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.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lego fail

I saw the Lego Movie a few weekends ago and it really is fun. I enjoyed it a lot and I'm one of millions brainwashed by the "Everything Is Awesome" song. It made me remember how much fun it is to play with Lego bricks too, so I bought a few inexpensive sets and had a great time building from the instructions. I thought I could pick up a box here and there as I could afford it, and eventually I'd have enough bricks to build whatever I liked.

Since I've now written seven Lizzy and Jo short stories, a novella, and I'm working on a novel with those characters, naturally my goal is to build an airship with Legos and play with it when I'm supposed to be writing. I can't afford the big Lego sets that would allow me to make an airship yet, but there are a million Lego mini-figures and I thought I could get some and mix and match their parts to make Lizzy and Jo figures.

The problem is, Jo is a black woman. I thought it wouldn't be hard to find a POC female Lego mini-fig, but I was wrong. There aren't any. Confused, I went to the official Lego site to see if I was missing something, and I found this.

It's under the frequently asked questions, so I'm not the first person to notice that hardly any Lego figures have brown skin. They say the yellow is a "neutral color" and they didn't want to assign specific ethnicity.

Because everyone knows that yellow is neutral, right? Right?


They also say they will use different skin tones for figures based on movies and so forth in which they're going for more realism, but somehow that's different. Because I guess there aren't that many Lego sets based on movies, and anyway we all know how diverse the typical movie cast is, right? Right?

Harry Potter
Star Wars
The Hobbit
Lord of the Rings
Toy Story
Marvel and DC Superheroes
Man of Steel
Pirates of the Caribbean
Lone Ranger
Raiders of the Lost Ark
etc etc etc

But don't worry, there ARE Lego minifigs out there that have brown skin! In addition to some really, really hard to find sports figures (mostly basketball players, all male), there are:


Nick Fury, from the superheroes set


Vartruvius, from the Lego Movie--you know, the movie in which all the other characters (except Shaq) have yellow skin, because this is not based on real life


And a werewolf! Although I guess that's supposed to represent brown fur. I guess. I hope.

I sent Lego a short, polite email asking if they could make more female figures, and start making some figures with brown skin. They never replied. Edited to Add: OOPS, should have checked my spam filter before I wrote that: they did reply, with a long and canned-sounding (but polite) response in which they said (in part) this: "we believe skin color is not important so we've given most of our mini-figures a neutral (yellow) skin." /headdesk

Monday, February 17, 2014

Deep thoughts

There's a fresh, steaming pile of "oh look, sexism" on the internet (when is there not? but this is particularly noisome because it comes from high-level publishing professionals and authors). I can't do much to help clean it up, but there's one thing I can point out.

This weekend I was at a con and had a lot of fun, and talked to a lot of people I don't know. Two different women I got into conversations with (at different times) kept referring to men generically. One of them even said, "Men don't have the tastebuds to appreciate chocolate."

What? Seriously? Yes, she was serious.


There's an artificial wedge between men and women in our culture. Any time someone says "men can't" or "women don't," whether the generalization is meant as a joke or compliment or a real observation, it hits that wedge hard with a hammer, driving it in deeper.

But in real life, instead of in the cartoony headspace some people seem to inhabit, people are individuals. Saying stuff like "women don't understand math" or "men don't have any fashion sense" is stupid, because it's not true. Some women don't understand math. Some men don't have any fashion sense. But not all of them--not even close.

Don't hit that wedge. Don't say stupid stuff without thinking about it first. Most importantly, don't teach your kids that the wedge is real, because goodness knows we've got a hard enough climb to reach "people are individuals and all deserving of the same respect" without that big old wedge getting in the way.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My kitchen, at last!


A vast, vast improvement, don't you think?

Eventually I'd like to replace the stove with a white one, but it works fine so there's no need to replace it yet. The dishwasher was black, but when she was cleaning it, my aunt Janice discovered that the black flips over and is almond on the back, so that helped a lot. Below, a before picture of what the kitchen used to look like. Tiled counters, ugh!


And this is what it looks like now, from another angle.


I know my enthusiasm for cleaning won't last, but right now it's a positive joy to clean the kitchen. Everything's so clean and tidy and perfect! I've been cooking a lot too. For lunch today I roasted a chicken and had it with potatoes, and there's plenty left over for tomorrow when I get home from work. Last night I made enchiladas (leftovers will be good tonight). Last week I made sugar cookies, which I cut into pink hearts. I gave most of them to my good and deserving aunt and uncle, who were the ones who got me the new countertops for Christmas and who did almost all the work to transform the kitchen into the cozy, charming room it now is!


I still need to touch up the paint on the cabinets, which took something like four coats to cover the black paint that was on there before. But other than that, the room is done!