Why do they all look like Ben Stiller?

Today I had my first adventure with a tabletop role-playing game.  A friend of mine used to play these games a lot as a kid, and even developed his own version.  (Honestly, is anyone surprised that a nerd like me has nerd friends?)  When I mentioned I had never played, he set up a game with a couple of us so I could give it a try.

Developing my character was a lot of fun.  I had to roll some unusual dice (a d4 and a couple of d10s) many times to discover my basic characteristics, from which I came up with the details.  It also allowed for some very fun contemplation of back story and goals.  Since I enjoy creating characters for my stories, this just became an extension of that.

From there, my friend took over, combining my story and the other player’s story into something that allowed us both to work towards our goals, made some sense, and – at least in this case – had a reasonably quick ending.  Since neither of us were sure that I would want to continue this after today’s foray, he created a story that could be finished in one gaming effort.

Of course, since I didn’t know anything more than my own story – the other guy playing had his own story as well, although he knew more of mine than I did of his – there were a few times that I got a bit confused.  The weirdest part was when nearly every male in the story looked like Ben Stiller.  One of my old coworkers looked like Mr. Stiller, the other player’s character looked like Ben (albeit significantly shorter), and then we got to a farmhouse where two other characters stepped out wearing Ben Stiller’s face!

It turned out that all of the Ben Stillers were aliens in disguise, but it took a bit for me to figure that out.

Needless to say, it was quite fun, and there is a good chance that we will play again.  (Maybe next time we won’t fight aliens!)

A Faire Comparison

I mentioned yesterday that I would compare the Minnesota Renaissance Festival to the two that I’ve previously attended in Texas.  (Those would be Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Waxahachie and the Texas Renaissance Festival in Conroe.)  I’ve thought about it a bit and here you go!

My overall impression of all three festivals is similar, and if you’ve ever been to a Faire you know what I mean.  There are dirt and mulch paths, permanent structures for the shops filled with pottery, jewelry, artwork and clothing.  There are a mix of people in costume and in street clothes, of all ages and sizes.  There are similar options for entertainment, including musicians, jugglers, and belly dancers. (My favorite Renn Faire performer, who goes to Scarborough but not TRF, was there.  I went to two of the Tory Steller’s shows!)   I think Minnesota is a little smaller than the two Texas festivals, but not by a lot.  I had a couple of moments that reminded me vividly of the inspiration for the scene I wrote in Dragon. 

There were three notable things I was expecting, based on my previous Faire-going experience, that I didn’t see.  Both of the Texas festivals make a big deal about their Court.  The King (or Queen, depending on the festival) is pictured on their advertisements and claims a prominent place in the daily parade, and the members of the court make scheduled appearances throughout the day,  I don’t recall seeing any mention of the royalty for the Minnesota Faire, and if their nobles were out and about, they were not well advertised.

Another thing that surprised me, as a bird nerd, was the lack of a falconry show or even demonstration.  At TRF, the falconry show has its own stage, and at Scarborough the stage is even in a place of prominence.  Both sites allow for large crowds with lots of benches, and there are several presentations throughout the day.  They are done by different people (from two different rehab/education facilities) but it is a notable part of both faires.  I didn’t see any mention of falconry at the Minnesota festival.

Honestly, I didn’t realize the lack of royalty until today, and I didn’t notice the lack of falconry until part of the way through the festival.  I enjoyed my day regardless of these two things.  The third thing I noticed that really surprised (and irritated) me is the lack of restrooms.

Both TRF and Scarborough have permanent, actual bathrooms with running water.  It’s not period, but neither are credit card machines.  🙂   Minnesota Renaissance Festival has banks of port-a-potties, with sinks that run from a hose.  I suspect this comes from its location at a working quarry (there is probably limited water service) but it was still not what I was expecting.  it also made life a bit challenging in a costume. 

Despite these differences, I did have a good time.  I suspect the four-hour drive will limit the number of visits I make to the Faire, but I could foresee tying it into a longer weekend with other activities in the Twin Cities area. 


A Faire Day

I am exhausted.

Today I drove 4 hours to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, spent 6+ hours at the faire, then drove four hours (plus a stop for dinner) home.  Other than my research adventure with Amy in 2010, that is the farthest I have driven for a Faire.

I left my apartment at 7:05 am to pick up a friend and walked back in the door at 11:17pm.  (Needless to say, both Eli and Max were annoyed with me.)  That’s a very long day, and I am very tired.  It was fun, don’t get me wrong, but a long day.

I did manage to limit myself to only two purchases, both of which are local art (to Minnesota, at least).  I got a limited edition print of a drawing of a llama and a hand-made wooden wall hanging of a Pileated Woodpecker on the side of a tree.  It is rare for me to turn down a llama, and woodpeckers are equally uncommon.  Both were also reasonably priced and have ready-made spots on my walls!

Once I wash off the faire dust and sleep on it, I plan to write a post comparing the Minnesota festival to the two I frequented when I lived in Texas.  In some ways a faire is a faire, but there were some obvious differences.

The Benefit of Free

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen the advantage of offering a free sample.

When we were on our trip, my parents and I went on a free tour of a Black Hills Gold jewelry maker.  Before the tour, while we perused the display cases of the store, I noticed several pieces that were quite lovely.  However, as I told my parents, while I appreciate the artistry of jewelry, I just don’t wear it often enough to justify buying any.  Then we went on the tour of their factory (a word which somehow doesn’t seem to fit the work space we were in) and I learned very cool things about the way the pieces are made and the traditions of “Black Hills Gold” jewelry.  Returning to the showroom, I had a new appreciation for the product and ended up splurging a necklace for myself.

I had a similar experience with my new Nook.  When it comes to e-books, the free sample concept is how I’ve been deciding if I want to pay for a book or not.  My first official purchase was Theodore Rex, which I saw in a bookstore but didn’t buy.  It was pricey on my Nook (although cheaper than the hard copy), so I didn’t purchase it right away.  Instead, I downloaded a sample.  After about 50 e-pages, I was hooked, and the price no longer seemed too steep.

If you are going to self-publish as an e-book, you should have the option of providing a sample, typically set as a percentage of the novel.  My advice is to do it.  Even if you aren’t charging a lot for your book, that sample may be how people decide if they want to risk a couple of bucks on a story by a new author.

Tiny Life Update

Hello everyone!

I have just returned from an excellent trip to the western part of South Dakota with my parents.

We went to Mount Rushmore, of course, and several parts of the Black Hills.  We also took a little side trip through the Badlands on the way back, and hit the kitsch heavens of the Corn Palace and Wall Drug during the drive.  We called it our Americana Road Trip vacation.

I have several fun post ideas that have come from the trip, and I am excited to share them with you.  However, it’s been a very full, very tiring week and tonight what I want most is to sleep in my own bed.

Thank you for your patience!  More vacation-inspired posts to come…  (And yes, they will be writing related!)

Making an Effort to Look Up

Two friends and I went out tonight to try to get a look at the Perseid meteor shower.  I was hoping that it would provide blog-worthy astronomy descriptions, but we weren’t really in optimal conditions.

First of all, we didn’t really get away from the city lights.  There is a dark spot near my apartment complex, where the street and building lights are all at the edges of sight, but it turned out to still have too much light to really see much.  There were also clouds drifting through; not thick enough to totally mar the sky, but enough to make stargazing a challenge.  We also didn’t give it a lot of time – two of us needed to be in relatively early – so we weren’t outside for peak viewing.

We saw a few vague streaks, but nothing really remarkable.  Mostly it was a beautiful night for a stroll and good company.  We were rewarded with a movie-quality moon, though.

The moon was nearing half-full, with the typical vertical orientation seen in tattoos and children’s artwork.  It sat low to the horizon in the west, creating the illusion of size, and it still  reflected enough of the long-set sun to shine orange.  Thin clouds caught the glow, framing the crescent, with wisps drifting dramatically across its face.  Hanging above the tree line, the moon was set apart from nearby lights, the dark sky providing a perfect backdrop.

There you go.  Now you had the same experience I did: very little in the way of meteors, but one excellent moon.  🙂

The Benefits of Saying Nice Things

Do you know that saying, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”  It seems like most people do the opposite; if they had a bad experience, most people will let you know, but if they enjoyed themselves or generally have a positive reaction to something they don’t often tell the person(s) responsible.

Recently I’ve tried to make it a point to tell people when something goes right, and I’ve discovered there is a benefit to saying something nice.  In addition to the interesting response to my fan letter the other day, I had another experience that reinforced this.

I get vegetables weekly from a local farm as part of a CSA program.  (I mentioned this a few days ago in another post.)  On Saturday when I went to pick up my stuff, I told the owner of the farm that I’ve been having a lot of fun finding new recipes and playing in the kitchen.  Her response was to ask me if I like to write, and if I might be willing to write  down what I do with the veggies so she can share it in the newsletter that goes out to the CSA participants.

Of course the answer to the first part was yes, I do like to write, and I told her that I could certainly give it a shot if she wanted me to share my veggie experiences.  If she likes what I write, she’ll give me credit in the newsletter!

This will obviously depend on me writing it, and her liking it, so nothing may come of the offer.  But if it does, what a cool opportunity!  And all because I said something nice.  🙂

I just wanted to tell you that I like your stuff…

I have found an online retailer whose clothing is very much my style.  I’ve already added 10 pieces to my wardrobe from their store, and I will probably end up getting more eventually.   (Give me five more sentences and you’ll know why this is related to writing.)

The other day I was poking around on their website and discovered that they love to get feedback.  As it happens, I love to give feedback, especially when I like something this much.

You can guess where this story is going, but I don’t know if you will predict the end.  🙂

I wrote a long email to their customer service department, telling them how I discovered them in the first place while trying desperately to find khaki work pants (which is a great story on its own) and then gushing about their stuff.   I got an automated reply back, which said they’d address any concerns promptly, and “[I]f you are just sharing your thoughts or suggestions we appreciate them and will take care to forward them to the right teams.”

I figured that was the end of the story.

Today I got an email from their “Real Women” department.  They like to feature stories from their customers on their email ads, and they might use mine!  They asked me for a picture (which shouldn’t be hard to do) and said if they use it, they will give me a $100 gift card.  How cool is that?

I knew they were accepting submissions, but that’s not why I sent the email.  I just wanted to tell them that I like their stuff.  🙂

Writing Rest Area

I frequently drive across Iowa on trips between my current home state of South Dakota and the state of my birth, Illinois.  (In fact, most of the drive is Iowa, and it crosses the entire state.)

While the drive tends to be long and tedious, there are some good things about crossing Iowa.  Unlike many of the other long drives I’ve taken in my life, there are no “dead air” zones where the radio fails me.  There are lots of good places to stop, including a visit with friends in Des Moines.  The Iowa Department of Transportation has also made an effort to take care of drivers in the state.  There are lots of rest areas available, and fifteen of them have been renovated and themed.  There’s a Lewis and Clark rest area, an agriculture rest area, and a very cool wind energy rest area.  On this trip I discovered what they call the “Iowa” rest area, which is writing themed.

There’s a huge sculpture of a fountain pen nib in front of the building.  There are names of novelists, poets, and playwrights from Iowa displayed throughout the building, with a large wraparound LED screen near the ceiling with constantly scrolling quotes.  Even the picnic shelters are themed, with quotes cut into metal at the back of each.

For someone who writes, it’s an inspirational place to pause.  I took the time to walk around and read several of the shelter quotes.  It was a really neat find, and it will be a planned stop on future trips.  The next time I drive through without animals in my car, I might even take a few moments to write with inspiration all around me.

Want to know where to find it?  It’s on Interstate 80, eastbound, near Tiffin, Iowa.  🙂

An Overnight Adventure

In my family, the word “adventure” is used to describe a situation that doesn’t go exactly according to plan.  If we get lost going somewhere new, “It’s an adventure.”  If a plane is delayed and schedules have to be rearranged, “It’s an adventure.”

Last night, I had an adventure, as my mom called it when it happened.  I was driving back to South Dakota from visiting my family and got caught in the big snow storm in Iowa.  After spending nearly 4 hours traveling 5 miles (most of the time was spent in park with the car shut off), I got to sleep on the floor in the breakfast room at a Super 8.  Sharing that space were 15 strangers and a dog.  Thanks goodness my animals weren’t with me!

It wasn’t an adventure I’d like to repeat.  I only got a few hours of sleep, and there’s nothing quite like wearing the same clothes for 26 hours.  (A shower was high on the priority list when I did make it home, right after taking care of my bird and putting away perishable food.)  It wasn’t the most stressful sleeping arrangement I’ve had – that would probably be the downpour and cold front in a tent in the Chisos Mountains – but it also wasn’t restful.

To top it all off, I started getting sick Saturday night (a possible sinus infection) and sleeping on the floor with earplugs in made all the junk in my sinuses drain into my ear.  Pain was part of the reason for the lack of sleep.

I made it home this morning, though, and have showered and taken a nap.  I’m heading to the acute care clinic shortly to address my sickness, and I have tasty goodies leftover from the bridal shower (why I went home in the first place) to eat.  In case you hadn’t guessed, I’ll be heading to bed early tonight.  🙂

Aren’t adventures fun?

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