1,000 Word Challenge 2014

Hey folks!

I just finished the first draft of my new novella! Am I Magical? is the story of Bill, a shut-in that has given up on the world who finds a plastic scepter in a box full of toys. When he presses a button on the scepter, he becomes Magical Mina – a super heroine with great strength, agility, and phenomenal powers. However, Bill finds out that being a heroine isn’t as straightforward as he believed…

Since the first draft is done, I figured I’d take a brief break from playing with Magical Mina and do my sometimes-annualish 1,000 Word Challenge.

For the uninitiated, the 1,000 Word Challenge is an interactive event where you, the reader, sends me a link to an image by August 2nd (I’m lenient if you are late, no worries). I will look at the images, and select four of my favorites as cues for a short story. My aim is to deliver a story inspired by the image that is 1,000 words long. A few examples are:

Meanwhile, In the Back of Fung’s Fine Cantonese Restaurant

Freiheit Brücke (Freedom Bridge)

Raising the Kraken (Or “Pardon Me, but Your Kraken is Showing”)

So, if you please, comment below with a few images and we’ll see what happens!

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I Can’t Help Falafelling in Love Bento

We had some very humid weather recently, and this cooling, fresh bento is a direct response to it. For me, nothing says summertime quite so much as crunchy, cool veggies, tasty yogurt, and warm falafel.

006This was an easy bento to assemble, but I think it is one of my nicer looking ones. The top features a whole pita and three balls of Veggie Patch’s pre-made falafel. While falafel is easy enough to make from a mix, I’ve had slightly spotty results, and the extra money I spent was worth the lack of aggravation of a falafel patty disintegrating in a skillet as the sweat beaded down my forehead.

The lower box features a strawberry for dessert, some crisp lettuce, sliced grape tomatoes, sliced English cucumber, yogurt mixed with mint, and a little chick filled with the Omega-3 vitamin pill I forgot to take in the morning.

I had wanted to make hummus to spread on the pita, but my week was such a flurry of activity mixed with a constant desire to not move whenever I had the chance that it didn’t get made until the humidity dropped and there was no falafel left.

Maybe another time. Until then, remember to eat happily!

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RUN! Bento

Some days, you have almost no time to throw your lunch together before heading to work. The other day was one such day. My normal bento box was queued in the line of dishes to be washed, so I made do. Happily, this answers the question: How do I bento without a bento box? Simple — improvise.

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This is my RUN! Bento. It was tossed together mere minutes before heading out to work. I tossed together a small salad, a pressed hummus sandwich (Tribe hummus, arugula, and a cucumber), a yogurt (strawberry shortcake), and red grapes. I put each item into similarly sized containers with interlocking lids. Not bad for a few moments.

 

019 And this is the same bento from the next afternoon. Everything is right with the world.

Remember — even if you don’t have a lot of time, there’s always time to eat happily!

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Geeklife: GeekDollars, and How They are Spent

Budget is one of my least favorite words. It has connotations of limits and responsibility. As a man-child, I hate these things, but as a responsible adult with other motivations than those of my GeekLife, I need to adhere to a budget, and encourage everyone else out there to follow suit. Why?

A budget makes sure that you have the money you need when you need it, and if you plan your budget carefully, you can wind-up getting more awesome stuff than you otherwise would. I have talked about this subject before, but would like to focus my aim a bit more. This is my article about how I spend my GeekDollars.

After all is said and done with my paycheck, I have $100 remaining to play around with. That means I have already put aside money into savings, bought groceries, and given Mrs. Geek her allowance because she doesn’t work outside of the house.

Sadly, $100 goes very quickly if you don’t watch how you spend.
Go out to eat? There goes about $30, probably a little more, maybe a little less. Getting a haircut? There goes another $20. Half of your money is gone, and you haven’t even stepped into a comic shop. Dealing with a budget the size of mine, I have given myself a generous comic spending allowance of $60 per month. I know, that sounds like a lot, but at around three or four bucks per book, that equates to about eighteen titles. Also, I’m collecting for two – Mrs. Geek has a few books that I get her each month that I usually don’t read, or get primarily because she is interested in them.

“But Harry, how do you know this? Isn’t keeping track of what you spend each month troublesome?”

It really is, but there are tools out there that can help both you and the comic store that you go to. Specifically, the shop I frequent uses Comixology.com to manage their customers’ pull lists. A customer simply signs on to the site, and picks the books they want. The site tracks what the customer will receive when, and how much it costs. The customer can also enter the shop’s discount and sales tax to their personal invoice so that he or she can know exactly how much they will be spending when they get to the shop.

This has come in very handy for me, as it gives me a way to plan my weekly spending in a more responsible manner. In a week when I have already spent $65 on other entertainment, looking and seeing that my comics would set me back another $30 for the week may make me reconsider going to the shop when I could instead put my remaining spending money aside for next week, when I might have spent less money.

By looking at your comics as a monthly expense, it helps keep your hobby in check. Since I am spending about $60 per month on comics, I KNOW that I am spending $720 per year on comics. I can look at that number and decide if it is ludicrous much more easily than if I was just trying to remember what I spent and was piecing things together via bank statements and crumpled receipts.

I suppose that this brings me to the largest question: “How much is too much?”

The answer is that it varies depending on who you are and what your goals happen to be. If you are having a hard time putting food on the table, you know that you are spending too much on comics. But if you aren’t starving, you might want to consider if your savings are growing at an appropriate rate. Do you have a substantial safety net if your car breaks down and needs a $1,000 repair? Do you have a couple months’ worth of money so that if you lose your job, you can supplement your unemployment while looking for another job?

If you have children, the questions multiply vastly. One of my friends who is trying to have a child was considering buying a copy of The Incredible Hulk #181 – the first appearance of Wolverine. The book, graded and valued at about $3,000 is far beyond anything that I would spend on a comic. At that price, I’d be commissioning art instead, but that’s neither here nor there. He said that it wouldn’t be a huge financial burden if he spent the money, and that it was one of the five books that he would like to own as long term investments.

My advice was that if he was to do it, do it now. After having a child, I feel like it would be difficult, or even impossible, to drop that kind of money on an investment comic when he could put it into a long term savings account dedicated to his child’s future instead. I don’t imagine that one should stop indulging one’s self post-child, but there is a certain line that I think should be drawn. However, as a child-free person, I can’t really say where that line should be carved into the stone.

Budgets are a very personal thing, and deciding on one requires a lot of introspection and evaluation of your life and goals. That said, my GeekDollars breakdown like this:

$40 for culinary experiences. I like going out to eat, and I could save a ton of money if I didn’t, but I cannot resist the siren call of having food without having to cook or do dishes. This amount fluctuates, as some meals are more expensive than others, and sometimes I just make dinner at home in order to save a few bucks – either so that we can go for a fancier dinner, or so that I can bolster sagging savings.

$20 for comics. Since my actual budget is $60 per month, $20 a week covers it with room left over to buy pins, a T-shirt, or bags and boards. Allowing room for additional expenses isn’t a bad idea, because at the worst, the surplus can be tossed into savings. If less is spent one week, save the remainder for another week – you’ll never regret having more money to spend on what you love.

$20 for miscellaneous expenditures. This is money that can be saved for a larger purchase such as a board game, or maybe a hardcover book. This could be spent to get a haircut or for a pair of movie tickets. A new album? This is the money it comes from. This is for unforeseen and (sometimes) truly frivolous expenditures.

$20 for savings, including vacations and holiday shopping. I usually dump this money into my regular emergency savings, but notate that it is for vacation. If an unexpected bill pops up, this money can go towards it, but I’d much rather see it go to the vacation that it is meant to go towards instead.

So, that’s how I break down my GeekDollars. I’m thankful that I do not go to many conventions, as it would require I stretch my budget much further in order to accommodate hotel stays, costumes, and items with limited availability. True, my vacation fund would probably get dumped into a convention fund instead, but for now, I’m content saving up to go to Europe again, or potentially going Japan.

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Golly Gee it’s a Gołąbki!

My wife does the majority of the cooking. On the rare occasion that we do not go out to eat on during the weekend, I will cook. When I cook, I tend to cook more complicated things. I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a magic chef or anything, but I do like trying different recipes and don’t normally shy away from a many-stepped dish.

However, since my wife cooks much more than I do, she doesn’t want to go through the trouble of making something that is very labor-intensive. That is why, when we want golumpkis, we get them from a local Polish deli/smokehouse/almost-anything-Polish-you-could-want-establishment.

Golumpkis, which are essentially meat with rice filler rolled in a cabbage leaf, are quite hearty, and the local Polish establishment does a great job with them. Served with a creamy tomato-based sauce, they are a filling lunch. Accompanied by chips, strawberry yogurt, and whole strawberries, this bento filled me up so much that I didn’t want to eat anything when I got home.

010Oh, and who is that visiting the bento? Is it a couple of cute kittens? Why yes it is!

011I cannot believe how much these little plastic food picks cheered me up. I was having a terrible day, and when I saw these kittens roaming and playing in my strawberries, it immediately improved my day. The power of a cute cat cannot be underestimated.

Just a brief word on the book I am reading. Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is probably the saddest, most rewarding graphic novel I have read in quite some time. It involves animals that get into supernatural adventures. Illustrated superbly by Jill Thompson (no known relation), it manages to tell a dark story in a very emotional way – there is not a single event in this book that won’t move an animal lover.

I give it two paws up.

So, that’s all for this week. Until next time, eat happily!

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Biryani Bunny Bento

Moving away from Mexican-ish flavors, I have put together an East Indian inspired bento I call the Biryani Bunny Bento:

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This is a fun and flavorful bento. Starting from the top left, I have Red Velvet Cake yogurt, which pairs well as a dip for strawberries. Next is a nest of naan bunnies that were cut out with a cookie cutter. A chocolate chip cookie rounds out the top box. The bottom box is chicken biryani, made using a jar sauce and spice kit from Sharwood’s. The centerpiece is a molded hard boiled egg, which I intend to make a video or entry about in the future.

The top box was great, as was the egg, but the jarred sauce needs to get kicked-up a notch. I prefer the pilau recipe that I have more than this Tomato and Cumin biryani, and might pull that one out in the upcoming weeks. However, for something that I made in about ten minutes, it wasn’t bad. It is definitely something to try if you find it on sale and like to try new and different products.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, remember to eat happily!

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GeekLife: Making More Gamer Friends and an Ode to Gamer Friends

It is hard for me to make new friends. I find large social gatherings and big crowds to be overwhelming, and walking into a room with strangers flies in the face of everything I have ever been taught. You know about Stranger-Danger, right? Well, sometimes I feel like those lessons that were taught through television and school have somehow broken off my ability to engage my life properly.

However, despite my anxiety, I want more friends. It isn’t that the ones I have are not enough – it’s that many of them are busy taking care of houses and children, and I would like to have more opportunities to do things that I love, such as playing board games. So, I looked over my options, and was saddened by what was before me.

“I could make friends at work,” I said to myself. I was never a fan of being friends with co-workers. As someone who doesn’t define himself by his day job, inviting people from my day job into my real life is not a shiny proposition. I feel like most of the folks that I work with are overly negative and nobody wants that in their real life.

“I could make friends by attending a gamer meet-up,” I suggested, recoiling at the thought. Confronting large crowds of strangers on my own, even if they share my interests, is daunting. I went to one such event in the past, and the first hour was so uncomfortable as I sat there doing nothing while waiting for the currently running games to finish up. I managed to enjoy a game or two by the end of the night, but I really felt like an outsider. They all knew each other, and I was the other guy.

“Well, you do enjoy playing solo games,” I consoled myself. While I love solo games like the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game or Elder Sign, I would like to play with some other folks once in a while. I’d like to try other games that other people like. I’d like the joy of a shared experience. Sometimes, I’d just like to get out of the house.

While I could just be satisfied with my monthly RPG game and leave it at that, I decided to make friends with some folks from my day job. It turned out to be a good idea. The last time we got together was at a local game store, where we played a few games and shared a few laughs. It was great, because I was able to get out of the house, play some games, and enjoy myself.

Because we were at a local game store, we were surrounded by other gamers playing other games. It was kind of awesome, because I was able to be in an excited crowd environment and still feel comfortable. Everyone was playing games and enjoying their time without interacting with other groups very much. I immediately thought, “This is how most people feel like at a party!”

I was having a good time.

It is remarkable how difficult it is for an adult to find additional friends, especially when the adult happens to be an introverted gamer that is often uncomfortable around strangers. Usually, when I meet new people, I worry about ludicrous things, and sensible things. At social functions, my mind usually runs a mile a minute, whirling with such things as:

What if they dislike my beliefs? Should I talk about anything? What if they don’t like ME? Is there going to be conflict? I hate conflict. What should I say? Should I talk about my writing? I don’t want to seem self-absorbed. What should I say about them? I only know what I see, and I missed something about what they said because I’m thinking. I need to answer them about that thing. Maybe nod noncommittally? Ask them to repeat themselves? OH! CRAP! They weren’t even talking to me. Why isn’t anyone talking to me? I’m a horribly uninteresting person. That’s why. If I left, they wouldn’t even notice. Does any of this matter? Does anything really matter? I mean in the long run, this is all small talk anyway. I could be home working on something productive. I need to be more productive. Maybe I could write about being uncomfortable at a party. No, I did that before. But did anyone read it? Does anyone read my stuff? Do any of my friends read my stuff? Why doesn’t anyone ask me about my work? Is it because it’s horrible? Crap. I really am self-absorbed. I need to hug my Paddington.

So, maybe one of these days, I will go and try going to a gamer meet-up again. If gaming amongst gamer-strangers went so well, gaming WITH gamer-strangers should go well. If only because no one really cares about talking about much more than the game at hand, which really seems to be my ideal social lubricant.

Friendships can grow from gaming. Most of my friendships have grown from gaming. When I ask you to game with me, it is actually me asking if you want to really really for real be my friend. I think I just need to work on doing the math backwards.

An Ode to Gamer Friends—————————

Rich and poor, tried and untried,
The world is filled with many men
Though none of them stands quite so true
as the loyal gamer friend

They have seen you at your worst
Cursing, cussing, and hating the dice
They have seen the depths of your depravities
and they know your every vice

They have seen you at your best
Compassionate, loving, and filled with honor
They have seen your greatest virtues
And consoled you when your character was a goner

Most have stood by me since my youth
And stood by me still through love and loss
And by them I have stood, and ever shall stand
Even when we face life’s final boss.

Though we turn older,
and our crowning glories fade away
we still gather together around a table
and we play, play, play.

We live as youths once again,
as wizards and as kings
As vampires, investigators, and madmen
and of these times I sing.

Of the time we fought the werewolves,
And smote them with a horse for fun
Or when we found that the story’s last monster
was a lost boy armed with a gun.

To these nights of adventure!
May they never end!
And here is to you, one and all
My loyal gamer friends.

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