R is for The Resistance (and The Resistance: Avalon)

As far as party games go, a favorite among my family and friends has always been Mafia.  Mafia, also known in some circles as Werewolf, is a social deduction game wherein certain members of the group are secretly members of the mafia (or werewolves, alternatively).  Through rounds of secret voting, the mafia try to kill off the members of the party until they outnumber the innocents.  There are other special roles, such as the Governor/Detective (who can identify whether a player is mafia) or the Doctor/Nurse (who can heal another player possibly marked for death.)  It’s a game of deceit and trying to determine who you can trust.  Within my gaming group, it has caused many arguments as well as inspired many fun memories.

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Q is for quitter

Spoiler alert: this post is the product of pure laziness.  I worked late today, leaving two hours after I’m normally scheduled to leave.  By the time I got home, I was utterly exhausted and not willing to expend any more energy than needed.  While making and eating dinner, I caught up on some tv shows, and ultimately ended up on YouTube (as I am often wont to do).  Some time during my brainless binge-watching, I remembered that I had to write my daily A-to-Z post.  But, real talk?  I’m super tired and unable to think straight.  So instead of getting a real blog post today, you get this stream-of-consciousness rambling.  Sorry! So today, Q is for quitter.  I just don’t have the energy for anything more substantial.  But, I would feel terrible if this aimless post was a complete waste of your time.  So I have included some six-word stories for your (potential) enjoyment below.  Here are some on-topic works:

“Too tired, or too lazy?”  “Touché.”

Sucked into YouTube wormhole.  Send help!

My life needs a pause button.

And some random ones:

Quoth the apathetic raven, “Meh, maybe.”

Date with destiny.  Suggest going dutch.

First contact: “New fone. who dis?”

Sorry again for this lazy post!  I promise I have some fun stuff scheduled for the rest of this week.

I really am super tired though.  Time for bed.  Good night, blogosphere!

O is for…

I grew up as quite a voracious reader, but have since fallen rather behind in my reading list. There are so many authors and books that I haven’t gotten to.  That’s not to say that I don’t hoard titles from the discount bookstore.  I am constantly picking things up, adding them to my ever-growing “To Read” pile.  In honor of the A-to-Z Challenge, I decided to read one of these books: John Scalzi’s Hugo Award-nominated, military sci-fi, debut novel.

O is for Old Man’s War.

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N is for Needle felting

Hey, Wise the Simple!

Yeah, Boldy?

I’ve been meaning to ask you… What is that in your gravatar icon?

Oh!  The little owl?  I made that.

You made that?  How?

Needle felting!

What’s “needle felting?”

Well, you asked at just the right time, Boldy.  Because for today’s A-to-Z Challenge, N is for Needle Felting!

I just learned about needle felting this past year.  Unlike other needle crafts (knitting, crochet, sewing, etc.) needle felting doesn’t use yarn or thread.  Instead, it uses the unspun form of wool known as roving.  Felting needles are similar to sewing needles in size and thickness, but are generally flat or triangular rather than cylindrical.  The most significant difference is that felting needles have several small notches along the shaft.

If you want to try needle felting, you need just a handful of supplies.  In addition to wool roving and the special needles, you will need a foam pad.  The foam pad acts as your working surface, and allows the needles to puncture it without being damaged.  Alternatively, you may use a bristle mat.  I’ve personally found that using individual needles works best on a foam pad while the bristle mat is good when using a multi-needle tool.  You can get these supplies online or at a craft store.  There are also kits available that give you a few needles, instructions, and the roving you need for an included pattern.

Needle felting

Needle felting supplies: Foam pad, felting needles, a multi-needle tool, bristle mat, and many colors of wool roving.

Needle felting is basically sculpting with wool.  When you stick a felting needle into a clump of wool roving, the notches on the needle will grab onto the fibers.  By repeatedly reinserting the needle into the roving, the fibers will become tangled and matted — essentially forming felt.  The trick is to constantly manipulate the roving in order to form the desired shape.

Not-So-Fantastic Mr. Fox

Not-So-Fantastic Mr. Fox — My first attempt at needle felting.

I didn’t use a kit or have any instructions when I first started needle felting.  I watched a few youtube videos to get the basics, then let my imagination fly.  Because of this, my first project was a fairly sad-looking fox.

Through this trial attempt, I figured out the best ways to manipulate the roving in order to get the shapes and textures that I wanted.  I also learned that if you puncture the roving with the needle too much, the wool will become more matted and dense, making it hard to correct any mistakes.  Other than that, needle felting is a fairly forgiving practice.  As long as you leave the wool loose enough, you can pull your project apart and start anew.

While I’m still very much a novice at needle felting, I’ve really enjoyed working on the few things that I’ve finished.  Once I get a little more free time, I hope to start working on a new project.  When I do, I’ll try to take some in-process photos and make a post about it.  But until then, enjoy the rest of A-to-Z Challenge!  Can you believe we’re already halfway done?  I’ve been having a lot of fun so far, and am excited to see what the rest of April has in store!

M is for Mahjong

There are certain sights, sounds, and smells that remind me of childhood.  The smell of autumn leaves, the taste of blue moon ice cream, the exciting flurry of a first snowfall.  One of these sensory memories is the clattering shuffle of mahjong tiles heard over the laughter and cheerful conversation of relatives and family friends at parties held when I was young.

Mahjong is game that originated in China, but now has many variants.  The gameplay is similar to rummy in that a player needs to get sets of matching numbers or suits.  Filipino-style mahjong, the way I was taught by my lola (grandmother), is a much simpler form of mahjong than other variants.  In Filipino mahjong, only three suits are used: bamboo/sticks, stones/balls, and Chinese characters.  All other tiles are considered “flowers,” and are taken out of play as the game progresses.  (I’m sure anyone who plays any other form of Mahjong is shaking his or her head in bewilderment and horror right now.)  The goal of the game is to complete five sets of three matching or sequential tiles and one pair, or seven pairs and one set of three.

Mahjong tiles

I love playing mahjong.  My older sister, younger brother, and I were all taught how to play by our lola and our parents.  As such, the game is more than just a fun activity, rather, a piece of our cultural heritage passed down.  It’s also just a great reason to sit around a table together and have a relaxing time talking and having fun.

No blog post of mine about tabletop gaming would be complete without me going on about my love of components, and mahjong tiles have to be among my favorites.  I love the sound they make when you stack them together or shuffle them around on the table.  I love the weight and feel of them in my hands.  My lola (who, even in her 80s, can still beat the snot out of anyone in a game) can tell what tile is in her hand without flipping it over to look at it.  When she draws a tile from the stacked wall, she merely grazes the pad of her thumb over the etching, and can figure out what it is — it amazed me as a young girl and continues to do so to this day.  I suspect magic. 

Filipino-style mahjong is relatively easy to learn.  But it is still an excellent game of decision-making and strategy.  For me, it is also something more than that.  It is a game learned from family and for spending time with family.  When I hear the clacking shuffle of mahjong tiles, I’m reminded of my childhood, of my loved ones, of home.

L is for The Lone Bellow

While I enjoy a variety of music genres, I’ve really been into this reemergence of the folk, bluegrass, Americana scene.  I first heard The Lone Bellow via a Youtube link posted by my friend on Facebook.  This video of “You Never Need Nobody,” in fact:

Intrigued, I watched some more videos of the trio — Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin — and quickly downloaded their self-titled first album.

What first drew me to The Lone Bellow was the passion and raw emotion made evident in their music.  When certain people sing, you can hear their soul in the sound of their voice.  Zach Williams is one of those people.  Because of this, and the excellent chemistry between the three vocalists, The Lone Bellow are fantastic live performers.  (I personally have yet to see them perform live, but by all accounts and the live recordings available online, this is known to be true.)

It was a bit of a let down then, when I heard their first album.  Don’t get me wrong — it is fantastic.  The music is great, and they sound great.  However, it all sounds a bit over-produced compared to their actual performances.  That’s not to say that it sounds like a pop record, rather, it just sounds too clean.  This is probably just a personal preference.  I guess I like the lo-fi, gritty sound of live recordings.  But after my initial qualms, the actual musicianship and songwriting won me over.  I may not like the feel of the record (if that makes sense), but as to the actual content, I have no complaints.

Their recently-released second album, “Then Came the Morning“, was produced by Aaron Dessner of The National.  While their first record was more or less a straightforward bluegrass sound, “Then Came the Morning” draws on other influences as well, such as gospel and rockabilly.

Where the first Lone Bellow record sounded too clean, “Then Came the Morning” is perfect.  It’s interesting, because overall, the second album has a much fuller sound with more complex instrumentation; but the production gives it a much more rootsy/organic feel than the first record which was primarily acoustic-based.

While I prefer the second album, both “The Lone Bellow” and “Then Came the Morning” contain incredible songs with magnificent performances by the trio.  I really hope I can catch these guys live some day.  I love their music, and am excited to see where they continue to go as they evolve as a band.

K is for Kamala Khan

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.  I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”

“Who do you want to be?”

-Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, #1: No Normal

I didn’t grow up reading comics.  Most of my knowledge of all the iconic characters came via television and movies.  I watched Batman’s adventures on film thanks to Burton, Nolan, and, yes, Schumacher; and watched Terry McGinnis take up the cowl every Saturday morning in Batman Beyond.  While I never actually read them, I remember flipping through the pages of my Wolverine-obsessed cousins’ X-Men comics as a kid, looking at the pictures.  Then the film came out in 2000, and I would race home after school to learn more about the mutant heroes via reruns of the animated series.  And now, like many people, I am currently obsessed with every part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

All that to say, I love the stories and mythology of superheroes, but haven’t really experienced them in their original form — comic books.  I’ve read one or two here and there, (The Killing Joke comes to mind), but never followed a full story arc.  As a bit of a completist, the amount of backstory I would miss by jumping in now is disheartening. Comic book characters and storylines are so intertwined; it all seems so daunting as a new reader.  Because of this, I have heretofore stuck with non-superhero, non-Big Two comics/graphic novels. (For the curious: I’ve finished Scott Pilgrim and Y: The Last Man, dabbled in Fables, and am currently working my way through Saga.)

But this past year, I kept hearing about a new superhero.  That is, a new person taking up the mantle of an established hero.  A new character that felt different and fresh.  All the reviews were glowing, and the excitement surrounding this introduction spread like wildfire.  I am referring, of course, to the new Ms. Marvel.  A superhero whose alter-ego is a teenage, Muslim, Pakistani-American girl from Jersey City — Kamala Khan.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, #1: No Normal (via Marvel)

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J is for Jeopardy!

A: This television program created by Merv Griffin has aired on and off since the 1960s.

A: This game show has been hosted by Alex Trebek since 1984.

A: An IBM computer once won a tournament against two human champions in this game.

A: Wise the Simple’s family would watch this together ever day after she got home from school.

A: This game show instigated much competitiveness in the Simple household as family members raced to answer trivia in the form of a question.

A: Wise the Simple has had both a cousin and a college co-worker appear on this game show.

A: There have been several PC game iterations of this quiz show; all of which have been purchased and ranked by Wise the Simple’s family in order of most authentic gameplay experience.

A: Wise the Simple and her siblings have taken the online test in hopes of auditioning for this trivia contest, only to be humbled mid-test by how much they do not know.

A: Despite being a game show, this remains one of Wise the Simple’s favorite television programs of all time.

Q: What is “Jeopardy!”?

I is for Ingress

INGRESS LOG — DAY ONE (IN WHICH I JOIN THE RESISTANCE)

I had only just learned about the Shapers, but I knew they couldn’t be trusted. So I joined The Resistance — a group working to protect humanity from these unknown beings. An eager recruit, I turned on my scanner to see what I could do. My stomach dropped immediately. The skies were green. My parents’ house was underneath an Enlightened field. The scanner showed a portal at a church several blocks away. “That’s it,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just attack the portal and the field will fall.”

As I walked to the church, my heart raced. “This isn’t a game,” the briefing had said. The words echoed in my mind. I needed to protect my parents from the Enlightened XM field surrounding their home. I needed to do my part to save the world from being used by the Shapers.

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