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One nice thing about being out of work is I have lots more time to experiment in the kitchen. A few days ago I made “two-ingredient dough” for the first time. I made two batches, enough to make homemade bagels one day, with lots left over for another day. Today was that other day, and I decided to try some sort of somewhat low calorie dessert.
I’m doing WW right now, formerly called Weight Watchers, to lose some weight, and didn’t want a dessert that would blow my responsible eating out of the water for the day.
Going through a bunch of options in my mind, I decided to make a sort of pastry with a thick dark chocolate filling. I’m now calling it a chocolate pizza.
I rolled the dough out and then made a little lip around the edges, thinking that would help keep the chocolate topping contained (I was wrong, and it was irrelevant).
Then I beat an egg and brushed it on the dough to make it look nice and shiny. Then I put that in the oven at 425.
Meanwhile, for the topping, I put the following into my food processor and mixed it all into a wonderful paste the consistency of mousse, and the flavor of dark chocolate.
2 bananas, previously frozen, now thawed in the microwave
After a while (15+ minutes), the crust started to brown and I thought it looked like it was ready. Baking made the crust poof up, so the lip around the edges that I made turned out to be totally useless and lost.
Next, I chilled the crust in the freezer a few minutes to bring it down to room temperature, because my chief taste tester was in a hurry to get home so she could do her online Jazzercise class.
After the crust chilled enough, I spread the topping on, and then cut it into 8 pieces. They look something like this.
They were tastier even than I had hoped, and the dark chocolate topping is so rich! I did the math, and each serving is only 3 SmartPoints.
April 2, 2020. It’s been a memorable and unusual day.
First, I got furloughed from my job. It’s essentially an unpaid and indefinite leave of absence. I’m still an employee, and still get my employee benefits. But I don’t get paid. This doesn’t surprise me too much. Obviously, the economy is in trouble right now, and there’s no way to tell when it’s going to improve. Maybe in a month, maybe in a year. So I suddenly have a lot of free time on my hands, which is great! I have a huge list of projects I’d like to work on – books to read, movies to watch, photo essays to finish, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I do know I’m in no hurry to go find another job at the moment. I’ve got a CD that I’ve been paying into for a few years that I call my Layoff Insurance fund, just for this occasion. It may be time to break into that piggy bank.
Second, my other birthday gift to myself arrived today from China. It’s a brand spankin’ new MacBook Air. I’ve never had an Air before. I bought one with almost all the upgrades, and occupied myself for much of this afternoon getting it set up.
Yeah, if I knew I was gonna be furloughed, I wouldn’t have ordered a new computer. But oh well. It was time for a new laptop, and I wanted something smaller and lighter. So when they announced the new Air, I pounced on it.
Some other good news: Doing Weight Watchers is paying off. I started in mid-February and as of today have shrunk 17 pounds. I’m continuing to do Pilates as my main workout regimen, though classes are all virtual now. Somewhere under this belly fat, I’ve got some decent core muscles aching to be seen.
Here is one of my birthday gifts to myself. I found it in an art gallery before the stay-at-home order went into effect, hand made by a steampunk artist named Carl Cone in Aurora. It’s a blank journal type book with homemade papyrus, but the cover is what sets it apart. He even threw in the stand for free and delivered it to my condo.
Now to fill it with mad drawings and notes for my Cthulhu themed Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign…
Hey, wanna see a music video that I directed, shot, and edited? Well, here you go:
The song is “It’s OK” by Half Zen. Their first CD, “Wesoterica” (I have no idea what the title means) is going to be released later in February. The front man is a long time friend of mine from playing D&D in the 90s, and he started writing music a few years ago, then put together a band and recorded an album. Once he had the tracks recorded, he asked me to create a music video.
“But I have no experience with music videos, and essentially stopped videography and filmmaking a few years ago,” I said to Gresch. He wanted me to try anyhow, and there’s the result.
I’m gonna try to keep this short. Keep your fingers crossed.
I’ve got a long history with the Star Wars films, having seen the first one in a drive-in theater with my family the summer it came out 42 years ago. The original (Episode IV, it was later called) is my favorite movie of all time, and a few years back when they chose that to be the first major motion picture translated into the Navajo language (Diné bizaad) I was there for the public premiere.
For New Years Eve 2019 earlier this week, Brooke and I went to see “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker“. This concludes the trilogy of trilogies that George Lucas planned way back in the 80s. The whole thing finished without Lucas, of course, since Disney bought Lucasfilm and he wasn’t really involved in the final trilogy – the sequel films. But this has been billed as completing the big story arc that was started when “Star Wars” was released in 1977. So it holds some significance for me.
I walked away from the movie feeling a little stunned. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. I was glad the story line finally came to an end, of sorts. I was glad that a lot of loose ends were tied up. I really like the characters and the acting. But the film didn’t really come together for me. It didn’t feel like something I wanted to see again (that’s the same way I felt about Episode XIII). I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. So I turned to Red Letter Media.
Red Letter Media is a group of YouTube video makers who got internet-famous several years ago by doing a set of seven videos analyzing the film “The Phantom Menace”. The videos go into great detail about where the film fell short, and – most importantly to me as someone interested in film making – why George Lucas made all these terrible choices. The short answer is that there was nobody who had the ability or guts to tell Lucas when he was doing something stupid; due to his stature, he was surrounded by yes-men. The long answer is…well, just watch the videos. It’s 70 minutes of the best film analysis I’ve witnessed, delivered in a very weird package.
Anyhow, the Red Letter Media guys put out a 70 minute analysis of Episode IX, and I thought it might give me some insights. I was 100% right. It explained a bunch of things I missed. But most of all, it helped me understand in concrete terms why the film doesn’t really work that well. The short answer is that it was J.J. Abrams and he’s a bad writer and only a mediocre director. The long answer is…well, just watch the video.
Besides helping me understand my feelings about the film, Red Letter Media’s Half in the Bag review also surprised me. The guys kept talking about a film called “Marriage Story” with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The movie reviewers were pointing out the irony of these two actors getting fortune and fame for being in dumb action movies and then turning around and doing a film nobody’s going to hear of that actually uses their acting talent. So Brooke and I decided to watch “Marriage Story” last night, and the Red Letter Media guys were right. It’s an amazing film, and puts the two lead actors in a whole new light for me. It was hard to watch at times. It’s a very emotional film, with amazing performances. You should make a point to watch it if you have Netflix.
Also, after watching the Red Letter Media review of Star Wars IX, I realized there’s one thing they didn’t mention about the sequel trilogy that was actually a good thing. Not once was there any mention of midichlorians or Jar Jar Binks. And that’s a good thing. I’m glad some parts of Lucas’ world have been swept under the rug.
Speaking of Lucas’ world, if you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” series yet, I recommend that, too. It’s got all the good things about Star Wars, and none of the bad. Including midichlorians. I think small films and TV series are the future of the franchise. Disney has proven that Star Wars has run out of steam when it comes to major motion pictures.
What: My extended family was all gathering for Christmas. I have 2 teen nieces and 1 teen nephew and none of my family except 1 niece has ever played an RPG before, I decided my gift to them would be to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel. After a lot of back-and-forth, I finally settled on Portal Under the Stars.
Why: The home we rented is high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where there’s no phone service or internet. So the teens would be unwired for the first time in their lives, and we knew they would need some entertainment.
When: It ended up taking 3 separate sessions on 3 different days, due to short attention spans, newness to RPGs, and breaks for other Christmas and family activities.
How: I took the PDF of the map from the adventure in the rule book and had Staples print it on 36″ by 48″ paper. It was huge and took up the whole table, but was a good way to help people who had no experience with Theater of the Mind. The map cost about $72.
Who: Two nieces (17, 14), one nephew (15), my brother (43), my sister-in-law (43), and my mother (71). My girlfriend opted out in order to “keep some mystery in our relationship”. One younger niece is too young to sit still for that long, and my father refuses to wear his hearing aids so there’s no way he could keep up with the action. The oldest niece plays D&D 5 with her friends in high school, so knew sort of what to expect, but later commented about how much more difficult this game was.
I handed out a page of 4 zeroes at random to each player.
After walking them through how to read a character sheet and answering
some basic questions, I told them to name each character and choose one
to be the leader of their group of 4. Then, with only a very basic intro
into dice mechanics, we dove right in. Out of 6 players, 3 of them went
through all their zeros before the end, leaving only 3 with survivors.
Like I said, it took us 3 sessions to finish.
Some amusing things I learned
I told the players to be creative about how they use their
possessions, hoping they’d get the idea of send the mule, duck, and
pony ahead into rooms before them to trigger the traps. But instead they
did things like “OK, what happens if I put my chalk in the empty chest?
OK, what happens if I stand on the chest now?”
I encouraged them to use their Luck, which they mostly
did. And that’s the only way they were able to defeat the warlord at the
end, as is probably typical.
Some were disappointed that they didn’t get to use all the Lucky Sign stuff, like the note that said you get a bonus on healing checks – “well doesn’t that imply I can heal people after they die?” And the older niece wanted to be a spell caster since she gets to do that in her D&D game. The idea of playing an average farmer in a dungeon was pretty strange for her.
They split the party into 3 groups, and even when I said
the key to “winning” the game is to not split up, they kept splitting
up. Experienced gamers never do that, at least not usually. It made it
really hard to keep the story going, but was also a practicality given
that there were 24 characters at the start. I think if I could do it all
over, I’d just give them each a single 1st level character instead of 4
There was clapping at the end, but the players immediately scattered, tired out from thinking and sitting, I think. However, one by one they came to me later and asked, “What’s the right way to get through this adventure without dying?” So they were still thinking about it a day later! I ended up giving away a few clues after the fact – spoilers I won’t repeat here.