Missing in Action

Holy Smokes – I missed the entire month of November on this blog! I do have a good excuse, though … the newest member of my party, Toby the 1st level Dingo.

I’m only half joking about him being a dingo – apparently he is a mix of Labrador retriever, border collie and Australian cattle dog. Those Australian cattle dogs have dingo blood, so I’ve enjoyed calling him my little dingo, or saying in my best bad Australian accent “the dingo IS my baby!”

For the last month, I’ve been chasing the little dingo around, playing with him, disciplining him, being chewed on by him. Exhausting! We’re finally to the point where I can put a computer on my lap and type for a few minutes each night.┬áIt’s also been busy busy busy at work, due to our network going down for a week. I’ve been scrambling to catch up – the fourth quarter reports are looming, and missing a week’s worth of data collection has not helped matters.

That’s my life at the moment – work and puppies. God knows it could be worse. On the bright side, I have my GRIT & VIGOR supplement, High Frontier, ready to go. I just need to combine the PDF files together (which I just realized I cannot do on my “new” laptop computer, because the software is on the old Samsung) and upload them to Drivethru and Lulu. That should be fun – I haven’t uploaded anything for a while. I should have the next NOD issue up pretty soon as well – it’s written and laid out – just needs the final touches.

So, until next time, this is your erstwhile blogger signing off. I’ll update everyone when High Frontier is available, and I’ll endeavor to get a post up this weekend – probably a Dragon by Dragon review. Have fun and please be kind to one another!

Saying Goodbye to a Good Girl

I’ve had quite a few dogs in my life, and I’ve loved every one of them with all my heart and soul. Josie still stands out. She was unbelievably sweet. Meek and mild, but ridiculously vivacious. Josie was a rescue. We actually went down to the place interested in a different dog that we’d seen online, and as we walked through the door saw that dog being adopted.

“We’re not leaving without a dog,” my wife informed me … and I agreed.

It had been about 6 months since our last dog had passed away. Kopper was 8 years old when he passed, after having gone through more trouble than any dog should ever have – he had a twisted leg, went blind at age 2, had to have his tail amputated due to a large growth … Kopper was a mess, but we loved him. After having to put him down, I didn’t know if I could go through it again. Six months later, I knew I needed the pitter-patter of dog feet around the house, and so off we went.

With our chosen dog out of the running, we started looking through their online guide. While doing that, my wife noticed Josie sitting in the rescue office. She had obviously just been passed by by somebody else, and was on her way back to the kennels.

“That’s Josie,” my wife said, “I remember her. I want Josie.”

So we met Josie, who ignored us while she was excitedly looking at the other animals up for adoption, and decided somehow that she was the one. Well – look at those pictures – how could we pass this sweet girl by.

Josie was only 2 when we adopted her. At 4-1/2, she contracted a rare and untreatable cancer. Three days ago, we had to put her down. She’d had 6 more weeks of walks and love (and for Josie, walks were almost the same thing as love) after her diagnosis, but was finally stuggling to breath, and was unable to eat. I sat on the floor of the examining room of our family vet and comforted her while she breathed her last. It was as hard as anything I’ve ever done.

So now I’m writing this, because Josie deserves a eulogy. She was a precious little gift from God, and we’ll miss her terribly.

Hug your pets, your kids, your spouses, your parents and siblings an everyone you love every time you see them. Hug them, and love them, and value them, folks. That’s what makes life worth living.

A Moment of Paternal Pride

Just a quick note today to show off something that made me very happy, for a few reasons …

This is a shot of the game table where my daughter ran a session of Blood & Treasure for a group of her friends.

Of course, it makes me happy to see my game being played, especially on a table instead of via the internet.

It also makes me happy to see that the little acorn didn’t fall too far from the tree. Gaming was never something I pushed on my daughter. She showed interest from an early age, mostly because we collected some of those D&D miniatures that WoTC put out. Out games were not very serious and used rules I made up as I went along – mostly me asking what she wanted to do, and then having her roll the dice and try to beat a number to do it. We had fun – her party consisted of Romeo the dwarf, Aladdin the cleric, Tinkerbell the thief … and a few others. I don’t remember them all, but I do remember that the wacky antics of Romeo the dwarf were our favorite.

Since those times, we’ve played some real D&D – recently using the Moldvay Basic set with some family friends, wherein she has a played a thief that was the only smart enough not to challenge a dragon while 3rd level … and thus was the one who survived the fight without a scratch. The others should have listened to her, but a couple of them were just learning the game, and the most experienced player had most recently played 3.5 edition … so you know how that works in terms of player survivability. Just a wee bit different than old Basic D&D.

But now the child has become the DM (or Treasure Keeper, in this case), and it was fun to listen to her introduce her friends to the concept of gaming. They wanted to try because of Stranger Things – who knows how good that show has been to table top gaming? Listening to people who have never played before start hatching crazy plans involving 10′ poles and finding a way to kill the witch without destroying her treasure brought a smile to my face – the game may be old now, but it has the same goofy effect on the players. And, most importantly, they had fun and wanted more – 3 sessions in all before one of them went off to college.

Folks, games are supposed to be about getting people together and having a good time. D&D and its many clones and descendants do just that – so raise a glass to the games, and all the people who designed, played and enjoyed them over the years.

And no – I’ve not disappeared from the hobby. I’m taking a sabbatical and planing to get back to work in earnest in 2020.

Mom

A couple years ago, I lost my mother to a brain tumor. It came out of nowhere, and it was shocking and horrible. I spent a couple months after she died knowing I had not fully dealt with the loss, but also not realizing that the knot in my stomach that barely allowed me to eat and sleep was caused by those emotions. It’s funny how one can overlook the obvious. I finally, one day, stopped at the cemetery where she is buried. I was alone, and was finally able to break down and cry. Boy – what a cry. And after the cry, the knot was gone and I was finally on the path to dealing with my loss. I wasn’t done – there have been other cries, and much thinking about my own mortality and how it may affect my loved ones – but I was at least dealing with it.

I know this is technically a day late, but …

Mom – I love you and miss you! You put much good in me with your love and teaching and joking and, yes, your punishing when I needed it. And by golly, when I was a bored and lonely teenage nerd, you even played D&D with me. What more love can any mother have for her son?

My First Crush

The first AF issue I ever bought, at a 7-Eleven

Sometimes, you discover your own history in strange ways – things you forgot you knew or did until something jogs your memory. Recently, my family and I spent some time in Boulder City checking out antique stores. Boulder City is not far away from Las Vegas, and is the anti-Vegas in many ways. The locals are anti-development, and thus B.C. has a small town atmosphere.

One of these aforementioned antique stores had a few shelves stacked with old comic books, and they were cheap so I was bound to buy a few. I started digging in and found a bunch of old Kamandis, Ka-Zars, Battlestar Gallacticas, John Carter Warlord of Mars, Shogun Warriors … groovy stuff from the ’70s and ’80s. I grabbed quite a few of those titles, and I also grabbed a couple old Alpha Flights.

When I first got into comic books in the ’80s (after playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG, because I always get into things ass-backwards), the first two titles I grabbed onto were West Coast Avengers and Alpha Flight. So, I’m reading Alpha Flight #12, wherein Guardian dies a horrible fiery death, and it suddenly hits me … Heather Hudson (later to be Guardian and then Vindicator) was my first comic book crush (with Mockingbird a close second).

[Quick aside – I was thinking about that era in comic books, when I first started collecting them, and something struck me. The West Coast Avengers were led by Mockingbird, the Avengers by Captain Marvel (this lady), the X-Men by Storm (in her cool costume), and Alpha Flight by Vindicator. Four women leading super hero teams at the House of Ideas, and two of them black women. Has that happened since?]

So, Nodians – who was your first comic book crush?

(And keep it clean … there may be children present).

Non-over-sexualized women are sexier. Or is that just me?

 

And Now For Something Completely Different … Salsa!

Every other year, I plant a garden in my backyard. Tomatoes are a mainstay, because they actually do very well in Las Vegas. This year, I also planted a few watermelon vines. I had good luck with them a few years ago, so I’m giving them another go.

This post isn’t about gardening, though – it’s about what to do with the fruits of your gardening labors.

Gaming isn’t just about dice and adventures and rules – it also has an important social aspect. Games are usually hosted by someone, and a good host provides some snacks for his or her guests. It’s not just my rule – Zeus himself frowns upon a stingy host!

Now, those aforementioned tomato plants in my backyard are pretty darn productive. One of things my wife and I like to do with the hundreds of these tomatoes we grow is make salsa. I don’t need to tell you the value of salsa and corn chips as a snack.

What follows is the very simple recipe we’ve come up with for salsa. We do a pretty big batch, so you might want to cut things down (especially if you have to buy your tomatoes from a grocery store).

Ingredients:

  • 16 tomatoes (about 2 inches in diameter, though sometimes some cherry tomatoes and beefsteaks get into the mix)
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 jalapeno peppers (or more – my family is full of lightweights)
  • 2 limes (small)
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Frozen corn (one bag)
  • Black beans (one can)
  • Cilantro
  • Salt (we like sea salt)
  • Pepper (fresh ground is best)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil

I throw the olive oil, corn and beans and minced garlic into a large skillet and heat it up. Naturally, I throw in a bit of salt and pepper.

While it’s warming up (you don’t really want to cook it), I cut all the tomatoes in half, the avocados in half, the jalapenos in half (and remove the seeds – again, I live with lightweights), the limes in half and the red onion in four parts. The cilantro is chopped up pretty fine – about a half cup.

In a blender, I throw four of the tomatoes, half an avocado, half a jalapeno, a fourth of a red onion, a wad of cilantro, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and the juice of half a lime. I chop this up in the blender – the tomatoes usually blend pretty good – and dump this into the skillet with the corn and beans.

Repeat the blender part three more times. When everything’s in the skillet, I let it come to a light boil, stirring often. My wife usually chops a few more tomatoes up and we add these when the cooking process is completed, so there are some nice chunks of tomato in the salsa. The blender (or food processor if you prefer) saves a lot of work, and seems to produce a smooth salsa. Obviously, you can add or subtract ingredients as you like – be creative (though maybe not as creative as my daughter, who wants to throw a couple Jolly Ranchers in with the veggies just to see what happens).

When all is done, we spoon the salsa into some handy jars (we usually get more than three tall jars full – the extra is gobbled up while it’s warm) and enjoy salsa for a couple weeks. Naturally, you want to keep it refrigerated – my wife sometimes freezes it. If you’re into putting up preserves and know what you’re doing, I would suggest using that process to preserve the salsa.

When you have a game, break out the fresh salsa and a bag of chips and have at it!

Cracking Open the Manual of Bodily Health

I’m going to depart from the usual rpg stuff to discuss something else that should be near and dear to our hearts, namely … our hearts.

About two years ago I easily fit into a stereotype of the geek – I was male, fat and had a beard. I was also having some heart palpitations and decided to go in for a check up. The heart palpitations turned out not to be a big problem – they were the result of me taking niacin supplements – but I did have some other issues that stemmed from being overweight. At the time, I weighed 280 pounds, and got there by sitting on the couch too much and eating more than I should. I knew I was badly out of shape and wanted to get in better shape so I could enjoy by wife, daughter and potential grandchildren someday, but I frankly needed an extra push. The doctor visit was it.

Over the next year, I did a ton of walking, often on a treadmill, was much more careful about food, and dropped 50 pounds. Eventually, I plateaued at 230 pounds and slowed down on the exercise and got a little sloppy on the food side. Before I knew it, I was no longer plateauing – I was hitting 240. There was no way in hell I was going that route again, so I got serious again – counting calories and stepping up the exercise – and I’m now hovering around 220 pounds with my eye set firmly on 180.

So, why should you care? Let’s be honest. Lots of nerds and geeks are fat (yeah, I’m not going to sugar-coat it with PC language – we’re fat), and being fat means a shorter life, more medical problems and, frankly, less fun. At a time when many of the pioneers of pencil-and-paper gaming are passing away, wouldn’t we love to have their creativity around for a few more years – good, healthy years. And as we geeks of the 1980’s grow into maturity and get married and have children, don’t we want to stick around for their sake? Lots of us need to lose weight and get healthier, and for many it seems like something impossible to do. Don’t have the time. Don’t want to commit. Don’t want to tell ourselves no. You know the story. I’m here to serve as an example that you can get healthier (and believe me, I’m only mid-way through my quest!) and enjoy it.

What follows are some tips on losing weight, drawn from my own experience. They may work for you, they may not, but hopefully they will prove of use to you.

My basic plan is a two-pronged attack: Diet and exercise.

By diet, I do not mean a diet I found in a magazine or online. I mean taking in fewer calories each day than I need to survive, and trying to make healthier choices whenever possible. In my first weight loss phase, I used a program I found on Ask.com that used food units. To maintain an 1800 calorie a day diet, I could have 6 units of protein, 6 units of grains, 6 units of vegetables, etc. I now use an app on my phone called My Fitness Pal. I used it to measure how many calories I’m taking in each day, set up a daily goal based on my current weight and where I want to go (1970 calories per day in my case) and it keeps track of how many calories I’m burning by meshing with another app that I’ll discuss in a moment.

I do my best to avoid foods I know I shouldn’t indulge too much in, but otherwise do not have a special diet. I eat meat, grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, dairy, diet soda (sometimes with a shot of rum, tequila or bourbon), etc., with the occasional sugary (or sugar-free) indulgence. Not too difficult a regimen – I just watch how much food and drink I take in.

Most weeks, I keep my daily net calorie intake to around 1500 calories. In one week out of every four, I allow myself to average 2000 calories per day so that my body doesn’t get too used to 1500 calories a day.

In terms of exercise, I do both cardio and strength training. Both are very useful. I work out 6 times a week (sometimes more), and usually stagger the workouts – usually cardio (walking and some running, usually for an hour or more) on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and strength training (kettle bell, dumbells, weight resistance, interval training usually for 20 to 30 minutes) on Monday and Wednesday. For building muscle, you need to have one or two days of rest between workouts – the workout breaks your muscle down, the rest period builds it back up. Get plenty of sleep and plenty of protein when you’re trying to build muscle. On Friday, I rest – and often hit the town with the wife!

To track my exercise, I use an app called Runtastic and to keep better track of my calorie burn, a Timex heart rate monitor (which my wife affectionately calls my sports bra since it straps around my chest). The heart rate monitor has worked fairly well, though after 6 months of constant use it is having some minor problems. You might want to shop around a bit. For strength training, I’m currently using a 20 pound kettle bell and 15 pound dumbbells, but plan to get some heavier weights soon.

The key to losing weight is grit. You have to exercise when you don’t feel like it. You have to tell yourself NO! more often than not when the donuts show up at work. Once you get into the habit, it really isn’t too difficult to do. Despite the many times I didn’t want to get up and exercise, I have never once not felt great after I did it – and watching the stomach shrink and the biceps grow feels pretty awesome as well. Honestly, on days when I rest from exercising, I have to force myself to sit down and not exercise. It just seems like second-nature now, and it makes me feel so darn good! Now that I’m in the 1500 calorie a day mindset, its remarkable how difficult it is for me to take in 2000 calories in a day – I just don’t need all that food. Get yourself started, stick to it, and I promise these things will become second nature to you.

Now that I’ve lost 60 pounds, I have more energy, more self-confidence and more fun with the wife (wink wink nudge nudge say no more). You can get these things as well if you’ll make the commitment, and you, your family, friends and gaming community will get to enjoy your presence on this earth for years to come.

If you need some more convincing, advice and support, I suggest these two websites:

NERD FITNESS – This one seems pretty obvious, huh. It’s a fitness site run by a nerd who is now in excellent shape, and features advice, pep talks and testimonials from other folks like us. I enjoy the pep talks and the exuberance of Steve Kamb for linking his nerd interests with getting healthy.

THE ART OF MANLINESS – Not just for men (though mainly for men), this site has some good exercise tips and lots of other great articles about being the best man (or person) you can be, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Because of this site, I dress better, shave with a safety razor instead of plastic disposable junk (no, still not man enough for a straight razor or tomahawk shave), read quite a bit more (and not just fantasy and sci-fi novels) and do a much better job of shining my shoes.

Hey, two years ago I was just another fat guy with a beard and glasses. I was a good husband, a good father and a good person, but I was not healthy. Now, I’m still a good husband, good father, good person, probably even more of a nerd since I now produce rpg material as well as consume it, but I’m also healthier, un-bearded, rock the contact lenses once-in-a-while, get compliments from women about how I look and I feel better than I have in two decades.

If you’ve wanted to get healthier and, as Steve Kamb says, “Level up your life”, I urge you to take the plunge. Don’t let the jocks have all the fun!

Deviant Friday – In Memoriam

Okay, not technically a Deviant Friday, because this has nothing to do with DeviantArt. Instead, I thought I’d honor some of the artists who passed away in 2011. If I missed anyone on this list, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to the shrine. R.I.P to them all, best wishes for those they left behind who are missing them terribly, and a hearty thank you for all the wonders they introduced to the rest of us through their art.

Dave Hoover

 

 

Jerry Robinson

 

 

Minck Oosterveer

 

 

Shingo Araki

 

 

Gene Colan

 

 

Joe Simon

 

 

Eduardo Barreto

 

 

Mamoru Uchiyama

 

 

Darrel K. Sweet

 

 

Jim Roslof

 

 

Jeffrey Catherine Jones

 

On a personal note, I’d like to honor my uncle, George Stater, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly earlier this year. I love him dearly, and everyone who knew him will miss him keenly in the years to come.

Tome of Horrors Converted + Establishing My LARPer Street Cred

Just finished writing my bit for Tome of Horrors Complete. I honestly have no idea how many monsters it was – 400 maybe – but they’re all converted and each one has a lair or encounter to go with it. It was a big project to tackle in two months, but I’m pleased as punch to have been involved with it. Now that ToH-C is done (I’m going to do a bit of tinkering with it tomorrow), I’ll have more time to devote to Mystery Men! and NOD 8.

To celebrate, I present a photo of my sister and I in our Halloween costumes a few decades ago.

I’m the knight, in case you couldn’t figure it out. The armor was made by my father (thanks Dad!) from poster board spray painted silver. The helmet was purchased from Toys ‘R’ Us – it was part of the official Dungeons and Dragons toy line – Strongheart the Paladin’s helm. All of my original first edition and Moldvay-Cook gear came from Toys ‘R’ Us – I remember how excited I was when they finally opened one on our side of town (and it’s still there – I wonder for how long). Good times!

Well, back to work. Just finished a Charlie Chan movie, now watching Robotech while tapping away at some more Mu-Pan encounters. Have fun and stay safe!

Happy Veteran’s Day

Just taking a moment to say thank you to the troops, past and present!

If you would like to do more than just say thanks – consider giving to these organizations …

Air Force Aid Society
Army Emergency Relief
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
USO
Wounded Warrior

We’ll return to our previously scheduled gaming nonsense later tonight.

Image above is my grandfather, Dr. John H. Stewart (or Pa, as I always called him). He served in a M*A*S*H unit in Japan after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. My father served in the Air Force in the closing days of the Vietnam War. God bless them both.