Monday, January 30, 2012


I committed to bring treats to work tomorrow, thus throwing me into a common dilemma: which of the hundreds of delicious things that exist should I make?

I chose scones. Because... why not? And I had all the ingredients, and they sounded tasty. And I decided to double the recipe while I was at it since that way I could have some for home too.

Please do yourself a favor and do not double this recipe. I've made this mistake before - last time I made this recipe, in fact. It is a royal pain in the rear to work with that much dough, and it always makes a huge mess. It wouldn't be too bad as a single batch, so feel free to try that way - it's delicious, to be sure. Too much mess/work as a double batch though.

Second thing I learned: a 16 oz container of sour cream is not 2 c, even though you'd think it would be. According to the interwebs, it's 1.875 cups. Apparently, that's enough to make a difference, so take note. Though if you don't double the recipe, you probably won't make the assumption that a 16 oz container will do the trick...

Third thing: this dough will be crumbly beyond belief at first. You really do have to knead it for a bit to get it to come together. I didn't believe it would. It definitely does though, almost magically. Just mix in your add ins while you knead it and you'll be fine. (I used craisins and chopped walnuts.)

Fourth thing: don't cut it into 12 pieces. Your scones will be huge (they expand as they cook), and they won't cook in 15 min. I'm going on 30 and they still aren't quite done. I also tried to fit all 12 on one cookie sheet, so that might be part of the issue as well. The other batch I cut into 16 and am baking on 2 cookie sheets, which should work better.

I have to wonder what kind of massive cookie sheets these people have; I have the airbake kind and I feel like they are pretty decent size - about average for the large ones, anyway, and yet there is no way this whole batch of scones will comfortably fit on one sheet.

Anyway, as long as you keep all that in mind, these are delicious. I hear the dough freezes well after you shape it, so I may try that sometime as well. There are lots of fun flavor combinations possible too! Experiment and have fun!

Edit: The half I cut into 16 instead of 12 cooked in about 23 min. Not sure how much of that is altitude and me liking them looking nice and browned, but it's definitely a lot longer than it states in the recipe... *sigh* So much for going to bed early tonight.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Number Eight

Nathan finished the first draft of his eighth novel today! This is cause for much rejoicing, because now I finally know how it ends! XD Plus his goal was Tuesday originally (end of January), so that means he was early too. It's always neat to see how a story comes together during the creative process. Much of Nathan's brainstorming happens when we go on walks (less frequently in the winter, due to the weather, but usually we get a few in each week), and he talks through what he wants to happen while I listen and occasionally have a comment or feedback that influences the direction of the story. Maybe it's egocentric of me, but I like being able to look back and see where I made a difference. I also like watching everything come together with startling cohesiveness, even when some of the connections were not intentional. (This happened most of all with an epic fantasy that he wrote last year, but there's always a few in each book.)

Anyway, I'm still trying to think of something fun to do to celebrate, so if anyone has any good ideas, feel free to put forth your suggestions in the comments!

Oh, and I did end up joining Twitter after all... my username is @WombatWife - feel free to add me if you so desire. I have yet to determine how much I'll use it for besides lurking (I'm oh so good at that already!) but you never know, I might start thinking of witty things to say now and then.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: Dragon Haven

Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb is the sequel to The Dragon Keepers. It picks up pretty much exactly where the story left off, which is great since I read them back to back. I imagine it would be a little trickier if you waited a while in between (say, if you were waiting for the second half to be released), so Hobb throws in occasional paragraphs filling in the reader on what happened previously. Unfortunately for me, I already knew all that, so it was mildly annoying, but overall quite understandable that such details were included.

I liked this book more than the previous one, mostly because we already got all the set up and expository buildup out of the way. The characters were established, and so we got to focus on my favorite part of the book: the plot. Yay!

I did not like one of the decisions a viewpoint character makes 2/3 of the way through, but at the same time I wasn't sure how it would have worked otherwise... the perfect moment as far as opportunity goes for the scene to happen was before another character came back to the ship (which is what happened in the book), but the motivation would have been better if it had been postponed til after that character came back, so there was a bit of a dilemma there. I thought it was somewhat out of character to do it the way it ended up happening and thus I was a little annoyed. (I'm sorry if that's really vague. But if I said anything more specific, it would be very spoilery.) Aside from that though, I was pretty satisfied with how the story all unfolded.

I have to say I did call one of the final plot surprises but I was okay with that. I don't often figure out plot twists so it's kind of fun when I do. Or maybe I only pick up on the really obvious ones...

I still wonder if this story could have conceivably fit into one book. I feel like the main reason it didn't is because it had two major viewpoint characters and at least three minor ones, and all of them had complex back stories and subplots they were entangled in. Coming at it from an editor's perspective (which I'm not one, so I may be completely off base), I have to wonder whether any of that could have been cut or pruned without the story suffering. I don't know. I'm biased, because now that I've read it with it all in, I can't imagine the story without. It definitely makes for a complex story, and the characters never lose sight of their main focus, so I don't think such complexity is a bad thing, I just wonder. (Mostly because Nathan is looking at editing a manuscript that has a really long first draft, and faces some of the same issues... what can you cut without harming the strength of the story?)

Anyway, I'm glad I read it, and I'm eager for the next one to come out. If I'd known the storyline wasn't done yet, I might have waited before picking up the trilogy (or maybe it's a planned quartet now). Oh well. I think the next one comes out relatively soon.

Friday, January 27, 2012

This is why I shouldn't go shopping very often.

We went to the mall after work on Wednesday, and once again I found a decent deal in Aeropostale...

$10 for a new shirt. Not bad. Now, if only I could find such killer deals on steampunk-esque clothes... that would really expand my horizons!

In other news, I finished Dragon Haven today (review coming soon), and I made it through the work week! Nathan and I played some co-op Secret of Mana tonight too. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to sleeping in, finishing the residual dishes, and maybe even... *gasp* taking down the Christmas tree!

Also, I'm thinking about getting a Twitter account, despite having resisted the entire time it was super trendy. Thoughts?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ten Things that Make Me Happy

1. coming home from work to find the dishes done and the trash taken out (like what happened today!!!!)
2. sleeping in
3. knowing what to eat for dinner (sweet and sour crockpot chicken again yesterday... lots of leftovers!)
4. an electric blanket that preheats the bed
5. cuddling
6. playing a fun co-op video game with my husband
7.  finishing a project (being able to check stuff off my list!)
8. reading a good book without getting interrupted a lot (lunchtime seems to be ideal for this)
9. finding really good deals when shopping (maybe you will get to see my latest find tomorrow...)
10. 5pm on Friday

What are some things that make you happy? Tell me in the comments, or link your own blog post. :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Dragon Keeper

I've been meaning to read The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb for a while now, but I was somewhat put off by the lukewarm response others gave it. I finally gave it a shot yesterday though.

I will start by saying I did read it in a little over a day. So it wasn't terrible, and the plot was actually quite interesting. Several different viewpoints, but I enjoyed them all. But. (And this is a pretty big one.) There are a lot of tangential paragraphs, especially in the first third to half of the book, which despite giving mostly relevant back story, still slowed the pacing way down. I really enjoyed the plot. I did not enjoy the paragraphs of flashbacks, deep-in-thought reminiscences, or remorseful remembrances of past events. There were too many of them.

Tying in with this, the book is, in reality, just the first half of the book. I vaguely recall hearing that when it came out, but for some reason I didn't quite believe it. Trust me. This is not a book with a satisfactory ending. All the plot threads are cut off midway. I don't mean to say this is a bad thing. It sometimes happens, and when it's necessary, fine. However, I wished we had gotten a little less back story and a little more plot, and then maybe we could have gotten it all squeezed into one novel. Robin Hobb writes epic fantasy. Her books are generally pretty lengthy. I know she is capable of writing a tightly knit story that is still really long - as evidenced by the fact that she has three other trilogies written in this world under her belt, all of which I enjoyed, and all of which had three books each with solid endings. So the fact that I felt that The Dragon Keeper could have been trimmed down tells me that some of that back story was, perhaps, not entirely necessary. Or at least maybe it could have been spread out more.

That being said, I did immediately begin reading the sequel, so... the plot and characters are definitely solid, and I am quite interested to see how everything will end up.

So, in short, it was good but not great, and still worth reading if you are a fan of Robin Hobb. I love the world she created in Assassin's Apprentice and then continued through three (and now the fourth in progress) trilogies. And we finally get to see more dragons!

A couple other quick points I wanted to bring up: I hate half the men in this book. Reading about a bad marriage makes me cranky and irritated at the book for depicting something that can be so amazing as the most miserable thing in existence. At the same time, it makes me profoundly grateful that my own life does not consist of a putrid marriage and little else.

Secondly (and this is a little spoilery so stop reading if you are going to read this book and haven't yet):

Why doesn't Tintaglia just fly over the Rain Wilds continent and tell the other dragons if there's a haven at the other end? Seems easy enough for her, and there was plenty of time for her to do it before she went off to be with her mate. And it definitely would have saved everyone a lot of uncertainty...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quesadilla Spinoff

Tonight's recipe idea is kind of lame, but then, some dinners are. Everyone has those nights when you don't want to spend more than 10 minutes standing in the kitchen, right? Or maybe that's just me. Anyway, tonight was one of those nights, so we decided rather than a regular bean and cheese quesadilla, we'd do something a bit different... ham and cheese quesadilla! (Oh so different.) We didn't have bread or I probably would have done ham and cheese melts, but such is life. (We still don't have any bread, so lunch tomorrow will be L-A-M-E. Why didn't I realize this sooner?)

Anyway, here's the recipe, complete with lots of room for variation.

- lunchmeat, chopped chicken, bacon, beans, or something of that sort, or any combination thereof.
- cheese of any variety (we used havarti and colby jack tonight)
- tortillas

Heat a skillet to medium heat. If desired, melt a bit of butter in it (I don't). Put some meat and cheese on the tortilla, fold in half, and plop it in the pan. After a while, flip it over. Repeat until cheese is melted, tortilla is browned satisfactorily, and nothing is burned. Remove from pan. I only cook one at a time because I find it annoying to have to work around the other one when I flip one of them, but you could conceivably cook two at once if you really wanted to.

Cut into manageable pieces (thirds or halves work well) and enjoy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: The Kingdom of Gods

Time for the long awaited review of the concluding book of The Inheritance Trilogy... The Kingdom of Gods. (Sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, lest you forgot already.)

Overall, it made for a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, but taken on its own, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first two. The plot turns were quite good; I liked the characters; it wasn't that anything was done poorly... I just didn't like it quite as much, mostly because it was much darker and more depressing than the first two. It's still worth reading though, particularly if you liked the first two. And it does bring up some interesting theological ideas that fit in with the religion that is such a big part of the world.

It's told from Sieh's point of view (godling of childhood). And while it was interesting to see all the changes in his character over the course of the book, pretty much everything that happens to him sucks. And so this begs the question: How come it was so much more depressing when Sieh's life was terrible and fell to pieces, compared to when Yeine's or Oree's fell to pieces? Because in all honesty, all three viewpoint characters had really awful stuff happen to them. Maybe it was because the magnitude was so much larger with Sieh, or maybe it was because the stakes were higher. I have to think about it some more.

So: overall, definitely worth reading the trilogy, but be prepared (like I wasn't) for three books, each told from a very different viewpoint, each with a unique style and feel to them. This is not your normal trilogy. But it's still worth it, if only to bring a breath of fresh air into the genre of fantasy.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Plush Update

Well, nobody took me up on my offer of guessing which video game each of our plushies came from (back on Jan 5), but I'm going to post a key anyway in case you are all dying of curiosity. XD

Bob-ombs - Super Mario
Peashooter - Plants vs. Zombies
Turret - Portal/Portal 2
Hobbes - Calvin and Hobbes (comic strip) (yes, I know that's not a video game)
White Mage Chocobo - Final Fantasy series
The Maw - ...The Maw
Sunflower - Plants vs. Zombies
Super Meatboy - ...Super Meatboy
Companion Cube - Portal
Pichu - Pokemon
Angry Bird (black, red, yellow, blue) - Angry Birds
Super Mario Invincibility Star - Super Mario
Mario Mushroom - Super Mario
Turtwig - Pokemon
Little Monster - nothing (or you could argue they are based off of Pac Man)
Yoshi - Super Mario
Pokeball - Pokemon
Yoshi Egg - Super Mario
Slime - Dragon Quest series
Link - Zelda
Leafeon - Pokemon

I am always on the lookout for good suggestions, so if you feel any particularly awesome games are under-represented, feel free to point out the error of my ways.


I made a double batch of brownies today!

This. Times two.

I was in charge of dessert for a family dinner tonight in Pleasant Grove. Unfortunately, when we went to leave, there was about 3 inches of snow on the road (even though it was raining this morning and not very cold) and it was coming down pretty thickly. So we opted not to nearly die going down our unplowed, relatively steep hill, and stayed home. (It proceeded to snow at least two more inches, and our hill is still not plowed.)

But now we have two pans of brownies and nobody to share them with. I think we're taking them to our friend's house tomorrow as our contribution to dinner, assuming the roads aren't still a mess.

As a whole, the brownies are decent, but not my favorite. I had to cook them about 20 minutes longer than it said in the recipe before a toothpick came out clean, which did not make me happy. So... I probably won't make this recipe again. The quest continues for the best brownie recipe... Suggestions more than welcome.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Luther Burgers and an Epic Feast

We hosted a fat party today.

And by fat, I mean we only ate really unhealthy food. Well, okay. We only ate food that *sounded* unhealthy. We invited a bunch of Nathan's cousins over who live nearby to join in this feast.

The menu:

Luther Burgers. French Fries. Polish hot dogs on maple bars. Apple beer. And I was going to make these fried cookie things, but... it didn't happen. So maybe another time.

Luther burgers are essentially hamburgers with bacon, cheese, BBQ sauce, and any other fixings you want, but instead of a bun you cut a Krispy Kreme donut in half and flip the glazed sides in. Boom, donut bun. Sounds like a heart attack waiting to happen, though I can't really see how it's any less healthy than eating donuts for breakfast and a burger for dinner... 

That's not a cousin. Impostor!

Mmmmm. Tasty.

I used this recipe for the burgers, slightly modified as detailed below:

- 4 lbs hamburger (80/20)
- 1 egg
- a thick slice of homemade bread
- about 1/3 c 2% milk
- 1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
- some red pepper flakes - maybe about 1/4 tsp
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp seasoning salt
- some dried onion
- some salt and pepper

Mix it all except the hamburger, then mix in the hamburger with your hands and try not to think about how nasty it is to touch raw meat.

The beginnings of the meat preparation.

I made the patties kind of smaller so they'd fit on the Krispy Kremes (lies, I didn't know how big to make them but Tasha, a cousin in law in law, offered advice and they turned out the perfect size somewhat unintentionally), so 4 lbs of meat made 23 hamburger patties. Probably a little more than we needed, but that's okay. They freeze well, I hear.

The burgers turned out good, not super spicy but still flavorful. You can, of course, modify the spices to your own liking. That's what I had in my cupboard that sounded like it would taste good. Nathan cooked them while I moved on to the french fry preparation.

Note: if you ever throw a party like this, start the french fries first. They take the longest by FAR. 

For the french fries, I enlisted my brother in law to peel potatoes. We may have gotten a little carried away, though... he ended up peeling an entire 5 lb bag of them. (We had about 10 people or so at the party.) Nathan used our really awesome french fry cutter that I got a while back and hadn't used yet, and before I could even finish prepping the hamburgers, POOF! Two bowls of mostly uniform raw french fries!

Then it gets really exciting. I pulled out my deep fat fryer (YES! I've had this baby for over 2 years and I finally had a chance to use it! It's hard to justify using so much oil for two people) and filled her up with about 9 cups of oil. Then I plugged it in to preheat... and the circuit blew in the kitchen. Turns out two George Foreman grills and a deep fat fryer are a little too much for it to handle on one circuit. Reset, tried again, blew again, so I had to relocate my french fry efforts to a new plug. Things went a bit more smoothly after that, though I didn't realize it took nearly twenty minutes for the oil to preheat. Duh. By the time I had put in the first batch of fries, everyone had finished eating already, but they turned out delicious nonetheless. 


- Lots of potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 -1/2 inch strips
- Lots of oil
- Salt

Preheat the oil to 375 F. Pat the raw french fries dry. Put some in the preheated oil and fry for 3-4 minutes. Let cool for about 10 min. Then fry again for 10-12 min. If you use a deep fat fryer, do not fill the basket completely full. Even 2/3 full like it said was pushing it; I nearly had the oil foam over the first time. A little alarming, to say the least. We cut them into 1/4 in wedges, and they probably didn't need quite that long the second go-around, but they were still really good. After they are done and all a crispy golden color, spread them out on some paper towels to get off excess oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Then eat them all up!

Note: 5 lbs of potatoes can feed 12 people easily. 

Another note: I don't really recommend doing this without a deep fat fryer unless you feel really adventurous or are only doing a small batch. I had to do 3 big batches total in my fryer; it would have taken forever in a pan on the stove. Plus I could see it being really tricky keeping the oil at the right temperature on the stove. And the right temperature is really important: if you keep it right at 375, your fries will come out crispy, not burnt and not soggy with oil, and will generally be healthier because they didn't absorb as much oil during cooking.

I forgot to take pictures of the fries when they were done, sadly, and I already donated the rest to my patient brother and sister-in-law who put up with all the hot oil smells, bacon grease smells, and frantic calls about the circuit breaker (and also with me borrowing their Worcestershire sauce, since I don't own any). So just imagine delicious french fries, crispier than you usually get at McDonalds and tastier too. 

The apple beer donated by another cousin in plentiful quantities was the perfect compliment to the meal. I thought about making fried cookies too, but by the time I finished the hamburgers, bacon, and fries (with lots of help), everyone was pretty much done eating and stuffed to the gills. They will have to wait with the Polish dogs for another day. We didn't get around to eating those either. 

I have to say, this is the first time I've actually eaten a whole Luther burger. I normally opt for the bun. However, I felt adventurous tonight, and I must say they were pretty good. Different, but good. It helped to have smaller patties that fit the donut better. And I was also starving by the time I got to eat one, so I wasn't too picky. :) 

Overall, I was quite pleased with how it all turned out. Stay tuned tomorrow for another (hopefully good) recipe recommendation, this time dessert... 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crochet Cactus, attempt #2

Remember when I made my sister a cactus for Christmas to remind her of warmer climes during the frigid winter where she lives?

Well, I tried again, this time with #10 crochet thread and a slightly different pattern. It's still found here, but it's pattern #2 instead of #1.

Here are the results:
It's about 2 inches tall.

And another angle:

No face this time. I forgot to do one until it was too late.

It is clearly not as rounded as the original maker's was, but I think it still turned out decent. I'm not sure how she got the dirt to stay down though. I guess I'll just have to practice some more. :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms

I finished The Broken Kingdoms today by N.K. Jemisin. It's actually the second book in a trilogy, the first book being The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I read last year when it got a Hugo nomination. The first one was worthy of all the hype - definitely worth reading, and the writing style was fresh and different. I couldn't remember exactly how it ended though so I refreshed my mind with a plot synopsis before I started this one... but much to my surprise (though perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised), The Broken Kingdoms is from an entirely new viewpoint 10 years after the first book takes place. It definitely builds off the first book, but we're getting almost a whole fresh story here. Almost.

The coolest thing about this trilogy so far is the way that the first two books have everything to do with each other, even though they tell totally different stories. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms focused on Yeine, a half-blooded noble who is unexpectedly summoned to court and declared an heir to the throne. This throws her into a politically messy situation, and she has to fight to survive. The Broken Kingdoms focuses on Oree, a blind artist trying to make a meager living in a city full of godlings (children of gods and mortals) and half-forbidden magic. Of course she gets caught up in all sorts of trouble soon after the book begins; someone is killing godlings right and left and the authorities suspect she's involved.

The thing is, both of these plots are only offshoots of a much larger story involving the three gods that rule this world. The theology reminds me a bit of Bujold's books that I just read in that it is heavily intertwined in everything that happens, and yet it never feels overbearing or overdone. It's just there and thoroughly ingrained in every character. The gods are so involved in the world that there's almost no need for basic belief; everyone knows they exist. And yet religion still factors in everywhere despite that.

The only thing that bothered me just a bit is that despite the protagonist being blind, there are often descriptions of things/people/events. The protagonist can (minor spoiler) see magic, and I sometimes felt like that was used as a way around her being physically blind. Maybe I didn't fully understand the rules about what counted as magic or not, but there were a few places where I felt like the descriptions were more than a blind person could feasibly extrapolate from her other senses. It didn't bother me a lot, it was just a little nit-picky thing.

Anyway, aside from that I really liked The Broken Kingdoms. I tore through it in a day and a half, so that ought to count for something... (It would have been one day if it hadn't been a work night, but I couldn't justify staying up til 1:30 reading the last 100 pages.) Go give it a try. N.K. Jemisin is definitely an author to keep an eye on. This is her first trilogy, but you'd never know it from the high quality writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Tomorrow is the big internet protest against SOPA/PIPA. I admittedly don't know much about the specifics of SOPA/PIPA, but everything I've heard can pretty much be summarized thusly: they are terrible pieces of legislation that will do much more harm than good. Oh, and they probably won't do much to actually stop online piracy and might go a long way towards killing the internet if they pass.

Needless to say, I haven't heard a single bit of positive feedback on them. And so even though tomorrow at work will kind of suck (no Wikipedia!) I fully support all the websites that are blacking out.

If either of these bills do pass, it will be a sad, sad day for democracy, because I have a really hard time believing that passing SOPA or PIPA is actually the will of the people right now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Shopping Deals and the Best Tower Defense Games

I've been meaning to post a picture of one of my birthday presents... Nathan got me a new jacket.

It's not the most flattering picture of me, but I like the jacket quite a bit. :) The best part? It was originally $80, and we got it marked down to $10! Aeropostle is waaaay overpriced normally, but you can get some really good deals if you shop their clearance rack.

In other news, we discovered a new tower defense game today that is pretty awesome. It's called Kingdom Rush and you can play it for free online, or they also sell an iPad version (sadly, no iPhone version though). It gets pretty hard after about 8 or 9 levels (I'm only on 10 so far) but it's quite fun. It reminds me of Pixel Junk Monsters, a PSN tower defense game I played some of (it also got super hard about 5 levels in, which is partly why I never beat it). My all time favorite tower defense is, of course, Plants vs. Zombies, which I've played on pretty much every system it came out on except DS, but it's made by PopCap so of course it's going to be excellent. The other tower defense I've played recently and really liked is Field Runners, which Nathan put on my Kindle Fire for me. If I were cool I'd have a fifth one to recommend, and then I could say these were my top five favorite tower defense games ever, but... I'm kinda drawing a blank. So we'll leave that fifth slot open for future awesomeness.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review: Meet the Austins (Book Club Jan 2012)

For book club this month we are reading Meet the Austins by Madeline L'Engle. We don't actually meet to discuss it for another 2 weeks or so, but I wanted to write down my thoughts before they all got buried.

Overall, I liked this book quite a bit. It's a light, easy read that brings up difficult life experiences realistically without being overbearing or even very traumatic. The basic plot is that a family with four kids essentially volunteers to take care of another girl from a very different background after this girl's father is killed, leaving her an orphan. She disrupts their complacent lives - not always intentionally - as they all learn to adapt to their new situation. The family deals with death, non-life-threatening injuries/illness, disagreements, and more, but it's never depressing.

What I found to be most interesting in the book is seeing in what situations the parents in this family felt it was appropriate to tell the children what was happening (and which children to tell), and when they felt it was better to keep them in the dark. The viewpoint character is quite perceptive and readily picked up on when there was something they were not being told, and usually the parents noticed and filled her in soon thereafter, but the youngest children often didn't get told at all (or they did, but not until much later). For example, near the beginning of the book when the children find out one of their dear family friends was killed, the parents also are asked to take in this little girl whose dad was killed in the same plane crash, but the children don't find out until the day before (or possibly the same day, I can't remember) the girl actually arrives. Now, to me it seems like that would have been something they would tell their own children a little sooner, if only to get them used to the idea, but then again maybe it wouldn't be the best option in this situation because of all the grief the children are dealing with. And I suppose it also depends on the family dynamics too. I don't think there's a "right" way of handling that situation, at least not one that would always work with every family, but the way it was handled in the book seemed a little different than how I would expect most parents to handle such a situation. There were several other instances along the same lines as well.

I am quite curious though to ask my book club friends in what sorts of situations they find it appropriate to withhold information from their children, particularly when it directly impacts them. And if any of you want to chime in on the topic in the comments, feel free. :)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hobbes is finally complete! And a TV show suggestion.

After 3 weeks of procrastinating, I finally finished Hobbes' tail. 

And now he will go to work to sit on Nathan's desk with Super Meat Boy and an Angry Bird.

As for the pattern, it is excellent practice if you need to work on your color changing skills when you crochet! You an still kind of tell where I switch in the picture if you know what to look for (the zig zaggy look at the end of the tail? that's from the color changes), but it's vastly improved from when I first started (I hid my first attempts with the white tummy patch).

We watched the first 3 episodes of QI (Season 9) while I did the tail. QI is a quiz show (sort of) that airs in Britain. It stands for "Quite Interesting", and the whole point of the show is to ask impossibly obscure questions about random, little-known facts (and also disabuse people of commonly held misconceptions). Stephen Fry is the host and then they get various British comedians to come on to the show each episode. It is hilarious and, at the same time, quite interesting (for example, did you know chips and other starchy, crunchy foods like that are more likely to contribute to cavities than sugary snacks? This is because the starch breaks down into sugar over time, but the chips stick in your teeth for longer and don't dissolve as readily as the sugar, which dissolves in your saliva pretty rapidly). In short, it is well worth watching, and it makes me wonder why the UK can put out such higher quality tv shows than the US.


Today was my birthday. I turned 25.

I wonder how many times I'll be wrong when people ask me how old I am at work. (People often do, you know. They usually follow up with a comment about how I'm probably too young to have to worry about ______ (fill in with aging concern of your choice). (They're usually right.) I also wonder how much longer that will last... at least they believe me when I answer their questions!)

Anyway, it was a very nice birthday; much better than last year's when I was fasting for 24 hours to try and get rid of some nasty stomach bug. This year we celebrated by...
- going to work (woo)
- eating lots of yummy treats at work (including for lunch)
- going out to dinner (at our favorite cheap Greek restaurant)
- getting a surprise visit (and more treats) from upstairs
- opening presents
- playing Rayman: Origins.

My mom surprised me by mailing me a box of grapefruit, fresh off the tree, AND sending me two grapefruit spoons (the ones we used growing up, because I can't find anything near as good anymore - this delighted me tremendously). Nathan got me a new shower curtain (with pockets, just like the awesome one we got from my friend as a bridal shower gift that we still use but is kind of nasty now because I never cleaned it properly), a sampler of perfumes, and Dragon Quest VI (there goes another two weeks of my life XD). My mother in law sent me several gift cards as well as some really awesome earrings. My brother got me some round cake pans. I'm probably missing some stuff, but trust me, it was all very much appreciated!

And now, I think I should probably go to sleep... If I start now I might wake up before noon tomorrow. :P

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review: The Curse of Chalion

I finished The Curse of Chalion (by Lois McMaster Bujold) tonight (I really wanted to finish it last night, but it wasn't going to happen... I still had 120 pages left at midnight). And I must say, first off: read this one before you read Paladin of Souls. I don't know what I was thinking. True, they aren't direct sequels, but this one definitely comes first, and reading Paladin of Souls first ruins a lot of the surprises in Curse of Chalion. Plus I am now doubly certain that the learning curve is much more doable when read in order.

That all being said, I enjoyed Curse of Chalion quite a bit. I find the theology that Bujold created for the world to be really fascinating, especially when you consider how thoroughly it permeates the entire culture. It's an excellent example of how to integrate that aspect of world building for anyone who has been struggling with that in their own writing. One of the coolest things Bujold does with this is she uses it to bring up interesting questions about fate - if I am a means by which the gods can affect the world, how much of what I do is really me, and how much is them making me do something? How far back does their influence really extend in setting me on this path? Awesome stuff. I can't do it justice, but it definitely makes for a fascinating read (without getting too heavy handed either).

I also really enjoyed how she was able to portray characters as normal people thrust into hard situations. The character growth was almost as good as in Paladin of Souls (if not just as good) and I liked how I was able to relate to them even though they were in a vastly different world and deeply entangled in a web of court politics. The magic/theology affected them on every page, but it didn't obscure them. I don't know if that makes any sense...

Lastly, I liked the love story (no wait, stories) a lot. I like my romance in books in small quantities, not bashing me over the head.

Anyway, enough of my blathering on about that; go read it next time you're in the mood for epic fantasy, court intrigue, a good clean love story, or anything else along those lines. I promise it's worth a whirl.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Game Review: Dragon Quest IV

After sinking about 37 hours into it, I finally beat Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen! So the big question is, was it worth it?

The version of DQIV I played is for the DS, but it's actually a remake of an old Nintendo game, Dragon Warrior IV: Chapters of the Chosen, which it seems most of my brothers played at some point growing up. Glad to know I'm finally catching up on all the great stuff they did before I was old enough to remember... Anyway, I suspect this version got a bit of a face lift, and from what I can tell they modified some of the names and so forth, but the basic story seems to be largely the same. There are 5 main chapters (and a bonus 6th chapter for overachievers). The first four chapters each focus on a different character and their very own mini plot arc. The fifth chapter introduces the Hero(ine) - bec, in this case, naturally - who then goes about collecting all the other characters to create the ultimate party capable of saving the world. Multiple times, in fact. I think there are about three "final" bosses. Yep, I beat them all. And saw the ending cutscene and credits twice, once after the end of chapter 5 and again after the final, final boss in chapter 6. Seems a bit redundant to me, but oh well.

Overall, it was a fun game. It has a lot of the same mechanics and quirks as Dragon Quest IX, the only other one in the series I've played to date besides Rocket Slime (which doesn't really count; it's more of a spinoff). I missed the alchemy pot, but in retrospect I didn't miss actually doing any of the alchemy, just collecting all the ingredients for it... There was a good mix of characters, and I even found myself changing up my party for some of the bosses to better tailor the abilities available to me to what I was fighting. That seems to be pretty rare in an RPG like this. Most bosses I could get away with straight melee attacks and occasional healing, but there were a few where it was much more effective to use one or two mages instead. I didn't even feel like the enemies cheated (mostly). And best of all, there were metal slimes, the rare and valuable enemy that gives boatloads of XP if you can find and beat one... those made level grinding WAY more tolerable.

So yes, I think it was worth it. You could easily pound through it in under 30 hours if you didn't do all the extra stuff, but it wouldn't be Dragon Quest if it didn't have all that optional content. If you enjoy old school RPGs in the style of Final Fantasy, you should definitely give this series a whirl.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Books. Lots of 'em.

And now, a few lists.

Top five favorite books of 2011 (in no particular order):

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline*
Hard Magic - Larry Correia#
The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson#
I Don't Want to Kill You - Dan Wells#
Snuff - Terry Pratchett#

Books I read and enjoyed in 2011 even though they weren't in my top 5 (also in no particular order):

Variant - Rob Wells*^
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin#
Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, and An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire#
Ghost Story - Jim Butcher#
All of the books in the Vorkosigan saga - Lois McMaster Bujold*
Monster Hunter International, Monster Hunter Vendetta, Monster Hunter Alpha - Larry Correia#
Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss#
Feed - Mira Grant*
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin#
Blackout/All Clear - Connie Willis*
Shades of Milk and Honey - Mary Robinette Kowal#
Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi*

I'm sure I'm missing a bunch, but I looked in my "books I have finished reading" folder on my Kindle to get at least a sort of good snapshot of my reading habits this year... also, I'm not counting re-reads in that list, but I did re-read a bunch of Pratchett, among others.

Consider all of the above to be recommended as good reading material. Science fiction is marked with a *, fantasy with a #, and young adult with a ^ (just in case you care).

Still to read (but highly anticipated):

Spellbound - Larry Correia
Deadline - Mira Grant
Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
Across the Great Barrier - Patricia Wrede
Pegasus - Robin McKinley
The Broken Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin
Glamour in Glass - Mary Robinette Kowal

(That is, of course, not my full "to read" list, but ones that came out in the last year or so that I haven't gotten to yet.)

Looking back, I feel like I filled in a lot of glaring gaps in my reading education this past year. I hope to do even better this year! As always, I welcome suggestions.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hugo Nominations

It's the season for Hugo nominations, and Nathan and I both have tickets to WorldCon in August, which means we both get to nominate books to be recognized as awesome.

I've read a lot this past year, but there's always more... and I am always looking for new suggestions! I want to be better informed when the actual voting comes around this year (since last year I had only read one of the nominations previously, which is kind of pathetic). Plus I like to help authors get the recognition they deserve, but that's hard when I haven't even heard of them yet.  So tell me some of your favorite sci-fi/fantasy that has come out in the last year!

Game Review: Eternal Sonata

I was going to write a blog post reviewing Eternal Sonata tonight, but a) it's kinda late and b) Nathan reminded me he reviewed it 4 months ago. So instead I'm just going to link his review and add a few brief comments of my own.

In brief, this game has really pretty graphics, excellent co-op, fun battle system, and kind of awful voice acting. The plot is so-so but it's based off of Chopin's life/death, so that part's unique and cool (and also makes for awesome music). Honestly though, the game's a lot more fun on the second playthrough when you don't feel guilty skipping all the (often long and tedious) cutscenes. I really enjoyed playing it overall, and I'd highly recommend it for anyone looking for a fun JRPG game with co-op. Plus it's super cheap now; you can easily find it for $20 or less.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Review: Paladin of Souls

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold has been on my to-read list for probably 6 months at least, but I finally got it from the library and gave it a whirl. (The delay was not due to any fault of the book; I just hadn't gotten around to picking it up at the library for a while, and the last time I looked for it the one copy they have was checked out.)

For the record, though it is not a direct sequel to any books, it does take place in the same world with some of the same characters as The Curse of Chalion.  While it is not imperative that you read Curse first, it does take place before Paladin and I think I would have found the learning curve to be less steep if I had read it before tackling Paladin. But do as you please; the learning curve is still manageable in Paladin even on its own (for me, anyway), even if it did take me a few chapters to get all the characters straight in my mind. (This was mostly due to the names being unusual; they all fit together with the world building quite nicely, but it took me a while to get used to the style.)

I have really enjoyed all of Bujold's science fiction works, and it's interesting to see the difference between her style with the Vorkosigan saga and her fantasy books. It's almost like reading a completely different author, though you still get all the rich characterization I've come to expect from her books. Watching the character development in Paladin of Souls was especially refreshing. It is an excellent example of a character who is not particularly good at anything and has virtually no future developing into a capable, confident woman with a clear purpose in life. What's more, the main character is a widowed 40ish woman - not your typical protagonist, and yet somehow you find yourself rooting for her the entire time. One of the most difficult things about character development is leaving room for growth in your protagonist while still making the reader like them from the get go, and Bujold pulls that off beautifully. And for anyone struggling with that in their own writing, one of the biggest ways she makes that happen is by having her protagonist be extremely proactive. In the very first chapter we see her mulling over her stagnating life and taking steps to try to change it. No puttering around, bemoaning her fate; she tries to run away immediately. (Sorry if I spoiled the first chapter for you. Don't worry, a lot more happens after that.)

Anyway, I highly recommend trying Paladin of Souls if you're in the mood for some epic fantasy. Expect a review of Curse of Chalion soon too (as soon as I finish it).

Epic Plushie Collection Revealed!

Our updated plushie family...
From left to right, more or less:
Back row: Bob-omb, Peashooter, Turret, Bob-omb II, Hobbes, White Mage Chocobo, The Maw, Sunflower, Super Meatboy, Companion Cube.
Front row: Pichu, Angry Bird (black), Super Mario Invincibility Star, Angry Bird (red), Mario Mushroom, Turtwig, Little Monster, Yoshi, Angry Bird (yellow), Pokeball, Angry Bird (blue), Yoshi Egg, Slime, Link, Leafeon.

Can you guess the source material for each one? Most of them shouldn't be too tricky...

Here's another arrangement... they spread out to take over the whole love seat!

Epic Collection Teaser

Nathan's final Christmas present came today! It shipped from China or somewhere around there, so it was a wee bit late... but that's okay, it just stretches out all the fun. Plus our Christmas tree is still up, and the next door neighbors still have their Christmas lawn ornaments up that play tinkling little Christmas songs all night long. Why yes, it does seep through our window on quiet evenings... and also at 3am. (Strangely, I never noticed it as I was falling asleep until after Christmas.)

Anyway, we have a tradition every year of buying plush video game related toys from Asia and then surprising each other with what cool stuff we found on Ebay. This year's offerings were young Link for me and Pichu (from Pokemon/Smash Brothers) for Nathan. We brought all our other plushies home from work where they normally decorate our desk, so expect epic pictures tomorrow of all the awesomeness finally gathered in one spot! (Consider it an updated family photo...)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Several years ago, one of our writing friends Jason taught us a game. It's called Poohead.

Okay, it may not have originally been called Poohead in other parts of the country. But that's how it was introduced to me, and Poohead it shall remain. (My mom initially balked at the name until my brother proposed it be called "Crap head" instead; she quickly backed down.)

Over time, we taught it to my family, and then Nathan's family, and then parts of our extended family. It's become quite a staple of family gatherings on both sides. But inevitably, every six or eight months, I get a call from some family member who is spreading the joy to others and can't quite remember all the rules. So here they are, written down for all posterity (as well as those forgetful moments):

First, the game requires a deck of face cards. It can be played with any number of people ranging from 2 to 10, though you need two decks of cards for games with 6-10 people. It also tends to be most fun when you have 4-5 players, but that's my personal opinion. You will need one joker from each deck of cards used.

After the cards are shuffled, the dealer puts three cards face down in front of each player. Then he places three cards face up in front of each player (with one face up card stacked on top of one face down card, making three little piles). Then each player gets three cards for their hand. Any extra cards after dealing go in the draw pile.

Before the game begins, players may exchange cards from their hand with the face up cards in front of them. At no point in this process should they look at the face down cards. A common strategy is to put your best cards down in front of you face up to make it easier to play them later in the game, since everyone can see what they are and play accordingly to best hinder you.

Threes are considered to be the lowest card. Game play begins when the dealer says "Threes out". Whoever gets a three on the table first gets to go first.

When it is a player's turn, he or she must play the same card or higher. For example, if a jack is played, the next person can play a queen, king, or ace, or most special cards (see below for more details). If they have multiple cards of the same value, they can play them all at once (for example, they can play three queens on a jack). It does not matter how many of a card the previous person played, so long as the next player puts down the same value card or higher.

There are five special cards in the game (special meaning they have unique abilities).

- Twos reset the pile, meaning any card can be played by the next person. Twos can be played on anything, and anything can be played on a two.
- Eights act as a skip. When played, they skip the next person's turn. The person playing next plays on the card under the skip/eight. Eights can be played on anything.
- Nines must be played in order (i.e. on a card the same or lower than 9); however, the next person must play the same or lower than a nine instead of the same or higher. Normal play resumes after that; it only affects the person playing directly after a nine (or an eight on a nine, as the case may be).
- Tens explode the pile, taking all the cards in the pile when it is played completely out of the game. The player may go again and can play any card. Tens can be played on anything, including nines.
- Jokers act as a wild card. They can be any card of the player's choosing, including a 10.

If a person cannot play the same card or higher, and does not have any special cards they can play, they must take the pile.

As long as a draw pile remains, all players must draw to replenish their three-card hand. They must all have at least three cards until the draw pile is gone. If someone takes the pile because they cannot play, they will not need to draw until they drop below three cards.

Once the draw pile is gone, players continue until their hand is gone. Once their hand is gone, they play from the three face up cards in front of them. Once the three face up cards are gone, they may play from the three face down cards without looking at them first. When a player goes to use one of their face down cards, they choose one without looking at what any of them are, look at the one they chose, and play it if possible. If they cannot play it, they pick up the pile. In this case they do not have to show other players what the card is, and they put it in their hand along with the cards from the pile. If at any time a player must take the pile, they have a hand again and must play all the cards in it before resuming play of their face up/face down cards.

If a player has a card (or cards) in their hand that matches a card face up in front of them, and it is the last card(s) in their hand (and the deck is gone), they may play all matching at once, including the face up one in front of them, for maximum efficiency. Matching in this case refers only to value, not suit.

If a player cannot play any of their face up cards on the pile when it is their turn to do so, they will take the pile. They can also take the card they tried (and failed) to play on the pile and put it in their hand.

Last rule: if at any point in the game, four cards of the same value touch, the pile explodes and is taken out of the game (just like when a 10 is played). The person whose turn it is when this occurs may play again.

If any rules need clarifying, feel free to let me know. Otherwise, have fun trying this quick, fun game! I promise once you've played it once or twice it's pretty easy to keep everything straight. :)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


One of my former roommates from college got me into making earrings, so when she visited yesterday we had a little earring making party (while her husband and mine looked on and discussed more manly things). 

I made two pairs before we moved on to playing Dance Central 2. I didn't get a picture of the pair my friend made, unfortunately, but they were kind of along the same lines as the blue pair I made, except purple, and possibly more dangly. I often have to be in the right mood to make good earrings; it takes a certain creative vision that I don't always have at my command.  It helps when I have a friend to bounce ideas off of (and trade beads and charms with) though.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Biscuits and... Pulled Pork?

Today seemed like the perfect day to make a crock pot meal, given that we had a day off. So I nipped off to the store and got us a 3 lb pork shoulder roast (aka Boston Butt roast) and a bottle of Dr. Pepper, and then I threw it in the crock pot for some delicious pulled pork

I neglected to start until about 2pm. The recipe is not exaggerating... it literally took 7 hours to get to shredding consistency. Maybe 7 and a half. Consequently, we ate dinner at 9 tonight... my fault for not planning ahead better, but it was definitely worth the wait.

I was too lazy to make hamburger buns (though if I had, I'd use this recipe, which is fantastic... in fact, I may make it tomorrow to aid in consuming all the leftovers) so I made biscuits instead. I had some buttermilk to use up anyway, and they are much faster than rolls. (For the record, these biscuits bake up better in my opinion when you separate them, not keep them together like the recipe calls for. This time I also put my cookie sheet right onto my pizza stone, which may have helped too, but that was mostly because I forgot to move my pizza stone before my oven reached 400 degrees.) 

The result looked more like biscuits and gravy than pulled pork sandwiches, but it was still delicious enough for seconds - which is good, because we have a LOT of leftovers! Three pounds of pork makes for many, many meals for two people... 

Flaky biscuits, complete with those yummy crunchy edges...

Plus lots of pulled pork...
Makes for a tasty dinner! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012


One of my favorite things to eat is pizza... frozen, takeout, restaurant; I'm not too picky (though I draw the line at Little Caesar's). But there's something special about homemade pizza in particular. Since I had a wide open afternoon today, I decided we needed some of that deliciousness for dinner. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures before we dove in... but I still have some yummy recipes to share with you!

If I have the time, I usually use this recipe for the crust (and don't be scared to add more flour than it calls for - you want the dough to be workable, not so sticky it just frustrates you!). It makes enough dough for two medium size pizzas. If we're sharing with friends, I'll double it and make four, because I really, really like eating leftover pizza for lunch all week. But two seemed plenty for the two of us today. (Note: if you don't have time to let the dough rise for an hour before rolling out the crust, you could try increasing the yeast a bit to speed the rising process.)

For sauces, you have a couple good options. Today I used a red sauce recipe - mainly because I made it for the pizza bites yesterday and I had a ton left over. Enough for two pizzas exactly, in fact. (But I tend to go light on the sauce, so if you are a saucy kind of person, you may not find that to be enough for two batches of pizza bites AND two pizzas...)

The important bit from that link is copied below.

The Best Pizza Sauce
*Makes enough for 2 16-18 inch pizzas

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until desired consistency. All the seasonings can be modified depending on taste – add what you like! 

Pizza Dough Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Emily at Savory Seasonings

(As a side note, an immersion blender will also work great. The recipe is just barely too much to fit in my tiny food processor, but if you have a normal full size one, or use a blender, you'll be just fine.)

Or if you prefer, I have a lovely garlic white sauce recipe from my sister in law that I use quite often as well. I'm not a big fan of red sauce, so this makes for a nice change to mix things up.

Garlic White Pizza Sauce
*Makes enough for 2 medium size pizzas

4 Tbs butter, softened
3 Tbs mayonnaise (or sour cream)
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp dried onion
3 cloves minced garlic

Blend all ingredients together. Spread onto prepared pizza crust. Top with parmigiana and mozzarella cheese and toppings of your choice.

I always roll out my crust and assemble my pizzas on parchment paper sprinkled with a bit of cornmeal or similar stuff, then transfer the pizza with a cookie sheet onto my pizza stone. Rather than trying to get it off the parchment paper, I just bake it with the parchment paper in between the pizza stone and the pizza; that way I get all the benefits of the pizza stone (mostly) without any headache. It works pretty well for me. I developed that strategy after I got tired of wrestling pizza that didn't want to unstick itself and then messing it all up before it even baked. (It only took... one try wrestling it onto the pizza stone. XD)

Both sauces go well just about anything, but the white sauce recipe in particular goes really, really well with bacon bits and chunks of chicken. Tonight we just did cheese though.

What are some of your favorite toppings on pizza?

Goodbye, 2011

We celebrated the end of 2011 in style: playing Rayman Origins (four player!), eating Hot Pizza Dip Bites, and drinking Martinelli's.

Mmmmm... pizza bites. We demolished two pans of these suckers. They are GOOD - and addicting!

Don't be fooled. I ate a lot more than two, I assure you. The apple-cranberry sparkly complimented them nicely.

I suppose now is the appropriate time to reflect upon the past year... but honestly, it was a pretty low key year for us. Nathan went to several conventions, of course, and we started beefing up our retro game collection... I picked up amigurumi and started making lots of video game related crochet plushies... we bought a new (to us) car... we didn't travel anywhere exciting, but lots of people came here to visit... yep. Low key year. Not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. I often prefer boring evenings to crises.

Now for an exciting list of plans/goals for 2012:

- go to a family reunion in June
- go to World Con with Nathan in Chicago at the end of August
- play Dance Central 2 at least twice a week (yes, that's a secret exercise goal)
- read five first drafts of books by my favorite author XD
- keep track of all the books I read on Goodreads
- play through Dragon Quest IV, Blue Dragon, and the latest Professor Layton game on the DS
- try a new recipe every week
- crochet ornaments for a Mario themed Christmas tree!
- keep posting regularly on this blog (since its my only hope at this point of keeping any semblance of a journal)
- average more than 6 hours of sleep a night...
- go to the temple every month

There. That's a nice mixture of "fun" and "good for you". It's important to have a balance, otherwise it is far too daunting to even start. It's also important to really want to do something when you set a goal to do it, at least for me... the motivation has to come first, or setting the goal does jack diddly squat. I've found this to be true in pretty much every area of my life. If you are the kind of person who feels motivated by the mere setting of a goal... I hope you are taking full advantage of that gift!