, please set realistic expectations and meet them. My future patronage and thousands of dollars are dependent on your ability to deliver on these promises. Please provide a revised start and completion date for this project. Sincerely, Matthew Nixon

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The making of an action hero pt31

Entry #30. Today was one of the bestest days ever. I got up at 6 and did three full sets with the clubs to the music of halo II. The brunette, WMTrainguy, his wife and son (agent E), and I set out for the Shenandoah river a little after 8 with a 12 pack of red’s apple ail and a metric ton of my pasta salad in toe. We met up with my mother in law and made our way to the entry point for the upcoming patrol. Agent WMTrainguy and the mother in law (hence forth agent T) caravanned both vehicles down to the destination point and drove one car back so we would have exfiltration at both ends of the trip. Knowing that we would be in mild water and inner tubes for most of the patrol, I left the emergency pack at home and stuck with a Gerber carabiner tool clipped through a hole in my shirt tale. We got into our tubes, tied them together, attached the two tubes for the coolers, and set off down current. The sun looked down from a cloudless blue sky with a mild breeze stirring the air. I relaxed back into the tube holding a red’s with nothing important to do all day. It was immediately clear to me why I had never heard of this pastime. It was so pleasant that nobody wanted to give up the secret lest the river become congested with evolutionary excrement. Seriously. The only part of my body supporting any weight at all was the hand with the bottle. The river lapped slowly around us and time slowed. WMTrainguy came to the rescue, out heroing me handily, when the coolers broke free and almost smashed themselves on the rocks. He rescued the alcohol and my good mood as well as keeping our little tube-train together. After that we just floated down stream talking, relaxing, and exchanging empties for new bottles. There was some completely uncalled for splashing of this worthy by heartless “friends” but otherwise the trip was a resounding success. The three hours of lazy comfort ended far too soon. We then retreated to agent T’s home for a cookout. Hooo boy, nothing caps off an afternoon of aquatic patrolling like a plate full of charred meat and pasta salad. That is the essence of a good time. Nothing but living in the moment, no fears, no worries, nowhere to go, just good food and friends. Things I learned this trip: 1. Next time, bring water shoes. The bottom of the river and the parking lot are covered in rocks. I managed to go barefoot, but it wasn’t easy. I would have been severely impaired had there been an emergency. 2. Cheap sunglasses would have been nice. That sun was fantastic, but right over head. 3. Bigger tube/raft and more time on the river. We weren’t able to tie off at the end, so had to rely on people to hold the tube train in place. I’ll be looking at the cost of an inflatable boat/raft to help with that process next year if we don’t go sooner. 4. Talk to the entire group about food/drinks in advance. Our 12 pack worked out fine, but it would have been nice to get something for everyone. Also, WMTrainguy’s wife (I really need to find something better to call her) made pasta salad as well because we didn’t coordinate. 5. It is entirely useless to use suntan lotion on your face and arms, wear a shirt, and forget to put sun block on your legs and feet while you are stretched out face up to the sky for three hours. I was proud of my preparations until we started home and my legs started feeling like someone had covered them in superglue every time I tried to move. 6. Mint oil is an excellent home remedy for sunburns—really—seriously—it works. Judging by the amount of pain I was in it also might work on radiation burns. Have to look into that. 7. Going to do this again, after my legs heal. Weigh in today after exercise=284.6 pounds. Intake today: Breakfast=a health shake with oatmeal, almond milk, spinach, and a banana. Patrol meal=several red’s apple ales—I dunno how many. I didn’t drink them all, I was sober the entire time, and everybody got some. Lunch/dinner=two helpings of pasta salad and 4 burgers. I stopped before I gorged, but by almost 4pm, I hadn’t eaten anything since 8 that morning and I was really hungry and it was really good. I figure for two meals it wasn’t terrible. I need to add more beef into my diet so the smell of charring meat doesn’t turn me into a barbarian on the hunt.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The making of an action hero pt30

Entry #29. This has been a great day. Action hero training has been taking a lot out of me lately, especially with back and foot issues. I’ve countered with getting to bed earlier, a focus on stretching, and clamping down on the diet. Adding in the spiral wheel part of my club work out didn’t help matters. I’ve been stiff, sore, and in various levels of pain all week…until today. I awoke at 5:00, and for the first time didn’t feel like Cro-Magnon dragging my knuckles on the ground. Going to bed at 9 probably helped with that. Getting eight hours of sleep makes it easier to get up in the morning—who knew? I’ve been relying on inspirational music to substitute for actual wakedness while using the clubs. Recent selections have included the soundtracks to the rock, transformers, and pirates of the Caribbean. I start thinking and moving in time with the music. As the heroic score reaches its climax, I am fully vested in the action/workout. Today featured “Video Games Live” which is an orchestral rendition of popular video game themes. Finishing up with the title tracks from Halo and Castle Vania got the day started on the right note. Here at the end of the day I’m still stiff and in some small pain. My right shoulder is definitely feeling the burn and my lower back still has occasional twinges. That being said, I’m worlds better off than I was a week ago. I start off my workout fighting to stretch and move and by the end my muscles and joints are all warmed up, moving in something like harmony. Tomorrow the Brunette, WMTrainguy, his wife and son, my in-laws, and I will be going on an aquatic patrol. We’ll be posing as locals by traveling in some inner tubes—complete with a cooler full of adult beverages while coasting down the river. I’ve had some body modesty issues for years now, ever since I put on weight. Even with a shirt and shorts on, this will be a step down the road toward confronting those issues. Avoiding pool parties is one thing. I’m not going to let my hang ups stop me from seeing the people I care about though. Weigh in today was 286.4 pounds after my workout. I’ve taken back the ground I lost last weekend. I made a health-a-fied version of my pasta salad for tomorrow. It consists of whole wheat pasta, a pepper medley, plumb tomatoes, white onion, cilantro, snow pees, grated carrots, and craft light dressing. Craft is the only company that seems to actually make “light” dressings worth the name any more. Intake today: Breakfast=a health shake with a banana, strawberries, oatmeal, blueberries, and almond milk. Work meal=a pepper turkey wrap, an apple, and some unsalted almonds. Dinner=the left over meatloaf and a couple mini peanut butter cups.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The making of an action hero pt29

Entry #28. Some days you can win the battle but lose the war. That’s about how I feel today. Friday was a challenge which I met and conquered. I weighed in that morning at 286 pounds. The doctor clocked me as losing 17 pounds since April and 38 pounds since July 2012. I ended up averaging well under 290 for the week and hitting my goal for the day. My cholesterol dropped more than 30 points since last time, cutting to 191. Thursday my foot began acting up, again, which rendered exercising difficult. I persevered, but not without a great deal of soaking and stretching. Still, a victory hard fought and won. The brunette lost weight and ended up with better blood pressure than me…I’m going to have to work on that. We left there, hit target for a few essentials and one of my rewards for averaging under 290 for a week, a new nurf blaster. I will review some of the nurf products in a future post, but let’s just say that grabbing a dart launcher capable of mounting a rotating caddy with up to eight magazines is awesome. The walk over to the shopping center for lunch proved challenging both because of having to walk cross country and because I hadn’t actually done that route in a few years. I kept making mistakes, misremembering things, and having to say over-and-over again that the brunette was right. She loved it, me, not so much. We met up with WMTrainguy for lunch at our favorite Japanese steak house. They have a $10.99 all you can eat sushi bar as well as the normal hibachi options. Since we got there early, I ordered a beer and a Philadelphia roll—smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese, and rice. At that point I hadn’t eaten anything in over 24 hours. The tender salmon, soy sauce and wasabi, perfectly blended textures and flavors, all in contrast to the crisp Sapporo exploded onto my pallet. It was truly glorious. The staff there likes us, probably because we bring them a lot of business and because we really enjoy eating there. Ever have a perfect meal? Something so good that it redefines the definition of fine dining? That’s how I felt about that sushi. It must have showed, because the hostess kept bringing us more and more rolls on the house—I suspect just to replicate the process of lifting me to nirvana. It was so good that I passed on filet and went with the sushi bar and another beer. We returned home to do some reading and work with the cleaning lady to organize our apartment. We went through all of our DVDs, culling out the ones we can send to DVD swap. It turns out I have 3 of four ultimate James Bond collector sets. I’m going to be watching a lot of bond in the next couple months. It’s nice to put your house in order, literally. We have a long way to go before our home is a picture of tasteful elegance, but things are moving in that direction. That evening agent Squish and I went to a gathering of friends for dinner and socializing. I had a bowl of chili and a few beers. I spent the evening out on the porch watching one of our acquaintances inexpertly hit on another acquaintance. That was where the mischief started. The two beers at lunch were fine. The three beers and mixed drink I had with dinner were excessive. There was no hang over, no sickness, I just felt bad Saturday morning. The truth is that I brought a six pack of duckpin IPA as a courtesy—growing up in the South; you don’t go to meals at other peoples’ homes empty handed. I didn’t have to bring that beer. The brunette and I are part of a larger circle of friends that take it in turns hosting these weekly dinners. We put our dues in every time we help Squish and the Jew host. I did it anyway and ended up drinking more than I should have; not because I got drunk, I was only a bit buzzed throughout the evening, not because I couldn’t afford the calories, but because those last few beers went down more as reflex than because I was particularly interested. This reinforces my commitment to only bring alcohol to special events. That poor decision set the tone for the rest of the weekend, a trend I’m not proud of. Saturday was the first day I hadn’t worked out in two weeks. My foot was killing me and we had to get dressed up for a wedding early. I put on a black suit, red shirt, and gray and red striped tie. Deathquaker and the brunette, looking fabulous, escorted me to the nuptials celebration. We got there five minutes late due to traffic and ended up missing the first third of the ceremony. After that, we retired to a local eatery for the reception. There we were served heaping plates of breakfast fair, including eggs benedict, bacon, fruit, and a bagel. The food was excellent. Although the reception was a little disorganized, everything ended well. We reconnected with some old friends and got to wish the bride and groom a happy life together. By the time we got home my back was killing me and my foot was worse. This happened because I sat in a car for almost four hours and because my old dress shoes offer little support. I can fight through discomfort. I can deal with pain. Chronic, ongoing pain saps your will though. I spent Sunday reading swords of exodus, medicating, stretching, and soaking where needed. I managed a short workout that evening. By that point I was really feeling the lack of exercise. You wouldn’t think one day off would matter that much. But with the lax diet those past few days, the issues with my back and foot, and with me on anti-inflamitories and pain killers, exercise was high on my list of priorities. Monday, MX and Squish came over for lunch. I made the group Italian sandwiches with Kiser rolls, pepperoni, provolone cheese, red onion, and tomatoes with cilantro marinated in light Italian dressing. I had a few pieces of the meat and cheese, but ended up having the last bit of my Indian meatball dish for lunch. Squish helped me work through the next segment of the starting club work out DVD. I’d been doing 2 of the original six exercises wrong, although not badly so. The next three, titled the spiral wheel, are much more joint intensive. They require a great deal more attention to alignment so as to avoid making unfortunate mistakes. I’m getting there slowly. There are certain exercises that are just going to take a while. I have very short legs and arms. I’m not particularly flexible. I have to build up the range of motion and physical strength to do some of these exercises. I’m not going to kill myself, pushing your joints too far is a potential disaster waiting to happen. As I practice more things will improve. That evening I made meatloaf with lean ground beef, hot Italian sausage, carrots, red peppers, onions, and some left over ground cheese. I finished off the brunette’s portion. My apatite is fading due to the meds, which is a mixed blessing. Today I started at 291.2 pounds. I didn’t expect to keep the 286, but keeping under 290 would have been nice. I’m looking at this past holiday weekend as a learning experience. I have the strength of character to make good choices when things are going well. I don’t have the strength to do so when I’m deprived (which is what happens when you starve yourself for 24 hours.) I made some bad and good choices. In the end what I came away with is that you can’t cheat the system. I’m going to focus back on eating well and exercising regularly and give a little less focus to the number. I’m losing weight or building muscle. As long as I’m doing one or the other it really doesn’t matter. I put in a good 45 minutes with the clubs before dinner. With the muscles loosened up and warmed in the shower I feel better than I have since the start of my “issues.” It feels good to be back in the game. This is a small setback. I will overcome.