Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pre-DragonCon Plans

DragonCon is in less than two weeks! I've had a really busy summer and the last two weekends I've been out of town, so it snuck up on me. This is my fifth DragonCon so I've got some suggestions for folks who are going for the first (or second) time.

Self-care stuff:
If you wear contacts and you plan to be at the convention early to late, make sure to bring contact solution and eyedrops. Around late afternoon my eyes are feeling gummy; by midnight they're positively gross. I take my contacts out when they first start to bother me, clean them, and use hydrating eyedrops before putting my contacts back in. Then I'm fine until I get back to the hotel.

Bring a refillable water bottle. There are icewater stations all over the place. You're going to be sweating a lot and you may not be eating regular meals, so drinking as much water as you can hold will keep you from getting con crud later and will help keep your energy up.

Bring snacks, the healthier the better. Fresh fruit (and handwipes for after), fruit leathers, trail mix, granola bars, nuts, chocolate-covered raisins, peanut M&Ms. If you're driving in rather than flying, bring a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, and put a sandwich in your bag for emergencies. The food court and restaurants are overrun all weekend, and you may be tempted to skip meals to save time. Having good snacks with you will keep you from getting grouchy and miserable.

If you're a full-on introvert like me, you're going to need some downtime to recharge. Schedule that! I try to get away from the con for an hour or so Saturday afternoon and again Sunday afternoon. I get a meal somewhere that's not mobbed with con-goers, maybe get together with a friend for a conversation. Then I'm ready to plunge back in to the excitement.

Dress for the weather, which will be hot and muggy. There may be an occasional quick thunderstorm in the afternoons. The air conditioning is good in the hotels, but there's also a lot of body heat from so many people, so if you run hot anyway make sure to wear cool clothes. If you wear a skirt and you've got healthy-sized legs, wear biking shorts underneath or use that cream that bikers use to stop chafing. Last year I wore a cute short skirt and within a few hours I had the worst case of heat rash ever on my thighs where they were rubbing together as I walked and sweated.

Similarly, bring a fan. For many events you may have to line up for a long time, and some lines are so long you'll end up standing outside in the heat. Everyone will envy you your fan. Especially if it's a black lace fan like mine that looks really awesome.

Phone stuff:
Bring your phone charger. If you have a spare phone battery bring it too. You're going to want to take lots of pictures so right now is a great time to go through your old photos and delete a bunch to make space. You might also want to upgrade your memory card.

Connectivity will frequently be poor, but if you go just a few blocks away from the con hotels, you can pick up wifi from restaurants without much trouble.

To maximize your battery life, before you leave for DragonCon delete any apps that you know suck your battery. You can load them back on your phone when you get home. During panels and other events, put your phone on airplane mode. Get to panels early so you can grab an outlet and charge your phone during the event.

There's a DragonCon app you can download for your phone. Not only will it help you keep track of your schedule, it contains a good map of downtown to help you navigate between the hotels. I get turned around easily so I'm always checking the map. Having the app also gives you something to play with for the week or so before DragonCon starts.

Keep It Low-Stress:
DragonCon is big. It's huge. It's held in five big downtown Atlanta hotels so you'll definitely be doing a lot of walking. Panels are scheduled with half an hour in between, but if you have mobility issues or if you get caught in post-parade traffic (DragonCon holds a full parade on Saturday morning that a lot of locals attend), it can take far longer to get where you want to be. If you're running late for an event, don't stress. Just slip in quietly once you get there and grab the first seat you see. If there's a particular event you REALLY want to attend, especially if it's a popular one, get there way early so you can get in line. Events can fill up fast depending on where they're held.

Bring cash. Wear it in a money belt or zip it into a secure (not easily accessible) pocket of your bag. There are pickpockets among the 70,000 or so people crushed into DragonCon's five hotels. ATMs will run out of money and have long lines anyway, so don't rely on them.

You'll need a bag to carry your phone, charger, snacks, water bottle, camera if you bring one, contact solution, fan, etc. Every year I bring a different bag because I have yet to find one that's perfect. It shouldn't be too big or you'll be thumping everyone with it. It shouldn't be too small or you won't have room to hold the T-shirt and books you impulse-bought. It should have a long enough strap that you can get into it while it's hanging off your shoulder. You should like it because it's going to be your close friend for the entire weekend.

The first two years I attended DragonCon, I had no idea there were major concerts at midnight every night. The ballrooms are huge and hold some 5,000 people, but for especially popular acts, or if you want to get close to the stage, you'll want to get in line at least at hour early. This is where you'll be really glad you kept your phone charged all day. There are usually chairs set up at the back of the ballrooms, but you can't really see the stage from there and anyway, hey, you should be dancing!

I drive to Atlanta and save a lot of money by staying in a hotel about twenty minutes away from downtown. That means parking. There are lots of 24-hour parking garages so you don't have to worry about moving your car if you're sticking around for concerts or other late-night events. Generally expect to pay $20 or $30 for a full day's parking--most of the cash I bring goes for parking, but it's still cheaper than staying at a con hotel. Once you park, take a picture of the parking garage, and a picture of the nearest intersection's street signs. That way you can actually find your car fifteen hours later.

If you find you're not having fun for some reason, go somewhere else or do something else. Get some food, take a nap, find a friend, destress in whatever way you prefer. You don't have to actually be doing something every second of every day. Some people come to DragonCon just to people-watch, because the costumes are spectacular; some people want to sit at a bar and catch up with friends; some people stick to one particular track's events and don't branch out, while others jump from track event to track event as something takes their fancy. Don't be afraid to ditch your plans and just chill, if that's what you want to do.

Have fun!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Deviled eggs

Okay, so, I put this recipe together for a thing and it occurs to me that maybe other people might like to know how to make perfect deviled eggs too. So here's my recipe. Trala!

Deviled Eggs

Yellow mustard (don't get fancy with the good mustard--you want your egg filling to be as yellow as sunshine!)
Paprika for garnish

Hard boil as many eggs as you like. Take care not to overcook the eggs or the yolks will get that greenish color that's so unappetizing (although you can still eat them, of course). I recommend using room temperature eggs; put them in plenty of water to cover, bring the water to a rolling boil for a minute or two, then remove pot from the heat, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit for ten minutes. Then carefully spoon the eggs into a bowl of ice water and let them sit for about five or ten minutes while they cool. They should be nicely hardboiled and you can handle them without burning your fingers.

Peel the eggs, then cut them in half lengthwise and carefully scoop the yolks into a bowl. Using the edge of a spoon, chop the yolks into crumbs as fine as you can make them without driving yourself up the wall with boredom. Don't mash them!

Add a big dollop of mayonnaise and a little squirt of mustard. Use less than you think you will need, stir it all together gently, and take a tiny taste. If the filling tastes too mayonnaisey, add a tiny bit more mustard, and vice versa. Don't obsess over this, though, or you'll end up with too much mayo and mustard and not enough yolk.

Spoon the filling generously into the egg whites. Top with a little paprika for color and a little extra bite.

Friday, December 19, 2014

In 1993...

I was digging around in my closet for something and found the 1993 Halloween issue of Reptiles of the Mind, the zine I published monthly for some four years. I flipped through it and wasn't really impressed--there's a reason I dumped all my copies of the zine years ago. But one thing caught my attention and I thought I'd share it here because it made me laugh.

Here it is, exactly as it appeared in the issue, stupid phonetic spellings and all.

Not Again!

Yeah, last weekend, dammit! I got into another wreck. [note to family members who skimmed the first paragraph: this happened in 1993, I am just fine, there is no wreck] This time, however, it wuz not my fault. It was rainy and slick out and some guy in a truck slid into the car stopped behind me at a red light, which subsequently bumped into my car. But amazingly enough there was not even a little bit of damage to my car. I had to hang around and wait for the cop to show up, though, since I was involved, and it took almost two hours. Then, when the cop did show, who would it be but my old buddy Miz Officer Massengill, the name you want to snigger at*, who was the main cop at my other wreck last spring. She remembered me too. I was very embarrassed.

[*note to young readers: there used to be a heavily advertised brand of douche called Massengill's.]

While we were waiting, however, I got to know the other people in this minor wreck rather well: Glen who is originally from New Orleans and who is married with 4 kids (two boys and twin girls); and Heather who is invited to parties only because the hosts know she'll dance all the time and keep other people dancing and who was on her way to church. In addition, Glen told us some very amusing wreck stories, one of which I will repeat here because I like it so much. I have no idea if it's true.

Somewhere in New Orleans, apparently, there's a road that goes under another road in a sort of tunnel, so there's a bar nearby called the Tunnel Inn. One day this guy ran a red light on that corner and smashed into another guy so hard that the other guy crashed right into the Tunnel Inn. Ha ha! When the car finally stopped against a pool table the bar was silent with horror and then this woman screamed "Oh my God, that's my husband! That's my husband!" It's sort of a two-pronged joke.

Monday, September 1, 2014

DragonCon 2014!

I did a post about my DragonCon experiences last year and decided to do it again this year, hopefully more coherently. Of course that's hard considering my blur of experiences over the last three days and my current lack of sleep. The TL;DR take is that I enjoyed myself hugely again as always. This will be long.

I got in around 4:30 and got my badge without a wait. I wasn't sure what to do with myself that early, so I went to the "State of the Goth Scene: Rock Edition" panel. From my journal: "One of the guys from Bella Morte (I think) mentioned Immortal Chorus [and this link, because "Mary Are You Sleeping" was my favorite IC song] and I quietly flipped out because I had their only cassette back in the 90s when I lived in Knoxville! I hadn't thought of them in years. I wish I still had it since I know it's not available online anywhere."

After that I went to a great panel, "Spirit Mediums of the 19th Century," then met up with my friends Kevin and Felicity for a celebrity improv comedy show, which was hilarious. It was good to catch up a little with my friends too, since DragonCon is the only time I get to see them.
By this time I'd mellowed into my happy-slightlymanic-adrenalinrushwon'tstop DragonCon mood, which lasted all weekend as par for the course. At about eleven I got in line for the Voltaire concert at midnight. Yes, he was here again this year! Last year he said he wouldn't be, but that changed, and I am so very very very glad. I was closer to the stage than last year but none of my pictures are any good. (I have lots of good pix from when he played Knoxville in May, but posting one of those instead would be cheating.)

The show was fantastic, of course. I actually really wanted to see the Marquis of Vaudeville afterwards, but I was wrung out and exhausted and my contacts were killing me so I didn't stay.

Even so, it was almost 3 a.m. by the time I made it back to my hotel. I slept about four hours, then sprang out of bed and went back to the con for SATURDAY.

From my Twitter feed:
Aug 29 I would commit actual murder for a slushee right now.

It was a hot weekend, and on Friday I'd worn a cute knee-length skirt with my Voltaire t-shirt and sandals. But all the running around outside between hotels while sweating had a side effect I never expected. From my twitter feed while standing in line to see Voltaire:

Aug 29 I'm right behind a very tall woman with no body fat, and I know this because she's wearing a net. Makes me feel very dumpy.

Aug 29 This is how hobbits must feel next to elves, only this hobbit has killer heat rash on her thighs. I had to apply chapstick in the bathroom.

Aug 29 Sorry, TMI.

So I didn't wear the skirt again on Saturday, I wore a pair of light gray shorts and a black T-shirt that spent most of the day damp with sweat.

That morning Kevin was on a panel about the movies and TV shows released in 1984. I thought I'd left myself tons of time to get downtown, park, and get to the panel before it started, but I got caught in the hellish DragonCon parade traffic and was a few minutes late after all. It was fun and funny although there were so many people on the panel some people didn't really get a chance to contribute.

It's like the Last Supper of Nerds. That's Kevin in the front row, fourth from the left.

I didn't get a chance to say hi to Kevin because immediately after the panel I had to rush to a different hotel for the airship races. They were so fun last year I didn't want to miss them this year. But the parade was still going on, which meant a lot of the main streets were blocked off to foot traffic--plus the hordes of people along the streets to watch the parade meant getting anywhere was nearly impossible.

I met a nice older guy, there with his daughter, who was also trying to make his way to the airship races, so since he was more familiar with the area I went with him. We made it, too, although it took us 45 minutes to go about three blocks. DragonCon schedules panels/events with half an hour in between so people can get to where they're going, but the parade jams everything up. Some of the people running the races or competing were late for the same reason, though, so we didn't miss much. And they were incredibly fun! I took some video.

 Please ignore that my voice sounds like a cartoon character's.

It's hard to express how huge DragonCon is. It's spread out across five enormous hotels and the AmericasMart and still everywhere is packed. Some 60,000 people attend a day, more on Saturday. It makes for some frustrating experiences but also some serendipitous ones. While we were still shuffling forward in the crowd funneling into the Westin Peachtree hotel, I was watching the people going by on the sidewalk nearby and suddenly recognized a guy who teaches at the same college where I work in Knoxville. I had no idea he would be there.

Of course I immediately shrieked, "Daniel! Daniel!" and waved dementedly. He turned around, saw me, waved back, and looked completely baffled. I don't think he recognized me. When we got into the airship races and I opened my phone to take pictures, I saw my reflection and realized I was drenched with sweat and looked insane, so presumably I don't look insane on workdays. That's a good thing to know.

A picture of a typical DragonCon crowd, taken (I think) on Saturday night in (I think) the Marriott.

Anyway, I went to a bunch more panels that afternoon. One of them was a Q&A with Grant Imahara. I was way way in the back so didn't get any pictures. He's an interesting, affable, funny guy, well worth standing in line for half an hour in the RELENTLESS MISERY OF THE AUGUST AFTERNOON SUN.

From my Twitter feed:

Aug 30 We are a lot of miserably hot people waiting in line outside with no shade.

Actually we had some shade. Just not enough. I'd forgotten to bring my fan, so I tore the cover off a spiral notebook and fanned myself with it. It rained for a while later that afternoon, which made the humidity worse until a small storm rolled through and cleared the air a little.

Aug 30 The science panel I wanted to attend at 4 filled up before I got there so I've been wandering the Hilton like an angry sweaty ghost.

Aug 30 In desperation I spent $3 for a tepid orange Fanta.

Aug 30 Currently lurking in the gaming room because it's nice and cold here and the upstairs is stuffy. It rained earlier and everyone's damp.

Around seven my cousin Molly and I met to eat. Molly lives in Atlanta and wanted to go to DragonCon this year, but couldn't because of her workload. She took us to a restaurant whose name I've forgotten but whose food I will remember always because it was so good and I was so hungry. We got frozen yogurt too. Then Molly dropped me off downtown again in time for a ten o'clock panel I wanted to attend. Those couple of hours to eat real food, relax, and talk to someone I've known my whole life helped me recharge a lot. I'm introverted, so spending time among lots of people--no matter how fun--is draining.

Also that morning while trying to make my way to the airship races [let's just pause here to savor that phrase. I mean, ten years ago would I ever have believed me about this?] I walked for a short time behind three people who were obviously a band bringing their gear to a hotel. I didn't recognize them but they were dressed in nice steampunk outfits, two white guys and a black girl, and I thought they might be The Cog Is Dead, playing that night at midnight. Their music started popping up on my Pandora station a month or so ago, and I liked it enough to buy a few songs. I decided to go to the show and see if it was them.

It was, and the show was a lot of fun! Also the girl is the drummer, which is awesome. In addition to a lot of their own songs, they covered "Minnie the Moocher," which just solidified my love of the band. I like that they don't restrict themselves to one musical style or era too. They're obviously just having a hell of a good time.

I only got one picture that wasn't blurry, and unfortunately the drummer doesn't show in this one. In fact it looks like she's just exploded.

It was two in the morning by the time I got back to the hotel. But I got five whole hours of sleep before charging back into Atlanta for Sunday, my last day at DragonCon.

I had intended to wear the gray shorts again, but when I looked at them in the harsh daylight I saw they were stained--and not just with salsa from supper, which I knew was there because I have the bad habit of loading up a nacho and then using it to gesture with while I speak, and the salsa goes everywhere--but with everything I'd touched all day. Also I'd sat in something. So rather than wear jeans (too hot, plus I have gorgeous leg tattoos now and like to show them off), I ran over to the Target next to my hotel and bought a pair of bike shorts. I wore them under my black skirt and they were amazingly comfortable. So hurrah for manmade fibers!

Aug 31 I'm rockin the Velma look today. All I need is a turtleneck but then I would die.

I met Kevin early for a panel called "MST3K: Reel Crime," with Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, and Joel Hodgson. Kevin had gotten there super early and was almost at the front of the line, right in front of three cosplayers dressed as the presenters' characters on MST3K. Their costumes were great and they were a lot of fun to talk to while we waited for the doors to open. I didn't get their names.

Also here's me and Kevin before the panel started, with Tom Servo (made by the lady sitting on Kevin's other side). I look like I'm photobombing Kevin's picture with Tom Servo.

The panel was hilarious, a good start to the day. After that it was on to the tea dueling tournament! This was something I'd wanted to see but missed last year, and then missed another tournament at AnachroCon earlier this year. But I made it this year and it was even more fun than I expected.

These are the rules: the contestants get a cookie and a cup of tea, have to dunk their cookies 3/4 of the way in the tea to the count of five, then take the cookies out. The last one to eat their cookie without it falling apart wins the round. They have to get the whole cookie in their mouth without any of it falling, which is easier said than done. I lucked out and got a really good seat, so here are some videos I took.

"Aug. 31, 2014 about 2:15 pm
How did it get to be so late? All I've eaten today is a granola bar and half a Coke."

Last year I went to a sub shop called Jimmy John's, so this year I decided I'd go back. I found it, too. I'd forgotten their little trick of hiding the only stack of napkins where no one can find them, then not giving you a napkin with your food, then when you ask where the napkins are they gesture vaguely in the general direction without looking up. The same thing happened last year and I was so mad this year about it that I'll never eat at Jimmy John's again. Also when I did finally find the napkins I took about 20.

I went to a bunch of panels that afternoon, mostly in the skeptics' track but one called "Starship Smackdown!", where basically the group comes up with a list of starships from various movies and books and decides which would win. It's very, very funny even though I wasn't familiar with most of the ships.

Aug 31 I'm at a panel where they'll discuss various starships and which would win in a fight. It's a TOTALNERD panel.

Aug 31 No one has ever cared about anything more than the people in this room care about star trek.

I should note that my talk about nerds is not meant to come across as harsh. I mean, hell, I was in the room rooting for the Protector from Galaxy Quest to win (it didn't).

Aug 31 Going to a midnight concert tonight with friends, 3rd night in a row. Sleep? I'm running on PURE ADRENALIN AND CAFFEINE & not much caffeine.

Kevin had told me that I needed to see the band Anaria play Sunday at midnight. He described their music as metal with a melodic female vocalist, which sounded great to me. Kevin also knows their singer so he and Felicity were going. By the time I met up with them just before midnight I was starving again, so Felicity and I got pizza and Cokes. Kevin had also brought some other friends I didn't know, a lovely group of people who were hilariously drunk.

The pizza turned out to be a bit of a chore for me. It was good and I was hungry, but my piece was also really big and by the time the band started their set I was still working on it. It's hard to dance when you're also trying to eat pizza really fast. But it turned out that Kevin had a flask of rum, so he topped my Coke off and that helped me get the crust down more easily.

I really liked Anaria. They sound a bit like Evanescence but heavier, with an oldschool metal feel that made me very, very happy. Their drummer is amazing too.

That was it for my DragonCon. I said goodbye to everyone and drove back to my hotel, where I slept four hours, then packed up my stuff and stole all the tiny soaps and headed home. Now I need to do laundry, although it might be more hygienic to just set my suitcase on fire.

I've already bought my membership for DragonCon 2015. See you there!

OH I ALMOST FORGOT--last year my DragonCon roundup post got a fair amount of traffic and I felt bad later when I realized I'd forgotten to add links to the musicians and artists I mentioned. I think I got all the links in this time. Also, I definitely need to mention that Kevin and Felicity do a hilarious podcast with another friend of theirs, The Flopcast, which you should totally listen to. And I write fantasy and SF as K.C. Shaw that you can buy and read! I don't have anything new out at the moment but I've got some interesting stuff going on that I can't talk about yet, so hopefully when I post next year's DragonCon roundup I'll have some awesome news to share.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Chicken Enchiladas

I'd worry that this blog was at risk of becoming a cooking blog, but I suppose that's better than not updating at all.

A friend just asked for a recipe on Twitter, so I'm putting it here for everyone!

Chicken Enchiladas

Step one:
2 or 3 chicken quarters or 4-6 chicken thighs
1/2 c hot sauce (I use Valentina extra hot)

Remove skin and as much fat as possible from the chicken pieces. Put them in the bottom of a casserole and cover with the hot sauce (I don't measure, just pour it on until it looks right, but it works out to about half a cup). Cover casserole with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, remove foil and cook another 20 minutes.

Step two:
1 onion, diced
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes with peppers
spices to taste
While chicken is cooking, saute onion in a little oil until starting to go transparent. Drain beans and tomatoes and add to onions. Simmer on low heat until chicken is done. Add cumin, chili powder, cayenne, etc. to taste. You may need a little salt too.

When chicken is done, remove meat from bones with two forks and add to bean/tomato mixture. Cut up or shred to bite-sized. Don't worry if it's not quite cooked through.

Step three:
Shredded cheese and a lot of it.
6-8 corn tortillas
1 can enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 350. Pour about 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into a square casserole (NOT the same casserole the chicken came from, that one's full of chicken grease). Pour another 1/3 into the chicken mixture and stir. Heat the tortillas in the microwave and fill each with chicken mixture and a handful of shredded cheese. Fold and place in casserole. When all tortillas are filled, pour remaining enchilada sauce evenly over the top. Place remaining chicken mixture over that, then cover with a bunch of shredded cheese.

Bake at 350 for at least 20 minutes, 30 if your chicken was not quite done.

You can stop after step one (cook long enough that the chicken is done through) and eat the chicken by itself. It's very good! Or you can use the meat to make chicken tacos instead. Definitely use thighs/quarters and not chicken breasts, though, since thighs have more flavor, more moisture, and are cheaper besides.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scalloped potatoes

My brother asked for my scalloped potatoes recipe on Twitter, and since it's an easy recipe but hard to fit into 140 characters, here it is.

Peel and slice thin about six medium-sized or three large potatoes. Place slices in an ungreased casserole dish, overlapping them about half over each other. When you have covered the bottom of the dish, dot with bits of butter and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Put another layer of potato slices on that layer and top with the same butter and seasonings. Put a final layer of potato slices on top but do not season yet.

Pour half-and-half (or cream, or whole milk) gently over the top layer. You don't need much, maybe half a cup or a bit more. Then add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and bits of butter.

Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, or until a fork pushed down through all three layers goes through easily. The top layer will be a bit firm and browned, the bottom layers should be creamy and tender. You will want to eat all of it and burn your mouth.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fear is false

I've wanted to learn how to play drums since I was in my early 20s at least, maybe late teens. I don't remember, just that it's been a very long time. But I never got around to it, didn't know how to start, didn't have the money for drums or lessons, etc.

But you know what? It's simple. I could have started years and years ago, if I'd only known. It's simple and fun and I just started and why didn't I start back when I first had the idea? If I had, I'd be really good by now.

When I picked up the drumsticks for the first time on Wednesday, I was terrified. Yes, I was by myself in my own house and no one was going to care. I was still scared. Because it was something I'd wanted to do for so long, I'd put a lot of emotion into learning.

I was, of course, terrible. I have a booklet (two booklets, actually) of exercises and directions, and I was practically shaking when I started going through it. At the end of my first 20-minute or so practice session, I was exhausted.

Now, after only a few days, I'm still terrible but I'm no longer scared. The reality of actually doing this thing I've been dreaming about for so long has dissipated the emotions involved. And I really enjoy drumming. I want to get good at it. I look forward to practicing every day.

So if there's something you've always wanted to do but didn't think you could for whatever reason, just start. Go do it. Now! Look online for help with beginning, get a book from the library, whatever. You don't have to shell out a lot of money at first. You don't even have to talk to another human being if that makes you nervous. Just start. The you of 20 years from now will thank you.