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Addicted to webcomics? How about steampunk? Or RPG journals? This is a good read!

http://shawntionary.com/clockworks/
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The standard version and the bonus round, which is what you get when I disappear the base colors layer.

To be honest, I like the bonus version better. C'est la vie.


Don't Get Et colored
by *Bluesrat on deviantART


Don't Get Et bonus round
by *Bluesrat on deviantART
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Dream Guy full-body
by *Bluesrat on deviantART

Well, that was different.  I suspect this may not get him out of my head, though.  He seems wedged in there pretty good.  I think my subconscious may be trying to tell me something.
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Since the image was so vivid in my mind, I tried to draw him. Not entirely satisfied--his jaw's not quite right--but what the heck. Been too long since I did any art anyway.

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Woke up this morning and just had to write this down. It's been a while since I had a dream that was this much fun.

We start an adventuring group in a fantasy world ruled by an Evil Empire--only I got the impression that what makes this empire so evil is less oppressive regime and more decadent corruption. Of these adventurers (four, I think; only two still stick clearly in my mind), the gun-slinging sorceress Islene is copped from my sister's Iron Kingdoms campaign (from which my plagiarizing brain also stole other elements). The other characters I seem to have invented, but one fellow, whiplash thin with floppy black hair and a red jerkin, also left an impression. Sadly, I don't know his name.

This band of merry rogues is doing their exploratory monster-killing thing in a deserted underground cavern when they stumble across a creaking rope bridge into a strange chamber. There are people in this room standing frozen like statues.

Curious, the adventurers start poking around. Either the spell that held them has grown thin with time or somebody pokes the right way, because a couple of them wake up. There's a knight, clearly glorious and noble, and a man who's kind of blurred out in the dream at first, and kind of keeping to the background.

These men, it quickly becomes clear, are from The Past--you know, before the Evil Empire. The characters refer to it as the Lost Kingdoms, the time before the empire conquered everybody and united the kingdoms under one rule. I don’t know how long in that past that was, but the adventurers are too young to have known it. The knight, it transpires, was alive back then and was someone's loyal and virtuous champion. He fought against those conquests.

Unable to wake anyone else in the chamber, the group decides to head back and tell somebody about this, because it seems important, or at least very interesting. The trek from the dungeon back to wherever it is they're from becomes very exciting, and the knight proves to be (naturally) a worthy fighter. The other guy’s not bad, either, but whomever’s POV I’m sharing develops some contempt for him, because he’s really trying not to get involved in things. He resists fighting—would rather run or hide—and he seems to only reluctantly go along with them at all, almost like he’d rather be back in that cave (except that clearly he wouldn’t). He fades into the background because the POV characters (the knight, I think, and maybe Islene) sort of ignore him.

They're floating on a boat down a small river (along what seem to be the fantasied-up streets of my hometown), when a mob of screaming armed men leap out of the house across the street from my grandmother's to attack. The knight’s prowess saves their lives from what seem, in retrospect, to be private soldiers. After that clears up, the knight suspects that someone's after them. Islene muses that the breaking of the spells in that chamber might've alerted whoever cast them in the first place. So they hustle back home, where they can talk to some other people who seem to be rather organized--not rebels, exactly, but a sort of protective militia. Apparently the Evil Empire is very lax about the whole "oppressive governance" thing.

Oh, a curious thing I'll mention here: it was a very visual dream. Everything was done in a Disney/Dreamworks type cartoon style, and things that were magic had the lines inked with gold rather than black. Created an interesting haloing effect. Islene had a set of magic robes or leather armor, as well as her guns. The man in red had magic boots. The knight glowed all over, as though he were saturated with magic...or on him, maybe it really was a sort of halo. He definitely had a paladin vibe. He's not a traitor or anything; he really is that super-awesome.

Once they get home, Islene (who's got some rank in this militia/underground military) has duties to attend to. The knight figures he needs to know more about what's going on, so he starts answering questions and learning what's up these days.

But the other guy, the one who'd been lurking in the background and seeming almost cowardly in his resistance to getting involved? Suddenly he comes into focus. He's dressed in deerskins with a bow slung across his shoulders. He's broad-shouldered, broad-cheekboned, looks Native American (almost Inuit), with a tattoo scrawled across one cheekbone (and possibly more following the contours of the other side of his face). His hair changes when I try to get a good look at him. It's black and shoulder-long and pulled back, but sometimes it's cut normally and other times one temple is shaved back into patterns. A little like my Kedrihm’Val character, except he’s bulkier, shorter, and less…odd. He’s like a barbarian or something.

And now he wants to go back to that chamber. It seems he's been quiet this whole time because he was doing a lot of thinking, and whatever it was about, he needs more information. He seems to believe that the key to whatever mystery is bothering him may lie back where they found him.

Truthfully, the adventurers didn't look around that complex as much as they could've. It was a cavern, but it was clearly settled--luxuriously so--at one point. There's that rope bridge they passed over, stretched across a chasm, but there was also a sort of amphitheatre layered with rotting carpets and cushions, and more than one room draped in moth-eaten tapestries and curtains. The room they found the people in had a few chairs and benches in it, a little like an abandoned solarium. Certainly there are more secrets to discover in that place.

Well, Islene can't go with them, and the knight thinks he’s in the right place, but the rest of the group is still curious about that cavern. They decide to go back with the native guy to find out what else they can find out.

Coming over the rope bridge, they get attacked by monstrous cave wolves. This is why I remember the floppy-haired man in red, because he pulls an acrobatic stunt with the rope bridge that gets the wolves dead and the party to the other side of the chasm, but leaves them short one bridge. But they figure that’s okay, because they found a secret passage they can use to get out.

Only once they get inside, they only get a peek into the room with the statue-people before they realize the wolves weren’t random cave-dwelling monsters. They were guards. This place isn’t abandoned anymore; it’s swarming with celebrity bad guys. It’s like an evil wizards convention. That amphitheatre they only barely noticed before is now full of the stinking wealthy and sordid lounging about and chattering as if they’re waiting for a show to start.

And here we get a few questions answered about the world. Because it’s clear from the characters’ reactions that these are the movers and shakers of the evil empire. Mostly they are not themselves in official positions, but they are frighteningly powerful magicians. Many are old enough to remember the Lost Kingdoms and were, I gather, part of the reason the empire got off to a start in the first place. They supported it because they wanted to be allowed to do whatever the hell they felt like (such as not pay taxes, be beholden to laws, or be prohibited from raising the undead and performing ghastly human experiments).

There are too many of them here to explore in safety, and they can't be up to any good here. Given that, the adventurers just want out. Only they can’t get out, because it turns out that their back way out doesn't work. Before, they’d found a small antechamber with a secret passage leading back out of the complex. Islene spotted it...except it turns out that it’s less “she found it” and more “it only works for her.” It needs a magician to operate it. When a sorcerer presses the switch, the room actually moves like a horizontal elevator to take its passengers across the chasm. No spellcaster, no escape.

So here they are, stuck and wondering how the hell to get out, because there aren’t a whole lot of hiding places to sneak out via the antechamber. And while they’re attempting to lurk unnoticed in shadowed corners, they get noticed. It’s a sturdy, heavyset jovial fellow who almost seems too friendly to actually be an evil magician. Apparently he’s so tickled by the novelty of skulking adventurers that he doesn’t even feel threatened by them.

Figuring, I guess, that adventurers who’ve found their way into places they shouldn’t be are likely to be up on some good gossip, he chats them up and shares a bit about what’s going on. There’s to be some sort of auction. The assembled wizards are very curious about this little underground hide-away, largely having known nothing about it themselves, but it seems that whoever’s in charge of this place has something to sell—information? And those of the wicked sorcerer community who aren’t interested in buying at least want to know what’s up. But even the worst of the worst are a little intimidated by some of the names on the guest list—such as Asphyxious, one of the few malefic sorcerers who actually does hold an official position in the Empire (shut up, IK fans! My brain did it, it’s not my fault!). He hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s due any time...

Alarming news, especially to the native guy. But at this point, they’re “rescued” from the gossip-mongering wizard by two others who come traipsing by—a square-framed bull of a fellow and his elegant dark-skinned, pale-haired, gossamer-cloaked lady companion, who practically herds the group of adventurers off like a sheepdog.

This, it seems, really is a dubious sort of rescue. The fellow they were talking to is a truly horrid individual who was likely to do something unfortunate once he got bored...but this new pair isn’t especially better. The lady did her good deed, it seems, because she knows the native man and wants to find out what he’s doing here, alive, after all this time. He bargains to give her information in return for her getting them out of here. She agrees, and activates the room, coming along with them for the ride to talk.

“Do you know what happened to the prince, [name I don't remember]?” she asks him.
“He was supposed to marry you,” the native answers, by way of indicating that’s the last he heard.
“Yes, but he didn’t want to. He loved you,” she replies. At which point I realized both that this is why the native man was locked away in that room, and also that whatever happened to the prince was instrumental in shaping the world as it now is.

And then my alarm went off and I woke up.
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On the way to Columbus, we got stuck in traffic twice, for a grand total of two extra hours added on to our trip (which was five and a half hours to begin with). Both jams were caused by accidents, and they were about ten miles apart. The second accident was kind of awful, and I hope everybody got out okay, but I remain puzzled by the first one: when we went past, the police were just cleaning up the remains, and inexplicably, a random fat guy on a rascal was winding up the yellow caution tape.

I didn't actually attend many events at the convention. This year, I was more interested in roaming around the city. I went to the Franklin Conservatory and botanical gardens, which was awesome, and which had PARROTS! I chatted with the macaws in the rain forest section, and I made friends with the lorikeets in the butterfly garden. Lorikeets are very colorful medium-sized parrots who eat nectar. I learned how to mimic their calls (I'm good at mimicking parrot calls) and lured them over to me and played with them. I also took a friend to the Catholic museum a couple of miles away, which contains some beautiful art, relics, and historical objects from Catholic churches around the eastern US. Neat place, and our tour guide knew a lot of stories about the displays.

I ate a lot. The first night we went to the Fish Market, which...yes. Do that if you like seafood at all. Stupendous. The food was spectacular, and the service was incredible. They made us feel like like they'd be sad to see us go. Note: they will not warn you about the Desserts of Doom. If you get dessert, it will be the size of your head. Prepare accordingly.

I ate twice at the Zencha tea salon, which doesn't have a website. They have a four-page tea menu--I got the sampler, which lets you choose three kinds--and a small lunch/brunch menu. On Saturdays, they have a special brunch menu that mainly features different sorts of waffles and griddle cakes. If you ever go there, get the okonomikayi--chinese cabbage, scallions, bean sprouts, chicken in an egg-based pancake. It's seriously kick-ass. Also I highly recommend the cherry blossom green tea. It was my favorite of all the kinds I tried, with a flowery fragrance and a hint of cherry-like sweetness around the edges.

I got Jeni's ice cream a few times. My favorite was the goat cheese ice cream with cherry compote, which tasted like a terrific cherry cheesecake.

And my sister and I went to Mitchell's steakhouse for lunch. Their dinner menu is expensive, but lunch is much more reasonable. The place is located in an old renovated bank, with gorgeous arching ceilings with frescoes, and the whole place is extremely stylish and sophisticated. The staff were extremely welcoming, and though it looks like the sort of place you'd expect to have a dress code, they were quite relaxed. Spectacular food.

And we ate at BD's Mongolian grill, which is a choose-your-own-stirfry sort of place that's fairly well-known to the gamer set at Origins. They had a special room set up for people from the convention, where they put Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail on the TV, and all the restaurant staff lingered around the doorway when they weren't running tables. :)

All told, I ate way too much, and somehow lost an inch off my waist. Possibly it was all the walking. I walked a lot.

Of the few events I went to, my favorite was the "What makes aliens alien?" seminar, hosted by Michael Stackpole, which was far too short for a subject like that with a guy who knows his stuff that well (also a really good group of attendees who were just as much fun). The Origins blockade irritated me this year. Normally they have staffers at the doorway of the various exhibit halls who'll check your badge. This time they blocked off parts of the hall and the doors into the convention center so they could stop anybody entering the building (sometimes, when they felt like staffing those areas). I'm not even sure they were supposed to be allowed to do that. I think the place is supposed to remain open to the public, seeing as the food court and whatnot are advertised as public eateries. :P

On the way back, we drove through a driving rainstorm of the sort where you have to be careful not to hydroplane...in which my serpentine belt suddenly decided to give up the ghost. I couldn't even tell, at first, because the rain had the steering behaving so wonky already, but the "check guages" light came on, and then a couple of minutes later I realized that the engine was overheating. When I pulled over, I realized that my power steering had given out. So we were stuck about 20 miles away from the nearest anything in the middle of a vicious thunderstorm on a Sunday afternoon around 5 pm, and it took us about an hour to sort out help. When I checked the engine, sure enough the serpentine belt was missing. A nice man who stopped to help us said he couldn't figure out how my car could still move. It should've lost all power to the drive train, because the serpentine belt is what transfers power from the spinning bit the pistons make move (it's like the wheel a generator turns, folks) to...well, pretty much anything else. So I have a magic car. I knew this.

Anyway, the very kind state police helped us and got hold of not only a tow truck but also a car rental agency that was still open or at least on call with the police for emergencies, and things got sorted by about 6 pm. I drove home in a rented Taurus while my car got left with a really nice mechanic named Jim out in Mercer (highly recommended if any of you blow something in the vicinity of DuBois, PA). For that hour or so, it was dread and badness and the fear of spending EVEN MORE on my car than I had already. But as I merged onto I-80 in the (really rather nice, OMG I need a new car) Taurus, I was passed by a white Pontiac who had the entire rear end of their car held on by bungee straps.

And I realized with that little bit of perspective that I really wasn't in such a bad space. After all, I could've been That Guy.

I drove back out yesterday (hour and a half trip) to pick my car up. Jim had it all patched up with a new serpentine belt for a really very reasonable price, the steering is nice and responsive now, and I'll get a refund on the towing bill from my insurance agency.

Funny thing, though: I got there to pick up my car, and he asked me, "You know you had a serpentine belt in your trunk?" And you know what? I did know that. It burst upon my consciousness that I knew I'd had a serpentine belt in my trunk for EIGHT YEARS, because the last time I had it replaced, the mechanic accidentally abraded the new one so that it screamed like a cat in heat, and they'd re-replaced it with a clean one gratis and thrown the noisy but perfectly viable one in my trunk, where it remains to this day.

Jim could've put that one on on the spot, so I wouldn't have needed a tow or a rental car or anything. The nice man who stopped to help us (who'd actually asked my friend "I don't suppose there's any chance you've got a spare?" while I was down the road hunting for a mile marker) could've put it on. My friend could've put it on, because I have the tools to do so in my trunk as my family doesn't believe in driving around in big machines without a toolbox just in case.

Here's the thing. I'm not upset about spending the money or breaking down in the first place or anything like that. That white sedan taught me that valuable lesson. But I'm disappointed that I missed that special "What're the odds?" opportunity, so beloved of packrats, to save the day by hauling out the unlikely item in question.
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Good lord, when's the last time I did an art post? *checks tags* December? Well, I haven't been wildly productive since December (we all enter burnout sometime, I suppose).

But I've been having fun with that Steampunk Star Wars idea that's been going around. The other folks in our Star Wars gaming group prodded me into doing steampunk-style pictures of the characters.

Onna--the gun-toting diplomat and resident rich girl. She's the first picture I did, and it kinda shows. I've gotten a lot better at the steampunk aesthetic since I started working on these.

Ree--the Jedi.

Lydia--the Jedi's apprentice, who is, appropriately enough, an orphan from the streets.

Z--the wild-n-crazy bounty hunter who is in fact too much in love with his jet pack.

Oola--Twilek mechanic and one of the reasons I decided this needed to be done.

Dalt--ex-Dark Sider and crazy mad scientist inventor type. The other reason I decided this needed to be done. Also, this picture taught me the number one rule of steampunk art: when in doubt, add buckles. Irrational amounts of useless buckles.
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I usually don't post about current events, because I figure anybody interested in the news is probably getting it more efficiently from actual news sources. But Gary Gygax's death leaves me feeling like I should say something.

I'm not sure what, exactly. I mean, I didn't know him personally, though I understand he was generally a cool guy and obviously I liked his work. RPGs surround a lot of good memories in my life, but he didn't invent a cure for cancer or bring peace to the Middle East or anything Important like that. But it's just, gosh, a little piece of the world I (and a lot of the people who read this) grew up in falling by the wayside. Happens all the time; sometimes you notice. I notice more with Gary's death, maybe, because what he gave us was a way to remember how to be children no matter how old we might be. A bright gift, Gary. Thank you.
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It snowed all weekend long. It was awesome! We got 3 or 4 inches on the cars, 1 or 2 on the ground, and none of it quite got around to sticking to roads or sidewalks. Everything's liberally frosted with beautiful white and it makes me happy. Also, it made me sleep really well. For some reason, I sleep wonderfully during snow storms.

Had a completely kick-ass session of our Star Wars game on Saturday (that's the D&D type of RPG, dear new readers, not a video game). Thanks to the work of our Tech, our PCs finally uncovered the Sith who'd been hiding in the Senate (not Palpatine; this is post-movies). While our Jedi dueled her through the skylanes and casinos of Coruscant, my Force-sensitive martial artist discovered that the Jedi who'd turned traitor on us had escaped incarceration (an ex-PC who used to be the Jedi's partner, to make things nice and personal). The two of them proceeded to Matrix-ninja-fight down a series of floating platforms while they fought over a book of Dark Side secrets that everyone was after. Meanwhile, our Tech rescued a starship full of passengers that the Sith had tried to hijack as an escape route, and she and our Noble cleared up the disaster the Sith had left in the Senate building. Something heroic for everyone, with lots of lightsabers and kung-fu action all around, it was the kind of cinematic goodness that leaves you running high for a few days because it all just worked so well.

Watched most of Dragonheart on the SciFi Channel yesterday. It wasn't quite as visually impressive as I remember it being (it's been a few years since I saw it last, long enough for f/x to improve), and the plot was more patchy than I'd recalled, but I loved Draco and Bowen just as much as ever. It's such a sweet movie. I caught the whole thing except the end, which is okay because the end makes me cry.

In college football, I continued to be amused by the inability of anyone to remain in the top 5 for more than two weeks. LSU finally ends up at #1, which I think they deserve (they certainly earned their way to it), and #2 will probably end up being either Kansas or Oklahoma, depending on who wins their game next week. Not as optimal as I'd hoped: I was rooting for some little no-name schools to hit the jackpot so I could watch the collective heads of the sports writers explode on-camera. We've proved the BCS doesn't work, people. Console yourselves with your brand-name teams while you can; sooner or later we'll have a playoff system and your pet schools won't automatically be victorious anymore.

Yes, I'm a Penn State fan. It could be argued that we're a brand-name team. On the other hand, we're a decidedly hated brand-name team that routinely gets cheated. I think if we had a fair shake, we'd earn our victories (though admittedly, not when our guys keep handing the ball to the other team). Maybe I'm wrong, but at least we'd know, yes?

Was awakened at 4 am this morning for a reason I couldn't define. My room looked indefinably strange. Couldn't place it. Looked at my clock to check the time, and the power was out. Looked out my window and realized there wasn't a light to be seen from our hilltop to the next one. The HVAC unit on the hotel that rests not 50 feet from my back door (take note, those of you who may wish to come visit) always whirrs gently in the night, sounding like quiet, stable crickets. It'd gone dead. The fans in my roommates' rooms had shut down, and the almost subliminal house-noises of heating units and hot water pipes were gone. That's what woke me up. Sudden dead silence.

I reveled in the unusual snowy darkness for a little while, then set my watch alarm and went back to sleep while roommates bustled quietly about trying to arrange things so they'd be able to get up and get ready for work if the power didn't come back on by 6 am. It came back on around 7:30, to judge from the time on my clock when I next woke. No idea what happened, but it was neat.
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Well, it only took me a month, and I got in on deadline. Woot! So, here it is, the picture I've been working on so hard:

http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/61199327/

If you click on "download" on the left side of the DevArt page, you can open a full-size version of the image. Beware to dial-uppers, though: I made this sucker *big* because the point was that it'll get printed out. The full JPEG version is about 7 MB. You do not want to know how big the final PSD file was!
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By this time tomorrow, I'll be in a hotel room in Ohio, attending Origins. I will not have to look work in the face until next week! It'll be sweet. Funny thing: I'm actually more looking forward to just hanging out in a different place than I am anticipating the convention. I want to take my friends to that Japanese steakhouse, try the ice cream place Jess Hartley told me about, and go see Transformers with my discounted movie ticket that, for some reason, the Origins people have arranged for attendees. I don't know why, and I don't care. I finally got to see Pirates 3 on Sunday (oh hell YES! I don't care about questions of quality; I just loved the huge amounts of PIRATES and SHIPS and BATTLES!  And the whole mysticism of the sea angle, because there's always been something mysterious about ships and sailors that made me feel like they must know something we don't), and tomorrow I will get a long frigging road trip (I love road trips), a heaping helping of giant robot action, and then four days of ubergeekery and tourism.

For those of you who're keeping track, I have the plan for my picture sorted out! A far cry from any of my original ideas, isn't it?  I have some fiddling to do with the linework; the door needs to be taller, for example, and I'd like a bit more space on the right side (which is fine, since it means I'll be able to keep it all in proportion).  But this is a good place to leave it for now.  After a week-long break, I'll be able to come back to it with fresh eyes and get the details where they ought to go.

It's just...strangely exciting to do a picture this way.  Usually I just draw stuff when it happens to come to me; I don't work at it, I don't fight with it, any art I do exists for no other reason than because I wanted to do it.  And except for two or three pictures, I've never really futzed with background at all.  So just the process of this so far has expanded my horizons.  It's a good feeling to challenge yourself and find you can rise to the task.







Calendar project working draft


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This has always been one of my favorite RPGs of all time (this and VI are my favorite FF games). So now....Final Fantasy IV remake.

I agree with that reviewer. "I'm okay with SE totally whoring out this franchise so long as it continues to do so in this general direction." Exactly, reviewer dude. Exactly.

In other news, we caught our kitchen on fire the other night. That sounds spectacular, which is why I wanted to say it, but really it was just a little grease fire, of the sort you sometimes get when you're frying or grilling. The fire extinguisher got crap all over the place, though. It was a beast to clean up.

The chicken fingers, however, turned out spectacularly.

SPEAKING OF COOKING! Nate_Prentice just showed me this little beauty: Eater of souls, roaster of dogs.

Also: fine, fine! My birthday's up in my profile now. Happy, LJ? I only left it out to avoid the embarrassment of having half my f-list descend upon me in annual birthday wishes and most of the other half apologizing to me for a week after for missing it.
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Computer still hosed, BIOS froze up on me, this could be a problem.

In other, more horrific news, however, someone at Origins is running a...a...Call of Cthulhu/SpongeBob Squarepants game. I need to go find a new brain.
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Courtesy of the Onion: "Department of Evil: All of you must die."

In other news, got my new Wacom tablet! It is pure love. And I totally wussed out on Linux. Perhaps another time. Probably in a year or so, when the next upgrade for functional software requires me to install Vista.

Also, drew this for [livejournal.com profile] sandchigger Friday afternoon. I needed something to ease the narcoleptic pain of work.



Cheers!
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First: yeee, snow! We got about four inches, and everything's gorgeous with it. No one was prepared, so when I walked to work, none of the streets or sidewalks had been plowed or shovelled. I could almost imagine sleighs coming trotting down the streets. I planned to take pictures, but forgot to take my camera along...which was just as well, seeing as I was late to work as it was.

Second: does anyone know how to browse through tagged entries when it's not your LJ and they don't have the tags conveniently offered in a sidebar or something? The only way I've found is to click on a tag and look at other entries under the same label, but what if I'd like to see what other tags a journal offers?

Third: art. Geeky comic book superhero art. Once I'm done hiding my face in embarrassment, I'll justify myself by saying it's damn good practice, and in the past month of being absorbed in comics art, I have improved my figure drawing by leaps and bounds. I've been doodling some of our *cough* superhero RPG characters *cough*what?theyneededcostumedesigns*cough* whom I'll scan at some point by way of illustration. Now I just need to break myself of the growing habit of drawing people in over-dramatic poses with over-dramatic muscles.

In news of my personal life...not much. Work amuses me in a vaguely frustrated but not-unexpected way, mainly due to the rampant disorganized half-assery of the librarian whose project we're working on. *ponders creating a 'stabbity death' icon*
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A great deal of eventfulness this weekend, which added up to little--my car is back in the shop, and my sister has the flu. On the other hand, there was a lovely turkey dinner and the exchange of presents among friends.

I'm still taking notes on that story idea, but when it's begun coalescing into anything involving actual sentences, I'll get that filter set up for those of you who want to be on it.

But most importantly, I've been working on this sucker for six months, on and off, and it's done! I've finished it! It is...a picture with an actual background! Iron Kingdoms: the Rigs
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For those of you who're interested, here's the Iron Kingdoms blog. I've got the background information up, so you can read about the setting, but I haven't started entering the annals of our exploits yet. ;)

http://immoren.blogspot.com/
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They can't find anything wrong with my car. You'd expect this to be good news, except that it means there's something wrong with my car and no one knows what, which means it might well do whatever-it-is again...possibly on, say, a long trip home for Christmas. Blarg.

I forgot to submit my time card last week, and didn't notice till last night, which means I'm missing a pay period. I'll be reimbursed...in January. *sigh* My own stupid fault. It's all right, this is why we have savings accounts. But it's annoying, and stupid, and I have embarrassed myself in front of the entire Human Resources department. Not my benchmark week.

Well, well. Not all is despair and bleakness. Office party yesterday; it was great fun and the pizza was top-notch. Also, I have an honest-to-god idea for a story. A novel! It's got a plot and everything! (Plots are my weak point, I've found.) I've learned not to promise such things, but if I can get it together enough to produce coherent samples, I could share some with you lovely folks. It wouldn't be a bad idea to get feedback on it anyway, just in case it starts shaping up to be embarrassingly cliched. They do have a way of sneaking up on you unnoticed, do cliches, and having extra eyes to spot them is no bad thing.

In the meantime, for those of you who enjoy such things, I'm putting together another gaming blog, for my sister's Iron Kingdoms game. Shhhh, it's a secret. I'll share the link when there's more to look at than a background. Iron Kingdoms is an amazing setting (it's d20, but one of those customized d20 games where it's been jiggered to fit specifically with the needs of the--extremely coherent, atmospheric, and balanced--setting), and my sister is a thoroughly spectacular GM. I hope great and probably overweening things for this blog, involving edgy piratical writing styles you should probably hope I don't get around to trying. Sometimes, fading attention spans are a good thing.

The Star Wars gaming blog, again for those of you who enjoy such things, is now prominently displayed in my Links list. *points upward* (http://sarthedroid.blogspot.com) It's up-to-date. I caught up on a couple of entries I'd fallen behind on, and the new sessions are posted.

My Twerp* has a revolting flu that deserves to be kicked in the face like a space-hobo, from which my other roommates are only now on the mend. Poor things, all of 'em. Not a one of them has a lick of sense when it comes to taking a day off work, but I love the poor sods nonetheless. Foolish creatures that they are.

* That's my sister, remember?
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I had a freaking awesome weekend. Not the kind where you do all sorts of exciting and novel stuff, but the kind where you flop down and revel in the luxury of doing nothing of importance whatsoever.

It started Friday on a low note: my car broke down in town. This sucked particularly because a few weeks ago, I had the battery terminal cables replaced. Last weekend, one of the clamps split apart, stranding a roommate downtown, and I had to have the thing towed and the repair re-repaired. This weekend, we're not sure what the problem is, but towed again it was and I'm hoping, oddly, that it's still the same problem because then I won't have to pay for it.

But I would not allow this to get me down. For also on Friday, there were Pirates (of the Caribbean 2). I know, I know, but who cares about quality? That movie had swordfights! And ships!

As a related sidenote, men, do you have any idea how hot your hips are?

*cough*

Anyway. On Saturday, because my roommates had forgotten to buy bread when they made the grocery run, I decided to bake bread myself using my sister's new mixer. And...not to put too fine a point on it, but I made some damn fine bread. The inner loaf is tender and fluffy, but deceptively dense and filling. More usefully, it shows a willingness to remain in one piece (unlike most of the bread I've baked, where cutting slices resulted in the bread falling apart--perhaps tasty, but useless for anything practical like sandwiches or toast). The crust turned out, dare I say it? Flaky. So far, I've eaten it fresh with butter, as toast, and as a grilled cheese panini, and it's performing magnificently on all counts. Especially grilled or toasted and saturated with melted butter. Oh, yeah.

Since I now have the appropriate equipment, I might well make a habit of baking bread. It was fun, and good exercise (kneading dough...OMG, my arms), and proper equipment makes baking so much easier, with the end product definitely being better quality. Perhaps even more importantly, I didn't have to spend more time cleaning up than baking. That's a real downer, when you have to do that.

While I was waiting for dough to rise, I cleaned the kitchen and rearranged the pantry shelves so that we could fit the new stuff in there. So technically, I did stuff, but I was the only one. Watching my roommates not do stuff was relaxing enough for me. They're always doing stuff, because they don't understand the concept of resting, but not doing stuff for one weekend did visible wonders for them. Having them not constantly underfoot while I did stuff was just as relaxing. I should try to get them to not do stuff more often.

I'm such a corrupting influence.

Saturday night, our Usual GM ran a session of Star Wars that totally rocked. Sadly, there was not much in the way of lightsaber fights. This is a problem, because players took Jedi characters so they could play with lightsabers, but as they are excellent players who know that Jedi try to avoid fighting whenever they can, they often weasel their own way out of the lightsabers. The chronicle blog, in case you're interested.

Sunday, we finished the Christmas shopping, and I finally--finally!--found a pair of winter boots that are functional and do not harm my feet. You have no idea how hard that is. It's been five years since the last time I found such a pair. Shoes do not 'break in' for me. If they hurt me at the beginning (usually by digging gouges into the back of my heels), they'll continue hurting me till they either fall apart or I stop wearing them. I hate shoes. But not these particular shoes. I love these particular shoes, and I hope they hold together for years to come.

Incidentally, can any of you tell me why it could possibly be a good idea to put high heels on winter boots? I see the purpose of winter boots as being a dual one--to keep your feet warm, and to keep from slipping on ice and snow. How could high heels on winter boots possibly be anything less than an attempt to stealthily execute the female half of the population?




In totally other, non self-congratulatory news, here's an excellent link: the spoon theory of chronic illness, for those of you who either need loved ones to 'get it,' or who want to 'get it' better for your loved ones.




Tips for prospective bread bakers: baking bread is a hell of a lot harder than you'd expect for what I, at least, tend to think of as the quintessential example of "baking." There are all these tricks that no one ever tells you, I suppose because bread baking used to be so ubiquitous. Unless you're lucky, you end up having to find out the hard way. For example, the duration of the kneading directly relates to the grain of the finished loaf. The more you knead it, the finer the grain you'll end up with. So if you want a good, chunky stew-dipping bread, go a bit easy on the kneading. For a fine sandwich bread, knead longer. (There's also precious little out there in the way of 'how to knead properly.')

But after gaining some experience, I'll tell you, the secret is in the crust. It's relatively easy to bake a nice, fluffy inner loaf, but whether the bread measures up all depends on whether the crust is worthwhile.

The crust's hardness has to do with the amount of water lost from the bread during baking. Turning the temperature of the oven down won't result in a softer crust; it only nets you a thicker crust and a drier bread, as the crust bakes more slowly and lets water evaporate from insde the loaf as well as the surface. But if you don't adjust the heat, it's all too easy to bake the crust too hard, so that once the loaf cools, you end up needing a jackhammer to get into it. After doing this a couple of times, I learned to put a pan of water in the oven with the bread. This helped keep things a bit more humid, so the air in the oven didn't suck all the life from my poor, helpless loaves. Also, while most recipes mention that you should baste the bread when it comes out of the oven, I discovered that basting the bread with melted butter before you put it in the oven also helps. Essentially, a coating of oil or melted fat on the surface of the bread acts as a barrier between the hot, dry air of the oven and the water in the bread. This also lends to the coveted flaky effect.

Finally, in this particular case, I quite accidentally added a 1/4 cup more water than the recipe called for, but I think that it turned out to be a good call.

If people want my bread recipe, I can write it up here. It's a simple milk-bread recipe, which I note for those of my f-list who happen to be kosher Jews (and this reminds me, do any of you have a good challah recipe? I'd love to try it).

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