Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Very Tabletop Holiday

It has been a busy and full holiday season, beginning with NaNoWriMo, continuing through several family birthdays and Thanksgiving, and ending with a fine Christmas.

Through Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, we've played several tabletop games. Here is a list that may not be complete with a brief description:

Monza--a kid's game by Haba, where players race wooden cars around a color-blocked track using six dice marked with each color.

Qwixx--a fast-paced dice game by Gamewright involving six dice, a score sheet, lots of rolling, and scoring available during each other's round, so a great way to keep kids involved in the game.

Ticket to Ride 10th Anniversary Edition--a much larger, far more detailed version of the classic Ticket to Ride game. My present for the holidays and it was just beautiful and so fun to play.

Loot Letter--Munchkins version of Love Letter. An improvement in my opinion. Start with a card, pick another card, keep the highest number and follow the instructions on the discarded card. Much more evil than it sounds.

Cockroach Poker--a bluffing game with bug cards. Teaching kids the fine art of the poker face since 2004.

Snail's Pace Race--a classic non-competitive game by Ravensburger with excellent wooden snails and a lot of cheering. Roll two dice, move the snail matching the color on each. Guess who will win.

Animals Upon Animals Mini--a smaller version of the Haba animal stacking game made for two players and non-shaky hands.

Secret Code 13+4--another Haba game that is the best I've found for practicing math skills. Secret agents must deactivate laser barriers using dice to match the number on each barrier. Actually makes equations fun!

P.I.--a Martin Wallace deduction game that was surprisingly simple to learn. You are each a detective solving a crime. To do so, discover the location, the suspect, and the crime committed. The catch: you are holding the answer for one of the others players and giving them clues as you try to solve your own.

Aeroplanes--another Martin Wallace design focused on building an airport empire. Buy a plane, place a route, gather passengers, and try to score higher than the other players.

The Duke--a two-player strategy game that we've likened to Chess on steroids. The pieces all have different moves, marked on the tiles themselves, and each piece flips after moving, revealing a whole new set of movement possibilities. Incredibly addictive with expansion tiles available (I want the Sherwood expansion).

What have you been playing this holiday season?

Friday, November 21, 2014

This Lack of Blogging . . .

. . . brought to you by NaNoWriMo!

Yes, I've have been neck-deep in writing, even taking my laptop with me to spend hours holed up in my room while on a beach retreat weekend with friends. Though the view in my room was of a gorgeous little atrium set in the center of the house, so I can't really complain.

Blogging will recommence soon, I promise! Until then, here's a few beach pictures:

Late afternoon

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Text Tuesday: Obligatory NaNoWriMo Post

It's November, which means along with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it is the season of NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo has become such a popular event among writers and would-be writers that I am often surprised when I meet someone who isn't aware of it. It has been part of my life since 2003, though in the past few years I have not participated. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. It is free to join and can help create truly epic (and truly bad) novels.

This year marks my ninth year participating. Of those previous eight years, I have met the 50,000 word goal seven times, but only completed three of the nine novels I started (one year I switched stories partway through, which proved to be a mistake).

I'm participating this year after a two-year hiatus. But this year I opted to continue work on a story I began this summer. I'm hoping that by the end of November I'll be close to the end of the story. Choosing to continue a work-in-progress has made this year's Nano experience very different from those I've participated in before.

At the outset of a typical Nano, where I begin writing the story at the beginning of November, I feel a exhilarating thrill to embark on a new project. It's the magic of a new story. I like to have the story plotted to a certain extend so I'm not starting blind, but even when I'm not sure where I'm going with the tale, I am excited to begin work on it.

As I'm doing a work in progress this year, I began November already in the middle of the story, which is typically when Nano gets sticky. In a typical Nano story this starts to happen in week two. The high of starting a new story has worn away under several thousands words, and plot issues now rear their ugly heads to snap at you as you try to work your way deeper into the story. It feels curiously freeing to already be at this point. The jubilation of my fellow writers, still carried on the high of the new story thrill, has infected me and kept me going when I might easily bog down. It helps that I decided to switch point of view characters, as that lends a fresh perspective to the writing, but I cannot avoid the plot issues starting to rise. I do feel, however, that I have time to figure them out before too much of the month slips away, something that I usually don't feel during the second week when I see myself losing ground as the word count slips farther behind schedule.

This is also a time in the story and in Nano when the high-handed plans I had going into the story are starting to get messy. I may have had specific scenes plotted out, but now I'm meeting new characters with different viewpoints who might change the course of the story. I love these discoveries, because typically they lend depth to the tale, but they can also lead me into a trap. I've had a couple of stories where my characters become bogged down in one place, rudderless because I'm not sure how to get them from where they are to where they need to be, whether that is a physical place or a mental one. So this year I am cautiously feeling my way forward.

But I can't move too cautiously, as I was in the beginning of the story, writing only a few hundred words per day. That slowly will never get me through Nano. But neither can I sit and push out the full 1667 words needed each day in one sitting. Instead, I find myself writing about half of those, then taking a break to feel out the next part of the story mentally.

It is a different way of writing for me, a give and take between feeling my way forward and pushing the words onward. I find I like it. There's a danger to pushing forward through my uncertainty, followed by a nice period of calm while I consider the next section.

The doubt I face isn't whether I'll complete Nano. After so many years, I know how to get the words on paper, in the last days, if necessary. No, the question is whether I can get through Nano and have a workable draft at the end. Three completed stories out of nine attempts isn't that great of a record, and two of those stories are in need of extreme editing and rewriting to become anything I'd offer to a reader. My goal this year isn't just to complete Nano and have a finished story. My goal is more heady, something I've never tried before: to complete Nano, have a finished story, and have it be one that I can work with to create a publishable novel without feeling like I need to scrap the whole thing. That takes much more effort and more note-taking while I write.

Which is another blog post at a later date. For now, back to writing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Frugal Friday: Halloween Edition!

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween this year, we kept it simple. Decorations around the house are from our Halloween box containing items I've collected over the years. The oldest item is a small pumpkin snow globe that my mom gave me in 1993. She got it at the gift shop at the hospital where she worked. I adore it.

The newest is the BOO bunting I crocheted a few years ago. I also added my two Partylite candle holders, the pumpkin house (above) and the witch's shoe. I use battery-operated votive candles in them since I cannot yet be trusted with real candles (I get busy and forget they are burning).

For costumes, Buggie decided to go as Maleficent It so happens that back in high school, I made a Maleficent costume. It's a little long on her, but otherwise works great. And I love that she's wearing something I made over 20 years ago and managed to hang on to for this long. The hat was missing, however, so I ordered one through Amazon and signed up for the free 30-day Prime membership to try it out and get free shipping.

The Boy opted to go as the Hulk, and thankfully he is still small enough to fit the rather inexpensive Hulk costume I picked up at Costco. It won't fit him long, but he loves it and will get his use out of it before he outgrows it.

For treats, we picked up fun Munchkin Halloween booster cards to hand out. We also picked up some mandarin oranges to decorate as pumpkins to hand out as well. I picked up a package of candy, but I'm not going to open it if I don't have to. I'd rather hand out cute cards and oranges--both of which were less expensive then the package of candy I got (and that'll I'll return if we don't use it).

For supper, we're going to pick up another Jack O'Lantern pizza to bake when we're finished walking around the neighborhood. I also have spiced cider to heat up to warm us.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Whimsy: Cosmic Garden Cowl Review

Cosmic Garden Cowl in Cascade Yarns Heritage Dark Plum.  
It hasn't taken me very long to become completely enraptured with using hand-dyed yarns, and I have Laurinda's Hooked on Hand-Dyed series to thank. The Cosmic Garden Cowl is a perfect entry into this series, though it was the second pattern she released for the project.

I've made two versions of this cowl with two different types of yarn: Heritage in dark plum by Cascade Yarns and an Alpaca-Bamboo space-dyed by Sheared Delights. Both turned out lovely.

The pattern itself is simple to follow and would be good for crocheters who have a working knowledge of basic stitches. The most difficult part of the pattern is creating a loop out of the beginning chain at the beginning. It took my several tries to get a loop without a twist, at one time not realizing I had a twist until at the end of the second round.

The method I finally used, and which has served me since, is to fold the chain in the middle to match up the sides all the way down to the ends, then connect them. This has worked for me on the first try several times since. 

Lattice pattern.
The pattern is a two-round repeat that lends itself easily to memorization. The finished cowl, however, has a sophisticated look that belies the simple repeat stitches. It drapes long and winds up nicely for a tighter fit. A multi-colored yarn will create interesting patterns in the cowl, while a solid color yarn will show off the elegant lattice pattern that the stitches create.

Sheared Delights space-dyed Alpaca-Bamboo. Love the pattern in created!
Lattice pattern with the cowl doubled-over.
This is a single skein project, making it a great entry for anyone who wants to try hand-dyed yarn without a costly investment. Although the recommend yardage will create a wider, fuller cowl, a narrower cowl made with less yardage can be stitched simply by watching the remaining yarn and ending on the proper round before stitching the final round. My second cowl was created in this fashion and looks just as nice as the first that I made with the recommended yardage and following the pattern the full number of rounds. A wider cowl could be created in the same fashion by adding a second skein.

The pattern is available for purchase on Laurinda's Ravelry page. More information about the project and about the yarn that she used for her cowl can be found on her blog

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frugal Friday

Boardwalk to the beach, Port Aransas, TX

Frugal Friday blog post

On Fridays I post how my family is trying live more frugally and sustainably.

Lunchtime has become an integral part of my evening and morning, with a husband and two kids now taking lunches with them each weekday. To make lunches frugal, I pack everything myself, which means sandwiches or leftovers with chips or crackers, fruit, a vegetable, and a treat (homemade cookies are the current favorite). Both of the kids have their own water bottles to take with them.

To keep lunches even more frugal and sustainable, I have reusable containers for Buggie and my husband and my favorite paper snack bags from If You Care for The Boy. Buggie has been using the same lunchbox since kindergarten and The Boy got one with his first-ever backpack. My husband has been using bags that came with the kids meals from Subway—which are actually pretty clever and handy to have around since he tends to forget them at work, so I have a handful around to use.

Other frugal doings this week:

Buggie’s long pants, which I purchased at my favorite thrift shop a couple months ago, are too long, so I’m hemming them.

I made homemade ranch-style beans this weekend and have since used them in a recipe that called for the canned version. They turned out so tasty and are great on their own.

I also made a breakfast casserole to feed a large gathering of board gamers this past Sunday. The leftover beans and casserole have kept me in lunches most of the week.

I baked a batch of cookies.

My husband continues to make his own coffee before leaving for work and makes a little extra so I have some when I get up.

I made my own t-shirt to wear for the day-long board game event on Sunday. I used a white tee I already owned and iron-on transfer paper that was a gift from a friend last year. She had gotten it from a storage shed auction sale her husband attended. I love my new shirt.

The kids begged me for pizza the other night, so we picked up a take-n-bake rather than opting for delivery. I know homemade would have been more frugal, but that would have meant a trip to the grocery store with tired, cranky kids, so I opted for the lesser of two evils.

The few other times this week when I've been tempted to eat out, I've remembered something I had at home to make instead.

I've been crocheting quite a bit lately. Some of my completed projects will no doubt become holiday gifts.

I've been taking my reusable mesh bags along with my reusable grocery bags when I go shopping. I love having no plastic bags to dispose of after my bi-monthly shopping trips.

I've also continued using jars to store snacks and other staples in. The family loves the ‘snack bar.’ The next step is to buy more of these items in bulk so I can continue to reduce waste, especially plastics, as much as I can. I think every little step helps. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Whimsy: Fingerless Mitts Crochet Kit by Craftwich Creations

I love crochet kits. I picked up this one for fingerless mitts two years ago at a TKG/CGOA Knit and Crochet Show in Reno. Unfortunately, it was buried in one of my yarn stash bins, and I just rediscovered it.

The kit, cleverly packaged in an easy-to-carry or pack bag with a full color tag.
I bought it for several reasons. First, it features a pattern written by the talented Laurinda Reddig of Recrochetions. Second, it's a crochet kit. Third, it was put together by my then-new friend Monica of Craftwich Creations. Fourth, it contains one of her splendid handmade, wood-carved crochet hooks.

Kit contents!
The kit contained a large ball of cotton yarn, the color featured by the yarn tag on the bag handles; a smaller ball of cotton yarn; a size-J handmade, wood-carved crochet hook; a set of instructions for basic crochet featuring photos for both left- and right-handed crocheters; a pattern for the fingerless mitts; and a pattern for a decorative, crocheted flower.

Mitt Pattern

Beginning Crochet booklet with full-color photographs for both left- and right-handers.

A gorgeous hand-carved hook!
The pattern was simple to follow and would be suitable for beginning crocheters. The only detail I found missing was a suggestion for how to decide which way to stitch the completed mitt together to place the thumb-hole. I found placing three safety pins, one at each end and one of the middle, the best way to connect the mitt to try it on. For me, having the starting chain row at the top made the mitt fit snuggly around my knuckles and allow more stretch at the bottom for my wrist.

I did like the multiple suggestions for decorating the mitts. I made the large flower by following the pattern, then made a smaller one on my own. I placed the smaller over the larger, off-setting the petals, and attached them using the long tails I left for weaving. I sewed a button in the center when I was finished.

On the second mitt, I added three different types of buttons.

My completed mitts. I love them!
The entire project took perhaps 2 hours to complete. I love the way the mitts turned out, and I'm looking forward to wearing them this Fall.

If you'd like to see more of what Monica has to offer, please visit her Etsy site at Craftwich Creations. She has hooks (I own 3 now), buttons, and dryer balls made from re-purposed wool sweaters (I own a set and love them). I understand she soon may feature hand-carved knitting needles, too, and hopefully more of these lovely kits.

For more patterns by Laurinda Reddig, visit her website at ReCrochetions. She also has two published books: Rowan's Learn to Crochet Sampler Afghan in both right-handed and left-handed editions is perfect for those wanting to learn crochet or new to the craft, and her newest book, Reversible Color Crochet, available online or in stores, is for more intermediate to advanced crocheters. She also has patterns for sale on her Ravelry page and has been featured in several magazines and is currently featured in Crochet! Winter 2014 issue as the cover designer.

I just happened to be the one who crocheted the cowl featured on that cover, so it is a great honor for me to be on the cover with Laurinda for her design. I am most humbled (and quite thrilled).