Archive of ‘experiences’ category

Our favorite city: Portland (part one)

Back in 2012, my fella and I visited Portland, OR and had a lovely time -delicious foods were devoured, delightful cocktails were quaffed, old friends met for the first time. It was a marvelous trip and we have been talking about it ever since.

It only made sense then, to make a return visit -this time with several friends in tow! And since I have a dreadful habit of glossing over the human aspects of my adventures, let me say that I could not hope for finer traveling companions. Everyone’s personality is so different in our group – boisterous and exuberant; clever and droll; taciturn and brilliantly observant -but they all add up to the most wonderful circle of friends! And it feels strange to say that, “friends”. These gentlemen were originally comrades of my beau* but over time, as I’ve gotten to know them, I feel like they might actually be friends of mine, as well.

*(I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I hate the term “boyfriend”, so I’ll use just about every other descriptor I can wrangle.)

t break

We found a fantastic place to stay via Air BnB, a spacious and welcoming spot to call home base whilst exploring the city. A renovated 1920’s bungalow, it offered four bedrooms and two bathrooms, a large kitchen, and plenty of community space for boardgames and D&D and Dark Adventure Radio Theatre (we’re a nerdy group, you know). Again, we stayed in the Mississippi neighborhood and reveled in the chance to revisit some previous loves while staking out some new favorites with my fellow travelers.

If you’ve a hankering to visit the City of Roses, perhaps you will consider the following suggestions? Portland friends, commence the eye-rolling now.

At Mac! you’ll find all sorts of macaroni and cheese related shenanigans.  We shared enormous plates of their Truffle Mac, Cheeseburger Mac, Artichoke & Spinach Mac, and Cordon Bleu Mac. Somehow we lived through it.

 

We had a few breakfasts at Sweedeedee, a small corner cafe which is an excellent place for people watching and listening to records and eating pie – if you get there early enough, before the place starts to fill up. Recommended: the egg sandwich with shredded lettuce and avocado on the most delicious thick-cut, molasses bread. Also, salted honey pie. Skip: the breakfast burrito (too much mealy, undercooked potato).

tiki

At Hale Pele, in the lurid glow of torchlight and under the baleful glare of the gods, we sacrificed our dignity with friends and fellow fire drinkers.  I am fairly certain I had just about one of everything on the menu, and I will admit, near the end I am not even sure what I ordered.  I have to recommend, however, the Corn ‘n’ Oil, which as the menu would suggest, is indeed a strange name for an amazing drink. If you are looking for a nosh, they have several things to munch on; my favorites were the fried taro chips and the tuna poke. I love tiki bars for their kitschy escapism and potent cocktails, and Hale Pele now sits at the top of my list.

Elsewhere in the city, I met these two magical humans for art and cocktails; at Antler Gallery for the Unnatural Histories show – where I finally got to see one of Jessica Joslin’s exquisitely crafted bone and brass menagerie in person – and at Victoria Bar, where the drinks were Princess Bride inspired!

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Normally I am not keen on photos that other people take of me, because I have only like, 1/8 of a good side and no one knows how to capture it properly. That’s not their fault, of course.  I just don’t photograph well.  I shudder to think that I might actually look like a poor photo all of the time… but I suppose that’s a possibility that I can’t rule out, no matter how much it bruises the ego.  I do love this picture, however, taken at Tidbit Food and Farm food truck pod thingy whatever you call it. I don’t recall what we were discussing, but the look on my face is ridiculous and I love Minna for meeting up with us to visit, and for making me make that face.  I also do not recall what was eaten, but there was rice and noodles and karaage and takoyaki and I felt like the heroine of an action packed food anime trying to stuff it all in. Afterward, Minna marched us over to Fifty Licks for boozy adult ice cream super fun times. Pictured above is the Velvet Shiso made with plum wine, Riesling, and their Coconut Lemon Saffron sorbet with is spiced with saffron, star anise, and cardamom. It was amazing as it sounds. The only thing missing from this wonderful evening was our good friend Robyne, who was nursing a cold. Hopefully we will see you in January, Robyne!

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful spot to gaze quietly upon art, architecture, design and nature, and I was just enamored this time around by the mosaic courtyards with their poetic names – “Plum Blossom On Cracked Ice” being the best-loved by my ear and my favorite to speak aloud.  I have heard that the guides sometimes suggest walking barefoot on the stones to feel the different patterns  and such, and I think that sounds like a lovely idea and a pleasant exercise in mindfulness (…or something?  At least it sounds like a nice massage for the feet!)

Also, if you ever wonder if I actually wear the things that I have purchased from Stitch Fix, I present to you Exhibit A: the Everly Peter dress from Fix #10. I wore it with leggings and an asymmetric black Helmut Lang jacket and it was super cute. This photo, by the way, was taken in a startlingly clean nerdy game shop bathroom.

Next up: roses! more cocktails! doughnuts All of the shopping!

Death Cafe Orlando event announcement

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DEATH CAFE ORLANDO

Greetings! Please join us at Orlando’s 3rd Death Cafe on Saturday November 7th, 2PM for an open group discussion on all things death related. This event will be held at a private location (Orlando area) and will be RSVP only. The address and directions will be shared with the attendees closer to the event.
While death is inevitable, discussions about it are often taboo in American culture. We intend to open up the conversation on death in a respectful and friendly atmosphere where people can express their views about death & dying and share engaging, thought provoking and life affirming conversation. Bring your questions and stories, your curiosity and experiences, but most of all – an open mind …and an appetite for cake and delicious treats!

Hairy goat peen & other delights

Hairy goat weiners at the phallological museum

I cannot believe it was a year ago that I was in Iceland, land of trolls and Yule Lads, and kleina, donut-like pastries, twisted and fried, and so subtly sweet that one must devour two in rapid succession to properly suss out what one is tasting. Oh, and also: a penis museum.

Why, one might be inclined to ask, would you Sarah, of all people, wish to visit this particular establishment, this veritable shrine to the dingle-dongle?  Aren’t you the woman who has been insisting that “men are pigs from hell” ever since she was 17 years old? Why then, would you feel compelled to spend your time in a museum dedicated to the preservation and display of the infernal porcine (& other species) members?

That is an excellent question for which, I am afraid, I have no good answer.  I have a deep appreciation for the weird and the bizarre, though, so I suspect that a chance to see something kind of strange trumps any sort of misandry I may harbor.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum located in Reykjavík,  houses the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts. Founded in 1997 by retired teacher Sigurður Hjartarson and now run by his son Hjörtur Gísli Sigurðsson,the museum contains a collection of 280 specimens from 93 species of animals includes 55 penises taken from whales, 36 from seals and 118 from land mammals, allegedly including Huldufólk (Icelandic elves) and trolls. Of course, as Icelandic folklore portrays such creatures as being invisible, these cannot be seen! According to its mission statement, the museum aims to enable “individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion.”

In July 2011, the museum obtained its first human penis, one of four promised by would-be donors. Its detachment from the donor’s body did not go according to plan and it was reduced to a greyish-brown shrivelled mass pickled in a jar of formalin. The museum continues to search for “a younger and a bigger and better one.” There is even a Canadian documentary film called The Final Member, which covers the museum’s quest to obtain a human penis.

 

As I recall, it seemed a rather small place, on a street corner that I almost walked straight past.  This could also be due to the fact that I don’t read Icelandic (yet) and I couldn’t read the sign.  Despite its tiny appearance, however, the place was packed with displays and wall mounts and shelves upon shelves of all the junk you could ever hope to see.  There was even functional art based on that pokey portion of the male anatomy – penis and scrotum lamps, door handles, and a telephone! And of course, a gift shop when you can purchase coffee cups, key chains, and all manner of willy-related tschotchkes to commemorate your visitation to the pecker palace.

We  probably toured the entire place in a half an hour’s time, but this is one of the occasions where upon the memory of the experience is better than the actual experience  – not that it wasn’t a bit of fun, mind you, but it was just sort of an in-out visit (pun intended because I can’t help myself) and there wasn’t very much exploring to do. And I suppose it was sort of a consolation prize, as I had actually been hoping to go to the Icelandic Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery…but I couldn’t interest anyone in the 3 hour trip to Hólmavík for that. I would, however, definitely recommend a stop by this weird little museum, as part of your Icelandic experience.

 

2008 Icelandic handball team at the phallological museum.

Penis lamp. Move over Leg Lamp. This is electric sex.

Dick-headed goat

Various specimens at the Icelandic phallological museum

Because I am twelve and penises are hilarious.

#morningwood (Okay, that was bad and I should feel bad. I am sorry)

City Girls

On some business travels last week, I took the path train into New York from New Jersey.  Every second after that 15 minute trip has been one of strangeness beneath my feet;  literally from the second I stepped off the platform until now- an entire week later – the ground still feels as if it is infinitesimally shifting and churning below me as I navigate through my day.

My equilibrium has obviously been thrown off, and truthfully I am not surprised.  If it’s not painfully clear by now – I am not a City Girl.  Looking up at the towering buildings with not so much as a hint of space between them, jostled to and fro in  crowds teeming with people more sure-footed than I, the babble of voices around me, so many of them that I cannot even distinguish my own language – it all feels completely alien to me.  When I think about people who actually enjoy that swarming cityscape I almost start to feel a little uncomfortable that there could be someone out there in the world so radically different than I am.

Isn’t that ridiculous?  Of course there’s someone out there who is absolutely nothing like me. There’s a lot of them, I should imagine!  And yet, with regard to some subjects -The Big City chiefly among them – I cannot fathom the personality that thrives on this. I honestly cannot even conceive of how these people function.

And on some level – on many levels – I find this really concerning about myself.  That I am so small minded when it comes to other people’s experiences and preferences and lifestyles. I mean it’s perfectly fine, isn’t it, if you like a thing that I don’t like? Or perhaps something I am fond of, isn’t quite to your taste? Of course it is, and most of the time, this doesn’t trip me up! But when it comes to big city living, I have to tell you, I just shut down completely.  I don’t even want to hear about it.  It reminds me of a line from the mob song in Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast:

We don’t like
What we don’t understand
In fact it scares us!

Unfortunately, all so awfully true.  I don’t understand it, so I don’t like it, and it does scare me quite a bit.

This whole trip, by the way, was a lesson in overcoming fear. It will shock no one to know that despite my myriad, weird adventures, I’m a pretty sheltered individual.  This was the first time I’ve ever rented a car, it was the first time I’ve ever had a drink my myself in a bar, the first time I have ever spent a week in a hotel room alone, the first time I have ever met a client. And I am going to be 39 next week, for pete’s sake. How have I even gotten this far in life?

And to be honest, it wasn’t just the thought of being in the city, or meeting clients, or how to stick the metro card in the ticket thing correctly (that is seriously the type of thing I worry about), it was much more than that.  I haven’t been back to NJ for any lengthy period of time since I left, almost 5 years ago now.  I have so many unhappy memories and unresolved issues with regard to that place and I was not keen to be in that environment again.

I could probably go on, but there’s no point to it.  I did it, I went and I am back.  Did I overcome any fears? Not really. I think the people in my office who work closely with me know that I am a big baby with weird neuroses, and they deal with me accordingly. There’s a lot of hand-holding, basically. I hope that because I am kind and good natured and I get my work done – they just look at it all as lovable quirks, ha!

I was so happy to arrive back in my dumb, redneck swamptown that I nearly kissed the ground. But dang, I am going to miss those bagels. They are the best thing about NJ.

I am never going to be a City Girl, one of those poised, slender, on the go women I see rushing about on the streets of NY (or wherever). I run around barefoot all day, I never brush my hair, and it takes me 10 years to tell a story. I just don’t fit in with that impossibly chic, fast-paced, 24 hour everything city and its inhabitants.  But that doesn’t mean that I need to be afraid of them, I suppose.  That really is dumb.

Are you a city person? A country mouse? Are you even from this planet? What are your thoughts on other places and those who live there, as opposed to where you are from? Do you have the same troubles I do?  Or do you have other weird dislikes based on the things you don’t quite “get” or understand?

Guest Post: Where I Come From

As I am currently traveling, one of my wonderful sisters has been kind enough to write a thoughtful guest post for Unquiet Things.  Read more about this brave, sweet, sensitive soul over at Under The Shadow Of The Mountain.

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“You’ve haunted me all my life
You’re always out of reach when I’m in pursuit
Long winded then suddenly mute
And there’s a flaw in my heart’s design
For I keep trying to make you mine…”
-Death Cab for Cutie

 

“Where do you come from?”

It’s a common enough question, and simple enough, too. So why don’t I have a simple answer? “I live in California,” I tell people. “But I was born in Ohio, and I grew up in Florida. But I’m FROM Indiana.” Why do I tell people that, when I only lived in Indiana for two years; when really, it’s my mother and her father and his father and so on, back to 1820, who are from there? How can I be from there?

I’m from there because, quite simply, Indiana has haunted me since I was a child. It haunted me each time I asked my grandparents to tell me about the “olden days” growing up on the farm in the Depression. It haunted me when I looked out at the humidity-choked Florida summers and wondered what it was like to experience seasons. It haunted me when I gazed up at at the popcorn ceiling in our 3 bedroom-2-bath Florida ranch-house, and imagined what it would be like to live in an old farmhouse or bungalow. It haunted me as I told people we came from “Good Midwestern farmer stock.” It haunted me and it never quit, until, when I was 24, I made the decision to move to Indiana for grad school and to stop wondering, dammit, and start living. And of course, I fell in love.

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What wasn’t to love? I was besotted with a Hoosier boy, who was agreeably besotted back. I was enchanted by the silent, eerie glow of fireflies on summer nights. I got excited by cornfields, for god’s sake. I dragged Hoosier Boy around to just gawk at old houses. The often-dilapidated barns–hundreds, maybe even thousands of them–across the state never failed to impress me, the way they endured neglect for decades and still stood, quietly dignified. The unreal, vivid green of springtime dazzled me, even as the thunderclouds from potentially deadly spring storms roiled overhead and the tornado sirens wailed their weird warble across the countryside. The absurd county fairs, notorious for deep-fried anything, bemused and beguiled me in equal portions. Our family history began to intrigue me, especially when I found out that my great-great grandparents were buried one county over. I eventually made the cheesy remark to Hoosier Boy that I was “exploring the land of my past with the man of my future.”

But of course, love is complicated. And there has always been enough of the academe-trained liberal in me to know that there were parts of Indiana that would never, will never, sit well with me. The work ethic and the courtesy of Middle Americans are no myth, but neither is their stoic reserve–and for an in-your-face, say-everything kinda gal like me, I never felt like I fit in. There are strong conservative elements (I’ll avoid other, more judge-y terms) in Indiana that have definitely presented themselves on an embarrassingly national stage recently, that made and make me feel uncomfortable at best and ashamed at worst.

But I never stopped loving Indiana.

Not even when I had to leave to nurture my career and nurse a broken heart. That was almost ten years ago now, and believe it or not, my heart is still broken. Or perhaps it just yearns for what it can’t have–a settled, anonymous kind of life, in Middle America, in an Indianapolis suburb.

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The late and great David Foster Wallace once said, Every love story is a ghost story. And in its most basic, broken-down form, this is truth. When you love someone, you give them the power to haunt you, should you ever lose them. And if the people we love can haunt us, can linger and haunt places, I think it stands to reason that places can haunt people, too. Indiana certainly haunts me.

I wonder, will I haunt Indiana someday?

winter

 

That’s progress, sugar

Recently one of my sisters and I, along with our significant others, embarked on a road trip that involved a lot of car time. This was of course much different than the journeys of our youth where we relied on coloring books and sticker albums for entertainment; no, in present day we instead spent most of the time staring at our phones and ignoring each other.  My sister, however, rediscovered a website she had found ages ago, Cliquey Pizza  –  a blog focused on 80’s YA books series & pop culture – and we took turns scrolling through the blog, getting more and more excited as we unearthed beloved gems from when we were younger.

My reading was never censored as a child; I was encouraged to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. By 5th and 6th grade I was reading Stephen King and Clive Barker and HP Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein and Richard Matheson. In retrospect…did I understand the nuances of the stories I was reading? Was I able to digest the philosophies or relate to the characters?  Probably not fully, but I certainly related to these stories more closely than I did to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield from the Sweet Valley High books that most other girls my age were reading, that’s for sure.

Despite the fact that I could roam where ever I wished within the library, I often found my way back to the young adult section when I was that age – and I am glad that I did.  I was born in 1976 and the mid-80’s was rife with really phenomenal young adult writers – Ellen Conford, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume – these ladies knew how to tell a story … and they didn’t need a werewolf or a vampire to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my blood-thirsty supernatural creatures, but if I had discovered them in the “Paranormal Romance” section of Barnes and Noble, I might have an entirely different relationship with the creatures of the night than I do now.

 

Ellen Conford wrote YA in just a twisted enough way that you felt like more of an adult while reading it. The writing is sharp and sophisticated, and you really wanted to be friends with her heroines -they always had such a clever wit and a sly sense of humor.  The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations is a prime example of Ellen Conford at the height of her hilarity. I remember reading some passages and not being able to breathe because I laughing so hard.  If you’ve ever used Zoroaster’s birthday as an excuse to get out of gym class or penned shitty poetry just so you can get published in the school paper, then I really think you will appreciate the main character, Julie, who is just trying to muddle through her freshman year of high school.  I suppose it’s a little dated – I don’t think teenagers had crushes on Robert Redford even when I was reading it – but I don’t think those details really detract from the story.  To be honest, I am fairly certain teens are facing entirely different problems today than Julie did at AGGMH – but the story is so much fun that this is easily overlooked.  I am pretty sure that I don’t even want to know what teenagers have to deal with today. I doubt hilarity often ensues.

I don’t quite recall the other books I’ve read by Conford other than And This Is Laura, which was also pretty great, but I don’t think anything can ever top The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations. I was very sorry to read just today that Ellen Conford passed away last month.

The title of this post is taken from a poem written by one of the characters, and I can’t find it now because I no longer have my copy of the book, otherwise I would post it in its entirety. It’s awful and pretty batshit left-wing teen angsty, and the last line is “…that’s progress sugar.”

For all the Stephen King on my young person’s shelf, no  author gave me such intense shivers as Lois Duncan. Twenty five years later, I still try to pinpoint precisely why that is. Perhaps while King’s characters were often older teenagers or adults dealing with jobs and children (along with rabid dogs and killer cars) Duncan’s heroines were young women closer to my age and who shared my concerns.

In Down A Dark Hall, Kit is a young woman who is shipped off to a sinister boarding school while her mother and stepfather are away on their honeymoon.  That’s already a significant change for a young adult to process, in addition to the internal changes she is experiencing as well.  Adding to the mix a strange, new environment and eerie goings-on that literally made my hair stand on end as I read it – this became a book I would read again and again because I could picture myself so well as Kit with her myriad, mundane problems in the midst of a growing supernatural mystery.

It’s strange to admit, that other than Stranger With My Face, I’ve not read anything else by Lois Duncan, which is crazy when you consider that she is the lady who wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer!  I think I am going to make this upcoming June/July The Summer of Lois Duncan, wherein I read everything she’s ever written.

There are so many more of these books that I treasure for their humor and insight and wonderfully creepy suspense sans gore, and some of them which really gutted me on an emotional level as well… but Ellen Conford’s Alfred G. Graebner Memorial Highschool Handbook Of Rules And Regulations and Lois Duncan’s Down A Dark Hall are without a doubt, my forever favorites.

Tell me of the books and stories that you loved as a young adult. Are they stories that still resonate with you? Would you still feel that frisson of excitement flipping through those pages? Are those books still on your shelves?

I wonder if I have read them, too, and remember them just as fondly.

Plans

I like plans.

They make me feel less anxious about a situation.  It doesn’t have to be my plan, I don’t have to be the one to execute it, and it certainly doesn’t have to be perfect – but having some kind of plan in place does much to stabilize my comfort levels.

Of course, even the best of plans become fouled up and vexed at times.  Which has happened more times in my life than I care to count.

Last weekend, however, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be, at just the right time in my life and in the company of the very people with whom I would want to share the experience. This was a plan that had taken 12+ years to come together, but I would not have wanted it any other way.

The Decemberists at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, April 10, 2015

 

When I first found out about The Decemberists, I was 27 years old and at a strange place in my life.  I’ve written about it before and there’s no need to go into it again, but it was a state of crisis that would last for nearly ten years.  I think I had always loved music before that point, but it was during this time that I actively began to seek refuge in it.  One of my favorite things to do – and remains to this day – became finding new musicians to love and to share with others.  In 2003ish, through my very favorite webcomic artist John Allison, I stumbled upon The Decemberists.

I believe they make his “best of” lists every year, and lordy, if he doesn’t describe them perfectly:

2004

2004

 

2005

2005

2006

2006

It’s hard for me to articulate just why I became so enamored with their music; I’m not certain if it actually touches me on an emotional level, but I think that what is does do is speak to the dreamer in me. This is the dusty, dreamy band of musicians I would have created in my head: they conjure such an absurd, rag-tag world full of somber fables, melancholy allegories, and bizarre historical dreamscapes. Such snazzy wordplay, too; intricate hyperliterate lyrics, theatrical and clever.

I can’t imagine someone not familiar with The Decemberists, but then again – what do I know of what other people listen to? I still don’t know who Ed Sheeran is, to tell you the truth, and I can barely name one song on the radio right now. I suppose we all have our obsessions and the tunnel-visioned blinders that block out most everything else as part of that. However, if you’ve not listened to them before, peep in at this Tiny Desk Concert over at NPR that they did a few years ago.  It’s a nice, clear sound, and though it’s not exactly the freaky balladry that they are known for, I do think it provides a lovely introduction for the uninitiated.

 

 

But listening to someone go on about their favorite band is not always very interesting (unless they happen to be your favorite band, of course) so I’ll not draw this out unnecessarily.  Suffice it to say that the opportunity to see them live last weekend was not a chance that I could lightly pass on…even though the performance was to take place seven hours north of where I lived.

10 years ago I don’t think I could have imagined myself able to make such a trip, and I certainly didn’t imagine it with these people – but what fun we had!  Even when we were being mean and awful:

My boyfriend and my sister’s husband are talking and laughing with the couple behind us, as if they are all old friends.  She and I look back and then glance at each other in abject horror.

Her: I wish strangers who talk to me would just stop talking to me
Me: I wish they’d just drop dead.

We grasp each other’s hands and cackle like the mad harpies that we are.

At that moment, I had an out of body experience.  It sounds strange, but that’s exactly what happened.  I was myself one moment holding my sister’s hand, and the next I was outside myself.  I stood next to myself and felt a great sense of peace and happiness – a sort of state of being that I imagine you only feel a few times in your life, if at all.

And I realize that for all my plans, all of the plans in the world…well, good luck with that. Even if you think you know where you are going, sometimes you just end up somewhere else.  Sometimes it’s on a different path in a different place and it’s full of hundreds of screaming hipster dads and you’re trancing out like a weirdo, and things could not possibly be more okay.

And I am okay with that.

Mother issues, volume 1: The smelly edition

Sometimes, when my sisters and I get together and have had a few glasses of wine, one of us will say something like “Hey, do you remember Furry Lewis? And the weird black spots on his nose? We sure had a lot of cats when we were growing up, didn’t we?  Let’s see if we can remember all of their names!” At this point we are not counting or keeping track very well, and it usually goes nowhere and we have forgotten about it five minutes later.

If pressed to do that right now, I could name: Fritz, Leonard, Tibbytabby, Rosemary Kelly Denise, Bub, Chico, Chloe, Larry, Gypsy, Leroy Parnell, Simon Bisely, Dr. Bob, Furry Lewis, Tia Marie, Desdemona, Freddy Mercury, Clyde, Random, Mandy, Omar, Annie, Paddy, Georgie, Oliver, Bill, Ebby, feral garage kitty who later became Jenny Calendar, Ginger, Carrotcake, Abby who later became Hermione (actually I lied, I had to call my sister and ask who she could recall as well)

From the time I was 8 until right up until my mother passed away, she had no less than 5 or 6 cats in her house and for a good many years it was upwards on 20+. As a matter of fact, I believe the cat population was at it’s largest during my high school years.  If I had any friends to speak of, I probably would have been embarrassed and ashamed to bring them into our smoky, cat infested, litter-box odor infused home, but as it stood, my humiliation stemmed more from the fact that when I left the house, I brought all of these horrid smells with me.

I was picked on mercilessly on the school bus for my cat-hair covered clothes and my own hair, which seemed to smell like cigarette smoke and the faint fragrance of feline no matter how often I washed it.  Actually, the entire school bus experience was wretched for me anyhow, but that is a story for a different time, and not even really one I am comfortable telling because, well, racial stuff (I was the only white girl on a non-white bus). Most of these stories make my sister cry, so we’ll just forget about that.

As I grew older, I realized two things: I was never, ever going to start smoking – obviously because it’s bad for you, but mostly because I did not want a closet of clothes or an entire house or even/especially my person to smell like smoke.  And two: AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, I WAS NEVER GOING TO SMELL BAD AGAIN.

You may have noticed by now that I seem to have a fascination bordering on obsession with perfumes and fragrances.  You would not be wrong.  Now you know why. True, I may have inherited a bit of a hoarding gene from my mother – though I prefer to think of myself as a collector – but mostly I cannot stand the thought that there are anything other than pleasant smells coming from my corner.

My mother also loved perfumes. When I was much younger, my mother’s mirrored vanity tray held a great deal of fascination for me, with its jumble of shimmering glass bottles filled with fragrant fluids. It was a constant and forbidden temptation -as I had been told, more than once, to leave it be. And more than once, caught in a paroxysm of longing and naughtiness from which there was no return, I would spray one scent, then the next, and then perhaps high from the vaporous cloud of aromatics floating round my head, would proceed to spritz myself with the remainder of those illicit essences. When later interrogated, I would have the audacity to assert that I had been playing quietly in some other part of the house the entire time.

And yet, when I survey my  tiny scented kingdom I cannot locate one perfume that I think she would have loved (which were mostly funereal roses and heavy-handed chypres).  It somewhat saddens me to say it, but those she wore the most have always been the scents I like the least.

There you have it.  800+ words on why I blame my problems on my mother*, but it’s al really just a thinly veiled excuse to share and show off photos of my current perfume collection.
Don’t thank me.  Thank my mother.

And getting back to the names of all of those cats…well, I probably wouldn’t be able to name all of my perfumes if you ask me about them, either.

perfume9


perfume8

perfume7

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*When I think about it, the entire reason I created this little spot here at Unquiet Things is because of my mother.  I originally meant for this to be an offshoot of Death Cafe Orlando, wherein I could post topical tidbits, updates on future events, write-ups of past events, etc. Unfortunately, I came to learn that the folks over at Death Cafe aren’t thrilled with people blogging using their name (which I really do understand, it just honestly hadn’t entered into my perhaps overenthusiastic thought processes at the time.) So, I turned it into a personal blog. I’ve been journaling online in some form or another for the past 15 years, ever since the days of Livejournal, so why not? But the overwhelming reason I think I decided to start hosting Death Cafe in the first place is because of my mother’s death back in 2013.  So I suppose it just makes sense to air all of my grievances here, along with all of my other nonsense and ramblings.

the winning-est winner of all

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“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.”

-Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

I don’t think I am overstating it when I say that board games changed my life.

Now, I am not saying they saved my life – I wouldn’t go quite that far.

…*Channeling Sofia Petrillo* …

Picture it: Orlando, Florida.  2011. I had just moved back down south to spend a few months with my sister and get my life sorted out after having lived 6 years in somewhat tenuous circumstances in New Jersey. I was not keen on the idea of meeting new people, making new friends, putting myself out there; I’ve never been good at those things, but it’s a particularly twisty road to navigate as it might relate to new romantic interests. Which I was not planning for anyhow, but of course it came up in my thought processes.  I did not want to have to get to know someone all over again, make myself vulnerable to all of that mess.  And I sure didn’t want to have to meet their dumb family and stupid friends. “Dumb family and stupid friends” <– no doubt, that is exactly what I said because sometimes – especially when frightened – I can be terribly close minded and shut off from new people and experiences.

Oddly enough and despite myself, I did end up dating someone a few months after I moved back – a big-hearted, beardy man with an enormous capacity for compassion and a fantastic imagination, and well, that is a romantical story for a different time.  He did, however, have friends and family to meet and I was not looking forward to this at all.

One of the first occasions I had to meet some of these friends was during a board game event he puts together a few times a month at a local comic book shop in Orlando*.  Great, I thought, new people AND new experiences. KILL ME NOW.

I had never been a fan of board games (or card games or dice games or basically any sort of game).  I don’t like learning new things in front of new people – it makes me so intensely uncomfortable and anxious.  I suppose it’s not even the learning of new things in a group of people, because you do that in classes and at work all the time…but rather it comes down to demonstrating that new knowledge in front of people. What if I misunderstood the rules?  What if I am playing my hand wrong? What if it’s my turn and I misunderstood and am doing it wrong in front of five people I have never met before and they all get impatient and angry with me or think I am a moron?  OH GOD,  It’s almost more than I can bear to think about.

Fast forward a year or so, and I’ve interacted with these folks enough times that I am very nearly comfortable (which is maybe as good as it gets for me!) and wonder of wonders – it turns out I might actually like playing board games! They are fun! What? I like to do things that are fun? Who am I?

Allow me to tell you a little bit about the games I like, and why; perhaps if you, like me, were a board game and table top game novice/phobic but wanted to step out of your comfort zone, you may find one listed here that you’d be willing to try out!

Gloom

Product Description: “In the Gloom card game, you assume control of the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. The goal of the game is sad, but simple: you want your characters to suffer the greatest tragedies possible before passing on to the well-deserved respite of death. You’ll play horrible mishaps like Pursued by Poodles or Mocked by Midgets on your own characters to lower their Self-Worth scores, while trying to cheer your opponents’ characters with marriages and other happy occasions that pile on positive points. The player with the lowest total Family Value wins.”

I would probably love this little game for the peculiar, melancholic character artwork alone, but in the course of gameplay it’s encouraged to make up wildly embellished stories to go along with the scenarios you are inflicting upon both yours and your opponents characters and I am MUCH better at that than games where you’ve got to rely on strategy or resource management.  Of course, story telling isn’t even essential to the game, you can probably slap your cards down and win without it, but I think that’s what makes it fun and interesting.
Full disclosure: I have only played this game two or three times.  I don’t think it is a favorite in my crowd for some reason. Also, I find the scoring system a little bit elusive, but I think I am in the minority here, as it’s supposed to be pretty easy.  And anyhow, I don’t actually play this to win; I just like to hear the stories that people come up with!

If you’d like to see this game in action, here is Wil Wheaton and friends playing it on his Table Top show.

 

Kittens in a Blender

Product Description: “This fast-paced card game has players working to save all of their own kittens before the unthinkable occurs. But sometimes, the only way to save your precious litter of kittens is to let those curious little cats learn the lesson of why you should never play in a blender! Featuring adorable art and tons of lighthearted, cut-throat player interaction, Kittens in a Blender is quick to learn and easy to play!”

Yes, yes, yes -The name sounds rather horrific, let’s just get that out of the way first.  Kittens belong on your lap and in gifs on the internet, obviously not in a blender.  Game play is more tame than the name would have you think, though it can get a little cut throat, especially if you are the sort to form vendettas against other kittens.  I mean players.  Basically, it works like this.  Everyone chooses their own group of kittens; you try to keep your kittens from going into the blender, while at the same time, sending other players kittens to the blender.  It’s a pretty fast-paced game and it actually is a great deal of fun.  I would also say that there is not a lot of strategy involved in this one, as well, which is probably why I like it.  Also, again the artwork is great.  The kittens are adorable and they have ridiculous names. Ham Sandwich forever!

Ticket To Ride

Product Description:”The Ticket To Ride Board Game is a cross-country train adventure that celebrates Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble to travel “Around the World in 80 Days” by proposing a new wager. The stake is a $1 million prize in this winner-takes-all competition. The objective of this train board game is to see who can travel by rail to the most cities in North America in just seven days.

Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway.

This is a game that I did not think that I was going to like at all, and yet it is one of my absolute favorites, and usually my first choice if someone wants to play a game. Don’t be put off about that million dollar competition in the description; I never even noticed that until I copied and pasted it from Amazon just now, and game play has nothing to do with it. You are dealt several routes, you elect which ones you want to keep, and you spend the rest of the game trying to get the cards/cars  you need to make your routes.  That’s a little simplistic, but that’s basically the gist of it.  I think there’s a sort of tension created in this game (will I make my route? gah! he blocked my route! now I have to go from Miami to Los Angeles by way of Toronto!) that’s good for you, and oddly enough, makes you want more. This is my #1 gateway game, I think, if I wanted to get other people interested in playing table top games.

Speaking of table top, here is Wil Wheaton and friends (Sheriff Carter from Eureka!) playing Ticket to Ride.  This is actually what sold me on giving it a try in the first place.

Elder Sign

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Product Description: “It is 1926, and the museum’s exotic curios and occult artifacts are opening up barriers between our world and the elder evils lurking between dimensions. Other Worlds begin to leak through and terrifying creatures of increasing strength steal through them. Animals, the mad, and those of susceptible minds are driven to desperation by the supernatural forces that the portals unleash. A handful of investigators are racing against time to locate the eldritch symbols necessary to seal the portals forever and stop evil Ancient Ones from reducing humanity to cinders.”

Elder Sign is a fast-paced, cooperative dice game of supernatural intrigue for one to eight players by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, the designers of Arkham Horror. Players take the roles of investigators racing against time to stave off the imminent return of the Ancient Ones. Armed with cards for tools, allies, and occult knowledge, investigators must put their sanity and stamina to the test as they adventure to locate Elder Signs, the eldritch symbols used to seal away the Ancient Ones and win the game.

I purchased this game for the aforementioned beau and we learned to play it together, which I think it one reason I like it so much. Neither one of us knew how to play it, and we had to figure it out together…and although it’s a mean game (all those monsters always appearing!) I personally think it’s a lot of fun.  Unfortunately for me, this seems to be everyone else’s last choice, so I never get to play it very often. Aside from my learning experience with it, I think the other reason it’s a favorite is because it is diced based, meaning that there’s more luck involved than strategy.  I’ll say it again, BAH STRATEGY.

As a few listed above, you can see Wil Wheaton (and Felicia Day!) playing it on Tabletop, so you can get an idea of how it is played and make a decision for yourself.

Pandemic

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Product description: “Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out.
Players must work together, playing to their characters’ strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. But the diseases are outbreaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures.
A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.”

Speaking of mean games..there are so many ways to die in this one! But the upside is that you are not going at it alone – you are working with a team of players.  You’re never really bored sitting around waiting for your turn because you are contributing/debating on every player’s turn -what the best moves are, what special abilities can be used to achieve the goal efficiently, and what problem areas need to be dealt with. Definitely not a great game for overly competitive folks; you are not competing with each other, but rather trying to defeat the game.  If you prefer games wherein decision making opportunities are shared and it’s not solely up to you, this is a good one to start with.

Also; as seen on Tabletop!

Runners up:

Fluxx: A card game that starts out as “draw one, play one” but the rules are ever changing.  A round could go lightning fast –  or it can be drawn out and torturous. It’s easy to play, you really just have to do what the cards tell you to. Unless you are learning it drunk, on New Years Eve, of course.  Then you have to have your friend play your hand because nothing makes any sense and the room has started spinning. Also, they have many versions of this (Pirates! Cthulhu! Monsters! Cartoon Network!) so it also has a bit of a collectors aspect to it.

Qwirkle: “Qwirkle is as simple as matching colors and shapes, but this game also requires tactical maneuvers and well-planned strategy.” Known in our circles as the “you can’t do that!” game, and despite the military sounding description, “tactical” and “strategy” and whatnot – just look at it! Bright! Colorful! Fun! Don’t pay any attention to the description.

Machi Koro: We just got this the other day and I have only played it once so far, but I liked the concept of it once we got going:  you’ve just been elected Mayor and “armed only with your trusty die and a dream, you must grow Machi Koro into the largest city in the region.  You will need to collect income from developments, build public works and steal from your neighbor’s coffers.”  The artwork reminds me the tiniest bit of Katamari Damacy and I think it will be really enjoyable when we get to play it with more than 2 people.

I started out by saying that I think board games changed my life, and I am not exaggerating.  First off, I don’t think I have ever been very good at having fun.  I am just so uptight that expressing myself “having fun” has always seemed a little bit intimidating. I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? Weird, but true.  Couple that with my shyness in meeting new people and I can really start to seem like a drag to be around.  I’ve found, however, that meeting new people while playing board games/table top games is so much easier!  You don’t have to agonize over topics of conversation and awkward silences because you’re already talking about something and doing something!  You’re either working toward a common goal and trying to solve a problem or a puzzle, or you are trying to beat each other out to win at something, but anyway you look at it, the topics of conversation are already there! And even though folks might not be saying much about themselves, you are still learning a lot about them – whether they are aggressive or cautious, open or reserved, generous or stingy…I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they play a game. Then again, they might be a total monster during the game while before and afterward they are amazingly sweet, so maybe those assessments don’t amount to much – but it’s fun to guess!

Myself, I am kind of an “under the radar” player; I don’t like to get anyone riled up or make a target of myself…I sort of like to go unnoticed until I am taking all the winnings because no one saw me coming! Ok, so that really only works, like 5% of the time, but that’s my strategy, such as it is.

What about you guys? Do you play board games? How do you play? Fast and loose? Hyper competitive?  And what are your favorite games to play with a group, or something that you like to introduce non-gaming folks to? As always, I love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.!

*Are you in Orlando? And do you want to meet up to play board games and perhaps have a little tipple?  Booze and Boards is a board gaming group that meets every 2nd and 4th Saturday during the month at the Geek Easy, from about 12-5. Stop by and say hello! I will hide behind my cards and maybe talk to you.

Meeting the unknown with an open mind. And cats.

I am generally not a do-er of Things.

I have a life-long habit of shying away from new experiences, and I suspect, from many conversations I have had with many people, I am not alone. We don’t want to be seen in front of others doing something new incorrectly; we don’t want to screw up; we don’t want to look like fools. We don’t want to not know how to act in a new environment, in front of new people. We don’t want to offend, or upset or amuse someone with our ignorance and awkwardness. I don’t know about you, but just thinking about those uncharted situations gets me jittery and freaked out.

And it’s not just new experiences, I mean sometimes I get a little bit anxious about something as commonplace as say, going out for groceries…so I think it might just be experiences, period. Every time I leave my house, my safe spot, my comfort zone, there is an element of the unknown mixed in with it – what’s traffic going to be like?  how many left turns must I take ? what if the parking lot is full?  what if I run into someone I know? what if I spend too much on groceries? what if they don’t have an item I desperately need? what if I get into an accident?  and can’t find my insurance card?  or my registration?  You know, sometimes it’s just easier to stay home and eat stale crackers than deal with the vagaries of Regular Human Stuff.

For all that, though, I do manage to get by.  I grocery shop, I visit the library, I make it to hair appointments and doctor’s appointments.  These are the things one has to do as a human in today’s world, these are the things regular, normal people do. And I try, for the most part, to pass as “normal”.

I do realize, though, that’s really no way to live.  Sequestering one’s self in one’s office all day, solely communicating with people from the relative safety of an email or an instant message, and then limiting interaction with the world beyond your front door as much as you can possibly get away with – you miss out on so many rich experiences, hiding where you feel safe. And you know, as I’ve gotten older, I think what starts to scare me more than “Something New” is “Something New That Could Have Been Great and I totally missed out on it because I was too frightened or self-conscious to give it a try”.

Now, you are probably not going to see me going out for ballroom dancing anytime soon, or taking flying lessons or attending a stand up comic show (that’s how I know when I’ve made great strides, when I am able to comfortably listen to a live comedian, which is the most awkward and embarrassing thing ever.) but I have been Doing Things lately.

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This past Friday night I went along with my sister and some friends to see The Acrocats at the Venue in Orlando.  Now, you might be puzzled as to my hesitation with regard to such an evening “It’s cats!  Cats doing things!” you might say. “Who wouldn’t be excited about that?”  Well, hi – do you know me?  Have you been listening?  What if they miss their cues?  What if they poop on the stage?  What if they get loose in the audience? So many things could go wrong!  And I would be in the audience to witness it! Auuugh.  I didn’t think I could possibly handle it.

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As it turns out, it was pretty fantastic for those very reasons.  They’re cats, for God’s sake.  They’re going to do whatever they want to do, and that’s actually what made the show so much fun.  It was a ridiculous spectacle, and if I am being honest -which I am because to do otherwise would defeat the purpose of having typed all of this – I loved every minute of it.  I laughed and smiled until my cheeks felt like they might burst and I was so very grateful to the people who encouraged me to see it.

We saw cats dinging cowbells and pushing cars and walking across tightropes and a chicken playing a cymbal and an enormously fat groundhog doing …something (but I couldn’t tell what because people’s heads were in the way). The ringmaster/trainer was such a lovely, sweet lady and all throughout the show she explained a bit about her training techniques and gave us background on the individual cats (which were all strays she had taken in), so any fears about ill-treatment of animals were put to rest. It was all absolutely absurd and silly and such a weird and wonderful way to spend a Friday night.  If these guys travel to your area, I highly recommend purchasing a ticket.

So basically everyone was right and I did enjoy myself immensely and sometimes gentle encouragement is a good thing for people like me, like us, people who are scared of doing things.  It doesn’t have to be like that! We don’t have to be sad and lonely in our  little hidey-holes and missing out on all of the good, interesting stuff. Sometimes we can have a good time watching crazy cats with our friends and it isn’t the least bit scary, not at all.

(Wonderful photos courtesy BGF – mine were all pretty blurry and terrible.)

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